Modern is a fascinating and wide open format in which you can play any deck suits that your style. I have played a number of large modern events, each with a different deck:
GP Columbus: Esper Teachings 13th.
My decision to attend GP Columbus was an easy one—
1. Modern is the most fun format.
2. It was my best chance to qualify for PT Seattle.
3. Matt Nass offered to host me for the week prior, and prepare for the GP.
Our first few days of testing only taught us which decks we did not want to play, while our testing was interrupted by several MTGO and live Cube drafts. We observed that many of the most popular decks in Modern were creature-based, including: Birthing Pod, Affinity, Splinter Twin, Jund, Delver, and Merfolk. Junya Iyanaga played an Esper Teachings deck at Worlds 2011 with an abundance of removal spells that seemed well positioned in the current metagame.
Junya’s deck was the inspiration for our version of the deck. We made several changes before playing any games based on our evaluation of the current metagame and some fundamental deck construction concepts.
The first problems we addressed were:
• Eight discard spells and five fetchlands with six targets is out of place in a deck that extends the length of the game.
• The 1 Pithing Needle cannot be tutored for, and made little sense.
• Gifts Ungiven is too slow when just being cast for value rather than combo pieces.
• A sideboard of only six different cards in a deck based around a tutor is a waste of possible utility.
We played 100+ matches with the deck, tinkering and trying different approaches to various matchups. Ultimately we ended up happy with the following:
The mana base was built to maximize untapped lands while minimizing painful lands, hence the Scars and filter lands. The 2/2 split of Fetid Heath and Mystic Gate is a concession to the need to cast Esper Charm on turn 3 with two filter lands. The Celestial Colonnade is the 5th manland—comparable to Creeping Tar Pit, but certainly worse.
4 Thoughtseize, 0 Inquisition of Kozliek: A turn 1 discard spell is a great start to most games, yet drawing too many late in the game is a liability. We chose Thoughtseize over Inquisition because many of the popular cards in Modern cost four or more mana, specifically: Birthing Pod, Restoration Angel, Cryptic Command, Bloodbraid Elf, and Karn Liberated. The upside of taking these powerful cards is worth the 2 life.
The removal suite: Path to Exile is clearly the best removal spell in Modern and we never considered playing fewer than four. To complement the Paths, we played 2 Disfigure, 1 Slaughter Pact, 1 Sudden Death as the single-target removal spells. Disfigure is excellent in the early turns, as it is painful to accelerate an opponent with Path to Exile. The Slaughter Pact and Sudden Death are tutor targets for [card mystical teachings]Teachings[/card] that are perfectly fine to draw in a normal game. Slaughter Pact is instrumental in those moments when you only have four mana and a Mystical Teachings. Sudden Death is vital for Splinter Twin and [card kiki-jiki, mirror breaker]Kiki-Jiki[/card] decks.
White Sun’s Zenith: It really bothered me that Iyanaga’s deck was a control deck that did not necessarily have inevitability. White Sun’s Zenith is not embarrassing to naturally cast with five or six mana, and provides an endless stream of threats once you stabilize.
1 Surgical Extraction: Extraction is often criticized for its lack of impact on the game, and players’ tendency to misevaluate its usefulness. However in Modern, and especially in a Mystical Teachings deck, Surgical plays a crucial role. It disrupts Lingering Souls, Kitchen Finks (with the persist trigger on the stack), Past in Flames, Snapcaster Mage, Eternal Witness, and any combo piece. While rare, the information from Thoughtseize can turn Surgical into Cabal Therapy.
On Thursday before the GP, we met up with our friends and watched the midnight premier of Dark Knight Rises, which was pretty good. We made our way to the airport Friday morning a few short hours later. Nass and I managed to borrow nearly all 150 cards (including Unhinged basics) for each of us to have a copy of the deck. Thanks again if either of us borrowed cards from you.
