gpsd13

Grand Prix San Diego 2013
Day 2 Coverage

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EVENT COVERAGE


 

  • Sunday, 9:45 a.m. – Undefeated Decklists

    by Marc Calderaro


  • Daniel Ward (8-0-1) - Junk
    Grand Prix San Diego 2013 Undefeated Decklists


    Nathan Calvin (9-0) - Scapeshift
    Grand Prix San Diego 2013 Undefeated Decklists





     

  • Round 10 Feature Match – David Sharfman (Scapeshift) vs. Harry Corvese (Junk)

    by Marc Calderaro

  • Floridian David Sharfman is coming off his last-round, late-night win against Gaudenis Vidugiris' Aggro Loam deck. Sharfman was pretty sure it was a bad match-up, especially when his first-turn Obstinate Baloth along with his land were hit by a Smallpox. But The Pro Tour winner persevered and finished with a 8-1 record. And here he is.

    He's up against Pennsylvanian's Harry Corvese's Junk deck, filled with, ironically, some of the best cards in the format—not really junk at all. Corvese is a great up-and-coming name who's really made a splash in the last couple of years. He has three Grand Prix Top 8s to his name thus far. Check out his interview with Jarvis Yu for some insight on the rise of Northeasterner Corvese.

    But, please. after you read about him trying to stomp Scapeshift down a peg.


    Harry Corvese

    Game One

    David Sharfman started with a tapped Steam Vents while Harry Corvese Verdant Catacombs-ed himself an Overgrown Tomb.

    Corvese's Liliana of the Veil was postponed by a Remand, but it eventually hit the field. And with the help of an Inquisition of Kozilek, Sharfman was quickly down to two cards in his hand. Though Corvese had nothing to pressure Sharfman, but fewer cards for Sharfman means fewer lands in play, which means slower Scapeshift combo-outs.

    But like a boss, Sharfman used his last two cards and his draw step to go crazy. He cast an end-of-turn Cryptic Command to draw and bounce the planeswalker. He drew, played a land, played a Sakura-Tribe Elder, sacrificed it to get his almighty seventh land, then tapped out. Corvese rolled his eyes.

    The last card in Sharfman's hand—that was clearly not present during the Inquisition last turn—was the one-card combo, Scapeshift.

    Sharfman sacrificed all his lands, set up his Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle triggers just so. And smashed Corvese into oblivion.

    David Sharfman 1 – 0 Harry Corvese

    The two joked a bit about the Scapeshift decks that Ben Stark and William Jensen are playing. They both decided to splash some White for the sideboard, then realized that if they're already playing the color, Sphinx's Revelation seemed like a value-added inclusion. Corvese joked about having the card in his own deck for this match-up, helping him get just out of damage reach of the Scapeshift deck.

    Game Two

    Corvese started the second game with a Dark Confidant—one of the best Black second turns in Modern. Sharfman's early game was about as stock and standard as you can get with Scapeshift—he non-chalantly built up his mana base with Farseeks, et al., trying to get to the perfect number of seven.

    An Inquisition of Kozilek from Corvese revealed Farseek, Remand and two land, so the counterspell hit the bin to clear the way for more Junk-y goodness; a well-timed Aven Mindcensor could do wonders against the Blue-Green deck. But Corvese was only on two land. There were two Deathrite Shaman to try to boost the mana count, but there were precious few land in either graveyard to feed off. And by "precious few", please read that as "no".


    David Sharfman

    Corvese had the sideboard Aven Mindcensor sitting in his hand. All he needs was that silly third land to get there. And how could Bob not deliver the goods? But somehow he wasn't. He had drawn five cards an no lands.

    On the good side, the Confidant was keeping Corvese's hand full, and thanks to another Inquisition, he knew Sharfman was sitting on nothing but land. There were three in Sharfman's hand and six on the battlefield. The two Shaman and the Confidant swung in to take Sharfman to 11, but the clock was depressingly slow. He had three draws steps to nab something else. And Corvese had just drawn a Stirring Wildwood. Though it enters the battlefield tapped, if Sharfman didn't draw into the Scapeshift this turn, everything would be just fine.

    Sharfman needed the Scapeshift this turn.

    And of course, he just peeled it off the top. Enter Valakut; exit Harry Corvese.

    David Sharfman 2 – 0 Harry Corvese




     

  • Sunday, 11:55 a.m. – Deck Tech – Mono Black Discard with Phimus Pan

    by Marc Calderaro

  • This is going to be a quick, down-and-dirty deck tech. And how do you get any dirtier than Mono Black Discard that wins by poison? Phimus Pan is a quasi-local Magic player from Phoenix. He’s been playing for long enough to have written articles about Astral Slide. And if his name’s recently familiar it’s probably because he just finished in the Top 8 of an Arizona PTQ with a very similar list to what he is playing. And if we know one thing about the Magic-hungry PTQ crowd, it’s that we all love Mono Black. And this is more than black enough to satiate the Scion of Darkness–loving minions; you know, the Dark Supplicants.

    Pan’s deck aims to stabilize with regular Modern staples like Liliana of the Veil and Inquisition of Kozilek. But rather than follow up with boring cards like Tarmogoyf, the deck sticks to a more linear theme using the darkness at its ally. The deck finishing the game with two Scars of Mirrodin stand-outs, Phyrexian Crusader and Phyrexian Vatmother.

