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Coverage of Grand Prix Las Vegas Day 1

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  • Saturday, 9:00 a.m. – Archetypes of Modern Masters

    by Blake Rasmussen

  • The letter Y!ou only get one shot at this. Just one. Two days, 4,500 players, and one very much unexplored format. There is no next Modern Masters Grand Prix, no PTQ season, no second chances to learn more about Modern Masters.

    In other words, you better know your stuff.

    Doing so, however, isn't easy. Modern Masters is one of the deepest, richest, most wide-open draft formats we've ever seen. There are around 10 specifically designed archetypes that need exploring, plus a plethora of interesting interactions, cross-block combos, and surprise synergies. And since every card was specifically plucked from Modern's timeline to represent a strategy, there really are no unplayable cards, and very few mediocre ones. Everything is on the table.

    To prepare for this historic, once-in-a-lifetime weekend, let's take a trip through the 10 main archetypes of Modern Masters that will be on display here in Las Vegas along with the key cards — primarily commons and uncommons — for each one. Whether you're watching coverage at home, battling on Magic Online, or slinging spells in the desert with the rest of us, you must know these 10 archetypes to come out on top.

    RW Giants

    Key cards:

    Back in Lorwyn block, Giants was something of an unloved tribe. Thundercloud Shaman was the main pull, but playing the deck meant missing out on playing Elves or Goblins or Elementals or Faeries, all of which were generally regarded as stronger, ironically, than their giant counterparts.

    Modern Masters, by plucking some of the best Giants from outside Lorwyn and moving Crush Underfoot to common, has reinvigorated the tribe and moved it to the forefront of the format. Early returns from Pros seem to indicate that Giants is one of the best strategies in the format, primarily paced by the walking Plague Wind known as Thundercloud Shaman. One of the keys to Modern Masters is identifying the open strategy in order to reap the rewards of late picks. No one else can play Crush Underfoot, and no non-Giants player will take Thundercloud Shaman early, leaving you open to take multiples of the soul-crushing giant.

    You want to round out the deck with Stinkdrinker Daredevils and the highly underrated Thundering Giant, a key component that was missing from the original Lorwyn version. Changelings offer additional help to increase your Giant count, and Red's removal supplements all of the Crush Underfoots you'll surely be picking up late.

    Oh, and Otherworldly Journey, which is excellent in most any deck that can support it, is even better when you're blinking one-sided Wraths. Don't say you weren't warned.

    Artifacts

    Key cards:

    Let's get this out of the way first: This deck isn't really an Affinity deck, even though Frogmite usually and Myr Enforcer always make the cut. I guess I could call it Robots, but Esperzoa, Faerie Mechanist, and Sanctum Gargoyle — the three best cards in the archetype — don't particularly look like robots.

    The Artifacts/Affinity/Robots/Whatever archetype is a personal favorite of mine because it combines early game speed with some late-game card advantage and trickiness. It's also likely the only deck you can legitimately get away with playing 15 lands. Your curve pretty immediately ends at 4 with Mechanist and Sanctum Gargoyle, though Myr Enforcer can be tricky if you have trouble keeping a board around. But Etherium Sculptor super-charges your mana with just one copy. With multiples, it gets silly.

    While you'll fight over Spellbombs with everyone else — and they're more important to you than other archetypes, especially if you have Auriok Salvagers — everything else should be saved for Artifacts only. Faerie Mechanist and Sanctum Gargoyle are your best cards, bar none, and Frogmite is surprisingly mediocre. You certainly play it, especially if you're on the Court Homunculus beatdown plan, but it rarely comes down before turn three, losing some of its value.

    Myr Enforcer is a necessity mostly because of its size. It's your best shot, outside the insanely strong Esperzoa, at playing anything bigger than 2-3 power, a necessity against many of the Green decks in the format.

    There are a bunch more cards that you certainly want to play that no one else does that fall just short of being key. You can pick up all of the Arcbound Workers, Arcbound Stingers, and Myr Retrievers you want, typically, but they're hardly necessary. Retriever does a pretty good Sanctum Gargoyle impression when you need to loop them, but is far less versatile.

    Goblins

    Key cards:

    The other fast aggressive deck in the format, Goblins is another Lorwyn tribal mainstay that had its card pool tightened and improved in the move to Modern Masters. The biggest attraction is Mad Auntie at uncommon, where it was previously rare. Facevaulter lets you pull some tricks with Mogg War Marshal, Warren Weirding, Murderous Redcap, Warren Pilferers, and Marsh Flitter that make it quite underrated. It typically can be found going very late in most drafts. Tar Pitcher has the same synergies in a different, but often times board dominating, angle.

    As a bonus, Goblins is the best home for a few Rares and Mythics, as it makes excellent use of Dark Confidant and is the best home for Demigod of Revenge, an insanely powerful card that can be seen going late because of its color requirements.

    And, of course, you'll take all of the Murderous Redcaps you can get. But, then again, so will most people.

    Faeries

    Key cards:

    Faeries is in an odd position in this format. On one hand, it's an incredibly strong, synergistic archetype and probably the only one where first picking a Mothdust Changeling can be the correct move. On the other, many of the best cards for the archetypes — outside Spellstutter Sprite — are good enough to be taken by other drafters, primarily in Blue.

    Pestermite, Latchkey Faerie, Errant Ephemeron, Mulldrifter, Cloudskate, and Æther Spellbomb are all top-notch Faeries cards that other Blue decks are often very interested in, especially the last four. Pestermite, even, is a tricky flier that can mess with combat in any deck that employs Blue, regardless of Fae-affinity or not.

    The primary payoffs are Spellstutter Sprite and Thieving Sprite, which can be picked up late without much trouble. Dreamspoiler Witches and Peppersmoke are very good against some archetypes, and virtual blanks against others. Neither will help you much, for example, when a Durkwood Baloth is ticking down.

    However, the deck does make the best use of Logic Knot and often Death Denied, especially if you pick up some Mulldrifters and Æthersnipes. And, the truly scary thing is, despite fighting over some of the best cards for the deck, Faeries is probably one of the best archetypes in the format.

    Rebels

    Key cards:

    This is actually one of the archetypes that I feel has been powered down a bit since last seen in Time Spiral Block, and I can't really explain why except that searching up anything besides Bound in Silence seems underwhelming in this format. And if you're searching up Bound in Silence against an Esperzoa, well, you're going to have a bad time.

    That said, Trapper, Seekers, Blightspeaker, Scout and the aforementioned Bound in Silence are all common and make for a strong core. The incidental plink-plink and incremental card advantage feel, appropriately, positively Orzhovian.

    Blinding Beam, while excellent in any White deck (seriously, have you read this card? And it's common?!), is at its best here, where your plink-plink-plink can finally turn the tables quickly and turn your opponent quite dead.

    Five Color

    Key cards:

    In a sweet set full of sweet cards, playing everything sweet you see sounds pretty awesome. And that's exactly what 5-color domain-style decks look to do.

    The presence, and relatively late pick order, of the Landcyclers in each color make this deck go, but the real treat is Kodama's Reach and Search for Tomorrow. Kodama's Reach is your best enabler, bar none, and you almost need multiples of them to function. The problem usually is that you're fighting over them with other Green drafters, especially ones in Splice strategies.

    But the payoff can be significant. Beyond just playing whatever you want — like Electrolyze, probably the best card in the set that doesn't have a particular home — you will certainly be the only one taking Etched Oracles and one of the only ones interested in Skyreach Manta. A Skyreach at full Domain is as big as but cheaper than the Mythic Kamigawa Dragons and rules the skies with ease. For this reason, you're also very interested in Sanctum Gargoyle.

