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Recent GP Recountings

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Adam Koska
Adam Koska

About Adam Koska

Adam is an experienced player from the Czech Republic who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:

  • 9th at Worlds 2009
  • 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • 45 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Top 32 GP Vienna 2008
  • Top 64 GP Krakow 2007
  • Three times Czech Nationals Top 8

Recent GP Recountings

Hey everyone and welcome! It’s that time of the year again when several months have passed and formats have evolved into rather stable shapes with most of the innovation coming not from discovering something brand new, but rather from finding the best solution to a current shape of the metagame. Several GPs have taken place in the recent weeks and today, I would like to look at the results of the ones that were constructed and pick and analyze a couple of specific decks that I think brought something new to the table in terms of correctly reacting to how the metagame has evolved. It’s pretty hard to surprise people when a format has been thoroughly explored, but I think that these decks that I’m going to talk about today did just that and if you haven’t seen them yet, I highly recommend giving them a closer look (and perhaps even sleeving them up).

GP Nagoya

As Standard is by far the most popular format, the GP that probably raised the most interest for data miners all around the world recently has been GP Nagoya, also for the additional reason that Japanese players are known for coming up with ideas that might seem clunky at first, but miraculously turn out to work just fine. Needless to say, GP Nagoya didn’t disappoint and there was a handful of decklists that are well worth analyzing.

The most interesting deck of GP Nagoya has to be Yuuji Okita’s winning Reanimator deck, as it’s truly a unique piece of deckbuilding and I don’t think we’ve seen anything like that in Standard before. Here’s the list, if you haven’t seen it yet in the coverage:

Chronic Flooding Reanimator by Yuuji Okita

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White
Blue
Red
Green

1st place at GP Nagoya 2012, Standard

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The deck combines two powerful strategies that have been played separately before – the Izzet Staticaster + Nightshade Peddler combo that we could see played in Bochum by Jan-Moritz Merkel and a couple of other players, and a reanimator shell with the self-mill and Unburial Rites engine. However, Yuuji Okita made a very interesting twist even on this part, completely eschewing black and choosing Chronic Flooding as his primary self-mill tool. Not playing any black sources means that the deck is not able to hardcast Unburial Rites under any circumstances (unless you count stealing a Swamp from your opponent with the singleton Zealous Conscripts). Is this significant loss worth it? Apparently yes – a five-color manabase would not be stable enough and all the other colors are needed: green, blue and red for the combo (Nightshade Peddler + Izzet Staticaster) and the mill part of the deck (Mulch, Faithless Looting, Chronic Flooding, Tracker's Instincts) and white for the flashback of Unburial Rites and hardcasting Angel of Glory's Rise (not that unlikely to happen with four Cavern of Souls in addition to your white sources). Most reanimator decks don’t play blue, but apart from the anti-aggro pinging combo, Okita’s deck relies heavily on Chronic Flooding, possibly one of the best self-mill tools there are. It doesn’t refill your hand like Mulch or Tracker's Instincts, but given some time, it can provide by far the most efficient mill engine, without any mana investments after the initial 1U, which is more than fine for milling 15+ cards in the long run.

When you take a closer look at the deck, there might be some numbers that look a bit odd at first glance. What’s with the two Izzet Charms? Well, it turns out that Deathrite Shaman is a card that’s really awesome against graveyard-based decks, both pre-board and post-board and Izzet Charm can deal with that card effectively, as well as digging for action or catching Bant opponents by surprise by countering their Sphinx's Revelation (who would expect a counterspell in a reanimator deck, right?).

There are some other numbers that I imagine can cause some raised eyebrows. Why one Goldnight Commander? It turns out that this guy’s in the list against control decks that can undo your „Living Death“ turn by a Supreme Verdict. Brad Nelson and Martin Juza’s „Hoof, there it is!“ deck had the „instant win“ factor included simply by their choice of win condition which has haste, but if you’re reanimating Huntmasters of the Fells and Nightshade Peddlers, your one turn can become a lot less impressive against decks with sorcery-speed mass removal. However, with the singleton Goldnight Commander, when you dump your graveyard into play, a large number of creatures enter the battlefield at once, giving your army a major P/T boost. So either you win with a big swing of some small dudes you already had in play or you inflate some of the Izzet Staticasters that just came into play and – because these have haste and despite their 0-power aren’t defenders – you swing with gargantuan izzet attackers that used to be 0/3 just a short while ago. Also, if you manage to dig for your singleton Zealous Conscripts, you can do a very similar trick with these, untapping one of your other creatures and giving it haste, effectively creating two massive hasty attackers. It’s true that there’s only one Goldnight Commander in the whole deck, so you won’t usually have access to it until you dump a rather big part of your library into your graveyard, but Chronic Flooding can mill you at quite a brisk pace and control decks that play Supreme Verdict usually give you plenty of time to find your one-ofs anyway. There are two more Commanders in the board exactly for the purpose of having an „instant kill“ option against decks with sweepers.

The fact that this particular build of reanimator has been more successful in Nagoya than some of its more traditional cousins is to a big extent caused by the creature suite it plays. Apart from the anti-creature deathtouch-pinging combo, the deck also packs a playset of Huntmasters of the Fells, which is among the best cards you can deploy against Zombies. Okita also has Faithless Lootings and a singleton Tracker's Instincts to dig for the Huntmasters, which goes a long way towards beating the R/B menace. Despite Yuuji Okita’s claims that the deck is weak against Zombies, I believe that you actually have a lot better chances against R/B with this particular list than with a traditional Reanimator deck, and the fact that Okita beat four R/B aggro decks on his way to win the GP speaks for itself.