    “The good match-ups are really good,” Pan said, responding to why he plays the deck. It just attacks from a different angle, and so many removal spells and blockers are blank against the Phyrexian Crusader. “Then, they side out Path to Exile, and the Phyrexian Vatmother ends the game very quickly from there.” And it’s also worth noting that the 4/5 psuedo-double striker is immune from Abrupt Decay. The one removal spell worth keeping in to kill the Crusader.

    Generally, having two creatures in a deck that’s not true control is a recipe for disaster, but the deck goes so all-in with discard, it’s rare the opponent will have a removal spell that’s not drawn off the top of the library. In the maindeck, in addition to the standard Inquisition, he plays 4 Funeral Charm, 4 Wrench Mind and 2 Raven’s Crime. Pan has so much discard, the deck runs 3 Howltooth Hollow, the forgotten brother of side-quest inducers Windbrisk Heights and Mosswort Bridge. The Hollow was always a card after my heart, because unlike it’s white or green counterparts, the black land is rarely a win-more card. In most situations, if both players are out of cards, Hollow will break the stalemate, rather than flash in a Cloudgoat Rangers to go over the top. Often, the land will activate with an empty board, sans a Liliana of the Veil at five counters. Seems pretty good to me. But the deck, however good against Control and Midrange, isn’t without its bad match-ups.

    “Affinity and Tron aren’t great, and Jund can go either way,” Pan extolled. “Post-board you end up siding out a lot of discard, so the Howltooth Hollow is less effective.” But, like we’ve been saying all weekend, Liliana of the Veil is a very good card. And no matter where she is, if she’s surrounded by synergistic cards, you can make it work.

    If Pan were to make any changes to the deck, he said he’d rather have a second Sword of Light and Shadow over the Runechanter’s Pike. “I split them one-and-one, but have the mana for it, and it’s just better.” The one Sword was already a change from his PTQ Top 8 which featured two of the Runechanter’s Pike.

    If you’re a Dark Supplicant, looking for your black-mana fix and you can’t make it out to the Lake of the Dead, sleeve this bad boy up and just laugh when your opponent sits back helplessly as you poison them to death.

    Phimus Pan - Mono Black Discard
    Grand Prix San Diego 2013






     

  • Sunday, 12:15 a.m. – Cards to Watch in Modern: Part 2

    by Nate Price

  • With Day 1 in the books, we have a much better idea of the cards that are going to be swimming around us for the second day of play. There were a large number of decks that cycled their way through the top tables yesterday, but I have a few decks, and cards in particular, that I’m keeping my eye on here in Day 2 of Grand Prix San Diego:

    Birthing Pod

    From the moment it was previewed, Birthing Pod was a card that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on. The prospect of combining it with creatures with either “enters the battlefield” or “leaves the battlefield” triggers set my mind buzzing. Unfortunately, I was so caught up in trying to do reasonably fair things that I didn’t see the incredibly broken things that the card is possible of.

    In Modern, there are enough creatures from different eras of Magic that there are bound to be some sweet interactions. I mean, this is the format that put together Eggs, Vengevine and Burning-Tree Emissary, and Gifts Ungiven and Unburial Rites. There are some incredibly powerful things lurking around the room.

    Pod decks have latched onto two bases for their effective “combos.” One is based around Melira, Sylvok Outcast. This version takes advantage of the fact that Melira, who was intended to protect creatures from infection, works very... shall we say favorably... with creatures with persist. Give yourself a sacrifice outlet, and you can have Murderous Redcap deal two damage to something and come right back. If it's a sacrifice outlet with no mana cost, like a Cartel Aristocrat or a Viscera Seer, you can do this over and over until an opponent is dead.

    The other list is an adaptation of the powerful Splinter Twin combo. Twin lists were often found running a couple copies of Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, in addition to their Splinter Twin/Deceiver Exarch combo. In Modern, Birthing Pod can be used to set up Restoration Angel and Kiki-Jiki, creating a limitless army of 3/4, hasty fliers.

    These two decks are unique in that they are creature-based combo decks. This gives them an unorthodox “alternate win condition”: attacking opponents to death. Whereas most of the other combo decks in the field rely purely on their combo to defeat opponents, Pod decks are capable of simply playing the creatures that they use to power the Pod and attacking until opponents are dead. This versatility has certainly helped them over the course of the weekend, and it’s one of the major reasons that Birthing Pod is an important card to watch today.

    Through the Breach

    Reminiscent of Sneak Attack decks from Legacy, Through the Breach is an interesting two-pronged combo deck that relies on big, scary monsters to quickly defeat opponents. Griselbrand and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, are the main creatures that enter through the breach, and they are both adept at ending games very quickly. The deck takes advantage of Faithless Looting and Izzet Charm to sift through the deck, occasionally dumping a Griselbrand into the graveyard. Then, it can uses Pentad Prism and Simian Spirit Guide to shave a couple of turns off of the set up, enabling either a Through the Breach or a Goryo’s Vengeance to put a massive monster into play. If there’s enough mana available, it’s even possible to splice Through the Breach onto a Goryo’s Vengeance for a double whammy!