    Oddly enough, Tromp the Domains isn't really what this deck is trying to do. Often five color, domain-style decks are control decks with a bunch of removal (Drag Down and Fiery Fall first among them), and card advantage plus bombs to win the late game. Tromp doesn't really fill any of those roles.

    The deck is prone to slow starts and inconsistent mana, but can do some of the more powerful things in the format. And, it also means you can always take that sweet card you open Pack 3. Always.

    Storm/Suspend

    Key cards:

    This one's tough. Really, there are several different archetypes here, but they overlap so much it's often hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

    On one hand, the cards with Storm actually printed on them — Grapeshot and Empty the Warrens — are pretty securely storm cards. Except when a deck full of Suspend just plays them for value. And Durkwood Baloths doesn't seem like much of a Storm card. Until multiple Suspend spells give you a critical mass for a big turn with Storm.

    I've seen dedicated Storm decks — usually Blue/Red decks built around Pyromancer's Swath — and I've seen relatively straightforward beatdown decks with Suspend cards — usually Green-based with either Red or Blue as the secondary color — but most of the time I've seen mishmashes of the two. Storm is an inherently strong mechanic, so it appears it might have been nuked slightly to make it harder to put together. But if you can grab a Pyromancer's Swath — which is why it's the only rare I listed as a key card — it's certainly possible.

    Keep Rift Elemental in mind if you're building the hybrid deck. It helps you better align your Suspend spells so they all come out on the same, big turn.

    Thallids

    Key cards:

    Thallids is probably the most underrated archetype in the format, but also the most straightforward. It's a Green-White critical mass deck, looking to build up counters on all of its Thallids to eventually overwhelm the opponent. For this reason, mass pumps spells like Gleam of Resistance or, the best option, Tromp the Domains, are at a premium. Especially in Tromp decks, there's often a light splash, usually Red for burn, though there's no reason another color couldn't fill a similar role in the deck. Splashing Blue for Meloku the Clouded Mirror, for example, is pretty well on-theme.

    The deck isn't terribly tricky, though Pallid Mycoderm does a very good Maw of Obzedat impression, making it one of your most important pickups. You play creatures, make Thallids, and bash.

    Splice/Dampen Thought

    Key cards:

    Did you know Death Denied was an Arcane spell? True story. And, with it, that means the Splice deck is capable of some truly unbeatable late-games courtesy of Death Denied and Hana Kami, enabling looping Splices with enough mana.

    The deck is hard to pull off, requires a ton of mana, and fights over its best cards — Glacial Ray and Horobi's Whisper — with decks who play them for the non-Arcane related text anyway. The good part is that Dampen Thought and Hana Kami won't be touched by anyone else. The bad news is that everyone will have their grubby fingers all over everything else.

    I don't think this is something you can look to draft, but opening Gifts Ungiven is good incentive to play this deck. That was how we did it in the marathon session that was Champions of Kamigawa-era Standard, and that was how we liked it. Kind of. I mean, the Gifts mirror was taxing, but I don't think you have to worry about that here.

    Dredge

    Key cards:

    Dredge exists. It's there. You can draft it. But, from my experience and in talking with several pros, any dedicated Dredge deck seems to be something of a white whale, an often talked about, but rarely seen, archetype.

    Part of the reason is that the payoff is so hard to count on. Worm Harvest and Death Denied are the two best reasons to dump large chunks of your 40 cards into the graveyard — and they are certainly powerful reasons — but Worm Harvest is uncommon and a heavy commitment. Death Denied is much less restricting, but also much more widely drafted.

    And several of the cards that actually Dredge are in high demand. Stinkweed Imp is a fine support card for any deck with Swamps and Moldervine Cloak is one of the best Green beatdown cards. Greater Mossdog is fine, but underwhelming, and Dakmor Salvage is, well, a land that doesn't Dredge for much. Life from the Loam is obviously very strong, but is rare.

    You do get some value out of Raven's Crime and Syphon Life, but otherwise what you're doing isn't so much better than anything anyone else is doing unless you're Worm Harvesting for multiple tokens every turn or nearly so.

    That's not to say this deck isn't possible. Often just a few Dredge cards can provide value if you're playing Death Denied, and sometimes you open Kokusho, get passed Moldervine Cloak followed by Worm Harvest and just roll with it.

    Even after all that, you still have to worry about cards like Relic of Progenitus, and Thundercloud Shaman can undo all of the Worm tokens you could ever hope to create. The deck exists, but it's a bit of a tall order.

    All the rest

    Ten archetypes isn't enough? There are always more. There's potentially enough burn to go that route, especially paired in a Counter-Burn strategy with Blue, usually grafting a bit of Arcane on for good measure. Dinosaurs — giant Red and Green creatures — is a viable, even strong, strategy usually nestled firmly on the broad shoulders of Imperiosaur, not-so-secretly one of the scariest cards in the set. And Elementals, while more of a support tribe, can sometimes sneak up and make use of Otherworldly Journey to really mess with your plans.

    And don't be surprised if someone finds something even crazier this weekend. Modern Masters is a rich, deep format and 4,500 of the best Magic players in the world will be trying to crack it all weekend. If there's one thing Grand Prix Las Vegas has taught us already, before the tournament even starts, it's to expect the unexpected.

    Hopefully, the realm of the unexpected is just a little bit smaller now.




     

  • Saturday, 12:00 p.m. – How to Modern Masters Sealed with Rich Hagon

    by Blake Rasmussen

  • The letter M!odern Masters sealed is a strange animal.

    On one hand, as the set is still relatively new, most players won't have had a chance to do many, if any, sealed practice. Most players are coming in with a lot of theory, but not a lot of experience.

    On the other hand, we've seen all these cards before. Sure, context is king, but by now we've all learned that Cloudgoat Ranger is incredible and that you should pair your Sporesower Thallid with other Thallids.

    But one group of players led by Rich Hagon — that sultry smooth British voice of the Pro Tour you can all probably hear in your head right now — has bridged both of those by running, playing, and/or simulating 257 sealed pools.

    Yes, Rich Hagon has already done 257 Modern Masters sealed pools.


    Would you trust this man with your sealed pool? You might want to — Grand Prix Las Vegas is his 258th Modern Masters sealed pool.

    His local store opened packs and kept a database of 300 boosters, allowing them to remake sealed pools after randomly generating them online. That allowed them to continuously make and remake sealed pools while running practice tournaments. The whole store, Rich said, pretty much immersed itself in Modern Masters for three straight weeks.

    Given that, given our close relationship with Mr. Hagon, and given the fact that reading anything in his voice just makes it more interesting, Rich visited with us before the morning started to break down the sealed format.

    (We'll also visit with Sam Black, who is the opposite side of that coin... he has drafted the format, but not played in sealed.)

    "Fair decks don't win."

    Hagon had one piece of advice to keep in mind all day, it was pretty simple:

    "Fair decks don't win. You can't win with a fair deck," he said.

    Fair decks, he added, can look like very good decks. Because the card quality in Modern Masters is so high across the board — no card is truly unplayable — there are going to be a lot of pools that look strong but, because they lack a certain set of cards, have an uphill battle.

    "There are 25-30 cards in this set that change the way the game is played," Hagon said.

    Those cards, according to the testing he and his group did, are important to go deep on Day 1.

