Five hours. That's how long it would take me and a band of Modern-loving francophones to reach Toronto in Milkman's big van. It took much longer.
After an airport shuttle from the hotel, a busride from the airport, and a yellow-line subway jaunt, I arrive at my buddy's Chinatown apartment five hours late. He'd hit the town without me, so I stay up a few hours to jam Traditional Yu-Gi-Oh! online. At 3:30 AM, I decide to stop waiting for my friend and get some rest. He comes in loudly an hour later and we catch up.
I wake up, shower, and open my computer to check the directions. My friend texts me: "Where are you?" Don't worry, I'm awake. The tournament starts in 40 minutes. I've got plenty of time. I leave the house and start walking.
15 minutes into the stroll. I'm on Yonge. Just five minutes away! But hang on: there's no way a WMCQ would be held in a cramped LGS. I call one of the francophones and ask where he is.
"We're at the convention center! Go in the entrance next to the Second Cup!"
Next to the Second Cup? What the hell? That could be anywhere. I hail a cab. The tournament starts in 15 minutes.
"Hey, can you take me to the convention center?"
"The convention center? Which entrance?"
I guess this might work. "Next to the Second Cup." The cab driver gives me a big grin. "I know exactly what you mean!" Yeah, I hope so. He turns up his radio and we jet off.
I accidentally overtip and stumble out of the cab. Where's the Second Cup? What are all these people here for? Oh, a Fan Expo. I guess this is the convention center. Wish I had time to get a coffee. I'm getting a call. "Where are you?"
"Hey, I'm looking for the Second Cup. I'm next to a line of people." The tournament started three minutes ago.
"Hang on, I see you!" We walk in and my name gets checked on a list. They give me a red bracelet. I sit down and fill out an illegible decklist. It feels weird omitting "3 Effect Veiler."
"We thought you weren't going to make it!" Ha, ha. I always make it. We wait an hour before the player meeting even starts.
I've never played iGrow in an event this large. There were 270 something players. Since the PPTQs this summer, I haven't played at all barring some local tournaments, in which I've done well. I was excited to play it against a truly competitive field. In the end, I went 6-3.
What I Played
At the last minute, I borrowed a Hurkyl's Recall to hedge against Affinity. Someone said there would be a lot of it (there wasn't). I cut a Send to Sleep to make space. Besides that tweak, my list looks like it has for the last month.
The biggest change here from the last iGrow list I posted to Modern Nexus is an increased reliance on the sideboard Snapcaster Mage package. I moved away from quadruple Forked Bolt as I lost to aggro decks that simply "drew out" of my removal spells. Snapcaster adds to the beatdown plan while doubling my removal, and lets me recycle the best spells for a given matchup like (Flame Slash, Lightning Bolt, and even Send to Sleep). He provides enough virtual creature kill on his own that I don't need all those glorified Shocks. With a cantrip, he also digs for red spells.
Another big change is the abandonment of hosers. Granted, I ran that Recall on a whim for the WMCQ, but I wouldn't do it again. The Burn and Affinity matchups are good enough with this deck that flexible sideboard cards fit better than highly specific ones. I also didn't love Flashfreeze, since it was the only card I'd need to hold up mana for. This deck wants to tap out every turn and counter spells anyway, and having just just one or two two-mana counterspells interferes with that plan. Flashfreeze is still one of the better counterspells in Modern, and in less of a "tap-out" tempo deck, I recommend trying even mainboard copies.
Send to Sleep and Threads of Disloyalty have tested phenomenally against medium-big aggro decks. They're also fine against Burn and Atarka Zoo, but they pull the most weight against Wild Nacatl and Tarmogoyf. Beating Zoo has always proven difficult for iGrow, and these cards help immensely.
Before jumping into the report, I'd like to add a quick note on Day's Undoing. The fact that it won me many games this tournament aside, this article isn't about that one card. It's mostly about playing tempo in Modern. I happen to believe that the format's only viable tempo decks in a field of midrange play Day's Undoing, so I naturally include it in my builds. But I've refined my opinion of the card as an utter Modern game-changer; the decks best equipped to play it are URx Delver variants and artifact-based, dump-your-hand decks (Affinity, Tezz). And no, I don't consider Grixis Delver a tempo deck.
