#SCGKNOX is in the books, and going into this weekend I was under the impression that we basically had an old-school rock-paper-scissors situation:
After seeing the Top 32 from the Standard Open, I think it's clear that the current Standard has B/G Delirium and W/U Flash greater than all, and finding a way to beat each other and gain an edge in the mirror are going to be the important points for Standard as we head into the Season Three Invitational in Atlanta.
That all being said, the Invitational is a two-format tournament and we also must be prepared in Modern. Thankfully, there hasn't been anything to change that format much recently.
What was that? Oh, you mean Tom Ross won a Modern tournament with G/W Tron?
Yeah, but that's Tom Ross. That doesn't mean everyone is going to be on the deck.
While 8-Rack may not have taken off, just look at how Infect and Dredge have affected the format, two decks that Tom has taken under his wing and taken all the way to a Modern Open Top 8 this year. Tom Ross may be an unbelievably good player and able to navigate razor-tight games, but this G/W Tron deck is naturally so powerful that you won't have to be Tom Ross to do well with it. I expect some players to pick it up for the Invitational.
On top of that, we have Todd Stevens doing the devil's work with his Blood Moon-based control deck. Sun and Moon is a fan favorite, and after Skred Red winning a Grand Prix and now Todd Stevens taking down the Knoxville Modern Classic (there was also a copy of Skred Red in the Top 8), playing a deck that is weak to Blood Moon doesn't sound like a good prospect.
With these decks being at two different ends of the spectrum, we must wonder if the Blood Moon deck is even good against the Tron deck. During the Columbus Open, on his rise to the championship, Tom Ross soundly beat a Sun and Moon deck on camera. Oblivion Stone puts in a lot of work, and while Tom may have run well in that tournament, the frequency with which these Tron decks can assemble their three-card combo isn't something to be understated. Their weakness to decks like Infect, Burn, G/W Hexproof, and Dredge has kept them in check, but ditching the red for white gives you access to cards like Blessed Alliance and Rest in Peace. You can turn some bad or mediocre matchups into even or favored ones. This is all without reducing the impact on other matchups that you have, since Pyroclasm is largely unneeded now.
Now, at Columbus, Tom did have a loss to Bant Eldrazi, which I think is going to be the natural transition for those who are going to try to fight against G/W Tron. This does make Blood Moon good, since that's almost a lights-out play against Bant Eldrazi, but it also points me in the direction of an old friend.
I don't know if you've ever had the pleasure of playing G/R Breach or G/R Scapeshift against Bant Eldrazi, but it is a delight – from the Valakut perspective. Bant Eldrazi just isn't fast enough to kill you before you can do your thing, which is saying a lot since they have lands that tap for two mana. Turn 2 Thought-Knot Seer is the best way for them to try to gain some traction in the matchup, but even that doesn't put the game out of reach.
There were two copies of G/R Titan in the Top 8 of the Knoxville Classic, but the deck that I am the most interested in is Infect. Yes, people are prepared-ish for the deck. By that I mean they have some number of sideboard cards that they can bring in, but the speed with which Infect can kill and the simple fact that there aren't very many “bomb sideboard” cards for it make it my front-runner for the Invitational.
Dan Jessup took this to the Top 8 of the Knoxville Modern Classic, and it seems like a perfect place to start. Thankfully I do have some experience with playing Infect, and I would like to share some of the things that I love and dislike about the deck.
I love how much “play” there is to the deck and the fact that it's largely one sided. Due to the nature of the deck combo-killing the opponent, you get to force them to play most turns like you have it because they can't realistically risk making a mistake and losing.
This creates some very favorable scenarios.
1. You do have it, and even though they are playing around it, you can navigate the game into spots where they either can't stop you or you get to just nickel-and-dime them until they are forced to act and you kill them.
2. You don't have it, but they still must play around it. This gives you the time to find it, and by then you have navigated the game into a favorable situation. Of course, there are times when they read you on not having it and can take over the game, but the nature of cards like Become Immense and the cost-effectiveness of our threats means that we can always try to cobble together a win from very few resources.
3. You do have it and they don't respect it. Hooray, you just won!
4. You don't have it and they don't respect it. This is the situation where most losses happen for Infect, but again, due to the nature of the deck, you generally still have outs!
I love keeping the two copies of Distortion Strike and swapping one Blossoming Defense with Apostle's Blessing. I didn't think that we used the “unblockable” portion Apostle's Blessing enough to make it still worth it, but I was quite wrong and welcome adding a copy back into the deck.
I love having access to a full four Spell Pierce in the 75. One of the ways that this format is evolving is that people are just trying to do their things faster and be more efficient. A great way to interact with that is with cheap spells like Spell Pierce. Hitting something like Cathartic Reunion or Through the Breach is huge.