    Modern is in a place right now where dealing with early, cheap threats is the way to succeed. As such, there are a large number of Lightning Bolts and Abrupt Decays running around. There are also considerably less Path to Exiles to dodge. This makes expensive threats like Emrakul and Griselbrand fairly well-positioned. In addition to that, Emrakul is virtually impossible to kill while Griselbrand still provides some value even if he’s removed. Add to this the fact that there aren’t many ways to hate out this deck due to the dual prongs of the combo, and Through the Breach should be in a good place to make a run today.

    Domri Rade

    Domri Rade was not a card I expected to see played in Modern, and certainly not to an undefeated record. Still, there he was, smiling mischeviously at me from Brian Kibler’s 9-0 deck at the end of Day 1.

    How is this possible?

    “The fetch lands actually make Domri even better in Modern than he is in Standard,” Kibler explained. “First, you have the ability to sacrifice them to wash away a bad card that you don’t want to draw if you whiff on Domri’s draw ability. On top of that, he makes it easier to hit even if you’re playing less creatures. In Standard, you want to be running about 30 creatures so that you have a roughly 50/50 shot of hitting. In Modern, you can run like 25 and actually have a better shot of hitting since you are constantly removing lands from your deck.”

    Well touche, little planeswalker. Still, I was surprised that he could be as effective as he was in the ultra-powerful Modern format. Upon some reflection, it wasn’t as surprising as I originally thought. GW decks have been the basis for format-directed hate since the inception of Modern. The classic GW Hate Bears archetype was solely aimed at using the creatures it played to slow opponents down long enough for their beefy men to finish the job. Kibler has simply taken the beefy men, added some disruption and speed in the form of Deathrite Shaman and Lotus Cobra, and given it a way to ensure constant card advantage. Also, as we addressed yesterday, the aggressive decks have gravitated more towards the blitz strategy, making the fight ability on Domri not at all insignificant in this Modern field.

    Raven’s Crime

    With the large number of available combo decks in the field, there is a lot to say about the power of disruption. The ability to strip an essential piece out of an opponent’s hand can make or break a match. Unlike the major discard spell of the format, Thoughtseize, Raven’s Crime lets opponents make the decision about what to discard. It also doesn’t give vision of their hand, preventing you from having perfect information. What it lacks in those departments, it more than makes up for in raw power. The retrace ability on Raven’s Crime allows for a stream of discards to absolutely decimate an opponent’s hand. Who cares if you can’t pick the card you want if you can force them to just discard three or four cards?

    There are a few decks in Day 2 that are taking advantage of Raven’s Crime in different ways. The first is Phimus Pan and his Monoblack Discard deck. For him, Raven’s Crime is simply another in a long list of discard spells, but it often acts as his hand finisher. Able to hit for an early card or two and then simply lie in wait in the graveyard until he can completely empty the opponent’s hand, Raven’s Crime is generally responsible for the last card leaving an opponent’s hand. It serves double duty in his deck, enabling him to get rid of cards in his own hand, too, turning on his Howltooth Hollow.

    Matt Costa is playing a Gifts Ungiven Control deck that is running the Crime for similar reasons. In addition to working as an on-demand source of discard, it serves incredibly well if he draws a creature that he wants to reanimate and needs a way to get it into his graveyard. Remember, Raven’s Crime targets players, not opponents.

    The other side of the coin is Gaudenis Vidugiris and his Aggro Loam deck. Life from the Loam provides him a neverending stream of lands, which obviously pair well with Raven’s Crime. In Vidugiris’s deck, he doesn’t even care if the Raven’s Crime hits the graveyard off of a dredge, as the retrace still gives it life... from the loam.




     

  • Sunday, 12:45 p.m. – Day 2 Metagame Breakdown - San Diego Style

    by Nate Price

  • It is no surprise by now how utterly open the Modern format is. It has been such for quite some time now, and it’s one of the major draws of the format. You can play virtually anything you want, and you stand a reasonably good chance of competing.

    In February, Modern received its first bans in a year: Bloodbraid Elf and Seething Song. According to Erik Lauer, the effect Jund’s dominance had on diversity within Modern and the consistent speed of Storm were the major motivating factors behind banning the duo. Based on what I’ve seen so far this weekend, it appears that they succeeded on both fronts. There is no omnipresent deck like Jund here in San Diego. There is no deck that is consistently killing on turn three, lending some more play to the format. In all, it appears that things were a resounding success.

    To speak to the first point, here’s the archetype breakdown from the Day 2 decks:

    • Junk - 11
    • UWR Tempo - 10
    • Robots - 8
    • Scapeshift - 8
    • Gruul Blitz - 7
    • Kiki Pod - 5
    • Monored Bump - 5
    • A-Jund-1 - 5
    • Eggs - 4
    • Infect - 3
    • Junk Tokens - 3
    • Merfolk - 3
    • Traditional Jund - 3
    • UWR Control - 3
    • Through the Breach - 2
    • UW Control - 2
    • Living End - 2
    • Melira Pod - 2
    • American Twin - 2
    • Borzhov Burn - 2
    • Gifts Control - 2
    • Aggro Loam - 1
    • Bloodhall Jund - 1
    • Bogle Auras - 1
    • BW Tokens - 1
    • Doran Junk - 1
    • Dredgevine Zombies - 1
    • 5c Zoo - 1
    • Esper Tempo - 1
    • Monoblack Discard - 1
    • Monogreen Tron - 1
    • Naya Blitz - 1
    • Naya Domri - 1
    • RG Tron - 1
    • RUG Control - 1
    • UW Tron - 1

    That is a boatload of information there. Let’s take a look at it.

