I have played in about 20 PTQs and started with no realistic expectations of winning the early ones. I finally made Top 8 in my first PTQ about a year ago during the first Modern PTQ season. At the time, I was happy to make Top 8 and my inexperience showed as I was crushed in the first round. I went on to Top 8 five out of my next seven live PTQs over four seasons (Modern, Standard, Sealed, Modern), but I was unable to come home with a Pro Tour invite. Suffice it to say, I was quite disappointed with my inability to win in the elimination rounds. At one point, I even considered giving up on competitive Magic.
But with encouragement and support from good friends, I kept on trucking and was finally able to take down a PTQ for Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze. I chose to play UWR Geist Midrange for several reasons: (1) I think it’s the most interactive deck in the format and I like interaction; (2) it’s an early-turn control deck that can switch gears and turn the corner very quickly; (3) I have experience with the deck, playing it a ton on MTGO, and I am the type of player that has a better success rate if I grind countless games with a given deck.
UWR Geist by Bernie Wen
The two maindeck Batterskulls are a concession to the mirror, where only two cards really matter: Geist of Saint Traft and Batterskull. Either card unanswered is game. The split of Izzet Charm and Desperate Ravings happened because I was unsure which to play. Both do different things and I wanted both effects, but I feel they are cards 59 and 60.
I played two Tectonic Edges and one Cavern of Souls as my utility lands over cards like Eiganjo Castle, Moorland Haunt, and Slayers’ Stronghold. Many lists I have seen have been cutting Tectonic Edges, but the card is needed in Modern with the high density of manlands. Cavern of Souls is sweet in a meta full of blue decks, and I was anticipating blue decks of all sorts to be heavily played now that Bloodbraid Elf (the bane of all blue mages) is banned.
Modern is such a diverse format that I wanted flexibility while sideboarding. The narrowest card in the sideboard is without a doubt Tempest of Light. The Slippery Bogles deck is a tough matchup otherwise, and Bogles recently won a Louisville PTQ (shout-out to James “Lopey” Grendell) so I thought there might be more people playing the deck. But I only saw one Bogles deck in the room, and I did not play against it. Moving forward, I would probably cut the Tempest of Lights for one Phantasmal Image and one Disenchant.
Instead of a typical round-by-round analysis, I will provide insights about the matchups I did face and a guideline for sideboarding. It has been said many times before, but I will reiterate: There is no concrete way of sideboarding. Sideboarding is fluid and should be adapted based on your opponent’s play style and card choices in the archetype.
Round 1 — Mythic Conscription
I played a local player who I had playtested with the night before. He added maindeck Thrun, the Last Trolls after a couple games to have a better UWR matchup. Thrun is annoying, but he is hardly unbeatable because most of UWR’s threats can fly over him. I did end up losing the match because of a misplay. In Game 3, I was at eight life with Lightning Bolt, Lightning Helix, and Engineered Explosives in hand. My board was five lands; his board was five lands, a Lotus Cobra, and two cards in hand. He attacked me down to six and I end-step Helixed the Cobra. Now I was dead to a Soveriegn of Lost Alara that I couldn’t kill. I should have realized I needed to save two burn spells in case of a Sovereign. And I promptly got punished the next turn.
Round 2 — Tribal Flames Zoo
This is a relatively easy matchup because UWR has so much cheap removal, including Lightning Helix. It is hard to lose if at least two Lightning Helixes are cast in the same game. The biggest priority is to preserve your life total because Tribal Flames can do a ton of damage out of nowhere. I’ve tapped out at 15 life and died in an MTGO match when my opponent double Bolted me at the end of my turn and then untapped and double Tribal Flamed me. This is an extreme case but it is well within the range of the deck to do 10-plus damage in one full turn cycle.
