Christmas Comes Early: A Tournament Report

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The competitive season has come to an end, but that doesn't mean that Magic just stops in December. Local tournaments and MTGO never end. And some competitive scenes don't have official Wizards support or the backing of a massive store. Some are built by and for the local players. The Colorado Magic scene, deprived of Star City events, has been trying to get its own series going. I was at the latest attempt last weekend, and will be reporting how it when and the metagame I witnessed.

First things first: Monday was B&R Announcement Day. Given that there haven't been many Modern events and aren't many coming up soon, I wasn't expecting anything to happen. This sentiment was validated by the unclear evidence from the available paper events; it'd take a massive MTGO warp for anything to happen in the off season. However, this announcement is still significant because it appears to be the last scheduled one. Wizards seems to have deemed months of broken formats unacceptable, and will therefore take action as necessary. This presumably means that we'll never know when a ban will happen, but there also shouldn't be another Hogaak Summer or Eldrazi Winter. On net, this should be a positive change, but the proof is in the proverbial pudding.

The Backstory

Longtime readers may remember that I played a local cash tournament last year in preparation for a GP I didn't end up attending. The idea had been for local stores to create events similar to SCG Invitational Qualifiers to keep up our competitive scene. However, they petered out over 2018. The problem was that the stores that were participating were somewhat remote and failed to sustain player interest enough to make the tournaments worth putting on. It was exacerbated by many stores insisting on running Standard events while Standard was suffering.

However, the idea lingers on. Several stores have been running their own tournament series for various prizes. My local store Mythic Games (formerly known as Black Gold) was convinced by interested players to restart the cash tournaments, focusing on Modern and Pioneer. Mythic's first event was last weekend and it was Modern, so of course I was there.

The Deck

It may be odd considering my history, but I haven't been on Spirits for months. Part of this has been a desire to investigate Stoneforge Mystic, but it's more about Spirits being ill-positioned in the local metagame. Jund got very popular after Hogaak was banned, and that isn't a horrible Spirits matchup. However, Jund's rise brought in a lot of Amulet Titan, combo decks, and Mono-Red Prowess decks, all of which are. Also, the other players had started gaming their sideboards against Spirits.

Azorius Stoneblade is a fine deck, but is also tricky to play, very opener--dependent, and not something I wanted to run at a long tournament. Thus, I've been preparing a far better-positioned deck.

Humans doing well in the bigger tournaments drew me to the deck when I learned that the cash tournaments were returning. It's also been performing admirably against the usual local field. When Urza was Whirza, I was maindecking 2 Deputy of Detention over Charming Prince. However, Whirza has disappeared, and the need to remove Ensnaring Bridge is low enough that I went for the grindier Prince.

The Tournament

Due to space limitations, the event was capped at 64 players. A few months ago, Mythic Games hosted a charity tournament and capped out at 64. I was player 65, and left before the decision was made to add more seating. This time I preregistered, and we didn't hit the cap. However, 57 players had arrived, which meant there'd be 6 rounds of Swiss followed by Top 8 playoff. Everyone who placed above 32nd would prize, though the cash was reserved for Top 8.

I arrived on site, made sure the staff knew I was there so they didn't forget to put me in, and then got to scouting. The Denver competitive crowd tends to favor Burn and Jund, with whatever flavor of the month deck is visibly winning being third. I was therefore surprised to see tons of Eldrazi Temples being registered. Eldrazi Tron was the most common configuration, but not by much. I've heard of GW and GU Eldrazi seeing play online, but never in person before Saturday. There were also a number of players on the older GR Eldrazi decks. Apparently, lots of players assumed that Jund and Urza would be popular and opted for the deck that supposedly fed on them.

Considering its status as the supposed best deck, there wasn't much Simic Urza, or even Urza in general. Only a few players had been running the deck locally, and those had not been very successful, so this development wasn't entirely left-field. However, a large crew from Wyoming was also present. I didn't know what to expect from them, but I'd have thought at least some would be on Urza. That none were proved very surprising.

The Swiss

For Round 1, I'm on the play against Mono-Red Prison. I have him dead on the next attack when he topdecks Ensnaring Bridge, Anger of the Gods, and Karn, the Great Creator in that order to shut me down. In Game 2, I mulligan for Aether Vial and am rewarded when he dumps his resources into an early Blood Moon. I draw my Plains so my development is unaffected and win easily.

Game 3 is absurd; I again mulligan for Vial, and he again goes for turn two Magus of the Moon, but this time it's followed by Bridge. I Vial in Reflector Mage on Magus, then trap it with Meddling Mage, and have Freebooter to plink away for 8 turns while he does nothing. Eventually, he Angers my board away, but can't finish me off. I rebuild, find Deputy for his Bridges, and knock him to 4. Naturally, he topdecks the Abrade. However, I have the time to get the two Mages out again followed by Freebooter for the win.

