Initial Technology – Wrapping up Worlds and the Modern Metagame

As exciting as my report assuredly is, today I’d also like to talk about Modern as a whole. TSG and I did a pretty good segment about the upcoming Modern PTQ season, but there is certainly more to be said.

First, let’s wrap up my exciting (and ultimately disappointing) tale about Worlds (links to Part 1 and Part 2). If you want to skip to the Modern talk, just Ctrl + f and type Modern.

I was 10-2, and as documented by many sources, playing Zoo. We ended up on Zoo because of a variety of factors, up to and including our failure to make a good Teachings deck, the fact that Splinter Twin sucks, and that we just ran out of time. Last year, in Chiba, the 5-Color Control deck that we played was awesome, but it had [card jace, the mind sculptor]Jace[/card]. Because of Jace, the fundamental basis of the deck worked; you stalled until you could win with Jace, using cheap removal like [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] and broad answers like [card]Mana Leak[/card] and [card]Cryptic Command[/card]. I tested that 5CC deck a good amount, and tuned it until it was a reasonable choice. It wasn’t that easy this year.

Sure, I (and we) tried various three, four, or five color control decks, but they weren’t as naturally good this time. Even though we definitely didn’t get everything right in Chiba, the basis of the deck was so good that we didn’t have to. On the other hand, now we didn’t have room for error, since instead of an absurdly powerful and general card in Jace, we had a very specific card in [card]Mystical Teachings[/card]. It didn’t help that Teachings wasn’t as powerful to begin with, and if we missed a crucial bullet, the card would be that much worse. I’m definitely not saying that Teachings isn’t good (because it is), but that we weren’t confident that we would have a good Teachings list by day 3 of Worlds. Too much had to go right, and it just didn’t come together in time.

So, Zoo it was!

A Tale of Two Kitties

After deciding that Zoo was the safe choice, and that we wanted [card]Tribal Flames[/card] to kill ‘em dead, there weren’t too many decisions left. It feels like I’ve started to go down a slippery slope here. If you asked me a year ago, I would never have predicted that I’d be attacking with [card]Kird Ape[/card]s and casting [card]Tribal Flames[/card], but I got sucked into it a little at a time. First, we played WW in Nagoya (and I did well). That made it just that much easier to sleeve up [card]Wild Nacatl[/card]s in Philadelphia, especially given that I played them at PT San Diego the year before. Plus, Kibler’s Zoo deck had counterspells, Gideons; it was really a control deck in disguise. Right? Right?

All of a sudden, here I was, debating the merits of [card]Steppe Lynx[/card], [card]Kird Ape[/card], and [card]Loam Lion[/card]. Once you have played Tribal Flames, with the intent of getting them into said Tribal Flames range with Steppe Lynx, you can no longer claim that you are just playing aggro until blue gets better. Hell, I lost to Teachings in the tournament, the first time I’ve been on the Zoo side of that particular matchup.

In any case, now that I was going to be attacking, we still had to decide with what. Originally, we had [card]Kird Ape[/card] and [card]Loam Lion[/card], but PV asked why we weren’t playing [card]Steppe Lynx[/card]. In your best draws, it’s the best Cat you could ask for, and when you get flooded, it does even more work. It’s only really bad when you are stuck on 2-3 lands, but this deck is insane when that happens anyway. Plus, if you are trying to Tribal Flames them out, you really don’t need a recurring source of damage as much as one that frontloads a ton, and Steppe Lynx does that. Sorry, Loam Lion!

Here is the very streamlined deck we played in Modern, with little to no spice at all. Ah well.

[deck]4 Arid Mesa
1 Blood Crypt
1 Breeding Pool
1 Forest
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Marsh Flats
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Plains
1 Sacred Foundry
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Steam Vents
1 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
2 Kird Ape
3 Knight of the Reliquary
3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Steppe Lynx
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Wild Nacatl
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
4 Path to Exile
2 Spell Pierce
4 Tribal Flames
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Combust
2 Deathmark
1 Kitchen Finks
2 Mindbreak Trap
1 Negate
2 Ranger of Eos
2 Seal of Primordium
1 Torpor Orb[/deck]

At least the sideboard was sweet, with a bunch of insane 2-ofs, and a few sweet 1-ofs. I felt pretty good postboard against everything but Teachings, since this deck is pretty short on actual anti-control cards.

My next six rounds of Modern weren’t incredibly memorable; I cast a bunch of Steppe Lynxes, Nacatls, and Tribal Flames, going 3-2 in matches played. Conley did scoop to me, but I was already 13-3, so I was locked for Top 8.

It was funny that we debated Steppe Lynx vs. Loam Lion, then in round 1 game 1, against David Kaplan, I cast turn one Lynx, and he responded with a Kird Ape. Had that Lynx been an Ape, I would have done 0 damage over the next 3 turns. Instead I did 12. Looks like Loam Lion has to steppe up its game.

After the Modern portion was done, I made Top 8, along with Paulo, Wrapter, and Conley! I was incredibly excited, and really happy for my teammates. Wrapter and Paulo, in fact, both had to Top 8 to level 8, and they did. It was insane! Of course, the fun didn’t last long…

The Top 8, or How I Lost to a Very Bland Draw

Going into this match, I wasn’t overly optimistic or pessimistic. It looked like it would be close, and I had no expectations one way or the other.

