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Attacking Modern in Valencia

Hello everyone! For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Matt Costa. I’m a college student from Boston, MA, and I’ve been playing on the Pro Tour consistently since 2011. For the last year and a half, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to work with Team ChannelFireball: The Pantheon. Aside from being an assembly of some of the best minds in Magic, the Pantheon is a group of great friends and brothers (of the oath variety). When the cards go away and the scotch comes out, we are still very much a team.

I’m really excited to begin a new chapter of my Magic career for ChannelFireball. It’s an honor to work with so many other great players and content providers, and hopefully you’ll enjoy reading and watching my content as much as I enjoy producing it!

Many of my teammates have already done a great job of describing our testing process and the decks we played, so I’ll try to avoid any repetitive details as I share my perspective on Pro Tour Born of the Gods.

Modern Overview

Preparing for Modern can be immensely frustrating, and my experiences in Valencia were no different. In an expansive, “eternal” format like Modern, every deck is going to have some unsolvable weakness. There are simply too many decks, and too many individually powerful cards to prepare for everything.

This problem should resonate with any Legacy players out there, who’ve probably faced down some unbeatable hate card with their favorite deck. I’ve played against enough Chalices for 1 and [ccProd]Nether Voids[/ccProd] (thanks, Reid!) with RUG Delver to sympathize. However, the fundamental difference between Modern and Legacy is the quality of card selection. In Legacy, you can play a deck full of highly potent answers and dig for them with [ccProd]Ponder[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Brainstorm[/ccProd] the ineffective “dead cards” away.

There is nothing like these selection spells in Modern. With [ccProd]Ponder[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Preordain[/ccProd] banned, [ccProd]Serum Visions[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Think Twice[/ccProd] simply aren’t going to cut it in answer-based decks. Modern is fundamentally a turn-four format, so having a dead card that you can’t get rid of is a huge problem. In a five-turn game, drawing a dead card might equate to the loss of nearly 10% of the resources at your disposal. As a result, decks that are entirely focus on one-for-ones and card advantage have an uphill battle.

Since my teammates have already done a great job talking about our preparation and deck choices, I’ll be focusing on giving a big picture perspective on Modern and the tensions of the format. Keeping the card selection problem in mind, let’s take a look at the types of strategies that thrive in Modern.

Synergy-Driven

This class of decks mostly includes things like Affinity, Birthing Pod, and Storm. These decks are made of mostly weak or narrow individual cards, but are tied together by powerful engines like [ccProd]Cranial Plating[/ccProd], [ccProd]Pyromancer Ascension[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Birthing Pod[/ccProd].

One of the most important aspects of the synergy-driven decks is that they are rarely able to play much in the way of interaction. This is mostly because of how many resources are required to make your engine cards good. Every card in Affinity that is an interactive spell rather than an artifact makes the deck’s proactive game plan that much worse.

What this means, as a general rule, is that synergy-driven decks often struggle against decks that have stronger or faster proactive game plans (like Splinter Twin) and excel against answer-based interactive decks like UWR or Jund. This can be a dangerous proposition, because if Affinity is inherently disadvantaged against Splinter Twin, that is an extremely difficult problem to correct. As the Affinity player, you can’t really even sideboard a critical mass of hate cards, because of how weak that makes your own strategy.

Proactive Linear (Combo)

This grouping of decks includes more traditional combo decks. Splinter Twin and Scapeshift are probably the most representative, because they are combo decks that have room for interaction. This is because they don’t require a critical mass of resources to assemble their combo, but rather one or two cards. Splinter Twin simply requires an Exarch and a Twin, and Scapeshift just needs lands and a [ccProd]Scapeshift[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Primeval Titan[/ccProd]. These decks are more difficult to hate out than the synergy-based decks because of their ability to interact with hate or morph game plans.

Splinter Twin very often turns into a UR control/Blood Moon deck post-sideboard, and Scapeshift might similarly morph into a threat-heavy deck with [ccProd]Obstinate Baloth[/ccProd]s and [ccProd]Wurmcoil Engine[/ccProd]s. However, they are also easier to interact with on normal terms. For example, Splinter Twin can be fought using [ccProd]Path to Exile[/ccProd], [ccProd]Abrupt Decay[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Dismember[/ccProd], all of which are commonly played cards in format for other reasons.