    Those cards include, of course, the formats bombs: The Kamigawa dragons, Meloku the Clouded Mirror, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, Molten Disaster, etc.

    In fact, Hagon was adamant that testing had shown double splashing Molten Disaster was completely worth the mana trouble. With so few sweepers in the format, it really was just that good.

    But the game changers also include a select number of commons and uncommons. Thundercloud Shaman was always at the forefront of Rich's mind — "If you have a Thundercloud Shaman there is no number of Giants you will not run." — but so was Blinding Beam, Tromp the Domains and Stir the Pride.

    "The power level of the format is such that there are going to be at least 1,000 people that end up with a Thallid deck with no "win" in their deck," Hagon said, referring to one of those 25-30 cards that change the game.

    What not to play

    In fact, Hagon said that the Green White Thallids deck didn't fare particularly well in their testing, so much so that he called it a bit of a trap.

    "You'll have these two Green While decks playing these 4/4s for four and five mana that are good creatures, but they'll look at each other and say 'I don't have Cloudgoat Ranger, do you? I don't have Tromp the Domains, do you?' And whoever can say yes will win."

    That despite the fact that Green is packed with very good cards that all give some kind of value. Most every Green creature, from Thallids to Masked Admirers to Citanul Woodreaders, come with some tacked on value.

    Hagon also said that their testing revealed Black Blue decks to be a bit of a trap as well. While the Faeries archetype is one of the strongest in draft, it's often hard to get enough Faeries to make it work in sealed.

    "You have your Pestermites and you have your 1/1 fliers for two that don't counter anything (Spellstutter Sprite), you have your three mana 1/1 fliers that make them discard a card (Thieving Sprite), and you have your four mana 3/1 flier that doesn't draw a card ever (Latchkey Faerie)," he said, "and your 'top end' of Scion of Oona just isn't that impactful."

    It was a problem, he said, that made Blue as a whole a bit weaker. The card draw — Mulldrifter, Careful Consideration, and the like — was all very good, as were the bombs like Meloku the Clouded Mirror. But, after that, the cards relied too much on synergy to be effective, synergy that was hard to come by in their test sealed pools.

    What to play

    So what does he like?

    "Runed Stalactite is massive," he said, over-pronouncing massive, as he's wont to do.

    And he wasn't kidding about the innocuous equipment. The point he was making when he brought up Stalactite was that their testing had shown RW to be a very strong archetype, but that it was usually a mishmash of Giants/Kithkin/Rebels and Runed Stalactite brings that all together.

    It's especially brutal with both Kithkin Greatheart — turning it into a 4/3 first striker as early as turn three — and Thundercloud Shaman. It naturally has other applications for the set's other tribes, but is at its best in Red White decks.

    The best deck, however, in their testing was Black-White Rebels. Because Rebels is based more around commons that don't need a critical mass in play to be good, it turned out to be relatively easy for them to assemble a strong sealed pool out of the incremental advantage machines.

    He also noted that their testing had revealed something most players might not have suspected: the presence of a burn deck.

    "If you have triple Lava Spike, you should look at possibly being a burn deck," he said, acknowledging that most will overlook Spike as a bad card. And most of the time, it is.

    However, when combined with Grapeshot, Rift Bolt, Tar Pitcher, and a few haste creatures, the Black Red Burn deck is surprisingly viable. In fact, during deck building, I saw a number of players take this tact. Hagon expects it to be fairly format defining as a way to combat the fairly typical suspend Errant Ephemeron into cast Kodama's Reach starts.

    "The format is incredibly slow," Hagon said. "The burn deck can be very, very good in that environment."

    The key "slow" deck of the format is going to be "Five" Color Green, though Hagon said testing revealed that it should likely more properly be four color. Splashing the fifth usually messes up the mana too much.

    How to build

    Hagon had a fairly unique approach to building Modern Masters, as well. One that could make for a number of "interesting" mana bases if widely adapted.

    "The way to build is to take 23 cards in two colors and take out your five words cards. Then take your five best cards in other colors, regardless of color requirements, and add them to those 18. Can you make the mana work? Great, that's your deck," Hagon said.

    Ideally, their testing showed that the best decks were 20 cards in two colors plus the three best from other colors. Green could always make that happen, but Terramorphic Expanse and the land cyclers enabled that as well.

    Exceptions are made for the Burn deck, which really needs to be consistent and fast to win, and thus can't really afford a splash. Outside of that, however, Hagon seemed to favor finding ways to get your most powerful cards to do their most powerful things.

    And Hagon's own pool? We won't tell you what's in it, but he's pretty happy with it despite having zero byes (the wages of being on the coverage team).

    "I'm going to make some people pretty miserable right away," he said.




     

  • Saturday, 1:00 p.m. – Building with Sam Black

    by Blake Rasmussen

  • The letter I!'m walking through the largest Magic tournament in history, taking in the sheer scope of it as I pass through row after row of players when I see a hand shoot up, waving. Most pros opted for the sleep in special, so I was a bit surprised to see Sam Black smiling back at me, chomping at the bit to build his deck long before he realistically had to.

    He was clearly ready to go. He excitedly chatted about his experience drafting the format, what archetypes beat which (Thallids beats Rebels, natch), how much success he's had (hint: a lot), and how that experience would translate to sealed.

    And, he added, how he had never done a single sealed event with Modern Masters.

    In that way, he's like most of the players here today. (Well, except Rich Hagon.) Of course, his Grand Prix and Pro Tour success distances him from quite a bit of the field.

    Fully aware that finding another accomplished pro in the sea of players – well before the sleep-in-special crew was scheduled to flow in – would be virtually impossible, I hitched my wagon to Sam Black and watched him weave his way through building his decks.

    Yup, decks.

    One of Sam's takeaways from drafting was that different archetypes were vulnerable to different strategies. Even before opening his pool, he said how much he wanted to be able to build two decks from his pool. He hoped he'd have the ability to sideboard into a completely new strategy to combat whatever his opponents bring to bear.

    When he finally received his pool, he set about doing just that. Since Sam is likely to be in contention for most of the day, we won't talk about his pool specifically, but will touch on how he generally approached building.


    Even with zero Modern Masters sealed events under his belt, you'd still be remiss to bet against Black.

    Step one: look at the foil rare.

    That's not a joke. Sam, like the rest of us, notices shiny things first, and a foil rare at the top of his pile caught his eye. Since the rare wasn't a generic good card, but required some synergy, he quickly thumbed through his pile to see if the requisite support cards were there. They weren't.

    On to Plan B.

    Sam said he had spoken the previous night to Gaudenis Vidugiris, and Gau had said he thought the default deck for the format would be five-color Green. With that in mind, Sam started by laying out his Green cards on curve. Liking what he saw, he then added his White cards to the pile, again, stacking everything on curve, in order to try to accommodate two White bombs he had.

    While the deck had some power at the top end, it was lacking anything resembling a curve. He scooped up the White cards and set them aside.

    He then thumbed through the rest of his cards, quickly dismissing Black as overly weak. That left some Blue and Red cards to consider.

    He held off on the Red cards for the moment, eyeing a few cards that worked really well in a Red White shell, and tried to see if he Blue cards fit with his Green ones.

    And they did. Despite not fitting any particular archetype, he noted the synergy between several cards he had multiple copies of. It also had a number of two and three drops, making for a solid curve.

    Satisfied there was a deck there, and with plenty of time on the clock (Sam's evaluations are incredibly fast), he set to building his second deck, a Red and White deck that, while it had synergy and bombs galore, also lacked a strong curve.

