Last Weekend’s PPTQs and why you should Mulligan more in Modern

Last weekend I attended two more Modern PPTQs to try and qualify for the RPTQ. Unfortunately my results weren’t very good but, in this article, rather than recount ‘bad beats’ stories, I’m going to talk more about something I hinted at in my previous article and that is the importance of mulliganing in Modern. For completeness I’ll recount the event quickly before diving into this topic.

Saturday PPTQ (IQ Gaming Huddersfield)

My deck

I didn’t make many changes from the last event except in moving more Militia Buglers into the maindeck which freed up a bit of sideboard space as I wanted to try out Gaddock Teeg in the 75.

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
Militia Bugler
Reflector Mage
Aether Vial
Sideboard (15)
Fourth Bridge Prowler
Auriok Champion
Kataki, War’s Wage
Izzet Staticaster
Gaddock Teeg
Reflector Mage
Reclamation Sage
Sin Collector

The event

This was very well attended, about 50 players showed up to try and secure the RPTQ invite. Meaning six rounds and a cut to Top 8. I travelled with Matt Duggan and Tommy Hayward, on Mardu and Esper Control respectively. We also met up with various Leeds players at the event including Rob Catton, Alfie Bennett and Alex Roebuck.

The matches

  • Round 1 vs Tron – WIN 2-1
  • Round 2 vs Infect – LOSS 0-2
  • Round 3 vs RW Taxes – WIN 2-0
  • Round 4 vs Mardu – LOSS 0-2
  • Round 5 vs Tron – LOSS -1-2
  • Round 6 vs Storm – WIN 2-0

Obviously my middling 3-3 finish was nowhere near good enough to make Top 8. Here are some of the learning points from the event.

  • Round 2 vs Infect: I forgot completely about Spellskite and didn’t sideboard in both Reclamation Sages. Using Aether Vial to put a Reclamation Sage into play to hit an animated Inkmoth Nexus felt tough to set up so I only boarded one in as a hedge. In game two I mulliganed quite aggressively to make sure I could tussle with a turn two Blighted Agent and my Izzet Staticaster dream was undone by the Spellskite’s presence.
  • Round 5 vs Tron: I got supremely punished by not playing Gaddock Teeg the turn before my opponent played an Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. The reason I didn’t play it is because I was keen to be mana efficient and get ‘value’ from a Noble Hierarch that was inevitably dying from an Oblivion Stone activation, but this resulted in me not being able to cast Gaddock as I needed the Horizon Canopy to do this!

Tommy and Rob made top 8 and Rob ended up taking down the event with Krark Clan Ironworks combo. I think this deck is very powerful and few are prepared to play against it. Unfortunately I do not at all enjoy playing combo decks, but the temptation to try and break this mould could be there.

Sunday PPTQ (Tau Gaming, Scarborough)

My deck

  • Maindeck changes: -1 Reflector Mage, -1 Seachrome Coast, +1 Phantasmal Image, +1 Island
  • Sideboard changes: -1 Fourth Bridge Prowler, -1 Reflector Mage, +1 Gut Shot, +1 Direfleet Daredevil

For this event, I’m trying out mainly the second basic land and I decided I wanted an additional slot against Mardu, Jeskai and UW control. The Daredevil can turn cards like Collective BrutalityLingering Souls and Kolaghan’s Command against Mardu. The thinking behind using it against Jeskai and UW is from the idea that they always board in Lyra Dawnbringer or Baneslayer Angel against humans. Leaving in Reflector Mage is not great against them, but the Daredevil can allow you to use their ‘answer cards’ against it should it show up or just apply pressure stealing some value from them.

The event

This event sold out even though it was capped at 34 players. I think there were a couple of no-shows on the day so it ended up being five rounds with a cut to Top 8. I travelled with Alex Roebuck, Tommy Hayward and Matt Duggan Alex was playing the Krark Clan Ironworks combo deck, Tommy and Matt stuck to their guns. We also met fellow Leeds players Laurence Arnelll and John Ingham at the event.

The matches

  • Round 1 vs Bant control – WIN 2-0
  • Round 2 vs Mardu – LOSS 0-2
  • Round 3 vs Mono Red Prison – LOSS 0-2
  • Round 4 vs Tron – WIN 2-1
  • Round 5 vs Affinity – WIN 2-1

Again, 3-2 would not be enough for Top 8. Here are some of the learning points from the event:

  • I thought Mardu was likely my worst matchup, but I have no idea how I am supposed to beat the Mono Red Prison deck I played in Round 3. Fighting through cards like Torpor Orb, Ensnaring Bridge, Blood Moon, Anger of the Gods and multiple Planeswalkers leaves me with limited options other than try and employ quick beatdown and hope Anger of the Gods doesn’t show up. Both games I opened with Turn 1 Noble, Turn 2 Champion plus Lieutenant but in both of those games my opponent was able to power out Anger of the Gods on turn two (Between Desperate Ritual, Gemstone Caverns and Simian Spirit Guide the deck has a few ways to do this). I clearly needed my 2 drop to be either Meddling Mage or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben for this scenario. This is the first time I’ve encountered the deck in an event.