Going into the Grand Prix I felt confident, given the amount of preparation I did and our good results on MTGO. I had 2 byes for the GP, and played against the following decks:
R3 - Domain Zoo: 2-0. A smooth victory, and a good matchup.
R4 - BWr Lingering Souls: 2-0. A matchup of attrition that I ultimately won.
R5 - Doran: 2-0. A very good matchup, as Doran is very weak against removal spells.
R6 - Storm: 2-0. G1 Surgical on Grapeshot for the win.
R9 - Storm: 2-1. G1 I should I have taken a Grapeshot with Vendilion Clique to ensure that I was applying pressure, but was too conservative. G3 I won because of a ruling that ended up with him not being able to miracle Reforge the Soul. To be fair, I’m not certain he would have won if he did get the miracle cost.
Day 1: 8-1
After Day 1 I was feeling pretty good about my deck and play. We got in one Cube draft, but I decided to go to sleep before finishing, so that I’d be well rested.
R11 – Living End: 2-0. This was a particularly notable match: In game one my opponent cycled four creatures in the early turns, as I stared at the two Disfigures in my hand that were not likely to be of any use. On turn 4, in my opponent’s end step, I had no other choice but to cast an Esper Charm—opening the door for him to resolve a Living End, putting four creatures into play (Jungle Weaver, Monstrous Carabid, Street Wraith, Valley Rannet). This led to a pretty exciting series of turns. On his next attack step, I availed myself of the Fog-mode of Cryptic Command. The next turn I Mystical Teachings’d for a [card path to exile]Path[/card] on Valley Rannet, taking 12 damage. I [card snapcaster mage]Snapcaster[/card]ed Cryptic Command, and from there I Disfigured a Street Wraith twice, Snapcastered Path on Jungle Weaver, and double-blocked the Montrous Carabid. At this point I was very surprised to have stabilized. Eventually, he tried to go off again, and I searched for a Surgical Extraction on his Living End. The game went on for another 10 turns while I killed off creature by creature before I found another Teachings for White Sun’s Zenith.
R12 – GR Tron: 2-1. GR Tron vs. Mystical Teachings is one of the most imbalanced matchups I have ever played in my life. In testing, we never won a game against Tron. At one point, we had eight cards in the sideboard specifically for Tron which yielded no change in the results—we finally decided to give up and hope to dodge. I was extremely fortunate to win this match.
At this point I was 11-2, and potentially in position to draw the final round if I won round 14. I have been in contention for Top 8 before—At GP Portland I was 12-1 after 13 rounds, and at GP Dallas I was 10-1 after 11 rounds. I ended up losing the final 7 rounds of those two events combined. I was overjoyed to break my streak of losing the final 3 rounds of GPs.
R14 – UWR Delver: 1-2. G1 I Thoughtseized Geist of Saint Traft, and took another one out of his hand with Surgical Extraction, leaving me in a commanding position. I started to miss land drops, and he drew consecutive Snapcaster Mages to burn me out. G3 I sideboarded out Mana Leak because of how long our G1/G2 went, and was immediately punished by Molten Rain.
R15 – UWR Delver: 2-0. A much smoother match than my other two matches against Delver. I tested UWR Delver for a little bit and did not like it, however it did very well at the GP and cost me two matches. So I have obviously gained respect for it.
Final Record: 12-3, 13th Place.
It’s disappointing to prepare so much and come just short of a goal, but I can’t complain too much about finishing in 13th place out of 1046 competitors.
Use intuition and your opponents’ play-style to make adjustments to your sideboarding whenever possible.
During the GP, I searched for every instant in the deck at least once and sideboarded in every card multiple times. The list has no clear faults, and I would not make any changes. Going forward, Mystical Teachings is still well-positioned in the current Modern metagame, highlighted by its positive Birthing Pod matchup. I think that the list is near Puurfect, and would eagerly recommend playing it in any Modern tournaments, whether it be at a local store, on MTGO, on the Pro Tour, or at a future GP.
Thanks for Reading and Good Luck,
feefyfohfum on MTGO