Building Blue Control Decks in Unified Modern

In preparing for Grand Prix San Antonio and the Unified Modern format, I’ve been locked out of playing with certain cards that I’m used to having access to. The rule that “decks can’t share cards” raises interesting restrictions on deckbuilding that, in a cool way, forces you to consider how to build decks differently than their stock versions. You might even have to shift color combinations to accommodate your teammates’ decks,.

For example, [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] is the leading archetype going into this tournament, and one that many teams will want to be using in their lineup. [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] is greedy in the sense that it needs a lot of different fetchlands and shocklands – but, thankfully, there are many different viable color combinations for a [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] deck.

If you have a blue control specialist on your team and also want to field a [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] deck, what are your options? I’m working under the assumptions that:

– The viable blue control archetypes are Blue-White, Jeskai, Grixis, and Esper
– The viable [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] archetypes are Jund, Grixis, Sultai, Esper, and Abzan
– All of these decks need a fetchland + shockland manabase
– The control decks cannot play [card]Thoughtseize[/card], since the [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] deck needs it

What this means is that, as an example, Jund [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] and Grixis Control don’t work together because they both need [card]Blood Crypt[/card]. With the above restrictions in mind, these are the combinations that work together, from the blue control player’s perspective:

– Jund [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] – U/W, Jeskai, Esper Control
– Grixis [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] – U/W Control
– Sultai [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] – U/W, Jeskai Control
– Esper [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] – none
– Abzan [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] – Grixis Control

And from the [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] player’s perspective:

– U/W Control – Jund, Grixis, Sultai [card]Death’s Shadow[/card]
– Jeskai Control – Jund, Sultai [card]Death’s Shadow[/card]
– Grixis Control – Abzan [card]Death’s Shadow[/card]
– Esper Control – Jund [card]Death’s Shadow[/card]

When you dig deeper into some of these team compositions, you realize that some sacrifices need to be made. If your teammate really wants to play Grixis or Sultai [card]Death’s Shadow[/card], you might have to get creative when splitting up the [card]Serum Visions[/card] and [card]Thought Scour[/card]s. A blue control deck can be built without using either of these cantrips, but keep in mind that it makes your [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]s a lot worse.

Jund [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] lists might have to forego the white splash for sideboard cards such as [card]Ranger of Eos[/card] and [card]Lingering Souls[/card], if you have a teammate on Esper Control who needs [card]Godless Shrine[/card].

An Abzan [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] player definitely needs [card]Path to Exile[/card], but you could make a Blue-White or Jeskai Control deck work by playing Condemn instead of [card]Path to Exile[/card].

Blue-White Control as your deck of choice will definitely give your team the most flexibility and has basically no overlap with Jund [card]Death’s Shadow[/card], the most popular of the [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] decks. Blue-White Control generally plays less copies of [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] than the other blue control variants, so [card]Serum Visions[/card] and [card]Thought Scour[/card] are not as necessary. If you’re looking for a version of Blue-White Control with maximum team flexibility, here’s a maindeck that I would recommend as a starting point:

Unified Modern Blue-White Control

[deck]
[Lands]
1 Calciform Pools
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Flooded Strand
4 Ghost Quarter
1 Glacial Fortress
2 Hallowed Fountain
6 Island
1 Mystic Gate
2 Plains
1 Prairie Stream
[/Lands]
[Spells]
1 Blessed Alliance
4 Condemn
3 Cryptic Command
1 Detention Sphere
1 Dismember
1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
1 Gideon Jura
1 Jace, Architect of Thought
3 Mana Leak
1 Negate
1 Secure the Wastes
2 Spell Snare
1 Sphinx’s Revelation
4 Spreading Seas
3 Supreme Verdict
4 Think Twice
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
2 Snapcaster Mage
[/Creatures]
[/deck]

Condemn has some extra utility in Modern right now because it can be used to shrink or even kill [card]Death’s Shadow[/card]s. It also makes [card]Mana Leak[/card] more attractive since you aren’t casting [card]Path to Exile[/card] and giving your opponent extra mana sources. [card]Spreading Seas[/card] and [card]Ghost Quarter[/card] are an effective way to cripple a [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] player’s access to specific colors of mana in a prolonged game, and are also great against Tron. You can always add cards like [card]Path to Exile[/card], [card]Serum Visions[/card], or additional fetchlands to the list to fit your preferences, if not being used by a teammate.

Enough talk about [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] – now let’s say that you have a combo specialist on your team who is an expert at Storm, Ad Nauseum, or Amulet Bloom. It is crucial that these decks play [card]Serum Visions[/card] to help dig for their combo pieces. The key to making a [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] deck work in harmony with one of these combo decks? [card]Thought Scour[/card].

[card]Thought Scour[/card] is worse than [card]Serum Visions[/card] at making sure you hit your early land drops or digging for a specific answer. But it has a lot of upside, too. First of all, it’s an instant. While spending a single mana to cast [card]Serum Visions[/card] on your turn is often trivial, there will be times when you’ll need to have all of your mana available on your opponent’s turn. [card]Thought Scour[/card] gives you that flexibility. The ability to mill yourself also gives you more targets for [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], fuels delve cards like [card]Logic Knot[/card], and works well with [card]Think Twice[/card].

