Welcome to What We'd Play! With SCG Columbus this weekend, many are unsure what they'd play in such a high profile tournament. That's where we come in and let you know what we'd play and why we'd play it. Hopefully this last-minute advice aids in your decision-making! Be sure to vote for who you agree with in the poll at the end!
Shaheen Soorani - Grixis Death's Shadow
When last we spoke, I suggested that you all should pick up the fancy new Izzet Phoenix deck. I would have played it myself that weekend, but I wasn't able to get in the requisite reps required for me to be comfortable with the deck. Ross Merriam took down that SCG Modern Open in Baltimore, beating a similar Phoenix deck in the finals. I got fairly lucky predicting the deck to play that weekend, but there is some method to my madness.
For Columbus this weekend, Grixis Death's Shadow is still riding the power wave from recent events. The deck is still ultra powerful, as well as has the toolbox to defeat any foe in the metagame. There were some decks out there that threatened the livelihood of the self-punishing deck; however, many of those decks aren't topping the charts these days. The decks that are prevalent at the top tables in Modern events are combo and non-burn creature decks, which will make any Grixis Death's Shadow player salivate just a bit.
The matchup against control can be a bit trickier. Luckily, many of the control enthusiasts have come to their senses and ditched the red. Jeskai Control has always been a tough matchup for Grixis Death's Shadow, due to the sudden death from burn spells and the powerful spot removal. Azorius Control doesn't have that same luxury. Supreme Verdict was always a tricky card to maneuver around, but Terminus is a much easier foe. Sleeve up the painful manabase and good luck this weekend!
Todd Anderson - Ironworks
It's no secret that Ironworks has been the "deck to beat" in Modern over the last few months. The only thing holding the archetype back was the physical dexterity needed to cycle through your entire deck each game without accruing enough warnings to receive a game loss. That and figuring out the permutations that result in infinite loops, or loops that ultimately lead to you winning the game.
I've seen Ironworks beat just about everything thrown at it. Graveyard hate doesn't work. Shatter effects as powerful as Ancient Grudge aren't good enough. It seems like the only way to really hammer Ironworks is to be a faster combo deck. The problem with that is faster combo decks tend to have a much higher fail rate, ultimately leading me to the conclusion that Ironworks is the best deck in Modern.
Can it lose? Of course. Does it have bad matchups? Absolutely. But those bad matchups are few and far between. How often do you see decks like Infect popping up? Is Storm even fast enough to keep up? It seems like the best way to hate out Ironworks is to stick some sort of game-breaking permanent and put a fast clock on them. The problem?
Four copies of Ancient Stirrings in the sideboard gives the deck a reasonable out to just about any permanent that is disruptive.
That permanent is a creature? Galvanic Blast should be able to take down most of those threats.
They're locking you out with Rest in Peace but aren't clocking you? Sai, Master Thopterist is quite possibly the best alternate win condition I've ever seen for a combo deck.
With all these moving pieces and the ability to kill on the third turn with consistency, Ironworks is absolutely my pick for the deck to play at Columbus this weekend. I wouldn't be surprised to see a few trios all packing this powerful archetype. It's just that good.
Owen Turtenwald - Selesnya Tron
My favorite part about playing Tron is nobody can deny its power, and showing up with a positive matchup, almost lopsided, against Azorius Control and Humans is where I want to be. I know Mono-Green Tron is the most popular build among successful SCG Tour® regulars, but splashing is a much lower cost than it may seem when you factor in Horizon Canopy.
Horizon Canopy is legitimately good in Tron and worth playing even if it didn't have the ability to produce white mana. I've played a ton of games with and without Horizon Canopy, and I believe Tron decks are improved by the first copy and it's definitely better than the fifth basic Forest. I would also like to draw attention to the fact that the power level on Horizon Canopy is through the roof, and almost any deck that can safely play it does play four copies. It's a huge part of the reason why Humans has been so successful in Modern.
Last stream of the year was a a short one but a good one, 10-0 in games with UW Control with main deck RiP getting paired vs all decks that relied on gy to some extent (KCIx2,Esper Goryos, Dredge, UR Phoenix) I guess this is Modern now pic.twitter.com/kdW7jJIYsF— gabriel nassif (@gabnassif) December 31, 2018
My view on the format is not quite as extreme as Nassif's, but I like where his head is at. Rest in Peace is the main reason why I choose to play Selesnya Tron at all. Dredge and Ironworks are rampant in the metagame, and the top 4 decks of the last Invitational were Ironworks, Dredge, Jund, and another Ironworks. The graveyard-based decks are everywhere, and they win a lot. Tron has an inherently bad matchup against Ironworks and if you stick to Mono-Green, your options for sideboard hate are underwhelming to say the least.
