Another week and I'm happy to report that Modern has returned to normal, and in many ways has never looked healthier. Everywhere you look there is diversity, brewing, and innovation in old lists. And no Tron! It's always a good day when there is no Tron!
I'd like to say that I was tested and prepared for Spring States, but the truth is I wasn't. I spent
far too much a lot of time trying to figure out if Thopter combo had a home in UW Control (only in a dedicated shell), where or if Ancestral Vision belonged (only in a very slow control deck), and if the format was vulnerable to Thalia, Guardian of Thraben (it might be). This ultimately left me no time for tuning the deck I actually played.
I really didn't plan on playing Merfolk again. I'm getting burnt out on playing it every big tournament and I was really excited about my new brews. The problem was that I knew playing either of them would be a bad idea. I have several UW Midrange/Control lists that are very close to ready, but just aren't there yet. There are still a few holes to fill and I'm not certain what decks I want/need to target yet, so they were out of contention.
I also had mono-white Death and Taxes almost ready but just couldn't pull the trigger. I liked my deck list and the sideboard was really shaping up to make the deck a contender against most of the field (even The Modern Aggro Decks), but I knew it was a bad choice for States because Jund was going to be huge and DnT struggles against fair decks with Lightning Bolt. Unfair decks with Bolt can still fall prey to my taxing and lock pieces, but fair ones largely ignore them (or can play around them) and Bolt is too efficient to tax. The solution is to play green and become Hatebears, but I frequently feel like that deck is just worse Junk and Junk wasn't well positioned this week. I knew that Jund would be popular because I overheard a number of Junk players at last week's IQ say that they would be optioning for Jund instead. With this piece of intel, I was stuck with Merfolk again.
I say stuck, but defaulted is probably a better word. I know my matchups, I know how I sideboard, and I know my mulligan decisions. It's just becoming a bit mechanical and I wanted to spice things up. Hopefully my new decks will be ready next time.
Black Gold was packed by the time I got there. I don't know exactly how many players we had (it wasn't announced) but we filled the store and had a number in the overflow seating next door, so I'd guess 80 players for seven round of Swiss. There were a lot of familiar faces of very good Modern grinders. I expected the competition to be stiff, and was not wrong.
Round 1 - Josh, Jund (Loss 1-2)
I start off at table two. This is not a good sign; I never spike tournaments when I start out at the high tables. Last week I was at table one for the first three rounds and didn't Top 8. When I won a PTQ I was always on the low tables in my bracket. I've never seen Josh before and he appears to be half-asleep but I learned long ago that appearances can be deceiving. They were.
I keep a slow but reasonable hand on the play. Verdant Catacombs into Swamp and Inquisition of Kozilek signal that I'm against BGx. This isn't so bad---I can grind with them and stick the final threat as long as they don't have turn two Dark Confidant. Guess what he has? Followed by Liliana of the Veil and enough Bolts and Terminates that I'm never really in the game. Bob is also kind to his master, flipping only lands with spells on the draw step. Jund, go figure.
-4 Aether Vial
Vial is indispensable against tempo and counterspell decks and horrible in attrition matchups. He killed me with green creatures and doesn't appear to have Olivia Voldaren, so Hibernation should be very good. I'm trying Rest in Peace since Jund's offense seems to rely increasingly on Tarmogoyf and Scavenging Ooze.
No turn-two Bob and a lot of fetching and shocking gives me a significant advantage from the beginning. Coupled with a solid run of Silvergill Adepts saved from removal with Echoing Truth, I'm easily able to grind out the win.
I mulligan, which is never good against Jund. He has turn two Bob which I Path, but two Liliana's and a Maelstrom Pulse seal my fate in this game. The game played out as a classic attrition matchup of threat-for-answer on both sides, but Liliana's edicts and then me having to attack her afterward bought him enough time to draw one more answer than I did.
I thought I had the win when I cast Master of Waves for three on an empty board and Josh had one card in hand. Turned out it was Pulse and I can't put together any further offense. Frustrating, but that's just how matches with Jund go.
Round 2 - Mario, Elves (Win 2-0)
This is the same Mario from last week. Elves is usually so bad that I fear my tournament is effectively over.
Mario is on the draw and mulligans into a hand that hinges on untapping with a turn-three Elvish Archdruid in play. My draw curves out with Cursecatcher, Spreading Seas, Merrow Reejerey, then turn-four Silvergill, Master of the Pearl Trident, and Path on the Archdruid. Marcus has Reclamation Sage to let him block and survive for a turn but he doesn't have the mana to effectively use his handful of Chord of Callings and scoops.
Counters are too slow most of the time against Elves and Hibernation is the best card available against them. Who knew that one-sided Wrath's are good?
I keep another slow hand because it has Path and both Hibernations. Not that it matters because Mario mulligans twice and never plays anything more threatening than Nettle Sentinel. I get a run of lords and just crush him.
