by Steven SadinRound 9 Feature MatchDavid Ochoa (Jund) vs Brian Kowal (Blue White)
by Nate PriceSaturday, 8:08 p.m.Watching the Cream Rise
by Nate PriceSaturday, 7:34 p.m.What Makes Jund a Good Deck?
by Steven SadinQuick HitsWhat is the Best Combo Deck in Modern?
by Steve SadinSaturday, 5:57 p.m.What Does it Take for Zoo to Succeed in Modern?
by Nate PriceRound 7 Feature MatchReid Duke vs. Carlos Pal
by Steve SadinRound 6 Feature MatchAri Lax (Infect) vs. Matthias Hunt (Epic Storm)
by Nate PriceQuick HitsWhat is Your Combo Deck's Worst Matchup?
by Nate PriceQuick HitsWhat is Jund's Worst Matchup?
by Nate PriceRound 5 Feature MatchMatt Sperling (Robots) vs. AJ Sacher (Infect)
by Steve SadinRound 4 Feature MatchJosh Utter-Leyton vs Matt Severa
by Nate PriceSaturday, 9:43 a.m.An Even More Modern Glossary of Magic
by Event Coverage StaffInfo: Fact Sheet
Saturday, 9:43 a.m. – An Even More Modern Glossary of
For the newer players out there, navigating the world of Modern can be a difficult task. First of all, there are 7276 cards in the card pool, which is an incredible amount of information to sort through. Then there's the problem that the sets allowed in this format stretch back from Mirrodin, which was released all the way back in 2003, nearly a decade ago. Not to mention that there are all of these nicknames for decks and cards tossed about that can leave a player unfamiliar with them completely dumbfounded. Finally, Magic lingo has become so prevalent in our commentary about the game that players unfamiliar to it will find it impossible to follow the people who are supposed to be explaining what's going on!
If you are a more experienced player, then this isn't for you. You can go watch the stream. Or discuss how handsome I am in the Twitterverse. For those of you who have felt a little lost when watching the coverage, or are trying to get a handle on the language of Magic, here's a great place to start. This is a basic primer, with all of the important decks, cards, and terms that we use to describe what's going on in a game. Hopefully this will help to flatten out that learning curve some and have you feeling more confident as you watch the breakdown of the event by our incredible video team.
Affinity: An artifact-based, aggressive deck built around the strong interactions between Arcbound Ravager, Cranial Plating, and artifacts. While not actually possessing a large number of cards with the affinity mechanic, the current incarnation of the deck takes its name from the original affinity deck, which had the same core of interactions but utilized more cards with the affinity mechanic (Frogmite, Myr Enforcer, Thoughtcast, etc). Hence, the name. Recently, the terms has been retired in favor of "robots", which refers to the fact that the creatures in this type of deck often look like robots.
Eggs: Also known as Second Sunrise, Eggs is a Modern combo deck that uses cheap artifacts that have card-drawing effects, such as Chromatic Sphere, Terrarion, and Conjuror's Bauble to cycle through the deck, eventually using Second Sunrise after a long turn of sacrificing artifacts, to draw a large number of cards and generate a large storm count. With the ability to effectively draw all of the cards in their deck, the Eggs deck can use the massive storm count to cast a lethal storm of Grapeshots to finish opponents in one move. This deck is referred to as Eggs because of the original version of the deck, which ran the Odyssey cycle of eggs, such as Darkwater Egg, to generate the mana and card drawing. The Odyssey cycle of eggs are not part of the Modern format, but the deck is still referred to as Eggs today.
Infect: The Infect deck takes advantage of the fact that players receiving ten poison counters lose the game. Using a variety of cheap one cost and two cost infect creatures, which deal damage to players in the form of poison counters, the infect deck finishes players off over the course of one or two attacks after a flurry of spells to increase the power of their attacking creatures. Cards like Vines of Vastwood, Assault Strobe, and Groundswell are used to produce kills as early as turn two.
Jund: Named for the shard from Shards of Alara composed of black, red, and green cards, Jund is a throwback to a deck of a very similar style and core composition that dominated the Standard format around 2009. Jund is characterized by cheap, efficient creatures such as Tarmogoyf; a plethora of removal and control elements, such as Lightning Bolt and Blightning; and the ludicrously powerful Bloodbraid Elf, which effectively allows the Jund player to play two powerful spells for a considerably lower cost than normal. Jund is a heavy attrition deck, often winning matches through the sheer card advantage offered by Bloodbraid Elf, Liliana of the Veil, and Blightning, but the aggression of the deck is more than capable of demolishing slower decks before they can set of their defenses.
Fish/Merfolk: A mono-blue, aggressive deck, Merfolk is a deck that is commonly used to combat formats with a heavy combo component. Merfolk tries to get an early creature or two on the table, enhance them, and protect them with a slew of countermagic. This is successful against many combo decks because the countermagic provides just enough disruption to the timing of the combos that the Merfolk deck is able to kill them with the early creatures.
Pod: This category of decks takes advantage of the New Phyrexia rare Birthing Pod to fetch a variety of creatures from the library to combat any situation that might arise. The creature base for these decks tends to be very diverse, running many single copies of cards designed to react to specific situations. The deck can then use Birthing Pod or Chord of Calling to fetch the creature from their deck should the need arise. Decks with this type of functionality are often referred to as "toolbox decks".
Robots: See "Affinity".
RUG Delver: When their names are not being taken from other Magic institutions, such as in the case of Jund and Boros, decks are often distinguished from other similar decks by referring to them along their color allegiances. When doing this, the colors are often shortened to their one letter abbreviations, w for white, u for blue, b for black, r for red, and g for green. Sometimes, we are fortunate enough for this to form an English word, as is the case for the RUG Delver deck. This allows announcers to refer to it as "rug" Delver, signifying that it is red, blue, and green. RUG Delver takes advantage of cheap instants and sorcery spells, such as Serum Visions, to improve the quality of their draws. Thanks to the large number of instants and sorcery cards being played, Delver of Secrets can routinely be transformed into the 3/2 flying Insectile Aberration. This, combined with other efficient creatures, such as Tarmogoyf, gives the deck a very potent punch, supported by control elements such as Vedalken Shackles, Cryptic Command, and Mana Leak.