WMCQ at 401 Games - Toronto, Ontario
Round 1 vs. Grixis Twin (1-2, lose roll): In game one, Delver into Pyro into double Probe puts me ahead. My opponent's stuck on two lands, but spends a turn Bolting the Pyromancer instead of casting Serum Visions. I have Disrupting Shoal and he dies with a hand of Remand, Pestermite, and two Splinter Twin.
Game three, I get my opponent to 3 life and cast Day's Undoing with two Steam Vents untapped. He has Grim Lavamancer and a Snapcaster Mage on an otherwise empty board. I draw Swiftspear, Bolt, Snag, and some cantrips and pass the turn. Here's where I mess up: I should Bolt my opponent on his upkeep, to prevent him from drawing a counterspell. But at just two mana, I want to play around Mana Leak. However, Grixis Twin rarely runs that card, and instead I should play around Dispel or Cryptic by casting Bolt before the draw step. I don't, he plays a Serum Visions and scrys one to the top. Then he plays another Visions, which I sleepily allow. The card he draws, of course, is a Dispel. My EOT Vapor Snag resolves. Swiftspear eats a Terminate, and the Bolt gets countered. I lose two turns later.
Thoughts: Losing to my best matchup wasn't a great way to start off the event, but game three taught me an important lesson. It's crucial with iGrow to know exactly what you want to play around and to keep your senses sharp. A small slip cost me the game - my opponent told me afterwards that he was dead to a Lightning Bolt anyway, so he spent his turn digging for an answer, which I let him find.
Round 2 vs. Kiki Chord (2-0, win roll): Game one, I play Delver, and my opponent plays an untapped land. I play Swiftspear and attack, and she eats a Path to Exile. Works for me; I cast Serum Visions and leave Undoing on top. I Shoal a Voice of Resurgence, untap, cast a Bolt, attack for three, and Undo with just a land left in hand. My opponent resolves a Scavenging Ooze, which I Bolt, and a Wall of Omens, which I ignore. When he goes for Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, I Vapor Snag his Wall in response and attack + Bolt him for lethal.
Game two, I keep double Snapcaster Mage, removal, and lands. Probe shows I've got all the time in the world to deal with his threats, as there isn't a Chord of Calling or Gavony Township in sight. I slowly resolve two topdecked Pyromancers off my two lands. One gets Path'd once I make nine tokens, and I begin my assault. Wall of Omens and Voice block 1/1 Elementals and my overloaded Electrickery does a number on his team. He plays Witness for Voice, drops Voice, and passes it back. I Flame Slash the Wall, Forked Bolt the Witness and Voice token, and Vapor Snag the Voice of Resurgence. Blockers removed, I attack for lethal.
Thoughts: My opponent confirmed between games that he was on Hoogland's list. I usually like Shoal for aggro matchups, but Kiki-Chord lacks strong targets for it. It's also midrangey enough to justify Day's Undoing in game one. Kiki-Chord struggles with heavy removal packages, though, so Undoing gets cut after boarding for red spells. This is one of those weird decks where Send to Sleep would shine in game one, but doesn't mesh with our post-board plan. We want hard removal for Chord's creatures.
Round 3 vs. Jeskai Control (0-2, lose roll): Game one, I open Day's Undoing and hold it forever as my threats get answered one-for-one. In hindsight, I should have cast it the moment I ran out of threats to refill. My opponent starts pointing his burn at my face and swinging with a Colonnade, and I can't Undo safely anymore.
Thoughts: I designed iGrow to beat midrange decks, but I had a specific kind of midrange deck in mind: one that accrues incremental advantage on the board, and not in the hand (i.e. BG Death Cloud). One that can easily trade their cards for damage (i.e. Jeskai Control), give iGrow a harder time than most. For what it's worth, the deck tested positively against Jeskai Control before the tournament, but I didn't dedicate much time to the matchup since it's such an elusive pile (yeah, I went there). Jeskai's definitely harder to beat than something like Grixis, and if we see a resurgence, I'll put some hours into beating it consistently.
At this point in the tournament, I'd lost my chance to break into Top 8. Only booster packs were on the line, and I have zero use for those (seriously: if someone wants to buy a box, email me). I resolved to take risks, pay attention, learn a lot, have fun, and encourage my opponents do the same. As a result, the last six rounds ended up being some of the most fun Magic I've played since GP Charlotte. I'm writing this aside to encourage readers who lose early on in events to keep playing and keep their heads up. If you lost, you can improve, and where better to practice than at a competitive REL event?
