I never thought I'd be in a position to contribute and be a part of the largest Constructed tournament in the history of Magic, and I certainly didn't think that my favorite format would explode in popularity this quickly.
I want to thank all of you for making Grand Prix Richmond a historic event in not only Magic history but gaming history. Never before have we had four thousand players sit down and play in a single Constructed event.
On behalf of everyone here at StarCityGames.com, I want to thank each and every one of you. Thank you for making the tournament the best it could be. Thank you for coming out in full force to support Magic's fastest growing format, and thank you for being a part of history.
So with that said, I hope you enjoy this chronicle of my weekend!
I was en route to Richmond and preparing for battle. I was torn between two decks, like I had been for most of the past two weeks, and I wouldn't be making a decision until tonight.
I had a small checklist of things I wanted to accomplish when choosing a deck:
- Don't get blown out by Blood Moon. I could not justify playing a deck that doesn't have game against one of the better publishers of the format. Also, between you and me, I absolutely hate losing to this type of effect, which is weird because I don't have a problem with the card itself. It's just one of the two cards I seem to always get crushed by whenever I play against it, the second card being Leyline of Sanctity.
- Do something proactive. I did not want to play something that sits there and durdles for half the game before it gets going, so that axed Tron and non-U/W/R Control. U/W/R has the most action at every turn of the game and was the most attractive option if I wanted to play defensively proactive. Delver decks were off my list as well because of how flimsy they are without its namesake card. A Zoo build would have been my choice going in if it didn't violate the first thing on this list.
- Be resilient. Staying power is important, as is having the ability to keep the wheels going when met with impedance. This is especially relevant in sideboarded games and thus knocked off Auras for me. While the deck is absurdly powerful, I thought that others were going to be ready for it, and if people want to beat it, they can crush it in games 2 and 3. It's a shame because I still thought it was a strong choice going into Richmond.
- Have a plan against "oops, you're dead" decks. It doesn't really matter how good you think your deck is if you die on turn 4 half the time. Against Birthing Pod, Splinter Twin, Storm, and Ad Nauseam, you need to either rush them down and disrupt them on their key turn with something or beat them at their own game.
This left me with two decks. On one hand, I had Kiki Pod:
- 1 Spellskite
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 2 Deceiver Exarch
- 1 Glen Elendra Archmage
- 1 Izzet Staticaster
- 3 Kitchen Finks
- 3 Lotus Cobra
- 1 Murderous Redcap
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Phantasmal Image
- 2 Restoration Angel
- 1 Wall of Roots
- 1 Zealous Conscripts
- 3 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
- 1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
- 2 Vendilion Clique
This is the build that Sean McKeown and I have been playing for a very long time now and propelled Sean to the finals of a PTQ last season. I was willing to jump in and work on the deck to help expand my range as a player. Turns out that it's one of my favorite decks to play with and has much more staying power and midrange game than I initially thought. Sean's build in particular makes maximal use of Lotus Cobra draws, which enables extremely powerful underhanded draws similar to the Mythic decks of old. A turn 3 combo kill is very possible both with and without Birthing Pod, and the potential for a completely busted turn 4 is pretty likely.
For those that don't know Sean outside of his Commander content, he is an absolute master at developing mana bases, and this deck showcases just how great he is at it. You never get in trouble with you mana base in situations within your control, so things like Blood Moon are not a major concern much of the time. The plan B is also very solid, as Domri Rade, Gavony Township, and straight-up value plays via Restoration Angel can put some real midrange pressure on your opponent. I also know almost exactly what to do in every common situation very quickly, as the deck wasn't nearly as difficult to pick up as I thought it'd be for me.
Then Jund dropped off the face of the earth.
This particular build of Kiki Pod was made to prey on heavy midrange and slower control-combo decks. With Jund nerfed, Splinter Twin was left to pretty much do whatever it wanted, with no real need to handle Thoughtseize every three matches. This now put the pressure on Kiki Pod to not die, and with the addition of Wild Nacatl adding another angle of pressure, it was very hard to keep up with all of it. I wound up reluctantly shelving it.