    "I knew that I wanted to be able to build two decks," Sam said. "The main test for me is going to be when do I want which deck."

    Sam listed off when he'd use each deck. One deck was better against utility creatures, the other against burn. One deck was better against faster decks, one was better against slower ones. One had Thallids covered, the other had some nasty sideboard cards for Artifact-based decks.

    In the end, though the notion of a five-color deck was what set him on his path, he ultimately opted to build two two-color decks and carefully sideboard against certain matchups.

    So, following Sam's methodology, building a Modern Masters sealed deck looks something like this:

    1. Look for bombs. Can you make them work? If so, play them. If not, start looking elsewhere.
    2. Are there any colors you can dismiss? Make sure to note any splashable bombs or removal.
    3. Start laying out your one or two strongest colors, accounting for casting cost.
    4. Make sure you have a reasonable curve. If not, look to combine different colors.
    5. Keep an eye out for synergies. Sealed presents fewer options for these types of things, but if they're there, they can really jump-start your deck.
    6. Modern Masters is a deep set. If you can make two decks with different strengths, try to do so.
    7. Because Modern Masters is such a powerful set, curve is important. Don't play a deck where you can't do anything in the first few turns, no matter how powerful.
    8. Know exactly what your deck can do, and have your sideboard ready to shore up any weaknesses.

    Stay tuned all weekend to see if Sam's strategy paid off.




     

  • Saturday, 3:10 p.m. – Masterful Interactions

    by Blake Rasmussen

  • The letter W!ith so many eras of Magic represented in Modern Masters, there are bound to be interactions that weren't available the first time around. Combinations of cards from one set with those in another block entirely can rise up and actually be incredibly strong, even in this limited format. For example, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker has been spotted paling around with Pestermite on more than one occasion over the first few rounds.

    So we took a trip around the hall to see what sweet interactions players were pulling off. And, speaking of Kiki-Jiki...


    Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker combos with just about anything, but I saw this nice little value combo taking down flier after flier after flier. Paying echo doesn't really matter when the token is going away anyway.


    Let's stick with the Goblin theme as we show Tar Pitcher do what Tar Pitcher does. This is pretty par for the course, as far as Tar Pitcher is concerned, but this player was clearly dedicated to pitching some tar around the table.


    Shifting gears, did you catch this one from the photo? Engineered Explosives on two wipes out a sizeable number of creatures on the opponents side. But why do it once? By blowing up his own Myr Retriever, this player was able to immediately regrow his Engineered Explosives for a second round.


    Worm Harvest is a very powerful card, but setting it up can be difficult, especially if you're short on Dredge cards. But, in an interaction that has probably never seen the light of day beyond kitchen tables and Commander games, one player combined Worm Harvest with Knight of the Reliquary, growing his army of Wurms every time he draws a land. It didn't take long to overwhelm the opponent from that spot.


    Speaking of value, one player pumped his Cold-Eyed Selkie to five power, swinging through some Islands to draw a whopping five cards for one lucky player. Yeah, he won that game...


    Speaking of drawing cards...

    Yo, dawg. I hear you like drawing cards, so I put Sword of Fire and Ice on your Mulldrifter so you can draw cards on your card drawer!


    Speaking of unfair interactions, Æther Vial into Kira, Great Glass-Spinner is a one-two punch that's typically seen only in Legacy Merfolk decks. Any, for one lucky player, in a sealed tournament.


    Confused what's going on here? Check the graveyard on the left side of the photo. That Bound in Silence used to be on that Sword-wielding Skyreach Manta. Using the Sword to undo one of the format's best removal spells sure doesn't makes Sword of Light and Shadow more fair, that's for sure...


    Imagine this. Your opponent plays Kokusho, the Evening Star. You, somehow, manage to kill it, taking your licks in the process. You start to make a comeback, even pulling back even or slightly ahead.

    Then they regrow Kokusho with a 3/3 meant to give an extra kick to Goblin decks, and, suddenly, you're facing a double dose of a quite dangerous Dragon.

    How would that feel?

    These things are all sweet, but there's so much more you can do with Modern Masters and so many unexplored interactions. If you're not in Las Vegas this weekend, you can certainly try your hand at pulling off some of these sweet interactions by playing on Magic Online.




     

  • Saturday, 5:00 p.m. – Otherworldly Journey

    by Nate Price

  • The letter I! have been around for some of the more infamous moments in Magic history. I was there at Pro Tour Valencia, where a flood of biblical proportions forced us to cancel Day 1 of a Pro Tour for the first time ever. I got stuck up in Quebec City during the record-breaking Grand Prix Charlotte, but the immediate next weekend I found myself in Yokohama, presiding over the second-largest tournament ever held. I was the coverage reported for both Gabriel Nassif's called Cruel Ultimatum at Pro Tour Kyoto and Jon Finkel's return to triumph in Kuala Lumpur. I've seen a lot of things, but I've never seen anything like this.

    A great deal has been made of the sheer scope and size of this event. Even with all of the insane statistics going around, it's still hard to grasp how big this event actually is. It feels more like wandering the expo hall at Gen Con than a Grand Prix to me. There is an actual artist's row, stocked with ten of the most talented artists ever to grace a Magic card. There's even an entire gallery of some of the best-looking pieces of art from Modern Masters. There are enough vendors to fill four strip malls, hawking everything from cards and sleeves to articles of clothing and playmats.

    Amid all of this spectacle, there are a handful of players struggling to avoid being overwhelmed. These first-time Grand Prix goers could not have chosen a more meaningful tournament to begin their journey with. The transition from 100 person PTQs to the largest trading card game tournament ever held can be a jarring one, like moving from a small rural village to the heart of Manhattan. Still, these guys are taking it all in stride, and are fully aware of how much this tournament means.

    William Willden is a Computer Science student from Idaho who just happens to be one of those playing in his first Grand Prix ever at one of the most historic Grand Prix to date.

    "I've always wanted to travel to a large Magic tournament," he told me, "but I was at a loss for words when I walked in the door yesterday."


    William Willden

    As a student, Willden doesn't have the ability to travel as much for Magic as he would like, thus this event holds special meaning for him.

    "It feels like I'm part of something special," he said with a slow glance around the room. "It's something not just for me, but for everyone."

    As a player who has been playing since Odyssey, Willden has had a chance to play with all of the cards Modern Masters has to offer.

    "Oh yeah, I've played them all before," he laughed. "My favorite draft format of all time was Champions of Kamigawa block. I know, not too many people who would say that. My very first draft deck at my store, Dragonslayer Games in Rexburg, ID, was an arcane deck. It really brought back memories.

    Now, Willden will get a chance at this historic tournament to create some new memories, and he's fired up.

    "I'm here to win this thing," he said with a fire in his eyes. "It may be hard to win a tournament this big, but you've got to have that mindset if you want to win. Still, if I'm standing up here tomorrow holding a trophy, it would be completely insane. I may be planning on winning, but I can't even fathom what if would mean to win this tournament. It'd be one for the history books."



    Ben and Afton Matthews are here at a Grand Prix for the first time, also, and they are absolutely aglow with the experience.

    "Can you see how big his eyes are?" Afton joked.

    A member of the US Armed Forces, Ben doesn't get an opportunity to attend many Magic events, so getting to not only attend a Grand Prix near where he was stationed, but arriving to find out that it was so incredibly special was just an unreal treat.


    Ben and Afton Matthews

    "Oh sure," his wife said from right next to him, "Blame it on me..."

