Having faith in humanity (even if you don’t win PPTQs) Axion Now Mega Modern 07/01/18

Hi All, another season of PPTQs has flown by, winter has come and I find myself for the first time in seven seasons without and RPTQ invite as of yet. I decided not to write about each one individually mostly because my work commitments have rendered my spare time much shorter than normal recently. In addition, I also didn’t want to plague readers with reams of ‘bad beats’ stories or match analysis of Energy mirror matches. Instead, I’ve decided to summarise as a season via the link below.

PPTQ Season review

From Colonnades to Caverns (Modern)

The RPTQ that took place this season was Modern, a format for which I’ve recently been at a bit of a loss at in terms of what to play. I played RG Scapeshift at GP Birmingham this year to a disappointing 5-4 finish learning that Storm and Ad Nauseum (and Burn when they are on the play) are very tough matchups for the deck, but I also didn’t play my best in a match against Counters Company/Knightfall.

I hadn’t really played much modern since the GP and I didn’t feel Scapeshift was in a great place as UR Storm, the unwinnable matchup was becoming a firm favourite for Modern. I was conscious to play a deck that didn’t just fold to Storm so I sleeved up UW control, which is always my ‘backup’ choice. If I’m honest, I played in the event quite half-heartedly. I didn’t feel like playing UW control, let alone Modern and was very conscious of this. I consequently kept some hands I probably shouldn’t have, as well as making some lazy plays leading me to a 2-4 finish. I left that tournament feeling that as my heart wasn’t in it at all, therefore there was no way on Earth that I could expect to have done well. I fell into the traps of letting the way I feel about the format and my deck choice get in the way of playing well. What I probably should have done is sleeved up this little number instead:

Maindeck (60)
Ancient Ziggurat
Cavern of Souls
Hallowed Fountain
Horizon Canopy
Temple Garden
Unclaimed Territory
Windswept Heath
Plains
Champion of the Parish
Kitesail Freebooter
Mantis Rider
Mayor of Avabruck
Meddling Mage
Noble Hierarch
Reflector Mage
Thalia’s Lieutenant
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Thalia, Heretic Cathar
Aether Vial
Sideboard (15)
Ethersworn Canonist
Fiend Hunter
Izzet Staticaster
Mirran Crusader
Reflector Mage
Tireless Tracker
Vithian Renegades
Xathrid Necromancer
Anafenza, the Foremost

It looked exciting and fun to play! ‘Humans’ has been a bit of a fringe (up to 1% of the metagame) archetype in modern for a while now, but it was recently popularised by Collins Mullen as he didn’t lose a match at the Star City Games Open in Cincinnati. Instead of playing Collected Company, it runs Aether Vial and adds Unclaimed Territory and Kitesail Freebooter from Ixalan. The deck looked very sweet so after my RPTQ woes, I decided I would give it a try.

I tried it out at a local Modern event and it was as fun as I thought it would be – possibly more fun! I feel a lot of my opponents were caught off guard and underestimated a deck comprised of 37 ‘pesky critters’. I split the finals with an Ad Nauseum deck but played a ‘friendly final’ in which my opponent smartly boarded enough removal for my hatebears in the sideboarded games.

Now I had faith in humanity, and also felt slightly more reassured that I could succeed in a Magic event. My next step was to get more practice with the deck as I was most likely going to try and play it at the Axion Now Mega Modern event for a top prize of a trip for 2 to any GP in the world in 2018!

 

A few words about the Axion Now ‘Mega’ event series

I’ve been to a few of these now and I can honestly say they’re always a great experience and definitely worth the drive down from Leeds. Francois Houchard and Liz Barnetson really are leading the way in the premier play experience for the UK outside of official Grand Prix events. Not only are the prizes great, but the events are professionally run, well attended and attract some of the UK’s strongest players. They also put on side events just in case the main event doesn’t go well from you, usually in the form of a rebound event, which, for £5 usually has a really good prize such as a high-value Masterpiece (Expedition/Invention). They also run the best Chaos drafts (that I know of) in the UK.