The reason why it’s that important to be prepared against red-black becomes clear when you take a look at the archetype breakdown at the top tables in Nagoya. Out of the top sixteen decks, eleven (!!) played a mix of Swamps, Mountains and aggressive red and black cards. That’s right – five in the top 8 and six more finishing in the top 16, Nagoya was literally plagued with R/B aggro decks. And I’m calling them „R/B aggro“ instead of „Zombies“ on purpose, since a big part of them actually didn’t play any Zombies at all.

If you take a look at the eleven top finishing R/B decks in Nagoya, it’s like looking at an evolution of a deck in slow motion. You can still see some „old fashioned“ Zombie decks with Blood Artists and Threaten-type effects. Right next to these, you can catch a glimpse of Zombie decks with Vampire Nighthawks in order to improve their chances in the mirror. Then you can see a pack of R/B decks with the bigger red threats (Hellrider, Thundermaw Hellkite) and shakier manabases – a shift that has been recorded in some of the recent GPs and that stands for pretty much the „stock Zombies“ list now. And then, you can see the deck evolving even further, jumping the borderline between black and red and leaning a lot more towards the red part – keeping the best easy-to-splash black cards, but adopting more burn and aggressive non-zombie creatures. This improves the manabase a lot, because you no longer have to worry about being able to cast triple-black spells alongside the double-red ones, as Knight of Infamy and Falkenrath Aristocrat are generally the only black cards in the maindeck. And because the manabase is a lot better now, it’s possible to reap some reward for that. Ryuji Murae, a top8 finisher in Nagoya, fitted three Cathedral of War into his maindeck, for example. And Stromkirk Noble makes for almost as good a one-drop as Gravecrawler when everybody plays Pillar of Flame.

I’m not saying that one of these R/B builds is better than the other. After all, the card-quality in the current Standard format is generally so high that no matter what colors you play, you should always end up with a deck whose power-level is high enough to compete with the others. Sticking to guild-colors obviously helps, but the point that I’m trying to make here is that there are many possible builds of most Standard decks and none of them are „right“ or „wrong“. It all depends on what other people are playing. In Nagoya, if you were on the R/B train, it seemed to have paid dividends to switch gears and drop Zombies for some red aggressive dorks. The reasons for that are numerous – Ash Zealot is awesome in the creature mirrors, for example, and the GravecrawlerGeralf's Messenger duo is weak against the omnipresent Pillar of Flame. It may very well be true that next week, playing Zombies will be a better idea again. But it’s worth keeping in mind that there are always many different possibilities, regardless of what deck you’re playing. In Zombies, you can shuffle your creature-base around a bit, in Reanimator, you can go for different colors and different win conditions, and even in Bant control, you can decide whether you want to splash red for Pillar of Flame against Zombies or black for Nephalia Drownyard against other control decks, for example.

GP Toronto

Nagoya wasn’t the only GP that has taken place recently. Toronto hosted a Modern GP this past weekend, with Willy Edel winning the trophy. A couple of months ago, pretty much everybody took it for granted that PV is almost locked for the South-American Players Championship slot, but Willy Edel is running away with the invitation right now. It makes me wonder if PV has some winning streak prepared for the second part of the season to claim the slot for himself.

So, what’s new in Modern? The GP has been won by Jund, but the build is far from the stock list, as Willy decided to run stuff like Lotus Cobra and Thundermaw Hellkite in his list and, as far as I can tell, it has worked pretty well for him. If you haven’t seen his list, I highly recommend looking it up, especially if you’re also on the Jund bandwagon. But the Jund list is not what I’m going to talk about. For some time now, it seemed that a pure control list is impossible to play successfully in Modern. All the combo and aggro decks had too much disruption and tempo and with Jace, the Mind Sculptor banned, control decks didn’t really have any card advantage engine on their side. Even the U/W decks opted for aggressive creatures like Geist of Saint Traft rather than rely on the lategame entirely. Well, Collin Morton top8ed the 1000+ people tournament with a purely controllish list. The whole creature suite consists of three Wall of Omens and the win conditions are Batterskull, Lingering Souls and three different planeswalkers, each of them appearing in three copies in Collin’s deck. Here’s the list:

UW control by Collin Morton

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White
Blue

6th place at GP Toronto 2012, Modern

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What I really like about this deck is how clearly it aims at the weaknesses in the metagame. I can still remember destroying Jund in Standard with Spreading Seas and Tectonic Edges and I’m happy to see that this plan still works even in Modern, despite the fact that Deathrite Shaman acts as a mana-stabilizer. Nevertheless, Collin’s U/W control has plenty of removal for the pesky Golgari mage and keeping the Jund opponents off their colored mana shouldn’t be all that hard. The absence of countermagic in the maindeck might seem surprising, but the whole Modern format is very much skewed towards creatures now, with even combo decks relying on dorks (Melira, poison guys, Pestermite), so betting all your marbles on this type of defense is not that bad of an idea. I really hope that the U/W control deck will find its place in the Modern metagame, even if Jace stays banned. Diversity is always healthy for a format and even though Modern seems to be quite diverse right now, a true control deck is something that’s missing from the puzzle. If that will still be the case in the coming weeks and months, we’ll see – Collin Morton and his U/W control seem to disagree.

As always, thanks for reading and see you next time!

Adam Koska

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