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Silvestri Says – Modern Wrap-Up

This weekend marked the final set of Modern results for the season, and while there are scattered GPs and tournaments left, Modern season is over. So what did we see in the format this year?

At the beginning of the season, Jund was the talk of the town, and had the early results to boot. As it turned out, the best core of the entire season was the GB base, and nearly every midrange deck was built around it. Until a piece gets banned, I fully expect [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card], [card]Tarmogoyf[/card], [card]Dark Confidant[/card], and [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card] to be the most played core at Modern events for the foreseeable future.

Other decks were viable if largely overshadowed by the sheer number of Jund players. We got to see a glimpse of the future when [card]Lingering Souls[/card] and white were added to Jund. Then, at the end of the season we saw Junk splashing [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] and [card]Ajani Vengeant[/card]. Variants of every flavor saw play, and after the [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] ban, normal Jund took a major hit in popularity.

While midrange piles of value and powerful cards were among the most popular choices at the Grand Prix, there was another choice for a fair Junk-esque deck. I played Melira Pod, and was paired against Junk five times, crushing four of them and losing the other match due to a brutally sloppy game two. I would have gladly accepted having no byes (Judging eats a lot of time) if I were able to play Junk/Jund and aggro every round.

So while Melira Pod gaining a million life on turn four or Kiki-Pod attacking with 400 angry Angels isn’t exactly fair, it’s entirely creature based, which places it in the fair category, since everyone can interact with it. Either of these builds has a massive edge in the midrange mirror, since in games two and three opponents sideboard in hate cards that only hurt parts of your deck. Two Junk opponents resolved [card]Stony Silence[/card] against me and were subsequently embarrassed by [card]Lingering Souls[/card]. Another one brought in [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card], [card]Aven Mindcensor[/card], and [card]Extirpate[/card] against me, and very quickly died to Shaman and Bird beats after multiple [card]Gavony Township[/card] pumps.

If they choose to ignore my [card]Birthing Pod[/card]s, then not only can I combo out against them, but frankly even if I couldn’t combo I gain so much value from Podding persist creatures that they can’t hope to keep up. I cut [card]Sigarda, Host of Herons[/card] against everyone when I realized that [card]Reveillark[/card] was better in nearly every relevant situation. Pod suffers primarily from inconsistency due to all the sweet singletons and the inability to reliably interact with the unfair decks of the format.

For example, my worst loss of the event came to Infect. Most of the unfair decks that aren’t Eggs have some amount of play to them and can move themselves to a better position in post-board games. Meanwhile, your sideboard advantages diminish quickly, and it makes all of their own sideboard options against you that much better.

Speaking of decks that force you to interact, Eggs was a big deal when Stanislav Cifka took down Pro Tour Return to Ravnica with it, stomping midrange all along the way. While Eggs had moderate results throughout the season, it only saw a return to success at the end with GP San Diego.

Nathan Holiday was in good company for Egging people on this weekend—a number of feature matches centered on players being bored to death (With Kibler’s real life F6 being the best moment).

In a format full of fair decks and slower combo builds, Eggs became one of the default best options for the field. Not only could it kill consistently on turn four with some turn three wins, but the Eggs hate was mostly specialized, and many opponents could only afford a handful of ways to interact. In a way, it was the Dredge deck of the format—it ignored playing conventional Magic as much as possible, and was the best game one deck in the format.

Eggs fills a weird role in the metagame, it provides a viable combo deck, and doesn’t win because of pure speed. I really don’t think it meets any criteria for a ban as some have advocated for in light of the GP win. As far as the format goes, Eggs is fair game and could potentially pull blue decks back into the equation instead of just making decks run more anti-Eggs hate.

It’s important to remember that there is another justification for a ban: It could fall under the special complaint of simply being too boring and too disruptive to tournament play for Wizards’ palette. I was told by multiple people watching the live stream of San Diego that the numbers completely tanked when the feature matches involved Eggs. The commentators were struggling to fill dead air and flail through matches where it took 20 minutes to reach an end goal.

Players in large part just sit there and force opponents to combo off out of spite or the slim hope that the opponent will screw up. Why not? You can push the F6 button and just read Facebook while you wait to embrace defeat. Eggs is one of those decks that pushes judges and TOs toward despair. So if you see a [card]Reshape[/card], [card]Second Sunrise[/card], or [card]Lotus Bloom[/card] ban in the near future, I would put a lot of that on the general reaction the deck elicits, rather than sheer power.

Personally, I think Modern is in a strange place where a huge number of decks are viable, but the strategies available are all hamstrung. This makes for an awkward tension where the format isn’t quite slow or narrow enough to allow straight control decks to flourish, and too wide open to properly sideboard a billion cards to hate a deck like Eggs out of the format without giving up massive percentage points in mirrors and against niche linear strategies like Martyr, Affinity, and Twin. It puts a lot of pressure on your sideboard to make the most out of games two and three. You really feel the impact of those cards or their absence.

As for the impact of Modern on players, San Diego had less than 800 players, and out of my eight opponents, four of them outright said they hated the format, and were only playing because it was a close GP, they had a deck, or because San Diego is really nice. In my talks with players who have been invested in the Modern PTQ season, I’ve gotten a sense that Modern is incredibly polarizing between people who enjoy it and those who don’t. It reminds me a bit of Legacy, but where almost everyone has some deck in Legacy they can enjoy, in Modern they just think everything is a variance machine or underpowered garbage.

When talking to players, I found the same two common likes and three dislikes cropped up far more than any other opinion:

Pros:

• The format is very diverse and allows you to play nearly everything, while not potentially dying before you have a chance to implement a strategy because you were on the draw or didn’t [card]Thoughtseize[/card] on turn one.

