The bustling metropolis of Bernardsville, New Jersey welcomed me with open arms Saturday morning. The format was Modern, the weapon of choice was Abzan Company (list and lots of words about the deck here in my last article), and the prize was a round trip ticket to Amsterdam. We had the fire, but did we have the skill?
Round 1 – Jund
I won the die roll, so you know we’re already running hot. Scorching Hot.
I lead with a Noble Hierarch and he opens up with a Raging Ravine. I put him on classic Rock style Jund since that’s pretty much the only deck in the world that plays the R/G manland. I play Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit and start my mighty exalted beats. Some discard spells on his side and some more creatures on mine leaves me with a freshly bolstered 3/3 Anafenza. I attack and declare 3 damage and immediately realize I missed my exalted damage.
Ironically, this missed exalted damage plants a subtle seed in my opponents mind. He plays some more tap lands and deploys a 4/5 Tarmogoyf. I play another Hierarch and bolster onto itself (not forgetting that trigger). I attack with my 3/3 Anafenza into his 4/5 ‘Goyf and expect no blocks. He snaps off the block and instructs me to put my Anafenza into the bin. I explain how my Anafenza is a 5/5 due to the two exalted triggers and it is actually his creature that needs to head to the bin. With frustration clearly on his face, his starts his turn with a 4/4 Grim Flayer and then passes back.
I’ve drawn a Chord of Calling to go along with my Kitchen Finks in hand and I’m ready to set up the combo. I play the Finks and bolster onto itself and then bash with my 3/3 once more. He does not block this time. He attack with his Flayer and I block with my 4/3 Finks. A Kolaghan’s Command on his side to deal 2 to the Ouphe and buy back his Tarmogoyf is fine with me and warrants no Chord-ing. Finks persists and bolsters onto itself, returning to his natural state of 3/2-ness.
He realizes he actually tapped incorrectly on his Kolaghan’s Command, and tapped both his Overgrown Tomb and his Raging Ravine so he doesn’t actually have a green to redeploy the regrown Tarmogoyf. Frustration rears its head once more and he concedes. I do not “had all deez” him and show him my Chord.
It’s early and we had a bit of a delay, so I assume his mistakes are just due to some morning rust and tiredness.
Sidenote on sideboarding:
Against traditional Jund or any grindy midrange deck, I generally take out all 8 mana dorks. Card quality is imperative when you’re being so thoroughly disrupted, and if you’re hellbent, the last thing you wanna draw is a Birds of Paradise. The game will generally be a little slower, so your mana should naturally develop. Look to Renegade Rallier in the early turns to further develop and accelerate your mana. In this particular instance I brought in 3 Path to Exile, 1 Maelstrom Pulse, 1 Tireless Tracker, 1 Selfless Spirit, and 2 Tidehollow Sculler.
I generally don’t like boarding down to so few creatures, but I wanted the full access to removal incase of Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet (which he did in fact have). Tracker is obviously great here, and Spirit is just a flying dude who can pressure people and counter a removal spell. Tidehollow might seem a little odd, but it acts as a mini-Spellskite and is definitely better than keeping in any of the mana dorks.
There is definitely merit to maybe bringing in a Sin Collector over the Tidehollow. They have enough spells that you should regularly hit something you’re happy to take, but I was mostly thinking about curve consideration. Cheaper is better, though being an artifact for Kolaghan’s Command is scary too. Getting a dude blown up and getting a Tidehollow destroyed sounds like my literal worst nightmare. Luckily I had nothing to fear.
Game 2 I keep a 2 lander and draw perfectly. He makes me discard a Collected Company and I immediately draw one for the turn. I lucksack my way into drawing a few more copies of the 4 mana instant, and I quickly overwhelm him with creatures while he floods out.
Round 2 – Ad Nauseam
Round 2 my opponent plays a Temple of Deceit and suspends a Lotus Bloom so I obviously know what he’s on. He’s a little slow though fortunately, so I have time to cast a few copies of Collected Company but they straight up suck. One of them finds me just a Noble Hierarch and I weep openly and deeply. Later, a Company warrants a Pact of Negation which is combined with an Angel’s Grace to prevent from paying on upkeep. My last Company also fails to find the combo piece I need and he casts the combo for the win. If only he knew how bad my Companys were, he never would have used that Pact!
Another aside on sideboarding:
I generally approach the Archangel of Thune combo as being the “backup combo”. Deciding on whether or not I need to keep it post-board often comes down to how much disruption I think my opponent will have. If it’s a matchup where we are essentially two ships passing in the night, and we’re both just racing, I cut the Archangel combo. Ad Nauseam is the perfect example of this. They are trying to go off as fast as possible before I can combo, and they have minimal-to-no disruption. I don’t need my slower combo if that is the case. If I’m playing against an interactive opponent, where I can expect them to have answers via discard or graveyard hate for instance, then you know I’m leaving in the Archangel combo.
