I finally did it.
I finally made Day 2 of a Grand Prix.
I have also now played in as many GPs lifetime as Alexander Hayne has won this season.
Most importantly though, I got to sleeve up four Wall of Omens, play some Magic, and keep my amazing run with Modern cards going by converting that Day 2 into my first GP Top 8!
Here's how it all went down:
A Month Before
I knew I'd be stopping by Minneapolis to play in the Modern GP since it was conveniently the week before, and on the way to, Pro Tour Journey into Nyx in Atlanta.
I'm really happy with the direction Wizards has been going with the GP schedule. Having two GPs sandwiching the Pro Tour is great for anyone who lives outside the US and wants to get in some extra high-level Magic.
Should the GP right before the Pro Tour be the same limited format as the Pro Tour? I know that was the format across the pond in Warsaw, but you can assume more Pros go to the GP closer to the PT. It would probably be ideal, so Pros could get some drafting in to prepare for the PT and not feel like they're giving up precious testing time just by playing the GP, but I think Modern is a pretty good second choice format for it to be.
It's easy to test a month or more in advance and update your preferred deck or pick up a new one without ever interrupting your PT testing (other than the weekend spent playing). The Modern format rarely has huge shake ups without bans so if you've spent time playing Modern in the past that experience will help a great deal in future Modern tournaments.
So a month back, I set out to update my UWR Control deck. I knew that Birthing Pod and Affinity would likely be the most popular decks (based mostly on Grand Prix Richmond). I had won the Pro Tour with UWR Control but wasn't too comfortable with the Pod matchup anymore, since the average list was similar to Jacob Wilson's version, which had a higher density of problematic value cards than Pod lists of half a year ago.
UWR Control is great for beating Zoo (more specifically, Lightning Helix is), which was a major player at the Pro Tour, but Zoo nearly disappeared after that. It's also important to keep in mind that winning any tournament will probably require you to beat skilled opponents piloting tricky decks.
My brother was a big fan of UWR Twin but I didn't like the idea of playing Deceiver Exarch and Splinter Twin which basically did nothing if it they weren't winning the game. It also would just get blasted by Abrupt Decay from Pod and Twin.
Then I saw Zwischenzug's Modern list from the MOCS:
3 Kiki-Jiki? No Twin? There's no way this list could be good, right?
While UWR with Splinter Twin is more a mixture of control and combo, this still plays like traditional control. Deal with the opponents threat's while getting value. Kiki-Jiki and Restoration Angel would usually end up at least drawing a card even when eating a removal spell. The combo also gets around Abrupt Decay, doesn't care about Spellskite, and can kill an opponent that gained "infinite" life. Going to time and collecting unintentional draws was also a concern I had, as I would probably be playing against less experienced players who might not know the common lines for the matchup, so the pace of play would probably be a little slower than at the Pro Tour.
I knew a large chunk of my opponents at the GP would know I had won the PT with UWR Control and that's what they would assume I was playing. They would never see an end of turn Restoration Angel into Kiki-Jiki coming. This aspect really appealed to me, I love getting a leg up on my opponents by doing something unexpected or tricky.
It also would allow me to improve matchups like Tron, Storm, Hexproof, Living End, and Scapeshift. Being able to just win on Turn 5 wasn't realistic with my old list, and while I could disrupt those decks for a while, they could often just win in the late game by having cards that are difficult for a large part of regular old control to interact with.
So I took Zwischenzug's list and blended it with cards from about five different UWR lists floating around, including my PT winning deck, and ended up with one concoction of deliciousness. Then, over the course of ten or so Modern daily events, I tuned the list and sideboard and was ready to go.
The deck consistently over-performed and it seemed like the dream situation had fallen into my lap. I had what I thought was just straight up the best deck in the format, it was relatively off the radar, I was already comfortable playing it, and it had the potential to confuse the heck out my opponents for free.
Here's what I registered:
The Night Before
I settled on the list a month before the tournament and submitted my decklist online a day before the tournament so I wouldn't worry about last minute changes.
I also got sit on the PlanesTalkers panel hosted by Adrian Sullivan with Toby Elliot, Craig Wescoe, and Brain Kibler, where we answered questions about Modern. It was a ton of fun and you catch it later this week on various websites.
Afterwards I went straight to bed, which was one of my top plays of the weekend. I had the best sleep I've ever had before a tournament. I got at least eleven hours in. I didn't even wake up when my roommates tromped in later in the night.
I woke up feeling like a thousand bucks and was prepared for battle.
Round 4: Sean Ryder on UWR Twin
Game 1 I had an airball hand and feared I'd die quickly and painfully when my opponent resolved an Exarch. Fortunately, he didn't play a Splinter Twin into my open mana and I was able to cast a Sphinx's Revelation and find enough gas to take the game.
Game 2, a steady stream of Walls and Angels buried him in card advantage.
Round 5: Ricardo Sanchez on Affinity
Game 1, I slowly removed all his creatures and ended up with five life, facing down a Vault Skirge and Inkmoth Nexus. I can afford a hit from the Nexus with the Plating, but not the Skirge. I have five land, including a Desolate Lighthouse and only one white source. I topdecked Wall of Omens to go with a Celestial Colonnade in hand.
