I’ve never been a fan of Modern—as my regular readers already know. I wasn’t hyped at all for this Pro Tour, and I was kind of locked on Burn just after Grand Prix Madrid last December, having spent all my time after that focusing on my last university exam.
The exam went well, and right after that I started my Limited preparation, which consisted of roughly 20 MTGO Drafts and 10 Sealed Leagues.
I ended up changing my mind because I thought that Burn was too much of a target and easy to fight, whereas Humans, a similar aggressive strategy, was much harder to attack and had game against any deck thanks to its disruptive elements, along with its very fast starts.
I arrived in Bilbao and we had booked a wonderful mansion in the middle of the woods 30 minutes away from the location. Here are some pictures by professional photographer Tomoharu Saito.
While I had two decks in mind, my team remained open to many more options.
Jeremy Dezani was a fan of this strategy and eventually convinced Raphael Levy, Tomoharu Saito, and Lee Shi Tian to play the deck. It looked good on paper versus the most popular archetypes (Humans, Affinity, Death’s Shadow), but I knew that I would never play it because of the Brad Nelson Rule: Never play control at the Pro Tour—it’s always better to play a proactive deck in an unknown metagame.
They did fine, but not great. Lee Shi Tian started with a 5-0 in Constructed on Day 1, but followed it up with a 1-3-1 on Day 2. Raph and Saito had similar results, but Jeremy failed to advance to Day 2.
Affinity and Bogles
My good friend Calcano was locked on Affinity after Madrid, but I never liked the deck—it’s disadvantaged in every matchup post-sideboard. It wasn’t even that great against Humans. We saw that in testing and confirmed it at the Pro Tour, as both Javier and I had positive records against it.
Luckily, we managed to convince Calc to change his deck choice, and he ended up choosing to play Bogles the day before the Pro Tour as he wasn’t confident with Humans. As awful as Bogles might seem, the format of the Pro Tour was Modern, and as Ken Yukiro said, “In Modern, it’s better not to play Magic to win.” Calc ended up losing the last two rounds and ended up with a 10-6 record, going 6-4 with the deck.
Grixis Death Shadow
If you read my article, you know I hate this archetype. Eduardo decided to stick to his pet deck, as most players did at this Pro Tour, adding 4 Mishra’s Bauble and removing 3 lands. As he said, what he played was a very good version of a bad deck, and I can’t agree more. Eduardo finished 10-6 as well.
Zen Takahashi is the Dredge master, having made two GP Top 8s with this archetype and winning an RPTQ online for this Pro Tour with the deck. Despite Dredge looking awful in this metagame, because of the lack of midrange decks, Zen chose to stick with his pet deck and ended up doing very poorly with it. On the bright side, Zen is a very good roommate. He doesn’t snore, he’s very nice and funny, and whenever I room with him I finish 11-5+.
This was the scariest deck at the Pro Tour. Everybody was ready for it, but didn’t turn out in big numbers, mainly because of its bad matchup versus the most played deck: Humans.
Jason Chung didn’t playtest at all for this Pro Tour, and showed up on Thursday with his pet deck: Storm. He went 8-2 with it, but proceeded to do very poorly in Draft, which usually happens when you do 0 Drafts prior to an event.
Simon Nielsen Top 8’d GP Copenhaghen with Valakut, and is a long-time lover of the deck. Despite this, he decided against playing TitanShift, mainly because of its terrible matchup versus U/W Control and Burn, and unexciting matchup versus Humans. Therefore, he joined the Humans train, going 10-6.
Javier Dominguez spent more than a month on this deck, despite having medium/bad results on MTGO with it and everyone telling him how badly it was positioned. He thought that sticking to his pet deck was more important than playing a better deck. I thought the opposite.
B/G/x had bad matchups across the format, from Burn to Humans to Dredge to Tron—you’ll sit down and almost always be unfavored in the pairings lottery that is Modern.
Just a few days before the PT, after getting beaten hard in playtesting, he decided to quit and join the Humans train!
It might sound like I’m making fun, but that’s what Kelvin Chew played. He is a Collected Company and Knight of the Reliquary aficionado and didn’t want to abandon them for any reason. But he decided to play black over blue, and included Kitesail Freebooter and Tidehollow Sculler over Spell Queller and Reflector Mage.
