Round 10 Feature Match - Kyle Stoll (Epic Experiment Storm) vs. Matt Severa (Robots)
by Nate Price
The stage was set for a flat out race to the finish line. Matt Severa and Kyle Stoll had each dropped a match during Day 1, and they were both looking to avoid a second here as they clashed to begin Day 2. Severa's Robots are one of the fastest creature-based decks Modern has to offer, but Kyle Stoll's Epic Experiment Storm deck is a sleek version of the popular combo deck that has the ability to go off roughly a turn faster than its Pyromancer Ascension-based cousin.
Stoll won the die roll and chose to go first. The first turns of the game for Storm decks are spent using cards like Sleight of Hand and Serum Visions to sift through cards, attempting to arrange the minimum number of cards to begin trying to go off. This game was no different, as Stoll used one copy each over the first couple of turns to sculpt his hand.
Severa's Robots deck did the exact opposite, unloading with an Inkmoth Nexus, Signal Pest, Ornithopter, and Memnite all on the first turn. This allowed him to attack for three on the second turn before recruiting a Steel Overseer that was soon going to turn his army into a horde.
Seeing the Steel Tide on the horizon, Stoll began his Storm on Turn 3.
He spent two mana to play
Following it up with a
The Probe let Stoll see that Severa had nothing to worry him as he continued to go off.
"I have no interactive cards," Severa said, settling back to watch the fireworks.
Stoll had three mana in pool, and he used it for to build his mana with the following chain of cards:
Culminating in an
Of the seven cards he got to see, Stoll revealed, and added to the stack in this order,
Grapeshot hit Severa for 11, Peer Through Depths found
and once he was finished resolving the remainder of his Experiment, he had a boatload of mana and a handful of cards. Hiding in those cards was a second copy of Grapeshot, which stormed up another dozen or so copies, finishing Severa off.
Kyle Stoll 1 - Matt Severa 0
"I'll play," Severa said before Game 2. "Go figure."
After a mulligan, Severa seemed much happier about his six card hand than he had about his seven. He began with a very powerful open of
The Canonist would prove especially problematic unless Stoll drew a way to kill it, preventing him from stringing together the spells necessary to build his storm count. Stoll played a Serum Visions, spending his first turn in much less spectacular fashion than Severa had. On Severa's turn, he played a Vault Skirge, using it and the Springleaf Drum to turn on the Nexus and attack with his creatures.
Stoll used his turn to rid himself of the problematic Canonist with a Shattering Spree, taking advantage of his newfound ability to cast a second spell by digging with a Serum Visions. Severa, meanwhile, began his assault. Activating his Inmoth Nexus and swinging with it and his other creatures, Severa seemed to be on the "kill you twice" plan.
Stoll continued to put things together over the next couple of turns as he got weaker and weaker due to Severa's assaults. He added a Goblin Electromancer and sifted through his deck some more. As Severa got Stoll to 5 poison and 9 life, things began to look ugly for Stoll. A second Ethersworn Canonist came down, once again locking Stoll up. Severa's next attack put Stoll up to 7 poison. All Stoll could do was add a second Goblin Electromancer to his side of the board.
At this point, it was do or die. Stoll tapped a blue to cast Echoing Truth, returning the Canonist to Severa's hand. Now unshackled, Stoll began to cast a flurry of sale-price spells.
He began with
This allowed him to go to his graveyard to cast
With a new card in hand and his library stacked, he went back to his hand for
Then, he went back to his graveyard to fill up on mana and cards, casting
He had gotten up to a storm count of thirteen, which allowed him to use the combination of
to deal all the damage he needed to win the match.
Round 11 Feature Match Ben Friedman (Jund) vs Andrew Cuneo (Melira Pod)
by Steve Sadin
After he advanced to the Top 8 of Grand Prix Lincoln this past February, the coverage staff asked Andrew Cuneo "What deck did you play and why did you choose it?"
"Melira. I always play Melira in Modern."
