Going Next Level

Posted in Event Coverage on September 12, 2015

By Corbin Hosler

While Modern is a metagame constantly undergoing cycles and shifts, there are some decks that always seem to pop up. Affinity, for example, is a deck that has existed in some form since Modern was created. Variations of Splinter Twin, Jund and Grixis have been much the same, disappearing and then resurfacing from time to time with varying levels of dominance. While playing such established decks comes with many benefits — they are tried and true for a reason, after all — there are some drawbacks. One of the major ones is simply a lack of hidden information; many opponents will know exactly what your deck looks like as soon as you play your first land.

Some players arrived in Oklahoma City determined to change that.

Take Corey Burkhart, for example. While on the surface his deck — Grixis Control — is a known quantity, the actual 75 cards he sleeved up are anything but. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy leads the way, making its presence felt in Modern after appearances all over Standard and even some spot showing in Legacy, while another Magic Origins creature in Abbot of Keral Keep joins the team.

Burkhart has brought a tricked-out Grixis list to Oklahoma City, and his unorthodox choices have served him well on Day One.

But the development doesn’t stop there. Rise // Fall — a Gerry Thompson suggestion — shows up in Burkhart’s main deck, while the full four copies of Molten Rain appear in the sideboard.

“The deck started with four Jace, and the first card I cut was Gurmag Angler,” Burkhart explained. “I want to be tap-out control without as many counterspells or 5/5s, and Abbot and Jace are great for that. Abbot is the real deal; it may be the best card in this deck. I also think counterspells have gotten worse as people have built these fast, linear decks that can beat your Mana Leaks and Cryptic Commands and Spell Snares. I just wanted more cards that can control the board.”

The plan, as well as the surprise factor, have been a huge part of Burkhart’s strong Day One start.

“When you play a turn-two Jace, your opponent’s entire world changes. They think it’s going to be about counterspells and Lightning Bolts, and then you play this permanent they have to deal with.”

Of course, while tweaking an established deck to regain some element of surprise is one way to stay a step ahead of the field, another option is to go completely off the map. That’s the route Oklahoma native Trey Ballew took when he arrived with Boros Bust, a wild deck that makes use of cards like Ghostly Prison, Magus of the Tabernacle and Magic Origins standout Archangel of Tithes — not to mention the “combo” of Ghost Quarter and Aven Mindcensor — to tax his opponents’ mana. It’s a strategy that had Ballew off to a hot start in Day One, and a concept he championed for players looking to find an edge.

“I like attacking on an angle opponents are prepared for,” he explained. “Lots of decks have ways to protect their win conditions, but they don’t have mana ways to protect their mana. Control decks in this format that play one-for-ones have a hard time keeping up, but this is the control deck that works because you keep your opponents from doing anything.”

Ballew has been busting opponents all day, jumping out to a hot start in Oklahoma City.

While renowned deckbuilder Patrick Chapin isn’t going so far as that, he did arrive in Oklahoma City with something Modern has never seen before. His goal entering the weekend? Show just how strong Abbot of Keral Keep can be. The hall of famer champions the card’s use in almost any deck that can play it, but he was especially excited by its potential with paired with Tarmogoyf. That seed manifested itself as a Temur Tempo deck complete with Vapor Snag, Rancor and even Mishra's Bauble to provide more cards to cast with Abbot.

“It’s possible that playing Grixis with Abbot is better, but I really liked pairing it with the green cards this weekend,” he said. “People have been slow to adopt it, but I think Abbot will be ubiquitous before long. It’s better than Snapcaster Mage in my deck this weekend.”

While the deck’s raw power is one of the reasons Chapin is excited to play, the benefit he gains from sitting down with an unexpected deck was also a factor in the decision.

“I think that the difference between the best deck in Modern and the 20th-best isn’t really that much,” he explained. “If all of the decks are of similar strength, people will be well-prepared against popular decks like Grixis. That means their super-powerful sideboard cards will be directed at those decks instead of you.”

Trey Ballew's Boros Bust

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Corey Burkhart's Grixis Control

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Patrick Chapin's Temur Tempo

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