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Grand Prix Toronto
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Saturday, 11:30 a.m. - Grinder Winning Decklists

by Mike Rosenberg

Michael Goud
Grinder Winner
Grand Prix Toronto 2012, Modern

Mat Goldfarb
Grinder Winner
Grand Prix Toronto 2012, Modern

Charles Weatherspoon
Grinder Winner
Grand Prix Toronto 2012, Modern

Richard Welch
Grinder Winner
Grand Prix Toronto 2012, Modern

Daniel Brooks
Grinder Winner
Grand Prix Toronto 2012, Modern

Coleman French
Infect
Grand Prix Toronto 2012, Sealed

 

Saturday, 12:47 p.m. - The Very Model of a Modern Magic Metagame

by Magic Maj. Gen. Blake Rasmussen

Despite Jund's recent reputation as a format warping monster, Modern has actually been surprisingly diverse as of late. Yes, Bloodbraid Elf and friends won both Grand Prix Chicagoand Grand Prix Lyon, but the Top 8 and Top 16 decks were incredibly diverse. Both Top 8s had seven distinct archetypes represented with the Top 16 containing a few other goodies for you deck junkies out there.

So let's take a magical trip down Modern metagame lane and rehash just what you might expect to see throughout the hall and in the feature match arena at Grand Prix Toronto this weekend.

Jund

Might as well get it out of the way. Jund has been on a tear this year, finishing first or second in just about every major Modern tournament, starting with the Player's Championship, where Yuuya Watanabe took down the title with the help of Dark Confidant and Co. From there, Jund (and, actually, Watanabe too) took second at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, and a pair of firsts and a second between Chicago and Lyon.

The deck utilizes some of the most efficient spells the game has to offer across a multitude of fronts. Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize offer hand disruption; Lightning Bolt, Abrupt Decay, Maelstrom Pulse and more offer ways to kill things; Dark Confidant and Tarmogoyf are two of the best two-mana creatures ever; and Deathrite Shaman is possibly the best one-drop in Modern.

Plus, ya know, Bloodbraid Elf.

Hard to hate out and incredibly adaptable, the deck tries to do the best thing at every point in the curve, and does so efficiently. Recent additions like Deathrite Shaman and Lingering Souls have further boosted the deck's power and adaptability. Not only will Jund be heavily played this weekend, but it's an odds-on favorite to put at least one copy in the Top 8.

Jacob Wilson
Jund
Grand Prix Chicago 2012, Modern (1st Place)

UW Angel

Modern Blue-White decks were given a new lease on life with the release of Restoration Angel in Avacyn Restored. Suddenly, Vendilion Clique, Wall of Omens, Kitchen Finks, Snapcaster Mage and Blade Splicer became even better—a difficult thing to do when you're already talking about cards that ranged from playable to some of the best in the format.

UW Angel is good in part because it's the best counterspell deck in the format—featuring Mana LeakSpell Snare, Cryptic Command, Remand and others—and also because it's likely the best Snapcaster Mage deck in the format. With more cheap instants than you can shake a Delver of Secrets at (though not enough to actually include the formerly ubiquitous one-drop), UW often plays like a midrange deck that is capable of switching between aggression and control at the drop of a hat.

It's also unique in that it's one of the few decks that takes advantage of Tectonic Edge and, alongside Jund, one of the few to use the Worldwake creature lands (Celestial Colonnade, Raging Ravine and friends).

U/R Combo

I'm going to lump these two decks together, even though they are very, very different decks. Let's start with Splinter Twin, as seen being piloted last by Michael Simon in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Chicago.

Michael Simon
Red/Blue Combo
Grand Prix Chicago 2012, Modern

The deck looks to cantrip its way into it's incredibly redundant combo pieces, all while disrupting the opponent's plan with cheap countermagic and Spellskites just long enough to resolve either Pestermite or Deceiver Exarch alongside Splinter Twin or Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. From there, every copy of the small blue Flash creatures lets you untap either the Twinned creature or Kiki-Jiki, letting you make another copy and repeating ad infinitum. At that point it doesn't matter how many blockers they have or how much life they've gained, there's not much they can do about a million 2/1s or 1/4s coming their direction.

About the only things that make this deck in any way similar to the UR Storm deck that Olivier Ruel took to the Top 8 of GP Lyon—and the likes of Jon Finkel piloted recently as well—are the colors and cantrips. Beyond that, the decks bear little resemblance. Take a look:

Olivier Ruel
Red/Blue Combo
Grand Prix Lyon 2012, Modern (Top 8)

UR Storm is an engine deck that looks to chain a bunch of spells together until it can cast a large Grapeshot or Empty the Warrens. It uses Goblin Electromancer to make its spells cheaper while Pyromancer Ascension an Past in Flames let you get double (or quadruple) use out of all of your rituals (mana-producing spells) and cantrips (card drawing spells). Manamorphose, which both makes mana and draws a card, is incredibly important to this deck, and it's likely it wouldn't even be a deck if the odd-looking mana fixer didn't exist.

Why play one combo deck over the other? They both have their weaknesses. Both are vulnerable to hand disruption, but Splinter Twin is a little better at winning with the top of its deck thanks to its redundancy and need for only two cards to go off.

Twin is also not vulnerable to graveyard hate, while Storm often is thanks to Pyromancer Ascension and Past in Flames both relying on that particular zone. Most Storm mages come prepared with that in mind, but it's something the Twin players don't even need to worry about, especially with Deathrite Shaman looming large over the field.

Finally, and the biggest mark in Storm's favor, is that creature removal—such as Path to Exile and Lightning Bolt—are largely dead against Storm, even though they do hit Goblin Electromancer. Often players will be caught staring at a hand full of removal while their opponent plays Manamorphose and Seething Songs right to the bank.

Robots

Whatever you call the deck, the all-artifact menace just never seems to go away. Cheap, brutally fast artifacts backed by Cranial Plating—on the short list of most powerful cards in Modern—makes Robots the premier beatdown deck in the format right now. Though cards like Creeping Corrosion, Stony Silence, and Ancient Grudge can be devastating, the deck is often fast enough and resilient enough to ignore or even beat those cards.

Of course, that assumes players are even packing such dedicated hate. Without many other artifacts making their presence known in the format, any dedicated artifact hate in the sideboard is pretty much aimed directly at Affinity, and if it's not a large part of the metagame, those can be wasted slots.

But you can never count the artifact aggro deck out, because as soon as players do, as soon as they put away their Ancient Grudges, that's when Arcbound Ravager rears its metallic grin again.

Alex Majlaton
Robots
Grand Prix Chicago 2012, Modern (Top 8)

RG Tron

There was a time when there was legitimate argument over the best Tron deck—a deck utilizing Urza's Power Plant, Mine and Tower—in Modern. Some tried Blue-Red, some had success with Blue White, and a few dabbled in other combinations.

But it was the advent of Red-Green Tron and its uber-consistent collection of the Urza's lands that finally has seemed to settle the debate. Capable of a third turn Karn Liberated with consistency never really seen before in Tron decks, this mana-hungry deck utilizes all kinds of land searching, color fixing and cantriping to assemble its lands in a hurry, culminating in the colorless planeswalker, Wurmcoil Engine, or something far, far bigger.

With Eye of Ugin, the deck can play for the long game as well, waiting out even control decks as it builds to the ability to repeatedly search up giant Eldrazi. The deck's popularity has waned as of late, but it remains the format's best big-mana deck.

David Gleicher
RG Tron
Grand Prix Chicago 2012, Modern (Top 8)

Infect

With one foot in combo and one foot in aggro, Infect holds a unique spot in the Modern metagame. One one hand, it attacks with a bunch of small creatures, using pump spells and protection to get them through, and does it all through the attack step.

On the other hand it often kills on turn three.

The deck is pretty simple. Play a one or two mana poison creature, get through with an unencumbered attack, and pump, pump, and pump again till dead. Repeat as necessary.

There are certainly more nuances than that to playing the deck, but the recent adoption of Noble Hierarch into the poison fold has increased the deck's ability to play a patient "attack for two poison" game. And while it hasn't put up any Top 8 finishes just yet, it consistently places multiple copies in the Top 16.

