Last week's article focused on Standard and Grand Prix Moscow coming later this year so today I have some stories and fresh knowledge to share. Grand Prix Lincoln was an iconic event for Modern and it was surprisingly concerned with Russia too. I have Russian stories from Nebraska from Russia and even from Magic Online. Some hot new technology and a bit of craziness are also included.
The First Story: Russian in Nebraska
Mikhail Stroev is a player from Khabarovsk. He is known in our community as relentless Magic Online grinder BackstreetDV and has played on the Pro Tour (it’s a really hard task when you live some thousand miles away from the nearest PTQ). He has some GP money finishes (including GP Brussels in 2010 with a four-colored Uril the Miststalker deck in Alara-Zendikar Standard) but nothing really impressive—until recently. Everything started when Mikhail won the Christmas PTQ on Magic Online. Don’t rush to call him a lifeless nerd—we have Christmas two weeks later in Russia so it was just another cold winter evening. Mikhail got his US visa booked his flight to Hawaii and then after some thought another one from Hawaii to Lincoln.
At Honolulu Mikhail finally broke his curse of being 2-3 points short from day two while playing a G/W aggressive deck to a relatively strange but promising 5-1-2 record. It’s funny that both of his unintentional draws were against the same person with whom he was paired twice—in Standard and Draft. Day two went worse (3-5) so he left paradise with mixed feelings.
Cold Nebraska was far more forthcoming to Mikhail allowing him to survive through day one with an 8-1 record after two byes. Unfortunately an early loss in day two eventually knocked him out of Top 8; Sam Friedman was the only player who made it with 12-3 record leaving ninth tenth and eleventh places to Gerry Thompson Mikhail Stroev and Brian Kibler. Good company don’t you think? I hope to see Russian players in similar company more often but now it’s time to speak about Mikhail’s weapon of choice: U/B Delver of Secrets.
The deck is rare in Magic Online Daily Events right now and probably for good reason but Mikhail started his travel from Khabarovsk more than two weeks before GP Lincoln so he was forced to spend all his time on Pro Tour preparation. In this circumstance picking the deck which he knew best from Magic Online grinding was the only correct choice. Ari Lax recently wrote an amazing Premium article about choosing the deck and one of the important points is that your Grand Prix deck can have bad matchups but you must be sure that you will not give your opponents free wins due to you not being confident with your deck.
Mikhail is still somewhere between Lincoln and Khabarovsk so I was unfortunately unable to catch him for a long interview and exact deck list. Here is the deck that he according to his pre-GP forum post used as a base with very few changes (this list won a PTQ in Moscow some weeks before). By the way having only the Top 8 lists from Grand Prix is very frustrating. We are given all 6-4 deck lists from Pro Tours and even the Top 32 deck lists from online PTQs. Don’t you think that there's something wrong in having a bunch of 5-3 decks from a 200-person tournament and not a bunch of 12-3 decks from a 1000-person tournament? I remember how happy I was when the Top 32 lists were posted for GP Hiroshima last year—and I’m very curious why WotC didn’t continue that practice.
The StarCityGames.com Open Series if far ahead in most aspects of tournament coverage (and I’m glad that WotC is trying to reach this high level) but I believe there is a little improvement that will help make coverage even better. I can remember two or three times when interesting and innovative decks made X-2 records but were not posted because the X-2 bracket often goes down as far as 20th or even 25th place. SCG Opens were blamed as one of the causes of Standard degradation (especially during the Caw-Blade days) and posting all X-2 decks will help to increase the diversity of format.
I know for sure that Mikhail had some Curse of Death’s Hold in the sideboard and this decision won him at least two matches: against Affinity and Elves. Old Modern weapon proved itself to still be powerful so don’t forget about it—the metagame changes in this format very quickly so a good time to sleeve Delver of Secrets and Dark Confidant could even be tomorrow! While I believe that it’s not the end of the Mikhail’s story and someday we will see him in a Grand Prix Top 8 it’s definitely time to go on to the next story now.
The Second Story: Boros and Remand
There are many sorts of players and one of them is the one-deck geek. There are guys who are very enthusiastic about some deck (like Petr "the most Red mage" Brozek). They are easier to find in Legacy due to format’s longevity but they can be found in other formats as well.
