If someone told right now that my weekend had suddenly freed up, I'd snag airplane tickets and be down in Charlotte faster than the average Infect game. But it's probably for the best. The world isn't ready to feel the wrath of Puresteel Paladin or Griselbrand+Blood Moon just yet. Which is really another way of saying that I'm not quite ready to go 0-3 drop with my decks, but I guess we'll have to wait for another event to know for sure. No matter whether you are going to the GP or watching it online, the weekend promises to be a formative one for Modern and one of our biggest events since GP Richmond. With so many viable decks, hot new cards, and interesting tech, it's a brave new world for Modern. Charlotte will be at its center.
Ever since we finished the Modern events in February, the metagame has been leading to this point. Modern players from across the world are all asking the same questions. Jund or Abzan? Is Infect really dead? Is Amulet Bloom really the best deck? Which Grixis version is optimal? Is the Company deck going to blow up or scrub out? What card prices are going to spike after the first deck tech on Saturday? Although we can't answer all of those questions now, we can use metagame data and our experiences to figure out what GP Charlotte might look like. This article will give you some important expectations for the tournament and some predictions on how the event will end.
Expectation #1: Jund and Grixis
Guessing a GP metagame is always challenging, and it's much harder in open formats. We are coming off a 2-3 month offseason, a set release full of Modern playables, and two huge bannings. Formats don't get much more open than this. But despite these uncertainties, I am confident that two decks are going to be out in force. Based on metagame context, powerful cards, community hype, and a collective desire to do something different (i.e. something that isn't Burn, UR Twin, or Abzan), Jund and Grixis are going to be everywhere at the GP.
Let's start with Jund. Going into June, this was easily the most-hyped deck in Modern. Abzan was (supposedly) dying. Bolt and red spells were (supposedly) king. The metagame was (supposedly) vulnerable to Jund. All this led authors to rave about Jund and its positioning. Then came SCG Columbus. Jund didn't quite fail at the event (it still sent the second-most players to the Open and Invitational T8/T32 after just Amulet Bloom), but it also didn't quite have the impact many expected. And if you learn anything about Modern, it's that underperformance is often equated with failure in our format. It didn't win the event and wasn't as omnipresent as Abzan had been at PT FRF. Following this modest performance, and the reaction to that performance, it has been tempting to write off Jund as a hype-fueled flash in the pan. Players have been particularly hard on Lightning Bolt, which has lost a lot of relevance as creatures shift to higher toughness. Some have even suggested that Abzan remains the better deck. All these circumstances might suggest that Jund won't be the BGx deck of choice at the GP. Or rather, they might suggest that if it weren't for Kolaghan's Command and Blood Moon.
I raved about Command in my article earlier this week, and I believe GP Charlotte is going to prove this card's power to anyone who still doubts it. Command is just too much value and card advantage to pass up. It's basically the best thing to happen to BGx since Abrupt Decay and yes, that includes even Siege Rhino. One of the biggest challenges in preparing for Modern is the sheer range of matchups. Command lets you preboard answers to some of the rare-but-serious threats while also guaranteeing value in other more common matchups. It's the unique package that is strong against aggro, combo, control, and midrange, all for just 3 mana. Command is the main reason I think Jund remains the better BGx deck and, by extension, will have a big GP. Perhaps just as important as the card's power is the community reaction to Command. People love this card. It's received a ton of positive press, and everyone wants to use it. Given the choice between two decks that are about equally viable, many players will flock to the deck that uses the hot new tech. Abzan is stuck on the snorefest of Rhino and Souls. Jund gets Command. And speaking of hot new tech, Jund also gets 2 Blood Moons in the board. Moon might not be new like Command but it is still sizzling hot, and players will go out of their way to run it. Jund is a great home for Moon. Along with Command, this makes Jund the BGx deck of choice for GP Charlotte.
What about Grixis? In essence, all the factors at play in Jund are also at play in Grixis. Like Jund, Grixis lets you play Command and Moon along with the other red staple effects like Bolt, Terminate, Anger of the Gods, etc. Also like Jund, Grixis has considerable hype around it, with many authors and players discussing how strong the color pairing is at the upcoming event. A large part of this strength is in the Grixis foundations: blue-red. Grixis is the natural evolution of the already strong UR shell. Players want to play Snapcaster Mage, Remand, and Serum Visions in Modern (especially Visions: card selection is super valuable in formats where you need to find specific cards). People also desperately want to live the dream of turn 1 Thought Scour into turn 2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang, and that's only possible in Grixis (and Sultai, but good luck playing Command or Moon there). All of this points players to Grixis in the same way the hype train has steamed towards Jund.
