After getting back from GP Prague and Pro Tour Aether Revolt, I was a little burned out, especially knowing that I’d be driving to GP Pittsburgh that weekend. Months ago, I had planned to go to GP Vancouver with a local friend, hang out in a beautiful city, and play some Modern. I must confess that I didn’t really want to go anymore—I had not played or followed Modern in 5 weeks and I really could’ve used a break.
But then the flights were somewhat cheap, and I missed sleeving up Eldrazi Temple.
I told my friend to test Walking Ballista in Eldrazi Tron as soon as Aether Revolt came out and he reported some good results, enough that it was going to be my frontrunner in my 5 days of testing leading up to the Modern Grand Prix.
I started by testing the new decks to familiarize with the changes in the format.
Cheerios was first on the list. It looked consistent and fast, but fragile. My few matches with the deck revealed exactly that. I felt like none of my wins or losses were connected to my ability to play Magic, and that’s not where I want to be when I play a Grand Prix. For those interested, the deck kills on turn 3 or less consistently, but loses to a single piece of interaction easily.
Goryo’s Expertise, the traditional Goryo’s Vengeance/Through the Breach/Griselbrand/Emrakul deck with the addition of Kari Zev’s Expertise in combination with Breaking // Entering, looked powerful and had some results on Magic Online. I wasn’t particularly interested in registering the deck for the weekend, but it wouldn’t hurt to learn the deck’s unintuitive lines, regardless of which deck I ended up with. Similar to Cheerios, the deck is fast and powerful and slightly more resilient to interaction, but the fail rate when combo’ing was scary. You often either whiff on the mill 8 from Breaking // Entering or can’t finish the job when reanimating Emrakul because they’re higher than 15 life, or you’re too low on life to draw with Griselbrand.
Fatal Push was the last factor I didn’t have time to explore. It is obviously a great card—I wish I’d had the time to test black-green. Basically just Abzan or Jund without the 3rd color, and with Ghost Quarter or Tectonic Edge. Then, a more midrange Death’s Shadow—exactly like the deck that ended up dominating the event. 5 days was not enough to cover all of these—3 days before the event I locked in Eldrazi Tron.
Main Deck Card Choices
These are non-negotiable. If you want to play fewer of these, I recommend you just play regular Tron. Thought-Knot Seer is unbelievably good in Modern alongside Eldrazi Temple and probably the reason I get so many wins in this format—I won’t let it go. Endbringer is no Drowner of Hope (I’ll go over why I chose this deck over Bant Eldrazi at the end of the next article #staytuned), but at colorless that’s your only option and it’s not a terrible one.
At first glance, Ballista looks too slow and weak for Modern. The reality is that you’re getting a split card that is bad for 2 mana, but can still kill a Noble Hierarch, Dark Confidant, or Signal Pest. At 4 mana, you start getting 2-for-1s or a creature your opponent will at some point have to kill. When you assemble Tron, you’re getting a really nice payoff for a card that doesn’t have to stay in your hand the whole game like Karn Liberated or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
By cutting on the cards that were only good when you had Tron, the deck got a lot more stable.
All is Dust, Ulamog, and Kozilek, the Great Distortion were all considerations. In the end, I concluded that All is Dust was too narrow and had the potential to do absolutely nothing in too many matchups (Affinity, mirror, Bant Eldrazi, Tron, Lantern, control, Goryo’s, Cheerios). Ulamog and Kozilek were just too high variance—I’d rather have a card that I could cast without Tron. Also, the loss of Sanctum of Ugin disincentivized putting a 1-of in my deck.
While I usually needed Tron to play it, Karn Liberated was the best thing I could be doing. I am never disappointed having it, and casting it on turn 3 is just game over. I also expected frequent mirror matches and Karn is the best card there.
Batterskull is my 60th card. If I really needed to make space for something in my main deck, it would be the first card to go, but ultimately I kept it as a great card against fair decks and another payoff for Tron.
This is your primary interaction. Dismember is not Fatal Push or Lightning Bolt, but you have to make sacrifices in order to play a colorless deck. On the plus side, Dismember is a great Magic card and I don’t think you’re making too big of a sacrifice here. I considered adding Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to alleviate the casting cost, but I didn’t want to play that over any of my utility lands.
Chalice is an acquired taste. On the surface it does not seem good, especially when Gitaxian Probe was just banned. It made decks like Infect and Death’s Shadow Zoo less popular, and naturally made Chalice on 1 worse. In practice, it comes up often that playing it later in the game still has a big impact. Against Grixis you can put it on 0 to stop Ancestral Vision, at 1 to stop Fatal Push, Lightning Bolt, Serum Visions and Thought Scour. On 2 against Affinity, it deals with most of their good topdecks (Cranial Plating and Arcbound Ravager).
Then there are still a bunch of decks where putting it on 1 or 0 wrecks them real good: Burn, Bogles, Tron, Infect, Lantern, Living End, Cheerios, etc.
Expedition Map is a no brainer. I cut the Sanctum of Ugin because that’s not what I want to get with my Maps. In the late game when I actually wanted to get a utility land, Sea Gate Wreckage was almost always better.
Simian Spirit Guide made its way into the list because I thought the deck needed a little acceleration against faster decks, namelyChalice of the Void on turn 1 and Thought-Knot Seer on turn 2. I started with 4, which was too many—drawing 2 really made it awkward in matchups where games go longer and card advantage is important. That’s when Mind Stone came along. It does not help cast the cards I mentioned in the first two turns, but it does cast Chalice with 2 counters or a TKS on turn 3. The biggest upside is being able to recycle it when you don’t need the mana anymore, which made it an actual card in the grindy matchups.
Ghost Quarter is quite simply Modern’s best utility land. Between cracking it on yourself to get a Wastes against Blood Moon, undoing an opponent’s scry, Wastelanding them when they’ve drawn all their basics or, its main utility, destroying a Nexus or an Urza’s land, that’s enough for me to play 4. I could see playing one less to add another useful land like Urza’s Factory or Cavern of Souls, but these have not been useful enough in testing. I’d rather stick with Sea Gate Wreckage as my go-to late game option.
Next week I will go over what you need to know in every matchup, as well as how to use the sideboard!