Hi All, Just under two weeks ago, I attended Axion Now’s Mega Modern event to try and win flights and accommodation to a future GP. Last time I was lucky enough to win the event and can confirm that I’ll be attending GP Hong Kong in September (Modern). I was hoping to run it back once again. In this article, I’ll do a quick summary of the tournament rounds, provide some thoughts on the current Modern ‘metagame’. In addition, I’ll share some outside-game advice on preparing for and enduring long events which is something a few of my readers have personally asked for and I’ll draw on my own experience for this. I’ve called these ‘Extragame tips’
Modern and me
I haven’t really played a lot of Modern as the recent PPTQ seasons and GPs have focussed on Standard. The last significant event of this format I took part in was in fact the previous Axion Now Mega Modern event, in which I battled with 5 Colour Humans. At the time the deck was relatively under the radar, and a bit underestimated. Since then, it has been one of the most played decks at major Modern events including Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan and various Star City Games events. It has also had a very obvious presence on Magic Online and is probably the ‘most popular’ deck in Modern for competitive tournaments.
As far as I was concerned, I knew this tournament would be harder than the last, simply because people would actually be considering the Humans deck a lot more than last time round, which would influence deck choice and the deckbuilding. People had also learnt which cards in the deck were important and the keys to beating it were very much known as opposed to improvised through the consensus wisdom that a ton of spot/mass removal will do the trick. This still didn’t deter me from playing what I can honestly describe as the most fun deck I’ve played in Modern for many years. Here’s the 75 I sleeved up for the event.
4 Ancient Ziggurat
4 Cavern of Souls
4 Horizon Canopy
2 Seachrome Coast
4 Unclaimed Territory
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Kitesail Freebooter
4 Meddling Mage
4 Phantasmal Image
3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
4 Thalia’s Lieutenant
4 Mantis Rider
4 Reflector Mage
1 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
1 Restoration Angel
4 Aether Vial
2 Gut Shot
2 Auriok Champion
2 Dire-Fleet Daredevil
2 Kataki, War’s Wage
2 Izzet Staticaster
2 Reclamation Sage
2 Sin Collector
Changes from last time
- Restoration Angel: I’m not sure how good this card actually would be, given it is of the ‘wrong’ creature type, but given the uptick in Jeskai Control, I thought a creature that doesn’t die to Lightning Bolt or Lightning Helix (and potentially saves another creature from such a fate) was worth trying out. I probably should have run two, but stuck to running a Thalia, Heretic Cathar in place of the second one.
- Gut Shot: The Mirror is now a likely possibility. Last time I had a random Riders of Gavony as ‘tech’ but decided that if my opponent has a better board than me and plays a Phantasmal Image, this could backfire horribly. Gut Shot allows you to swing back into the driving seat if your opponent has opened with Champion of the Parish or Noble Hierarch. It’s also applicable against other decks with X/1s such as Affinity (Steel Overseer), Elves and other Collected Company decks. When facing these decks, you’re likely to Dismember their turn one play anyway, so Gut Shot is simply more efficient in that regard saving you mana and health
- Reclamation Sage: Again, a trend I am following based on how the metagame has evolved. Bogles is more popular than it normally would be, and Burn is now playing Ensnaring Bridge in the sideboard so this card doubles up in those situations as well as being a Disenchant against decks like Affinity.
- Dire-Fleet Daredevil: A new inclusion that appears ‘cute’. I put it in the sideboard because there are a number of matchups where it simply won’t be particularly relevant. It works best against Jeskai, Mardu and other decks that use instants and sorceries to support their strategy of obtaining incremental advantage over the opponent. It can also be cast when a Blood Moon is in play
- Auriok Champion: Quite the star against Burn and also quite resilient against Mardu and a solid blocker against Death’s Shadow decks. This has pretty much replaced Mirran Crusader.
Unfortunately due to other commitments I didn’t have much time to test in between the GP and the event, so I had put my trust in the deckbuilding decisions and sideboarding plans of friends who had played the deck and shared results with me. I am considering increasing my Manatraders subscription package to enable me to test/practice Modern more thoroughly in the future.
I travelled to the event with Rob Catton, Alfie Bennett and Matt Duggan. It meant an early start in the morning to ensure we arrived in time for round one. The event itself, was unsurprisingly very popular with us needing to all play nine rounds of swiss before a cut to Top 8. It would be a late one if one of us were to play in the final. Rob was on trusty Jeskai, Alfie was on Hollow One and Matt also played Humans.