Here’s an example of a “no Serum Visions” Jeskai Flash list, assuming that I had a teammate who was locked into a deck like Amulet Bloom or Ad Nauseum:

Unified Modern Jeskai Flash

[deck]
[Lands]
1 Arid Mesa
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Flooded Strand
2 Hallowed Fountain
3 Island
1 Mountain
1 Plains
1 Sacred Foundry
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
1 Sulfur Falls
[/Lands]
[Spells]
3 Cryptic Command
1 Electrolyze
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Lightning Helix
3 Logic Knot
4 Path to Exile
2 Spell Snare
4 Think Twice
4 Thought Scour
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
2 Restoration Angel
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Vendilion Clique
[/Creatures]
[/deck]

I love how this deck doesn’t have a single spell in the maindeck that can’t be cast at instant-speed, which really facilitates the draw-go gameplan. This is a deck that I would feel comfortable piloting in a tournament, and could end up being better positioned, even though one might consider it a downgraded version of a Jeskai Flash list.

Whether you’re looking to make a blue control deck work with your teammates for Unified Modern or not, thinking about different ways to build decks can be an eye-opening process. As Mark Rosewater says: “Restriction breeds creativity.”

Probe, Troll, & Push: How Modern is Being Shaken Up

Modern:

[card]Gitaxian Probe[/card] is banned.

[card]Golgari Grave-Troll[/card] is banned.

These bans, from the most recent announcement, raise two questions regarding two of the biggest archetypes in Modern, Infect and Dredge.

How much worse is Infect without [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card]? [card]Become Immense[/card] is going to be harder to cast on the early turns, and the information that you gained by looking at your opponent’s hand made decision-making a lot easier. [card]Serum Visions[/card] is not a direct replacement, but it does let you see more cards. I predict that Infect loses its status as the top dog in Modern, but it will certainly remain a strong contender. And while the existence of Fatal Push doesn’t help, Infect still has good protection spells and [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] to force fights to happen on its own terms (and own turns).

How much worse is Dredge once you replace [card]Golgari Grave-Troll[/card] with [card]Golgari Thug[/card]? Two worse. In all seriousness, this probably isn’t a significant enough hit to make the deck unplayable. Casting large [card]Golgari Grave-Troll[/card]s was sometimes an alternate plan to beat [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card], so that much will become more difficult.

I think Infect and Dredge are following a similar, but less extreme path as Eldrazi in Modern, post-Eye of Ugin ban. These decks will have to adjust slightly in order to become simply two fine choices in a sea of other powerful Modern decks, much the same way that the Eldrazi decks had to adopt [card]Noble Hierarch[/card] and [card]Ancient Stirrings[/card] in order to stay viable.

Of course, the [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card] ban has far-reaching effects on other archetypes such as [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] Zoo, Blue-Red [card]Kiln Fiend[/card], Grixis Delver, [card]Jeskai Ascendancy[/card], and Storm. Between this banning announcement and the printing of Fatal Push, I think that it might be time to set aside the [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] and [card]Kiln Fiend[/card] decks in Modern. Even though I personally have been playing Blue-Red [card]Kiln Fiend[/card], I approve of this change. I think those two decks in particular were too consistently fast for the format.

How does all of this affect the rest of the Modern format? Maybe archetypes like Tron and Ad Nauseum will benefit from Infect being weakened. Fair decks like Jund and Jeskai are certainly happy that Dredge was hit with a banning. Maybe other graveyard strategies can come out of hiding if there’s going to be less Dredge hate in sideboards.

But what I’m most interested in are the possibilities that Fatal Push opens up. This is such a huge change to the format, much the same way that ally-colored fetchlands enabled Grixis decks. Until now, [card]Path to Exile[/card] and [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] have been the ubiquitous removal spells of Modern, leaving blue-black, green-black, and Sultai to be largely unexplored. Will Blue-Black Faeries finally break through? Can [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] and [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] team up once again?

Going deeper, how does Fatal Push change deckbuilding? Fetchlands are the easiest and most obvious way to enable Revolt, but spells like [card]Engineered Explosives[/card], [card]Seal of Fire[/card], and Deprive have more value now. The same goes for creatures with converted mana costs of five or greater that can’t be Fatal Pushed around. Delve and Emerge creatures even let you cheat on their mana costs.

This is just an early example of something that could be made possible, thanks to Fatal Push:

Sultai Control

[deck]
[Lands]
2 Breeding Pool
3 Creeping Tar Pit
1 Forest
3 Island
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Overgrown Tomb
4 Polluted Delta
1 Swamp
1 Verdant Catacombs
2 Watery Grave
[/Lands]
[Spells]
2 Abrupt Decay
4 Ancestral Vision
2 Countersquall
3 Cryptic Command
4 Fatal Push
1 Maelstrom Pulse
4 Serum Visions
2 Spell Snare
1 Sultai Charm
4 Thought Scour
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Tarmogoyf
3 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
[/Creatures]
[/deck]

The other big announcement that was made was that Banning & Restricted List announcements will be happening twice as often. While this has more to do with Standard bannings, it means that we could see Modern banlist changes happen more often, too since, if things go wrong (as in the case of the [card]Golgari Grave-Troll[/card] unbanning), they can be corrected soon after. Personally, I’d like to see [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] and [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] let loose in Modern.

2017 Annual Goals

It’s not too late to hop on the yearly reflection bandwagon, is it? I set five goals for myself at the beginning of 2016; let’s see how I did.

