The showcase of Modern over the past few weeks has been a real highlight—Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan turned a spotlight on a terrific Modern format with a ton of viable archetypes, and Grand Prix Toronto doubled down in showing us how enjoyable it is to get among a healthy competitive format with huge deck diversity and tiny but very meaningful edges. Rather obviously, things could be set to change in a major way after the recent unbannings, but hey, let’s make hay while the sun shines!
Just as we saw seven different archetypes in Bilbao’s Top 8, Sunday evening in Toronto also saw seven different decks contest the finals, but what is even more remarkable about this is that only one archetype—Traverse Shadow—appeared in both. The wide range of playable Modern decks was strongly demonstrated even earlier than this, but at the end of play on Day 1, there were 10 undefeated players playing 10 different archetypes.
(Corbin) 10 players finished Day 1 of #GPToronto undefeated – with 10 different archetypes. Congrats to Jonathan Zhang, Matt West, Luke Purcell, Marcel Zafra, Riccardo Pileggi, Dan Ward, Walter Burdzy, Erik Traikov, Justin Murphy and Lucas Siow pic.twitter.com/bU6kqGXdES
— Magic Pro Tour (@magicprotour) February 11, 2018
The Top 8, and the semifinals in particular, were an electrifying display of some of the wacko nonsense that is possible in Modern. To the joy of many (and, in fairness, the chagrin of just about as many), Bogles rose triumphant in the hands of Dan Ward. Fighting through a Top 8 featuring everything from Jeskai Control to Grishoalbrand, Ward beat out Jon Stern on Burn in the finals to hoist the trophy. Congratulations!
— Magic Pro Tour (@magicprotour) February 12, 2018
The weekend’s coverage was full of terrific highlights, but one moment stands head and shoulders above all others. The semifinals put on display some of the most ridiculous Magic you’re likely to see, as Grishoalbrand faced off against Burn. Well, I say Burn—Stern’s list looked a lot more like Lantern Control, complete with Goblin Guide to look at the top of the library!
— Riley Knight (@rileyquarytower) February 11, 2018
The crowning moment of the match, however, was the thrilling conclusion to game 2. With his life total under siege, Jonathan Zhang had another burn spell chucked at his scone by Stern in the form of Boros Charm. Well, he had a response, and that response, as it turns out, was to win the game on the spot.
We’re all familiar with the absurd way in which Grishoalbrand can go off—and at instant speed, to boot—but this was a hugely thrilling and wild ride as Zhang combo’d off with Boros Charm on the stack. Be ever vigilant, my friends, or Griseldaddy is going to get you!
It’s no secret that Lantern Control is a polarizing deck, but Bogles can just about go toe-to-toe with it in terms of how divided the Modern player base is on the hexproof menace. An incredibly linear aggro deck, Bogles aims to assemble an enormous monster by combining a cheap hexproof 1-drop with cheap Auras. In a format dominated by Fatal Push, it proved to be a good call for Dan Ward.
Dan Ward, 1st place at GP Toronto 2018
As it’s defined by some of the best removal and discard spells in the history of the game, Modern is often touted as a highly interactive format. Bogles seeks to embarrass anyone who makes such a claim by invalidating interactive strategies, and the deck turns this up to 11 with the inclusion of main-deck Leyline of Sanctity. Not only are the creatures hexproof, their controller is too! Leyline is excellent against a broad swath of Modern decks. It entirely shuts down Storm and Burn, as well as causing headaches for black-based midrange.
But just like most linear decks, Bogles is easy enough to hate out. Disenchant effects are already playable in Modern, and sniping a key Aura during combat can undo all the hard work a Bogles player puts in. Not to mention the nuclear option—a single Fracturing Gust ends the game on the spot. Consider this next time you’re building a Modern sideboard, as no matter how you pronounce it, Bogles are back!
— Maria Bartholdi (@MissMariapants) February 12, 2018
Largely speaking, much of what we learned throughout the weekend has been overshadowed by the recent Banned and Restricted announcement shaking things up more than James Bond’s bartender. The entrance of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf will be far more impactful on how Modern develops than the more subtle and nuanced things we saw during GP Toronto, but they don’t invalidate some of the lessons we learned, and so it’s worth reminding ourselves of what we took away from the weekend.
Sideboarding remains the most critical aspect of Modern when it comes to getting edges of all kinds. There’s so much to take into account, from tuning your 15 against an expected field to including unexpected post-board plans, games 2 and 3 are where canny Modern players can leverage skill differentials in both deck building and gameplay. The deck that Jon Stern took all the way to the finals shows us the power of a well-constructed sideboard. He split key cards across the main and the board to contest the field he expected, and included a wild transformational plan for post-board games.
The past few weeks have been a high watermark for Modern. There is a lot of debate as to whether the unbannings were the correct way forward and in the best interests of the format more generally, so one thing to keep in mind in the wake of GP Toronto is that we have something against which to set future Modern environments. This isn’t to say that things will get worse moving forward, but no matter how the format goes, mentally bookmark February 2018 and tournaments like PT Rivals and GP Toronto as some of the best examples of a healthy, diverse, enjoyable format.
Next week we’re off to Lyon for more Modern, and with the bans not coming into effect until after the GP, it’ll be the last chance to get stuck in without the new 4-drop overlords. I’m looking forward to getting across it in France, and I’m looking forward to having your company on Twitch as I do!