Greetings, halflings! Welcome to that special time of the year. The one-use Halloween costumes have been thrown out, the smell of turkey is in the air, and we’re just starting to determine which of our family members are actually worth buying Christmas presents for. We’re slowly pulling out of our Modern offseason, and the recent RPTQ results and the upcoming GP Pittsburgh will give us plenty to talk about to get us through the holidays. Today I have two decklists, primarily for those attending GP Pittsburgh but also for anyone looking to play at the local level or on MTGO. Sheridan Lardner did an excellent metagame write-up and GP Pittsburgh prediction piece here, so make sure to check that out! Let’s get to it.
Originally I intended on attending both GP Atlanta and GP Pittsburgh, as I have friends and family in both states, but a myriad of factors blocked me from this task. Like a Wall of Frost, a combination of sickness, architecture, my girlfriend’s first marathon, poverty, and architecture (so nice you have to say it twice) prevented me from embarking on my quest (and untapping in my next untap step). Regardless, I’ve still been playing Modern regularly recently (for my Modern Video Series!) so I’d like to pass on some prep and tidbits for anyone planning on attending the GP, and give a couple decklist suggestions as well.
Since its success at SCG Charlotte in the hands of Joseph Herrera, Jund Midrange has continued to establish itself as a formidable format pillar. Taking advantage of the relative absence of RG Tron, Jund has slid into a prominent position in the format, preying on Affinity, Burn, and other midrange and Collected Company decks. Benefiting from widespread hate against Grixis strategies, Jund has witnessed its natural enemies fall by the wayside while it quietly puts up strong results. The format has almost completely reverted to the conditions that let Jund dominate a few months ago, and until the rest of the format adjusts I believe Jund is here to stay.
Splinter Twin will probably always be Tier 1, and remains a format pillar despite some large format shifts around it. Tron has seen decreased play, which hurts Twin slightly as Tron is a solid matchup. Grixis Control has also been on the decline, which is great for Twin as Grixis Control is tough. Jund Midrange has climbed to the top as well, which is bad news for Twin. Despite all these shifts, Twin is still putting up results, which tells us two things. One, which we knew already, is the fact that Twin is powerful and consistent, and can almost always be considered a great deck choice. Two (which is based on One), is that you can always count on Twin to show up at events. Similar to Burn, you will have to face this deck at least a couple times over the course of a long event. Don’t be caught unprepared!
On the linear side of things, Affinity and Burn are still prominent. These guys will always be around, until the one week where everyone decides they’re not losing to Burn (or Affinity), which will cause it to disappear, only to return next week when everyone cuts their hate. We’ve seen it plenty of times before, except this time we’ve actually gone a pretty long stretch where Affinity and Burn have remained at the top of the pile. This is due primarily to the Modern offseason; were we seeing Burn on top every weekend we could expect more backlash. Instead, the events have been spaced out over a few weeks, which contributes to this narrative of “Burn isn’t that bad, I don’t need to worry.” Trust me, one Feed the Clan in your board is nowhere near enough if you are soft to this deck. The classic “everyone else will play Affinity hate” doesn’t apply unless there’s widespread discussion about the dominance of a certain deck, which just hasn’t been happening recently. Obviously I can’t give blanket advice, as sideboards are deck and strategy specific, but before you register your list this weekend take a second and Ponder whether that Engineered Explosives wouldn’t be better off as a Feed the Clan or something similar.
It's Prime Time!
Beyond the Big Four, things start to get murky fast. Amulet Bloom is knocking on the front door, ready to kick it in, with an excellent showing at the RPTQ level. Amulet has always benefited from its identity as a “weird combo deck” that players overlook in testing, similar to Ad Nauseam or Lantern Control. The difference? This deck is actually good. Last June/July there was talk of an Amulet Bloom banning, and everyone was stretching their mana to play Ghost Quarter and Blood Moon. What happened?