But an even bigger reason to play Grixis isn't just hype or individual card power. It's the novelty. Grixis has never been a legitimately viable pairing in Modern (sorry Cruel Ultimatum). Tasigur changed that and many players haven't looked back since. Gone were the days where you played $150+ Tarmogoyfs or didn't play midrange/tempo. Now you could play $8 "Goyf" alongside new colors and in a deck that felt much more like a control deck. Indeed, Modern players always complain about the lack of traditional control, and Tasigur and company offered a lot of possibilities in that regard. Grixis is also the natural evolution of Twin, a deck that many players have invested in or rely on. Everyone wants to be on the new format-defining deck, and Grixis fits that role perfectly. Of course, players have still not decided which Grixis archetypes are the best (Delver? Twin? Moon? Midrange?), so expect to see all of them at the GP. But the unifying thread in all those decks will be the Grixis colors.
The format may be open, but Jund and Grixis are some of the safest bets going into the event, both from the perspective of picking your own deck and (more importantly) the perspective of anticipating matchups. Players would be wise to prepare for them. Don't play decks that fold to Moon (unless that deck is Amulet Bloom). Don't rely on artifacts that get blown out in game 1 by Command. Don't play 1 or 2 toughness creatures unless you are doing something really fast. Be careful of synergy-based strategies that get shredded by discard. These decisions will be critical as you advance through a Jund and Grixis-packed GP.
Expectation #2: Amulet Bloom
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Amulet Bloom is the "best" deck in Modern. I'll point to all the usual datapoints here. It had the highest win-rate at the Pro Tour and the best representation in the 18+ points decks. It had a similar representation at GP Vancouver and the best showing in the T8 (cheating allegations aside). It blew the competition away at SCG Columbus, has the highest win rate on MTGO by a massive (and statistically significant) margin, and is consistently described as the best deck in dozens of anecdotal reports from players and pros. This is the kind of mixed-method analysis that overwhelmingly suggests Amulet Bloom really is the "best" deck in the format. There was a time when this wasn't widely known and players would have avoided the deck, either due to ignorance of the archetype or just inexperience with its gameplay. But with format knowledge expanding, this is much less likely at GP Charlotte than it was at SCG Baltimore in February. Amulet Bloom k is going to be huge at the GP, both in the sheer number of players (easily over 6%-8% of the event will be on this) and in its finishes.
So if Amulet Bloom is so good, why the quotation marks in "best" deck? Although Amulet is a legitimately powerful pile of cards (more on that later), a big part of why it does so well is the experience gap between Amulet players and Amulet opponents. To put it bluntly, people suck at playing against Amulet. They don't know what to discard (kill Summer Blooms), they don't know what lands to blow up or when to blow them up (hint: respond to bounceland triggers), they don't know what sideboard cards to use (don't overcommit to killing Amulet of Vigor or you are going to lose to a Hornet Queen), and they don't know what spells to counter (letting Summoner's Pact resolve is generally not a good idea). To be fair, Amulet is fairly resilient to a lot of those interaction points, so it's not all inexperience at play. But I've seen enough Amulet players fumble on camera and in replay to know how big a problem this is. It will be even worse at the GP where many of the best players are on Amulet, further widening the experience gap. Don't be that guy who doesn't understand the Amulet Bloom transition from combo to over-the-top beatdown in games 2 and 3, or the dude who mulligans to 5 looking for the perfect Amulet answer because you think this deck always wins on turn 2. Watch replays (anything from PT FRF, GP Vancouver, or SCG Columbus will work here). Research decklists. Goldfish the lists at least a dozen times so you can see where the deck is strong and where it might be weak.
Of course, don't expect Amulet to suddenly become easy even if you obtain an encyclopedic knowledge of its ins-and-outs. This is still a very strong strategy with limited interaction points, a ton of topdeck power, and extensive resilience to traditional hatred like artifact removal, discard, land destruction, and countermagic. If you really want to beat Amulet, you need to be running Blood Moon. Moon alone might end the game on the spot, and Moon backed up by something like Dispel is basically unbeatable. In short, if you can play Moon, you need to be playing Moon: see my Wednesday article for more details on that. Can't run Moon? Stick with Spellskite, Aven Mindcensor, Leonin Arbiter, etc. But in all honesty, you are going to struggle against Amulet if you aren't either playing Moon or playing a deck fast enough to ignore what Amulet is doing (e.g. Affinity with something like Stubborn Denial in the maindeck, or Infect with Dispel/Spellskite). Also, note you can't just run Moon. You need to run varied disruption and keep up pressure. Do this and you should be more or less fine against the Bloom players that are likely to descend on the GP this weekend.
Expectation #3: Weird Decks
Two things are certain in an open metagame. The first is that people are going to fall back on staples like Affinity, Twin, BGx, etc. The second is that other people are going to find the weirdest and wackiest deck from some random MTGO daily and try to run it under the metagame radar. Chances are this deck will be as linear and unfair as possible, or pack in some super-obscure throwback technology. When your opponent windmill slams his Enduring Ideal into Dovescape, you are going to want to jump across the table and smother him with your Noble Hierarch playmat. Same thing when he drops the Stronghold edition Ensnaring Bridge and the judge informs you that no, the card isn't illegal and yes, you should have been playing Kolaghan's Command. Weird decks are more common in unknown metagames than known ones, because known metagames tend to favor a few "best" decks. Unknown ones are wide open, which means people are too busy preparing for "real" decks like Affinity and Burn and have no idea what your turn 1 Legion Loyalist means.
