Between bouts of jamming Traditional Yu-Gi-Oh! and maniacally sleeving up unplayable cards like Desperate Ritual and Peppersmoke, I haven’t played much competitive Modern lately. In my eyes, participating in two small local tournaments a week doesn’t count, and the last “real” Modern event I played in was a WMCQ in Toronto. As more local gamers started asking me if I would play in the Mana Deprived Super Series 3K, I became increasingly excited about returning to my beloved competitive environment - and about playing a deck with Delvers again. I settled on my long-neglected Monkey Grow for the event.
I finished in 11th place. To be clear, 6-2 isn’t a record I’m proud of, but I had a great time and learned a lot at this event. My insights should prove helpful to anyone picking up Monkey Grow or playing other tempo decks in Modern.
Refining Monkey Grow
I love brewing, but I don’t usually brew seriously. It takes a very special discovery for me to sink more than a month into one deck. My Blood Moon decks (Abzan Moon and MutaMoon) have given me many hours of soul-crushing fun, but for large, competitive events, I’m far more comfortable with a grow deck. Recently, I’ve been half-heartedly tuning Counter-Cat to tackle Modern’s current metagame. While revisiting the deck, I realized it violates a few of my playstyle preferences.
- I don’t like playing with too many threats. Counter-Cat runs a threat suite of 4 Wild Nacatl, 4 Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration, 4 Tarmogoyf, 2 Hooting Mandrills, and 2 Snapcaster Mage. Nearing aggro-level threat density was my main beef with iGrow, which also runs sixteen creatures. I’d almost always rather be protecting one threat than committing a second.
- I don’t like having hard answers for resolved creatures. This quirk may have something to do with my years of playing grow strategies. Call me crazy, but casting Path to Exile on a fat Tarmogoyf just feels dirty to me. I don’t think it should be allowed. It makes me want to apologize to my opponent. It makes me want to take a shower.
- I don’t like creatures that do things. Of Counter-Cat’s threats, only the Snaps “do things,” but they’re integral enough to the deck’s strategy to deter me from not playing them. Obviously, Counter-Cat offends less than a deck like GW Hatebears or Grixis Midrange, but I would never consider playing those decks for this reason.
The revelation I may have outgrown Counter-Cat led me to box up the deck and return to my roots with Monkey Grow. I didn’t play much before the Super Series outside of a few matches on Cockatrice and some coffee shop games with my BFFL (a true Counter-Cat devotee), and I'd settled on a list by then.
3 Thought Scour, 1 Curiosity: I’ve never loved drawing into Scours during the mid-game, when mana’s tight and threats are at a premium. I also side them out against BGx, inspiring me to cut one for a card that shines in that matchup. Game 1 finds us at our most linear, speeding into threats with Thought Scour and riding them to victory as quickly as possible. In this scenario, Curiosity is a cantrip at worst, and a draw engine at best.
3 Simic Charm,1 Snapcaster Mage: One of the best cards in the deck, Simic Charm admittedly clunks out sometimes at four copies. Snapcaster Mage is a card I’ve long thought about running again, as he gives us a lot of points against BGx and some inevitability in longer games. With 4 Probe, we can even Snapcaster on turn two in lieu of a real threat, and flashing him in to suit him up with Curiosity next turn always gets that evil eye I love from my opponent. The best thing about Snapcaster Mage: in the late-game, he is a Simic Charm!
1 Tarfire: I cut this card from the deck shortly after GP Charlotte, but couldn’t bear to part with it after all the smiles we shared in Blood Moon decks. Tarfire is a damage-based removal spell with relevance in matchups these effects traditionally underperform in. Against Tasigur decks like Grixis and Abzan Midrange, having a 5/6 Tarmogoyf is invaluable. Against linear combo decks, an early Tarfire shaves a whole turn off our Goyf clock.
2 Ancient Grudge (SB): Thanks to Ancient Grudge, there’s no reason to lose to Affinity in these colors. The matchup gets really good with four hard answers to artifacts, and Grudge’s flashback makes it the best matchup-specific hoser in a tempo shell. Bonus: running two Grudge gives us a ton of splash points against artifact-reliant strategies like GR Tron, Amulet Bloom, Merfolk, and Lantern Control.
