So you want to win your local Modern event? Perhaps you have a Face to Face coming up soon in Moncton that you’ll be attending and want to put forward a good showing? You should prepare for these events much different than you’d prepare for a Grand Prix or higher level event, however this isn’t just a casual weekday Modern event. Today I’m going to give you some advice about how you can make this a reality.
The first piece of advice is one that almost everyone knows by now but Modern is a format where you really need to know your deck. Make sure you have a good number of reps in with your deck and understand most of the basic lines you’ll be making. The more practice you have the more you’ll see some more interesting interactions but having a strong understanding of the basics is the most important. Many games you simply need to sequence your first turns correctly including things like fetching proper lands, recognizing what deck your opponent is on and understanding a few things about how the match plays out.
Secondly, you want to try and read the field. This is much different than preparing for a Grand Prix. Don’t just open up the percentages of decks that 5-0 on Magic Online and expect a similar metagame when you show up in person. This is fine when going to a huge tournament but often real life decks won’t match the same numbers as Magic Online, especially in some areas. You need to understand what decks are going to be popular at this specific event and not in general. Playing your local weekly Modern events will give you some insight but playing more events and talking to players will generally help you understand what’s popular but maybe you’re busy and can’t make it out. Ask some locals or shopkeepers what tends be popular or winning all the time.
Furthermore, don’t be afraid to prepare for certain players in the room. Obviously you should respect all of your opponents but your events are always going to have a few very skilled players or grinders you’ll probably recognize. If your goal is to top 8 the event, stay prepared for the field but if your goal is to win the event, you’ll have to go through these folk eventually and you can hedge your deck choice to try and stay favoured versus these players.
You should also be aware that sometimes the local meta can have one deck that is a large percentage of the meta. We had a Modern PPTQ here where 18 of the 34 players were on Burn. In cases like this you may want to have access to another deck if your deck has a bad matchup against the local favourite deck. Obviously Modern is expensive but perhaps you can convince a friend to trade decks with you for the event or try to borrow something that isn’t as bad. If you’re stuck with a linear deck that has a bad matchup versus the popular deck, it’s going to be a rough day and I wouldn’t blame you for bringing a ton of hate cards or simply staying home. If you have a deck that has a reasonable matchup, don’t be afraid to tweak your numbers to gain even more of an advantage.
If you’re playing a deck with a lot of flex slots, try and make the most out of them. When most of the room was on burn, the GB/x players were quick to cut Thoughtseize for Inquisition of Kozilek and max out on their main deck Kitchen Finks and Siege Rhinos. If you have a combo or control heavy metagame you can make similar adjustments. This is the reason a lot of grinders tend to play these midrange or control decks with a lot of flexibility, because they feel like they can get an advantage by tweaking their main deck. Even if you play a linear deck, you can still do this to some extent. Some burn players know when to play Wild Nacatl and when to play straight RW burn. Similarly, affinity players are constantly tweaking the numbers of their cards such as Etched Champion depending on what they expect to play against.
You should be in the habit of building 90-100 decks for Modern if you are able to. Now you’re not going to register any more than 75 I hope but if you can bring them to events before registering you can decide what the best configuration for the event you’re about to play. These extra cards will generally include the flex cards for your main deck and some sideboard cards that you’re unsure of are necessary. You don’t want to show up to the event with no graveyard hate because nobody is playing Dredge online and when you get to the venue, you meet a dozen Dredge players. If you have the cards on you, you can simply adapt your maindeck and sideboard accordingly. This is another big reason that getting in reps matters, so you know which cards are flexible and which are core.
When it comes to sideboarding you have a few options. Some players on the positive linear deck strategy bring a pretty boring sideboard and hope to power through with the strength of their maindeck. You see this a lot with a deck like Bogles who really only bring in a few answers to deal with their expected hate. Something like 4 Leyline of Sanctity, 4 Rest in Peace, 4 Stony Silence, 3 Unravel the Aether probably isn’t optimal but their sideboard probably isn’t too far from this. The deck has a linear strategy and knows what people are going to be sideboarding against it. Sideboarding for your opponent’s sideboard is also a good habit. Green decks used to sideboard Unravel the Aether vs. Jeskai decks simply because Keranos, God of Storms was so unbeatable.
When you’re playing a more flexible decks with a lot more options you need to tell yourself that you can’t come prepared for everything. Players are often too fixated on trying to have a solid sideboard plan for every deck but you realistically can’t do that in Modern. You’re going to have some matchups that are not very winnable. There’s no need to try and have an exceptional board plan for every deck. This is where reading the room is important. If there’s a few decks that only have 1 or 2 pilots, you’re just going to need to dodge them or cross your fingers if you get paired. Many players aren’t willing to admit this but it’s often correct just to give up on some matchups.
For your actual sideboard though, you only have two options for each card in your sideboard. The card needs to be either flexible or a complete knockout. Cards that only come in for one or two matchups that aren’t a complete powerhouse need to go from your deck. There’s a reason the Jund deck is more likely to sideboard a card like Crumble to Dust instead of Stone Rain. Crumble to Dust is a huge knockout against decks like Tron or Valakut even though stone rain is cheaper and still has a useful ability. The Jund player may also wish to play a card like Fulminator Mage since its must more flexible than Stone Rain and some synergy in the deck with Kolaghan’s Command. Ideally you can get a card that does both. A card like Stony Silence I am willing to play more of than a normal sideboard card because it completely shuts down Affinity, Lantern Control, Tron, and some other nonsense decks like Restore Balance or Thopter Sword. This card is very powerful but also still flexible.
Flexible cards don’t have the same power level as these hate cards but you can bring them in against a lot of decks. A few cards for me personally that have been great in this role include Golgari Charm, Celestial Purge, and Anafenza the Foremost. Golgari Charm has flexible written all over it but you can bring it in against a lot of decks and find a useful mode for it. It’s saved my creatures from removal, killed 26 Goblin Tokens, and destroyed a Leyline of Sanctity all in the same tournament. Celestial Purge can be great against Burn, Keranos, God of Storms, Blood Moon, or Liliana of the Veil. Lastly, a card like Anafenza may not look as flexible as the previous two but it still is. The card’s text indicates that it’s good against graveyard strategies and it is good for that, but the card goes further than that. You can sideboard it in against combo decks to try and kill them quicker. It’s better than Path to Exile vs. Ad Nauseum and puts a nice clock on your opponents. Lastly, some matchups you need to side out cards like Thoughtseize and Anafenza, the Foremost will always be a serviceable filler card. Worst case scenario it’s a 4/4 for 3 mana so it will never really get stranded in your hand.
So if your goal is to win your local Modern event, don’t treat it like you would a Grand Prix but don’t consider it a casual Modern event either. Really focus on practicing with your deck and having more than a 75 to work with. Play sideboard cards that matter and have a big impact on the game. Lastly, stay focused and keep your eyes on the prize. If you lose, you may be stuck playing Standard until the next good event!