In the 9 months since that event, Modern has changed considerably, but Cuneo has stayed true to his word and stuck with Melira. So far, it's treating him well – as he's currently 8-1-1 and in a decent position to make a run at another Modern Grand Prix Top 8.
While Ben Friedman hasn't had any particularly good finishes at Modern events prior to this weekend, he's recently posted Top 8s at Grand Prix Minneapolis, and Grand Prix Orlando. And if Friedman goes on a bit of a run from here, then he could very well find himself in his third Grand Prix Top 8 of the year.
Cuneo mulliganed, and reluctantly kept his six card hand. Marsh Flats fetched an untapped Overgrown Tomb that Cuneo used to cast a Thoughtseize.
"Nice, free Lava Axe!" exclaimed Friedman as he revealed his hand.
Cuneo took a Dark Confidant, and left Friedman with a very potent hand consisting of Lightning Bolt, Liliana of the Veil, Kitchen Finks, and lands.
Cuneo didn't have a land on turn two, and Friedman, who had a hand that would have matched up well even against his opponent's best draws, never gave him a chance to recover.
Ben Friedman 1 – Andrew Cuneo 0
Both players kept their opening hands in game two, and Cuneo opened with a first turn Viscera Seer. Friedman Thoughtseized, and took a Melira, Sylvok Outcast leaving Cuneo with Dryad Arbor, Abrupt Decay, Kitchen Finks, and a Maelstrom Pulse.
Over the following two turns, another Thoughtseize, and an Inquisition of Kozilek stripped away Cuneo's Kitchen Finks, and left Cuneo with only a removal spell, and a Ranger of Eos (which he didn't have the white mana for) in his hand.
Birthing Pod came down a little while later, but by that point Friedman had plenty of removal spells on hand to make sure that his opponent would be unable to work his way up to a potentially game changing Kitchen Finks.
After using a couple of Abrupt Decays, and a Terminate to take out the mana-constrained Cuneo's creatures, Friedman found a Maelstrom Pulse that he used to take out his opponent's Birthing Pod. A turn later, Friedman drew a Bloodbraid Elf which cascaded into a Dark Confidant.
While Cuneo had an Abrupt Decay for the Dark Confidant, and a Melira, Sylvok Outcast to threaten a combo kill, and give himself a glimmer of hope – that hope would prove to be short lived as another Bloodbraid Elf found a Liliana of the Veil, and the ensuing attack left Cuneo on 5.
With his back firmly against the wall, Cuneo finally drew a white land – however, it was too little too late, and Cuneo had no choice but to concede in the face of lethal damage.
Ben Friedman 2 – Andrew Cuneo 0
Sunday, 10:34 a.m. – Yesterday's Undefeated Decks
by Event Coverage Staff
Chicago Grand Prix - Modern
Chicago Grand Prix - Modern
Chicago Grand Prix - Modern
Chicago Grand Prix - Modern
Chicago Grand Prix - Modern
by Nate Price
What's the Most Underrated Card in Modern?
Lucas Siow: Night of Soul's Betrayal. All of the new, popular combo decks (like Infect, and Splinter Twin) fold to it.
Josh Utter-Leyton: Rakdos Charm – it saves Jund so many sideboard slots because it's good against Affinity, Storm, Splinter Twin.
Round 12 Feature Match - Shane McDermott vs. Tom Martell
by Nate Price
Shane McDermott has a sweet deck. I had been following it since about halfway through Saturday and was pleased to see that he was sitting at 8-1 after Day 1. Last round, we managed to get him some video time, watching as his Gifts Control deck notched a win against the ever-prevalent Jund. His opponent this round is no stranger to success. Tom Martell, deciding to audible to Robots from the Jund deck that most of Team channelfireball was running, has played on Sunday at a Pro Tour and hoisted a Grand Prix trophy. He has more hardware than just the metal men he's used to get to 10-1 here in Chicago, and he was going to prove a formidable roadblock for the man from Iowa City on his path to his first Top 8.
"High roll," Martell asked with a pair of dice in his hand? "Hmm...not very high," he smirked as he rolled a five. When McDermott spun into snake eyes, both players shared a laugh.