I proceed to draw nearly all lands and eventually die to a Master of Etherium and a few Ornithopters. This marked my first time losing to Affinity after resolving a Turn 2 Stony Silence. Affinity decks nowadays all come packing Thoughtseizes, Blood Moon, Master of Etherium, and Etched Champion to try and have some game against all the hate cards, by either disrupting you or by going big. This can cause them to slow down a little, making cards like Mana Leak a bit better than they should be against a deck with a bunch of zero-drops.
Round 6: Jacob Pleasants on Storm
Game 1, I was able to disrupt his mediocre Ascensionless draw just enough to burn him out, doing the last few points by blinking a Snapcaster Mage with Angel and flashing back a Bolt.
Game 2, he landed two Defense Grids and a Blood Moon, leaving me crippled with just a Snapcaster in play, a Bolt in hand, and a bunch of Mountains. He managed to completely brick out as a Snapcaster whittled him down and after some very Desperate Ravings he couldn't find anything and died.
Round 7: Jake Lapeire on UWR Geists and Stormbreath Dragon
He lost to manascrew Game 1 and I died to an unchecked Stormbreath Game 2. Game 3 seems to be going well when I resolve a Revelation on my turn for four, but this allowed him to Stormbreath me, and I struggled to keep up since my Rev left me with three Kiki-Jikis, some counters, and no Restoration Angels.
I had to keep chumping his Colonnades to survive. The turn before I'd die, I peeled an Angel and had exactly nine mana to cast it with Kiki-Jiki to take the match.
Round 8: Scott Markeson on Affinity
Affinity mulliganed, UWR Stony Silenced, Electrolyze happened. UWR won.
Round 9: Larry Waymon on GB Obliterator
I mulliganed to five Game 1 and still had the chance to try and combo off, but Slaughter Pact dashed my hopes.
Game 2, I barely managed to stabilize by Wrathing away a pair of Goyfs and crawled back in it with card draw.
I noticed he had a high density of removal, even post-board, so I sided out all my Kiki-Jikis and was able to close out Game 3 in convincing fashion.
Modern is a diverse format and there are often many variations to archetypes. All day I was catching people off guard with the combo, it can take a surprisingly long time to realize what's going on when you already have an idea of what your opponent is playing.
So I finished the day at 8-1 and grabbed some dinner with the Albertan crew. Then I made one of my biggest misplays of the weekend: I got caught up watching Dumb and Dumber. It's fine to relax and wind down with a movie, but I stayed up later than I wanted and wasn't as well rested as I could have been for the next day, which hurt my chances down the home stretch.
Round 10: LSV on Melira Pod
Game 1, LSV managed to maneuver around everything I had and sealed the deal with a Reveillark.
Game 2, I had a powerhouse draw and chained Walls into Angels while blasting away at everything he tried to get going.
Game 3 was a bit anticlimactic, as LSV failed to find a third land almost the entire game after I started off by Bolting his Bird. Even when he did find the land, I had Shadow of Doubt waiting to wrap things up.
Round 11: Nick Bonham on UWR
Game 1, he mulliganed to five and his Bolts and Helixes just didn't match up well against my cantripping Walls.
Game 2 was more of the same.
Round 12: Robert Cucunato on Affinity
Another standard Affinity match. He overran me Game 1, I resolved Stony Silence and a bunch of value cards Games 2 and 3, and I took the match.
Round 13: Willy Edel on Jund
Game 1, we traded blows back and forth and near the end, it looked like I was about to win with Colonnade pushing damage through. Willy had a tough turn and tanked in thought for a good three minutes, trying to find the correct play, all the while being prodded to make a play by the judge. After he made a decision, the judge gave us an extra two turns if we went to time.
Those would come in handy later.
Game 2, he had the god opener: Thoughtseize into Goyf into Courser. I almost had a chance to get back in the game while I was at two life by ambushing a Dark Confidant with a Restoration Angel, but I couldn't quite cast it because I needed to crack an Arid Mesa and I had no untapped lands left to find.
Game 3, I can only imagine what the Twitch chat looked like when I won on Turn 7 of extra time.
There's a very good chance I would've gone to time in multiple rounds if I had played my old UWR list. To avoid accumulating draws, you need opponents to play quickly, you need to play quickly yourself, you need to hope the games won't be incredibly grindy, and you need to hope you won't make too many mistakes because you're playing quickly. It just isn't likely you'll make it through a tournament without a draw if your win condition is a 4/4 land that starts getting activated on Turn 20.
Round 14: Louis Kaplan on Kiki Pod
Melira Pod is a favorable matchup. Kiki Pod is even better, as it has a shaky manabase, is easily disruptable, and can't interact well with your Kiki combo.
Game 1, he mulliganed to five and I combo'd off, knowing he could only Chord for three and most lists don't have anything to stop me.
Game 2, he got stuck on one mana and I started Electrolyzing his creatures and he wasn't able to pull out of the hole.
