So, with a month of Magic, a hurricane, a lot of losing, and a few rough beats behind me, I have a lot to update you on. Of course, there were a lot of tournaments to cover, and I don’t want to do a full tournament report for each—but starting next week, I should have something covering the Team GP, Pro Tour Seattle, and the Community Cup. This week, though, I wanted to get back into the swing of competitive Magic and discuss a little bit of Modern before Grand Prix Chicago gets here in a week.
As many of you guys know, most of the team ended up running Jund. It wasn’t that any of us were overly excited by the deck, but ultimately, nothing we threw at it was beating it consistently enough, or the decks that were couldn’t beat anything else. We tried all kinds of-off the-wall strategies, from various takes on Dredge, to Storm, to even tossing around the (terrible) idea of Scapeshift-Poison. I mean, what sounds cooler than playing a turn 3 Phyrexian Crusader followed up by a Scapeshift on turn 4 for a playset of Teetering Peaks? Yep, nothing. What sounds better though? Yep, everything.
But, despite some of these decks sounding, or being, terrible, they all felt like legitimate decks in the right metagame. Sure, Scapeshift Poison was a bad idea, but if everyone is on URW Delver, all of a sudden Phyrexian Crusader starts sounding more than reasonable. So what does any of this have to do with Chicago?
Well, we can get to two different places. The first is to recognize that the format, at least pre-Pro Tour, is fairly open. Jund was the top dog in our eyes because it did not lose to specific cards, and built right, could take on anything. As we saw in the Pro Tour, however, even glass cannon decks can win when they dodge the proper hate. Eggs soared to the top of the PT despite it having terrible game against cards like Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace, because people showed up with Grafdigger’s Cage and Jund Charm instead.
Just because the format WAS open, does not mean that is the case going into the Grand Prix. There was a Pro Tour after all, and few events can shape a new format like a PT. So, based on the results from the Pro Tour, including the things that didn’t show up that we expected to show up, what is Chicago going to look like?
Pick a Combo, Any Combo…
Going into the Pro Tour, we realized early on that combo was going to be difficult to run due to the best deck having between 5 and 6 main deck hand disruption spells like Thoughtseize, along with 3 to 4 Liliana of the Veil. In reality, some of the combo decks could fight through that. The best one we found was Dredge—but specific hate cards, like Rest in Peace, scared us off of those strategies. Other decks that can beat a Thoughtseize or two included Storm as well as Eggs, but again, we were worried about other hate from other decks.
It turns out that we may have overestimated the degree to which other decks were prepared for the glass cannon strategies. This is largely due to the massive number of glass cannons available. While each may be extremely weak to a certain card, decks cannot realistically be prepared against every glass cannon. For example, let’s list some of the potential glass cannon decks that might show up to Chicago:
Eggs (Sunnyside Up)
UR Nivmagus Elemental
Of course, I could continue to drag this out into even further reaches of fringe, but this is a decent sample size. Now, let’s list the absolute best card or 2 at stopping each of these strategies. Of course this is going to be based partly on preference, and multiple hate cards could have an argument against each, but we can make a decent estimation at least:
Eggs: Leyline of the Void/Rest in Peace
UR Storm: Rule of Law/Ethersworn Canonist
UR Nivmagus Elemental: Rule of Law/Abrupt Decay
Dredge: Grafdigger’s Cage/Leyline of the Void
Pyromancer’s Ascension: Leyline of the Void/Slaughter Games
Infect: Path to Exile/Abrupt Decay
Ad Nauseum: Slaughter Games
Splinter Twin: Torpor Orb
So, while there is some overlap, specifically with high power level hate cards like Leyline of the Void, it is impossible to imagine a world where you can plan for all of these decks and still maintain a solid sideboard against traditional strategies like aggro or control. You can’t just fit 3 Rule of Law, 3 Rest in Peace, 3 Slaughter Games, 1 Torpor Orb in your sideboard and expect to have a good matchup against the field.
So there is this guessing game of choosing the right deck at the right time, most of which is just a blind guess. You can use some context to help narrow down those choices. For example, Eggs and Storm are more likely to be hated out in Chicago as a result of the Pro Tour, so building a deck that doesn’t pack it in to Leyline of the Void or Rule of Law might give you an edge in an area that is difficult to pick up edges. But, remember that Modern is not a land of only combos, so let’s move on.
Da Disruption Debate
For the fair decks of the world, how to attack a metagame is a tough decision. As we mentioned before, Jund was partially considered the best deck due to its ability to main deck Thoughtseize and [card inquisition of kozilek]Inquisition[/card], proactively allowing the deck to disrupt whatever game plan the opponent is on and apply pressure. The cheap and proactive nature was seen as the big pull into that particular disruption suite though.