Qualify for another PT – Going by the calendar year, I managed to qualify for three Pro Tours in 2016 – two via Silver invites and one via Regional PTQ Top 4.

Reach Silver Level in the Pro Players Club (18 Pro Points) – I reached Silver and became a member of the Pro Players Club after Grand Prix Charlotte in May. I finished the 2015-2016 professional season with 27 total pro points, which far exceeded my expectations.

Make Day Two of a Team GP – I played in two Team Limited Grand Prix in 2016 (DC and Louisville), and our team successfully Day Two’ed both of them! We even spiked a 7th place at Grand Prix Louisville, with a record of 11-3.

Qualify for three of four Regional PTQs – I met this goal exactly, even managing to convert one of those Regional PTQs into a Pro Tour invite. The Silver-level benefit of being qualified for all RPTQs is really what made this happen.

Expand my range in Modern – It’s tough to quantify this one. The greatest example of a wide range last year was made by Modern master Tom Ross, who had success with Dredge, 8-Rack, and Green-White Tron! But I guess we can’t all be Tom Ross. I went slightly outside my comfort zone by picking up the Blue-Red [card]Kiln Fiend[/card] deck, but I could have gone out of my way to play some black or green cards once in awhile. I did play Bant Eldrazi in one local tournament, but I missed opportunities to sleeve up Infect, Dredge, or [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] Zoo in the last year. I definitely regret not playing the sweet version of [card]Grim Flayer[/card] Jund that my friend Ryan took to a Top 16 finish at the SCG Syracuse Open.

I’ll give myself four out of five. By all accounts, I’d call it a successful Magic year. Perhaps I set the bar too low, though, so here is what I’m shooting for in 2017:

Reach Gold Level in the Pro Players Club (35 points) – The natural progression is to shoot for Gold status this year. The point threshold for all levels was raised by two, making things even more difficult. I’m currently sitting at the same spot as I was at this point last year, with eight pro points and one pending Pro Tour appearance. I admit that this is going to be a very lofty goal, but the whole point is that it is a goal I’m really going to have to push myself to reach.

Finish with an 11-5 or better record at a Pro Tour – So far, my best Pro Tour finish has been a record of 10-6. This is a challenging, but attainable goal to aim for, with another Pro Tour invite as a reward.

Help those around me to qualify and stay on the Pro Tour – I’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of driven players for the last couple of Pro Tours, but it’s tough to keep a team together when not everyone is qualified for every Pro Tour. This year, I’m going to measure my success in part by the success of my teammates and the local players around me.

Achieve success in a Magic Online PTQ or MOCS event – Magic Online offers a lot of opportunities that I feel I haven’t been fully taking advantage of, especially with the Silver-level benefit of automatically receiving 15 free QPs every month. I’m going to made an effort to play in more online events this year.

Pass my friend, Kai, in lifetime pro points – No, not Kai Budde (that would be a truly impossible goal). My friend Kai has 60 lifetime pro points. I currently have 39. He’s an old man who doesn’t play Magic anymore, so it’s not even like this is much of a moving target, but he’s always a threat to come out of retirement. While meaningless, I just really want these bragging rights. The student will become the master!

Embracing the Degeneracy – RPTQ Top 4

This past weekend, I made the Top 4 of the RPTQ at Face to Face Games Toronto after narrowly defeating my good friend Nick Cummings in the final round of play. While the victory was bittersweet, I am ecstatic that, as of Pro Tour Aether Revolt in Dublin, I will have attended four out of the past five Pro Tours!

You could say that RPTQs have been a weakness for me; I’ve played in five RPTQs, and this was the first time I’ve managed to even Top 16 one of them. It feels great to convert one of these opportunities into a Pro Tour invite and get that monkey off my back instead of having that “I’m just here to collect my RPTQ promo card, AGAIN” feeling.

I played Blue-Red [card]Kiln Fiend[/card] and didn’t lose a single match throughout the event, defeating Red-White Skred, Affinity, Bant Eldrazi, Bant Eldrazi, Elves, and Grixis Goryo Breach. The deck itself is criminally underrated right now, partly because it is still a “new” deck to Modern. It is probably the biggest beneficiary of the new fastland cycle from Kaladesh, and [card]Thing in the Ice[/card] and [card]Bedlam Reveler[/card] are still relative newcomers to the format. The deck has been seeing a lot of play on Magic Online and in the Team Unified Modern format at the World Magic Cup, but I think we’ve yet to see it really display its full potential.

Why I Chose to Play Blue-Red Kiln Fiend

Phyrexian mana is degenerate.

Like many smart magicians, I’ve always had a preference for playing blue control decks in every format, when given the opportunity. But, sometimes, you have to stop trying to fight the good fight and just give in to the degeneracy. This was the case at Grand Prix Detroit last year, at the peak of “Eldrazi Winter” in Modern. At some point during testing for that event (probably after getting Turn 2 Thought-Knot Seer’d for the umpteenth time), I realized that Eldrazi was just too good to not play.

