Diversity is always the name of the game in Modern, but with the trio of Grand Prix in the past few months, a new narrative has arisen as well. In the wake of Nathan Holiday's victory in San Diego, Second Sunrise was banned, clearing room for a new king of the combo hill. With a dominating performance in Portland, Sam Pardee led the Melira Pod players to fill that void. Here in Kansas City, Pod variants are continuing to assert their dominance over the top tables of the tournament. We have also witnessed the decline of Affinity, which, after putting two players in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Portland, wasn't seen at the top tables near the end of the day.
So far, this has been combo's tournament, and it is up to the handful of other decks in Day 2 to keep them in check. Will the majority take the day, or will a hero rise up to save Modern from the oppressive, yet diverse, clutch of the combo menace? Check back tomorrow as we answer that question and more with the conclusion of Grand Prix Kansas City!
by Mike RosenbergSaturday, 9:30 p.m.Top Table Roundup – The Final Round of Day One
by Nate PriceSaturday, 8:35 p.m.Top Table Roundup – Now with More Round 7!
by Mike RosenbergQuick Hits:What is your favorite Magic 2014 card that has been previewed so far?
by Nate PriceSaturday, 7:20 p.m.Meet Shahar Shenhar
by Mike RosenbergSaturday, 6:15 p.m.Scapeshifting Strategies
by Mike RosenbergSaturday, 5:25 p.m.Top Tables Roundup – Round 5
by Nate PriceSaturday, 5:15 p.m.Expectations – A View of Modern through Sideboards Part 2
by Mike RosenbergSaturday, 5:00 p.m.A Glossary of Modern Deck Terms
by Nate PriceRound 4 Feature MatchCaleb Durward (UWR Twin) vs. Sam Black (Melira Pod)
by Mike RosenbergSaturday, 2:45 p.m.Pardee Pod's Legacy
by Nate PriceSaturday, 1:00 p.m.Expectations - A View of Modern Through Sideboards Part 1
by Event Coverage StaffSaturday, 11:45 a.m.Undefeated Grinder Decklists
by Event Coverage StaffInfo: Fact Sheet
Saturday, 11:45 a.m. – Undefeated Grinder Decklists
Saturday, 1:00 p.m. – Expectations - A View of Modern Through Sideboards Part 1
You know, sideboards never really seem to get their due. In the minds of many players, they're merely fifteen-card accessories to sixty-card decks. They exist solely to shore up the bad matchups, solely to enhance what you've already got going on.
The truth is, every player shows up to the event with dozens of decks, not just one. Each conformation of their deck is specifically designed to deal with a specific deck in the field. The sideboard isn't an accessory of the maindeck, it's the blueprint that connects all of these variant decks.
Since each variant is designed to deal with a different potential opponent, a great deal of information can be gleaned from a glance through the sideboards of the players in a tournament. They reveal exactly what cards a player believes will be useful over the course of a day, and exactly which matchups they fear the most. The scarier a deck is, or the more a player expects to encounter it, the more cards you will find suited to deal with it hiding in the sideboard for Game 1, and the more cards you see coming in for the rest of the match. The picture painted by the sideboards is a portrait of how players view the tournament to come. Let's take a look at some random sideboards from the tournament and see what players here in Kansas City are afraid of.
|First Random Sideboard:|
|1 Torpor Orb|
|1 Celestial Purge|
|1 Nature’s Claim|
|1 Krosan Grip|
|1 Thrun, the Last Troll|
|2 Grafdigger’s Cage|
|2 Stony Silence|
|2 Fulminator Mage|
|2 Timely Reinforcements|
Now let's look at the cards.
Torpor Orb has a very interesting ability that has long been a fantastic way to deal with creatures with absurd abilities, such as Stoneforge Mystic, that were running over Standard at the time if its printing. In Modern, Stoneforge Mystic is, shall we say, no longer a problem. Still, the card has found many other uses. The most important of them is against one of the most powerful decks in Modern right now: Splinter Twin. Against the Splinter Twin decks, Torpor Orb prevents Pestermite and Deceiver Exarch from being able to untap Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, or a Splinter Twin-enchanted creature. Most importantly, it also gets around the Splinter Twin deck's best defense, Spellskite.
Torpor Orb is also incredibly powerful against the various Birthing Pod decks. Melira Pod can't gain arbitrarily large amounts of life via Kitchen Finks or kill opponents with Murderous Redcap. Against Kiki-Jiki Pod, it obviously has the same effect as against Splinter Twin. It also stops the utility cards like Eternal Witness, Ranger of Eos, Orzhov Pontiff, Harmonic Sliver, and Zealous Conscripts.
On a lesser note, it also deals with annoying creatures like Snapcaster Mage, Restoration Angel, and Avalanche Riders. While this is more of a case of collateral damage, it is still worth noting, as these cards will appear from time to time in Modern.
Exiling a black or red permanent hits a reasonable number of good cards in Modern right now. As an instant, it is able to kill both Splinter Twin and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, in response to the first activation, and it can't be redirected by Spellskite. It is a reliable way to quickly exile a Liliana of the Veil or Dark Confidant, before their abilities get out of hand. In fact, it deals with another big Modern Planeswalker, Ajani Vengeant. It's always good against the rampant red deck, offing early creatures like Kird Ape and Grim Lavamancer, though this is often more of an afterthought. In that same vein, it kills rampant Deathrite Shamans.
Despite all of this utility, it is mainly used for the first two, and it is a very narrow card, so it is not uncommon to see it played is such a small number.
First, they can hit Splinter Twin, but Nature's Claim has the downside of being both redirectable and both are unable to deal with Kiki-Jiki. While this makes them much worse against the non-Pod versions, they does have the ability to deal with the Birthing Pods in the two major Pod decks in the field. They kills artifacts dead, which allows them to provide another source of removal against Affinity and Tempered Steel decks, not unimportant in Modern. They are also both able to hit the stray Batterskull that exists in Modern.