Learning to play 5 colour humans (having played Celestial Colonnade decks since 2011)

Here are some things I did to learn how to play this new deck:

A few words about MTG Grindcast

I’m quite the podcast listener. Work has required me to travel between Leeds and London a lot more recently and these have been a bit of a sanity saver during some of these long commutes. I would definitely recommend listening to this podcast by Chris Castro-Rappl and Collins Mullen if you’re into competitive Magic. I obviously started to listen because I thought it might contain some tips on how to play 5 Colour Humans in Modern (it does!) but even when the podcast wasn’t talking about the deck, I got to listen to some great discussions on a range of Magic topics. MTG Grindcast also interviews other players, they recently interviewed Stephen Murray following the World Magic Cup.

The Axion Now ‘Mega’ Modern event

I travelled down to the event with a few Leeds players including Andrew Devine, Dylan Smith as well as Alfie and Gaz. Some more of our fellow players from Leeds were already there having played in the Legacy event the day before. Magic Hall of famer Oliver Ruel was also in attendance. Apparently semi-retired from Magic he was looking to crush some of us mortals once again.

This is the list I settled on for the event

Maindeck (60)
Ancient Ziggurat
Cavern of Souls
Horizon Canopy
Seachrome Coast
Unclaimed Territory
Plains
Champion of the Parish
Noble Hierarch
Kitesail Freebooter
Meddling Mage
Phantasmal Image
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Thalia's Lieutenant
Mantis Rider
Reflector Mage
Thalia, Heretic Cathar
Aether Vial
Sideboard (15)
Grafdigger's Cage
Anafenza, the Foremost
Dismember
Izzet Staticaster
Mirran Crusader
Sin Collector
Vithian Renegades
Xathrid Necromancer
Riders of Gavony
Hostage Taker

You’ll see a slight shift from the first build. Some quick notes on card choices, mainly the ones that that differ slightly from the original build by Collins Mullen:

  • Horizon Canopy: One thing you don’t want to happen is ‘run out of gas’. Getting redraws from lands is key and means you don’t really have to run any (slower) ‘card advantage cards’ such as Tireless Tracker or Dark Confidant. If you draw multiples against Burn then you have to be careful, but the life loss is almost always irrelevant as in a high percentage of games you are aiming to beatdown much faster than your opponent.
  • Meddling Mage: Ok, this is a deck staple, but I wanted to get a few words across about this card. I think it is the hardest card to use in the deck and requires you to know a reasonable amount in terms of what your opponent’s strategy involves. Sometimes you get some help from Kitesail Freebooter’s ability and can name a card that they happen to have two copies of in their hand to squander their resources. When you don’t know their hand you have to read your opponent a bit, based on their deck, the current gameplan (what they want to cast against you), and maybe some tells from their lands or cards they have played so far in the game. I think this is one of the things to get good at if you want to succeed with the deck.
  • Phantasmal Image: Obviously bad if you can’t copy anything, but how many times have you heard your opponent say, “I could never beat your double X draw”, whether X is Thalia’s Lieutenant, Mantis Rider, Meddling Mage, Kitesail Freebooter, Phantasmal Image helps give you more of these kinds of draws your opponent ‘can never beat’. I decided it was worth dropping Mayor of Avabruck for this.
  • Dismember: The original list had a couple of Fiend Hunters in the sideboard, which continue the Human theme, but they aren’t very good at getting rid of the very early creatures such as Birds of Paradise, Noble Hierarch, or creature lands like Inkmoth Nexus. I’ve found this card to be a good upgrade to the Hunter as paying life is not much of an issue.
  • Sin Collector: I’ve really liked this innovation as something you can board in to replace Reflector Mage against combo decks that don’t really play any creatures, or control decks with Snapcaster Mage. While combo is a good matchup because you have a fast disruptive clock, don’t underestimate how much ‘anti-hatebear’ cards they might board in after game one. This card often doubles up against these as well as actual combo pieces if they haven’t yet drawn their removal. In addition, Jeskai Control is probably one of the toughest matchups at the moment so nabbing a key removal spell and denying the opponent the chance to rebuy it with Snapcaster Mage is going to give you some help there.
  • Riders of Gavony: Just in case I played the mirror match! It’s also effective against any other tribal deck as you can just name Elf, Merfolk, Goblin etc.

