Day 2 Grand Prix Minneapolis Coverage

Posted in Event Coverage on May 11, 2014

By Wizards of the Coast

Day 2 is underway here at Grand Prix Minneapolis, and 182 players have survived the nine rounds of Day 1 with their hopes of a Top 8 alive. Six players managed to navigate yesterday's field without picking up a loss. Louis Kaplan, Taylor Laehn, Jun Young Park, Michael Swailes, and King of the Hill Barry Smith managed a perfect 9-0, while Brandon Nelson went 8-0-1. Interestingly, the six of them were all playing distinct decks, including two Pod variants, two Splinter Twin variants, Tron, and Scapeshift. This speaks not only to the variety within the Modern format, but the variety within the major archetypes themselves.

Right behind these undefeated players are a slew of high-profile players, all alive and in the hunt themselves. 10th-ranked Lee Shi Tian, Luis Scott-Vargas, 15th-ranked Willy Edel, and Pro Tour Born of the Gods Shaun McLaren are all sitting pretty on 8-1. Hall of Famer Brian Kibler headlines a strong group of 7-2 players that include almost all of the other Team Channelfireball members in attendance, as well as many of the members of Asian superteam Team MTG Mint Card.

It's going to be a hard-fought six rounds of Modern play today before our cut to the Top 8, and there is a lot that can change. Right now, South Korea's Jun Young Park sits atop the standings, but there are a bunch of strong players out to take him down. Can he stay undefeated on his way to the Top 8? Will King of the Hill Barry Smith be dethroned? Can one of the many Pro players chasing points secure themselves the crucial 8 points for taking the tournament down? Keep an eye out here at dailymtg.com to watch as the drama unfolds!


Day 1 Undefeated Decklists

by Nate Price
 

Louis Kaplan – 9-0, Kiki-Jiki Pod

Taylor Laehn – 9-0, URG Twin

Jun Young Park – 9-0, Scapeshift

Barry Smith – 9-0, RG Tron

Michael Swailes – 9-0, UR Twin

Brandon Nelson – 8-0-1, Melira Pod


Sunday, 12:58 p.m. – Day 2 Metagame Breakdown

by Adam Styborski
 

"It's still between three decks: Affinity, Twin, and Pod. I consider them the best decks."

Patrick Dickmann shared his thoughts on the Modern metagame yesterday, but the story we've seen at every Grand Prix is different than such a pithy summary. One of the features of Modern is that it seems to reward playing "your" deck to its best. "I'm familiar with most of the top decks of the format, but once I decide on one I really want to master it rather than searching for the 'best' deck," Pro Tour Born of the Gods winner and currently 19-th ranked Shaun McLaren said. A believer of knowing one deck inside out paid handsomely for him in Valencia, and it's clear – like Legacy – players have taken it to heart to play their favorite deck wherever Modern may go.

Grand Prix Minneapolis Day 2 Metagame
Archetype Count
Melira Pod 29
Affinity 23
Jund 17
White-Blue-Red Control 17
Blue-Red Twin 12
Storm 8
Merfolk 7
Black-Green Rock 6
Red-Green Tron 6
Scapeshift 5
Tarmo Twin 5
Kiki Pod 5
Blue-Red Delver 4
Ad Nauseam 4
Gifts Ungiven 3
Zoo 3
Big Naya 2
White-Red Burn 2
White-Black Tokens 2
Naya Zoo 2
Hexproof Auras 2
Junk 1
White-Green Aggro 1
Amulet Combo 1
Mono-White Aggro 1
Soul Sisters 1
White-Blue Tron 1
Mono-Red Burn 1
White-Black-Red Control 1
White-Blue Control 1
Blue-Black Faeries 1
Black-Red Burn 1
Blue Moon 1
Cruel Control 1
8 Rack 1
White-Blue-Red Twin 1
Eggs 1
White-Blue-Red Delver 1
Living End 1

That's thirty-nine different decks, with even more if you dig into the smaller differences in builds of Zoo, Jund, White-Blue-Red Control, and others.