    Having gotten their start about five years ago with Duels of the Planeswalkers on Xbox, the Matthews only got into playing paper Magic around Magic 2011 . They haven't attended many live tournaments at all, let alone anything of this magnitude. Thus far, it's been a humbling experience for them.

    "I'm just excited to be here," Afton told me. "I thought I was going to have to work this weekend, so I'm not able to play. I was bummed that I couldn't play once I was freed up, but this has just been amazing. I really am happy just to be in the building and watching him play."

    "There's just so much going on," Ben continued. "We've gotten to see all of these players. I even got LSV to sign my Gruesome Encores! rk Post is doing commissions for custom tokens. I'm having him do a set of Penn and Teller tokens for me! There are tons of vendors... I mean, I've never even seen one Mox, and they're all over the place here!"

    "This experience is just so cool," Afton concluded. "As a casual player, you are certainly aware of the things that go on at these events and of the world that surrounds them, but you don't get to be a part of them. Being here like this really solidifies it for you. This is what it's actually like."



    Philip Crouse is another first-timer here, experiencing the grandeur of this record-breaking tournament.

    "For Christmas, my parents gave both my sister and I trips of our choice as presents," he told me. "This Grand Prix was my choice."

    Having made his choice well before registration for this event was even a glimmer in Tim Shields's eyes, Crouse had no idea what he was getting into.

    "I expected that there would be something like two-thousand or so people, something a little large. But nothing prepared me for this," he said. "The biggest tournament I've played in prior to this was a StarCityGames open in St. Louis that had around three-hundred people."


    Philip Crouse

    He admitted that it was a little scary walking into this building, seeing the massive number of people, and being exposed to the convention-like atmosphere permeating the building.

    "It was definitely scary," he said. "It's madness. There are people absolutely everywhere."

    That being said, he would love a shot at Day 2, even better, to hoist the trophy at the end.

    "I would be overwhelmed, just so excited," he said. "It would make me even gladder that I came!"




     

  • Round 4 Feature Match – Reid Duke vs. Scott Seville

    by Blake Rasmussen

  • The letter A!Riftwing Cloudskate and a pair of Pestermites secured Scott Seville's tight game three victory over Reid Duke in a match that hung in the balance until the very last turn.

    Seville, a longtime player and former Grand Prix Top 8 competitor from back in the late 90s, won by the slimmest of margins, forced to sweat out his early game three lead as Duke fought back with Cloudgoat Ranger, Mulldrifter, and Kitchen Finks only to fall a topdeck short.

    "You had my heart beating pretty hard there," Seville said, noting that even the Rude Awakening that had won him the first game wasn't good enough in games two or three.


    Scott Seville provided a Rude Awakening for Reid Duke's first post-byes round.

    Indeed, the back and forth nature of the match had the whole crowd gathered palpitating pretty hard, as the two traded blow after blow, leaving each tempo-fueled game up in the air until the final turn.

    In game one, it was Rude Awakening that delivered that final blow. Seville trotted out a strong assortment of animals, including Imperiosaur, two Giant Dustwasps and a Walker of the Grove, but Duke fought back with Bound in Silence, Kitchen Finks, and Cloudgoat Ranger, alongside a Pestermite to steal back the tempo Seville gained from playing first.

    But just when Duke thought he had the game locked down with Vedalken Shackles, a Riftwing Cloudskate bouncing the mythic artifact let Seville put on enough pressure to regain the advantage. Traumatic Visions protected that advantage for the one turn Seville needed to rip Rude Awakening off the top.

    Duke, for his part, chuckled a little bit and nodded his head. "Okay, good game."


    Being on the draw doomed Reid Duke's first round of the day, unable to keep up with Seville's tempo-producing Blue fliers.

    If that match was close, Duke's game two win was even closer. The Platinum Pro's Kitchen Finks and Meadowboon managed to steal the initiative from a Moldervine Cloak-wearing Pestermite, but a tricky second Pestermite forced Duke to Echoing Truth the pair of Faeries. The two parried back and forth until Seville was forced to use Vedalken Dismisser to put MulldrifterMulldrifter! — on top of Duke's library.

    "There are no good choices here," Seville said, mulling the choice between Kitchen Finks, Meadowboon, and the Mulldrifter.

    Fortunately, Cloudgoat Ranger was there for Duke to both give him the final push he needed as well as some much needed Rude Awakening protection... with the powerful sorcery languishing in Seville's hand.

    That tight game set up the epic third game, where Duke came within a Gleam of Resistance of winning from one life. He had four chances with a Careful Consideration, but missed on all four draws. That, despite facing down Meloku the Clouded Mirror for multiple turns with Æther Spellbomb and Auriok Salvagers.




     

  • Saturday, 7:00 p.m. – Traveling together: "The Magic social event of the season"

    by Blake Rasmussen

  • 4,500 players from all over the world have descended on Las Vegas by land, by air, and, well, it's in a desert, so no one came by sea. But, still, the point is, a lot of people came a long way to play Modern Masters.

    And for good reason. Years from now, players will still be talking about this tournament, about where they were among the record-shattering crowd, about how close they were to someone who opened a foil Tarmogoyf, about how sweet their deck was, and about how much fun they had with their friends along the way.

    A number of groups decided to embrace the experience, band together, and make the most of the opportunity. Here are three of their stories



    It was 4:30 a.m. on Friday, and the members of the Amazing Discoveries group were 500th in line.

    It was exceedingly early, many of them had just gotten into town, and they had all driven nearly 8 hours from Tucson, Arizona to be there. But they wanted their playmats.

    The group of around 30 players, most of whom know each other through the local store Amazing Discoveries, the store owned by Pro Tour Dragon's Maze Top 8 competitor Dustin Ochoa, had been planning this trip since the moment the location was announced. Living in Tucson, the community is pretty far from most Grand Prix locations, and 8 hours seemed like a relatively short trip for the opportunity to play.

    And when the format was announced as Modern Masters, the excitement only increased.


    "Las Vegas was a big part of it, but I figured with Modern Masters it would be the largest Grand Prix ever," Ochoa said.

    To prepare, the group did about three drafts a week from the set was released, as players made sure to run back their prize packs to continually draft and do mock sealed tournaments. They even kept spreadsheets of pack contacts and rebuilt sealed pools with proxies. Every draft only added to their anticipation.

    And that was how a group of them ended up waiting in line with 800 of their closest friends before the sun even rose Friday morning. The story even had a happy ending, as the players who waited in line all got their playmats and a little piece of history.



    The genesis of the idea came at the last GenCon.

    Four podcasters who had been casting together for months but hadn't met in person, finally did just that. The crew behind Brainstorm Brewery, a podcast hosted by Gatheringmagic.com (note, the podcast isn't intended for all audiences and probably falls somewhere around a PG-13-style podcast intended for Magic's older crowd), all met up at the mother of all gaming conventions and found out something pretty cool.

    They all really liked each other.

    "We hung out and had a good time. We found out we actually liked each other, and we wanted to make this happen again," Corbin Hosler said.

    So they began planning a four-man trip to Las Vegas, mostly just to hang out. At the time, they didn't anticipate exactly what this tournament would become.

    "It was just a perfect opportunity," Jason Alt said.


    Soon, another perfect opportunity arose. Marcel White of the podcast Meavy Meta (similar note about PG-13 rating. Ask your parents, kids) was also putting together a group for Las Vegas, consisting of people involved with his podcast as well as some fans.