Speak of the devil, Batterskull is just an incredible card to deal with the aggressive decks of Modern. With some time to get to five mama, Batterskull is able to completely negate any early damage that was done by decks like Zoo, artifact decks like Affinity, and some of the other midrange creature decks. The number of Batterskulls both in maindecks and sideboards is a direct correlation to the number of creature-based decks in the format.
The obvious decks that Thrun, the Last Troll exists to deal with are the blue-based control decks. Being uncounterable and virtually impossible to remove once he does hit play, Thrun, the Last Troll is a beating against most decks with counterspells. While he doesn't often get sideboarded in against the aggressive decks, his regeneration and hexproof often make him an invaluable asset against the aggressive decks of Modern as well. The only matchups he really doesn't provide much value in are against the combo decks like Pod variants, Storm, and Splinter Twin.
The Grafdigger's Cage plays multiple roles in Modern right now. First off, it does work against the Birthing Pod decks. It stops Pod and Chord of Calling from fetching creatures from the library. It shuts off the persist loops created by Kitchen Finks and Murderous Redcap. Yeah, there isn't much more to say about this matchup.
Also, it is reasonably good against decks with Snapcaster Mage. While it isn't the best answer to Snapcaster Mage, it does shut off the ability to flashback spells from the graveyard, giving decks with the Cage at least one option to dealing with decks like UWR, in which the Snapcaster plays a very large role.
With the death of Eggs, Stony Silence has taken a bit of a hit in the usefulness department. Still, there are a few reasons that it will crop up from time to time. First off, it stops Birthing Pod. Second, it stops some of the parts of Affinity, like Springleaf Drum, Arcbound Ravager, Steel Overseer, Mox Opal, and Cranial Plating. Lastly, it stops the occasional random artifact like Isochron Scepter and Spellskite.
Welcome to Modern, where a deck with more than five basic lands is likely built wrong. Or at least that's how it seems. Virtually every deck in the format is running an atlas full of nonbasic lands, making there no shortage of targets for Fulminator Mage. Still, there are certainly some targets that are juicier than others. For example, Scapeshift decks are prime targets for the Fulminator Mage's ability. While killing a Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, is always nice, killing any land is just as good, delaying their ability to hit enough lands for a lethal Scapeshift. It can kill the eponymous lands of the Tron decks. It's also great against the UWR decks in the field, acting as both a way to keep them on the light side of mana and a creature removal spell, killing their Celestial Colonnades. It fills much the same role against Affinity, where it can kill Inkmoth Nexus, though there are many better options in that matchup. Honestly there are few matchups the Fulminator Mage is bad against, but he spends most of his time in the sideboard simply because there are often other cards you'd rather have to deal with these various problems.
Timely Reinforcements is another of those cards that are dedicated at one clear archetype, yet it is able to impact other matchups. This versatility is essential in Modern, where there are about a dozen reasonable decks that people could be playing. Against the Zoo decks and the red decks in the field, Timely Reinforcements hits on both halves, providing the stall needed to buy some time as well as the lifegain needed to stay alive.
Saturday, 2:45 p.m. – Pardee Pod's Legacy
Grand Prix Toronto finalist and Grand Prix Portland champion Sam Pardee has proven his knowledge of Modern and the Melira-Pod archetype. The bay area player piloted Melira-Pod for the entirety of the 2012-2013 season, and is arguably the best pilot for the deck. His win at Portland back in May certainly adds to that.
Needless to say, it was a little surprising to find out that Pardee was not in attendance here at Grand Prix Kansas City. But honestly, when you've reached the finals with the same archetype not once, but twice, what else is there to prove? Pardee chose to celebrate his birthday in New York City, opting out of the Grand Prix this time, generously stepping aside so that someone else has a chance to win this weekend.
He did, however, offer some parting words from the poolside of his NYC bash: "Anyone playing red should have Pillar of Flame or Magma Spray." His stance on Melira-Pod remains; it is the best mid-range deck you can play in his eyes, and you really need cheap removal that exiles creatures to fight the deck...especially Voice of Resurgence.
Pardee also championed one player as the one he's picking to win the Grand Prix. His choice? Matthew Nass.
Nass, who tests with Pardee and played Melira-Pod as well to a quarterfinal finish at Grand Prix Portland, was so impressed with the deck's capabilities that he saw no reason to audible from the archetype this weekend. He did, however, apply some changes that he and Pardee wanted to make after seeing how the deck functioned at Portland.
"One thing we definitely wanted was four Voice of Resurgence," he said. The creature performed so far above expectations that both Pardee and Nass were set on getting a full four copies of the Dragon's Maze creature in the main deck. Hence Pardee's warning to red mages out there, the two know that if people aren't equipped with a cheap and efficient way to exile Voice, they're going to be in for a world of hurt.
Nass also made a switch between two cards from the main deck and sideboard. The Abrupt Decays, a card that was used to quell creature matchups, was moved to the sideboard in favor of Thoughtseize, which gives the Melira-Pod deck some more game against combo decks.
In order to shore up the potential of playing against Scapeshift, known as a rough matchup for Pod decks, Nass also included an extra Aven Mindcensor in the sideboard, along with a much more Birthing Pod friendly option in Sin Collector.
"Sin Collector is a better Pod target against Scapeshift since if you get Mindcensor, they can wait until they have the lands in play to go off, and then use Pyroclasm and Scapeshift to win through Mindcensor," he said. Sin Collector lets him add a pro-active way to hinder Scapeshift's game plan while being less vulnerable to Pyroclasm. Mindcensor is reserved as a Chord of Calling target and as a great draw.
Nass already has a proven track record with one of the format's most powerful decks, thanks to his Top 8 finish at Grand Prix Portland. Will Grand Prix Kansas City be the weekend Nass earns his second Grand Prix trophy?
Round 4 Feature Match – Caleb Durward (UWR Twin) vs. Sam Black (Melira Pod)
There are few things in Modern as gripping as the tense turns of a race between two preeminent combo decks.
