Insider: Promising Pickups After Modern Grand Prix Weekend

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UBx Mill. Grand Architect and Pili-Pala combo. R/B Blood Moon. Bant Eldrazi. Wizards often touts Modern for its incredible diversity, but nowhere was this more on stage than the double Grand Prix Los Angeles and Charlotte weekend. In addition to the usual Modern suspects of Jund, Burn, Affinity, Infect, R/G Tron, and others, the dual Grand Prix went deep into Tier 2 and lower strategies to prove all's well in Modern after the April 4 unban.

With this kind of diversity, it's no wonder we saw breakout successes on Mono-Blue Tron and G/W Tokens all weekend long. That's right: G/W Tokens, and not your Standard version!

New and old at Grand Prix weekend

As I'm writing this, both Grand Prix Charlotte and Los Angeles are still wrapping up their later rounds and cementing their Top 8s. Barring some major surprises, the fields promise to be as wide open as both Day 2s. Given the serious software issues at Charlotte, we'll need to take its Top 100 breakdown as a potentially non-representative sample, but the Los Angeles Top 100 still showcases Modern's legendary diversity.

From a metagame perspective, Charlotte and Los Angeles will feed into our existing metagame data to paint a fuller picture of the new Modern. And they said Eldrazi would be the death of us! Whether you're playing Modern already, looking to enter the format, trying to profit from strategic shifts, or some combination of the above, you'll need to pay attention to these new metagame developments. Especially to some of the hottest new technology out of the Grand Prix field.

Today, we'll touch on a grab bag of Modern cards to highlight some of the new kids on the block. We all know the Lightning Bolts, Tarmogoyfs, and other Tier 1 and Tier 2 Modern staples. With the Grand Prix wrapped, it's time instead to shine a spotlight on lesser-known weekend gems that could find a lasting Modern home.

Nissa, Voice of Zendikar

G/W Tokens: no longer just for Standard. Although the Modern version of the Standard all-star trades its Hangarback Walkers for Lingering Souls and Spectral Procession, Matt Nass's techy aggro deck maintains the planeswalker pair of Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.

Nass didn't make Top 8 at Los Angeles, falling at X-3 on Day 2 in a tight Bant Eldrazi matchup. That said, Nass showed Modern that Nissa and Gideon weren't just for Standard, particularly Nissa. Standard may have lost its one-drop dorks, but Noble Hierarch, Birds of Paradise, and Avacyn's Pilgrim are all par for the course in Modern.

Move over, Gruul Zoo, because there's a new way to go wide in grindier Modern metagames.

Unlike the more traditional B/W Tokens, G/W trades black's Thoughtseize and disruption suite for the Nissa and dork package. We watched turn two Nissa create a plant defender all weekend long before pumping up a 5+ token team for a quick clock. Gavony Township was also huge in the creature-heavy strategy, giving Nass a mana sink and mid- to lategame out on stalled boards.

It remains to be seen if Nass's deck takes off outside of Grand Prix Los Angeles, but I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes a Tier 3 option in certain metagames. G/W Tokens is at its worst when playing the matchup lottery and trying to dodge Modern's less fair strategies like R/G Tron, and at its best when smashing Jund, Jeskai, Grixis, and the other fair decks that can't handle the spirit/plant width. When those metagame stars align, expect to see G/W Tokens crop up.

Gideon is a little slow for Modern at four mana (Nass tended to use it as a permanent anthem effect all weekend), but Nissa is in the mana-cost sweet spot to see later Modern play. This dual Modern and Standard value makes it a possible gainer in the months to come.

Spoils of the Vault

I've raved about both Ad Nauseam as a deck and Spoils of the Vault as a spec target in the past, and with Grand Prix Charlotte seeing yet another Ad Nauseam in the Top 8, it's time to remind you again. Ad Nauseam is a good deck. Spoils is a good card in that deck. Spoils is also a single printing rare from an old set. All of these factors align to make Spoils a major profit target in the long term.

If you moved in on Spoils months ago, you could have had them at an easy $1 apiece. Now, Spoils is closer to the $4 range and likely to keep rising as Ad Nauseam keeps performing. The last "true" combo deck in Modern maintains a solid Tier 2 standing and has done so for all of 2016 and much of late 2015. It's going nowhere and the Esper Spoils version is by far the highest-performing and most consistent.

I doubt we see a Spoils reprint for a while (it doesn't feel like Eternal Masters material given its non-Modern showings), and it is sure to hit at least $6-$8 by the end of the summer. Ad Nauseam has been quietly picking up players for months and that is only going to accelerate after the newest Charlotte performance.

Sanctum of Ugin

On April 4, Wizards banned Eye of Ugin and saved the format from Eldrazi Winter. Most Moderners roundly praised the decision, but some R/G Tron diehards worried that Eye's banning would spell the end of Tron.

