Another week another Grand Prix another money finish. Modern has proven to still be in a state of flux. Despite the winning deck being Jund again the addition of Lingering Souls was a huge fundamental change from where the deck stood previously. Here are the decks I considered for this event (as well as one that I was just extremely impressed with from it) and what I expect to happen from this point in the format.
After the Pro Tour I made some slight modifications to my list. This is what I piloted to 19th place at Grand Prix Chicago this past weekend.
Maindeck Thoughtseize was an idea proposed by Chris Andersen based on the fact that I was boarding the card in for every matchup. The sole exceptions were Burn and Affinity the latter of which was too threat redundant for Seize to matter. While it isn't a pump spell I was playing Apostle's Blessing which played a similar role in answering removal. Thoughtseize could also answer Liliana of the Veil or buy time by taking a threat.
The cuts for the Thoughtseizes were aimed at offsetting the life loss caused by it namely a Mutagenic Growth and an Apostle's Blessing. Mutagenic Growth was underwhelming at the Pro Tour and as mentioned above Apostle's Blessing was something I considered functionally similar to Thoughtseize. The last cut was a Giant Growth another card I regularly sideboarded out as it was the "worst card" in my deck despite being perfectly playable.
After playing the event I think the change was mostly correct. Thoughtseize was a very powerful effect to have access to but the second Apostle's Blessing is currently better than the third Thoughtseize. Punching through Lingering Souls is a serious concern. I would move the fourth copy of Seize into the sideboard over the Grafdigger's Cage which was nothing short of disappointing. Pod already boards artifact removal for Inkmoth Nexus and even then it just shuts off a potential Pod when they can just naturally win games. All of what Cedric Phillips said about the card in his Pro Tour testing is true: the decks it's "good" against are all ready for it.
I also want to find room for a second Darkblast for the mirror match but it would have to be over the Relic of Progenitus. I like that card against Lingering Souls Jund but it's very possible it still doesn't do enough as them making two Spirits with no flashback is still quite hard to beat without Blighted Agent or Rancor. As such cutting the Relic for a Darkblast that drastically impacts another matchup is definitely an option.
Moving forward Infect is a very powerful choice but no longer as dominating as it was for me at the Pro Tour. It's good for a solid finish with good play but there will likely be a higher EV deck to play any given week.
Playing partial playsets of either isn't great. One of the strengths of Thoughtcast is chaining them and one of the strengths of Galvanic Blast is being able to kill your opponent from eight or more life with multiples. However Affinity can't realistically maindeck more than six nonartifact cards without running into mana screw issues. A 3-3 split of these cards makes them both significantly worse so the previous decision was always either-or.
The solution one of my opponents (and apparently many other people) figured out is Dispatch. Playing less than a set of it doesn't matter it kills Tarmogoyf and Master of Etherium that Galvanic Blast doesn't it kills creatures through Welding Jar in the mirror and it lets you interact with Infect game 1. Dismember does a lot of these things as well but the life loss is fairly significant.
If I were to play Affinity at an upcoming event I would play two maindeck Dispatch. It's also possible that Mono-White Affinity is good with two Dispatch two Tempered Steel and two Steelshaper's Gift or something similar. There are a shocking number of options for Affinity to fill the six colored spell slots with. Just realize Disciple of the Vault should not be one of them unless Eggs is your top priority.
Worth noting: I very nearly played this deck at the Grand Prix but my opponents had Creeping Corrosion on turn 3 off of Deathrite Shaman one too many times against me in two-mans. If people aren't doing that at some point in the future showing up with Affinity is a great decision.
Matthias Hunt debuted a new Storm list for this Grand Prix featuring Epic Experiment where the Team SCG Black list from Seattle had Pyromancer Ascension swapping Desperate Ravings for Peer Through Depths to match.
Based on what I've seen so far this list is a massive improvement. Pyromancer Ascension is a fine card but it takes an extra turn and a half to two turns to get active most of the time. It's also not super synergistic with Goblin Electromancer and doubles up with Past in Flames to make you weak to Deathrite Shaman and Relic of Progenitus.
(To clarify what I meant about Pyromancer Ascension being bad with Electromancer Pyromancer Ascension requires a ton of cantrips to be cast to go off and once it does mana becomes nearly irrelevant as even Pyretic Ritual becomes +4 mana. Electromancer doesn't help cast most cantrips and once you're doubling up Rituals the one mana reduction means very little.)
Playing the Epic Experiment list makes Goblin Electromancer feel borderline broken. A turn 2 Goblin Electromancer almost always means a turn 3 kill with this list. With it in play your deck turns into eight copies of Dark Ritual (one mana Desperate Ritual and Pyretic Ritual) four copies of Cabal Ritual with threshold (Seething Song) three copies of actual Yawgmoth's Will with flashback (Past in Flames) and something too broken to describe (Manamorphose). Just casting two of the bad (two mana) Rituals with three lands and an Electromancer is enough for an Epic Experiment for six on turn 3 which is likely to be enough.