"Well, it beats that, I suppose," Martell chuckled.
Martell began with a fairly slow start from a Robots deck, merely playing Blinkmoth Nexus and Vault Skirge. McDermott had a one-drop of his own, the deceptively powerful Deathrite Shaman. This might actually be the one matchup that the Shaman isn't at his peak, as Robots doesn't tend to put a lot of cards in its graveyard, and the ones that it does get there, it doesn't care about keeping there.
Martell continued to build his team, adding an Arcbound Ravager and attacking for one. On the next turn, he tried to speed things up a little when he added a Springleaf Drum and a Steel Overseer to his side of the table. The Overseer would be able to drastically increase the power of Martell's army, allowing him to end the game before McDermott got set up. McDermott wasted little time using Mana Leak to prevent it from hitting play. Martell attacked into the Deathrite Shaman with his Ravager and Skirge, prompting McDermott to use his Deathrite Shaman to cast a Darkblast on the Skirge. Martell sacrificed it and the Springleaf Drum to make his Ravager a 3/3 and dropped McDermott to 11, a prematurely low life total thanks to his own fetch lands.
With Martell down to three lands and a lone creature, McDermott was able to completely neuter Martell with Liliana of the Veil. Martell didn't have mana available to activate a Blinkmoth Nexus to protect his Ravager from the planeswalker, and he found himself down to lands. He did manage a reasonable reload on his turn, adding a Signal Pest and a Springleaf Drum to turn on his Nexus and finish Liliana off. Unfortunately for Martell, the Pest was nothing more than Darkblast bait, as McDermott dredged back the instant and used it to finish off the minuscule artifact creature. To add injury to injury, he had a second Liliana of the Veil that he used to clear the last card out of Martell's hand.
Martell made an effort to remove Liliana, activating his Nexuses and attacking her. If he could get rid of her, he might be able to stick a creature that wasn't vulnerable to Darkblast. Unfortunately for Martell, McDermott really clamped down before he could get the chance. McDermott cast Gifts Ungiven, deciding to only find two cards, Unburial Rites and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. Since you are able to search and choose not to find, and because you discard two cards from Gifts and keep the other two, Gifts Ungiven effectively lets McDermott put Unburial Rites and the exact creature he needs in a given situation straight into the graveyard. In this case, the Elesh Norn he got came back and made it simply impossible for Martell to win. Martell only delayed a turn before deciding to concede and move on to the next game.
Shane McDermott 1 - Tom Martell 0
"So what made you decide on this deck over the Jund that the rest of CFB seems to be playing," McDermott asked between games?
"A coin flip. It came up heads, so I played Robots," Martell explained. "I wish it had come up tails. I'm probably 50/50 on winning the coil flip so far in the tournament, but I definitely have a lower than fifty percent win rate in Game 1, which isn't how things are supposed to work for this deck." Robots tends to have an incredibly good Game 1, but can then slip some when when opponents get to bring in cards like Creeping Corrosion, Splintering Wind, and Ancient Grudge.
Again, Martell started out without the explosion of permanents I'm used to seeing from Robots on the first turn. His Springleaf Drum looked lonely next to his Blinkmoth Nexus. His second turn returned him to form, though, playing an Arcbound Ravager which he used in conjunction with his Drum to cast a Vault Skirge. From two to five permanents in one turn. On his next turn, he revealed a bit of his sideboard technology, using a Mox Opal to cast a Rest in Peace, shutting off McDermott's access to his graveyard for the time being.
Martell attacked with his Ravager and his Skirge. McDermott flashed in a Snapcaster Mage to block the Ravager, and Martell sacrificed Darksteel Citadel and Springleaf Drum to make it a 3/3. After combat, he played a Relic of Progenitus, giving him a souble-layer of protection against McDermott's graveyard.
"No graveyard for me," McDermott laughed.
