Taking some time off is always welcome as traveling can get tough. Between Grand Prix Portland and the SCG Invitational in Somerset, I was pretty pooped from being away two weekends in a row in addition to working a normal job and taking care of things at home, mainly my two spoiled pugs.
Even though I wasn't battling over the weekend, I was still listening intently to social media and checking out what was happening at the three Modern Grand Prix across the globe. This weekend, the SCG Tour® stop in Richmond may be Standard, but since I will be staying here for PAX West, my next event is going to be the SCG Tour® stop in Orlando and it is Modern.
Last week I recapped my venture to the Invitational. I was happy with my lists and did very well in Standard but fell short in Modern with a poor 4-4 showing playing Jund. I made the claim that I wanted to focus on being on the attack. Scouring over all the lists from these three Grand Prix, it seems that's exactly what a lot of people decided they wanted to do. Just look at the different decks in the Top 8 across the three events.
Burn – 3
R/G Through the Breach – 3
G/W Hatebears – 2
Bant Eldrazi – 2
Affinity – 3
Death's Shadow – 3
Infect – 1
Jund – 2
U/W Control – 1
Grixis Delver – 1
Coralhelm Combo – 1
Pyromancer Ascension – 1
Goryo's Vengeance – 1
That is a lot of “get 'em dead” Magic.
In fact, besides the two Jund and one U/W Control deck, you can make an argument that all of these decks are trying to get their opponent dead as fast as they can. The Hatebear decks do so in a matter of constricting resources in non-traditional ways, but are still aggressively slanted and want to leave the opponent as little time to draw out of whatever pressure they are in.
This means that my plan of trying to be aggressive can be successful, but now that I know everyone else is doing the same thing, what is the best course for me?
All of these decks attack from wildly different angles, and figuring out the right deck and fifteen-card sideboard to combat what is expected is going to be very important and extremely difficult.
Let's look at the most popular decks from across the different Top 8s: Burn, R/G Through the Breach, Affinity, and Death's Shadow. These decks all operate on different axes and trying to find a common thread to pull and unravel their gameplan is going to be key.
Burn is unique in that while it does have creatures that serve as repeatable sources of damage, it is heavily spell-based and can close the game very quickly in a flurry of burn spells. Having access to cards like Atarka's Command and Skullcrack makes it not as vulnerable to lifegain as one would hope, and cards like Searing Blaze can be extremely punishing when you try to lean on creatures to interact or accelerate early, like with Scavenging Ooze or Birds of Paradise.
The build that Brandon Burton used to win goes a little bigger on the creature front with Wild Nacatl. He only needs a few connections with the one-mana 3/3 to put opponents close enough to death with a fistful of burn.
Kor Firewalker is traditionally a good card against Burn, but Skullcrack makes it so that damage can't be prevented, which makes blocking with the Firewalker extremely risky. Path to Exile is also quite ubiquitous in the Burn sideboard, which makes them fragile in the mirror.
One of the best ways for the “fair” decks using Tarmogoyf or some other robust threat to win is by using cheap interaction for Burn's creatures and then closing the game out with a large creature. The idea is that if the Burn deck uses too many resources to handle the creature, then they will not have enough gas left in the tank to close the game out. Path to Exile solves this, but so does Deflecting Palm. Speaking from experience, having your 5/6 Tarmogoyf get Deflecting Palmed is a really bad feeling.
R/G Through the Breach is a deck that is modeled after the old Scapeshift combo/control deck. Rather than using blue spells to try to interrupt what your opponent is doing and force through your combo, we are using ramp spells to get us into Scapeshift range, but only as a plan B. Primeval Titan is the main attraction, and we even have Summoner's Pact to find more copies on demand.
- 2 Obstinate Baloth
- 4 Primeval Titan
- 4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
- 3 Simian Spirit Guide
- 1 Courser of Kruphix
- 1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
Scott Lipp has Top 8edd yet another Grand Prix with his trusty Primeval Titans and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, and with three copies across the three Top 8s, it seems he isn't the only person that is extremely high on the deck.
Between the four Titans and the three Summoner's Pacts in the deck, Scott has a lot of access to the land fetching ability of Primeval Titan. While I may prefer to get Boros Garrison and Slayers' Stronghold, Summer Bloom is no longer legal, so grabbing Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and/or Mountains is generally going to be just as good.
With five Mountains on the battlefield, and yes, both Stomping Ground and Cinder Glade count as Mountains, we can Through the Breach in a Primeval Titan, fetching two copies of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. When we attack, we can get two more lands that count as Mountains and trigger three damage four separate times, two for each Mountain that entered the battlefield. If our opponent happens to not have a blocker, that's eighteen points of damage in one turn, which also makes any additional Primeval Titan triggers quite lethal.
Simian Spirit Guide can speed us up, which is pretty cute, and we even have a backdoor kill with the copy of Scapeshift in the main. Let's not gloss over the Emrakul, the Aeons Torn in the deck as well. "Annihilator 6" is a hell of a thing.
How do we effectively attack this dec,k though? Even if we interact a lot, eventually it gets to a point where there are just so many live bombs left in the deck that we have to sweat multiple draws. If we aren't trying to interact, they can just kill us on turn 4. Well, effectively kill us. Attacking with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or Primeval Titan on turn 4 is pretty much dead.
