Last time, I talked about our preparation for the Team Unified Modern GP in San Antonio, and today I’ll give you a more in-depth look at how it all shook out.
I decided to team up with Jason Chung and Oliver Tiu to secure some much needed Pro Points. Going into the tournament, we thought the Death’s Shadow deck was a must-play. We worked with couple of other teams (PV’s team, Siggy’s team, and Sam Pardee’s team, to name a few) and we all arrived at this conclusion.
We decided to play Abzan over Jund and Grixis. I didn’t really play much with the deck as Oliver was our Death’s Shadow player, but it made sense to play Abzan. First, it was a concession to the Unified format, since we wanted to use the Jund fetchlands and duals in another deck. Second, it felt to me that Modern has turned into a grindy format, where Lingering Souls shines and Battle Rage is less necessary. Third, the Grixis deck just straight-up sucks—in my opinion.
Abzan Death’s Shadow
Unfortunately, Abzan Death’s Shadow takes away a lot of cards. We had to make sacrifices. Luckily, we had me on our team. A Merfolk one-trick pony. Merfolk is basically perfect for Unified as it doesn’t really take any cards except for Mutavault from Faeries and Spreading Seas from U/W Control. Since we couldn’t play Faeries thanks to Death’s Shadow, and we didn’t like U/W, it was a pretty easy choice to put me on the deck.
At this point, I have played approximately infinite games with Merfolk, so I know all the ins and outs. I feel comfortable with the deck, and for the first time ever, I actually think it might be a tier 1 deck. Like I said, the format is getting more grindy, and that’s the metagame where Merfolk shines. While I don’t think the matchup is great or anything, I have yet to lose to Death’s Shadow. Overall, I felt this was a decent choice and I thought I would lose around 3-4 matches, which is exactly what happened.
I decided to cutDismember completely. Cards like Dark Confidant and Scavenging Ooze are at an all-time low, and it’s hard to kill Tarmogoyf with it these days. The fun-of Relic in the main deck was nice, especially that one game where I drew it in game 1 against Living End.
The sideboard is a bit weird. For the first time in my career, I ran into issues with card availability. Unified Will was sold out at the event, and no one I had talked to had it. Instead of playing 3 Wills, I chose to go with a split of 2 Negate and Glen Elendra Archmage. Archmage turned out to be really nice, winning me a game versus Abzan. My opponent was so taken aback by it that he missed the Scavenging Ooze plus persist interaction, which let me resolve Master of Waves with protection. I think it is definitely a card I will try more in the future. As for the Negate, I thought it wouldn’t matter as much since it mostly counters the same cards as Unified Will. Oh boy was I wrong—but more on that later.
We took some time to figure out our third option. The process was mostly Jason trying various brews, Oliver messaging everyone about Bant Eldrazi being a terrible choice, and me making fun of them both. Jason went really deep, showing us a Krark-Clan Ironworks deck that we just laughed at. As it turns out, it’s better than we thought, as both Jason and I lost to it at the GP.
Next was the R/W Prison deck popularized by Todd Stevens. That seemed promising as Jason kept telling us he’d won a lot with it. But then Oliver decided to watch him play a League, and from what I understand, Jason didn’t win a single match, and after that we were off the deck. Luckily, the whole APAC region came to our aid. Both Lee Shi Tian and Zen Takahashi were really helpful with our testing process. In the end, they told us that we should just play Dredge. Jason received a Unified deck list and a sideboarding guide. After that, we were good to go. Here’s the deck.
I was really happy with our configuration. First, we had Oliver playing the best deck. Second, we had me playing a deck I was comfortable with and that I thought was quite good. Third, we had a strong deck list from the Dredge masters, piloted by the best player from New Zealand. We decided to put our strongest player, Oliver, in the middle. We had some debate about putting me in that spot, as Merfolk is quite good against the grindy decks. You could argue that those would be the most likely to be played by the best player on the team, who is usually in the B seat. Overall, it’s probably completely random, and Oliver won a Twitter poll we made, so we just went with that.
Unfortunately, things didn’t exactly go our way.
It all started well as we won our first round easily. In round 2, Jason won quickly, and both Oliver and I were going to game 3. I mulliganed on the draw against Grixis Control. My hand was 3 Mutavault, Island, Lord of Atlantis, and Relic of Progenitus.
