This past weekend was an exciting one for Modern. While the SCG Invitational was Standard/Legacy, and the World Championships was what felt like every format invented ever (sidebar: really hoping for a Tiny Leaders/Commander Pro Tour next year) Modern still got some love in the form of four rounds of the 24 best players in the world, and the SCG Modern Premier IQ in Somerset. Sensing the impending hype from these results, I figured it would be a good idea to take a step back and give some context to what we are seeing.
What we’re looking for here is not really “what deck performed well this week” but really going under the hood to discover “how” and “why” things ended up looking the way they did. This will end up looking pretty analytical at the end, so let me know in the comments if you agree/disagree with my thought process.
While I have not competed (and more than likely will never compete) in Worlds, there are some details about the event that are apparent just from watching the coverage and reading some reports from competitors. On one hand there’s the desire to gain an edge/”break it”, competing with the desire for a competitor to “hedge” to devote more time/energy to preparing for another format. Read every competitor’s tournament reports and all of them will talk about how impossible it is to test for four formats at once. This is absolutely essential to keep in mind while analyzing results; it’s just the honest truth that the top performing/worst performing decks must be viewed differently than “real” results, as a four round event is a much different “stress test” than a grueling, two-day Grand Prix. Multiple factors go into deck and individual card choices, including but not limited to testing time, knowledge of each format, informational advantage, deck familiarity, metagame chasing/leveling, and hedging. We could break all of these down but most are pretty self-explanatory.
4 Living End
2 BW Tokens
1 Grixis Twin
1 UR Twin
1 Temur Twin
1 UR Pyromancer Control
1 UW Control
The most apparent piece of information we can glean from these metagame numbers is the prevalence of “goldfish decks”. A discussion about whether Burn/Merfolk can also be considered goldfish decks is relevant, but outside the scope of this article (plus Jordan Boisvert has done an excellent series already on this) so we won’t get into that. For now, it’s important to realize that Affinity, Living End, and Bogles all have a few things in common; they are fast, proactive, mainly do their own thing, and for the most part play themselves (sorry Bogles players). Unlike reactive/interactive decks like Twin and BG/x, the most common decks at Worlds focused primarily on goldfishing successfully. This suggests that most of these competitors chose a deck that would let them devote more time to other formats; the nature of Affinity/Living End/Bogles means that their gameplan will usually stay the same regardless of matchup, meaning pilots wouldn’t have to spend precious time getting acquainted with matchups and sideboarding.
Another factor that contributed to the metagame we see is the metagaming process itself. Going into the event, Grixis Control was on most of the competitors’ minds as one of the best, if not the best, strategies in Modern. It’s no surprise, then, that the three most played archetypes all have good to great matchups against Grixis. One could look at the lack of Grixis Control in the metagame of Worlds as evidence that the deck is “on the downswing” or “not good”, when the reality is that the competitors probably wanted to avoid the Level 0 deck choice.
Breakout Decks at Worlds
Going a little deeper, there are some things we can take away from this event. Yuuya Watanabe built on the growing U/W Control resume with an impressive new take, using Dragonlord Ojutai alongside Eiganjo Castle and Minamo, School at Water’s Edge to set up a powerful endgame.
U/W Control, Yuuya Watanabe - Worlds 2015
Notable in this list is the absence of Snapcaster Mage and Mana Leak, which allows the list to play maindeck Kitchen Finks alongside Wall of Omens and Restoration Angel to slam the door on decks looking to grind, like Abzan and Grixis. No Mana Leaks puts us in a pretty bad spot against combo though, so in a broader field it looks like at least a few copies need to find their way back into the list. The sideboard contains some great tools as well, like Glen Elendra Archmage against Twin/Grixis/Burn and Threads of Disloyalty (a criminally underplayed card). Remember that you can Threads a creature and then Restoration Angel in response to removal/Abrupt Decay on the Threads to bounce the creature and return it under your control, stealing it permanently.