While the current Modern format is nowhere near as broken as it was during Eldrazi Winter, it feels like similarly tough times for anyone trying to play “fair,” reactive Magic. There are so many diverse threats, and not enough universal answers nor enough sideboard slots to beat everything. The sheer speed of the format means that if you stumble at all, you will lose. At the Toronto RPTQ this past weekend, I saw this firsthand, as the decks that eventually rose to the top were the ones trying to win by turn three, and each in different ways. Blue-Red [card]Kiln Fiend[/card] has the ability to keep up with the fastest decks in the format such as Dredge, Infect, and [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] Aggro. It also has the tools to interact with these other creature combo archetypes. [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], [card]Vapor Snag[/card], and [card]Thing in the Ice[/card] can be effective at breaking open these pseudo-mirror matches. [card]Blood Moon[/card] is another major reason to play Blue-Red [card]Kiln Fiend[/card] over similar strategies, and allows you to slow down or lock out the big mana decks and three-color decks that are on the other side of the spectrum.

Blue-Red Kiln Fiend

[deck]
[Lands]
2 Island
3 Misty Rainforest
1 Mountain
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Spirebluff Canal
2 Steam Vents
1 Stomping Ground
[/Lands]
[Spells]
2 Apostle’s Blessing
1 Faithless Looting
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Manamorphose
4 Mutagenic Growth
4 Serum Visions
1 Sleight of Hand
4 Temur Battle Rage
1 Twisted Image
1 Vapor Snag
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
1 Bedlam Reveler
4 Kiln Fiend
4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Thing in the Ice
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
2 Spell Pierce
1 Stubborn Denial
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Young Pyromancer
2 Blood Moon
1 Dismember
3 Ravenous Trap
1 Bedlam Reveler
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

The gameplan of this deck is mostly straightforward; play a [card]Kiln Fiend[/card] or [card]Thing in the Ice[/card] on turn two, and cast [card]Temur Battle Rage[/card] prefaced by a few other spells on turn three. There are twelve “free” spells in the deck to help facilitate this, and you mostly want to save them for the turn in which you are going all in for the kill. Many of these spells are also cantrips, so, along with [card]Serum Visions[/card], you get to churn through your deck very quickly to find key cards.

Mastering the deck, though, involves some practice and a lot of small decisions that happen in the span of the first few turns. This should be familiar to anyone who has played [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] Aggro, Infect, or Delver strategies before. It’s all about aggressively mulliganing, sequencing your fetchlands in combination with scry effects, and knowing when to “go for it” ([card]Gitaxian Probe[/card] always makes that one easy).

My maindeck is fairly stock, though in some lists you may see more copies of [card]Sleight of Hand[/card] or [card]Vapor Snag[/card]. I prefer to have a diverse mix of bullets like [card]Twisted Image[/card], [card]Faithless Looting[/card], and [card]Apostle’s Blessing[/card] that each have their own situational advantages. My only uncommon sideboard choice is [card]Ancient Grudge[/card], which is a huge boon for this deck and comes at the low cost of having to play a single [card]Stomping Ground[/card] in the maindeck. Sometimes the green source even comes in handy when you need to cast [card]Mutagenic Growth[/card] using mana!

The tougher matchups are Jund and Abzan, where you have to overcome lots of removal, discard spells, [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card], and large blockers. These attrition-based matchups are where I cut most of the [card]Temur Battle Rage[/card]s and transform into a value deck powered by [card]Bedlam Reveler[/card] and [card]Young Pyromancer[/card], or try to steal games with [card]Blood Moon[/card]. It’s the same plan that I and many others used in [card]Splinter Twin[/card]. It’s not always smooth or pretty or even a surprise, but it’s the best way to try to scrape out a win in the nightmare matchups. The first things I look to board out are some of the weaker cards like [card]Twisted Image[/card], [card]Faithless Looting[/card], all but one [card]Temur Battle Rage[/card], some amount of [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], and the [card]Stomping Ground[/card].

A quick aside on [card]Ravenous Trap[/card] against Dredge: be patient and wait as long as possible to pull the trigger. They will often have things like [card]Gnaw to the Bone[/card] and [card]Vengeful Pharaoh[/card] that are more dangerous than letting a couple of creatures slip through the cracks. Let them exhaust all of their enablers in hand, if you can, and then sweep up as much as possible.

The Modern Path to the Pro Tour

“What is the easiest way to qualify for the Pro Tour?” This is a question that gets asked a lot. Is it going 13-2 or better at a Grand Prix? Top 4’ing an RPTQ? Winning a Magic Online PTQ?

If your primary goal is to make it to the Pro Tour, here’s my answer: the Modern format. Become a master of it, learn all of its nuances, study decklists, and attend every Modern event that you can. Find a deck that suits you, and keep racking up the repetitions. Standard and Limited are uniquely important because they are the only formats played at the Pro Tour nowadays, but I believe that the non-rotating nature of Modern makes it the most rewarding format to get you to the Pro Tour in the first place. Legacy might be an even more rewarding format to master, but there are just not enough Legacy events that give out Pro Tour invites for that to be worth it.

So far, all of my Pro Tour qualifications have basically come from playing Modern. At the point that I hit Silver last season, 18 of my 19 pro points were from Modern events. Right now, I’ve realized that I should be prioritizing Modern Grand Prixes, even if they are further away. At a Modern RPTQ, there will be a portion of the field that qualified through Sealed PPTQs or from Top 8’ing the previous RPTQ of a different format. Some of these players will have little to no Modern experience, and that’s when your own expertise can give you an enormous edge.

Best of luck!

The Silver Lining: 16th at GP Charlotte

The best word to describe my experience at GP Charlotte: “absurd.” Even outside all of the tournament pairing mishaps and delays, my own tournament was a crazy path to 16th place.

