As my recent detour into the world of Modern these past weeks would tell you, GP San Antonio is fast approaching and I personally can’t wait. I’ve been hyped to delve into the Modern landscape after such a prolonged voluntary exile, coupled with the fact that GP San Antonio is one of the few oh-so-rare team Grand Prix. I’ve turned the focus of my last few articles away from Standard and onto Modern, and while I promised a mesmerizing award winning article detailing some specific deck configurations for team unified Modern, it dawned on me there is another GP I’ll be participating in before San Antonio.
Yes, the majestic shores of New Jersey call upon me and I will be battling in Grand Prix New Jersey this upcoming weekend.
As anxious as I was to offload some standard cards on MtGO and set fire to a bunch of tickets to build something in Modern, I could not do so in good conscious when I knew I should be preparing for the upcoming Standard GP in New Jersey.
The year of the snake had already seemed to come and go and there were little very few copies of Rishkar, Peema Renegade or Verdurous Gearhulk online. Mardu continued to dominate as it shifted and evolved into a slightly slower, more planeswalker-heavy midrange deck. Walking Ballista was still seeing plenty of play, having now been adopted into this current version of Mardu. It put up solid results at GP Utrecht the weekend prior, and continued to show off its might this past weekend in the Magic Online Championship.
As the snakes died off, 4-Color Copycat decks continued to be tuned and adapted to the morphing metagame. 4-Color Copycat might have only put one player into the top 8 of GP Utrecht, but it was quickly becoming one of the most popular, and best performing decks on MtGO the week after. The pros took notice of this as evidenced by this past weekend’s results at the Magic Online Championship. It looks like we might settling into a two-deck format with Mardu on one side and 4-Color Copycat on the other. Between Saheeli Rai and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar there appears to be little room for innovation.
So what was I testing last week? I hopped on the hype train like most and fired up some competitive leagues with 4-Color Copycat. I preferred the planeswalker-heavy version as opposed to the Aetherworks Marvel version. 4-Color Copycat has felt more like a Whirler Virtuoso deck than a combo deck these days, and I thought the hordes of thopters roaming the skies would be best in the planeswalker-heavy shell. Thopters do a great job blocking and protecting your ‘walkers, while also providing a nice evasive target for Tamiyo, Field Researcher’s plus ability.
Excited to give 4-Color Copycat a whirl, I jumped in a league and immediately faced off against the mirror. I won a narrow game 3 and had one significant take away.
The mirror feels terrible.
With just 4 Harnessed Lightning as your only real interactive spell, it seemed very difficult to have a really meaningful way to interact with the combo. Both decks flood the board with doinky value creatures who are great at blocking, so it seemed very hard to attack an opposing Saheeli Rai once it hit the board. It felt kind of like you were just suppose to jam the combo and hope for the best. And vice versa when they had Saheeli Rai, you just kind of had to hope they didn’t have it. I’m sure there are nuances to it, and ways you can strengthen your game for the mirror, but 1 match against the mirror and I already felt nervous. How was I to learn those intricacies in such a short period of time?
Well, I opted not to!
Against my better judgment, I swapped back to Jeskai Copycat and promptly had some middling league finishes. Just last week I had had some solid 5-0 leagues and now I was barely scrapping by at 3-2. 4-Color Copycat seemed too hard to learn in such a short amount of time, and Mardu was too hard to beat with Jeskai Copycat. What was I to do? I had a local PPTQ to play on Sunday and I was hoping to use it as further testing for whatever I was going to play in New Jersey. I resigned myself to playing what I know, and expected a mediocre performance.
Honestly, post-Kaladash Standard hasn’t been great to me. After top 4’ing the RPTQ back in June, I felt like I hadn’t had any real solid finishes to be proud of. Aside from missing top 8 at the next RPTQ and finishing in 10th (and this was just prior to Kaladash so I was still jamming my beloved Collected Company), I’d completely whiffed on most of my local events. I 7-2’d three GP day 1’s in a row, and then tanked hard on three subsequent day 2’s. I felt like I was playing fine and making relatively fine deck choices, but things just couldn’t seem to break my way. It’s draining to lose that much and it certainly extinguishes any fire you might once have had.
The Swiss Rounds
I fully expected this past Sunday’s PPTQ to go the same way as my last few have. Middling 3-2 or 4-2 records with my losses coming early and my breakers being poor.
Round 1, my opponent leads off with Spirebluff Canal and a pass and I settle in for what I think might be a control mirror. We play a little draw go until he hardcasts a Stitchwing Skaab and I immediately eye the Incendiary Flow in my hand. Goulet!
