After I laid out the blueprint for team events last week, my teammates Ivan Floch and Thomas Hendriks and I finished 13th in the Modern Unified Grand Prix in Madrid.
We didn’t have much time to prepare because of my teammates’ busy schedule. As it usually goes with these things, we created a team chat to bounce ideas off of each other. Our first idea was to put me on Eldrazi Tron. It’s a solid deck, it doesn’t take many cards away, and I’ve had plenty of experience with it as I played it in GP Birmingham earlier this year. But I think the deck got a bit worse in the past couple of months. The big mana decks are more popular, for example, and they are a big problem.
I spoke to Sam Pardee, who was preparing for GP OKC, and he mentioned that he’d been winning a lot with 5c Humans. An aggressive deck with Aether Vial, my favorite card Mantis Rider, and a great mana base? I didn’t need to hear more—I knew I was in. Sam sent me his version and I took it for a spin in a Modern League.
An hour later, I was 5-0 in a League.
The deck felt good. It reminded me of Merfolk, but had better, explosive draws and way more disruption. I reported to my teammates that this would be a deck I’d gladly play so we had to figure out what our two other decks would be. Thomas’ first suggestion was to play Jeskai and Jund Death’s Shadow alongside it.
We consulted with the other great European team of Juza, Kowalski, and Sochurek. They were pretty high on Jeskai. Greg Kowalski had been playing the deck non-stop on Magic Online and he was doing well with it. Another suggestion was to try out Lantern, as that was another deck that had been doing well in Modern lately. Even though Lantern does take a lot of the great cards (discard and Mox Opal), it could fit into the lineup with Jeskai and Humans. Ivan tried it out, and reported back that the deck was great and we should definitely play it. I raised some concerns about Lantern being a slow deck—the fact that Ivan (the slowest player I know) would be playing it didn’t help. My teammates were quick to dismiss the time issue, but I was still concerned.
So we locked in our lineup. I was pretty confident going into the event. I thought my deck was quite good, Lantern was great, and while I didn’t know how good Jeskai was, a couple of players I trusted assured me that it was good too.
Here are the deck lists we played—I had to change the Humans deck list just a bit because of the Unified format.
On Friday, we discussed our seating over dinner in Madrid. While normally Ivan would be the middle seat as he is the most experienced player, we were worried that having Lantern in the middle would be problematic. In a normal environment, Lantern is a fine deck and it’s hard to get unintentional draws with it. But team events are different. Games take longer because people talk about their plays. Especially with Lantern, your opponent will often want to respond to every Codex Shredder/Pyxis activation, the time strain is pronounced. For this reason, I thought that we should put the Lantern player on the side. A) We don’t want to bother our Lantern player much to allow him more time to play and B) we want the player playing against Ivan not to be bothered by his teammates so that he plays faster. We had already registered Ivan in the middle, though, so our plan was to talk to the judges on Saturday morning and change it so that I would be the middle seat.
Unfortunately, on Saturday we overslept. It didn’t help that we had yet to write down our deck lists. I was also missing four cards and forgot my sleeves at home, so I had to buy some and sleeve up my deck. We arrived at the venue at 8:50 a.m., which was enough time for us to to do all of that, but they posted pairings before we could change our seating. This was stupid of us and hurt us a lot in the long run. But hey, at least I got a great night of sleep.
We started the tournament with the draw we now expected (though, perhaps not so soon). I won, Thomas lost, and we got to watch Ivan struggle against a B/G hate deck with a bunch of Maelstrom Pulses, Loam plus Ghost Quarter, and a lot of Surgical Extractions. We probably would have lost the game but didn’t get to finish, so we earned 1 point. After that, everything went better. In the next four rounds I had nut draw after nut draw, so I kept winning and my teammates always got at least one win and usually more.
Round 6 we faced Luis Salvatto’s team. I was paired against Luis himself, who was on Elves with the Druid + Vizier combo. Game 1 he had one draw to hit Vizier of Remedies or Chord of Calling to kill me. He drew Collected Company but whiffed and I pushed for lethal. Game 2 and 3 went a bit worse as I always had Izzet Staticaster, but the turn before I could cast it he slammed Elvish Archdruid and I didn’t have an answer. Game 3 was especially frustrating as he found a one-turn window to draw his 2nd Archdruid and I failed to stabilize, dying to exact lethal. Ivan won, so we turned our attention to Thomas’ match, which had an epic first game and started game 2 with like 15 minutes on the clock. He was playing against—you guessed it—Lantern Control. Unfortunately, our opponents had a great draw and managed to draw a 2nd Tezzeret to kill us on the 3rd extra turn. Another draw.