Archetype Percent Count
Pod (All Types) 19% 34
Affinity 13% 23
Twin (All Types) 10% 18
Other 59% 107

Dickmann may believe in just three decks being central to the format, but those three represent less than half of what you could expect to see here in Day 2. Of course, these three are definitively the most popular decks with Jund and White-Blue-Red Control – both popular decks given their performance over Modern's history thus far – chasing just behind.

Archetype Undefeated In Day 2
Melira Pod 1 29
Blue-Red Twin 1 12
Red-Green Tron 1 6
Kiki Pod 1 5
Tarmo Twin 1 5
Scapeshift 1 5

While popular decks will find their ways into Top 8s on the back of just enough players bringing, what sets the stage for the best chances is going undefeated on Day 1. Here, six players with six different decks started Day 2 perfect and there are a few usual suspects – Twin and Pod decks – but like in Richmond and other Modern Grand Prix there's more to the story. Going into Round 12, Barry Smith with Red-Green Tron held the King of the Hill slot with a record of 11-0, putting on a show with an archetype that was underwhelming at Pro Tour Born of the Gods.

Wurmcoil Engine
Eye of Ugin

Powering out early, massive threats or presenting the eventuality of searching and casting them is a powerful machine. Just because the format hasn't undergone a profound change between now and Pro Tour Born of the Gods doesn't mean the potential of off-the-radar decks diminished. Decks like Red-Green Tron and Scapeshift may not show up in force, but consistently putting playing into the undefeated bracket is an important note for anyone considering a new deck to practice and play.


Sunday, 1:52 p.m. – A Missing Melira

by Adam Styborski
 

If you name a deck around a specific card in it, say Melira, Sylvok Outcast in the popular Birthing Pod combo engine, then find at a decklist that for all intents and purposes looks like a Melira Pod list would it be confusing to find a namesake card missing in it?

Melira, Sylvok Outcast

It's a question we ran into looking at several suspicious decklists all tied to the same ChannelFireball team. Modern may be stable and diverse but that doesn't mean there isn't room for finding new edges and technology for existing decks.

Pro Tour Hall of Famer Luis Scott Vargas has some explaining to do.

Why were Pro Tour Hall of Fame member Luis Scott-Vargas, and others on his team, playing Melira Pod this weekend? "Melira Pod is just a great deck. I don't think you can go too wrong with it," Scott-Vargas explained. "We didn't want to spend a lot of time testing Modern before the Pro Tour so we picked decks we had already played. [Pro Tour Hall of Fame member and 9th-ranked] Shuuhei Nakamura posted in our discussion forum he was testing Yuuta Takahashi's Melira Pod list that cut Viscera Seer, Melira, Sylvok Outcast, as well as two Kitchen Finks. You get to add in more Thoughtseizes, Sin Collector, Voice of Resurgence – more value cards and answers. You can still go infinite with Archangel of Thune and Spike Feeder. Of 14 games so far, I've gone infinite in two of them and beaten down in the other 12.

Archangel of Thune
Spike Feeder

What's the benefit of making these changes? "There's enough creatures that are answers in the format that if you're using Birthing Pod every turn you're just going to win," Scott-Vargas said. "The extra Thoughtseizes and Abrupt Decay are much better against other combo decks. We expected a lot more Splinter Twin this weekend. Pod doesn't beat Twin, but Abrupt Decay is exactly what you want against it. Everyone playing it – except Shuuhei of course – made it to Day 2."

Abrupt Decay
Thoughtseize

What are the downsides? Cutting the namesake combo has to have some drawbacks, right? "It can't win on turn 4 anymore," Scott-Vargas admitted, "but it's way better at playing a grindy game with Restoration Angel and Abrupt Decays. You do get worse against Tron – where the combo actually just kills them – and Affinity, but generally you're better against more decks in the field."

Melira Pod – Luis Scott-Vargas


Round 12 Feature Match – Anand Khare vs. Vidianto Wijaya

by Nate Price
 

The Players

"I played against Kibler last round, and he was stuck on one land in the first game and too many lands in the second. You could say I've been running pretty well."

