After playing Modern for a full PPTQ season and a recent Grand Prix in Indianapolis, I wasn’t looking forward to playing the format again. I expected the linear decks of Affinity, Infect and Dredge to be the best decks in the format and therefore be over-represented at the GP.
I thought, if these decks are the best, maybe a Jund deck can be tuned to beat those archetypes. The weekend before the tournament I borrowed a few cards to put Jund together online, tuned a sideboard to beat these archetypes and joined a league. I was immediately paired against Monoblue Tron, RG Valakut and some other horrible matchups. I put the deck down and never played another match of modern before the GP.
Modern is a strange format in that even if there are a few decks that are the consensus most powerful, the Grand Prix metagame rarely reflects a significant bias towards those best decks. Many players just show up and jam whatever deck they’ve been playing forever or whatever deck they like the most. This makes your matchups extremely unpredictable and metagaming has been a fruitless excercise. I decided not to play Hatebears because I thought there would be significant amount of Dredge in the room but I didn’t play against it once.
I decided to play a focused linear strategy that has arguably the highest number of broken cards jammed into one deck: Infect. It has the highest number of cards that take advantage of mana reduction mechanics: 10 Phyrexian mana spells (Gitaxian Probe, Mutagenic Growth, Dismember) and 4 delve spells (Become Immense). Uninterrupted, it can frequently win on turn 3 and occasionally on turn 2. The potential for free wins and the deck having a lot of play between the protection spells and sideboard cards made it a deck I was confident in sleeving up. If the format is a race, I’m happy to go to battle with Infect.
I registered Tom Ross’ exact 75 from his 14th place finish at the SCG Open in Milwaukee. I goldfished 10 hands on the plane to Dallas (six turn 4 wins, three turn 3 wins, and one turn 5) and went 2-1 in a grinder on Friday. The only doubt I had was with the Dryad Arbor. I didn’t expect to face GBx decks a lot and drawing the Dryad Arbor made some opening hands really awkward. However, in The Boss I trust and I decided not to make any changes.
UG Infect, GP Dallas-Fort Worth
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Blighted Agent
4 Glistener Elf
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Mutagenic Growth
4 Might of Old Krosa
4 Blossoming Defense
4 Vines of Vastwood
4 Become Immense
2 Breeding Pool
4 Inkmoth Nexus
1 Dryad Arbor
2 Misty Rainforest
4 Windswept Heath
3 Wooded Foothills
3 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Pithing Needle
1 Viridian Corrupter
3 Nature’s Claim
2 Spell Pierce
2 Twisted Image
R3, 3-0 – Jund (W, 2-0)
R4, 4-0 – Affinity (W, 2-0)
R5, 4-1 – Grixis Delver (L, 0-2)
R6, 5-1 – Infect (2-1)
R7, 6-1 – Elves (2-1)
R8, 6-2 – Naya Burn (1-2)
R9, 6-3 – Affinity (1-2)
Day 1 started off great at 6-1. I wasn’t getting free win matchups. Jund, Affinity, Grixis Delver and an Infect mirror to start the day all make you work for your wins.
My Jund opponent made some misplays and Infect doesn’t let you get away with that. In game 2 I kept a x2 Inkmoth Nexus hand but my opponent had Pithing Needle, leaving me with no threats. After a few turns I had just drawn a Blighted Agent as my only threat off the top. Knowing my opponent’s hand was just 2 removal spells I had to wait a turn to play it so I could leave two protection spells open. My opponent tapped out to attack with a Shambling Vent and a 3/4 Goyf to put me on a 2-turn clock and down to 5 with my opponent having a Lightning Bolt in hand. On the next turn I play Blighted Agent. My opponent should have attacked with Goyf because I’m forced to block and act first with pump to save my creature in combat. Instead my opponent tried to Anger of the Gods pre-combat. I got to respond with Become Immense and then Blossoming Defense his Abrupt Decay. This blanked his combat that turn and allowed me to attack back for 10.
I effectively raced the other linear decks I saw – Affinity, Infect and Elves. Grixis Delver was just a bad matchup and I couldn’t compete with the early flipped Delvers plus spot removal.
