4304, A Richmond Retrospective

Posted in Perilous Research on March 13, 2014

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Welcome back to Perilous Research! Last weekend, more than 4,300 players showed up in Richmond, Virginia, with dreams of winning the largest Constructed Grand Prix thus far. Perhaps more impressively, we weren't playing Block Constructed or Standard, we were playing Modern. The most recent Pro Tour had the community electrified with excitement over the format. Today, we'll be taking a look at what happened in Richmond. It's hard to digest the sheer volume of information available from an event that large, but we're not going to find a more complete snapshot of Modern as a format.

We knew that Grand Prix Richmond would be diverse, but the scale of variety is quite daunting when we're dealing with over 4,000 players. We'll start by taking a big-picture look at the Modern format as it panned out in Richmond. Looking back on the Grand Prix, the first thing we notice about the Top 8 is the ever-comforting "skill game" revelation. With over 4,300 players in the mix, Luis Scott-Vargas, Ben Friedman, Jamie Parke, and Josh McClain managed to break into the Top 8 of the event. It's easy to get discouraged with competitive Magic when we're subject to bad draws or unlucky matchups, but, in our heart of hearts, we can rest comfortably with the knowledge that the better players will enjoy better results in the long run.

The biggest story from Richmond for deck builders is the success of Birthing Pod. When the dust settled after fifteen rounds, five Birthing Pod decks found themselves in the Top 8 of the event.

There were four copies of Melira Pod and one copy of Kiki Pod. Let's take a look at the Birthing Pod decks from Grand Prix Richmond.

Ben Friedman - Melira Pod

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Three of the five Birthing Pod strategies in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Richmond were a lot like this. The deck has a very effective midrange game plan with an explosive finish. The combination of Melira, Sylvok Outcast alongside an outlet to sacrifice creatures and a persist creature creates an infinite loop. When looping Kitchen Finks, the Melira Pod player gains infinite life. When looping Murderous Redcap, the Melira Pod player deals infinite damage. The deck has a lot of angles for difficult matchups. Against Affinity or Infect, a Melira Pod player can Chord of Calling for Orzhov Pontiff to eat the opponent's entire board. Against midrange creature strategies, Shriekmaw can be a haymaker. Thrun, the Last Troll, is nearly impossible for Red-White-Blue Control strategies to deal with. The traditional Melira Pod strategy offers players a good deck with a lot of room to play their way out of the most dire situations. It makes sense that so many of the greatest Modern players chose to pilot this deck last weekend.

[card]Melira, Sylvok Outcast[/card][card]Murderous Redcap[/card]

Luis Scott-Vargas - Melira Pod

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One of the greatest players to ever play the game, Luis Scott-Vargas, chose to play Melira Pod as well. Luis's version of the deck has a unique twist, though. In addition to the Melira, Sylvok Outcast combo, Luis also had another infinite combo in the form of Archangel of Thune and Spike Feeder. Removing a +1/+1 counter from Spike Feeder allows the pilot to gain 2 life, which in turn gives all creatures another +1/+1 counter. This combo allows a player to generate infinite life while putting infinite +1/+1 counters on all non-Spike Feeder creatures. Archangel of Thune also interacts nicely with Kitchen Finks, allowing it to persist back indefinitely just like Melira, Sylvok Outcast. It's also nice to have a gigantic lifelinking flier to close the game with. Going forward, I would be surprised if we didn't see more versions of the deck including this combo in addition to the normal Melira, Sylvok Outcast plan.

[card]Archangel of Thune[/card][card]Spike Feeder[/card]

Brian Liu - Kiki Pod

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Brian Liu chose to go a different route entirely with his Birthing Pod deck. Kiki Pod uses Birthing Pod to assemble Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Deceiver Exarch. Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker taps to put a copy of the Deceiver Exarch into play, which untaps Kiki-Jiki, which makes another Exarch, etc. The deck plays similarly to Melira Pod, but it sacrifices a bit of consistency for the sake of a higher mean in card power level.

[card]Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker[/card][card]Deceiver Exarch[/card]

Birthing Pod decks weren't the only big winner in Richmond, though. Affinity decks enjoyed a lot of success; two copies made the Top 8 of the event and a few others snuck into the Top 16. Let's take a look a Vipin Chackonal's finalist Affinity list.

