My Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch weekend was more emotional than my first Force Awakens showing.
We had the highs of Modern hero Jason Chung trying to live the #controlisalive dream on Blue Moon. We had the lows of Modern hero Jason Chung missing the Top 8 on breakers in 9th place. We had Day 1, and Day 2, and 24+/21+/18+ point metagame statistics and lists, on top of arguably the best production quality of any Pro Tour to date. We also had coverage that was often more Oath commercial than Magic commentary.
And (un)holy Cthulhu did we have Eldrazi.
Between the Eldrazi, the constant Affinity, Infect and Death's Shadow matchups, and the overall metagame picture, the Pro Tour viewing experience was a rocky one. Although I live-tweeted most of the tournament on the Modern Nexus Twitter feed, enjoying most of the high-octane gameplay, I was overall disappointed with the state of Modern diversity following the Pro Tour.
The three March Grand Prix tournaments can't come soon enough as we see if Modern can respond to the Eldrazi and linear hordes. If this recent MTGO Pro Tour Qualifier is any indication, it's going to be a long month.
I'm doing a full metagame breakdown and tournament recap over on Modern Nexus today (takeaway: things are bad but don't panic yet!), so over here I want to focus on the financial upsides and fallout from our Pro Tour Oath extravaganza.
Unless you were actively watching the stream or were engaged in the online buzz, you've probably missed most of the biggest breakouts. Chalice of the Void went totally ballistic over the weekend. Chalice was a lynchpin in the Colorless Eldrazi deck, and the moment this artifact hit the airwaves, I took to Twitter to alert listeners to the impending spike.
All of the Eldrazi and their enablers followed suit, especially the foil versions, along with many Affinity and Infect staples we'd been talking about for weeks. Given these price explosions, including some unfounded and bizarre movement around cards like Descendants' Path, it's hard to believe there is anything left worth buying. Check those trade binders for Chalice playsets, however!
Today, we're going to look ahead of the Pro Tour metagame and see where the format might evolve in its Level 2 stage. This will prepare us to invest in the decks and cards which might enjoy success in the post-Pro Tour world, and to get ahead of the eventual Eldrazi-slayers (if any are out there!)
Immediate Metagame Consequences
Before the Pro Tour, I discussed some Level 0 metagame assumptions both here and on the Nexus. Important Level 0 players (i.e. the decks which we expected to succeed before a major event) included Affinity, Burn, R/G Tron, Eldrazi and Infect, roughly in that order. We also saw Jund enjoy surprising pre-Pro Tour success, and some promising finishes by traditional blue-based control mages.
With the exception of R/G Tron, which had an incredibly mediocre weekend in the face of excessive Fulminator Mages and Crumble to Dusts, the Level 0 assumptions have largely transitioned into the post-Pro Tour Level 1 phase. The big variations are the order, which will invariably see Eldrazi slither to the head of the pack, and the Eldrazi lists themselves, which will be more colorless and less B/x.
Burn is in a similar category to R/G Tron in that it wasn't quite as successful as many had hoped. Unlike Tron, however, the Burn players saw more conversions into the 18+ point bracket and more representation of their core staples in Burn-inheritors like Death's Shadow Zoo. The Burn to Zoo spectrum is a long one with considerable middle-ground, and the Pro Tour will give aggro players strong incentive to stay in that range moving forward.
Of course, Eldrazi is the huge winner out of Pro Tour Oath, and it is hard to overstate their impact on Modern (so long as we leave the ban talk at the door until at least March). If you didn't heed the warnings and buy your Eye of Ugins before, it's too late to do so at budget now.
All metagame indicators point to a season of Eldrazi being upon us. Of decks with more than 10 pilots, they had the best Day 1 to Day 2 conversion rate at 81%. Eldrazi also boasted the best Day 2 to 6+ points conversion (73%), on top of their obvious Top 8 profile where six pilots rode the Eldrazi wave. This is on top of the theoretical evidence before the Pro Tour which saw many clamoring to halt Eldrazi's advance, and all their strengths on camera against the Modern field.
It's unclear whether Team Channel Fireball's and Team Face-to-Face's Colorless Eldrazi is the way of the future, or if that honor belongs to Frank Lepore's U/B or Jiaochen Tao's U/R variants. If you have to hedge your testing bets (or board the Eldrazi train yourself), the consistent Colorless Chalice Eldrazi is probably where you want to be. This was the build that sent the most players to commanding Pro Tour finishes, and I expect we see it everywhere following the tournament.
So is Modern going to be nothing but Eldrazi, Affinity, Infect and Burn/Zoo hybrids?