A couple random tips and tricks I've noticed in my few games with the deck:
- Past in Flames with Goblin Electromancer can easily generate mana pre-Epic Experiment. If you have any two Rituals in graveyard or a Seething Song and a Manamorphose it's +1 mana to Past in Flames and flash them back.
- When stacking cantrips post-Experiment you want to maximize the strength of your Serum Vision scrys. Try to have a cantrip after your Serum Visions to draw into what you scry up and if possible don't have it be Sleight of Hand. If you scry something good up the look at two cards part of Sleight doesn't help. Once you have one Gitaxian Probe or Manamorphose committed to drawing after each Scry all the others should be resolved before your Sleights or Visions so that you have maximum information on your selections. This is fairly marginal but it gives you some extra percentage to play correctly so why not do so.
- When stacking your spells post-Experiment Grapeshot always should be the first to resolve as storm only counts spells cast before Grapeshot. If it resolves later it would have to be cast before the spells above it doing less damage. Past in Flames should always resolve last to give everything flashback.
This version of Storm is very powerful. I don't know exactly how powerful so I can't predict how good it will be for events but at least one point in this upcoming year it will take some major event down effortlessly.
I was waffling between Twin and Infect up until the tournament started. Both are very similar styles of combo deck but I opted for what I felt was the more reliable list over a fifteen-round event.
Splinter Twin is simultaneously the best and worst combo deck in the format.
Splinter Twin has the most interaction of any combo deck in the format. As a result you have similar matchups against non-combo as Infect but are significantly better in combo mirrors.
Of course this also assumes you don't just fold out of a match on mulligans. You have almost no control over how much interaction you have in a given game. The cantrips in the deck are also poor at finding your combo pieces meaning there are a lot more unkeepable hands than people think. The deck loses to itself about 30% of the time regardless of matchup.
I can't justify playing Twin at an event but that doesn't mean that the same applies to everyone. When the deck runs well it runs really well and when it runs bad you better hope they do too.
Some quick highlights of my Grand Prix Chicago experience:
- I went 12-3 or 9-3 excluding my two byes. My wins were against two Affinity Living End Faeries Birthing Pod three Jund and a mirror. My losses were to two Lingering Souls Jund and Storm.
- I won on turn 3 with damage game 3 against Living End to make Day 2. Admittedly it was against a mulligan to four where he cycled two Street Wraith and fetched an untapped dual land but it was still cool to do.
- My Faeries opponent didn't play a match against me but the matchup should be terrible. Their deck is all interaction including Vedalken Shackles to lock you out.
- After playing the Jund matchup more I've determined it's heavily die roll dependent. It's slightly in Infect's favor because breaking serve is easier for you than for the Jund player but being on the play lets you attack with a two-drop before Liliana resolves or reliably have protection mana open when casting a creature. Both of these are massive swings in terms of how the matchup plays out. Lingering Souls broke the parity on this for Jund at this tournament but it's very possible something exists for Infect to do the same right back.
Overall the event went as expected. My deck was fine but not amazing and I put up a solid but not amazing finish with it. Not knowing about the Lingering Souls Jund deck ahead of time I can't say I would change decks and am happy with my result but I could have done better with more work. Specifically a friend and I were looking into what was more or less the Gifts Ungiven deck with Deathrite Shaman that made Top 8. Our lists were a bit off but I think that with about a week more of actual work on the deck our result would have been phenomenal.
With the fair decks warping to beat the current unfair decks the obvious decision is to stay a step ahead.
Notice the zero Slaughter Games in any sideboard from the Grand Prix Top 8. There were still a few Aven Mindcensors but I think Scapeshift is poised to make a comeback. The more the fair decks warp towards "answers" in the form of Lingering Souls the more you can punish them for playing worse three-drops than Geralf's Messenger. Lee Shi Tian's Izzet Charms were a key development in the deck and even now I'm sure there are more things you can do to make the deck run better.
For example it's very possible that in a world of infinite Lingering Souls you can play Jace Architect of Thought as your backup power card and have it be extremely relevant. I know I discussed how this deck would abuse Jace the Mind Sculptor last week and this Jace isn't much different.
It's also possible the place to be is Deathrite Shaman + Gifts Ungiven but you need a real plan for their Deathrite Shamans in order to get your combo online. Or do anything cool for that matter like Snapcaster Mage or Lingering Souls. Solve that and you have the best deck in the format (as long as Tron stays nearly dead).
The last thing I want to note is that we are about a step and a half from Eggs being good again. I would just be sure to find the best enchantment removal possible because everyone is on Stony Silence or Rest in Peace to beat you.
Worth noting in all of these options is that a bad but winnable Infect matchup will be acceptable by the time Grand Prix Toronto rolls around. After two events where the deck did fine but didn't make Top 8 I expect its Day 2 popularity to fall off by a large amount. I'm not saying you should ignore it but you shouldn't expect to have to play it a ton of times each event.
Grand Prix Chicago simply proved that Modern is an extremely diverse format and that there's a lot of edge to be gained by positioning for the next week both in "fair" deck card choices and "unfair" deck selection. Once the PTQ season brings weekly events with public decklists I expect things to get very interesting. Until then we'll have to settle for watching the format evolve in slow motion.
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