Before a big tournament, it is always a good idea to look at the results of recent Grand Prix events to get an idea of what to expect. Over the course of the last months, it appeared that the best deck in Modern was Melira Pod, an archetype that snatched wins at Grand Prix Portland and Grand Prix Kansas City.
However, at the World Championship, no one showed up with Melira Pod. "The deck has a giant target on its back," Shahar Shenhar told me before the tournament. "It will just be hated out. People will play Scavenging Ooze to break up the combo. Or they will play Blue-White-Red, which is the worst matchup for Melira Pod."
Shenhar's predictions came true: no one showed up with Melira Pod and the field contained a lot of Blue-White-Red players. Apart from that, there was a diversity of other archetypes that can keep any deck tinkerer happy for quite some time. All sixteen Modern decklists are shown here. The metagame overview is below.
|Archetype||# of players|
|Bogle (Hexproof Auras)||1|
Of the eight players who chose Blue-White-Red for Standard, seven went with the same color combination in Modern as well. In Modern, Blue-White-Red is a control deck where the goal is to go for slow card advantage via Electrolyze and Cryptic Command, eventually winning by attacking with Celestial Colonnade. One of the main reasons the players gave for why they chose the deck was that they felt it had the best sideboard. The total record of all players running the archetype was a decent, yet unimpressive, 10-11.
An interesting sideboard choice made by Martin Juza, Ben Stark, Yuuya Watanabe, Stanislav Cifka, and Shuhei Nakamura was Hallowed Burial over Supreme Verdict. Although Hallowed Burial costs an additional mana, it properly answers the plethora of creatures that don't want to stay dead, such as Kitchen Finks. Moreover, against Spider Umbra – a centerpiece of Reid Duke's Bogle deck – Hallowed Burial works much better than Supreme Verdict. Funnily enough, the problem was not deciding which of the two Wraths was best; the problem was finding a physical copy of Hallowed Burial. Just before the Modern rounds, I spotted Sheldon Menery looking through his Commander decks to help Ben Stark with the last card to complete his deck. It was a funny sight.
The next most popular deck was Jund without red. Josh Utter-Leyton, the deck's creator, explained to me why he chose this deck. "It includes all the best cards. I have been playing the creature trio of Deathrite Shaman, Tarmogoyf, and Dark Confidant since it was possible and after M14 came out, I added Scavenging Ooze to the list as well. I do not play red because Tectonic Edge is better than Lightning Bolt." His teammates David Ochoa and Eric Froehlich played the deck as well; their total record was 6-3, giving this archetype an astounding 67% win percentage.
One card that caught my attention was the maindeck Deathmark. "It's extra removal that kills everything that you want to kill, except for Dark Confidant," Utter-Leyton explained. He correctly analyzed the metagame, as most World Championship competitors came equipped with green or white creatures.
The One-Of Archetypes
Reid Duke went with the Hexproof Auras, i.e., the Bogle deck. The deck name refers to its centerpiece Slippery Bogle, which becomes a big threat when combined with one of the twenty-seven (!) auras that Duke has access to. "The deck is easy to hate out," Duke said, "but it was under the radar." His gamble rewarded him with a 2-1 finish and a spot in the Sunday playoffs.
Willy Edel chose to play Domri Naya, a deck featuring powerful creatures such as Tarmogoyf, Loxodon Smiter, and Thrun, the Last Troll besides to the imposing Planeswalker Domri Rade. "I built my deck to beat Birthing Pod, Splinter Twin, and Scapeshift strategies," Edel said, "but I think my deck has a very good shot at beating Blue-White-Red, too. My uncountable threats are very important in that matchup." Edel ended up going 2-1 in Modern.
Craig Wescoe played White-Black tokens. "I have been playing the deck for the past year or so," Wescoe mentioned. Accordingly, no one was surprised by his deck choice. Even though everyone in the room prepared for Spectral Procession and Raise the Alarm, Wescoe stuck to the deck he felt most comfortable with. He posted a solid 2-1 finish.
