4 Lessons from U.S. Nationals and Grand Prix Barcelona

The Result

Magic’s 25th anniversary celebrations continued this weekend, this time in Barcelona. The format was Modern, and the format showed no signs of slowing its pace as an ever-shifting battlefield that supports archetypes of all stripes. The biggest winner this weekend was Celestial Colonnade Control—I no longer have to pretend the deck is good, as the data now backs me up. Chewie, we’re home.

Despite four white-blue based control decks finding their way to the Top 8, they were ultimately no match for the dark horse that won the tournament in the hands of Matti Kuisma. Dredge has had quite a couple of months in Modern but got it done this weekend—Shriekhorn is now a Modern-GP-winning card. What a world we live in.

Additionally, Nationals tournaments were taking place in different corners of the world this weekend. U.S. Nationals was the headline act, with live video coverage of the split-format tournament gracing our screens throughout the weekend.

While Goblin Chainwhirler was, of course, represented in the Top 8, blue decks took to the fore. Esper Control, White-Blue GPG, and of course Blue-Black Midrange all put in strong performances. Ultimately, Dylan Brown’s Blue-Black Midrange list fought off all comers and snagged him the title of U.S. National Champion!

The Moments

Aetherflux Reservoir vs. Shalai, Voice of Plenty:

By now we’re used to being amazed by the work of Nissa cosplay, but she took it to a whole new level in Barcelona this weekend:

Seth Manfield draws eleven cards from two Bomat Couriers:

Gavin Verhey as Jace, the Cake Sculptor:

Draw eight, exile eight… and discard one. Not bad:

The Deck

Where to begin? With Modern being such a robust, dynamic format, there are no shortage of incredible decks to highlight. Quite aside from Dredge winning the whole thing, the Top 16 featured multiple KCI Combo decks, R/W Death and Taxes, and even a throwback to Birthing Pod with Naya Eldritch Evolution!

The deck that really stood out, however, was the one that helped Johann Fink to a 9th-place finish. Rather than play weak, underpowered 1-drops like Signal Pest or Vault Skirge, Fink instead opted for weak, underpowered 1-drops like Arcbound Worker and Sparring Construct.

Hardened Affinity

Built around Hardened Scales, this take on Affinity has a stronger commitment to green to enable some bonkers starts with the 1-drop enchantment. Every creature in the deck generates +1/+1 counters, and Hardened Scales is the perfect card to send these cards into the stratosphere. With Hardened Scales out, your Arcbound Workers are 1-mana 2/2s that put three counters on another creature when they die. Not too shabby.

Although you give up on Cranial Plating and cards like Master of Etherium, Hardened Affinity still has the kill-you-from-nowhere Inkmoth Nexus plays, not to mention plenty of ways to sacrifice modular creatures for value. Plus, the heavy green commitment means that it can play the most bannable card in Modern, Ancient Stirrings!

The Takeaway

Modern just won’t quit. It continues to be a healthy and supremely engaging format that supports a wide range of deck archetypes, rewarding clever preparation and deck/card choice. We see decks cycle through dominance on a near-weekly basis as players continue to experiment and innovate. This week, it was Celestial Colonnade’s time to shine.

Generally coming in two distinct flavors, white-blue based control decks are enormously customizable and the decks that did well this weekend only share superficial similarities. Broadly speaking, Jeskai Control focuses on a strong instant-speed game plan, with huge quantities of removal and burn spells to finish a game off quickly with Secure the Wastes, Snapcaster, and of course Colonnade. White-blue, however, is slower and disrupts on more axes with cards like Field of Ruin and Detention Sphere. Both decks have strengths and weaknesses, but right now I give Jeskai the edge. I still live that Bolt-Snap-Bolt life.

In Standard, it’s pleasing to see the format fight back against Goblin Chainwhirler. Green decks are still virtually nowhere to be seen, but with Core Set 2019 arriving soon there might be some change on that score—we’ll see. In any case, the utter dominance GCW has enjoyed over the last month or so seems to be suffering a meaningful challenge from the blue decks of the format, which is certainly a good thing.

Next week, I’m off to Sao Paolo to continue the celebration of Magic’s 25th anniversary. I’ll be broadcasting live from Brazil with Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa as we showcase the best of Latin American Magic. The format is Modern, too! You’re not going to want to miss it—I’ll see you then!

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