Bad, but I think I had to keep. After a scry to the bottom, my next draw is Mutavault to complete the play set. At that point I told Jason to watch Oliver’s game, as I didn’t really expect to win this one. Luckily, my opponent was short on cantrips, which meant that my Relic managed to keep a quick Tasigur in check. Every turn I attacked with Mutavault and every turn my opponent killed it with a removal spell. Because of the Relic, he couldn’t create card advantage with Snapcaster. He was also a bit flooded, so at some point he just tapped 6 to hardcast Tasigur. I bounced it with Vapor Snag and deployed some creatures I had managed to draw. That was enough to swing the game my way, and I was happy to tell my somewhat surprised teammates that we had won the round.
In round 3 we weren’t so fortunate. Jason again won quickly, but I lost to Melira because I didn’t expect my opponent to play Worship. It all came down to Oliver, who got quite unlucky in his decider. We won round 4, and in the very next round it was time for me to face the biggest challenge. I was paired against Affinity, and after getting very lucky in game 1, I drew 2 Hurkyl’s Recalls, which meant I took the match 2-0. But it was not meant to be as Jason lost to the Merfolk deck from our opponents and Oliver got burned out.
We were 3-2 and feeling pretty miserable, but we bounced back in the next 3 rounds. Highlights include me beating Grixis after my opponent resolved multiple Ancestral Visions to end the game with 10 cards in their library. We also had a tense game of Death’s Shadow versus Burn, where our opponent had a Deflecting Palm we knew about the whole game so we could just sit on our Liliana of the Veil with Death’s Shadow threatening the lethal. I would suggest to not bring that card in as it’s just so easy to play around.
Then round 9 came. We were 6-2 and looking to finish the day strong. I was paired against one of the matchups where Unified Will shines: Amulet Titan. We split the first 2 games, and in game 3 I’m on the draw. My opponent plays Amulet into Amulet, while my turn-1 play is Cursecatcher. It’s my turn 2 and my hand is the following: 2 lands, Lord of Atlantis, Harbinger of the Tides, Vendilion Clique, Negate, and Dispel. Now, if I had Unified Will, I would just pass, counter either Titan or Asuza, and then then-3 Clique, which would give me a very reasonable chance of winning the game. Unfortunately, I’m stuck with Negate, so I just play my Lord, my opponent has the turn-3 Titan, and I lose on the spot. Not all is lost though as Jason won and Oliver is deep into game 3 faced with an interesting decision.
He is playing against Melira, at 6 life, with a 3/4 Tarmogoyf in play and a 6/6 Death’s Shadow. His hand is Fatal Push with a fetchland in play ready to activate the revolt. Our opponent is at 7, his board is 3/2 Kitchen Finks, Fiend Hunter (exiling our Tarmogoyf), Viscera Seer, and 2 Birds of Paradise. He has no cards in hand. It’s our main phase and we have to figure out how to attack.
Now it’s obvious that we should send in Death’s Shadow as it’s a lethal threat. The question is: do we attack with Tarmogoyf? We decided to do so. I think it was the correct decision, because if our opponents brick for a turn they can’t really attack because we blow them out with removal, killing Fiend Hunter and blocking another creature. Also, there isn’t really much that they can draw to punish us. We are in no hurry to play the removal spell, as they can’t really attack, and they don’t have profitable blocks.
Unfortunately, it backfired. As expected, our opponent chumped Death’s Shadow, he scryed to the bottom, then drew Collected Company. He flipped Spellskite and Noble Hierarch, which made our Fatal Push useless. He attacks us to 1 and has exalted Birds of Paradise to finish us the next turn and leaving us no outs (Lingering Souls was sided out).
It felt bad to lose this game as I believe we could have won if we held back. But I still think it was correct to attack. That it also knocked us out of Top 4 contention was a terrible feeling. Especially since it was so close and I think I would have probably won my match if I had gotten the cards I needed. I truly felt like I let my teammates down. But there was nothing I could do at that point. We went to dinner, and hoped to do better the next day.
