Modern – Axion Now (Mega) Event Coverage (03/11/18) and my take on some of Modern’s big questions

Hi All, this week I’m going to be discussing Modern in a bit more detail. As you all know, I have a lot of faith in humanity, and have written plenty of content on the deck given that I’ve sleeved up 5 Colour Humans for pretty much every Modern event I’ve played since December 2017. For anyone wanting to learn a few things about the deck I’ve provided links to some past articles. I’ve titled the links by the main learning points:

In this article I’ll give a brief overview of my experience at the Axion Now Mega Modern event I competed in last weekend before giving my take on some of the most popular discussion topics concerning the Modern metagame.

 My deck

Lands (19)
Ancient Ziggurat
Cavern of Souls
Horizon Canopy
Seachrome Coast
Unclaimed Territory
Island
Plains

Creatures (37)
Champion of the Parish
Noble Hierarch
Kitesail Freebooter
Mayor of Avabruck
Meddling Mage
Phantasmal Image
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Thalia’s Lieutenant
Mantis Rider
Reflector Mage

Spells (4)
Aether Vial
Sideboard (15)
Auriok Champion
Gaddock Teeg
Dismember
Izzet Staticaster
Knight of Autumn
Milita Bugler
Sin Collector
Whirler Rogue

As you can see, I’ve moved the Militia Buglers to the sideboard and made room for Mayor of Avabruck. I haven’t registered this card since last December, but I’m trying it as an option to make the deck’s beatdown even faster and potentially create an ‘army in a can’ against more passive decks (or in situations where I need to be more passive, which admittedly isn’t very often). In the sideboard I’ve included two copies of Knight of Autumn from Guilds of Ravnica as an ‘upgrade’ to Reclamation Sage – harder to cast, but more versatile overall. In addition, I was trying out Whirler Rogue as an additional attrition card or way to ‘get through’ in matchups where the board could become clogged.

No graveyard hate? I decided that I’d rather not devote any sideboard slots to the Dredge menace. I believe that I’d need to run at least three cards for this to be reliable and felt that given that I can make a board that can prevent Conflagrate from being cast and block things in combat, it was worth having more sideboard slots for other matchups.

The event

I travelled the event alone because I was visiting family nearby the whole weekend, but also from Leeds at the event were Rob Catton, Alex Roebuck, Dylan Smith, and Jordan Kisby. The event was eight rounds, attended by around 150 players. Bonfire Night commitments and some UK-based Pro Tour competitors flying out early to compete in GP Atlanta affected attendance a little. Here is how the swiss rounds played for me.

  • Round 1 vs Jund 2-0 WIN
  • Round 2 vs 4c Saheeli Evolution 2-1 WIN
  • Round 3 vs Jeskai Control 2-1 WIN
  • Round 4 vs Black/Green Rock 2-0 WIN
  • Round 5 vs White/Blue Control 0-2 LOSS
  • Round 6 vs Blue/Green Infect 1-2 LOSS
  • Round 7 vs Mardu 8 Rack 2-1 WIN
  • Round 8 vs White/Blue Control 1-2 LOSS

Overall 5-3 is a bit medium, but I think it’s a fair result given some of the mistakes I made and what happened in the games. Here are some learning points from the swiss rounds:

  • The following games were won on a mulligan to five: R1 game one, R2 game one, R3 games two and three, R4 game one. Admittedly, some of the seven card hands were unkeepable, but I mulliganed a lot of ‘keepable but not great’ 6 card hands. The point I’d like to make is that the disciplined mulliganing definitely paid off – don’t be afraid to mulligan in Modern, especially with a fast proactive deck like this! (I also mulliganed to 5 in rounds 5 and 8 and lost those games. It doesn’t always work!)
  • In game one of round five against White/Blue Control, I was recovering from a relatively poor start and had the game on a bit of a lockdown. I had two Meddling Mages, one preventing Path to Exile and one on Terminus as well as a Kitesail Freebooter having taken Jace, the Mind Sculptor. After playing a Thalia’s Lieutenant to make my team bigger I decided to attack with my whole board to put my opponent dead on board the following turn. However, I paid the price for this as my opponent flashed in not one, but two Snapcaster Mages, blocked the Meddling Mage on Terminus, which was then cast the following turn. I feel I could have been more patient. I gave my opponent an additional draw step by not attacking with either Meddling Mage (unless I topdeck another Thalia’s Lieutenant, Mayor of Avabruck or Phantasmal Image).
  • In round six, after a very close game one and a comfortable game two win, my opponent killed me on turn two on the play. I could have played a Champion of the Parish on turn one instead of the Aether Vial. If my opponent casts a main phase Might of Old Krosa, I would have probably chump blocked. My hand was actually very good, but I decided it plays out much smoother if I land the Vial on turn one as the following turn I can Vial in a Champion and play Kitesail Freebooter on turn two, then follow up with Reflector Mage and Meddling Mage on turn three. As it happens, perhaps I underestimated the probabilities of the turn two kill, perhaps my opponent got lucky – either way, the calculated risk did not work out for me.