Mario Zuñiga
Infect
Grand Prix Lyon 2012, Modern (12th Place)

Pod

The last deck we'll go over is a personal favorite of mine that had fallen on hard times until its recent string of Top 8 appearances. Birthing Pod decks—which typically come either Naya Flavored or Four-Color—are really two decks with similar engines.

On one hand, there's Melira Pod, which tries to abuse the combination of Melira, Sylvok Outcast with Persist creatures and a sacrifice outlet, often Viscera Seer. The result is an arbitrarily large loop that can do anything from deal as much damage as you need to gain as much life as you like, often while setting up your library with what you'd like to draw next.

On the other you have the Kiki-Jiki based ones which, like Splinter Twin, try to untap Kiki-Jiki enough to make an arbitrarily large number of tokens to attack with. In Pod, this often happens with Restoration Angel, with is fantastic with the decks many other top-notch creatures. Chord of Calling helps give the deck a toolbox feel, and it's one of the few decks that can play dedicated hate cards—such as Ethersworn Canonist—in its main deck.

And there is so, so much more! We didn't even get to the Gifts Ungiven deck that made the Top 8 in Chicago or the BUG deck that did the same in Lyon. And with such a large format, there are always innovations to be had, such as various attempts at Junk (swapping out the Red for White cards in Jund) and Green-White hate bears popularized by Brian Kibler.

Basically, if you have a plan and can game against these top decks, chances are you've got a shot to compete against the Modern metagame. And if you're looking for something new to break through, follow along all weekend as we look for the latest cutting-edge tech in the format.

 

Saturday, 2:30 p.m. - Izzet's Modern Weapons

by Mike Rosenberg

With its massive card pool featuring a multitude of monstrous deck types from Mirrodin to today, it's no wonder that Modern makes deck choices so difficult. Earlier in the day, Blake wrote up an overview of the big decks that you can expect to see this weekend. But with each deck having so much going for it, we've decided to dig just a little deeper into what makes some of these decks tick.

For players looking to win with a grand performance, there are a wide variety of combo decks to choose from in Modern. Since there are a few prominent combo decks in the format, we're going to go over a few of the big ones to watch out for. We'll start with a look at the combos of Modern that would make the Izzet guild proud, and later today, we'll check out the more creature-heavy combo decks of the format, Pod and Infect.

Let's start things off with a look at Splinter Twin, one that saw Top 8 finishes at the last two Modern Grand Prixs (Lyon and Chicago).



Michael Simon
Chicago Grand Prix - Modern



While there are some unique selections from both Dun and Simon in their respective Splinter Twin decklists, both have the same idea: play a Pestermite or Deceiver Exarch, cast a Splinter Twin on one of the two creatures, then make lots of hasty token copies of said creature to attack the opponent for an astronomically high number. Simple, right?

Why settle for one creature token when you can have five million instead?

Well, once you factor in that opponents will be trying to keep you from doing this, things can get trickier. Lightning Bolts, Abrupt Decays, or discard on the right turns and throw a wrench into a Splinter Twin player's game plan.

Peter Dun's choice for fighting against disruption comes in the form of his spells. Spell Pierce and Dispel both let him fend off instant speed removal in response to a Splinter Twin targeting his Deceiver Exarch/Pestermite. This helps against Lightning Bolt, Terminate, and Path to Exile among others, but Abrupt Decay poses some other problems.

However, the sideboard offers him more ways to fight these cards. Spellskite acts as a great lightning rod for, conveniently, Lightning Bolt, but it also serves to protect Deceiver Exarchs and Pestermites from well-timed Abrupt Decays too. You know what else fights well against hard-to-stop instants like Abrupt Decay? Mizzium Skin. The Return to Ravnica instant can cause even Abrupt Decay to bounce off of an Exarch.

Michael Simon, who finished in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Chicago just a few weeks ago, opted instead to run Spellskite and Mizzium Skin in the maindeck while moving Dispel to the sideboard.


With Mizzium Skin as an option, Pestermites and Deceiver Exarchs can shrug off even the most Abrupt of Decays."

Both players can also bring in some potent weapons for other matchups after the first game. Blood Moon can spell doom for many decks, as a lot of options in this format are powered by a mana base incorporating the fetch lands from Zendikar and the shock lands from the Ravnica Block. And, when Blood Moon is out, they're only going to be tapping for red, stranding most spells that these decks can cast in their hand. Ancient Grudge serves to buy the deck time against Robots, but it can also shut down sideboard hate such as Torpor Orb, which would prevent the combo deck from doing its thing.

With that said, Splinter Twin is one of the major Izzet combo decks to watch out for during the weekend. Not only does it have a place in Modern history as the first deck to win a Modern Pro Tour (thanks to Samuele Estratti, who won with Splinter Twin at Pro Tour Philadelphia 2011), but it's also hard to argue with a combo that only requires two pieces to go off.

Splinter Twin isn't the only Izzet combo deck lurking around, however. Up next is another Izzet specialty, a concoction that includes instants, sorceries, and one very dangerous little Goblin.

Storm is the other big combo deck to watch out for, and for good reason. It can go from nothing but lands in play to drawing its deck and pointing a very deadly Grapeshot at you, and all as early as turn three. And if you don't have an answer for a turn two Goblin Electromancer, you could very well be picking up your cards about half-way through their third turn.

The deck involves casting an assortment of instant and sorcery spells that add mana to your mana pool. You then use this mana to cast more spells that do the same. Cards like Sleight of Hand and Serum Visions help you find these spells, or add to your dreaded "storm count", while Gitaxian Probe lets you sift through your deck while making sure the coast is clear.

But how do you keep playing spells? Eventually, you'll run out of cards to cast. That's where Pyromancer Ascension and Past in Flames come into play.

Okay, so you can draw some cards and make some mana. But you'll run out of gas at some point. Right?

Pyromancer Ascension, once it hits two counters, not only lets you double up on your Pyretic Rituals and Seething Songs, but lets you rebuild your hand once your Serum Visions and Sleight of Hands start getting you two cards instead of one. Manamorphose goes from a cheap way to alter mana into the best mana producer ever, and Gitaxian Probe become a real deal. Pay 2 life to draw two? Don't mind if I do!

The other card that fuels Storm's engine, and perhaps one of the scariest cards in the deck, is Past in Flames. When you've played all of your Pyretic Rituals, Seething Songs, Manamorphoses, and Gitaxian Probes, Past in Flames lets you do it all again! Flash back all of those used cards, make a lot more mana, draw more cards, and hopefully you'll find more ways to draw cards or perhaps a way to win the game. Games usually end through Grapeshot, which should be for well more than enough storm copies to kill an opponent.

Okay... so you can make even more mana and draw even more cards. But I don't see where this is going to deal 20 points of damage t-

-oh...I see...

While Storm can be powerful, it also comes with a few drawbacks. Sometimes the deck just won't get what it needs to keep playing spells. Sometimes your Sleight of Hands or Serum Visions will only draw you lands instead of Past in Flames or more card draw. Or sometimes, even if you have Past in Flames, a well-timed form of graveyard hate, or the ongoing work of Deathrite Shaman alongside discard spells, or simply a well-timed Spell Snare or Remand, might just spell your demise. After sideboarding, things can get a little bit rougher with cards like Leyline of Sanctity ruining your Grapeshot fun. Then there's things like Ethersworn Canonist, which can send a Storm player to Frown-Town quickly.

Oliver Ruel's deck from Grand Prix Lyon comes with some options out of the sideboard to help stifle some of the cards that can wreck a Storm player's day. Lightning Bolts let it fend off creatures like Ethersworn Canonist or Gaddock Teeg, while Empty the Warrens and Goblin Bushwhacker give it a quick way to end games in the event that Grapeshot is not an option. Empty the Warrens also a nice way to threaten the end of the game if Past in Flames or Pyromancer Ascension aren't options for continuing your spell casting. Nothing quite says, "So you've got Leyline of Sanctity and Grafdigger's Cage? That's cute," quite like 16 Goblin tokens, especially if you've got a Goblin Bushwhacker for the kicker.

Izzet's got a lot going for it in Modern. With two powerful options to blast it past the competition, both Splinter Twin and Storm are decks to watch out for. Later today, we'll take a look at the other other combo decks to keep on your radar: Pod and Infect. Stay tuned!

