Interesting Decks, Interesting Configurations

Posted in Event Coverage on November 18, 2016

By Chapman Sim

As soon as we received all decklists from all players, my very industrious colleague and friend Frank Karsten began working on the metagame breakdown. After diligently looking through every single team's submissions—don't feel sorry for him, he actually loves it—he's kindly informed me of several interesting deck choices that we should be highlighting to the readers at home.

This is the first time that Team Unified Modern is being utilized at a premier event. The research, the findings, and the results of this weekend will pave the way for the handful of Team Unified Modern Grand Prix in the upcoming calendar year. What we're interested in finding out today is how certain teams have come to decide upon which combination of three decks were best suited for a tournament. We also want to examine some of the concerns revolving around the strategy of this exciting brand new format.

First of all, word on the street is that there is a Jeskai Ascendancy deck running around. Exactly one. Which team and which player brought such a deck, you may ask?

Jeskai Ascendancy

Certainly, gut instincts will direct suspicions toward Team Hong Kong's No. 24-ranked Lee Shi Tian, but I'm going to step in to ask you to hold that thought. Two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor and Germany National Champion Patrick Dickmann weighs in:

"Marc Tobiasch is one of the best deck builders in the country and he has a lot of experience with Jeskai Ascendancy. In fact, it was the first of the three decks to have been decided. It's not like we picked two other decks and filled out the third deck with whatever was left over. We wanted him to be on Jeskai Ascendancy because it is a great deck and I knew for sure that I could trust Tobiasch with it."

Six-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Valentin Mackl was within earshot. Admittedly, he was blatantly and shamelessly eavesdropping and jokingly commented that "Tobiasch was greedy and pretty much took all the Modern staples. The Lightning Bolts. The Path to Exile. The Gitaxian Probe. The fetch lands. Such greedy!" Of course, the sentiment was met with well-natured chuckle from the Germans. Despite consuming so many of Modern's key staples, they had everything sorted out with two other decks that had no overlap whatsoever.

Team Germany 2016 (from left: Dennis Nolte, Marc Tobiasch, Patrick Dickmann, and Fabian Friedrich)

Dickmann emphasized, "In our team meetings, I had made it clear that I wanted everyone to be comfortable in what they're playing. If we're playing a deck we're used to, we can focus better and make better judgment calls. This is Modern we're talking about, and it is more important to understand how to play your deck perfectly than picking the best deck in the hopes of beating the metagame. If we're good with our decks, we know how best to beat each and every matchup in a metagame as diverse as Modern."

Tobiasch feels that his weapon of choice is essentially a Jeskai Control deck with a combo kill—very similar to how Splinter Twin is a blue-red control deck with a combo kill. "Jeskai Ascendancy is my pet deck as much as Splinter Twin is Dickmann's pet deck. We know our decks inside out."

Basically, it is a classic case of Corey Burkhart with Grixis Control. Is it true that there is no such thing as a Tier 2 Modern deck in the hands of a great player? Anyway, Team Germany went 3-0 in the Team Sealed portion, so they're well-poised for a good start in the Modern portion and we certainly hope that they can maintain with their winning streak to match their ideals.

Blue-Red Kiln Fiend

Also, there is a fascinating "aggro-combo" deck rising from amongst the sea of Affinity and Infect decks, a deck centered around Kiln Fiend and in some cases Thing in the Ice. This is not an isolated case or extreme anomaly. As a matter of fact, five teams out of 73 have chosen to pilot this deck, including Team Norway, Team Australia, and Team Indonesia. Interestingly, at the time of writing, Team Norway and Team Australia were facing off against each other and spectators were able to see the deck work its magic from either side of the table.

A turn-three Awoken Horror is not only possible but plausible. A resolved Kiln Fiend that's ready to attack is very scary. Even with just a single Temur Battle Rage, that combination presents 8 damage should the "lowly" 1/2 connect successfully. Between Faithless Looting, Serum Visions, and Sleight of Hand to filter through unwanted lands, there are also "free" spells such as Gitaxian Probe to check if the coast is clear, as well as Mutagenic Growth to protect your key card from burn-based removal such as Lightning Bolt. Oh yes, you'll get to play Lightning Bolt too. Since filling up your graveyard is easy, this makes Bedlam Reveler a solid way to refuel while providing yet another threat.

Team Indonesia 2016 (from left: Christian Wijaya, Taufik Indrakesuma, and Bushh Bonaldy Pangestu)

Team Indonesia was kind enough to spend some time to shed some light on how they came to decide upon their Modern deck configurations. Indonesia's top professional player and one of the country's three World Magic Cup Qualifier winners this year, Taufik Indrakesuma, was happy to share some insights:

"The Blue-Red Kiln Fiend deck has the same explosive power as Infect but doesn't lose to Spellskite. Instead of a bunch of pump spells, you gain access to more cantrips such as Sleight of Hand and Manamorphose. This makes the deck run more smoothly and makes more hands keepable. It has fewer turn-two kills than Infect, but it is still possible. In addition, we also play burn spells, which allows us to interact with our opponent, unlike Infect where we mostly play 'solitaire' games."

The pilot, Bushh Pangestu, said that he has been practicing on Magic Online ever since he won his World Magic Cup Qualifier, and the archetype was gaining popularity. "This is probably why we're not the only ones to have this deck. It seems a great fit for Team Unified Modern because the deck feels like an Infect deck but does not need to utilize Inkmoth Nexus, which I believe is a common bottleneck for other teams."

While it was common consensus that Inkmoth Nexus was a heavily-contested card, this makes the Blue-Red Kiln Fiend deck a great choice if you also wanted Affinity in your gauntlet. Ironically, Team Indonesia's choice of not playing Infect was not because of the creature land but rather over one-mana green instants for the sideboard.

What gives?

According to Indrakesuma and National Champion Christian Wijaya, "We knew we wanted to play Dredge and Tron from the very beginning and we were looking for a third deck. Affinity was possible but we didn't want to get hated out because it was likely viewed to be a popular choice. Infect was the other option, but between Dredge and Tron already playing Nature's Claim and Natural State, we did not have another one-mana instant that destroyed artifacts and enchantments! If we ended up playing three green decks, it was taxing on our sideboards, which is why we eventually selected Blue-Red Kiln Fiend to go around the restrictions of Team Unified Modern."

Paired against Team Argentina, Pangestu successfully dispatched their National Champion and Grand Prix Rotterdam 2016 winner Luis Salvatto. Kiln Fiend claimed yet another victim. The deck appears to be a real contende!

Lantern Control

Last but not least, the archetype that benefited the most from Kaladesh is also one of the most popular archetypes in the metagame. Hopefully you've learned a thing or two about the constraints of Team Unified Modern, but at the very least you should know that you can only have one Inkmoth Nexus deck, which was either Affinity of Infect. If you chose the latter, that means you have the ability to utilize Glimmervoid and Mox Opal in another deck, which is exactly what Lantern Control needs!

Yes, Kaladesh has provided a lot of cool toys (literally) for the archetype, and eleven teams have come to that very same conclusion. Glint-Nest Crane, according to Frank Karsten, should literally never miss. He's done the math, so I trust him. Heck, even if he didn't do that math, I still trust him.

In addition, thanks to the pool play structure the 2016 World Magic Cup is utilizing on Day Two, draws are no longer possible. Should there be a potential tie after five additional turns, the winner of the match will be decided by the first change in life total. This means that, despite Lantern Control being infamously prison-like, it still can win during "sudden death" by attacking with a 1/3 flier or gaining 1 life off your legendary land!

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