When I first agreed to join Brennan DeCandio and Tannon Grace for the team Open in Cincinnati, Tannon made a Facebook Messenger conversation for the three of us titled "Team Get Tannon a Trophy."
Tannon is currently the only player on Team BCW without an SCG Tour® trophy and he really wants one. Brennan and I were eager to get him one, especially after several near misses in Team Opens before. Unfortunately, Tannon was only able to carry us so far with some impeccable play of Grixis Delver in Legacy, as we both made key mistakes that cost us in the quarterfinals.
That's Magic sometimes, but we all came away happy with our team and our preparation, and we'll be back at it in a month in Atlanta and Baltimore.
Before I get into my deck and card choices I want to remark a bit on why I think our team worked so well and why Tannon and Brennan have had so much success at Team Opens. The key is trust in your teammates.
On the surface that sounds obvious. You wouldn't team with players you don't trust to perform well. But it goes further than that. Trust means allowing each team member to make the decisions for their deck and their games with little to no input from others. Lots of teams like to take advantage of the format and communicate to excess, creating a situation where too many cooks spoil the pot. It's also why Team Opens seem to have a higher than average number of draws, but that's a rant for another day.
We'd like to think that getting the input of many players is a good thing, but games of Magic are incredibly complex, and it's nearly impossible for someone who hasn't been in the game for a while to be able to catch up from looking at a single game state. They haven't been able to see how the opponent sequenced for the last five turns to gain an understanding of what they are holding nor do they understand the long game plan you may be enacting, and communicating these things is impossible to do at a reasonable pace.
Several times when one of our team members would ask for help, if we didn't think we had a good answer, we would simply shrug and tell them that it's their game, and while the optics of that response are bad, I think it's helpful overall. I have played very little Standard since the recent bannings while Brennan has and while I'm more comfortable in Legacy I've only played Delver decks a handful of times where Tannon has hundreds of matches of experience with the deck. My most effective help for Tannon was during his matchups with Elves and Storm, where I provided valuable insight from the side of the matchup I knew.
Even the most common ask in team events, mulligan decisions, can be too much. For example, in my match against Riley Curran, I had an opening hand with two copies of Blood Moon, a Remand, a Cryptic Command, and three lands. This is a fine hand, but my intuition told me to mulligan. I asked Brennan, and he said it was a keep, which it is without context. But as soon as Riley cast a Voice of Resurgence on turn 2 the game was over and I knew why I had such a strong intuition: Riley Curran always plays green creature decks and my hand was bad against those.
I wasn't able to articulate that to Brennan in the moment and as a result he was giving advice without the proper context. Had I simply mulliganed my teammates would've trusted me and I may not have had to get lucky with some timely draws in the final two games to take the match.
If you want to perform better in team events, stop communicating as much and focus on your game. Playing one game is a lot easier than playing a third of three different games.
That mutual trust extended to our deck choices and deckbuilding. We certainly took more team input on those choices since we have plenty of time before the tournament, but the final decision ultimately belonged entirely to the pilot of that deck. For Tannon that was easy, since Grixis Delver is still easily the best deck in Legacy and he's very comfortable with it, especially in mirror matches. I knew Brennan would play some deck with The Scarab God, so the big decision came down to me.
The deck I've been playing in Modern, Humans, has been performing well since the unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf, but I had some reservations about the deck, due mostly to the nature of team events.
Typically, a powerful, proactive deck that has generically good disruptive elements is great in Modern because you're not at the mercy of your matchups. Humans has a quality plan against decks as disparate as Jund and Storm. Reactive decks, on the other hand, need to draw the right half of their deck in game 1 and hope their sideboard is adequately prepared for whatever linear decks they happen to be paired against that weekend. These decks tend to take a couple matchup losses in every tournament, which makes it difficult to achieve the superlative record needed to make the top 8.
But in team events you're able to take a loss as an individual and still win the match. If all of your team members go 11-4 or better you're going to be in good shape unless you distribute your losses poorly, so the goal shifts from having the highest ceiling towards raising your floor. Reactive decks have such a high floor due to their low fail rate and are thus, better positioned in team events than individual events.