Not exactly. A number of Modern strategies distinguished themselves at the Pro Tour, and although Eldrazi eclipsed them all, we are likely to see more of these as the format unfolds from here.
Between Chung's Blue Moon, Ari Lax's Abzan company, Sam Black's Lantern Control, and Reid Duke's Jund, the Pro Tour showcased a number of strategies poised to combat the Eldrazi brood. This doesn't even count a dozen other non-Eldrazi contenders in the 24+ and 21+ listings! Ben Stark and Paul Rietzl's Mardu Midrange also come to mind here, even if they didn't make it to the top and may have struggled against some Eldrazi foes en route.
There are two ways to analyze these upstart decks in the broader linear and Eldrazified Modern context.
First, we can focus on the individual decks themselves and what they bring to the table. In the case of Lantern Control, we combine hand disruption to stop opposing Thought-Knot Seers with an Ensnaring Bridge roadblock most Eldrazi lists can't handle. In the Company decks, we have a midrange gameplan which can out-value and keep pace with the Eldrazi Mimic/Endless One march. We also see potent removal such as Terminate and Path to Exile in place of piddly Lightning Bolts.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, we can focus on the themes of these varied decks. Abzan Company isn't just succeeding because it's Abzan Company (or because Ari Lax is an excellent player, although that isn't hurting). It's well-positioned because it pairs a combo finish Eldrazi struggle to interact with alongside a midrange value plan which aggressive Eldrazi can't always punch through. Those same qualities also give it game across the linear, creature-oriented field.
Other decks, such as Blue Moon, are trying to answer powerful Eldrazi threats while deploying durable and decisive threats like Blood Moon and Batterskull. Jund merges this with the Abzan Company approach, killing Eldrazi on the way to massive Tarmogoyfs and dropping Dark Confidants that can't be reliably killed.
I know what some of the more cynical Moderners are thinking: "Eldrazi can handle all of those threats!" "Eldrazi can be built to beat anything!" Although this might prove to be true, the early performances of players like Black and Lax (who beat Eldrazi on the way to their 8-2 finishes) suggest there is room to adapt. This is exactly what the next month will show, and one reason we should be excited for the upcoming Grand Prix circuit in early March.
As long as you keep the four Level 1 decks in mind, and the so-called Level 1.5 ones like Abzan Company and Jund, you'll have a good sense of Modern going into your next events. Of course, this leads us to the thousand-dollar question, quite literally for many of you investors reading this piece: where do we put our money around the new Modern?
Hunting for Metagame Tech
I'm surprised Gatherer remained online all weekend. If my own Magic friends and I were any indication, the community was scrambling to find the anti-Eldrazi and anti-linear bullets that would define the Level 2 metagame past Pro Tour Oath. Hundreds of searches later, and after extensive perusal of my test notes, the Pro Tour decklists, and older deck archives, I have some gambles on where the format is going to settle as we move into March.
I can't promise the next Chalice of the Void in the coming suggestions, but the following cards and their home decks all show substantial promise as we gear up for March Grand Prix madness.
Ensnaring Bridge had an insane spike following Zac Elsik's Lantern Control win at Grand Prix Pittsburgh, but never justified its price tag after Elsik's victory faded away. Lantern Control, Modern's main Bridge deck, never took off after that and has lingered in Tier 3 obscurity ever since. It didn't even seem very strong against the older B/x Eldrazi shells, which could Inquisition of Kozilek it away or remove it on turn ten with an Eye-tutored Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
The new Eldrazi put Bridge in a much more favorable position.
Outside of Thought-Knot's disruption, colorless Eldrazi are ill-equipped to handle a resolved Game 1 Bridge. It's Ratchet Bomb or bust as they try to blow this off the board! A Lantern Control player could easily lock the Eldrazi pilot out of their Bombs, and other decks (U/B Tezzerator? R/W Lockdown?) can also build a board presence while Eldrazi sit beyond the Bridge.
Eldrazi can certainly handle a Bridge in games 2-3 once sideboards are at play, but this gives a huge game 1 edge to Bridge players, many of whom are already prepared to defend their Bridge in the critical post-sideboard matches. Add Bridge's relevance against many of the linear decks, and Jund/Abzan's scaling back on Abrupt Decay copies, and you have a metagame ripe for a Bridge crackdown. It's a pricier investment now, but if Bridge decks gather steam, the limited-reprint artifact will fly off the charts.
Ah, good old Blood Moon and its devout servant. Joining Lax and Black in the 8-2 standings, Phillip Braverman rocked a no-Collected Company Naya Zoo deck in the Modern Pro Tour rounds. In addition to the usual slew of Tarmogoyfs and Knight of the Reliquary copies, Braverman sleeved up Magus of the Moon as a two-of for his aggro strategy.
