I’ve been a hopeless World Championships addict for as long as I’ve watched coverage, which dates back to Zink’s win in 2003. I remember sitting there, captivated, as the Wake on Wake finals went on for hours. The coverage team joked about the grueling nature of the match, but I didn’t care. I was learning what competitive Magic was, watching the best players duke it out while the commentators pointed out stuff I’ve never heard of—things like sequencing and sideboarding mind games and bizarre rules interactions and niche technology.
At the end, if the head judge had come up and said “There was a problem, you guys have to play the finals over again,” I would’ve been ecstatic.
The bug never died, and I see it in other people and other games. It shows on the player’s faces during their interviews, and you hear it in the coverage team’s voices during the commentary. People that don’t care about Magic think it’s sweet, as being the world champion at anything is inherently prestigious.
Currently, I’m writing this in between Day One and Day Two. While watching the pros draft real life Vintage Masters was outstanding, I want to talk about the innovations in Modern. Even though the 24-person metagame is naturally inbred, the technology ripples will have some serious lasting effects on the format.
A week ago, Bob Huang messaged me about Storm.
In the end, I never ended up testing Bob’s idea because I was under the impression that two non-synergies with delve was too many. That is, that you can run either Snapcaster or Academy Ruins in a delve deck but not both, or in this case Ascension and Past in Flames.
Some people made it work:
Peachy Storm (Reid Duke, Huey Jensen, Owen Turtenwald)
The main deck looks silky smooth and consistent, which is great for combo.
The miser Meddling Mage looks odd, and it is, but drawing the one is less likely to induce a fizzle than drawing multiples, and with all of the cantrips the relative value of a miser’s copy is high because you’ll see it more often. Against BG decks, it can shield Ascension from Abrupt Decay, but it’s mostly here to hose random combo opponents.
Here’s how the peachmasters did:
2-2 vs. Delver
0-1 vs. UWR control
1-0 vs. Scapeshift
2-1 vs. Ascendancy Control
0-1 vs. Ascendancy (stock)
0-1 vs. Burn
0-1 vs. Pod
5-7 might not seem like a good record, and it isn’t, but this tournament is stacked and at least it shows the deck is competitive. I imagine a good number of people will try the deck out, realize they’re not good enough, and set it back down again, but at least combo fans have a solid list.
There were a solid few weeks were everyone was screaming about how Ascendancy broke Modern, despite the deck relying on mana dorks and being somewhat weak to pressure + a bit of disruption. Still, there was a minute where you could still find Affinity in the Modern 2-mans, and for that minute Ascendancy was a sweet deck.
The rest of the format caught up, however, and decks that couldn’t both interact and apply pressure fell away, unable to compete with the Treasure Cruise decks. Ascendancy’s good matchups fell out of favor, replaced with a format of Delvers and Eidolons of the Great Revels. Without pure creature decks to race or slow control decks to grind through, Ascendancy saw less and less play.
UWR Ascendancy Combo/Control (Wrapter, PV, Tom Martell)
Unlike the green version, this is a legitimately good deck. By cutting mana dorks and adding more control elements, the deck is less of a vulnerable balls-out race deck and is instead playing a sort of control game, buying time to put the pieces together, which is similar to what Scapeshift does.
Travis Woo had something close to this, advocating a UWR list with manlands and Fatestitcher as mana dorks, though his list wasn’t as tight. Still, props to TWoo.
At first I thought the emphasis on Dig over Cruise might be a mistake, since Cruise is much easier to cast with a single Fatestitcher while going off, but the deck is trying to find a couple of very specific cards and with all the blind draw (Thought Scour, Probe) the selection from Dig is necessary.
The turn-three kill is possible, though unlikely. It involves binning Fatestitcher to Izzet Charm on two, unearthing it on three, untapping the land, casting Ascendancy, and then leading with Gitaxian Probe to start going off.
Here’s how TeamCFB did in Modern:
2-2 vs. Delver
1-2 vs. Storm
1-0 vs. UWR Control
3-0 vs. Pod
1-0 vs. Scapeshift
8-4 is a terrific record in this field, and part of that could be due to the surprise element. Even if an opponent knows your list, he’s still going to lack experience in the matchup, which is the true advantage of playing a rogue strategy.