To summarize, the major difference between these two categories of proactive decks is that the synergy-based decks are weaker to uniquely powerful hate cards like [ccProd]Shatterstorm[/ccProd], [ccProd]Rule of Law[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Grafdigger’s Cage[/ccProd], while the traditional combo decks are best fought using multiple copies of pinpoint interactive [ccProd]spells.

“Fair” Decks

This is a nebulous category of decks, but the primary idea is that they attempt to function on two axes, executing their own game plan (typically with creature or planeswalker win conditions), as well as disrupting the opponent. Naturally, the fair decks exist on a pretty big spectrum of threat density—from Zoo, which has just enough creature removal spells to get through blockers, to a UWR deck with only [ccProd]Celestial Colonnade[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Gideon[/ccProd] as win conditions. The B/G deck that Reid Duke and I played at the Pro Tour falls squarely in the middle of this threat/answer spectrum.

The biggest advantage to playing a fair deck comes in sideboarding. Both combo decks and decks relying on synergy are made significantly weaker by the opponent’s ability to sideboard powerful cards against them. In addition, these decks typically don’t get to improve their own configurations nearly as much for games two and three. Traditionally, post-sideboard games are longer and more interactive, due to both players removing their dead cards. This favors decks that focus on card advantage and interaction rather than synergy.

When you use interaction to break up synergies, it usually amounts to more than a 1-for-1 because it makes all of the opponents cards weaker.

On the other hand, fair decks are relatively difficult to sideboard against, though this becomes slightly less true at extreme points on the spectrum. Both Zoo and long-game control decks are linear enough that they have natural weakness to certain classes of cards. Think [ccProd]Engineered Explosives[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Liliana of the veil[/ccProd]. Decks that are able to play more than one role, both structurally and in the context of a game, are by far the most difficult to sideboard against.

Black/Green Obliterator Rock

The reasons listed above are primarily why I chose to play BG at the Pro Tour. However, Reid Duke has done an excellent job describing the deck and card choices.

The Modern metagame was undefined going in to the PT, which traditionally favors proactive strategies rather than reactive ones. However, linear strategies are also the easiest to sideboard against, so I made it a priority not to choose a linear deck that was on the map, like Splinter Twin, Affinity, or Zoo.

BG provided the perfect mix of proactive threats and interaction. [ccProd]Dark Confidant[/ccProd], [ccProd]Tarmogoyf[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Scavenging Ooze[/ccProd] are all powerful threats capable of winning games on their own. ‘Goyf and Ooze also double as answers against creature decks—because an unanswered Tarmogoyf or Ooze will shut down the opponent’s entire offense.

BG also plays a very generalized suite of interaction, which is important for unknown and diverse field. Discard effects like [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd] and removal spells like Pulse and [ccProd]Abrupt Decay[/ccProd] are all capable of answering many classes of cards out of a variety of strategies. Reid and I certainly chose our interaction based on its ability to be effective against many matchups we could face.

For the Pro Tour, I think the best thing to happen to “Jund” decks was the banning of [ccProd]Deathrite Shaman[/ccProd]. A forecasted decline in Jund led players to play decks like Splinter Twin and Storm—good matchups for BG. These decks are also very good against Affinity and Birthing Pod, some of BG’s natural enemies.

The Constructed portion of the Pro Tour went great for me—I went 8-2 against a fairly diverse sampling of the metagame. However, I was kept down by my Limited results. I went 2-4 overall, suffering from a disastrous 0-3 draft to start off the tournament.

While I feel relatively satisfied with a result of 10-6 given that I started 0-4, I definitely am planning to focus more on Limited moving forward. My first few qualifications for the Pro Tour were based mostly off of my performance in Limited events, but the last time I went better than 4-2 at the Pro Tour was now over a year ago at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica. Since then, I’ve been doing steadily worse. I’m hoping to step up my Limited game once again, starting with Grand Prix Montreal in a few weeks.

Moving forward, I’ll be writing bi-weekly here at ChannelFireball. I’m also planning on trying my hand at other forms of content, like videos. Let me know in the comments what formats or decks like you might like to see me explore!

Thanks for reading,
Matt Costa
@mattccosta

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