Arming Your Deck for SCG Championship Weekend

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Time to put your metagame and Modern knowledge through the ringer! This Sunday, Star City Games' Championships Weekend concludes with a full day of Modern. With events for every state in America and province in Canada, the Championship showdown is a no-holds-barred Modern blowout where players from across North America will try their hand in the new format.

Last week, I gave you the metagame projections you would need to get through the second weekend of our evolving format. Today, we'll quickly check in with the format's top decks before unpacking the results for critical takeaways. What tech do you need to know? What strategies do you have to prepare for? What cards and decks should you use or avoid? We're opening up the Modern armory to make sure all of you are ready to rumble at your Sunday venue.

Open the Armory art

Because my closest tournament sites are hours away in either Madison, Wisconsin or Bloomington, Illinois, I won't be slinging Ad Nauseam this weekend with the rest of the Modern crowd. Honestly, that's probably for the best. I was unlikely to come to a decision between a conventional Esper list and the more versatile but rewarding Glittering Wish build. This uncertainty would likely result in a questionable audible I undoubtedly would regret on Monday. At least I'll enjoy the Top 8 results next week!

Whether you're wrangling transportation, live down the block from your event, or are just excited to see where Modern is heading, today's article will give you the metagame stats you need to know and the maindeck/sideboard takeaways you'll need to remember.


Top 16 Modern Contenders

Sorry, number crunchers. We're not doing the full tier-by-tier breakdown today, so you'll have to content yourself with last week's update as we wait for those SCG Championships standings to roll in. After all, when preparing for a specific event, it's better to zero in on probable opposition than take a broad-strokes, academic overview of the entire format.

Our dataset is up to 35 paper events and just shy of 250 individual decks. We've also started crunching the Magic: The Gathering Online League results, but with only four such MTGO events reported so far, we're deliberately excluding these from today's analysis---even some of our most Reckless Bushwackerbeloved statistical techniques can't improve such a skimpy n.

This exclusion also makes sense in highlighting noteworthy differences between paper and MTGO. For instance, Reddit and forum favorite "8Whack" and its Gruul Zoo variants have been shredding MTGO Leagues since last Thursday. That said, although both Reckless Bushwhacker and his older brother Goblin Bushwhacker are appearing in paper tournaments, there's a significant disparity in their shares: 15% online and only 2.4% in paper. We'll need more MTGO data to sort through differences like this (as well as those surrounding the new BW "Eldrazi and Taxes" lists), so let's bookmark the Bushwhackers and Wasteland Stranglers for another week.

Focusing only on those 35 paper events, below are the 16 most played decks in the first two weeks of the new Modern. I'm listing 16 instead of a more round number like 10 or 15 because all these strategies could meet Tier 1 or Tier 2 criteria depending on our percentage cutoff. 16 is less digestible than 10, but there are important competitors further down the list. In addition, I'm including each deck's percentage change since our last update, just to hint at evolving format trends. Final note: by the time this article goes to press, I'll have added more tournaments to the dataset, so the specific sidebar and Top Decks numbers will be slightly different than those here.

Top 16 Modern Decks: 4/8/16 - 4/18/16

DeckPaper %% Change:
4/12 - 4/18
Grixis Midrange4.8%-2.7%
Jeskai Control3.6%+.2%
RG Tron3.2%+.5%
Kiki Chord3.2%+.5%
Abzan Company2.8%+1.4%
Living End2.4%+1.1%
Gruul Zoo2.4%+.3%
Naya Company2.4%+.3%
Ad Nauseam2.4%-.3%

Added bonus of a Top 16 instead of a Top 10 listing: Ad Nauseam makes the cut! I might not be Lightning Storming through the top tables at the SCG Championships, but at least my new baby is carving out respectable territory.

Personal bias aside, Modern is still looking unusually healthy and diverse as we head into Sunday. The Top 16 include a heartening mix of archetypes (midrange, control, aggro, etc.), colors (even white pushes Jeskai Control into Top 8 contention!), and decktypes (old favorites like Jund at the top, up-and-comers like Grixis Midrange in the Top 5). This means it's anyone's and anything's format for the taking on Sunday.

In later sections, we'll be converting these metagame shares into actionable maindeck and sideboard advice. For now, here's a series of quick-hit observations on major format themes and how those will affect the field on Sunday.

  • Jund is still king
    Kolaghans Command

The BGx mainstay was top-dog last week and it's still on top today. Can't bring the Tarmogoyf and Lightning Bolt duo down! Jund's share has even increased over the last weekend, and although some tournaments didn't see as much Terminate and Kolaghan's Command as others, Jund as a whole was up across the board.

Make sure your deck has a plan to beat Jund's hyper-efficient discard and removal suite, not to mention its meaty attackers. Combo players: don't forget those Leyline of Sanctity copies in the board!

