If feels like an eternity since I last wrote about Magic. I’ve been playing less and less recently, and as a result, the quality of information I could share came to a point where I was no longer comfortable publishing anything. However, through my testing for GP Brisbane and the event itself, my position has changed, so here I am, behind the keyboard again!

Last weekend was GP Brisbane, the format of which was Modern. Australian GPs are small. We have a small population, as well as long distances between major cities, which makes for low average attendances. GP Brisbane clocked in at a bit under 500 players and now holds the record for the largest Constructed GP ever in Australia. It was also Australia’s first Modern GP. With such a small number of players and an “older” format, I felt that I would be doing myself a great disservice if I didn’t turn up to play.

My testing began as the last of the Theros cards were being spoiled. I wanted to wait to see if anything relevant would show up and ruin my understanding of the format. As we saw more and more cards, it was looking less and less like that was going to happen, so I got started testing on MTGO. The first deck I started with was UWR. I liked my list from last season and it seemed reasonable to start there.

UWR Midrange

[deck]Main Deck
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Geist of Saint Traft
3 Vendilion Clique
1 Restoration Angel
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Cryptic Command
3 Electrolyze
3 Lightning Helix
2 Path to Exile
2 Remand
2 Mana Leak
2 Sphinx’s Revelation
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Arid Mesa
3 Tectonic Edge
2 Steam Vents
2 Hallowed Fountain
1 Sacred Foundry
2 Island
1 Mountain
1 Plains
1 Seachrome Coast
1 Sulfur Falls
Sideboard
2 Stony Silence
2 Negate
2 Sowing Salt
2 Wrath of God
2 Engineered Explosives
1 Tectonic Edge
1 Sphinx’s Revelation
1 Lightning Helix
1 Path to Exile
1 Spell Pierce[/deck]

My initial impression was that this deck wasn’t as good as I remembered it. Both [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] and [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] felt badly placed. Geist wasn’t helping the deck do what UWR wants to do. It wasn’t good against GB because it’s bad against [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card] and bad against Pod because of [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] and [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card]. It was always bad against Affinity, and Tron plays 4 maindeck [card]Pyroclasm[/card]s so it was hit and miss at best there. It still stole games some amount of the time, and I liked the ability to play proactively, but this didn’t feel like the right way to do that. [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] felt similarly bad, it was just too expensive for Modern. It didn’t feel like there were many matchups where you actually got to 8 mana, it was always getting pitched to Liliana against the GB variants and cast for 2 when you actually did resolve it.

I was just about to give up on UWR when I stumbled on [card]Blade Splicer[/card] while trawling through lists on MTGO. The possibility of playing it quickly changed everything. It performed positively against Liliana, all the creatures in Pod, [card]Etched Champion[/card], [card]Pyroclasm[/card] etc., all the things that were causing problems. It was only 2 less power than Geist, so while slower it still managed to clock combo and control decks reasonably well.

Once I added multiple [card]Restoration Angel[/card]s its value increased even further. Restoration Angel is fine when combined with [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] and [card]Vendilion Clique[/card]—it allows you to play at instant speed, which the deck really wants to do, and a 3/4 flyer is a very good size in the format—but once you put it next to [card]Blade Splicer[/card] it becomes even stronger. I was quickly playing a pair of those, too.

I started tuning the deck and included some of my friends in the process. Patty Robinson and “semi-pro player” Samuel Loy were heavily involved in the decks evolution and both played it to money finishes in Brisbane. This is the list we ended up with for the event, within one or two cards depending on personal preference.