As a quick test of your knowledge and Modern preparedness, here's a list of nine different decks you might run into in round 4 of your GP experience. I'll also give a a typical turn 1 play for them and some cards you need to be aware of in this matchup. If any of the play lines or cards are unfamiliar to you, stop what you are doing and google that deck. You need to know it and you don't want your x-2 record destroyed because some joker thought it would be cute to dust off the old Mill deck (if I was at the GP, chances are greater than zero that I could be such a joker).
- Norin the Wary: Turn 1 Cavern of Souls (Human) into Champion of the Parish
Soul Warden, Genesis Chamber
- Griselbrand Reanimator: Turn 1 Blackcleave Cliffs into Faithless Looting, pitching Swamp and Pentad Prism
Fury of the Horde, Izzet Charm
- UW Tron: Turn 1 Flooded Strand into Island and Expedition Map
Supreme Verdict, Iona, Shield of Emeria
- Mill (you saw this coming): Turn 1 Darkslick Shores into Thought Scour targeting you
Archive Trap, Crypt Incursion
- Suicide Shadow: Turn 1 Mishra's Bauble on self, Bloodstained Mire for untapped Blood Crypt, Gitaxian Probe
Become Immense, Temur Battle Rage
And this doesn't even include the less weird but still uncommon decks like Abzan Liege, Storm, Elves, Temur Delver, and basically every deck you would find in a metagame graph. I could have written an entire article on this kind of identification strategy, but this is a good starting place to get you thinking about all the weird decks that might show up at the GP. As long as you have a basic understanding of what they are trying to do and you understand how your sideboard interacts with that strategy, you should be fine. Just beware misidentifications. For instance, Mono U Tron is very light on sweepers. UW Tron is not. Confusing the two off a misread land can easily cost you the game if you overextend into one or don't pressure enough into the other. Remember: the key is not knowing every Modern deck, although it doesn't hurt if you do. The key is knowing their general gameplan, a few of their important threads, and (most importantly) how your sideboard interacts with their gameplans.
Prediction #1: Collected Company in the Top 8
I promised some GP Charlotte predictions in my metagame article last week, so here are two on the bolder side of things to keep people pumped for the weekend. Collected Company has been conspicuously absent from my GP analysis and many readers are probably wondering why. After all, Company decks have done quite well in the pre-June metagame, with Elves at about 5.5% of MTGO and Abzan Company at over 7% of paper. Unfortunately, most of these lists are relatively unoptimized, with lots of subpar card choices and strange card ratios. Many of the better deckbuilders in the format are too excited with the shiny Jund and Grixis technology to focus too much on Company decks, which makes these lists much weaker going into Charlotte. But no matter who is building the decks, Company is still an extremely powerful card that Modern players are only starting to understand. And I believe there will be at least one player at Charlotte who can figure out the best way to use this card and take it to the top.
It's not immediately clear to me which Company deck will prevail. Abzan Company has a lot of the pieces for success but lacks a coherent list. Elves passes the linearity test but struggles against a lot of other established decks in the format (notably Twin variants). Naya Company is interesting but still feels a bit too fair when compared to aggro decks like Affinity. So where does that leave us? I feel like there's something here with Magus of the Moon, Fulminator Mage, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and some of the other more hateful creatures that can slot into a proactive Company strategy while also wrecking other decks. Or maybe it's just Elves that blasts its way to victory. Regardless of what form it takes, Company feels like a good bet for the T8 (and definitely for the T16).
Prediction #2: Grixis Twin Takes the Gold
To be honest, I'd rather not pick any deck for the top prize because there are just too many factors at play. Anything from bad luck to barely-missed breakers can keep a good deck and player out of the T8, and this prediction is at the mercy of all those factors. That said, UR Twin has enjoyed more tournament success in the last few months (and also the last year, if you adjust for banned decks) than any other deck in Modern. Given the inherent strengths in the Twin shell and the newfound power of Grixis, this seems like the best bet for GP Charlotte's winning deck. Between Moon, Command. Terminate, Inquisition, Tasigur, and the Twin combo package, Grixis Twin is just running so many strong cards that it's hard to see anything else winning. Or rather, it's hard to talk myself into anything else winning. With all the factors at play here, the Grixis Twin advantage is very slight over other decks like Jund, Amulet, Abzan, etc.
Many of us might not be at GP Charlotte this weekend, but you can be sure we will be glued to our computer screens watching the coverage (and raging about it online). Join me next week as we process all the exciting metagame data and deck technology that is sure to come out Charlotte, and as we prepare for two more GPs on the horizon. This is by far the most exciting Modern month I have experienced in years (holy crap, Origins previews start soon too??), and I'm looking forward to see how it all turns out.