 

Round 4 Feature Match - Devon Giles (Pod) vs. Brian Kibler (Hate-Bears)

by Mike Rosenberg

With the fourth round underway, players with three byes are beginning their first round of Modern action for the weekend. Devon Giles, who was piloting the Kiki-Jiki-powered Pod deck, had quite a first hurdle to overcome: Magic Hall of Fame member Brian Kibler.

Kibler, who found success with his Hate-Bears from Grand Prix Chicago, opted to go with it again. Equipped with Aven Mindcensor and legendary goodies like Linvala, Keeper of Silence, would his deck of choice stand up against the explosive power of Pod?

Game 1

Both players kept, as Giles led off with Noble Hierarch, while Kibler started with Birds of Paradise. Giles revealed his Pod game plan with a turn two Wall of Roots and another Noble Hierarch, while Kibler got Loxodon Smiter onto the table. Giles went to 18 to play Birthing Pod before passing back to Kibler, who was quick to drop Linvala, Keeper of Silence into play, as the Smiter began to beat down.

With Linvala shutting down any sort of combo shenanigans, along with his entire field, Giles went into his deck with Birthing Pod, trading in a Noble Hierarch for a Phantasmal Image to dispose of Kibler's legendary angel. A third Noble Hierarch joined play after that, as Kibler unloaded with Wilt-Leaf Liege and attack with his bird and his Loxodon Smiter. Giles thought for a moment before taking it, going to 7.


Brian Kibler's Hate Bears come with a few bonus monsters that can lay some serious beats.

Giles untapped, then used Pod, trading in Wall of Roots for Deceiver Exarch. Deceiver untapped a Hierarch after it made blue mana, and the Hierach then produced white to let Giles cast Restoration Angel. This got another use out of Deceiver Exarch, which untapped the Pod, which then traded in Restoration Angel for Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker.

Once Giles gestured to his Kiki-Jiki to copy the Deceiver Exarch, Kibler scooped up his cards for the second game.

Giles 1, Kibler 0

Game 2

Kibler led with Noble Hierarch, while Giles followed with Birds of Paradise. Kibler deployed Qasali Pridemade and Dismembered the 0/1 flier, but Giles rebuilt with Wall of Roots into Noble Hierarch, his draw not short of mana. Kibler went aggressive with Wilt-Leaf Liege, sending Qasali Pridemade for 6, putting Giles to 11, who was already down life due to his fetch lands and his first-turn Stomping Ground.

Kibler's aggressive opener put Giles in a bind, as Kibler sent in for 8 with his Pridemage and Wilt-Leaf Liege. Restoration Angel came down after a Wall of Roots blocked, resetting it, as Giles went to 7.


Devon Giles and his Pod deck can be extremely flexible in its path to victory.

Giles untapped and cast Kitchen Finks, going to 9, before passing back to Kibler, who played a land and sent in his team with enough to use Gavony Township if needed. Giles chump blocked with Kitchen Finks, going to 7 after taking the Wilt-Leaf Liege. Kibler made some tokens with Lingering Souls and passed back. When Giles revealed Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and the mana to cast it, Kibler offered the handshake.

Giles 2, Kibler 0

 

Saturday, 7:00 p.m. - Phyrexian Fueled Combo

by Mike Rosenberg

Combo decks can pack a serious punch in a format like Modern, where some of the game's best search effects, card filtering, and combinations collide to create truly monstrous designs. We previously looked at the Izzet-fueled combos. Now it's time to take a look at the far more Phyrexian of the combo archetypes that people can play.

This next combo deck kills with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker in a similar fashion to the Splinter Twin Deck (which also uses Kiki-Jiki as an additional Splinter Twin effect). Pod has been around for a while, and even today it continues to show that it should not be forgotten.



Pod is named after its namesake card, Birthing Pod, the powerful little New Phyrexia artifact that lets the deck upgrade all of its mana-producing creatures into bigger and better things. When you can start nabbing creatures out of your deck, it becomes a whole lot easier to assemble the one-two punch of Restoration Angel and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. The token copies of Restoration Angel that Kiki-Jiki produces will blink the legendary goblin back into play untapped, which will let it produce more copies of Restoration Angel until the Pod player has enough token angels to attack for the win.

The most common kill of choice for Pod players is with these two cards: the angelic powerhouse from Avacyn Restored, and the crafty Kiki-Jiki from Champions of Kamigawa.

One of the biggest advantages of Pod over the other combo decks is its ability to run an assortment of very powerful creatures that can shut down opposing decks with ease. Playing against Storm? Search out Ethersworn Canoninst and watch the Storm player squirm. Fighting against a deck with countermagic that is preventing you from sealing the deal? Go get Glen Elendra Archmage, which can protect the Pod player as they assemble their two card combo against countermagic and removal alike.

Or, if you just want to go off without the worry of your spells being countered, search up Glen Elendra Archmage. Use Birthing Pod to turn Glen Elendra Archmage into Zealous Conscripts, untap the Pod, sacrifice the persisted Archmage once again, and get Kiki-Jiki for a lethally large army of Zealous Conscripts that will follow.

Restoration Angel isn't the only way to make Kiki-Jiki go crazy for token copies. Really, once Birthing Pod is active, finding the kill should easily come with a little time.

Post-board, the deck also has the ability to search out Melira, Sylvok Outcast, which can make an Infect player throw fits. Kataki, War's Wage out of the board gives it some frightening strength against Robots as well.

Pod's versatility to get whatever creature it needs for the job, along with its ability to kill players out of nowhere with an active Birthing Pod and the right creature suite to search up, makes this an ongoing threat. However, it is a little slower than decks such as Storm, trading speed for versatility, meaning it can sometimes be disrupted just enough by decks such as Jund to fall short of a victory. Cards like Grafdigger's Cage can also be a nightmare to handle, more so for this deck than others.

That being said, Pod's versatile creature line-up makes hating the deck out a bit difficult. This was seen in round 4's feature match, where Brian Kibler's Linvala, Keeper of Silence was quickly dispatched by Phantasm Image, freeing up Pod player Devon Giles to go off on the very next turn.

The final combo deck we'll be looking with an in-depth breakdown today is the most unusual of the group, but nonetheless feels like a combo. Its game plan involves attacking with a creature, but when you're just looking for an opening to poison an opponent out, it feels like a combo. Infect is one of those decks that can kill out of nowhere, and can have an opponent sweating in those crucial early turns of the game.




Infect has a straight-forward plan. Play a creature with infect, ideally something opponents can't block like Blighted Agent. Then play effects like Groundswell and Might of Old Krosa, pumping that creature to 10 power to give an opponent a lethal dose of poison.

But how does it get to that point? And how does the deck fend off creature removal? Infect has a few cards that can let it fight removal like Lightning Bolts, and even effects like Abrupt Decay can get shut down by spells like Apostle's Blessing or Vines of Vastwood.

Infect is one of the more aggressive combo decks, as a single creature with infect and untapped mana can represent a lethal swing. In fact, against decks without the way to destroy a creature with one untapped mana, the deck can do its thing as early as turn two with the right draw if it leads with Glistening Elf. Its ability to punish players for waiting to answer its creatures until the Infect player's turn also gives it a fear-inducing effect that other combos can lack. Sometimes, even if you can block a creature like Glistening Elf, it won't be enough in the face of Rancor, which gives this deck another means of punching through a cluttered board.

"Turn two kills are rare, but certainly possible with Infect.

In Jacob Sklar's sideboard lurks more ways to counteract an opponent's disruption. Melira, Sylvok Outcast or creatures like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, both known for mucking up this deck's kills, will have a hard time standing up to a full set of of Dismembers to let its creatures do its poisonous job.

So, it's clear that Infect can pack a punch. But where are its shortcomings? Sometimes, an Infect player can run out of poisonous creatures to deploy. Other times, it can lack the necessary pump effects to get it there in time. After all, there are other decks in this format are fast, and Infect is burdened by needing a creature to do its dirty work through a scary combat phase.

These two ferocious Phyrexian fueled combos, along with the previous two Izzet inspired combos, are just some of the decks you can find in the Modern format. There's more that makes up the Modern masterpieces that we'll see here this weekend, and we'll just have to see how Modern continues to evolve with each event.

