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Modern Mastery: Back in the Saddle

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern

Last time we were together, I had just come off one of the most intense rides in my Magic life. The journey to make the Day 2 cut at GP Toronto was a fun one. The ups and downs of the GPT grind, sharing my victories and humiliations with you each week, and feeling the love and support from everyone were all amazing.

I was obviously very disappointed with my results in Toronto. After how hard I had worked to get byes for the event, it really hurt to have my dreams dashed in the final rounds of Day 1 by sloppy play and poor draws. I likely would have been in a much worse mindset had Brian Kibler not shared in my misery over a drink or two (or six … or eight…). I knew I needed to take a break from the format, and competitive Magic in general. I have spent a ton of time with my family, reconnected with some of my old friends and refocused my efforts at work. My next step toward getting back into the groove was to play some Magic.

Modern becoming an FNM-legal format is one of the greatest things that could happen to me as a semi-competitive Magic player. I actually believe it’s one of the best things that could happen to the format.

Modern has the public perception of being a bad format because of the dominance of Jund and heavy contingent of combo decks. Most of the Modern naysayers are upset because they feel that the power of these dominant archetypes make so many other rogue decks unplayable. This is actually a major misconception. The real reason that rogue decks are unplayable in a competitive environment is due to the actual openness of the format. Take the Day 2 metagame breakdown of GP Bilbao as an example:

Deck Percentage
Jund 15%
Spirit Jund 11%
Kiki-Pod 8%
Splinter Twin 5%
U/W/R Flash 5%
Boom Bust Zoo 5%
Burn 5%
Past in Flames 5%
Scapeshift 5%
Zoo 5%
Infect 4%
Affinity 3%
Auras 3%
Gift Ungiven 3%
R/G Tron 2%
Boom Bust Jund 2%
Doran/Junk 2%
Eggs 2%
G/W Aggro 2%
Living End 2%
U/W Midrange 2%
B/W Tokens 1%
Esper Control 1%
Mystical Teachings 1%
Red Deck Wins 1%
U/R Tron 1%
U/W Tron 1%
 

Once you sort through the smoke and mirrors and realize that the format is 26 percent Jund, something amazing happens. You should notice that every other deck ever is playable to Day 2.

Successful deck selection and precise list tuning require an intimate knowledge of your expected field of opponents. It is impossible to be 100 percent prepared and favored against every deck in this format. And that’s why Jund and Pod/Twin variants are performing so well and being piloted so frequently. They are very resilient, well rounded and interactive decks. Being generically pretty good against everything is the reason people looking to do well at these tournaments select these decks so regularly.

Picking a list that has game against a wide open field makes perfect sense in a large GP or even PTQ. But what happens if the expected field is predictable and much smaller? I saw what happens firsthand at my first Modern FNM.

Friday Night Modern

My son and I recently decided we would take a Friday night away from the house and give FNM a try. I sleeved him up a RUG Scapeshift list from one of the recent MTGO Daily events because he has experience with Standard Valakut and likes interactive decks that look to go over the top. I took my trusty Spirit Jund. I tuned the maindeck to look more like my pre-GP list, but I left the sideboard options pretty open.

After arriving at Legends Warehouse and meeting up with LegitMTG’s own Tyler Premier (@tylerthefro) we started to discuss the expected field. Based on that discussion, we determined it would be Pod, Twin, Storm and U/W in some number, with likely one other Jund and a Kibler G/W deck. This is big news for Jund. Not having to allot space in the board for R/G Tron, Affinity, Infect or Eggs is really big. I was able to create a perfect sideboard for this “tournament” and felt really good about my chances to quadruple my money.

I sit down against my Round 1 opponent, who very obviously surprises me with Turn 1 Martyr of Sands and proceeds to wreck my face. In fact, I ended up winning only two games of Magic that night, both of which came in the last round against a Storm opponent. (I never lose to Storm with Jund on paper. Ever.) Meanwhile, Tyler was tearing up the field with his monoblack discard/Rack deck all night; it was properly tuned to operate on an axis that he knew nobody could be ready for. He knew the holes in his specific metagame and drove a Mack Truck right through it. I knew then that I was going to use these FNM opportunities to experiment with decks and actively try to expand the format’s viable decks list.

After coming home that night, I happened upon Matt Kranstuber (@kstube) from the In Contention podcast talking about a Modern Esper Control list on Twitter. I had to get in on the action. I had just seen firsthand how well rogue decks can do in a smaller environment, and I was anxious to try it out.