    Thus was born the podcast house.

    White organized the group and found a house for the group of about 15 to stay in, a house that Alt said was better than advertised, with a pool, pool tables, and plenty of room for gaming.

    But even with the comfortable digs, the experience of being at the largest Grand Prix was at the front of their minds.

    "It's almost like the Magic social event of the season," said Alt, who skipped his friend's wedding with the groom's blessing. "It's like GP Face-to-a-Name."

    "It's become such a cultural thing," Hosler agreed. "Somewhere in the last month it felt like everyone in the world would be there."

    And the four now face-to-face friends readily agreed that it was worth the drive from Michigan by way of Oklahoma.

    "This is a part of history," Hosler said. "It's a chance you're never going to get again."



    Josh Napper has known many of the dozen players he traveled with for upwards of 15 years. The Colorado-based group, which calls itself Luscious Nectar, have known each other through playing larger local events. They even have a number of Pro Tour appearances, SCG Open wins, and Nationals appearances under their belts.

    They, almost as much as anyone, embraced the idea of turning their Las Vegas vacation into an event. Ten months of planning yielded a week-long house rental to game, barbecue, swim, and, oddly enough, do pushups.

    But more on that in a moment.


    With ages spanning from 20 to 39, the Colorado group has been anticipating this event since it was announced. Their Facebook group featured a countdown that began ticking three months before the event. And, as it got closer, the reminders got more frequent.

    "It built the excitement up," Napper said. "It just continued to build up."

    And, he said, it has lived up to the hype.

    Not only have they enjoyed playing in this historic tournament so far, they've made the most of their trip, seeing the sites, enjoying the city, and doing summer-type things. They even held a draft where the runner-up had to jump into the pool fully clothed.

    And those push-ups? Their Sin City Pushup Challenge (heretofore trademarked. Or something like that) was meant to challenge the group to stay physically active in Las Vegas. Their challenge today was to do 50 pushups... between every round. For those keeping track at home, that's up to 800 pushups over two days.

    "It's just been a fantastic time," Napper said. "Ultimately, the best thing has been cementing the friendships in this group."

    "We really do like spending time with each other."




     

  • Saturday, 7:55 p.m. – Art Show!

    by Craig Gibson and Blake Rasmussen

  • The letter E!ven as everyone focuses on the eye-popping numbers of Grand Prix Las Vegas, players are finding themselves face-to-face with an honest to goodness Magic experience this weekend. And no Magic experience is complete without opportunities to interact with players' favorite art and artists.

    But like everything else this weekend, Grand Prix Las Vegas did things a little bit bigger.

    This weekend featured not only multiple artists showing off some of the best art Magic has to offer, but a full gallery of Modern Masters art — including all the cool new stuff — for players to peruse.




    Just check out that Chris Rahn art for the updated Sword of Fire and Ice and Sword of Light and Shadow below. It's even more impressive up close and full-sized.




    A ton of amazing artists are in attendance to, including Elvish Spirit Guide artist Julie Baroh.




    And here's Michael Hayes showing off Cathedral Sanctifier.




    The lines for Steve Argyle were among the longest in the hall. If you look at some of his work on a playmat here, you can see why.




    Anson Maddocks is as old school as they get, and is one of the most recognizable names in the game. The art game.




    Longtime Magic artist Mark Tedin holds up Supreme Exemplar as a supreme example of amazing Magic art.




    And look who we found! Modern Masters Swords artist Chris Rahn is in the building showing off his version of Browbeat




    Daarken shows off what a 4/4 hasty dragon looks like with his rendition of Archwing Dragon.




    Thomas M. Baxa has one of the strongest styles in the game, and here he shows it off with Gluttonous Zombie.




    Jeff Miracola seems pretty happy to show off his Firespout, which is pretty much the exact opposite of how your opponents feel when you cast it against them.




    rk Post and his Arbor Elf. rk loves his Arbor Elf.




    Want more sweet art? Of course you do! But we're out of pretty pictures of pretty pictures for now. Be sure to check out the next Grand Prix in your area to meet your favorite artists and check out some of the best fantasy art Magic has to offer.




     

  • Saturday, 8:50 p.m. – Stir the Pride

    by Nate Price

  • The letter I!t takes a lot to make a Magic event run, regardless of the number of players involved. Tournament organizers, like Cascade Games's Tim Shields, work for many months in advance preparing for an upcoming Grand Prix. The event site needs to be picked out, hotels need to be reserved, product needs to be purchased, artists and vendors need to be booked, the judging staff needs to be assembled... It's basically like planning a wedding.


    Tournament Organizer, Cascade Games's Tim Shields

    Unfortunately, as with all best-laid plans, things occasionally go wrong. There are stories I've heard of staff members having to drive hundreds of miles and break down their own stores' doors to procure product. I've heard about cab rides costing near $1,000 to get key staff members to events on time. I've seen a day of a Pro Tour get outright cancelled. Things can always go wrong, and the more stuff that has to be planned, the more stuff that can go wrong.

    Grand Prix Las Vegas is the largest event of its kind ever held. In a tournament of this size, it is inevitable that something will crop up that the tournament organizer and his staff will have to attend to. Usually, it is something annoying that has to be dealt with in order to make things smoother, but doesn't hinder the tournament too much. This is something like a printer dying, Internet spontaneously cutting out, even running low on Forests for side events.


    On rare occasions, something much bigger goes wrong, something with the power to derail the tournament entirely. When that happens, it is up to someone to spring into action and fix the problem. Someone needs to be the hero. Here in Las Vegas, where sheer size magnifies the impact of even the most minor of occurrences, one of those category 5 problems came up: Thank you, Mario, but our product is in another castle.

    Early on Thursday, it came to tournament organizer Tim Shields's attention that the pallets of product that were supposed to have arrived on site weren't here yet. After some investigation, they weren't even in the right state! Rather than sitting pretty here in the Cashman Center in Las Vegas, they were sitting in a warehouse in Little Rock, Arkansas, also known as nowhere near where they were supposed to be. This, as you can guess, was a bit of a problem.

    In came hero one: the TO himself. Springing into action, Shields set about making sure that his team was ready for the arrival of the product on Friday, about an hour before the Modern Masters minimaster tournament was set to begin. Things were going to have to be incredibly organized if things were going to be able to stay on track for this field of 4500 players.


    But this didn't completely solve the problem. The product set to arrive early on Friday still needed to be prepared for the over 800 players who were supposed to receive preregistered product as well as being packaged for the remaining 3700 players who were expecting to open little bags with six packs neatly arranged within.

    Enter group of heroes two: a massive team of people who volunteered their time to help, most of whom were not on the main event staff. Many of these saviors were the ones who originally showed up on Thursday to register the product and instead found themselves with no packs to open. Rather than pout, they agreed to stick around and help set up the massive, 98,000 square foot convention hall for Fridays festivities. After giving up their Thursday to help, they came back on Friday and set about spending the next twelve hours registering the massive number of decks required for the preregistered product and preparing the unregistered product for the Grand Prix. It was a massive undertaking, one that, quite simply, allowed the Grand Prix to take place.

    The thing is, as impressive as their sacrifice was, it's the exact same thing we see every event from these event staffers and judges. Think about it. Judges spend their entire weekend offering their time to run events while legions of people get to spend their days playing games right alongside them. I think I work long hours doing coverage, and they make me look like a seasonal employee. They work Friday, Saturday, and Sunday doing all of the work that makes these events run, and they never really get to see the light of play.