Variance was just on my side this match and I expect next time we meet Mario will crush me instead. Still, a win's a win and it keeps my tournament alive.
Round 3 - James, Jund (Win 2-0)
I know I've seen James around but I cannot remember ever playing him. It's a frustrating feeling because I feel like I should know what to expect but don't.
I have a reasonable hand with Cursecatcher and Spreading Seas into business and end up using them to stave off his turn-one Inquisition and would-be turn-three Liliana. It takes a while for me to get threats to stick through his removal, but he doesn't have threats of his own until he's at too low life to come back. The fact that I also had Echoing Truth and Path in hand by that point did him no favors.
-4 Aether Vial
No reason to change things from the last time, so I don't. I notice that James spends a lot of time with his boarding and appears to be bringing in a lot of cards, which makes me plan to play more conservatively. I assume lots of boarding means a sweeper control transformation these days.
This is a long attrition fight as I grind through his removal, three Liliana's and a Damnation. Eventually I stick a lord on an otherwise empty board and he responds with Bob at twelve life. I peel Kira, my lord isn't blocked when I attack so I assume he has nothing and needs Bob to find spells so I play Kira and start the race.
Bob appears to be kind again and only reveals lands, but James isn't playing any spells or blocking with Bob, so I just beat him for four twice and let a flipped Scavenging Ooze kill James. It's very satisfying letting opponents die to their own cards. Afterwards James reveals that he had drawn nothing but land since playing Bob so it wasn't as lucky for him as it appeared.
Variance was apparently on my side the last couple of rounds, but I expect that to change before long. Never, ever assume you'll run hot for long in Magic. The mana gods and fate love to crush you when you start thinking like that.
Round 4 - Phillip, RG Utopia Sprawl (Win 2-1)
The Phillip I played was not the Phillip I was expecting. I might know and be trying to keep track of too many Magic players.
Phil starts the game with Arbor Elf. This leads me to think of the Genesis Wave decks that periodically swarm Magic Online. I just play a Vial and pass. He plays Utopia Sprawl and uses the Elf to cast Mwonvuli Acid-Moss. Huh. He accelerates into Inferno Titan and gets me to six when I Path it. His deck is focused heavily on land destruction which means it's also full of air as Vial churns out creatures through his Blood Moon and Spreading Seas kills his Sprawl. He dies without threatening me again.
For some reason, I still think he's on Genesis Wave and board for that deck. This is a mistake and I pay for it in game two.
I lead with Cursecatcher which stops a turn-two Stone Rain. He spends a lot of the game attacking my mana with Acid-Moss, Stone Rain, and Ancient Grudge for Vial. I'm not worried since my board is growing in spite of this, when he miracles Bonfire of the Damned. I really hate this card from its time in Standard and am not happy to see it here.
At this point I can still win with a Master of Waves but I arrogantly attack it into Arbor Elf and of course he blocks. I might still get there with a Master of the Pearl Trident later but I fail to play an Island to get around Blood Moon before attacking so I cannot Hibernation when he Beast Withins a superfluous Moon and blocks. Oops. The beast beats me until another Bonfire finishes things.
I finally board how I should have in the first place for a RG ramp deck. I remind myself to knuckle down and concentrate for the last game because I should win this match.
Once again I Cursecatch a turn two Stone Rain and then play several more and a Forge-Tender. I never really have much follow-up, but he gets stuck with five mana and I Deprive his Stormbreath Dragon. He finally finds a Thragtusk but I go wide around it for the win and use a Forge-Tender and Path to save my board from Inferno Titan.
That match was exhausting and also confusing. It was the second LD deck I'd seen at the event, and even having one is rather odd. In fact, scouting the field showed that we had a lot of unusual deck choices, with a number of Delver decks, Storm, and various Zoo builds running around. Not many Ancestral Visions and only one Thopter player who was 2-2 at the end of this round. Hard to say what that actually means but the early indicators suggest that the unbans haven't had that much impact.
Round 5 - Michael, Bogles (Loss 1-2)
I could have sworn that I saw Michael playing Merfolk last week. Again, I may be trying to keep track of too many faces and decks, but I was convinced this was a mirror match. I'm favored because of my lengthy experience in the mirror, but my build isn't favored because the tempo plan is weaker due to the omission of Harbinger of the Tides. My plan is not to play Islands if possible and build up to win the game in one swing.
I mulligan an opener that is average against most decks but bad in the mirror, and mulligan again when my six has no land. Michael opens on Gladecover Scout and Kor Spiritdancer and I regret my attempt to game my opener. He crushes me without difficulty. Bogles really sucks to play against; you just never feel like there was anything you could have done differently to win the match. You either have the answer or you lose.
I don't want to take out all my Paths because of Spiritdancer so I bring in my relevant answer and a less dead card and just hope to get lucky.