Blood Moon, another strong speculation target in post-Eldrazi Modern, sometimes fails to close out Eldrazi games because it doesn't exert enough pressure. It also doesn't always fit into decks that themselves exert pressure. Indeed, we saw one of Chung's Eldrazi opponents work their way out from under a Moon on camera, using Wastes to provide colorless mana and keep the Reality Smashers coming.
Magus flips this by actually hitting for damage and generally going into more aggressive shells. Although Eldrazi can certainly Dismember the creature, this still sets them back four life and likely stalls them for at least a few turns. This should be more than enough for Tarmogoyfs and company to end the game. Speaking of "company," I really want to see Magus work in a Collected Company/Chord of Calling shell.
All considered, Magus represents the kind of pressure-focused disruption players will need to beat the Eldrazi menace and stay relevant in a linear field. He's pricey now at around $25-$30, but will rocket past Blood Moon itself if a Magus deck ever takes off.
Here's a techy beast that can fit into most green-based decks. Baloth already shares the Wilt-Leaf Liege honor of ruining Liliana's day versus BGx, while also being a beefy aggro-stopper in his own right. This alone makes him relevant in a field where Jund is still alive and where Burn/Zoo decks still roam free. Eldrazi gives Baloth new relevance, specifically around one of their scariest cards: Reality Smasher.
Normally, pathing or terminating a Smasher turns into an immediate one-for-two exchange in the Eldrazi player's favor. Baloth changes that math. The Smasher discard effect is controlled by the opposing player, so you can happily blow up the Smasher and get a free Baloth in the exchange. Or use Liege instead, if you prefer a Hatebears, Abzan Liege, or even Death and Taxes shell.
This isn't a format-breaking synergy, and it's also one some of you may have already identified. But the overall metagame context is favorable for Baloth and Liege, which makes them possible small-margin hits in a new Modern. If you can find a home for the cards that already has decent positioning (e.g. Scapeshift variants for Baloth, Hatebears for Liege), you can guarantee a home for cards that could enjoy a short-term stock increase.
Our last card today is the kind of hard-hitting haymaker poised to do big things in this linear format. As anyone who watched the Pro Tour stream can attest, Through the Breach is something Eldrazi can't often handle: Watanabe made that very clear in dropping the turn four Emrakul finisher against LSV in a later round. Thought-Knot Seer is the Eldrazi's only reliable out against a breached fatty, and if that fatty is the fattest Eldrazi of them all, it's often a decisive (and poetic) win on the spot.
Hovering in the $25 range, Breach is a low-reprint rare that is one major tournament from another increase. To some extent, Breach decks have been around for years, but always in such limited quantities as to keep the price relatively reasonable. The post-Eldrazi metagame context is very favorable for these decks, as neither Infect, Affinity, Eldrazi, nor Burn/Zoo have reliable way to interact with the turn 3-4 Breach.
Betting on Breach is as much about finding the right Breach deck as buying the cards themselves. Following the Chalice of the Void spike, we might see a return to the Summoning Trap/Scapeshift/Chalice hybrids we saw during the Treasure Cruise winter. Or maybe we see more investment in Watanabe's Grixis Griselbrand lists. We could even see a Twin-like Breach deck relying on a control gameplan with a Breach finish!
The Gatewatch Unite!
In all these cases, we see some tech suggestions for where the format might rally to drive back the Eldrazi terror and the linear armies surrounding it. And that's without going too deep on bizarre technology, such as Painter's Servant to disable colorless-requirement lands, or Smallpox decks which are looking better by the day. As I'll talk about over on the Nexus today, Modern has a lot of room for change and evolution, so we shouldn't worry too much about the Eldrazi surge---at least, not yet.
Last bit of financial advice I'll leave you with: I strongly encourage you to sell off your spiked Eldrazi staples sooner rather than later. Eye of Ugin is worth a lot right now and you'd hate to lose value off the card. Whether Wizards bans it in April or July (less likely but possible) or the metagame adapts and reins in Eldrazi (the hopeful but still imperiled scenario), Eldrazi's profile is unlikely to get much higher. You'll want to move your money accordingly to minimize risks.
Thanks for reading and let me know in the comments if there's any tech I missed, any questions you have, or any conversation you think we should be engaged in following the Pro Tour results. Modern may be under threat of Eldrazi takeover and linear infestation, but I'm still optimistic we can work our way out of this with the same internal regulation forces which were so strong in 2015. We'll see in March!