Modern at Mythic Championship II

Posted in Competitive Gaming on April 23, 2019

By Simon Görtzen

Simon Görtzen ist begeisterter Magicspieler, wobei sein größter Erfolg der Sieg bei der Pro Tour San Diego 2010 ist. Neben eigenen Projekten ist er seit 2012 fester Bestandteil der offiziellen Magic-Berichterstattung in Europa.

Mythic Championship II in London is looking to be very exciting. High-stakes War of the Spark drafts on Prerelease Weekend. Open Modern decklists for competitors and viewers alike. A less punishing "London mulligan" and the pros who are trying to break it. We can't wait to deliver all the action to your twitch.tv/magic apps and tabs throughout the weekend.

Disclaimer: This article will only scratch the surface of the vastness that is Modern. The decks I'm showcasing are not meant to represent the full metagame. Instead, I want to highlight recent Grand Prix trends and take a stab at what they might mean for Mythic Championship II in London. Visit coverage.channelfireball.com for all recent Grand Prix decklists.

Looking back at Modern in 2018, Luis Salvatto won Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan with Lantern Control. Later that year, Ben Hull on Hollow One won Pro Tour 25th Anniversary with his team. I wrote the preview pieces for both events, and they might as well have been about a different format. Despite being a non-rotating Eternal format, Modern keeps rapidly evolving.

New cards entered the format, most notably Arclight Phoenix, and an old one had to leave. The January ban of Krark-Clan Ironworks didn't come as a huge surprise. Combo genius Matt Nass (and like-minded others) had proven that it was too powerful a weapon for Modern. But Mox Opal and Ancient Stirrings are here to stay, for now . . .

If you want to dive much deeper into Modern Grand Prix results, I refer you to my coverage colleague Tobi Henke. Over the last few months, he has collected and analyzed a ton of Modern metagame and matchup data. One infographic I particularly enjoyed is this Day One metagame evolution over five Grands Prix.

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Source: ChannelFireball and Tobi Henke

Coming out of Tampa, we have Izzet Phoenix, Burn, and Tron as the main players. There were three more Modern GPs between mid-March and today: Bilbao, Calgary, and São Paulo.

Rise of the Phoenix

Modern is fascinating because it is so diverse. I don't recall Modern ever having a single deck with a dominant metagame share. Instead, tier 1 decks often had high win rates but low metagame shares. I'll return to these decks later, but first, we have to talk about a deck that breaks with tradition: Modern might have a classical tier 1 deck for the first time.

It's quite the list: Matt Costa, Brian DeMars, Shaheen Soorani, Eli Kassis, Thomas Rasmussen, and 2010 World Champion Guillaume Matignon. What do these six players have in common? They all piloted Izzet Phoenix to a GP Top 8 on the same weekend. The first four in Tampa, the latter two in Bilbao. There were nine Phoenix decks in the four last GP Top 8s, occupying 28% of all slots. The second and third most represented decks were Dredge with four copies (12.5%) and Humans with three copies (9%).

Matignon reached his first Grand Prix Top 8 in Bilbao and took down the trophy with this deck:

Guillaume Matignon's Izzet Phoenix

Izzet Phoenix is a deck that attacks from multiple angles. It has explosive draws with multiple early Phoenixes, blows out creature decks with Awoken Horror, or plays a grindy game with Crackling Drake and Pyromancer Ascension. It makes very good use of its graveyard without being crippled by graveyard hate. Keep in mind that Crackling Drake also counts your exiled cards!

A lot of Modern's balance hinges on powerful sideboard options. Izzet Phoenix is one of the few decks in the format without an obvious weakness to attack while sideboarding. At the same time, it has access to high-impact cards in the sideboard and the card selection suite to find them.

What does this mean for the MC? There hasn't been such a clear deck to beat for a long time, maybe ever. I expect both aggressive creature decks and control strategies to be pushed out of the metagame by Izzet Phoenix. Based on recent Grand Prix, the most popular archetypes are those with a strong proactive game plan (Dredge, Tron) or the ability to quickly close out the game (Burn, Grixis Shadow).