I was locked into playing Jeskai with four [card]Nahiri, the Harbinger[/card] a couple weeks before the tournament. I think Nahiri is a pushed card in Modern, and one that fits perfectly in Jeskai. It can be used to improve your hand quality and dig for specific cards, help stabilize the board, and serve as a win condition. When you break it down like that, it compares closely to another four-mana planeswalker that has been deemed too good for Modern: [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card].

A lot of comparisons have been made between the compact package of four [card]Nahiri, the Harbinger[/card] and one [card]Emrakul, the Aeons Torn[/card], and the [card]Splinter Twin[/card] combo. Though, winning with Nahiri is closer to the play patterns of Esper Dragons in Standard. You have the ability to tap out for a difficult-to-answer threat ([card]Dragonlord Ojutai[/card] in Esper Dragons), and protect it for a few turns while it finds the cards you need and very quickly ends the game. Another comparison might be four [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card]s and a [card]Batterskull[/card], a package that I’ve utilized in various Legacy Jeskai decks.

And these comparisons are ignoring the rest of what the card can do! Nahiri gives Jeskai another four exiling effects for creatures that normally shrug off a [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] – namely, [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]. It’s also important as a maindeckable answer to problematic enchantments such as [card]Blood Moon[/card], Choke, [card]Bitterblossom[/card], [card]Phyrexian Unlife[/card], [card]Wild Defiance[/card], [card]Pyromancer Ascension[/card], [card]Jeskai Ascendancy[/card], and [card]Keranos, God of Storms[/card].

The only thing I wasn’t sure of was whether to play zero or four copies of [card]Ancestral Vision[/card]. I tested with four copies first, and certainly liked the feeling of security that came with having such a powerful way to refuel. With four Ancestrals, I was less afraid of running out of gas, which is a concern against Jund, Jeskai, Grixis, and even some of the faster, creature-based decks.

Ultimately, I found that Ancestral was too often too slow, or drew me into a bunch air, and I wasn’t satisfied with it. If you do decide to play [card]Ancestral Vision[/card], I don’t support playing less than four copies because you want it in your opening hand as much as possible. Sideboarding them in is an option, but I didn’t want to dedicate over a quarter of my sideboard slots to them, and I generally prefer having sideboard cards that are more immediately powerful and narrow.

Here’s what I registered for the Grand Prix:

Nahiri Jeskai – Alex Bianchi

[deck]
[Lands]
1 Arid Mesa
1 Cascade Bluffs
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Flooded Strand
2 Ghost Quarter
1 Hallowed Fountain
3 Island
1 Mountain
1 Plains
1 Sacred Foundry
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
[/Lands]
[Spells]
1 Anger of the Gods
2 Cryptic Command
1 Electrolyze
4 Lightning Bolt
1 Lightning Helix
1 Logic Knot
4 Nahiri, the Harbinger
4 Path to Exile
3 Remand
4 Serum Visions
2 Spell Snare
1 Timely Reinforcements
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Vendilion Clique
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
2 Dispel
1 Celestial Purge
1 Negate
2 Stony Silence
1 Wear // Tear
2 Geist of Saint Traft
2 Crumble to Dust
1 Glen Elendra Archmage
1 Wrath of God
1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
1 Engineered Explosives
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

My list wasn’t quite as good as it could have been, but I made a few important tweaks to some of the other Jeskai lists out there, based on my preferences.

Throughout the tournament, I was still learning what cards I did and didn’t like. It turned out that I made some good calls and some bad ones. Things I did right: [card]Logic Knot[/card], [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card], and maindeck [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card]. Things I did wrong: [card]Glen Elendra Archmage[/card], [card]Crumble to Dust[/card], and not having enough [card]Spell Snare[/card]s.

I could go on about card choices, but luckily, that work has been done for me. AJ Sacher’s extensive article on building Nahiri Jeskai covers just about everything that I would want to say, and more.

Day 1 of the tournament ran until almost midnight, as you may have heard. GP Los Angeles on the west coast was running over three hours ahead of us. Because of the pairings disaster, and for the sake of tournament integrity, I feared that the tournament would be canceled. Thankfully, it didn’t.

Round 1: Bye
Round 2: Bye
Round 3: W 2-1, Abzan Company
Round 4: W 2-0, Affinity (paired down to a 2-1)
Round 5: W 2-1, Bogles
Round 6: W 2-0, Dredgevine (paired down to a 3-2)
Round 7: W 2-1, Ad Nauseum
Round 8: W 2-0, [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] Zoo
Round 9: W 2-1, Ad Nauseum

Going 9-0 on Day 1 was a first-time achievement for me; one that has little actual meaning, but something I wanted to accomplish just to prove to myself that I could. I found out that there was an inflated twelve players at 9-0 going into Day 2, and suddenly I didn’t feel that special anymore. My undefeated record would certainly have an asterisk beside it, since I can’t deny that I benefitted from the two rounds of random pairings. This may have been balanced out by the fact that I faced a stretch of unfavorable matchups, which included Bogles, two Ad Nauseum decks, and a Dredge deck when I had zero graveyard hate cards. I was extremely fortunate to escape those matchups unscathed, and the hits kept coming on Day 2 with Tron and [card]Scapeshift[/card] decks.