Tommy, Alex, Matt and Laurence all make Top 8 and Matt took down the event with his trusty Mardu!

I’m not doing so well this season, let’s hope it’s not as bad as the nightmare from three season ago where I had to win the Last Chance Qualifier to get to the RPTQ!

Metagaming in Modern

Many people ask me ‘what the Modern Metagame looks like’ with the intent of figuring out how to play the metagame and pick a deck that is well positioned for their next PPTQ. The advice I always give them is probably a bit different to what they are expecting. I impart three main things:

  • Let them know what is currently considered Tier one (according to Premier live and online events e.g. Grand Prix and MTGO PTQ etc): This is pretty easy as I can direct them to a page like MTG Top 8 or MTG Goldfish, mines of information clearly indicating what types of decks have put up results at these types of events. This information encompasses large sample sizes as it captures information from a lot of events, some of which are attended by thousands of players.
  • Warn them that the ‘metagame’ at local events is much flatter: While there is information out there on what’s happening at Premier-level play across the world, your local scene is likely to not be reflective of this. For many players, building a Modern deck can be expensive, and many people only have one deck. This means that the Grixis Death’s Shadow deck that someone may have bought just over a year ago (when it definitely was Tier 1 and the most popular deck) is potentially their best option for the PPTQ next weekend. In short, in Modern, the metagame is very slow to adapt compared with the Premier-level metagame. It’s much better to assume people will just bring anything to the tournament and not venture too far down the ‘relative metagame position’ rabbit hole.
  • Play what you know and enjoy: Point two is very important. I am a strong advocate that it’s pretty much impossible to reliably ‘metagame’ a local modern event. In this sense, you may as well just play a deck you enjoy playing and know the interactions of very well. I’m not sure how cyclical this step is with the previous one but I think it’s dangerous to play a deck that you don’t know very well just because you think it has a slightly better metagame position in consideration of what you expect to show up.

Now onto why starting a game of Modern with fewer than seven cards in your hand isn’t such a bad thing.

Mulliganing in Modern

Mulliganing in Magic is commonly seen as a purely negative thing, but I’m sure every player, at some stage, has made a ‘risky keep’ that did not work out very well and then wished they had mulliganed. I certainly have! As you can likely guess, my words on the subject are about to go further than this. I want to raise the importance of disciplined mulliganing because it applies particularly for playing most decks in Modern.

While I didn’t waste any mental energy during the tournament on it, reflecting on the weekend’s games, I won rounds one and three on Sunday off four mulligans to five card hands – and some of the six or seven card hands I shipped back had spells and the lands to play them. This means it wasn’t just ‘bad luck’ that I had unkeepable hands, more that I consciously decided that my chances of winning the game were higher if I had a completely different hand, realising there’s a risk I get a ‘worse’ hand.

The message here is that when playing most Modern decks you should set the bar quite high for what you are prepared to accept as a ‘keepable hand’ beyond spells and the lands to cast them. Modern decks are pretty busted – at least when they are ‘doing their thing’ and operating as intended. I’m becoming more and more mindful that a lot of the time, the seventh card in the opening hand is often a ‘luxury’ and that its more important to make sure you have the right cards to implement your strategy over a sheer number of cards. How many times have you achieved that ‘nut draw’ and completely flattened your opponent AND not had to play the last card in your hand?

By the same token, your opponent will probably be doing some powerful stuff, so if it’s game two or you know what your opponent is playing, having access to the cards in your deck that stop that plan, (or go faster than it) is often more important than having a higher number cards.

I will concede that if you’re playing a reactive control deck like Jeskai or White/blue control things are different. These decks need to keep hitting land drops and play the ‘right’ spells during the game to stop what the opponent is doing and you won’t know what the right spells are in the dark. (My friend Rob Catton wrote a good article for Axion Now about playing blue control decks in modern and expands on this by explaining why it’s important to be drawing the ‘right part of your deck’ in different matchups) The theory applies a bit more for the sideboarded games where you want to make sure you have a good hand that stops your opponents plan, not a generic opener that has a lot of cards and can cast its spells. In short, you can’t set the bar as high as you would with more proactive decks but it should still be considered.

Mulliganing with 5c Humans

In my previous article I provided a couple of examples of mulliganing situations that came up from a previous event playing the 5 Colour Humans deck. As it’s the deck with which I’m most experienced, and the deck that’s forced the hand on improving my mulliganing skills. I’m going to use several examples from this deck to contextualise what I’ve just said more generally about mulliganing. If you’re playing the Humans deck, consider this ‘tips for your deck’ if you’re not, maybe it’ll provide you with some insights on what is important to the deck so you can understand it more for playing against it. But first, another Keep or Mull question for you.