Still Legal: Mox Opal and Ancient Stirrings

I mentioned tier 1 decks with surprisingly low metagame shares earlier. Those are peculiar strategies with a high skill ceiling, which prevented widespread adoption in the past. At the top of my mind are, of course, the now-banned Ironworks Combo, followed by Lantern Control and Whir Prison.

Lantern Control aficionado Sam Black added another Top 8 to his resume in Tampa Bay using this deck:

Sam Black's Lantern Control

Lantern Control is a so-called prison deck that stays alive by keeping an Ensnaring Bridge around. Codex Shredder and friends combo with Lantern of Insight, so that there's no escaping the lock. The traditional victory condition is decking, which you prevent yourself with Academy Ruins. If needed, Black's list can also win with the innovative Kaya, Orzhov Usurper, but that's not her main task. She mostly empties graveyards and deals with otherwise problematic permanents like Noble Hierarch.

Speaking about resumes, Louis-Samuel Deltour added a fourth(!) 2nd-place finish to his name in Bilbao using this Whir Prison deck:

Louis-Samuel Deltour's Whir Prison

This deck operates on a very similar axis as Lantern Control. It cuts the Lantern of Insight package for more ways to find and protect Ensnaring Bridge. A side effect is that you can play an extra lock piece in Chalice of the Void, which is impossible in Lantern. And if Bridge and Chalice are not enough, Whir of Invention can find various silver bullets.

Black's result in Tampa shows that Lantern has all the tools it needs to compete. Yet, the recent trend seems to favor Whir Prison over Lantern Control. To me, it depends on how well prepared the MC field is for artifact strategies. Fighting through Shatterstorms is a lot easier with Lantern, that's for sure.

I expect both these decks to be present in London, albeit not in large numbers. Open decklists are both good and bad for the prison archetype. Sideboarding becomes less of a guessing game, which is a big plus. At the same time, your surprise factor is gone, so no opponent will keep a bad hand against you.

Leylines in London

Dredge was the second most represented archetype in the last four Top 8s. Tobias Roos made the Top 8 in Calgary with this list:

Tobias Roos's Dredge

Like Izzet Phoenix, Dredge abuses the power of Faithless Looting to enable graveyard synergies. Once you start dredging Stinkweed Imps, whole armies and giant Conflagrates return from the graveyard. The archetype got a significant power boost with the printing of Creeping Chill, giving it a lot more reach than before.

I'm mostly interested in the fate of Dredge because of open decklists and the London mulligan. Importantly, players will know all sideboard cards, but not the exact quantities. This means that a "Leyline of the Void" row could be the full playset or just a single one baiting you to overboard on Nature's Claims. I hope to see some of those mind games in London, although, I except the more experienced players to correctly deduce sideboard quantities most of the time.

Arguably, the much-discussed London mulligan is even more relevant for Dredge. Suddenly opponents are that much more likely, almost guaranteed in fact, to find a Leyline if they want. This doesn't make Dredge unplayable by any means, but it does change the post-board dynamic quite a bit.

Good Old Rock?

I'll finish with two decklists, the first being Modern mainstay Grixis Shadow, the second a GP winner's homebrew. As much as Modern has changed, I stand by what I wrote here over a year ago: "If you want to play midrange in Modern, you should play Death's Shadow. This might be a tad controversial, but there are very few reasons to play traditional Jund or Abzan when you can upgrade your deck with Death's Shadow instead."

As of today, the main midrange contender seems to be "The Rock" (Green-Black Midrange) rather than Jund or Abzan, but the argument stays the same. Grixis Shadow decks were significantly more successful than Rock decks in the last few Modern Grand Prix. Most recently, Samuel Pardee on Grixis Shadow came in second at GP Calgary, only losing to Attila Fur with his sweet Jund Breach Titan deck.

Samuel Pardee's Grixis Shadow

Attila Fur's Jund Breach Titan

Too many archetypes to cover.

The London mulligan.

Angry firebirds.

Open decklists.

Turn-three Karns.

I can't wait.

—Simon

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