I dislike Kitchen Finks in this deck, but I believe that it is a necessary evil. Having some number of “sticky” threats against the Jund or Jeskai “kill them all” style of deck is important. Previously, Todd Stevens has used Nissa, Voice of Zendikar in that slot, which I am not opposed to. This is one slot that I plan on testing out to see just what the right mix is.
In the same vein, Wild Defiance is also usable against those kinds of decks. Not only does it invalidate cards like Lightning Bolt and Lightning Helix, it also turns every single creature that we have into a game-ending threat. Just two pump spells and suddenly our opponent is close to dead, if not already.
Dryad Arbor in the sideboard. I am a huge fan of Dryad Arbor in the deck. It goes a long way towards helping corner-case situations. It's a great surprise blocker in a racing situation. It's particularly great at trading with Dark Confidant against an unsuspecting opponent. It's good Liliana of the Veil fodder and can even provide an end of turn threat that allows you to untap and win with a bevy of pump spells.
These are the reasons that I dislike having Dryad Arbor in the sideboard over the maindeck. However, it's not without calculation and comes with some things that I do like. Most of the time it's only really great against Jund. It also has the potential to slow us down. The number of times I've had Dryad Arbor either in my opening hand that makes it unplayable, or that I can kill my opponent with literally any land in my deck other than Dryad Arbor only to draw Dryad Arbor, is staggering.
Also, I've always been a huge fan of having lands in my sideboard to increase my mana sources in post-sideboard games, especially against decks that are aiming to remove all my threats.
Modern is always changing, and there is another deck that has started cropping up that's drawn my interest. Popular at the World Magic Cup due to the nature of the Unified Modern format, U/R Battle Rage has also been picking up steam on Magic Online.
Like Infect, U/R Battle Rage is trying to win through one extremely large attacker, but a big difference is that Thing in the Ice gives us some play and allows us to interact in a devastating way. Bouncing our opponent's entire battlefield is big game and a simple Temur Battle Rage on an Awoken Horror ends the game quickly.
It's clear that Phyrexian mana is busted and this is another deck that takes advantage of it.
A big draw to this deck is the access to Blood Moon in the sideboard in addition to the blue cantrips, which helps with any consistency issues that may arise from having a limited number of threats. It's a pretty good thing there isn't a creature land with prowess.
That's where I am with Modern right now. I need to do some testing, but I do have a predisposition for anything Primeval Titan related. What do you think?
Going back to Standard, I am going to need a great reason to play something other than B/G Delirium or W/U Flash. The mirrors can be rough, but it is interesting how they are on the opposite ends of the spectrum. The Delirium mirror is challenging because it can be easy to misjudge your role within the texture of the game and you may end up fighting the wrong fights. Even still, Emrakul, the Promised End can always threaten to change things drastically even if you're ahead, and something like Liliana, the Last Hope can be ridiculously easy to ultimate.
The W/U Flash mirror is much more about positioning and leaning on advantages while identifying the proper things to play around. Pacing is much more important and an early advantage is likely to be much more devastating in the W/U Flash mirror than it is in the B/G Delirium mirror.
From listening to Brad's winner interview, I think he may be writing a primer for the Delirium mirror this week, so I am eagerly looking forward to that.
Comments from Last Week
Every week I like to end my article by highlighting a couple comments from my previous article. Make sure you share your thoughts in the comments section for a chance to be highlighted next week!
If Dredge is going to be banned again, I feel Infect and Affinity need some nerfs as well. Seems like Dredge is fine for now. People just bring hate against it and it's losing. Let's hope for more Skred Red to show up.
- Martin Jonassen Leithe
Martin, I am with you for sure about Skred Red showing up. I would love to see more Stormbreath Dragon! As for banning, I don't think that anything will happen, to be honest. The format is doing just what I think Wizards wants it to do, and that's get people to come out and play Magic. Yes, it is frustrating for some to try to prepare for a million different decks, but it can also be very rewarding when you get it right for a weekend.
Also, we get to play with all our favorite old cards (if they aren't banned already).
I'm trying to build Mono-Red Wildfire. Seems good with the new Chandra.
- James Frechette
James, that's quite interesting! There aren't a lot of decks that are actively trying to take advantage of the “add RR” ability on Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Do you happen to have a list that you can share here for all the other readers who might be interested?
This weekend is an off weekend, which means that it's time for me to spend a bunch of time on Magic Online preparing for the Season Three Invitational along with the rest of my Cardhoarder teammates. I'm hoping that we can figure out a new angle to attack Standard and come up with a solid plan for whatever everyone is on in Modern.
Who knows? Maybe I can Top 8 my second Invitational…and maybe just win it all and snag that Players' Championship invite.