Here is a quick summary of the tournament rounds
- R1 vs No show: WIN
- R2 vs Affinity: Game 1, I make too many Mantis Riders starting turn 2. Game 2, I Meddling Mage Etched Champion and take out everything else with Izzet Staticaster! WIN
- R3 vs Hollow One: All three games were very close – My opponent sideboarded many Grim Lavamancers and used them to good effect. LOSS
- R4 vs Humans: After getting run over by Mantis Riders in game one, I run my opponent over in game two with Champions and in game three I’m able to use Reflector Mage to keep my opponent’s board under control and overwhelm. WIN
- R5 vs Affinity: After splitting games one and two I was very disappointed that game 3 slipped away from me. I have the board under control with Izzet Staticaster and am clocking with a 3/3 Thalia’s Lieutenant but I simply don’t draw any spells before my opponent is eventually able to land 2 Etched Champions, stabilize and build a bigger board via Master of Etherium. LOSS
- R6 vs Burn: In game one my opponent got stuck on lands and I had a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, pulled ahead and stayed ahead. In game two my opponent had pretty much the nuts and killed me on turn three. In game three I stayed ahead and even managed to use Auriok Champion to keep me out of Peril. WIN
- R7 vs Mardu Pyromancer: After being annihilated by removal + Blood Moon in game one, I’m able to close out game two with a 2/2 Auriok Champion after a decent initial assault. Game three ends up being super grindy with my opponent eventually resolving Blood Moon. The key play is Dire Fleet Daredevil on his Collective Brutality escalated to make him discard a removal spell, kill Young Pyromancer and drain 2 life, then luckily Aether Vial is able to put in a human or two to close out the game. The matchup seems very tough. WIN
- R8 vs Burn: Game one I mulligan to five, draw no lands and die horribly. Game two I draw poorly, but just manage to get there. Game three comes down to a tight race which in which I pull slightly ahead, but I just keep drawing lands in the last few crucial turns and my opponent is able to sneak the last few points of damage in despite also missing on a couple of topdecks. LOSS
- R9 vs RB Goryo’s Vengeance: Game one I mulligan to five, but thankfully this is a very good matchup and between Thalia, Meddling Mage and Champion of the Parish, I lock up the game. Game two my opponent plays a turn four Grave Titan and I reply in kind with two Phantasmal Images (and make two Grave Titans!). I wasn’t expecting to be able to do that! WIN
Overall 6-3 is a bit of a disappointing result, but it’s a fair one when I consider some of the mistakes I made and the deck not coming up with the spells when I needed them. Matt finishes 6-3 also, Alf manages to go 7-2 but Rob manages to win the whole thing after playing eleven rounds of Magic in one day! (1 ID in Swiss portion) so huge congratulations to him!
The last time I visited this topic was during the last Modern PPTQ season which was just under a year ago. I’m going to structure this section in exactly the same manner discussing my rationale for the current tiered metagame, providing a bit more scope on the top tier. I’ve linked a sample decklist from MTGGoldfish which opens in another tab in case you aren’t familiar with the decks.
A fast disruptive clock with inherent tribal synergies, often sporting 4 copies of Phantasmal Image to effectively have ‘8 copies’ of the best human for the matchup. Weak to decks full of creature removal or decks that can outrace it.
Super-fast clock with ‘fast mana’ and artefact synergies. Can kill as early as turn three – 20 the normal way or alternatively just 10 with Inkmoth Nexus. Very weak to sideboard hate cards like Stony Silence, combos that can outrace it (or slow it down and then combo off) and suffers a bit against decks full of creature removal.
Three colour control deck comprising of the best creature removal and counterspells and utilizing Snapcaster Mage to create redundancy for whichever is more relevant in the matchup. Given that about 40% of the metagame consists of aggro decks, and there are other additional creature midrange and combo decks to boot, this deck is very well positioned at the moment. It is weak to rogue strategies such as Bogles and Dredge which make most countermagic and removal irrelevant, also suffers a bit against Tron as it needs to adopt a beatdown role to prevent the Urzatron inevitability taking over the game and isn’t particularly set up to do so.
Super-fast clock using discard and graveyard synergies. Can kill as early as turn three even without randomly putting Hollow Ones into play on turns 1 or 2. Unfortunately the deck is a straight up beatdown deck attacking from only this angle with only has Lingering Souls to ‘grind’ or present any kind of defensive capability. Therefore almost decks that are good at halting its initial assault into a late game will likely have the upper hand. This deck can also be weakened by graveyard hate but is still capable of winning through it.
I believe the above five decks to be the current most popular and successful decks at the moment. They are obtaining the most 5-0’s in MTGO Competitive Leagues, highest finishes in MTGO PTQs and/or consistent results on the SCG circuit.
