Grand Prix: Yokohama was this past weekend, attended by over 1,500 players battling for prizes and glory. Importantly, they did battle with Modern decks, which is good for Insiders. Modern is popular enough on the tournament level to drive prices and many of the cards in the set are old enough that it's hard to track them down. They get expensive or hard to find (I had to call 5 stores last week to find one that had Oboro, Palace of the Clouds!). Ergo, it's a good field to get action on, especially because many of the lower-tier decks still have good money rares in them that you can trade into. This week, we'll look at the Grand Prix results and analyze them for Modern play and speculation.
First off, here are the T8 decklists (new window).
Let's talk about Birthing Pod.
Birthing Pod has been involved in the Melira deck since Modern really kicked off. The card allows for combo kills in otherwise-midrange aggro decks. I was thinking about why a deck like Melira that looks so atrocious on paper is actually good, and here's my logic. If you ignore the combo and just try to race with superior monsters, they can rip the combo on you or alternately, grind you down over a long haul. If you just focus on stopping the combo, they can still beat you to death with exalted Kitchen Finks. Ouphe! I think Melira and other Pod combo decks are angled in such a way right now that they apply just the right amount of combo and old-fashioned beats. They should not be good, but they are.
Fully half of the decks in the T8 used Birthing Pod. That's incredible. I don't think these decks are unfair by any stretch - remember that their combo involves two-toughness monsters, whether they're angling for Melira or just Kiki-Jiki. Removal is so underplayed right now and the Pod decks are so resilient that they can move through a lot of point removal. These decks also ran Chord of Calling in some number. Chord has been a solid pickup for a long time. It doubled in price to about $6.50 but I'd still trade for them at that price, which is something I'll get into later in the article.
The other breakout has been Restoration Angel in those decks. Let me be honest; I didn't think the Angel would even cut it in Standard, much less in Modern. Four mana for a blink is a lot to ask for, but a 3/4 body for four mana with Flash is downright silly. Take off the blink and I think it's still a fine control card a la Vendilion Clique. I never expected to see it paired with enters-the-battlefield effects like the Pod decks do. That's the result of small thinking on my part. The Angel is here to stay and she makes fighting these kinds of decks harder. You can get the Lightining Bolt on Melira, but it has to make it past the Angel to stick. You can kill a Finks once, but the Angel will reset it - which is downright dirty.
That said, there are still some great ways to fight these decks. Remember how I said they all depend on two-toughness dudes? While Pyroclasm is a good sweeper if you can afford to play it (and Whipflare is also generous), I'm looking more at Sudden Shock ($0.10). Split Second is really nasty; it can off a Pestermite from Twin and blow away small Ravagers. It can also shut down the Kiki-Jiki coming from Pod. It's not stellar, since they can go get another Kiki if they have Murderous Redcap around, but I'm much more comfortable running a card like that instead of Krosan Grip. I'm also looking hard at Grafdigger's Cage ($0.75) because it stops all of the tutoring - their only out is drawing the Qasali Pridemage to get past it. Now, the Cage shuts down the Melira deck but it doesn't stop Kiki-Jiki from still killing you with Restoration Angel, but I figure you should have a way to kill the goblin at that point. There's also Torpor Orb ($0.15) to stop the combo, but it doesn't stop them from getting Pridemage and still killing the hate card. I'm inclined to run a mix of Orbs and Cages. The most brutal thing you can do is probably Aven Mindcensor ($2.25) because it offers a clock and some serious surprise, often stopping a Pod or a Chord completely.
There's money to be made by banking on Birthing Pod. You can get the Pod itself for about $2.25, which I feel is suspiciously low right now. Both Cage and Orb are seriously cheap and rare. These are the sort of card that shoots up to $3.50 when people realize that they're long out of print and they need them for sideboards. Damping Matrix did the same thing about four years ago when Zoo players needed the effect and I'm certainly going to get a few sets of Orbs and Cages to sit on. Aven Mindcensor is also a fine card to grab - it's a power uncommon but it's the kind of card that can also go up. Remember how expensive Spell Snare is right now! Mindcensor is a little more limited in scope, but it's still a brutal surprise to unleash. Kiki-Jiki is still expensive as heck, even though he recently saw a collector reprint. Trying to get money out of that goblin will be like getting blood from a stone. I'd stay away from trying to trade for them unless you get great deals, but they're a hot card and you could easily move it.
