Day 2 Coverage of Grand Prix Detroit

Posted in Event Coverage on September 15, 2013

182 players have entered the ring for Day 2 at Grand Prix Detroit. With nine rounds behind them, it's been a slugfest to remain at the top. Jund has muscled its way into four of the five 9-0 players' hands, but with these seven undefeated players there's plenty to be settled: Ben Stark, Josh Utter-Leyton, Reid Duke, David Caplan, Adam Jansen, Daniel Cecchetti, and Jessie Butler.

Will Jund continue to dominate at the top? How many 2013 World Championship players will make the Top 8? We'll find out over the next five rounds.


Sunday, 9:30 a.m. – Quick Hits: What's Exciting in ?

by Adam Styborski
Conley Woods - Spellheart Chimera: Wee Dragonauts is like my favorite card ever, and this is just better.
David Caplan - Whip of Erebos: I like that it combos with Aetherling. I can see it working with Izzet Charm for some Grixis deck.
Melissa DeTora - Steam Augury: Steam Augury in a control deck with value cards seems awesome. All of the splits will be in your favor no matter what an opponent chooses.
Jon Stern - Fleecemane Lion: Supreme Verdict gets better [with Innistrad block rotating out of Standard] so things good against Verdict get better too, like Advent of the Wurm and Voice of Resurgence.

Round 10 Feature Match - Willy Edel (Rock) vs. Mark Herberholz (UW Control)

by Marc Calderaro

These two players have clashed before—many times. Former Michigander Mark Herberholz and Brazilian Willy Edel are both seasoned veterans both on the Pro Tour Hall of Fame ballot. However, their Magic careers have diverged recently. I ran into Willy Edel in Costa Rica last year (which he finished in the Top 8), and he said that he was hoping to play more of the game, but he would need to justify it with big finishes. Since then he went deep in Pro Tour Return to Ravnica and in multiple Grand Prix. "It was a big boost of confidence," he said. Edel has now locked up Platinum and it looks like he's here to stay. He smiled. This latest run could be just the push Edel needs to look truly Hall-of-Fame worthy.

Herberholz seems to be about where Edel was in Costa Rica. His non-Magic career took him abroad, and though he's returned to the States, getting back to where he was could be difficult. "I came into this Grand Prix with one bye," he said. And as we all know, that makes for a long weekend. But if he can finish well in an event or two, we'll likely see much more of him. "If I can have three byes," he said, it would be a lot easier to travel to these events multiple times a year. The Pro Tour Honolulu winner has a laundry list of Grand Prix and Pro Tour Top 8s to his name, the first was exactly a decade ago in this very city. If he can repeat that success again today, perhaps Herberholz will become a mainstay again, like Edel has become.

Mark Herberholz

Herberholz is playing a UW Control deck; Edel is on GB. Edel knew going in that the RWU match-up was very easy, but he didn't know about UW. The red variety is "super easy because of my land destruction," he said. "For [UW], it depends on how many Wrath effects he has . . . . I think for him to win, he needs to go Wrath effect into a Planeswalker." Otherwise, he thinks that Thrun, the Last Troll will just take over. With Edel's sets of Tectonic Edges and the like, UW's usual finisher of Celestial Colonnade just can't win, and they have to rely on either Gideon Jura, or a fragile Vendilion Clique or Snapcaster Mage.

The Michigan native thinks his deck choice was right, even though so many people are playing with the RWU varieties. Though RWU has some powerful cards, "in some matchups, Lightning Helix and Lightning Bolts are just dead cards. This list is streamlined. I don't go up against Scapeshift and have a handful of Helixes and Bolts." And Herberholz feels a bit differently than Edel about the deck's matchup against the Rock, though he admits there are some plays that are very difficult for him. "As long as he doesn't go turn one Deathrite Shaman, I think I'm ahead." Herberholz said he only has one Dismember, and Path to Exile is a terrible removal spell to use on the Shaman. "He just gets so far ahead; the land is huge." Edel nodded.

Guess what Edel had turn one every game? That's right, Deathrite Shaman. The little one-mana Planeswalker-lite must have done over 30 damage single-handedly throughout the match. And thanks to consistent early Liliana of the Veil, Willy Edel constantly posed the question: Heezy, how good is the top of your deck? By turn five or six, both players were down to minimal cards, and Edel was able to keep his manlands (Treetop Village) alive, while wiping Herberholz's off the board.