Alex managed to go undefeated with his Krark-Clan Ironworks deck and make Top 8. There was also a 3 round single-elimination play-off for the 9th-16th players to battle it out for a Full art Foil Mutavault. I actually played against Rob in round 8 to try and Top 16, but he managed to put an end to my Humans. Unfortunately Alex lost in the quarter-finals and Rob lost in the final match to try and win the Mutavault.

My take on some of Modern’s big questions

In this section, I’m going to weigh-in on some popular trends or thoughts people have about the format. I realise that there’s potential for me to ‘go against the grain’ or have a differing opinion, but I think there’s potential learning to share that people will (hopefully) find interesting:

How do I play the metagame and pick the ‘right deck’ for a Modern event?

I’ll concede that discussing the Metagame is interesting but I think that today it’s overrated in terms of how much it will help you in a tournament. Having said this, I think there was a stronger argument for this in the past that’s getting weaker by the day. In an attempt to explain why I think this, I’ve used the Wayback Machine to take a look at Modern Metagames as indicated by MTGGoldfish and reproduced what was (roughly) the most popular third of the metagame:

2013

  • January: 22% Jund, 7% Splinter Twin, 7% Melira Pod – 3 archetypes 36% of the metagame
  • July: 13% Jeskai Control, 10% Melira Pod, 10% Jund – 3 archetypes 33% of the metagame – 9% of the metagme was also Splinter Twin, so taking this into account, you have 4 archetypes making up over 40% of the metagame

2014

  • January: 10% Affinity, 8% Jeskai Control, 7% Melira Pod, 7% Splinter Twin – 4 archetypes 32% of the metagame
  • July: 12% Splinter Twin, 9% Melira Pod, 9% Affinity, 8% Jund – 4 archetypes 38% of the metagame

2015

  • January: 15% Birthing Pod, 11% UR Delver – 2 archetypes 26% of the metagame – there’s a serious drop-off of decks being played in numbers after this
  • August: 11% Grixis Delver, 9% Affinity, 8% Splinter Twin, 7% Jund – 4 archetypes 35% of the metagame

2016

  • January: 7% Affinity, 7% RG Tron, 5% Abzan, 5% Jund, 5% Burn, 5% Splinter Twin – 6 archetypes 34% of the metagame
  • March: 27% Eldrazi (15% UW, 7% RG, 5%UR) 6% Affinity, 5% Abzan Coco – The Eldrazi ‘winter’ A sad time for Modern indeed
  • August: 8% Jund, 6% Affinity, 5% Burn, 5% Deaths Shadow Zoo, 5% Infect, 5% Merfolk – 6 archetypes 34% of the metagame

2017

  • March: 9% Jund Shadow, 7% Dredge, 5% Burn, 5% Abzan, 5% Grixis Shadow, 4% Eldrazi Tron – 6 archetypes 35% of the metagame – though you could count the Shadow decks together to constrain it to 5
  • October: 6% Eldrazi Tron, 5% Storm, 4% Burn, 4% Grixis Shadow, 4% Jeskai Control, 4% Affinity, 4% Titanshift – 7 archetypes 31% of the metagame

