Born of the Pro Tour

Posted in Top Decks on February 28, 2014

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

Last week, I previewed the top five decks going into Pro Tour Born of the Gods, and we saw those decks and plenty more on Magic's biggest stage. Luckily for us, the post–Pro Tour metagame is an interesting beast in its own right, and with Grand Prix Richmond fast approaching, I want to take a look at some of the other awesome decks Modern has to offer. Sadly, the deck I played is not one of them, as sleeving up Valakut, the Molten Pinnacles, Primeval Titans, and Scapeshifts did not end up being very well-positioned for this tournament. I still have time to figure out something awesome to play next weekend, and it may well be one of the decks I'm about to take a look at.

Pyromancer Storm

Pyromancer Ascension

Pyromancer Storm

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Not only did Top 8 competitor Chris Fennell play Storm, many members of ChannelFireball: Pantheon chose to as well, with Jon Finkel, Kai Budde, Tom Martell, Gaudenis Vidugiris and Rich Hoaen all choosing to rely on a critical mass of spells to carry them to victory (and carry them to victory, it did). Jon wrote a short piece explaining his decision to play the deck.

It looks like enough people wrote off Storm that it was perfectly poised for the field, being one of the least interactive decks in the format. Its two main paths to victory are getting an active Pyromancer Ascension going or stocking its graveyard and casting Past in Flames (ideally with Electromancer in play), and both are fast enough that Storm can out-goldfish most other decks in the format, all while ignoring almost every main-deck card that isn't a counterspell, discard spell, or way to kill Pyromancer Ascension.

Another point in its favor is that the best Storm hate cards are generally not cards with broad applications, and I can't imagine that there were that many Rule of Laws, Ethersworn Canonists, Thalias, or Slaughter Games floating around (although Kai did get hit by turn-four + turn-five Slaughter Games in one of his matches, with both needed to stop him). Storm does technically get impacted by creature removal on Electromancer, discard in general, enchantment removal on Pyromancer Ascension, and graveyard hate, but these pale in comparison to a card like Rule of Law, which states that Storm can't win while it's in play (barring some attacking with Electromancers and two-point Empty the Warrens shenanigans).

Past in Flames
Goblin Electromancer

Is Storm a good choice moving forward?

The biggest reason not to play Storm is how hard the deck is to pilot. When someone like Jon Finkel, who not only is possibly the best player to ever play but also has piloted basically this Storm list at now three Pro Tours and multiple Grand Prix says that Storm is hard, and that he expects to make mistakes, you should believe him. Still, if you are confident that you have the practice necessary to consider and select the correct lines of play from the thousands of possibilities, Storm seems like a very reasonable choice. I do think it's worse than it was at the Pro Tour, just because it is back on the radar, but it was very good at the Pro Tour. Even an increased presence of hate cards (which I do expect) is not enough to take Storm from being an awesome choice to a poor one.

Ad Nauseam

Ad Nauseam
Angel's Grace

Ad Nauseam

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I remember testing this combo for Pro Tour Amsterdam in 2010, and Bryan Gottlieb and Jared Boettcher both decided to bring it back for this Pro Tour. The way this deck wins is by combining either Angel's Grace or Phyrexian Unlife with Ad Nauseam, after which you can draw your entire deck without consequences. Once you have forty-five cards in your hand, a couple Simian Spirit Guides let you cast Lightning Storm, and you presumably have enough lands to kill the opponent in one shot.

Simian Spirit Guide
Lightning Storm

The rest of the deck is cantrips, mana accelerants, and a Mystical Teachings, plus protection in the form of Pacts (both Negation and Slaughter). It's also kind of cute that you can fire off a Pact and cast Angel's Grace instead of paying for it. The turn before you are planning on going off, Pact of Negation and Slaughter Pact become free, which helps essentially speed this deck up by a turn. It's also worth noting that Phyrexian Unlife and Angel's Grace buy you time if you just cast them by themselves, again making this deck faster than it might look.

I remember liking 2–3 Mystical Teachings when we tested the deck, because it gets both halves of the combo as well as many of the disruption cards, but the last time I seriously played the deck was long enough ago that I'm willing to believe the format is too fast for multiple Teachings. I've always been a big fan of Mystical Teachings, and even sideboarded it in when I played a similar combo deck at Worlds 2008 (Swans of Bryn Argoll + Chain of Plasma).

Mystical Teachings

Is Ad Nauseam a good choice moving forward?

Ad Nauseam is going to take a little splash damage if people start boarding against Storm. They might not be considering this deck specifically when putting Rule of Law, Ethersworn Canonist, or Thalia into their decks, but those cards hurt Ad Naus almost as much as they hurt Storm. Ad Naus does have options like Mystical Teachings/Tolaria West for Slaughter Pact, Teachings for bounce spells, and in some cases hard-casting Lightning Storm on a hate bear (with Conjurer's Bauble ready to put Lightning Storm back in the deck).

Even with somewhat upped combo hate, Ad Nauseam still seems like a viable choice. The sample size here was smaller than with Storm, so I'm less confident that it's as intrinsically good/consistent, but I wouldn't advise picking this one up without playtesting either, so you should be able to get a sense of how well-suited Ad Nauseam is for the new metagame.

Blue Moon

Blood Moon
Spreading Seas

Blue Moon

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Lee Shi Tian piloted one of the breakout decks of the tournament, Blue Moon, to the Top 8 before losing to Anssi Alkio's Splinter Twin deck, and in doing so created more buzz about his deck than any other deck in the room. Ken Yukuhiro was apparently the originator of the deck, and actually played it at the last Modern Pro Tour, Pro Tour Return to Ravnica.