Fast forward to the end of Grand Prix weekend. Joe Lossett has made Top 8 at Grand Prix Los Angeles, the deck was a Top 10 contender at both Day 2s, and Tron has been a Top 5 Modern deck for the last month. The deck is far from dead and Sanctum of Ugin has been a major contributor to this resilience.

Sanctum is no Eye, but as we saw multiple times on camera, Tron still leverages Sanctum to emulate Eye's inevitability. It doesn't give you quite as much come-from-behind power as Eye, requiring you to have a powerful spell to tutor an additional threat, but this was rarely a problem in practice. We saw game after game where Lossett triggered Sanctum to fetch up the insatiable finisher Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, proving R/G Tron is exactly where you want to be against decks that try to go late.

Tron has now defied the naysaying expectations in every major event since early April, and I expect the format will fully respect the Urza's lands going forward.

This increases Sanctum's value, and the ceiling on this $1 card is many times higher. Even as a Tier 1 roleplayer, it would still command a $4-$5 price tag once it catches on, and I expect it will catch on in an even bigger way after this weekend.

Ghost Quarter

R/G Tron is on the upswing. Creature lands continue to define the format (Inkmoth Nexus, Raging Ravine, Celestial Colonnade). Eldrazi and its Temple are not yet as dead as many believe (or would hope). Modern may not have Wasteland like its eternal brother format, but it does have Ghost Quarter to fill the role.

We've seen Quarter before the Grand Prix weekend, particularly in the Death and Taxes and Hatebears cores around Leonin Arbiter and Aven Mindcensor. The Modern Strip Mine imitator carved out a more defined niche at Charlotte and Los Angeles, primarily in fair Grixis and Jeskai decks as a maindeck out to Modern's scariest lands.

Grixis and Jeskai did well at the Grand Prix, although many will view them as underperformers relative to their initial hype (particularly surrounding Nahiri Jeskai). R/G Tron and some of the other decks did better, and if the control decks are to keep pace, Quarter will need to keep holding down 1-2 slots in these decks. We definitely haven't seen the end of the fair strategies and I'd expect Quarter to keep appearing all summer long.

From a pricing perspective, Quarter had an uncommon reprinting in Innistrad and many more in supplemental products. This limits the non-foil ceiling, but foil Quarters are still running upwards of $25 (or closer to $50 for the original Dissension art). These foils should keep going up as I doubt Wizards reprints more Quarter stock in the future---there are plenty to go around already.

UBx Mill Staples

Mill: my dirty little Magic secret. I've been playing Esper and straight U/B Mill for years now, and although I don't remember if it was the first Modern deck I finished building, it is definitely my oldest format favorite. We've seen a smattering of Mill performances on MTGO in the leadup to the Grand Prix, but it was Jinlin Li who took U/B Mill to a respectable 29-point finish at Los Angeles.

UBx Mill making the comeback

As much as I love the library-based "burn" deck, I wouldn't call Mill a breakout Tier 1 or Tier 2 contender. That said, this weekend showed how Mill can take advantage of an open metagame to propel a pilot into Day 2 contention, and I expect we see more milling as Moderners pick up this exciting strategy at the local and MTGO League level.

Despite not seeing a lot of play, many Mill staples have remained unreasonably expensive for much of Modern's history. The casual appeal is strong with this strategy. Cards like Glimpse the Unthinkable, Mesmeric Orb and Archive Trap have never seen reprints and keep pushing higher and higher into double-digit values. All this, despite no serious Modern wins and only passing Tier 3 relevance!

UBx Mill strategies are always going to be around in Modern and are always going to pique interest when they appear in major events. Nowhere was this more true than at Grand Prix Los Angeles, where Li's performance immediately led to sell-outs of key Mill staples across various vendors. Even newcomer Manic Scribe (a powerful new addition to the deck) has seen its foil stock sold out.

Are we going to see Mill hit Top 8s across the format? Very doubtful. Are we going to see more Mill players emboldened by Li's success? Absolutely. Similarly, we'll see the value of all these cards rise as more Mill fanatics realize their pet strategy is (slightly) more viable in Modern than they may have assumed.

From Grand Prix to Summer Modern

It's always fun to speculate on cool technology, whether as an investor, or taking a gamble on these decks and cards as a player. That said, Modern is still an established format where Tier 1 and Tier 2 decks tend to remain Tier 1 and Tier 2 decks from month to month.

Don't expect those tiers to get shaken up too much after the Grand Prix. Strategies such as Jund, Abzan Company, the major aggressive players, Tron, and others will remain major Modern players even if upstarts like G/W Tokens, Bant Eldrazi, and Jeskai Nahiri make varying stabs to the upper format echelons.

By a similar token, just because a deck or card didn't perform as expected this weekend, don't count it out just yet. Many decks are much more viable than the Grand Prix Top 8 standings will suggest, so don't jump off the Nahiri hype-train just yet.

That's all for this week! Find me in the comments if you have any questions about various cards or performances from the weekend, or where the Modern metagame is heading after this.

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