I should have immediately realized that was a sign of things to come.
Some zombie triggers get met with Disallow and I resolve a Torrential Gearhulk on his endstep. Two copies of Saheeli Rai on my main phase clone some brothers up for my Gearhulk and 15 rumbling fat damage comes barreling in. I’ve played this matchup enough online to know the deck has no real way to answer a 5/6. Lightning Axe and Fiery Temper do a good job disrupting the combo and Saheeli herself can be hard to protect from all the recurring instant speed zombies, so you’re best bet is to surprise them with some big blue ‘Hulks.
Game 2 we play a long, drawn out control match with a lot of staring at each other. I stick an early Saheeli Rai and start poking him with it while I counter and kill some zombies, but a distinct lack of Prized Amalgam goes a long way to make this game very easy for me. After I deal 15 with Saheeli, I end up finishing him off with a Shock and an Incendiary Flow. Just like we drew it up.
Round 2 I’m paired against a friend of mine from the local competitive scene and I imagine this is where the wheels will start to fall off. He’s a good player with some notable finishes and he generally beats face with aggressive decks. I assume he’s on Mardu and I expect Heart of Kiran to beat me to death in big chunks of 4 damage at a time. I lose the die roll and mull to 5 and think about dropping at 1-1. More time to spend at home with my wife! However, I keep focused on the match at hand.
I keep Inspiring Vantage, Aether Hub, Shock, Harnessed Lightning, and Glimmer of Genius with my scry revealing another Harnessed Lightning. Figure its pretty good for a 5, but still, my expectations aren’t very high.
He starts off with an Attune the Aether and I realize he’s on 4 color Saheeli and all of a sudden my chances aren’t so bad. I blast some creatures including a Whirler Virtuoso with the energy trigger on the stack (so he can’t make thopters before it dies!) and starting chaining copies of Glimmer of Genius. 3 Glimmers later I feel successfully unmulligan’d. I still have my 2nd Harnessed Lightning but I Anticipate in response to a Saheeli Rai just incase I hit Negate so I might be able to save the removal spell and deny him any scry’s. Negate is found and the U/R Planeswalker is countered. He’s tapped down low save for a singular Aether Hub and I have an interesting decision on my hands for my turn.
I’m starring down a board of a Felidar Guardian, Elder Deep-Fiend, and a Servant of the Conduit with a precarious 7 life. I’ve drawn Fumigate, but I also have both halves of the combo in hand. The question is: does he play Shock? He’s a smart dude generally on the cutting edge of the metagame. If he was expecting a big pile of Mardu and the 4-Color mirror, I could see him trying out some number of mainboard Shock over something like Oath of Chandra. I bank on him not having it and he reveals a hand of two lands and I’ve won on my mulligan to 5. Feelsgoodman.jpeg
Game 2 leads to another mulligan to 6 with an unexciting hand. 4 lands, 1 Glimmer of Genius, and 1 Horribly Awry doesn’t give me much hope, and I’m imaging how I’ll board on the play for game 3. He leads Attune with Aether into a turn 2 Servant of the Conduit and I’m expecting a turn 3 Tamiyo, Field Researcher or Chandra, Torch of Defiance will be giving me fits shortly. He taps his Servant for mana plus 3 lands and……
Bristling Hydra hits the stack.
I could not cast that Horribly Awry any faster. Some draw spells on my side, some creatures on his. I’ve got a Nahiri, the Harbinger and he ends up with a Saheeli Rai. He goes for the combo but I’ve got the Shock to disrupt it. I add a Saheeli of my own to my board giving me the combo of walkers. I’m sitting on a 2nd Shock in hand when he taps low to put some pressure on my board in the form of Chandra, Torch of Defiance and some dudes. On my turn I draw an Inspiring Vantage and Saheeli scries an Anticipate to the top. Nahiri bins the land for the Anticipate and three cards deep we go digging. A cat is found and we’re 2-0.
Round 3 I’m paired against good friend and teammate David Gross. I know he’s on B/G Constrictor and he’s not excited about the matchup. I mulligan to 6 on the play game 1 and get stuck on two lands and eventually concede. Game 2 is a bunch of draw-go, me with a Saheeli Rai on board, and him with a whole lot of nothing. Eventually he’s hard-casting copies of Distended Mindbender and all of a sudden I’m hellbent. With no cards in hand I’m starring down two 5/5’s wondering how I’m going to get out of this one. I top deck Felidar Guardian like a n00b and we’re off to game 3.
