For those who have read the title and for those who have been following my work, you probably expected a cookie cutter F2F Open/PTQ report. Something to the tune of “Finalnub poured hours into this one meme, all-in deck and lucksacked a PTQ win. Can we get an updated sideboard guide, ban Allosaurus Rider yet and be done with this yet??”. Why yes, I did win the event and PT invite with my beloved Neobra.. Wait no, Dredg.. That’s not it. Maybe Grishoalbrand made a comeback…? Sorry to disappoint fans of my work, but this isn’t a story where innovation and perseverance with a meme deck triumph. This is a story where netdecking prevailed, and how I won my second PT invite with Eldrazi Tron.
How did we get to this point? What had to happen where I had to resort to netdecking? I’ve been saying this to everyone who would listen, but I feel like 2019 must’ve been the year where cards were reduced to obsolescence and people displaced from their favourite decks at the fastest rate of all time. Just for me, I’ve “lost” the following decks that I own in paper all within the last two years: Cheerios (Fatal Push printed at the same time), Grishoalbrand (RIP, WOTC banned the graveyard and it is strictly worse than Neobrand), Dredge (an exaggeration, but in my eyes unless your name is Sodeq it is a shell of its former self and not close to a tier 1 deck). I can’t imagine what long-time Affinity, Abzan etc. players are feeling right now either. Granted, I’ve found my new love in Neobrand but you will encounter problems in Modern if you only have one playable deck and the metagame shifts against you. For the last year or so, I’ve felt displaced and wandering aimlessly in Modern after seeing so many of my cards that I own obsoleted so easily.
Having said that, I’ve still been enjoying considerable success with Neobrand, posting a 67% win rate since the printing of Once Upon a Time. And leading up to the F2F Vancouver Open+, I noted a noticeable decrease in Force of Negation decks, Neobrand’s nemesis. If that’s the case, why not run back Neobrand, something that may be reasonably positioned and that you have incredible familiarity with? A few reasons:
- I wanted to be forward-thinking rather than looking at the snapshot of the metagame a few weeks before the event. Predicting paper metagame is more art than science, but given my knowledge of the propensity of the Pacific Northwest players, recent high profile Modern events, and online results, I felt like there was still going to be a lot of predators to Neobrand (blue-based Shadow decks, Eldrazi Tron itself, Infect, etc.)
- Given that my only priority was to win the whole event and the PT invite, I wanted to make sure that I play the best deck that would give me the best chance to win, which in my eyes is a function of the deck’s power level, metagame positioning, and the pilot skill value-add.
- I didn’t mind going outside my comfort zone to #ExPaNdMyRaNgE.
As an aside, 2019 is a wonderful time for information flow and no tech/deck can truly stay hidden for very long. With many capable streamers and people eager to share their findings on Twitter, an astute and resourceful observer, in my opinion, can arrive at the correct conclusion a high percentage of the time as long as they know where to look in a very time efficient manner. After all, why expend hours upon hours of fruitless testing and not take advantage of the people who are willing to show you their work as well? I understand that this has not always been that way, but in my opinion, this is essential to being a successful competitive MTG player in 2019 and beyond.
But back to the difficult decision I was faced with. Playing Neobrand would certainly be on-brand (I’ll show myself out) and would help with my identity as an MTG content creator, but at this point my top priority was to get back onto the PT circuit. I constantly recall back to my first PT invitation, earned through a fortunate GP top 4 run a year into my MTG career. I’ve always lamented that it was a regrettable and wasted opportunity, as my skills (especially Limited!) were too raw and I didn’t have the resources or the network to fully leverage this opportunity. I’d like to think I’ve come a long way since then and have been eager to get another opportunity. With that being said, winning the invite was the top priority for me over “memeing” and branding.
One more note on my deck selection process: a lot of people noted that if I ever only focus on “real” decks over “meme” decks, I’d be doing much better. While I certainly get that point of view, I believe deck selection has more nuance to it and it’s dangerous to make these types of “x is the best deck, play it” statements and take it in a vacuum. I could probably write a whole article on this and other tournament preparation topics, but for me, I view the EV of playing deck X to be a function of:
- How powerful is the deck in a vacuum?
- How does X look relative to the expected metagame?
- How much pilot skill value can I add?
