Hey everyone, my name is Mathew Stein, and this is Part (the Waterveil) 1 of my primer and tournament report telling you how I got 15th place this past weekend at Grand Prix Toronto with my favorite Modern deck in the format: Taking Turns!
Inspirations for Taking Turns
Before I can take any credit for doing well with this deck, there are a few people I need to shout out. The first is Davies Clarke, someone who has been playing Taking Turns for years now in the Montreal and Eastern Canadian region at larger events. For years, whenever I would show up to a Modern event with some bad Birds of Paradise and Chord of Calling deck, he would always be there playing Mono Blue Taking Turns and it was always so fascinating watching him go off and just having his opponents sit there trying to figure out what he was even doing while they never got another turn for the rest of the match. I was hooked, and whenever I would finish a match early, I would always try to find him and watch him perform his craft.
We had slowly started to become better friends and one tournament I decided that I had to give this Taking Turns deck a shot after how long I have been watching him do it. It just so happened that there was a Face to Face Games Open+ happening in Montreal last year and he couldn’t make it, so he was very nice enough to lend me most of the deck to try it out. He had been very interested in experimenting with splash colors rather than just Mono Blue due to the large number of Humans and Spirits picking up, so I decided to give Blue Red Taking Turns a shot for him and let him know how it was. I believe I went 6-2 and got top 16/100+ people having punted both matches I lost due to inexperience with the deck, and I knew right then that this deck was the real deal.
Since then we have become very close friends, theory crafting different ideas, testing and tuning lists, and coming up with sideboard plans. He also came to Grand Prix Toronto but unfortunately did not do as well, but he was there for me the whole weekend and I would have never done as well as I did without him there as my Taking Turns mentor.
The second person I need to shout out is the Taking Turns master Daniel Wong, who has been the pioneer of this archetype for a very long time and put this deck on the global map. You probably know him better as the crazy guy who went 14-1 and top 8ed Grand Prix Vegas a few years ago with Blue Black Taking Turns with an all foil quad sleeved deck. He has truly believed in this Taking Turns archetype and has helped out many people, including myself before this tournament through Reddit, MTG Salvation threads, and Discord. He has even recorded different versions of Taking Turns on YouTube which include: UB, UW, UR and Jeskai. If you are interested in picking up this deck and learning it, I highly recommend watching some of his videos and watch how he is able to combo off from different spots.
I had the pleasure of meeting Daniel Wong this past weekend and we even had to play the mirror match! (Which I will talk about in Part 2). He is an incredibly nice and genuine guy and always ready to help anyone about this deck. It was actually a bit surreal that going into the last round of the tournament, we were both 12-2 with win and ins for the Top 8 in the feature match side by side! We both unfortunately lost and got 10th and 15th respectively with 12-3 records, but overall it was an incredible weekend for both of us and I am very happy that I was able to go on a deep run in this tournament with him also doing extremely well.
With those out of the way, let’s look at how I got to the list I played!
All my carmates and I decided early on that it was probably a good idea to drive up Thursday so we could all enter the Mythic Championship Qualifier (MCQ) on Friday morning. Given that this was my first tournament back with the deck in about three months, I decided to try out a bit of a more experimental list that I was previously working on to see if it was indeed better. So, I registered Jeskai Taking Turns, playing a single copy of Opt and splashing White for Path to Exile in the maindeck, as well as Leyline of Sanctity, an extra Path to Exile, Terminus and Engineered Explosives (with the ability to put it on three now) in the sideboard. These card choices were primarily for the rise of Blue Red Phoenix and Burn, where these white cards shine. I end up going 3-2 in the MCQ beating TitanShift, Jeskai Control and Black Green Rock, and funny enough losing to both Blue Red Phoenix and Burn. (One of my carmates Steven McGrath actually lost in the finals of the MCQ to Jon Stern and then Top 32ed the Grand Prix both events playing Hardened Scales. Great runs buddy!)
Take-aways from the Jeskai version: 1. Path to Exile was amazing, 2. Terminus was way too clunky and way too hard to set up because we want to be killing every creature immediately and not leaving them on the board, 3. Leyline of Sanctity would have been the nuts against Burn if I drew it but likely not worth it in a non-white version where you couldn’t cast it, 4. Having the ability to put Engineered Explosives on three was incredibly helpful, and the most important take-away: 5. The manabase just couldn’t handle it.