That said, I think reactive decks also get better in general in a metagame where Jund is the best deck. Jund is quite good against the fastest linear decks since they are the least resilient to disruption. As a result, the slower, more resilient linear decks like Tron, Scapeshift, and Ad Nauseam become more popular, and these are much easier to defeat with counterspells since they give you time to make land drops and cantrip into disruption.
Team events magnify these metagame trends since the better players, who are more likely to be playing well-positioned decks rather than pet decks, more easily rise to the top since it's a lot harder to lose two out of three matches with a skill advantage in all three than it is to lose a single match. With all these factors in mind, I decided to branch out into new territory with Blue Moon.
Blue Moon is excellent against the big mana decks I expected to increase in popularity, advantaged against most aggressive decks like Humans and Affinity, and a favorite against other control decks because it has more counterspells, burn to answer opposing copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Blood Moon to limit the opponent's available blue mana for counter wars. It's behind against the most popular deck, Jund, but not by much, and the matchup is one where I hoped to leverage a skill advantage against most opponents.
This was still a Modern tournament and that meant having to face a diverse field, but my prediction was that while I may underperform on day one, my teammates would carry us to day two, where I would be able to shine. Sure enough, I took two losses on the first day with the potential for more had I had to play out a couple other matches, but swept the swiss on day two before taking my first Sunday loss at the worst possible time, in the top 8.
After locking in the deck on Wednesday, I set about tuning my exact list. Here is where I registered:
To Combo, or Not to Combo?
The primary decision to make when building Blue Moon is to decide on a win condition. There are two options for a combo finish in Through the Breach + Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, Pestermite + Kiki Jiki, Mirror Breaker, as well as the option to play fair and win with assorted creatures and Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
I initially tried the Breach + Emrakul list with the idea that the combo cards weren't as much of a liability with Jace, the Mind Sculptor to Brainstorm them away when unnecessary. But in practice if you're activating Jace and it's not immediately dying, you're going to win. That's how Jace works. If it does immediately die, you probably need to combo quickly or die yourself so there's rarely a point where filtering away combo pieces is beneficial. It's ultimately better to replace the combo pieces with more disruption so you're more likely to untap with Jace in the first place.
In particular, the combo pieces are a huge liability against heavy disruption decks, like Jund, a matchup that I wanted to help via tuning as much as possible. You need all your cards to function on their own in those attrition matches so having a dead Through the Breach stuck in your hand is a disaster.
Finally, Blue Moon already has a combo kill. It's a four card combo of Island, Island, red source, and, Blood Moon. Despite being four cards it's rather easy to assemble and it kills a lot of decks in Modern right now. Everyone knows how good it is against Tron and Scapeshift, and how good it can be against Jund. But even less popular decks like G/W Hexproof and Ad Nauseam are significantly hampered by an early Blood Moon. It lets your Remands remain relevant later in the game and makes it much easier to find a spot to land a Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
It's not like the card is hiding anywhere - it's right there in the name of the deck. So many games involve interacting on the first four turns, landing a Blood Moon with Remand backup on turn 5, and then taking over on turn 6. Blood Moon and basics is the only combo kill you need.
After seeing Rob Pisano's list from Grand Prix Phoenix (which you can read about here ) and discussing these issues with him, I was sold on the fair version of Blue Moon.
I didn't deviate from Rob's list by much because all the numbers made sense. The only significant change I made to the main deck was to swap a Spreading Seas out for a 23rd land. My experience with Splinter Twin was always that making land drops was essential and winning through flood wasn't too difficult because of how much card advantage the deck has.
I had Wandering Fumarole, Field of Ruin, and Desolate Lighthouse as options and went with the most familiar of the three in Lighthouse, but I think it's close between it and Field of Ruin. Answering creature-lands in games you don't have Blood Moon is important, but potentially giving your opponent a basic to play through Blood Moon is embarrassing. If I play the deck again getting a better handle on that slot will be a priority.
