Adventures in Qualifying: Modern PTQ #1

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I've put in many hours pondering why players love eternal formats. Legacy used to be the only eternal format and I did not really know why players enjoyed it so much. If I had an enormous Legacy collection with every card available, it would be more fun for me because then I could build whatever deck I wanted to play for a given event. Most Legacy players are not like that though. They often play the same deck.

It took me a long time to figure out that they do this because it's their favorite deck of all time. It's hard to imainge a format more diverse than Legacy existing. There are a huge variety of competitive decks to choose from. People who have been playing this game forever want to be able to play their favorite decks from way back when. Legacy grants them the ability to do this.

Modern is a bit different because since its creation, the banned list has been in a constant state of change. With each set release comes the possibility that another card will find itself on the list like Bloodbraid Elf and Seething Song did recently. Modern does offer the same type of reminiscing as Legacy but not to the same extent. If you loved Affinity when it was in Standard, you are set. In general though, unless something gets banned or a new card is printed that shakes up the format, you can continue to play your Modern deck for a while. Even though I could not accomplish the goal with Legacy, I still want to be able to play a variety of decks in Modern. This is one reason I feel that prices of Modern cards keep going up.

Since Modern has become a format I have played both versions of Birthing Pod (Melira and Kiki-Jiki) quite a bit. They are both midrange combo decks that can also win via damage. One major strength was their resilience to Jund. With the banning of Bloodbraid Elf, the format has adapted by breeding more diversity. Since this was Wizards’ goal, I feel the banning was appropriate. There are probably just as many players utilizing strategies similar to Jund but with more of a variety of colors so you never know what you will play against. Those factors along with others lead me to believe that Pod is not the best thing you can be doing right now.

My attitude towards Magic is an adaptive one. I don’t want to stick to the same deck all the time if another deck would be better for the metagame. So, despite having played two Pod decks, UWR Delver, and Splinter Twin, I found myself still looking for something else for the PTQ last weekend. Upon exploring a variety of options, I found myself drawn to aggro-control strategies in the current metagame, with the same goals as Jund but not necessarily those colors.

Last week, both Zac Hill and Drew Levin wrote articles about a new deck they created. Basically they took existing Delver decks and updated the list to include the Grixis colors. The best part in my opinion is the extremely low mana curve. Just like in Legacy, the first three turns of a Modern game are critical. You can proactively progress your own board state or reactively hold your opponents’ back, but you need to use that time effectively to be successful. This deck excels better than any other I've seen at interacting in the early turns. Take a look.

Grixis Delver

If your first thought is anything like mine, the deck looks a bit crazy and all over the place. I need to tell you though, it is no such thing. This list is like a focused tool designed to tear your opponent apart. In addition to the low mana curve, there are other benefits as well. One of the best parts of the deck is how many cards you see from your own deck. There may be a few singleton copies of cards, but your chances to see them are much greater in this deck than others.

The most powerful thing about this deck is the number of cards it draws compared to the rest of the format. In every game I played with this deck, I felt like I outdrew my opponent significantly. That is a bold claim I know, but it’s the truth and the principle reason I am advocating this deck. Without as much card draw, this deck would fold to a number of strategies. Instead, you are able to capitalize on your ability to disrupt and slow down any opponent.

One important thing you may not have noticed is that the deck only runs twenty lands. Certainly in light of the low mana curve, this is a great bonus to the deck. In addition, you also have Deathrite Shaman to produce mana sometimes. Cryptic Command can occasionally be hard to cast, but other than that, you should be set with two or three lands. Running so few lands is not much of a liability, and usually it means you draw more spells than your opponent.

I was excited to try out this deck at the Columbus PTQ this past weekend. I played a bunch of epic matches, so let’s see what happened.

Round 1 – BUG

It was apparent rather quickly that I was playing a pseudo-mirror, which can make for a tough match. The main difference was that he had Abrupt Decay, which dealt with my threats effectively. Game one was a rather drawn out affair with him bricking on lands and me drawing lots of of mine. I was able to control the game for a bit, but then he drew mana sources and my draws of land after land started to catch up with me. At the end of the game, I had ten lands in play and more fetches in the graveyard. I think I could have found a way to win if I had seen more than two threats throughout the game, but that did not happen.

Game two was extremely close. We both took cards from the other player at the beginning of the game and then tried to take over the board with our threats. Quickly, we got both life totals down low and then suddenly the second and third Tarmogoyfs appeared on the field all in one turn. I had two Deathrite Shamans, one of which that had been dealing him some damage, and a Delver that refused to flip. A Vendilion Clique joined the fight on his side at the end of my turn but he couldn’t decide whether to attack with it or not. Ultimately, he did not send the clique in but I was trying to deal with three 5/6’s.

I blocked in a way that gave me the top of my library as an out, which had to be exactly Lightning Bolt. Both Deathrites drained him on his turn and would again on mine, then a Lightning Bolt would seal the deal. I knew this was my only way to win the game and I made my plays accordingly. I’m not sure why I did this, but I flipped the top card of my library onto the battlefield and declared Bolt you as I revealed the only card that would save me the game. In retrospect, Cryptic Command would have bought me the time I needed as well so I probably should have drawn the card normally, but it sure was an epic win. I tried to contain my ear-to-ear grin as we shuffled up for game three.

The third game started with both of us mulliganing. Fortunately my hand of six was about the best I could ask for in the mirror. Here’s what I kept.

Deathrite turn one into three spells turn two was one of the sickest openings I’ve ever had. The Bolt even killed his Deathrite, one of the better targets. A turn or two later, my Delvers had not flipped but I drew a third one. Since we were running low on time in the round, I put it in play. The following turn, all three flipped and I swung for lethal. A lot sure did happen for round one of a PTQ.

