I wish I could start this tournament report from Grand Prix Toronto by claiming that I had extensively tested my deck, finely tuned my sideboard, grinded many hours of online Modern leagues and that I could give you invaluable information on how to play 5C Humans, but that would be untrue. I hope instead that I can give you an interesting story about how I went 10-5, winning the Play it Forward prize and achieving a personal best constructed Grand Prix result.
I have always been primarily a Limited player. I have been making progress towards improving my Constructed performance; under the guidance of Rob Lombardi and Jon Boutin which has already resulted in my first string of Standard Day 2 finishes and PPTQ Top 8s.
However, success in Modern has still eluded me — one of my goals for 2018 was to make Day 2 of a Modern Grand Prix.
There was a significant obstacle standing in my way while preparing for and competing in GP Toronto that most Magic players do not have to contend with. In October of last year, I suffered what turned out to be a fairly serious concussion while playing my other love, roller derby. Four months later I am still experiencing symptoms with the result that I have limited time I can spend in front of a computer screen or concentrating on a complex game and affecting my tolerance for crowded, noisy spaces. Leading up to Grand Prix Toronto, it was very difficult for me to play more than two leagues of Magic a day. If I overextended myself playing Magic or in other ways, I often would be unable to play any Magic for a few days. I attended GP New Jersey in December, and while I managed to keep things together on Day 1 enough to go 7-2, I was very ill and unable to finish Day 2. I feared a similar fate was in store for me at Grand Prix Toronto, so in the week leading up to Grand Prix Toronto, I played no more than a single league of Magic a day.
I was locked on Infect about six or seven days before the GP when I ran into a very nasty string of losses. I had been doing so well with the deck and then I could not buy a win. I consulted with Rob, I explained I didn’t have a lot of time to learn a new deck but I couldn’t play Infect anymore. Understanding I could only play one or two leagues a day with only five days until the Grand Prix, he suggested that Burn or 5C Humans may be my best bet.
I used the Monday to try out Burn to very poor results, so I looked up the recent Pro Tour Top 8 5C Human lists. I glanced at Javier Dominguez’s list from Top 8 of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, decided it was fine and loaded it onto my Magic Online account. I played one league, went 4-1 and started asking around for the cards. I played one league a day for the rest of the week, mostly going 4-1 and feeling no need to fiddle with the list.
Javier Dominguez, Top 8, PT RIX – 5C Humans
The advantage of 5C Humans is that it is very aggressive while still requiring a certain amount of finesse to pilot. An aggressive draw closes the game very quickly and cards like Reflector Mage, Kitesail Freebooter and Meddling Mage help you manage longer games. Kambal, Consul of Allocations, Sin Collector, Kataki, War’s Wage, Vithian Renegade and Izzet Staticaster give you a wide range of sideboard options against various decks in the field — with 4x Phantasmal Image pitching-in to be whichever Human you need most.
Day 1 of the Grand Prix turned out to be smooth sailing for me, I went 7-1 (including two byes). I drew impressively aggressive hands versus Grixis Death’s Shadow and Tron in my first two rounds in what were essentially non-games. My biggest decision versus Tron was choosing what to name with Meddling Mage. I won the match quickly after my opponent missed Tron on turn-three.
My only loss of Day 1 came in Round 5 against a Bant Collected Company deck that pulled off the Devoted Druid/Vizier of Remedies/Duskwatch Recruiter combo on turn-three in our third game.
I beat Mono-White Humans in Round 6 by trumping my opponent’s motley collection of 2/1 Humans with my beefier Humans and sideboard Izzet Staticaster. Round 7 was similarly straightforward, with my Jund opponent making a very costly mistake in Game 1 and then keeping a very non-interactive hand in Game 2.
The most exciting match of Day 1 came in the final round when I played against R/B Hollow One. Game 1 was much closer than I expected because I made a monumental error (I blame nerves). I drew my card for turn-three without remembering to increase my Aether Vial to two counters, missing an opportunity to play a two-drop from my hand for free. I will admit that I was very lucky to win that game. Later in the game I used Meddling Mage to name Lightning Bolt while I was at four life and the next turn my opponent randomly discarded three Lighting Bolts to Burning Inquiry before forcing me to block with my Meddling Mage. I had managed to reduce my opponent’s life total to two at this point with the help of Mantis Rider, Thalia’s Lieutenant and Kessig Malcontents and knew that I would win the next turn so long as my opponent did not draw the fourth Lightning Bolt, or find some way to put three more attacking creatures on the board.
