Six Hot Takes from Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan

Feature Article from Seth Manfield
Seth Manfield
2/7/2018 11:02:00 AM
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I am finally home after a long trip in Europe! While I personally didn't have a good Pro Tour, that is something every player must deal with from time to time. There will always be tournaments you do poorly, no matter how much you prepare for an event. My first draft pod was pretty stacked, and after only picking up a single win, I was never really able to gain much momentum. In the end I just missed Day 2 for the first time in a few years. With the PT behind us, I want to share my thoughts on where Modern stands.

Tron is Still Good

The Tron deck I played wasn't a bad choice, but it is a deck that is naturally very high variance. Your best draws are fantastic, but sometimes you just lose to bad draws, regardless of the matchup. After doing poorly in an event, it is easy to go back and second-guess your decisions, thinking about what you could have done differently. In the end, I just got beat this time, but I still like where the Tron list I played is at in the format.

After deciding to play the bigger version of Tron, the question was whether the splash of black is worth it. Honestly I still like the splash, but it isn't for very many cards. On the flip side, the cost of putting two copies of Llanowar Wastes in the deck also isn't very high. The incentive to play black isn't because of Fatal Push – in fact, we went with a split between Fatal Push and Dismember. The other big change to the main deck was moving the World Breaker to the sideboard.

We wanted access to the second Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger main deck, but had to cut a big spell to make room for it, and World Breaker made the most sense. There are still plenty of matchups where World Breaker is good, so it makes sense to put it in the sideboard. We also expected a lot of Affinity and Humans based on the online metagame, which is how Gut Shot got added.

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I really wanted to have a cheap way to deal with the opponent's first creature, while not having it effect your early development. Gut Shot is perfect here, and it overperformed for me. Gut Shot has seen some play in Eldrazi Tron, but I'm not sure why players haven't tried it out in bigger Tron decks yet. Having a Gut Shot turn on or during a key turn late can massively slow down the small creature decks and give you enough time to start casting big spells.

The other major addition to the sideboard is Surgical Extraction. Surgical Extraction is good against decks like Storm and Dredge, but that isn't why we added it to the sideboard. This card is the best one we could think of to have for the mirror and other big-mana decks. The reason is we can find Ghost Quarter, use it on an opponent's land and keep the opponent off Tron or Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. This isn't intuitive, but it can be the difference in the game against these matchups.

Humans was Overplayed at the Pro Tour

I wasn't surprised to see a lot of Humans at the Pro Tour, but I don't think it is the best deck in Modern, and shouldn't have been the most-played deck. While Humans certainly has plenty of disruption in the form of its creatures, it is still about as fair a deck as you can play in Modern. On the flip side, there were two copies of Humans in the Top 8 of the tournament, which was surprising to me.

The version that plays four copies of Phantasmal Image makes a lot of sense. There are matchups where you really want to be able to play essentially two copies of one of your Humans, and Phantasmal Image gives you that chance. There aren't that many cards that target any of your creatures that aren't straight up removal spells anyway. I felt like my Humans matchup was good with Tron, and after talking to many other pros, they chose decks that they felt had a good Humans matchup.

I'm curious to see how Humans does moving forward. I'm not saying the deck is bad, but it does struggle against decks with lots of spot removal or mass removal, as well as cards like Ensnaring Bridge.

Lantern Control is the Best Deck in Modern

Claiming that there is one single best deck in a format as big as Modern isn't easy to do. But after sifting through the Pro Tour results, there were very few Lantern players at the Pro Tour, yet there were many at the top tables. The highest finishing Genesis player was Brian Braun-Duin, on Lantern Control of course! Lantern also happens to take a long time to master, as each matchup is different and you have to worry about different cards from different decks. This is likely the most skill-intensive deck to play in the format. Luis Salvatto found himself playing against good matchups throughout the Top 8, so it's no surprise he won the Pro Tour.

Lantern has many good matchups and very few bad ones. In fact, I made my deck choice based on expecting more Lantern players, as Tron is the worst matchup for this deck. Even though the Tron matchup is very bad for Lantern, it is possible to have a very bad matchup and still be the top deck in the format. Modern is in a spot where it is necessary to sacrifice some matchups, and I think the play skill factor alongside the bad Tron matchup scared players from picking this deck up for the Pro Tour.

Traverse Shadow is Better than Grixis Death's Shadow

Going into the Pro Tour, I expected almost exclusively Grixis colors when it came to Death's Shadow. I was under the impression that the green Death's Shadow decks were mostly a thing of the past. Online, I played against Grixis Death's Shadow a ton, and assumed that would translate over to the Pro Tour. But at the Pro Tour the Traverse Shadow deck did exceptionally well – much better than Grixis Death's Shadow – and it's hard to argue with the results.

This version still plays blue for Stubborn Denial, and even has Lingering Souls in the sideboard for a full five-color mana base. This is definitely a bit greedy, but the gamble paid off as there were not as many copies of cards like Spreading Seas at the Pro Tour as expected. The green gives you a more diverse creature base, so you don't need to rely on threats with delve. This version also shuffles its deck more and wants to turn on delirium, which means Mishra's Bauble is good here.

Reid Duke is the King of Black-Green Midrange

This one really isn't anything new, but if I heard there was a player running good ole Abzan in the Top 8 of the Pro Tour, I would put all my money on it being Reid Duke. He knows these types of strategies inside and out, but he also came up with a great list as well.

Most players think of Dark Confidant as a Jund card, but why shouldn't it be in Abzan? Bob is one of the most powerful creatures in the format, while also being criminally underplayed. This is an easy way to gain card advantage and take over the game. There are also notably zero copies of Path to Exile, which I approve of. Path to Exile is a great card, but Abzan has a ton of removal at its disposal and doesn't want to give the opponent additional cards in the form of a basic land. The main deck Nihil Spellbombs provide a way to beat graveyard strategies in game one.

After sideboard, Reid shored up his bad matchups. We even saw Reid beat Jon Finkel's Tron deck with sideboard cards like Stony Silence and Fulminator Mage.

More Players Should Play Collected Company

There were very few copies of Devoted Druid at the Pro Tour, and honestly I'm not really sure why. The ability to make infinite mana with Vizier of Remedies and Devoted Druid is still an incredibly powerful combo. There are also other Collected Company decks as well, like Elves, straight Green-White Company and more. The only person who I know that played Devoted Company at the Pro Tour did well with it, and that is Christoffer Larsen.

We saw lists like this crushing Modern tournaments a few months ago, so what changed? Christoffer even had the full complement of Kitchen Finks to go alongside Viscera Seer. This meant he had access to infinite life by sacrificing Kitchen Finks with Viscera Seer and Vizier of Remedies in play. He also had a full playset of both Eternal Witness and Duskwatch Recruiter, giving the deck a ton of redundancy. There are even more silver-bullet creatures in the sideboard, typical from any deck with Chord of Calling.

If you are looking for a deck that has a good Lantern Control Matchup that isn't Tron, look no further. This deck can either win on the ground by going wide with creatures or by assembling its combo kill. Unfortunately, this deck isn't very fun to play on Magic Online, which makes practicing with it more difficult.

Thanks for reading,

Seth Manfield




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