I’m not trying to knock these decks, I think they are good choices to take into a Modern event. They are strong decks in their own right and are well positioned against a number of the above-listed Tier one decks or the other tier two decks. For example, Mardu Pyromancer is very strong against Humans and Affinity, Valakut is strong against Humans, Mono Green Tron and Mardu Pyromancer. I just feel that the weaknesses of these decks are too exploitable to fully ride the tide of a format as wide as modern, or rather, the above decks are slightly more resilient to the Modern format as a whole, and are more likely to come out of their poorer matchup alive than these ones will.
These decks have sat on the top of the order at some stage of Modern’s growing history, but have been forced into lower layers of the pecking order over time. Again, these decks are actually quite strong but too many of the other decks, in their current status of popularity are preventing these decks to be consistently as successful as they once may have been. For instance, the new decks like Humans, Mardu and Hollow One are very punishing to some of these. Jund is the most popular of these by quite a bit, and actually as popular as some of the decks in the top tier, but it doesn’t seem to get anywhere near as many good results, likely due to Jeskai, Tron, Hollow One and Valakut pushing it out.
Effective Rogue choices
I’m nominating these three as the current ‘rogue’ choices that appear to be well positioned. Bogles is actually a very good choice if you’re prepared to accept the deck’s failure rate, and accept that it’s nearly impossible to beat Mono Green Tron – many of the other top decks will have a very tough time against a Bogles deck that is firing on all cylinders! KCI won the last Modern GP and faced Amulet Titan in the finals. I believe that while these decks remain under the radar or ‘rogue’ choices people will not prepare to face them as much in terms of their deck choice and deckbuilding.
And that’s only sixteen decks that I think make up the top layers of Modern’s metagame! The format is completely wide open and I’m firmly of the belief that you can still sleeve up a Dredge or Merfolk deck and take down an event with them if you play well enough and don’t play your poorer matchups often enough.
‘Extragame’ tips for surviving Magic events
This section is more about providing some non-game/card-specific advice based on my experience. These are things that you can do in advance of and during events to keep the mental and physical elements well balanced. I’m not claiming to be any kind of health professional or sports scientist, but I think there’s potential value in sharing what has worked for me so that if others are looking for things they could easily adopt to see if it could change their performance in tournaments, they have something to work with. The request originally came to me from some readers about ‘How to prepare for big events’, but on reflection, I realised that many of these things I do to prepare and survive events are actually applicable to ANY Magic event. Their importance scales up in larger events because you are playing for much longer and there’s usually more at stake.
A lot of the points I’m going to make have at the heart of them the concept that we go into these events with a finite amount of ‘mental energy’ and that decisions and thought processes that need to take place during the event consume this energy. A large Magic event is like a marathon, throughout which you’ll need to use this mental energy sensibly so as not to run out, get tired, play carelessly etc.
1. The fine line between confidence and expectation
It’s important to go into a tournament confident and with a belief that you can win the event, but I would advise against such confidence tricking you into thinking that your should expect to win. This could be a whole article by itself so I’ll keep it as short as I can.
Why is confidence important?
If you are insecure about your deck or your ability to pilot it, these things can cause things to happen in the tournament to your detriment. For example you might not play to your outs when you fall behind in games, simply because you don’t believe you can win. If none of these worries are playing on your mind, then you eliminate one route to suboptimal play.
How do I make sure I’m confident going into a tournament?
What makes an individual feel confident going into a tournament will differ from person to person, and there will be many contributing factors, some of which will likely appear in some of the other tips I give below. Personally, I feel most prepared when I come to the event with a solid plan and some practice under my belt. This is one of the next detailed sections below.
Why is it dangerous to expect to win?
I’ve marked this as ‘dangerous’ as opposed to ‘wrong’ simply because I personally find that undue pressure causes me to sometimes play less well than I otherwise would, particularly over time. Other people thrive off pressure and having the ‘I must win’ mentality actually helps them play better. As I indicated, I personally feel it puts additional strain on my mind because it makes me think about the consequences of winning or losing the match I am playing or about to play on top of everything else. What you don’t want to happen is thoughts derived from your expectations unduly affect your in-game decisions (I’ll give an example of this in the section about Current Score/Record). While I’m not learned in brain science, I find exerting as little as possible energy on my own expectations helps me concentrate on the things that are important, the match at hand. Of course it’s almost impossible when you are X-0 going into the second day of the Grand Prix to not think about being well-positioned for Top 8. I’m not advising to shut off your subconscious, I’m just warning against letting your expectations take over your mind, even if you are feeling confident and running well.
