The Season Two Invitational is on the horizon. For most players, that would mean they have their 150 cards sleeved up full of excitement and are stoking their dreams of hoisting the trophy and having a token made with their likeness on it. While I can agree that I share the latter, the former is evading me. What I have been able to boil it down to, though, are certain strategies.
The format as it stands isn't merely an evolution of including Deathmist Raptor + Den Protector in decks. It's more of a question of “What Deathmist Raptor deck are you playing?” As a result, I'm very interested in choosing a list that is either incredibly reliable or has a firm trump to the Megamorph infestation.
The way I see it, unless something dramatically changes my mind in the next 48 hours, this narrows my choices down to either an Elspeth deck or a Perilous Vault deck. My current default:
- 4 Deathmist Raptor
- 4 Den Protector
- 4 Satyr Wayfinder
- 4 Siege Rhino
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Abzan Control decks moving towards the Megamorph package is nothing new. This is ultimately a pile of good cards that contains a great deal of built-in resiliency due to Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor. Elspeth, Sun's Champion is still excellent and is well-positioned against the various Dragons in the format as well as Abzan Aggro while also just being the ultimate litmus test for random strategies. Abzan also gives the pilot a large amount of flexibility in how to maneuver games and can switch between defense and offense quickly and effectively. Thoughtseize when combined with Den Protector is incredibly potent at punching a hole through opposing midrange and control decks, which I suspect will be in the majority at the Season Two Invitational. Finally, Siege Rhino is still just as good as ever and when you can effectively play eight of them they are incredibly difficult to keep up with in any kind of drawn-out affair.
I assure you when I say it is not lost on me that this deck is nothing special. Yuuki Ichikawa's victory two weeks ago effectively makes this deck ancient history when measured by Standard's timeline. In addition, the Megamorph package does little to alleviate one of the classic issues with Abzan Control: it has difficulty deploying more than one spell a turn and thus can frequently find itself bottlenecked on mana. At times it is incredibly difficult to play efficient Magic, and your opponent will often have the initiative until you are able to turn the corner with Elspeth. The deck also has some trouble with cards like Thunderbreak Regent and Stormbreath Dragon, the latter of which I have addressed to some degree by upping the Hero's Downfall count and adding a Murderous Cut from the Grand Prix list. Atarka Red can also be a real problem, particularly in the first game, forcing you to break serve in the third game which is a daunting task even with effective sideboard cards.
When the format was significantly younger, I discussed the incredibly attractive nature of Perilous Vault. This was just as the Raptor tide was looming, and as of now my stance has only become more firm as to how powerful Vault can be against the current format.
Perilous Vault is well-positioned against the heavily midrange-slanted format I expect to play against at the Season Two Invitational. Dragonlord Ojutai is still an incredibly potent card that punishes people for messing around. I greatly prefer playing the Dragon package and playing Silumgar's Scorn than trying to use Ashiok and grind opponents out like U/B Control does, since it is so difficult for the latter to leverage any small advantage it has in the game without chaining a critical mass of draw spells. The deck has a great collection of catchalls and a powerful midgame plus the ability to tap out for a Dragon and inevitability on the back of Ugin and Haven of the Spirit Dragon.
U/x strategies can lose to themselves, and quite easily. Not hitting your land drops, flooding, or being color screwed are all grim realities you have to face when playing these types of decks. The faster your opponents are, the harder a time you will have, with Abzan Aggro and Atarka Red proving to be both challenging matchups. This deck is far more of a metagame call than Abzan would be and can be a bit high-risk if pairings or draws are poor. It is quite easy to open up hands full of lands and expensive cards with little interaction. Further, your sideboard is rather polarized towards beating aggressive decks and is generally mediocre, granted this might be more user error than a fundamental problem with the deck.
At the end of the day, neither of these types of decks are going to shock the world, and they each contain significant strengths and weaknesses. Both will encourage longer games with more play to them which carries another subset of pros and cons, but at the end of the day I will be relatively comfortable no matter which I choose.
The real issue is Modern.
