Modern has always been a diverse format, but the field at Grand Prix Vancouver today seemed even broader than usual. The feature match area played host to Elves and Eldrazi, Dredge and Death's Shadow, Lantern of Insight and Lightning Bolt. Just about anything seemed possible.
The pros in attendance were enthusiastic about the format and determined to find the new deck to beat. "I miss Modern tournaments where people would show up with broken combo decks," Gerry Thompson said. "I hope people put the work in to figure out the format, because it seems so open right now."
Fortunately for Thompson, combo decks seem to be on the rise in Modern. He and his Mutiny teammates worked with members of Channel Fireball Fire to concoct a new Death's Shadow deck that could stand up to format staples like Scapeshift and Eldrazi Tron. Their build utilizes Mishra's Bauble and Tarfire to ensure early Delirium and make good use of Traverse the Ulvenwald, and they've been consistently attacking with 6/7 Tarmogoyfs. The deck's excellent Magic Online record impressed Thompson enough to pick up the deck after virtually no testing, and he was rewarded at the end of Day 1 with an unblemished record.
Hall of Famer Eric Froehlich also chose a combo deck that had impressed him – Ad Nauseam. "I thought the deck was cool and wanted to learn to play it, so I'm kind of learning it as I go this weekend," he admitted. Froehlich's instincts were good: Infect, Ad Nauseam's worst match-up, is waning in popularity, so now may be a good time to pick up Angel's Graces and Lightning Storms.
Metagame shifts aside, Ad Nauseam's relative obscurity remains its biggest asset. "It's becoming more popular, but it's not mainstream enough that people will devote time to learning how to play against it," he said. Froehlich seemed unsure how Ad Nauseam might fare against other linear combo decks, however, so it remains to be seen whether it'll gain any momentum this weekend.
Four members of Team Badgers: Jennifer Crotts, Calvin Osterdal, Jean-Michel Pare, and Brandon St. Pierre.
Of course, the pros weren't the only ones making the trek to Vancouver this weekend. Grand Prix give playgroups an occasion to road trip across the country – or across the US-Canadian border – to test their skills against the best in the game. I caught up with one of these groups, Calgary's Team Badgers, to see how they were faring.
"We try to go to as many Grand Prix as we can," said Jennifer Crotts. "We travel to at least four a year, and I'm trying to go to six [in 2017]."
Calgary is a hotbed for competitive Magic, and the six-person team that journeyed to Vancouver said they had plenty of support from their community. "There were about ten to twenty people who worked together to prepare for this event," said Calvin Osterdal. "We collaborated on Facebook to come up with lists and lent each other cards. It was very cooperative."
Osterdal, Crotts, and Jean-Michel Pare all pointed to teammate Brandon St. Pierre as their most valuable resource as they prepared for the tournament. A Modern specialist, St. Pierre – better known on Magic Online as "mrfrenchy" – currently has ten undefeated trophies with his U/R Gifts Storm deck, and is currently sitting at 7-2. While the teammates all chose different strategies, their testing concluded that linear combo decks with reactionary sideboards were among their best options, and they were all comfortable playing their respective 75's.
The Badgers' goal is to launch as many professional Magic careers as possible, and they look to be taking a step in that direction this weekend.
Oh, and speaking of traveling, look who came all the way from Kaladesh to join us!
Day 1 of Grand Prix Vancouver ended dramatically, with longtime grinder Gabe Carleton-Barnes peeling a Scapeshift while facing down several lethal threats from Eric Severson. Carleton-Barnes took a moment to take in his victory before embracing friend and fellow undefeated player Gerry Thompson and joining him, Sam Black, Neil Henly, and Arian Moshrefi for a photo.
Thompson, Black, and Josh Utter-Leyton all vied for 9-0 with Death's Shadow, but Utter-Leyton was unable to dispatch Neil Henly in the final round. Henly, a Seattle local, came armed with Jund, a deck he'd been playing at his local shop for a while. Jund has many close but winnable match-ups in the field, he said, and he was able to lean on his experience with the deck to clinch difficult matches. Henly thought he navigated his Scapeshift match-up well throughout the day, and considered himself lucky to dodge Tron, which has been gaining ground with the resurgence of Jund and Abzan.
Arian Moshrefi, another seasoned Jund player, brought his Tarmogoyfs and Dark Confidants as well, though he had a bit further to travel. Moshrefi flew from his hometown in Colorado to Seattle, where he met up with a friend and continued on to Vancouver. ("I don't get to see him very much, so we wanted to try to go to an event together," he said.) Moshrefi also expected to face Tron today and added two Fulminator Mages to his main deck just in case, but he didn't encounter the deck once.
While just three decks made it through Day 1 with perfect records, tomorrow promises to bring yet more surprises. Join us then at twitch.tv/magic.