4 Lessons from Grand Prix Liverpool and Portland

The Results

Modern was the format in both Liverpool and in Portland this weekend. In the UK, players formed into trios to contest some Unified Modern, while in the U.S. they went at it solo, but on both sides of the Atlantic, we were offered a snapshot of a format that continues to defy expectations when it comes to breadth, depth, and diversity.

In Liverpool, teams tended to build their decks around the pillars of the format. Generally speaking, there was an Ancient Stirrings deck (KCI, Tron, Scales), a Faithless Looting deck (Hollow One, Dredge, Izzet Phoenix), and an Aether Vial deck (Humans, Spirits). There were, of course, notable exceptions to this, but the general trend was immediately observable.

In the end, however, the Mexican national team warmed up nicely for this weekend’s World Magic Cup by pulling off a thrilling victory in the finals on Sunday evening. The trio of Marcelino Freeman on Bogles, Dagoberto Silva on KCI, and Daniel Becerra on Grixis Death’s Shadow put on a masterclass and built up some useful momentum for Barcelona!

In Portland, Modern’s diversity was much better represented during the solo tournament, especially in the Top 8. With seven different archetypes—the only double-up being the brand-new Izzet Phoenix deck—we saw some off-the-wall lists making it to the Top 8. Yuta Takahashi registered a Bitterblossom-based control deck, while Aren Kasner made it with Black-Green Elves!

Ultimately, the once and future king of Modern, Grixis Death’s Shadow, took out the tournament in the hands of Tyler Putnam. Beating out Daniel Geiter’s Black-Green Rock deck in the finals, Putnam secured victory and a nice piece of hardware for the mantelpiece!

The Moments

Jason Chung’s wild mill deck beats Joao Choca’s Dredge with only two lands in play for the entire game:

The cosplayers were out in force in Portland this weekend:

My Arena Boys colleague, Thoralf “Toffel” Severin, fires a nasty and entirely unwarranted shot across the bow during his first feature match:

rk post is simply the best:

Dagoberto Silva claims the GP trophy on behalf of his teammates despite having five dead cards in hand:

The Deck

Without a doubt, the deck that turned the most heads throughout the weekend was a Blue-Black Mill deck, piloted by Kiwi superstar Jason Chung. Chung, who flew all the way from his native New Zealand to rumble alongside Pro Tour champion Alexander Hayne and recently-unretired veteran of the game Ondrej Strasky, registered the following 75 and played it to a Top 20 finish.

Blue-Black Mill

Jason Chung

This isn’t a one-dimension, all-in mill deck—quite the opposite. This deck has all manner of tricky disruptive potential, from the bog-standard Fatal Push and Inquisition of Kozilek to wild choices like Ensnaring Bridge and main deck Surgical Extraction. Given you’re so likely to mill over a copy of a key card, using Surgical Extraction to remove all copies from an opponent’s deck can be huge. Especially if it’s a centerpiece like a Tron land or a copy of KCI!

The important engine cards in this deck are, rather obviously, Hedron Crab, Mesmeric Orb, and the mighty Archive Trap. Given the number of fetchlands, Expedition Maps, Inventors’ Fairs, and the like, it’s not a difficult card to trigger. It’s made all the more powerful, however, by a very recent addition—unlike Snapcaster Mage, Mission Briefing allows you to cast Archive Trap for 0 if an opponent has searched their library.

Creeping Chill helped to propel Dredge back to the top of the Modern format. Is Mission Briefing going to push Blue-Black Mill into the spotlight? Given its excellent matchup against Spirits, its capacity to punish graveyard decks in game 1, and generally unknown angle of attack, maybe it’s finally mill’s time to shine.

The Takeaway

By now, stating the rather obvious fact that “Modern is as healthy and diverse as ever” isn’t really teaching us much. Modern is still enjoying a remarkable golden age, with twenty or more viable decks of all different styles. It’s still shifting and changing week-to-week, and this weekend was no exception.

Izzet Phoenix is, by now, well and truly established as a real contender at the top end of the Modern format. Another Faithless Looting deck, Izzet Phoenix takes advantage of the many cheap or free spells available in Modern so as to bring back Phoenixes with ease. Combine that with Standard powerhouse Crackling Drake and the one-shot hero Thing in the Ice, and this deck really starts to pack a punch.

What’s really interesting about it, however, is that we still don’t have a “finished” product. Some lists play Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, some lists have a play set of Fiery Temper, and some lists go lower to the ground with Monastery Swiftspear. In the coming weeks, we will see people develop and refine this archetype until a more consistent list finally is settled upon by the Magic hivemind.

KCI isn’t a list you’ll play against all that much while playing MTGO, and it always comes as a bit of a surprise to see just how popular the deck is in paper. Ensure that you are familiar with this list, and have a plan to beat it, when playing in paper. The sheer number of clicks involved with playing it online have driven it out of the online metagame, but the results from this weekend showed us that it’s still a force to be reckoned with out there in the metaspace.

People are still divided as to whether Humans or Spirits is the better creature-based aggro deck in Modern. It seems that Spirits is picking up more and more traction, perhaps due to its favorable Humans matchup and the strength of its interaction with Mausoleum Wanderer and Spell Queller contesting the stack. We may yet see Spirits gently take the reins from Humans as the premier aggro deck in Modern—this outcome wouldn’t be a surprise.

Next week, we’re off to Barcelona for this year’s World Magic Cup! I’ll be back with a roundup of all the action, as well as a comprehensive and unbiased overview of Australia’s victory. See you then!

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