From the outset, this match between Caleb Durward's UWR Splinter Twin deck and Sam Black's Melira Pod deck was fraught with suspense, as both players threatened to win out of nowhere, without giving much notice. In the end, it was a perfect topdeck, epitomizing the blinding finishes of Modern, that propelled Caleb Durward to a 2-1 victory.
Durward has been playing UWR Splinter Twin since about halfway through the previous Modern season, and he believes that the changes to the format have only served to make his choice of deck more reasonable.
"Birthing Pod decks are the reason that I wanted to play this deck," Durward admitted after the match. "They don't have a whole lot of ways to interact with me, and I have all of this creature removal to deal with them."
"The matchup is very much in his favor," Black admitted.
Game 1 showcased exactly that. Black led with a Melira, Sylvok Outcast, and one of the cornerstones of his deck, and it was immediately removed with a Lightning Bolt. In addition to having the card he needed to break up Black's combo, Durward also held the ideal hand, dropping Deceiver Exarch and Splinter Twin into play on consecutive turns. There was nothing Black could do but shrug and pick up his card.
"The things you were doing were more powerful than the things I was doing," Black admitted after the game. "I think this is one of those matchups that's supposed to be bad for me."
Game 2 was considerably more intense. Black got an early Spellskite, protecting him from Durward's Splinter Twin path to victory. Since none of Durward's combo pieces cost less than three, Black was able to wait until the third turn to fire off a Thoughtseize at Durward's hand. This is one of the only real ways Pod decks have to interact with Splinter Twin, and Black made it count. Throughtseize stripped the Splinter Twin out of Durward's hand, leaving him with a pair of Deceiver Exarchs, a pair of Remands, and a pair of lands.
Despite having his combo ripped away from him, Durward was able to use the meager cards he was given to extend the game as long as he could. If there is anything the Splinter Twin deck wants to do other than kill its opponent, it's buy time. Black was able to bait the Remands out of Durward's hand by attempting to cast both Voice of Resurgence and Chord of Calling. This cleared the way for a Birthing Pod to enter the battlefield, though it was with Black tapped out and unable to use it. After that, Durward used Path to Exile and a Snapcaster Mage to remove both the Spellskite and the Linvala, Keeper of Silence, that hit play the turn after Pod. He also wisely used his Deceiver Exarch to tap the Pod down during Black's upkeep, denying him the activations.
In all, his cards allowed him to extend the game three turns, drawing five additional cards in the process. Unfortunately, this was not enough, as Durward drew into lands instead of combo pieces, and Black was able to untap and combo him out in one fell swoop. Chord of Calling for four brought in Murderous Redcap, Birthing Pod turned a Birds of Paradise into a Melira, and a Cartel Aristocrat completed Voltron, sending the match to Game 3.
"I have determined that I have a lot of cards that are a little annoying for you," Black noted after seeing the flurry of Remands in the second game. When Durward just shrugged, Black continued, "Also you're really good at dealing with them. Also Remand is one hell of a card."
"Remand is the reason I'm playing this deck," Durward admitted. "Cantripping into the combo is too good. It's another reason I didn't play Tron. It's not playing Remand or Thoughtseize, and you can't play a deck that isn't playing one of those."
The final game showed one of the often overlooked sides of Melira Pod: its combo pieces can also attack. Black started the game with Voice of Resurgence and his twin, and he went beatdown. Durward had the brilliantly simple play of playing his Deceiver Exarch during main phase to untap a land, leaving Remand mana up with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, in hand. Durward had the chance to simply drop Kiki-Jiki but hesitated, fearing the removal spell. Simply waiting a couple of turns would allow him to cast the kill with Remand backup, but the aggressive opening from Black gave him precious little time. He chose not to wait, dropping the Legend into play, but Black had the Abrupt Decay in hand, killing the Deceiver Exarch in response to Durward's attempt to copy it.
At this point, sitting on a nearly lethal 6 life, Durward was put into a corner. He had one half of a combo, but nothing to go along with it except a pair of Remands. Black cast Thoughtseize, attempting to clear the path for a big turn. This forced Durward into deep thought. Waffling between Remanding it or simply letting it resolve, which would free up his Celestial Colonnade to block, he chose the former play. In response, Black tapped virtually every card on his side of the board, including his two brand new Elemental tokens, to cast Chord of Calling for four, likely going to either snag Redcap for the win or Linvala to prevent Durward for winning. This tap out allowed Durward to use his second Remand to effectively end Black's turn.
Despite drawing two extra cards that turn, Durward was still unable to win and one turn away from death. As can happen with Splinter Twin though, just because you can't win doesn't mean you aren't going to. Since the combo effectively instantly kills an opponent, it is able to find a way to just get there if given a window. By tapping out, Black had opened the window. Deceiver Exarch flew through that window from the top of Durward's deck and closed things out. Durward just smiled, wasting no time in revealing the Deceiver Exarch he had freshly drawn from the top of his deck.
"Was it the last card," Black asked?
"The absolute last card," Durward confirmed.
Durward said that Remand was the reason he wanted to play the deck, and the last game showed the exact reason why.
Saturday, 5:00 p.m. – A Glossary of Modern Deck Terms
URW Control – A blue-red-white control deck that combines efficient removal (Lightning Helix, Lightning Bolt, Electrolyze), efficient creatures (Snapcaster Mage, Restoration Angel) and card draw (Sphinx's Revelation) into one monstrous archetype.
Jund – Green-black-red midrange decks that contain a plethora of powerful creatures (Deathrite Shaman, Tarmogoyf), removal (Lightning Bolt), and discard (Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek). Usually seen in these archetypes is the staple Modern planeswalker Liliana of the Veil.
Junk – A green-black-white control deck that is similar in design to Jund, as it includes Liliana of the Veil and similar creatures and discard, but trades out red for what white has to offer (oftentimes solid sideboard options like Aven Mindcensor, the full four copies of Lingering Souls, and Path to Exile as its removal of choice).