My hand isn't great, but it has Spreading Seas and Hibernation so I keep. Despite going Slippery Bogle into Spiritdancer, Michael's mana is naturally constricted and made worse when I play all my Spreading Seas on his non-painful sources of mana. I use my counters, Echoing Truth, and Hibernation to keep him from putting an offense together and eventually have enough dorks to force through lethal damage. All nine points of it. Yes, that does mean he did eleven points to himself that game. I was kind of superfluous really.
My hand is good if the many Spreading Seas in it are good. Unfortunately he goes Bogle, Ethereal Armor, Daybreak Coronet and Rancor, and despite a lot of cantrips I never find Hibernation. Bogles is a fun deck.
I need a lot to go wrong in the top tables to have a shot at Top 8 now, but I'm still alive for Top 16 so I keep playing. Besides, data collection is good and I'm closing in on two GP byes for next year and need the Planeswalker Points.
Round 6 - Patrick, Humans (Win 2-1)
Patrick is a Black Gold regular and this could either go very well or very badly for me. He defaults to Burn, a good matchup, but he's been working on Humans recently and that deck is much faster than Merfolk, and a bad matchup. I'm not feeling hopeful.
My pessimism is rewarded when he goes, on the play, Monastery Swiftspear, Thalia's Lieutenant, Mayor of Avabruck // Howlpack Alpha, a second Lieutenant, and two Lightning Maulers. It takes very good draws for Merfolk to beat that and mine aren't. In case you don't pay attention to Standard, Lieutenant is an insane card when you build around it.
Counters are too slow against Humans and I really don't want Hibernate since his deck is mostly white and red. Forge-Tender at least absorbs burn spells.
We both mulligan and both our hands are mediocre. This is good for me since my cantrips will eventually pull me ahead as long as I survive. I trade cards for life until Patrick runs out of new cards and I start racing with Kira and lords. He gets close with Lieutenant and Kytheon's Irregulars, but not quite close enough.
Patrick's hand is again not very explosive and I end up drawing all my Paths. I stabilize and turn the corner at a comfortable ten life with many lords for the win. In fairness Patrick's variance was bad and he drew a lot of land in both games two and three.
Still alive, and standings indicate that depending on how many of the 15-pointers play next round I may have a chance. Realistically though, only the pair up has a chance and I'm too far down the standings to make it in.
Round 7 - Sung-jin, Bring to Light Scapeshift (Win 2-0)
I know Sung-jin and that he's on Scapeshift because that's all he ever plays. I'm just not sure what version. He normally plays blue-based Shift but he has dabbled in GR recently. I hope he's on blue because that is a much better matchup than GR Shift. Talking to him during standings and before the match indicates that he's on blue this week since he's really not happy to be playing Merfolk.
He is on the Bring to Light version which makes my Spreading Seas and Vials far more effective than normal. He delays my offense a bit with Sakura-Tribe Elder and Anger of the Gods but I Tectonic Edge him to keep him from lethal lands until I win and he can't meaningfully Bring to Light since I've Seas'd him off his splash colors.
Five-color Shift rarely has creatures and you really don't want to Path or bounce them, so I bring in protection from red removal and counters to Scapeshift.
Sung-jin leads on Island and then plays a Plains on turn three, which strongly suggest he's got Supreme Verdict in hand. This suggests that I want to Spread the plains instead of his Breeding Pool, but it's far more important to his strategy to have green so I make the safe play. I play a lot of low drops to play around Verdict and just whittle him down while he can never get traction. He ends up having to shock on a lot of land drops to play spells but my mana denial hurts him too much and I win.
At the end of the game he's at 6 with Obstinate Baloth in play and two blue open. I have the option to either play my first lord of the game and islandwalk past his Baloth with two Cursecatchers, Silvergill Adept, and a Mutavault, or to just activate both my Vaults and attack, letting him block one and still take six. If I make the latter play and he has Vapor Snag or Disperse, he could survive at one and potentially kill me with a Shift for 18 and a Baloth attack. If I play the lord I can safely sacrifice both my Catchers and hit for six regardless of what he might have, so I make that play. It turns out he had nothing and was really confused why I played the lord until I explained it to him.
So, 5-2 isn't bad. Now I just have to wait for final standings to see if the stars aligned. They don't, and I'm 11th. Eh, wasn't really expecting to make it so I'll take the packs for Top 16.
I was very happy with my deck and sideboard over the weekend---shame that Bogles is just miserable to play against. The Top 8 consists of Bogles (the same one who beat me, who ends up winning the whole thing), Living End, BG Rock, BUG Control, Merfolk, Zoo, Kiki-Chord, and Burn (decklists here). From what I saw it looks like the format is still very much in flux and everyone is still trying to figure out the space around the top tier decks and whether new contenders can rise.
Join me next week when I go over the decks that didn't make the cut and look at how the unbannings are shaping up. How'd your States experience go? I'd love to hear about your impressions in the comments and if you have a tournament report don't forget that contribute button at the top of the page.