February 13, 2015

Modern Reforged

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Pro Tour Fate Reforged was the first premier-level Modern event since Birthing Pod, Treasure Cruise, and Dig Through Time got banned (all cards I enjoyed casting, I'll admit). The format was a curious mix of new decks, old decks that were good again, decks that had been good the whole time, and decks that weren't good before but became good due to the bannings. There were five different archetypes in the Top 8, and many more that had good records, showing that Modern has the breadth of viable decks it's always had. There was a ton of Abzan, way more than I predicted, even though it seemed obvious it would be the most-played deck, but the field was relatively varied past that (and past the spike in Burn decks).


Today, I want to take a look at the Top 8, and in the case of decks where multiple copies made it, what the key differences between them were.


First, the Pro Tour Fate Reforged Top 8:



It doesn't always work out this way in mixed-format tournaments, but the Top 8 is a pretty good snapshot of where Modern is it. There are two Abzan decks, two Burn decks, and two Splinter Twin decks, one non-interactive combo deck, and one more fringe deck (although the GW Beats deck is really just Abzan tuned to beat the mirror).


Ultimately, Twin was the winner, in one of the most lopsided PT finals I've ever had the pleasure of doing commentary on (or even watching, for that matter). Amulet Bloom is the dream matchup for Twin, as the slightly increased speed of the Bloom combo in no way makes up for its vulnerability to disruption, a fast Splinter Twin, and—most importantly of all—Blood Moon.



Here are the two Twin lists that made Top 8:





Antonio Del Moral Leon—Blue-Red Splinter Twin


































Antonio's deck is about what I'd call Midrange Splinter Twin. It's not full-on combo, as there are fewer than eight combo creatures and zero Kiki-Jikis, but it's not full-on control either, with just two Cryptic Commands and cards like main-deck Peek and Dispel. It can always threaten to go off, but it doesn't mind winning with Vendilion Clique and Snapcaster Mage if need be (and in some matchups, even prefers to do so).


Strengths: Twin is the best combo deck against other combo decks; gets a lot of mileage out of the threat of comboing while not needing to do so to win; and has access to great sideboard cards like Blood Moon, Dispel, and Anger of the Gods. It also has an incredible Amulet matchup, which comes in handy if you find yourself in the finals of a Pro Tour against such a deck.


Weaknesses: Twin's main weakness is a bad Abzan matchup, and with Abzan at 28% of the field, that is a big weakness indeed. Cards like Keranos and Cryptic Command help, but overall Twin doesn't want to play against Thoughtseize, Abrupt Decay, and Tarmogoyf.


I would have no problem playing this Twin list in a tournament tomorrow, although I might advise playing another Dispel and another Anger of the Gods, as both strike me as great right now.


Here's the other Twin deck that made Top 8:





Jelger Wiegersma—Blue-Red Twin


































The main difference between Jelger's deck and Antonio's deck is the main-deck Blood Moons, but Jelger's deck is a bit more controllish as well. Mana Leaks and the third Cryptic give the deck more counters that send threats to the graveyard, instead of just back to hand. This deck matches up against the field just about the same as Antonio's, although I would really advise adding another land. The cantrips do help find land, but you don't want to be in a position where you are always finding land, and I've liked the way Twin plays with 24 much better. If you expect a lot of Twin decks, main-deck Blood Moon isn't exactly where you want to be, so I'd tend toward playing Antonio's version. I do like Vedalken Shackles, though...



The next big deck is Abzan, and it was by far the most-played deck of the tournament (although that does count many slightly different variations). This is the most midrange deck of this format, or really any, as all it's trying to do is cast hand disruption and two- to four-mana threats. Part of the appeal of the deck is that its cards are pretty good against the format at large, as Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, Tarmogoyf, and Siege Rhino don't require much advance knowledge of what they are facing to be good.





Jesse Hampton—Abzan


































In a funny twist of fate, there were three people playing Abzan in the Top 8 who won a Team Grand Prix in Khans Limited, and Jesse is one of them (I'm sure you can figure out the other two, given the clues). Jesse's Abzan deck includes all the fundamentals of the archetype, and really can be broken up into groups of creatures/disruption/removal, making it one of the conceptually simpler decks in Modern (although there is a deck that's even simpler in this very Top 8).


Strengths: Strong against an unknown field, with few matchups worse than 50%. Good matchups against combo in general, and Twin in particular. Can be tuned to be good against almost anything.


Weaknesses: No particularly great matchups. The most-played and most-expected deck in the format.


It probably does not come as a great surprise that were I to play Abzan, I'd play a list a little closer to Eric Froehlich's, which I'll talk about next. In fact, I did play that list, as Efro and I were on the exact same 75.





Eric Froehlich—Abzan


































There are a few differences between the two lists:


Gavony Township: In a format increasingly full of Lingering Souls, I like Gavony Township much more than Vault of the Archangel. It is true that they mostly cancel out in the head-to-head, but against decks where you are trying to kill quickly, Township is much better.


Path to Exile/Abrupt Decay: Path is a lot better when you expect more Primeval Titans, Tasigurs, and other large creatures. Decay does shine against Splinter Twin and decks full of noncreature permanents (like Amulet or Affinity), but I could see going either way here.


Noble Hierarch: This is a big one, and one of the things I liked most about the Abzan deck we played. Noble accelerates you to Liliana and Siege Rhino, gives you more relevant turn-one plays, and matters a ton when you are in a stalled board. Letting your Rhinos and Goyfs and Batterskulls attack into theirs is huge, and we got a ton of mileage out of that interaction all tournament.