Also, this deck is way better than what people are used to facing, and played by some of the best players in the world. At this point, we don’t know how good the deck is, but it’s likely somewhere between a reasonable Scapeshift alternative or a dominating archetype.
New technology starts spreading and inspiring right away. Take this list that Rich Shay (of Vintage Super League fame) used to 4-0 a recent Legacy Daily:
UWR Ascension, by Rich Shay
“I haven’t tuned this yet—I literally made this in five minutes. It was absurd, though. I felt like I was playing a broken Vintage deck, with the ability to play the control game until it was time to combo out.
I beat BUG Delver, 2 Elves decks, and Carsten’s UWR Control deck. The deck just felt really ahead—I dropped one game to the Elves deck when he used Cradle to hardcast two Behemoths in a row. I’m pretty excited about this one.”
By moving away from green, the deck becomes infinitely more portable to Legacy. The mana dorks were vulnerable, the four-color mana base couldn’t support basics, and the green creatures didn’t pitch to Force of Will. Rich 4-0’d with a deck he made in five minutes, and it should be interesting to see if the deck picks up steam as it becomes more tuned.
Burn received a burst from KTK because it takes advantage of Treasure Cruise and because it gained a position in the metagame.
Rwu Burn, by Nam Sung Wook
This one’s kind of a head-scratcher. A lot of the main deck is reserved for a critical mass of burn spells, but you have to kind of wonder at the triple Shard Volley and miser’s Magma Jet before playing the fourth Boros Charm. Perhaps Nam Sung knows something I don’t.
Fifteen is barely enough white sources for the sideboard Kor Firewalkers, and those slots might be better used with Dragon’s Claws, Leyline of Sanctity, or cards for other matchups. Remember that a turn 3-4 Firewalker might well be too late.
Burn, by Shahar Shenhar
I like Shahar’s deck quite a bit more, particularly the quad-Treasure Cruise. I mean, all of your cards are efficient and end up going to the graveyard anyway, might as well play the Ancestral Recall. You might even be able to beat a Lightning Helix or two.
The Mutagenic Growths are better here than they are in Delver, as they save all twelve of the creatures from Lightning Bolt. It’s nice to have a free spell to cast post-Cruise, too, though I’d have to play the deck some to see if I like the card. On paper, it has some merit, and it can even save Geist from ‘clasm effects post-board.
Speaking of Geist, it has a lot of interesting uses, and it shines brightest in the matchups where Goblin Guide is at its worst. I don’t know who thought of this particular bit of sideboard tech, but it’s wicked smart.
Pod is the Stoneblade of Modern, rewarding those who play it to death.
Pod has been a top deck for a while now, surviving several meta shifts and performing at tournament after tournament. With the popularity of Delver and Burn rising, it would’ve been reasonable for Pod to finally take a hit and fall out of favor, but once again it’s adapting and putting up numbers. After a strong showing at a recent European Grand Prix, I was unsurprised to see three people pick it up here.
Pod, by Sam Black
Thragtusk has seen a small amount of Legacy play, and it’s only barely not good enough for Modern. Siege Rhino, being the more aggressive card, is not only playable but also solves some problems for Pod. Rhino has a ton of synergy with the deck, from value draining to applying pressure to surprise finishing people with Restoration Angel. The life drain is especially important against the Cruise decks, since you want to pad your own life total, protecting it from burn, while pressuring the opponent’s.
Murderous Cut is another interesting addition, though it feels strange to see it over the fourth Abrupt Decay. I guess it kills opposing Rhinos and Restoration Angels, and it is a pain-free way of killing Eidolons of the Great Revel.
The rest of the field was comprised of some more sets of 2-3 players and a few lone rogues running somewhat stock (though finely tuned) tier decks.
1 Abzan (quad-Siege Rhino)
3 Temur Delver
2 UR Delver
2 URw Delver (splashing for sideboard Geist, Mantis Rider, and Wear // Tear)
1 UWR Control (with Wall of Omens)
1 GUWR Ascension (stock)
Out of all 24 decks, the Abzan deck and two of the Pod lists were the only decks to omit delve spells. As mentioned earlier, this is an inbred metagame where teams shift percentages and player preferences lead the way. Still, when the top players in the world get together and say “this is the best thing to be doing” it means something. While I’m enjoying the format a lot, and it features a diversity of neat blue decks, I’d be surprised if Wizards didn’t drop the banhammer.