Here’s a quick account of my matches:

Round 1 – vs Lantern Control

  • Game 1: My opponent discards away my pressure and lands an Ensnaring Bridge. Due to them being at such a high life total with no Noble Hierarchs to be seen, it’s not worth playing this game out as I don’t have a way to get rid of the Bridge.
  • Game 2: I curve out very quickly and prevent my opponent from getting Bridge into play
  • Game 3: I curve out well and deploy the Meddling Mages preventing my opponent from playing Ensnaring Bridge, Whir of Invention and a Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas which I know to be in his hand. Unfortunately, my opponent draws into Pyrite Spellbomb, which kills off the Mage naming ‘Ensnaring Bridge’, then the Bridge itself. Fortunately, I can still try and finish off my opponent in four turns with a 1 power Exalted creature as my opponent can’t get rid of the Tezzeret in his hand. I manage to win before my opponent can draw his outs.

1-0

Round 2 – vs Bant Spirits

  • Game 1: My opponent amasses a spiritual team of Selfless Spirit, Geist of Saint Traft and Drogskol Captain. Fortunately, I play four Mantis Riders (2 Phantasmal Images) and win the race handily.
  • Game 2: I Dismember my opponent’s Noble Hierarch and then quickly put him on the backfoot with large humans. He’s in chump block mode from turn 4 and loses a couple of turns later

2-0

Round 3 – vs Burn

  • Game 1: Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and her Lieutenant cause efficiency problems for my opponent as they can only cast one spell a turn. I play spells into my opponent’s Eidolon of the Great Revel because putting them on the backfoot is far more important than a few points of damage and secure the win.
  • Game 2: Keep a 1 lander with 3 one drops but unfortunately my opponent deals with them via Searing Blaze and Searing Blood, I also don’t draw any lands until about turn four or five and by the time I’m playing spells again I’m only at 4 life.
  • Game 3: Unfolds very similarly to Game 1.

3-0

Round 4 vs Affinity

  • Game 1: My opponent mulligans to 5 and his hand isn’t able to keep up with a turn 2 Mantis Rider
  • Game 2: Again, my opponent mulligans to 5, spews out 2 Etched Champions, but luckily for me 2 Mantis Riders is faster, especially if you have a Meddling Mage naming Cranial Plating.

Affinity is actually quite a bad matchup for humans, so I got lucky – or rather, my opponent’s bad luck allowed me to win this one. They can normally race you fairly easily with Cranial Plating, especially if equipped to a Vault Skirge.

4-0

Round 5 vs RB Grishoalbrand

  • Game 1: My opponent mulligans and accelerates out a Pentad Prism on turn one with Simian Spirit Guide, luckily, Thalia and a fast clock is enough to prevent him doing anything else of relevance.
  • Game 2: As the first game was so quick, I wrongly assumed my opponent was on Ad Nauseum and sideboarded a bit incorrectly (didn’t board in Grafdigger’s Cage). It was a bit of a shock to the system seeing a hand of Griselbrand, and multiple Goryo’s Vengeance. I nonetheless had a very fast, disruptive clock and was able to defeat my opponent before they drew into a way to get Griselbrand into play.