This was how Anand Khare described how his day had been going so far. Khare is a consultant from out east that grew up in the crucible of the Neutral Ground New York Magic scene. He's been an intermittent sight at the Pro Tour and upper Grand Prix level, but hasn't ever cracked through for a Top 8.

His opponent, Vidianto Wijaya, is someone that Khare actually knows fairly well. Khare has spent some of his past doing coverage for other games, and for one of them, Vidianto Wijaya was one of the best players in the world. That skill has carried over to Magic, as Wijaya picked up a win at Grand Prix Denver, a Legacy Grand Prix, in 2012.

The Decks

This matchup is a taste of two flavors of Pod, one Kiki-Jiki, one Melira. The decks share about 80% of their lists, but the other 20% is a big difference. Kiki-Jiki Pod gains an immense amount of value with Kiki-Jiki, as almost every creature in the deck has some sort of enter the battlefield trigger. Combined with Restoration Angel, it's a lethal combo. The Melira Pod deck opts to go with Melira, Sylvok Outcast, and the myriad of combination possibilities she offers, from unlimited life via Kitchen Finks to unlimited damage with Murderous Redcap. The Melira Pod deck seems to have a bit more of an actual attack plan than Kiki-Jiki Pod, tending to win more games through durdly combat than its counterpart, but the difference in that regard is very slim.

The Games

Wijaya opened the match with a mulligan to six, keeping a hand that allowed him a first-turn Birds of Paradise and a second-turn Kitchen Finks. Khare matched with a Wall of Roots. Wijaya attacked with his Kitchen Finks, and Khare opted to block the 3/2 with his Wall of Roots, allowing Wijaya to finish it off with Murderous Redcap. His next attack was enhanced by a Gavony Township, and he knocked Khare down to 11.

Vidianto Wijaya

Khare dropped a Birthing Pod into play, trading his Voice of Resurgence in for a Kitchen Finks, gaining a 2/2 Elemental token in the process. It cost him four life to play and activate the Pod, putting him at 9 life after the Finks trigger. Wijaya attacked, sending his 3/3 Redcap and 4/3 Finks. Khare's token stood in the Finks's way, keeping him at 6. After combat, he played and used Qasali Pridemage to kill Khare's Pod before playing one of his own, emptying his hand. It was an impressive draw off of a mulligan, and he looked very close to finishing the first game out with a victory. When his top card proved to be Melira, Sylvok Outcast, victory arrived.

"Must be nice," Khare sighed. "Must be nice to draw the Melira there." He chuckled a little about his luck while reaching for his sideboard.

"I probably shouldn't have blocked there," he said referring to his dead Wall of Roots. "It was a little mistake."

Wijaya agreed.

Both players mulliganned their opening draws in the second game of the match, but kept their next six. Wijaya started with another Birds of Paradise into Kitchen Finks, but Khare was ready with the incredibly important Scavenging Ooze on his second turn. The Ooze would allow him to remove any persist creatures before they became persistent, preventing the many loops that enable Melira Pod to go off. The deck is still more than capable of simply winning through

Anand Khare

Entomber Exarch, revealing Zealous Conscripts, Birthing Pod, Path to Exile, Restoration Angel, and Linvala, Keeper of Silence. The Exarch stripped Khare of his Birthing Pod and then traded with the Scavenging Ooze on the following combat. Wijaya continued to add creatures to his board, recruiting Qasali Pridemage and Spike Feeder to continue his assault. His Finks met a Path to Exile, as did his Spike Feeder, but his other creatures appeared to be more than enough to take Khare down

"That was probably a loos keep, but I don't know," Khare mused about his hand for the second game. "If I drew an additional land of any type or a creature, I thought I was pretty good."