    The judges in Las Vegas sacrificed an incredible amount to make sure that this monumental event was able to go on. There are 160 certified judges in the hall this weekend, representing ten different countries, with judges coming from as far away as Argentina and France to take part in history. They didn't skimp on the experience, either. Two Level 5 judges and three Level 4 judges are a part of the staff. In fact, there are a total of 336 judge levels represented across this incredible staff.

    These judges are the final heroes of Grand Prix Las Vegas. There were over fifty judges that came to Las Vegas with the intention of playing and decided to give up their slots in the tournaments in order to make sure that this tournament was even able to fire. Some, including Geoff Dearing, gave up the byes they had earned at a Grand Prix Trial because they'd rather help out. Others, such as Robert Towers and Chris Henry offered their services the Wednesday before the tournament, Henry even taking a huge chunk of his personal frequent flier miles to procure a flight out here. There were judges who gave up their VIP investment to cater to players who hadn't.

    Many of these players were among the 105 Level 2 judges making up the bulk of the judging staff. While the higher level judges are the ones coordinating the tournament and making the leadership decisions, the Level 2 judges are the lifeblood, the ones that are responsible for all of the floor calls and the paper work, the ones who the majority of players interact with over the course of an event. As the tournament gets larger, it becomes restrained by the number of Level 2 judges available, and Las Vegas stretched it to the brink. The tournament is literally being staffed by every Level 2 judge capable of making it to the event. Without them, Grand Prix Las Vegas simply wouldn't exist.


    Geoff Dearing



    Robert Towers



    Chris Henry



     

  • Saturday, 8:55 p.m. – Quick Questions: What have been your most important cards this weekend?

    by Blake Rasmussen

  • Timothy Bentkowski: 6-1 through 7 rounds
    "Saltfield Recluse has been dominating battlefields."
    Samson Birku: 4-3
    "Double Cloudgoat Ranger. They're just boss."
    Patrick Wong: 5-1-1
    "Bonesplitter is an unsung hero," Wong said... while flashing three Path to Exile and a Sword of Fire and Ice.
    Matt Boccio: 6-1
    "I guess I should say Kiki-Jiki/Pestermite." I guess so.
    Ryan Rivera: 6-1
    "..." (He let the cards do the talking. You can see why.)
    Nick Fang: Undefeated for all time as scorekeeper
    “My WI-FI card has been an all-star.”



     

  • Round 7 Feature Match – Jeremy Quinn vs. Dusty Ochoa

    by Nate Price

  • The letter I!t seems as though Dusty Ochoa has the same gun control policy that Clint Eastwood has: if there's a gun around, he wants to be in control of it.

    Pro Tour Dragon's Maze Top 8 competitor Dusty Ochoa defeated Jeremy Quinn in two games on the back of his stellar control deck. This moved Ochoa to a perfect 6-0 record in the tournament, one more win away from guaranteeing himself a spot at the Draft tables tomorrow. Between Vedalken Shackles and Meloku the Clouded Mirror, Ochoa was always in control of the games, even after Quinn tried to pull a little switcheroo of his own.

    "I've won every game I've cast Shackles," Ochoa said after using them to dictate the pace of play in his final game.


    Jeremy Quinn

    He played a picture-perfect control game in the first of his match against Quinn. Mulldrifter and Æthersnipe helped Ochoa fill up his hand and keep control over Quinn's Sporesower Thallid in the middle turns of the game, but a pair of Lightning Helixes took the pair of creatures out. With no other offense, Ochoa took some beats for a turn before dropping Meloku the Clouded Mirror, into play.

    "I played against someone else with Meloku earlier in the tournament," Ochoa told me. "When he played his, I stole it with Shackles. When he didn't, I drew mine."

    The incredibly powerful Legend let Ochoa stabilize with a blocker for a couple of turns while turning on the offensive power. Lands quickly turned into 1/1 fliers, though he was careful not to short himself lest he need to cast something important. He was very glad that he did a few turns later when Quinn tapped out for a lethal Tromp the Domains. Ochoa simply tapped all of his lands and fired off the Traumatic Visions he was holding, giving him the first leg up.


    The second game saw Quinn trying to wrest control of his fortunes back from Ochoa, pulling a switcheroo on him. It took me a couple of turns to realize what had happened, as Quinn opened up with an Executioner's Capsule off of a Swamp. After a couple more turns, it became apparent that he had switched up his Naya deck to a more controlling UB deck from the rest of his pool. Things like this aren't uncommon here in Las Vegas, as there are simply no unplayable cards in Modern Masters, making each card pool incredibly deep.

    "I haven't been switching my deck very much today," Quinn admitted, "mostly against slower controlling decks like his. I watched him play earlier, so I knew he had a Vedalken Shackles hiding in there, so this deck had much better cards for dealing with it and Meloku."

    The Shackles that Quinn knew existed made an appearance in this second game, and it couldn't have come at a worse time for Quinn. After using his first four turns to deny Ochoa an offense, Quinn tapped out for a 3/4 swampwalking Street Wraith. The swampwalk seemed irrelevant at first, but it became highly relevant after the Shackles resolved and stole it. Combined with the Bonesplitter he had in play, Ochoa was now the owner of an unblockable four-turn clock. Quinn sighed as he spent his sixth turn casting Death Rattle to kill the creature he had played a turn before.


    Dusty Ochoa

    "I don't feel good about that," he said with a heavy sigh.

    He perked up a little bit a couple of turns later, as he managed to Traumatic Visions a bomb of his own, relegating Ochoa's attempt at a Meloku to the graveyard. Unfortunately, he was simply being overrun. Epochrasite provided a resilient threat. Flickerwisp provided an evasive, three-powered body. Court Homunculus provided another efficient attacker. Quinn simply couldn't compete. He had a Syphon Life to try and keep up, but he was short of lands to retrace it, stuck on the five he had in play. After another couple of attacks, he died, revealing the Take Possession that he had in his hand to steal the Vedalken Shackles, a play that would have certainly given him all of the control in the match.




     

  • Saturday, 10:15 p.m. – Giant Rebel Rogue Thallid Kithkin Goblin Faerie Bat Treefolk Blinkmoth Saproling

    by Nate Price

  • The letter O!ne of the coolest and innocuously powerful inclusions in ModernMasters is the Changelings. In Lorwyn Block Limited, the fact that these Shapeshifters have every creature type really helped to fill out the heavy tribal element of the format. Since Tribal is a purely linear mechanic, decks were rewarded for sticking to one variety of creature type above all else. Since players were often forced into two creature types to build their decks, Changelings helped shore up your numbers of both. This meant that the Giant Soldiers in your Giant Warrior deck didn't hurt your ability to play cards that key off of your Warriors by that much.

    Here in Modern Masters, a few of the Tribal themes from Lorwyn have made the transition. Faeries are a major part of the set. Changelings let you counter more expensive spells with Spellstutter Sprite. They get +1/+1 and shroud thanks to Scion of Oona. You draw cards off of Peppersmoke, while you have a wider selection of cards to discard with Thieving Sprite. They even shrink the cost for your Latchkey Faeries.


    Goblins have returned, too. They get bigger or regenerate with Mad Auntie, and they bring back the Auntie's Snitch. They can be sacrificed for Facevaulter, Warren Weirding, Marsh Flitter, or Tar Pitcher... and then returned with Warren Pilferers to give it haste. They are cheaper with Stinkdrinker Daredevil, kill creatures with Crush Underfoot, provide complete vision for Blind-Spot Giant, and make an impact on Kithkin Greatheart. They are best friends with Thundercloud Shaman.