1 Firespout (SB): A friend has been nagging me to try Firespout over Pyroclasm for a while now. “It doesn’t kill Delver! It destroys Wild Nacatl! It incinerates Loam Lion!” Loam Lion isn’t exactly a card I care about, but to shut him up, I decided to give it a go over Pyroclasm #2.
2 Curiosity (SB): When I won a StarCityGames IQ with Monkey Grow last summer, Huntmaster-Curiosity-Moon was my go-to plan against Jund, and it worked. I abandoned this plan for GP Charlotte, and paid dearly; after going 7-0, I paired with three straight Jund opponents who slaughtered me. I was anxious to play Curiosity again, so I threw a couple into the sideboard.
Mana Deprived Super Series: Report, Part I
Round 1: Super Rat Friends (2-1, win roll)
During and after the match, my opponent and I went through a number of interesting names for his wonky Mardu Midrange deck. Its combination of Ravenous Rats, Liliana Vess, Liliana's Specter, and Ajani Vengeant initially led him to name it "Walking Rats," but his eyes lit up when I suggested "Super Rat Friends."
My opponent mulligans to six. I keep a slow hand of Visions, Bolt, Denial, and lands. A turn two Ravenous Rats from my opponent puts me on edge and takes a Breeding Pool, and I resolve Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration and start attacking. I Deny Ajani Vengeant, but Liliana Vess resolves. Delver eats a Lightning Bolt and my new Goyf dies to Gatekeeper of Malakir. Laughing, I admit to my opponent I don't think I'll win the match.
Attrition decks do Thought Scour's work for free, and Shoal only helps them out. Simic Charm seems lackluster against a deck without juicy bounce targets or much non-creature removal. Huntmaster and Curiosity provide bodies and cards to grind with. Pyroclasm effects handle the rat infestation so Tarmogoyf can connect with planeswalkers.
We both mulligan to six. While my opponent Duresses a pair of Blood Moons from my hand, I resolve two Delvers and a Tarmogoyf to start piling on damage. A Thoughtseize eats my Huntmaster of the Fells // Ravager of the Fells, but I'm nowhere near four lands and too far ahead on the board for it to make a difference. My opponent casts Liliana's Caress, which I happily let resolve. Drawing Lightning Bolt to kill a defensive Liliana's Specter seals the deal.
I often prepare only for "real decks," so getting paired with rogue strategies early on can be pretty spooky. For this reason, I tend to favor versatile answers like Blood Moon and Huntmaster over highly specific ones. These "Abzan hate cards" apply directly to the Super Rat Friends matchup.
Round 2: Waste Not (2-1, win roll)
We both go to six. I let two Caresses through, sticking Goyf and then tapping out for Hooting Mandrills as my opponent struggles to find a third land. I'm at 11 life and have Mana Leak in hand, but Goyf is just 3/4. Casting Mandrills gets around a surprise Liliana of the Veil, and it secures a victory immediately if my opponent continues to stumble. Instead, he casts Wrench Mind and Burning Inquiry. I haven't seen this deck in so long that I forgot it even plays Burning Inquiry! Anyway, that's 12 points of damage.
Revelry and Grudge come in to deal with Caress, Waste Not, Ensnaring Bridge, and Rack effects.
Two Mandrills survive Liliana of the Veil when I offer Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration as a sacrifice. My opponent has time to set up as the Monkeys punch him, and resolves two copies of Burning Inquiry with an active Waste Not. Double-blocking Zombie tokens don't beat Simic Charm pumps, and I win with a Lightning Bolt at just two life.
Didn't see any artifacts for the second time in a row, so out comes the Grudge. I realized in the middle of Game 2 that Waste Not isn't just any attrition deck. It relies heavily on Waste Not and Burning Inquiry resolving. Disrupting Shoal is actually sweet against this deck!
Chained Inquisitions take Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration and Curiosity, but I topdeck Tarmogoyf for turn two. He resolves at 5/6 and turns sideways while I Shoal and Mana Leak two Waste Nots. Bolt kills my opponent once he falls to three.
I expected to play against Modern's top-tier at this event. The silly boarding and play mistakes I'd already made against rogue "discard" decks had me feeling a bit disoriented going into Round 3.