Kiki-Jiki Pod – Anand Khare

Melira Pod – Vidianto Wijaya


Quick Question #2 – Sell Me on Your Deck!

by Nate Price
 

Modern is renowned for the immense amount of variety in it, and finding the right deck for you is one of the biggest things to think about for prospective Modern players. So, to make matters easier, I went straight to the source, talking to a few of the players doing well here at Grand Prix Minneapolis, and getting them to sell me on their deck. Here's what they said:

Willy Edel on Jund:

"I think you should play Jund if you like these midrange kinds of decks. If you don't like them, this definitely isn't the deck for you. But if you're looking for a deck that you can tune to beat basically every single deck in the field, consider this. The main con for Jund is building wrong for your field, for example, if you build your deck to beat a lot of creature decks and only face combo or vice versa. Choosing the correct list is the most important thing. I would say that if you have time to practice, and you like midrange decks, Jund is the perfect deck for you."

Pat Cox on Zoo:

"Geist of Saint Traft and Tribal Flames are just ridiculously powerful cards that deal a whole lot of damage all at once. Playing a deck with a critical mass of one drops backed up by burn is really powerful. While I don't think that Zoo is as insanely powerful as it was back when Modern first existed, the fact that they brought Wild Nacatl back, people initially reacted to it, but have now backed away from that reaction is great for the deck. I've played against people that don't have Firespout anymore because they didn't think people would be playing Zoo. It really helps that no one is really thinking about it anymore. Zoo crashing and burning at the Pro Tour was one of the best things that could happen for people like me who want to play Zoo."

Jun Young Park on Scapeshift:

"Scapeshift is really good right now in this metagame. I got the deck from Lee Shi Tian, and he helped me learn how to play it. As long as there aren't many players playing Storm, Scapeshift should be good. Also, fast aggro decks can be difficult. Sometimes I can't go off fast enough to beat them. But the way things are right now, I think Scapeshift is a very good choice."

Paul Rietzl on The Rock:

"I think my deck is great! Now I know how Kibler feels at every tournament. You have the best deck, and you are the best player, but it just doesn't show up... To live a day in Kibler's shoes, finally! Honestly, if you expect a really diverse metagame, then it's a really good decision to play cards like Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek and a bunch of really powerful cards that get you ahead. If you expect a lot of Pod, I would not play my deck. They can grind the same way as this deck, but they are playing way more powerful things than you are. If you're playing against Twin sometimes, and Affinity sometimes, and WUR sometimes, and Jund sometimes...yeah, a consistent green/black deck with really good cards that has a ton of redundancy and gets to play Treetop Village and Tectonic Edge is sweet. My removal base is also really fun. I have two Slaughter Pact, two Dismember...no one will see any of that stuff coming."

Barry Smith on RG Tron:

"I figured there was going to be a lot of Jund and a lot of Pod, and I wanted the consistency. I just play this deck all of the time, and this was a really good weekend for this. If you like big, game-impacting spells—want to let your inner little kid out—Tron is the deck for you."


Sunday, 3:29 p.m. – Playing for the Top 8: Round 14 Metagame Recap

by Adam Styborski
 

Finding the way into the Top 8 of a Grand Prix invariably comes down to the crucial last couple rounds. It's a small spread that separates those vying for a title from those settling for just Top 16. This is how the leaderboard looked at the end of Round 13:

Rank Name Points Archetype
1 Kaplan, Louis 36 Kiki Pod
2 Laehn, Taylor 36 Tarmo Twin
3 (19) McLaren, Shaun 36 White-Blue-Red Control
4 Orange, Gregory 36 White-Blue-Red Control
5 Swailes, Michael 34 Blue-Red Twin
6 Bonham, Nick 33 White-Blue-Red Control
7 Holiday, Nathan 33 Melira Pod
8 McCullough, Matt 33 Kiki Pod
9 Park, Jun Young 33 Scapeshift
10 Ward, Daniel 33 Jund
11 Wijaya, Vidianto 33 Melira Pod
12 Braun-Duin, Brian 33 Melira Pod
13 Burnett, Kai 33 White-Blue-Red Control
14 (15) Edel, Willy 33 Jund
15 Han, Bing 33 Black-Green Rock
16 Huska, Andrew 33 Jund
17 Scott-Vargas, Luis 33 Melira Pod
18 Barbeau, Jeremy 33 Melira Pod
19 Beltz, James 33 Melira Pod
20 Olson, Alex 33 Storm
21 Tellis, Adam 33 White-Blue-Red Control
22 Mackl, Valentin 33 Blue-Red Twin
23 Babbitt, Nicolas 33 Blue-Red Delver

From the four players at 36 points, two would be ensured to make Top 8. Behind them a wall of players with 33 points set up a sieve of win-two-matches that would sift out the remainder. There would be no room for anyone with more than two losses to sneak into the final showdown, and it would take a near miracle for anyone with two losses and a tie to overtake one of the twenty-three above.