Looking at the predictable decks - Jund and Affinity
These two decks are the workhorses of Modern. You're going to have someone make the playoffs of an event with them because they are consistent and powerful, even though the decks are narrow. It's worth noting that the Jund deck has a lot of crazy Japanese one-ofs like Olivia Voldaren and Jund Charm. I don't think these are the right calls for consistency's sake, especially because there are no Maelstrom Pulses in his 75, but they are the kinds of cards that will come up just enough to really swing a game now and then. When the opponent doesn't suspect Olivia, she can take over a game. When they know she's coming, they can plan for it.
Affinity has about 3-4 slots that are open to whatever you want to put in. Most of the time, it's Shrapnel Blast, but it was Master of Etherium here. Master seems like a decent plan to me because Affinity falls totally apart in the face of Pyroclasm effects. Master gets the Ornithopters out of burn range and it also turns into a decent beater on the back of Moxes, Drums and Citadels. I prefer the sudden burnout of Shrapnel Blast, but Master is a fine play instead.
We can't draw much for speculation from these two stalwarts. I'll note that only Jund is running Dark Confidant, where he is a solid role-player. Not even the B/W Tokens deck runs Bobby Digital. I don't think his price tag is justified.
That B/W Tokens deck and Faeries?
First, Faeries. Vedalken Shackles is an enormously powerful card. The Faeries player needed to run Miren, The Moaning Well to make it better, but they somehow missed how awesome of a chain-gun that combo is. Spellstutter Sprite, as one player pointed out, is like Mental Misstep in the format. It's one of the few counters for Thoughtseize that I don't feel totally shameful about having to blow on the discard spell. The Faeries deck looks resilient enough with counters that it can probably get around a Pyroclasm, too.
Next, the tokens deck. Kelly and I have been saying that Zealous Persecution is highly powerful right now in Modern and this bears it out. Multiple times in the finals, the Tokens player just wiped out the Faerie board with Persecution. It was delightful to watch. This sports three main and the fourth in the board and I'll reiterate that it's a great card to pick up. You can't really make Lingering Souls do much without it, since 1/1s are pathetically small in Modern. Now, when they become 2/2s and your opponent's guys shrink, you're trading tokens to kill off Delvers and other, more serious monsters.
I'm not sure where the Tokens deck goes from here, though. It's still highly susceptible to things like Ratchet Bomb and even Repeal becomes a kill spell. It's got a good longer game since any pump spell combined with tokens is a serious matter. But even random things like Echoing Truth are still potent and the deck has no way to interact with a combo deck like the Birthing Pod lists. Nonetheless, I see BW Tokens being a serious part of the metagame for awhile. People like big, breakout rogue decks and this one is easy enough to make a budget copy of.
If you're going to speculate on Tokens decks, I suggest focusing on Windbrisk Heights ($3.00). It makes the deck pretty busted and it's one of the older cards in the deck. Spectral Procession is also a good snag, but things like Honor of the Pure and Intangible Virtue just aren't worth the dollar or two you'd make from them. These are 2-of cards that are nearly interchangeable. While Virtue is currently hot, Honor has been reprinted enough to make it essentially worthless.
Understanding really long term calls based on current R&D design trends.
I was chatting with a friend the other day about RG Tron and the Tron archetype in Modern. I said that I thought it was a good bet to keep playing Tron and that Tron will only get better with time. The reason is that there will be more awesome Tron cards printed in the future. Wizards loves big spells. We've seen things like Bonfire of the Damned, the Eldrazi, Wurmcoil Engine and more come as gifts from the sky. Karn, Liberated is the core of the RG Tron deck type! However, Wizards is never going to print any nonbasic land hate that's better than what we already have. It's simply against what R&D feels - they don't like land destruction to be too good. So we've got Molten Rain, Blood Moon and Sowing Salt, but we'll never see Wasteland or even Dwarven Miner in Modern. Tron is only going to get better and the hate for it will never be printed.
You can extend this to Birthing Pod and Chord of Calling, too. Wizards keeps making more creatures for the Modern pool and some of them turn out to be cards like Restoration Angel. Pod is only going to be better as time goes on. That's why I think getting Pods right now is an incredible long-term call for Modern and I still think Chord of Calling is fairly priced. If you've got money that you can tie up for a year in Modern, tie it up with Birthing Pods. You've got great factors on your side that are built into the card. It works on Phyrexian mana, so it'll never be reprinted. Similarly, Chord uses Convoke, so the only time we'll see it come back is in a special boxed set.
There are more calls like this all over Modern. A lot of the time, they're not worth tying money up into, but sometimes they are sure bets. I stand by Birthing Pod in particular as a good bet for a long time to come in Modern.
Questions, comments and feedback are always welcome! I love love love talking Modern.
Until next week,