On the play against Affinity (game three)

Unclaimed Territory, Cavern of Souls, Cavern of Souls, Kataki, War’s Wage, Reflector Mage, Island, Mantis Rider.

Would you would keep or mulligan this hand? I’ll let you know what I did in my next article. (Some of the pointers in the section below may help you determine what I might have done).

One drops

A huge priority for me is to have the potential for an explosive start. The main way the deck wins is through quick application of pressure peppered by some disruptive elements. Not having a turn one play negatively impacts this plan quite a lot. Noble Hierarch and Aether Vial allow you to deploy multiple threats over the next few turns and Champion of the Parish IS the creature that applies the most damage when left unchecked. I would go as far as mulliganing almost every seven card hand in the dark that did not contain at least one of these turn one plays, particularly in the dark. The only exception I’ve been amenable to is a turn 2 Thalia on the play (but not on the draw) and with good plays on turn three. Thalia can delay/prevent a lot of potential 2 drops and 3 drops from the opponent and cannot be hit immediately by removal with CMC 1 that your opponent might be holding up on turn one ready for your 2 drop (e.g. Lightning Bolt, Fatal Push, Path the Exile). In pretty much all other cases, going to 6 to find a one drop is going to give you a better chance to win than keeping a slow hand with plenty of spells.

Four lands including a one drop

Five is too many, three is ideal. The tension lies where you have an opener with a one drop and four lands and do not know what your opponent is playing. Some of these hands I would mulligan and some I would not. I’m not going to go through every possible hand but here are the important factors to consider.

  • Are your spells one drop, two drop, Mantis Rider? I think it’s defensible to keep this hand, even though there’s quite a few lands in it. Mantis Rider is great in almost every matchup. If the one drop is Noble Hierarch it can also be played turn two. I think you would be hard pressed to find a six card hand that was better than this, you might find the same hand but with three lands instead of four and be able to scry a fourth land away, which is marginally better.
  • When you know what you’re playing against, things change a bit. If it’s a matchup that requires disruption I’d be happy keeping a four land hand that included one drop, Thalia and a disruptive card such as Kitesail Freebooter or Meddling Mage. Similarly if the matchup is a race I’m happy with one drop and two Thalia’s Liuetenants or Lieutenant and Phantasmal Image.
  • Multiple one drops? I think a hand of Vial, Champion and Noble Hierarch and four lands has a lot of potential, but I would only keep this hand if I was on the play and one or more of the lands was Horizon Canopy. This hand is very strong if you draw consecutive spells as it has good ‘snowballing potential’ but you want some insurance against drawing more lands. It’s a hard one to ship but in the dark but it relies almost entirely on draw steps for relevant ‘gas’ despite the explosive start.
  • After sideboarding, if there is a one drop and one or both of the other spells in my hand are relevant for the matchup, I would keep this. For example, against Affinity, I would keep one drop, Kataki, War’s Wage, three drop and four lands. Kataki is so powerful in this matchup that – on the play I would keep the hand without the one drop (maybe another two or three drop instead)! On the draw is a bit more questionable as, without deploying a one drop, my opponent will probably assume I’ve kept the hand on the merits of a Kataki and hold up Dismember/Galvanic Blast on their turn two.
  • Is one of the lands Horizon Canopy? This makes the hand slightly better than otherwise, but it won’t be as important as the deciding factors above.

Of course, you would need to check that your lands actually allow you to cast the spells. It’s no good keeping a hand following the rules above if none of your four lands let you cast that Mantis Rider or Kitesail Freebooter.

One-landers

I would keep a seven card one-lander only if

  • On the play and I have an Aether Vial AND another one drop and two drop
  • On the play and I have multiple Noble Hierarchs and a two drop
  • On the draw with an Aether Vial AND at least one Noble Hierarch

I think it’s otherwise a bit risky to keep a one lander in the dark. Many opponents could play a turn one discard spell or turn one removal spell if you’re all-in on the Aether Vial or Hierarch respectively and having to pass on turn two with no play (assuming you don’t immediately draw a land) is pretty damning for this deck. Going to six gives you a much better shot at a better hand.

What Next?

English Nationals is just around the corner but I’m sad to say I won’t be making an appearance this year. I’ve unfortunately had plans for the weekend before the date for the event was announced. Good luck to everyone taking part!

My fellow Master James Wise recently wrote a piece on being gracious in defeat. I wholly endorse the spirit of being so and will follow this up next week with something similar. My article will focused more on why being able to cope with losses in competitive Magic is very important and how to help ensure that losing a game of Magic isn’t caused by the fact that you’ve lost a previous game of Magic due to it affecting your mental game. Look out for this next week!

You can find me on Facebook, Twitter (@Chris54154) or at most PPTQs in the North of England, RPTQs, GPs in England and some other large competitive events like Mega Modern and Legacy Masters that arise during the year in the UK.

As always, thanks for reading, good luck and have fun in your next event!

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