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Angry Beetles and Minotaurs - A GP Prague Report

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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

Angry Beetles and Minotaurs - A GP Prague Report

Hey everyone! The Modern GP Prague took place this past weekend and since I participated in this tournament (with it being held almost in my backyard), today, I would like to share my tournament report, talking about the deck that I played and how I fared with it.

Modern is quite an interesting format. The range of playable decks is pretty wide, but the pool of „potentially playable“ decks is even bigger – every time the metagame changes, it hurts some tier 2 or 3 decks, but also benefits some others, so a deck that seemed to be weak one day can suddenly be a great choice for a tournament the week after. Last time, for example, I talked about devotion in Modern, Petr Brožek piloted a Gw Devotion deck (clearly a tier 2 deck at best) to ay 2 at GP Prague. He didn’t finish in the money, but he still had some pretty epic games, like the one in the last round of day 1 on 6-2. His opponent was playing Soul Sisters and climbed to well over 40 life, with two Serra Ascendants in play – he had a reason to feel safe and in the driver’s seat. That is, until Petr tapped Nykthos for nine mana, cast Tooth and Nail with entwine, searched his library for two Craterhoof Behemoths and attacked for 85+ trample damage. That’s Modern, folks!

Living End
Versions:
Time Spiral (Foil)

I was fooling around with the idea of running Devotion myself, but in the end, I decided to go with Living End – a deck that I almost played at the Extended GP Oakland almost four years ago and that I’ve always felt didn’t get the credit it deserved. The average draw is very powerful and you should reliably be able to sweep the opponent’s board by turn 3 or 4 and at the same time put creatures with power 12-15 on the board, putting the opponent into a very difficult situation. Decks with creatures and little disruption are very good matchups, but even slower matchups are actually pretty good – you have four Fulminator Mages and four Beast Withins, so typically, you’re able to harass the opponent’s mana and then force thorugh a Living End, with one cascade at the end of the opponent’s turn and one in your own turn (or one from suspend and the other with a cascade spell). The problem is when the opponent has a fast clock AND counterspells or disruption for your manabase / hand. Living End usually doesn’t win before turn 5 or 6 and decks that win faster and don’t fold to a resolved Living End or Beast Within can be really tough to beat.

Was I happy with the deck? To some extent yes, but not completely. The biggest problem is the consistency of the deck. On paper, it looks just fine – you have between 12 and 14 creatures with cycling, some fetches and landcyclers to thin your deck and some cards to hold the fort before you set up the perfect Living End situation. But in reality, there are many things that can – and will – go wrong, costing you games. Even though you play eight cascade spells in an essentially 47-card deck (thanks to cycling), you can still fail to draw one. You only play 19 lands, so naturally, sometimes you won’t draw the second land. Or you will draw all three of your Living Ends, or not any cycling creatures. This won’t happen all the time, but from time to time, it’s going to cost you a game – and these losses add up. Also, the deck mulligans a lot, since there are cards that you don’t want to draw in multiples or don’t even want to draw at all. Simply put, when the deck is not in the right mood, you can just fizzle in every other game without being able to do anything about it.

Still, if you don’t mind a bit of gambling, the raw power of the deck is quite high and it can definitely deliver. For the GP, I thought that the rewards were worth the risk and I registered the following decklist:

Most of the deck is fairly straightforward. There isn’t too much room for changes – you can decide between running more or less Twisted Abominations or Pale Recluses or whether or not to include Simian Spirit Guides or Shriekmaws, but that’s pretty much it. I chose to run the full set of Pale Recluses, mostly because they can fetch Dryad Arbor if you need to fire off Demonic Dread and don’t have any target in play. Simian Spirit Guide is a card that can get you out of tight spots sometimes, but you almost never want to draw multiples, so I chose to run one and was happy with the decision. The two Leyline of the Void in the main deck might look strange, but again, I still think that’s actually the correct place for them. Leylines are great in many matchups where you probably wouldn’t expect them to be. Apart from the Living End mirror match (which I expected a lot of), they are also really crucial against Merfolk and other creature decks with a really strong board presence, where you usually need to „wrath“ the opponent twice and can hardly afford the first wave to come back after your second Living End, and also against Affinity, where a single Arcbound Ravager can ensure that you’re actually not wrathing anything and the opponent might have a better board post-Living End than you. Leyline of the Void singlehandedly solves both of these problems.