In round 7 I lost again, but Thomas beat his Affinity opponent. With all of the attention on Ivan, he didn’t blink an eye and drew against his U/R Through the Breach opponent in a game we were most likely winning. With three draws we managed to escape the draw bracket, which was nice.
In round 8, I won against Death’s Shadow, while Ivan struggled against a U/W control deck with a bunch of Detention Spheres, multiple unique planeswalkers, and a bunch of other problematic cards. Thomas was playing against Eldrazi Tron and was deep into game 3.
We got into a situation where we had 11 lands, including 3 Celestial Colonnade and Mana Leak in our hand. Our opponent was at 3 life and had Walking Ballista with 1 counter on it. He also had 7 lands, including a bunch of Urza’s Mines and Power Plants, but he was missing the Tower. We knew that he had Basilisk Collar in his hand, so our plan was clear. We Mana Leaked the Collar so that our opponent didn’t have enough mana to equip and add a counter. We could then play another land and attack with 2 Colonnades—he could shoot one but he would still take 4. Unfortunately, he drew the Urza’s Tower, so I turned my attention to Ivan, whose game seemed most likely to result in a draw. Getting excited about draw number 4—because how often does that happen—I turned my attention back to Thomas’ match where our opponent was still in the tank. After a long discussion with his teammate, he cast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, which won us the game! He could exile 2 Colonnades, but that let us Mana Leak the Collar, and then we untapped and attacked for the win! If they had played those two cards in a different order, we probably would have lost.
In the last round I defeated a Storm player and even though Thomas got unlucky versus Scapeshift, our captain had our backs and won his match in the first of extra turns. We went to sleep undefeated with dreams of going 5-0 and making the Top 4.
Those dreams died pretty quickly. We lost our first round after I lost to what I can only assume is a great matchup in Tezzerator. I may have named the wrong card with Meddling Mage, but that’s how it goes versus rogue decks such as Tezzerator. Ivan lost to a bad matchup in Jeskai Control with Stony Silence, so we were out. Luckily, we rallied and managed to go 4-0, mostly thanks to Thomas, who didn’t drop a match on Day 2. Ivan had one match where he milled our opponent to 0 on the 5th extra turn, which would result in a draw, but our opponents were kind enough to concede, so we didn’t get to live the dream of having four draws.
We finished with a 10-1-3 record, which is basically the same as 11-3, which was good enough to earn us each $500 and 3 Pro Points. I had a lot of fun this past week and I think we’ll run this team back soon. One thing is for sure—we’re not playing Lantern!
As for my own personal deck, I don’t quite know what to think. I went 9-5 with it at the GP, which is okay, but two other players who played it, Joel Larsson and Martin Juza, were having trouble with it. I think Martin had a record of 5-9 and really hated the deck. I need to play with it, but I’m definitely considering it for the upcoming PT. Here’s the version I’d recommend moving forward.
I was happy with the main deck for most part. Image isn’t in most of the stock decks, but Sam suggested it and it has been great for both of us. There are many cards you want to copy between Thalia’s Lieutenant, Kitesail Freebooter, Reflector Mage, and Meddling Mage. I was worried about the mana base, but you have Ziggurat, Seachrome Coast, and Vial to cast it. In the worst-case scenario you can also name Illusion with Unclaimed Territory or Cavern of Souls, but I’d recommend against doing this early on as it can screw up casting the best card in your deck (and Magic overall) Mantis Rider. There is one difference from the GP: Thalia, Heretic Cathar is pretty weak while Reflector Mage is amazing against all creature decks. It does suck against noncreature decks, but so does Thalia, so the downside isn’t huge.
As for sideboard, I’ve been happy with it. I’d like to highlight Anafenza, the Foremost. I honestly love this card—the body is so big. It’s great versus graveyard decks and Lightning Bolt decks. Gut Shot has also been decent for me. It functions really well against Noble Hierarch decks and Affinity. I think it’s better than Staticaster—that card is just too slow, and on turn 3 its effect is less relevant against cards like Noble Hierarch and Birds of Paradise.
Modern is too big of a format for me to go over all the decks, so I’ll share a brief sideboard guide.
I’m not sure if Thalia or Freebooter is worse. I think the effect on Thalia is a bit better, but Kitesail has a decent body as a 1/2 flyer blocks a lot of their creatures. I think Thalia is better on the play if you can land it to make their Plating more expensive while on the draw Freebooter is better. Dismember is another big question for me, but I feel like with 3 Gut Shots you have too much life loss, so I’d leave it in the sideboard.
Grixis Death’s Shadow
If you have specific questions about different matchups, feel free to ask in the comments, but I think the sideboarding is straightforward.