There is a great example of this sort of player in our community in Moscow. The guy named Roman Masaladzhiu (yes his last name is hard enough even for Russians because he has Moldovan roots). He returned to Magic from a long absence around Zendikar release and immediately fell in love with landfall mechanics and two aggressive creatures named Steppe Lynx and Plated Geopede. He was very successful with the deck and even gained the title the King of Tuesday because of the weekly Standard tournaments in our store. He always had very special builds not really associated with things like global metagame trends latest developments etc. His own signature cards were Earthquake and Ranger of Eos and his build was significantly heavier than others were.
Everything went well until Alara Block and M10 block rotated out of Standard. The loss of both signature cards (along with Path to Exile) was devastating but nothing is stronger than true addiction. Four Koth of the Hammer sealed the deal and the King of Tuesday continued to wreck local tournaments. Everything went well until the one fine day when Zendikar block rotated out of Standard. As far as I know Roman tried every possible deck in R/W colors (even R/W Tempered Steel) but was finally forced to sit on Mono-Red. But nothing can be stronger than true addiction so Roman (who was at this point already known as Borosman) started playing Legacy. Yes with his beloved Boros!
You can expect an opponent to laugh when you cast Plated Geopede in Legacy but Roman quickly earned some respect from Legacy players—mostly because of his tournament results involving Ranger of Eos and Earthquake (Roman continued to use Earthquake over Rolling Earthquake due to absence of the foil version of the latter). Moreover some other players also used the deck with relative success from time to time and it even became a more or less obvious deck to lend to the new members of our community. Roman’s current list is the following:
I don’t have much to say about this list because I don't play much Legacy but the deck has had some success in the hands of more than three players so it could be worth playing. But it’s time to continue my story.
When Modern was first announced for the Community Cup there was a lot of buzz and obviously the Boros list from Alara-Zendikar Standard was immediately posted on our local forums. Half year later there was a PTQ in Moscow. Obviously Roman wanted to try his deck and accepted the challenge—especially after he was trolled on our forums with the list that won Magic Online PTQ a few days earlier. That deck featured zero Ranger of Eos and full four Chandra’s Phoenix which was considered heresy.
Roman not only made Top 8 of a 70-person PTQ but he was stopped by Merfolk in the semis just because of his own lack of preparation for long tournaments. Semifinals were the ninth round and he got tired and kept one-landers in games 2 and 3. The list was the following:
You can count the number of differences between the Legacy and Modern versions but it’s hard to ignore that a resolved Ranger of Eos is just devastating against decks like U/B Delver that filled the metagame at that point. Not to mention the conception of the deck with a powerful late game I actively dislike some points like the lack of Flagstones of Trokair and the presence of Earthquake but Roman considered these points unnecessary. He backed up his opinions with tournament success while I led my anchored Affinity to unspectacular 20th out of 70 at that very event.
Roman wrote a tournament report and then the trolling started. Our forums are a weird place of communication—the same as any closed-community forum. Old regulars terrorize noobs arrogant bastards troll everyone who is careless enough to answer them etc. etc. The situation is even worse if we consider the fact that Roman looks at things only from his own perspective and badly perceives opinions different from his own. Here's a quote about his match against Caw-Blade:
"Some sort of incomprehensible counterspell: Remand. What’s this? Why does this card see play? Is it cool to counter Ranger of Eos for one turn draw a land and then to see the very same Ranger again? Well okay put more bad cards into your deck."
A few weeks later the Wednesday before the PTQ I found my friend Alexander Syomkin in the store where tested my U/W/R Isochron Scepter deck for the upcoming Modern PTQ in Saint Petersburg. He liked the deck’s idea but desperately wanted to upgrade it. The deck’s main problem is that it’s hard to win if your fast Delver of Secrets dies so we discussed the addition of Steppe Lynx a bit but I left the topic because I was asked about my own choice and didn’t want to spread my team’s technology. Alex is good deck builder and we cooperate from time to time (for example for the last Nationals we built a good Vampires deck that eventually crushed Caw-Blade and Twin-Blade to an overall record around 10-2) but for this PTQ we went separate ways.
Scouting is a very important part of preparation for local tournaments. Predicting the Grand Prix metagame is hard and often ungrateful work so I’d prefer something strong and flexible. But when we’re speaking about a five-to-seven round event it’s possible to collect the data and rumors about the deck choices of significant part of the field. For example we knew that there would be no more than one or two Storm decks and were able to tune our sideboards accordingly.
