The Diary of a Pro Player: Modern, Post-Bans

I lost my baby,
I lost my darling,
I lost my friends,
I lost my mind.

Gone. I felt lost and had no idea what to do when I heard the news. I wasn’t even locked on playing Twin at the Pro Tour, but it was my fall-back plan and now it’s gone. Not having a backup deck usually isn’t the end of the world for most players, but in my case, it is. I never settle on a deck in time.

But enough crying. Let’s take a look at some of my findings in Oath of the Gatewatch.

• Warping Wail is most likely too underwhelming for a format like Standard and Limited, but I have high hopes for Modern as I am looking for versatility. My first experience is cutting Pyroclasm out of Tron, a card that’s very good in some matchups, but too narrow for Warping Wail, a card that can be cast with almost every single land in the deck and that has utility against a wide variety of matchups. Unfortunately, the biggest upside was against Twin. With the bans, I think it’s correct to stay with Pyroclasm.

• At first glance, I thought that Stormchaser Mage was a flying Monastery Swiftspear—it had to be great! But after playing a few matches with it, I’m convinced that it’s not playable in Modern. The difference between 1 and 2 mana in a UR tempo/burn shell is huge. Not only does it fight with other cards in the 2-drop slot, of which you can only have up to 12 for your deck to work, it is also terrible when you don’t have a spell to pump it. 2 mana for 1 damage on turn 2 is bad, but it’s even worse later in the game. The same argument could be made for Monastery Swiftspear, but that 1 less mana allows you to cast something with it much more easily.

• Hissing Quagmire won’t be a 4-of in BG decks but will certainly see play as it’s great in mirrors at trading with Tarmogoyf, Tasigur, Siege Rhino, and more. It’s also better than Treetop Village since it’s a dual land.

• Wandering Fumarole got me hyped until I realized it died to Lightning Bolt. I would’ve run two in UR Twin if that weren’t the case (or not, since it’s banned).

Day 1 post-bannings. I made this extremely precise and methodical spreadsheet between two rounds of a local tournament. OK, this isn’t very thorough at all—even some of the matchups are wrong—but the goal was to find out what stood out in this new metagame. The archetypes pictured are those most played by percentage in the last two months. Some other strategies such as Bogles, Storm, and Merfolk may become more popular, but I needed a place to start.

For starters, Tron doesn’t beat Affinity. It did when people ran Galvanic Blast, Spellskite, and Etched Champion, but that isn’t the case anymore. Same for Burn. I initially wrote 50/50 against Affinity, but Affinity without Galvanic Blast and Etched Champion beats Burn.

When looking at deck popularity, matchups between the top 8-10 decks, and taking into account pre-ban lists, Tron, Affinity, and Burn are the clear three decks to beat, especially since two of their worst matchups were banned.

Level 0

This is level-0 of Modern going into the Pro Tour. Here are some of my assumptions to try to get one level ahead of the metagame.

Finding a deck that beats those three is fairly hard to achieve. Stony Silence comes to mind as a card that’s good against Tron and Affinity. Some sort of Delver deck could have a reasonable matchup against Tron and possibly have a 50/50 matchup against both Burn and Affinity. You could build Burn with 4 Lightning Helix and 4 Searing Blaze to get an edge against the mirror and possibly beat Affinity. You’ll still have a great matchup against Tron no matter what.

Jeskai control or midrange, if it’s built to have some quick ways to close the game (for example, Kiki combo), could beat Tron. Unfortunately, between Ulamog and Oblivion Stone, I doubt it’s easy to Kiki combo kill Tron players.

Level 1

Tron, Affinity, and Burn are all bad matchups for Jund, Abzan, and Eldrazi. I wouldn’t rule them out though because let’s be honest, there are far too many Jund and Abzan fans out there to give up that easily. Willy Edel, I’m looking at you.

None of my levels actually have Abzan completely ruled out—it’s too easy for them to adapt—I can’t believe it’ll ever be less than 15% of the field at a Pro Tour. Jund, on the other hand, has less impactful sideboard cards against the big three decks I’m referring to as the ones “to beat.” Without white, you lose effective life gain against Burn, and Stony Silence against Tron and Affinity.

I wouldn’t be surprised if no one plays Eldrazi at a Modern Pro Tour. People tend to play what they are comfortable with, and nobody can feel that way with the deck. It’s too new, has too many possible iterations, and the known and established lists of the deck have terrible matchups against the big three.

If you take Eldrazi out of the equation, graveyard decks such as Living End, Melira Company, and Storm become real deck choices, especially since those all have reasonable matchups against the expected enemy, even if Abzan is added to the mix.

In fact, at this point, unless you are a deck that’s cold to Stony Silence and gain life, it’s possible to take advantage of the Abzan build skewed toward beating the top 3 enemies—they’ll have less flexible disruption.

Level 2

If I rule out the decks I think are terrible (in general and at this point), I’d cut Eldrazi, Grixis, Merfolk, Jund, Scapeshift, Bogles, Grishoalbrand, and Storm. I know I said Storm could be okay in the field, but that’s just a theory—I think in practice, the deck is really bad.

I’m left with this metagame:

• Affinity
• Burn
• Tron
• Abzan
• Infect
• Living End
• Zoo
• Jeskai Midrange
• Delver
• Melira Company
• Elves Company
• Kiki Chord
• Hate Bears
• Lantern

This is where I’m at right now. I don’t particularly want to go deeper in levels as I fear I’ll wander too far from reality. I think any of these decks are viable, but they all come with the cost of giving up at least two matchups. Melira Company, for example, isn’t worth having 8 sideboard cards against Tron. I may beat them 40% of the time instead of 20%, but it’s still never going to be a favorite. I’d rather abandon the deck and aim at solving the ones I’m winning 45% of the time.

There is definitely room for brews. I tried a sweet Bring to Light Kiki-Jiki deck, but I don’t feel comfortable using brews just two weeks before an event, especially with such a wide array of matchups to test.

Infect is a deck that could be good in this format if tweaked properly. There are more ways to get through blockers such as Lingering Souls and pesky flying artifacts—Rancor and Distortion Strike comes to mind. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough knowledge about this strategy and so I am ruling it out right away.

Among those 14 decks, I am competent playing about half of them. I’ll be trying to master these in the remaining days before the Pro Tour.

Until then, wish me luck as I’ll be in Mexico City for the Grand Prix this weekend!

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