The Joy of Modern

Posted in Event Coverage on May 21, 2016

By Hallie Santo

Modern has always been heralded as a diverse format, but this weekend, the possibilities truly seem endless. Grand Prix Los Angeles and Charlotte are the first premier-level Modern events since April’s Banned and Restricted List update, so the field is open – a new deck could take off, or a forgotten favorite could make a comeback. Jeskai Harbinger, a control deck that leverages the powerful Shadows Over Innistrad Planeswalker Nahiri, had the most momentum coming into the weekend, but the majority of competitors choose to play what they know.

Of course, if you’re Paul Cheon, playing what you know means playing Jeskai Harbinger. Cheon has always been a control specialist, so he was set on wielding some countermagic this weekend. He predicted that blue decks would make a resurgence after Ancestral Vision was unbanned and set to work building a W/U Control deck featuring Wall of Omens, Kitchen Finks, and Restoration Angel.

“I doubted Nahiri at first,” Cheon admits. “She’s not very interactive, and I definitely underestimated her loyalty.” After testing Jeskai Harbinger on his daily Magic Online streams, however, Cheon quickly found that the proactive Planeswalker allowed him to end games faster than he thought possible. Nahiri’s first ability often helped him find his win condition – Emrakul, the Aeons Torn; if he could protect her for just two turns, he could unleash the enormous Eldrazi on the battlefield and quickly lock up the game.

Cheon says he expects to see a lot of ramp decks at the top tables this weekend – “The best way to beat Nahiri is to go over the top,” he says – but most players can get away with playing whatever they choose. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of players choose to play Dredge this weekend, just because they like the novelty of it,” he predicted.

One of the most novel decks in Modern is Ad Nauseam, Andrew Brown’s choice for the weekend. Brown’s goal is to use the deck’s hallmark card to draw his entire library, negating the life loss clause by casting Angel’s Grace or sticking a copy of Phyrexian Unlife. Once his hands are full, he can cast Lightning Storm and discard lands to deal damage to his opponent.

“Ad Nauseam is a great deck to play right now,” the Pro Tour Top 8’er says. “Control decks are much more likely to tap out to play Nahiri, so I can capitalize on that and go off.”

Brown also felt confident bringing Ad Nauseam to a Grand Prix, where most players he faced on Day 1 wouldn’t be familiar with his combo. He also echoed Cheon’s sentiment that playing a familiar deck is key in Modern. “There are so few decks that are good against the whole field,” he says. “The match-ups are much more polarized, so it’s important to know your deck.”

Brown’s teammate Nathan Holiday came prepared with an entirely different deck this weekend.

“I’m playing Affinity,” he says. “I didn’t get to test for this GP very much, and I know the deck well. Plus, I think it’s secretly the best deck in the format. Its draws are so explosive.”

Holiday and Brown agreed with Cheon that Modern rewards proactive play, but proactivity has many definitions. Team East West Bowl favors linear combo decks, but there’s something to be said for good old-fashioned creature combat. Melissa DeTora chose a deck that would allow her to win with creatures or combo off: Abzan Company.

Three days ago, if you asked DeTora if she’d be attending GP Los Angeles, she’d probably say no. She hasn’t been playing nearly as much Magic since she left Wizards of the Coast at the turn of the year, and she doesn’t play much Modern at all. In fact, when asked about her deck choice for the weekend, DeTora freely admitted that she hadn’t played Abzan Company at all before she arrived on site this morning. Why travel so far on such short notice?

“I just wanted to go to a GP and have fun,” she admits. “And I knew I wanted to play Abzan Company, because I enjoy the style.” She consulted with StarCityGames Open regular Logan Mize about his build of the deck, borrowed the pieces, and bought a ticket to LA on Thursday. As of this writing, she has a 3-1 record and is enjoying the deck just as much as she anticipated.

DeTora doesn’t feel Abzan Company is particularly well-positioned right now – “There’s more hate for it than ever before,” she says – but she also doesn’t believe metagaming is possible at such a large Modern tournament.

“Fewer players have access to every card they want in Modern, so they’ll play whatever they want,” she says. “You have to be prepared for anything. I’ve played against several different decks so far today – Affinity, Tron, and Infect – and the people around me were playing everything from Burn to Bogles.”

This diversity is what makes Modern such a great Grand Prix format, according to Pro Tour Hall of Famer Eric Froehlich. While many players see Modern Weekend as an opportunity to innovate, Froehlich is using the opportunity to dust off a relic from his past: R/G Land Destruction. He employed a similar strategy at Pro Tour San Diego in 2010, when he returned to the game after taking a few years off to focus on his poker career, so this weekend will be one of nostalgia for him.

“I think I have a good shot if I start off well and fade aggro,” Froehlich says. “Blood Moon is great against so many decks that the top players like to play, like Control, Abzan, and Jund.” He predicts a diverse Day 2 metagame, however: “I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw 15 or so well-represented decks,” he says.

While they all chose different strategies, all five pros chose the same word to describe their decks for the weekend: “fun.” With the pressure of keeping up with a metagame off their shoulders, the best players in the game came to Los Angeles this weekend to enjoy themselves playing a format that rewards their skill and creativity. Whether you choose to play Modern at a Grand Prix, on Magic Online, or at your local game store, be sure to bring a deck you love, and have fun playing it.

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