I cut the 1 Scavenging Ooze, 1 Fiend Hunter, 1 Spike Feeder, 1 Archangel of Thune, 2 Renegade Rallier, and 1 Gavony Township. I’m not expecting removal or interaction on his part so I doubt I’ll need Rallier to be buying back stuff. If I see Drown in Sorrow however, I might consider bringing them back in. I’m a little weary of cutting a Township, but I doubt the game will come to the super back up beat down plan. Plus I’m leaving in all 8 mana dorks and I’m on the draw, so I assume 22 lands should be fine.
Game 2 and 3 play our similarly. I draw a big fat pile of disruption and he can’t kill me. Highlights include hitting both an Ethersworn Canonist and a Tidehollow Sculler off of a Collected Company cast during his draw step. I also Chord for a Qasali Pridemage to blow up a Phyrexian Unlife when he’s at 0 life. Chord of Calling for a Phyrexian Revoker to name Lotus Bloom the turn it is about to go off is particularly sweet, too. All in all, I draw a lot of my sideboard cards and wreck him. Just like we drew it up.
Round 3 – Lantern Control
Round 3 I play against Lantern Control and it’s actually my first time ever playing against the prison deck. I know about my 0 power exalted path to victory and try my best to go about it. My opponent knows what’s up though, and all my copies of Noble Hierarch are maliciously murdered, so exalted is off the table. 3 copies of Pithing Needle and 2 copies of Ensnaring Bridge are adequately locking me out, but I have some outs. I have 3 Birds of Paradise in play, along with a billion mana and some creatures that can’t attack. Two of those creatures are Archangel of Thune and Scavenging Ooze.
I set up a turn to be able to attack with the 3 Birds, and then eat 6 of my own creatures. That will trigger Archangel 6 times and turn the birds into mighty flying 6/7’s. This should be enough to finish him off. The turn before I get to go to attacks however, he draws a mainboard Ghirapur Aether Grid and machine guns down my helpless Birds. All my routes to victory are dashed, and I lament not having Murderous Redcap in my deck. But then I remember his 2nd needle is on Viscera Seer though, so the murderous goblin assassin wouldn’t do much after all.
Post-board I know I want to bring in 3 Tidehollow Sculler, 1 Kataki, War’s Wage, 1 Phyrexian Revoker, and 1 Maelstrom Pulse. Since infinite life doesn’t actually win the game, I know I’m safe to trim a lot of the combo. 2 Kitchen Finks, 2 Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit, 1 Fiend Hunter, and 1 Viscera Seer all find their way back into my deck box. After the obvious omission of Fiend Hunter, I think Anafenza is the easiest cut. Her bolster trigger is in fact not a may ability, and can sometimes futz with your 0/1 exalted attack through Ensnaring Bridge plan. Pumping those dorks is not a possibility I can afford. There is the not so awesome mondo wombo nombo of Kataki and Tidehollow Sculler, but answering Bridge is too good to pass up.
Game 2 I play some disruption and land Kataki and it all went incredibly smoothly from there. Game 1 took around 27 minutes, but game 2 took around 2 minutes.
Game 3 I immediately mulligan to 6 and I’m presented with quite the quandary.
My opening 6 is Noble Hierarch, Noble Hierarch, Tidehollow Sculler, Tidehollow Sculler, Kataki, War’s Wage, and something cheap, but inconsequential that I can’t remember. I ponder it over and decide that even with the lack of land, this is one of my best possible 6 card hands. I have my best possible card in the matchup, plus some great ones in Hierarch and Sculler. One green land will unlock my whole hand, plus I have a scry and my drawstep.
I keep it and scry a basic Plains. I end up keeping it. My opponent casts Inquisition of Kozilek on turn 1 and he groans about how powerful my hand is until he notices I have no land. I draw and play the Plains before passing. He starts to set up some artifacts when I draw basic Swamp. We’re in this! Tidehollow Sculler comes down and snatches something up and he spends his turn casting Ancient Stirrings for a Crucible of Worlds. I brick on the 3rd land and draw a 3rd Hierarch.
I play another Tidehollow Sculler and take the Crucible while beating in with the first. He does more artifact stuff that I can’t remember. I draw Marsh Flats and tutor up a Temple Garden to start deploying my 0/1’s. I draw the fourth (!!!!) Hierarch and start dropping the 0/1 beat monsters. This no land hand has somehow worked out almost optimally as I beat in.