If they try to attack our hand with Liliana of the Veil, we can just plop an Obstinate Baloth onto the battlefield. If they try to go wide, we can use Anger of the Gods to sweep everything up, or just kill them outright without any interaction.
This one is going to be a tough nut to crack.
Affinity being good is nothing new. Even in the face of Eldrazi horde, they stood their ground valiantly and beep-booped all over people. There is always hate in players' sideboards for Affinity, yet it continues to put up results in every tournament.
What's better than being consistent or being powerful? Being consistently powerful.
- 4 Arcbound Ravager
- 2 Etched Champion
- 2 Master of Etherium
- 3 Memnite
- 4 Ornithopter
- 4 Signal Pest
- 4 Steel Overseer
- 4 Vault Skirge
Manuel Menges managed to crack into the Top 8 with this build of Affinity, which is pretty standard. The only real points of contention in these builds are the numbers on Etched Champion, Master of Etherium, Memnite, and Thoughtcast. You really only have like seven slots there to tinker with, which doesn't really leave a lot of room for innovation.
That being said, this deck is a ruthless machine that can and generally will empty its hand by turn 2 and relentlessly attack from multiple angles.
Inkmoth Nexus and Blinkmoth Nexus are really what allow this deck to be as threat-dense as it is while also feeling like it has a million mana sources. Between Springleaf Drum and Mox Opal, there are some “do nothings” in the deck, but when almost half of our lands (eight of sixteen) can be turned into creatures and attack, there never is a shortage of things to spend our mana on and damage to be dealt to our opponent.
Not to mention that Cranial Plating has probably been ban-worthy since the inception of the format.
Attacking Affinity is rough because it really is the only artifact-based deck in the format. If you fill your sideboard with a bunch of Ancient Grudge and Shatterstorm and happen to not run into any Affinity players, then you are handicapping yourself, but if you don't pack sufficient hate for the deck and do run into it and still lose, then you are also handicapping yourself.
What to do?
A lot of times people will just play the interactive cards that also have applications elsewhere, Darkblast and Izzet Staticaster and the like. These situations allow the devout Affinity player to capitalize on the lack of hate and perform well in a tournament.
Also, sometimes the deck can just run you over.
Death's Shadow Aggro
Death's Shadow may be a relatively new deck in the grand scheme of things, but Gerry Thompson has been doing his Death's Shadow thing for a lot time before this. Championed by players such as Brad Nelson, Sam Black, Josh Utter-Leyton, and LSV, Death's Shadow is being thrust into the forefront of the metagame. This is for good reason, though. The deck is very challenging to pilot correctly but is capable of some powerful starts and absurd kills as early as turn 2.
Thomas Hendriks took this build to the finals in Lille and ultimately was beaten by Infect, but how does this deck actually work?
It functions as a Zoo-style deck with a bunch of aggressive one-drops that combo kills with Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage. Cards like Wild Nacatl, Steppe Lynx, and Monastery Swiftspear are great targets for this, but we also have a secondary plan of killing with a very large Death's Shadow.
Between fetchlands, shocklands, Thoughtseize, Street Wraith, and Phyrexian mana spells, we are able to lower our life total to an amount that becomes lethal fairly quickly with Become Immense or Temur Battle Rage.
The difficulty in piloting this deck lies in the nuances of Mishra's Bauble and the free draw spells. Knowing when to cash in these effects and maximize them is extremely important. Alongside this, fetching the proper lands for your gameplan is key. I haven't played very many games with this deck yet, but from my limited experience and from chatting with people who do play the deck, most games that you lose that didn't involve your opponent doing something unexpected are because of fetching the wrong land or using the wrong card at the wrong time.
Having complete control of your destiny can be quite the thrill. Just have to make sure that you put the time in to perfect the different lines and angles that the deck can attack from.
Comments from Last Week!
As always, I like to end each of my articles by highlighting and answering a couple of questions that readers posted on my article last week. If you'd like to see your question or comment be addressed here next week, please feel free to chime in on or create some discussion at the end of the article.
“Thanks for the kind words, Chris. Quick question, though. What advice would you give to someone that is just starting out on their Pro MTG career?”
- Liam Lonergan
Liam! Congratulations again on your Invitational win. As for your question, the biggest piece of advice I would give would be to make sure that you have something else. School, a job, just something. Playing Magic professionally is great, but can be volatile, and if you're relying on cashing this tournament you're playing in to pay for rent, that can be very stressful.
Being nice and friendly goes a long way too. Not only does it help to have friends to interact with while playing and traveling, but a big part of sustaining playing professionally will be through writing and doing content.
If that all fails, you can just grow a sweet beard and steal my thunder. :)
“Always a delight to read your articles! Glad to have you back Chris!”
- Matts Ekman
Thanks Matts! I love getting to travel and play MTG competitively again. Even when I can't, though, I will still play and write for everyone as much as I can as long as I am given the opportunity. Magic has been there for me and been a part of my life for almost twenty years, and the least I can do is give back to the community by sharing any knowledge that I happen across in my adventure and be a source of edutainment (education and entertainment) for anyone who enjoys my content.
I will be rooting on my Cardhoarder teammates in Richmond this weekend, but I will be diligently preparing for Orlando. I'm going to be on the attack in Modern. Are you?