The other main deck card I want to discuss is Harvest Pyre. And by discuss, I mean sing its praises. I don't see this one as often as I should because it's the best main deck removal spell for Tarmogoyf and other big creatures. Reactive decks want as many instants as possible because if you tap out for something and then fall behind to your opponent's next play, it's hard to get out of the cycle of tapping out to answer that and hoping they don't have a follow-up play to put you back in check. Obviously the delve aspect of the card gives it diminishing returns, but the first copy is excellent, and I wouldn't leave home without it.
In the sideboard, I was two cards different than Rob's list. I cut a Relic of Progenitus and an Anger of the Gods for a second copy of both Dispel and Ceremonious Rejection. I wanted the help against control and Eldrazi decks and decided to virtually throw away the matchup against graveyard decks, namely Dredge and B/R Hollow One. Hollow One is the worst matchup in the format for Blue Moon so I wanted to rely on my teammates to carry me should I be paired against it rather than sacrifice the necessary sideboard space to give myself a shot. Dredge isn't as bad because they aren't as explosive and Blood Moon can put a damper on their plans, but Bloodghast and Prized Amalgam are still great going long.
I also considered a single Entrancing Melody over the second Roast, but ultimately sided with the latter for mana efficiency against Eldrazi decks and delve creatures. Melody is excellent against Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant so if you're less worried about aliens and moreso about monsters of indeterminate species, I'd encourage you to make the swap.
In the tournament I didn't get as many control mirrors as I wanted/expected, but I also dodged the graveyard decks and stole a match against G/W Hexproof so it all balanced out well. There aren't many changes I would make moving forward, but here's an updated list:
I noted earlier that reactive decks want as many instants as possible so they can keep their options open for as long as possible. Favoring Opt in the cantrip split is no different as the ability to hold up Spell Snare on turn 2 and still use mana if your opponent doesn't play into it or land an aggressive Snapcaster Mage while still getting value is more important than the extra digging power of Serum Visions. Also, as the game goes long having the scry before you draw becomes more and more important so I'd rather draw excess copies of Opt than Serum Visions.
Simply put, I hate Electrolyze. Sure, it's great when you're getting the full three for one but outside of Affinity, which is on the decline, that essentially never happens. I'm sure I've done more damage to players than creatures with it because shock isn't killing much these days. It's often too slow to answer Dark Confidant and at three mana it can even be a liability against Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. It looks good against mana creatures, but you're Bolting those on turn 1 every time and killing two mana creatures on turn 3 is good, but not great. The upside of the card is high enough for me to play one, but that's it.
Engineered Explosives is still great in all the matchups where Electrolyze is and better in several others. It answers Tarmogoyf, sweeps up small creatures, and is actively good against tax effects like Thalia since you can set X to be less than you want and use the tax mana to get more sunburst counters. Moving an Engineered Explosives into the main deck also frees up a sideboard slot to help against graveyard decks, since in an individual event I wouldn't feel as comfortable sacrificing those matchups.
I'd like to try a singleton over the third Relic of Progenitus because Relic can be too slow against Hollow One's best draws. Your clock is slow enough that removing every copy of Bloodghast or Flamewake Phoenix is relevant and removing them from the initial wave makes your spot removal against Hollow One more effective. In general I've always been a fan of mixing up your hate cards, especially in a deck with lots of card selection, but I won't be afraid to go back to Relic should Surgical prove ineffective.
Disclaimer: if you decide to try a Surgical yourself, please...please…please stop bringing it in against fair decks to counter a Snapcaster Mage trigger or something similar. This point has been argued at length for over a decade and yet I still see it with regularity. Just stop.
Unlike Electrolyze, I love this card, but it's a casualty of wanting another copy of Anger of the Gods. It's among the best cards in the format against Humans, but the lack of immediate effect can be a liability in a lot of matchups, especially if you draw it while behind.
Even outside of the great result, this was the most fun team event I've participated in. I had soured on team tournaments recently since the logistics are more complicated unless you have a consistent team for each event, which is hard to do when there are so many of them and you often don't have three people who are interested in traveling to exactly the same events. But now I'm looking forward to carrying the Modern banner for Team BCW for the foreseeable future. I get to focus on the format I'm playing the most anyway, so the logistics of team events are much simpler and my teammates are great.
We're going to get Tannon that trophy.