The Silver Lining: 16th at GP Charlotte

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The best word to describe my experience at GP Charlotte: “absurd.” Even outside all of the tournament pairing mishaps and delays, my own tournament was a crazy path to 16th place.

I was locked into playing Jeskai with four Nahiri, the Harbinger a couple weeks before the tournament. I think Nahiri is a pushed card in Modern, and one that fits perfectly in Jeskai. It can be used to improve your hand quality and dig for specific cards, help stabilize the board, and serve as a win condition. When you break it down like that, it compares closely to another four-mana planeswalker that has been deemed too good for Modern: Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

A lot of comparisons have been made between the compact package of four Nahiri, the Harbinger and one Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, and the Splinter Twin combo. Though, winning with Nahiri is closer to the play patterns of Esper Dragons in Standard. You have the ability to tap out for a difficult-to-answer threat (Dragonlord Ojutai in Esper Dragons), and protect it for a few turns while it finds the cards you need and very quickly ends the game. Another comparison might be four Stoneforge Mystics and a Batterskull, a package that I’ve utilized in various Legacy Jeskai decks.

And these comparisons are ignoring the rest of what the card can do! Nahiri gives Jeskai another four exiling effects for creatures that normally shrug off a Lightning Bolt – namely, Tarmogoyf. It’s also important as a maindeckable answer to problematic enchantments such as Blood Moon, Choke, Bitterblossom, Phyrexian Unlife, Wild Defiance, Pyromancer Ascension, Jeskai Ascendancy, and Keranos, God of Storms.

The only thing I wasn’t sure of was whether to play zero or four copies of Ancestral Vision. I tested with four copies first, and certainly liked the feeling of security that came with having such a powerful way to refuel. With four Ancestrals, I was less afraid of running out of gas, which is a concern against Jund, Jeskai, Grixis, and even some of the faster, creature-based decks.

Ultimately, I found that Ancestral was too often too slow, or drew me into a bunch air, and I wasn’t satisfied with it. If you do decide to play Ancestral Vision, I don’t support playing less than four copies because you want it in your opening hand as much as possible. Sideboarding them in is an option, but I didn’t want to dedicate over a quarter of my sideboard slots to them, and I generally prefer having sideboard cards that are more immediately powerful and narrow.

Here’s what I registered for the Grand Prix:

Nahiri Jeskai – Alex Bianchi

My list wasn’t quite as good as it could have been, but I made a few important tweaks to some of the other Jeskai lists out there, based on my preferences.

Throughout the tournament, I was still learning what cards I did and didn’t like. It turned out that I made some good calls and some bad ones. Things I did right: Logic Knot, Geist of Saint Traft, and maindeck Timely Reinforcements. Things I did wrong: Glen Elendra Archmage, Crumble to Dust, and not having enough Spell Snares.

I could go on about card choices, but luckily, that work has been done for me. AJ Sacher’s extensive article on building Nahiri Jeskai covers just about everything that I would want to say, and more.

Day 1 of the tournament ran until almost midnight, as you may have heard. GP Los Angeles on the west coast was running over three hours ahead of us. Because of the pairings disaster, and for the sake of tournament integrity, I feared that the tournament would be canceled. Thankfully, it didn’t.

Round 1: Bye
Round 2: Bye
Round 3: W 2-1, Abzan Company
Round 4: W 2-0, Affinity (paired down to a 2-1)
Round 5: W 2-1, Bogles
Round 6: W 2-0, Dredgevine (paired down to a 3-2)
Round 7: W 2-1, Ad Nauseum
Round 8: W 2-0, Death’s Shadow Zoo
Round 9: W 2-1, Ad Nauseum

Going 9-0 on Day 1 was a first-time achievement for me; one that has little actual meaning, but something I wanted to accomplish just to prove to myself that I could. I found out that there was an inflated twelve players at 9-0 going into Day 2, and suddenly I didn’t feel that special anymore. My undefeated record would certainly have an asterisk beside it, since I can’t deny that I benefitted from the two rounds of random pairings. This may have been balanced out by the fact that I faced a stretch of unfavorable matchups, which included Bogles, two Ad Nauseum decks, and a Dredge deck when I had zero graveyard hate cards. I was extremely fortunate to escape those matchups unscathed, and the hits kept coming on Day 2 with Tron and Scapeshift decks.

Round 10: W 2-1, Green-Red Tron
Round 11: W 2-0, Nahiri Jeskai
Round 12: W 2-1, Bring to Light Scapeshift
Round 13: L 1-2, Bring to Light Scapeshift
Round 14: L 0-2, Kiki Chord
Round 15: D 1-1-1, Bant Retreat

My goal before the tournament was to finish 11-4, which would earn me two pro points and a promotion to Silver-Level Pro. At 10-0, I jokingly thought to myself, “I have five double-PTQ finals attempts in a row coming up. Wouldn’t it suck if I lost them all?” At 11-0, I was totally relieved that didn’t happen. At 12-0, I had to refocus myself on a new goal, which was, “Now I have three win-and-in attempts in a row for Top 8.”

At 12-1, I couldn’t stop thinking about my first loss of the tournament and all of the lines I could have taken to win. The more I thought about it, the more I concluded that I had just punted away a rather expensive plane ticket to Sydney, Australia. I completely derailed from there, and I couldn’t close out the tournament like I knew I was capable of doing.

The silver lining, as it were, was that I reached the goal that I had set out to achieve. I hit Silver, and now I get to go to the next two Pro Tours, in Sydney and Honolulu. I’m psyched to be able to play in more Pro Tours this year. However, my work this season isn’t over yet. I have at least a couple more GP’s to attend, and two more empty GP point slots to fill, potentially. I also get a second chance to earn that plane ticket at the Regional PTQ.

If I had another Modern tournament coming up, I’d make a couple changes and register this list:

Nahiri Jeskai – Alex Bianchi

I’ve made room for two more Spell Snares by moving the Anger of the Gods and the second Vendilion Clique to the sideboard. Having the one-mana counterspell when you’re on the draw is immensely important in order to keep from falling behind, and in the late game, they can be discarded to Nahiri. I still want access to multiple Vendilion Cliques since it’s such a great threat in the tougher combo and ramp matchups. It’s also a way to put Emrakul back into your deck without shuffling away any valuable cards in your graveyard. Glen Elendra Archmage and Crumble to Dust were the two least effective cards in my sideboard, so I’m happy to cut them.

Looking at results, one could call into question how good Nahiri Jeskai really is since it didn’t Top 8 either of the Modern Grand Prix. In a way, that’s great news for Jeskai players hoping to sail under the radar. Modern is still a battleground with a slew of viable archetypes that rewards you for deep knowledge of the format and mastery of your deck of choice. Who would have guessed that Merfolk and Ad Nauseum would be the winners of these two GP’s? I think post-Eldrazi Modern is in a great place, better than it was before the Splinter Twin ban – and you can even still succeed with Eldrazi, apparently!

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