Burn – Any red-based deck that aims to "combo" out by dealing 20 points of damage as fast as possible. Decks that run Lava Spike are classified as burn.
Gifts Ungiven – A monstrous four-color control deck that takes advantage of the deck's namesake card, Gifts Ungiven. This deck is capable of assembling a two-card Gifts package of Unburial Rites and various large creatures, which depending on the archetype (Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite for some, Terastodon for others), is unbeatable once it is put into play.
Soul Sisters – A heavy/mono-white midrange deck that combines lifegain effects like Soul Warden and Martyr of Sands with a variety of powerful aggressive white cards such as Ajani's Pridemate and Spectral Procession.
Tron - A deck that plays the Urzatron lands (Urza's Power Plant, Urza's Tower, Urza's Mine) in an attempt to play expensive colorless spells such as Karn Liberated and Wurmcoil Engine as soon as possible.
Kiki-Pod - A midrange deck that focuses around Birthing Pod, a powerful artifact that can aseemble a combo kill if left unchecked. Kiki-Pod specifically focuses on winning games out of nowhere with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and either Deceiver Exarch or Restoration Angel, a combination that lets the Pod player create an absurd number of token creatures.
Melira-Pod - A midrange deck that focuses around Birthing Pod, a powerful artifact that can aseemble a combo kill if left unchecked. The Melira-Pod archetype features a combo kill of Melira, Sylvok Outcast, Kitchen Finks/Murderous Redcap, and a sacrifice outlet such as Viscera Seer. Thanks to the persist mechanic and Melira's ability to prevent -1/-1 counters from being able to be put on creatures, this deck can gain an arbitrarily large amount of life, or deal a very high amount of damage by assembling its combo. Melira-Pod also sports Gavony Township in its mana base, thanks to its easier to manage mana requirements, which let it play a beatdown plan if a combo is not possible.
Affinity - Also known as "Robots," this deck plays a large number of artifact creatures and cards that have strong synergies with them. Arcbound Ravager, Steel Overseer, and Cranial Plating all allow for quick kills out of nowhere, while lands such as Blinkmoth Nexus and Inkmoth Nexus give the deck staying power against mass creature removal like Pyroclasm.
Storm - A blue-red archetype that aims to play a critical mass of card-drawing effects, rituals such as Desperate Ritual and Pyretic Ritual, in a single turn in order to power up a game-ending spell that highlights the storm mechanic, oftentimes ending games with Grapeshot or Empty the Warrens.
Hatebears - Green-white decks that combine all of the best creatures that are the size of Grizzly Bears that also have back-breaking effects against some of the more "unfair" decks in the format.
Vengeance - A deck that aims to get a powerful legendary creature, most often Griselbrand, into the graveyard so that it can be brought back by the deck's namesake spell, Goryo's Vengeance. Once that legendary creature is back in play, the game usually ends as their impact on the battlefield is usually enough to allow for the Vengeance player to win the game that turn.
Saturday, 5:15 p.m. – Expectations – A View of Modern through Sideboards Part 2
Based on the last entry, we saw that players seemed to be gunning fairly hard for both Birthing Pod and Splinter Twin decks. In the last sideboard, over half of the cards were either aimed directly at these decks, or could at least provide supplementary aid against their strategies. There were also a few cards aimed at dealing with Affinity, though it seemed like they were intended to be versatile answers rather than dedicated hate against Affinity. Interestingly, the amount of hate directed at Scapeshift, another deck that showed up in force at Grand Prix Portland, seemed a bit on the scant side.
Let's take a look at the next sideboard and see if we draw the same general picture, or if there's something else going on.
|2 Baneslayer Angel|
|2 Celestial Purge|
|1 Supreme Verdict|
|2 Stony Silence|
|2 Sowing Salt|
|1 Volcanic Fallout|
Let's look at the cards we haven't already talked about.
Spellskite – Spellskite is often in the maindecks of decks like Splinter Twin, but it also makes an excellent sideboard card against them. While it can't redirect the ability from Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, it does prevent Splinter Twin from finding a proper home. In addition to serving as a very important lightning rod against Splinter Twin, it is just a generally good card against many decks in the format. It absorbs virtually every removal spell played in this format, and works wonders when redirecting cards aimed at important enchantments or artifacts. In addition to that, it comes equipped with a nicely defensive 0/4 body, something that plays out very well against the aggressive decks, though that's more of an issue with the decks playing Spellskite in the maindeck.
Pyroclasm/Volcanic Fallout/Supreme Verdict – These spells all do roughly the same thing, but the wrinkles make them all very different in certain matchups. These cards are obviously all good against the creature-based decks that exist in the format, from beatdown decks like Zoo and Affinity to the combo decks like Melira Pod. Pyroclasm is the cheapest, making it a reasonably good way to both slow down Pod decks, by killing their mana acceleration, and Affinity decks, by killing their early creatures. It suffers from being a sorcery, where Volcanic Fallout gains extra utility by being able to kill a Kiki-Jiki at instant speed. Supreme Verdict can often be slow and clunky against many of the powerful decks Modern presents, but it simply kills things, allowing it to skirt some of the more resilient threats in the format, such as Etched Champion. It's also a great way to clear the board after something like a Living End, which neither of the other cards can do.
Counterflux – One of the first things that should jump out at you about Counterflux is how strong it is against Storm. Even with the banning of Seething Song and Rite of Flame, Storm is still a very viable option, as evidenced by Jon Finkel's Top 16 performance at Grand Prix Portland a few months ago. All you have to do is simply overload Counterfluz and counter all of the Grapeshots.
While the Storm matchup is very obvious, Counterflux has another very important role to play against another top deck in the field: Scapeshift. As a combo deck that relies heavily on Scapeshift to actually win the game, Scapeshift decks tend to come packing some combination of Izzet Charm, Remand, and Cryptic Command to help them force their point through. Counterflux is uncounterable, making it an ideal card to deal with this permission package. By the same token, it's a reasonable consideration against Splinter Twin decks, which often rely on similar packages to buy them time and protect their combo.