Round 10: W 2-1, Green-Red Tron
Round 11: W 2-0, Nahiri Jeskai
Round 12: W 2-1, [card]Bring to Light[/card] Scapeshift
Round 13: L 1-2, [card]Bring to Light[/card] Scapeshift
Round 14: L 0-2, Kiki Chord
Round 15: D 1-1-1, Bant Retreat

My goal before the tournament was to finish 11-4, which would earn me two pro points and a promotion to Silver-Level Pro. At 10-0, I jokingly thought to myself, “I have five double-PTQ finals attempts in a row coming up. Wouldn’t it suck if I lost them all?” At 11-0, I was totally relieved that didn’t happen. At 12-0, I had to refocus myself on a new goal, which was, “Now I have three win-and-in attempts in a row for Top 8.”

At 12-1, I couldn’t stop thinking about my first loss of the tournament and all of the lines I could have taken to win. The more I thought about it, the more I concluded that I had just punted away a rather expensive plane ticket to Sydney, Australia. I completely derailed from there, and I couldn’t close out the tournament like I knew I was capable of doing.

The silver lining, as it were, was that I reached the goal that I had set out to achieve. I hit Silver, and now I get to go to the next two Pro Tours, in Sydney and Honolulu. I’m psyched to be able to play in more Pro Tours this year. However, my work this season isn’t over yet. I have at least a couple more GP’s to attend, and two more empty GP point slots to fill, potentially. I also get a second chance to earn that plane ticket at the Regional PTQ.

If I had another Modern tournament coming up, I’d make a couple changes and register this list:

Nahiri Jeskai – Alex Bianchi

[deck]
[Lands]
1 Arid Mesa
1 Cascade Bluffs
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Flooded Strand
2 Ghost Quarter
1 Hallowed Fountain
3 Island
1 Mountain
1 Plains
1 Sacred Foundry
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
[/Lands]
[Spells]
2 Cryptic Command
1 Electrolyze
4 Lightning Bolt
1 Lightning Helix
1 Logic Knot
4 Nahiri, the Harbinger
4 Path to Exile
3 Remand
4 Serum Visions
4 Spell Snare
1 Timely Reinforcements
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
4 Snapcaster Mage
1 Vendilion Clique
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
2 Dispel
1 Celestial Purge
1 Negate
2 Stony Silence
1 Wear // Tear
2 Anger of the Gods
2 Geist of Saint Traft
1 Vendilion Clique
1 Wrath of God
1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
1 Engineered Explosives
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

I’ve made room for two more [card]Spell Snare[/card]s by moving the [card]Anger of the Gods[/card] and the second [card]Vendilion Clique[/card] to the sideboard. Having the one-mana counterspell when you’re on the draw is immensely important in order to keep from falling behind, and in the late game, they can be discarded to Nahiri. I still want access to multiple [card]Vendilion Clique[/card]s since it’s such a great threat in the tougher combo and ramp matchups. It’s also a way to put Emrakul back into your deck without shuffling away any valuable cards in your graveyard. [card]Glen Elendra Archmage[/card] and [card]Crumble to Dust[/card] were the two least effective cards in my sideboard, so I’m happy to cut them.

Looking at results, one could call into question how good Nahiri Jeskai really is since it didn’t Top 8 either of the Modern Grand Prix. In a way, that’s great news for Jeskai players hoping to sail under the radar. Modern is still a battleground with a slew of viable archetypes that rewards you for deep knowledge of the format and mastery of your deck of choice. Who would have guessed that Merfolk and Ad Nauseum would be the winners of these two GP’s? I think post-Eldrazi Modern is in a great place, better than it was before the [card]Splinter Twin[/card] ban – and you can even still succeed with Eldrazi, apparently!

Exclusive EMA Preview – Sinkhole

Today, I bring you a spoiler from the upcoming Eternal Masters set. It is only fitting that ManaDeprived.com gets to unveil the most efficient single-target land destruction spell of all time:

Sinkhole_EN_HRR

You know that sinking feeling that you get when you’re playing some expensive blue deck full of dual lands and powerful spells, you mulligan and keep a 1-land hand, and then you find out that your opponent is playing this?

Pox – Reid Duke

[deck]
[Lands]
4 Mishra’s Factory
13 Swamp
4 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
4 Wasteland
[/Lands]
[Spells]
3 Cursed Scroll
4 Dark Ritual
4 Hymn to Tourach
3 Innocent Blood
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Liliana of the Veil
1 Nether Void
1 Pox
4 Sinkhole
4 Smallpox
1 Spinning Darkness
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
2 Nether Spirit
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
2 Extirpate
2 Pithing Needle
4 Engineered Plague
2 Perish
2 Leyline of the Void
1 The Abyss
2 Spinning Darkness
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

I know this feeling all too well. You [card]Force of Will[/card] a [card]Hymn to Tourach[/card] because you might as well choose which two cards you’re about to lose. You cast some cantrips to try to find some more lands, maybe you get Wastelanded and Smallpoxed, but you’re holding on to some small chance of crawling back into the game as you sit there with no cards in hand and one land left in play. Then, BOOM – the last shred of hope that you had left gets hit with a Sinkhole. You consider scooping, which is awkward because you don’t have any permanents left to scoop up.

Sinkhole is a card that harkens back to the days of Magic when spells were powerful and creatures were not. Nowadays, in modern Magic sets, this kind of effect costs you twice as much mana! [card]Stone Rain[/card] isn’t even welcome anymore – it hasn’t been reprinted since 9th Edition, nearly eleven years ago.