    • 36 different archetypes made Day 2.
    • There were three different Junk variants, three different Jund Variants, three Tron variants, two Pod variants, and two UWR variants.
    • As far as Day 1 performance goes, Eggs was the most successful combo deck, but Scapeshift was far more represented. Three of the four Eggs decks made it to 8-1 or better while only two of the eight Scapeshift decks did.
    • While Junk was certainly the most represented deck, only three Junk lists of the fifteen that made Day 2 finished 7-1 or better.
    • Decks that wanted to win through attacking significantly outclassed the combo decks of Modern. Despite this, there was no clear consensus about whether the diffuse threat strategy or the concentrated threat strategy was superior.
    • Each set that comes out adds tremendously to the variety of decks in Modern. Gatecrash added Burning-Tree Emissary and Experiment One to create the Blitz decks and a couple of Vengevine strategies, Blind Obedience and Boros Charm to UWR decks, Vizkopa Guildmage to Soul Sisters, Cartel Aristocrat to Melira Pod, and Domri Rade to Naya. There are certainly more, but this is good enough to illustrate the point.
    • Even beyond this, there is still plenty of room for innovation within the format. Monoblack Discard and Dredgevine Zombies were not decks I expected to see here, at least not doing as well as they have, yet here they are near the top of the standings.




     

  • Sunday, 1:30 p.m. – Interview with Scott Gerhardt of The Gamer’s Dome

    by Marc Calderaro

  • There’s a table off in the corner of the convention center hall here in San Diego. At first, it’s easy to miss, but it becomes harder and harder as the day wore on. “Wait, is that Jason Ford at the table?” “What’s Melissa DeTora doing over there?” “Why does that guy have a camera strapped to his chest?” Questions like these became quite common, and on Day 2—when the same table was step up and the same man was playing against Reid Duke—I finally decided to investigate fully. So I sat down with Scott Gerhardt, the man behind the table of microphones and cameras, to see just what was going on.

    “The Gamer’s Dome,” the LA–based entrepreneur told me. “We’re a network of video-, audio-, and text-based content on all things gaming.” But what precisely was he doing here and now? He said that though Magic coverage gives great content on all the stars and all the ins and outs of a given format (Thanks, Scott, I know), what it often doesn’t provide is a true first-person perspective. “My goal is to let my audience get the real experience of a Grand Prix. A view complete with commentary on my thought processes and decision making, so my audience can learn along with me.”

    This idea can certainly turn off a battle-hardened crowd of think-they-know-it-alls, but as Gerhardt deftly observed, that’s not his target audience. “It’s easy to forget that we’re only 10% of the Magic audience.” He continued that the other 90% are people who’ve never even dreamt they could attend a Grand Prix, many of whom are intimidated at the prospect. At The Gamer’s Dome, one of the things Gerhardt does is show how pedestrian participating can be.

    “Look, I’ll admit, I used to be decent.” He played on the Pro Tour circuit before, but so long ago it wasn’t even really a “circuit.” “Yeah, 1995. But that was a long time ago; this is my first Grand Prix in ten years.” And not just that, Gerhardt hadn’t even played his Gruul Blitz list until the first round of a Grand Prix Trial last night; showing off a great, Pro-level Magician is not his intent. Gerhardt truly believes, “If you want to get better, you have to go to tournaments,” regardless of how intimidating they seem at first blush. “My audience gets to watch me make stupid mistakes, then learn from them. That’s the best way to improve.”

    Pressed for a specific example, he laughed and said, “I let an Experiment One be taken by a Vedalken Shackles earlier. I looked at it later and said, ‘Wait, it has an ability?!’” He continued that this showcases who his audience is. “The 10% [of Pro-level competitors] are not going to watch some scrub misplay ... but the 90% who can be competitive and just haven’t made the leap yet might.” But don’t let his populism fool you; he did, after all, make the second day of his first Grand Prix in ten years with a deck he’d never played before. But it’s just that sort of dive-in mentality that got Gerhardt started in Magic in the first place.

    Learning through competition is nothing new to Scott Gerhardt. “I played in my first tournament six days after learning the game. And that was [one of the aspects] that got me hooked.” He said that for the first two to three months, you’re going to get beat down repeatedly, but that’s the best ways to learn. Later, when he taught his then-wife to play, she played in a pre-release event the morning after learning, then finished in the Top 8 of a PTQ within two months.

    “It’s a totally different experience,” he said, to watch and learn with the people, looking at their hands and their boards the whole time. Gerhardt thinks this is a great way to reach a crowd that often acts a spectator, watching the coverage through panes of glass. Things like this can help make tournament competition seem not only possible, but reasonable. And rather than live-stream an entire two-day tournament for hours on end, he’s recording video and audio to edit later into digestible YouTube videos.