 

Round 5 Feature Match - Ari Lax vs. Matt Nass

by Blake Rasmussen

Ari Lax and Matt Nass are two players who have occasionally put up brilliant results while teetering just on the edge of making the jump to full-time pros. Both have been prolific writers online and have, at times, been cited as up and comers in the world of Magic.

Today, Nass was piloting the Channelfireball Jund deck with Lingering Souls against Lax's metagame choice of 4-Color Birthing Pod. Lax had been playing Poison in Modern for some time, but opted to make the switch when Lingering Souls became the de facto three drop in Jund. He chose it specifically for its ability to battle the powerful sorcery, something Poison had a difficult time doing.

Lax got another boost when he was able to keep his seven as Nass sent back a hand that that, in his mind, was pretty iffy.

"I keep a lot of borderline hands," Lax said, citing Tempered Steel of a few season ago for ruining his mulligan decisions.

Now to see if this one was borderline, or if Lax could punish Nass's muted start.

Game 1

Breeding Pool into Noble Hierarch was exactly how Lax's Birthing Pod deck wanted to kick things off, but Nass had his own dangerous one-drop as well, starting with the imposing and ever present Deathrite Shaman.

Misty Rainforest allowed Lax to Deceiver Exarch Nass's Deathrite Shaman on upkeep to slow down a potentially fast Jund start, but Thoughtseize revealed Birthing Pod, Murderous Redcap and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Nass didn't even hesitate taking the deck's namesake artifact, even with the possibility of a turn four combo kill Kiki-Jiki could represent.

Lax continued to take damage from his shock lands, dropping to 13 as he played a freshly drawn Glen Elendra Archmage. The front half of the Faerie died to Lightning Bolt immediately before Nass cast Bloodbraid Elf, turning up an Inquisition of Kozilek that missed on targets (Kiki Jiki and Murderous Redcap).


Matt Nass found his Jund deck befuddled and silenced at every turn in Game 1.

Another good draw gave Lax a Linvala, Keeper of Silence, shutting off Deathrite Shaman for the time being and providing a brick wall for Nass to try and claw his way through.

Lax's next attack with Linvala dropped Nass to just four life, and when Nass couldn't hope to resolve a Lingering Souls through the active Glen Elendra Archmange, he conceded the first game.

Ari Lax 1—Matt Nass 0

Game 2

Between games, the players and friends discussed the differences between Lax's Pod deck and the Melira Pod deck advocated by Sam Black. Nass thought Melira won more games without going to its combo, but at the same time probably made worse use of Birthing Pod than Lax's Blue Naya version. Nass thought the mana was worse too, particularly Kiki-Jiki and his three red mana.

"Eh, it's a little awkward to cast," Lax admitted, having just had it in hand with only one red source in the previous game.

But that awkwardness didn't stop Lax from keeping yet another seven while Nass, once again, dropped to six cards without hesitation.

But Nass started making up for that the following turn with a Dark Confidant that got to work building his hand back up. Lax had a turn two Deceiver Exarch to try and slow Nass down, but a pair of Deathrite Shamans was plenty of action for the Jund player.

Obstinate Baloth jumped Lax to 22 after playing a Steam Vents untapped, while Nass fell to 13 when Bloodbraid Elf flipped off the Dark Confidant trigger.

"Bink!" Lax said. "Not really bink, but, don't worry about it."

Lax openly bemoaned not playing his Deceiver Exarch in combat in case Dark Confidant attacked, but ultimately Lax decided he had too much respect for Nass to expect he would attack into it.

Thoughtseize revealed two lands, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Zealous Conscripts, eventually stealing the Legendary Goblin, , and Nass followed up with Tarmogoyf to continue building his forces. Nass was way ahead, but at just 11 life, he could be in trouble.

Nass had agonized over the Thoughtseize decision, as Lax only had two red sources available, but already had the Deceiver Exarch for the combo kill should he draw a third. Still, Zealous Conscripts represented a ton of damage. When Lax played a topdecked third red source on the next turn, Nass was certainly relieved.

Predictably, Lax used Zealous Conscripts to steal Tarmogoyf and attack with it, the Baloth and the Conscripts.

After blocks and a Deathrite Shaman activation, Nass fell to six life, but turned over a land on his upkeep to stay there. Bloodbraid Elf flipped up a Thoughtseize, which Nass declined to cast since he knew Lax held only a land in hand.

Restoration Angel let Lax re-use his Zealous Conscripts to steal Bloodbraid Elf, though he immediately regretted his decision, wishing he had simply given haste to his Restoration Angel to keep Nass from blocking it at all.


Tweaking and tuning his deck to handle a Spirit Jund dominated metagame, Ari Lax's Birthing Pod deck was humming along smoothly. "When you have Birthing Pod in play, it's the best deck in Modern," he said.

Nass fiddled with his blocking options, trying to find the best configuration he could to keep his head, and his life total, above water. He went over the options several times before finally settling on the option that killed Dark Confidant and a Deathrite Shaman, but left him at two life.

At this point, Lax had no cards in hand but a 3/4 flier that was immediately lethal if Nass couldn't answer it.

Terminate killed the Restoration Angel, but Nass still had to deal with the now GavonyTownship-powered force headed his way. He managed to survive the turn, but drew only land in his draw step. When several turns gave him no answers besides chump blocking, Nass conceded in the face of a pair of 3/4 Birds of Paradise.

"I'm not very good with Bloodbraid Elf," Nass bemoaned, having whiffed on Inquisition of Kozilek and declined to cast Thoughtseize.

Lax 2—Nass 0

 

Saturday, 6:00 p.m. - Single Card Spotlight: Lingering Souls

by Blake Rasmussen

Banned in Block. Featured prominently in Legacy. Part-time metagame monster in Standard. And, these days, practically undisputed best three drop in Modern.

Lingering Souls is all of these things and more, a strong resume for a card that, on its surface, doesn't look like much more than double Midnight Haunting.

In this case, one really is better than two.

But it's much, much more than that.

Lingering Souls is whatever the deck wants it to be. It can be an efficient way to create a fleet of attacking flyers or it can be a cheap way to create a bunch of chump blockers. It can push through card advantage with its Flashback—especially in conjunction with something like Liliana of the Veil—and it can push through damage by spreading out its four power over four creatures.

It also slices, dices, and rubs Jace's shoulders after a long day of reading minds. It does it all.

It even warps deck choices. The adoption of Lingering Souls in Modern has had a profound affect on the format. Jund has gone so far as to splash white just for Lingering Souls, dropping Kitchen Finks or Geralf's Messenger in favor of making a bunch of Spirits. In fact, Lingering Souls was itself something of a metagame choice, as Finks and Messenger became much worse when everyone started playing Deathrite Shamans capable of exiling them for value before they can even Persist back.


These cards used to be good...

Melissa De Tora has even gone so far as to build her deck around Lingering Souls' main function: making tokens. Sporting a Black-White token deck, Lingering Souls serves as the centerpiece of her token-making strategy, supplanting (though not fully replacing) Spectral Procession as the best incentive to take that path.

But even decks that aren't playing it have become acutely aware of its presence. Ari Lax, who has long been an advocate of Poison, dropped his Infect creatures in favor of Birthing Pod, almost entirely on the back of Lingering Souls.

"Jund wasn't a bad matchup for Poison in the first place, but Lingering Souls made it really hard to punch through," Lax said. "I tried Distortion Strike, but it wasn't consistent enough."

Instead, he chose to play Kiki Pod, a deck capable of creating an arbitrarily large number of attackers, making Lingering Souls virtually irrelevant.

Also on the rise this month is Izzet Staticaster. Already making waves in Standard, the flashiest pinger laughs at Lingering Souls and has been popping up in Blue-White-Red decks and as a tutor target in Birthing Pod lists.

On the other side of the coin, the Channelfireball crew has adopted an "if you can't beat it, join 'em" mentality, once again sleeving up the Spirit Jund decks most of them brought to Chicago last month.

The card is so good a crew led by Reid Duke is playing an aggressive 5-color Tribal Flames deck that has affectionately been called Haunted Zoo. William "Huey" Jensen won a grinder with it, and there seem to be a number of players running the list this weekend.