However, as any veteran mage knows, hand disruption has its own set of difficulties. First of all, it makes for a terrible topdeck in the later game when both players are looking to draw gas. Secondly, it never deals with the top of the opponent’s deck. Twice against Jon Finkel in a feature match at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, I took his only 1-drop in Serum Visions, and in both cases he was able to peel another one that very turn to still have a play. Was it unlikely? Sure, but a Spell Pierce would not have had the same issues.
Discard does hit a broad target. Taking a Kird Ape on turn 1 is perfectly acceptable, even though it isn’t a Second Sunrise or Seething Song. But playing a Rule of Law against that same Kird Ape is outright embarrassing. That brings us to our second form of disruption, which is permanent-based disruption.
This can include things like Ethersworn Canonist, Torpor Orb, Rest in Peace, or even Deathrite Shaman. This tends to be a broad category, but contains the most specific of the hate cards. Whereas countermagic and discard can pretty much handle any problem given the right timing and mana etc., A Rule of Law is just never stopping a Splinter Twin combo.
The third disruption suite is the one we have been referencing a bunch but not directly addressing, which is countermagic. Countermagic has the benefit of doing much of what discard does, while still being good in top deck wars. The downside is that it is reactive, often slow, and requires you to constantly leave open mana to operate. If you can get around some or all of these issues, countermagic usually offers the highest level of protection, but the explosiveness in the format is unforgiving and a little scary.
Ultimately, you are going to need to rock at least two of these forms of disruption. If you rely too heavily on discard, you are dead to top decks and strategies that don’t mind discard so much, like Dredge. If you pack all counterspells, the fast combo decks or the ones with their own counterspells might just race past you. And all permanent-based disruption might just be aimed at the wrong metagame from what you expected.
This is one of the problems I had with our Jund plan. Most of our disruption was in the form of hand hate, from Thoughtseize, to Inquisition, to Liliana, to Slaughter Games. While those are all great disruptive cards, when we would run into a match up that could fight through them, like Storm, our backup disruption was weak. The lone Grafdigger’s Cage did nothing to stop Pyromancer’s Ascension, and Jund Charm barely helped there as well. I quickly learned that it was not a mix of the two disruptions that mattered, but rather a complimentary mixture of the two, allowing matchups that needed supplementation to have it and to attack decks that were only affected by one or the other with the right half.
Malcolm in the Midrange
The last big decision point I wanted to talk about for a Modern event is midrange versus control. Your disruption suite can have a big influence here, or this decision can have a big influence on your disruption suite—but either way, midrange and control overlap a lot in Modern.
Really, when you look at the two archetypes in Modern, the two things that separate them are the speed and density of the threats versus the density of the disruption. Control naturally has a lot more room dedicated to answers, giving it a wider range of decks that it might have the trump for, but as a result, these decks win more slowly, and need more answers just to stay alive long enough.
Midrange also uses a disruption suite, but they are more likely to have creature-based disruption as well as cheap, but less reliable disruption. This is just intended to keep the midrange deck alive long enough for it to bring the opponent to 0. You might not trump anything they are doing, but you throw a wrench into their plans and exploit the window.
I think that in a wide open format, midrange is always going to be better. Your disruption is more generic and you actually have the chance to kill people, regardless of what their game plan is. This is why Jund was a solid choice for Seattle. But once the metagame gets more defined, control looks more appealing. If I had access to every player’s deck list in the tournament for example, I would prefer to be battling with a tailor-made control deck. Grand Prix Chicago lies in the middle here, with some known info, and some wild cards ready to be thrown, so your choice on how to attack the metagame might be crucial.
Sure, we could have gone over a bunch of deck lists here and figured out exactly what my preferences are, but for a GP with this timing, that would not be nearly as useful as normal. This Grand Prix will be fairly unpredictable in that the Pro Tour influence will be felt, but we do not know to what degree. Will Eggs be a player? Or will it be hated out? I think going over the potential areas to attack as well as how to attack them is so much more important when the Grand Prix is still a few weeks out. Once we have some more data from MtGO as well as other authors, we can really narrow down our focus.
But with a lot of time for things to shift around in the next 10 days, I think narrowing your potential deck choices as well as any outstanding cards is much more helpful, allowing you a few options as crunch time approaches. Modern is pretty fun, but I am definitely looking forward to exploring Standard for Charleston! As always, thanks for reading!