Round 3 – UWR Geist
The mirror has the misconception of being very luck-based, but in my experience, the player who better understands the matchup has a huge edge. It is important to remember to ask the question, “Who’s the Beatdown?” The beatdown plan revolves around a resolved Geist. Without it, the plan is to play draw-go until there is a window to either resolve Geist of Saint Traft or Batterskull. There are two typical ways the mirror plays out. The first is an early resolved geist that wins the game by itself, and the second is an attrition-based game that ultimately comes down to Batterskull and Celestial Colonnades.
Round 4 – Kiki-Pod
In this matchup, UWR is the beatdown. Kiki-Pod will rarely go for the combo unless we are tapped out because we have too many cheap instants that break up the combo. Their plan is to play the midrange/value game with us. Their creatures are better overall, but it takes a while for them to set up even with an active Pod. Keep in mind that most of their creatures have an ETB effect that can be responded to before they get a chance to sac it to Pod. Batterskull is very important in this matchup; it is the trump to their plan.
Round 5 – BUG Good Stuff
This is similar to the Jund matchup. Outside of Turn 2 Liliana of the Veil, which is hard to beat but can be done, there is nothing too scary about their deck. It is still best to not allow Turn 2 Lilianas, which means killing Deathrite Shamans on sight.
Round 6 – UW Control
In this matchup, we are again the beatdown. UW Control’s trump is Sphinx’s Revelation. If we do not kill them quickly, Revelations will take over the game. The most important card in this matchup is Geist of Saint Traft because they really only have one true answer: Supreme Verdict.
Round 7 – ID
Quarterfinals – Jund
There are two new versions of Jund. The version that replaces Bloodbraid Elf with Huntmaster of the Fells and Olivia Voldaren is a good matchup for UWR. Huntmaster is nothing more than a Bloodbraid Elf that always cascades into a Grizzly Bear and is weak versus counters. In the maindeck, we have 15 cards that kill Huntmaster and 12 cards that kill Olivia. The second version of Jund lowers their curve by not having many four-drops, playing Putrid Leeches instead plays. If Putrid Leech is played correctly, they are very hard for our deck to kill and makes this matchup slightly unfavorable.
Semifinals – UW Fish
The most important card in this matchup is Silvergill Adept. The goal is to one for one Merfolk’s creatures and eventually gain value with Electrolyzes and Snapcaster Mages. The attrition war heavily favors UWR and the only card that evens the playing field is Silvergill Adept, which is Fish’s only means of card advantage. The version I played against had Remands and no Cryptic Command, so I sided out Remands and Mana Leaks. These cards are often dead because of Aether Vial for their creatures and their spells are cheap (e.g., Remand, Spreading Seas, Path to Exile).
Finals – Mythic Conscription
I played my first-round opponent in the finals, and knew I would have a good chance of winning if I played tight. I won a close Game 1 and then won a not-close Game 2, sideboarded the same way as before.
Result: Won 2-0, Overall 8-1-1
Since winning the PTQ, a new deck has been tearing up the format: RG Aggro with Burning-Tree Emissary. I have not played against that particular build yet, but I theorize the matchup is even to slightly favorable for UWR because of all of the cheap removal spells. Lightning Helix is sooo good against aggro, and we have eight when you count the Snapcasters that can flashback the Helixes. Here is the decklist I would run if I had a Modern tournament tomorrow:
UWR Geist 2.0 by Bernie Wen
I want to give big props to Epic Loot for running a very good tournament (and I am not just saying that because I won). Epic Loot was able to secure some of the best judges in the area, which resulted in an expedient tournament that had the finals over by 8 p.m. Instead of attempting to run the tournament at their brick-and-mortar store, Epic Loot rented out an atrium at a nearby hotel. Some stores see PTQs as a quick cash-grab and don’t rent out a bigger location to run the tournament. One store that does a terrible job running PTQs is Indy Gamerz in Indianapolis. I hope the people over at WOTC (i.e., Helene Bergeot) take notice of which stores are running good PTQs and which stores are running bad PTQs, so they can reward future PTQs accordingly.
— @Bwen18 on Twitter
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