Archetype Count
Melira Pod 6
White-Blue-Red Control 5
Jund 3
Blue-Red Twin 2
Kiki Pod 2
Scapeshift 1
Black-Green Rock 1
Blue-Red Delver 1
Tarmo Twin 1
Storm 1

Compared to the start of Day 2, the metagame for Top 8 potential players has one significant difference: Affinity is missing from the list of archetypes being played. A typically powerful deck, one that carried itself to the finals of the largest Modern tournament in history at Grand Prix Richmond, it isn't clear why it's not visible here.

What is clear is that White-Blue-Red Control improved in rank to second overall played. While it may be the case that it's simply a well-positioned deck for the weekend, another consideration is the relative stability across Modern. Expecting to see Birthing Pod , Affinity, Splinter Twin, as well as Jund and general Rock-type decks means players that have chosen this control path have had more time to learn their decks. All things being equal, formats tend towards control strategies as they mature since the answers and tools needed for other decks become well know.

Assuming some combination of Birthing Pod and White-Blue Control decks in the Top 8 the last remaining question is this: Will Scapeshift, Tron, or another less-popular deck find its way into the finale of Grand Prix Minneapolis? It will take the last round to find out.


Sunday, 4:23 p.m. – King of the Hill – Endings

by Nate Price
 

It's good to be the King. After nine rounds yesterday, Barry Smith sat at a perfect 9-0, surveying the bloodshed and fallen enemies around him. He had outlasted and outwitted seven opponents over the course of the day, and only really suffered a setback in the third round, where his Twin opponent actually managed to take a game off of him. It wasn't until the final round of the day that he earned entry into the arena, playing against then King of the Hill Jeremy Barbeau. Barbeau was playing Melira Pod, and Smith couldn't have been happier. He had been summarily crushing Pod decks under the massive mechanized feet and dangly tentacles of his RG Tron deck. Other than the first round's matchup against Twin, he had managed to play only Jund and Pod on his path to victory, and he had assembled the machine in each of them. His match against Barbeau went no different. Even with Barbeau assembling a nigh-infinite life total, his Pod was no match for Smith's Tron.

Smith started the day off against another of the 9-0 players, Michael Swailes and his UR Twin deck. This matchup was one of the ones that Smith wasn't too pleased about, and it showed why as he was unable to disrupt Swailes's combo in the first game and fell under the feet of Swailes's clone army. The second game was a pitched battle, and, with his back against the wall, Smith managed to use Eye of Ugin to search up threat after threat, eventually using Wurmcoil Engine, Sundering Titan, and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, to annihilate Swailes. Unfortunately, it took the entire remainder of the round to do so, and the players picked up a draw.

Both Smith and Swailes were undefeated coming into this round, and they would remain that way after it ended.

A draw may have dropped Smith from the ranks of the X-0 players, but it wasn't enough to dethrone him. In Round 11, he faced another near impossible situation, staring down against Brandon Nelson and Melira Pod. Smith was able to lock things down in the first game due to multiple copies of Sundering Titan, but Nelson fought back in the second game, assembling Kitchen Finks, Viscera Seer, and Melira, Sylvok Outcast, to gain about 3,000,000 life. Despite this seemingly massive advantage, Nelson wasn't safe and sound, as he soon found out. Karn Liberated quickly erased Nelson's advantages, resetting the game and giving Smith a second Karn Liberated and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, to start it off. Nelson made him actually attack to kill him, and Smith was more than happy to oblige.

Even 3,000,000 life wasn't enough to save Brandon Nelson against King of the Hill Barry Smith.

