Usually when a Grand Prix doesn’t take place over the weekend, writers, podcast host’s, and forum enthusiasts (hey wait, I am, or have been, all of those!) struggle with topics to write about. Generally, your only source of material is the StarcityGames Open which features a solved standard format and the now defunct Legacy Open that felt like a crap shoot from the untrained observer’s eye. And it is true that most of these weeks are light on material. On the podcast I used to host and now just do media production for, AtYourEndStep (#noShamePlug @atyourendstep), episodes with a full docket of SCG Opens, Grand Prixs, and TCG Opens usually lasted at least an hour and a half, if not two hours. Episodes on light weeks such as this one, however, usually are a struggle to break the hour mark.
This week, while light in premier tournaments around the globe, is staggeringly different, surprisingly. Rather than having nothing to talk about in an article series as narrow as a weekly Modern format digest, the fine folks over at StarcityGames decided to grace us with a Modern formatted StarcityGames Open. Instead of just a “Premier IQ” this weekend as one of the marquee side events, the Modern format was highlighted as the main event of the weekend. And thankfully, that means we get to look at 32 Modern decklists. Some, in this writer’s opinion, validate that the format is healthy, fun, diverse, and enables any type of archetype. Others, in the same aforementioned writer’s opinion, are terrible. We’ll get to look at those ones tooJ. While I can’t feasibly tackle them all next week, they’ll serve as fodder for an article yet to be written. But let’s jump in, shall we?
Sultai, by Gerard Fabiano
Be still my beating heart. As a guy that loves Sultai in standard, seeing this Modern list makes me ecstatic. Gerard probably thought it was hilarious. According to his article on StarcityGames, this is just a list of “Sultai cards I own.” He played this deck not as what he thought was best in the format, but as the result of a poll in his article. Quite funny if you ask me.
Ask Fabiano, and he says that he would simply cut one land from the list. Ask me, however, and there are certainly some improvements that could be made. While I think Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver is a really good Magic card and is probably pretty good in Modern when considered in a vacuum. Stealing Ashioks, Restoration Angels, Wurmcoil Engines, etc. all sound pretty good, but is this card really better than Liliana of the Veil? I’m not one to argue with a man like Gerard Fabiano, but I can’t help but assume that when he said “Sultai cards I own”, he quite literally meant that. Yes, Ashiok is a fine Magic card, but stacked up against Liliana of the Veil, I think it falls short. While someone can play around both cards just fine, Liliana of the Veil often leaves the opponent destitute. Lilly is better against the field of combo decks in hand disruption and “edict you” is never a poor option against decks that attempt to just stick a versatile threat.
I think a list like this is powerful and a force in the format going forward. Tasigur, the Golden Fang is even more powerful in Modern than it is in Standard because you can buy back cheaper, and more powerful spells. Buying back a Liliana of the Veil, Thragtusk (!!), or Abrupt Decay even is extremely powerful. If you like Tasigur, the delve mechanic, and doing partially broken things, then this list is worth checking out. I think it has a fair matchup against all the Abzan running around, sufficient enough removal to stop the creature combo decks in Twin, and sufficient disruption against storm decks.
4-color Control, by Jonathan Sukenik
While I disagree with the recent sentiments that Modern is a bad format, the biggest critics of the format have cited that the wide range of viable decks makes it impossible for a true control deck to exist. I won’t rehash the entirety of their arguments here, but in short, they note, and quite correctly, that the strength of a control deck is based primarily in the ability of the deck builder to anticipate the metagame and build accordingly. With a format as wide as Modern is, it is difficult to anticipate the metagame week to week. Yes, you’ll statistically play Abzan about 3 times in a 10 round tournament, and you’ll probably play burn once, but what about the other six rounds? In a format like Legacy, yes the card pool is infinitely larger, but you have one thing in that format that you don’t have in others: Force of Will. If a deck can’t pass the Force of Will check, it isn’t viable in Legacy. Any off the wall type of combo or crazy card you come across, you can simply Force of Will it. “Just Forcing it” isn’t a thing in Modern, and as such, you need to be prepared at all costs. The lack of a safety valve makes building the control deck considerably more difficult.
The beauty, and perhaps the downfall, of this 4-color control deck is that is trying to beat everything and anticipate all of the different decks one could play in a Modern tournament. Supreme Verdict is in there for the creature decks, Shadow of Doubt fills the role of Stifle in the format (Shadow of Doubt in response to you cracking a fetch), and Celestial Colonnade is the way you’re going to close out most games. If I were going to play this list in the coming up weeks, I would want more hard counters in Cryptic Command. Having to always have the correct answer in your hand is never where you want to be, and Cryptic Command fills the role, albeit poorly, of Force of Will.
Temur Moons, by Jeff Hoogland
Boomerang huh? Okay Jeff, I’m on board. This is the closest we get to Blue Moon and a prison deck in the Modern format. The lockout of Spreading Seas, into Blood Moon, into Vedalken Shackles your guy is actually an unreal way to win a game of Magic. This deck seems so light in win conditions. As my good friend, and successful SCG grinder, Riley Curran says, “They’ll die…eventually!” For as much as I want to treat my more talented friend’s opinion as gospel, I can’t seem to get behind the idea of Tarmogoyf being your only sure fire way to win the match. Granted, almost every deck has a target for Vedalken Shackles, Vendilion Clique can randomly just kill your opponent, and there’s enough burn in the deck to go upstairs, but it seems as if you are truly on the “kill them…eventually” plan.
I didn’t have a lot to say about Blood Moon when that deck came out, and I don’t have a lot to say about this deck now. It shuts people out of doing their game plan, and it kills them eventually. If that seems like your idea of fun Magic, then by all means, try this deck out.
From the hands of StarcityGames themselves, the Modern metagame, despite the uniqueness of the lists we just discussed, is still in relatively stable shape. Of the 64 decks that made the cut to day two, 14 or ~22%, was Abzan. There is no real surprise here. As we discussed last week, Junk (Abzan, whatever) has some of the strongest cards, most consistent game plan, and is able to “pre-board” most effectively against a wide range of matchup. Just as Force of Will is a good catch all card in Legacy, Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek are good catch all’s in this format, and backed up by powerful cards like Siege Rhino and Tarmogoyf, they are quite resilient.
U/R twin and Burn are still the second most popular, as the both represented about ~13% of the day two metagame. A plethora of other lists made day two as one or two ofs, but these three decks: Abzan, U/R Twin, and Burn are all still around and dominating the format. No matter what you decide to do, whether it’s play one of the new decks that popped up this weekend or an older guard of the format, your deck must be able to beat, or at least have a fighting chance against, at least U/R twin, Burn, and Abzan. Any correct testing gauntlet includes at least these three decks.
Until Next Time…
As always, you can find me on twitter with both Magic and non-Magic related thoughts @imjorman, over at my podcast’s twitter @atyourendstep, on http://www.twitch.tv/ayesTV streaming random constructed events, and at practically every Magic: The Gathering tournament within a few hours of Columbus, Ohio. Until next time!
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