The biggest misconception about splashing in Tron is that you need Rest in Peace on turn 2 in a lot of the matchups where you would sideboard it in, and casting it that early is very hard. Chromatic Sphere, Chromatic Star, and Horizon Canopy are the best at early fixing and work very well. After that it gets dicier, but the thing to keep in mind is you can use Ancient Stirrings, Sylvan Scrying, and Expedition Map which is also essentially can fix for white mana. You're basically an entire deck based around land-tutoring so if you can survive long enough, you'll get the land you need. I've also heard concerns that Rest in Peace isn't just game over against Ironworks since they can dig for Nature's Claim or Spine of Ish Sah to remove it, but I don't need a rock solid solution to the matchup--I just need to buy time until I get to the lategame. At the end of the day, I'm playing Tron. I own the lategame. I can play Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, Karn Liberated, and Oblivion Stone and exile every permanent they control along with their entire library.
I love playing Tron and the only reason I ever put the deck down was the resurgence of Hollow One, a matchup I almost never win. Splashing white allows me to play Timely Reinforcements which is as close to a trump card as you'll get for the matchup. Modern is big enough, and white cards are easy to splash and effective enough against your bad matchups that I believe Selesnya Tron is an excellent choice.
Dylan Hand - Ironworks
This is either my second or third time suggesting Ironworks for What We'd Play, and I'm probably going to keep doing it until the deck is no longer legal to play. I've been playing Ironworks on and off for six months, but I finally spent the month of December putting in the requisite hours of practice to really truly understand what this deck is all about, and I can't even fathom not playing this deck until Wizards of the Coast literally says I can't anymore. This deck has an alarmingly high kill rate on the third turn of the game when compared to the rest of the Modern format; it isn't astronomically high, but it's hilariously easy to outright end the game or otherwise destroy every permanent your opponent has placed onto their side of the battlefield with Spine of Ish Sah if you can resolve Krark-Clan Ironworks on the third turn.
Ironworks also offers one of the most rewarding decks I have ever played in Modern in terms of the relationship between deck mastery and win rate. Not every game will be a walk in the park, but Ironworks is incredibly interactive as far as combo decks are concerned, so knowing how your interaction pieces (Engineered Explosives, Pyrite Spellbomb, Spine of Ish Sah, Lightning Bolt / Galvanic Blast, Nature's Claim, etc) line up against your opponent's maindeck and sideboard will reward you greatly.
As for list specifics, not much has changed except for the sideboard. I'm very high on Galvanic Blast right now over Lightning Bolt in the sideboard, as the influx of Thing in the Ice has made the four damage a necessity. If Ironworks is deck 1A of the format, Izzet Phoenix is deck 1B, so I like being prepared to play that matchup plenty of times, especially deeper into the tournament.
With all the interaction, card draw, and incredibly fast combo-kill potential, Ironworks sits on a throne once occupied by a deck that featured a lot of the same attributes (except for the whole instant-speed part, but I digress):
I said it last time, and I'll say it again: get in while the getting's good. Ironworks is the best deck in Modern, but I feel it won't be too much longer before a piece of the deck winds up in the same jail cell as Golgari Grave-Troll, Deathrite Shaman, and all their friends.
Emma Handy - Bant Spirits
- 4 Drogskol Captain
- 4 Mausoleum Wanderer
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 3 Phantasmal Image
- 3 Reflector Mage
- 1 Remorseful Cleric
- 2 Selfless Spirit
- 4 Spell Queller
- 4 Supreme Phantom
- 1 Geist of Saint Traft
When you can play three of the same deck, just play the thing that has the hardest time losing. In normal Magic tournaments, it's easy to be tempted by the ability to play something linear and powerful. Metagame calls feel great - trust me, I know.
The difference in this style of tournament is that it's impossible for you to be paired against a full third of the players in the room. If you're in Seat A, you will never ever ever ever play against a player in Seat B. This means that making metagame calls is a bit shakier than it normally would be and it's going to be better to take fewer risks and play a "safe" deck.