Lands are almost always the most important resource in the game of Magic. Just to show how powerful a card like Sinkhole is, players have gone to great lengths to try to replicate such an effect. Cards like [card]Boomerang[/card] and [card]Eye of Nowhere[/card] were played alongside actual land destruction spells in Blue-Red [card]Magnivore[/card] decks. [card]Boom // Bust[/card] has been paired with [card]Flagstones of Trokair[/card] or fetchlands to “build-your-own Sinkhole.”

Spending a card for one of your opponent’s lands is generally an unfavorable trade, especially since you usually don’t have an opportunity to prevent them from using their land at least once. But in Eternal Masters Limited, I expect there to be some powerful nonbasic lands making an appearance. If you aren’t lucky enough to open a [card]Wasteland[/card], and you’re playing black, Sinkhole might be a narrow card that you can use to answer a problematic land in your opponent’s deck. Perhaps we’ll see some creature lands, such as [card]Mishra’s Factory[/card], or even land enchantments, like a Utopia Sprawl-effect.

Sinkhole is coming to claim your land. Nothing is safe. No mana left undeprived. Va-land Morghulis. All lands must die.

Post-Eldrazi Modern

Modern:
[card]Eye of Ugin[/card] is banned.
[card]Ancestral Vision[/card] is unbanned.
[card]Sword of the Meek[/card] is unbanned.

What does this all mean for Modern? As we expected, Eldrazi decks have been neutered. Tron decks are weaker. Two powerful, unexpected blue cards have been let loose upon the format. These are all great developments for blue control decks.

Big mana decks such as Tron and Amulet Bloom have traditionally been a thorn in the side of the various blue decks in Modern. I’ve tried to fend off these opponents with cards such as [card]Ghost Quarter[/card], [card]Crumble to Dust[/card], [card]Fulminator Mage[/card], [card]Molten Rain[/card], and [card]Blood Moon[/card]. After the past two bannings, however, there’s a lot less big mana to worry about, which is a huge relief.

Overall, we can expect Eldrazi decks to be much less prevalent, making way for many of the midrange decks that were not viable during “Eldrazi Winter.” This means more Jund, Abzan, Grixis, and Jeskai. I think we can still expect to see a large representation of aggressive decks like Affinity, Burn/Zoo, and Infect. Green decks like Abzan Company, Kiki Chord, and Elves gained some popularity during the Eldrazi takeover, and those decks will probably continue to hold on to their portion of the metagame.

Many people have mentioned Faeries as one of the decks that benefits from the [card]Ancestral Vision[/card] unbanning. My issue with Faeries (the blue-black version, at least) is that it seems weak against one of the most popular decks – Affinity. Perhaps a Hoogland-inspired version of Faeries with red is the correct way to go. Faeries is also a deck that feels a lot better on the play, and a lot worse on the draw.

With all of that in mind, let’s start with Jeskai, which I haven’t touched since Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch (like almost everyone else, I’ve been playing U/W Eldrazi since then).

Jeskai Control by Alex Bianchi

[deck]
[Lands]
2 Arid Mesa
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Flooded Strand
1 Hallowed Fountain
3 Island
1 Mountain
1 Plains
1 Sacred Foundry
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
2 Tectonic Edge
[/Lands]
[Spells]
4 Ancestral Vision
2 Cryptic Command
3 Electrolyze
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Lightning Helix
3 Mana Leak
4 Path to Exile
3 Remand
2 Spell Snare
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
2 Restoration Angel
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Vendilion Clique
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
1 Wear // Tear
2 Dispel
2 Relic of Progenitus
1 Celestial Purge
2 Stony Silence
1 Izzet Staticaster
1 Timely Reinforcements
1 Glen Elendra Archmage
1 Supreme Verdict
1 Keranos, God of Storms
1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
1 Engineered Explosives
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

With Jeskai, I’m the most excited to not be playing cards like [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card], [card]Jace’s Ingenuity[/card], and [card]Careful Consideration[/card]. [card]Ancestral Vision[/card] is the clear winner among those options. I love Jeskai’s position in Modern if Affinity, Burn/Zoo, Infect, and Jund are going to be prevalent.

I’ve also considered revisiting Grixis Control, which picked up another new tool since the Eldrazi menace arrived: [card]Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet[/card]. Building Grixis with more discard instead of countermagic makes sense alongside [card]Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy[/card] and even Goblin Dank-Dwellers, which might be good enough now because of its unique ability to cast [card]Ancestral Vision[/card] from the graveyard. Grixis was never lacking in the card advantage department, so I don’t think that [card]Ancestral Vision[/card] is improving the deck nearly as much.

Grixis Control by Alex Bianchi

[deck]
[Lands]
1 Blackcleave Cliffs
1 Blood Crypt
3 Bloodstained Mire
2 Creeping Tar Pit
2 Island
1 Mountain
4 Polluted Delta
3 Scalding Tarn
1 Steam Vents
1 Sulfur Falls
2 Swamp
2 Watery Grave
[/Lands]
[Spells]
4 Ancestral Vision
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
3 Kolaghan’s Command
4 Lightning Bolt
1 Liliana of the Veil
4 Serum Visions
1 Slaughter Pact
3 Terminate
1 Thought Scour
1 Thoughtseize
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
2 Goblin Dark-Dwellers
4 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
3 Snapcaster Mage
1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
2 Dispel
2 Surgical Extraction
1 Vandalblast
1 Countersquall
1 Anger of the Gods
1 Izzet Staticaster
1 Jorubai Murk Lurker
3 Molten Rain
1 Glen Elendra Archmage
1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
1 Engineered Explosives
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

I’m still not thrilled by the idea of facing Burn/Zoo decks, and cutting down on countermagic means that sometimes you’re going to take control of a game but still lose to topdecks or a suspended [card]Ancestral Vision[/card]. On the positive side, having many maindeck answers to [card]Thopter Foundry[/card] is nice.