I mean, how cool is Bloodbraid Elf into Lingering Souls? I mean, assuming you're not on the receiving end.

Modern: Where this is a thing.

Add to all of that the Gifts Ungiven deck that made the Top 8 of Chicago, plus various Junk (Black-Green-White) decks, and the various random decks that populate a Grand Prix, and Lingering Souls very well could be one of the most influential cards in Toronto this weekend.

The only question left is, how will you adapt?

 

Round 6 Feature Match - Alexander Hayne (Melira Pod) vs. Ben Stark (Scapeshift)

by Mike Rosenberg

Pro Tour Avacyn Restored champion Alexander Hayne saw plenty of success during the previous season. Today, he gets a chance to play at a Grand Prix that is a little closer to home. His opponent, Ben Stark of Team ChannelFireball, sat down ready to race with his Scapeshift deck. Hayne's Merlia Pod deck had some great lines of play, but with Stark's disruption, who would be able to combo off first?

Game 1

Hayne won the die roll and elected to go first. Hayne had the first play with a second-turn Fauna Shaman, while Stark immediately dispensed of it with an Izzet Charm. Hayne used a Misty Rainforest, found an untapped Overgrown Tomb, and then went to 14 in order to play Birthing Pod.


Ben Stark's Scapeshift deck does what it can to keep Hayne's Pod deck at bay, while building up lands for his big turn.

Stark had no action on the third turn, while Hayne unloaded with another Birthing Pod. Stark dug with Peer Through Depths, finding another Peer Through Depths, and on the fourth turn a Farseek accelerated his mana base a little bit more. He passed back with two mana open.

"Viscera Seer," Hayne announced, which Stark let resolve. Pod #1 turned Viscera Seer into Merlia, Sylvok Outcast, and Pod #2 turned Melira into Kitchen Finks. Stark used his Peer Through Depths at the end of the turn, finding Search for Tomorrow. Stark untapped, played Search for Tomorrow along with a land, and passed back with four open. Kitchen Finks swung for 3, and a Pod turned Kitchen Finks (which immediately came back) for Ranger of Eos, which found Viscera Seer and Birds of Paradise.

Stark allowed Viscera Seer to resolve, and Hayne used his second Pod to turn Ranger of Eos into Reveillark. He passed back to Stark, who used Snapcaster Mage to flash back Peer Through Depths. He picked up his five cards and grimaced, "Scapeshifts are not forthcoming this round," he said, debating over the correct choice.

He eventually went with another Peer Through Depths. He used it on his next turn, and this time, Scapeshift was forthcoming. He cast the brutal four mana sorcery, and after showing Hayne the necessary lands with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, Hayne picked up his cards for the second game.

Hayne 0 – Stark 1

"Putting me on Bluffshift?" Stark asked jokingly. "You never know!" Hayne said, saying that he just wanted to confirm that there were enough Mountains to go with Valakut for the first game.

Game 2

Hayne led off with a tapped land, while Stark got started with Forest into a Relic of Progenitus. Fauna Shaman came down for Hayne, as Stark went to 17 off of Steam Vents to cast Sakura-Tribe Elder. Wall of Roots and Noble Hierarch gave him some hefty acceleration, as Hayne passed back with Wall of Roots mana available for his Fauna Shaman. Stark played a tapped Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and passed back with three open. Hayne searched up Burrenton Forge-Tender, discarding Deathrite Shaman.

Hayne sent Fauna Shaman in, which became a 3/3 due to Noble Hierarch. When Stark had no effects, Hayne used his Gavony Township, to which Stark responded with Peer Through Depths for Scapeshift. The attack put Stark down to 13, who popped his Relic of Progenitus before untapping.


Alexander Hayne's Pod deck puts on the pressure, making each play from Stark a potential danger.

Stark passed after playing a fifth land, and Hayne cast Burrenton Forge-Tender. He passed, and when Stark attempted to fetch with Misty Rainforest, Hayne used Wall of Roots mana and Fauna Shaman to dig up Aven Mindcensor. Hayne attempted to play the creature, but Stark had Remand to keep it locked in Hayne's hand for the time being.

Stark grimaced, and played a second Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle before passing with five mana open. Fauna Shaman went in for 4 on the following turn, but when Hayne attempted a Spellskite, Remand sent it back. Birds of Paradise joined his team as Hayne passed back with mana open for the Aven Mindcensor.

Stark drew, cast Sakura-Tribe Elder, a Stomping Ground, and passed. Hayne attempted Aven Mindcensor, but a third Remand sent it back to Hayne's hand. Hayne, however, stuck the bird on his next turn during the main phase, as Stark was forced to pop his Sakura-Tribe Elder in response. Attacks put Stark to 3, and Hayne passed after playing Spellskite.

Stark used Peer Through Depths, which found Firespout. He played it on his turn, forcing Hayne to use the Burrenton Forge-Tender, but Snapcaster Mage to recast a new Firespout, free from the Kithkin's damage prevention, cleared away everything but Spellskite. Hayne, out of gas, played Kitchen Finks and passed back.

With the coast clear, Stark cast Scapeshift. He sacrificed six lands and found six Mountains via his shock lands to go with his two Valakut, the Molten Pinnacles, which was enough to burn through Hayne even with Spellskite in play.

Hayne 0, Stark 2

 Saturday, 7:00 p.m. - Card Feature: Deathrite Shaman
by Mike Rosenberg

In the Modern format, players play the best cards from Mirrodin to Return to Ravnica, and Eight Edition to Magic 2013. The fastest creatures, the most powerful instants, the most efficient lands, and some of the greatest hits from Standards past and present collide in a rag-tag format that challenges a player's mental awareness, deck-building genius, and critical thinking.

In a format such as this, every zone is prominent part of the game. Acceleration is important in a fast format, and keeping the graveyard at bay is equally important in a format that uses it for all kinds of dastardly deeds. So what more can you ask for when a creature can pull double duty, accelerating you into the speedy starts that your deck requires while also keeping players from being unfair with their graveyard?

Deathrite Shaman, one of the big break-out hits of Return to Ravnica for Modern and Legacy, is capable of doing it all, and as expected, it's being seen at Grand Prix Toronto en masse.

Deathrite Shaman

Deathrite Shaman is the undisputed breakout card of Return to Ravnica for the Modern format, offering a little bit of something that everyone could use in this fast format.

With the cycle of fetch lands from Zendikar part of the Modern format (Verdant Catacombs, Misty Rainforest, etc), Deathrite Shaman is consistently tapping for any color of mana when it needs to, allowing players to accelerate into some devastating turn two and turn three plays. What do you think of an early Lingering Souls? How about Liliana of the Veil? Perhaps a turn two Birthing Pod is your thing, as Deathrite Shaman gives that deck yet another great mana producer.

The existence of this seemingly simple one-mana creature has almost entirely pushed out Kitchen Finks and Geralf's Messenger from the current Jund lists being seen here this weekend. In fact, most popular Jund players have instead moved to a version that packs Lingering Souls, as Blake detailed in his feature on the powerful Dark Ascension sorcery.

Lingering Souls++Kitchen FinksLingering Souls++Kitchen Finks

Lingering Souls eventually replaced Kitchen Finks in Jund decks, as it not only did what needed to be done a little bit better, but it was also a little less vulnerable to Deathrite Shaman's effect.

But Deathrite Shaman can be good against that as well! If an opponent can't cast and immediately flash back Lingering Souls, Deathrite Shaman's ability can exile the brutal sorcery before it can be used for two more spirit tokens on the following turn, making Lingering Souls an unhealthy prospect against an active Deathrite.

Deathrite Shaman's place in Pod has also been established, as Alexander Hayne has shown off so far this weekend. In his round 6 feature match, Deathrite Shaman put in some serious work against Hayne's Jund opponent, with four exiled sorcery cards bringing the Jund player down low enough to die to an all-in attack aided by Gavony Township.

Deathrite Shaman even gives players another way to fight combo decks such as Storm, as exiling one instant or sorcery after another renders powerful combo-keys like Past in Flames and Pyromancer Ascension powerless.

As Modern continues to change, there's one thing we're lefting wondering: will decks adept to Deathrite Shaman's existence, or will more people continue to adapt him in their own decks? Only time will tell, but one thing's certain. We're certainly not done seeing this card in the feature match area this weekend.