On top of that, it's a team tournament. This means the total number of matches required to win the tournament (per player) is lower than normal. It's possible to only win two-thirds of your matches and hoist the trophy at the end.
All of this points to playing the best "safe" deck, which right now is undeniably Bant Spirits. Between the power of cards like Collected Company and the "free win" equity of Spell Queller and friends, it's not difficult to figure out why the deck has become as prevalent as it is.
Ari Lax - Burn
I won an event a month ago, then I changed one card because Burn is amazing. Grim Lavamancer just isn't as good as you need it to be against Bant Spirits or Hardened Scales, and it's filler and sometimes a liability against midrange like Grixis Death's Shadow. A second Path to Exile is better against all those.
Do you honestly think anyone has updated their decks since a month ago? There hasn't been a major event, a major set release, and everyone is too busy handling holiday nonsense to even think about mathing out recent results and adjusting. On the same point, the six graveyard hate spells are great because no one has moved off graveyard decks for any reason.
If you aren't into Lava Spikes, play something with the best one-mana red spell. Hollow One, Dredge, and Izzet Phoenix are all fine options that abuse Faithless Looting. Put a couple Mutagenic Growth in your Izzet Phoenix deck for fast Thing in the Ice transformations safe from Dismember--tech courtesy of Jarvis Yu. I consider Storm an honorable Faithless Looting deck too, but Grixis Death's Shadow is just a Thoughtseize deck that happens to play a couple Looting and is off the table.
Ben Friedman - Grixis Death's Shadow
Surgical Extraction is trash. There's no matchup where Surgical is meaningfully better than Anger of the Gods where you aren't already a strong favorite. Meanwhile, Anger is great against Hardened Scales and Humans, and it's better than Surgical against Hollow One. I don't even like Surgical Extraction against Izzet Phoenix, to be honest. Just break up their spell-chain turn by punching holes in their cantrip sequence and watch them crumble.
This change, aside from being a fairly standard upgrade in overall sideboard impact, allows you to have a robust removal suite to fight the creature decks in the format, by turning a nine-card anti-Humans sideboard into a twelve-card one. Increasing impact and coverage is the gold standard of sideboard improvement, so I'm excited about this change.
You can play an Izzet Staticaster and an Engineered Explosives over one Anger and one Liliana if you want. Explosives helps against weird things like Selesnya Hexproof, Lantern, Chalice of the Void, and Auriok Champion. Staticaster is nice against all the one-toughness creatures in Bant Spirits, Hardened Scales, and various niche decks, but Anger of the Gods is your card if you need to fight Dredge.
Izzet Charm is better than Abrade as your flexible removal spell sideboard slot. Charm counters Collected Company and kills Drogskol Captain out of Bant Spirits, which has replaced Abrade's utility against Humans of killing Aether Vial or Mantis Rider. Charm also counters every good card in Azorius Control, most of the cards in Tron, and acts as your Faithless Looting in the spots where you're just looking for a Temur Battle Rage and a Death's Shadow.
It wouldn't surprise me at all to see a team of triple Death's Shadow beat a team of triple Ironworks in the finals of this unique Team Modern Open. Good old Grixis Shadow; nothing beats that!
Cedric Phillips - Burn
This list look familiar? It should because it's Ari's list from up above that he told you (and me) to play this weekend.
Look, I hate Burn. Like really hate Burn. I've tried the deck numerous times and have had no success with it at any point during my many years of playing Modern. But I'm not one to ignore cards, matchups, or results, so let's go over each one:
- What card is insane in an Izzet Phoenix, Ironworks, Tron, and Grixis Death's Shadow metagame, all decks that my fellow writers have suggested? Eidolon of the Great Revel.
- What deck is great against Izzet Phoenix, Tron, Grixis Death's Shadow, and Humans while not being embarrassing against the other popular decks of the format? This one.
- What deck did Ari requalify for the Pro Tour with and got second place in the most recent Modern Magic Online PTQ? This one.
Unfortunately, I won't be at SCG Columbus this weekend, but it's in good hands with Matthias Hunt, Emma Handy, Ryan Overturf, and Todd Anderson. As a west coaster, I'll be taking a quick jaunt to Oakland for the first MagicFest of the year to play Burn myself.
I'm getting in an airplane.
To play Burn.
Because Ari told me to.
You better be right about this Ari.