    Lorwyn wasn't the only set to have a bit of a tribal theme in it, though. One of the other sets that made its way into Modern Masters is Time Spiral. This adds a whole new set of abilities to the Changelings' repertoire. As Rebels, they can be searched up with Amrou Scout and Blightspeaker. As Thallids, they pick up counters from Sporesower Thallid. As Saprolings, they get bigger thanks to Pallid Mycoderm and Verdeloth, the Ancient.


    What I find most interesting, though, are the hidden uses for the Changelings. There aren't many opportunities to take advantage of these interactions, but they make me smile nonetheless. The first is with Blinkmoth Nexus. Did you know that Avian Changeling is a Blinkmoth creature? Did you therefore know that you can use Blinkmoth Nexus to turn it into a 3/3 flier? Or to turn War-Spike Changeling into a 4/4 first-striker? Or how about those emergency situations with your Skeletal Vampire. Losing all of your Bats leaves the Vampire very vulnerable, in addition to making people very sad. With Changelings, you have a new source of Bats to sacrifice!




     

  • Saturday, 10:55 p.m. – Nice Deck

    by Nate Price

  • The letter M!odern Masters is chock full of some of the best cards to ever grace Limited, cards that have gone on to become Cube all-stars as well. There are absolutely zero unplayable cards in Modern Masters, making the card pools in this format ridiculously deep. The combination of these two factors has led to some of the sickest decks I've seen in a Sealed Deck tournament.

    With 4500 players in the field, scouring the decklists for the sweet ones was, shall we say, not happening? Instead, we resorted to the futuristic technology that birds have ben perfecting for millions of years: Twitter. After sending out a tweet to show me your sick decks, I got a bunch of people willing to display their sick decks for the world to see.

    First up was Sebastian Massey, who wanted to show me his insane Kiki-Jiki/Pestermite Sealed Deck.


    Sebastian Massey

    This combination is good enough to be successful in Modern and Legacy, why wouldn't it be exceptional in Sealed Deck? Even better was the fact that Massey also had a Vedalken Dismisser to effectively lock players out of drawing for the rest of the game. Here's his deck:


    Next up was Eric Sias, who had an absurd Faeries deck to tout.


    Eric Sias

    In addition to multiple Pestermites, Theiving Sprites, and an Oona, Queen of the Fae, Sias had a Meloku the Clouded Mirror to save him if things went south. While he admitted that he should have been maindecking the Traumatic Visions and Ryusei, the Falling Star, pictured, his deck was doing him well. He was 6-0 the last I heard from him.


    Then we have our very own Rich Hagon.


    Rich Hagon

    Rich described his deck as either "absolutely trouncing opponents" or "hitting a brick wall." His hyper aggressive deck carried him through two blazing fast rounds on the backs of a trio of Bonesplitters with enough burn from his Pyrite Spellbombs, Syphon Soul, and double Shrapnel Blast to finish things off.


    Woodrow Engle, a friend of my coverage compatriot Marshall Sutcliffe, was having an incredible weekend himself.


    Woodrow Engle

    Celebrating his birthday this weekend, Engle was pleased to open an incredibly powerful deck filled with five two-mana Rebels, a pair of Marsh Flitters, Cloudgoat Ranger, and Skeletal Vampire. His aggressive token-based deck was backed up with cards like Stir the Pride and Blinding Beam to decimate opponents who thought they might win combat, a bunch of removal, and Reveillark to do it all again. It was no surprise that he was 7-0 without losing a game when I last saw him.


    Last we have world-traveler Martin Jůza.


    Martin Jůza

    Martin had a deck you don't get to see very often in Sealed Deck: a dedicated mill strategy. With a pair of Dampen Thoughts, his deck was able to splice enough copies of the mill cards onto his many arcane removal and card-drawing spells.


    Unfortunately, people often try to get around the mill strategy by sideboarding up to a larger total number of cards in their decks. When card pools are as good as they are in Modern Masters, it's easy to find twelve good cards to fill those last spots without diluting your deck too bad. Fortunately, Martin had an answer.


    Jůza admitted that his aggressive BW deck may have been better than the Dampen Thought deck that he sleeved up for Game 1. Having little experience with Bonesplitter, Jůza quickly realized how absurdly powerful the cheap equipment is. His many evasive creatures gave him great targets to equip to, and this aggressive build caught many opponents unawares as they expected him to be trying to mill them out in the latter games of his matches.




     

  • Round 8 Feature Match – Ben Stark vs. Michael Hopkins

    by Blake Rasmussen

  • The letter W!hen you leave arguably the best limited player in the world shaking his head wondering what he could have done differently, you're having a good day.

    When that win vaults you to a perfect 8-0 record, you're having a great day.

    That's exactly where Michael Hopkins finds himself after downing Ben Stark in two games that were won by inches and small advantages here and there.

    Hopkins, sporting a bomb-laden Black and Blue build—complete with Tombstalker, Kira, Great Glass-Spinner, and Oona, Queen of the Fae—utilized his removal, bounce, and a pair of Murderous Redcaps to continuously find ways to push through any damage he could.

    "He was way out drawing me. He probably had the better late game," Hopkins said. "I knew I had to end the game quickly."


    Michael Hopkins was nothing but calm and cool on his way to 8-0.

    Helping him out in his strategy to get through damage anyway he could was Stark's own City of Brass. Stark had a four-ish color base-Black deck that played the City and some other basics to charge up Skyreach Manta, Drag Down and Etched Oracle while splashing powerful spells like Path to Exile.

    In the second game, that city combined with Hopkins fliers to take Stark down bit by bit by even more bit. Vedalken Dismisser helped keep the sky clear of any Skyreach Mantas, and Kira, Great Glass-Spinner showed up in time to protect his team from Æther Spellbomb. Even though Stark outdrew Hopkins thanks to Etched Oracle, he never quite gained his footing.

    "All those activations add up," Hopkins said.

    Still, Stark was positive he had made a mistake at some point. The game looked like it was his to win at several points, especially after he used Path to Exile to remove Oona.

    "That Path really set me back," Hopkins said. "I thought it would be ok if it died because I had Warren Pilferers, but then he exiled it."

    Game one was a bit more straight forward. Hopkins suspended an Errant Ephemeron on turn two and used it and a Drag Down to kill two of Stark's fliers. From there, Hopkins used a combination of removal and a second Ephemeron to take down the game.

    But there was one sequence that demonstrated Stark's attention to detail, even in the face of defeat.

    Hopkins discarded a Spellstutter Sprite to Thieving Sprite early in the first game, then regrew it with Warren Pilferers. A few turns later, with Dreamspoiler Witches in play, Stark knew he needed to resolve a Rathi Trapper to stay in the game.


    Even in a losing effort, you can still learn a lot from watching Ben Stark play limited.

    To Stark, despite having ostensibly better targets for Drag Down, used it to clear out the Dreamspoiler Witches. With them out of the way, he was free to resolve Rathi Trapper through Spellstutter Sprite.

    And that ploy would have put him fairly far ahead, but one of Hopkins' two Murderous Redcaps took the Trapper out after just one tap.

    Still, despite the loss, Stark was in a strong position. A win in the last round would put him at 8-1 heading into the draft portion of the event. Stark has always felt more comfortable at a draft table than slinging spells from sealed. Don't be surprised to see Stark headlining a draft table tomorrow. He's done it many, many times.




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