Scapeshift: Scapeshift, the eponymous backbone of the powerful combo deck, allows players to effectively exchange their lands in play for their choice of lands from their deck. Combined with mana acceleration and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, the Scapeshift deck is capable of powering up to seven lands and using Scapeshift to exchange them for Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and enough Mountains to destroy opponents in one fell swoop.
Storm: Any variant of a deck that attempts to use cheap card drawing and mana generation to produce a large number of spells cast in one turn. This leads to a kill using a card with the storm mechanic, which produces a copy of the spell cast for each other spell cast that turn. Kill conditions for storm decks include Grapeshot and Empty the Warrens in Modern.
Tron (or Urzatron): The trio of Urza's Mine, Urza's Power Plant, and Urza's Tower, when assembled, are referred to as the Urzatron, or Tron for short. An assembled Tron gives a player access to seven mana. The Tron decks take advantage of this excess mana to cast creatures like Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre, and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, well before they would otherwise be cast. Often, Gifts Ungiven is used as a method of completing the Tron, fetching out threats, or setting up a recursion using Unburial Rites.
White Weenie: The term weenie refers to a small, cheap creature. White Weenie is a deck built around playing these weenies, enhancing them with cards like Honor the Pure, and demolishing opponents before they can put anything together. Versions of it can contain small amounts of a control element, but most of them are hyper-aggressive, valuing offense over defense.
Splinter Twin: Named for the Rise of the Eldrazi rare enchantment, Splinter Twin has actually been a deck archetype since the days of Lorwyn. As soon as Pestermite was printed, people began to pair it with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, to generate an infinite number of hasty attackers, winning the game in one turn. Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker copies Pestermite, creating a hasty copy of the Faerie. The copy's triggered ability untaps Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker so he can make another Pestermite. Lather, rinse, repeat. With the printing of Deceiver Exarch in New Phyrexia, Splinter Twin now had a Standard-legal creature to effectively recreate that combo. After flashing in an Deceiver Exarch at the end of an opponent's turn, enchanting it with a Splinter Twin allows you to tap it to copy itself, making a new Deceiver Exarch that can untap the original. Since the copies have haste, the combo functions essentially the same as the Pestermite/Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker combo. In Modern, both combos are legal, so players have crammed them both into a deck featuring a large number of ways to smooth out draws, making it that much easier to find either red card and either of the blue creatures.
UW Angels: The newest aggro/control deck to hit the Modern scene, UW Angels takes its name from the solid blue Counterspell base, consisting of Cryptic Commands, Mana Leaks, and Spell Snares, and overlays it with some combination of Restoration Angels and Baneslayer Angels. The deck has multiple creatures that work well with Restoration Angel, including Blade Splicer, Snapcaster Mage, Vendilion Clique, and even Wall of Omens in some cases. Rounding out the aggressive creature base is the ruthlessly efficient Geist of Saint Traft. Between the aggressive creatures and the control base, the deck hopes to hit an early threat and use its suite of protection spells to keep the game going until their creature finishes it.
Bob: After winning the 2004 Magic Invitational, Bob Maher, Jr. won the right to design his own card. His initial design turned into Dark Confidant, the Ravnica: City of Guilds rare. Like all Invitational winning submissions, Maher is incorporated into the artwork of the card. Dark Confidant is traditionally used as a source of card advantage in decks like Jund.
Burn: Since most of the spells that are capable of directly dealing damage to a player or creature use fire or lightning imagery, they are collectively known as burn spells, even if they don't actually use fire. Examples of burn common to Modern include Lightning Bolt, Shrapnel Blast, and Forked Bolt.
Card Advantage: The concept of card advantage has received more discussion over the history of Magic than any other topic. In short, the concept of card advantage relates to the equivalences of exchanges in Magic. Basically, if one card allows you to draw two cards or destroy two of your opponent's permanents, you are gaining card advantage.
Combo Deck: Combo decks are decks that rely on a combination of cards to win their games. One example of a popular combo deck in Modern is Storm, which relies on the combination of mana-generating and card-drawing cards to play a large number of spells in one turn before playing a card with the storm mechanic, such as Grapeshot, to kill their opponents. Hive Mind is another example. It uses the card Hive Mind to provide copies of any spells cast to all players. They then use the various Pact cards, such as Slaughter Pact, to put a copy of that spell onto the stack for their opponent. When their opponent is unable to pay the costs of all of these Pacts during their next upkeep, they lose the game.
ETB: A shorthand acronym for "enters the battlefield". Creatures with ETB effects, such as Snapcaster Mage, have abilities that trigger upon entering the battlefield, giving a spell in the graveyard flashback in the case of Snapcaster Mage. Other textbook examples with cards in Modern with ETB effects are Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and Kitchen Finks.
Fetch: Fetch is simply a catchall term used to describe the action of retrieving a card from the library. For example, lands such as Verdant Catacombs are called "fetch lands". Birthing Pod is another example of a card that lets players fetch a particular card.
Metagame: The term metagame refers to the state of the current Constructed environment, most frequently speaking of the types of decks that are prominent and popular, as well as individual card choices within those decks. For example, if I told you that the three most popular decks in Modern right now were Jund, Storm, and RUG Delver of Secrets, you would have a pretty good idea of the Modern metagame. Since each tournament gives players a chance to react to what they experienced in the previous one, the metagame is constantly changing. Staying on top of and correctly predicting the metagame is one of the most challenging aspects of the professional level of Magic.
Mill: A verb derived from the card Millstone, the act of milling a player is to put cards from a player's library into their graveyard. Since players lose the game when they can't draw a card, milling an opponent's entire library is one of the most frequently used alternate win conditions.
"#"-Drop: This terminology is used to describe a permanent of a given converted mana cost. For example, Tarmogoyf, which costs 1G, is a two-drop. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, is a fifteen-drop. This terminology applies most often to permanents, such as creatures and artifacts, but it can be used to also describe the cost of spells.
