This is an odd feeling for me. For all its flaws, the PPTQ system meant that grinders like me always had competitive level events to grind and keep our skills sharp. The MCQ system is functionally the same as the old PTQ system, which means very few events and very spread out. Since I'm a Westerner deprived of SCG events, I've only played one competitive level event in 2019. Hitting a Modern MCQ is like picking up an old, beloved hobby after years of neglect.
As described last week, the metagame is still forming after months of upheaval. The data is too thin to draw any conclusions and decks are all over the place. Given that this event was happening parallel to a Standard GP, I figured that things would be even more volatile. Between players scrubbing out and out of town players, I didn't know what to expect. I ended up being very surprised—for surprising reasons.
I had several options for this tournament. I played UW Spirits for most of last year, and following PPTQ season I was desperate to play anything else. I incidentally had most of the cards for Humans, so I finished and played it for most of the spring in between experimental decks. While I came to appreciate why the deck has done so well for so long, while preparing for the MCQ, I wasn't confidant in Humans.
I hate playing popular decks at big events. Other players will have practiced against the deck and prepare a good plan for victory. There's usually a very good reason that the deck was popular in the first place, and I knew Humans's power and flexibility could push through anything. However, I don't want to give my opponents any value from direct experience from their own preparation.
Also, and on a more practical level, I've been struggling with Humans for several weeks. Jund's gaining popularity and can dodge most of Human's interaction while picking it apart, so that's not great. Also, Blood Moon decks had started to spread, and Humans just loses to that card more than I'd like. Thus I defaulted to a deck that could beat Jund and not get Mooned out.
I've adopted a lot of new cards. As I said in my preview article, Unsettled Mariner is an incredible card against interactive decks, but isn't great elsewhere. As I expected a lot of Jund, both Mariner and the grindy Spectral Sailor were necessary.
Force of Negation is a bit more speculative. I don't like the card, but it does close a gap in Spirits and it looked useful enough to make some room. Having to hold up Spell Queller in combo matchups can really kill your clock, and Force does let me tap out and not just lose.
For the record, I wouldn't run Force just for Neoform combo decks. Even if you run a full set, the odds of seeing one in a given hand are only 40%. It's never been the actuality of Force of Will keeping Belcher decks down in Legacy; it's fear of Force. I apply the same logic to Modern, and am only running Force so I can tap out and protect my creatures.
Fitting in Force meant I had to cut a Path, which I moved to the sideboard. A lot of players are running Deputy of Detention as their catch-all since it synergizes with Vial, but my Humans experience included a lot of Deputy blowouts. Therefore I went with the original Detention Sphere. Creature removal is more common than enchantment removal, and since I had the mana to make it work I went with the more robust option.
Runed Halo is a very underappreciated card. The number of decks that rely on very few threats and can't remove enchantments is surprisingly high. I started running it just against Valakut decks, but it's proved to be far more versatile than expected.
The Damping Spheres aren't only here for, or even because of, Tron. Spirits can play around anything but Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, so Sphere is not really necessary in that matchup. It's also why I cut Ghost Quarter for Field of Ruin. Rather, I'm running Sphere for Amulet Titan. I've won games with Sphere when my opponent didn't have non-bounce lands and couldn't pay for their Summoner's Pact.
Previous experience at GP PTQs and MCQs told me that the event would be so massive that the only way to Top 8 would be to go undefeated and have exceptional tie-breakers, since these events are limited to six rounds. However, that was last year, when the GP's were all huge. GP Denver was only about 600 players and the MCQ I was in had around 120 players. Subsequently, at least a few 5-1 records would make it into the Top 8.
The drop-off is certainly some combination of the confusion in Organized Play and the Standard format, but I don't know which is the stronger factor. This is both disappointing and encouraging: disappointing to see the collapse in numbers, encouraging since it made my odds of success much higher.
Rounds 1-2 vs Eldrazi Tron (Play, 1-1)
Rounds 1 and 2 were against Eldrazi Tron. In the exact same table and same chair. I'm on the play both matches, and the first two games play out exactly the same way; Only the Game 3s diverge.
Both times, Game 1 is very easy as I simply run my opponent over. I opened on Vial into 1- and 2-drops turn two with Spell Queller for the turn three Thought Knot-Seer and just stomped to victory. Game 2, both of us see all our removal, and it turns into a staring contest. A highlight for me is getting two Walking Ballistas with Detention Sphere with Stony Silence out. However, even with lots of extra draws from Sailors (which end up doing a lot of damage), I just flood out and get smashed by spaghetti monsters.