  • Beware the Big Aggro Three

Last week it was Burn, Infect, and Affinity. This week it's Burn, Infect, and Affinity all over again. Get used to it because the Big Aggro Three are here to stay. Unsurprisingly, Affinity's share has improved since last week's surprising low under 5%, with both Infect and Burn losing ground on the other end. Don't read too much into these specific shifts. Instead, prepare to face these decks with a hearty helping of spot removal, decisive sideboard bombs, and/or a speedy gameplan capable of racing.

  • In fact, beware aggro

Wild Nacatl

Speaking of aggro, the new metagame follows historical Modern trends of leaning linear in uncertain fields. The Big Aggro Three are joined by Merfolk, Gruul Zoo, Elves, and Naya Company further down the charts, bringing the collective aggro share to 30%. That doesn't even count fringe bruisers like Suicide Zoo, Bogles, Domain Zoo, and similar sluggers.

As the weekend unfolds, do not play strategies which fold to early pressure. Do play a combination of economical one-for-one removal spells and backbreaking two-for-one (or better) sweepers. Blockers too! Wall of Omens goes a long way against some of these decks, and removal can pick up the rest, whether your aggro foe is going wide or just hitting hard.

  • Blue-based Modern is back

Ancestral Vision

Snapcaster Mage returns! Credit goes less to the Mage himself and more to the recently unbanned Ancestral Vision, a powerful but not warping addition to Modern. Between Grixis Midrange, Temur Scapeshift, Jeskai Control, and a buffet of unlisted Gifts Ungiven and Thopter Foundry/Sword of the Meek experiments, Modern is once again a blue-friendly format. (Sorry, J.C. Tao and pals---neither UR nor UW Eldrazi counted.)

With blue back in vogue, you can expect haymakers like Cryptic Command and Spell Snare trickery once again, along with all the removal and card draw that comes with them. Graveyard hate goes a long way to hampering these strategies, so don't go light on Relic of Progenitus and similar effects. Also, remember these decks aren't your 1994 Draw-Go lists! Many have proactive threats and/or fast clocks---don't be too passive.

In each of these bullet points, we've focused on identifying core format themes before tacking on some brief strategic implications. This is generally a helpful way to approach metagame data before a major event, particularly if it isn't tiered into obvious segments, is built off a smaller n, or is developing in an unstable period of Modern growth. Now it's time to reverse that method---isolating critical maindeck and sideboard choices to prepare for the SCG Championships climate.

Molding the Maindeck

I read a lot of tournament reports on Reddit, forums, and in articles across the Magic community. Almost all of these recountings appreciate the importance of sideboarding and mulliganing, of tight play and predicting an opponent's moves. That said, few explicitly acknowledge the importance of picking the right deck before arriving at an event. After the dust has settled, players are quick to point to variance, bad matchups, shoddy judging, and other external factors as reasons for a loss. These elements are certainly at play in every event, but many losses happened the moment you registered the wrong 60 (let alone the wrong sideboard) for your tournament.

Building off our earlier analysis of Modern's current Top 16, here are the key maindeck takeaways you need to incorporate into your archetype and deckbuilding decisions. They will help you avoid making that fatal, and frustrating, mistake at deck registration before you've shuffled up even once.

  • Don't metagame a new metagame
    Arcbound Ravager

We can make some Stage 0 assumptions in even the most unstable Modern format. For instance, the Big Aggro Three are generally good bets. You also wouldn't want to gamble against at least one BGx Midrange variant. On the other hand, observations like these are so general and so often true that it's hard to think of them as Stage 0 assumptions of a new format. More like Stage 0 assumptions of Modern period. You are always encouraged to metagame against these kinds of Stage 0 assumptions.

Even so, you should never try and predict beyond Stage 0. Don't bring scissors to beat all the players slinging paper in a format of rock. This generally leaves you smashed by rock without seeing a single paper all day. These dynamics are a little trickier in events with Day 2's (e.g. Grand Prix), but are much safer in 8-9 round tournaments like the SCG Championships. Don't get too clever with your deck choices!

  • Have a maindeck answer to early aggression

At least 30% of the collective Modern metagame is on some kind of aggressive, creature-based strategy. If you're playing a deck that punts the aggro matchup in Game 1 before trying to improve it in Games 2-3, pick pyroclasma new deck. There are just too many categories of aggro: Gruul Zoo goes wide, Infect is just fast, Burn gets reach, Affinity does it all, etc. You can't realistically be confident in your ability to convert a 30-70 Game 1 into a 70-30 Games 2-3 in every last one of these matchups.

