Insider: GP Columbus and the state of Modern

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Grand Prix Columbus was a great time - I was there - and it pulled in almost 1,050 players, which is impressive for a format that people seem to hate on the internet. Most of my opponents had not played the format before, but just about everyone expressed that they thought it was a fun format that they'd like to keep playing. That makes me happy because Modern is a personal favorite format. I'm sick to death of Jace and Stoneforge Mystic. Modern has a nice pace and a deep cardpool that lend themselves to good and inventive deckbuilding.

The one thing that Modern lacks right now is a robust non-WOTC tournament scene. Time after time, I've been reading from people online that their store had Modern for awhile, but nobody came. I don't believe that this is an issue due to lack of interest in the format, though. Columbus had over a thousand people there, many international players who weren't just trying to get pro points. Locally in Columbus, we had two tournaments with over 50 players - put on by interested traders and store owners, not WOTC. The key to getting well-attended events is advertising them effectively and getting the word out. I wish that there was a formula for this; I've even attempted to get events going in Cincinnati, but I haven't found a store owner yet who is willing to work to get something going. Financially, getting a Modern scene going in your shop is great; it blows wide open the demand for older cards. Both store owners and traders benefit from more people playing Modern in a shop. My hope is that with Return to Ravnica, people will want to get a lot more use out of the shocklands that they open and maybe give Modern a try - the barrier to entry based on lands is an oft-cited criticism of the format.


The individual tech cards at GP: Columbus

First, here are all of the T8 decks.

One of the most popular decks was UW/x tempo-control with Vendilion Cliques and Geist of St. Traft. Both cards are Legends and die painfully to Pyroclasm and Volcanic Fallout, so the hot card the morning of the event was Eiganjo Castle. Castles were selling for $7 and up before the tournament. I love the card in theory, but it has a few flaws that make it not a sure bet. First, it's not fetchable, which would not matter as much except for the fact that card draw and filtering in Modern is pretty bad. Next, it's a bad color; you want White as a support color, but it's not great to have in the opening hand. Finally, the Castle is really mana-intensive. If you play Geist of St. Traft on the third turn, you're still exposing him to Pyroclasms on the next turn. You've got to hold off on a lot of plays to make sure you keep Castle mana up. Ignoble Hierarch definitely lessens this problem, but it's still an issue. I played UR Tron and never feared the Castle; my Pyroclasms hit home on every old ghost that popped up.

Another tech card is Linvala, Keeper of Silence. You know that this lady is good against the Pod mirrors; the Yokohama Pod players would just scoop up in the face of her, it's that good. She is why Combust is still a reasonable sideboard card for Pod decks and also why another piece of tech has been showing up. Zealous Conscripts is also not much of a secret at this point, but it does steal Linvala and let you combo off (or sacrifice her to your Birthing Pod). Conscripts, incidentally, will make infinite tokens with Kiki-Jiki because you can target your own Goblin and untap him over and over.

Next, Restoration Angel demonstrated that she is here to stay. Not only has the Angel made appearances in the Naya Pod decks, but she's also the bedrock of all the Snapcaster control lists we've seen bouncing around. My friend and teammate, Brian Demars, made 9th place in Columbus and ran several of the saucy angel in his deck. The scary thing about UWG 'good stuff' decks is that they have flash monsters on 2, 3 and 4. They don't ever have to tap out to make a threat against you, thanks to that critical mass. That is dangerous in a slower format like this.

Finally, keep an eye on both Fulminator Mage and Molten Rain. The latter is particularly harsh because it hits everything, not just nonbasics. This is a level of land hate that we're not going to see again and if your deck plans on winning through dealing damage, then this is a sharp card to get a set of. I predict that Molten Rain will continue to be a hot uncommon.

Affinity Prevails, Citizen

Affinity is not respected enough, apparently. The T8 decks run a pitiful count of artifact hate cards, apparently forgetting that an Ornithopter with Cranial Plating will still turn you into paste. It is therefore not surprising that the banner aggro deck of the format won the whole thing. I heard people remarking that "a tuned aggro list could smash this event" and that mystery deck just turned out to be Affinity. While none of its monsters really scare me on the individual level, Affinity can outlast a lot of decks with its little guys. The Plating off the top is scary, but the Steel Overseer on the first turn that gets everyone out of Pyroclasm range immediately is also scary. The Nexuses pumping each other gives the deck a good long game. I don't believe that Blood Moons are the right call on the sideboard any more because they don't actively do much to win you the game and all of the Tron decks just seamlessly work around The Bloodening. Maybe the aforementioned Molten Rain is the better call.

Financially, Arcbound Ravager and Etched Champion continue to be solid bets. I think Steel Overseer is better in Affinity than Arcbound Ravager is because its effect works better with manlands and Ornithopters. All three of these cards are good Modern acquisitions, but I wouldn't trade highly for them unless you foresee Modern coming to your area. At QS, we've been on top of Etched Champion for the better part of a year and I'm glad that the WOTC commentators named it as the card of the event. It's one great piece of reach for Affinity and singularly causes a lot of problems for other decks.

So many singles!

The other interesting thing about so many of these lists are the strange singleton cards. Orrin Beasley had the really bizarre Rakdos Augurmage in his Jund maindeck. I can understand running powerful singletons like Vedalken Shackles, but nobody played Drillbit Taylor when it was legal in Standard! I suppose it functions as a pseudo-Liliana, either holding an x/3 at bay or forcing some mutual discard. Max Tietze had a Twisted Image on hand, which has a lot of good corner applications. For sure, I want it against Pod - it kills Hierarchs, Birds and walls. It blows up Spellskites and Ornithopters. I cannot, however, see it being strong enough to bring in if I'm only going to value-kill 4 or 8 cards in an opponent's deck. There's a lot of fun in running singletons, though - it's fulfilling to cast one at the right time and take control of a game. My friend Brian had an Grim Roustabout in his sideboard, which is one of his pet cards, along with a single Harm's Way.

Contemplating all that, please note that Gavony Township is the real deal in Pod decks. If your opponent has to kill you in a fair manner, then getting Township going and just making aggro happen is really hard to deal with. One game I witnessed had an opponent die to a pair of 4/5 Birds of Paradise, for example - while the Snapcaster Mages in his hand sat useless.

Making Modern happen for you

One reason that I'd like to get Modern going locally is that I want to get an article series out of it - starting a tournament scene is challenging and everyone would like a blueprint for success. I'd wager that the best way to make money on Modern as a casual trader at your local store is to get people interested in having an event with real prizes. From there, you can build a base of people who want cards for their Pod list, their Affinity deck or their Control variant. Those Cryptic Commands in your binder start getting more attention. If I have anything good to report, I'll definitely fill you in on how this goes. If you have had success or failure in getting Modern started in your area, what factors influenced the final outcome?

Until next week,

Doug Linn

4 thoughts on “Insider: GP Columbus and the state of Modern

  1. One suggestion to help get interest going: do either a Standard or limited tournament that gives out shocklands as a prize before the Modern tournament, but after it has been announced. People will have easier access to them and will probably want to use them.

  2. Good write-up Doug. One suggestion for people to start a tournament scene at their store is to approach the store owner /with prizes/. If you have modern cards to offer, say, I think these particular cards would be exciting enough to draw a crowd, If i supply the prizes, can you reimburse me from teh event, etc. It would then be on you to make sure people show up, and a store owner is more likely to accept this idea. Even if you can't afford multiple decks, having an extra deck proxied that someone can play against you is a good way to get someone into modern.

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