If you had to guess the three Modern decks that I'd play during the Season Two Invitational weekend, G/R Tron, Soul Sisters, and 8-Rack would be some of the furthest from expectation.
8-Rack was just an experiment that I played in a couple of trials. I think it's a decent deck when there aren't any Lingering Souls in the field. Burn looks bad on paper and it comes down to a race, and more often than that, topdecks.
For reference, here's the list I ran. A more in-depth talk about it can be found here.
The one thing I knew was that I didn't want to play Infect. With how popular Jund, Grixis Twin, Abzan Collected Company and various Delver of Secrets decks were, Infect was very poorly positioned. I'd been playing G/R Tron for a few weeks leading up to the tournament and felt like it would be a great deck to win the tournament with... if I could make it out of the early rounds and dodge the Burn and Zoo decks.
This is what I played in the Season Two Invitational:
I knew I wanted to play with a lot of copies of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. I originally started with just one Ugin before moving up to two, then three, then four. Heck, if I could play five I would. It's like popping an Oblivion Stone except that it also leaves behind a planeswalker that eventually kills them. Exiling things like persist creatures and other creatures that don't mind being in the graveyard, like Bloodghast, is just icing on the cake.
I really liked the Radiant Fountain and would recommend it at least in the sideboard if you decide to play a different land in its slot, like the second Ghost Quarter or a black mana source like Llanowar Wastes if you play Slaughter Games in your sideboard. I felt like it was the best “first” card to have against the aggro decks and I squeaked out several games by being able to search up lifegain with Expedition Map or Sylvan Scrying. After that, Feed the Clan and Thragtusk are options and I wouldn't be surprised if the long-forgotten Sun Droplet would be fine also.
Shaving down to three Grove of the Burnwillows didn't hurt, especially when I played only three red cards maindeck. The second Forest felt important, and is even more important now that Ghost Quarter is such a popular response to the increase in G/R Tron and Amulet Bloom. After sideboard sometimes you can't really assemble Tron and have to get six real lands in play for a Wurmcoil Engine. Being able to fetch up the next land for your Karn Liberated when they Path to Exile or Ghost Quarter you is nice.
Maybe I just ran up against an unreasonable number of Zoo players (four total on the weekend), but I was very displeased by how ineffective Pyroclasm was – so disappointed that I was considering removing them all from the maindeck in favor of Lightning Bolt. I ended up fitting in a single Bolt in my Season Two Invitational list anyway because every time I played against a Wild Nacatl, I'd curse the Pyroclasm in my hand.
Having being burned (literally) by the aggro Modern decks, I vowed to definitely not lose to small creatures or direct damage in my next tournament: the Modern Open on Sunday. I wanted to play something fun (for me) and something that I wanted to give a shot, even if it would be very bad against combo. I asked Reid Duke to borrow his copy of Soul Sisters and I was settled into giving red headaches.
- 4 Ajani's Pridemate
- 4 Archangel of Thune
- 1 Auriok Champion
- 4 Ranger of Eos
- 4 Serra Ascendant
- 4 Soul Warden
- 4 Soul's Attendant
Yeah this is gonna be a blast!
Granted, the decklist was rather outdated... like six months or so. It was built during Pro Tour Fate Reforged preparation where Infect was rampant in the Pantheon's testing. With half of the house on Infect, it's no surprise that Soul Sisters got shelved in that environment.
After getting whooped by Zoo and Burn while playing G/R Tron all weekend, I wanted something that would smash them relentlessly. I wanted them to hate a matchup as much as G/R Tron hated seeing Burn. I was content with letting my tournament be more-or-less determined solely by matchups. I wanted to unwind and roll the dice and get a bunch of 90/10 or 10/90 pairings.
Then I started winning matchups that I figured would be bad and losing some I felt were good. Soul Sisters had more game to it that I thought. Combo decks that relied on creating a creature loop like Abzan Collected Company or Splinter Twin had trouble actually winning because they couldn't combo off without me gaining an arbitrary amount of life along with them. I did lose to Infect and beat Burn, but both matchups were a lot closer than expected, definitely not 90/10 or vice versa.