Record 1-0

Round 2: RWB Burn

As round two began I was immediately afraid for my life, as my opponent was playing an updated burn deck with all three colors of efficient burn spells. Game one I stabilized at one life, with multiple counters and at least one threat in play to keep pressure on. The life total I sat at for five or more turns was one life. I felt grateful to win that game, but I never gave up and played around him drawing burn or haste creatures by making conservative attacks.

Game two, he mulliganed to six and I took some of those cards away with Inquisiton of Kozilek and Snapcaster to flash it back. The game was in my control the whole time and I even paid six life, bringing me to eight, in order to fetch the lands to finish him off a turn sooner than I should have. This game involved me bravely casting one of the two Dark Confidants I did not board out as a blocker. He could have killed it with Sudden Shock in order to get damage with Goblin Guide, but elected to just attack instead. I was happy to block and trade. The game did not go well for him from there.

Record 2-0

Round 3: G/R Tron

In my opinion, this should be a good matchup for me. I have hand disruption and counters to delay the ramp deck. The only thing you have to worry about is playing around Pyroclasm. In game one, I had some mana issues. I was unable to draw a land that tapped for red mana and it cost me the game. Normally I would have countered the Karn Liberated with my Izzet Charm and proceeded to win the game, but instead it resolved and the game spiraled out of control shortly thereafter. Game two got a little better but I could not draw a fourth land for all the Cryptics in my hand. If I would have had a fetchland, that would have worked because I had an active Deathrite also. Both games were winnable but not with the cards I drew.

Record 2-1

Round 4: G/R Tron

After losing last round to the same deck, rather than get disheartened, I felt fired up to prove this was a match I should win. Game one definitely proved that. It was a great game, but not really for my opponent. You see, he didn’t really get to play the game much. I led with Delver of Secrets, which blind flipped turn three. I also played Inquisition, Thoughtseize, Snapcaster the Thoughtseize, and Vendilion Clique. He basically did not get to play many spells this game. I was even able to wait a turn or two between discard spells in case he drew something else. This is a great example of how this deck plays sometimes.

Game two was an amazing and epic test of mental skill. Even though I again missed my fourth land to play my Cryptics on time, I was able to use them to great effect. I had both a flipped Delver and a Vendilion Clique but they were trying to race the Wurmcoil Engine he resolved before I drew my land. Since I did draw it, I was able to tap both the Wurmcoil he had in play and the second one I let him have rather than the Karn Liberated I countered. On the first Cryptic Command, I tapped his guys and drew a card. On the second one, another option was needed. I had been tracking his mana production and although he had a ton, he was one short of the ultimate goal of fifteen. So, on the second Cryptic, I chose to tap his guys and bounce his only Urza's Mine. Because of that play, I was able to win the game on my next turn. If I had missed that nuance, I would have lost. My opponent just sat and starred at his board trying to find an out, but he had none.

Record 3-1

Round 5: @ssomers55 with RWU

I’ve known Stu for a while now, but this is the first time I’ve played him at an event. His version of this deck was a bit different than most. The main difference was more burn spells and fewer creatures.

Game one, we both were content to play draw-go for a long time. I tried to play a couple threats but they were killed. I could have protected them, but I was certain he had Geist of Saint Traft in hand and I did not want to deal with it game one if I could avoid it. Because we were both playing cautiously, the game was a long ordeal. I always had cards in hand but I couldn’t find many threats to start attacking him with. Eventually I got a Deathrite to stick but it proved to be a turn or two late. In the mid game, I drew a bunch of discard spells to take a look at his stacked hand. I played both Inquisitions and Snapcaster to get a third card. Taking all his burn spells may have been the right play, but I still think getting both Geists and one burn spell was correct due to my lack of answers for the legend.

When he cast the first Lightning Helix targeting me, I should have known he drew more burn but it didn’t register that would be the reason. I thought he was going to die and I could protect myself with Cryptic Command and Remand, but he had all the burn spells. He drew the rest of his Lightning Helixs, yes all four this game, double Lightning Bolt, and even an Electrolyze on top of that. I did not have enough counters to protect myself from that onslaught of damage.

The real problem was my level of conservative play. A couple times I could have countered spells he played on my turn and did not. I ended the game with many cards in hand that went unused. This game could have been managed much better by using more of my resources. This matchup seems winnable but you must play it differently depending on how your opponent is approaching the game.

Game two did not last long. I saw a seven card hand and a six card one with no lands so that left me with five cards. One of them was a land, and it took too many turns to draw a second or third one. There was not much I could have done. There was a small chance I could have recovered but he had the counter for my Go for the Throat targeting his Restoration Angel.

Overall, I felt this deck was powerful and gave me outs against every major deck in Modern. Even the new aggro decks that are made up of half Standard cards I wasn’t scared of because I stuck some Firespouts in my sideboard. This deck provides many potent lines of play to disrupt your opponent and put them on a short clock. Your cards are so cheap that you should be able to gain an advantage over your opponent with relative ease. This deck is definitely capable of winning a PTQ. Conveniently, there is another one this weekend in my hometown of Pittsburgh and I will probably be rocking this deck. If you find yourself there, come say hi.

Tournament Tips

Play to your outs. Even if you think the game has been won by your opponent, make them kill you. Sometimes they will see it differently and that will give you an opening to get back in the game. You won't win every game this way, but you will win some. Make sure you are thinking about what cards it would take to win the game. If you are already mentally trying to win the game, it will help you make the best use out of your spells. There are many ways to use your cards, don't get caught up with the one way you usually cast a certain card. Keep your options open and it will help you win more games.

Until Next Time,

Unleash the PTQ winning Force!
(But not in Pittsburgh, cause that one's mine!)

Mike Lanigan
MtgJedi on Twitter

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