    The Gamer’s Dome covers all types of games, and has only recently forayed into the world of Magic. But an old salt himself, Gerhardt was only biding his time before he got to delve headlong into the game that helped create who he is today. Perhaps there is limited appeal to the tournament crowd. But cheering along at home when a person with a camera strapped to his chest plays a nail-biting match with someone like Reid Duke, seems like it has a broad Magic appeal to me. As we all know, traveling to tournaments, whether you win or lose, create a fun weekend event with your friends, and getting that message to more people is a great thing.




     

  • Sunday, 1:45 p.m. – Some Green Flair that Isn’t a Splashed Tarmogyf

    by Marc Calderaro
  • So for the most part, we’re all way too obsessed with Magic and, specifically, this Grand Prix to remember that today is Saint Patrick’s Day. But there were two people I found in the fightin’ irish spirit.

    Though Mary Jacobson’s trademark artifacts failed her late in Day 1, she didn’t let that ruin her weekend and came in this regalia today.



    And check out the matching Gruul pin on her bag!



    And David Sharfman came dressed in a little more battle-ready attire, but not without an Irish sensibility. Not only a bright green hat and belt, but a deep green turtle backpack to accompany it!



    Nice job, guys, and with Sharfman’s current record, I hope he’s brought an accompanying four-leaf clover...




     

  • Sunday, 3:00 p.m. – Round 14 Feature Match - Joseph Loster v Adrian Popescu

    by Nate Price

  • Modern is a wonderland of interesting decks, with incredibly intricate interactions, flashy combos, and powerful creatures. Watching matches can be an incredibly fun, and Round 14 has a matchup between two of the most exciting decks in the field: Joseph Loster’s Kiki Pod and Adrian Popescu’s Living End.

    Adrian Popescu

    Popescu was on the play, dropping a Battlefield Forge into play after a mulligan to five. Loster began with a Noble Hierarch, setting up for a third-turn Birthing Pod. At the end of Loster’s turn, Popescu tiped his hand, cycling a Monstrous Carabid and a Street Wraith. After untapping un his third turn, Popescu went big, dropping an Ardent Plea onto the table, cascading through about half of his deck before landing on a Living End. This brought the 4/4 and 3/4 back into play on his side. It wasn’t an immediate kill, but the damage was still quite significant, threatening to end the game in a short number of turns. In addition to that, Living End cleared away Loster’s creature, forcing him to add another should he want to begin Podding.

    Loster untapped and added a new Noble Hierarch to his team. He immediately Podded it away to fetch a Wall of Roots. This let him make a green mana to afford a Birds of Paradise. With a new set of creatures set up, he passed the turn.

    Popescu attacked.

    “That’s a 3/4, right,” Loster checked before lining his 0/4 Wall of Roots in front of the Wraith. When Popescu confirmed, Loster smiled.

    “Gotta rep, right?”

    Popescu laughed and shrugged, content for Loster to take 4. After combat, Popescu used a Faerie Macabre to clear the creatures from Loster’s graveyard before casting Violent Outburst, cascading into another Living End. This cleared all creatures from the board, including his own, returning a Faerie Macabre to the battlefield. This delayed Loster from Podding yet again, keeping Popescu ahead.

    Loster tried to get going with an Eternal Witness, targeting the Arid Mesa in his graveyard. This would allow him to fetch up a land and Pod away the Eternal Witness. Instead, the ability whiffed, as Popescu denied him the land in his graveyard with another Faerie Macabre. The original Faerie continued the attacking efforts, knocking Loster down to 8 thanks to the Ardent Plea‘s exalted trigger. After combat, he made a Fulminator Mage, deciding to pop it on his turn to kill a Fire-Lit Thicket, keeping Loster on three lands.

    Loster attacked on his turn, sending his Witness across the table. After it got in for two, it became sacrificial fodder for the Birthing Pod, becoming a Glen Elendra Archmage. Popescu attacked again, dropping Loster to 3. At the end of Popescu’s turn, Loster flashed in an Izzet Staticaster, looking to fetch up another four-drop, likely a Restoration Angel. Popescu began to think, eventually letting it resolve, but before he ended his turn, he cast Violent Outburst, once again cascading into Living End.

    Living End began the arduous process of exchanging creatures in play with the graveyard. Eternal Witness and Birds of Paradise returned for Loster, as well as his persistent Archamge, while Popescu found a much more substantial army composed of Fulminator Mage, Faerie Macabre, Street Wraith, and Monstrous Carabid. The Witness returned a land to Loster’s hand, but Popescu simply killed one in play with his Fulminator Mage.

    With the complicated end step finally complete, Loster took his turn. He played his fourth land, the Fire-Lit Thicket he returned to his hand, and Podded away his Archmage for a Zealous Conscripts. This let him untap his Pod and get another go. The second activation took the remaining green mana he had, turning the Eternal Witness into a Restoration Angel, resetting the Zealous Conscripts, which in turn reset the Pod. The final activation of the Birthing Pod cost Loster all but his last life point, as he was able to pay the colorless with the Birds of Paradise that had returned to play on Popescu’s end step. This last activation completed one variation on the combo, grabbing Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Kiki-Jiki targeted the Conscripts, creating a new copy to untap Kiki-Jiki, allowing the cycle to continue until Loster had more than enough copies to attack for the win.