I finished 23rd of 903, well beyond my expectations. I gave the cards back to Reid and started buying and trading for the deck myself. I had a Grand Prix to play in a week and needed to get the deck it in fighting shape.
In the wake of the Season Two Invitational, where the finals were two big-mana strategies in G/R Tron and Amulet Bloom, I really wanted to play a deck that could support four maindeck Ghost Quarters and Soul Sisters could support that perfectly. Flagstones of Trokair was close to a freeroll with the only downside to the card coming from it exposing you to Blood Moon, and it gives you a way to convert unwanted Ghost Quarter into white mana as-needed. It also thins your deck somewhat, which is a decent side effect as well.
The Leonin Arbiters were originally intended for the sideboard, but I decided the day of the Grand Prix to fit a couple in the maindeck. After all, they seemed sweet with Ghost Quarter and Path to Exile, and would be strong against fetchlands and other random search effects. I figured I could time my Flagstones of Trokair searches to not get myself in trouble with my own Leonin Arbiter. That is, until I drew Ranger of Eos with Leonin Arbiter in play and I learned how the idea wasn't as brilliant as I thought. Still, Leonin Arbiter helped more than it hurt, just not nearly enough to make the bad matchups reasonable. All-in-all, the Ghost Quarters simply weren't enough to battle through G/R Tron or Amulet Bloom. Costing yourself a land drop hurts a lot and your clock of 1/1 beaters is simply too slow.
Grand Prix Charlotte didn't go well for me. I didn't play against any creature decks (though there were always seas of them to my left and right) and ended up not making Day Two. Although I didn't do great, I still think the archetype is fine, and is probably even a great choice in an extremely-defined metagame. I'll be getting this one in the back of my mind for now.
Still, the weekend wasn't over yet as there was one more large Modern Event to play, the Super Sunday Series. This is what I sleeved up:
This is the archetype that I was convinced to play after talking with Aaron Barich who started 8-0 in Grand Prix Charlotte. Geist of Saint Traft as a sideboard option seemed like it would surprise a lot of people who liberally use their life totals and whose main game-plan is to kill all of your creatures with targeted removal. Path to Exile was great and I liked it better than either Dismember or Piracy Charm
The Sunday Super Series was huge and I got settled in for a nine-rounder. I lost the second round to Abzan and his Lingering Souls. I won my next six matches to go to 7-1 before losing to Merfolk in the final round. The early loss caught up to me and because of weak tiebreakers I was the first table that had to play it out instead of being able to draw. Oh well, good beats.
The list felt good without Distortion Strike or Wild Defiance and I was a touch disappointed that I never got a chance to attack with a Geist of Saint Traft. Wild Defiance has gotten pretty bad now that Lightning Helix and Electrolyze are seeing less play. Kologhan's Command has other modes to choose from and thus won't get blanked. Also, with Become Immense in the deck you don't need too many huge increases in power.
Moving forward, I'd recommend this list as everything felt right to me. Path to Exile is probably good enough to maindeck; you run the risk of being a touch slower but gain when you really need to kill a troublesome creature like Spellskite in game one. I like the idea of having a “transitional sideboard” which involves bringing in a non-Infect creature for matchups that routinely deal themselves ten points of damage. Invisible Stalker is another creature on the possibilities list.
You don't have to play the Dryad Arbor maindeck, and I know many people don't like doing so as it is quite a miserable topdeck. If you don't like it, just switch the Temple Garden in the sideboard for it, you'll still want it against Liliana of the Veil and for making surprise blocks against Dark Confidant.
So there you have it. I came full circle in my deck choices and now I feel like Modern is working on doing the same. Elves won the Grand Prix and the Griselbrand + Nourishing Shoal deck is the new talk of the town. Among all the players that played Grishoalbrand, most of their losses were to Infect, giving another reason why Infect could be a good choice in the future. If Amulet Bloom and G/R Tron continue to be popular choices, I'll be a happy Infect player going into the next big Modern tournament.