Past, Present, and Future

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Past, Present, and Future

It is the end of a season.  It is almost time for Worlds.  It is the beginning of a new path for Magic.  For those of you who were online yesterday, you probably saw the news regarding the changing of Magic’s set design and rotation.  I’ll touch a bit upon that along with going over my tournament weekend and where I’m at with decks in all formats.  It’s been a while since I’ve had an article and you readers are overdue for some updates.  Without further adou. . .

Past

This past weekend I attended two pro tour qualifiers in my area, and both went pretty well with narrow misses at obtaining my longtime goal.  I’m sad that the Modern season is over, but the experiences I’ve had between last season and this one have truly made me love the format.  Wizards did a great job at creating a format where a wide open metagame can exist, and where new ideas are birthed at an almost constant rate.  Every Modern tournament I’ve been to I’ve played against at least five or six different archetypes, and the vast majority of them have been competitive.  If you’re reading my articles and haven’t played the format much, you should pick it up today.  The season might be over but it’s absolutely worth your time.

After my last article and tournament, I became quite determined to get over the hump in my game.  I knew the issue for me was practice time and comfort level, and as limited as my time and money is if I was going to do well in the upcoming weeks, I’d need to address the issue.  I doubled my efforts on Cockatrice, playing for several hours almost every day, waking up early, going to bed late at night, playing at lunch, basically whenever I could squeeze in time between other stuff I had going on.  I tried to engage some of my fellow burn players a bit more online and in person, bouncing off ideas and questions I had.  I proxied up the big archetypes I was having trouble with, gold-fished some and practiced live matches with others.

Needless to say, the efforts paid off.  I doubted whether it was worth the time or not, but this weekend proved to me that it makes the difference.  I ran the same 75 cards as last time, changing out 1 card on Sunday, and felt very comfortable piloting it other than some grave play mistakes on occasion or some nervous matches when I was in contention.

Saturday’s PTQ was in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin at a roller rink.  The host Bryant Cobarrubias was welcoming and friendly and overall made the tournament go smoother than many others.  It was a refreshing change from the last one I went to in Chicago, despite having disco balls above our heads, intimate mood lighting, and a chilly AC.  The scene was pretty funny, and as my wife later put it “you guys look like you’re doing male speed dating”.

FonDuLacMagic
(Photo Credit:  Bryant Cobarrubias)

The tournament started off well with a win against a Utopia Sprawl Primeval Titan deck.  It was a younger kid playing the deck which was part brew, part netdeck, and I lost game 2 due to repeat Primal Commands only because I didn’t realize he had them.  Fortunately his deck was just a turn or two slow, and I was able to take the match.  That largely is the story of why this particular build of Burn I believe is the best right now, because you’re simply a turn faster than almost everything in this format set aside Affinity, Infect, Storm, etc.  All the fair decks like Jund, Junk, and Pod are expending heavy resources like Abrupt Decay and Thoughtseize to counteract threats that only cost you one mana and do more than that in damage.  Plus, with the reliance on shock lands being so heavy in this format, your opponent has often done a quarter of the job for you in the first few turns.  A lot of people who first see the deck balk at the presence of three colors in a Burn deck, knowing that you too will be taking lots of damage, but when the risk comes at the reward of having a reliable turn 4/5 kill, it tends to not matter in 80-90% of the matchups.

I lost round 2 playing against one of these fair decks, B/G Rock.  It was embarrassing.  I misplayed, knew correctly how the situation worked, but just duffed it after thinking about my play for a long time in the tank.  I was in game 3 and had a Shard Volley in my hand along with an active Grim Lavamancer and a Goblin Guide in play.  My opponent was essentially in lethal range within the next turn, but had a Tarmogoyf on the table.  For some reason the notion got into my head that I needed to kill this Goyf since it was both preventing me from attacking and also would kill me in a few turns if I left it go unchecked.  I don’t know how my logic circled around to this, but I ended up Shard Volley’ing it, forgetting that the instant would make it grow a toughness bigger, and a nearby judge pointed it out after both my opponent and I missed it.  The Tarmogoyf lived, I no longer could get her for lethal in another turn, and I was killed by the same Goyf.  It’s almost never correct to kill a creature in the first place, which I know very well, but sometimes the pressure just gets to you.  Sadly, this is pretty costly in a big tournament like this, but I pushed on.

