4 Lessons from GP Madrid and Oklahoma City

The Result

It was truly a wild ride this weekend, as the Modern format was tackled from two different angles on either side of the Atlantic. In Madrid, we had teams of three split the enormous card pool between between them, hunting for discrete archetypes that would play nicely together without sacrificing power level. In Oklahoma City, however, it was every wizard for themselves, and the results from the USA defied expectations heading into the tournament.

In Madrid, many of the usual suspects lined up—Grixis Shadow was out in force, Abzan Company performed strongly, and the Team Unified “freeroll” that is Affinity made its presence felt. In the Top 4, however, the diversity of the Modern format was reflected with its inclusion of everything from Elves to Storm to Lantern Control. Ultimately, it was a team of Spaniards who defended their turf: Rodrigo Togores (Scapeshift), Adrian Ramiro Cano (Abzan Company), and Cristian Ortiz Ros (Storm) got it done in the finals and emerged victorious!

In Oklahoma City, we saw an absurdly wide field taken down by a Top 8 that ran the spectrum of experience and accomplishment. From a Game Day Champion to a Pro Tour Champion—and everything in between—the Top 8 was dominated by big mana decks, although outside of Tron and Scapeshift there were Dredge, Living End, and even a spicy slice of pepperoni in Jeskai Breach. When all was said and done, Larry Li’s Scapeshift rose above all others and snagged him a shiny new piece of hardware!

The Moment

Anyone following this event even superficially would have heard tell of the ferocious and highly tragic error that closed out one of the quarterfinals. Raymond Detiveaux is at 16 and has a lethal attack headed at his opponent next turn, while Adam Pannone is on 4 and has to win the game this turn. He’s playing Scapeshift, and happily enough has 7 lands—enough for the combo finish.

But! Detiveaux has Beast Within in hand, and after consulting a judge, finally targets one of Pannone’s Mountains. The removal of a Mountain would then mean that Valakut’s triggers would not do any damage, and Detiveaux could go on to take the match with his attack next turn.

Watching the clip, you’d be forgiven for thinking that’s what happened.

Unfortunately for Detiveaux, an incomplete understanding of the interaction at hand meant that the handshake in the video is actually him conceding the match to Pannone. It was a very unfortunate mistake that cost Detiveaux the match and his ongoing Top 8 crusade—and as JVL explains to us, comes about due to Detiveaux missing the fact that without enough Mountains in play, Valakut’s triggers would be harmless.

There’s very little to be gained from tearing strips off Detiveaux—I defy anyone to claim they’ve never made an error of this kind throughout their Magic career, and I applaud Detiveaux for his no less remarkable achievement this weekend in making the Top 8 of a Modern GP. The lesson here is that when playing a format such as Modern, a deep understanding of corner-case interactions is critical for ongoing and consistent success. Read the cards, and when you’re finished, read them again.

The Deck

White-blue based decks are still undergoing their identity crisis in Modern, not entirely able to find their footing and decide upon their role in the format. Recently, we’ve seen Celestial Colonnade decks on the widest ends of the spectrum: from slow, lumbering beasts that eventually lock it up with Sphinx’s Revelation and Ajani to blazing-fast tempo decks that look to close early on the back of Geist of Saint Traft. Patrick Tierney, however, had other ideas.

Including a “combo finish” in your Jeskai Control deck isn’t new—after Nahiri, the Harbinger joined us in Shadows over Innistrad, there was a time where flying spaghetti monsters ruled the roost in Modern thanks to how her ultimate could cheat in an Emrakul. While those days are over, Tierney had a fresh take on an old idea, and put together Jeskai Breach.

Jeskai Breach

Patrick Tierney, Top 8 at GP Oklahoma City

Search for Azcanta has proven that it has what it takes to run with the big dogs in Modern, and operates exceptionally well in this characteristic Jeskai shell. Burn spells, countermagic, and of course Snapcaster Mage represent inarguable power and flexibility, and a flipped Search for Azcanta is the perfect refueling station for a strategy like this. What makes this deck so interesting, however, is the “combo finish” I discussed.

Through the Breach being an instant is absolutely crucial here, flashing in an Emrakul in your opponent’s end step—after having kept up Cryptic Command for their turn before 15 flying damage comes their way as they are embraced in Emrakul’s noodly appendages. The most important element at play here is that this finish doesn’t otherwise impact the disruptive, instant-speed game the deck is trying to play: Jeskai Breach never has to tap out to sneak through a win.

The Takeaway

A weekend of diverse archetypes, off-the-wall interactions, and unpredictable matchups reminded us all that Modern is full of surprises. To get ahead in Modern, you really do need to be prepared to face anything at all in this Wild West format, where we see things change from week to week. Whether your angle of attack is to grind it out by playing fair, to be linear and uninteractive, or just to go bigger than everyone with turn-3 Karns, always remember that anything can happen in Modern.

With Grixis Shadow recently being edged out by the rise of 5-Color Humans and various Jeskai strategies, many saw the big mana of Eldrazi Tron and Scapeshift as the way forward. This proved to be a good choice for those who made it, as especially in Oklahoma City we saw big mana decks dominate much of Sunday’s play and make a strong appearance in the Top 8. Lantern Control also put up good numbers, rewarding those who had put in the hours to learn this very difficult deck.

Next week, however, who knows what’s next? As the lists from the weekend attest, no single deck represents much more than 5% or 10% of the field. At this point it’s worth remembering: You can’t beat ’em all—sideboard slots are at an absolute premium in Modern. Choose wisely. Do you want silver bullets to shore up disastrous matchups, or do you instead opt for versatile utility cards that pull weight against many different decks? Whatever you elect to do, remember that it’s very difficult to predict a Modern metagame.

Next week I’m heading to New Jersey, where I’ll be closing out the GPs for 2017. I’ll be back to get across all the action. See you then!

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