Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan was the best PT I’ve ever had. It was also only the second Modern PT I’ve played in, and I’m betting that those two factors had a lot to do with my success at this tournament.
Leading into the event, I tried out every version of Search for Azcanta control, and you can see those here on ChannelFireball. I tried out Grixis, Jeskai, and U/W—I even tried out Esper and Temur off-camera. I knew I wanted to play Search for Azcanta at the Pro Tour as it’s the best blue card that’s been printed for Modern since Snapcaster Mage. The card wins long games on its own and is the crux of what I wanted to be doing in Modern.
The Modern Metagame Shakedown
The format has been going through many shifts and changes. A few month ago, Shadow was the deck to be beat. Then Jeskai and U/W Control appeared to take center stage. Not even a month after that and we’re trying to learn how the Humans deck affects the metagame and why Tron is among the most popular and best decks. Now, who knows what Jace and Bloodbraid will do. In short, Modern is a format with many good decks. As things shift in and out of popularity, so do the strengths and weaknesses of certain decks. With one of the linear decks, you can get a leg up on the metagame, but you struggle to adapt to changes. With one of the midrange strategies, you have the tools to adapt to the changes and the field you expect, but you seldom have a deck fundamentally stronger than what your opponent is doing. Thus, you’re choosing to have the proper configuration of 75 cards, or choosing the proper deck.
Shockingly, I played Grixis Control at this Pro Tour. I never really considered playing any other deck through the Pantheon testing. We had a colossal spreadsheet going that was tracking data, and up until the Monday before the PT I know that several players on the team were considering Grixis Control because of the great win rate our gang was posting with the deck. But come time to play in the tournament, it was only Andrew Cuneo and myself that ended up playing it. We had many similarities between lists, but we also ended up having a few key differences. Andrew ended up with a few extra cantrips and a slightly different removal/counterspell suite. We did, however, end up on very similar sideboards for the tournament, one that I felt we did a thorough job of testing before signing up with a sideboard I was proud of.
There’s tons of things going on here. You can see my deck tech about the deck here. I want to cover some more things in depth:
0 Serum Visions
Let’s face it—Serum Visions is not Preordain, and it’s not even close to Ponder. Serum Visions is really underpowered. Modern is all about having the right card on the right turn. You don’t have time to sink your mana and not cast your spells until you reach the real late game and you’ve prevented the opponent from enacting their main route to victory. Thus, spending a mana on turns 2-4 to set up for a future turn—that’s just not what I’m in for with a blue control deck.
What solidified this for me was when Shota 5-0’d with a list with 0 copies of Thought Scour or Serum Visions in his deck. I was already looking for a reason to cut Serum Visions, but this really pushed me to try cutting them for basically any other cards in magic. I still wouldn’t cut Thought Scour, though. There are too many synergies in the deck for this card. You have 4 delve cards, 4 Snapcaster Mage, and 4 Kolaghan’s Command with 12 cards looking to use your graveyard. It’s just too big of a cost to not play the maximum number of these, and it helps explain why the mill for 2 is better than scry for 2 (and this doesn’t even take into account the times you’ll mill your opponent for 2 cards).
Cutting these cantrips did come at a cost. Being lighter on library manipulation (cheap manipulation, most importantly), meant that we had fewer 1-land hands that we could keep. As such, we needed to reduce the number of 1-land hands we’d draw over the course of the tournament.
The obvious inclusion was Field of Ruin. When playing the U/W Control deck, I tried 4 of these alongside 4 Spreading Seas, and the majority of the games I won with that deck weren’t because of the Search for Azcantas but instead by messing with my opponent’s mana for long enough to reach the Cryptic Command + Supreme Verdict part of the game. These two cards made U/W a huge favorite over Tron in my eyes. Coming back to Grixis Control, it allowed the deck to have game against Tron, and more importantly, meant I didn’t need to play Fulminator Mage in the sideboard. Having to put a Stone Rain effect in the sideboard always felt pretty miserable. Field of Ruin corrected this issue, gave us more lands to be able to play a “draw go” style of control game, and also allowed us to fix our mana requirements, which sometimes became an issue in post-sideboard games against Blood Moon and when we had Anger plus Cryptic plus Damnation in the deck.
Up until Wednesday night, I was going to play only 3 Kolaghan’s Commands and 1 Electrolyze. I think Electrolyze is solid. I was concerned with the amount of Lingering Souls that might appear at the Pro Tour (Mardu Pyromancer and Abzan were becoming more popular from what I saw online).