 

Round 7 Feature Match - Brian Liu vs. Pat Cox

by Blake Rasmussen

While a lot of players came into the weekend expecting to attend GP Jund, the sheer variety of decks present on Day 1 has given a completely different, dynamic picture of the format. And our feature matches this round were no different.

On one side, we had Pat Cox, who chose Scapeshift specifically because he didn't want to play Jund mirrors. On the other, Brian Liu, who brought a "combo" deck of his own with Kiki Pod, looking to pressure Cox with a menagerie of creatures, all of which immediately improve when Birthing Pod is in play.

Game 1

Winning his first die roll of the weekend, Pat Cox took the play as both players kept their initial seven and led with a Farseek on turn two and Sakura Tribe Elder plus Peer Through Depths (finding Firespout) on turn three. Snapcaster on Peer Through Depths on turn four simply found another Peer Through Depths, which in turn found yet ANOTHER Peer Through Depths.

Liu, meanwhile, had nothing but lands for his first two turns before resolving Birthing Pod. His follow up Restoration Angel was hit with Remand, but he was able to resolve Noble Hierarch before passing the turn without activating Birthing Pod again.


How much Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle damage would it take to stop a deck full of Kitchen Finks and Restoration Angels? Apparently the answer for Brian Liu, unfortunately, was just 16.

However, by this time Cox had (finally) found Scapeshift. Combined with his seven lands in play, that was enough to search up Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle plus six Mountains. With Liu at 16 from casting Birthing Pod and a single attack from Snapcaster Mage, it was easily enough to take the first game.

Cox 1 – Liu 0

Game 2

With both players on seven to start the game again, the tables turned a bit. Liu started ramping early with a pair of Wall of Roots on his second and third turns, met only by a Peer Through Depths from Cox.

Restoration Angel took a short break from play thanks to Remand, but that merely freed Liu up to resolve Birthing Pod on his turn, immediately cashing in Wall of Roots for Deceiver Exarch (untapping Pod) into Glen Elendra Archmage.

Ari Lax said earlier that this deck was the best deck in the format when Birthing Pod was in play, and Liu was clearly showing just how true that was, as Cox could merely look on and smirk.

The following turn Liu used Glen Elendra Archmage to fetch up Zealous Conscripts (untapping Birthing Pod in the process), then used it again to grab Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. When Liu demonstrated he knew how his combo worked (each new Conscripts untaps Kiki-Jiki to make another Conscripts as much as you need), Cox scooped up his cards.

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker++Zealous ConscriptsKiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker++Zealous Conscripts

Basically, their combined text reads "You lose."

Cox 1 – Liu 1

Game 3

With both players at X-1, this was a very important game for both players. Lose, and they fall to the brink of missing the cut. Win, and they find themselves just one match away from guaranteeing a spot on Sunday.

But things didn't start well for Liu, pulling too many lands in his first hand and no Green mana in his all green spell-hand at 6. He kept his five, and with Birthing Pod in hand plus a number of creatures, he really couldn't ask for a better hand.

It got even better for him when Cox forgot the suspend trigger on a first turn Search for Tomorrows, stranding it in limbo for an extra turn. Still, Cox barely missed a beat with a follow up Sakura-Tribe Elder to keep the ramp going. If the match was going to come down to who could combo first, Cox still looked to be in good position.


Pat Cox going through the Scapeshift motions: ramp, ramp, Remand, Remand, Scapeshift. Game.

As expected, Liu played Birthing Pod on his turn, but was without the White mana necessary to cast Restoration Angel at instant speed to confound Cox's counters. Instead, he was forced to "settle" for a Kitchen Finks, which Cox quickly Remanded.

Farseek found Cox an important seventh land the next turn while Liu still struggled to find White mana. With access to Red, Green and Blue mana (plus a very lonely Gavony Township), Liu's only real play was to try the Finks again. Snapcaster + Remand effectively shut the door on Liu's chances.

"Got me yet?" Liu asked.

"Looks like it," Cox said, floating mana to Scapeshift eight lands away, finding plenty of Valakuts and Mountains to take the game and the match.

Cox 2 – Liu 1

 

Saturday, 7:30 p.m. - Adapting to Jund


by Blake Rasmussen

First at the Players' Championship; second at the Pro Tour; first, first and second at the last two Grands Prix.

Jund. Jund. Jund, Jund and Jund.

The most diabolical of midrange decks has certainly made its mark on Modern this year. Not necessarily dominating in number of Top 8 appearances, but definitely dominating in terms of taking the Trophy. And as more and more people pick up Bloodbraid Elf, Tarmogoyf and the whole crew, it has become increasingly important to have a plan against the versatile, multi-pronged deck.

While some players *cough* Channelfireball *ahem* chose the "if you can't beat 'em, play Jund" strategy, a number of others made explicit decisions in their deck choices and individual card selections to fight back against the Red-Black-Green (and sometimes White) menace.

Take Pat Cox. Cox has been one of Jund's biggest proponents, playing it in every Modern event he's played in since Grand Prix Lincoln. But the surge in the deck's popularity left him looking elsewhere.

"I didn't want to play mirrors all day," Cox said. "I want to be on Jund, but the mirror is just random and 50/50."

Bloodbraid Elf++Bloodbraid ElfBloodbraid Elf++Bloodbraid Elf

So, how do we settle this again?

Instead, Cox chose to play Scapeshift, saying hate for the deck was at an all-time low, possibly making it a good choice for Toronto. He said he wasn't sure how he felt about the Jund match up—ironically having not played against it yet—but said he felt good about how he was doing so far.

Another player on Scapeshift was Ben Stark, who said he didn't chose the deck because of any perceived strength against Jund—Scapeshift is something of a pet deck for Stark—but instead noted that almost no deck has a big advantage, or even a significant disadvantage, against Jund.

"Jund doesn't crush anything or get crushed by anything," Stark said.

"Except," he added, "by the various Birthing Pod decks."

Birthing Pod

That's where some of our other heroes come in. Ari Lax and Alexander Hayne both chose Birthing Pod-based decks as ways to fight back against Jund, but for different reasons.

"I chose my deck because it beats Jund," Hayne said. "It's one of the few decks that actually crushes it."

Stark jumped in, agreeing with Hayne's assessment.

"It might be the only favorable matchup against Jund... because their creatures are all just value, value, value," Stark said.

Indeed, cards such as Kitchen Finks, Restoration Angel, Murderous Redcap and more can be brutally effective against Jund's parade of mostly 1-for-1s. Because every Terminate, Abrupt Decay or Maelstrom Pulse can actually put Jund behind a bit when Pod has already gotten value out of its creatures, it becomes fairly easy for either the Melira, Sylvok Outcast version or the Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker version to come out ahead on most trades against Jund.

But Lax played Pod for a completely different Jund-related reason. He had mostly been championing Poison decks as of late, but found that the addition of Lingering Souls to Jund slid that matchup from close to "How do I get past all those tokens?" bad. Instead, he chose to focus his deck choice on something that was both good against Lingering Souls and intrinsically powerful.

"With Birthing Pod in play, it's the best deck in the format," Lax said. "It's not even playing Magic anymore, you're just picking cards out of your deck and playing them."

But he also made a few subtle changes to help against Jund generally. One one-drop mana creature became a Wall of Roots to possibly gum the ground while a second Kitchen Finks was added for even more resilience against removal. He even added two Gavony Township so that Jund couldn't ignore his smaller creatures while killing his larger ones.

Kitchen Finks++Wall of RootsKitchen Finks++Wall of Roots

Sometimes, all it takes is a few tweaks to swing a result in your favor.

Stark, though on board with the power of Pod decks, chose instead to play a deck that was pretty close pre-board, but far more favorable post-board.

Playing his pet Scapeshift deck, Stark chose to focus on post-board games, where he sideboards in more than half his sideboard to completely change the landscape of the matchup. And since he feels the match is pretty close to begin with—slightly favorable if they have just 2 Liliana of the Veil, slightly unfavorable if they have 4—he seems to like those odds.

But, obviously, a number of players chose to stick with the consensus best deck because of the flexibility it gave them throughout the tournament, regardless of the matchup.