My opponent came very close — he cast Goblin Lore, discarding Bloodghast. He played a land, returning Bloodghast and leaving himself with three available mana. He chose not to return Flamewake Phoenix from the graveyard, instead attacking with Hollow One, Gurmag Angler and Bloodghast, forcing me to trade Kessig Malcontents with Hollow One, chump Angler with Lieutenant and block Bloodghast with Mantis Rider. He then revealed that the remaining card in his hand was a second Flamewake Phoenix, which he played post-combat to chump my Mantis Rider. However, a Phantasmal Image in my hand does the trick and wins me what I had thought would be impossible. Games 2 and 3 are much easier with me getting a very aggressive hand in Game 3 and my opponent having poor luck with his Burning Inquiry and Goblin Lore. As my opponent said, live by the Burning Inquiry, die by the Burning Inquiry.
The end of Day 1 brought both relief and joy. I had just won a very difficult match, retaining my X-1 status, a feat I had not managed since GP Ottawa. In order to maintain focus between rounds and mitigate the possibility of my concussion symptoms flaring up, I had been forced to seclude myself. This meant limiting chats with friends to five minutes between rounds and not using my phone to access the internet or social media. It was exhausting keeping this up and I was glad to be able to announce the good news on Twitter and talk to my friends about their day. I had difficulty falling asleep that night. Knowing that I had achieved my first Modern goal, the pressure would now be to try to Top 8 or cash the event.
I started off Day 2 with a call to the feature match area. Normally I am very nervous for feature matches and have made some very embarrassing mistakes while playing on camera. For the first time I wasn’t nervous and crushed what was my best match-up of the tournament in Taking Turns.
I may not have been nervous about playing on camera, but I found it much harder to quell my nerves before my upcoming matches. It had been a long time since I had this deep of a run for Top 8 in a GP and my method of avoiding people and listening music between rounds was a lot less effective on Day 2 then it had been the previous day. This routine to maintain focus is exhausting in its own way, so I dropped it after I was out of contention for Top 8 to Burn after losing to Burn in Round 13.
My remaining wins on Day 2 were against Abzan Collected Company and Abzan Midrange. In addition to Burn, my losses on Day 2 came to Traverse Death’s Shadow, Ad Nauseum and Lantern Control. Of these losses, Lantern was the worst match up with Ad Nauseum a close second, though I do not think the match-ups are lopsided by any means.
The strength of 5C Humans is that pressures your opponent from the onset of the game while still having the ability to disrupt your opponent’s game plan. It is a deck that can easily deal 20 damage within the first four turns while at the same time shredding the opponent’s hand apart with Kitesail Freebooter or making it impossible to cast their most relevant spells with Meddling Mage. Phantasmal Image provides great flexibility where you essentially get an extra four copies of the most useful creature that is on the battlefield at any given time. Aether Vial is easily the best card in the deck and the deck’s best turn-one play due to the enormous amount of mana acceleration it provides and almost as crucially, giving your creatures flash.
I have found the deck is most vulnerable to decks with a lot of cheap removal. Meddling Mage is very ineffective if there are three or more removals that are possible to name in your opponent’s deck. Jeskai Control is likely one of the deck’s worst matchups due to the overwhelming combination of cheap removal, Snapcaster Mage to buy removal back and sweepers. Death’s Shadow is often not an easy match either as they have early removal to keep you from amassing a large board state, hand disruption to avoid you using Reflector Mage on their expensive Delve creatures and a large amount of pressure with giant creatures and Temur Battle Rage.
The deck also does not interact well with on-board, non-creature permanents such as Ensnaring Bridge, Krark-Clan Ironworks, Ghirapur Aether Grid, Blood Moon etc. I was locked out of winning my match against Lantern Control because there was zero ways in my 75 for me to remove Ghirapur Aether Grid once it resolved. Often times relying on Meddling Mage and Kitesail Freebooter to keep problematic permanents from landing is enough, but the deck could use more ways to deal with the ones that do happen to hit the battlefield, particularly enchantments. Mirran Crusader and Auriok Champion were my least utilized sideboard cards and do not seem essential for winning the matches they come in against. In the future I would consider switching one or more of those cards for something like War Priest of Thune, a second copy of Vithian Renegades or even Reclamation Sage.
With the announcement that Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf are unbanned, I think this deck has a fighting chance to remain competitive in Modern. I am more concerned about Bloodbraid Elf gaining immense value off of hitting a removal spell against this deck than I am about Jace. Between Kitesail Freebooter and Meddling Mage getting in the way of Jace being cast, the Humans deck also puts a lot of creatures into play early, making it difficult for an opponent to protect a Jace by simply using its Unsummon ability.
Overall, this was a very good weekend for me in measuring my progress towards top-level play. I was thankful to make it through all 15 rounds without experiencing any major concussion symptoms beyond fatigue, though I have been paying for the exertion in the days following the GP with increased frequency in headaches and nausea. I’m looking forward to when my concussion is resolved and I can take fewer precautions against aggravating it. Grand Prix Toronto has reassured me that the steady gains I have made in improving my Magic performance and managing nerves have not been lost by the challenges this concussion has brought.
Want to try out 5C Humans in Modern and win some big prizes? Come on out to our facetofacegames.com Open+ 5k at Seneca College in Toronto on March. 3!