UWR Splicer

[deck]Main Deck
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Mountain
1 Plains
2 Steam Vents
4 Island
4 Arid Mesa
4 Scalding Tarn
3 Tectonic Edge
2 Hallowed Fountain
4 Celestial Colonnade
2 Restoration Angel
4 Blade Splicer
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Vendilion Clique
4 Cryptic Command
3 Mana Leak
1 Shadow of Doubt
4 Electrolyze
1 Lightning Helix
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Path to Exile
1 Engineered Explosives
2 Spell Snare
Sideboard
2 Counterflux
2 Engineered Explosives
2 Negate
2 Hallowed Burial
1 Shadow of Doubt
1 Lightning Helix
1 Crucible of Worlds
1 Tectonic Edge
1 Restoration Angel
1 Thundermaw Hellkite
1 Path to Exile[/deck]

All through the testing process I kept an eye on the G/B variants. They seemed like the decks to beat and it was interesting to try and figure out the best build. I’m a deckbuilder at heart and this sort of puzzle is very appealing to me. Despite my faith in UWR, I had also gone fairly deep on testing G/B. My housemate Al, who doesn’t play Modern, had asked to borrow a deck for the event and I decided I could build him something G/B without any overlap with the cards I needed for UWR. He didn’t care that much what he played and believed I would build him something good.

Through the games I played, some things were easily apparent about the G/B decks. Each color gave you access to a couple of key cards. Red gave you [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], [card]Raging Ravine[/card], and [card]Olivia Voldaren[/card], and white gave you [card]Lingering Souls[/card], [card]Path to Exile[/card], [card]Stirring Wildwood[/card], and [card]Stony Silence[/card]. Straight G/B gave you [card]Tectonic Edge[/card] and [card]Treetop Village[/card].

The options seemed to be Junk, Jund, G/B, or four-color. So I started testing all of them. I didn’t like four-color much at all, the mana base was painful and the colors weren’t always amazing. You had to play four [card]Raging Ravine[/card]s and no [card]Treetop Village[/card]s as the mana just couldn’t handle Village. Opposing [card]Blood Moon[/card]s were good and I just didn’t feel the extra color increased you power level all that much.

With 4c eliminated, I started comparing white and red. Aside from Lingering Souls vs. Olivia and Bolt vs. Path you could play [card]Elspeth, Knight-Errant[/card] or [card]Chandra, Pyromaster[/card], [card]Sigarda, Host of Herons[/card] or [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]. Red was slightly ahead until I came to a key realization. You didn’t need Path or Bolt. [card]Dismember[/card] and [card]Maelstrom Pulse[/card] were both testing well and [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] was a solid two-of. Path was not something you wanted to cast early and Bolt didn’t kill everything. [card]Dismember[/card] was awkward for the life loss, but for the most part it held its own as far as comparisons go.

The next necessary step was to look at straight G/B. It didn’t take me long to realize I was in love with [card]Tectonic Edge[/card], but not a fan of G/B’s lack of quality threats. I liked [card]Phyrexian Arena[/card] as a one/two-of, but I didn’t like [card]Desecration Demon[/card], [card]Thrun the Last Troll[/card], [card]Garruk Relentless[/card], or any of the other big threats. I really missed [card]Lingering Souls[/card], and the sideboard wanted something better against Tron and Affinity.

I decided to try and splash just [card]Lingering Souls[/card] and leave in all the [card]Tectonic Edge[/card]s, and I was very happy with the result. This is the deck I ended up with:

G/B Souls

[deck]Main Deck
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Deathrite Shaman
4 Dark Confidant
3 Scavenging Ooze
3 Thoughtseize
2 Abrupt Decay
2 Dismember
4 Liliana of the Veil
2 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Maelstrom Pulse
4 Lingering Souls
1 Phyrexian Arena
1 Go for the Throat
4 Marsh Flats
4 Verdant Catacombs
2 Swamp
1 Forest
1 Twilight Mire
4 Treetop Village
4 Tectonic Edge
2 Overgrown Tomb
1 Temple Garden
1 Godless Shrine
Sideboard
1 Path to Exile
1 Thrun, the Last Troll
1 Phyrexian Arena
1 Sword of Light and Shadow
2 Grafdigger’s Cage
4 Fulminator Mage
1 Thoughtseize
2 Stony Silence
1 Dismember
1 Fracturing Gust[/deck]

When I arrived in Brisbane, I was still going to play UWR. I liked its matchups against non-tier decks. I liked it against Tron and Affinity and I was fine with its 50-50 matchup with Jund and Pod. By Friday afternoon things had changed.