2. Come with a plan and some practice
From my experience, and I’m sure others can relate, knowing what your strategy will be, as opposed to learning it as you start to tap lands and cast spells takes a bit of pressure off. In constructed events, I feel most prepared when I am well-rehearsed in the most important elements of the deck’s strategy including sideboarding. I feel most prepared in sealed events when I know what strategic elements are relevant to the sets being used (e.g. is it a slow format, are combat tricks good, are 2-drops good, is four colour the norm?). In draft events I feel most confident when I know which cards go in which strategies, particularly the ‘under-rated’ or ‘less obviously powerful’ cards and what all the combat tricks and removal spells are are so I can play around them if I need to. If I am well prepared, I will feel like I have a head-start. For example, in the case of a constructed event, I will exert less mental energy deciding what I think the best plays are because I’ve already rehearsed what is important in each matchup. I won’t agonise over how to sideboard on the fly because I’ll already know what to do. I am paid off for accurately predicting a metagame and knowing my deck and its matchups because it becomes so much easier to implement effective strategic action. This doesn’t mean that difficult situations won’t come up during the tournament. However, when they do, you’ll probably have a lot more in the tank to devote to scenarios like these if you haven’t been worrying how to play the matchup against deck X or how to sideboard against opponent Y.
Practicing is puttin that theoretical preparation to the test for yourself. Sometimes you learn new things for yourself when trying out the theory. With MTGO being as accessible as it is, it’s very easy to get some repetitions with a Constructed deck (if you are prepared to buy or rent it online) Limited event from your own home. Alternatively, if you have a group of friends who are also looking to practice, that’s even better.
THIS ARTICLE provides some examples preparing and practicing to give you a bit of a case study on steps you can take. It’s also about Modern!
3. Focus only on what actually matters
Your in-game decisions and plays in the matches you play matter, very little else does. That sounds very simple and not very useful, so I’m going to give a few examples of things that I don’t focus on, or rather – exert mental energy on, if I can help it.
How many dice rolls to determine player one have I’ve won today?
While going second instead of first might be a factor in a given game, your past dice rolling record has no impact on the game you are playing at the moment. Therefore, searching your memory trying to verify how many times you’ve won or lost the dice roll and verbalising the fact cannot possibly aid my in-game play. I do not believe my opponent will play worse because they feel sorry for me and my inability to randomly win dice rolls. Some people would argue that it has a bit of social value, and I’m not saying its illegal to empathise with your opponent who slumps and lets you know that all eight rounds today they’ve had to play second – I’m just pointing out why I don’t consider it a thing you should focus on.
After you decide to mulligan, would I have got there?
Do you look at the top few cards to see if you would have ‘got there’? I am actually guilty of still doing this a lot at casual events, but I try very hard not to do this at competitive events. The point is, you’ve already mulliganed, and the self-esteem boost that you made the right decision, or the disappointment that you would have got lucky enough to nut-draw your opponent isn’t going to do anything but consume your mental energy. If you’ve already done your research and are coming with enough of a plan and practice (see above) then you should already have the confidence to know what hands are good hands to keep and which ones aren’t. It’s interesting, but it won’t help your in-game play.
Worrying about your current match record
This obviously has a few caveats relating to practical considerations, such as, ‘Can I intentionally draw into Top 8’ or ‘Am I out of contention for Top 8/Prizes and best served dropping from the event’. However, the point I’m more focussed on is that your current match record should be irrelevant to any decisions you would make in any games. You should play each round as best you can, regardless of your current record – pretend every round is Round 1 even. For example, Player A is 5-0 after five rounds in a Grand Prix, needing a 6-2 or better record to proceed to day two. In round six player A’s confidence about their record gets to them and, on the basis that there are ‘two losses to give’ they keep a hand they shouldn’t and lose the match because of it. Player A is now at 5-1, still with a loss to give. In the rounds that ensue, player A’s opponent in round seven is extremely lucky and draws very well both games. There is nothing player A could have otherwise done to win. At 5-2 going into the final round, Player A has to mulligan to four in game three of a tight match against a skilled player and ends up losing. Player A didn’t mulligan in round six because they let their current record influence that choice. If they had pretended it was round one, they would have mulliganed their hand, but because they thought it was so likely that they could win one of the next three and that was all that was needed to make day two, they made a poorer decision.
Of course, players discussing ‘what’s your current score/record’ is a frequent occurrence at Magic events and has social value. I’m not saying you should disengage from this activity. I’m simply recommending not to attribute much value to any record during an event to the extent that it influences your in-game decisions.
