On Friday, competitors in Bilbao had one last chance to earn two byes for the main event by entering the Last Chance Trials. And they did so en masse, as over 50 players managed to go 4-0 and secure those byes. (At least, that is the number of Modern decks that I could get my hands on.) A metagame breakdown of these decks is as follows:
- Izzet Phoenix: 9
- Hardened Scales: 5
- Burn: 4
- Grixis Shadow: 3
- Bant Spirits: 3
- Tron: 2
- Pyro Prison: 2
- Ad Nauseam: 2
- Humans: 2
- UW Control: 2
- R/G Scapeshift: 2
- Affinity: 2
- Whir Prison: 2
- Storm: 1
- B/R Prison: 1
- Abzan Company: 1
- G/W Taxes: 1
- The Rock: 1
- Bogles: 1
- Colorless Eldrazi: 1
- Shadow Zoo: 1
- Electro-End: 1
- Dredge: 1
So Izzet Phoenix was by far the most popular: 18% of the Trial Winners were playing Arclight Phoenix and Thing in the Ice. Given the archetype’s strong performance at previous Grand Prix events, this did not come as a surprise.
The most interesting Izzet Phoenix list was played by Pro Tour champion Pierre Canali.
Pierre Canali, 4-0 at a Last Chance Trial at MagicFest Bilbao
4 Spirebluff Canal 4 Scalding Tarn 3 Steam Vents 1 Misty Rainforest 1 Flooded Strand 2 Mountain 3 Island 2 Crackling Drake 1 Snapcaster Mage 4 Thing in the Ice/Awoken Horror 4 Arclight Phoenix 1 Bedlam Reveler 1 Echoing Truth 1 Izzet Charm 1 Gut Shot 2 Surgical Extraction 1 Noxious Revival 2 Opt 4 Manamorphose 4 Lightning Bolt 4 Faithless Looting 1 Lightning Axe 1 Twisted Image 4 Serum Visions 4 Thought Scour Sideboard 1 Shatterstorm 1 Hurkyl's Recall 1 Ceremonious Rejection 2 Dragon's Claw 1 Abrade 1 Rending Volley 1 Dispel 2 Spell Pierce 2 Anger of the Gods 2 Blood Moon 1 Young Pyromancer
The unique part of Canali’s specific list is the large number of one-ofs. For example, he has 1 Twisted Image, which is an excellent answer to Thing in the Ice. Normally, lots of one-ofs can be the sign of an unfocused list. But Izzet Phoenix has plenty of card draw spells to dig for those one-ofs in the right matchup. Moreover, Canali has Noxious Revival and Snapcaster Mage to reuse them, which means that he can get more milage out of those singletons than most decks.
In more general terms, Izzet Phoenix is relatively hard to hate out. You could bring in a bunch of spot removal for Thing in the Ice, but then you lose to recurring Arclight Phoenix. You could bring in graveyard removal to deal with Arclight Phoenix, but then you just lose to a transformed Thing in the Ice.
The best answers to the deck are the ones that deal with the engine as a whole or that shut down both win conditions at the same time. Enter Chalice of the Void and Ensnaring Bridge. A Chalice of the Void on one stops their card draw spells, and Ensnaring Bridge means that their creatures can’t attack. These two cards form the core of various Prison strategies, which are on the rise lately.
If you count all such Prison decks as one macro-archetype as a whole, then Prison would have been the second-most popular style of deck among Trial Winners. But there are at least three distinct Prison archetypes. Let’s check them out.