Red Zone: The red zone is an allusion to the older play mats used for Feature Matches, which had a large red area between the players. Players would use this area to indicate the spells they were casting and the creatures that were attacking. Nowadays, the phrase "sends them into the red zone" is synonymous for attacking.
Swing/Smash/Battle/Bash: All of these words have at some point in Magic history been the preferred method of saying "to attack". Now, they are all interchangeable and frequently used as slang.
The Stack: The stack is the order of spells that have been played during a given priority step. For example, when you play a spell in your main phase, it is said to go on the stack. After that, any spells that are played in response to the first one are said to go on the stack above them. Spells on the stack resolve from the top to the bottom.
Silver Bullet: A reference to the very specific weakness of werewolves, the phrase "silver bullet" in Magic refers to a card that exists in a deck, usually only one or two copies, that serves the purpose of providing an advantage against a very specific deck or effect. A good example of a silver bullet is the card Ethersworn Canonist against Storm decks or Aven Mindcensor against any decks that rely on searching the library, such as Pod decks.
Round 4 Feature Match - Josh Utter-Leyton vs. Matt Severa
Matt Severa, whose last Grand Prix Top 8 came at Grand Prix Detroit in 2003, is a long time member of Sam Black's Madison, Wisconsin playgroup. And while Severa might not have a resume that can rival other alums of this group such as Pro Tour Geneva champion Mike Hron, or three time Grand Prix Champion Gaudenis Vidugiris, Severa has demonstrated an ability to qualify for the Pro Tour whenever he puts the work in.
Severa's opponent for this round, Josh Utter-Leyton, is also an extremely consistent player. But while Severa's finishes tend to come at PTQs, and GPs, the Platinum Pro Utter-Leyton has been one of the most consistently successful players on the Pro Tour for the past three years.
Severa got off to a very fast start with his Affinity deck; playing a Mox Opal, a Memnite, a Signal Pest, and a Vault Skirge, all on his first turn before following it up with an Arcbound Ravager a turn later. But despite Severa's explosive start, a Deathrite Shaman, and a turn two Lingering Souls allowed Utter-Leyton to hold his opponent's robot army at bay.
When a Bloodbraid Elf cascaded into an Abrupt Decay a turn later, Severa took that opportunity to sacrifice Memnite, and Mox Opal, giving his Inkmoth Nexus three +1/+1 counters, and making a threat that he hoped he would be able to ride to victory.
However, aside from the 4/4 Inkmoth Nexus, which Utter-Leyton had an abundance of tokens to chump block with, Severa struggled to find any ways to effectively put pressure on his opponent.
A Dark Confidant helped Utter-Leyton draw into removal spells, but it also started hacking away at Utter-Leyoton's life total. And when Severa drew a Disciple of the Vault, suddenly the Wisconsinite had a very real route to victory.
Josh Utter-Leyton 1 – Matt Severa 0
Severa mulliganed to start the second game – but that didn't set him back as he was still able to kick things off with Darksteel Citadel, Mox Opal, Signal Pest, Springleaf Drum, and Thoughtcast on his first turn. A couple of Vault Skirges, another Signal Pest, a Inkmoth Nexus, and an Etched Champion followed for Severa – and Utter-Leyton again found himself under the gun early.
Despite his strong start, Severa once again found himself unable to effectively get in damage past Utter-Leyton's flying tokens. Not only that, but a Deathrite Shaman made attacking with Etched Champion into a losing proposition for Severa, as that would allow Utter-Leyton to crack in with his Tarmogoyf and his Raging Ravine.
A second Etched Champion, however, turned things around. Suddenly Severa had the ability to take sizable chunks out of Utter-Leyton's life total, and enough chump blockers to minimize the effectiveness of his opponent's counterattacks.
When Severa cast an Electrickery a turn later, Utter-Leyton seemed shocked.
"That's really a card?" asked Josh.
"Yep, it's really good," replied Severa.
But before Severa could send in his huge attack, Utter-Leyton had a card of his own that has (up until this point) only seen serious play in Return to Ravnica limited, Rakdos Charm. The charm took out a Signal Pest, and bought Utter-Leyton another couple of turns.
Josh Utter-Leyton 2 – Matt Severa 0
Round 5 Feature Match - Matt Sperling (Robots) vs. AJ Sacher (Infect)
"We're on text," Sacher asked as he pulled up his chair?
"Yeah, you can't have a video feature match because Sperling had one last round," I told him.
"Yeah, I had to beat my boss last round," Sperling matter-of-factly confirmed, referring to his defeat of Tom Martell in the video feature match.
"Ex-boss," I said, reminding him that Martell had threatened to fire Sperling if he beat him.
"Yeah, that's true. I'm looking for work now," Sperling nodded solemnly.
Sacher started the first game off with a Verdant Catacombs, leaving it intact and passing the turn. Sperling exploded on the following turn, using a Springleaf Drum and an Ornithopter to play a first-turn Vault Skirge, dropping to 18. Sacher took his leisurely time, playing a Blighted Agent on the following turn, representing a possible third-turn kill if he held the appropriate pump spells. Sperling went looking for something, playing a Memnite to power out a Thoughtcast for one mana. After attacking with his Skirge, Sperling dropped a Cranial Plating. With five artifacts in play and a trio of Nexuses, Sperling's Plating would allow him to end the game very quickly, assuming Sacher didn't infect him out first.
Sacher swung in with his Agent. Rather than end the game in a flurry of spells, he simply used a Vines of the Vastwood to put Sperling at 5 poison. With Sperling at half-"health", Sacher passed the turn back, leaving one land untapped. Sperling activated his Inkmoth Nexus and went to equip it with a Cranial Plating. With at least eight other artifacts in play, the Nexus represented a lethal amount of poison damage. Sacher sacrificed his fetch land to grab a Forest, using it to play Vines of Vastwood, making the Nexus untargettable, keeping him alive for another turn. Sperling simply re-equipped his Plating to the Vault Skirge and attacked for fourteen, dropping Sacher to 5. Sacher didn't much care what his life total was, as a Rancor and Mutagenic Growth sealed the game on his next attack.