5-0

Round 6 vs Abzan

  • Game 1: I mulligan to 6, she mulligans to 5. I keep a 1 lander with 2 one drops and 3 2 drops but draw nothing but 3 drops. My opponent also only has one land, but multiple Fatal Push so it’s a bit of a slug-fest. I draw my second land eventually and manage to sneak enough damage in before any super relevant spells show up on my opponent’s side of the battlefield.
  • Game 2: I have a more grindy draw and am surprised my opponent has left in discard spells. I force a race between a 5/6 Tarmogoyf and Xathid Necromancer and friends, but, eventually, my opponent is able to Fatal Push my Meddling Mage naming Siege Rhino, cast one and swing the game her way.
  • Game 3: This game is all over the place, I get my board cleared by tons of removal, including Flaying Tendrils. Then my opponent plays multiple Kitchen Finks and Lingering Souls leaving a lot of heavy lifting to be done by my Mantis Rider. Both of us draw a lot of lands and every time I draw a mediocre human to pull ahead slightly, a removal spell or more blockers come to slow me down. I eventually end up being two damage short after extra turns.

5-0-1

Round 7 vs Temur Moon

  • Game 1: I open aggressively and have the Reflector Mage to deal with his Tarmogoyf. My opponent tries to stabilise with Tireless Tracker, but too much damage has already been dealt
  • Game 2: I again, open with another fast draw dealing some early damage. My opponent manages to wipe my board twice with two copies of Anger of the Gods and threatens a third cleanse with Engineered Explosives on ‘two’. When the dust settles, however, I’m able to mop up with Mantis Rider and Phantasmal Image.

6-0-1

Round 8 vs Jeskai Control

Thankfully, Roberto is happy to ID. The matchup is quite favoured for him, so it makes sense for him to want my deck to be in the Top 8 as if we play, he is a more likely to win.

6-0-2

Top 8

I ended up in 8th place which means three matches on the draw. Roberto and Andy are also in the Top 8. A record of 6-1-1 was not enough to make it in and unfortunately, Gaz and Dylan end up 9th and 10th

The Top 8 also included Grixis Death’s Shadow, Grishoalbrand, Affinity, Jeskai Tempo, Jeskai Control, Jeskai Control/Breach and Lantern Control. 

Quarterfinals vs Grixis Death Shadow

  • Game 1: My opponent deals with my Aether Vial and small creatures with multiple Kolaghan’s Command and Fatal Push, but doesn’t actually clock me with Death’s Shadow or Delve Threats. Having done a lot of damage to himself with lands, a couple of Reflector Mages (embarrassingly on his Snapcaster Mages) and a single Mantis Rider are enough to get the job done.
  • Game 2: I keep a hand that’s going to be able to withstand waves of removal, but I need to draw a third land to play three of my creatures. I don’t for a while, but again my opponent doesn’t come out of the gates very quickly. Discard allows him to play around the Dismember in my hand, only deploying the Shadow when it’s 6+ toughness, but all this does is buy me the time to eventually draw my third land and start casting Reflector Mages to finish the job.

Semifinals vs Jeskai Tempo

  • Game 1: I don’t actually know my opponent is on the tempo version with Spell Queller at this point so my strategy for the first game is to try and beat down as quickly as possible before the removal engine takes over. I think the key play of the game is definitely my turn two Meddling Mage. In response to me casting it, my opponent plays Lightning Helix (which I would have actually named if he had let the Mage resolve) on my Champion of the Parish. With the Helix already played, I decide that a Snapcaster Mage is actually a bit worse for me as it can rebuy the Helix and provide a blocker (I won’t be killing him before turn 4 anymore because of that Helix). A Kitesail Freebooter on turn three reveals a hand with multiple Snapcaster Mages and some fairly useless counterspells so I crash in for damage hoping my opponent can’t find what they need with Search for Azcanta. They don’t.
  • Game 2: I manage to disrupt my opponent quite well with multiple Kitesail Freebooters, but once my opponent gets Celestial Colonnade online, I can’t really attack with the pirates. Unfortunately, I draw all four copies of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben which means I can’t really add to the board, going wide or tall past the Colonnade as my creatures are too small. My opponent is then able to take control of the game and burn me out before I draw Thalia’s Lieutenant.
  • Game 3: I keep what I believe to be a great hand as long as my opponent can’t curve removal spells. T1, Champion, T2 Thalia, T3 2nd Champion and Lieutenant, followed up by Sin Collectors and Kitesail Freebooters means my opponent can’t really ever get into the game.