Round 3: Grixis Twin (1-2, win roll)
I stick a Tarmogoyf by Shoaling Remand and start beating. Pestermite eats a Mana Leak, and I manage to get Curiosity on the Goyf. My opponent flashes in Snapcaster Mage during combat to block and Bolt, but I Bolt his creature first and draw from my aura. He almost scoops when I Probe him. I see a hand full of black spells, letting me know for the first time he's on Grixis. Curious Goyf connects again and I resolve Mandrills for the concession.
I mulligan to six. Delver and Goyf get removed early. I never make a third land drop and get tempo'd out by Snapcaster Mage and Deceiver Exarch. Probe lets me know my opponent has Splinter Twin, so I have to hold up Simic Charm as I take the beating and stare at a bunch of stupid Tarmogoyfs in my hand.
I ship three straight no-landers and end up with a decent four cards. Probe shows me a bunch of lands and Kolaghan's Command, letting me know I have limited time before my mana-spoiled opponent finds his money cards. I rush to resolve Hooting Mandrills and start trading attacks with an Exarch. During combat, my opponent goes to Bolt the Mandrills, and I Shoal to protect him from Kolaghan's Command. But he has Snapcaster Mage to block and Bolt with flashback. I never recover.
I learned an important lesson here. Since I did so little testing with Monkey Grow before the event, I didn't have a board plan fleshed out for some of my matchups, including Grixis Twin. Knowing exactly what my plan was against them may have helped me win. Some post-tournament practice points to Blood Moon being really strong.
Round 4: Abzan Midrange (2-0, lose roll)
I'd joked to a friend earlier in the day that my plan for winning this event was to dodge BGx. By BGx, I meant Jund, the deck that terrorized my performance at GP Charlotte last summer. I hadn’t even considered Abzan Midrange, Monkey Grow’s sworn nemesis since I first brewed the deck in January. The insane relevance of Siege Rhino and Tasigur, the Golden Fang against a deck so focused on casting Hooting Mandrills led me to play all those Simic Charms and Huntmasters in the first place. Luckily, those cards pulled their weight in this quick match, a definite pick-me-up after my Grixis loss.
I keep a hand of Tarmogoyf, Steam Vents, double Mana Leak, Snapcaster Mage, Serum Visions, Gitaxian Probe, and Stubborn Denial, and get Inquisitioned. My opponent takes Visions and passes. I draw Hooting Mandrills, and Probe shows me two more Inquisitions and a pair of Abrupt Decay before cycling into Thought Scour. I play Steam Vents untapped and pass, Scouring myself in response to another Inquisition. This time I draw Misty Rainforest, and the Mandrills goes unanswered. Four attacks later, we’re sideboarding.
Bolt is better than Tarfire here since it kills a 3/3 Scavenging Ooze, or combines with Snapcaster Mage to slay Siege Rhino. Abzan's Goyfs benefit from our Tarfire, and are better at staying on the board thanks to Abrupt Decay.
Another turn one Inquisition shows my opponent a perfect hand, featuring Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration, Tarmogoyf, Simic Charm, Lightning Bolt, Serum Visions, and lands. The discard spell takes Delver, but I draw another one. Instead of flipping him, I draw a third Delver. They both flip next turn and attack for six. My opponent resolves Siege Rhino, but I have Tarmogoyf to wall it. Nihil Spellbomb doesn’t neuter the Goyf, but it does find my opponent an Abrupt Decay. Simic Charm saves my Aberration, and I Stubborn Denial a Dismember with ferocious. I reveal Huntmaster of the Fells // Ravager of the Fells from the top of my deck for the concession.
When I played Monkey Grow frequently, Abzan Midrange was the bane of my existence. I simply could not beat it. I’ve undoubtedly improved at Magic since then, but this fifteen-minute match felt a little too easy. Unbeknownst to me now, a decidedly grindier rematch with Abzan in Round 8 would give me some new perspectives on the matchup.
To Be Continued....
I've never written such a detailed tournament report. Information doesn't come cheap in the realm of text, so for spatial reasons, I'll have to conclude the report on Monday. In the meantime, I'll be playing with Monkey Grow all weekend, and possibly adopting an actual monkey to help with testing. More on these exciting developments next week!
Read Chapter 2 here.