    Joseph Loster 1 - Adrian Popescu 0

    “That deck has so many lines of play,” Popescu said with a shake of his head as he picked up his cards. That brought a hilariously in-sync nod of the head from the dozen or so people around watching the match, myself included. Those lines give the deck an incredible amount of power, but also make it very difficult to play. One misstep at any point there cost Loster the game. He ended the game at 1 on the last possible turn.

    As Popescu peered over his hand for the second game, taking his sweet time as he looked it over.

    “That looks like a mulligan,” Loster joked.

    Joseph Loster

    “Yeah, I’ve got this one card that’s making me reconsider, but... man. No, you can’t keep this hand. I’ve lost games because of that. Not this time,” Popescu said as he eventually threw the hand back.

    Popescu once again started his cycling early, putting a Deadshot Minotaur into the graveyard at the end of Loster’s first turn. Loster, meanwhile, began to build the creature base that he would soon turn into bigger, better creatures, adding a Wall of Roots and a Birds of Paradise to his side. Popescu once again cycled away a creature, this time a Jungle Weaver, setting himself up for a reasonable third-turn Living End.

    Sure enough, Popescu untapped and played Ardent Plea, turning it into a Living End that sprung right from the top of his deck, drawing a laugh from both players.

    “There it is, I suppose,” Popescu laughed.

    The powerful sorcery wiped away the board, leaving Popescu’s Minotaur and Spider as the lone inhabitants. Loster rebuilt with a Wall of Omens and a Birds of Paradise, but they were hilariously outclassed by Popescu’s men. The giant creatures smashed over. Loster was able to block the Minotaur with his Wall and have it remain alive, but he still took 5 from the Weaver. A Fulminator Mage kept him slightly hamstrung, knocking him down to three lands. When the next attack came, Loster lined his Wall up in front of the Weaver, keeping it alive and drawing a card with a Restoration Angel.

    On his turn, Loster began to get to work. A Birthing Pod gave him his first access to his chain of abilities, and he immediately sacrificed his Wall of Omens. Fortunes reversed in a split second, though, as Krosan Grip killed the Pod in response. After placing it in his graveyard, Loster completed the ability, fetching a Deceiver Exarch to untap his Birds.

    Popescu continued to attack. Loster blocked both creatures, setting the Exarch in front of the Minotaur and a Birds in front of the Weaver. Despite this, he had little else to do, simply passing the turn back to Loster to do his worst.

    And his worst turned out to be pretty bad. A new Birthing Pod enabled him to sacrifice his Restoration Angel to upgrade to a Kiki-Jiki, giving him the potential for a near-infinite army of Deceiver Exarchs.

    “Make a million dudes,” Popescu asked?

    “I don’t know, do you have Rakdos Charm,” Loster shot back. “I guess I’m dead anyway. Sure, make a million dudes and attack.”

    “Ok. Violent Outburst, trigger on the stack. Discard Faerie Macabre to remove Restoration Angel and Wall of Roots,” Popescu said as he walked through the process of staying alive.

    Living End completely cleared the board, million dudes and all. Afterwards, Loster’s two Birds of Paradise and Wall of Omens were left staring at Popescu’s Fulminator Mage and Faerie Macabre. Despite the incredible turnaround, Popescu still looked to be behind, as Loster would get to untap on his turn and begin to activate his Birthing Pod. Popescu attacked for 3 with his Faerie Macabre. Loster did some math before taking it, dropping to 2. That took Phyrexian mana off the table. After combat, Popescu sacrificed his Fulminator Mage to kill off a Fire-Lit Thicket, reducing Loster to four lands.

    Loster untapped and drew his card. He tapped three lands, making a Kitchen Finks, going back up to 4. Popescu sighed as the Finks hit the table. After thinking, Loster said, “I don’t think I have the mana or life to kill you this turn.”

    “That’s a relief,” Popescu deadpanned perfectly.

    Still, he began working up the chain. Wall of Omens became Deceiver Exarch. Kitchen Finks became Restoration Angel, resetting the Finks and going up to a safer 6 life.

    “Unfortunately, I have to pass it back to you,” he said as he gestured across the table to Popescu, who shrugged and drew his card. With a bit of a resigned grimace, Popescu sent it right back.

    Birthing Pod turned a Restoration Angel into Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, and he went to town making Deceiver Exarchs. This time, there were no instant-speed saviors, and Popescu extended the hand.

    Joseph Loster 2 - Adrian Popescu 0




     

  • Sunday, 3:25 p.m. – Top Table Roundup - A Clearer Picture?

    by Nate Price

  • Yesterday, I tracked the makeup of the top twenty tables in the tournament from Round 4 on. At most tournaments, this would provide a reasonable picture of what is succeeding and what is failing at the tournament. At most tournaments, I would be able to reasonably infer things from the steady increase or precipitous decline of a given deck out of a group of nine or ten archetypes represented.

    This ain’t most tournaments.

    A whopping 36 different archetypes made it through to Day 2, meaning they occupied the top tables at some point during yesterday’s play. When I looked through my breakdowns of the top tables, I was greeted with a mess of scribbles and notes that took up the entire page. It was chaotic, difficult to decipher, and painstaking to create and glean any information from.