Round 2, I'm on the draw against turn one Gilded Goose, turn two Oko, Thief of Crowns. However, my opponent doesn't do anything else, so I'm free to kill Oko and then my opponent. Given that he seemed very concerned about my Meddling Mage naming Urza, I assume he's Simic Urza and sideboard accordingly. So I was surprised to lose Game 2 to Blood Moon. Hes got me: my opponent's actually Temur Snoko. With no Vial I'm trapped. I fix my sideboarding for Game 3, and win after grinding my way through Oko, Wrenn and Six, and Jace the Mind Sculptor.

Round 3, I'm on the draw against UW Control. Game 1 my opponent double mulligans, I have Vial into Thalia and Mantis Rider, and Grim Roustabout is his only interaction. Game 2 I have a Kitesail-heavy hand, which over the game gives me perfect information. This lets me craft my gameplay around his four Path to Exiles. However, I'm helped by my opponent being reluctant to actually use them. I think he was playing for a sweeper and saving his removal for cleanup, but the plan never comes together. He also me get value off Charming Prince protecting a Freebooter from one Path thanks to Vial. He'd Vendilion Cliqued me already and knew about the Prince, so I don't understand his thinking. My opponent still had two Paths in hand when he died to my massive board.

The fourth round starts auspiciously with a re-pair. I'm then matched with a local player who's normally on Jund, but switches to Burn when he thinks the field is favorable. This was one such time, but he admits he doesn't know how to play against Humans. The inexperience means him keeping a poor hand against Humans for Game 1 and being forced to use a lot of burn on my creatures just to survive, but I'm never in danger. Game 2, he has double Goblin Guide, but only one land. I win off triple Rider at three life because my opponent can only cast one spell a turn. If he'd had the second land, I wouldn't have stood a chance.

There are only four undefeated players left, so we double-draw rounds five and six to guarantee Top 8 placement.

Top 8

The Top 8 consists of me, the Temur Snoko player from Round 2, Mardu Shadow, Mono-Green Devotion, Crabvine, Affinity, Mono-Red Prowess, and Sultai Midrange. The decklists are here. I'm in 5th place with the best tiebreakers of the undefeated players, behind all the 5-1's.

As a result, for the Quarterfinals, I'm on the draw against Mardu Shadow, which is a terrible matchup that I expect to lose and do, only winning the one game where I play first. The matchup is extremely tempo-oriented thanks to Mardu disruption being far better on curve and on the play than not.

Tidehollow Sculler is a very important card for the deck, and had I been able to preempt it coming down, my superior curve may have won me the game.  As it was, I had to race from the back foot and couldn't quite get there. It was a close race Game 3, but he drew slightly better than I.

Metagame Observations

If there's any problem in Modern's metagame, I didn't see it this weekend. The field was extremely diverse, with Merfolk, GW Hatebears, and a number of brews vying for the last Top 8 slots in round 6. Despite concern over Urza and Oko, there was no sign that there were any overpowered decks, and the overall diversity of the field was very high. The Eldrazi players performed disappointingly, and I didn't see many after round 3.

It was an odd field for Denver. Years ago, a third or more of every constructed tournament, regardless of format, would have been Burn. Those days seem to be over, and now it's all about brewing. This makes my choice of Humans particularly apt, since it's great at steamrolling unoptimized decks, though knowing what to call with Meddling Mage can be troublesome. I was also one of the few aggro players there at all, which is odd. Aggro was very common last PPTQ season, making me wonder if there's some undercurrent that I'm not picking up on.

On the Controversial Duo

As for Urza and Oko, they had a very poor weekend. The best an actual Simic Urza player did was a single 4-2, and that came about thanks to Oko. He hit several Burn players in a row, mulliganed for turn 2 Oko, and just buried them under food tokens. As predicted, food is very strong against Burn. However, it wasn't very good elsewhere.

Most decks in Modern don't give opponents the time to durdle around turning food into elk. Lacking anything approaching Whirza's I Win combos or prison plans, Simic has to grind, and that's not where Modern lives. I grew a huge board and swamped Oko Round 2; elsewhere, he was dying immediately to Abrupt Decay, being ignored by Storm, or proving irrelevant against swarm decks. The only times that Oko was actively good, apart from in Burn games, were when the opposing deck was very slow and misfiring.

Urza was a complete non-factor. As mentioned, his decks were few, but even in those decks that were present, he didn't do anything meaningful. I saw a few forlorn tries to spin Urza's wheel and find an answer, but Urza mostly just made a construct to finish off beaten opponents. I can't believe that this is the best use for him, and based on conversations I overheard, expect Whirza to tick back up locally. Whether this also happens in the wider metagame is uncertain. The poor showing at this tournament makes me strongly wonder how the Simic Urza decks have been doing well out east. Urza and Oko are very powerful cards, don't get me wrong (Oko enough to get banned yet again) and I stand by my watchlist. I simply question if their current home is actually the best one.

Cashing In

With a nice boost to my holiday budget, I'll be signing off for 2019. It's time for me to head off for family gatherings. Have a very fun and safe holiday season, and I'll see you in 2020.

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David Ernenwein

David has been playing Magic since Odyssey block. A dedicated Spike, he's been grinding tournaments for over a decade, including a Pro Tour appearance. A Modern specialist who dabbles in Legacy, his writing is focused on metagame analysis and deck evolution.

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