On Saturday when the tournament was about to start we all knew that four players including Alexander Syomkin and another Alex (former Russian champion Alexander Privalov) were playing a U/W/R Delver deck. Quick observation showed Steppe Lynx so I was relatively confident about them. Other people quickly noted that not only Delver of Secrets and Steppe Lynx were in the same deck but it was also featuring Lightning Bolt Lightning Helix…and Remand! So the deck was immediately named BORemandOS and the new episode of trolling had started five minutes after the PTQ participants logged onto the Internet.
"Hey Roman look that ugly Remand card is extremely good even in your Boros deck!"
But trolling was later while strange things started to occur even during the tournament.
First I observed incredibly a long game where Alex had almost half of his deck in his graveyard and there was no Isochron Scepter in open game zones. I had no reasoning for that being impressed by Kor Firewalker which he used against Jund.
Second when all four Scepter players found themselves in the Top 8 and two of them were paired against each other they both were certain about the outcome of the match because one of them said he had slightly different deck that was unable to beat the other version.
Third one of my buddies played against U/W/R Delver in the last round (he unfortunately lost that win-and-in) and said that he was in doubt if they even had Isochron Scepter. Alex tried to hard to intimidate him by Disenchant imprinted to Scepter (my buddy played Affinity).
The pieces of puzzle started to come together at that point and that became important when another of my teammates found himself in the Top 4 along with all three good U/W/R decks. There were two epic matches both in the semis and in the finals and the ticket to Barcelona was the trophy to the winner of the battle between two former National champions: Alexander Privalov (U/W/R) and Andrey Kochurov (Melira). Right after my teammate won his PT invite (congratulations Andrey! Congratulations teamsuptnik!) I got a hold of all the deck lists (I often do that after PTQs post the Top 8 decks and metagame breakdown). My first action obviously was to look at the BORemandOS deck list—and I didn’t find Isochron Scepter anywhere among the 75!
The deck looked sick and we all felt that it could break the metagame. We didn’t have enough time to test before the Magic Online PTQs that weekend but our feelings about the deck were fully confirmed two days later when another member of the Alex and Alex testing team Dmitry Zaychenko won a Magic Online PTQ. I hope that every Magic Online PTQ season will be highlighted by Russians winning but who care about my high hopes when it’s time to show the list?
The game plan is simple and very powerful: provide some early pressure with a double amount of excellent one-drop creatures then back it up with removal and Geist of Saint Traft. Steppe Lynx significantly increases your chances of connecting to your opponent’s life total early and gives you the edge in some matches where more common Delver builds are not favorable.
Inability to play many creatures due to Delver of Secrets and Snapcaster Mage is a nearly incurable problem. If the first creature gets killed it’s hard to provide enough pressure. Alex and Alex’s deck has Geist of Saint Traft to finish an opponent quickly (two times faster than Vendilion Clique would) and a lot of removal (even Burst Lightning!) to take care of blockers or to finish an opponent.
The build used to win the Magic Online PTQ contained three Volcanic Fallouts in the sideboard while at paper tournament there were three Deft Duelists—the guys correctly anticipated to seeing each other in the Top 8 and Deft Duelist is just nuts in the mirror match. Delver mirrors are usually won by player who has the last creature standing and this small creature from Alara does the job perfectly. Duelist is still weak to things like Volcanic Fallout Whipflare and Black Sun’s Zenith but she is far better than nothing. Nevertheless in a mirror-like attrition war it would be better to increase the number of creatures and a possible way to do that is by copying Sam Black’s Standard idea of Drogskol Captain plus Lingering Souls. Splashing black would be possible with all these fetch lands and shock lands. I have no good list right now so I’d be happy to see your attempts. I’m going to go to the last story for today.
The Third Story: Melira and Thalia
As I said that paper PTQ was won by my teammate Andrey Kochurov who piloted Melira. His build was far from one that Andrew Cuneo used to secure his second place at GP Lincoln so let’s look at both decks first.