• Most of the in-game decisions between similar decks produce really interesting gameplay decisions. There are multiple lines, and decks can actually interact with each other.

Cons:

• Shuffling takes at least 10 minutes of every round. (Ok, this is just mine.)

• All the fun cards are banned or have the potential to be banned.

• Eggs is miserable.

• Sideboard cards are just too powerful.

Almost all of these are self-explanatory, and I didn’t go in-depth with the questions, so I won’t unpack them here. Instead I’ll leave it to you, the reader, to sum up your current view of Modern.

Moving on, I want to talk about an event we actually have going on at the store this weekend I’m very excited for: Standard Pauper! I’ve been wanting to try this wacky format for a couple of months, and now I get my chance this Sunday. As a result, I’ve been brewing and working on a bunch of fun decks to try out.

For those who aren’t familiar with Pauper, Pauper is a format where only commons are legal. On Magic Online Standard Pauper works a little differently and it goes by commonality only in Standard legal sets. Normally if a card is uncommon, but was common in an earlier printed set—[card]Rancor[/card] for example—then that counts as common. For our tournament the normal Pauper rule is overriding the Standard only variation, so Rancor and Oblivion Ring will be available to us along with a handful of other notable cards.

Also while I wouldn’t mind normal Pauper IRL, card availability is a pretty huge concern. Meanwhile with Standard Pauper, I’m pretty sure you can build anything for 20 bucks or less without issue.

Here are some of the decks I’ve been throwing around:

WW

[deck]18 Plains
4 War Falcon
4 Doomed Traveler
4 Ajani’s Sunstriker
4 Aven Squire
4 Daring Skyjek
4 Loyal Cathar
4 Syndic of Tithes
4 Court Street Denizen
4 Oblivion Ring
4 Bonds of Faith
2 Swift Justice[/deck]

It’s very easy to slide green or red into this deck and have the traditional Boros or WG aggro piles. Rancor being legal makes green an interesting choice on its own, and pump is a lot better in this format than one may expect.

Extortion

[deck]4 Orzhov Guildgate
4 Evolving Wilds
9 Swamp
6 Plains
4 Duty-Bound Dead
4 Grim Roustabout
4 Basilica Screecher
4 Syndic of Tithes
4 Kingpin’s Pet
4 Basilica Guards
4 Tragic Slip
4 Oblivion Ring
3 Sign in Blood
2 Altar’s Reap[/deck]

You could get more aggressive here, but I found the mana made it difficult to play everything you actually wanted. It was also far worse in the mirror where people can leverage [card]Tragic Slip[/card] and draw cards while playing a 1/4 wall. It’s important to remember that walls can actually make a major impact on how you play the game here.

[deck]Main Deck:
4 Azorius Guildgate
4 Evolving Wilds
7 Plains
6 Island
3 Haunted Fengraf
3 Cathedral Sanctifier
4 Attended Knight
4 Archaeomancer
4 Mist Raven
4 Seraph of Dawn
4 Ghostly Flicker
3 Essence Scatter
4 Think Twice
2 Amass the Components
4 Oblivion Ring
Sideboard:
4 Cancel
4 Isperia’s Skywatch
2 Amass the Components
4 Guardians of Akrasa
1 Cathedral Sanctifier[/deck]

This was my first thought for the format, and one of the more amusing options. Not only do you have sweet cards like [card]Mist Raven[/card], but you can actually just chain [card]Ghostly Flicker[/card] and [card]Archaeomancer[/card] for an actual value engine. Once you have six mana, you can chain together a very strong sequence with any of your value creatures, and if you go green there are even more options such as [card]Borderland Ranger[/card] and [card]Centaur Healer[/card].

Oh, [card]Haunted Fengraf[/card] is one of the best cards available from best I could tell. There’s no real way to get value from your lands in the late-game outside of this and flooding in this format feels miserable compared to others since the number of 1-1 trades are off the charts. Remember that this card exists.

Forgot about Delve
[deck]4 Delver of Secrets
4 Goblin Electromancer
4 Frostburn Weird
4 Stitched Drake
4 Pillar of Flame
4 Searing Spear
4 Brimstone Volley
4 Think Twice
4 Thought Scour
2 Negate
2 Essence Scatter
8 Island
4 Mountain
4 Evolving Wilds
4 Izzet Guildgate[/deck]

A [card]Delver of Secrets[/card] deck is hardly a novel concept, but in Pauper you can miss your flips early and not just be dead on turn five. It also is resistant to flood with all the cantrips and low land count while also providing a significant burn count.

This is a late addition to the article since someone pointed me toward PDCMagic, a site I didn’t know existed until a few hours ago. Credit goes to FlxEx for the Izzet Delver deck since it was a much better version than what I had thrown together.

Blouses
[deck]4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
2 Arbor Elf
4 Elgaud Shieldmate
4 Primal Huntbeast
3 Rubbleback Rhino
4 Farseek
4 Etheral Armor
4 Rancor
4 Tricks of the Trade
3 Oblivion Ring
4 Selesnya Guildgate
4 Simic Guildgate
7 Forest
5 Island
2 Plains
2 Haunted Fengraf[/deck]

Self-explanatory, make Hexproof dork, power it up and go to town.

There are plenty of other decks that spring to mind (imagine my disappointment when nearly all the self-mill cards were legal, but no real way to win), and I’m sure I’ll have plenty of others pointed out to me. If you can make it this Sunday, give it a shot for something different. I’ll see you there!

Josh Silvestri

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