Day 2 was more or less similar—our opponents didn’t show up round 10. Round 11 we lost to Corey Baumeister’s team. I was playing against the Ironworks deck, and even though I won game 1 on the back of Vendilion Clique, I never drew a counterspell in game 2 or 3, and lost. Jason won, so it was once again all on Oliver. He was playing against Corey in the mirror match and the first Death’s Shadow deck we had faced. It all came down to a top deck situation where Corey went creature, creature, removal, removal while we drew creature, discard, land, creature, and died. There was a brief moment of hope as our last draw was Ranger of Eos, but Corey had the Push in hand plus Push on top of his library so we lost. So close, yet so far.
We won all of the remaining rounds, and I once again beat Affinity 2-0. It actually might not be as bad a matchup as advertised. Lastly, we had an interesting battle between Death’s Shadow and Lantern. We had 3 cyclers in hand, but our opponent had Lantern and 3 mill stones. It came down to one big turn and an incredible stack of effects. Luckily, we managed to pull ahead, as we got to draw Tarmogoyf and Abrupt Decay. Our opponents failed to find an answer and one Bridge wasn’t good enough, so we took the match. This meant that we finished with a respectable but unexciting 10-4 record, yielding us each 1 Pro Point. It’s unlikely to matter much for me and Oliver, but I know it meant the world to Jason.
Overall, I had a lot of fun. Team tournaments are great, and Merfolk is great. On the other hand, there were some things I’d like to fix in the future. We have to work on our communication. I have a really hard time understanding Jason’s accent, and he has hard time understanding my mumbling, so basically every conversation goes like this: Jason says something, I say “what?” he repeats, I ask Oliver to translate, Oliver translates, I respond, Jason says “what?” I repeat, Jason answers, and so forth. It’s exhausting.
With Oliver, there is another problem. He is a very talented player, but he has trouble articulating his thoughts, as he mostly plays by intuition. I have a similar problem, and I know many other players who do as well. Unfortunately, that causes problems in team tournaments, as Oliver will say “I want to do this,” but he doesn’t have an explanation for why. This can mostly be solved with experience, so if we play together more often, it should fix itself. That’s why I think the PGO is so good. Aside from the fact that they are all world-class players, they have so much experience and they must have become really good at communication.
Another problem was a result of Unified Modern itself. Since both Jason and Oliver played quite complicated decks, I didn’t really know how to help them. Oliver would often look at me to ask what he should do, and I just had no clue. Do you want to fetch a dual land to make your Death’s Shadow bigger or preserve your life total? Those decisions and many more require practice with the decks. This can be fixed in two ways: you can play with the other decks, or just trust your teammates (which is what I did). It’s still a little frustrating to not be able to help, but if you’re teaming up with top tier players, it’s actually not that big of a problem.
Other than these two issues, the tournament was great, though a little frustrating—especially the Unified Will incident. I will definitely prepare for this in the future.
As for our decks, I think Merfolk and Dredge are good decks. Both Jason and I had 3 losses over the tournament, and two of my losses to Amulet and Ironworks were easy to fix. If you look at my sideboard, I went with 2 Dispels, which are quite good against the instant-based combo decks like Ad Nauseam and Storm. This doesn’t apply to the other two combo decks unfortunately, as they don’t play many instants. I think Dispel is still worth it, however, as it’s great versus Grixis. Modern is so wide open that you have to take risks, and I think it was unfortunate that I had to play against these decks twice.
Other than that, I liked playing against Death’s Shadow and Grixis. Those matchups are close but favorable while Bant Eldrazi is, I think, strictly in my favor. As for our third deck, I’m not sure how good Abzan Death’s Shadow is. We thought it would be our best deck but it had the worst record. All the teams we prepared with reported similar thoughts. From what I’ve seen, I wasn’t very impressed with the card Death’s Shadow. Everyone showed up prepared to beat it, so it might just be correct to play regular Abzan.
We’re unlikely to see many more Unified Modern tournaments in the future. The Standard/Modern/Legacy team format is much better, so if Wizards wants to hold more Team Constructed tournaments in the future, I’d suggest they go with that. That said, I had an incredible amount of fun this week. I’m not sure if it was just my love for Merfolk, but I had a blast playing. This weekend, it’s another team event—Limited, in Mexico. I’m switching up teams, and will be playing with the best player in the world, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, and another excellent player in Thiago Saporito. Can’t wait!