Round 12 was a trying time for the King, as Smith faced off against Gregory Orange and his WUR Control deck. This matchup is traditionally in Tron's favor, as the abundance of mana and the powerful cards often offers more threats faster than the control deck can keep up. Orange was no ordinary customer, however. He quickly realized that his best path to victory was to use his many Cryptic Commands and Snapcaster Mages to bounce the pieces of Smith's Urzatron, keeping him from ever tapping a land for more than one mana. This constant disruption gave him exactly the time needed to finish things off and dethrone Smith's RG Tron deck.

You can check out a replay of this exciting match here.

Orange's victory over Smith was a textbook example of the importance of understanding your deck's purpose in a matchup.

After such an exciting match, the following round's action was a bit of a comedown. It should have been an incredibly interesting match, as Orange was paired against Jeremy Barbeau's Melira Pod deck. Barbeau had been the King of the Hill for a couple of rounds near the end of Day 1, and this marked his return to the Feature Match area. The Pod/WUR Control match is about as even as they come, with the edge really coming down to a combination of skill and luck. In this instance, luck was on the King's side, as Orange managed to deftly dispose of Barbeau as he flooded out in their two-game match.

From there, only two people stood between Orange and his retention of the crown. First up was Taylor Laehn, one of the 9-0 players from Day 1. Laehn was playing the aggressive URG TarmoTwin deck that Patrick Dickmann popularized going into Pro Tour Born of the Gods. Of the two major Twin matchups, this was definitely the worst for Orange to run into, as the ability to simply kill with Scavenging Ooze and Tarmogoyf gives the TarmoTwin deck a route to victory that isn't open to the UR version. Orange was able to carefully manage his resources in the first game, using a crafty combination of burn spells and Snapcaster Mages to ensure that Laehn not only couldn't assemble his combo, but couldn't kill him with his green creatures. Eventually, Orange had built up enough mana to begin attacking with his Celestial Colonnade, and Laehn couldn't stop him. In the next game, Laehn's early Tarmogoyf and Snapcaster Mage put a beating on Orange, dropping him to 10 before he was able to stabilize. From that point on, Laehn's deck gave him more lands than threats, and he eventually fell to Orange's Celestial Colonnade, just as in the first game, though he did manage to scare Orange, dropping him to 4.

The Citrus Assassin kept Leahn's Twins under control.

With Laehn out of the way, the only thing remaining in Orange's way was the end boss: Pro Tour Born of the Gods King of the Hill and champion Shaun McLaren. McLaren's epic run to the top of the hill in Valencia has been chronicled in video, every stellar match recorded. Like the gentleman he is, McLaren stood aside, allowing Orange to draw his way into the Top 8 and retain the King of the Hill title at the end of the Swiss! All opponents fallen by the wayside, Orange was free to celebrate his accomplishments with his friends.

Grand Prix Minneapolis King of the Hill Gregory Orange!

"This is my first Day 2, let alone Top 8," Orange said, in shock, after his friends crowded around to cheer him. A computer science student going to school in Duluth, the "Citrus Assassin" didn't have to travel far to make his first Top 8, but he did have one hell of a road to the top of the hill here at Grand Prix Minnesota. It was fitting that Orange, playing WUR Control, should meet Shaun McLaren in the final round of the Swiss, allowing them to draw in and ensure each other's spot in the Top 8.

"It was a lot of fun," Orange said. "I love Magic, so it's been a fun experience getting to get under the camera these past few rounds."

As McLaren was quick to point out, that can provide an advantage in the Top 8, or at least help to eliminate a weakness.

"Getting those rounds under the camera, when there's less on the line than in the Top 8, can really help with your nerves," McLaren pointed out. "Don't forget, I can still take the King of the Hill in the Top 8..."

With those parting words, McLaren left to prepare himself for the Top 8 ahead. Orange was looking ahead, as well, thinking about the potential Top 8 we had brewing. There were multiple Grand Prix and Pro Tour winners fighting for their own spots in the Top 8, which could result in an incredibly strong Top 8 field. Undaunted, Orange replied in the way that only a King could.

"I guess I just have to crush them, then."


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