I drew the last round to lock up the first seed, allowing me to play first, which is very important when it comes to things like Mana Leaking or Remanding two-drops (especially Voice of Resurgence). As someone who has benefited greatly twice from the Swiss rankings impacting who goes first, I'm still not a huge fan of it or sure why it exists. I liked the idea of the Top 8 being a clean slate once you make it and it seems unintuitive and inelegant. No big deal either way, though.
It felt great following up my PT win with a GP Top 8, especially with a deck that felt very powerful and that I really enjoyed playing.
Quarterfinals: Brian Braun-Duin on Melira Pod
Game 1, we both jammed the board with creatures and I'm not entirely sure who the beatdown should have been, since board states can change very quickly with Pod and I'm used to taking conservative lines of play. I drew a bunch of Electrolyzes and managed to slowly fight through an active Pod, since if he Pods away his Linvala into Reveillark at any point, he risks losing to Kiki-Jiki. Eventually, I deal with Linvala and combo off.
Game 2, he had a slow start of just casting Pod and then Thrun, while I'm holding Shadow of Doubt waiting to pounce. He could tell something's fishy and was playing carefully, but his lack of creatures means his only pressure was Thrun. If he Pods away Thrun and gets Reveillark, he'll be in a much better spot against Wrath, have flying pressure, and more gas for Pod later on. He cracked a fetchland, testing the waters to see if I do have the Shadow, and I'm aware enough of his plans to give a convincing impression that I don't have the Shadow. The temptation was too much and he went for it, attempting to upgrade his Troll with Pod, leading to one of the most savage Shadow of Doubts ever.
The game continued, and despite that, BBD managed to get in a good position. Right before I'm about to die, I topdecked Sphinx's Revelation and began to stabilize.
I was at two life and he's in a position where he needed to find a three-drop to Pod into Murderous Redcap or draw the Redcap. Unfortunately, I activated my Colonnade and used it for mana when he had Linvala in play (which isn't a legal play, since Linvala shuts it off). Turns out this is the incorrect play anyways (as pointed out by Sam Pardee); I should've waited until his draw step to Electrolyze and only given him one scry to find a 3 drop. This isn't an excuse for making a rules error like this, and I probably would've missed this play anyways, but accidents do happen.
Semifinals: Andrew Huska (AKA Curly) on Jund
Game 1, he mulliganed a bunch and still put up a decent fight but can't quite keep up.
Games 2 and 3 are back-and-forth affairs, but I flooded out just a touch too much and got hit by some good draws from him.
I didn't manage to close things out. I didn't keep my play as tight as I could have and quite possibly let the match slip away at some point here. It was more an accumulation of small errors rather than a game-changing mistake. Still, it was a great finish I'm very pleased with that leaves me wanting to play some more Magic.
1 Anger of the Gods - Zoo, Pod, Merfolk, Affinity, BW tokens, Storm
1 Dispel - Twin, UWR, Storm,
2 Relic of Progenitus - Pod, Jund, UWR, Storm
1 Shadow of Doubt - Pod, UWR, Tron
3 Stony Silence - Affinity, Tron, Pod
1 Wear // Tear - Twin, Storm, Affinity, Tron
2 Wrath of God - Pod, Affinity, Jund, Zoo, Bogles
1 Izzet Staticaster - Pod, Affinity
1 Spellskite - Twin, Bogles, Zoo
1 Rest in Peace - Storm, Jund, Pod,
1 Celestial Purge - Jund, Storm, Twin
How useful was the combo?
I usually shave out a Kiki-Jiki or two postboard in fair matchups, since your card advantage should be enough to win the game. If you suspect they will leave in a bunch of removal for your combo, you can cut the Kiki-Jikis entirely.
I was very happy with the list. Changes I would try:
Going forward in Modern
First of all, play whatever you're comfortable with and get lots of practice with whatever you do play.
Next, expect to see a lot more of this deck in the future. I think it is easily the best deck in Modern at the moment with the format the way it is. I did not feel that about my UWR Control deck after the Pro Tour; I felt like Pod had a slightly bigger edge against the field and also against me. I also feel like this version is almost a strict upgrade from my Pro Tour-winning deck. I won the PT and I still wish I had played this version.
Despite his name, I don't think the Mirror Breaker is the key to getting an edge against other UWR decks. If the deck catches on it will have to continue to evolve as the format shapes to make room for it.
I expect more decks to pop up that prey on Pod and UWR. Tron, Bogles, Jund, GB Obliterator and Storm all have a shot for breaking out in future metagames.
Odd how Modern is now becoming one of my favorite formats.
If you have any questions about the deck or a play I made, ask away and I'll answer them when I get a chance.
The tournament was awesome. A special thanks to everyone who came up to say hi, shake my hand, or ask questions about UWR Control. I have to say, I didn't expect signing playmats to be so much fun, so feel free to say hi whenever. My opponents were also very amiable all weekend, even if when they were taking a loss. Also a well-run tournament by Legion Events, a few hiccups here or there, but overall very well-handled.
Look for me at the Pro Tour and the Grand Prix in Atlanta. Based on the numbers, it looks like I'll have at least a 1 in 400 chance of winning back to back Pro Tours. I like those odds.