Speaking of [card]Thopter Foundry[/card], the deck that may be receiving the greatest boost is Blue-Black Tezzeret. The Agent of Bolas has never really had his time to shine in Modern, and I’m excited to see if [card]Sword of the Meek[/card] is enough for him to catch on. I don’t have much input on how to build this deck, but [card]Muddle the Mixture[/card] seems like a card I’d want to try.

Shadows Standard

For now, Standard is kind of on the backburner for me until the next PPTQ season and GP’s in Toronto and NYC, which are, admittedly, coming up fast. I’m tossing some ideas around, but probably won’t be playing many actual games for a couple weeks.

Hangarback Walker, [card]Thopter Engineer[/card], [card]Pia and Kiran Nalaar[/card], and [card]Foundry of the Consuls[/card] make up a nice little artifact package that is being utilized by the red Eldrazi deck. A friend is working on a deck that more fully makes use of artifact synergies with clue tokens and Ghirapur Aether Grid. Here’s my version of his deck, which he’s dubbed “Raging Clues.”

Raging Clues

[deck]
[Lands]
4 Battlefield Forge
4 Foundry of the Consuls
6 Mountain
4 Needle Spires
2 Plains
2 Stone Quarry
2 Westvale Abbey
[/Lands]
[Spells]
1 Chandra, Flamecaller
3 Declaration in Stone
3 Ghirapur Aether Grid
1 Nahiri, the Harbinger
2 Outnumber
2 Stasis Snare
1 Tamiyo’s Journal
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
4 Bygone Bishop
4 Hangarback Walker
4 Hedron Crawler
3 Pia and Kiran Nalaar
4 Thopter Engineer
4 Thraben Inspector
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
2 Rending Volley
4 Cleric of the Forward Order
2 Roast
4 Goldnight Castigator
2 Planar Outburst
1 Tamiyo’s Journal
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

It feels a bit wrong to be playing a white deck without [card]Archangel Avacyn[/card] or [card]Gideon, Ally of Zendikar[/card]. But as powerful as those cards are, this deck isn’t that interested in them – plus, the double white costs are tough on the mana when we already need double red and want to play a lot of colorless utility lands. [card]Stasis Snare[/card] is there so that we’re not completely cold to [card]Ormendahl, Profane Prince[/card], who’s going to be busting out the ceilings of a lot of churches during this Standard format. It’s nice to be able to tutor for the [card]Chandra, Flamecaller[/card] and [card]Nahiri, the Harbinger[/card], both of which give us a way to cycle superfluous copies of Ghirapur Aether Grid.

“End step [card]Secure the Wastes[/card], untap and transform Westvale Abbey” reminds me of Deceiver Exarch-Splinter Twin, in that you can pass your turn with open mana and threaten to punish your opponent if they tap out. I imagine that the best shell for this is white splashing blue for [card]Ojutai’s Command[/card], [card]Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy[/card], and [card]Reflector Mage[/card]. But the beauty of [card]Westvale Abbey[/card] is that it can be played in any color combination.

[card]Duskwatch Recruiter[/card] has been an all-star in Shadows over Innistrad Limited, and I can imagine he’s great in Standard, too. It’s interesting that most of the time you’d rather it not transform, unlike other double-faced cards. He goes well with [card]Collected Company[/card], but this leads me to a bigger-picture question: can Bant Company still exist with its downgraded manabase, or will CoCo decks have to give up [card]Reflector Mage[/card]? I’m not sure of the answer to that.

If you’re a red mage, red-green tokens seems like a great way to utilize the new [card]Arlinn Kord[/card], alongside [card]Nissa, Voice of Zendikar[/card]. I’d be sure to have some threats like [card]Thunderbreak Regent[/card] in your list in order to sidestep [card]Kozilek’s Return[/card], [card]Flaying Tendrils[/card], and [card]Virulent Plague[/card].

It seems like black-white and black-green midrange decks will be semi-popular since it’s easy to construct a pile of solid cards highlighted by [card]Anguished Unmaking[/card], [card]Sorin, Grim Nemesis[/card], [card]Ob Nixilis Reignited[/card], [card]Shambling Vent[/card], [card]Hissing Quagmire[/card], [card]Sylvan Advocate[/card], and of course, [card]The Gitrog Monster[/card]. These decks might have a tendency to be slow against ramp decks, which is where [card]Pitiless Horde[/card] comes in. Consider adding some 5/3’s into your sideboard plan!

There was a lot of initial excitement for [card]Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy[/card] and madness cards, but I think savvy players are starting to realize that Jace is not going to be nearly as good as he once was. When considering which removal spells to play in your deck, it bears repeating that you should focus less on being able to kill a turn two Jace, and more on being able to answer [card]Archangel Avacyn[/card] in combat and not losing to [card]Ormendahl, Profane Prince[/card].

Good luck in these two fresh formats, and may your [card]Ancestral Vision[/card]s never get processed by [card]Wasteland Strangler[/card].