4 Lessons from Grand Prix Stockholm and Hong Kong

The Result

Two GPs on either side of the Eurasian continent both put Modern through its paces last weekend with the dynamic and ever-changing format continuing to throw up surprising results. While the mild Swedish autumn played host to an exciting Player of the Year race, forcing a playoff between Seth Manfield and Luis Salvatto, the wild weather in Hong Kong didn’t put off determined GP-goers!

In Hong Kong, both 5-Color Humans and Bant Spirits were out in force across the best-performing decks, with Jeskai as the flavor of choice for control. The Top 8 featured an array of decks, with everything from Burn to Bridgevine, but it was Xu Fei and his Tron deck that took down the tournament. Sometimes, the bad guys win.

In Stockholm, White-Blue Control dominated the Swiss and the Top 8, with Bant Spirits also having a terrific weekend. The Top 8 featured some huge names like Luis Salvatto, Branco Neirynck, and hometown hero Joel Larsson all making it to Sunday evening. It was Ondrej Strasky, however, who ended one of the shortest retirements in history to make a triumphant return to success, claiming the trophy by beating Larsson in the finals!

The Moments

As you might expect, the fact that the tournaments were Modern produced some pretty ridiculous and buckwild moments throughout the weekend.

Christian Wakang’s tournament got off to a rough start:

Jasper Grimmer made a turn-3 kill through Meddling Mage look unbelievably easy:

14 power on turn 2? Just another day in the life of Bridgevine player Bolun Zhang:

Joonas Himmanen deals 15 damage for the low price of 2U (and draws a card!):

Bonus: It turns out that Raphael Levy speaks Swedish!

The Deck

Dedicated life gain decks are an unusual sight in Modern, especially in a no-holds-barred, mercilessly competitive environment such as a Grand Prix. Elias Klocker, however, scored one for the good guys this weekend, making it all the way to Stockholm’s Top 8 with his Mono-White Martyr deck!

Mono-White Martyr

Elias Klocker, Top 8 at GP Stockholm 2018

The deck has been featured a couple of times on ChannelFireball, but its lack of high-level success has held it back from widespread notoriety. That may change after Klocker’s finish, as a Top 8 result such as this can’t ignored. Besides, this deck seems to be well-positioned against White-Blue Control, a matchup you definitely want to be on top of right now.

The fundamental conceit of the deck is to gain half a billion life with Martyr of Sands, which synergizes with cards such as Squadron Hawk and Ranger of Eos to keep your hand full of white cards—the Ranger can also helpfully fetch more Martyrs. That life enables you to play an incredibly long game, in which enormously powerful recursive plays can withstand a wide proportion of what Modern can throw at it.

Between Proclamation of Rebirth, Sun Titan, and Emeria, the Sky Ruin, this deck is very difficult to overcome once it has stabilized on a high life total. Additionally, it’s full of the best main-deck creature interaction (Path to Exile, various Wrath effects) as well as top-tier sideboard cards (Rest in Peace, Stony Silence). Besides, on top of all this, sometimes you nut draw them by curving Martyr into Serra Ascendant. Easy game!

The Takeaway

White-Blue Control dominated much of the weekend’s narrative, and had good results in both Stockholm and Hong Kong. Whether it was Jeskai or straight white-blue, Celestial Colonnade decks put up strong results and clearly indicated they are the current force to be reckoned with. Terminus continues to be the best answer to the format at large, and Teferi and Jace have quickly become BFFs since being unleashed upon the Modern format.

Consequently, Bant Spirits firmly established itself as a challenger to 5-Color Humans as the premier creature deck in Modern. Fast, efficient, and disruptive, Bant Spirits is a trickier deck for white-blue based control to play against, although there is no consensus on exactly how tough the matchup is (naturally, proponents of both decks insist theirs is the one with the favorable matchup).

Additionally, other decks that are able to meaningfully contest control strategies also flourished. Bridgevine got all the way to the finals in Hong Kong, doubtlessly spurred on by some blazingly-quick starts that make Rest in Peace—a 2-drop—feel too slow to beat a dedicated graveyard deck. Unbelievable.

The jury is still out on Bridgevine, despite it almost winning a GP, with some dismissing it as a one-trick pony with no staying power. It’s important to remember, therefore, that similar things were said about Hollow One decks before the archetype established itself as a mainstay of Modern. I have a feeling that something similar could take place with Bridgevine. The deck is capable of unbeatably broken draws, and is so quick as to render a lot of sideboard cards irrelevant.

Next week we’re off to Las Vegas for the World Championship! It doesn’t get much better than this—24 of the best players on Earth will face off for all the glory that comes with being World Champion, not to mention the massive prize pool. I’ll be back next week with all of the action from Nevada!

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