The deck is Blue-Red Control at its core, and relies heavily on the power of Blood Moon to lock out its opponents. Giving up the classic third color (white) is a big cost, and Blood Moon plus Vedalken Shackles are the two main rewards for doing so. The deck even gets to play Spreading Seas to combo with Blood Moon's disrupting powers, and those same Seas even form a mini-combo with Master of Waves.

Part of the reason this deck caused so much excitement is that it's completely new (after flying under the radar at PT RTR) and plays a ton of sweet cards. Master of Waves, Spreading Seas, Teferi, Vedalken Shackles, and even Vapor Snag are all rare sights in Modern, and people like when new cards see play. There's a big edge to being a completely unknown deck, and I'm sure that Lee and his teammates all took full advantage of their opponents' unfamiliarity with their deck. From not fetching a basic land on turn one to walking opponents into a critical Vapor Snag, the Blue Moon deck is exactly the kind of deck that works best while unknown.

Vedalken Shackles
Master of Waves

Is Blue Moon a good choice going forward?

This deck, I actually would recommend avoiding. As much as I like all the sweet cards, there are two main reasons I would not bring Blue Moon to your next event. The first is that the deck is now a known quantity. No longer are you likely to have opponents blunder into your lesser-known cards, which is giving up a decent edge. It's not the end of the world, as very few decks are scuttled by having the light cast on them, but the second reason is one that's much more concerning.

That reason is that Pro Tour Born of the Gods was a breakout tournament for Blood Moon, an effect which will rapidly fade. Between the Blood Moons in this deck, Storm's sideboard, and Splinter Twin's sideboard, the entire tournament hall was bathed a deep red. That was certainly good for that event, but it's exactly the sort of thing that doesn't translate into future success. It isn't hard to play around Blood Moon if you are so inclined, by adding more basics to your Zoo list, prioritizing fetching them out of Melira Pod, or just leaving the Scapeshift decks at home. Because Blood Moon was such a big part of this deck's success, unless you are able to reconfigure the list to not lean on it so hard, I don't see the big incentive to play this over a more standard RWU Control shell. If Blood Moon has lost its allure, Path to Exile and Lightning Helix seem better than Vapor Snag and Threads of Disloyalty, Celestial Colonnade seems better than nothing, and various win conditions seem more resilient than Master of Waves (although I still do like Batterskull).

Black-Green Jund

Dark Confidant

Black-Green Jund

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Played by Reid Duke and Matt Costa, this Jund list (and yes, I refuse to call a BG Midrange deck with Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, and Liliana of the Veil anything but Jund) is an interesting update of the deck that Josh Utter-Leyton and co. played at the World Championship in Amsterdam. I myself fell victim (of night) to Reid in the Modern portion of the Pro Tour, although I didn't even get to see the sweetest card in their deck: Phyrexian Obliterator.

Phyrexian Obliterator

This deck operates on the same principles as Jund has since Modern's inception, even with the departure of its nearest and dearest friends (Bloodbraid Elf for a long time, Deathrite Shaman just weeks ago). The combination of Thoughtseize/Inquisition of Kozilek, Dark Confidant/Tarmogoyf/Scavenging Ooze, and Liliana of the Veil is a potent one, providing disruption, card advantage, and a quick clock in a couple neat little packages. Few decks are as streamlined as this list, with every card providing a threat, disruption, or removal, and everything besides Obliterator doing so at three mana or less. Even the lands serve this purpose, with four Treetop Villages adding extra threats at low cost. It's a shame that Phyrexian Obliterator precludes the use of Tectonic Edge, but sacrifices must be made.

I like this deck in an relatively unknown field. Even though Reid and Matt certainly made predictions about the field with the help of their team, you can never be sure going into a Pro Tour, and there are very few cards in this deck that don't have broad applications. Phyrexian Obliterator is likely the most narrow card, as it really only shines in creature-based matchups or against control decks that kill creatures with damage spells. Every other card in the deck is efficient and wide-ranging, making this a classic Rock deck (good old Rock; nothing beats Rock).

Liliana of the Veil
Scavenging Ooze

Is BG Jund a good choice going forward?

The sideboard clearly needs adjusting based on the post-PT metagame, but black and green have a ton of potent options, many of which I'd expect to stay put. Decks like this rarely have slam-dunk matchups, but rarely do they have terrible ones, and I wouldn't fault anyone for going with this brew. Hand disruption, Liliana, and Dark Confidant are good against combo; Goyf, Ooze, removal, and Finks are good against creatures; and some combination of the two packages is good against control. The only reason I'd have to avoid this deck is if you expect a ton of Melira Pod, since, in my experience, decks like this don't fare all that well against the toolbox/grindy aspect of the Pod decks. Ooze is good at stopping Melira's combo, but this deck only has the two Maelstrom Pulses to kill the card Birthing Pod, and an unchecked Birthing Pod is very difficult to beat.

Modern—Pick Your Poison

(There's even an actual Poison deck.)

Modern is a format where you can basically play any archetype that strikes your fancy. There are a metric ton of combo decks, plenty of aggro and control decks, and even some nice midrange brews. What's most important is picking a deck you like to play and are comfortable playing. I'd by far recommend playing a deck you are practiced with over anything else, even if other choices seem like they are better. The percentages on each deck are so close that practice is really the tiebreaker, and if you want to switch decks, leave yourself plenty of time to practice with the new one.

I'll be playing Modern in my next tournament, so it's time to practice what I preach and get to practicing.


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