Journey to GP Birmingham

Welcome to Journey to GP Birmingham. In this series of articles, we here at the Master of Magics invite you to follow us, from local events as we hone our skills in the modern format, all the way to this summer’s Grand Prix in Birmingham. Will we find glory and fame, or have our hopes dashed like so many before us? In this week’s article, our very own James ‘The Owl’ Wise, heads up to Leeds with fellow Master, Chris ‘Bez’ Berry, to test his mettle in Patriot Games Leeds’ Modern Monthly.

And so, it Begins

Although I have been playing magic on and off now for the last fourteen years, I didn’t get really into competitive magic until a couple of years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed playing in events, but it wasn’t until my local miniatures store started stocking Magic the Gathering that I started to actively compete at tournament level play. All my wargamer friends, who were very competitive gamers, started to buy packs and construct decks, and in turn I was dragged back into the hobby once more (not that I needed much encouragement to pick up my decks of course).

I started following the magic meta game, brewing my own decks, attending local PPTQ’s, and having a lot of fun. Last year this path lead me to my first ever Grand Prix. I turned up on the Friday to play a few GPT’s, or a couple of side events, and was blown away by the scale of the event. I had attended many different types of tournaments in my life but sheer number players in attendance was staggering. I signed up for the first GPT of the day and promptly lost in round one, but was not disheartened and quickly signed up to another. After several rounds and some close games, I emerged victorious with a two-round bye to the main event. Understandably, I was pretty jazzed, eager to take down all the competition in the main event – and scrubbed out on day one. While this may seem like a bit of a downer to my first Grand Prix, I had a ton of fun and I couldn’t wait to attend my next large scale event.

So when the event page was updated with the new sessions Grand Prix schedule, I was pleased to see there was going to be a modern event just down the road from me in Birmingham. Since modern is a non-rotating format, I decided to start early by getting in as much prep as possible. As I discussed in the article Flavours of Burn, I had recently constructed a tier one burn deck, and was having some success with it. Although the meta may change from now until the day of the Grand Prix, I decided burn was a consistent enough deck for me to get comfortable with the current modern format. But where to start?

It was at this time my fellow Master, Bez, informed me that one of our local stores, Patriot Games Leeds, was holding a Modern Monthly event. Since I know that the Leeds gamers were a competitive bunch, to which Chris Vincent will attest, I decided to kick off my Grand Prix prep there. After some testing, I settled on a Nacatl variant of the burn strategy.

Creatures (16)

4 Goblin Guide

4 Monastery Swiftspear

4 Eidolon of the Great Revel

4 Wild Nacatl

Sorceries (8)

4 Lava Spike

4 Rift Bolt

Instants (17)

4 Lightning Bolt

4 Boros Charm

4 Atarka’s Command

3 Searing Blaze

2 Skullcrack

Lands (19)

3 Windswept Heath

4 Bloodstained Mire

4 Wooded Foothills

2 Copperline Gorge

2 Stomping Ground

2 Sacred Foundry

2 Mountain

Sideboard (15)

1 Rest in Peace

1 Anger of the Gods

2 Deflecting Palm

3 Path to Exile

2 Lightning Helix

2 Skullcrack

4 Destructive Revelry

The list is pretty solid as far as burn decks go. I decided to go with Wild Nacatl in the deck, as I have found it leads to more consistent damage output. This leans the deck heavier into green than white, as is reflected in the mana base. I also decided to run only three Searing Blaze in the main, and added two Skullcrack. The reason for this was due to the increase in control based strategies, making the Blaze less effective, and the high number of life gain spells appearing in the local meta, making both Skullcrack and Atarka’s Command more useful. I’m also including Windswept Heath to round out my fetch lands, due to my lack of Arid Mesa, which thanks to the reprint in Modern Masters 2017, should be rectified soon. I also have taken to running out nineteen lands, as in testing I have found the conventional twenty land decks, have left me rather saturated in the mana department. The sideboard was fairly diverse, with answers to most threats I should come across. I would attend the event with Bez, as well as two other local competitors, Matt Goligher and James Hunt.

So, how did I do?

Round 1; 5 Colour Chord

Game 1; My opponent mulligans to five, before been crushed under a wave of Goblin Guides and Searing Blazes. I follow up with multiple ‘Bolts’, and my opponent scoops.