The later rounds were almost entirely a cruise, relying on knowing how the matchups work and being thankful for the practice time which was largely spent against any deck with Steam Vents in it (which is pretty much the format).  I lost one other round midway through the tournament to a player from my town who was on Scapeshift, and it was really just a matter of not drawing enough gas.  That matchup is almost always easy, as the outs they bring in are largely ones that you can play around (Spellskite) or counteract (Obstinate Baloth/Skullcrack).  The combo is a threat if you have a slower hand, which was the case here, but you rarely lose a game on the play and they almost never have enough disruption early to prevent you from going off first.  I lost the third game with my opponent at 1 life, and beat Scapeshift at least once if not twice during the remaining portion of the day.  Overall, I finished in 19th place and viewed the day as a good practice session going into Sunday.  A fellow grinder Greg Ogreenc (who in combination with Jasper Johnson-Epstein designed this Burn deck) made top 8 in Fond Du Lac, but sadly got paired against the worst matchup (Affinity) and lost a nailbiter in 3 games.  Thankfully one of our other Madison natives Matt Severa, playing Faeries, took down the tournament so not all was lost on the day.

I got home that night at 8:30pm and was exhausted.  I talked with my wife for a while and then tried to muster some sleep after looking at Magic articles online.  Next thing I know I woke up at 2 a.m., couldn’t fall back asleep, and then left my house at 3:30 a.m. to meet with my ride.  The drive took less time than we thought, but it was still 4 hours on top of what we did the day prior.  We arrived at Fantasy Flight Games Center near Minneapolis, and the next PTQ began.

Round 1 I had no idea what was going on.

My opponent was playing Steam Vents.deck (ah so familiar), but the card choices in game 1 weren’t enough for me to get a pin on what he had going.  I saw Snapcaster, Remand, Bolts, and all UR lands, so to me it seemed like he could either be a UR Control deck, a Delver deck, or Twin.  I thought that maybe he was playing the Twin combo in the board and when I went to game 2 I brought in 1 or 2 cards for that matchup just incase.  I didn’t want to overload on it if I was wrong, but I also didn’t want to be dead to it.  He was playing well throughout our match, but I was able to get game 2.  It was during that game that he scry’d with Magma Jet and accidentally revealed a Blood Moon.  The lightbulb turned on at that point and I realized I was playing against Blue Moon, a deck that I didn’t know much about other than seeing a decklist at the time of the Modern Pro Tour.  I had a sideboard plan for it (see my last article), and followed that for game 3.  It was very close, I was able to get him down to 1 life but had to pass the turn knowing that I was probably in danger with him having a few cards in hand and being at 8 life.  Sure enough, he cast Snapcaster at the end of my turn to flashback a Lightning Bolt, untapped, then cast another Lightning Bolt and an Electrolyze.  Not a good way to start out, but I wasn’t too jaded since the games were played very well on both sides and there was nothing I could do.  My opponent Lito was a very nice guy and I wished him good luck on his way up the chain.

I wouldn’t lose after that until much later.  Round after round, I either pummeled or squeaked out of intense situations, as this deck does.  It’s much like a Boxer in a fight, you need to time your hits correctly and sequence your moves.  It’s very easy to misplay this Burn deck.  You need to be doing the math on every turn you take and thinking of what possible outs your opponent has as you usually win with exactly lethal in a lot of games or with burn spells off the top of the deck.  Playing a few two mana burn spells because you have a few in your hand when you could have played three one mana burn spells and then finished with a two mana burn spell often can be the deciding factor between you being at the smelly tables in the back or up front with the champions.  There’s a lot of critical applications to keep in the back of your head too.

