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Silver Bullets in Modern and GP Utrecht

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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:

  • 14th at Pro Tour Portland 2014
  • 9th at Worlds 2009
  • 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • 64 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Three times Czech Nationals Top 8

Silver Bullets in Modern and GP Utrecht

Hey everyone!

Today, I’m going to talk about two topics: first, I would like to briefly recap my GP Utrecht experience and then I’d like to have a look at the role of „silver bullets“ in Modern – what is currently the most important piece of sideboard technology, what are the sideboard cards flying under the radar, etc.

GP Utrecht

The Modern Masters GP in Utrecht was a very uncharacteristic one for me. The sheer magnitude of the event was incredible, but there were many other things setting it apart from a „regular“ GP. First of all, I typically don’t play GPs as a „pre-release“ of any set, but this time, I actually got pretty close to that. I did manage to play one practice draft before setting off to the Netherlands, but since I only came back home the weekend before from a trip in Italy after GP Florence, I couldn’t realistically play more. We arrived to Utrecht on Thursday late evening and after briefly thinking about playing the 10 p.m. trial, we realized that it would end sometimes around 4 a.m. and decided to go to sleep and play some trials on Friday instead.

The trials were also fairly atypical. Since the entry fee was €45 - €50  (depending on when you played), there were chances that you would get more than your money’s worth before even opening up all the booster packs. In every sealed flight, around 8-10 people dropped before the deck swap – usually because of a Tarmogoyf, but foil staple rares and mythics would often do just fine as well. Most of these single-elimination trials had a lot of byes in the first round and some even in round two, when someone was supposed to play the winner of a match where both players dropped.

I managed to play in two sealed trials on Friday. In the first one, I got to play with what was likely the best sealed pool I have ever seen. I mean, sure, this is Modern Masters and the power level is bound to be a little higher, but still – my rares included Mirror Entity, Primeval Titan and TWO Profane Commands, the rest was basically just removal (ten removal spells including a Savage Twister), the best uncommon creatures and all the mana-fixing my four-color build would need. I went 5-0 with the deck, dropping only one game along the way, where I never played my third land. Still, I wanted to play more sealed flights, because the first trial didn’t really give me much of an idea what the format was about. It’s easy to win when you have just bombs and removal, regardless of what format you’re playing.

The second trial was more interesting – I cobbled together a green-black-white deck with a solid amount of removal and some token synergies. I went 2-1, losing to an insane R/B bloodthirst deck, but I got the impression that unless your pool offers you something very unusual in terms of synergy, you want to go three/four color and just play your best cards. I tried to stick to the very same principle on Saturday during the main event. Again, I was on green-black-white, this time with Scute Mob, Noble Hierarch, Mirror Entity and Wolfbriar Elemental (again with plenty of removal and token-generators). I thought my deck was solid, but after winning my third round (having two byes), I lost three rounds in a row and was dead and buried. I still think that the deck was capable of a better result and that my losses were rather unfortunate. In round four, I lost twice to „play Hellkite Charger, attack for five, untap, attack for ten, you’re dead“ without seeing any removal. In round five, my Boros bloodthirst opponent got me with a splashed Mana Leak that I didn’t expect and then in round six, I got beaten by the jigsaw puzzle of „Smokebraider + Soulbright Flamekin + Inner-Flame Igniter“, again without seeing any answer. The format really has a power level so high that if you find yourself without answers to your opponent’s best draw, there’s very little you can do about it.

Even though I was pretty happy with my pool initially, I still think I misbuilt it by several cards. The format is not all that relevant anymore, so I won’t go into too much detail, but MM2 sealed deck is all about mid/late game bombs and removal. Even though Darksteel Axe is normally a very good card, I only had „normal“ creatures to go with it without any special synergies, so I should have left it in my sideboard. I did have a few token generators and I played Bone Splinters – my mistake was that I should have played another copy that I left in my sideboard. The presence of must-kill creatures is much more important than risking that you’d find yourself without any good fodder (which also doesn’t happen all that often thanks to Arrest, Narcolepsy and Pillory of the Sleepless being in the format). And instead of Grim Affliction that kills creatures you don’t care about, I should have played an Ulamog's Crusher, because most games went pretty long and none of them was decided by a 2/2 creature.