Baneslayer Angel – Much like Batterskull in the previous feature, Baneslayer Angel provides a massive, lifelinking threat that aggressive decks simply can't often deal with. The one advantage that Baneslayer might have over Batterskull, other than simply the stats on the card, is the fact that it's a creature, not an artifact. In a deck that could be packing other juicy targets for a card like Nature's Claim or Ancient Grudge, the Baneslayer lives where the Batterskull might die. Most of the creature removal in this format is based on dealing damage to creatures, allowing Baneslayer to survive. It also has first strike, allowing it to participate in combat and not have to fear dying to a Lightning Bolt after the fact.
Sowing Salt – Finally, a great way to simply stick it to Scapeshift! While it's obviously the dream to hit a Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, with this card, it is rare that a Scapeshift player is forced to play their Valakut, the Molten Pinnacles before the turn that they're going to kill you. That said, it is often enough to simply reduce the number of Mountains in their deck to a number that isn't lethal. Admittedly, the addition of Prismatic Omen to Modern Scapeshift makes it a little easier for them to hit a critical mass of Mountains, but a good Sowing Salt still forces them to have to have the Omen to win. Sometimes, it can even force them to preemptively play their Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, allowing another Sowing Salt to clean up.
While it's an all-star against Scapeshift, Sowing Salt can do work against many other decks in the field. Hitting a Celestial Colonnade against UWR, a Gavony Township against Pod, or an Inkmoth Nexus against Affinity, while not crippling, can still provide a good amount of disruption for their strategy.
Saturday, 5:25 p.m. – Top Tables Roundup – Round 5
Modern has a tendancy to show a wide variety of deck types, covering all ranges of play styles. From the fastest aggressive decks, to the sneakiest combos, to the most dominating control strategies, Modern is the place where players can bring what they love to the table and have a reasonable shot of leaving more than a few people beaten along the way.
We decided to do a quick rundown of what is currently being played at the top 20 tables here this weekend. What have some of the top players in the room brought to battle with? Take a look!
|GP KC13||Top 20 Tables Deck Types (See Deck Definitions Here)|
|Table 1:||UWR Control vs. Junk|
|Table 2:||Burn (featuring Hidetsugu's Second Rite!) vs. Scapeshift|
|Table 3:||Jund vs. Junk|
|Table 4:||Gifts Ungiven vs. UWR Control|
|Table 5:||Soul Sisters vs. Tron|
|Table 6:||BW Tokens vs. Kiki-Pod|
|Table 7:||Melira-Pod vs. Affinity|
|Table 8:||Melira-Pod vs. Tron|
|Table 9:||UWR Control vs. Jund|
|Table 10:||UWR Control vs. Splinter Twin|
|Table 11:||UWR control vs. Affinity|
|Table 12:||Melira Pod vs. Storm|
|Table 13:||Splinter Twin vs. Melira-Pod|
|Table 14:||Vengeance vs. Tron|
|Table 15:||Junk vs. Storm|
|Table 16:||Melira-Pod vs. Burn|
|Table 17:||Melira-Pod vs. Tron|
|Table 18:||Melira-Pod vs. Jund|
|Table 19:||Gifts Ungiven vs. Hatebears|
|Table 20:||Jund vs. Affinity|
Based on what I saw in the top 20 tables, one thing is clear: the format may be open to a variety of decks, but Melira-Pod's footprint on the format is clear. Out of 40 possible players, 7 of them in the top tables are currently battling with Melira-Pod decks, aiming to combo opponents out if they drop their guard or beat down with little creatures and Gavony Township. The deck is certainly something to watch for, but will it be able to follow up its victory at Grand Prix Portland with another win?
Following that is a similar number of people who have chosen to play decks based around green and black's efficient creatures and discard, championed by planeswalker superstar Liliana of the Veil. Jund is the most popular of the green-black midrange decks, though many at the top tables are incorporating a white splash, sometimes for Ajani Vengeant, but most of the time for Lingering Souls.
Once you get past the Melira-Pod and Liliana decks, the format opens up tremendously. UWR Control, Tron, and Affinity have a few players each representing those decks, and even Storm, despite losing Seething Song earlier in the year, is still staying up there.
Two notables that we are keeping our eyes on are a burn deck featuring Hidetsugu's Second Rite and Vengeance, the powerful graveyard-based combo deck that can kill as early as turn two. If we see these decks later in the day's roundups, don't be too surprised if we cover those decks more extensively.
We'll check back in with another roundup during Round 7, to see how things have shifted a few more hours into the day.
Saturday, 6:15 p.m. – Scapeshifting Strategies
Since Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle was lifted off of the Modern banned list, Scapeshift has been a consistent role-player in the format as the powerful but easy to hate combo that players can't forget about. While it has not gotten any of its pilots a win at any of the Modern Grand Prix events in the last season, it has managed to get players as far as the finals.
I got a chance to speak to Grand Prix Portland finalist Joe Demestrio, who piloted a version of Scapeshift that reincorporated Prismatic Omen and Primeval Titan back into the archetype, about how the deck's currently positioned in the metagame, and whether he was planning to play it today.
However, when I came by to see him testing this morning as he waited to play his first round after his byes, it was clear that he audibled away from the archetype. But why?
Demestrio's major concern regarding Scapeshift was the expected resurgence of Liliana of the Veil, a card he has seen more on Magic Online as Jund and Junk decks have seen an increased amount of play. "People are playing Jund a lot on Magic Online. While I don't think that will necessarily reflect the metagame today, it's something to consider. I swayed away [from Scapeshift] because it's just too easy to disrupt. There's at least five angles you can take to beat the deck."
The angles at which Scapeshift can be beaten are in fact numerous. The deck relies on a few key factors:
- Putting enough lands in play so that it can cast Primeval Titan or manage an instant kill with Scapeshift.
