Modern Time – Grand Prix Antwerp

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These were my objectives for the last weekend of October:

1. Win GP Antwerp
2. Use “Antwerking it” in the following article.

Grand Prix Antwerp is in the books by now, and as you might have noticed, I didn’t win. I didn’t make top eight, nor did I even make day two. This was disappointing to say the least, especially when taking into account the amount of time I spent preparing for this tournament and the level of understanding I believed I had reached about the format. It was extra painful to read the top-eight profiles, where a few players explained their deck choice as “it was easy to borrow.” I’m not trying to take away from their accomplishments, as they obviously must have played very well to get to the top eight, but when you put in a lot of work and don’t get rewarded, it always stings a little to see others do well seemingly randomly. (But maybe I’m just bad?)

Anyway, I ended up playing the list from this article, with only a few changes to the sideboard:

SB:
-1 Dispel -1 Anger of the Gods -1 Batterskull

+1 Damnation +2 Stormbreath Dragon

The Anger of the Gods, while great against Melira Pod, was not as great against Kiki-Pod, where some creatures simply survived. Nor was it as great against other Voice of Resurgence decks like Naya and GW Hatebears. Against both, it doesn’t kill Smiters, and out of the Hatebears deck, a Wilt-Leaf Liege puts a lot of creatures out of reach as well, which means you are overworking your Terminate and Hero’s Downfall. Damnation was almost always better, also killing Tarmogoyfs out of Jund, for example. I considered moving it main, but against decks like Affinity, you really want Pyroclasm because it costs less. Double red is also not a given early, and not casting Anger on time when you need it will cost you games.

The Stormbreath Dragons were “tech” that I cannot believe no one else has mentioned so far (or I missed it, in which case, sorry to whomever also considered them). I was displeased with the second Batterskull in my sideboard, as I already had one main and people who saw that one often left in or brought in things to deal with it. Cards like Negate are already great against me out of the sideboard of decks like Kiki-Pod, and boarding in an extra wincon that gets snagged by it was just bad. Also, despite not being very good, I found people randomly boarding in an Ancient Grudge or two if they saw the Batterskull in game one, hoping to hit it or other artifacts. (Not many people know about this deck).

UWR uses Thundermaw Hellkites, which I first thought was a good idea, but especially in my deck, I don’t really care about Lingering Souls, so it was mostly just a 5/5 flyer with haste for five. That’s good, but I wonder if Stormbreath isn’t just better. The difference between four and five toughness is irrelevant in Modern aside from Flame Slash out of Twin, but I hope for their sake they board those out, and I don’t even plan to bring the Dragons in there. The difference between four and five power could obviously be relevant, but this deck wins at its leisure-it’s not built for speed. The monstrosity ability even makes up for the points you miss if you can keep the dragon in play, and that is more likely with a Stormbreath than with a Thundermaw. Protection from white is very relevant with Path to Exile being one of the most played removal spells in the format, and with a UWR matchup that seems shaky at times, this feels like a great way to gain some percentage points after sideboarding.

Saturday
At the Grand Prix, I started off 3-0 then punted the third game against Jund after losing the second game to an early Liliana backed up by three discard spells. I for some reason thought Raging Ravine had trample (I had been attacking with a Snapcaster Mage because it couldn’t block his Treetop earlier anyway) and attacked with my Snapcaster Mage when I could’ve used it to block to stay at a healthy ten life. After that, my opponent attacked me to five, which meant that if I played the Blood Crypt out of my hand to cast my Cruel Ultimatum, I’d risk losing to a Bolt in response. I had no relevant counters in hand at the time, so I was dead to a Bolt on my Snapcaster anyway (I had no way to remove the Ravine in hand either). I went for it, and sure enough he cracked his fetch in response to my Cruel and Bolts me.

At 3-1, I sat down and drew the following opening hand: Cryptic Command, Vendilion Clique, Shadow of Doubt, 2x Creeping Tar Pit, Watery Grave, Island. I thought to myself, “This hand is basically only good against Scapeshift, and it almost auto-folds to any aggressive deck.” I mulled, saw six lands in my next opener, and kept a reasonable five that ended up short on lands while my opponent killed me with Valakuts. Obviously.

I lost another game that same match when I had eight lands and cast a Stormbreath with Counterflux backup, thinking I could only lose if he had double Scapeshift, which, continuing with the trend of that match, he obviously had.

I then lost another match to Living End. We had some great games that were a lot of fun, despite my never getting more than a few lands in play, as he kept destroying whatever lands I played beyond the second or third. I won one game on the back of Vendilion Clique and Snapcaster Mage damage (flashing back Rakdos Charm for the win after letting a Living End resolve), but I lost the other two.

