Expectations and Predictions for GP Charlotte

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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.

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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.

Lightning BoltLet'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.

Kolaghans CommandI 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.

Snapcaster MageWhat 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.

TasigurBut 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

amuletI'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.

bloomSo 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.

Blood MoonOf 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

enduring idealTwo 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).

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

collected companyI 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

TwinTo 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.

Get Excited!

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.

Posted in Modern, Opinion, TournamentsTagged ,

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15 thoughts on “Expectations and Predictions for GP Charlotte

  1. I think that while everybody is hyped about the new decks coming up like Jund and Grixis variants we’re still going to see players experienced in their decks pravail.

    Prediction 1 – We’ll see a copy of Junk in the Top 8. Even more so, with a little bit of luck we will withness an “el classico” between the two BGx variants, which will once and for all (and by “all” I mean the next couple of months) determine which is better, in the minds of the audience. That’s how tournaments work and how crowds tend to react.

    Prediction 2 – People will be so overprepared for Amulet that we won’t see a copy of it in the Top 8. This is a really bald one, I know, and even I’m not too sold on it, but right now it’s the deck-to-beat (or not-lose-to) and we are going to see that in sideboards and maindecks throughout the weekend.

    Prediction 3 – Classic UR Twin will still have a better finish than it’s Grixis brother ( or sister? I don’t want to say counterpart for some reason).

    Without research, off the top of my head, this seems plausible enough. I still think Amulet might prevail in the end, just because it’s so strong, but it’s either not going to make T8 or completely crush it (though personally I hope it gets rekt).

  2. Still no love for TarmoTwin?

    I’m torn between the three versions (URg, Grixis and Tarmo), but I keep coming back to Llurgoyf lead version. Some of my reasons:

    4 Tarmogoyfs are better than 2 (also I can play out 2 of my Goyfs while Grixis has to keep the second on the bench)
    Remand is everywhere = blow-out if it lands on your BananaKing
    Thought Scour is trash – with Tasigur it reads “U: add 3 to your mana pool, draw a card”, without, it’s a bad draw spell (fair enough TarmoTwin plays 2 Gitaxian Probe but those are ‘free’ and provide information)
    A much better Tempo game with the Turn 2 Goyf being more consistent
    I don’t think discard is where Twin wants to be.
    Tarmogoyf is a mirror breaker – also helps in the dreadful Delver match-up

    Reasons for Grixis:
    Kolaghan’s Command is real, although I think slightly over-hyped. 3 mana is still a lot to commit to (which is why Ancient Grudge is such a bonus for the other 2 decks)
    Late game grinding with Tasigur’s activated ability
    Terminate, Roast is currently doing a bad impression

    Reasons for URg:
    Best Blood Moon plan
    Seriously, your post-board game plan is probably the best of the 3
    Most painless manabase – relevant against Burn and Zoo (which are likely to be a relevant portion of the meta)
    List is most defined – we know what the ‘best’ list is for most of the deck, Grixis is still finding its feet while no-one is brewing with TarmoTwin at the moment (Todd Anderson excepted)

    There’s a good argument for all of the above, I’m currently on TarmoTwin because there’s a significant Delver presence in my meta, but Affinity is also around in large numbers so there’s an argument to go with Grixis (although I think I gain more vs. Delver with Goyfs than I lose to Affinity with KolCom)

  3. Nice article. Your expectations and predictions feel pretty solid (though top 8 and number one are always tough to predict with any certainty, as you know).

    Just curious how you think Burn will do at Charlotte. Do you think it’s in a downswing because of decks like Collected Company and general burn hate in sideboards all around?

    1. It’s going to be there, but I don’t think it will be too present. There are just a lot of people who will be ready for Burn this time around. Another factor is the general undercurrent of the format, which is encouraging people towards all sorts of non-Burn decks. That’s also to say, Burn feels a bit boring, and I think players are feeling excited about this event enough to run different decks. Add that to the metagame context (Burn’s paper share is quite low these days at under 6%), and it doesn’t seem like it will be rampant at the GP.

      1. Speaking of exciting, wait until people see the Grixis Mentor build I and a couple other people developed. Yes, that’s right, Grixis Mentor. Let that sink in for a while. I swear I’m not crazy, they released me from the asylum with a clean bill of health for only 5 years.

          1. That’s not a bad bet. It’s strong in Affinity, Grixis lists, and, my personal favorite, Blue Zoo/Counter Cat decks (someone else mentioned these in the comment section of another article and I think they are spot on). I bet we see it in Affinity more than anywhere else, especially as a sideboard bullet to stop Commands.

  4. Hey sheridan, thanks for the hype article. Modern is exciting in a way standard isn’t.

    A deck that is putting up solid finishes bit not getting any glory is merfolk. 4th in the invitational, other top 16 in open… It seems very solid. My view was that merfolk had good matchups against twin, jund, tron and amulet bloom being a proactive deck with removal. Is that not correct from the data gathered in the win rate project?

    As a jund player, I am quietly hoping for another week of Jund under performing. .. There’s no need to paint a bigger target on its back. I know how good the deck is- no real reason to need that proven at the GP level.