U/R Pyromancer Control, Shaun McLaren - Worlds 2015
4 Young Pyromancer
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Grim Lavamancer
3 Gitaxian Probe
1 Spell Pierce
1 Cryptic Command
3 Spell Snare
3 Mana Leak
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Serum Visions
2 Desolate Lighthouse
4 Sulfur Falls
4 Scalding Tarn
3 Steam Vents
1 Bloodstained Mire
3 Polluted Delta
2 Relic of Progenitus
1 Engineered Explosives
2 Blood Moon
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Moving on, Shaun McLaren shockingly abandoned Jeskai in favor of consistency in the form of U/R Pyromancer Control. Self-described as “kind of a mixture between U/R Delver, Grixis Control, and Jeskai Control”, Shaun eschewed both Kolaghan’s Command/Terminate/Gurmag Angler and Delver of Secrets in favor of a cheap, consistent core built around interaction and the power of Grim Lavamancer. Against a field of Affinity and Delver decks, Shaun would run the tables, but in his StarCityGames article he acknowledges Yuuya’s U/W deck and Tron as bad matchups. Dropping the black splash really cuts down on the power that he would have if he was Grixis, and it’s not clear that me that Grim Lavamancer/Gitaxian Probe/Young Pyromancer is better than the black cards against a diverse field. Notably absent is Delver of Secrets (who would fit well in this deck, as Delver becomes a lightning rod for removal which makes our Pyromancers and Lavamancers better) but this was undoubtably a clear decision made by Shaun, who clearly wanted to be the control in many matchups. Delver of Secrets commits us (usually) to an aggressive line, while Shaun was able to sit back and craft the game to a point where he could drop a Young Pyromancer and slowly accumulate value, rather than trying to burn the opponent out before they stabilize. While he made some significant changes, this deck is at its core a U/R Delver deck without Delver of Secrets, which we most definitely want against a diverse field.
SCG Modern Premier IQ Somerset
U/W Control, Daniel Villamizar - 1st
What can I say, Yuuya piqued my interest. I have now been crushed by this basic strategy in my last two Modern events (Grand Prix Charlotte and SCG Charlotte) and I’ve decided to stop writing it off and really dive under the hood to see what makes this deck tick. Path to Exile remains an excellent reason to play White, and if the control player can get ahead of their opponent to the point that Mana Leak becomes great, the deck should have an easy time moving into the lategame and slamming a haymaker. Speaking of haymakers, this deck goes all in, playing a Jace, Architect of Thought alongside Gideon Jura and (count ‘em) two Sphinx’s Revelation. Employing Azorius Signet to both fix mana (as we are playing 4 Tectonic Edge and a Ghost Quarter) and ramp us into our expensive bombs, Daniel has his eyes set on the lategame and knows what he needs to get there (read: Kitchen Finks). Since playing with Kitchen Finks in the board of Joseph Herrera’s SCG Charlotte winning Jund list, I’m convinced that Finks is one of the best cards in Modern without a great home.
Other than that, three Jund decks in the Top 8 is interesting, and gives more weight to Joe’s great finish the week before for the Jund camp. I still think Grixis Control is favored slightly in the matchup, but the real secret to Jund’s success is, in my mind, the absence of Tron and Amulet at the top tables. Notice these decks were also absent at Worlds? I remember a few months ago during GP Charlotte prep that you absolutely had to have a plan against these decks, and everyone was diluting their manabases to try and squeeze in Ghost Quarter. While I’m not familiar with either strategy, it seems like Tron and Amulet could be excellent choices in a Jund/UW Control prominent metagame. I don’t think we’re quite there yet, as Modern moves relatively slowly, but another week of great Jund results and we could be looking at a Tron resurgence. What do you think? Am I way off base? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to stop by my Twitch stream as I take some of these Modern decks for a test drive! See you there!
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Trevor started playing Magic in 2011. He plays primarily online and studies Architecture at UNCC. Recent paper Magic accomplishments include a 2015 Regional PTQ win qualifying for Pro Tour: Magic Origins and a Day Two performance at GP Charlotte. He also streams weekdays at twitch.tv/Architect_Gaming! Follow him at twitter.com/7he4rchitect and architectgaming.wordpress.com!