I played another round to kill time before dinner, but already being X-3 meant that the win was useless except for some planeswalker points. I dropped and resolved to do better the next day in the Super Sunday Standard event. I have no regrets playing the deck I did, and while I feel bad about the mistake I made, I would play the deck again at the same tournament in a heartbeat. Going forward, I’ll have to keep a close eye on Living End though, because the land destruction heavy lists are really hard to beat. If that becomes popular, I might need something else to play.

Sunday
Not making day two gave me an opportunity to play in the Super Sunday Standard event. For those of you who don’t know, it is a day-two event at Grand Prix that, combined with the Super Sunday Sealed, leads to a top-eight draft (top four from both events), of which the winner gets an invite to Seattle to play for $20,000-with about 45 people.

I wanted to go to Seattle, and I had the best Standard deck in the hall for this event. I know that sounds cocky, but I had been something like 17-2 in recent sanctioned events with the deck. It was under the radar, and its good matchups had become more and more popular, while its bad matchups couldn’t win against those same, now more popular decks. What deck would you like to play when these are your matchups in the first seven rounds of an eight-round tournament: Esper, BW Midrange, BW Midrange, Mono Black, Esper, Esper, Mono U Devotion?

Yeah, my Mono-Red deck crushed that tournament, going 7-0, being the only undefeated player after round seven and then drawing into first place with a 6-1 player.

Too bad I wasn’t the player playing that deck, but my teammate Joris was. I went 2-2-1-drop with UW Devotion Control, a deck I had brought as a deck to test against to see if it was any good. It was fine, but it was the first time I even shuffled the deck. Joris hadn’t brought a Standard deck, and with his being more proficient with aggro decks than control decks, I reluctantly handed him my Mono-Red, figuring that if the UW deck was any good, I’d still have a decent shot at the top spots. That didn’t happen, but at least Joris did extremely well. He won’t be going to Seattle but did receive a booster box for his troubles. As for the list:

Seriously, this deck is so good at the moment that I’m considering just playing this for the rest of the season, tweaking it to the expected meta. The only reason to stop playing this version of the deck would be a giant resurgence in GX decks, which seems unlikely given aspiring Magic pros propensity for playing control decks. You have a lot of options when building this red deck, and you actually have a good amount of solid sideboard cards, which is rare. Normally mono-colored aggro decks suffer from having a terrible sideboard. They will win a lot of game ones but lose the other two too often. With the red cards we have in Standard now that is simply not the case.

Burning Earth is very good versus Esper and other three-color control decks. Hammer of Purphoros is great against the mono- and two-color control decks like Mono Black. Chandra is good against decks with big blockers, like GR. Extra Mutavaults let you support these higher costing spells. Mizzium Mortars can clear away blockers or help in aggro matchups. Anger of the Gods, in combination with Chandra and the other removal spells, lets you play the control role in aggro matchups (the Reckoners and Ash Zealots in the main help there too). Skullcrack is a strict upgrade over the other burn spells against Revelation and Grey Merchant decks. You could play Madcap Skills if GX decks become more popular, and I might try it in the sideboard over a Chandra and an Act of Treason regardless. Peak Eruption is there if Chained to the Rocks becomes a thing. And Frostburn Weirds can block for days against aggro decks if those are popular.

Even the maindeck is fairly flexible. We’ve already seen successful bigger red decks at the Pro Tour, and if GW and other GX decks become popular, Stormbreath Dragons and Purphoros himself might be what we’re looking for. I like something in the vein of this list as well:

This deck plays Assemble the Legion, which is very good against Mono-Black, but you could easily play some more Stormbreath Dragons in its place if Mono-Black becomes a smaller part of the metagame.

Now, I know Mono-Red is not for everybody, and it tends to get ignored in real-life magic because of its over-representation online, but I truly believe this is a great deck to be playing in paper right now. Online it might be worse because of the amount of mirror matches messing with your win percentages, but a sideboard with some Frostburn Weirds and Anger of the Gods, or a “bigger” version like the above deck that splashes white might do well too. And hey, it’s cheap!

Next up
I have another Modern tournament (a local, smaller version of an SCG Open) this weekend, so this probably won’t be the last time I’ll talk about Modern, but I’ll be writing more about Standard as well, as there is no Grand Prix demanding as much of my time to be spent on Modern.

Standard is in a good spot right now, and Modern remains pretty sweet despite whatever qualms I might have with it, so it’s a good time to be playing magic-I suggest you go and enjoy it!

Jay Lansdaal
iLansdaal on Twitter and MTGO

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