Willy Edel

In the first game, however, the top of Herberholz's deck showed the true card-quality of UW. Though Herberholz was top-decking a couple blanks, slipping into the BG grindstone, eventually he went Cryptic Command drawing into a Vendilion Clique, into a Wall of Omens, into another Cryptic Command. That sequence of plays reset a six-loyalty Liliana of the Veil; bounced the only real damage dealer—Treetop Village; then allowed Herberholz the time to draw into Path to Exile to stop that Deathrite Shaman that had plinked him into single digits.

Though Edel was at 15 when the Vendilion Clique resolved, the sequence of draws and efficient plays made the 3/1 enough for the first game.

However, in games two and three the "Heezy, how's your topdeck?" question was not answered as well. Deathrite Shaman into Liliana of the Veil in game two, then Deathrite into two copies Thrun, the Last Troll game three was too much disruptive pressure for Herberholz's deck to take.

Thrun, the Last Troll

Herberholz's closest shot was in game two with a Cryptic Command that bounced a Liliana of the Veil, then followed by Gideon Jura to threaten the black Planeswalker again. Just like Edel had described. The Gideon forced creatures to not defend Liliana, which might help take the troublesome permanent off the table. But the pivotal play in game two was Edel activating a Treetop Village as a blocker, blocking Gideon, then using a Dismember on the Gideon—not to kill it, but just to allow the manland to survive. That allowed Liliana of the Veil to use her ultimate ability and Heezy never recovered. Deathrite Shaman just plinked Herberholz to death.

Game three went exactly how Edel would've wanted. A third first-turn Deathrite Shaman into a turn-three Thrun, the Last Troll was gangbusters. But the biggest play was multiple destroy-land effects that kept Herberholz to three mana. His hand was pure gas—Sphinx's Revelation, Restoration Angel (with two Wall of Omens), Cryptic Command, Path to Exile—but the land blanked the three most powerful cards. And a second Thrun, the Last Troll was just a huge, hexproof nail in Heezy's coffin.

If Herberholz wants to mount an Edel-like return to the game, he's not going to do it facing Edel himself. This guy is just on a tear. Herberholz had said he would only lose to consistent turn-one Deathrite Shamans, and Edel made it happen, folks.

Willy Edel - BG Rock

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Mark Herberholz - UW Control

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Sunday, 11:25 a.m. – Day 2 Metagame Breakdown

by Adam Styborski

From our looks across the top tables yesterday, it seemed that there were a few decks that were delivering knockout blows across the field: Jund, green-black Rock, Splinter Twin, RWU (of all varieties), and Melira-Pod. This is the breakdown of everything that made Day 2:

Decks that made Day 2
Archetype Count
Splinter Twin 18
Affinity 18
Rock 17
Tron 16
Melira-Pod 13
Jund 12
RWU 12
Splinter Bant 9
Junk 9
Ajundi 8
WUR Twin 7
UR Delver 4
Naya Midrange 3
GW Midrange 3
Scapeshift 3
Kiki-Pod 3
Infect 3
RG Aggro 2
Burn 2
Eternal Command 2
Hexproof 2
BUG Delver 1
UBWG Control 1
UB Tezzeret 1
Esper Mill 1
Burn 1
Grixis Control 1
Monowhite Vial 1
RUG Delver 1
UB Control 1
WU Control 1
Boros 1
UW Delver 1
Living End 1
Pyromancer Ascension 1
Merfolk 1
Vengeance 1

By sheer numbers coming in, the most expected contenders have filled out the top. Splinter Twin, Tron, Melira-Pod, and Affinity have known success and clear shots at victory. Green-black Rock is a Jund spinoff popularized by Player of the Year Josh Utter-Leyton, with both "vanilla" black-red-green and splash-white Jund (as well as Junk) all close behind. For the pie chart, both flavors of Jund were totaled (leaving Rock on its own), as well as the three flavors of Splinter Twin: classic blue-red, as well as white-blue-red and white-blue-red-green versions packing disruption and running just Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker to combo off. And if you consider Rock to be a derivative of Jund to be added in as well, all Jund-types and all Splinter Twin-types are neck and deck across the field.

Has Melira-Pod finally fallen out of favor? Can the power of Tron catch up today?

