It's #SCGINVI week. The tournament is tomorrow and most of us are going to be locked in on our decks by now. We didn't arrive here overnight, and it's a process, but what is the process like?
For some people, they lock into their decks early on in testing and work on tweaking said archetypes for the duration of their testing, learning the ins and outs of a single strategy, all in the hopes of being able to out-maneuver whatever they play against, even if it's a bad matchup.
I'm in the other camp of people. I've played a plethora of archetypes in my day. Sticking to the same archetype isn't something I do, and outside of Legacy Prowess, there isn't any specific deck that I'm really known for championing. My recent decision to leave my day job and pursue Magic full-time has afforded me the free time required to test a wide range of decks in the format.
I'm rarely formulaic in my writing, but I've got a lot of information to cover here and want to talk about (almost) everything I've playtested for the tournament, what I learned, and why one should or shouldn't look to play a deck.
Standard is in a weird place right now. With zero tournaments since the recent banning of Aetherworks Marvel, people are still trying to figure out what is going on and what they should be playing. Level zero?
- 4 Metallic Mimic
- 4 Cryptbreaker
- 4 Diregraf Colossus
- 4 Dread Wanderer
- 4 Lord of the Accursed
- 4 Relentless Dead
The Good: Zombies is proactive and resilient. It's hard to "just kill their things."
Creature decks have a hard time fighting their efficiency and the low-to-the-ground creature decks are outclassed too quickly for them to reasonably fight on an axis they're comfortable fighting. Zombies is comfortable sitting back and letting Diregraf Colossus and Cryptbreaker take over while the opponent has trouble finding good attacks.
Against control, most of the creatures in Zombies are sticky, and given time they will overpower almost everything in front of them. Metallic Mimic might be embarrassing, but it sure gets a heck of an upgrade post-sideboard when it Animorphs into Scrapheap Scrounger.
The Bad: Zombies is the Level Zero deck. This means that it is sort of the litmus test that everybody will be using to know if they can compete in the format. In short, everybody should know how they can perform against Dread Wanderer and company.
Despite a host of sticky threats, Magma Spray can give the deck fits. This makes the deck flounder against control despite appearing to crush it on paper. Diregraf Colossus and Cryptbreaker are the best ways to net cards, but they both require their controller to overcommit in order to get much of a payoff. This makes it easier for control decks to have profitable Sweltering Suns and Fumigate turns, despite Dread Wanderer, Scrapheap Scrounger, and Relentless Dead all being in the deck.
Final Verdict: Zombies being proactive makes it incredibly attractive, but everybody gunning for it makes me skeptical to play it without a large number of reps with the deck. If you're experienced with the archetype, jam. Otherwise, stay away.
- 4 Bristling Hydra
- 3 Glorybringer
- 4 Longtusk Cub
- 4 Rogue Refiner
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 3 Tireless Tracker
- 2 Whirler Virtuoso
The Good: This deck does almost the same thing every game. Most cards in the deck are worth more than a card; as a result, most of what is happening here is going to naturally out-grind anything, synergy aside.
Temur Energy is the midrange-est midrange deck in the format. It can be the aggressor against Delirium and Torrential Gearhulk and play the control role against Zombies or Winding Constrictor. The deck's mana is both great and horrid, but there's so much fixing that it tends to work itself out by the third or fourth turn of each game.
The Bad: The deck is really monotonous. It took one League for me to get sick of Rogue Refiner.
Despite the deck having the ability to do almost anything, it isn't great at anything. Outside of energy playing a huge role in juicing up the power level of cards in the deck, there aren't a lot of inherent synergies to increase the power of cards as the game progresses. What you see on a card is generally what you're going to get.
Final Verdict: It's possible I didn't give this deck enough of a chance, but it felt like the deck regularly had trouble handling tuned decks and was very good at beating up the random brews.
The main takeaway that I got from Temur Energy is that while the deck can to everything, it isn't going to be good at everything. This leads to games where, despite taking on the role of the control deck, Temur won't be as good at controlling as Torrential Gearhulk decks.
Why is this relevant? Because decks like Zombies are equipped to slog through everything that a full-fledged Torrential Gearhulk deck is going to throw at it. Being worse as a control deck means that Temur doesn't have the same kind of suppressing fire necessary to keep Zombies in check.
