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Insider: Modern Winners & Sleepers from Pittsburgh

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After the linear madness of Grand Prix Porto Alegre and Star City Games' Dallas Open, I didn't have the highest expectations for Pittsburgh.

Players often criticize Modern for having too many linear decks, and although those criticisms are often baseless and ungrounded in actual metagame numbers, they were much more on point in October and early November. The Regional PTQ numbers weren't too much better, especially with decks like Amulet Bloom at 7%+ of the metagame.

Then came Grand Prix Pittsburgh.

A Diverse Field at Pittsburgh

Although Pittsburgh wasn't quite the hyper-balanced metagame we saw at Grand Prix Charlotte in June, it largely restored order to Modern. With a diverse Day 2 field and a decent showing of different archetypes across the Top 8, Pittsburgh showcased the format at its finest. We saw archetype diversity across every level of the event.

Given how much linear decks defined the last big events, this outcome was by no means a sure thing, and it speaks highly of Modern's self-regulating nature. Twin, in all its forms, is the hero and policeman this format both deserves and needs.

This naturally has big implications for cards to buy in the wake of Pittsburgh.

Today's article will do a quick round-up of the more obvious winners from the event, decks like G/W Hatebears, R/G Titan Scapeshift, and various bullets from the top finishers. After that, I want to focus on two cards you might have missed while looking over the Pittsburgh data.

These sleepers cropped up across the Top 8, Day 2, the undefeated Day 1's, and even the GP Trial winners; read on to see where you should put your money as the year starts to close out.

The Obvious Winners

By the time you read this article, a lot of the more obvious investment targets will be gone. Some will get bought out. Others will suffer price adjustments as sellers realize their new value.

In the unlikely event you can get in on these cards, here are some quick notes on the higher-profile winners from the weekend.

All Things Scapeshift

 


I predicted Scapeshift breakouts in both my QS article and my Modern Nexus article in the leadup to Pittsburgh. Thien Nguyen's red-green build was more proactive than the Temur and Bring to Light versions we saw earlier, but the investment advice and underlying metagame predictions still hold.

Any and all of the Scapeshift staples are good buys, including the deck's namesake, Nguyen's tech in foil Khalni Heart Expeditions, and some super sexy Commune with Lavas. If you can snipe anything from this deck on the cheap, do so.

All Things Bloom


Here's another deck I had on my radar before Pittsburgh. Bloom exceeded expectations and beat a lot of hate en route to a Top 16 performance courtesy of Mike Sigrist.

Foil Amulets remain good buys as do all the staples that are already valuable (Ancient Stirrings, Azusa, Lost but Seeking, etc.). Be very careful about buying into this for the long-term. The deck is rapidly proving it's a true top-tier contender, which puts it even more in Wizards' ban crosshairs.

G/W Hatebears Staples


Craig Wescoe rampaged his way into the Top 8 with a super old-school Modern Hatebears deck. (Note: it's "Hatebears" and not "Death and Taxes", because D&T runs Flickerwisp.)

Cards like Arbiter, Aven Mindcensor, Aether Vial, and even throwback big-shot Gaddock Teeg put in serious work for Wescoe's run---all of these cards are heading up after this weekend.

Jace, Vryn's Prodigy


Grixis decks have struggled mightily since their emergence over the summer, and the combination of Jace, Inquisition of Kozilek, and Rise // Fall have turned the deck's prospects around. Although the new versions are much more "Grixis Midrange" than "Grixis Control," the Grixis core remains a serious force in Modern.

From a finance perspective, this only underscores Jace's rising value across the format, and confirms a prediction I made on Rise // Fall a few weeks ago (this one is probably too late to get in on).

Protean Hulk & Footsteps of the Goryo


Zal Elsik, the "Lantern Guy" as affectionately dubbed by announcers at Pittsburgh, rolled in with a Protean Hulk Combo deck instead of his Oklahoma City-winning list.

Elsik won a last-minute Trial before Pittsburgh proper even started, and within about six hours you couldn't find a single Footsteps of the Goryo online. Hulk had already spiked the previous week, and Elsik's Trial win only pushed it further.

The deck didn't do great in the main event, and I am pessimistic about its long-term prospects: if you buy in on this, get out earlier rather than later.

Random Combo Speculation


Here's a good rule for short-term speculation: if Wizards features an offbeat deck (usually a linear and/or combo deck), you can't go wrong buying in.

Eli Kassis piloted a Time Warp deck to a Day 2 finish. Wizards did a deck spotlight and by the time the Top 8 got posted, there wasn't a foil Walk the Aeons available through any major seller.

If you're willing to do the legwork to turn these around quickly, short-term specs like this can pay off. If not, stay away from these kinds of decks and be able to identify them as the short-term blip they are.

The Sleepers

As a general rule, anything that reaches Top 8 at a Grand Prix will command a higher price tag sooner rather than later. The same goes for offbeat decks earning deck spotlights. All of this is doubly true if the deck enjoys a breakout performance (e.g. Wescoe's G/W Hatebears), because it reinvigorates interest in a deck many people might want to try.

Most Modern players probably noticed the winners in this section, as well as similar ones I haven't bothered to mention explicitly (Cinder Glade in Scapeshift, Horizon Canopy in Hatebears, Jeskai Twin staples, etc.). These next sections focus on a pair of cards you might otherwise miss when you're deciding what to buy.