Instead, make sure your maindeck can handle aggressive strategies in three ways. First, run a lot of efficient removal. Lightning Bolt is where you want to be all weekend, but don't forget underrated bullets like Disfigure if you can't support the Bolt. Second, include sweepers. Tron gets Pyroclasm, the Esper and Jeskai decks rock Supreme Verdict, and Grixis and Jund can invoke Damnation. Finally, rely on something which trumps the aggressive deck in one blow. That is typically a decisive win (Scapeshift, Goryo's Vengeance) or an unbeatable defense (Ensnaring Bridge). As long as your deck is doing one or more of those three, you could be doing much worse.

  • Dodge removal

At the risk of straying too far from our Stage 0 assumptions, I'm envisioning two possibilities for the SCG Championships. Option one: players get so distracted by making Thopters and drawing three they forget about getting Nacatl-mauled on turns 3-4. Option two: they are Ad Nauseamheavily prepared to mow down aggressive masses and aggro gets stumped. Side by side, these scenarios illustrate the exact peril I was talking about earlier with making post-Stage 0 assumptions. They are mutually exclusive and lead to very different conclusions.

That said, there is a common thread in both these conflicting possibilities: aggro is a major force. If I was advising someone on their deck this weekend, I'd want them to be as far away from the aggro interaction axis as possible. Either anti-aggro decks beat you up in the early rounds because players are packing removal, or the few anti-aggro decks rise to the top in later rounds and halt your Round 9 or Top 8 progression.

This should move players to strategies which blank removal altogether (Scapeshift, Ad Nauseam), or minimize it through high-toughness creatures (Grixis delvers, Tarmogoyf). If you do opt for aggro, emphasize decks that can go wide. Players are much more likely to pack Bolts than sweepers, and one-for-one exchanges are not what you want to be doing against a Bushwhacker onslaught.

Mic dropped. I know it's heresy to decry one of Modern's two newest darlings, but the metagame standings don't leave you much choice for now. Although Thopter tinkerers are likely to gravitate towards lists like Gerry Thompson's Gifts build from the Columbus Invitational, I swordencourage you to avoid these decks on Sunday.

Quite simply, unless you're a master deckbuilder, you are likely going to make mistakes when selecting your core 60. These will range from incorrect ratios (how many useless Talisman of Progress-style effects do you want?) to using the wrong cards (No Ensnaring Bridge or Crucible of Worlds package?). Maybe you get it right and go all the way, but it's significantly less likely than getting it wrong and dying to your deck and enemy Stony Silences.

After all, the Top 16 above represent the topmost 70% of Modern, and less than 2%-3% of them were messing around with the Thopter/Sword combo. Its earliest successes have been in UW Tron and Esper/UW Gifts builds, none of which have cracked 2%. Those numbers further suggest to me that the deck has a lot of work left to do, so unless you think you're the Chapin to crack it, live out your blue fantasies elsewhere---Ancestral Vision is happy to welcome you aboard.

I fully expect Thopter/Sword to be a big Modern player by the end of the summer, but until Grand Prix time, it's not going to get the work and love it needs.

Outside of the first point, I've tried to avoid overly general maindeck advice like, "Do something proactive," or, "Play powerful cards." Although those are rules to live by in most Modern events, they don't necessarily connect with today's Top 16 metagame picture. Keep those sweeping Modern aphorisms in mind as you gear up for Sunday, but not at the expense of these more context-dependent principles.

Sharpening the Sideboard

Because sideboarding is so deck-specific, it's hard to even think about broad sideboard themes which might apply to every player. Instead, we're going to look over four sideboard heavy-hitters I expect to see this weekend, how you can leverage them yourself, and where they are likely to show up.

Raise your hand if you've already heard the Jund or control mage crying foul after getting wrecked by Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger on turn five. "Eye of Ugin got banned! That's not a real deck!" the salty sailor will whine. Both Tron and Eldrazi mages are going to justifiably miss this memo, because with players shifting away from land destruction, big-mana ramp decks can really shine in a post-April 4 world.

If you know you're soft to these decks, if you know you want answers to random problems like Inkmoth Nexus, Boseiju, Who Shelters All, and manlands, and if you know losing to Tron will send you on an enraged tilt for the rest of the tournament, bring three Mages into the board. Crumble to Dust is your alternate if you aren't running either Kolaghan's Command or Collected Company.

Many players regard this as a maindeck, not sideboard, removal option in the grindier white decks---Abzan, Jeskai, Hatebears, and Death and Taxes come to mind. Kiki-Chord and Naya Company/Zoo decks play it as well, on top of Bogles. That said, few expect it in hyper-aggressive strategies, like the faster representatives on the Burn-to-Zoo spectrum, or in slot-tight lists like Abzan Company.