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Entomber Exarch
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Harmonic Sliver
- 4 Kitchen Finks
- 1 Murderous Redcap
- 1 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Ranger of Eos
- 1 Reveillark
- 3 Viscera Seer
- 4 Wall of Roots
- 1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
- 3 Melira, Sylvok Outcast
- 1 Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
- 1 Dryad Arbor
- 1 Spellskite
- 1 Baneslayer Angel
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Harmonic Sliver
- 4 Kitchen Finks
- 3 Murderous Redcap
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Orzhov Pontiff
- 1 Ranger of Eos
- 1 Reveillark
- 4 Viscera Seer
- 4 Melira, Sylvok Outcast
- 1 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Andrey’s deck is much more aggressive—there is Noble Hierarch instead of Wall of Roots three Murderous Redcap main deck Baneslayer Angel etc. Basically he wanted the deck to be the good at aggression when the combo was out of the question not vice versa. So there is more creatures no disruption (just Thalia Guardian of Thraben instead of common Thoughtseize) and powerful Gavony Township to make the aggressive strategy even better.
Our Modern testing was distracted by work and Standard testing (we helped our teammate to prepare for PT Dark Ascension) so we finally decided to run the decks we knew better (five different decks for six people) and Andrey was the only person who was confident enough in Melira (this deck looked like the best possible choice but required a lot of testing). We expected to see a lot of Delvers so four Kitchen Finks plus three Murderous Redcap backed up by Orzhov Pontiff and Baneslayer Angel looked like a good idea.
At the PTQ Andrey found himself in the Top 8 against a bad matchup (Affinity which he decided to ignore cutting Creeping Corrosion from the sideboard). After crushing Affinity with the help of a rare interaction between Melira and Inkmoth Nexus Andrey was the only non-BORemandOS person who survived while his semis and finals opponents were extremely powerful. Both matches were truly epic—probably comparable to Kibler vs. Finkel.
When Andrey’s Chord of Calling was Surgically Extracted from his deck he sided in Aven Mindcensor and after some thought all his creatures (except probably for Kataki War's Wage) instead of three Viscera Seer three Melira Sylvok Outcast and some Tutors. While leaving the occasional ability to combo Andrey just planned to win by having more creatures in an attrition war. When Kitchen Finks met Lightning Bolt during the first game of the finals I was relatively confident that in the near future I'll spend a lot of time testing Block Constructed to help Andrey prepare for Pro Tour Avacyn Restored.
Overall our team did pretty well with two players in the Top 8 (Melira and U/B Delver) and two lost win-and-in matches (Caw-Blade and Affinity). My own tournament went badly—I lost round two to my teammate and round three to Splinter Twin Combo who killed me on turn four twice. Despite this humiliation I was fine with my deck choice: Dark Burn. The deck has significant problems with Jund (or more specifically with Jund having three Kitchen Finks each game) and Affinity while any sort of Delver decks fear Burn like death (here was a pun but I unfortunately realized that the English equivalent of the Russian idiom "fear as a fire" uses "death" instead). My current list is the following:
Some builds feature Blightning but I found the combination of Flames of the Blood Hand Magma Jet and Volcanic Fallout much more attractive. Ensnaring Bridge is the main plan against decks which are planning to win through red zone with Jund Delver and U/R Tron being the most significant among them. Graveyard hate is a multipurpose tool against well-known threats like Unburial Rites (Gifts Ungiven decks and Isochron Scepter decks) Kitchen Finks (mostly in Melira Combo) and new designs from GP Lincoln: Life from the Loam and Martyr of Sands. The rest of sideboard is discard (mandatory against combo) and artifact hate. Smash to Smithereens can be cut if you don’t expect to see a lot of Affinity (or if you decide to board additional Volcanic Fallout).
Possible directions of deck’s development include cutting Hellspark Elemental (they sometimes do the job but they’re terrible in bad matchups so I was never happy about them) in favor of additional burn spells or Keldon Marauders (whom I also dislike) and reconsidering the sideboard according to the metagame. Rain of Gore Combust and Torpor Orb are the most obvious options. Some players in Magic Online use Shard Volley but the ability to flash back Bump in the Night is not to be underestimated. Really I did it multiple times—in the deck with nineteen lands!
Looking forward I would recommend that you play BORemandOS or the aggressive version of Melira during next weeks and Dark Burn if metagame shifts more towards Delver. My Modern season will include two more PTQs and Grand Prix Turin where I hope to see some of you. Good luck to everybody PTQing this weekend (or playing other formats in Baltimore and Memphis)!