- How much will I be able to enjoy/tolerate playing X for Y rounds?
I do think that 3) and 4) are severely understated when considering deck choices for competitive events. 3) and 4) will compound at an increasing rate the longer the tournament is (15/18 rounds and hours a GP!), so I think it’s important to understand yourself and your limitations if you want to do well at tournaments. This comes at odds with my previous statement about going outside your comfort zone, but I think it’s all about prioritizing your goals and managing the time that you have at hand, which is different for everyone.
Some examples of the above from my recent tournament success:
- For this event, I knew I was very proficient with Neobrand and thought it was reasonably positioned. However, I think Eldrazi Tron was more abstractly powerful and would be very well positioned in a sea of expected Infect, Shadows, Urza and Druid players. I also enjoyed these powerful nut draws a lot and liked playing it
- For GP Vegas where I almost top 8d during Hogaak summer, I could have easily gotten my hands on the soon-to-be banned deck. However, I genuinely believed (and was very loud about it on Twitter) that I had the best deck for that tournament. This was backed up by data, where I had a couple hundred matches during Hogaak Summer with Neobrand when its predators had been driven out by Hogaak (UW, Shadows) and I literally had 80%+ win rate vs. Hogaak itself (where lists were getting so inbred it couldn’t afford to have any cards for combo), 70%+ win rate vs the decks purported to have good matchups against Hogaak (Burn, Red Prowess, Tron, Urza). Unfortunately, I went 11-2 into 0-2, but a bunch of people did well with the deck and the deck had the highest win rate of any decks in the tournament, so perhaps I wasn’t so crazy 🙂
- For SCG Vegas that we won, I had never played Dredge and Grishoalbrand looked to be reasonably positioned. However, just a little testing proved that Creeping Chill was absurd, and we could ambush the meta with what I thought was this unexpected tier 0 deck. Even though this was definitely outside my comfort zone and it was going to be tough to play physically, it would’ve been foolish to ignore Dredge. It was also a deck I had a lot of fun playing (free Lightning Helixes against aggro and Burn? Yes please)
TLDR: There is a method to my madness, no matter how much of a memer I look to be!
[Deck Title= First Place, Eldrazi Tron – Jonathan Zhang]
1 Hangarback Walker
4 Matter Reshaper
4 Reality Smasher
4 Thought-Knot Seer
2 Walking Ballista
1 All is Dust
2 Warping Wail
4 Chalice of the Void
4 Expedition Map
4 Karn, the Great Creator
1 Mind Stone
2 Ugin, the Ineffable
2 Blast Zone
1 Cavern of Souls
4 Eldrazi Temple
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Radiant Fountain
1 Scavenger Grounds
4 Urza’s Mine
4 Urza’s Power Plant
4 Urza’s Tower
1 Ensnaring Bridge
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Liquimetal Coating
1 Mycosynth Lattice
1 Pithing Needle
2 Relic of Progenitus
1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
1 Sorcerous Spyglass
1 Spatial Contortion
1 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Walking Ballista
1 Withbane Orb
1 Wurmcoil Engine
I won’t bore you with all the minute details, but I will provide some select commentary and highlights. Before that though, I wanted to shout out the Vancouver MTG chat, where we placed four (!) people into the top 8, and Vancouver in general for representing the top tables and defending home turf. Well done everyone!
R1: W vs Red Prowess
In both wins, I stabilized with a Chalice on 1 and my opponent’s deck literally ceased to function. Not very insightful, but I want to highlight the power of Eldrazi Tron’s prison pieces right now, especially Chalice’s current position.
R2: W vs UG Eldrazi
This deck has been low-key crushing it online, so I wasn’t surprised to find out that a group of Seattle Spikes decided on this. I won a very close set of three games where I had to make some on-the-fly adjustments, being unfamiliar with the deck. I think Chalice 1 is actually pretty good (4 Noble, 4 Stirring, 4 Stubborn Denial, x Ceremonious Rejection). Also, I figured that since they were significantly better at powering out fast Eldrazis I needed to take a more defensive stance, having the best late game (but always being mindful that Oko can undo any work that my Endbringer or Ensnaring Bridge is doing).
R3: W vs Aggro Goblins
R4: W vs Crabvine
I lost game 1, and won both post-board games, mulling aggressively to interaction and establishing Chalice 1 + Grafdigger’s Cage in both games. Again, another example of Chalice being great in this environment.