This deck sounds awful, right? Yeah, it was.
Despite Kelvin being one of the best players in the game, he finished with a crisp 8-8.
Tron and R/B Hollow One
Seeing great players such as Yuuya Watanabe, Jon Finkel, Owen Turtenwald, Shota Yasooka, and Ken Yukiro playing these decks is a signal that Modern shouldn’t be a PT format. I want pro players to play skill-intensive decks, make great decisions, and win thanks to their skills. Not roll dice and draw Tron lands, and cast overcosted cards for free.
No member of our teams ever considered these two decks.
Burn was my second choice. Though it seems mindless, it generated some cool games against Humans, which was the matchup we tested the most. It was important for Burn to stick a creature, since you usually use your Bolts as removal. Only red affictionado Yam Wing Chun (a.k.a. Yammy) decided to play the deck. He went 1-4, failing to make Day 2.
As I often do, whenever I find a deck that I like, I try to convince other people that it’s good. This is how I managed to convince Javier to abandon B/G/x and join the Humans bandwagon, where Simon, Hao Shang Huang, and I were happily staying.
The deck was strong. It had a turn-4 kill—a requirement Lee Shi Tian had for every Modern deck (despite choosing to play U/W Control)—it had many disruptive elements, good matchups versus top decks, and it was hard to attack directly—it had no matchup to be scared of.
Humans was the perfect deck for the Pro Tour—a solid choice where you couldn’t really go wrong.
Andrea Mengucci, 8th place at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan
This is just a Pro Tour report, so I won’t go in depth with a deck building and sideboard guide—that will come along next week, so stay tuned! Despite a mediocre record in Modern—I went 6-4—what carried me to the Top 8 was my Draft performance: a sterling 6-0.
Again, this won’t be the place where I’ll tell you how to draft B/W Chickens and Dogs, so stay tuned for that Limited article as well!
I’ll just go ahead and say that Calc broke it again. We realized that Snubhorn Sentry (Doggo) was great after a few days, but the Sun-Crested Pterodon (Chicken) wasn’t a staple until the week before the PT.
Calc started playing the card in every control deck, splashing it in B/G, U/B, and R/B, and the climax came when Calc won both the house Drafts we did with two copies of the card each time.
This is how I got to 6-0 at the Pro Tour, by taking every Chicken and every Doggo I saw and ending up with two great black-white decks with excellent removal and a great defense and offense.
The first pod was tough. I had many notable names at the table: Jon Finkel, Brad Nelson, and Paul Dean, as well as 2 Hadana’s Climb. My deck was great though, so I managed to 3-0 the pod without losing a single game.
The Constructed rounds started off with a nice mirror match where I managed to win thanks to Phantasmal Image copying my opponent’s tech: Lantern Scout—just a reminder of how those cards (Hostage Taker, Riders of Gavony) don’t really work in the mirror because of 4 Phantasmal Image.
I then picked up a quick loss versus 4-Color Shadow where I flooded badly and my deck didn’t function.
I managed to beat Burn and U/W Control 2-0 and finally lost the last round to a fellow Italian and his B/G Midrange deck. The matchup is good, but again, Humans is a high-variance deck, and some games you die without playing much and sometimes you nut draw them on turn 4.
Pod 2 was much easier than the first one. I didn’t recognize anyone other than Edgar Magallanes, who was passing to me. He shipped me P1p2 Moment of Craving and P1p3 Forerunner of the Legion, and at that point I knew that we would happily split B/W Vamps and U/G Merfolks, commonly known as the two best archetypes.
After two quick rounds, we met in the finals where I died in game 1 to Deeproot Elite into turn-3 Kumena. His deck fell a apart for games 2 and 3. He mulliganed, and never curved out nearly as well as he did in the first game. After game 3, he showed me what his black splash was for: Vraska, Relic Seeker.
The Modern rounds started with good old Eldrazi Tron in round 12.
I won the first game because it turns out that if you tap three lands on turn 3 to play a Matter Reshaper, you usually lose that game against any normal Modern deck. Games 2 and 3 his deck responded much better, and in pure Tron style Liu Yuchen drew back-to-back Urza’s Mine and Urza’s Tower without manipulation to carry Walking Ballista to victory in game 2 and just demolished me game 3 with a sweet turn-3 Tron.