Round 4 vs. Grixis Twin (2-1, lose roll): In game one I lose to gradual aggression, as my threat-light hand gets dismantled and I fail to find Day's Undoing. Game two, Delver and Tarmogoyf plus Disrupting Shoal for protection gives me the win. Send to Sleep "removes" a Tasigur.
Game three, we both Serum. My opponent plays Grim Lavamancer and I foolishly try Snagging him after playing a Delver. Naturally, my opponent casts Dispel, untaps, and shoots my threat. I cantrip, draw Bolt, and pass, without much left to do. Something interesting happens with Duress on the stack. I tap my last land to Bolt the Lavamancer, and my opponent taps out for Remand. I exile Send to Sleep to Shoal the Remand. Everything resolves and I reveal Scalding Tarn to the Duress. I cast a freshly drawn Serum and get a Delver, then scry another Delver to the top and play the first one. Of course he gets Bolted, and I surprise my opponent with another off the top. This Delver blind flips off a Snapback and I draw Day's Undoing and Shoals while attacking for three. Delver takes my opponent from 16 to 0. I get shown a hand full of Remand, Splinter Twin, and Dispel.
Thoughts: After my round 1 loss, I elected to board in Send to Sleep over Flame Slash and was pleased with the swap. While Slash deals with a resolved Exarch or Spellskite, Sorcery speed hurts for breaking up the combo. Send stops the combo long enough to find Vapor Snag in a pinch, and also taps down Tasigur so I can get more damage in. It even pitches to Shoal to counter relevant spells, including Terminate and Snapcaster Mage. I still prefer Slash against UR Twin, which has more targets and casts Exarch earlier.
Round 5 vs. Mono Green Stompy (2-1, lose roll): Game one, I don't see any Bolts, and get overwhelmed by dudes. I Shoal a Strangleroot Geist, but lose to Dryad Militant, Experiment One, Leatherback Baloth, and Avatar of the Resolute.
Game two, I fall to just one life. An early Spellskite complicates my removal plan, forcing me to Vapor Snag it each time before casting my Bolts. I manage to keep the field clear of Avatars and my Insectile Aberration gets the job done.
Game three, I have a great start of Delver into Pyromancer with a grip of Bolts, but Spellskite again makes life a little tougher. My opponent has a strong start too and I have trouble interacting enough on just three lands. I decide to trade my unflipped Delver for his Dryad Militant, since I have two more Pyromancers in hand. Eventually I find Flame Slash for Spellskite, ruefully holding my Destructive Revelry since I'm operating on Island, Island, Stomping Ground. I throw Pyro under an attacking Scavenging Ooze and resolve another one. He puts Rancor on a Scooze and plays another Scooze, enchanting that one with Rancor as well. Send to Sleep taps them both down and makes me some tokens, and just before the green guys wake up, I finally draw my Scalding Tarn. An upkeep Snapcaster-Sleep buys me enough time to win past the huge, trampling, snoring Oozes.
-4 Monastery Swiftspear
-4 Day's Undoing
-2 Gitaxian Probe
-2 Sleight of Hand
+3 Snapcaster Mage
+2 Forked Bolt
+1 Flame Slash
+1 Send to Sleep
+2 Threads of Disloyalty
+2 Destructive Revelry
Thoughts: Of all the matches today, this was the most stressful. Tarmogoyf and Threads of Disloyalty took some well-deserved time off this round, but were sorely missed. Hopefully, my report speaks to the strength of Send to Sleep, and of Young Pyromancer against aggro decks in general.
Round 6 vs. Amulet Bloom (2-0, win roll): Game one I open an Undoing, but slow-roll it until I can squeeze some serious advantage out of it. My opponent resolves Summer Bloom and drops a Dragonlord Dromoka on my head. I have a growing force of Elemental tokens to match, and we start trading hits. Lifelink hurts so I only get in a couple points each time; the notepad shows my opponent going from 15, to 20, to 14, to 19, to 11. In the meantime, I resolve another Pyromancer, which eats Slaughter Pact. Then I draw Vapor Snag to finally bounce Dromoka and Undo it away at just six life, and with one mana up. My opponent draws seven cards, untaps, pays for Pact, resolves Primeval Titan, and gives it haste. I Vapor Snag before it swings and then I attack for lethal.
Game two, I follow Swiftspear and Delver with Tarmogoyf. My opponent plays Seal of Primordium, and when I Probe him, I see another Seal and four lands. I attack a few times, and with just one turn left on the clock, he topdecks and resolves Primeval Titan. I Snag it before attacks, and my opponent casts Pact of Negation. But he can't find the lands he needs to win; I'm at 15 life and he's short one mana to give the 8/6 Titan double strike.