"I think, with any other deck, the matchups will determine how you do," Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa said, citing what happens if you play Affinity and your opponent draws two Ancient Grudges early. "I didn't like that."

Instead, he chose Jund because it has game against pretty much everything.

Dark Confidant++TarmogoyfDark Confidant++Tarmogoyf

Yup, still good.

"It's powerful, it's good and doesn't have any cards that are so bad for it that it loses," he said, citing the lack of ways to hate out Jund.

Damo da Rosa is one the cusp of the cut at 5-2 after his three byes, but teammate Luis Scott-Vargas is 7-0 with the same exact deck.

So which result is more indicative of Jund's success this weekend? Stay tuned through the Top 8 on Sunday to find out just how prepared Toronto was to combat Jund's rise to the top.

 

Round 8 Feature Match - David Sharfman (Scapeshift) vs. Ben Stark (Scapeshift)


by Mike Rosenberg

David Sharfman and Ben Stark were fairly quiet as they sat down to play in their round 8 feature match. With both players at 18 points, a win would grand one of these two a lock in Day 2. The other player would have to win their next one to make it in, or finish just outside of contention in the final round.

To make matters more dire, both players would be going head-to-head in a Scapeshift mirror match, making the need for more mana on the play much more important than in other match-ups. With their mind on the game, both players quickly got ready to see who could erupt Valakut the fastest!

Game 1

After three rolls of the dice, Sharfman finally won the die roll and chose to play. Sharfman was quick to keep, while Stark took one good look at his hand and shuffled up for six instead. He kept his six card hand, and Sharfman led the action with a second-turn Sakura-Tribe Elder. A second Sakura-Tribe Elder stuck for Sharfman as Stark used Peer Through Depths to find Scapeshift.

It's lots of lands and lots of shuffling in David Sharfman's match against Ben Stark.

Another land hit play for Stark, as Sharfman sacrficed a Sakura-Tribe Elder to find an Island. He untapped and attacked Stark to 18, passing the turn and using Cryptic Command on upkeep targeting Stark's Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. Stark was forced to Remand it, and Sakura-Tribe Elder threatened to give Stark a chance at coming ahead on lands, with Sharfman temporarily stranded on land drops.

Sharfman sent his Sakura-Tribe Elder away to get another Island, but found no other lands to join it, suspending Search for Tomorrow and passing. When Start sacrificed his Sakura-Tribe Elder, Sharfman used Cryptic Command to return Stark's Valakut to hand, setting him back a turn.

Sharfman found a land, putting a Stomping Ground into play tapped as he passed back to Stark, who used Lightning Bolt on Sharfman at the end of the turn. Stark added another land to play and passed back to Sharfman, who used an end-of-turn Cryptic Comand targeting Stark's Valakut once more. Stark responded with Cryptic Command, countering Sharfman's copy of the Lorwyn counterspell and drawing him a card.

Sharfman resolved his Search for Tomorrow, played a land, and cast Scapeshift. When Stark's Remand was halted by Izzet Charm, Stark had enough and moved to the second game.

Sharfman 1 – Stark 0

Game 2

Stark led with Stomping Ground, going to 18, as he suspended Search for Tomorrow. His ramp continued with Farseek on the second turn, as two Breeding Pools hit play. Sharfman's first ramp spell came in the form of Sakura-Tribe Elder. Cryptic Command from Stark bounced Sharfman's Breeding Pool, but he was denied a land drop for the turn and passed with a shrug.

Sharfman ramped through the disruption with another Sakura-Tribe Elder along with Relic of Progenitus, while Stark found a land on the next turn to go with his Sakura-Tribe Elder. The Elder became an Island at the end of Sharfman's turn, but no seventh land left Stark to pass. Sharfman played a land and passed, as Stark attempted Cryptic Command on one of Sharfman's lands at the end of the turn. Sharfman fought back with Cryptic Command. Stark countered back with Remand, but Izzet Charm left Stark not resolving any spells. He played his bounced land, which returned to play after Sharfman's Cryptic Command, and passed back.

Sharfman attempted Search for Tomorrow, but it was Remanded. Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle was Sharfman's only other play. Stark untapped, drew, played a tapped Breeding Pool, and when he revealed Scapeshift and Remand, Sharfman conceded to the lethal sorcery, with no way to fight through the Remand lying in wait.

Sharfman 1 – Stark 1

Game 3

Stark once again shipped his hand back on the draw, but this time, he stared at his six card hand with a wince. He showed off some lands, and then shipped it back for five.

Stark quietly shuffles, hoping each time for a better hand, as he and Sharfman move into their third game.

Sharfman led with a suspended Search for Tomorrow, followed by a Relic of Progenitus. Meanwhile, Stark had two lands that did not produce green mana. Sharfman's start showed little sign of slowing down as he got a land with his Search for Tomorrow and cast Sakura-Tribe Elder. Stark, who kept playing lands, still lacked the necessary green mana to do much else.

Sharfman drew with his Relic of Progenitus, attacked Stark down to 18, and then passed after playing a land. Cryptic Command from Sharfman at the end of Stark's turn bounced one of his opponent's lands and drew him a card. On the next turn, Scapeshfit with Remand sealed the deal.

Sharfman 2 – Stark 1

 

Round 98 Feature Match - William Jensen vs. Christian Sagermann


by Blake Rasmussen

6-2. There's no more precarious place to be on Day 1 than sitting at two losses with just the last round to go. Win, and you're not only live for Day 2, but you still have a shot at the Top 8 and everything that comes with it.

Lose? You get to play in side events. To be fair, there are some pretty cool side events.

William "Huey" Jensen famously came within one vote of securing a spot in the Magic Hall of Fame last year, and a result this weekend would certainly do more to put him back on the minds of voters. Gamers who have played for a long time are quite familiar with Jensen, but younger players lack the familiarity with his resume that might have put him over the top. Succeeding this weekend with the Haunted Zoo deck he has been piloting would go a long way in that matter.

The man standing in front of him? Christian Sagermann.

The deck standing in his way? Jund. Of course.

Could it be any other way?

Game 1

Sagermann led off by fetching an untapped Overgrown Tomb to play Deathrite Shaman, falling to 17 immediately, a difficult proposition against Jensen's heavily burn-based aggro deck.

Still, Deathrite Shaman is some good, and Jensen quickly cast Lightning Bolt to take out Sagermann's one-drop.

Sagermann simply cast another one and passed back, before returning the favor the Jensen, Lightning Bolting Jensen's attempt at a Deathrite Shaman of his own.

Still playing the same "Kill Deathrite Shaman" game, Jensen sent Sagermann's second one on a Path to Exile during the Jund player's upkeep. But Sagermann just kept right on going with a Lingering Souls ready to get started on offense and, if needed, defense.

Jensen, for his part, played his own Lingering Souls. Card for card, these two were at a stalemate at virtually every turn.

The Spirits traded the next turn as Thoughtseize discarded Geist of Saint Traft, and both players reloaded with the Flashback end of Lingering Souls.

Basically, it was a game of "anything you can do, I can do...well, pretty much the same."

Trading spell-for-spell is not what William Jensen wanted to be doing against Jund.

That is, until Sagermann was able to play Tarmogoyf and Raging Ravine in the same turn, threatening quite a bit of damage on his next attack.

At this point, life totals stood at 10-9 in favor of the Sagermann.

Sagermann didn't bite on the next attack, choosing not to activate Raging Ravine in the fact of untapped mana.

Jensen survived the turn by sending a Lightning Helix straight at Sagermann. If he could get his Spirits through without trouble, Tribal Flames would actually give him the win. If he drew it anyway...

Instead he draw Bloodbraid Elf, which, in non-dramatic fashion, revealed Deathrite Shaman on the first card.

But Jensen was hardly out of it. He was still at 5 life and had plenty of blockers. He merely had to figure out if he could afford to attack and, if so, with what?

He eventually attacked with Bloodbraid Elf, leaving back just two Spirits and Deathrite Shaman against a board of Tarmogoyf, two Spirits and a Raging Ravine.

Though it served his purpose anyway, as Sagermann activated his Raging Ravine to block and trade with the Elf Berserker.

Blocks the next turn put Jensen at 4, but cost him both his Spirits. And when Liliana of the Veil cost Jensen his Deathrite Shaman, backed by a potential chump-blocking Deathrite Shaman, Jensen was effectively cold.