For instance, in one round Greg was playing against a Jund player and when the Jund player went to cast Anger of the Gods against a field of Goblin Guide, Grim Lavamancer, and Vexing Devil, and all looked lost.  But Greg cast Boros Charm giving his creatures indestructible and took the match.  It’s plays like these which don’t always seem obvious (since you’re usually totaling damage counts), but are extremely relevant to the long-gain results.  Another example came for me at the end of the day in Fond Du Lac when I looked dead on board against Pod, with him at 9 life and me facing lethal when I passed the turn.  I had a Lightning Bolt and a Rakdos Charm in hand, and he had an Archangel of Thune, a mana dork, a Voice of Resurgence, and an Elemental token from the Voice.  I passed the turn, declared I had upkeep effects, and then during his upkeep cast Lightning Bolt to trigger the Voice of Resurgence ability, then cast Rakdos Charm to trigger it again, and then chose the mode to deal each player 1 damage for each creature they control.  It was exactly lethal, and had I not seen the play I would have been X-3 and not X-2.

Going into the 8th and final round of the Minneapolis PTQ, I was in 9th place.  I was the last person with a 6-1 record, and as such I wouldn’t be able to draw in unless a lot of others played it out which wasn’t going to happen.  I sat down and talked with my opponent, and it turns out he was 5-1-1 and had been paired up, so it was going to come down to the winner of this match to determine which of us would make top 8 and try to battle for a plane ticket to Hawaii.  One of my car mates Keenan watched on as I fidgeted in my chair trying to collect myself and focus on the fact that this deck was good, I knew it well, and it was performing like it should all day.  I had the play in game 1 and picked up my starting hand to see this:

aridmesablackcleavecliffsriftboltriftboltriftboltlightningboltlightningbolt

Or really I should say this:

matchesnapalm

After suspending a Rift Bolt I passed to my opponent who played this on his turn 1:

slipperyboggle

What a fitting piece of artwork for how that made me feel.  One more win to go in, willing to face just about any matchup, and then BOGGLES.  I just had to hope I could race, as I was looking at arguably one of the best possible hands I could have with Burn, and he was going to need everything he had to stay in this game.  Bad matchup or not.

I drew into running bolts of various kinds, he was able to play a Daybreak Coronet and gain life, but then cracked a fetch to play another creature and went down to six.  “Untap, Bump, Shard Volley, Kill You.”

Game 2 I mulled to five.  Burned him for a while and attacked with Guides/Devil, but he was eventually able to assemble a Gladecover Scout with a Spirit Link and Daybreak Coronet, gain 8 life, and put himself well out of reach.  I think I was a turn or two away, but without a Skullcrack I couldn’t do anything to keep myself in the game.

MinneapolisMagic
(Photo Credit:  Dan Bock)

In game 3 I opened with Electrickery, a Goblin Guide, a burn spell, and some lands.  It wasn’t ideal, but Electrickery is one of the huge sideboard pieces against Boggles so I figured it was better than going down to 6 cards.  Electrickery ended up 2-for-1’ing him when he tried to Rancor up a Gladecover Scout, and Guide was getting in for some good damage along with some burn.  Things were looking good too as I had drawn a Volcanic Fallout.  My opponent was able to get out a Kor Spiritdancer, and when he attempted to suit it up I cast the Fallout to sweep our boards and do us each 2 damage.  The next turn he played another Spiritdancer, and it met with a Lightning Bolt when he tried to again suit it up.

