4 Lessons from Grand Prix Phoenix

The Result

Modern stole the show again this weekend, with the first post-unban Grand Prix showcasing the ways in which both Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor have sculpted and braided the format. Some predicted the end of the Modern format as we know it, but it feels fine—deck diversity remains at an all-time high, and games are robust, deep, and skill-intensive.

No single deck had much more than a 10% share of the metagame, and from there it was variety all the way down. Hollow One is on the rise, Bogles seems to have eked out a little corner of the metagame, after a quiet few weeks we saw Humans return to form, and no one is able to question Jund’s return to Modern dominance.

This deck diversity was also reflected in the Top 8, with eight different archetypes tidily spread out among the eight players. There was Big Mana (Tron, Scapeshift), creature-based aggro (Humans, Eldrazi, Death and Taxes) some midrange (Bant Knightfall, Jund), and even a combo deck for good measure—Krark-Clan Ironworks made a surprise appearance!

Ultimately, Steve Locke put together an incredible performance to win the entire tournament—his second title in as many GPs. Locke, whose record at his last two GP events is 29-1-3, took 5-Color Humans all the way to the finals, dispatching a worthy runner-up in Pierson Laughlin to lock up another GP trophy. Congratulations Steve!

The Moments

Pierson Laughlin sweats a Bob trigger that ends up with him on 1 life (and also the finals):

Two players get through six turns with the wrong decks:

Learning savage lessons about how Krark-Clan Ironworks, er… works:

One of the most ridiculous board states you’re ever going to see (and in an aggro mirror!):

The Ornithopter attack wasn’t the only very clear message sent this weekend:

The Deck

The talk of the tournament was, of course, the way in which Krark-Clan Ironworks pushed itself from the fringes of Modern playability through to a deck propelling Matt Nass all the way to the Top 8. What does this deck actually do? I’m not sure that anyone on Earth really knows the answer to that question. I suppose it must be a lot like Affinity, as you seem to simply show your opponent cards with pictures of metal things until they concede.

Ironworks Combo

Matt Nass, Top 8 at GP Phoenix 2018

Ironworks Combo is an engine deck that seeks to generate enormous amounts of mana while churning through its library, seeking Emrakul, the Aeons Torn so as to put that mana to good use. It generates this mana by way of Krark-Clan Ironworks, which, in conjunction with Chromatic Sphere, can simultaneously sacrifice a ton of artifacts without giving an opponent the chance to respond.

Scrap Trawler and Myr Retriever enable this mana to then be spent again with the newly-regrown cards, and as many of them cycle (Ichor Wellspring, Terrarion), this means that you’ll see a lot of cards. This deck is capable of a lot of unexpected chicanery, and pulls off staggeringly brilliant wins, but it’s light on interaction and somewhat vulnerable to disruption.

Fortunately for anyone concerned about this deck becoming the next big thing, it doesn’t so much fold to Stony Silence as it collapses in on itself with enough force to tear a hole in the space-time continuum. Ironworks Combo will always be held in check by this commonly-played hate card, but it doesn’t end there. Graveyard hate is also extremely effective, preventing any of the recursion-based value engines from gaining any momentum.

The Takeaway

Modern has maintained—or perhaps exceeded—the high watermark point that was put on display in Bilbao at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor have defied expectations by adding further life and depth to a format already enjoying halcyon days—neither have proven to be oppressive or overly dominant. This is most strongly evidenced by the results from the weekend. The sheer number of competitive archetypes that jostled for inclusion in the Top 8 is astonishing.

Players continue to experiment with the best shell for Jace, the Mind Sculptor. In Phoenix, Jace got to work in the traditional Blue-White Control decks, naturally, but was found much farther afield, too. In the Top 8 both 4-Color Scapeshift and Bant Knightfall looked to take advantage of JTMS, and he also saw play in Scott Sansam’s Taking Turns deck, which finished a respectable 30th. Jace decks continue to evolve—it’s unlikely that we’ve seen their final form.

Blood Moon was heavily represented in the Top 32. While zero copies appeared in the Top 8, nice, different decks were looking to give their opponents a good mooning. Various blue-red decks used finishers like Through the Breach or Madcap Experiment, midrange strategies like Mardu and Ponza included multiples as a game-1 hoser, and even all-out aggro decks like Hollow One and Affinity packed it in the sideboard. Modern is ready to tussle with greedy mana bases and land-based decks alike—be warned!

Next week it’s back off to the Land of the Rising Sun for more Team Trios from Kyoto. I’ll be back next week to bring you up to date with the highlights, the lowlights, and everything in between!


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