Gabriel Nassif – UW Control

I settled on UW Control for the PT—obviously, some would say—though I went with Affinity in the last two major Modern tournaments I played in (PT Seattle and GP Lyon), putting up a Top 16 finish both times.

I don’t play a ton of Magic any more, but once in a while I’ll toy with Modern on MTGO, usually playing with an army of “Robots,” as WotC likes to call them, or some control deck. The few times I did play Modern in the past year, I wasn’t happy with Affinity, feeling like people had too much sideboard hate and that the most played decks weren’t good matchups (Splinter Twin comes to mind), so I decided to mix it up and work on UW. I started off with a Restoration Angel version but I felt like the card didn’t do enough and was usually outclassed or unable to finish my opponents off and the card advantage was too situational. I kept claiming during our testing that the Restoration Angel road wasn’t any good, but it looks like I might have been wrong, since the deck has been showing up a ton in the top deck lists on MTGO. I guess time will tell.

I started looking for other ways to kill, and made the deck more controlling—I added a bunch of Sphinx’s Revelations, but eventually decided I needed something more impactful on turns 5/6/7 and tried [ccProd]Wurmcoil Engine[/ccProd] since I was struggling against Jund and some of the creature decks. I loved it and haven’t looked back since. Sure, sometimes it gets Pathed away, but when it doesn’t, that’s usually game, and you also have Vendilion Cliques to clear the way.

If I cut the Angels, I left the legendary Faerie in as well as the [ccProd]Snapcaster Mage[/ccProd]s, who are now even better with the banning of [ccProd]Deathrite Shaman[/ccProd], which was actually one of the reasons I considered UW early in playtesting.

My last two win conditions are a pair of Gideons, which have been surprisingly good in this format, probably the best 5-drop for that deck, and of course four [ccProd]Celestial Colonnade[/ccProd]s. I chose the planeswalker over [ccProd]Batterskull[/ccProd] to give a little more depth to the deck and even though the equipment is very attractive, I was worried it would me leave too weak to artifact removal after sideboard in some matchups. If Path isn’t as effective against it, it does die to cards like [ccProd]Tribal Flames[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/ccProd], and the other main reason not to play the card was that it was too often smaller than a Tarmogoyf.

One card I’m now playing that I declared terrible early in the team discussions is [ccProd]Wall of Omens[/ccProd]. I think it deserves the title of “most improved card” with the unbanning of [ccProd]Wild Nacatl[/ccProd]. The card is phenomenal ,and Kai and I tried to make a mono-white control deck work during the last two days before the PT (to no avail sadly), in which I wish I could have played 7 or 8 of them.

The Wall helps me keep my curve low, and that’s why I’m also playing four [ccProd]Spell Snare[/ccProd]s as well as four Path. The one-mana counterspell is great against almost every deck in the format, and even though it’s awkward to have so many at times, it’s a necessary evil. Path is also a great card in the deck, and one major change I made last week was to switch from 4 [ccProd]Tectonic Edge[/ccProd] and 1 [ccProd]Ghost Quarter[/ccProd] to 4 Ghost Quarter and no Edges. I noticed most decks had between 1 and 3 basic lands, and in the mid-game your Paths became Swords and your Quarters [ccProd]Strip Mine[/ccProd]s, which was especially nice against Affinity or Zoo (keeping them off blue mana so they can’t cast Geist or red mana so they can’t burn you to death can be very effective).

I decided to only play two [ccProd]Cryptic Command[/ccProd]s because I thought the card was often too expensive for the format and not always easy to cast with my mana base, which includes two [ccProd]Calciform Pools[/ccProd] (alongside the four Ghost Quarters) who are usually working overtime, even against the aggro decks.

I think most of the other card choices are fairly “standard” and logical. The sideboard cards, which I put a lot of thought into, are all self-explanatory. You might wonder why I don’t have more Zoo hate but the truth is, there aren’t that many cards you want to board out in the matchup and even though Zoo isn’t a bye at all (pretty close to even in my opinion), I thought the sideboard slots would be best used for matchups where I have a lot of cards to board out.

While I’m happy with my almost-final version (still unsure about a couple choices), I don’t think the deck is broken by any means or that I solved the format, but I enjoy playing with it and I feel that I have an at least reasonable matchups against any deck in the format. I also feel comfortable with the deck and played it a lot, even though I was still making more mistakes than I would have liked during our testing.

I’m the only one playing the deck—no one really seemed interested—and I didn’t try to push it too hard since I didn’t think it was especially great and there’s always the fear that I’m going to do poorly while my teammates’ deck choices pay off, but I’m fine with that. It would have been nice if at least one other person on the team had been invested in the deck to get a second opinion on all the card choices—and if I realize after the tournament that too many of my choices were off, I should probably take that as a lesson and try to not work alone on a deck in the future when I’m surrounded by so many of the best players in the world.