Because Modern Masters limited is such a bomb-heavy format, there are bound to be some pretty epic games. These are some highlights from the GP – either from games that I played or that I saw / heard about:

  • Playing Savage Twister with a Mirran Crusader out to sweep the board but leave on the board the pro-green double-striker immune to the green mass removal spell.
  • A game which ended in a draw, despite one player having Karn at 18 loyalty with Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre exiled. Two more turns would have been enough to restart the game and attack twice for the win.

Let me know in the comments if you saw some other insane play or in-game situation!

Modern Sideboards

The more I play Modern, the more I get the feeling that it is a format defined by sideboards. PV once said that Modern would be a much more healthier format if players were allowed to have 20-card sideboards, because the number of possible archetypes you need to be prepared for is staggeringly high. And not only that, but if you find yourself unprepared for some particular matchup, the chances of you winning the post-board games go down drastically. It’s not always quite like facing Dredge without any graveyard hate, but if you try to fight Affinity without artifact removal or Burn without lifegain, chances are that you’re not going to do all that well. Because of this, sideboarding is extremely important in Modern – and so is using sideboard slots correctly. There are basically two kinds of Modern sideboard cards: silver bullets that are designed to tear to shreds one particular archetype and nothing else (see Feed the Clan, for example) and more general answers that are not so brutal, but are useful in more matchups than one. I think that the most difficult task regarding Modern sideboarding is balancing these two approaches – based on what your deck does, how it handles different opposing strategies, but also based on what the metagame looks like at that precise moment.

To show more clearly what I mean, I took a closer look at some of the successful Modern lists from several big events that took place recently – specifically, I analyzed the „7-1 or better“ decks from the most recent SCG Invi and then three top 8s from the most recent 5K Premier IQs. Together, this makes 44 decks. I put all the sideboards together to see what the most common sideboard cards are and if we can maybe see some patterns there. These were the most heavily represented cards (the number behind the card name says in how many sideboard out of the 44 decks it was present, the numbers before the card show how many copies different people played):

  • 2 2 1 1 1 2 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 3 2 4 1 3 Spellskite  (22)
  • 2 1 3 3 2 2 1 2 1 1 2 1 Dispel (12)

Just for the matter of interest, here’s part of the opposite section of the spectrum, some cards that only one person played in their sideboard:

I think that the lists show several very interesting things. First of all, the hate cards at the top are fairly well known and well expected. 22 out of 44 decks played some number of Spellskites in the sideboard, many of them run it in the maindeck. 12 decks, that’s more than 25%, had access to Blood Moon in games two and three. What this shows is that if you don’t have a plan against some of the most popular sideboard weapons, you should quickly get one, since losing to a Blood Moon is a very real possibility.

On the other hand, the lists – especially the second one and anything that lays in between them – shows great diversity. Out of the 44 decks, there were 147 unique sideboard cards used. And remember, these were only the highest finishing decks, presumably with cards and sideboard plans that work very well. The list for the whole tournaments would be much, much longer and it shows that in Modern, you should be prepared for anything. 32 out of the top 44 decks had a card in their sideboard that no other deck had, something special that could not be found in the other builds. People may be prepared for Pyroclasm and Torpor Orb, but the Modern card pool is so deep that it shouldn’t be all that hard to find something they are not prepared for, something that hoses the usual sideboard plan for that particular matchup. Chromantic Lantern as a way to beat Blood Moon is a very good example of an approach that could work just that way.

One interesting thing that caught my attention was that the most common number of copies of a sideboard card in any deck was by far one – as the number of decks you need to be prepared for is very high, the sideboard slots are shattered on almost a singleton scale. Being able to tutor for your sideboard cards is a great feature of any Modern deck, and if your deck is capable of that (or at least has a lot of card selection), you should definitely go for a higher number of sideboard weapons in fewer copies. Also, diversifying your post-board threats means they’re going to be harder to fight, especially if it comes at virtually no cost.

In conclusion, I agree with the statement that Modern would be a more balanced format if it was legal to have more cards in the sideboard. But the way it is, it also presents us with an interesting puzzle to solve. How to contain enough matchups? How to balance the power vs. usefulness? If you find satisfying answers to these questions for your Modern deck, chances are that you’re doing something right.

Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Adam

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