Matt Sperling 0 - AJ Sacher 1
Vines of Vastwood did double duty in the first game, giving Sacher four extra points of poison before saving his own life by preventing Sperling from making his Inkmoth Nexus lethal. It is often overlooked that the untargettability of Vines of Vastwood is its base ability, not the +4/+4. For a mere green mana, Sacher saved his own life.
On the play, Sperling mulliganned his first hand away in the second game of the match. He kept his second, dropping a Blinkmoth Nexus, two Memnites, and a Springleaf Drum into play, leaving him only two cards in hand. Sacher began with a Noble Hierarch before passing his turn.
Sperling played a second Inkmoth Nexus, activated the first, and attacked Sacher for three. This was likely not going to be fast enough to deal with Sacher's Infect deck, especially after Sacher got to sideboard in the hate. A Cranial Plating could speed things up, but it was still a long road for Sperling to travel, especially with so few cards in hand. Sacher found his first infect creature in a Plague Stinger, which he played on the next turn. Sperling swung with his two Memnites, dropping Sacher to 12, before adding a Steel Overseer to his team. The Overseer would allow Sperling to cut the clock roughly in half if left alone, giving him a better chance of stealing this game. Sacher didn't have a kill on his following turn, simply attacking Sperling for an exalted two poison.
On Sperling's next turn, he simply sent in his Memnites. Sacher chose not to block and Sperling chose not to activate his Overseer. Sacher dropped to 10. At the end of Sperling's turn, Sacher used Hurkyl's Recall to put all of Sperling's artifacts back in his hand. This was past the point when his Glimmervoid would die, though, so Sperling got to carry one colored mana through to Sacher's turn. Sacher drew and attacked, sending his infectious Plague Stinger at Sperling. Sperling used his Glimmervoid to activate an Inkmoth Nexus, preparing to put it in front of the attacking Stinger. Before Sperling could block, Sacher played a Vines of Vastwood, looking to bait out any possible removal. When Sperling responded by tapping his last mana source (other than the Nexus he wanted to block with) for a Dismember, Sacher added another Vines of the Vastwood to the stack, keeping it alive. He added an Apostle's Blessing, giving his Stinger protection from artifacts, thus giving it a free pass to slip past the Nexus. Staring at that attack with an empty board, Sperling conceded the match.
Matt Sperling 0 - AJ Sacher 2
"I always lose the die roll to that deck," Sperling said with an air of fatalism after the match.
"It's kind of important," Sacher empathized.
"Yep. I don't think I've ever broken serve," Sperling shot back as he stood up from the table. Beating infect when they get to play first is hard to do. Sperling wasn't the first casualty, and he likely wouldn't be the last.
What is Jund's Worst Matchup?
What is Your Combo Deck's Worst Matchup?
Round 6 Feature Match - Ari Lax (Infect) vs. Matthias Hunt (Epic Storm)
Ari Lax decided to play a tuned version of the Infect deck that helped propel him to a 9th place finish at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica just a few weeks ago. And while he was a bit uncertain about his chances this morning, so far things have been going well for him as he's been able to make his way through to the 6th round with an undefeated record.
His opponent for this round, former Rookie of the Year Matthias Hunt, on the other hand came into this tournament feeling very good about his chances. Matthias is playing an Epic Experiment Storm deck that he thinks is significantly faster, and more consistent than the Pyromancer Ascension versions of Storm that players have been playing.
So far, Matthias's confidence seems to be grounded in reality, as he's gotten off to a 5-0 start.
Ari Lax opened on a Noble Hierarch, while Matthias had a Serum Visions which he had to think about. "I don't think you have the windmill slam turn three kill" exclaimed Hunt, as he ordered his cards in such a way that he felt would maximize his chances of setting up a turn 3 or 4 kill while giving up on the potential for a turn 2 kill.
Matthias was quickly proven right as a second Noble Hierarch, and a Might of Old Krosa knocked him down to 14, and gave him a good degree of certainty that he would live until at least his third turn against his infect-less opponent.
When Matthias played a Goblin Electromancer on his second turn, suddenly both players were threatening to end the game in a hurry.
Ari used a Thoughtseize to take out a Manamorphose (leaving his opponent with a Peer Through Depths, a Sleight of Hand, and a couple of rituals), and another Noble Hierarch attack, aided by a Vines of the Vastwood left Hunt on 8.
"I wonder if I can kill you this turn... I guess we'll just have to see," said Matthias as he cast a Peer Through Depths. "I have two options here – one option is Grapeshot away all of your creatures, the other option is to Epic Experiment for 6."
A Glistener Elf gave Ari a different route to victory, but he was going to need a lot to go wrong for his opponent's Storm in order deck to take the game.
But when Matthias began to go off, it didn't seem like he was going to fizzle...
Which allowed him to cast:
With his 12 mana, Matthias then cast an Epic Experiment for 11.
While his Epic Experiment didn't have a way to finish the game, it did have a bunch of spells – so when Matthias drew a Grapeshot off of a Manamorphose, Ari promptly conceded since he knew that Matthias had more than enough spells to finish him off that turn.
Matthias Hunt 1 – Ari Lax 0
"Well, you can't kill me with what you have in your hand. But let's pretend that you draw a Vines of the Vastwood or a Might of Old Krosa... then I die. That seems reasonable."
A Goblin Electromancer followed, and Matthias passed the turn.
When Ari attacked with his 3/3 Glistener Elf, Matthias decided not to block – putting himself firmly at the mercy of whatever card Ari had just drawn.
It was not a pump spell.
Matthias had gotten off easy that time, but he knew that he was unlikely to survive through another turn, and consequently began going off on his third turn.