Here is the almost-final deck list:

[ccDeck]4 Spell Snare
4 Mana Leak
2 Remand
2 Cryptic Command
4 Path to Exile
3 Supreme Verdict
3 Wall of Omens
2 Snapcaster Mage
3 Vendilion Clique
2 Wurmcoil Engine
2 Gideon Jura
2 Think Twice
1 Sphinx’s Revelation
4 Island
2 Plains
2 Scalding Tarn
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Arid Mesa
2 Hallowed Fountain
2 Seachrome Coast
1 Mystic Gate
1 Glacial Fortress
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Ghost Quarter
2 Calciform Pool
—–Sideboard—–
1 Wall of Omens
1 Celestial Purge
1 Condemn
2 Rule of Law
2 Negate
4 Stony Silence
1 Rest In Peace
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Hallowed Burial
1 Negate (or Engineered Explosives or Condemn or Supreme Verdict or Kitchen Finks)[/ccDeck]

Zvi Mowshowitz, On Assisting the Team Remotely

Going to Pro Tours is great fun. Not going to Pro Tours isn’t as much fun, but it’s pretty great too, especially when you have a team like ChannelFireball: The Pantheon. Before the tournament, you have the chance to contribute to deckbuilding and playtesting. During the tournament, if you do it right, the Pro Tour is three days of frantic work interspersed with the best Magic and Magic coverage out there. Having outside support is a critical part of a complete team strategy.

Before everyone gathers together in the team house, you’re another member of the team. Deck lists, ideas, matchup results, logistical arrangements, and card evaluations fly across the internet and suddenly constitute 85% of your inbox, replacing a combination of requests to draft, sports ramblings, and mom jokes. Whether or not that constitutes progress is an open question, but it certainly improves Magic skill a lot faster. Early on there are rough ideas and general observations, which gradually give way to carefully considered deck lists and matchup results. Then there’s a flurry of talk about flights and arrival times and rental cars.

Then there’s dead silence, because everyone is too busy playing and drafting and hanging out in a cool house to update you on what’s going on. For a few days, you may have no idea what decks everyone likes and what the team is likely to play. Then, as things get closer, you get a few indications as deck lists get sent out for final inspection, and you wonder what the hell your crazy teammates are thinking—especially if the deck was built by Sam Black or if Jon Finkel accidentally talked half the team into playing Storm again, so there’s usually a lot of wondering.

The real fun begins as the tournament starts. The players are out there winning matches, but that means they’re busy winning matches and stuck in a tournament hall without access to a proper computer. Even when there’s time between rounds, they have to try and relax, rather than figure out what the bigger picture looks like. Someone needs to follow the coverage, compile all the information being learned by the players at the tournament, and generally act as what my friend Seth Burn calls “operator.” Whatever they learn, they email it to me.

Anything anyone on the team needs to know, my job is to know it before they ask, and send them updates in email form every round to their phones. That way, they stay on top of the tournament while everyone in the tournament is running around keeping on top of what we’re up to. It’s all we can hope for to maintain informational parity, because for the popular super teams, it’s impossible to hide. There hasn’t been a Pro Tour in years where I didn’t assume my opponents on Day Two knew exactly what I was up to, and we choose and build our decks knowing this will happen.

This leads to quite the exciting day, because there’s a pattern you follow where you don’t get a break. The round begins and you settle in to watch the match coverage. As the coverage winds down and most people would get kicked to the news desk for a relaxing break, you’re furiously taking in the emails coming in from everyone who played last round and analyzing it to figure out what it all means to better prepare everyone for the round ahead, along with all your other information sources across the internet. You don’t know exactly when the round is going to start, so you have to make sure to get the information out to your team in time to take advantage of it. Then the next round starts and you do all of it again.

On top of this, I’m also trying furiously to keep on top of work at MetaMed, which was the reason I had to skip the Pro Tour in the first place. I could have gone to the Pro Tour, but there’s no way I could have also prepared for multiple formats, and today’s Magic is not forgiving to those who don’t know what they’re up to. If I can’t give a tournament my full attention, I’ve learned to hold off until I can properly prepare. Startups are unforgiving, and you have to take every opportunity to keep them running smoothly and reach out to potential investors. If it’s the middle of the Pro Tour, that is not an excuse.

You’re also rooting for the team, and getting ready for the Top 8 playtesting sessions. With a team this strong and large you can usually count on at least one teammate getting into the Top 8. This time, however, it quickly became clear that such a result was unlikely. As Jon Finkel put it, our Storm deck went 30-15, but unfortunately we can’t draft. With all the Constructed winners running into draft whammies, we couldn’t put anyone in the Top 8 despite putting 6 in the Top 26 and an excellent overall win percentage, so I got to sleep early on Saturday night in order to wake up in the early morning for the Top 8. Even without teammates playing, it was a great last day with a lot of insane plays, and I highly recommend watching for anyone who missed it the first time.

Showing the matches one at a time is a great innovation, and well worth playing best 2 out of 3 for the quarterfinals and semifinals in exchange, although I hope they find the time to do 3 out of 5 in the semifinals again at some point. Not showing the mulligan decisions was disappointing, as this is one of the most interesting and skill-testing parts of the game during what is otherwise talking heads filling time, but thanks to Chris Pikula and a chorus of supporters, I believe we’re going to get that back on track.
Next time I’ll be ready. Next time at the Pro Tour!