- Ensuring it has enough Mountains for Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle to represent lethal damage.
- Going off fast enough so that Scapeshift is actually lethal, as any lifegain can easily set a lethal Scapeshift back a turn, and without Prismatic Omen, enough lifegain can ensure the deck cannot kill at all.
- Making sure its lands stay in play, are not turned off by an effect such as Blood Moon, or stripped out of the deck via Sowing Salt.
"It's unlike the other combo decks in that it is very easy to prepare for it," said Demestrio, explaining how cards people play in the sideboard against other combos tend to be very effective against Scapeshift as well. Aven Mindcensor happens to be very good against Birthing Pod decks, and it also has impact against Scapeshift's key card. Fulminator Mage, Sowing Salt, and Blood Moon are all solid cards against the Urzatron decks, but they also happen to be very annoying for Scapeshift to deal with.
However, these weaknesses don't come without a very major perk.
"The benefit is that a Scapeshift off the top can just win, which other decks can't do," Demestrio said. Despite discard or potential disruption, the fact remains that with enough lands in play, Scapeshift can sometimes just kill opponents out of nowhere, simply because of a timely top-deck. Even Primeval Titan is oftentimes enough to earn concessions, as it puts the Scapeshift player so far ahead that an opponent has little to no shot of recovery.
So what exactly did Demestrio switch to? Well, with the expected rise in popularity for Scapeshift, Demestrio sleeved up the best thing he could have against that archetype: a deck with Liliana of the Veil in the form of Eric Froehlich's Ajundi deck from Grand Prix San Diego.
"People stopped playing white on Magic Online," he said. "When we played Jund with its original colors, your sideboard didn't gain much, but adding white opens up your options. You get Lingering Souls mainboard, and then things like Aven Mindcensor in the sideboard. Path to Exile is also an important addition, since it is relevant against things like Voice of Resurgence, Kitchen Finks, and Wurmcoil Engine." Aside from that, his reasoning for playing a Jund archetype is very straight-forward. "The main reason why I'm playing Jund is because I think the format is very combo heavy, and a turn two Liliana of the Veil is still one of the best things you can do against those decks."
Still, despite Demestrio's thoughts on where Scapeshift is placed right now modifying his deck choice, it is hard to argue with a deck that is capable of ending games with one fortunate top-deck. Scapeshift is still capable of that, and its allure has held people to playing the deck even despite any hatred that the deck may be caught in the crossfire of. Both Ben Stark and David Sharfman, known as prominent Scapeshift players, are still representing the archetype this weekend. Shahar Shenhar is also playing Scapeshift to success today, moving into Round 7 with a 5-1 record.
Scapeshift has its place in Modern, even when players don't think it will. It is the combo deck that you cannot ignore, for fear of the archetype blasting through the tournament should it be overshadowed by other strategies.
Saturday, 7:20 p.m. – Meet Shahar Shenhar
It all began with Alex Shvartsman, the first player to really adopt the possibilities of travelling the world offered by Magic. Back then, the world of Magic was very compartmentalized, very regionalized, and the thought of flying all over the globe to play in the entirety of the Grand Prix circuit was something that people just didn't do.
Times change, and the world changes along with them. We have players like Shuhei Nakamura and Martin Juza who spend more time in hotel rooms than their own bedrooms. Players like Sam Black, who are just as well known in the Japanese gaming community as he is in the American scene. And you have players like Shahar Shenhar, for whom relocation to a completely different continent is barely a speed bump to his burgeoning Magic career.
"I moved to Israel at the end of the last school year," Shenhar began. "My family wanted to move back. I lived in California for ten years, and before that I lived in Israel. My whole family decided that they wanted to move back, and I just came along with them."
Even still, this change of scenery has only had a minor impact
"I am living in Israel, but I'm not really living in Israel at the same time," Shenhar joked. "It is the place that I go back to when I'm not traveling to tournaments. This year, I've been in Israel less than I've been traveling the world. For example, I haven't been at my house in Israel in over a month. Before that I was gone for three weeks, and before that, I was gone for two months. The life of a traveling Magic player. Basically I've just been traveling, and Israel is my base. Even Shuhei goes back to Japan from time to time."
Shenhar is right to make the comparison between himself and the legendary professional tourist and Japanese Hall-of-Famer Shuhei Nakamura. Though he's only played the game since the release of Lorwyn five years ago, Shenhar has already put up incredible numbers. He has one of the highest median finishes of any player on the Pro Tour, and he's one of the Tour's youngest players at only 19. Despite his youth, he already has three Grand Prix wins in five Top 8s. A good reason for this incredible success is his approach to the game. Unlike most players, who pick up the game casually for a few years before they dive into the competitive scene, Shenhar's first experience with the game was about as complex as they come.
"Not too long ago, I guess it was five years or so," he began, "I learned how to play Magic. A friend taught me during Shabbos, basically Jewish Saturday. I learned then and I just loved it. It was awesome. I started getting competitive pretty quickly after that. I just immediately started looking online for stores and went to my first one. That's where I met Ricky Sidher and the Shipit twins. I started playing at Adventureson.com, uh Adventures Games and Comics; it's in Sacramento. It was minutes from my house. Luis Scott-Vargas was actually there when I started going.
Lorwyn was where Faeries came out, and I got started playing competitive Faeries. That was my introduction to Magic more or less. So less than two months after I started going to that store, I began playing in tournaments playing Faeries. It had flash cards...I mean, it was Faeries, you know? There's just so much play to it, it's so deep, so many decisions and so much to think about...it just beat everything. It was just great. Also I had four foil Cryptic Commands, so..."
Much like Gaudenis Vidugiris has strong ties to both the US and Lithuania, Shenhar considers himself a product of two cultures and is proud to display them both in his Magic career.
"I definitely consider myself both an American Magic player and an Israeli player," he gushed with no hesitation at all. "I'm very proud to be an Isreali and representing Israel when it comes to Magic, but it's also sweet to be an American player."