Allowing him to cast:
Epic Experiment for 6 – revealed:
Matthias Hunt 2 – Ari Lax 0
Round 7 Feature Match - Reid Duke vs. Carlos Pal
This hasn't been the best year of Magic in Reid Duke's life. The Magic Online Wunderkind felt horrible after his poor record at the Players Championship. He tried to rebound at Grand Prix Costa Rica, Pal's home country, but failed to make Day 2. When I talked to him about how things had been going while in Costa Rica, he seemed despondent, like he was resigned to another bad day. Fortunately, things have began to turn around recently. He had a great showing recently at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, finishing in the Top 64, and added another Top 64 finish at Grand Prix Philadelphia. He's off to a pretty good start here, as well, going undefeated to begin his run at Day 2.
His opponent this round has had a bit of a different arc recently. Despite not being a member of the Costa Rican national team at the World Magic Cup this past August, Pal was recognized by most of the Latin American community as being one of the best players in Costa Rica. He has exploded this past year, traveling to a play in every Grand Prix he could. He defended his home country's honor well, finishing in Top 32 at Grand Prix Costa Rica.
"You should definitely have Manadeprived make you a shirt with the Costa Rican flag on the sleeve instead of the Canadian flag," I suggested to Pal as I noticed it on his shirt.
"I'm actually working on that, but I haven't been back home in a while," he laughed. "I got stuck after Philadelphia because of the hurricane, so I stayed at AJ Sacher's. I had this tournament coming up anyway, so it wasn't too bad. But I do get to go home afterwards!"
Pal mulliganned his opening hand, clearly looking for a hand with more explosive potential. Mulligans hurt his Infect deck's ability to have a critical mass of the spells required to kill opponents swiftly, but the redundancy of the deck makes mulligans less detrimental than they could be. He kept his six-card hand and opened with a Noble Hierarch. Duke, playing the ubiquitous Jund, matched Pal's first-turn creature with a Deathrite Shaman, Jund's newest utility player.
Pal's next turn brought his first infect creature: a Glistener Elf that he had either drawn that turn or chosen not to play until he could protect it from Lightning Bolt. Duke peeked to see what Pal had in store for him with an Inquisition of Kozilek, taking a Plague Stinger over Groundswell and Might of Old Krosa.
During Pal's upkeep, Duke searched out a Stomping Ground with a Misty Rainforest, dropping to an irrelevant 17. He then used Abrupt Decay to quickly destroy the Glistener Elf, not giving Pal a chance to draw a Vines of Vastwood to save it. Pal simply attacked with his Hierarch, dropping Duke to 16. On his turn, Duke added a 4/5 Tarmogoyf to his side (instant, sorcery, land, and creature), dominating the board. Pal was going to be in serious trouble if he didn't get an infect creature into play soon.
Pal was in an interesting spot. His Noble Hierarch could potentially hold off Duke's team thanks to the pump spells in his hand, but without them, he would find it harder to kill Duke should he find an infect creature. Even though Pal had a Misty Rainforest to trigger the Groundswell, Duke attacked in with his Tarmogoyf. Pal dropped to 13. Duke added a second Tarmogoyf to his team, and things truly began to look bleak for the rising Costa Rican star. He decided to use his Noble Hierarch to block one of the Tarmogoyfs on their next attack, keeping it alive with a Groundswell. This proved nothing more than a token gesture, as the pair of Tarmogoyfs finished their job with no further resistance two turns later.
Reid Duke 1 - Carlos Pal 0
Pal started the second game in a considerably different manner than the first. He began with an Inkmoth Nexus and a Spellskite on the first turns of the game. The Skite would give his fragile creatures a bit of protection from any of Duke's instant-speed removal. What it couldn't protect were the cards in his hand. Duke hit him with an Inquisition of Kozilek on the next turn, taking Plague Stinger over Vines of Vastwood, Blighted Agent, and twoVerdant Catacombs. After writing down Pal's card, he dropped a Treetop Village into play tapped. Pal chose to use one of his Verdant Catacombs to fetch out a Breeding Pool, taking three in the process. This gave him access to the blue required for the Blighted Agent in his hand. The Glistener Elf he dropped into play alongside it revealed his draw for the turn. Duke confirmed that he knew the last two cards in Pal's hand by checking the list he'd made after the Inquisition of Kozilek. He didn't have a third land, but the Duress he used to leave Pal at only a land in hand kept him safe for the time being. Pal activated his Inkmoth Nexus on his turn and swung for three poison,
Things got incrementally better for him when he played Liliana of the Veil, forcing Pal to sacrifice his Spellskite. Unfortunately, the Spellskite wasn't really the creature he needed to get rid of at the time. Pal was drawing off of the top of his deck, but he was also in a position to kill Duke in one or two turns if he drew well. Unfortunately for Duke, Pal didn't just draw well, he drew perfectly, ripping a Vines of Vastwood from the top of his deck to swing for seven poison and killing Duke exactly.
Reid Duke 1 - Carlos Pal 1
Now on the play, Duke once again aimed an early Thoughtseize at Pal's hand. Blighted Agent hit the graveyard, leaving Pal with a Vines of Vastwood, Thoughtseize, and a pair of Noble Hierarchs. Without wasting time, Pal applied the golden rule, aiming his Thoughtseize at Duke. He took Tarmogoyf over Lightning Bolt, leaving Duke with Treetop Village, Verdant Catacombs, and Misty Rainforest in hand.
Duke made a Treetop Village and passed the turn. Pal added his first creature, one of the two off-topic Noble Hierarchs in his hand. Duke got aggressive on his turn, playing a third land and attacking with his Treetop Village, dropping Pal to 13. A second Thoughtseize from Pal dropped him to 10 on the next turn, revealing that Duke had just drawn a second copy himself. Pal ultimately took the Lightning Bolt in Duke's hand, not worried in the slightest about keeping his hand intact. After resolving the Thoughtseize, Pal added a freshly-drawn Blighted Agent to his board. Pal hadn't yet infected Duke, and his hand was light on pump spells, so things looked fairly good for Duke here. Duke twisted the knife some by Thoughtseizing the Vines of Vastwood remaining in Pal's hand, leaving him with only a pair of lands and a Hierarch.
