MagicFest Oakland MCQ Win with U/R Phoenix

I don’t travel to many events these days, but the first ever MagicFest was closer to my apartment than my office is, so it was a no-brainer.

When I woke up Sunday morning, I was on the verge of having a disastrous weekend in terms of winning (but I was still having fun at the event—I can handle losing). I went 3-2 in the Friday PTQ (technically an MCQ, but I’m old and I don’t like change) with Grixis Death’s Shadow. Then I went 3-2 drop in the Grand Prix with Grixis Death’s Shadow. Then I went 1-1 drop in the Saturday Sealed Deck PTQ with a bad deck. So at this point I’m like $200 in entry fees in and I have 100 prize wall tix to show for it. Not great.

I mentioned that I was still having fun, though. I got to see some friends from Southern California like Paul Herr, Phil Gonzalez, and Basil Nabi, who drove up at 11 p.m. the night before the Friday PTQ. Phil ordered a cold brew—no water—before the PTQ, which would stop my heart if I drank it but powered him to a PTQ Top 8. I got to hang out and talk Magic with Eric Vergo and Cyrus Corman-Gill. Whenever someone says that Legacy is dying I get a little bummed out, but five minutes talking to these guys (or a glance at Eric’s German foil Mercadian Masques Brainstorms) makes you realize that Legacy is going to outlive chess.

I felt like Death’s Shadow was a fine choice and still feel that way, but “fine” isn’t the same as best. My recommendation for those who want to try Grixis Death’s Shadow is to look at recent MTGO Challenge lists but make sure that you play four Leyline sideboard and two Faithless Looting main. 0-1 Looting is stock but the days of grinding people out in Modern are behind us for the time being. Every deck is combo. Play Faithless Looting. I would also play four Angler and one Tasigur. Looting both gets rid of extra threats and powers the other cards out faster. Play combo.

Okay, but how did I end up playing U/R Phoenix in the Sunday PTQ?

I went to dinner on Saturday night with Paul Rietzl (7-2 on Hardened Scales), Eric Vergo (dead with U/R Phoenix with four Swiftspear, losing to both Bogles and Trespasser’s Curse Combo), and Eli Kassis (8-0-1 on U/R Phoenix with Pyromancer Ascension). Eli said his deck felt favored vs. everything and that he and Eric could work on a few minor improvements on his GP deck. Well… he ended up winning the GP and I ended up winning the PTQ.

Here is the list I used to win the PTQ (credit to Eli Kassis for the list and Eric Vergo for some input on v1.1 of Eli’s GP deck):

U/R Phoenix

Here is a list of the decks I played against:

  • R1: Bant Spirits (Win, 1-0)
  • R2: UR Storm (Win, 2-0)
  • R3: BG Midrange (Win, 3-0)
  • R4: UR Reveler Phoenix (Win, 4-0)
  • R5: Tron (Win, 5-0)
  • R6: ID, (5-0-1)
  • Quarterfinals: UW Control (Win, 6-0-1)
  • Semifinals: Burn (Win, 7-0-1)
  • Finals: Bant Spirits (Win, 8-0-1)

I actually played pretty poorly in the Top 8. I was pretty tired and inexperienced with the deck (I picked it up cold—round 1 was my first ever game with it). Magic is hard, blah blah, but the deck was just so good that it didn’t end up mattering. Twice in the tournament I had two counters on Thing in the Ice, and a removal spell and a cantrip in hand. I cast the cantrip first, meaning the removal spell fizzled. Twice. I also didn’t think to cast instant-speed cantrips in between Faithless Looting copies when I had Ascension in play. I fetched the wrong land multiple times and scryed the wrong land once in a midgame where it cost me the win. And these were just a few of the mistakes that I or Eric noticed. I’m sure there were more.

The deck is super fun to play, even if it does take a little getting used to sequencing-wise. I think if you register for a Modern tournament right now without Ancient Stirrings or Faithless Looting in your deck that you are working too hard.

As for changes I would make to this deck: I would go +1 Lightning Axe -1 Flame Slash main, and +1 Disdainful Stroke -1 Threads of Disloyalty sideboard.

So, MagicFest actually was different than a GP—there were three PTQs and I won the 3rd one. If your goal is to qualify or just play Magic for 2-3 days straight, I recommend the MagicFest experience. Oh, and a note on the prize support for the PTQ: I got a ton of prize tix for my Swiss record and the loser of the finals got 6 boxes, the 3-4th finishers got 4 boxes, etc. So 2nd place was essentially eight boxes. Pretty good prize support as these things go. #sponsored #shill

Would I Ban Anything in Modern?

I recently had a “leave it alone” attitude. But we have to periodically re-evaluate as things do change. Part of me thinks that the introduction of Arclight Phoenix and the inability of the field to hate KCI down to a rare occurrence are pretty problematic for the diversity of the format. I think I would ban Ancient Stirrings and Faithless Looting. Mox Opal and Manamorphose are candidates, but I think those have more of the collateral damage you don’t want (fast artifact decks need the Opal, Storm needs the Manamorphose) and less of the collateral damage you do want (weakening Tron a little as you ban the best combo).

Another wrinkle is that Bant Spirits has just as much format share right now as U/R or KCI (and Aether Vial decks in total certainly rival Stirrings or Looting decks in total). Do we just leave Spirits and Humans alone? I think you would actually want a creature deck to be best if you got to choose, but will they be too strong? The cards that feature prominently in both Humans and Spirits are Aether Vial and Noble Hierarch, with Horizon Canopy in the mix in a less prominent role. Neither deck is reliant on these cards, but they get weaker if you ban one. I’d probably add Noble Hierarch to the watch list, but not ban any of these cards just yet. The way these things go, Stirrings being gone could easily make Jund best, in which case you wouldn’t want to weaken the creature decks. And I hate the idea of incidental hate on Infect, which is already struggling.

Bonus Old School 93/94 Content

Here is my deck list for the Winter Derby, an online paper-cards-over Skype worldwide event. It uses a rules set where Strip Mine is restricted and Fallen Empires is not allowed. I thought the lack of four Strips and any Hymn to Tourach in my opponent’s decks would greatly weaken aggro to the point where Sylvan Library would be a broken card, and also lend itself to an Ivory Tower strategy that Hymn couldn’t pick apart. And if they let you play Library of Alexandria in a format where Strip Mine is restricted, they’ve made an error and you should show them why.

Millstone is not just a dead win condition once you have 2+ Sylvan, as you can mill the bad cards and draw something powerful every turn to close out a mid-game. I’m 3-1 so far, as the event is still in progress. I think -1 Timetwister +1 Copy Artifact is one thing I would change. The Timetwister is fine—you can certainly have enough control to maintain it post-twister, but usually it’s just an escape hatch and a broken-opening hand enabler that doesn’t do quite enough.


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