In Magic right now, everything is awesome. There are so many opportunities to play these days, you often have to choose between two concurrent events.
What a great problem to have. When I started playing competitively back in Shards block, we were lucky to get a couple big events within driving distance each season. Before that, events were even more sparse.
Now we have multiple Grand Prix on the same weekend, even if they are half a world away. Within the same region, the events are packed closer together. Last week's GP in Atlanta will be followed up immediately by GP Pittsburgh this weekend. It's a great time to be a Magic player.
Before we discuss the event in my hometown of Pittsburgh, let’s start with Grand Prix Brussels.
The big story of Brussels was the resurgence of Rally the Ancestors. One of the European teams tuned the powerful combo deck and absolutely decimated the competition, landing a full three players in the Top 8 with the same 75.
The concept of this deck is nothing new, but its presence certainly hasn’t been seen in force since rotation. This list is the streamlined, well tested version that will give you the most consistent results.
This deck is chock full of card advantage. Between Elvish Visionary, Collected Company, Grim Haruspex and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, you can see a huge portion of your deck. Catacomb Sifter's scry ability further helps with filtering to find whatever you need.
Fighting against this deck is no mean feat. It's obviously weak to graveyard disruption, but outside of Anafenza, the Foremost, not a lot is available.
Even if you remove the graveyard, the deck can still overwhelm you with synergistic Collected Company draws that set up Zulaport Cutthroat plus Nantuko Husk for a pseudo-Fireball. A couple removal spells for key creatures will serve you well, but you may also want to put your opponent under Duress to rid them of those pesky instants.
Standard is shaping up to be a great format, with a lot of viable archetypes. Of course, as open as the format may seem, it still can't hold a candle to Modern.
Grand Prix Pittsburgh
I've been looking forward to this weekend's event for quite some time. Scheduling it into my calendar was a tricky ordeal, but luckily I was able to fit my hometown GP into my busy life.
This past year has been full of family events and getting my business up and running, while still maintaining a full time job. Needless to say, I’ll be rocking zero byes. As I start the process of obtaining byes all over again on the yearly planeswalker points system, making it to more Grand Prix will become a bigger priority for me.
A hometown GP is always a great experience, but this one has me particularly excited because I love Modern so much. Many words have been written from this very keyboard about Modern and it will always be close to my heart.
Right now the new hotness is Grixis Control and Scapeshift. These two decks have been on the rise in popularity and for good reason. Let’s break down their game plan.
Modern players have been gunning for a control deck for a while now, largely in vain. The sub-par UWR Control did well infrequently, but it hasn't been Tier 1 for quite some time, and it was always teetering on that boundary between true control and a glorified burn deck.
With Grixis Control we have the arrival of a more traditional control strategy. It's already proven itself to be powerful and resilient.
The main source of this deck's success is the same reason Rally is crushing Standard: card advantage. This Grixis deck takes command of the situation like few decks I’ve seen.
You start off by shredding their hand with Inquisition of Kozilek and follow that up by flashing back every spell you play. You can reuse your instants and sorceries with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy or Snapcaster Mage (they’re very similar, aren’t they?) and then if the game is still going on, you repeat the process by casting Kolaghan's Command.
This deck is full of cheap spells to interact early in the game, but it can also spit out a turn two Tasigur, the Golden Fang. Modern is no stranger to the two-mana 4/5, but whether it's Tarmogoyf or the new kid on the block, it's always a beating.
I chose to highlight the 2nd place finisher above because he ran some interesting tech in two copies of Pia and Kiran Nalaar. Chandra’s parents may not have found their home in Standard but they sure did find a place to live on Modern street.
Not only is the two damage they deal relevant, but the 1/1 fliers they produce have earned them the nickname, “the red Lingering Souls.”
Token makers are great against control because they tax one-for-one removal, but those fliers have a dramatic impact on the aggressive matchups as well. Against both Affinity and Infect, flying blockers create a difficult game state for them to fight through.
Bring to Light Scapeshift
Grixis isn't the only deck that can make use of Pia and Kiran. It may have a role to play in Scapeshift as well.
Bring to Light is one of the most powerful tutors we’ve seen in a long time. Like Chord of Calling before it, the higher upfront mana cost is offset by putting whatever you find right into play (or onto the stack).
And if Bring to Light can't fetch up expensive cards, it more than makes up for it with access to instants and sorceries.
Bring to Light is revitalizing Scapeshift the same way Dig Through Time did a year ago. The difference is this time it has also brought along a package of one-of silver bullets, similar to Birthing Pod decks of old.
So far, we haven’t seen anyone push this concept as far as it can go. This may be because there aren't many slots to work with in the maindeck, but the strategy is new and players simply haven't had time to explore all the options.
My build above starts the exploration process on a strong note by including one Pia and Kiran in the maindeck. I love this singleton because it does exactly what the deck needs to do--buy time.
Three blockers from one card is exactly what this deck needs to survive against the aggressive decks. In addition, it offers another route to victory against any deck trying to disrupt the combo plan.
Other good searchable cards are available out of the sideboard. Anger of the Gods or Shatterstorm are great blowouts depending on which aggressive strategy you’re facing, while Slaughter Games can help you overcome other combo strategies.
Finally, Obstinate Baloth plays like a silver bullet because in the matchups where it's good you're looking to draw multiples. With three Baloth and four Bring to Light, against Burn or Zoo you have access to a full seven copies of the card post-board.
There are plenty of other great targets in Modern, and I think we've just begun to scratch the surface of possibilities for the tutor package in Scapeshift. Don’t limit yourself to what others have already found; search for that singleton everyone will be talking about after you crush the event with it!
Preparing for the Modern Field
Modern is huge and although I highlighted two specific decks here today, the format is filled with a veritable cornucopia of playable strategies to choose from.
This is not a format where players switch decks on a whim. Players devote time and resources to building their deck of choice and stick with it. Although the format shifts from time to time, players tend to show up with what they have built and hope for the best.
You can't build a metagame deck for Modern because there are too many archetypes to account for. Even the "bad decks" are sure to make an appearance.
So, even though I think there will be an uptick in players bringing Grixis Control and Bring to Light Scapeshift, there will also be a pile of anarchists trying to set fire to the format with their burn spells. Players will register Melira Company despite zero positive results from the deck in months. The same goes for dozens of other decks as well.
Be prepared to face a wide range of decks. Success in Modern is determined by knowledge of your deck, but also of the field as a whole.
That’s all for me today. I will be jamming one of those underrepresented decks myself at GP Pitt, so stop over and say hi. If the format has intimidated you into skipping the event, or you get sidetracked making too much money, or you just like reading about Modern like I do, stay tuned for next week’s article.
Hopefully I’ll be writing to you about how I decimated the tournament with some off-the-wall deck, but either way, I should have some great financial info from the floor.
Until next time,
Unleash the Force on Modern!
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