Ernesto Rodriguez, 4-0 at a Last Chance Trial at MagicFest Bilbao
1 Academy Ruins 4 Botanical Sanctum 3 Glimmervoid 1 Inventors' Fair 1 Ipnu Rivulet 4 Spire of Industry 2 Island 1 Tectonic Edge 4 Tolaria West 4 Ensnaring Bridge 4 Ancient Stirrings 4 Whir of Invention 1 Bottled Cloister 4 Chalice of the Void 1 Crucible of Worlds 1 Damping Sphere 3 Engineered Explosives 4 Mishra's Bauble 4 Mox Opal 2 Sorcerous Spyglass 1 Tormod's Crypt 1 Pyrite Spellbomb 4 Welding Jar 1 Witchbane Orb Sideboard 4 Spellskite 2 Unmoored Ego 1 Grafdigger's Cage 1 Torpor Orb 2 Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas 1 Jester's Cap 2 Sorcerous Spyglass 2 Sai, Master Thopterist
Whir Prison is the best-known Prison archetype in Modern. Jaxon Flannagan recently piloted it to a second-place finish at Grand Prix Toronto.
Its strategy is quite unique. To quote Pro Tour champion Ari Lax, who has been hyping the deck recently: “When you play Whir Prison, you aren’t trying to win a game. You’re just making them unable to win.” So it’s all about assembling a lock. Eventually, you can win via Pyrite Spellbomb or Ipnu Rivulet recursion, but that’s an afterthought. Shutting down your opponent’s plans via Ensnaring Bridge, Chalice of the Void, and other lock pieces is where it’s at.
Victor Bellvert Giner, 4-0 at a Last Chance Trial at MagicFest Bilbao
3 Gemstone Caverns 3 Ramunap Ruins 1 Scavenger Grounds 14 Mountain 4 Simian Spirit Guide 2 Eidolon of the Great Revel 4 Goblin Rabblemaster 1 Hazoret the Fervent 1 Legion Warboss 2 Walking Ballista 1 Koth of the Hammer 4 Ensnaring Bridge 3 Abrade 4 Blood Moon 4 Chalice of the Void 4 Chandra, Torch of Defiance 4 Desperate Ritual 1 Pyretic Ritual Sideboard 3 Anger of the Gods 1 Damping Matrix 2 Eidolon of the Great Revel 1 Hazoret the Fervent 1 Legion Warboss 4 Leyline of the Void 1 Shattering Spree 1 Sorcerous Spyglass 1 Torpor Orb
The next Prison deck in Modern is Mono Red, which gives access to Blood Moon. With Desperate Ritual, Simian Spirit Guide, and Gemstone Caverns, it can come down as early as turn one, which can produce some free wins in this format.
The deck can win with Goblin Rabblemaster and/or Chandra, Torch of Defiance, even if you control Ensnaring Bridge.
Massoteau Damien, 4-0 at a Last Chance Trial at MagicFest Bilbao
4 Bloodstained Mire 2 Graven Cairns 1 Temple of Malice 3 Blood Crypt 3 Mountain 9 Swamp 1 Magus of the Moon 1 Hazoret the Fervent 4 Simian Spirit Guide 1 Master of Cruelties 3 Liliana of the Veil 1 Liliana, the Last Hope 3 Chandra, Torch of Defiance 4 Blood Moon 4 Chalice of the Void 4 Collective Brutality 4 Ensnaring Bridge 1 Abrade 3 Bedevil 2 Anger of the Gods 2 Kolaghan's Command Sideboard 2 Crumble to Dust 4 Goblin Rabblemaster 1 Kolaghan's Command 4 Leyline of the Void 2 Slaughter Games 2 Stormbreath Dragon
The final Prison archetype was unveiled by Jacob Brooks unveiled at Grand Prix Los Angeles, and now other players are finding success with his list as well.
Featuring the signature Master of Cruelties (which can attack even if its owner controls Ensnaring Bridge) alongside a plethora of black removal spells, it’s yet another unique take on the prison archetype. In honor of that sweet one-of win condition and the old Blue Moon deck, I dubbed this black-red deck “Cruel Moon”.
The Trial Winners at MagicFest Bilbao suggest that Izzet Phoenix remains dominant, but Prison decks are on the rise on Modern. These decks have Chalice of the Void and Ensnaring Bridge to fight against Izzet Phoenix. At the same time, Izzet Phoenix players are adding answers. The Izzet Phoenix list in this article, for instance, had Shatterstorm, Hurkyl’s Recall, Ceremonious Rejection, and Abrade in the sideboard. The arms race is on.