SCG CON, from where I saw it, looked like a blast. Standard showed (some) signs of resistance against our chained overlord, Modern had a diverse field capped off by a Tom Ross disciple in Aaron Barich winning with Infect, and the various Open and Classic fields all had something cool to show off with innovation in every sanctioned (and some that technically aren't really sanctioned yet...cough...NBL Modern...cough).
I've said enough about Standard, and I still firmly believe that Goblin Chainwhirler is way more bannable than Rampaging Ferocidon, but there's still hope that with enough black removal, the midrange decks can overpower the format-warping three-drop. When skilled players like Gerry Thompson and Jadine Klomparens opt to play B/U Midrange, it's a heartening sign. Gifted Aetherborn is a healthy card to have combatting the offensively overpowered aggro decks. The 7-1 or better decks from the Invitational were littered with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, so don't count control out yet! When everyone comes gunning for red mirrors, there's a lot of free equity to be gained from playing the deck without a target on its back.
The one secret achievement that seems like it went way under the radar this weekend, though, is Raja Sulaiman's unbelievable performance with B/W Midrange. After a Top 16 in the Invitational on the back of a 7-1 Standard record with the deck, he went ahead and won the Standard Classic with nearly the same exact list the next day! Such a dominating performance is enough to make even a jaded and cynical analyst like me sit up and take notice. My best Pro Tour finish ever was on the back of B/W Midrange, so it wouldn't be out of the question for me to pick up Raja's deck and run with it for GP Pittsburgh in a few weeks. At the very least, it seems like a heck of a lot of fun.
I'd start with his list from the Classic, as it stands to reason that the few changes he did make were improvements to the deck based on his experience in the Invitational.
- 2 Angel of Sanctions
- 3 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 2 Knight of Grace
- 3 Knight of Malice
- 2 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 2 Lyra Dawnbringer
If Lay Bare the Heart is the fake fifth Duress and we need to stoop down to use to combat control, so be it. I like the way this deck operates! Now if only we had Temple of Silence instead of the "poverty lands" like Forsaken Sanctuary, I'd be chomping at the bit to get started with this beauty. I might even Esperize the deck, since I have a strong affinity for The Scarab God and a lot of disdain for Lyra Dawnbringer. Luke Purcell's list from the same 7-1 decklist dump would be the place to start that process. And speaking of " The Process", soon enough, it'll be time to start optimizing your midrange deck for midrange mirrors, and it'll be a format where proper Vraska's Contempt timing is everything.
Now that's a process I can trust!
But enough about Standard. There's a double Grand Prix in my backyard this weekend, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Sin City won by a quartet of Sin Collectors (in the sideboard of Humans, of course). My esteemed editor has sung the praises of "Modern People," as I've taken to calling it, and the deck has an unquestionable pedigree backing it up.
The only problem? Aaron Barich just dusted off a big win with a deck that most Humans pilots would rightfully say is not a terribly good matchup. Keep your Izzet Staticasters close and pray that your opponent doesn't draw their Blighted Agents! And despite Cedric's pronouncements, Jeskai Control is a popular deck that can, with the right draw, tear Humans a new one. There's no question that the disruptive aggro deck has a great expected win percentage, but the matchups are slowly shifting towards decks that actually have angles against it. My preferred Death's Shadow list is even packing Grim Lavamancers and Abrades in the sideboard, so you know the hate is real.
With the biggest decks in Modern being Jeskai Control, Humans, Affinity, Mardu Pyromancer, U/W Control, Hollow One, and a smattering of Storm, Tron, Hexproof, and Burn, there's not an obvious way to get an edge in the format. Despite Aaron's huge win this past weekend, I don't love Infect against the massive amount of control, though Geist of Saint Traft is a nice touch. Settle the Wreckage is a complete and total rout, and the Supreme Verdicts make Shaper's Sanctuary look a little awkward. It's possible that I'm underrating the deck because of personal bias based on experience playing against it with Grixis Death's Shadow and that matchup is awfully close to a complete and total rout. The less-interactive decks are practically byes in Infect's favor (think Tron, Storm, Ironworks, and Hexproof) and that kind of free equity is hard to turn down.
I could be convinced that an Esper or Grixis Control deck might have what it takes to beat the semi-mirrors (via discard spells, Lingering Souls, or Kolaghan's Command chains), but those decks have their own problems, and I'm not quite confident enough in my own brewmaster abilities to make an optimized version of those decks. Shaheen Soorani or Corey Burkhart are the better champions of those archetypes, and Shaheen is busy off campaigning for a Stoneforge Mystic unban in Modern, so it may not be time for Esper to shine. Grixis has some issues with holes in the removal suite, since it has no access to Path to Exile, but it's one of the grindiest decks ever created. It'd probably do just fine against Jeskai Control, U/W Control, Humans, and Affinity. Mardu Pyromancer (and really any deck with Lingering Souls) is a tougher matchup, but with a few copies of Electrolyze or Pia and Kiran Nalaar, it can be beaten.