Phew, deep breath.  I drew another burn spell or two.  I put him down to four life and passed the turn with no cards in hand.  On his turn he played a hexproof creature, put a Daybreak Coronet on it, and passed.  If I draw Boros Charm he is dead, and if I draw Skullcrack I can buy another turn and put him at 1 life.  I had not drawn one of either yet, and we had probably drawn about 20 cards or so by that point, so the odds were not great but more favorable then a lot of bad situations.  I drew. . .

aridmesa

My heart sank.  I wished him good luck in the top 8 and sat there stunned.  15 rounds of Magic over the course of two days, one win away from making top 8 against what would ultimately be a very favorable field for Burn.  It was a great experience though, I was able to play against the vast majority of the archetypes in existence and now have a pretty good grip on how the matchups go for the future.  I had a fun time with friends, especially my car mates who were cracking me up all weekend with jokes, and it meant a lot to me to improve as a player.  In Minneapolis I also beat Jasper heads up in the later rounds, so while I was sad to see a friend have to get knocked out of contention, I was glad to get past one of the better players in this game at least for one tournament.  After the Swiss we stayed until the end of the top 8 and watched as Greg took down the whole thing.  He even got revenge on the Boggles opponent in the Quarterfinals, and beat Jund for the crown.  Another pro who many of you might recognize from StarCityGames, Matthias Hunt, also played our list and finished in 10th.  The PTQ that we didn’t attend on Saturday in Iowa was won by Burn as well.  Overall, it was a strong weekend for the archetype and proof that Mountains really can win.

Present

Here are the decks that I would play at the current moment in each format.  They don’t win too many points on originality, but they give you a good chance to win:

Standard:

Rabble Red:

Maindeck
3 Ash Zealot
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Firedrinker Satyr
2 Firefist Striker
4 Foundry-Street Denizen
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
3 Legion Loyalist
4 Rakdos Cackler
3 Rubblebelt Maaka

3 Lightning Strike
4 Stoke the Flames

1 Hall of Triumph

18 Mountain
3 Mutavault

Sideboard
1 Hall of Triumph
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
3 Magma Spray
1 Harness by Force
1 Searing Blood
1 Mizzium Mortars
1 Electrickery
2 Skullcrack
1 Seismic Stomp

Modern:

RWB Burn:

Maindeck
4 Goblin Guide
4 Vexing Devil
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
3 Grim Lavamancer

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Bump in the Night
4 Lava Spike
4 Rift Bolt
1 Shard Volley
4 Boros Charm
2 Skullcrack
2 Searing Blaze

1 Marsh Flats
4 Arid Mesa
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Blood Crypt
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
2 Snow-Covered Mountain

Sideboard
2 Rakdos Charm
2 Skullcrack
2 Searing Blaze
2 Combust
1 Smash to Smithereens
1 Volcanic Fallout
1 Spellskite
1 Shattering Spree
1 Sudden Shock
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Electrickery

Legacy:

Burn:

Maindeck
4 Goblin Guide
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
3 Grim Lavamancer

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Rift Bolt
4 Lava Spike
4 Chain Lightning
4 Price of Progress
3 Searing Blaze
4 Fireblast

2 Sulfuric Vortex

4 Arid Mesa
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Wooded Foothills
10 Mountain

Sideboard
3 Ensnaring Bridge
3 Flame Rift
2 Vexing Shusher
2 Smash to Smithereens
2 Mindbreak Trap
1 Searing Blaze
1 Searing Blood
1 Sulfuric Vortex

Pauper:

Goblins:

Maindeck
4 Goblin Arsonist
4 Goblin Sledder
4 Mogg Conscripts
4 Goblin Bushwhacker
4 Goblin Cohort
4 Mogg Raider
4 Mogg War Marshall
3 Sparksmith
3 Goblin Matron

4 Lightning Bolt
2 Death Spark
2 Goblin Grenade

17 Mountain
1 Teetering Peaks

Sideboard
4 Pyroblast
2 Goblin Fireslinger
2 Electrickery
2 Flaring Pain
2 Gorilla Shaman
1 Sylvok Lifestaff
1 Sparksmith
1 Death Spark