What's also interesting is the color distribution compared to yesterday:

Color Distribution - Day 2

Blue, when looking across the entire field, has ticked up above white compared to the top tables look yesterday. Dropping body blows below the obvious decks on top are an array that use cards like Delver of Secrets, Cryptic Command, and Mana Leak to keep opponents in check. Of course, none of these decks have made a splash among the top tables yet so it isn't clear whether these decks simply aren't as successful or just don't have as many players.

We'll take one more look across the top tables before the Top 8 decides which decks rise above the rest.

Sunday, 12:15 p.m. – Top Tables Metagame - Round 12

by Adam Styborski

With the entire Day 2 field accounted for, it's become less a question about what everyone's playing but how it's interacting over time. This is what the Top 25 pairings looked like for Round 13:

Most Played Archetypes - Round 13 Pairings

While Jund, and its cousin green-black Rock, is clearly still on top, it's Splinter Twin (and its variants) that are missing representation. Also interesting is that RWU is showing up at a higher rate. This means that while the day started with plenty of Splinter Twin-type action, it isn't holding up as well at the top as the more disruptive decks. Only Melira-Pod is in large numbers among the top spots as a combo deck.

The colors tell the tale too:

Colors Distribution - Round 13 Pairings

Both black and white are overrepresented compared to the whole Day 2 field. Junk and Rock, alongside Jund, are pushing black even further, but the fact RWU is holding higher overall standings that drives the shift at the top.

From here, it's a three round slugfest to the Top 8. Whether Jund-type decks will continue to outbox the field or the one-hit knockout power of combo decks will rise to the occasion is a fight where anything can happen.

Sunday, 12:30 p.m. – The Evolution of Jund - Deck Tech with Reid Duke

by Marc Calderaro

It might seem odd to do a deck tech on Jund. The black-red-green deck has thrived since Modern's inception, and even survived a ban on one of the deck's signature cards. The pile has put up consistent finishes and the cards it uses are cards people know. But, the reason to feature it is simple: It's a great deck, and you need to know its nuances inside and out. Reid Duke, Shahar Shenhar, Owen Turtenwald, and Huey Jensen understand these nuances completely and put together an altered version of Jund that has been tearing up the field. After Round 11, the worst record of the four pilots was 9-2, and some of those losses came from the players facing each other.

What gives this Jund deck the edge? Why was Shenhar so secretive about it yesterday? I sat down with the pilots, including the deck's designer, Reid Duke—two-time Grand Prix winner, Magic Online Championship winner, Magic World Championship Finalist, and just all-around good guy—to talk about what makes this new iteration of Jund so well-positioned in the current Modern format.

Jund Pilots

There are a few changes, some big, some subtle. "Obviously it's not 'completely new' or anything," Duke began. "It's a process that includes everything since the deck started two years ago. But since the Bloodbraid Elf banning, there was a big hole in the deck." The more expensive-spell slot has been filled with various cards since the elf disappeared, including Huntmaster of the Fells, Olivia Voldaren, and Falkenrath Aristocrat. But Duke thought that Planeswalkers were the key to the grinding match-ups Jund creates. The first and biggest change was putting Chandra, Pyromaster in that expensive-spell slot.

Former Pro Player of the Year, Owen Turtenwald, explained it saying, "Any Planeswalker is ridiculous in Jund . . . is has so much one- and two-mana disruption spells." Duke echoed him: "Basically every non-land card in the deck protects your Planeswalker." So once you get a midgame Planeswalker into an almost-empty board, there are few ways for an opponent to remove it, especially with a card like Chandra, Pyromaster that also creates card advantage. Pro Tour–winner Huey Jensen joked that basically any Planeswalker is good enough. "Reid wanted to play [Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded], but luckily I talked him out of it." Jensen smirked. But seriously, Chandra is fantastic against so much of the format; it kills Lingering Souls dead; it provides additional cards when both players are ground to halt; "and it's so good against [RWU decks]" Turtenwald said. "You just use its plus-one to get it out of Celestial Colonnade range, and they can't kill it." Though you might counter that RWU has so many Lightning Bolts and Lightning Helixes, Turtenwald said, "they always use those immediately . . . to kill Deathrite Shamans and Scavenging Oozes. They don't keep them in-hand."

Reid Duke

The Jund mirror is still touchy, and that has accounted for some of the losses this weekend. "There are few things you can do to really give yourself an edge in the Jund mirror," Turtenwald said. However, it seems that being able to go over the top in the empty-handed late game with repeatable Planeswalker effects is a great start to eke out a 50-50 match.