Duke attacked, dropping Pal to 7. The combination of Thoughtseizes and fetch lands had done their fair share of Duke's work, making his finish line much closer than Pal's. Pal did his best to sprint ahead, though, adding a second Blighted Agent and second Hierarch to his side. He attacked Duke to three poison and passed the turn. Duke didn't let up, using Maelstrom Pulse to clear away the Agents, leaving Pal with two Hierarchs in play. He kept attacking with his Treetop Village, and Pal's life total withered away. Pal tried to switch gears, attacking for three with his Hierarch, but a second Maelstrom Pulse on the following turn left Pal with only lands. Two attacks from the Treetop later, and Duke was one win closer to a Day 2 berth.
Reid Duke 2 - Carlos Pal 1
Saturday, 5:57 p.m. – What Does it Take for Zoo to Succeed in Modern?
At the 2012 Players Championship, an event that featured 16 of the best players in the world, Zoo was the most played deck. 6 of the 16 players at the event were seen sporting Steppe Lynxes, and Kird Apes – but only Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa managed to advance to the Top 4 with the deck.
Since then, Zoo has been little more than an afterthought for most players. At Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, only 3 of the 383 players at the event played Zoo and only one of those players (Bo Li) managed to finish with a greater than 50% win percentage. Heck, even Soul Sisters, a fringe life gain deck featuring cards like Ajani's Pridemate and Soul Warden, had more pilots than Zoo.
Zoo continued to underwhelm at Grand Prix Lyon, and the deck now seems like it's a relic of the past in this Modern format.
In order to learn more about whether or not Zoo is gone for good, I sat down with two Owen Turtenwald and Brian Kibler to learn more about what conditions are necessary for Zoo to thrive in Modern.
"Zoo is so bad right now because everyone is playing Jund, and Blue-White. Those decks are naturally advantaged against Zoo because they're set up to win long games with Snapcaster Mages, or Bloodbraid Elves and they can buy plenty of time with cards like Path to Exile, Lightning Bolt, and Kitchen Finks."
"Zoo is good in formats where it's doing something that no other deck does. And right now, there are tons of players who are doing the same things that Zoo wants to do, only better. Pretty much the only thing Zoo has going for it is that it's fast – but the speed of Zoo just isn't appealing because there are plenty of other decks like, Infect, that are just as fast or faster than it."
"Players are already incentivized to play one mana removal spells to deal with Birds of Paradise out of Birthing Pod deck, and Dark Confidants out of Jund decks – so there's really just no good reason to play Zoo."
"In order for Zoo to be good, Kitchen Finks can't be a card that's in the maindeck of the most popular deck in the format. Zoo is only a good deck when your creatures are actually good against the other creatures that players are playing. You just don't matchup well against decks that are doing things that are a little bit bigger than you. And when tons of decks have Lightning Bolt in them, you're going to be in trouble."
"You want your deck to be a lot faster than someone, or slightly slower. You want to be able to kill them before they're able to get their deck online, or you want to be able play cards that matchup really well against what they're playing."
"If you're playing a deck that is slightly slower than what your opponent is playing, that's going to be really good for you. If your opponent is playing Kird Apes, and you're playing Kitchen Finks then it's going to be tough for them to get ahead early– and if your opponent's top end is Tarmogoyf, and your top end is Baneslayer Angel then you're going to have inevitability."
So right now, there just aren't enough matchups where the relative speed of Zoo, or its abundance of cheap burn spells work to its advantage. But if that changes, and cheap removal spells are scarce, and Kitchen Finks are in danger of facing extinction, then it might be time for you to dust off your Kird Apes...
What is the Best Combo Deck in Modern?
Saturday, 7:34 a.m. – What Makes Jund a Good Deck?
It's the dirty word of Magic. Since it first hit the scene in 2008, Jund has been the deck no one wants to talk about. More so than Affinity, Necro, or Academy, all specters of Magic past, Jund has scared, frustrated, and utterly trounced legions of Magic players. Part of what has made it so anger-inspiring is its longevity. Decks featuring Necropotence have popped up occasionally since the Black Summer of 1996. Various artifact-based decks similar to the original Affinity deck have shown their ability to compete at a high level even through today, from Tempered Steel to the current incarnation of Robots. Academy got hit so hard with the ban hammer that I'm surprised it's kids (High Tide and Storm) didn't feel it.
Yet none of these decks has been as despised by as many players for as continuously as Jund has. It's like the Barry Bonds of Magic. We've dedicated almost as many words in the history of our coverage to the deck as Pedro Gomez did to Bonds. We've talked about the fact that the deck is good. We've spoken in hushed tones of its dominance, raved about its unfairness, and dissected it with a razor's edge, but in all that time, I don't think we've truly gotten to the heart of why Jund is a good deck.
And it is, make no mistake. I abhor Jund (unbiased journalism FTW!). As much as I love seeing suspenseful moments and come-from-behind victories, it makes my skin crawl to watch a Bloodbraid Elf resolve. I don't like its ubiquitousness, forcing us to really pore through the pairings to find some variety in coverage. And nothing makes me want to flip a table hard enough to do reddit proud more than four straight rounds of Jund mirror matches.
Yet, I thoroughly respect its strength. The deck is good.
What kills me is how it just doesn't seem like it should be. It's not a particularly cohesive deck, at least not like Infect, Robots, or Scapeshift are. It doesn't have a theme. It's just good cards. Actually, that is it's theme: good cards. Don't get me wrong, they are very good cards. Tarmogoyf is (barely) arguably the best two-drop creature every printed. Bloodbraid Elf is the best 2-for-1 since the jump shot. Bolt is a multiple gold medal-winning Olympian.
But this isn't even the first time that a deck has gone with the "play good cards" theme. Junk was one of the first decks to simply play the best cards in the format, running Wild Mongrel instead of Tarmogoyf, Vindicate and Pernicious Deed instead of Lightning Bolt, and Spiritmonger instead of Bloodbraid Elf. These are also very powerful cards, but the deck never dominated the landscape like Jund has.
So what is it about Jund that has enabled it to stand the test of time where other decks have failed? The answer lies not in the power of the cards in the deck, but in their versatility.
