(Editor's Note: Make sure to take a look at the Top 16 Modern decklists from the Modern $2k Tournament that took place at the TCGplayer $75k Championship this past weekend! They can be foundhere!)
Recipe for Tournament Magic Success:
a) Show up, play a good deck badly, bomb out.
b) Borrow another deck, enter another event, go to a)
Now that we've got the events portion of my weekend covered, let's keep thinking about Modern. People are excited about it, but card availability was definitely an issue in the event hall. The first wave of really “obvious” calls have already come and gone. We'll continue the review with Kamigawa Block. This block is not the most powerful set of cards in Modern, but there are a few unique effects to look out for.
If this weekend's tournament is any indication of Modern as a format, then it looks like Zoo will be everywhere. The players qualified for PT Philadelphia are already testing with and against Zoo, so we should be looking at cards with this in mind. Aside from dispatching Zoo, what else matters now that Modern is a real format? Unique effects. If you need an analogy, try this: Goblin Kites is the only card in Fallen Empires that can give creatures Flying, and no creatures in the set actually have flying. As such, mediocre ol' Goblin Kites is actually a total beating in Fallen Empires Limited. Don't ask how I know. Unique effects within a format are always worth watching, since they have the highest chance of being linchpin cards.
Champions of Kamigawa Block Rares
Disrupting Shoal - I don't know if it will actually see play, but I know that this is the only mana-less Counterspell in Modern. Pact of Negation has limitations based on your ability to pay the mana next turn, but Disrupting Shoal is a very conditional Force of Will. I can see this being powerful in Merfolk decks, which have a high density of eligible spells and can really abuse the tempo boost. I'm not proficient enough with the deck yet, but I intend to build and test it shortly. Disrupting Shoal is on the short list for inclusion. Usable against Zoo and has a unique ability.
Kira, Great Glass-Spinner - Kira is amazingly powerful in the right decks. Hardly breaking news, I know. That said, Kira is another unique effect attached to an evasive blue creature. Kira can blank your opponent's entire removal suite, or at the very least force them to 2-for-1 themselves. Protecting it with counter magic can make your guys impossible to pick off.
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Enshrined Memories - My first reaction was to use Lotus Cobras to get more Lotus Cobras. There are plenty more ways to abuse such a powerful card, since there are plenty of ways to stack your deck. It might be worse than Lead the Stampede, which digs pretty deep for 3 mana, but the ability to jam tons of mana into this spell leads me to believe someone will find a way to make it work. Purely speculative and hypothetical.
Erayo, Soratami Ascendant - Playing four spells in a turn should probably be hard, but with cards like Gitaxian Probe, Ponder, Preordain and Manamorphose, it really isn't too tough. Erayo quickly turns into a lock piece; one you're already prepared for. Arcane Laboratory finishes the lock and turns the key. Yet another unique effect, but it doesn't seem too great against Zoo. Just some food for thought, since “no one can cast a spell ever again” is a very powerful effect.
Gifts Ungiven - The first time I had this cast against me in Modern, I actually said aloud, “That crap is legal in this format?” I pride myself on being able to split a Fact or Fiction perfectly, so I was up to the challenge. Gerry Thompson was watching the match and explained to me why I was wrong. There goes my pride. Either way, there are loads of synergies in these sets. Recover, Retrace, Unearth, Flashback and Dredge all give you value on a Gifts no matter what happens. Considering the price, Gifts Ungiven seems like a no-brainer. Innistrad might bring yet more graveyard fun.
Kataki, War's Wage - Mirrodin, Shards of Alara, and Scars of Mirrodin all had artifact themes, so expect to see some variation on an artifact deck. Cards like Grand Architect with Etherium Sculptor get scary fast. I'll get into this more when I discuss Alara Block. Considering just how many good artifacts exist,
Kataki could become a powerful “Hate Bear” to blow out artifact decks. Should have some room to gain value, but will depend on the decks being played.
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker - The original Splinter Twin combo is back, so you can cram twice the fun into the same lame deck! This might be a shot in the dark, but I can easily imagine a hybrid Kiki-Jiki-Pestermite-Splinter Twin-Deceiver Exarch combo deck. On the other hand, Modern's aggro decks may just be too fast to handle. Not a bad pickup, but far from a sure thing.
Nature's Will - I only include this because of how powerful this effect is. Sword of Feast and Famine is all the rage these days, so a similar effect draws my attention. The mana cost is probably too high to be good in competitive play, but the card is worth noting due to its sheer power.