The other main change to the deck is both Blightning and Pillar of Flame in the maindeck and no Abrupt Decays in the maindeck or the sideboard. "That was basically a concession to Pod and RWU decks," Duke said. This change can come to many Jund players as almost sacrosanct. Abrupt Decay is one of the most efficient removal spells in the format, and Jund is already playing the colors. But Duke continued that Terminate and Maelstrom Pulse are both better at hitting more problematic permanents and were both all around more important. When I mentioned that Terminate has been showing itself important in the format because Path to Exile is proving ineffective, Duke could only laugh at the white instant. "Basically [Path to Exile] is a Splinter Twin hate card. Other than that, the land it gives is just way too bad for you."

Reid Duke

"The Modern format really pushes you in different directions," Duke summed up. "You have to really just take your best guess as to what you're going to see." But even though there's some degree of dice-rolling involved, these Jund pilots have hit onto an important piece of the Jund puzzle. Many decks in the Modern format are great at disruption, but it's what you do after the disruption has hit that will determine whether you the win or the loss. Duke said he doesn't regret playing any of the cards he did today, and frankly, why would he. He, Turtenwald, Jensen and Shenhar are well-above par and are all in striking distance of the Top 8—that is, if they can stop playing each other.

Reid Duke – Jund

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Sunday, 2:30 p.m. – Deck Teck with Brian Kibler (Naya)

by Marc Calderaro

I had just watched Brian Kibler's Naya deck lose to Jund in the last game in spectacular fashion. He was up on the board and set trounce. He had two Knight of the Reliquary and a Domri Rade that had been climbing in loyalty against a paltry board. And then it happened. Adam Jansen drew his card for the turn and put it face down next to his library. Kibler smiled and said, "What are you going to Bonfire of the Damned my team?" He did. Off the top of the library came the Bonfire at the miracle discount price. And though Knights are tough to kill with X spells, Jansen's Deathrite Shaman performed double-duty—not only making the extra mana to pump the Bonfire a little more, but also shrink the Knights in the process. He cast Bonfire for the perfect amount.

Brian Kibler

"Knight of the Reliquary is not a creature that frequently dies to Bonfire," was the phrase Kibler tweeted right after he spoke aloud it to me. He was all set to nab 36 points with two rounds to go, but he was back into the "win-and-maybe-in" shuffle in the final matches. I sat down with him, commiserated a bit, then asked him about his deck and the format in general.

Earlier this weekend, Alex Majlaton commented that the best deck is your best deck, and Kibler supports that case. The Californian is sporting his signature deck style, Naya Midrange, featuring Knight of the Reliquary, Domri Rade, Ajani Vengeant and other efficient beats with reach—cards he's known to love. Majlaton is doing great with pet Affinity and Wescoe is in the Top 32 so far with his own signature white weenies; it does seem that your personal deck can succeed in Modern.

Kibler mostly agreed, but with a few caveats. "Modern is pretty fun, and there are a lot of different things you can do," but he made sure to emphasize how important it is to be playing "individually pro-active and powerful cards." Modern is so fraught with different decks doing their own impressive things, Kibler feels narrowly reactive cards like Remand and Mana Leak are not enough to rely on. Because there are ways to build and play your deck around narrow reactive cards, and because you "can't afford to just sit back in this format."

"I don't think that RWU is a good deck." He said good players use it because it feels "safe." With so many cards that can interact with your opponent, you can just outplay weaker players. And Kibler continued that the bad players use it because the deck "makes you feel clever." The high number of interactive cards can make you feel like you have good game against everything because you're doing so much stuff, even though the actual stats are against you.

Out of the crop of "best decks," of which Kibler admitted are many, he thinks Jund is the best positioned, and will likely stay there because of Thoughtseize. He said that when the best deck has a "universal reactive element" that can stop other decks in their tracks, it can become difficult for any other deck to become king of the hill. His argument is compelling, but his only results so far seem to fly in the face of it.

Kibler's Naya deck boasts a generally positive win result against Jund, even with its universally reactive Thoughtseize. Kibler attributes this to his deck's ability to "go long" if it has to. Though Naya can pressure Jund early with Loxodon Smiter, Voice of Resurgence, and the like, most of his cards are variable and get better as the game continues. Cards like Knight of the Reliquary, Scavenging Ooze, and Ajani Vengeant place continual pressure on the deck well into the late game. This is when Jund's discard spells become blanks, while all of Naya's draws remain relevant. The games can go "very long," and those games are in his favor.