Game 2; Everything is looking fine, until my opponent plays Burrenton Forge-Tender on turn two, followed by a Glen Elendra Archmage. A severe lack of creatures, and an over abundances of lands, means I quickly lose ground. I scoop two turns later, thanks to a Chorded Thragtusk.

Game 3; Here is a tip for all you burn players out there. DON’T PLAY AN EIDOLON WHEN YOUR OPPONENT HAS A HIGHER LIFE THAN YOU. His chorded Thragtusk is soft countered by a Skullcrack, but each burn spell eats away at my own life total. I lose the war of attrition shortly after.

Round 2; Dredge

Game 1; My opponent seems to start off well, Dredging a fair few cards, before getting stuck on two lands. Hitting the ground running, Wild Nacatl and Monastery Swiftspear smash in, before been removed by a Conflagrate. But it’s a little too late, as I Rift Bolt and Atarka’s Command for the win.

Game 2; This game just goes to so how fast Dredge still is. By turn three, I’m facing down four Prized Amalgams, a Bloodghast, and a couple of Narcomoebas. On to game 3.

Game 3; And then sometimes Dredge stone walls itself. From turn three onwards, my opponent has no Dredge cards in his graveyard, (and I begin to feel a little bad for him). The game finishes with a last ditch Gnaw to the Bone, but it’s not enough to stop the vast swathe of creatures and burn spells.

Match 3; Esper Control

Game 1; I drew Bez in this round, which in had me worried. In the past, Bez has played burn himself, so knew all my tricks, and plays control very well. Lucky for me, I get the ‘nut’ draw, quickly finishing before we get anywhere near the late game.

Game 2; I keep a hand full of burn spells, with no creature in sight. I begin to hitting Bez with all manner ‘Bolts’ and burn, expecting to be countered, but no counter came. We finish the game, only for Bez to reveal a hand full of removal. Guess it was a good keep.

Match 4; Skred Red

Game 1; I had seen my opponent in action after finishing my last round, so I knew what to expect. Things start well for both of us, and by turn five I have him down to three life. Then I draw land. Next thing I know, I’m facing down a Batterskull, and I start to lose the race. I hope for a top deck to save me, only to reveal more land.

Game 2; A far slower start than I would have liked. I begin to lay on the pressure, but I am forced to use two of my Lightning Bolts, to prevent my death at the hands of Koth of the Hammer. And then my I see another Batterskull.

Match 5; Wilt-Leaf Junk

Game 1; After a speedy start, full of Lava Spikes and Boros Charms, my gas starts to slow, and my opponents board starts to grow. I quickly find myself at two life, with no cards in hand, facing down some very angry spirits and elves. With my opponent at one, I’m left looking for a top deck for the win. I untap, upkeep, and draw a Lightning Bolt.

Game 2; This game goes far smother. I get in early with Nacatl’s and Guide’s, before the Goblin gets targeted by Path to Exile. Luckly for me, this allows me to Boros Charm and Atarka’s Command my opponent to four life. With a second Charm in my hand, I wait to see if he can gain any life. He plays a Voice of Resurgence, and I untap for the win.

So after five rounds, I have a record of 3-2-0. With only nineteen players this means I have a chance at top 8, as long as my tiebreakers are good. After an anxious wait the top 8 is announced – I have just managed to scrape in to eighth place.

Quarter Final; 8 Rack

Game 1; I keep a risky one land hand, not realising that my opponent is on 8 Rack. I’m quickly shown the error of my ways when I am hit by Smallpox. The game finishes quickly after that.

Game 2; I keep a two land hand (I’m a quick learner) and manage to get down two Wild Nacatls and a Goblin Guide. Two swings and a Skullcrack later, and I had made up for my previous faux pas.

Game 3; Unfortunately my luck fails me here, having to mulligan down to six. I then fail to draw enough burn before my opponent plays The Rack, and not one, but two Shrieking Afflictions. I finish the game with two lands, no cards, and sadly, no life.

And that is where my tournament ends. I had a lot of fun, but more importantly, came away with better knowledge of my deck. I think I may have been a little too overzealous with the Skullcracks, and will more than likely scale them back, at least in the side board. I’m also keen to try out the new Boros burn deck that has been making the rounds. I love my Nacatls, but the mana base was sometimes an issue, leaving me too far behind in the race.

So, where next? Well, I will be playing far more modern FNM’s for sure, and I will be keeping my eye’s peeled for the next accessible event. But I’m not the only one on this journey. Come back soon to see how the other Masters and myself get on in our journey to the GP.

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