But alas, much like what game 1 came down to, Ghirapur Aether Grid shows up and guns down my 0/1s. After my precious Nobles have been gunned down, he sets to my life total and I pick up my first loss.
Round 4 – Merfolk
Round 4 I’m paired against Merfolk and I’m able to combo off fairly early when he taps out for a Master of Waves. Merfolk is one of those perfect examples of a matchup where the opponent doesn’t have much disruption, and the matchup just coming down to a race. I cut Archangel of Thune, Spike Feeder, Scavenging Ooze, and 1 Chord of Calling (its susceptible to Dispel and Cursecatcher) for Maelstrom Pulse and some copies of Path to Exile.
My opponent mulligans to 6 and his hand isn’t great. He’s got 2 Aether Vial but is choked on land. I assemble the combo and infinite life warrants his concession.
Round 5 – Grixis Delver
Round 5 is maybe a win-and-in for me, but I’m trying not to pay too much attention to it. Just gotta focus and play good Magic! One game at a time.
I get paired against the dude who beat me in the finals of the PPTQ I recently wrote a tournament report for. I saw him playing earlier and I know he’s on Grixis Delver, no Death’s Shadow to be seen here.
I win the die roll and lead off with a mana dork before passing the turn. He fetches and shocks himself so he can Fatal Push my dork. I immediately fist pump. Using remove on dorks when you’re on the draw against this deck? Definite no-no. Abzan Company is probably the one deck you don’t “Bolt the Bird.” There are too many mana sources, and the combo is susceptible to cheap spot removal. You can’t try and mana screw them and you need to interact with Melira, Sylvok Outcast and Viscera Seer.
I play Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit, Melira, another Birds, a Kitchen Finks… and that’s it. I draw a billion lands. He’s stuck on 3 and just keeps playing Delver of Secrets that are slow to flip. He plays more creatures that are being trounced by my mighty 3/3’s. He trades a flipped Delver with a 3/3 Anafenza, but I cast a replacement one. He kills it, but I still have a 3/3 Melira and a 3/2 Finks. He discards a Spell Pierce to Collective Brutality to drain for 2 and give my Finks -2/-2. It comes back as a 3/2 and he tells me to put a dice on it. I point to Melira and he concedes.
I can’t exactly remember how I boarded for game 2, but I know I brought in Orzhov Pontiff, Maelstrom Pulse, and Tireless Tracker. I cut the playset of Noble Hierarch, but left in the 4 Birds of Paradise. The better fixing should be valuable if I’m avoiding shocking myself, plus they can chump a flipped Delver if needed. I know he’s got Young Pyromancer, so I’m looking to clean up some elementals.
I play some dudes in the early turns, but then hold up mana to play the instant game. On my end step he flashes in an Izzet Staticaster. I respond with cracking a fetch and casting Collected Company. I hit Tireless Tracker and Renegade Rallier, which buys back my fetchland, which I immediately crack to ensure I get a 2nd clue. I have 2 Chord of Calling in hand plus a Birds that looks really bad in the face of Izzet Staticaster. He plays 2 copies of Delver of Secrets and I take the opportunity to Chord for a Pontiff and kill ‘em both. I play and crack another fetch as well to get me up to 4 clues total. I will solve this mystery.
He finally kills my Tracker and I draw a 3rd Chord. I main phase a Chord and just grab a Finks, thinking it’s my most resilient critter. I beat with my might 3/2 Rallier. He kills the Finks and then pings it with the Staticaster after it persists. I’m at more than 20 life, which is mountain to climb for the opponent in this matchup. I play my Birds and activate Township to get it out of Staticaster range. He takes a hit from the Rallier, and he’s down to 1 life. He plays more dudes to chump while leaving up Watery Grave. He’s obviously representing Fatal Push, but he fails to cast it on his turn. He lets me untap and attack with my terrifying lethal 1/2 bird, and when he tries to push it, I punish him with the 3rd Chord and get Spellskite to save it.
Round 6 – ID with Tron
Winning 2-0 takes the sting off of him crushing me in the finals those few weeks ago. I’m 4-1 with the 2nd best breakers on 12 points, so I safely draw with my Tron opponent round 6. He is a kind and gentle man for not crushing me with Tron. I eat some food and relax before top 8.
As the top 8 players gather I notice my round 1 Jund opponent is also in top 8. Happy to see he rattled of the morning frustrations and cruised into top 8. Also glad he helped my breakers all day!