This year, Shenhar has an opportunity to poignantly represent the best of both worlds in Amsterdam, earning his spot at the World Championships via his exceptionally high number of Pro Points last year, and a spot at the helm of the Israeli national team.
Sharhar Shenhar Representing at Worlds
"It's going to be great," Shenhar said with a wide-eyed shake of his head. "I mean, I've never done something like this before. I'm not sure what I'm really expecting. I saw all of the coverage last year, so I know what's happening, but I have no idea how I'm going to feel when I'm finally there as one of the sixteen in the World Championships, or sitting down with my Israeli teammates at the World Magic Cup. I know it's going to be great, but I don't think I have a grasp on how it's actually going to feel once I'm there in the middle of it."
For Shenhar, he has gained his spots in these prestigious events through an endless drive to compete, and through an utter dedication to the lifestyle required to be a full-time Magic player.
"It's definitely a lifestyle," Shenhar sighed with a hint of weariness. "You can't really do much else. For all of the Magic that I'm doing, I might be able to take, maybe, a semester of school next year. If I continue to do it like this that is. There isn't really a lot of room."
Even though it requires a full commitment to approach the game at this level, the rewards are simply unmatched.
"It's great," Shenhar said "You get to travel the world, sort of make money...it depends, heh. It depends how you do, but the sponsorships, the appearance fees, and having your flights paid for, and occasionally cashing in the tournaments...you get to travel the world for a very small amount of money. I have a ton of friends here. This is a very social game. The community is awesome; people start playing Magic for the game, but they stay for the community. I don't treat Grand Prix like business trips, more like dinner trips, maybe. I mean, you could treat it like a business trip in some regards, but you get to hang out with your friends, you get to go to dinners with everyone, you stay at hotels with friends and at friends' houses, whatever your situation, and then you get to wake up and play the game that you love. It can't actually be business."
In the end, that's what it all comes down to. No matter how players get started in the game, whether they start casually or hit the ground running as a competitive player, it all comes back to the people and doing the things we all love. It's the reason I play the game, it's the reason you play the game, and it's the reason Shahar Shenhar plays the game. He gets to do something he loves with people he loves being around. For Shenhar, his kitchen table is the Pro Tour, and the guys he plays against in these absurdly pressure-filled situations are more than just his enemies, they're his friends.
Traveling the world, bridging barriers, and building an entire lifestyle out of playing Magic...these aren't things you do because you have to. They're things you do because you love to. At least that's why Shahar Shenhar does them.
Quick Hits: What is your favorite Magic 2014 card that has been previewed so far?
Saturday, 8:35 p.m. – Top Table Roundup – Now with More Round 7!
At this point, there is very little need to go on about the incredible diversity within Modern. It's incredibly ironic that in as varied a format as Modern is, the dialogue can be fairly repetitive. As such, I'm going to simply say that there were nineteen decks among forty players at the top twenty tables and move on to something a little more interesting: what looking at the top tables actually tells us about how Grand Prix Kansas City is shaping up.
The earliest incarnations of the Splinter Twin archetype were fairly simple. Combine Splinter Twin, Deceiver Exarch, and the lands required to cast them into a deck, make arbitrarily large numbers of creatures, kill opponent. The deck was a fairly tight blue/red affair with a shell very reminiscent of the UR Storm and Pyromancer's Ascension decks of the time.
About halfway through last year, things changed. Islands and Mountains began to be joined by Plains. Many of the redundant elements of the UR Splinter Twin, such as Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand, began to drop out in favor of cards like Lightning Bolt and Wall of Omens. This shift provided the Splinter Twin deck with answers that it never had before, as well as a great game against the aggressive decks of Modern. As time went on, the deck picked up steam and, as we can see here in Kansas City, the UWR version of Splinter Twin, championed by Caleb Durward, has become the preeminent version of Splinter Twin in Modern. Only one copy of the UR version rests at the top tables, while three copies of UWR Splinter Twin are duking it out.
This is a reasonably easy to interpret shift, as well. With Melira Pod taking up so much of everyone's mindspace, decks have to be able to deal with it and the other creature-based combo decks in the field or they become obsolete. With access to Lightning Helix, Lightning Bolt, and Path to Exile, this deck comes packing all of the necessary tools to stop a Pod deck from being able to win, most notably the Paths. Considering that the only Storm and Scapeshift typically tend to win without a strong creature presence, this removal-heavy deck seems the proper conformation. Access to white also increases the sideboarding options, allowing access to cards like Rest in Peace and Aven Mindcensor, also very good against Pod decks.
While it doesn't necessarily speak to the reason UWR has overtaken UR, it is worth noting that Splinter Twin might be positioned well to make a run at this tournament. In Grand Prix San Diego, only one Splinter Twin deck cracked the Top 16, and none cracked Portland's Top 16. Although it will always be on peoples' radar, the fact that it hasn't really done much in recent events might force people to devote more attention to another deck that happens to be cresting, say Melira Pod. The only thing that really dampens this thought is the fact that many of the cards that stop one deck stop the other. Torpor Orb is very good against both decks, as are cards like Linvala, Keeper of Silence, and Celestial Purge.
The Rite Stuff
While it isn't necessarily an unknown commodity, it always surprises me when I see this Unburial Rites-based deck performing well in a Modern Grand Prix. Maybe I shouldn't be so surprised. After all, there are relatively few decks that rely on the graveyard to complete their strategy. Sure, Melira Pod makes use of the graveyard as an incredibly temporary home for their persist creatures. Sure, Snapcaster Mage is a card in Modern, and, yes, it is being played. But Rites is the only deck that is actively angling for a reanimation strategy.
Since Dread Return and Golgari Grave-Troll are banned in Modern, the major enablers used by Legacy Dredge simply don't exist. As Dredge is one of the most powerful things you can do in an already absurdly powerful format, players are simply forced to pack a certain number of cards in their sideboards to deal with Legacy Dredge. It is kept in check by the fact that no one is able to ignore it.