Sleeper #1: Stony Silence

It's somewhat unfair to call this a sleeper because Stony Silence has been on Modern players' radars since it was printed. Affinity bringing you down? Pack the Silences and call it a day.

While this plan didn't work out for Craig Wescoe in Game 3 of the Top 4 (although honestly, sub-optimal play was involved here), Silence is still the best thing you can do against Affinity.

With the robot horde making yet another big showing at this event (two representatives in the Top 8 and the most played deck on Day 2), I expect to see more players shifting back to those sideboarded Silences and relying less on the deceptively ineffective Kolaghan's Command.


Affinity has had a huge run this year, putting up major metagame numbers ever since its breakout 2015 performance at Worlds in August. An over-reliance on Kolaghan's Command played a big part in this ascent. Command is often too-little, too-late against a wide Affinity board position. It doesn't do anything against Etched Champion and is completely nullified by Arcbound Ravager.

All of this makes Command a suboptimal answer to competent Affinity pilots, and those players have capitalized on this metagame vulnerability all summer.


Stony Silence is the true Affinity hoser. And with foil copies just under $10, it makes for a great investment. Even the nonfoil versions are worth a look; Silence hasn't been reprinted even once since Innistrad, and it's rapidly proving its worth as a Modern mandatory.

Jeskai Twin took down Pittsburgh, further proving that white might merit a second look in Modern. If Jeskai Twin can do it, maybe Jeskai Control, Midrange or Delver can do it too.

This will further shift players back into white, and back to Stony Silence. The card will only go up from here (until a possible Modern Masters 2017 reprint), so get them cheap while you can.

Sleeper #2: Inquisition of Kozilek

Modern investors have been carefully eyeing Inquisition of Kozilek since we learned it wouldn't be part of Modern Masters 2015. It's not a matter of "if" this card will be reprinted. It's a matter of "when."

Even with a single Modern Event Deck printing, the card is still around $10, and I expect that to go up in the wake of Pittsburgh.


Following Pittsburgh and the linear metagames of Dallas and Porto Alegre before that, Inquisition has continued to emerge as a critical police card in Modern.

We saw this throughout Pittsburgh, with decks running it across all levels of the tournament. Grixis Midrange rocked a playset in the Top 8, BGx, Grixis and Faeries (!) ran it to undefeated Day 1 finishes, and BGx decks ran it again throughout the Grand Prix Trials.

This card has almost singlehandedly put Grixis back on the map---Grixis players have increasingly turned to Inquisition as a catch-all answer to Modern's linear decks.

Jund decks are cutting back to two or even a single Thoughtseize in favor of the almighty Inquisition, and it's very possible this adoption will catch on with other black-based decks (Grixis Twin and Delver? Deadguy Ale and Mardu?).

Wielding Inquisition in Modern

As players start getting into Modern this season, they are going to realize they need Inquisitions for their decks. That $10 pricetag will look quite sweet by the end of December, by which time this card will be much more expensive, in the leadup to the Modern-centric Star City Games tournaments in 2016.

You'll want to adhere to a quick turnaround schedule if you're interested in an Inquisition investment. I can't see this card dodging reprints through both the new Zendikar block and supplemental Event and Duel products.

That said, I can also see the Modern community getting no news of its reprint through January. If that happens, the card will be pricey by the time the Pro Tour rolls around in February.

To be clear, Inquisiton isn't a sleeper because people don't know about it. It's a sleeper because the pricetag doesn't reflect its newfound importance in Modern. As long as you monitor the reprint dangers, you can invest accordingly and make it big on this discard staple.

What's Next for Modern?

We have two more big Modern events, both SCG Opens, before the Janaury banlist update. I fully expect we'll see at least one change in that update (a Sword of the Meek unban), and perhaps more.

Going into January and the February Pro Tour, you'll want to monitor the balance between the linear decks and the interactive ones---that dynamic is the format-shaping narrative and it will determine both deck and investment choices.

Looking back over the Grand Prix, what other cards do you have on your radar? Any exciting performances that coverage missed? I'll be checking out the comments over this vacation week, and I'll look forward to talking some more Modern then!

6 thoughts on “Insider: Modern Winners & Sleepers from Pittsburgh

    1. Unbanning Sword of the Meek would help create an actual control deck in modern…the biggest issue I have with the format is that there doesn’t appear to be any true control decks in it…most decks with counterspells are still just combo decks that use the counterspells to slow down opponents in order to combo off or to protect their combo…

    2. According to Wizards, one of the main reasons Swords is banned is due to powering up too many controlling decks with blue-white shells. They also cite Swords’ performance in old Extended, where it was very powerful against aggressive decks. Right now, Modern has zero top-tier UW decks, and very few top-tier control decks. Even the Grixis Control decks have switched to Midrange plans because Control is so dang bad in Modern right now. Modern also has way too many linear aggressive decks, and Sword would work against that. Add to that Wizards’ desire to unban cards every year to shake things up in Modern and you have a perfect candidate for unbanning.

    1. I don’t see Commune going up too much. If you can snipe some foil Communes for under $2.00 that’s not bad, but these kind of high print-run rares from recent sets just aren’t always great targets. That’s particularly true in a combo-oriented Scapeshift version that rarely performs anywhere else. If you see another Commune performance, then snag those up by the bucket, but based on just one performance I wouldn’t get too committed.

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