This mentality seems to translate to most decks, and without the "I win" buttons the previous iterations of the deck had with Aetherworks Marvel and Felidar Guardian, I'm just not comfortable registering it for a tournament as important as the Invitational.
- 2 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 4 Longtusk Cub
- 2 Sylvan Advocate
- 2 Tireless Tracker
- 4 Winding Constrictor
- 3 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
The Good: B/G Energy is likely the most adaptable aggro deck of the format. Winding Constrictor just has draws that feel similar to old Rock-style decks with hyper-efficient threats that are oversized and undercosted backed by removal. Even the deck's weaker draws are generally "fine."
The sizing of the deck's creatures generally means that it will be able to rumble well with what other aggro decks are doing despite being a turn or so slower. Walking Ballista and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner don't fit this bill, but they are meant to serve a different role in the deck. Rishkar, Peema Renegade; Nissa, Voice of Zendikar; and Verdurous Gearhulk all make creatures balloon to unmanageable sizes over the course of a single turn and make the deck able to switch roles from the defender to the aggressor at the drop of a hat.
Against grindier decks, B/G Energy is packed with threats that grant their users the ability to use their mana for value (Walking Ballista, Tireless Tracker) or grant incremental advantages the more turns that they're left unanswered without any additional investment (Nissa, Voice of Zendikar; Glint-Sleeve Syphoner). Blossoming Defense and Lay Bare the Heart help weave through problem cards and keep the opponent playing catch-up on the battlefield.
The Bad: Winding Constrictor's biggest issue lies in its versatility. There are tons of ways to build the deck, and they're all good against different things. Picking the wrong version on a given weekend could spell disaster, and without any data from paper Magic tournaments to go from, it could be hard to narrow down a single list.
Heart of Kiran is better at flying over other creature decks, but Vehicles tend to suffer against the grindy decks. Scrapheap Scrounger is great against the grindy decks, but rough against Little Kid aggro. The cycle goes on and on, and it makes it hard to play it blind.
Final Verdict: B/G Energy is one of my frontrunners for what to play this weekend. I've been holed up all week playtesting with Jadine Klomparens and she builds a mean Blooming Marsh deck. If I end up leaning towards an aggro deck on the weekend, B/G Energy is at the top of the list.
Without Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger running around, it's a good time to be casting Cancel variants. Overloading on Magma Spray feels strange when its primary use is against Zombies, but beating the slower midrange decks is elementary, so losing a card here and there is relatively inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.
The sideboard is a spattering of things I've been testing. Having a full four sweepers in the 75 is likely correct, and Descend upon the Sinful provides a nice hedge against Zombies and Heroic Intervention.
The Bad: Just play the typical "If you call the metagame wrong, you'll be answering the wrong things, and it will snowball in a bad way" saying in your head. Luckily, the answers in Jeskai are so universal that this isn't quite as bad as it normally is.
The largest problem with the deck is having a good sideboard. The first game tends to be easy mode because the opponent has scores of Fatal Pushes, Grasp of Darknesses, and Magma Sprays rotting in their hand. Post-sideboard you'll see players with more hand disruption, sticky threats, and must-counter spells. Making sure to have a plan for what people will bring to the table will be the make-or-break aspect here.
Final Verdict: We've come full circle and most of the card decisions are explained here:
Outside of Zombies, we're in a similar situation as #SCGATL, and I would happily run this deck back for that tournament. The deck has been testing well for me for the last few days, and short of something knocking my socks off or Jadine making a Parseltongue out of me, I'll be putting my fate in the capable cannon-hands of Torrential Gearhulk.
The Good: This deck's best draws are nigh-unbeatable. Any of the draws that involve natural Tron or multiple Eldrazi Temples just feel like they put the opponent far behind in a way that is so hard to interact with.
Expedition Map being able to grab Sea Gate Wreckage and Cavern of Souls means that going late and counterspells aren't reliable. Chalice of the Void makes it hard to just punk Eldrazi Tron out of a game by going under them.
The Bad: Some of this deck's bad hands are borderline non-functional. At the risk of piggy-backing a little bit off Ari Lax's article I linked to earlier, the Ghost Quarter-Urza's Tower-Wastes draws without a Chalice of the Void aren't really doing anything relevant.