I end up being the 5th seed with my round 3 Lantern opponent being 4th. I’m not ecstatic about having to play that match up again, so I resign myself to expecting a quick exit in the quarters.
Quarterfinals – Lantern Control
He’s on the play, and our game 1 starts similar to our previous game 1. He has Ensnaring Bridge down, but I have both a Hierarch and a Spellskite out. I play Spike Feeder and have Archangel in hand. I’m hoping he taps out or I draw a land, so I can attack with both my 0 power guys and then go for the combo. Even if he has a removal spell, the other 0 power dude should be lethal. If I don’t draw the land, I’ll need the Hierarch for mana and I’ll only be able to attack with the Spellskite. He plays land, Mox Opal, and with one card in hand he passed the turn back. I draw a Chord instead of a land and I have to decide to risk whether or not he has Abrupt Decay.
If I go for the infinite life/damage and he has Decay, I’ll have turned off my Hierarch from attacking the next turn and I’ll be locked out until I can draw another 0 power creature. He has an Inventors’ Fair out though, so I know he can tutor for Pithing Needle and turn off Spike Feeder’s ability. I could go for it, and if he has the Decay, I could just Chord for a new Hierarch, but that’s too slow if he goes for the Needle right away. I resign myself to saving the Chord for getting a Qasali Pridemage to blow up the Needle. That would let me attack with both the Noble and the ‘Skite next turn.
I play the Archangel and attack with Spellskite for just the 1. He cracks the Fair on his end step and gets a Needle. On his turn he plays Needle and a Crucible, and I realize he didn’t have the Decay. I feel bad about playing too conservatively. Still even if I don’t draw a land, I should be fine to Chord for the Pridemage, taping both the Spike Feeder, Archangel, and 3 lands, and then use my 4th land to sac it to blow up Needle and turn Spike Feeder’s ability back on. I’m all ready to go about this game plan when I realize he has a Welding Jar in play. What a punt. My own line is ruined and I’m punished even more for taking my conservative line. Game 1 falls away further from me and I know my tournament is about to be over.
Game 2 I board the same as earlier but I also bring in the Tireless Tracker. Getting damage in early with a big tracker might be enough to win, and drawing cards at instant speed might disrupt his attempts to mill key creatures. He mulls to 6 and I beat him with a big Tracker while he fails to draw Ensnaring Bridge.
Semifinals – Affinity
My Semifinals opponent is on Affinity and I wish I could say our match was exciting. Both games I combo’d quickly and he offered minimal interaction. He tapped out early and I combo’d off game 1. Game 2 he mulled to six and had a slower start. I Phyrexian Revoker’d his Steel Overseer after he played it and then cast Chord of Calling for an Orzhov Pontiff to kill it and his two in-play copies of Signal Pest. I assemble the combo and then Chord for a Kataki, War’s Wage to lock it up, and he extends the hand.
The finals! I’m off to the finals! I’m paired against local grinder, and all around great guy, Phil Napoli. Phil has two fairly recent Modern Grand Prix top 8’s, and I know he’s a great player who excels in this format. Infect was his weapon of choice in the past, but it looks like he’s swapped Noble Hierarch decks and is on Bant Eldrazi now.
Finals – Bant Eldrazi
He’s on the play, and I unfortunately mull to 5. I try my best to put up a fight, but Thought-Knot Seer and a couple of timely copies of Path to Exile crush what meager resistance I put up against the Eldrazi menace. Remember the Sea Gate.
Game 2 I keep a fine but lackluster 7. I have 3 lands, 2 mana dorks, a Kitchen Finks, and a Melira, Sylvok Outcast. It’s hard to ship a hand with 2 pieces of the combo already. He plays an early Grafdigger’s Cage and turns off my best draws. I try to go wide with my dorks and a Gavony Township I’ve drawn. I keep hitting land drops which is nice to to make sure I get to Township-town, but I’m lacking action. I’m racing the best that I can, but an early double exalted Reality Smasher is making it difficult. A couple of Eldrazi Displacer activations on his side, and I’m dead!
It sucked a lot to lose such an awesome prize, as I would have loved the free trip to Amsterdam for the GP, but I can’t complain about my overall performance. I was happy to make it to finals and put in some reps and work with Abzan Company in a more competitive environment though. I was looking for practice, and that’s exactly what I got!
I’m definitely going to remember how my conservative play cost me that game 1 against Lantern, and I’m definitely not going to forget another exalted point of damage. I still love the deck and I think it’s a blast to play. I can’t wait for GP San Antonio this coming and the opportunity to gain 70,000,000 life! Thanks for taking the time to read my report, hope you found it insightful, or at the very least, entertaining!