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As regular readers of this column may know, I competed in an RPTQ for Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan last weekend. I'll spare you the melodramatics and simply say that I finished with a 4-2 record for a Top 16 finish. Close, but no blue cigar.
Wait, that doesn't sound right.
In any case, I settled on the following stock Jeskai Control list:
There's nothing particularly exciting here. I wanted the ability to play as reactively as possible against an expectedly proactive metagame, so playing a maindeck copy of Vendilion Clique over a Geist of Saint Traft that is difficult to connect with in many matchups made sense. Moreover, the singleton copy of Opt allows you to play value Snapcaster Mages on your opponent's end step, something I did with effectively Thought Scour years ago in Splinter Twin decks.
Despite a rather average record with a stock deck, I learned a lot this weekend that will inform my Modern preparation for #SCGINVI.
Trust Your Instincts
I wrote two weeks ago about playing Dredge for the RPTQ since it seemed to me like the amount of graveyard hate was trending significantly downward, with some players eschewing it entirely. It was indeed the deck I started my testing with and the deck I played with the most over the last two weeks.
My results weren't stellar, but I wasn't seeing a lot of hate and my instinct that the deck was once again well-positioned was reinforced by the deck winning the Magic Online PTQ last weekend. More importantly, that winning list incorporated an interesting card, Burning Inquiry, which helps the most significant issue I was having with the deck: reduced explosiveness after the banning of Golgari Grave-Troll.
In the end I let the fear get me and I was left to watch Alex Majlaton take down the RPTQ with Dredge in dominating fashion. While I don't think Jeskai was a bad choice by any means, not playing a powerful deck with which I am quite familiar when it was well-positioned was a mistake. If you're the kind of player who likes to play linear decks, you have to take advantage of the weeks when the metagame breaks your way, and I failed to do so.
What makes it worse is that an RPTQ is the exact kind of tournament where I should be taking bigger risks. In most cases, you're only going to get one loss to spare, and while I certainly won't say no to some draft sets, the days of me coming home from a tournament happy to have a box of cards in my hand are long gone. RPTQs may not be winner-take-all like the old system, but they still have a prize structure that is more top-heavy than any other tournament in Magic.
It may feel bad to walk in there and get Rest in Peaced out two rounds in a row, but the difference between an 0-2 drop and 4-2 is negligible. I should've disregarded the mediocre results in a small sample size and latched onto the fact that the most important variable, the amount of graveyard hate in the metagame, was in my favor.
Control Decks Are Popular
I suggested Jeskai Control for the Team Open last weekend and it appears that many players were like-minded, as it was the most popular Modern deck in the room on Day 2. It was also among the most popular decks in the room at the Raleigh RPTQ. There, U/W Control variants also showed up, perhaps listening to Todd Stevens's advice from last week.
The much-maligned control archetype is suddenly chic, which is something I failed to properly account for in my deckbuilding. I was high on Jeskai because of the prevalence of creature decks like Humans, Affinity, and various Collected Company decks. The high density of removal backed up by Spell Queller and Snapcaster Mage is great against those decks while giving you a way to play aggressively against linear decks. However, this build can be a liability against bigger control decks like U/W or this more reactive list from Baltimore piloted by Ali Aintrazi:
The takeaway here is that you should never be too quick to assume that you're onto something that others are not. Jeskai Control has been performing well for months now, and unsurprisingly, other people noticed. I should've done more to prepare myself for mirror matches or pseudo-mirrors, as that is what ultimately knocked me out of the tournament.