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Four Lessons From the Modern GP Weekend

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Hello everybody! 

About a week ago, two Modern Grand Prix took place and a lot of surprising things happened - some of them in the top8s of these tournaments, some of them a bit lower down the standings, but still at pretty high positions. Today, I'd like to go through some of the most interesting highlights, metagame shifts, and pieces of innovation.

1) Dredge Is Not Dead

The big news out of GP Brisbane certainly has to be the return of Dredge. Although it didn't win the event, it put two players into the top 8, including Lee Shi Tian, who was on the top of the standings for the majority of both Saturday and Sunday. In Vancouver, Dredge was not quite as successful, but still managed to put one player into the top 16. After Golgari Grave-Troll was banned just a couple of weeks ago, many thought it would prove to be the end of Dredge in Modern, since the Troll was by far the best dredge card. However, Lee Shi Tian replaced the Trolls with Golgari Thugs and apart from that, his deck was almost identical to the pre-ban versions.

What helped Dredge this weekend was certainly the fact that many people weren't prepared to play against it and didn't have too many hate cards in their sideboards. It seems likely that after this weekend, people are going to put at least some number of Relic of Progenitus, Rest in Peace and Surgical Extraction back into their sideboards, but the question certainly is: how good will Dredge be in the format once the element of surprise is gone? Golgari Grave-Troll was not only the best dredger (dredge 6 and dredge 4 can be a huge difference, especially if you're dredging several times per turn), but also a very potent late-game threat. Hardcasting the Troll was not uncommon, and decks facing Dredge had to be prepared to deal with a swarm of small dorks in Bloodghasts and Prized Amalgams, but also with the opponent casting huge regenerating monsters in the late-game. Now it seems that, as long as you contain the small creatures and don't die to the Conflagrate + Life from the Loam engine, you should be fine, as there's one fewer problem to worry about, one fewer angle the Dredge deck can attack from. What I think is going to happen is that Dredge is going to become a "normal" Modern deck - it seems unlikely that it would catch people as off guard as in Brisbane, but some numbers of it are going to stay in the metagame and win a tournament here and there.

Fatal Push
Versions:
Aether Revolt (Foil)

2) Fatal Push Became a Modern Staple and Helped the Unfair Decks

This one might feel a bit counterintuitive - Fatal Push is a "fair" card in that it doesn't do anything broken, so how could it benefit the unfair decks? This might be a bit of a shortcut, but since Fatal Push is an answer to "fair" aggro decks (Naya Burn, Affinity, etc.), its presence in the format makes these decks weaker. But the fast aggro decks were traditionally what kept the "unfair" decks in check - a fast clock means the decks that have a lot of inevitability don't actually get the time to take over the game. But playing Fatal Push against the unfair decks is often like taking a mulligan. So what its presence did is that first, it weakened the unfair decks' natural enemy, meta-archetype-wise, and second, it gave reactive decks a card that's great against aggro but does nothing against Primeval Titan, Griselbrand or Ensnaring Bridge. Fatal Push might be the best removal spell in Modern, but decks that blank it used the metagame shift the best: out of the top 32 decks in Brisbane, twenty-one have no good targets for the one mana removal spell or have their key creatures be immune to the black one-mana kill spell. In Vancouver, the situation was a bit different thanks to the high numbers of Death's Shadow and Naya Burn, but still, fifteen out of the top 32 lists were decks that I would board Fatal Push out when playing against. These numbers include decks like Tron, Amulet Titan, Titanshift, Grixis Control, Ad Nauseam, Dredge or Lantern. Sure, some of these do have some targets, like Matter Reshaper, Thought-Knot Seer, Snapcaster Mage, Prized Amalgam, and so on, but the Push either doesn't hit most of the important cards or even misses completely.

So what does this mean for the future of Fatal Push and also for the format as a whole? In the long-term, things will probably stabilize somewhere around the middle - Fatal Push was likely at its long-time low this past weekend, which means people won't run as many (I'm likely going to replace one Push with Murderous Cut in my Esper control), which in turn benefits fast aggro decks and things will settle down in some kind of equilibrium.

3) Walking Ballista Is a Real Card in Modern

The Modern GP weekend was a good one for the Eldrazi. Reality Smashers were smashing hard, Endbringers were bringing a lot of ends and Drowner of Hope was drowning hopes all Saturday and Sunday. But apart from the traditional "Bant Eldrazi" lists, there's a new Eldrazi deck in the format which seems to have established its presence: the Eldrazi Tron. Three copies of this archetype could be found in the top 32 of both Brisbane and Vancouver and the deck was even played by some of the Pros like Pascal Maynard or David Mines. Here's David's list:

Eldrazi Tron by David Mines

9th place at GP Brisbane

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Walking Ballista
Versions:
Aether Revolt (Foil)

Being fully colorless (or "mono-brown") has its advantages as well as the disadvantages that come with only being able to play colorless cards or spells with Phyrexian mana. However, it seems that there is actually enough of these cards in Modern to make for a deck that can succeed in the metagame. And the upside is fairly huge - in addition to the Tron lands, you also have access to a playset of Eldrazi Temples, as well as Ghost Quarters that are incredible against the "classical" Tron decks that also gained a lot of popularity. The singleton Cavern of Souls and Sea Gate Wreckage are in the deck as tutor targets for Expedition Map and can help a good deal against decks that counter or in the lategame, while Wastes is important as an answer to Blood Moon.