Through the Breach - It's not known if this will actually bring Protean Hulk Combo to life, but it bears mentioning. It's a bulk rare right now so the risk is pretty low.
Champions of Kamigawa Block Uncommons
Footsteps of the Goryo - A very potent reanimator spell that only works on creatures with Haste (or Lightning Greaves) seems like it could slot into a few decks. There are not a lot of reanimation spells that dump a creature directly into play.
Ghostly Prison - Already a popular Commander card, Ghostly Prison could become a real solution to beating aggressive decks. It may already be $2+, but Kamigawa was printed long enough ago that uncommons are rather scarce.
Manriki-Gusari - It's already Legacy tech for stopping Swords, but Stoneforge Mystic is legal in Legacy. It's cheap to equip too. +1/+2 is not a small boost for 1 mana, but the ability to blow away an equipment each turn is very powerful. If Swords start dominating the format, go get your playset of this uncommon ASAP.
Kamigawa actually seems pretty tame compared to the other blocks, but there are definitely some sleepers. Gifts Ungiven and Threads of Disloyalty seem like they're the best pickups, and I just have a good feeling about Disrupting Shoal. The “All Legendary” theme of Kamigawa rares really hurts their value, as does the focus on Spirit and Arcane spells. Regardless, there are a few good long calls in this set.
Thoughts on Modern
My notes from the weekend are spotty, but the Modern tournament was utterly dominated by Zoo. I was one of 2 or 3 Merfolk decks, and there were a few Knight of the Reliquary decks kicking around, but about 60% of the field was R/G-based Aggro. There was also a Pyromancer Ascension deck, a Hive Mind deck and a Gifts Rock deck. Granted, this is a small sample size. New formats usually evolve around Aggro decks, so Zoo's numbers come as no surprise.
Knight of the Reliquary is one of the strongest creatures in the format, and it does a lot of broken things. Cryptic Command is still rough, but a lot of decks are a bit too fast for Cryptic Command. When true control mirrors start happening, this card will matter a lot more. The change to pick them up has not passed, but they're getting more expensive. It won't be 60% Zoo forever. No one is really talking about the Punishing Fire/Grove of the Burnwillows combo, but they should be. It was a game-dominating combo at the Pro Tour, and will absolutely find a home in a deck soon. Foil Punishing Fires would be a great pickup if you can find any.
Tectonic Edge is still frighteningly relevant, and will only continue to get rarer. They're not going to hit $50 like Wasteland, but they'll be a power uncommon for a long, long time. Foils are already not cheap, but they have a way to go still. Ghost Quarter will get some action too, but Tectonic Edge might be more widely played.
Competitive Play Update
The quest to begin playing Magic competitively got off to an awful start this weekend, though the company was good enough to make up for my poor play. I brought a slightly unorthodox CawBlade list to the TCG Player 75k Invitational and went 2-0, 0-3 drop. Very disappointing. I got to play in the Modern event as well, which went badly as well. I won some very tight games by playing smart, but I made far too many rookie mistakes on the weekend. Losing winnable games feels awful, since I can blame no one but myself. I blame lack of preparation and focus on practicing.
It's hard to accept that I have gotten weak as a player, but it's crucial to get an accurate benchmark for improvement. My best successes have been a 7-1-1 (9th) at an SCG Open and Day 2 at a Grand Prix. I know I can do better than that in the future, but I'm nowhere near as practiced as I was when I was putting up even mediocre results. I was fortunate enough to get advice from a lot of very talented players this weekend, but it's not worth much unless I put in the work. It's sad but I've never played in a Top 8. That is my first goal. “Getting better at Magic” is a very nebulous concept, but I've found that total immersion is the only way to go.
Magic Online has been useful too, since playtesting with friends can often be time-consuming. MTGO testing lets me sling cards whenever I like, and it's easy to get a decent opponent. Even the 2-man queues, which are awful value for their cost, are capable of producing a challenge. If extensive practice make a good Magic player, what better tool than MTGO?
I am considering attending Grand Prix Pittsburgh, though I may have flushed my bye away by losing this weekend. If I have to play an extra round, so be it.
Geoff Caffo, who drove out of his way to pick me up and drop me off.
Eli Aden, Josh Harris, Geoff Caffo and Steve Guillerm for lending me cards.
Steve Guillerm again, for providing lodging.
Alex Bertoncini, for lending me a deck for Modern.
TCGPlayer, for putting on a great event.
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