Official Coverage

After trading off a few quick games, we were on to Game 5. This one was for everything, and on my side, even Player of the Year, since PV lost and Wrapter was in the process of doing so. It was probably one of the biggest matches I’ve ever played, since I was playing for the titles of World Champion (well, the chance to win it) and the actual title of Player of the Year. I had turn after turn to start deploying [card]Etched Champion[/card]s, but kept missing on lands, and it finally came down to me needing to see one of these cards on my draw step:

Mox opal

Taking my cue from Sam Black in Philly, I revealed my hand of [card]Tempered Steel[/card], and just flipped the top card…

[draft]etched champion[/draft]

It was the second-most disappointing moment of my Magic career, with the most disappointing being when I lost in the Top 4 of Pro Tour San Diego. The dream was done, and I was no longer going to be the last World Champion or Player of the Year. My wife, parents, and brothers all came to watch me play, so at least we got to have a post-Worlds misery-loves-company lunch, as PV and Wrapter came along as well.

At the end of the day, I’m really happy with how Worlds went, both for me personally and as a member of the team. Conley, Wrapter, and PV all leveled up, as did Web (to 7 even), and of the nine level 8’s, we have seven of them! This year saw the best results I’ve ever had, and most members of Team Fireball would say the same. Even if this led to me feeling awful for a little while, overall it was great, and that’s just part of Magic. Any tournament where you walk away with anything less than first is somewhat disappointing, but that feeling doesn’t last long. I still love the game, and still had a great time at Worlds. I’m really excited for next year, and especially Hawaii, where hopefully we get to kick off the year with another Caw-Blade deck…

Moving on to some more relevant strategy, since the upcoming PTQ season is Modern:

(see, if you Ctrl+f’ed “Modern”, you would eventually get here, but I didn’t say it would be easy)

Without getting into a whole discussion about it, there certainly is a chance that [card]Wild Nacatl[/card] gets banned, mainly because of how oppressive it is to other aggro decks. Zoo isn’t a too dominant deck as a whole, but it does remove any incentive to play other aggro decks, and whether that’s acceptable or not is up to Wizards.

That being said, if Wild Nacatl gets banned, Zoo is still definitely a deck, and a good one. The door may open to other aggro decks, though I’m also going to assume that Punishing Fire gets banned as well. It makes no sense to me to ban Nacatl and not ban Fire, since Fire is almost as oppressive as Nacatl for most of the other aggro decks.

Still, let’s start by assuming no bans:

Modern, Take 1 (no bans)

Tier 1 decks:

In order to not clog the article up with an endless list of decklists, here is the link to Top Modern decks from Worlds, which is rife with examples of each deck:

Noble Hierarch Zoo (with or without Punishing Fire)
Tribal Zoo
Mystical Teachings and/or Gifts Ungiven
Melira-Birthing Pod

For those looking to get into Modern, I’d start with one of these decks. Teachings/Gifts is definitely the hardest to build, since it is wholly metagame dependant, though you obviously want to put thought into any deck you choose. I’d feel comfortable playing any of these decks, though I’d recommend you make sure to practice an ample amount. I know that I wouldn’t take Melira or Teachings into an event without a ton of games under my belt, and even Zoo isn’t just a cakewalk to play. Zoo is most certainly going to be the most played of these, and is going to be the starting point for most people looking to PTQ. It is expensive (thanks, [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]), but it is also powerful, hard to build poorly, and not as difficult to pilot as Melira or Teachings.

Tier 2 decks:

Storm Combo (Past in Flames, Rituals, etc)
Splinter Twin
Ad Nauseam

Yep, I’m definitely playing Splinter Twin…

These are the decks that need improvement before I’d consider them Tier 1, and in some cases, I don’t see that happening. Twin and Affinity both seem pretty tough to make as good as the best decks, Twin because it really does need [card]Preordain[/card] and [card]Ponder[/card] and Affinity because [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] is still a Magic: the Gathering card, and that isn’t changing anytime soon.

The other two combo decks certainly have room for improvement, though I’m more hopeful of [card]Ad Nauseam[/card] than Storm. We were pretty close to nailing down a good Ad Naus list for Worlds, but ended up giving up after having too many speed/consistency issues. That being said, it is certainly something that could be solved, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I upgraded Ad Naus at some point during the season.

I would (obviously) not recommend you play these decks, given that you have access to the cards for the Tier 1 decks, at least until you put some serious work in. By all means, tune a perfect Ad Naus list and prove me wrong, but the current lists just aren’t as good as the Tier 1 decks. You should definitely be prepared to face these decks, since people will play them, but they aren’t the best possible choice in my opinion.

Tier 3 decks

Mono-black Vampires

That’s what I got for today, and I plan on doing more Modern content soon, as the PTQ season is fast approaching.


Sample hand:

From my draft deck in today’s video:

[draft]3 delver of secrets
Gnaw to the bone

And to make up for last week’s lack of a sample hand:

From a 4v4 draft deck I had yesterday:

[draft]bloodline keeper
Liliana of the veil
Woodland cemetery
2 dream twist
Murder of crows[/draft]


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