It was good of Kibler to be able to speak so succinctly and level-headed about Modern and his deck immediately after the Miracle Bonfire of the Damned lost him a seemingly finished game. His Naya deck still has a shot at the top slots if he can put together some good wins, and it is a testament to playing to your strengths. If you've got a deck you love, as long as it's full of "pro-active, powerful cards," Kibler will give you the thumbs up.

Brian Kibler - Naya

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Round 14 Feature Match - Josh Utter-Leyton (Jund) vs. Nassim Ketita (Jund)

by Adam Styborski

Mirror matches may not always be flashy, but with positioning to make Top 8 of a Grand Prix on the line they're critically important.

Josh Utter-Leyton

Player of the Year Josh Utter-Leyton is no stranger to Modern or his deck of choice, Jund. Demonstrating the power of green-black Rock at the World Championship came well after his Top 8 in the first Modern Pro Tour at Philadelphia in 2011. While he already has an impeccable resume he had yet to claim a Grand Prix title, with his closest brush at Atlantic City earlier this year. With just two losses on the day he was within striking distance of the chance.

Nassim Ketita

Nassim Ketita hasn't seen success on a large scale. While he continued to play Magic and fight for a flight to the Pro Tour, it hadn't materialized for him yet. Winning his way into the Top 8 from his spot at 12-2, and a chance to fly for the game he loves, was an opportunity he couldn't afford to pass up.

Both players had brought Jund to Detroit, though with slightly different flavors. Built to be consistent and disruptive in a format known for explosive combo decks, the tool Jund brings to bear have proven extremely successful this weekend: the top tables have been full of green-black Rock and Jund, pushing powerful decks like Melira-Pod and Splinter Twin out of the way. When two run into each other, positioning is everything, as once Jund gets ahead it's almost impossible to retake the lead from it.

Utter-Leyton's Jund was the classic black-red-green, even including Thundermaw Hellkite in the sideboard and plenty of Liliana of the Veils to go around. Ketita brought the "Ajundi" version, which splashed in cards like Lingering Souls and Ajani Vengeant. These differences played a part in the match turned out.

Game 1

With a flurry of fetchlands, shocklands, and even a Dark Confidant trigger, both players had destroyed their own life totals.

"I love how we haven't done any damage to each other and we're at 14 to 11 life," Ketita said to mutual chuckles. Though creatures were not long for the battlefield, Ketita's Ajani Vengeant managed to burn down two copies of Liliana of the Veil from Utter-Leyton. When Garruk Relentless joined Ketita's planeswalker team, Utter-Leyton quickly ran out of time.

"I was just behind his planeswalkers the whole time," Utter-Leyton lamented.

Utter-Leyton 0 - Ketita 1

Game 2

From a first turn Deathrite Shaman, Utter-Leyton took a commanding lead early with a second turn Thoughtseize and Dark Confidant into a third turn Huntmaster of the Fells.

Do you think it's egotistical to play with your own tokens?" Ketita asked, getting another laugh from Utter-Leyton.

"I don't think so. I just prefer these," Utter-Leyton said, referring to the David Ochoa version that likened the ChannelFireball teammate to Force of Will. It was splendidly painted to add Ochoa's well-known white hat.

Ketita's first spell was Lingering Souls, but it bought him little time against a Tarmogoyf-enhanced onslaught that followed.

Utter-Leyton 1 - Ketita 1

Game 3

The final game of the match was an unfortunate ending. Ketita was stalled out on two lands the entire game, thought he made the best of it but using his Lightning Bolts and Abrupt Decays to keep Utter-Leyton in check as long as possible. Eventually, Utter-Leyton's Fulminator Mage to ensure Ketita never saw a third land forced the handshake.

"I was surprised to see them," Ketita said, referring to Utter-Leyton's Fulminator Mage.

"I didn't want Lilianas against you, so I brought in two Fulminators. They're better here," Utter-Leyton admitted.

"I guess we're even now." was all Ketita offered.

Utter-Leyton 2 - Ketita 1

Nassim Ketita – Jund

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Josh Utter-Leyton – Jund

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