Modern Mastery: Cracking the Fetchland Code

Written by Scott MacCallum on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern, Multimedia

I want to start with a very huge and special shout out to Travis Hall (@travishall456). He played some great games against Lucas and me last week, and I completely missed thanking him for his efforts.

I was very excited to run the stream this week, because I was able to get in a lot of matches with the deck against my son. This gave me a chance to really put some of the tips that Lucas gave me into practice, and start to hone my skills a bit further. Some of those simple skills were turn sequencing, correct use of fetchlands, and making decisions based on how not to lose, instead of always looking for the quick win.

PART 1

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PART 2

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Timing

Turn sequence was something that I quickly found out needed some work. Typically I would draw, play a land, make my attacks, and then play a spell in my second main phase before passing the turn. This is standard auto-piloting behavior, which is often not the optimal course of action. It was mentioned that the first thing I should often do in after drawing was attack if I was in position to do so. There are obvious times this is not correct either. But with this deck, I found that by adopting this behavior, it accomplished some important things.

It forced my opponent to deal with the threat I was presenting with no other knowledge about what other plans I have for that turn. This prevented my opponents from getting unnecessary advantages from cards like Cryptic Command, where it prevents the opponent from countering a spell and then tapping my creatures precombat. By forcing the opponent in this fashion, I gain a slight advantage in tempo. Unless I needed to play a land to fuel a spell which would potentially be relevant in combat, playing the land after combat keeps information hidden.

A good example of this is on Turn 4, where I am likely attacking with an Insectile Aberration or a Tarmogoyf showing three mana available. If I wait until post-combat to play a land, then I deny my opponent the free information that I can cast either Cryptic Command or Huntmaster of the Fells. This can allow your opponent to make bad blocks to your advantage, or not block at all because they have misunderstood the board state. During one game, my opponent was content to trade all of our creatures. At that point, I played my fourth land after combat into Huntmaster of the Fells, instantly seizing full control of the board.

Fetch Lands

Lucas also to educated me about the role of fetchlands in this list. In Legacy, it is often correct to leave your fetchlands unused until necessary because Wasteland sees a lot of play and exposing your lands early can lead to some early losses. Thankfully, land destruction is not seeing very much play in Modern. With this list, using fetchlands early and often is encouraged. This serves two purposes: fixing your colors early, and thinning your deck.

The list only has three sources of green mana, for example, but has nine ways to find one. Establishing your manabase early is very important as there are so few actual mana-producing lands in the deck. Having only 21 total lands, with nine of them fetchlands, makes the thinning effect on your library very noticeable. So many of the cards in the deck allow you to either draw or see more cards than you normally would. By using your fetchlands to thin the deck, you end up getting more business spells; and business is good. The only thing to be mindful about when fetching constantly is your life total. Not taking unnecessary damage from shocklands is very important and should be minded.

I also started thinking about how not to lose. Lucas touched on it briefly, and it has been covered by Gerry T on more than one occasion. The idea is to play around potential actions your opponent could take and situations where you just lose. A classic example is tapping out before your opponent’s Turn 4 against Splinter Twin. By tapping out, you are very likely just dead. Instead, realizing this and leaving resources available to deal with the potential game-winning play is ideal.

There is a good example of this during my match against Jund where I started to plan my attacks with Tarmogoyf around my opponent having Terminate. I knew that if I lost that creature at that time, that the game was basically over. I had very little left to create pressure. I decided to keep protection available and force the opponent to have the answer. I won that game, likely because I played around how I could lose. This is an excellent school of thinking, and I am constantly working on making this a more effective and consistent part of my decision-making process.

Match-up Recap

This week, I was fortunate enough to get some help from a couple of gents from Twitter: @realevilgenius and @plasticshrapnel. These two awesome guys ran against me with Jund and UWR Delver. Both rounds went to three games with me winning against Jund and losing to UWR Delver. I felt both of the matches were fairly even, provided that the sideboard plans are capable, and neither of us mulligan into oblivion.

Jund

I felt good about the Jund matchup, because all of the blue cards that I play were able to keep pace with the card advantage generated by the cascades in Jund. Snapcaster Mage is like a cascade card, but with the added bonus of knowing the second spell. Spell Snare was a very good card against Jund as it stops Dark Confidant, Tarmogoyf and Terminate.

UWR

For the UWR matchup, I made a couple of changes to the sideboard which I felt would help in the matchup. Most importantly, I added two Volcanic Fallouts from the sideboard, which would allow me to deal with Geist of Saint Traft and Delver of Secrets without worrying about Remand or Mana Leak. The match felt pretty good, but when Isochron Scepter lands, it is very tough to deal with. This will need to be addressed in the future.

The Coming Weeks

The Magic Player’s Championship just happened this past week, and although there were not a ton of innovative lists, the one thing we can learn is that the format is always defined by the professional players’ deck choices. Five-color Zoo and Jund were both heavily represented by Team Channel Fireball and the European players, respectively. This tells me we are well positioned to gain some free wins off of this phenomenon.

Samuel Estratti was also running RUG Delver during this event, and although his list was different than ours, one thing stood out to me very clearly — Estratti played Blood Moon in his sideboard. Having played Jund last Modern season, I can tell you nothing is more frustrating that having to sit under a Blood Moon without having drawn a Forest. Since I expect an uptick in Jund and Zoo, in particular, I will be adopting this sideboard tech myself to try to sway the matches into my favor. Having Blood Moon for the Tron matchup as well will undoubtedly be to my benefit.

There also were a ton of spoilers for Return to Ravnica that got released this weekend, and the big news was that shocklands are being reprinted in this block. This is very good news for the Modern format as a whole because increased availability should help break down the cost barrier to entry. I’m most excited for the new Charm cycle, and I talk a bit about Izzet Charm during this stream. The rest of the charms spoiled thus far have all been very pushed in terms of power, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the set holds. One thing is for certain, though, and it’s that this new set will have a major impact on likely all formats. And I can’t wait.

Watch tonight — 9 p.m. EST on Wednesdays — when I test against  Tron,  Storm and Affinity. Next week I will be testing against decks from the MPC, including the UW Finkel/Kibler deck. I may even be testing Shouta Yasooka’s Aether Vial RUG deck. Tune in to find out!

Scott MacCallum
@mrscottymac on Twitter

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