Grand Prix Madrid is coming up this weekend. Despite the fact that I will not be competing, I have been playing a lot of Modern recently, as it will be the Constructed format for the next Pro Tour.
I’ve been trying out a bunch of different archetypes, even though I’ve mostly been focused on control decks, and I started wondering what I would have played in Madrid had I been competing and playing all three seats.
A Little Data
Grand Prix San Antonio was the last GP and major tournament in Unified Modern and it was held over 6 months ago. Out of the tTop 8 teams, 6 had an Affinity player and 5 a Death’s Shadow player. Moreover, 7 out of the 8 teams had a Thoughtseize/Inquisition of Kozilek deck. If you use that small sample, it meant that you had a 1 in 4 shot of getting paired versus Affinity and an almost 30% chance of playing against a Thoughtseize/Inquisition deck.
If you look at the Top 32 of the last Modern European GP held in Birmingham four months ago, you find the almost exact same ratio of Thoughtseize/IoK decks, 9 out of 32 (4 Grixis Death’s Shadow, 3 Abzan, 1 Black-Green, 1 Esper Death’s Shadow), but only 2 Affinity lists.
On the other side of the globe, GP Sao Paulo was happening the same weekend and once again you could find 8 Thoughtseize/IoK decks in the Top 32 (+1 Faeries deck with 4 Inquisition main). But once again, Affinity was almost nonexistent with only one player managing to sneak into the Top 32.
The discrepancy could be explained by a difference of region, a shift in the metagame, variance, or maybe some kind of bias. Affinity has been around forever, has always been quite good (it has actually been my weapon of choice for two out of the last four Modern PTs) and it’s one of those decks that takes no cards away from another list, so it’s an obvious choice. It also has the advantage of a slightly favorable matchup against Grixis Death’s Shadow, which is one of the most popular decks in the format.
One of the big differences between the last two individual Modern GPs was the total lack of blue control decks in Birmingham, whereas you could find 2 copies of Blue-White Control and 3 Jeskai decks in the Top 32 of the Brazilian GP.
At any rate, it will be interesting to see how the metagame shakes out in Madrid. I expect a lot of the top tier teams to have a Death’s Shadow player—more than likely of the Grixis variant—while you might see a bit more diversity in the rest of the field. There isn’t a lot of info out there but I think a lot of the pro players consider Grixis Shadow to be the best deck in Modern. PV and Carlos Romao both played it and did very well in GP Sao Paulo, and LSV has been advocating the deck with his good friend Pat Cox recently winning an RPTQ with it. I feel like it’s also the perfect deck to pick up for a very good player that doesn’t play a ton of Modern. The deck has a lot of play to it and you get to play with Thoughtseize/IoK, so you will know what is in your opponent’s hand most of the time and you don’t have to be as knowledgeable about the format.
Despite the number of viable archetypes, there is a surprisingly low amount of overlap between the different decks. One of the most contested cards is probably Serum Visions, but with the reprint of Opt, there might be a bit more wiggle room than in the past. You also have a decent amount of leeway in your mana base. For example, most versions of Dredge play fetchlands and shocklands, but Gullaume Perbet placed 9th in Birmingham with the following list:
So if you’re willing to leave Thoughtseize out of your sideboard, you could run this Dredge deck, as well as a Grixis Shadow or a Jund deck.
With all that said, here are the 3 decks I would play if I were playing in GP Madrid this weekend:
This is the deck I’ve been working on the most, and I’ve been having good results with it. The only change I made to my most recent list is to play Cryptic Command #4 in the sideboard over 1 copy of Disdainful Stroke, as I need that in my third deck’s sideboard as you’ll see.
I think it is favored against both Death’s Shadow and black-based decks in general, as well as against Affinity. Chalice of the Void and Blood Moon can be problem cards, and it is not especially great against Storm and other combo decks, but you still have game against them. Dredge used to be absolutely abysmal—worse than a 20/80 matchup—but the 1 Settle the Wreckage goes a long way and while you’re probably still a big dog, I’m 100% versus it lifetime with Settle in my 75 (one match sample size).
I think you’re also a small favorite against the big mana decks (Titanshift and Tron), which are popular online as well as live.
One of the questions I get most is: Why U/W over Jeskai? I don’t have a great answer besides the fact that I haven’t played with Jeskai as much, but I do think both are good and, given my configuration, you can run a stock Jeskai list over U/W if you think that it is a better choice.
The second deck I would play is good ol’ Affinity.
I’ve tried Hope of Ghirapur and Smuggler’s Copter in a few Leagues now and I’ve been liking them both. The rest of the list is pretty standard. I haven’t been playing with Master of Etherium as much recently, going as far as cutting them altogether, but 2 in the main deck seems to be the norm nowadays, so I would probably just trust the internet and include them in my list. I used to play Thoughtcast or Galvanic Blast (usually a 4/1 or 4/2 split) but I think Galvanic Blast is better. It’s for sure a better game-1 card, though Thoughtcast does shine after sideboard when the games become more grindy. I usually have 1 Rest in Peace in my sideboard, but they’re already taken by the U/W deck.
I would be wary of playing Affinity in this format, though, as people might metagame heavily against it, but it is the deck I have the most experience with along with U/W, so I would be willing to gamble.
To round out my team, I would choose Jund/Traverse/5c Death’s Shadow. I haven’t played with the deck at all but I think you would want to try and play a version of Death’s Shadow if you can. Here is the list Brendon Johnson used to win his RPTQ in Montreal a couple of weeks ago:
I’m not sure that it is better than straight Grixis Shadow, but the Traverse version doesn’t play Serum Visions and doesn’t really need or play Snapcaster Mage. I like that the deck runs Lingering Souls in the sideboard, as the card is strong against both Death’s Shadow and Affinity decks.
Other Decks I Would Consider
Counters Company is a solid option, and the only card you would have to give up to run it alongside Grixis Shadow is a sideboard Thoughtseize.
The deck also usually plays a couple of Path to Exiles in its sideboard, which you would have to abandon if you wanted to play U/W or Jeskai.
TitanShift is another deck that puts up solid results over and over. Between Sao Paulo and Birmingham, it put 10 players in the Top 32, which is huge for a format as diverse as Modern (the top 12 finishers in Birmingham were all playing a different archetype). The deck probably can’t be played without Lightning Bolt so you would have to keep that in mind while picking your two other decks.
If you’re dead inside and are willing to sleeve up Urza lands, I think Eldrazi Tron is another good option.
Not a Fan
Despite the recent hype and the fact that the deck takes close to no cards from other decks, I would recommend against sleeving up 5c Humans.
I don’t hate Storm but I do not think it is top tier—people are usually ready for it and I would be hard pressed to play it over U/W/x or Grixis Shadow.
There are a bunch of other decks I haven’t mentioned. I either don’t think they’re that good or don’t have strong opinions about them.
I hope I didn’t sound like a broken record going back to Grixis Shadow over and over again, but I do think it is one of the cornerstones of the format. There are enough good decks in Modern that it wouldn’t necessarily be a mistake not to register the 1-mana 13/13, and I’m curious to see how things unfold in Madrid only two months before the PT.
What about you? What would your choice have been had you had to compete as a team of you, you, and you in the GP this weekend?