Were I to play Abzan, I'd certainly play Noble and Township, but the exact mix of removal and discard can go either way. Abzan is and will continue to be a fine deck, but we played it at the Pro Tour in large part because we expected a very diverse field. Post-PT metagames tend to be more well-defined, and if you do a good job of deciphering what will show up, often you can get more mileage out of picking a more targeted deck.



This is by far the wackiest deck in the Top 8, which soon becomes clear if you read the decklist at all. Amulet of Vigor; Summer Bloom; and Azusa, Lost but Seeking (plus a mana base that looks like the land section of someone's trade binder) are not your typical Modern cards, but the deck's power is undeniable.





Justin Cohen—Amulet Bloom


































For those who haven't seen this deck in action, it is trying to do the following:



  1. Cast Amulet of Vigor.

  2. Cast Summer Bloom or Azusa, Lost but Seeking.

  3. Play a bounce land (Simic Growth Chamber or the like).

  4. Amulet untaps the bounce land, it taps for two mana, then it returns itself so it can be replayed due to extra land drops.

  5. Cast Primeval Titan or Hive Mind.


There, that isn't too complicated, right? Oh, did I not explain what happens after you cast the six-drop?


Well, that gets a little tricky.


If it's Hive Mind, it's not too tough. You just cast a Summoner's Pact or Slaughter Pact (or spell + Pact of Negation), making your opponent do the same, and ideally be unable to pay on his or her turn.


If it's Primeval Titan, a common line is to get Slayers' Stronghold plus Boros Garrison, which untap and give Titan haste, letting you get Tolaria West + a bounce land. The land returns Tolaria West, which transmutes into Summoner's Pact, which gets another Titan. If your opponent is low enough, Vesuva copying Boros Garrison and Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion deal an additional 6 damage.


There are countless other tricks, so if you want to play this deck, you should goldfish a lot. Like, many hundreds of games. For more, take a look at the Top 8 matches that Justin Cohen played, as there were some very interesting games (especially Game 3 against Jesse Hampton in the Top 4).


Strengths: Incredibly powerful, and can goldfish faster than just about any deck in the format. Good against Abzan (barring an extensive sideboard).


Weaknesses: Can be very inconsistent. Very difficult to play. Not the deck you want to be piloting if you get paired against Splinter Twin with Blood Moon in the finals of a Pro Tour.



Speaking of simple decks, we have Burn. Burn is trying to count to 20, no more, and hopefully not less. That isn't a knock on the deck, as it's a perfectly viable deck, and I see nothing wrong with keeping people honest. If you want to fetch Ravnica duals and cast Thoughtseize, go for it, just know that some amount of your opponents will be waiting to Rift Bolt you into oblivion.





Lee Shi Tian—Burn





































Seth Manfield—Burn


































I'm just grouping these decks together because they are similar enough that discussing them separately isn't worth it. They are both conceptually the same and incredibly close card-wise, and the parts where they differ aren't nearly as big as when the Abzan decks had Noble Hierarch vs. no Noble Hierarch (which changes how the deck plays).


Strengths: The most consistent deck in the format, delivering a turn-four kill very reliably. Punishes painful mana bases. Very hard for most decks to interact with.


Weaknesses: Has a very difficult time against decks that goldfish faster. Vulnerable to many powerful sideboard cards.


Burn, like Affinity, can be a victim of its own success. If people want to beat Burn, they will beat Burn, and I would not relish the idea of playing Burn in a field full of Leyline of Sanctitys, Kor Firewalkers, and Timely Reinforcements. I'm not saying that Burn is unplayable in such a field, but it goes from being a good choice to a bad choice depending on how poised people are to defeat it. I'd let things cool down before trying to heat them up, and would not recommend Burn for tournaments in the next few weeks. The percentage of Burn at the Pro Tour and in the Top 8 was high enough that people will prepare for it, and at that point I think there are other decks you should look at playing.





Jacob Wilson—Abzan


































The last list I want to look at is the other big deck played by our team. As I alluded to before, it is Abzan, although I like classifying it as GW Beats because of how different it is. The theory behind this list is that it's a disruption-light Abzan deck that crushes the "mirror." Over the course of testing, it moved further away from its Abzan roots, and became just Green-White, save the flashback of Lingering Souls and Thoughtseize (plus some sideboard cards).


Strengths: Very good against other midrange strategies and "fair" decks. Resilient to many of the commonly-played cards in the format.


Weaknesses: Soft to non-interactive combo decks (Infect, Amulet, etc.).


This deck is a great choice if the field looks like the Pro Tour field (28% Abzan being a big part of that), but if many more people pick up Twin decks and Amulet-style combo decks, GW is not where you want to be. I wish I'd played the deck at the Pro Tour, and I think it is a very reasonable choice going forward. Given the eight mana creatures and three colors it plays, it does have a wide range of good sideboard options, and if you can narrow down the combo segment to just a few decks, it is possible to make GW good against those decks.


What Should You Play?


As is always the answer in a format as open as Modern, you should play the (good) deck you like the most. There are great options for combo, midrange, and aggro, although I don't love any dedicated control decks right now. We tried to get Jeskai to work, but I don't feel we quite got there, so if you want to play a control deck I'd recommend a Splinter Twin deck like Jelger's (just play more lands).


Next week, I'm heading to Memphis, so I get to jump back into Standard, which has me more excited than normal. I have yet to really play Standard with Fate Reforged, because of the Pro Tour, so it's a whole new format to me.


LSV






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