In the end, I moved away from the Izzet removal spell as it felt wrong not to maximize my odds of winning the long games with Grixis. I wanted to make sure that when I reached turn 10, and had found a creature, that I maximized my ability to set up a loop with that creature, taxing my opponent’s resources in every direction (mana, hand size, battlefield position, removal, etc). By only playing 3 Commands, I also felt that I struggled to eliminate artifacts like Aether Vial, Grafdigger’s Cage, Hollow One, and Relic of Progenitus from the battlefield too often. I thought these cards were going to be popular at the Pro Tour, along with the faster combo/aggro decks, and I wanted to make sure that my list was best set up to fight them.
I’m skipping playing a Modern Grand Prix these next few weekends. I’m traveling around the U.K. and won’t be at either Toronto or Lyon as a result.
I haven’t spent a long while doing analysis of the results of the Pro Tour, but from what it looked like, the Grixis Control contingent really killed it. I lost playing for Top 8. Cuneo went 11-5 with the deck, and among every deck in the field with at least five pilots, we had the highest win rate. I think that as the metagame looked at the Pro Tour, Grixis Control is a tier 1 strategy. There are matchups and fields where the deck will be poorly positioned, (I’m looking at you, Bogles), but I don’t think that’s where the metagame is headed just yet. I would change one card in the sideboard for a Dispel, either a Collective Brutality, or a Surgical Extraction.
I went 8-2 with this list, and here’s my record and what I played against by round:
- 2-0 Mardu Pyromancer
- 2-0 Humans
- 2-0 Affinity
- 2-1 Counters Company
- 2-1 U/W Control
- 0-2 U/R Madcap Moon (sideboard into Through the Breach Emrakul)
- 2-0 G/b Tron
- 2-0 Lantern Control
- 1-2 Lantern Control
- 2-0 Traverse Shadow
At the start of March, I’ll be participating in the MOCS Championships. You can bet that I’ll be working on Grixis Control for that event, and I know that I’ll have to make some serious adaptations after the unbannings. I’ve got a first draft at the end of this article.
I also want to thank a number of people. 13th is a heck of a showing at a Pro Tour, and this is a finish I can really hold my head high about. Every time I got up from the table, I felt like I did what I could in each match to try and play my best and fight tooth and nail for every card, every point of life, and every little edge. I’ve had a few great finishes over the years, but nothing compares to this tournament for me, and I’m hoping there will be more in the future. So thank you to:
- My awesome girlfriend for waking me up at 7 a.m. and forcing me to draft, and making me stay up late trying out different ideas with Grixis. Her support was amazing.
- My teammates for not giving up on my deck. They didn’t harass me about my deck being some tier 8 piece of garbage and really gave it an honest shot. Seeing others believe in the work I’ve put a lot of time into meant a lot from players as talented as the Pantheon.
- You, the readers. I love writing, and I love talking about things I’m passionate about. I’m passionate about Grixis, and if that Deck Tech didn’t show you that, I don’t know what will. Many of you love to hear what I have to say about control in Modern, and I’m stoked that you continue to listen to me babble on every so often about a collection of black, blue, and red cards that we can all love together.
13th is not too far from Top 8. An 8-2 Constructed record was wonderful to achieve. I want to improve upon my 4-2 record from Limited to support the improvements in my Constructed game. I’m hoping to put that together in a few weeks in Seattle and have a wonderful report about that tournament for you all soon! I’ll be back in about two weeks with regularly scheduled content!
BONUS SECTION: JACE UNBANNED
Never did I think we’d see the day that Jace, the Mind Sculptor would be unbanned in Modern. I think what happens now is that we have many fair decks shifting to blue to rely on Jace as their win condition. As a result, you both need to be able to answer Jace, and protect your own.
What does this look like for Grixis Control? I’ve sketched out a few different lists, but Grixis is still my passion. This is by no means the de facto Grixis deck going forward, but I expect such a huge uptick in blue midrange decks (UW, Jeskai, Esper, Sultai, Bant, Grixis, UR) that I think biasing the deck more in that direction and against aggro decks that fight the Jace decks will be the best route going forward.
NOTE: I still want to find a way to build with Disrupting Shoal in mind. My inclination says you need/want to be U/W with Spell Queller or UB with Ashiok to have a 3-drop you’re both happy to play and okay pitching in a bind. The key thing is to have enough blue cards to pitch, but also can cast the Shoal when necessary in the late game.