Game 3 is a drawn out affair where I cast what felt like 7 copies of Glimmer of Genius. David bashes with Hissing Quagmire and does all he can, but I’ve simply drawn too many cards. I pull a move similar to my round 1 game 1, and come crashing in with a Torrential Gearhulk and 2 clones to take the close match.
We play some Star Realms while waiting for round 4 and I also draw like a champion in that game despite my poor deck building. I manage to win even though I’m a baddie who scoops up cards of every faction. Sometimes you just run hot.
We’re just about the largest 5 round tournament possible, so it’s looking like I can double draw in, but possibly not. There are 3 other undefeated players and I know they are on Mardu, Mardu, and R/B Aggro.
Any 3 of these players is a bad match up for me and I regress back to feeling doubtful about my chances. Whether by their ignorance of what I’m playing, or by their good nature, I receive two handshakes instead of a thorough trouncing and I’m in the top 8! It seems both minor and monumental at the same time. I’ve top 8’d a dozen or so PPTQs and won 3, but haven’t done anything since the summer. It feels good to top 8 something again, even if it’s a relatively small PPTQ and it only took a 3-0 record. David won round 4 and is also able to draw in at 3-1-1, so we sneak off for something to eat real quick.
Full of nature’s perfect gift, French Fries, I prepare for my upcoming quarterfinal. The top 8 has rounded out to be as follows:
- 1 B/G Constrictor (David)
- 1 Jeskai Copycat (me)
- 1 U/R Fevered Emerge (my round 1 opponent)
- 1 R/B Aggro
- 4 Mardu Vehicles
I’m happy to top 8 something again finally so I’m content with my inevitable quarterfinal loss to Mardu. Based on tiebreakers I’m the 4th seed to my advantage however and once again, I draw reaaaaaally hot.
I play fairly well and draw really well, and while my opponent plays just as well, he does not have the benefit of my obscene luck. Game 1 I combo off turn 6 when he taps out and game 2 I draw a literal pile of sideboard cards while he draws approximately 4000 lands. 2-0’ing Mardu is never easy and I’m ecstatic to be making my way to the semis.
My semis opponent will be either my round 1 U/R Fevered Emerge opponent, or one of the other billion players on Mardu in the top 8. My luck continues to roll on as U/R Fevered Emerge beats Mardu and I look forward to a repeat of our round 1 match. A pre game deck check earns my opponent a game loss and then an unfortunate mulligan to 5 for him leads to a very short, and very uneventful semifinals. My luck knows no bounds apparently as I offer my condolences.
David lost his quarterfinals to one of the Mardu players and that’s who it looks like I’ll be battling in the finals. He came in at 4-1 so he’s the higher seed and he takes the play.
A contentious strategy to some, but I’m expecting my only way to win this game is to continue to get lucky. The four red removal spells are some of my best cards in the match up, especially Incendiary Flow against Scrapheap Scrounger. Tower, if it comes out while you’re ahead or at parity, is one of my best cards and one of my best ways to pull further ahead. 1 land is certainly loose, but I’ve got a lot in my deck and I have the upside of being on the draw.
Spirebluff Canal greets me on turn 1 and I’m feeling good. Another Inspiring Vantage greets me on turn 2 and we’ve successfully luck sack’d our way into this game. Tower and a Flow helps take down a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, but I’m starting to run out of gas. While I was grateful for the lands at first, they haven’t stopped coming and I’m starting to get pretty flooded. I might have wished desperately to draw land in those first few turns, but by turn 8 it was the last thing I wanted to see.
Thalia, Heretic Cathar driving a Heart of Kiran and a Thraben Inspector beat me down while I fail to draw any spell to generate some energy for my Tower to shoot the Thalia, subsequently stranding his Heart of Kiran in play. I die with 8 lands in play and 2 more in hand as we get to sideboarding.
A reasonable 7 gives me hope, but a lot of land off the top brings back recent memories of game 1. I Incendiary Flow a Scrapheap Scrounger early and get to Quarantine Field another plus a Veteran Motorist, but just like before, I’m officially out of impactful cards. Archangel Avacyn comes down on his side while my deck continues to cough up lands. I accept defeat and extend my hand.
While bummed to lose in the finals, I can’t feel too bad about getting crushed by easily my worst matchup. Disappointed as I might be, I’m mostly content to feel like I’m finally back in the saddle. Hopefully some of my luck will hang on for this upcoming weekend. Will I play Jeskai Saheeli next weekend in Jersey? Who Knows? (Yes you will! Don’t lie to me!)
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