Thoughts: My opponent, and a few other players, told me Day's Undoing is bad in this matchup. I love it since it cancels Transmute effects, cantrips, and Summoner's Pact on turns where the Amulet player doesn't play the big threat he gets right away. It also combines with Vapor Snag to shuffle fatties away and help my beaters get there. Its relevance carries over to other big mana decks in Modern; against Tron, it "Remands" an Eye of Ugin activation and delays Expedition Map cracks for a turn. I was amused at the Seals, but my opponent was still right to bring them in. I found in testing that Blood Moon wasn't even necessary against Amulet, which is one of the reasons I cut it from my build. On boarding: I cut a pair of Young Pyromancer for hate cards because Amulet doesn't pack a lot of removal, so 16 threats is a bit heavy. The removal they do run (Firespout) kills Pyromancer anyway.
Round 7 vs. Affinity (1-2, lose roll): I wasn't thrilled to see Springleaf Drum across from me. Lucky I brought that Hurkyl's Recall! I drew it in game two and won, but game three I mulled to five trying to find a competent hand and lost to Champion plus Plating. We did a bunch of games afterwards and I took them all. The highlight of those was casting Threads on a Steel Overseer and stonewalling Etched Champion.
-4 Monastery Swiftspear
-4 Day's Undoing
-4 Gitaxian Probe
-2 Sleight of Hand
+3 Snapcaster Mage
+2 Forked Bolt
+1 Flame Slash
+2 Threads of Disloyalty
+1 Send to Sleep
+2 Destructive Revelry
Thoughts: The Recall was sweet when I had it, but I really want to avoid running cards like these in the sideboard. I prefer more versatile answers, so a third Electrickery or Forked Bolt might be better. Send to Sleep doesn't exactly fit into my plan against Affinity, but Flame Slash does, and it works in the matchups I want Send for.
Round 8 vs. Burn (2-1, win roll): Game one, I stabilize the board at four life and lose to a Boros Charm, short just one point of winning. Game two, I take some damage from lands to rush out double Tarmogoyf, which does a number on my opponent.
Game three, I create a board of Snapcaster Mage, Swiftspear, and Tarmogoyf, and my opponent casts Ensnaring Bridge with two cards left in hand (what year is this?) to my one. He's at six life, and I topdeck Monastery Swiftspear, play it, and Threads my own Goyf to make exactly lethal prowess.
Thoughts: Here's another matchup I originally played a hoser for (Feed the Clan) before cutting it for widely applicable sideboard tech. Bridge isn't a card we see enough from Burn to merit Revelry's inclusion post-board, especially since we can win through it anyways.
Round 9 vs. GR Tron (2-0, win roll): It's always nice to end the day with a stellar matchup. Game one, I slow-roll my threats after seeing a do-nothing, sweeper-heavy hand with Gitaxian Probe. Swiftspear and Delver each eat a Pyroclasm, and Pyromancer resolves to wreck his usual havoc. Vapor Snag gets the Wurmcoil, and I Undo into lethal Bolts.
Thoughts: Day's Undoing shines even brighter here than against Amulet, since Tron is so full of search effects like Sylvan Scrying that clog its new hand. Snag effects also improve, since unlike Primeval Titan, Tron's threats don't generate cards upon resolution. The best thing they can do is cast Thragtusk, but even that's manageable, and many builds don't run it.
Growing with the Flow
I mentioned dropping one Send to Sleep (the one I'd cut for a Recall this time) for a versatile card with some Affinity relevance. Right now, Flame Slash looks like the best option. But my biggest takeaway from the day was just how bad Sleight of Hand is. It does more in this deck than possibly any other, digging for business, triggering Prowess and Pyromancer, pumping Goyf, providing value with Snapcaster, and flipping Delver. But it's always the first card to go post-board, so I'd like to try something actually good in this slot. I'll probably go with a pair of Hooting Mandrills; they don't do Delver any favors, but man, can they bite!
A couple weeks ago, I said I'd shut up about Day's Undoing until I had "a finish to write home about," and if your standards resemble mine, 6-3 might not qualify. But hopefully, this report shows that iGrow can tangle with the best decks in Modern. If not, hold tight! The way things look, that postcard-material finish is fast approaching.