I hope these examples help provide some perspective on how you might be able to better focus your mental energy during a tournament. The examples I’ve given are things I’m pretty sure every Magic player can relate to and the point is not to make you feel guilty. The examples I’ve used are things that I’ve realised I’ve done in the past, and do occasionally indulge in at more casual events with friends, for fun, but removing them from my mind in large competitive events has helped me stay focussed.
1. Get a good night of sleep before the event
Such a cliché and I’m sure there are numerous of examples of people you know or have heard of literally rolling out of bed, falling asleep during events and winning anyway, but on a consistency basis, I think it’s very important. In 2015 I attended GP Prague and I remember getting the worst nights’ sleep I’ve ever had the night before day 1. I strolled into the tournament venue during my Byes feeling like a zombie. I drank some coffee and had breakfast and even thought a game of Magic would wake me up. It didn’t particularly. I was lucky enough to win my first few matches, but I basically crashed out of the tournament losing rounds 6, 7, 8 and 9, playing extremely poorly and not concentrating. From that moment I realised that I literally hamstringed my chances because of physical fatigue. When I attend a Grand Prix I always try to stay as close to the venue as possible and arrive the day before. In the case of the Axion event covered in this article, I would have liked to have booked a hotel the night before and woken up near the venue, but that wasn’t possible on that occasion. The amount of sleep you get before a tournament will matter more often than not.
2. Come to the event with the materials you need
If you can avoid it, try not to be building your deck five minutes before a Constructed event or change cards round on a whim (the latter can actually lead to deck registration errors). Make sure you have all the tokens, sleeves, pen, paper and dice you’ll need in advance. This means you literally do not need to exert any effort worrying about this or going to a trader and scrounging the missing bits while the seatings for the player meeting are being posted. You’ll go into the event with a much calmer and clearer head and likely feeling more confident and prepared.
It’s such a cliché but I’m going to mention it anyway. I always try and have something to drink in between rounds, usually a small cup of water or a portion of a bottle. When I go to a Grand Prix, I usually make sure I have enough water to bring 2 bottles of water into the venue to save the amount of extra drinks I’ll have to queue up for and buy in between rounds. Hydration helps against mental and physical fatigue both of which can detrimentally affect your performance in matches.
Food is also important but to a lesser extent as I wouldn’t go so far as to say eating something in between each round has been necessary to survive longer tournaments. I personally try not to go into an event on an empty stomach, so having breakfast before and then follow whatever meal pattern you are used to. In a long event, the meal in the middle of the day can be a bit tricky as you might still be playing matches. In this respect it’s worth making sure you have quick access to a nearby food shop or bring something with you should you get hungry halfway through the event. I usually bring fruit like bananas with me when playing in a Grand Prix as I tend not to get hungry during the event itself.
4. Try to have fun
I’m always conscious that Magic is a game I play to have fun, and I haven’t always been conscious of this in the past. Over time, I’ve realised that playing well and having fun are not opposed. Having fun while playing is not the same as playing ‘casually’. Too often do I see people express an erratic love/hate relationship with Magic because perhaps some sight of having a great time is completely lost in the pressure of competitive Magic. I don’t see this as a good state of wellbeing. You can’t win every tournament, and sometimes your competitive results will be disappointing! I wasn’t hugely impressed with my result at the Axion event, but I definitely had a great time at the event! My loss against the Hollow One deck was to my friend Alfie Bennett, and even though I lost, I enjoyed all three games, they were very close! Even the other two matches I lost to flooding out still had moments of tension and my opponents were good people to play against. At GP Birmingham, I was absolutely gutted to not make Top 8, and going out on manascrew compounded the disappointment. I still wished my round 15 opponent the best of luck in the Top 8 and had a lot of fun at the tournament. In summary, remembering that it’s a game for having fun is important for your wellbeing and will help minimise the number of times you feel you want to quit, sell your collection and rebuy it at an increased cost.
I’ll be focusing on unified Standard for the Team RPTQ at the end of June. I’m likely going to have to play a deck outside of my comfort zone as the Black White Vehicles deck I’ve been playing recently probably doesn’t combine well with the unified rules (it uses too many other cards my team-mates might need). I’ll certainly write up something with respect to that after the event.
I hope you found this article useful. I think there is a Modern PPTQ season coming up soon so maybe this has given you some insights as to what to play. As I said before, the ‘Extragame’ tips have come from things I have learnt from experience, they might not work for everyone, but I’m hoping there’s something to take away for each of you who have been kind enough to read through.