I think everyone at this point who’s been playing Red decks can tell you that it’s all about the all-mighty Eidolon of the Great Revel.  That card has put in so much work in the past few months.  It can be a liability in aggro/burn mirrors when you’re on the draw, but otherwise it’s one of the most influential cards in every matchup.  It also gives you free “game” against combo decks that you otherwise would have had nothing against in game 1s.  You’ll notice I listed Rabble Red for my preferred Standard deck at the moment, and it’s not to slight RW Burn at all.  I think RW Burn is well positioned, but it requires even more intense piloting then the Modern and Legacy versions, and it can be durdly at times or hugely dependent on card choice.  It’s very much like a UW Control deck in the sense that you have to tailor it properly for the always evolving metagame, where as Rabble Red just has a straight forward game plan and presents a difficult clock for many of the decks in Standard.  The sideboard is versatile and covers most of the tougher matchups with some good singletons to reinforce the already good ones.  You can play around Drown in Sorrow and Supreme Verdict and if done properly it’s quite difficult for your opponent to have the right answers.

Future

Yesterday Wizards of the Coast announced that Magic will be moving to a two set system, with the usual process being a big set followed by a small, rotations after each block, no Core set, and ultimately three blocks in Standard.  The article is an interesting read, and if you haven’t seen it yet I recommend taking a look HERE.  There’s a lot of wild speculation that I’ve seen over what this will mean for card prices, and to tell you the truth I’m not sure what will be the outcome until we actually see it firsthand.  My guess is that card prices will simply be more volatile, but it could largely be about the same.  It’s a good move for the game otherwise, and will help to keep Standard fresh for years to come.  I’m surprised this is coming so quickly on the heels of the new PTQ structure announcement, but change for Wizards is long overdue, so maybe someone up there is finally starting to “get it”.

Khans of Tarkir doesn’t have much spoiled yet, but all the buzz and the few cards shown so far look exciting.  It seems to feature Red quite prominently, and the new Raid mechanic is just what the doctor ordered.  Being able to punish your opponent with the element of surprise damage is the push over the top that decks want in this color, we just need to see how many cards end up being playable.  For those that haven’t seen any of the cards yet (SPOILER), this is one of the ones released (note* not playable)

marduheartpiercer

I’m really hoping that Goblins gets a bump, since we already received the awesome Rabblemaster in M15 and Goblin Bombardment is about to be reprinted.  A legit two mana Goblin specifically would be nice, or a Lord or two.  As some of you know from my articles I was testing a Goblin build just before M15’s release, and while I never put the polishing touches on it I believe it was just a good card or two away from being viable.  Maybe we’ll even get Siege-Gang Commander. . .

While this isn’t future news, there’s another deck in Modern that popped up late in the season that looks like an absolute blast to play.  It did well at a Modern IQ in Dallas back in March, and then was taken to a top 8 berth by Judge Sewall in a recent Nebraska PTQ.  Behold the greatness:

RW Stax

Maindeck
2 Magus of the Moon
4 Simian Spirit Guide

2 Wrath of God
3 Anger of the Gods
3 Lightning Helix
4 Chalice of the Void
4 Ensnaring Bridge
2 Damping Matrix
4 Blood Moon
2 Leyline of Sanctity
1 Ghostly Prison
1 Assemble the Legion
2 Ajani Vengeant
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
1 Gideon Jura
1 Elspeth, Knight Errant

7 Plains
2 Mountains
2 Clifftop Retreat
4 Sacred foundry
4 Arid Mesa
4 Temple of Triumph

Sideboard
3 Defense Grid
2 Wear/Tear
2 Wurmcoil engine
2 Rest in Peace
2 Stony Silence
2 Leyline of Sanctity
1 Nevermore
1 Baneslayer Angel

The pilot of the deck lost to R/G Tron in the Quarters, but this is a matchup that could be shored up by a large number of card choices available.  Tron isn’t even very popular in recent months, and supposedly this deck absolutely crushes Pod which is a place I’d rather be.

Conclusion

I’m going to be on break from big tournaments for a while, probably until at least late October.  Thank you again for continuing to read my site and all the support, I will try to keep up the battling and hopefully bring you a “Pro Tour Report” sometime soon.  Until then,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains,

– Red Deck Winning