The maindeck for Amulet is usually pretty tight, and the sideboard often contains a few “staples” in Leyline of Sanctity, Swan Song, Seal of Primordium and Thragtusk. Thragtusk does great work against the midrange decks while acting as both lifegain and a fast clock against Burn/Affinity. Seal of Primordium is a great split card for Blood Moon/Affinity primarily, and can be played to an empty board on turn two and held until needed. Chromatic Lantern is a great tool to fight against Blood Moon, ramp us, and fix our mana if necessary. I was very impressed with it when I first played against Lantern when Team BBD was using it at GP Charlotte last summer.
This deck is still great, and as long as it has a plan for the linear decks we could see an Amulet resurgence. Again, Jund benefits from this slightly, as Jund would much rather see Amulet grow in popularity than Tron (even if Bloom is by no means a strong matchup). Eventually people will set their sights on beating Jund, but I doubt it will be this week. Losing to the linear decks always feels worse than losing to something like Jund or Jeskai Control, even though the reactive decks might feel more “dominant” or “oppressive”.
The Inevitable Grixis
Look, who really thought I’d give two deck suggestions and one of them wouldn’t be Grixis? I despise evil Amulet Bloom and still suggested it, so you have to give me this!
I’m going to give Danny’s list, and then talk about a few suggestions rather than posting a list with my name on it, as I’m basing my list primarily on his work. This deck is awesome, and has singlehandedly helped me win back all those tickets I lost playing Bring to Light! Those that have yet to experiment with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound, Inquisition of Kozilek, Pia and Kiran Nalaar and Rise // Fall are missing out. I have been playing this list with these changes:
First, the maindeck is close to perfect. Grixis Midrange is relatively unexplored territory at this point, which explains a lot of variation among the lists we’ve been seeing. More Thought Scour/Gurmag Angler? Eight planeswalkers? Lots of removal? The Grim Lavamancer is sweet, and lets us abuse our Thought Scours a little more (as we’ve trimmed on delve creatures and Snapcaster Mage) but I don’t anticipate it being great against an expected field of Jund Midrange and Amulet Bloom. Instead, I’ve added in another Liliana of the Veil, which gives us more power and resiliency against those aiming to fight us with graveyard hate.
For the sideboard, I cut a lot of the token hate for extra help in other areas. Pia and Kiran Nalaar don’t singlehandedly solve the Lingering Souls issues for us, but I haven’t seen Lingering Souls in forever and our Abzan matchup should be good enough that we don’t need the help. Besides, Izzet Staticaster is poor against everything else in that matchup besides Lingering Souls and Dark Confidant and probably isn’t even worth bringing in, so cutting it removes the temptation. Instead, we’ve got a third Dispel for the blue mirrors, Burn, and literally every other deck that is playing important instants. A third Liliana of the Veil pushes us closer to Michael Majors’ territory (which is where I want to be against a field like the one I expect in Pittsburgh).
Pillar of Flame helps us on the small removal front and makes up for the loss of Grim Lavamancer and Darkblast. The fact that it kills Kitchen Finks and opposing Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound pushes it way over the top in my mind. Tribute to Hunger is some pretty sweet tech that I think we have room to employ here, and feels absolutely amazing when we can flash it back with Snapcaster Mage or Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound. Tribute to Hunger is best when we can kill all the creatures, which is slightly more difficult in this list than other Grixis Control decks that played 8+ removal spells. Once we start adding Liliana of the Veil and Rise // Fall into the mix I think we’re back to parity however.
Remember, you can Rise // Fall, holding priority, targeting their creature on board and ours in the graveyard, then Tribute to Hunger (or any other removal spell) to kill their creature before they can bounce it.
So there we have it, if I was headed to GP Pittsburgh I would play one of these two lists (though let’s face it, it would take a lot of Bogles to get me off of Grixis). For anyone playing, let me know how you do! Every once in a while someone comments either here or on Twitter telling me they took my advice and did well with it, which is absolutely awesome and my primary reason for writing.
Thanks for reading, and good luck this weekend!
The_Architect on MTGO