No, the list that impressed me the most from the tournament was the third-place Mardu Hollow One deck, in the hands of Michael Hamilton, which adds resilience to the numerous Path to Exiles that come from Jeskai Control. Bloodghast, Flamewake Phoenix, and Lingering Souls can chip-shot control decks all the way down, especially when Faithless Looting makes sure that excess lands get turned into real Magic cards. The three Grim Lavamancers in the sideboard are excellent additions to fight Affinity, Humans, and Infect (although clearly they weren't enough to actually get the win in the semifinals). Generally, I like Grixis Death's Shadow's positioning against Hollow One, but with these changes (alongside the now-standard Big Game Hunters in the sideboard) it seems like Hollow One has a decided edge.
- 4 Hollow One
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Flameblade Adept
- 4 Flamewake Phoenix
- 2 Gurmag Angler
- 4 Street Wraith
- 1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Aside from Hollow One, Ironworks Combo continues to demonstrate its incredible power in the hands of those who are experienced enough to wield it. This deck is awfully reminiscent of Storm, with a similarly high power level and a few alternative game plans to attack the hate cards that come in for games two and three. Where Storm can turn into a pseudo-control deck with Lightning Bolts, Pieces of the Puzzle, and an endgame of a large Empty the Warrens kill, Ironworks sideboards into Wurmcoil Engine and Ghirapur Aether Grid to completely invalidate any number of Stony Silence or Rest in Peace. With five maindeck answers to Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or Meddling Mage, it is significantly less constricted against Humans compared to Storm, and its card selection and velocity is unparalleled. It's a stellar choice for those who can pilot it competently.
Unfortunately, I'm no Matt Nass, so I'll be sticking with Grixis Death's Shadow with Faithless Looting for the upcoming GP. It's as strong as it ever was, so I'm excited to play something close to the same list from over a month ago:
Not much is changing. The fourth Snapcaster Mage will probably make it in over the fourth Stubborn Denial, which will go into the sideboard to replace an Engineered Explosives, but other than that there's little to change if you want the best that Grixis Death's Shadow has to offer. Serum Visions is certainly playable, but the higher percentage of fast Gurmag Anglers has me convinced that Faithless Looting and Mishra's Bauble are where we want to be. If Infect won the Invitational, Grixis Death's Shadow should be as Infect-like as possible, and that means having a low mana curve with the ability to one-shot opponents early and often.
Now it's time to talk about the coolest format I've seen in many years, No Banned List Modern.
You can have these Dark Depths when you pry them from my cold, dead hands.
It's not often that we see such an underexplored format showcased at a large tournament, but NBL Modern gave us a look into one of the infinite possibilities for tournament Magic formats. Magic is just such a customizable game, that by adding twenty-odd cards to a format you can suddenly change everything. And the craziest thing is, this format is still basically untouched. There's a ton of exploration left to be done, what with nary a peep from Skullclamp decks in this event.
We saw the rise of Eldrazi in a big way, and it's not surprising. After all, Colorless Eldrazi in Modern is awfully close to Colorless Eldrazi in Legacy, which means that A) it's a solid starting point for a deck that people know can get wins easily and B) it's an easily ported deck into a format where very few people actually had any preparation for building a physical 75. After Eldrazi, one of the biggest decks was (no surprise) Turbo Depths, another easy port from Legacy with a powerful pedigree and relatively easy access to the cards.
It's a bit harder to assemble, let alone perfect Skullclamp Affinity, Skullclamp Elves, Skullclamp Goblins (now with Skirk Prospector!), Blazing Shoal Infect, various Counterbalance shells, and the like. After all, this was a one-of event (though I hope and pray that there will be more!) with poor access to cards and no huge incentive to break the format. People played the easy port-overs, and no one had much of an idea of what was going on.
I'd still love to see Blue Moon with Counter-Top (and possibly the Splinter Twin combo), and I suspect that Skullclamp Affinity with oodles of fast mana (Chrome Mox and Mox Opal?!) is still kind of broken. There are several incredibly good combo decks out there waiting for an exploitable metagame (think Dredge, Storm, Infect, and the like) and White Eldrazi seems amazing against Depths and Colorless Eldrazi. With Cavern of Souls to break up the Counterbalance lock, Eldrazi Displacer to slam dunk on Endless One and Marit Lage, and potential access to Stoneforge Mystic for Umezawa's Jitte action, there's a lot to be said for white in this format.
If I were to pick up No Banned List Modern, I'd probably start with White (or U/W) Eldrazi to exploit Chalice of the Void and naturally strong matchups against the two easily built top decks, but I'd quickly be seduced by the possibility of dumping my Affinity hand on the table on turn one or Storming off on turn two. Rather than looking for the deck that's as close to a Legacy deck as possible, I think the real solution is to look for the cards that are also banned in Legacy and try to use those. Treasure Cruise and Skullclamp are the primary offenders, with Mental Misstep kind of weak when half the format is Colorless Eldrazi. Chrome Mox, Green Sun's Zenith, and Skullclamp in Elves are incredible, and with enough Reclamation Sages there is reason to believe that you can't power through hate cards like Chalice of the Void. Who needs Elvish Visionary and Wirewood Symbiote when you can draw two cards for one mana!?
I sincerely hope that there are more opportunities to play exciting new formats in the future, and it certainly seems like that is the direction Magic is heading. Pauper, No Banned List Modern, and a healthy mix of multiplayer formats are all heartening developments in this infinitely complex game. Whatever your preferred format, SCG CON gave you something to sink your teeth into, and I am eagerly looking forward to the next one!