Final Verdict: After about fifteen or so matches with the deck, I decided to put it down. It felt like the games were unwinnable or unlosable, with very little in between. My win rate with the deck was fine, but relatively unspectacular. My record with Death's Shadow is pretty reasonable, and I'd rather play with the Tier 1 deck that I have a large amount of experience with. Speaking of…
The Good: My pick for the best deck in Modern. A good rule of thumb in tournament Magic is "Play the deck that feels like it has the power level of an older format." Grixis Death's Shadow feels like a slightly underpowered Legacy deck most of the time, and that puts it a mark ahead of what most of Modern is doing right now.
The strategy has the tools and ability to answer whatever strategy its deckbuilder wants to be fighting, and even against bad matchups, 5/5s and 6/6s for a single mana being backed up by Thoughtseize is a great place to be.
The Bad: Everybody is gunning for Death's Shadow. People are maindecking anti-Death's Shadow cards, and there are even anti-Death's Shadow archetypes that are starting to gain momentum as a result of the deck's continuous success. Seven copies of Mirran Crusader making the Top 8 of Grand Prix Las Vegas speaks volumes about the reliability of said archetypes.
Final Verdict: If I end up playing a Tier 1 archetype at the Invitational, it will likely be Death's Shadow. I have a couple of respectable finishes with the deck and know how to navigate most matchups, even through hate.
I don't want to have to trudge through a sea of people putting Death's Shadow in their crosshairs, particularly with the elimination rounds being Modern. That being said, Grixis Death's Shadow isn't considered the best deck in Modern for nothing.
The Good: This deck beats the you-know-what out of Grixis Death's Shadow. Did they have a fast draw that involves paying a lot of life? Bolt-Snapcaster-Bolt. Did they have a slow, grindy draw? Path to Exile and Cryptic Command is a lot to slog through. This deck plays more answers than Grixis Death's Shadow does threats.
The deck has a lot of options in the way of customization and is incredibly consistent.
Decks that don't play a large number of creatures tend to do reasonably against Jeskai during Game 1, and trying to answer spell-based decks from Jeskai's perspective can feel a bit like playing darts at times. Sure, you may be on target, but is it the right target? Modern has so many decks to answer that picking the wrong answers relative to your pairings will have you dead before you can cobble together a win.
Final Verdict: The randomness associated with Modern means that I wouldn't be comfortable having my Invitational hinge on something as reactive as Jeskai. I may end up having a change of heart, but I don't think this is a deck I'd recommend for a tournament with a best-of-five Top 8.
- 4 Devoted Druid
- 4 Dwynen's Elite
- 4 Elvish Archdruid
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 3 Llanowar Elves
- 1 Mirror Entity
- 3 Nettle Sentinel
- 1 Vizier of Remedies
- 4 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
The Good: Elves is likely the most underrated deck in the format. People tend to throw their arms up when it wins, yet hardly have a plan for it when the opponent plays a Forest and a Llanowar Elves on the first turn.
"I never actually lose to Ezuri, Renegade Leader or Elvish Archdruid. I lose because I stick a Death's Shadow or Gurmag Angler, but I have no good attacks and they eventually have seven attackers to my two blockers."
The deck's ability to go around most of the format's creature decks and keep generating just enough pressure against the grindy decks makes it much better than people give it credit for.
The Bad: Dredge's resurgence has made Anger of the Gods and company popular. Sweepers can be rough for any little creature deck without creature-lands. Eldrazi Tron maindecking All Is Dust isn't doing Elves any favors.
Final Verdict: Elves is likely what I'll sleeve up if I want to make a risky metagame call for the tournament. Sometimes you just gotta roll the dice and hope they come up your way. Elves sent Liam Lonergan to the Players' Championship last year, and duplicating his success would be nice.
I still need to get more reps in with this deck before I decide whether or not I take a risk with Elves or play the deck I know in Grixis Death's Shadow.
That's basically it. I've tried out a bunch of other cards, and other than a Standard brew that I can't recommend to other people in good faith, nothing else I've played has felt discussion-worthy.
There are still a few decks I want to try out. As I write this (on Tuesday), I still have a few days to jam games with my teammates and some time to experiment. I don't expect to find anything particularly shocking in the games, but ironing out final card selections and soul-searching is still part of the process that I have to complete. Playtesting isn't always about finding out what to do, but also what not to do. In this case, I don't regret the amount of time that I've invested into preparation.
Will I feel the same way Sunday night? Who knows.
By the time this article goes live, I'll likely be locked in and there'll just be one thing left to do: play the games. I'm looking forward to it.