Welcome to the world of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The greatest planeswalker has finally been unleashed on Modern for the first time, and the format will never be the same after the return of the boogeyman. Oh, also Bloodbraid Elf was unbanned.
That was the narrative on the twin unbanning of the two cards forever linked by their shared history, and players certainly feared that the weekend in Arizona would be a mash of hasty 3/2s crashing into Jaces.
Through eight rounds on Saturday, that doesn't seem to be the case – both cards are well represented, but the format remains as diverse and open as ever. Here are the stories that stood out to us from Day 1 of Grand Prix Phoenix.
The Three-Bye Metagame
One of the most interesting data points of any tournament is what the best players in the room decide to bring to battle. And nothing illustrates that better than breaking down what the players with three byes – a field that at Grand Prix Phoenix included No. 9 Owen Turtenwald, No. 15 Sam Pardee, No. 21 Matt Severa and 22nd-ranked Corey Baumeister. Here are the broad archetypes played by the 20 players whose day began in Round 4.
- 4 Tron
- 4 Grixis Death's Shadow
- 2 White-Blue Jace, the Mind Sculptor variants
- 2 Krark-Clan Ironworks combo
- 1 of each of the following: Lantern Control, Traverse Shadow, Jund, Bogles, Blue Moon, Hollow One, Burn and Collected Company Humans.
Want more stats? We’ve got them.
(Corbin) Some stats on the deck choices of the 20 three-bye players at #GPPHX:— Magic Pro Tour (@magicprotour) March 17, 2018
- 11 distinct archetypes
- 20 Death's Shadow
- 16 Urza's Tower
- 8 Krark-Clan Ironworks
- 7 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
- 7 Bloodbraid Elf
- 4 Collected Company
Far from the Jace/Bloodbraid-filled metagame some prognosticators were worried about. The field as a whole seemed to mirror this diversity, with everything from White-Blue Spirits to Goblins to Ponza to Amulet Bloom decks – not to mention the truly off-the-wall brews like Red-White Prison and Tezzerator – represented across the Grand Prix.
The Hidden Combo in Ironworks Combo
Look, we all know that Krark-Clan Ironworks is a combo machine just waiting to be broken. The ability to sacrifice a bunch of artifacts for value has been a fringe player in Modern since its creation, but the strategy got a real shot in the arm with the printing of Scrap Trawler. Utilized by players like Pascal Maynard and Shaheen Soorani among others, the deck made waves last year as one of the stronger combo decks in Modern.
CARD IMAGE KRARK-CLAN IRONWORKS
The deck’s popularity waxes and wanes alongside the prominence of Rest and Peace and Stony Silence, but as we found out this week, there’s more to the deck than we ever knew. And – in a boon to Twitch Chatters everywhere – it wasn’t until a commenter during a popular Magic stream pointed it out that we learned of yet another layer to the complicated deck. Stick with me, because this gets into the weeds of Magic rules, but is relevant to the deck’s resurgence this weekend, with no less than four pros sleeving it up to battle.
The deck ostensibly aims to put a bunch of artifacts into play like Chromatic Star and Chromatic Sphere, Terrarion, Mox Opal, Ichor Wellspring and so on, and then sacrifice them all to Krark-Clan Ironworks for mana, creating loops with Scrap Trawler and Myr Retriever to draw cards and produce an excess of mana eventually culminating in casting Emrakul, the Aeons Torn to win the game. While it can “go off” fairly consistently given enough time, there were always some games when the deck fizzled even after assembling most of its key cards.
That is, until Twitch chat stepped in. Because sacrificing to Krark-Clan Ironworks is a mana ability – which crucially doesn’t use the stack – and because any number of mana abilities can be used to pay for a spell or ability placed onto the stack – the deck is able to truly go infinite. With KCI in play alongside a Chromatic artifact, the deck can activate the Chromatic Star ability and choose to sacrifice any number of artifacts as a mana ability to create the necessary mana. If Scrap Trawler and Myr Retriever along with a zero-cost artifact are sacrificed, the Krark-Clan Ironworks creates six mana and all four artifacts go to the graveyard at the same time, which all create separate Scrap Trawler triggers. That allows the combo player to return all four to their hand thanks to the various triggers including Myr Retriever, and the exchange nets one card before resetting. If one of the sacrificed artifacts is a Mox Opal, the combo can also be used to net one mana.
I warned you it was complicated, but the end result is the failure rate of the deck is now effectively zero once it begins to combo. That was a huge factor for players like Sam Pardee and Matt Nass to pick it up this weekend.
“We’ve been working on the deck, and we think we’ve made some improvements to it from last year that make it a lot better," Pardee explained. “And with not as many players bringing Stony Silence, it seemed like a good choice for this tournament."
Thanks, Twitch chat.
Kiefer Brothers Succeed Together
The trio of Kiefer brothers who have been the face of up-and-coming Magic grinders have found intermittent success at the Grand Prix level, but Saturday in Phoenix was a new high-water mark for family, as both Quinn and Jack Kiefer started the tournament 7-0, with Jack turning that into an undefeated Day 1 run.
The brothers’ ascent through the ranks has been fun to watch for both old pros and viewers alike, and with both Jack and Quinn set up for a possible Top 8 run on Sunday, it seems Grand Prix Phoenix could turn into a truly special weekend for the family – and give Brad Nelson and Corey Baumeister a run for their money as the best brother duo on the Grand Prix circuit.
Can they become one of just a handful of siblings to Top 8 an event together? Seven rounds of play Sunday will give us an answer.
Nine Lead the way in Arizona
With eight rounds of Swiss play down, only a Sunday run remains between these players and a shot at the Top 8, the Pro Tour invite, the cash and the trophy that comes along with it. And – just as we’ve come to expect from Modern – the diverse spread of decks is just as interesting as the players behind them.
The Of the nine undefeated players, eight archetypes were represented: Affinity, Ponza, Kiki Chord, Bloodbraid Elf Zoo, Storm (twice), Red-Green Eldrazi, Jund and White-Blue Control.
Nine players, eight archetypes. Welcome to Modern. Congrats to Robert Graves, Jack Kiefer, Tyler Horspool, Michael Hughes, Zuhair Shaath, Bryan Rockenbach, Rodney Bedell, Shane Calloway and Pierson Laughlin! We’ll see you tomorrow from Grand Prix Phoenix.