Preparing for last week's Modern Open in Dallas was something like preparing for a post-rotation Standard tournament. Everyone recognized Stoneforge Mystic as a powerful addition to the format, but the card is so flexible that no one knew the best way to utilize it, or even the best Equipment to pair it with beyond Batterskull. Past that, the banning of Faithless Looting was sure to leave a power vacuum, and the impact the reduction in graveyard decks and a need for graveyard hate will have on Modern is still unclear.
With all this uncertainty, it's best to lean more heavily on what the hive mind is saying and react appropriately. Midrange decks with Stoneforge Mystic would be the Level 0 of the format, leaving Mono-Green Tron as a natural foil at Level 1.
My goal was to find a deck that could be good against both of those groups. My first thought was Storm, but every time I play that deck, I'm unimpressed by its (lack of) explosiveness and general fail rate when you don't find Gifts Ungiven and a Baral, Chief of Compliance / Goblin Electromancer. The deck is quite good at winning through disruption, but Force of Negation is definitely rough, so I quickly scrapped the deck and moved on.
Deck two, and the one I came the closest to playing, was Selesnya Eldrazi. Ryan Overturf had sketched out a good-looking list in last week's What We'd Play column, and I thought the creatures themselves would be well-positioned as value-generators against midrange decks and great pressure against Mono-Green Tron. Karn, the Great Creator seemed like a great addition by providing an additional angle of attack, some much-needed card advantage, and a means of shutting down Oblivion Stone and Thopter Foundry, two worrisome cards.
I had some success with the deck, notably beating up on other Stoneforge Mystics, but it wasn't as good against Mono-Green Tron as I had hoped. Karn, while powerful, is another four-drop, so the curve is a touch high, and neither of your early threats (Stoneforge Mystic and Eldrazi Displacer) is particularly good in the matchup. I'm interested in working on the deck more going forward but I thought I could do better for the weekend.
By this point it was Thursday night and if I was going to audible, it was going to be cold. I had two decks in mind that would be natural foils to Mono-Green Tron while also solid-to-good against midrange decks, TitanShift and Burn. Of the two, I have significantly more experience with the latter, but I thought the Stoneforge Mystic decks would be more prepared for Burn than TitanShift with cards like Timely Reinforcements, and the threat of Batterskull can put you into awkward situations where you have to spend a burn spell on an early Stoneforge Mystic. I also liked some of the recent additions to TitanShift, notably Collector Ouphe and Force of Vigor for the sideboard.
I based my list heavily off of Drake Sasser's after watching him stream with the deck earlier in the week, making a few changes to end at the following:
Notes on some of the card choices:
It's easy to support with the split on regular and snow-covered basic lands and selective use of fetchlands, and the additional angle of attack is very useful against many ways the format likes to hate out Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, like Unmoored Ego, Witchbane Orb, and Runed Halo. It doesn't come up that often, but when it does it's game-winning, so I think it's well worth the slot as a 28th land.
One of the major issues with ramp decks is the low threat density because you play a high land count and some number of spells that are functionally lands. Explore is particularly helpful since it acts as a ramp spell early and cycles late so you can more reliably find your payoff spells. Farseek is more consistent in ramping you, but I think the deck is more concerned with finding its payoffs reliably. There were times when Explore missed a land, but I'll accept that risk in a 28-land deck.
A great source of card advantage that also enables Turn 4 Primeval Titan and answers Batterskull-equipped Germ tokens and Thought-Knot Seers. The dual functionality of ramp spell and threat is the real draw here, since it lets you increase the deck's threat density without hurting its consistency.
A nod to the fact that big mana was well-positioned. It's an embarrassing card to have in your deck against most matchups and you're already good against Mono-Green Tron, so unless you're expecting a lot of the mirror I'd cut this moving forward, probably for a singleton Farseek.
Of all the singletons, this one performed the best last weekend. It acts as a ramp spell of sorts by turning on Valakut a land earlier and enabling a lot of Turn 4 kills. It's dead in multiples and this deck can't afford to have dead cards since it's so resource-hungry, but the first copy is a valuable resource. One tip: once Omen is on the battlefield, be sure to tap your fetchlands for mana so you can crack them later for extra damage.
It's pretty easy to turn on Expedition quickly with fetchlands and ramp spells, and having a card that finds two lands is valuable against opponents who use their disruption on your ramp spells. This is the card I'm most unsure of because it has a rather wide range. Sometimes it's excellent but it's a horrible topdeck later in the game. I'll need more time with the deck to have a firmer opinion.
You often see maindeck sweepers like Anger of the Gods or Sweltering Suns taking up removal slots, but I expected Humans to be sparsely represented and Lightning Bolt is good against Stoneforge Mystic and Goblin Guide, two threats I was concerned about answering consistently and quickly.
This was the last card to make the sideboard, and I was deciding between it and Rending Volley. Both are additional removal for Meddling Mage, which was my primary concern for the slot, and while Rending Volley is more efficient against Felidar Guardian, Fry can answer Ashiok, Dream Render, an incredibly problematic card that I wanted to have an answer to.
I purposefully left myself more vulnerable to creature decks and graveyards, since I expected those to not show up in large numbers or be successful. Compared to most lists I'm a little more threat-dense with the third copy of Summoner's Pact, Chandra, and sideboard Tireless Tracker, which was a nod to my expectation of midrange decks with lots of disruption. And lastly, I knew I wanted a lot of Obstinate Baloths since it's quite good against both Burn and any deck with Liliana of the Veil, an otherwise excellent card against TitanShift.
