I played a lot of Modern leading up to GP Indy in August. This was right in the middle of the Modern PPTQ season. I floundered on deck choice early in the season. I experimented with Bedlam Reveler decks. I tried it in UR with Thing in the Ice but found that cantrips weren’t the way to enable Reveler because I was getting stuck with too many cards in hand. Julian Wildes suggested playing Reveler in Jund so I tried that for a couple of events with decent success. It was a good value card in the late game and I found it worked best for me when I played two of them as targets for a pair of Traverse the Ulvenwald. Having too many Revelers increased the chances of drawing them in multiples. But playing Traverse was great for searching out a Kalitas, Reveler or potentially other sideboard bullets.
I top 8’d the only PPTQ I played with Jund and lost to Bant Eldrazi in the quarterfinals which felt like a poor matchup. I decided I wasn’t going to play Jund anymore. I didn’t enjoy playing the deck all that much and while it was powerful, it’s the most fair that a deck can be which isn’t where I want to be in Modern.
At this time, Jund, Bant Eldrazi and Death’s Shadow Zoo were the decks getting the most attention in the metagame. Dredge was seeing play online and was on most peoples’ radar but this was before the printing of Cathartic Reunion so it wasn’t quite as powerful as it is today.
I made the change to GW Hatebears after talking about the deck for awhile with Eric Blanchet. You can read my deck tech for the archetype in my previous article. I prefer to play Collected Company as a way to gain card advantage and find the important hate cards in a given matchup. The card is particularly strong in a Jund or Eldrazi meta and the deck is naturally great against Death’s Shadow due to their fragile mana base and a combo that is soft to Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Path to Exile.
PPTQs with GW Hatebears
The week before the Grand Prix I played in back-to-back PPTQs on Saturday/Sunday. I went a combined 9-3 with all three of my losses coming to Abzan Company.
8/20/16 Saturday PPTQ at Allsport Collectibles
R1, 1-0 – Affinity (2-0)
R2, 2-0 – Naya Bushwhacker Zoo (2-1)
R3, 3-0 – Suicide Zoo (2-1)
Draw into Top 8
QF, Win – Bant Eldrazi (2-1)
SF, Win – Suicide Zoo (2-0)
F, Loss – Abzan Company (1-2)
8/21/16 Sunday PPTQ at Die Hard Games
R1, 1-0 – UW Control (2-1)
R2, 2-0 – UR Storm (2-0)
R3, 2-1 – Abzan Company (1-2)
R4, 3-1 – Bant Eldrazi (2-1)
R5, 4-1 – Grixis Control (2-0)
Draw into Top 8
QF, Loss – Abzan Company (0-2)
The deck felt very strong and handily beat a wide variety of decks. After losing to Abzan Company three times, I decided to make a few adjustments to the deck. I could beat Abzan in grindy games, but was losing to the combo. Similarly, I was beating Eldrazi consistently but the games were pretty close. The ones I lost were usually to an unanswered Eldrazi Displacer. I decided to find room in the deck for x2 Linvala, Keeper of Silence and some number of Hushwing Gryff which helped improve my matchup against both strategies. Abzan Company is a deck I haven’t played against online at all and I haven’t seen it at any major tournament in the two and half months since this PPTQ weekend so I think I just got unlucky to face it in my elimination rounds for both events.
Grand Prix Indianapolis
I felt good about playing the deck in an open meta. For Indy, I played a third main deck Scavenging Ooze as well as Rest In Peace and Declaration in Stone as my sideboard plan for Dredge. Here’s the 75 I registered:
GW Hatebears, GP Indy
R3, 3-0 – Ad Nauseum (2-0)
R4, 3-1 – Bant Eldrazi (0-2)
R5, 3-2 – UG Infect (1-2)
R6, 4-2 – Grixis Control (2-0)
R7, 5-2 – Affinity (2-0)
R8, 5-3 – Jund (1-2)
R9, 6-3 – Storm (2-1)
After a T2 Thalia in both games against Ad Nauseum I was off to a 3-0 start but two early losses in rounds 4 and 5 were pretty disappointing. In round 4 I got nut-drawn by Eldrazi two games in a row with turn 2 Thought-Knot Seer, turn 3 Reality Smasher in both games. I lost a close match to Infect in 3 games. In game 2 I had Path for the first Blighted Agent but no answer for a second one. In game 3 I mulled to 5 and missed my second land drop for multiple turns.
At x-2 I rattled off a couple wins by grinding out Grixis Control with Collected Company and drawing sideboard cards against Affinity. In round 8 I was excited to sit across from my first Jund opponent since I feel pretty favored in the matchup. In game 1 I kept a Stirring Wildwood with x2 Noble Hierarch on the draw. My Nobles got bolted and I didn’t see a second land for a few turns. I got tilted at the mana troubles and forgot to play a free Loxodon Smiter off of a Liliana of the Veil activation on turn 3 which probably cost me the game. I won a long game 2 but then didn’t have enough answers to my opponent’s threat heavy draw in game 3. Usually I’m the beatdown, but my opponent played three must answer threats – two Dark Confidant and a Kalitas. I got a 2-for-1 killing Bob and Goyf with an Engineered Explosives but then lost to Kalitas after using my only Path on the second Bob.