In such matchups, don't get caught with your pants down to Path in Games 2-3, where all of those decks have an option to board these in as added removal. Similarly, if you're playing a deck that typically doesn't run Path, look to include them in your sideboard to surprise players trying to goldfish their big critters or combo pieces.

Ah, Ratchet Bomb. I'm already having flashbacks to Colorless and Ux Eldrazi Winter, but I'm also fondly remembering how awesome this unassuming artifact proved as a catch-all answer. Engineered Explosives fills a similar role in decks that support more colors, so you can view this as a joint testimonial to both of the explosive devices. In each case, you have an artifact which can wipe boards and spot-remove serious threats. Moreover, neither artifact is type-restricted. Outside of manlands, they hit everything from troublesome Blood Moons to active Ensnaring Bridges and all the Modern oddballs in between---Bomb has the bonus of taking out Moons even if you are locked on red.

If you're playing against a deck that supports three colors, be careful not to over-extend creatures and permanents alike into Explosives (Ratchet Bomb should be more under the radar). If you're rounding out your sideboard, consider Explosives if you have three colors, or Bomb if you're on one or two.

Phyrexian mana is Busted with a capital B, and this lesser-played New Phyrexia gem is extremely well-positioned to remind the new Modern just how unfair the mechanic is. Eldrazi Winter saw both Dismember and Gut Shot take top honors as the Phyrexian bullets of choice, and although those cards are still relevant today, Extraction's versatile hate modes make it even more interesting for Sunday.

For one, it's flexible, free, decisive graveyard sniping against decks which rely on recursion. Extraction nukes the Sword side of the Thopter/Sword combo, Unburial Rites/Gifts Ungiven nonsense, Academy Ruins targets, both the Kitchen Finks and Murderous Redcap ends of the Company combo, vengeful Griselbrands, and even your average Snapcaster Mage trigger.

On top of these applications and dozens more we could list, Extraction plays just as well with discard in black decks or a non-discard gameplan even in decks that don't run black. It's also free, which means opponents will never expect it the first time and won't know you have it the second. Graveyard hate is important in this metagame, and if you can't decide where to invest your slots, Surgical Extraction is waiting for you.

Remember all those sweepers I told you to bring? Elves and Abzan Company players are going to neuter those Anger of the Gods all Sunday long as the green players Chord of Calling up the devastating little Kithkin. You might not see Forge-Tender in decks like Gruul Zoo and Burn, but you should still be wary of similar effects in Boros Charm and Dromoka's Command.

All of these tools are invaluable aggro options against the inevitable sweepers, so if you are taking the aggressive route on Sunday, be sure to dedicate at least two sideboard (or maindeck!) slots to some of these cards.

Playing against aggro? Don't carelessly pitch a sweeper into these spells, especially the two-for-one Dromoka's Command. Keep your countermagic backup handy for the instants (Dispel is another excellent sideboard card to remember on Sunday), and diversify your sweepers against the Forge-Tender (Drown in Sorrow for decks that need to dig for pieces, Flaying Tendrils for those that just need to kill creatures and mess with Company/Chord staples).

Just because it isn't listed doesn't mean it won't crop up on Sunday. Expect all the Stony Silence, Destructive Revelry, Blood Moon, and Ancient Grudge you have come to know and love in Modern. By a similar token, if you have any integral sideboard tech to keep your deck running in Games 2-3, don't ditch it just because it didn't show up here, or because a similar card showed up instead.

Getting Excited for the SCG Championships

It's really too bad SCG Championships and similar events don't have coverage, because I'd watch that Modern extravaganza all Sunday long. As it is, I'll settle for the Top 8 listings as they hit the SCG main page throughout next week. Assuming they are posted before Wednesday, you can expect a breakdown in my subsequent article.

If tournament organizers and/or SCG takes their sweet time in posting the lists (how dare those people with lives and jobs deprive us of our Modern metagame data!), then we'll have to do a round-up a week later. Either way, you can be sure I'll be mining the results for key format takeaways as Modern takes shape following the formative April 4 update.

That's a wrap for today, and I wish all of you the best of luck at your respective SCG Championship this weekend. Or in whatever other local or regional tournament you intend on bringing down. Hopefully at least one of you will champion Ad Nauseam for me, and I'm excited to hear all of your success stories. Remember: if you have a great performance, or at least an interesting one, you can always submit a report via our Volunteer Contributors Program for Modern Nexus publication. Let me know if you have any questions about decks, cards, or the metagame as a whole, and I'll see you all when the Sunday dust has cleared.

One thought on “Arming Your Deck for SCG Championship Weekend

  1. Man, I wish I’d realized there were Modern events in between FNM-level local events and the “pro” stuff. But I guess that’s to be expected with being new to the format after a multi-year hiatus from Magic, I suppose. So, how often do these happen? What other similar events are there? Where can I learn more?

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