R5: L vs RUG Urza
Amusing loss against a friend where I turn 3 TKS’d away his hand of Cryptic+lands, and he literally ripped running Urza->spin Urza into Oko->win. Then in game 3 he ambushed me with a turn 3 Magus of the Moon that I’d never seen in Urza, and I ended the game with 6 <> spells!
R6: W vs UW Miracles
R7: W vs Infect
Shout out to Sean, who said he was a regular listener and only started playing 7 months ago and almost made it to the top 8 of a high stakes competitive event. Unfortunately, I played a pretty solid control game and Chalice 1 ruined another opponent’s day.
R8: ID (8th place)
QF: W vs Sarah on Infect
Going into the top 8 as the 8th seed and having to break serve against a lot of bad matchups seemed daunting, especially against a very good local player in Sarah piloting Infect. It wasn’t the best start when I had to mulligan down to 4, but I knew that against this matchup I could only keep a specific subset of hands. I ended up winning game 1 on the draw on 4 cards (2 lands, Chalice, Ballista) which was incredibly important. I mulliganned a lot in this matchup, including some tempting hands like natural Tron hands and turn 3 TKS hands, but I knew I had to be disciplined. Chalice 1 invalidates half their decks, and in both games, I had Chalice 1s. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I won and started to feel like this is my day.
SF: W vs Etron
Being on the draw in the mirror was brutal, but fortunately I had several natural Tron hands and ended up sweeping, setting up a finals match against a good friend.
F: W vs Paul Turbo Druid
I was dreading this matchup all top 8, as Paul is a master with the Devoted Druid archetype and his version with Simian Spirit Guides was especially threatening. This is part of the reason why I added the third Dismember over the second Spatial Contortion (one of the only changes I made to Yamakiller/Mateusf’s list). If you look at the list of matchups throughout the day, Dismember was much better than Contortion, which I was ecstatic about.
We played a very intense three game set where we mulliganned a lot and played interactive matches. Like against Infect, I knew I can only keep a small subset of hands against Paul. Thankfully, I drew above average and Paul had some unlucky draws, and I managed to netdeck my way into a PT win!
I’ll be honest – I’m only 100 matches in and I wouldn’t be able to do it justice. To prepare, I watched a bunch of Yamakiller’s Etron videos and subbed for his sideboard guide, and it worked out great. I would highly recommend you check out his videos/get his guide if you are interested in this deck.
For what it’s worth, I think Karn, the Great Creator and Blast Zone have revolutionized the deck, and I believe this deck has the power level to be an evergreen tier 1/2 deck. So much so that I’m considering buying the deck in full in paper with the prize that I won!
Tips & Tricks
Mulligan very aggressively
The above is not a joke! There’s been a lot of literature on Etron already, so I’m not going to parrot what other great Etron pilots have said. However, I believe this is a big reason for my success with Etron (76% win rate through the first 100 matches, as well as my relative success since the London Mulligan). I’m fairly sure that people are still underestimating the power of the London Mulligan. Coming from a Neobrand background, getting in this mindset of “mulligan to the nuts” wasn’t so hard. The biggest change with this deck, in my opinion, has been the fact that you can now nut draw even your worst matchups with Karn. I can’t stress this point enough!
So, with that being said:
- Don’t keep mediocre hands such as turn 4 TKS+turn 5 Smasher hands, turn 4 Karn with interaction hands, and anything that resembles you playing these cards on curve.
- Do keep hands that has the nuts or a likely path to the nuts. These include natural Tron, 2 Urza lands+map, turn 2 TKS, turn 2 Reshape + turn 3 TKS or turn 3 Karn with interaction hands.
For reference, I have a higher mulligan rate (58%) with Eldrazi Tron than with Neobrand, which is incredible to me! That I mulligan more often with this “midrange” deck than with an A+B combo deck should speak volumes about how I play this deck and how you should be playing it too.
- Eldrazi Tron is great and likely going to be among the best decks for the next half year at least
- Don’t be afraid to venture outside your comfort zone, but at the same time be cognizant about your strengths and limitations
- Thorough deck selection and preparatory processes goes a long way towards having successful tournaments
- I’m going to PT Phoenix! If you are there, come say hi!