Magic Online Championship Series winner Dmitriy Butakov ran Gifts Ungiven. His deck featured several excellent Gifts packages. Take, for instance the following split: Life from the Loam, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, Ghost Quarter, and Raven's Crime. It's land and hand destruction aplenty! He could also fetch Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and Unburial Rites only, or go for a collection of solid threats in Knight of the Reliquary, Tarmogoyf, Sun Titan, and Liliana of the Veil. "Gifts was the deck I had the most experience with," Butakov said. "Gifts decks have access to all the answers, which plays very well versus combo decks and versus completely new decks that people might come up with. I tested the deck mainly on Magic Online, where mono-red is popular and a bad matchup for me. Here, I didn't think there would be very much mono-red." Butakov was right and piloted his Gifts deck to a 2-1 Modern finish.
Shi Tian Lee stuck to his Top 4 deck from Pro Tour Return to Ravnica: Scapeshift. "I added Scavenging Ooze to my sideboard as a disruptive element against Birthing Pod, Tarmogoyf, and other graveyard strategies that would double as a win condition. Apart from that, I didn't change much," he said. Unfortunately for him, his deck may have been ill-positioned for this tournament, as he lost all three of his Modern matches.
Finally, we have Brian Kibler, who chose to play Green-White Hatebears. "I basically took Paul Rietzl's deck from the recent Grand Prix in Kansas City, but changed Dryad Militant and Experiment One to Noble Hierarch and Scavenging Ooze," Kibler said. "The decks I expected the most at the World Championship were Jund, Blue-White-Red, Birthing Pod, and Scapeshift. Against Birthing Pod and Scapeshift, my deck has a lot of disruptive tools in Leonin Arbiter and Aven Mindcensor. Those cards are also an excellent combo with Ghost Quarter. Ghost Quarter and Tectonic Edge together helps me to fight the mana-hungry decks. In particular, I can keep Blue-White-Red off of red mana and destroy Celestial Colonnade. My deck is also solid against Jund, as Loxodon Smiter, Wilt-Leaf Liege, and Voice of Resurgence match up very well against Liliana of the Veil."
The Sunday Playoff: A Preview
Now that the field is whittled down to the final four competitors, what are the matchups that remain?
The first semifinal features Reid Duke, who is on a mission to redeem himself from a disappointing performance at last year's Players Championship, versus Josh Utter-Leyton, the reigning Player of the Year. As far as decks are concerned, that is Bogle versus Jund without red. There are two important things going in in this matchup. First, Duke had the best record over the course of two days, so he gets to be on the play in Game 1. That is a huge advantage because it means that Utter-Leyton won't be able to snatch a Slippery Bogle with Thoughtseize or Inquisition of Kozilek before Duke can cast it. The second important element of this matchup is that after sideboard, Duke gets to add four copies of Leyline of Sanctity, effectively shutting down the discard spells and one of Utter-Leyton's biggest threats: Liliana of the Veil. Even though Utter-Leyton's deck is filled with some of the best cards in Modern, it appears that Duke is the favorite.
The second semifinal features soon-to-be-inducted Hall of Famer Ben Stark and Wunderkind Shahar Shenhar. They are facing off in a Blue-White-Red mirror matchup. Game 1, Stark may have a small edge, as he can play the control role better. Stark has more Cryptic Command and Electrolyze and has access to 4 Spell Snare to counter Snapcaster Mage. After sideboard, things might change when Shenhar brings in Molten Rain and Thundermaw Hellkite, but it will likely be a close match. The players, who know each other pretty well as they are both members of team Channelfireball, were taking it pretty laid back, going as far as playtesting the matchup against each other. When I talked to them earlier today, both expressed the idea that they were the favorite in the matchup, which probably says a lot about the nuances and personal touches that you can put on a control deck.
One way or another, the finals will certainly feature at least one Blue-White-Red deck. The other deck is up in the air. For the sake of the argument, let's suppose that Reid Duke would emerge as the winner. Interestingly, the two Blue-White-Red decks would match up very differently against Duke's Slippery Bogles. Stark is more than prepared with multiple copies of Hallowed Burial and Wear & Tear in his sideboard. In contrast, Shenhar does not have access to those cards. He only has Supreme Verdict, which is ineffective against Spider Umbra and the like. Shenhar went as far as claiming that Duke would have a 95% chance to beat him if they were to make it to the finals.
I can't wait to see how it all plays out. Make sure to tune in to the webcast when all the action starts!