Sagermann 1 – Jensen 0

Game 2

Sagermann, now just one win away from Day 2, was forced to quickly throw back an unacceptable hand, but managed to settle on six as Jensen led with a Noble Hierarch.

Thoughseize revealed Bloodbraid and...well, nothing. Four lands. Jensen had kept a five lander that suddenly became nothing but air, even as Jensen attacked for one with his Hierarch.

Sagermann's first move to clutter the battlefield was a Fulminator Mage, something of a curious choice against Jensen's (usually) hyper aggressive deck. Still, it could potentially hit a key land for Tribal Flames and, right now, it was certainly bigger than Noble Hierarch.

But then Sagermann used it on Jensen's only red source in his upkeep...until Blood Crypt gave Jensen another, plus the mana to cast Geist of Saint Traft.

A fourth land for Sagermann yielded, predictably, a Bloodbraid Elf, springing forth a Deathrite Shaman from Sagermann's library.

Geist of Saint Traft
Geist of Saint Traft: Doing Work.

Jensen had drawn a Lightning Helix to help clear the way, but he was still pretty flooded. Nonetheless, the hit from the Geist and his Angel dropped Sagermann to just three life. Deathrite Shaman from Jensen made things even more precarious for the Jund mage.

Untapping and finding no help for the Hexproof Legend, Sagermann just shook his head and scooped up his cards, somehow losing a match he likely felt pretty good about post-Thoughtseize.

Jensen 1 –Sagermann 1

Game 3

Back on the play for the deciding game, Sagermann's first play didn't come until he Lightning Bolted Jensen's turn two Tarmogoyf, which, in turn, gave Sagermann the breathing room to use Fulminator Mage to destroy Jensen's Breeding Pool.

Just how much that set Jensen back became apparent when Sagermann followed up with Inquisition of Kozilek.

Inquisition revealed Lingering Souls, two Geist of Saint Traft and a Lightning Bolt, forcing the discard of the Lightning Bolt. Geist was obviously big game, but Sagermann cast a 4/5 Tarmogoyf to start setting up a defense. Or, really, when your Tarmogoyf is 4/5 on an empty board, a substantial offense.

Jensen dropped to 14 life to play a fetchland, predictably casting Geist of Saint Traft...and nearly as predictably losing it to Liliana of the Veil. Granted, this particular Liliana sprung forth from the top of Sagermann's deck, but it's a sequence of plays I've probably written 200 times if I've written it once.

The second Geist came down, but it didn't look like it would be enough. Sagermann sat forward in his chair, sensing this Day 2 berth was nearing. And when he cast both Deathrite Shaman and Olivia Voldaren before upping his Liliana—at no cost to himself I might add—it looked like he was, in fact, on the verge.

Now down to five life, Jensen didn't have many options at his disposal. Lightning Helix on Olivia would likely be the starting point of any comeback attempt, and that's exactly where he started. The subsequent attack put Sagermann to 11 life, and the flashback on Lingering Souls gave Jensen at least a little room to work with.

Sagermann drew Terminate off the top, giving him a multitude of options, but unsure how to sequence them, pausing and doing the math.

Christian Sagermann, even playing against one of the game's greats, found himself on the cusp of Day 2 in the last round of the day.

Eventually, Liliana forced Jensen to sacrifice a Spirit token and another one died to Terminate, letting Tarmogoyf put Jensen down to just three life. With Deathrite Shaman on his side of the board and still at 11 life, Sagermann had to like his position.

Tribal Flames killed Deathrite Shaman, earning an activation to gain two life in response, but Jensen was forced to leave his Geist and newly cast Noble Hierarch back to chump block Tarmogoyf and Raging Ravine.

What could Jensen possibly have to stay in this, with no hand and no board at three life facing two threats?

The answer, apparently, was not

 

Top tables, a Day 1 overview


by Blake Rasmussen

Modern has proven to be an incredibly diverse format. Simply walking around the hall as the first rounds got underway, any observer could hardly mistake the sheer variety of archetypes available to any and all who wanted to sling some spells at Grand Prix Toronto.

Granted, some of those decks are less impressive than others. Merfolk, while occasionally a defensible choice, clearly hasn't been this weekend despite a number of adherents. And while Blue White Tron may have once been the bees knees, it has clearly been surpassed by its Red Green brethren.

To get a sense of how the top of the metagame ebbed and flowed throughout Day 1, we sampled the top 15 tables at various points to see what was doing well...and what fell off.

But first, here's a quite, Cliff's Notes version of what we're talking about when we label these decks (you can find more detail here):

Alright, with no more ado, on to the data!

Round 3

Just one round before the pros get in, we see 13 distinct deck types. Jund is near the top, but so is Burn, as Burn is often a favorite of less experienced players for its ease of assembly and generally straight forward lines of play: namely, burn their face.

At a Grand Prix, this is the last round we would expect to see this kind of diversity if the format really revolved around just a handful of decks. The cream should quickly rise to the top.

However if the format is really this diverse? We could see some interesting things in subsequent rounds.

  • Burn 7
  • Jund 5
  • Poison 2
  • UR Storm 2
  • RG Tron 2
  • UW Angel 2
  • Twin 2
  • Haunted Zoo 2
  • Kiki Pod 2
  • Goblins 1
  • Eggs 1
  • Junk 1
  • Robots 1

Round 4

Notice anything? Yeah, Jund is a thing, and people with 3 byes seem to like it. Shamans is an aggressive Red Green deck, but it's not terribly important. It doesn't show up again.

And while Jund does far outpace the second best performing deck at this juncture, it's way too early with too small a sample size to make any judgments on it. But there are still a ton of deck archetypes out there.

  • Jund 12
  • Burn 3
  • GW Little Kid 2
  • Kiki Pod 2
  • Robots 2
  • UWR control 1
  • Storm 1
  • UR Delver 1
  • Twin 1
  • RG Tron 1
  • Scapeshift 1
  • Shamans 1

Round 6

Two rounds later and Jund still seems to be performing. Several Red Green Tron decks started a hard charge in the middle rounds, but they would fall off along the way.

But notice the continued variety. Sure, Jund is obviously the by-the-numbers favorite, but there are still 11 archetypes near the top. The sixth round even featured a Scapeshift mirror, of all things. Variety is the spice of life and, apparently, the rule in Modern.

  • Jund 10
  • RG Tron 5
  • Scapeshift 3
  • Burn 2
  • Infect 2
  • Infect 2
  • Twin 2
  • Haunted Zoo 1
  • Kiki Pod 1
  • Melira Pod 1
  • Robots 1
  • UR Control 1

Round 8

After another two rounds, we see a bit more of a flattening of the Jund advantage. To a certain extent, this is to be expected as Jund mirrors knock each other off.

But, on the other hand, there are still a whopping 14 archetypes nearing the cut for Day 2. Jund has steadily dropped from nearly half of the top decks to under a fourth. That's still a large chunk, but decks like Twin and the two flavors of Birthing Pod decks are certainly holding their own.

  • Jund 7
  • Twin 4
  • Robots 2
  • Kiki Pod 2
  • Junk 2
  • Burn 2
  • RG Tron 2
  • Haunted Zoo 2
  • UW Angel 2
  • WR control 1
  • Poison 1
  • Martyr 1
  • Melira Pod 1
  • Scapeshift 1

Round 9

And in the final round of the day, the (completely unsurprising) winner is clearly Jund. Even as its numbers at the top tables slowly dipped over the course of the tournament, it managed to maintain its stranglehold over the numbers. We'll have a more complete metagame breakdown tomorrow for all of the Day 2 lists, but right now, Jund looks like the top-dog in terms of sheer numbers.

Still, the variety is still there. 12 distinct archetypes make up these top 30 lists, and a few others lurked just outside. Jund may be the safe, most reliable choice, but if Day 1 has shown us anything, it's certainly not the only choice.

  • Jund 10
  • Kiki Pod 2
  • Melira Pod 2
  • Scapeshift 3
  • Haunted Zoo 3
  • GW Hate Bears 2
  • RG Tron 1
  • Black White tokens 1
  • BUG 1
  • Eggs 1
  • Storm 1
  • Martyr 1
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