Final vs Jeskai Control

I’m matched against Roberto again, a friend, but a tough opponent and armed with what is probably my toughest matchup.

  • Game 1: It’s almost a case of Déjà vu where my Champion of the Parish is removed with Path to Exile in response to my turn 2 Meddling Mage. Lightning Helix is actually something I could name, but judging the time my opponent took to cast Path, and the fact that Helix wasn’t actually played (I think if my opponent had both, they would probably use the Helix) I again name Snapcaster Mage as I think he is more likely to have this card in his hand (plus it rebuys the Path and blocks). I then just try to implement my plan of trying to finish off my opponent before Supreme Verdict happens. It works (over the next 3 turns) and my opponent was, in fact, holding Snapcaster Mage the whole game (and some useless blue spells).
  • Game 2: My hand is again quite good, I have a Kitesail Freebooter and multiple Phantasmal Image as well as Aether Vial which will let me deploy them quickly and some at instant speed. I play the Freebooter on turn 2 and my opponent has kept a hand that is light on early interaction (only a single Path to Exile, which I take) but includes Supreme Verdict and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. I then keep cloning the Freebooter in my opponent’s draw steps to control their draws and take any new relevant cards. Annoyingly, my opponent draws Anger of the Gods in addition to the Verdict so I just have to devote almost all my resources to making sure that these cards cannot be cast. An interaction comes up where my opponent’s ideal play is to use Cryptic Command to bounce my cloned Kitesail Freebooter (releasing a sweeper) and tapping my team so it can’t attack this turn preventing about 7 damage. However because the Phantasmal Image will die due to being targeted, the Cryptic Command will be countered due to no more legal targets and I will get to attack. With a vice-grip on my opponent who can’t make use of their removal spells at such low life, I secure victory in a couple of turns because they don’t have enough lands to effectively deal with the Freebooters and get their sweeper back to stabilise.

I had won, my faith in humanity had paid off! I’m really pleased to have won this event, but I currently have no idea which Grand Prix I will go to. I don’t really mind which format or location, but I think it’s a good opportunity to see a bit of a country I’ve not yet been to. We shall see!

One quick reflection I’d like to share is that in a lot of my games, I sensed an element of my opponent underestimating exactly what my deck can do. Whether it was the speed at which the deck can put on pressure, the size at which Champion of the Parish can become very quickly, the amount of disruption or how clever/lucky I could be with Meddling Mage, opponents seemed unprepared at times. Until people realize that the deck isn’t just a pile of silly creatures, it may continue to be underestimated.

I’d like to issue a big thanks as follows:

  • To Francois, Liz and the Axion team for putting on an excellent weekend of events once again
  • To the Judges and Scorekeepers for giving up their time to facilitate the event
  • To everyone who helped me prepare for the event. This includes the content creators who inspire me, people who have helped me test through practice games, or even just by talking through things online or other events. Without a great network of support and like-minded players who are willing to help each other, I’d be a lot worse off.
  • To the Leeds players for the comradery. Rooting for each other, sharing jokes even just chilling out between rounds as a group made the event even more fun. The fact that across the team we placed had five players reaching 1st, 2nd, 5th-8th, 9th and 10th was a big success for us as a group.
  • To Gaz for doing all the driving and Andrew Devine for lending me a Cavern of Souls and entertaining stories during the drive to/from!

I’m already paying attention to which cards in Rivals of Ixalan have the creature type ‘Human’ just in case something relevant to this deck comes along. However, I’m sure we’re all now turning our attention to the new set release and Limited format.  I’m hoping to get some practice in before I hit GP London at the end of the month!

 

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