Luis Scott-Vargas, part-time law enforcement agent, full-time destroyer of fantasy Pro Tours, sat down to help me understand what exactly it is that makes Jund good.
"Jund isn't a particularly synergistic deck," LSV admitted. "Sure, cards like Tarmogoyf and Liliana complement each other fairly well. But they don't make each other better the same way that the cards in a deck like Storm do, where Goblin Electromancer and the mana producers make each other levels better than they would be alone. Jund is more of a classic 'good stuff' deck. It's basically just a midrange deck, and those haven't traditionally been all that great."
What Jund lacks in synergy, it more than makes up for in sheer versatility. Each of the cards in the deck is capable of filling more than one role depending on the situation it requires. Take Tarmogoyf, for example. Against a more controlling deck, Tarmogoyf assumes the role of efficient attacker, putting pressure on opponents and forcing them to find an answer. Against a faster deck, Tarmogoyf provides an effective Moat, clogging up the ground and making combat a nightmare for the aggressive player. Liliana does the same thing, forcing discards against slower decks while paring away opposing troops in faster matchups. Once upon a time, Mike Flores wrote a great article called 'Who's the Beatdown," effectively saying that in any given situation, there is one player who is supposed to be on the offensive and one supposed to be on the defensive. Jund is one of those rare decks that can seamlessly play both roles and is capable of transitioning between them at a moments notice. Because of this, Jund is incredibly adept at handling any situation.
"I expect that most of the decks that I will face in a tournament will fall into one category of deck or another. You've got the fast combo decks like Storm and Infect. You've got the aggro decks like GW and Robots. I know that there are going to be decks I face that are on my radar but aren't something I had particularly planned for, but the deck has enough versatility to adapt. Jund isn't overly favored against anything, really. But on the same note, it doesn't really have a bad matchup against anything either," LSV explained. "It's not vulnerable to any particular card, like Robots is to Creeping Corrosion or Dredge is to Leyline of the Void. Blood Moon is probably the closest thing. I'd almost go so far as to say that the deck isn't really that focused on a particular goal, and this lack of focus insulates it from hate cards."
It's a strange situation where a lack of focus is considered a positive thing, but in this case it makes sense. A deck needs to focus its attentions on a particular aspect of the game in order for players to exploit that fact. Robots relies on the synergy of having lots of artifacts, making it obviously vulnerable to mass artifact removal. Dredge relies on cards in the graveyard, so it's vulnerable to removing that graveyard. Storm relies on manipulating its draws and winning in a flurry of spells, making it vulnerable to cards like Aven Mindcensor and Rule of Law.
Jund doesn't have this weakness. Literally the only thing Jund has to attack is its mana base. One of the downsides of packing a deck that wants to goThoughtseize into Tarmogoyf into Liliana into Bloodbraid Elf is the fact that you need a very specific set of mana to pull that off. As such, the deck often runs up to eight fetch lands and a plethora of dual lands to make sure that it has no problem casting spells. This leaves it vulnerable to mana denial, as Gerry Thompson once exploited with Spreading Seas and many players now are trying to exploit with Blood Moon. Still, there's a new player on the block that is going a long way towards helping alleviate that weakness: Deathrite Shaman.
"Deathrite Shaman does some very powerful things. First, you can cast him for black mana, which is very important," LSV explained. The deck runs Thoughtseize, Liliana of the Veil, and Dark Confidant, so black mana is utterly essential in the early part of the game. "He is capable of gaining life to stave off aggressive decks, damaging opponents to finish them off, and fixing mana. With eight fetch lands in the deck plus a virtual guarantee that your opponent is playing at least four as well, the Shaman is almost always going to be able to activate this ability. In addition to that, there are a few decks in the format that you can really mess with by removing cards from their graveyard, like Storm with Past in Flames. About the only thing that hurts it is the fact that it makes your Bloodbraid Elves marginally worse, but I'm still not unhappy very often when I cascade into a Shaman."
In a deck that prides itself on versatility, Deathrite Shaman is seemingly the ideal utility player. It can disrupt game plans while helping you enact your own. More importantly, it can function either aggressively or defensively as the situation calls.
Another wonderful side effect of having a deck that doesn't really have a focus is that you can tinker around with the build and you don't impact how the deck runs nearly to the same degree as you do a deck that has to have a critical mass of a certain card in order to work. You couldn't cut down on the number of Rituals in Storm to add in a new level of countermagic. You can't cut the pump spells from infect because you want to add more mana critters. Doing so impacts the deck's ability to achieve its goal. Jund's only goal is to do whatever is necessary at the time to win the match. All a card really needs to do is be versatile like the other cards in the deck, and it can function as an interchangeable part, just another cog in the machine.
"You can customize it to be strong in the matchups you want it to. You can take cards out and put new cards in. We subbed out Geralf's Messengers for Lingering Souls for this tournament. With a properly tuned sideboard, you can be ready for virtually any deck you will face with Jund."
The last thing that really contributes to Jund's strength is the state of the formats it has run over in the past years. As a midrange deck, Jund's strength is in beating the more aggressive decks that have faster, but smaller, creatures. Traditionally, midrange has been weak against slower control decks, which have more of a chance to set up and gain control. As long as the aggro deck in a format has been strong enough to keep the slower decks in check, Jund has been able to flourish.
Jund also specializes in beating decks with creatures. In the past five years or so, there have been enough powerful creatures printed that most constructed formats have focused around them. Think Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, Bloodbraid Elf, Snapcaster Mage, Delver of Secrets, Geist of Saint Traft... The list goes on and on. People want to play these very powerful creatures in their decks. Because of this, cards like Lightning Bolt and Terminate have traditionally been very powerful. As long as creatures are good, Jund will be good.
But what if they weren't? It's becoming more clear what makes Jund good, but what could make it bad? LSV thought that it revolved around the very question of creatures.
"Jund wouldn't be nearly as good if combo was prevalent to the point that creatures weren't that successful," LSV elaborated. "Once Terminate and Lightning Bolt aren't as relevant, it's really hard to justify playing Jund. I suppose, though, that Jund would just switch to running more hand disruption than creature removal. You'd always have Abrupt Decay to deal with stray creatures. I really don't think you could ever get to the point that Jund would be bad, but it certainly wouldn't be as good as it is now."