With all of this in mind, I decided that Blue Red Taking Turns was still the best version, but I was still lost about how to beat Blue Red Phoenix and Burn without devoting your whole sideboard to it with cards that suck against basically everything else like Dragon’s Claw or Magma Spray. Not to mention the fact that the Phoenix decks attack from so many different angles that you could draw Magma Spray and then just die to their Thing in the Ice. Davies also lost to Blue Red Phoenix in the MCQ and that is when we finally figured out our secret bullet that nobody would expect in Blue Red Taking Turns: Chalice of the Void. While putting a Chalice on the Void on one against both Burn and Phoenix may not necessarily win you the game, it will still strand many dead cards in their hands to the point where you have enough time to get your own game plan going in the meantime. With all of this said, this is the list that I decided to register in the main event:
Blue Red Taking Turns – 15th Grand Prix Toronto 2019
Deck Tech – Maindeck
Now that you have heard about my inspirations for the deck and how we got to this list, I think it will be the easiest to understand if we break down the deck into different categories:
1. Time Walk Effects:
4x Time Warp
3x Temporal Mastery
2x Part the Waterveil
These are pretty self-explanatory and are the namesake cards of the deck. All three of these serve different functions. We play the most Time Warp (four) because it is the cheapest warp effect and we can flash it back using Snapcaster Mage. Three Temporal Mastery because Miracle-ing it leads to some unfair turns and can be set up using Serum Visions or Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The only issue is you do not want to start with too many of these in your hand because they will be stranded. Two Part the Waterveil because sometimes you need to use one without awaken to continue going off and having access to the second one ensures that you can find it and kill them with the land if need be. Important to note that if you have this with nine mana while going off, a common play is to awaken onto a tapped land that was used to play it, take the extra turn and then attack for 6 and continue going off. I usually awaken onto a basic Island just as a hedge for Field of Ruin if they have it up since they can’t target the Island.
2. Card Draw/Mine Effects:
4x Serum Visions
4x Dictate of Kruphix
1x Howling Mine
2x Jace, the Mind Sculptor
The premise of how this deck actually works is you want to resolve at least one mine effect (Howling Mine/Dictate of Kruphix) in the early game. Dictate of Kruphix is great here because you can flash it in at the end of your opponent’s turn and then you get the first extra card where as Howling Mine your opponent gets the first turn. You can also flash in a Dictate of Kruphix on your upkeep with five mana if you have set up a Temporal Mastery on top and get the additional card knowing that you already have an additional turn coming. Every card is precious while going off. Serum Visions is just the best early game cantrip because it lets you see three cards and set up Temporal Mastery very easily. While I have played Opt in the past and it may be cast at Instant speed and allow you to miracle on their turn, seeing three cards is incredibly important at all points in the game. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is better than all, and here serves as a way of putting Temporal Mastery back on top of your deck, brainstorm and shuffle using fetchlands while going off, bouncing your opponent’s creatures or even your own Snapcaster Mage, as well as having the capability to continuously fateseal if you have critical mass and have a backdoor way of winning with his ultimate. Jace, the Mind Sculptor serves a lot of purposes but usually gets cut alongside some or all of the Temporal Mastery because tapping out on turn 4 in Modern is like a death sentence against certain decks and he just is not fast enough in some matchups.
3. Pseudo Time Walk Effects/Soft Interaction
These are pseudo Time Walk effects because your opponent is allowed to take a turn, but they basically cannot do anything. Gigadrowse is probably the hardest card in the deck to play correctly, it is like the Brainstorm of Legacy for this deck as Davies puts it. It is especially good versus decks that can interact at instant speed, because Gigadrowse puts multiple replicate targets on the stack and one counterspell won’t really do anything. Most of the time, you want to Gigadrowse their lands/creatures on their Upkeep, but there are sometimes where you want to wait and see if they deploy something else and then tap them out at the end of turn and then go off on your turn. Exhaustion is especially good against the creature decks because you only need to spend three mana to make all of their creatures and lands not untap where as you may not have enough mana to Gigadrowse everything. These are soft interactions because they don’t completely deal with problems, they just try to give us the time we need.