The second deck (and one I wound up registering) was Merfolk.
Wait, what? Merfolk?
- 4 Cursecatcher
- 4 Lord of Atlantis
- 4 Master of the Pearl Trident
- 3 Master of Waves
- 4 Merrow Reejerey
- 1 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Silvergill Adept
AJ Kerrigan has made Top 4 of a handful of Magic Online Premier Events with Merfolk, and it's been on my radar for a few months. It's actually quietly done pretty well for quite a while now both before and after the banned list changes, and AJ has been a huge advocate of the fish since he's gotten into Modern. I generally trust his word when he says he thinks that I could do well with a deck since he and I know each other and our styles very well. It quickly became one of the decks I feel most comfortable with, and I'd choose this deck over a more established deck every time because of that factor.
It passes the Blood Moon test with thirteen basic lands and Aether Vial ignoring it. With the goal being to produce a snowball type effect while interacting just enough to kill them on the key turn, there's no shortage of proactivity here. Merfolk is also deceptively resilient, particularly against Anger of the Gods. Between Cursecatcher, making enough lords to create four toughness, Remand and Spell Pierce, Mutavault, and at worst following up with Master of Waves, we can really put a damper on the best sweeper in the format. Supreme Verdict is a much bigger concern, but I did not expecting to see much of that this past weekend.
Against "you're dead" decks, Remand is huge, such as Living End, Tron, and even Splinter Twin. Spell Pierce and Damping Matrix are further reinforcement for Twin and Birthing Pod, and Hibernation got the nod over Tidebinder Mage because of Auras. I felt that I had most of my fronts covered, and that's extremely important in Modern.
I was just short of my second bye going into the event, so each battle would essentially be a win-and-in to get to the Top 8. I knew that I couldn't afford to slack at any point during the weekend, so I set my focus on playing as best as I possibly could at all times throughout. If I did that and still didn't make it, that would fine, but I wanted to take things one match, one game, one turn, one play at a time.
Friday night I received these text messages from AJ, solidifying my choice even more:
Made Top 4 of another PE.
Just won the PE.
I didn't get much sleep, which is typical when it comes to major events. I was very deep in the tank trying to figure out if I wanted Spell Pierce or Remand and if I wanted Dismember instead of more creatures like Phantasmal Image or maybe Coralhelm Commander. AJ loves Pierce, but I wasn't really interested in straight one-for-ones in game 1. AJ is also huge on Dismember, but I'm not the biggest fan of paying four life. I ultimately wound up playing one Dismember as a concession, freeing up a sideboard spot for a single Grafdigger's Cage.
I ended up going 4-3 drop, with my friend Vanessa making day 2 with the exact same build as me (currently 9-2-1 as of this writing). I learned that my sideboard development skills are getting a lot better in Modern, skewing toward high impact cards with some cross applicability.
I also learned that I have a long way to go before I can make day 2 of a Grand Prix. I was way too caught up with trying to meet expectations, and it's been hindering my progress big time. Everyone loves the stories of people making strings of Top 8s, amazing 9-0s, and so on. I need to stop worrying about trying to make a story and just play Magic for myself.
I firmly and boldly believe that Grand Prix Richmond is the most important Modern tournament and one of the most important Magic tournaments in history. There was so much skepticism going into this weekend not too long ago. Is the format as wide open as people think? Can you really do anything you want? Is combo really taking over?
All of these questions and more have been answered, and I can't wait to see how the second day develops. We are truly in a sweet spot where the players that put in the time and effort in the format (not necessarily the most well-known players) do well consistently.
Looking at the format as a whole, we said it before, and we'll say it again. You can truly do what you want, and you won't get punished for it. The difference between the "best deck" and many other decks is so small that I'd argue it's worth ignoring entirely. If your plan is cohesive, powerful, and streamlined, then just jam it!
How was your experience in Richmond? Did anything surprise you about the Top 8? What do you think of the format moving forward? Would you like to see more Modern in the spotlight down the line?