Vipin Chackonal - Affinity

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Affinity is the new top-dog aggressive strategy in Modern. The deck unloads its hand brutally fast and closes the game with a big card like Cranial Plating, Arcbound Ravager, or Steel Overseer. Affinity's success last weekend will likely lead to a lot of Ancient Grudge, Creeping Corrosion, Hurkyl's Recall, and Vandalblast in the coming weeks. We can expect this deck to do well in the future, but we'll probably need to wait for the hate to wane.

[card]Cranial Plating[/card][card]Arcbound Ravager[/card]

Splinter Twin decks were another huge factor at Grand Prix Richmond. Top 8 competitor Jamie Parke played a traditional blue-red version of the deck, but Todd Anderson and Samuel Tharmaratnam played interesting versions to 13–2 records as well. Let's check out their lists.

Jamie Parke - UR Twin

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Jamie Parke is one of the best players in the world that you may have never heard of. This one-time Worlds finalist sleeved up a traditional blue-red version of Splinter Twin with a lot of one-ofs that allowed him to play around his opponent's disruption optimally. The Splinter Twin combo decks are attempting to assemble the same interaction as the Kiki Pod strategies. Parke's sideboard lets him transform into a more grindy strategy against control or midrange decks while giving him a lot of resistance against aggression.

Samuel Tharmaratnam - WUR Twin

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Grand Prix Miami Top 8 Competitor Sammy T managed to Top 16 the largest Constructed Magic event in history last weekend with this interesting version of Splinter Twin. Wall of Omens helps Sammy find his combo while making him resistant to aggressive starts from his opponent. Additionally, Wall of Omens can pick up a Splinter Twin to let him draw two cards a turn or get copies by Kiki-Jiki for the same effect. Restoration Angel, Spellskite, and the rest of Sammy's creatures let him apply pressure, often forcing his opponent to tap out and get comboed. Swan Song plays a strong role here as a hard counterspell that can protect his combo for a single mana.

[card]Wall of Omens[/card][card]Swan Song[/card]

Todd Anderson - Tarmo-Twin

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Todd Anderson and Brad Nelson played this version of Splinter Twin to a combined 25–3–2 record at Grand Prix Richmond. I'm not a math scientist, but 25–3–2 is very impressive, and I wouldn't be surprised if this deck and others like it became the deck to beat in the Modern format. The deck has a strong midrange game plan with cards like Scavenging Ooze, Tarmogoyf, and Snapcaster Mage alongside good disruption and spot removal, but its ability to end the game with Splinter Twin out of nowhere makes it a very dangerous entity.

[card]Tarmogoyf[/card][card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]

Shaheen Soorani - WUR Control

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Shaheen Soorani is known for playing control decks. Last weekend, he didn't disappoint when he sleeved up a White-Blue Control deck and piloted it to an X–2 record through fifteen rounds. This deck has a lot going for it in the current environment. The deck can be weak to combo strategies, but a lot of players may not be prepared to combo through a bit of resistance and the Planeswalker base of this strategy is very good at closing the game.

[card]Elspeth, Knight-Errant[/card][card]Jace Beleren[/card]

Julian Wildes - GB Obliterator Rock

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Green-Black Obliterator decks were getting a lot of hype in the lead-up to Grand Prix Richmond. The deck didn't quite show up in the numbers that we expected, but it performed well and proved that the Jund-like strategies have what it takes to compete without their precious Deathrite Shaman.

Alex Sittner - UB Faeries

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A lot of people wrote off Faeries after a lackluster Pro Tour performance, but the deck has a lot of strengths and it definitely deserves a second look. The deck applies pressure on the opponent's end step while controlling the pace of the game with countermagic and removal. Alex Sittner managed a 13–2 record with the Fae Menace and I expect the deck to increase in popularity as decks like Zoo and Burn become less popular. Bitterblossom is very good on the play against Affinity and the deck does tremendously well against combo and control strategies. Sittner didn't include Darkblast in his sideboard, but I expect the one-mana instant to be an integral part of the deck's plan against Affinity going forward.


Andrew Calderon - Scapeshift

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