I closed the day with two close loses. I thought I had my Burn opponent beat in round 8. In game 3 I answered my opponent’s Grim Lavamancer with a Spellskite. This let me protect my threats but I had to spend a couple of turns setting up because of the Lavamancer. My opponent had burned me down to 7 but was flooding out a bit. With one card in hand, I thought I had the win as I untapped with two protection spells and lethal infect on a Blighted Agent. But my opponent’s last card was Deflecting Palm to hit me back for exactly 7. I could have slow-played the pump for an extra turn, but that would give my opponent time to draw another burn spell or kill me with Lavamancer, so I’m pretty sure I had to go for it.
In the last round, I lost a close one to Affinity where I played poorly. I was clearly tired and made some very poor attacks. After losing threats, I Rancor’d a Noble Hierarch. This was an impatient play and I should have waited to draw another threat since I was only taking 2 a turn from a pair of Vault Skirge at the time.
R10, 6-4 – Ad Nauseum (1-2)
R11, 6-5 – Mardu Burn (0-2)
I won the die roll and played a Glistener Elf. My opponent proclaimed it was my lucky day as he suspended a turn 1 Lotus Bloom. Ad Nauseum is a great matchup for Infect. I killed my opponent on turn 3 and then promptly lost both sideboard games to a turn 2 Spellskite. In game 2 I probed my opponent and saw a medium hand. I was 1 mana short of killing my opponent on turn 2 with Probe, Probe, Mutagenic Growth, Might of Old Krosa, Become Immense. Unfortunately my draw only had 1 fetchland – if I had a second, I would’ve had a turn 2 kill. Instead, my opponent ripped Spellskite off the top and killed me a couple turns later. In game 3 my opponent had two Spellskite, so I had to chip in for damage with an exalted Inkmoth Nexus. The double-Spellskite draw meant I pointed my Nature’s Claim at his Lotus Bloom and my opponent killed me in response on turn 4.
In round 10 I lost to another burn deck. I think the die roll decided game 1. In game 2 I waited a turn so I could hold up protection for my Blighted Agent and I never got to untap with it.
That was enough for me and I dropped at 6-5. Normally I play out any event that I go to regardless of my record. But in this case, I wasn’t having fun playing Modern anymore and I wasn’t feel well so I headed back to the hotel and watched coverage. [Note: If you’re in the Fort Worth area, go to the Stockyards and check out Filthy McNasty’s. If you’re lucky, Big Joe Walker and his band will be jamming and you’ll be in for a fun night. You may regret it the next day, but when the opportunity cost is playing more games of Modern, I have no regrets.]
Metagaming a Modern Grand Prix
The deck performed how I expected it to and I did get a number of free wins. I had a number of turn 3 kills on the day and more than a couple of my opponents walked away looking pretty defeated. I felt like I made the right choice for the weekend – like it or not, this is the way you have to play modern.
The conclusion I’ve come to is that the way a modern Grand Prix responds to the metagame is in sideboarding. Very few people actually change their deck choices based on what they think are the best decks. Instead, they take the deck they like or have experience with and tune the sideboard for the metagame they expect. Basically, the decks you can expect to face don’t change as much as the sideboard hate does. In a way this is nice, because with such a wide variety of decks you can just play whatever reasonably powerful deck you want and hope you win the matchup lottery. Or, you can choose from among the most powerful strategies (Infect, Affinity and Dredge in my opinion) and go with the one you expect the least amount of hate for on a given weekend.
I still don’t like the place modern is in right now. For professional players and spikes, I think modern is hated for its unpredictability and lack of a focused metagame. It makes tournament preparation very difficult and the results of the tournament feel too dependent on variance. This is probably the same reason that there are so many fans of modern in the general populace and less results-driven players. If your goal is not to win the tournament, when you lose a few matches on turn 2 or 3 you can just shrug your shoulders and go on to the next match. You really can play whatever deck you want and do pretty well if you get good matchups and get a little lucky. And that’s how you end up with Skred winning a Grand Prix.