I’ve always liked traditional round-by-round reports, as long as they also contained some general information on the matchups, so that’s what I’m going to go for.

After my two byes, I played against Andrea Borsari. I started the game with two copies of Leyline of the Void in play, only to learn that my opponent was playing R/G Tron. Well, at least he couldn’t cycle his Chromatic Stars (yay!). Nevertheless, I had enough Fulminator Mages to keep him off Tron and after the first Violent Outburst brought the Fulminators back, the game was over. Game two, Andrea started with a Pithing Needle on Fulminator Mage, but I had a lot of cycling creatures and a fast Living End, which even his completed Tron couldn’t handle.

3-0

Round four, Philip Gollmann from Austria was my opponent. He played Jund, which should be probably my best matchup. He did have three Jund Charms AND three Rakdos Charms in the board to remove my graveyard – and he won game two on the back of these – but game three, he couldn’t remove my yard and the beasts got him.

4-0

Philip Messow from Germany faced me with Tempo Twin in the next round. Game one, I started with a Grove of the Burnwillows and let him go – he played Serum Visions and kept Spell Snare on top, thinking I was R/G Tron. Unfortunately for him, I don’t even play a single target for Spell Snare in my 75 and thanks to some land destruction, I was able to force through a Living End and win. Game two, he had an important Molten Rain on turn three, then played a Relic of Progenitus on turn four and tapped out in my upkeep to cast Vendilion Clique. However, I had both Damping Matrix and Violent Outburst in my hand, two problem cards he couldn’t solve (being tapped out and not able to pop the Relic that turn). He decided to let me have my cascade spell, but there were simply too many fatties for him to handle and on his next turn, I had again mana up for Beast Within to disrupt his combo.

5-0

In round six, I lost to Robert Rettenbacher from Austria, with monoblue Tron. This matchup is a bit of an uphill battle, because they have relatively quick threats, countermagic and usually also Relics in the maindeck. In the end, game one came down to too many Wurmcoil Engines on his side of the board (a great card against Living End, since it can partially live through the „wrath“ part of End) and game two to more or less the same, plus me drawing all three Living Ends.

5-1

Round seven was anticlimactic. Michale Fischer with Merfolk (how appropriate) dismantled me in two games. In the first one, I had to pull the cascade trigger early, but he reloaded and then drew simply too many Merfolk lords. Game two, he mulliganed to four, I kept a one-lander with two one-mana cyclers and a landcycler, but despite cycling twice, I never drew the second land. Well, this sometimes happens with such a low land-count. But it was especially painful as my opponent went down to four cards and thus had a very slow start, giving me plenty of time to recover, but I never got past land number one.

5-2

Fulminator Mage
Versions:
Shadowmoor (Foil)

In rounds eight and nine, I played against Tijmen Blankevoort from the Netherlands and Luigi Moscatelli from Italy, both with RUW control. They took some mulligans that made it more difficult for them to keep up (and to hit their land drops, which is essential when playing against Fulminator Mage and Beast Within), but I think that in the games that were „fair“, it was clearly visible what this matchup looks like: with the constraints that I put on their mana, it’s very difficult for them to control everything and when a single Living End slips through, they can only get back into the game with a Supreme Verdict, otherwise they’re dead. Also, in the second game against Luigi, he played Surgical Extraction on my Living End very early on (since I had to cast one on turn three basically only to get rid of Geist of Saint Traft), but I simply hardcast all my dudes and won limited-style. This is something that gets a lot of bad rap, but it’s actually a completely viable route to victory. Cards like Twisted Abomination, Pale Recluse or Monstrous Carabid are quite huge in the world of Snapcaster Mages, Vendilion Cliques and the like and each single one of them can seal the deal quite quickly. And so my round 9 opponent was another person on the list of players eaten by a hard-cast six-mana Pale Recluse.

7-2

Day two started very well for me. My first two opponents – Bartlomie Lewandowski and Oliver Rausch – were on Junk and Jund respectively, and even though I stumbled in one game against Bartlomie, in the end, I was able to win both rounds (also because Oliver’s mana didn’t exactly cooperate with him).