    Still, it was awesome. It showed variety, innovation, and a careful dance of decks that make Modern so much fun. You have absolutely no idea what you’re playing against when you sit down, and there isn’t even a good way to make a guess. It could be absolutely anything, and I love it.

    Until I try to paint a picture of the format beyond the variety. Then, it just gets nuts.

    Today, things got a little better. Rather than looking at the top twenty tables, I only tracked the top ten. While the sheer number of decks prevented a gleaning as to the rise and fall of decks, there was still a great deal of information to be gained. Here’s how the tables broke down, round by round through the first four round of play:

    Round 10

    • UWR Tempo - 2
    • Robots - 2
    • Kiki Pod - 2
    • Scapeshift - 2
    • Infect - 1
    • UWR Control - 1
    • Doran Junk - 1
    • Junk Tokens - 1
    • Junk - 1
    • Eggs - 1
    • Merfolk - 1
    • Melira Pod - 1
    • A-Jund-i - 1
    • Naya Domri -1
    • Twin - 1
    • Monoblack Discard - 1

    Round 11

    • Scapeshift - 2
    • Robots - 2
    • UWR Tempo - 2
    • 5c Zoo - 1
    • Junk Tokens - 1
    • Doran Junk - 1
    • Junk - 1
    • Through the Breach - 1
    • A-Jund-i - 1
    • Kiki Pod - 1
    • Infect - 1
    • Monoblack Discard - 1
    • Monored Bump - 1
    • Gifts Control - 1
    • Naya Domri - 1

    Round 12

    • Gruul Blitz - 2
    • Robots - 2
    • Eggs - 2
    • Kiki Pod - 2
    • Junk - 2
    • Doran Junk - 1
    • Naya Domri - 1
    • 5c Zoo - 1
    • Infect - 1
    • RG Tron - 1
    • BW Tokens - 1
    • Borzhov Burn - 1
    • Bogle Auras - 1
    • Monoblack Discard - 1
    • Scapeshift - 1

    Round 13

    • Scapeshift - 3
    • Eggs - 2
    • UWR Tempo - 1
    • UWR Control - 1
    • Robots - 1
    • Melira Pod - 1
    • Gruul Blitz - 1
    • Kiki Pod - 1
    • 5c Zoo - 1
    • Monoblack Discard - 1
    • Through the Breach - 1
    • BW Tokens - 1
    • Aggro Loam - 1
    • Doran Junk - 1
    • Naya Domri - 1
    • A-Jund-i - 1
    • Monored Bump - 1

    Round 14

    • Scapeshift - 2
    • UWR Tempo - 2
    • Robots - 2
    • Junk - 2
    • Junk Tokens - 1
    • Monored Bump - 1
    • Domri Naya - 1
    • Gruul Blitz - 1
    • Eggs - 1
    • A-Jund-i - 1
    • 5c Zoo - 1
    • UWR Control - 1
    • Infect - 1
    • Through the Breach - 1
    • Aggro Loam - 1
    • Merfolk – 1

    The first thing that will certainly jump out at you is the number of decks represented along the way. This variety speaks not only to the number of decks available in Modern, but also to the fact that a successful deck requires the ability to either deal with a very diverse field or simply not care.

    Looking at the decks that appear in every round, especially when they are the only one of their archetype, really tells you the strength of that particular strategy.

    Take Junk, for example. There were eleven Traditional Junk decks, three Junk Tokens decks, and one Doran Jund deck that made Day 2. At the top tables, it was Doran Junk that had the best performance. What is it about Doran Junk that makes it better in this diverse field? The decks are relatively similar in build, with the only real difference being the replacement of Dark Confidants and some of the discard for Loxodon Smiters and Doran, the Siege Tower. These changes give the deck some seriously large beaters, altering the way games tend to play out. While Thoughtseize works to add turns to the Junk players’ side , the beaters act to take turns away from opponents. They effective do the same thing, but the aggressive nature of Doran and the Smiters is able to punish stumbles by opponents. Many of the Traditional Junk lists also run copies of Smiter to combat the sea of discard, but the Dorans push the deck over the edge.

    Another interesting thing to take away from this is the strength of some of the lesser-played decks in the tournament. BW Tokens only had one player in Day 2, as did Monoblack Discard, Naya Doran, 5c Zoo, and Doran Junk, yet all of them were consistently present at the top tables. There were a couple of players playing Infect and Through the Breach, and one of each of them kept flirting with the top tables. In order to put up these great performances, it’s clear that they are doing something right.




     

  • Sunday, 4:00 p.m. – Deck Tech - Gifts Given and Ungiven

    by Marc Calderaro

  • Gifts Ungiven is a powerful card that occupies an interesting place in Magic. It’s an objectively powerful card. It has been in some of the best decks in Block, Standard and even Extended, but has been conspicuous in niche viability in Modern. For the first year or so, the format was so full of combo and aggro, any card that even smelled of control was verboten—remember the laughs when people tried to play Cryptic Command? But soon it snuck its way into builds here and there. However, its role had changed. No longer was its versatility that was valued, but rather its specificity.