The first Game 3 I win when I have a decent curve and Eldrazi Tron didn't get any acceleration out. At four, he chose to kill himself with Dismember. The other one plays out like Game 2 again. I'm drawing two cards a turn off Sailor and they're all just lands so my opponent has the time to find a win condition.
-1 Aether Vial
Round 3 vs Infect (Draw, 2-1)
If I lose again, I'm certainly out of contention and just playing for prize. My opponent generously double mulligans on the play, plays a turn one Glistener Elf which I immediately Path, and does nothing further until I kill him.
In Game 2 he has many infectors which I answer, but my anemic followup clock lets him back in the game. He has all his Noble Hierarchs, so any infector connecting kills me. Fortunately, I can just keep chumping his Elf and try to race. Unfortunately, he finds Blighted Agent and I'm one point short of killing him.
-1 Aether Vial
+2 Runed Halo
Round 4 vs Dredge (Draw, 3-1)
I knew my opponent was on Dredge, having sat next to him Round 2. I keep my Game 1 hand on the basis that I can Force his Faithless Looting and not just be out of the game. That happens, he has another Looting, dredges a lot, hits me with several Creeping Chills, and does nothing else until he's dead. His dredges were all bad and he didn't have green mana for his Life from the Loams.
Game 2 we both mulligan. Again he Loots then has a decent dredge turn two, but can't actually get his Prized Amalgams into play. I draw Rest in Peace that turn, slam it down, and he has nothing else to do while I assemble a kill. I was exceptionally lucky both games.
Round 5 Affinity (Draw, 4-1)
I'm back to the same table and chair I started in. Not that I've been choosing it, but my opponents keep getting there first. It's a bit disconcerting, and I'm dreading another Eldrazi Tron. The narrative impulse here is for full-circularity. But my opponent surprises with traditional Affinity.
Game 1 he's got a lot of chaff and two Ravagers. I gradually chew through everything, Path his modular targets, and get favorable trades using Selfless Spirit until he's out of gas. Affinity doesn't do well against fliers. I have to beat him down from 32 thanks to huge Vault Skirges.
Game 2 is much the same. He has a lot of Ornithopters and three Cranial Platings but nothing to boost toughness. I have Phantom out and trade Sailors and Wanderers until he's out of creatures. Queller grabs his last-ditch Etched Champion.
-2 Aether Vial
Standing are posted, and there are four undefeated players. I'm in 17th place with appalling tiebreakers, meaning for me to make it in I need four winning players ahead of me to drop dead of heart attacks. That being extremely improbable, I draw the last round so I can get my prize tickets and go home.
The Top 8 was the following morning, and I wasn't there, so I don't know its makeup. I do know that one BR Hollow Phoenix deck made it in. The pilot was running astronomically hot, with basically ideal openings all day, and that luck also meant that he wasn't punished for a number of misplays I witnessed. Better lucky than good....
The metagame may be in flux, but that doesn't mean players are following suit. The field I hit looked identical to what I was seeing two years ago, minor details aside. Players keep their decks for years in nonrotating formats, so I'm guessing that faced with uncertainty, the other players fell back on their old banners.
Eldrazi Tron was very popular based on the assumption that Jund is back in force. That Chalice of the Void is very good against Phoenix decks is also a huge bonus. I don't know how relevant either fact was on the day since I didn't see much Jund or Phoenix running around. I do know that there were lots of Moon prison decks hoping to prey on Tron and Jund there, and they did poorly because Blood Moon isn't a hard lock.
On the Deck
I was generally happy with my play, though I made some sideboarding mistakes. I thought Force was bad against Eldrazi, so I cut it for Damping Sphere. In hindsight that was a mistake, since everytime I got something going Game 2 it was crushed by All Is Dust. Sphere was very ineffective since Eldrazi plays far more lands than normal Tron and doesn't really need the acceleration.
On the maindeck, I was frustrated by flood, but that's not a solvable problem. I can't run accelerants, and the deck is mana hungry. I can't really cut basics for Horizon lands because of Field and Moon. I cut Mariner almost every match, but that wasn't unexpected. I didn't hit the matchups the changeling is good in. I rarely needed Force but always brought in Path, so in future I'd cut a Force for Path.
With the results from the SCG Philadelphia Classic last weekend and a Modern MCQ this weekend, the data is building to sufficiently analyze the metagame. Then we can start to see the actual impact of all the change that Modern's undergone.