Rounda 13 and 14, I defeated R/G Valakut and Jund Death Shadow. In those rounds, the deck just gave me everything, granting three turn-4 kills in five games.
Round 15 was a win-and-in as I was sitting at 11-3, ready to win and draw in the last round. Unfortunately, when I sat down, I saw in front of me my teammate Javier Dominguez, who had the same record, and after getting 9th place twice he really wanted to reach his first Pro Tour Top 8. The mirror match is just nonsense—Javier drew better and quickly dispatched me.
I was sad for myself, but truly happy for him. I went for a hug after the hand shake—he deserved it.
After seeing the standings for round 15, I was the first player at 33 points, which put me in a great position to Top 8, but in order to do so I had to win my next round. I happened to be up against Greek Makis Matsukatis. I knew that Makis was on Affinity since Javier defeated him the day before, but I also knew that Affinity isn’t a fantastic matchup for Humans.
Game 1 I was on the play and managed to win the game at exactly 1 life. The game was intense and full of very close choices. I started with Noble Hierarch into Champion plus Hierarch and failed to ever draw a second land or a Vial, but still got there! Game 2 Makis started with the same five permanents he had in game 1, but didn’t follow it up with a Cranial Plating.
I had more time to react, and even drew Kataki for the victory.
On the internet, I read the usual unkind words toward anyone whenever there’s a judge call at the table, as I moved a card from the top of the deck to the table without seeing it, then stopped and asked the judge which phase I was in. He confirmed that I was in upkeep, so I paid for the Vial with Kataki, choosing to keep only the one on 3 since I had Reflector Mage in hand and didn’t want to lose life for Horizon Canopy to pay for the other Vial.
I was 12-4, and had to wait for the Top 8 announcement as I knew that exactly one player would have made it in with that score. Finkel defeated Tai Yun Hao, who was second to me in ratings, and this was great news as Finkel had a way bigger rating gap than me. Some minutes later this happened:
I was in the Top 8 of a Pro Tour! For the third time!
After filling out the result slip, my head was exploding, and I went home and immediately went to sleep at around 9. I would have loved to playtest for the quarterfinals against Pascal Vieren, but I just couldn’t. I woke up multiple times at night, and I heard my teammates playtesting in the dining room. They did in fact play both mine and Javier’s match extensively, and had plans ready for us.
I can’t express how grateful I am to them—they are the best team I’ve ever had and a second home.
The matchup versus Pascal was tough. He had lots of removal and Thing in the Ice was very annoying, but Humans is a busted deck, so I could just get some of those draws and get there!
Game 1 I mulliganed to 6 and had a turn-1 Aether Vial, the key card in the matchup. Pascal had his singleton of Abrade, which was brutal. I never drew a third land and just played a bunch of slow 2-drops and died to Young Pyromancer and Snapcaster Mage.
Game 2 we were still battling pre-board, and I mulliganed again. I kept a one-lander (Cavern of Souls) on the play, scryed to the bottom, and failed to ever draw a second land.
I started deploying those, and kept my opponent from casting any removal. I was in a very good spot, and when Pascal had 2 Ancestral Visions suspended, one with 2, one with 4 counters, I chose to play Meddling Mage on Lightning Bolt, as he had played 0 so far and just scryed to the top with Serum Visions. I knew one card out of two from his hand and he didn’t have double-red to cast the Anger of the Gods that he had two copies of in the sideboard.
I had a two-turn clock if I attacked with all of my creatures, so I could win the game before Pascal could resolve his first Ancestral Visions. Unfortunately, he drew his only out to kill my 3/3 Meddling Mage, who was naming Cryptic Command, as he played the third copy of Opt and managed to triple-block with Elementals and kill my Mage, going down to 5.
The window slowly closed, and as soon as he drew three cards I knew that I only had a few turns before the end. I drew three lands and that was it. I was defeated 3-0.
I had some great games and played some great Magic throughout the weekend. I’m really proud of my result and I’m proud of my team—we’re currently 5th in the Team Series race!
Thanks to everyone for the support. I will be back with a Humans deck guide next week, a Limited article in two weeks, and of course plenty of Legacy videos!