The deck felt pretty strong, but what really got me intrigued was how good Jace, Architect of Thought actually was in this format. All of his abilities are very relevant in so many matches. Being able to -1/0 all attacking creatures shuts off half of the Twin win conditions because they need Pestermite to win because Deceiver Exarch is only one power; Lingering Souls tokens are laughable; and so are the goblin tokens from a Storm player. The mini Fact or Fiction ability obviously gets better as the overall card quality of your deck does, and if ever needed, his ultimate can easily close games. I started to look for Modern Decks that I liked with Jace in them so I could take it to the next week’s FNM. My search led me to Collin Morton’s U/W/b Spread ‘Em Walkers list from the Top 8 of GP Toronto.

This list looked like a ton of fun, but I was always very uneasy about how badly I felt it needed maindeck countermagic. I dug through the bowels of the Internet and found a similar list with maindeck counterspells, taking it to FNM. I had more fun playing with this deck than I have in a really long time. I laughed out loud every time my opponent had to break up a Jace pile. I jumped Gideon Juras with Elspeths, and Spreading Seas’ed opponents out of games. I also opted to maindeck Spellskites, eliciting red-faced rage against my poor Infect opponent and forcing my Twin opponents to reevaluate their game plans. I have been tuning this list and its a blast. I actually did a non-Legit stream with it over the weekend in its current form. (There is alcohol consumed during this video.)


Watch live video from mrscottymac on TwitchTV

Archetypes in Flux

The Modern format is amazing. And with it now being an FNM format, brewers can rejoice. Anything you want to build you can play, so long as you are building to beat your local metagame. If you are looking for the blue envelope at a PTQ near you, then you obviously must be ready for the established decklists, and have a good plan to beat them. There has been a good recap of the Modern archetypes by Anthony Lowry, so check those out to catch up on what has been happening in the format.

Wizards also recently announced something that is bound to have a great impact on the metagame: Bloodbraid Elf and Seething Song are now banned. Jund players everywhere are pouring out one for their Homie, and Storm players are finally getting the memo about their dead deck. (I’m not a fan, can you tell?) This is very good news for potential control decks, as the gameplan of Jund winning the topdeck war is likely now going to take a blow. There are no shortage of good four-drops to fill the position (see Olivia Voldaren and Huntmaster of the Fells), but other archetypes are due for death or overhaul, such as Haunted Zoo, Boom/Bust variants and likely even Naya lists.

Likely metagame shifts might see a Doran-based list becoming popular, integrating many of the current Jund strengths, with upgraded removal in Path To Exile and cleaner three-color manabases. U/W/R Midrange, which won GP Bilbao and back-to-back PTQs online before the ban only stands to get better. And with Storm likely leaving the environment, other combo decks such as Eggs, which lost to incidental Storm hate, could be poised for a significant comeback.

Gatecrash also is just around the corner, which means we get a bunch of awesome new cards to play with:

  • Blind Obedience — Sweet sideboard card for Twin and Pod because it shuts off their combo and comes down early, allowing incidental value gain along the way.
  • Devour Flesh — Two-mana edict effect with potential use on either side of the table. Geist of St. Traft is only going to get more popular after this banning. More tools to fight against it are welcome.
  • Illness in the Ranks — This card singlehandedly makes Lingering Souls-based strategies ridiculous. If losing Bloodbraid Elf wasn’t enough reason to go back to three-color Jund, this card should be.

So what’s in store for us? Glad you asked. We have an amazing sponsor lined up in MTGO Traders, who are going to really help us out with this project in Round 2. The plan is for me to pick a new deck to play with. We will run the deck for two weeks and then switch to something else; we’ll go on this way until we are tired or you guys stop watching/reading. I also have a good healthy list of guests in the stable ready to ride alongside of me — some repeats, and a bunch of new faces.

I’m really excited about this season. I will be including a poll each week to ask what decks you’d like to see next. Each deck type has a specific guest associated with it, but who they are will remain a secret until the deck is chosen. Also, Grand LegitMTG Overlord Medina has graciously ponied up some Legit Monies for those of you who join my journey. We’ll award $10 in Legit store credit every week to one of the people that leave comments on the article. I will announce the winner on the stream the following week. Look for the articles on Fridays, and watch the stream on Mondays to see if you are the lucky winner!

I want to thank everyone for helping to make Modern Mastery a success last season. The hits on the articles showed that we were picking up in popularityas we got closer to the end. I would love nothing more than to continue to produce quality content for you here on LegitMTG and now I can reward you with store credit! So tune in, and tune in often. I can’t wait to get back. See you soon!

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