And right now, that is pretty good. And I think I understand why.
Saturday, 8:08 a.m. – Watching the Cream Rise
As an event drags on, each round brings a new makeup to the tournament. As players lose and drop to lower tables, they begin to disappear from our sight as we constantly hawk for the most successful decks in the tournament. As players continue to win, they assure themselves of a spot on our collective radar. Over time, a clear image forms in our head about what is good in a format, and what is not.
Starting in Round 5, after the players with three byes have had a chance to play a round of Magic, we began a project, tracking the archetypes that were playing at the top ten tables. Early on, the appearance at those tables was fairly random, as far more than twenty players were undefeated. What we got was kind of the luck of the draw. As things moved on, however, the cream rose to the top and things became clearer. Here's what we saw:
Nothing too out of the ordinary here. A random sampling of the metagame would likely give this exact result as an example of the general makeup of the tournament. Jund, Storm, and the new darling Angels seemed to be the most popular, while the other decks pulled up the rear.
Jund retained its lead, and there was a bit of a shakeup as far as the rest of the decks went. Storm, which once occupied the only UR combo slots in our field of view, now shared the spotlight with Splinter Twin. There was also less redundancy as the variety of decks available in Modern really became apparent as thirteen different decks were represented in the top ten tables. We let things settle for a round to see if we could find some more consistency.
Now we started to see a little valuable movement. Jund and Angels stayed strong atop the charts, owing much to their consistency. Counting the Pod decks, which have the Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker/Pestermite combo built in, Splinter Twin began to completely overtake the Storm deck on the combo side of things. Just when things began to look normal, Zoo came back from the dead to put two players on the high tables. Only one more round to go.
And WHAM! Jund ends the day with an exclamation point! The most persistent monarch not named Elizabeth, Jund proves once again that not crushing any deck in particular is a perfectly fine thing as long as nothing crushes you either. Behind Jund, Splinter Twin appears to have dethroned Storm as the dominant UR combo deck in Modern. Other than that, Angels proved that it has staying power, keeping in second place all day long. The other big thing evident from these glances is the variety of Modern. Even after nine rounds of play whittling decks away, there were still nearly a dozen different decks represented at the apex. With the field for Day 2 decided, expect a more detailed analysis of the metagame, along with some interesting matchup stats as the tournament progresses.
Round 9 Feature Match - David Ochoa (Jund) vs. Brian Kowal (Blue White)
Round 9 Feature Match David Ochoa (Jund) vs Brian Kowal (Blue White)
by Steve Sadin
David Ochoa has spent the last couple of years as one of a handful of players competing for the unofficial, but nonetheless bittersweet, title of Best Player Without a Pro Tour Top 8. At least until Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, where he made it all the way to the Semifinals before succumbing to the reigning Player of the Year Yuuya Watanabe.
While David Ochoa is currently at the top of his game, if he's going to advance to Day Two here at Grand Prix Chicago, he's going to need to get past the old school pro Brian Kowal (who just so happens to have made it to the Top 8 of the last Grand Prix Chicago in 2009).
By the time Kowal had drawn a third land, it was too late. Sure Kowal was able to cast a Blade Splicer, but Ochoa had a pair of Tarmogoyfs and enough counters on his Liliana of the Veil to take the game before Kowal could even find a fourth land.
David Ochoa 1 – Brian Kowal 0
Ochoa mulliganed into a passable hand to start the second game, but he would have plenty of time to recover as both players got off to slow starts.
Kowal's third turn Rest in Peace (a card that Kowal sideboarded in to combat Ochoa's Deathrite Shamans, and Lingering Souls) was the first spell of the game – while Ochoa's Thoughtseize took a Spell Snare and left Kowal with just a pair of Path to Exiles and a couple of lands.
Without any spells to work with, Kowal hoped that his Mutavault and his Celestial Colonnade would be able to do some heavy lifting – however, an Olivia Voldaren made that plan seem a bit improbable for Kowal...
At least until he drew a Wrath of God, which cleared the board, and set up an attack from Mutavault that knocked Ochoa down to 10. When Bloodbraid Elf turned over a Thoughtseize (which Ochoa opted not to cast), it became clear that Kowal was very much in the driver's seat.
A Celestial Colonnade attack left Ochoa on 6, and forced the Pro Tour Return to Ravnica Top 8er to pass his next turn without a play, or an attack.
Kowal activated his Celestial Colonnade and "inside of combat, before attackers are declared" Ochoa pointed a Terminate at the Celestial Colonnade. Kowal had a Remand to keep his land alive, but he was unable to attack that turn since he had to tap the Celestial Colonnade to cast his Remand.
David Ochoa 1 – Brian Kowal 1
Ochoa mulliganed to start the third game, then watched as his second turn Dark Confidant fell to a Dismember... But then things started getting better for Ochoa. A Liliana of the Veil was allowed to resolve, and a Bloodbraid Elf cascaded into an Abrupt Decay that killed off his Kowal's Aven Riftwatcher. But before Ochoa could put things away, a Blade Splicer came down for Kowal, and gave the old school pro some much needed board presence.
The now handless (thanks to his own Planeswalker) Ochoa drew for his turn, and promptly +1ed his Liliana of the Veil. Ochoa's freshly drawn card? A Lingering Souls that he didn't have the white mana to hard-cast.
The flashed back Lingering Souls gave Ochoa the chump blockers that he needed to protect his Liliana of the Veil, and set up her ultimate a turn later. "Well, this one got real interesting" quipped Kowal as Ochoa decided how he would split up his permanents.
However, despite being able to use his Planeswalker's ultimate ability, Ochoa was unable to generate a meaningful (lasting) advantage. A Snapcaster Mage flashing back a Dismember, a Blade Splicer, and a couple of Tectonic Edge activations later and Kowal had taken the match.
David Ochoa 1 – Brian Kowal 2