On his turn, McDermott played another card that is much better when your graveyard isn't exiled, Lingering Souls, gaining a couple of blockers. He needed them when Martell used a Cranial Plating to make his Ravager gigantic. The first Spirit died to save McDermott eight life, and the second was likely to follow soon. McDermott simply drew and passed his turn. Things didn't look good.
"Exercise," Martell grinned, tapping his Relic of Progenitus while McDermott was on an empty graveyard "Gotta keep the Relics warmed up.
Martell tried to cast a second Plating on his turn, but a Mana Leak was good enough to counter it, minimizing the number of creatures that McDermott actually had to worry about. A second Lingering Souls refilled his defensive front, buying him a couple more turns of relative safety while he looked for a solution to his predicament. Across the table, Martell kept attacking, firing his Blinkmoth Nexus up to rumble alongside the Ravager and Skirge. Without a pause, McDermott lined up his Spirits in front of the Ravager and the Nexus, looking to get rid of Martell's transient creatures. Martell thought for a minute before using his other Nexus to pump the first. The threat of Darkblast almost prevented him from doing so. McDermott didn't have it and both Spirits bit the dust.
After untapping, McDermott showed what he was building to, casting Supreme Verdict to clear the board. He wasn't able to kill the Nexus last turn, which left Martell with one more creature than McDermott would have liked, but he had an answer to at least one of them with a Ghost Quarter. When Martell equipped the Plating to one and attacked, McDermott killed it with the Quarter. After combat, Martell dropped the darker Inkmoth Nexus onto his side.
"Saucy saucy," McDermott called out as Martell played the new man-land.
McDermott didn't appear to have much as he simply animated and attacked with his Creeping Tar Pit, basically giving Martell a free turn. Martell took advantage of it, animating the Inkmoth Nexus and giving it a Plating. The infectious land put McDermott up to six poison, one turn away from death. Martell tried the same trick on the next turn and a Path to Exile kept McDermott's hopes alive. He still had two Blinkmoth Nexuses to contend with, but he was still at a reasonably high 17 life.
At the end of Martell's turn, McDermott made the decision to cast Gifts Ungiven, despite the fact that two cards of Martell's choice would get exiled. He gave Martell the following cards to split:
All four cards were a way to deal with the Rest in Peace that Martell had in play, so Martell needed to figure out which second card would have the least impact on what happened after the Rest was gone. He was himself down to an empty hand, having blown his Relic of Progenitus a couple of turns earlier to try and draw something to finish McDermott off.
Ultimately, Golgari Charm and Maelstrom Pulse made their way to McDermott's hand. McDermott used the Maelstrom Pulse to remove the Rest in Peace, freeing up his graveyard. Martell added a Memnite to his team, activated one of his Nexuses, gave it a Cranial Plating, and attacked McDermott. He thought for a minute about activating the second Nexus to make it nine damage instead of eight, ultimately deciding that it was worth the potential risk. McDermott dropped to 8.
One turn away from death, McDermott had opened the door. A Snapcaster Mage allowed McDermott to recast the Maelstrom Pulse now in his graveyard to destroy the Cranial Plating. It also gave him a blocker to kill the Memnite when Martell animated his lands and sent the team on the following turn. Martell fell to two creatures and McDermott fell to 6.
Now McDermott began to go on his offensive, animating his Creeping Tar Pit and attacking Martell to 14. When Martell tried to fire up a Nexus and attack, McDermott paid the full amount to Dismember it, keeping himself alive. On his turn, the attacks continued, dropping Martell to 11. After combat, he added a Deathrite Shaman to his team, and it seemed like he had finally passed the hump, able to take control of the game.
Martell tried to keep things interesting, though. He made a Steel Overseer that McDermott was forced to kill with his Golgaript decay . He then made a Master of Etherium, which McDermott effectively ignored. He had just attacked Martell down to 8 on the last turn, and he had two Creeping Tar Pits and a Deathrite Shaman in play. All it took was six mana, two swinging Tar Pits, and an activation from the Shaman and Martell was through. McDermott picked up an important win to stay at only one loss, while Martell dropped to 10-2, needing to win out to have a chance at Top 8.
