4 Lessons from Grand Prix Prague

The Result

It was the best of times, it was the… nope, actually, it was just the best of times. Modern was once again thrust onto the main stage at last weekend’s GP in Prague, and as you might expect, the weekend was a terrific showcase of everything that is so excellent about this hugely popular, dynamic, and exciting format.

The continual ebb and flow of the Modern metagame saw White-Blue Control put up the numbers after the cut to Day 2, followed by Humans, Burn, Tron, and—somewhat surprisingly—Jund. After a close race for the Top 8, however, we had a very different picture emerge once Sunday evening rolled around.

Prague’s Top 8 consisted of two copies of Humans, two Bant Spirits, KCI Combo, Jeskai Control, and Infect, as well as the “new Affinity” deck that ultimately won the whole tournament, Hardened Steel. Lauri Pispa from Finland showed us just what this new flavor of artifact-based aggro is capable of. I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords, as, it seems, does Lauri Pispa. Congratulations!

The Moments

Laurent Calligaro reveals four Scapeshifts in hand after losing to Ben Seck—virtually any other card would have been lethal:

The venue was a little warm for those without an Australian’s iron constitution:

After playing three of his own Platinum Player tokens, Luis Salvatto snags a ferocious 3-for-1 with a Detention Sphere:

Shalai and Karn were in attendance, inspiring attendees to greater heights:

Julian Felix Flury ultimates his Nahiri, ignores Emrakul, and instead slams Simian Spirit Guide for the win:

The Deck

Ever since its strong performance in the most recent MOCS Modern Playoff, there has been a lot of talk about a new Affinity list. Rather than perennial all-stars Cranial Plating and Master of Etherium, this new take on the archetype plays Hardened Scales and Ancient Stirrings, and uses cards such as Steel Overseer and Arcbound Ravager to assemble an engine that is nigh-impossible to stop once it gets traction.

Hardened Steel

Lauri Pispa, 1st place at GP Prague 2018

This deck won Lauri Pispa the tournament, despite his relative lack of familiarity with it. “I’ve never played Affinity in my life,” Pispa said. “I picked it at eleven o’clock on Friday night.” Nevertheless, Pispa racked up a 12-0 start to the tournament on top of winning the whole thing on Sunday night, which speaks to the deck’s raw power level.

The synergies in this deck are both powerful and difficult to fully break apart thanks to resilient creatures, redundant effects, and a snowballing game plan. Assembling a few modular creatures with a Steel Overseer or Hardened Scales—nevermind both at the same time—creates a board state that not many cards can deal with easily. Even sweepers can be highly ineffective thanks to both Welding Jar and, of course, Hangarback Walker.

This deck’s future looks bright. Affinity has been a mainstay of the Modern format more or less since its inception, so it takes something truly special to topple it from its position as the premier artifact-based aggro deck. Hardened Scales might just do that, however, especially if this weekend’s results are anything to go by.

The Takeaway

The Top 8 showed us that even now, innovative new technology and powerful new decks can continue to influence and shape Modern, continuing the week-to-week cycle of change and development we have now come to expect from this format.

Hardened Scales will, no doubt, dominate the Modern news cycle in the coming days and weeks after this week. The cat is truly out of the bag, and you’ll need to have a plan to beat this deck. This is easier said than done, however, as Ancient Grudge and friends aren’t particularly great against modular creatures (or Hangarback Walker), and the sideboard 4-of Nature’s Claim makes Stony Silence a bit of a risk. Look for removal that doesn’t destroy creatures: Path, Condemn, Oust, and of course, Terminus.

The other big news was, of course, Bant Spirits. With two copies in the Top 8, it’s clear that this deck has what it takes to run with the big dogs, and we saw the power of what might be the best Collected Company deck time and time again throughout the weekend. What’s interesting here is that I don’t think the “best version” of this deck has been found. Supreme Phantom catapulted this deck to the top of the pile, but there’s still no consensus on the best build (plenty of people still argue for straight white-blue, and two such decks made it into the Top 32).

Meanwhile, ten of the Top 32 decks were White-Blue Control. Based on its absence from the Top 8, you could be forgiven for thinking that it wasn’t a great weekend for Celestial Colonnade, but as it had the largest share of the Day 2 metagame and made up almost a third of the best-performing decks after the Swiss, it’s difficult to claim this deck isn’t one of the best in Modern. Terminus continues to be one of the best cards to play against the field, while Jace and Teferi are the perfect partners in crime.

Team Coverage has put together something very special for this weekend’s GP Richmond. For the Legacy portion, we will follow every turn of Reid Duke’s tournament—he’ll be both playing and commentating. Team Coverage’s fearless leader Rich Hagon is breaking new ground with this endeavor, and we couldn’t be more excited to bring this to everyone around the world.

You absolutely do not want to miss this—not only do you get to see Legacy on the big stage alongside Standard, you’ll get unparalleled insight into the tournament experience of one of the all-time greats of the game. Be sure to get across the coverage of GP Richmond this weekend—it’ll be one for the ages!

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