    “The Gifts package” is a phrase in Modern that now exclusively means “Unburial Rites and an Unbeatable Fatty”—a way for midrange decks to beat aggro and for aggro decks to go over the top against midrange. Shahar Shenhar famously jammed the package into the sideboard of a deck full of Steppe Lynx. But was this the only role for such a powerful, instant-speed blue card? As the step before reanimation? The Mariano Rivera to David Wells? Surely not. And just as Rivera eventually proved that he should have the spotlight, at this tournament Gifts Ungiven is showing its multifarious uses, albeit it a little bit at a time.

    Gerry Thompson is showcasing it in his Blue White Tron deck. Though it admittedly goes for the “Gifts package” (often containing the maindeck, off-color Terastodon) unlike nine months ago, the format is now slow enough to show Gifts Ungiven as a maindeck-worthy inclusion. Not just some techy sideboard option.

    But the deck that really starts to showcase the card is a 4-color deck that David Shiels, Matt Costa, and Jason Ford all brought. As classic control as allowable in the format, these three realized that with the rise of UWR Control/Tempo, there was room for a deck to just straight out-control the deck to the point where the match-up is almost an auto-win. And this deck crushes all forms of UWR.

    “Any deck that plans to win with Celestial Colonnade is basically a bye,” Shiels said to me while sitting to talk about the deck. “Those decks can’t dream to beat a Gifts Ungiven pile that includes a Ghost Quarter and a Life from the Loam.” And though he’s right, that’s only half the nightmare package for the American-colored deck. The deck also has maindeck Raven’s Crime to tear apart any slow-moving strategy.

    I had just witnessed Shiels dismantle a Red-Green Tron deck with a pile of Life from the Loam, Raven’s Crime, Ghost Quarter, and Marsh Flats. “This is just like the first game, but last time I had hope,” his opponent Christian Keeth sighed. The next turn, Raven’s Crime was cast over and over ripped both Wurmcoil Engines from his hand, while the Ghost Quarter took out his last remaining Tron piece.

    Both Costa and Shiels agree, it’s the inevitability that’s on their side. That’s the hallmark of any good control deck; but getting there wasn’t easy. When the three found the deck it was about 15-20 cards off from the 75 they played this weekend, and much of it was changed because the face of control has had to change.

    “The Gifts options have to be compact and robust,” Costa said, “I found that I was never searching for Academy Ruins and Wurmcoil Engine,” he said they were extraneous deck slots. Shiels told me the same, “We only needed the two packages to cover almost every situation.” The reanimation package or the land recursion package are enough for about 90% of the situations that arise. “And that 10% doesn’t need extra cards that are dead in other situations.”

    Though Costa will sometimes find himself going for four removals spells, those were going to be in the deck anyway, and don’t require extra slots. So the team tore out everything that cost more than three mana that wasn’t named Gifts Ungiven, and made the core of the deck castable cards that cost three or less. They started by making the centerpieces two of the most common cards in the format, Deathrite Shaman and Liliana of the Veil. “Liliana works out wonderfully, because she’s great in our deck and pretty terrible against us. They get basically nothing positive from plus-ing it,” Shiels said. Because there’s usually an extraneous card hanging around, and because the deck uses the graveyard so regularly, ditching a card can be a benefit. “I mean, if I could just pay two mana to get Lingering Souls in my graveyard it’d be worth it, and my opponent sometimes does it for me.”

    The Deathrite Shaman also works wonders for the deck because it allows you to cast the larger spells. The Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite suddenly becomes something useful in the hand, and Sun Titan seems downright reasonable. That latter card was really the key that brought the whole deck together. Both Costa and Shiels agreed, that the Sun Titan is what brought it over the top.

    “It can be cast from the hand and it shores up bad match-ups ... Sun Titan into Kitchen Finks works just fine against aggressive decks,” Costa said.

    The deck is solid, and it’s a control pillar in a format without a real bearing. Costa illuminated why. “Unlike in Legacy, you don’t have access to Brainstorm.” Brainstorm, he continued, allows you to split your deck, so to speak, into the half that’s good against combo and the half that’s good against aggro. Because when you draw the wrong half, Brainstorm shuffles them away. “It’s Swords to Plowshares vs. Force of Will; when you draw the wrong one, get rid of it.” But since the Brainstorm equivalent doesn’t exist in Modern, it’s much harder to smooth out the awkward draws with the “unplayable” half of the deck.

    Additionally, Shiels said the barrier to play this deck is a little harder. “It’s tough to build and the learning curve is hard.” He continued, “We would cut cards from the deck, then realize we had to keep them, because the cards we need don’t exist. We looked forever for a two-cost, Kitchen Finks–like card. Wall of Omens wasn’t good enough; Talismans weren’t good enough; there was just nothing, so it’s still in there.”

    The deck’s only weakness, as Shiels sees it, is “Relic of Progenitus and anything else.” If it’s just Relic, it’s fine. “Oh yeah, I can beat four Relics, as long as they give me the time.” Costa echoed the same sentiment, saying the hardest match-up is Gruul Blitz with a Relic. “We can play around graveyard hate, but hate plus pressure is difficult.”

    Overall, the deck preys upon the UWR Control match-up. Once that popularity wanes, or if Rest in Peace becomes fashionable, this might not be the best choice. Otherwise, they all agree that Gifts Ungiven hasn’t lost any power, and certainly isn’t going anywhere.



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