I rocked up to the event looking forward to getting one last testing session with my deck as I took it through GPT grinders. Since I haven’t been playing much Magic and my Silver-level privileges have expired, I had 0 byes. I wasn’t worried though, as I was very confident with my deck and expected to win a GPT without too much trouble. I had all day after all.

Fast-forward nine hours and I’m miserable. I’d played four events with an overall record of 4-4, losing to play errors against Pod, [card]Blood Moon[/card] out of Affinity, and to reasonably poor matchups in Burn and Ad Nauseam combo. My deck wasn’t feeling anywhere near as amazing as I thought it was. I knew it was still good but, I just didn’t want to play it. Fortunately, I had a backup.

A week out from the GP, John-Paul Kelly and Wilfy Horig, two of my friends whose wizardly instincts I greatly respect, had access to my lists and had independently decided that G/B Souls was better than UWR. When I did decide to change, this was definitely a contributing factor. I got back to our accommodation, gave Al the UWR deck to play, and wrote out my deck list for the following morning.

The GP started off in less than perfect fashion. Without any byes, and having registered a deck I wasn’t overwhelmingly confident with, I went into round one without the highest of expectations. When I swiftly lost to Splinter Twin, my expectations were close to zero. After Day One I had strung together seven straight wins against a variety of tier and non-tier decks, but I still wasn’t feeling like I had a great chance in the event. It had seemed that people weren’t anywhere near as prepared for the “best deck” as I had expected them to be on the first day, but I thought Day Two would be different. At the start of Day Two I lost round nine to Jack Ding, a good Sydney player playing Jund, so I was back to being on the bubble, needing to string together four wins and a draw in the remaining five rounds. I won round ten against Pod thanks to my [card]Sword of Light and Shadow[/card] and round eleven against UW Tron.

In round twelve I was paired against Jake Hart in an uncovered feature match, and it would have been one for the ages. In the third game my pair of [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]s had just died to an off-the-top [card]Maelstrom Pulse[/card] and I was in bad shape. Jake made an error by not gaining life with his [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card], which meant that when I ripped my own Pulse I could drop him to 3 with my [card]Treetop Village[/card]. I had a [card]Tectonic Edge[/card] for his [card]Raging Ravine[/card], and we were both hellbent with Jake controlling a Liliana on 4 counters as the only non-land permanent.

If Jake was able to top deck removal for my Treetop, I would have an extremely hard time getting back in the game. Jake untapped, drew and then paused. I asked if it was a land and he said that it wasn’t. When he passed the turn I was pretty confident he was bluffing and fully intended to activate my Treetop and try to kill him. When I ripped [card]Thoughtseize[/card] with exactly the right amount of mana to cast it, animate my Village and Tec Edge his Ravine, I slammed it on the table and extended the hand. The card he had drawn was a [card]Lightning Bolt[/card].

At this point I started to actually sniff Top 8 for the first time all event. I needed to win one round then draw in. When Wilfy told me he (at x-1) was going to be paired against an x-2, I started to get nervous. Pairings went up and we were paired. He graciously conceded, putting both of us in the Top 8.

My fourth consecutive Australian GP Top 8 was the sweetest of them all. The Top 8 matches are all covered on the mothership, so I won’t go into details. I beat Tron and Kiki-Pod but lost to Affinity in the final. His draws were good, and to be honest I don’t actually know how favorable the matchup actually is. Needless to say, I was happy with my performance, happy I changed decks at the last second, and I’m very excited about getting back on the Pro Tour!

As always I look forward to answering your questions and comments.

Dan Unwin
Sledgesliver on MTGO.