I gave a pretty broad overview last week of my thoughts regarding Modern and things I'd been trying. I may have time to get cute in Grand Prix Charlotte, but for the Season Two Invitational, odds are I'm going to be pretty safe and boring.
I can say with a great deal of confidence that I will be sleeving up Tasigur, the Golden Fang.
Jund plays nearly all the best cards in the format pound for pound. The general quality is off the charts and it has a consistent gameplan. Curving discard into two-drop into Liliana of the Veil is difficult for anyone to overcome and is incredibly punishing against opponents who mulligan, stumble, or just playing a slower strategy. I'm incredibly interested in playing Night of Souls' Betrayal which I will elaborate even further on in a moment, and Jund is one of the best homes to utilize it as it is an incredibly high-impact card in a wide berth of matchups. Further, Olivia Voldaren and Scavenging Ooze are a decimating pair of creatures against a massive amount of the format and the addition of Kolaghan's Command dramatically improves your threat density without sacrificing much in interactive spells. Jund also rewards proper utilization of resources and focused aggression more than just about any deck in the format.
Jund has some very poor matchups and highlights a lot of folks' issues with Modern. Particularly against fast combo decks and Tron, Jund is essentially forced into drawing a specific subset of its deck and sideboard cards. Although it is incredibly punishing of lackluster keeps from opponents, the deck still isn't likely to get many free wins, being forced into playing interactive Magic. Burn is also not a deck I would want to face as you have few tools to face it other than establish a quick clock and race.
Similar to Jund, this deck has an honest shot against anything. The inclusion of countermagic gives the deck a reactive element that allows you to compete even against unfair strategies moreso than Jund. Snapcaster Mage is the biggest draw to playing a blue deck in the format and Sultai gets to play the top tier of creatures, with cantrips so you also have more control about accessing the proper aspects of your deck in a particular matchup and are generally a better Tasigur deck. Snapcaster Mage also dramatically improves the impact of your sideboard cards, particularly when it comes to Feed the Clan against Burn. As I mentioned previously, Night of Souls' Betrayal is an incredibly potent weapon right now, being extremely powerful against Affinity, Infect, Delver, Collected Company, Splinter Twin, and other fringe strategies. The ability to actually protect it makes it an attractive maindeck option and will give the deck more free wins.
Not being able to play Liliana of the Veil due to the reactive nature of the deck is a huge deal. Despite having a better shot against Tron and combo, that doesn't necessarily make those matchups good. That being said, I do like Sultai's shot against Splinter Twin a bit more than Jund. Not having Lightning Bolt also makes our ability to interact early much more difficult, therefore Sultai is more reliant on Abrupt Decay and has to play generally worse removal. I like this deck, but I'm afraid to pull the trigger.
Grixis Twin is incredibly difficult to play against. It fights on several axes and, particularly with the way this list is built, the combo is more of an afterthought that forces your opponent to be honest. In my experience, the actual combo pieces are typically the worst cards in the deck, so I much prefer to be a heavily-slanted Snapcaster Mage/Tasigur value deck that can punish aggression or get a free win every once in a while. The deck's ability to establish a fast clock with Tasigur and play Protect The Queen while acquiring card advantage is also a huge draw. This isn't too different from anything we've seen before, but Splinter Twin continues to be successful because ultimately it does those things well.
There are some issues with being the largest-known quantity in the field with a target on your back. Folks are undoubtedly prepared to deal with Splinter Twin decks no matter how cute or outside-the-box they are. At this stage Twin is even known for becoming more of an honest/bad control deck after sideboard, so they'll have likely adapted to the fact you are trying to leverage Tasigur as well. An increase of Grixis colors throughout the metagame, and thus Terminates, means that your undercosted legend is far less safe now than in the past. Furthermore, not playing Blood Moon also lowers your percentages against decks like Amulet Bloom. Grixis Twin is a balanced and powerful deck, it just won't take anyone off guard, so expect some tough matches.
With the Season Two Invitational looming, I will be forced to make some tough decisions in regards to what I will be playing this weekend. What decks would you choose?