    Loving the site keep it going

    1. Sorry for the late second question-

      With tron on the rise (but not included in win rate project), how are the recorded matchups vs the top decks. Anecdotally, I understood the tron vs twin matchup to be heavily on twins side, which makes me wonder, is just jund carrying twin to the top tables?

      1. Re: Merfolk
        We have a bit of a sample size issue with Merfolk, but preliminary results do indicate that it’s a strong deck. I think Richard Adams’ 4th place finish with Merfolk at the SCG Invitational last weekend is telling in that regard. It’s a fast and linear deck (being proactive is good in Modern) with some catchall answers for lots of other decks in the format. It’ also Blood Moon-proof, which is going to give you lots of game against the decks that try to maindeck this card. The return of Bolt isn’t great for Merfolk, but it’s also not bad either because you still have big lords and Master of the Waves to push past it.

        Re: Tron
        Twin vs. Tron is a heavy Twin favorite. Tron just can’t interact with them for a while and Twin just needs a Remand to get to their combo. Tron decks with a maindeck Spellskite might better in that regard, or a few maindeck Spellskite, but I don’t see a lot of lists with more than 1. So this is probably going to remain a heavy Twin favorite in game 1, with a slightly more even games 2/3 match. Tron gets to bring in some combination of Nature’s Claim, Rending Volley, moar Spellskite, and maybe stuff like Boil/Choke. But that still leans towards Twin, which can switch to a midrange/control game and dodge most of those sideboard cards.

  5. Twin and Collected Company face off in the final. I’ll give it to you – decent prediction.

    Straight UR Twin once again shines – despite all the Grixis hype. Dickmann almost got there packing Tarmogoyfs (possibly the only TarmoTwin player in Charlotte). Still a fan of Tarmo and UR over Grixis and I feel vindicated in that belief this weekend. But honestly the differences are probably minor and would probably be meta dependent.

    Bloom was in force but seemed to be managed by the more experienced players right at the business end of the event (thankfully – hate that deck). Shows the deck can be beaten – you just have to know what you’re doing (and I think you’ve been saying this a lot in your win % articles)

    I think Ad Nauseam just got lucky on its way to top 8 – I can’t believe that deck has the consistency to go the distance every tournament. I’m willing to be proven wrong though.

    This version of Goryo’s Vengeance, Bob Huang suggests that the only thing it loses to is Infect (and Ad Nauseam apparently). Maybe it’s real, maybe its a flash in the pan – 12-3 (all 3 losses were to Infect) and 14-2 were the records of possibly the only 2 pilots of the deck. Maybe someone finally broke Goryo in Modern.

  6. How about that, 0 Grixis decks in the Top 8. It seems that despite all the Grixis Command and Blood Moon hype, the old tried and true strategies that players are experienced with have prevailed once more (just as I pointed out in my predictions above, which technically have been 100% true, even though I honestly thought there is a possibility of Jund in there).

    So I guess that’s a good lesson for everybody who is quick to jump on the new cards and strategies bandwagon – there is time, Grixis will continue rising, but history teaches us time and time again that experience and knowing your matchups inside out is more valuable than simply playing the 60 best cards in the colour combination people are hyping the most, just like I’m pretty sure I can beat any of you with an Esper Midrange/Controllish deck the same way you can 10-0 me if you put me on Amulet, for instance.

    1. You really can’t extrapolate from the T8 like this. Chapin missed T8 by inches on breakers, and that’s always the case in enormous tournaments like this. If anything, his 9th place finish with a Grixis Control deck actually proves the viability of the archetype. Also, the two UR Twin decks that made T8 both ran Blood Moon. One of them actually ran it maindecked, and that was Wesley who finished second in the entire tournament.

      1. Of course you can’t extrapolate from the Top 8 anything, but if you look at the entire Top 32, the trend is clear, Grixis under-performed its hype.

        Grixis put in 2 Twin decks (out of 37 that made Day 2), 1 Delver (out of 10) and 1 Control deck (out of 6). That’s 53 Grixis decks on Day 2 and only 4 of them made top 32 (expected value is 5.45 based on 311 Day 2 players – very rough calc and a whole bunch of disclaimers on the number)

        UR Twin: 2 out of 14 – and both those players ran Cavern Souls with Teferi in the sideboard (I wonder how many others were on that plan)
        TarmoTwin: 2 out of 4 (now those two players are Huey Jensen and Patrick Dickmann so there’s some pilot advantages there)

        Abzan Company put 4 players out of 9 Day 2 decks into top 8 as well – so there’s another deck that over-performed.

        Then there’s Infect that put no-one into Top 32 despite having 17 decks in contention on Sunday morning, while only 2 G/R Tron players out of the 16 made it into Top 32 – possibly on the back of the SCG performances the week before.

        Anyway – can’t wait for the article on Goryo’s Vengeance, definitely an up and coming deck. 😉

        1. Oh, I mostly agree with you. See my article going up in a few hours for more. But I also think there’s a lot of pilot DISadvantage at play in the Grixis lists. It was overhyped and a lot of players piled onto it, which means many of those who made day 2 with it could only be carried so much by their deck. At a certain point, their inexperience and/or incorrect deckbuilding would catch up to them. This was less so with UR Twin (it’s a very established list and gameplan). All of this is to say there are way more factors at play here than just the T8/T16, or even the conversion rate from day 2 to T8/T16.

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