2018

  • June: 8% Humans, 6% Tron, 5% Jeskai Control, 5% Hollow One, 5% Mardu, 5% Affinity – 6 archetypes 34% of the metagame
  • October: 6% Burn, 6% WU Control, 4% Tron, 4% Jund, 4% Dredge, 4% Humans, 4% Spirits – 7 archetypes 32% of the metagame

Putting the limitations of the data aside, the important trend to pay attention to in all this is that (apart from that Eldrzi ‘winter’ in 2016) Modern has seen a greater variety of decks share the metagame in meaningful numbers. Long gone are the days when you could expect a high percentage of the field to be on one of Jund, Twin, Pod, or Affinity (and pick which one of those you liked best against the shifting sea of fringe decks). Nowadays, leveraging a favourable metagame position is much more difficult, and just as likely to work as it is to backfire! It’s important to know what decks exist, and have a rough idea of what most decks are effective against and what they’re not effective against, but I’m more of the mind-set that Modern is far too wide open for ‘Metagaming’ or ‘Deck selection’ to reliably make a positive difference to tournament performance (unless you’re playing in your local games store and literally ‘know’ who will be there and what they will play).

Tron is all luck and no skill, right?

Hate on decks powered by the Urza-tron has its own cult following and is a strong contributor to Memes about Magic or things that are just said during Modern tournaments. There’s a prevailing view that this deck allows ‘unskilled’ players to ride their draw step to victory and robbing ‘more skillful players’ and thoughtful deck design of much-deserved match wins. I will concede that the Tron archetype thrives off sometimes being able to naturally draw into turn three Tron and simply cast spells on turn three and four that many decks can do nothing about. However, I would disagree that this is all there is to it. Although I haven’t played the deck extensively, from what I’ve experienced (mostly on the receiving end) the sheer number of cantrips/search spells in the deck allow incremental edges to be gained through optimal sequencing. The deck is literally designed to combo 3 lands into bombs, but good Tron players will correctly sequence during suboptimal draws more often than the average player. This can make them look even more like ‘lucksacks’. Sadly, in doing this they’ve actually crafted some of that luck themselves. I’m not really qualified to comment, but I imagine knowing how to mulligan with this deck is an actual skill – knowing when it’s right to keep a hand with ‘no search’ or ‘no gas’ can’t be easy. Then again, those more in the know than me, please let me know if the prime strategy for maximum match wins is more along the lines of shrugging the shoulders, keeping the hand and live off the top of the deck!

Modern needs another ban! Ancient Stirrings? Faithless Looting?

Over the years, Modern has been heavily policed by the ban-hammer of Wizards and I believe that doing this has helped create a more challenging and uncertain field. However, in a crusade for either ‘perfection’ or a desire for certain decks to be ‘nerfed’ a portion of the playerbase is still calling for certain cards to be eliminated from the format. As per the heading just above, I’ve picked a couple that people have coined as ‘too good’ or ‘too efficient’ for Modern. While I don’t agree that either of these should be banned right now, I do think that cards of such efficiency do have an impact on the future. These cards have the greatest potential to make future cards which might be interesting or fun more problematic by allowing them to be consistently cast on turn two, making them too obnoxious for Modern and thus too obnoxious to be printed – they limit design space.

What’s the best deck in Modern?

Again (other than that Eldrazi ‘blip’ in 2016) this is something that has become less and less clear over time, and it really comes down to what you mean by ‘best’. To structure my thoughts on this I’m going to tackle the three most common routes player attempt to travel when figuring out the ‘best deck’:

  • Power: There are some good candidates for a deck that could be perceived as the most powerful deck. For example, Infect, Amulet Titan, Grishoalbrand, and Tron are all very powerful but in very different ways. However there’s a price to be paid for your deck’s power which can come at the cost of being inconsistent, not very resilient to other decks or widely played cards in a range of other decks, or being severely weakened by commonplace sideboard hate. The biggest strength of going for a powerful deck is that you can win matches simply on the merit that your opponent is not packing ways to deal with your power.
  • Resiliency: Many people would recommend a deck like White/Blue control, Jund or Bant Spirits for their resiliency and ability to fend off a variety of decks relying on their ‘power’ to win games. In addition, these types of decks are very hard to ‘hate’ out with specific cards as they don’t focus on a particular type or resource to function (e.g. Artifacts, the graveyard, direct damage). However, as we’ve said before, it’s almost impossible to be resilient to everything and while these kinds of decks run a suite of versatile ‘answers’ to other decks, they do need to line them up against the opponent during the matches. Cryptic Command can answer a number of different problems, but it won’t work very well if the opponent has already started attacking you with multiple Goblin Guides on turns one and two – you need to draw a different answer. Similarly, Thoughtseize can handle the best card in the opponent’s hand, but if the problem is already on the battlefield or drawn in the next couple of turns, you’d rather have Assassin’s Trophy. This can be mitigated a bit by effective sideboarding. ‘Answer’ cards that are less useful in the matchup can be sideboarded out for ones that are, or hate cards. However, drawing the right answers is ultimately in the nature of trying to play ‘fair’ Magic. In addition, these decks need to ride the struggle of every game. Answering the opponent’s power by simply putting them away on turn 4 is often not an option for these kinds of decks.
  • Consistency: This overlaps a bit more with resiliency as I would argue most decks aiming to be resilient at the core also strive to do this as consistently as possible. There are decks that are very consistent that leverage power a lot more than resiliency. For example, Burn and KCI are all very consistent given the redundant nature of many of their cards. However, if the thing being consistently done isn’t fast or powerful enough against the opponent (or can be hated out) then these decks suffer a lot. This is why a lot of the sideboard options for these decks revolve around sacrificing a bit of consistency to make them more resilient to ‘hate’.

This topic was explored a lot more extensively in two articles in 2016 by Brian DeMars (Channelfireball). He rated decks in terms of ‘Doesn’t lose to itself’ (Consistency), ‘Free wins’ (Power), ‘Resilient to hate’ and ‘Flexibility’ (Resiliency). Ultimately you want to pick your battles and try and get the best of all worlds, but it’s quite clear that this isn’t always possible. I’ve put a link to the articles below. Remember, it’s a bit dated, so doesn’t include some of the newer decks in the last couple of years, but the principles still apply.

Having said all this, I think these are more useful guidelines, though it’s interesting (and fun) to make it a bit more ‘scientific’ like in the articles.

How do I think my 5 c Humans deck would score? (this is my rating, not Brian’s)

  • Doesn’t lose to itself: 9/10 – There are a few hands it’ll be correct to keep that are a bit land light. In these cases and if your Hierarch or Vial is answered immediately, you could simply lose if you don’t draw additional lands and this deck runs less than 20.
  • Free wins: 8/10 – You can threaten to win the game on turn 4, but more often on turn 5. This is slower than most of the faster decks in the format, BUT you get to do this while playing disruption for your opponent’s cards, which is why I think Humans should score quite highly. Being a couple of turns slower than the opponent’s nut draw, but nulling it to make them considerably slower or unable to play Magic at all can definitely spell free wins!
  • Resilient to hate: 7/10 – There aren’t really any commonly played cards that simply shut the deck down in the same way Leyline of the Void, Stony Silence or Leyline of Sanctity can shut down other decks. However, having enough creature removal is always going to serve you well.
  • Flexibility: 5/10 There are a lot of good options with the creature type ‘Human’ but ultimately, running so many rainbow lands that only really work with creatures prevents the deck from playing the absolute best hate cards or adapt in the best ways to other strategies. For example, Humans has a hard time casting Rest in Peace and Stony Silence, and has to settle for Grafdigger’s Cage and Kataki, War’s Wage respectively.

29/40 isn’t too bad I guess!

For me, there are a lot of decks that are quite well matched when it comes to the best compromise of power, resiliency and consistency.The tie-breaker for me is ‘fun’! Shockingly, I’m mindful that I should be having fun in Magic tournaments and to decide between decks I think are all good choices, I usually pick the one I find most fun!

What’s next

I’m back to Standard PPTQs this weekend (and maybe for a while depending on whether I actually win one) before revisiting Modern again in December as I have the RPTQ and GP Liverpool coming up in a few weeks. Stay tuned for further thoughts!

You can find me on Facebook, Twitter (@Chris54154), or at most PPTQs in the North of England, RPTQs and GPs in Eurpoe, 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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