4. Hard Interaction
4x Lightning Bolt
2x Cryptic Command
1x Engineered Explosives
As a concession to the speed of the format, I believe playing anything less than four interactive spells like Lightning Bolt is likely incorrect. Lightning Bolt is absolutely incredible at killing creatures, but it is also amazing at going face and ending games which is crucial while combo-ing off. Cryptic Command is one of the cards that I am most happy to see almost every game. It is never a dead card, and there are too many different applications for it that I could probably write an entire article on just that card, but here are just a few: 1. Counter their spell and draw, very common but still strong, 2. Counter their spell and bounce Snapcaster Mage to rebuy it and allow for another Cryptic Command or Time Warp if you have it in the graveyard, 3. Tap all creatures to buy an extra turn against the creature decks, and 4. Bouncing problem permanents or even lands which comes up. I wish I could play more than two, but I decided that the 60th card in the Maindeck should be an Engineered Explosives to free up a slot in the Sideboard. Don’t forget Magic the Gathering Decks are 75 card units, not 60 and 15 card decks. Engineered Explosives basically has application against every deck in the format and is especially important right now at clearing Thing in the Ice since our removal only does three damage.
5. The Best Blue Card in Modern
4x Snapcaster Mage
This card does it all. It flashes back Serum Visions in the early game. It flashes back Lightning Bolt as another way of killing a creature or doing more face damage while going off. It flashes back Gigadrowse/Exhaustion or better yet Time Warp to take the extra turns. It flashes back Cryptic Command which can bounce Snapcaster Mage and do anything again. It can block in the early game and trade or pressure planeswalkers. It flashes back our sideboard cards. The best part is: It attacks for two and kills our opponent while going off. The only flaw is that graveyard hate does reduce his effect and can be trimmed if you see graveyard hate but overall this card is by far the most versatile card in the deck.
1 Cascade Bluffs
1 Flooded Strand
1 Gemstone Caverns
1 Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Polluted Delta
2 Scalding Tarn
4 Snow-Covered Island
2 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls
1 Temple of Epiphany
1 Watery Grave
We play 23 lands with 21 Blue sources and 13 Red sources for our splash color. We want as many blue sources are possible for Gigadrowse/Cryptic Command. The Watery Grave is only there as an off color fetchable dual to help us put Engineered Explosives on three if we need to. We play a Gemstone Caverns obviously to get lucky but also as a way to remove a Temporal Mastery from our hand if we do get lucky, if you luck this in it feels amazing. Mikokoro, Center of the Sea may be a bit of a weird one but is likely the most important land. It acts as another mine effect while going off and can even let you miracle Temporal Mastery on your opponent’s turn if you are a skilled magician. Plus, it is a pseudo mine effect that cannot get Nature’s Claimed. Not taking a lot of damage from your manabase is key which is why we have 7 Basic Islands and less Shocklands/Fetchlands. I play four Snow-Covered Islands just to try to confuse my opponents even further, but they are not too necessary. One Temple of Epiphany is fine since we don’t have too much going on turn one anyways and the scry is always nice.
Deck Tech – Sideboard
2 Anger of the Gods
4 Chalice of the Void
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Rending Volley
2 Surgical Extraction
3 Thing in the Ice
2x Anger of the Gods
1x Engineered Explosives
1x Rending Volley
3x Thing in the Ice
In the faster creature matchups, we actually trim some warp effects and bring in our extra win condition of Thing in the Ice alongside more early game removal to flip it. Also getting to flip a Thing in the Ice with a warp effect and attacking with it two or three times is not only a blast, but also lights out for our opponents. We are definitely the fairest Thing in the Ice deck in the format.
4x Chalice of the Void
2x Surgical Extraction
As listed above, Chalice of the Void is great against decks with a critical mass of one drops such as Burn or Blue Red Phoenix. It is also great against traditional Affinity putting it on zero or one as well as Hardened Scales Affinity putting it on one. Play more Surgical Extraction if you expect to play against a lot of Graveyard decks.
Cards that almost made the list:
Negate, Commandeer, Crackling Drake, Magma Spray, Dragon’s Claw, Gelectrode, Opt, Remand, Ceremonious Rejection, Vendilion Clique
Thanks for reading Part 1 of my 2 Part series on Taking Turns and stay tuned for Part 2 going over every round of Grand Prix Toronto and how-to sideboard with the deck!