In Modern, it is relatively easy to ignore graveyard-based strategies because, well, there really aren't any. At least there aren't any decks that rely on the graveyard that can't be beat through a much more versatile set of cards. Take Melira Pod, for example. The deck certainly relies on the graveyard for the combo elements of the deck. With a card like Leyline of the Void in play, Kitchen Finks only gain two life and Murderous Redcap only deals two damage. There is no loop. But the deck still has a boatload of creatures and will beat you down. The deck isn't so dominating that you have to get a way to interact with the graveyard into play or you just die. In fact, the most common way that players are dealing with Melira Pod decks is to simply pack more creature removal. I mean, the deck is a creature-based combo deck. Creature removal keeps the relevant cards off the table, while also being useful against the rest of the field.
Without any real dedicated cards aimed at Rites, it only really falls prey to the collateral damage that might arise from the decks trying to deal with other major decks in the field. Fortunately for Rites, it operates on a slightly different plane than the rest of the decks in the field. As such, it's no surprise that a trio of Rites decks are doing well at this point in the tournament.
Choose your Combo
Splinter Twin, Scapeshift, or Birthing Pod which do you prefer? Based on the numbers I've seen from the top tables so far, there isn't really a consensus deck that people seem drawn to. Unlike Grand Prix San Diego, where Scapeshift and Eggs were clearly the favorites throughout the course of Day 1, no one combo deck has the edge. Scapeshift is the most represented variant, with four copies among the top tables, but Pod decks total up to five decks, while the Splinter Twin decks total up to four.
This is interesting to me in light of the composition of Grand Prix Portland's Top 16. In that Top 16, there were zero Splinter Twin decks, only two Scapeshift decks, and a whopping four Pod decks, not just Pod decks, but Melira Pod decks. One variant of the aforementioned combo decks made up an entire quarter of the Top 16 decks of the last Modern Grand Prix. While it's possible that the number of Melira Pod decks represented in the Top tables is indicative of a harsher environment in the wake of the last Grand Prix, a more likely explanation is simply a factor of Modern: people play what they want to play. The art of selecting a Modern deck can be very intricate, taking into account the multitude of options available, but more often than not, people just play what they're comfortable with. As such, the previous tournament doesn't necessarily affect the numbers of decks played, just those that succeed by the end of the weekend. Right now, things are even. By halfway through tomorrow, they almost certainly will not be.
Saturday, 9:30 p.m. – Top Table Roundup – The Final Round of Day One
The ninth and final round of Day One of Grand Prix Kansas City is underway. This time, I went through the top twenty tables and did a quick tally of the major archetypes to see if it is any different than how it was looking earlier. After nine rounds, we are left with the following in the top twenty tables:
|GP KC13 Archetypes|
|Pod – 9|
|Jund – 5|
|Scapeshift – 5|
|Tron - 3|
|Splinter Twin – 3|
|UWR Control – 3|
|Storm – 2|
|Hatebears – 2|
|Boros Control – 1|
|Infect – 1|
|BW Tokens – 1|
|Merfolk – 1|
|BUG Midrange – 1|
|Bogle Auras – 1|
|Vengeance – 1|
|Amulet of Vigor – 1|
(note: as it was not on the Modern glossary from earlier, Amulet of Vigor is a combo deck that keys off of Amulet of Vigor's interaction with comes into play tapped lands like Simic Growth Chamber, along with cards that can accelerate a near-lethal Primeval Titan as early as turn two.)
The key thing to take from this small sample size, at least until we crunch the Day Two numbers tomorrow morning, is one major thing: combo is in full force. Grand Prix Portland's finals match between Melira-Pod and Scapeshift has set the stage for the Modern format this weekend, as Pod decks and Scapeshift are the two most prominent archetypes that we've been seeing at the top tables. In fact, when it is tallied up (and counting decks like Infect and Tron, which both in essence are fast decks that are trying to set up a sequence of cards and plays), combo decks make up a whopping 65% of the top twenty tables.
Digging a little deeper into the different archetypes, we have the following numbers. Pod decks are broken down into three categories:
Melira-Pod – 5
Kiki-Pod – 3
Domri-Pod – 1
Melira-Pod is the most popular choice of the top table players, following by Kiki-Pod and then a variation on Kiki-Pod piloted by Ari Lax that we're nicknamed Domri-Pod, primarily for its tech inclusion of two copies of Domri Rade in the main deck to give the combo a little extra fight. We'll see if the overall Day Two numbers show a similar image.
Jund decks are broken down intwo two categories:
Normal Jund – 3
Ajundi – 2
The standard Jund lists are green-black-red, and have not changed much in scope even since the banning of Bloodbraid Elf. Ajundi, as it has been nicknamed, is the Jund deck that splashes white for Lingering Souls and Ajani Vengeant.
Finally, the other archetype that splits into variations is Splinter Twin:
UR Twin – 1
UWR Twin – 1
Grixix Twin – 1
Interestingly, the top tables represented three variations on the same general gameplan of "put a Splinter Twin on Deceiver Exarch, then win." UWR Twin has been the more popular Twin deck of the day, giving it access to some good aggressive creatures like Restoration Angel that give the deck a few more angles of attack. Grixix Twin sports the expected Deceiver Exarchs and cards that combo with it, but is also backed up with a discard package to force its spells through.
Another surprising note is the complete lack of Affinity in the top tables. The deck had a resurgence at Grand Prix Portland in the hands of some very capable players, but one of those players (Paul Rietzl) backed away from putting Cranial Platings on artifact creatures and opted instead to play Hatebears, a deck that may be very well positioned to do well in Day Two given the number of combo decks being played at the top of the standings.
Will Kansas City mirror the finals of Portland, or is this small look into the metagame at the end of Day One be turned on its head, with the Hatebears decks and Liliana of the Veil decks preying on combo all throughout Sunday? Check back tomorrow, as the text team crunches the numbers for all of Day Two's players, and as we see the tournament results unfold live.