I did close out with a win against Storm to make Day 2, but a 6-3 record was underwhelming. I lost one round to variance against Eldrazi, but in the my other two match losses I stumbled on mana. I also misplayed against Jund and probably cost myself that match.
R10, 7-3 – Ad Nauseum (2-1)
R11, 7-4 – Esper Control (1-2)
R12, 7-5 – Burn (0-2)
R13, 8-5 – Lantern Control (2-1)
R14, 9-5 – Jund (2-1)
R15, 9-6 – Burn (1-2)
Day 2 started out the same as Day 1 with mana denial claiming another victory against Ad Nauseum. Round 11 was probably my worst matchup of the weekend. It was the purest control deck I played against with a lot of card draw and multiple wraths. While Company does generate card advantage, GW is at its best against spot removal rather than wraths. It’s hard to balance playing around sweepers while pressuring the opponent. I won a long game 1 on a mull to 5 but I believe I sideboarded poorly for games 2 and 3. Based on game 1, I tried to play my hand out slowly in game 2 and died to an unexpected Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. Game 3 was another long one. I had brought x2 Engineered Explosives in as a catchall to fight Runed Halo, Detention Spheres, Elspeth tokens or any other unexpected permanents. I drew both of them which stunted my early pressure and a mid-game Rest In Peace also felt ineffective.
At x-4 I faced by first Burn opponent. I haven’t played against the matchup a lot and I don’t think I respected it enough. I lost in two games with Searing Blaze working me pretty hard in both games. I then faced Adrian Sullivan on Lantern Control. I was able to take game 1 by hitting Qasali Pridemage off Collected Company to answer an Ensnaring Bridge. This is exactly the reason 2 Pridemages are in the deck; against some cards they are just the only possible outs. I kept a double Ghost Quarter hand with Stony Silence in game 2. I stumbled on mana but expected Stony Silence could just win me the game outright. Instead, Adrian found Aether Grid as a win condition and then locked me out with Crucible of Worlds and Ghost Quarter. In game 3, an Engineered Explosives for 1 devastated his lock pieces and I was able to close the game out before he could find a Pyroclasm.
I got a shot at redemption, facing Jund again in round 14. I kept a 1 land, Noble Hierarch hand. After the Noble died and I missed on lands for awhile, I was down a game. I won both sideboard games with mana disruption. In game 2 I had the nut draw of turn 1 Hierarch into turn 2 Leonin Arbiter + Ghost Quarter. In game 3 my opponent didn’t play great – I got to play a free Smiter off of a Kolaghan’s Command discard and then locked my opponent out with Arbiters again.
I faced Burn again for my last match of the tournament. After winning game 1 at 3 life I thought I had a chance to earn a Pro Point with a 10-5 record. I had my opponent on the ropes but lost game 2 when he drew a 1-of Ensnaring Bridge that caught me off guard. In the final game, I thought my turn 2 Thalia, Heretic Cathar and turn 3 Loxodon Smiter would hold the ground and pressure my opponent but they were answered by two sideboard Paths and I lost the match.
I was happy with the way the deck performed. I could have played better in a couple of spots to get a couple of extra wins – particularly against my Day 1 Jund opponent. The only matches that felt bad for me were against Burn and against my wrath-heavy control opponent. The Esper match I’m willing to write off, since I don’t expect to face this kind of deck often. If strategies with sweepers like Esper or Jeskai Nahiri start to see more play then the sideboard may have to reflect that, but for now I wouldn’t bother.
I was just flat out unprepared for the Burn matchup. The wins against burn are all very, very close and it seems they have a better sideboard plan for the matchup. I didn’t spend much time or sideboard space planning for Burn because I didn’t expect to face it much in the current metagame. But I think it’s a good reminder that at a Grand Prix, or any Modern event, you really need to be prepared to face Burn decks. In my deck tech article, I suggested that I’d probably add Spellskite to the board again to help improve the Burn matchup, partly based on this experience.
Many of my match losses (and some of my match wins) included at least one game where I stumbled on mana. By my count I lost 6 games on the weekend to poor mana, and won at least one game in spite of it. In other games I had to mulligan to 6 or 5 to be able to cast my spells and still won some of those. Or I kept one land with a Noble Hierarch that died and I never drew a second land. The mana is the deck’s biggest weakness. It still doesn’t make me want to play Aether Vial. Although that would help make these hands more functional, I think the pros are outweighed by the cons. It does make me hesitant to register GW for a major tournament. If you are going to give up 4-5 game losses because of your mana, you really have to question your ability to succeed at the tournament. At a Grand Prix, or any event, it’s hard to go in knowing you are going to be throwing away some percentage of games.
I like the deck a lot. It’s fun to play and attacks the Modern format from some different angles. Some opponents will be interested that you’re doing something different and some will tilt off when you Wasteland all their mana. Both types of experiences can be fun for you. There is a lot of edge to be gained by playing a deck that people don’t see very often and don’t know how to play against. That said, you will also lose to your own mana base some amount of the time and it’s hard to recover from spewing away games and/or matches. You have be strong enough mentally not to tilt off when the deck doesn’t function the way you want it to. Even though GW is a little slow to fight against some of the fastest decks in the current format (Infect, Dredge, Affinity) I actually think it’s fine to bring against an open field. Build the sideboard to fight the linear decks you expect to face that weekend and have fun preventing your opponent from playing Magic.