9-2

Then after this round, the wheels fell off. In round twelve, I played against Christian Rothen with Pyromancer Ascension. This is usually a horrible matchup for Living End, but at least I had the Leylines – which in theory could make it very difficult for him to win, since he relies so much on the Ascension and Past in Flames. I tried to mulligan aggressively into the Leylines, but in the end, I kept my six cards both games, since they contained some lands, cyclers, Fulminator Mages and Beast Withins. However, that didn’t turn out to be the winning strategy against Storm and I lost both games relatively quickly. Maybe I should have mulliganed down to five to find the Leylines...

9-3

Gabor Kocsis of Hungary was my opponent for round thirteen, playing G/W Hatebears. Game one, I managed to force through a Living End through his Thalia (thanks to a Spirit Guide) and won from there. Game two, he started turn 1 Birds of Paradise and then went into Strip Mine mode with turn two Leonin Arbiter + Ghost Quarter, turn 3 Ghost Quarter. I didn’t win that game. The decider was close and tense, but in the end Gabor got me. The matchup is actually pretty bad for Living End – hatebears have a quick clock and a lot of disruption, aimed at one of Living End's soft spots – the manabase. Thalia is very hard to beat and so is Leonin Arbiter, if it enters play before you’re able to cycle your landcyclers. Scavenging Ooze and Rest in Peace also don’t help.

9-4

In round fourteen, I faced Jani-Petteri Huttunen from Finland and I lost 2-0, despite the weather conditions being on my side: the sun was shining directly through the glass wall of the hall on Jani-Petteri from the back, which made it very difficult for him to operate his foil-rich deck. At first, I thought I had the worse side, since I was sitting against the sun, but in the end it turned out that that was not the case. The fact that Jani was dressed in a heavy black leather jacket also didn’t help him feel comfortable. Jani was running Scapeshift, which is not a great matchup, since my Living Ends can help his mana thanks to Sakura-Tribe Elders and he can make my Fulminators worse by fetching basics with his land-searching spells and fetchlands. It’s still a passable matchup, but in the second game, my deck completely fizzled, as I tore through half of my library without finding a single cascade spell or a Living End to suspend. Well, that also sometimes happens.

9-5

In the last round, I was only playing for a very theoretical possibility to finish in the money. Despite Andre Luff – my opponent from that round – playing a Jund deck without a single graveyard-sweeper in his sideboard, he crushed me in games two and three when my deck malfunctioned and provided me with one or two (or five) too many lands. That’s Magic.

9-6

Despite losing my last four rounds in the GP, I still think that Living End is a viable deck in Modern and one that likely doesn’t get enough credit, which can continuously help the archetype fly under the radar. The deck does have some consistency issues, which I think were clearly visible in those last four rounds – I mulliganed a lot, for example, but this will happen with Living End, since it mulligans much more than some more consistent decks. The Leylines weren’t exactly great, but helped sometimes and in the right metagame (more Affinity and Living End), they could be crucial. I’d definitely play the full playset somewhere between the maindeck and the sideboard.

What I like about the deck is how strong its „plan B“ is. When any other combo deck fizzles, it just rolls over and dies. In Living End, hardcasting your creatures and playing cascade spells without the intention of casting Living End looks like a horrible proposition, but it’s actually fairly strong. Both Demonic Dread and Violent Outburst can help deal the last few points of damage once you get a few creatures on the board and start attacking. Also, many people tend to forget or not realize what the cards do – having people caught off guard by Street Wraith’s swampwalk ability is not too uncommon, for example. During the GP, my round 9 opponent passed his turn when I was tapped out, having cast Twisted Abomination on my previous turn, and then he wanted to Lightning Bolt it during my next attack phase, only to learn that it regenerates. This is one of the big advantages of playing a deck that’s still relatively unknown, compared to all the tier 1 decks.

Well, that’s it from me for today. I didn’t exactly win GP Prague, but I had a lot of fun playing and felt that the deck was fairly powerful. I’ll definitely try to tune it a bit more and I think that I’ll play it in Modern for some more time. And so should you, if you’re looking for a fun and not really mainstream Modern deck.

As always thanks for reading and see you next time!

Adam Koska

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