So - what is the reason that this deck is now playable? The answer is quite simply Walking Ballista. The card does amazing things: it's a creature that can be a decent turn 2 play while also being a mana sink on turn 8 when you have assembled the Tron. When cast for 8+ mana, it triggers Sanctum of Ugin (which many lists run), giving you additional ways how to find your lategame bombs like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. With Basilisk Collar, it can machine gun the opponent's board - one counter, one creature down. This combo, by the way, is so powerful, that I would consider playing it in U/W Tron as well, together with Trinket Mage who can find both the Ballista and the Collar. Simply put, Walking Ballista is another mana sink the deck needed, while also being great against some of its most troublesome matchups such as Infect.

Eldrazi Tron is likely going to remain a part of the Modern metagame, although I would expect some anti-Eldrazi cards out of many sideboards, now that regular Tron, Bant Eldrazi and Eldrazi Tron seem to form such a significant part of the metagame. In addition to the Eldrazi decks, I've seen Walking Ballista being tested in a Modern Hardened Scales deck as well. At first, such an attempt might feel like a joke, but when you consider cards like Arcbound Ravager (who gets an additional +1/+1 counter every time you sacrifice an artifact and can also dump all its counters onto a Ballista for some quick kills), Steel Overseer and Hangarback Walker, you start getting the core of a deck that can be capable of doing some pretty ridiculous things. I don't think that there's a well tested version out there just yet (I've seen lists with Winding Constrictors or more Affinity-like builds), but I wouldn't be surprised if this turned out to be a real Modern deck as well.

4) Jeskai Copycat Might Have What It Takes to Compete in Modern

Jeskai Copycat might have reached its pre-PT peak in Standard already, but there actually seems to be a future for the combo in Modern as well. This is the list that Anthony Lee used to finish 28th at GP Brisbane:

Modern Jeskai Copycat by Anthony Lee

Saheeli Rai
Versions:
Kaladesh (Foil)

Since the Copycat combo is functionally so close to Splinter Twin and also because Twin was the defining deck of Modern for a long time, it only makes sense that people are going to compare the two, so lets see what such a comparison can bring. A big upside the Twin decks had was that they could kill out of nowhere, flashing an Exarch into play at the end of turn and then suiting him up with a Twin as early as turn four. Also, the Twin-Exarch combo was immune to Lightning Bolt, which Copycat isn't, since Bolt can kill Saheeli with the trigger on the stack. However, the Copycat combo also has certain advantages. For one, both of its pieces are more useful on their own than Exarch / Twin used to be. There is actually a number of great blink targets in the deck - Snapcaster Mage, Pia and Kiran Nalaar, Spreading Seas... It's easy for Felidar Guardian to generate value and most of these cards can be copied by Saheeli Rai as well. If you have two Saheelis in the graveyard, you can create an infinite loop with a Sun Titan too - bring back a Saheeli, copy the Titan, bring back another Saheeli, choose to keep the new one with loyalty 3 because of the legend rule, create another Sun Titan, bring back Saheeli... As Saheeli Rai is quite a fragile planeswalker, having two of them in the graveyard won't be as uncommon as it might seem at first.

I think that the feature the pre-ban Twin and the Modern Jeskai Copycat share and the one that's probably the most important is that both of them, while being able to deliver some pretty swift combo kills, are essentially control decks at heart. Anthony Lee's list has the removal package of 4 Lightning Bolts, 4 Path to Exile, together with 4 Snapcaster Mages and 4 Remands and these cards alone can play a really nice game without the help of any combo. And as many people won't even be suspecting any combo shenanigans from a Jeskai Control deck, it should be easy to get some free wins by simply having the opponent tap out and then losing to a Felidar Guardian + Saheeli. At six mana, the deck is actually capable of an instant win - Guardian blinks a land, which gives you the seventh mana. The combo package doesn't even require that much space and doesn't force you to play any really bad cards, so I'm hopeful about the chances of this deck in Modern.

Some other decks that did pretty well during the "Modern weekend" were Death's Shadow Zoo with Traverse the Ulvenwald (which Josh Utter-Leyton used to win GP Vancouver) or Amulet Titan. Infect could also be seen at the top tables, although in smaller numbers than before the ban. However, it seems that banning Golgari Grave-Troll and Gitaxian Probe didn't kill any deck outright, it just made several archetypes weaker but still playable and brought more balance into the metagame. Modern, although it still suffers from its inherent problems, seems to be a diverse format and I'm looking forward to playing it, perhaps with some of the new tools we've seen in Brisbane and Vancouver.

Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Adam

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
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