I've seen some concern over the number of singletons in this deck given its lack of card selection, but I've always been a fan of diversifying the flex spots of any deck, since the first copy of a card has the highest marginal utility, creating the highest increase in your chance of drawing it. Additionally, in a narrower metagame it can be more valuable to focus your deck on the more popular decks, but I expected a wide field and responded by bringing a wide array of cards.
The tournament itself was rather uneventful until the Top 8, when I set Twitter ablaze with one of the more boneheaded mistakes of my Magic career. With open decklists, I decided to run the "fifteen in, fifteen out" sideboarding tactic to disguise how many cards I was bringing in, and managed to remove the Reclamation Sage when rifling through my deck, only to become aware of my oversight when I cast a Summoner's Pact to find it so I could destroy my opponent's Blood Moon and end the match.
There was a time in my career when I would've been really embarrassed by such a silly mistake and lost focus to the point of dropping the match. But at this point, I just accept that if you play enough Magic, eventually you're going to make stupid mistakes. Obviously you should do what you can to maintain focus and prevent them, but we're all human. What's important is to stay in the moment and move forward as best you can, which fortunately I managed to do and still take the game.
I'm much more concerned with strategic and tactical mistakes like taking a poor line or sideboarding incorrectly than the silly stuff like miscounting damage or missing an easy trick. At least this one I got a good story out of to boot.
Moving forward, there's still a lot of uncertainty in Modern. We saw Level 2 decks like Burn and TitanShift perform well while the midrange decks were heavily suppressed, with zero copies of Stoneforge Mystic in the Top 8. Those decks will be easier to build with some clear targets in mind and should improve in the coming weeks, but I can't help thinking that there's more lurking from Modern Horizons.
I have some time before my next Modern event, so I get the luxury of watching the metagame unfold, but TitanShift will remain a strong choice so long as the metagame stays full of fair decks and Mono-Green Tron.
Note that this guide is using my Open list.
VS Four-Color Whirza
You will win the vast majority of games they do not assemble the infinite combo of Thopter-Sword plus Urza, Lord High Artificer, so focus your disruption on their combo pieces and otherwise try to race. Their midrange plan is anemic in the face of Valakut, and Ensnaring Bridge only buys them some time against Primeval Titan.
Because you're mostly racing, Field of the Dead is unnecessary unless the Whirza lists adopt something like Witchbane Orb. That's where the singleton Autumn's Veil comes in, since it can snipe discard or a counterspell. If your opponent is overloaded on disruption, then the second copy can come in over the Chandra, Torch of Defiance.
A straightforward matchup: protect your life total as best you can, and hopefully you can find a turn to land Obstinate Baloth without putting you too far behind. If you want to shore up this matchup you can play something like Pulse of Murasa, which as an instant is much easier to resolve against Skullcrack.
VS Mono-Green Tron
My list was well-prepared for Mono-Green Tron, and if that deck declines after a mediocre showing last weekend, I can see cutting at least a Damping Sphere to shore up other matchups.
I generally don't like artifact removal in the matchup, but Damping Sphere usually gives you a window to answer Oblivion Stone, so I think the one Reclamation Sage is worthwhile here. You may want a Force of Vigor to help against the potential Witchbane Orb out of lists playing Karn, the Great Creator, but I'd rather not dilute the deck's main plan, which is strong in the matchup.
VS Azorius Stoneblade
Scapeshift is mostly an all-or-nothing card, which makes it the weakest win condition in matchups where you're being significantly disrupted. Hence, I trim one here for more reliable cards. Tireless Tracker and Field of the Dead give you a great small-ball plan if they cut off your Valakuts, and the onus is on the Azorius deck to apply pressure since you have inevitability. The amount of pressure they are threatening is the key to determining how aggressively to play into counterspells, especially soft counters like Mana Leak.
If they have something like Runed Halo in the sideboard you'll want Reclamation Sage and/or a Force of Vigor or two, but the Disenchant effects aren't necessary against Equipment alone. You don't want to play their resource trading game. Just go over the top of them.
I don't like Autumn's Veil against heavy discard decks because it's a poor topdeck and this deck wants to tap out a lot in the early-game, but if they have a bunch of Terminates in addition to the discard spells it could be serviceable.
Much like with Azorius Stoneblade, you want to keep the pressure off to a degree but mostly focus on your own gameplan. Primeval Titan has been beating Tarmogoyf for years so you don't have to get fancy.
My list is underprepared for this matchup with just the one sweeper, but the matchup is still fine. Try to keep your Sakura-Tribe Elders on the battlefield to get the most life out of the block but don't sacrifice any speed in doing so. Ramping hard is important here because if they use Meddling Mage and Kitesail Freebooter to lock out your threats, then the natural Valakut plan can take over.
I don't care to attack their Aether Vials since we're not really trying to play a full control role. Just kill some creatures and land a Primeval Titan at a safe life total and you should be fine. Once Valakut gets going you can control their battlefield with ease and win at your leisure.
Ramp mirrors are always about ramping as hard as possible, so the midrange threat in Obstinate Baloth is an easy cut. Try to stay above eighteen life to make a Scapeshift kill slower and try to win the die roll.
VS Grixis Death's Shadow
This is a really tough matchup because of their combination of discard, counterspells, and a fast clock. Try to get a block in with Sakura-Tribe Elder since they are attacking in large chunks generally, and the longer you can make the game go, the more likely it'll be that you can win with natural Valakut and some Lightning Bolts since they will do so much of the work for you.