Round 13 Feature Match - Alex Majlaton (Robots) vs. Luis Scott-Vargas (Jund)
by Steve Sadin
After a long (for him) 8 month drought without a Grand Prix Top 8, Luis Scott-Vargas charged into the Top 8 of Grand Prix Philadelphia where he was eliminated by eventual champion Shuuhei Nakamura. Now, a mere two weeks later, LSV has another Top 8 in his sights, and along with it another chance to acquire his 5th Grand Prix title.
But in order to get to the elimination rounds, the 11-1 LSV still need to win at least one more match.
His first chance to get that win will come against three-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Alex Majlaton – a player who has played Arcbound Ravagers at every possible opportunity for the better part of the last decade.
Majlaton won the die roll, and by turn three this was his board:
While LSV had:
"Close game" joked LSV as he conceded a mere moments before Majlaton could attack him for lethal damage.
Alex Majlaton 1 – Luis Scott-Vargas 0
After a blazing start to the match, Majlaton's draw proved to be a bit tamer in game two, as he was only able to play an Ornithopter, and an Arcbound Ravager on his first two turns.
A Lightning Bolt took out the Arcbound Ravager, but a Cranial Plating, and a Master of Ehterium made nonetheless made Majlaton's Ornithopter into a huge attacker.
However, LSV was ready. Lingering Souls, flashback, Lingering Souls, flashback gave LSV 8 tokens to work with - and a Shatterstorm left Majlaton with just a couple of lands.
A couple of attacks, and a Lightning Bolt later, and the players were off to game three.
Alex Majlaton 1 – Luis Scott-Vargas 1
Majlaton thought for a little while before keeping his opening hand, while LSV opted to mulligan.
"I don't like it that you spent that much time thinking before you kept your hand. That probably means you're figuring out how many of your cards you can play on turn one." Quipped LSV as he was mulliganing.
"Well, let's just say I'm a gambling man" replied Majlaton.
Majlaton opened with a Glimmervoid, and a Thoughtseize which took an Abrupt Decay, and left LSV with Marsh Flats, Grim Lavamancer, double Tarmogoyf, and a Lingering Souls.
"Let's just say that I too am a gambling man," said LSV as he picked up his one land hand.
LSV then drew an Inquisition of Kozilek which he used to take the potentially crippling Rest in Peace out of Majlaton's hand.
Mox Opal, Vault Skirge, Ornithopter, and Master of Etherium soon followed for Majlaton. And while Grim Lavamancer was eventually able to take out Majlaton's Vault Skirge, Cranial Plating once again made Majlaton's Ornithopter into a gigantic attacker
After a couple of hits from the Ornithopter got him low, LSV found himself with a one turn window to draw a removal spell, or a white source that would allow him to cast his Lingering Souls.
When none was forthcoming, LSV conceded and Alex Majlaton advanced to 12-1
Alex Majlaton 2 – Luis Scott-Vargas 1
Deck Tech - Epic Experiment Storm with Kyle Stoll and Matthias Hunt
by Nate Price
I am the worst kind of Johnny.
Every set that comes out, there is at least one card that just thoroughly captures my imagination. I had a terrible man-crush on Guided Passage back in the day. I have played Battle of Wits in a Grand Prix. I tried hard to break Heartless Summoning (and I would have gotten away with it if it weren't for you meddling kids!).
I just have these pet cards that I really want to see work and do great things, and I know I'm not alone. Everyone has at least one card that they secretly (or not so secretly) love. And when they get to see that card succeed, its like it vindicates all of the absurd, superheroic things they knew the card was capable of. It gives them the warm fuzzies.
This weekend, I got the warm fuzzies.
You see, my most recent addition to the "Absurd Things Nate Wants To Do" Hall of Fame is Epic Experiment. As someone who prefers spells to creatures and swooned a little every time someone resolved a big Genesis Wave, seeing Epic Experiment on the Return to Ravnica card list was like a scene from a fever dream. I wanted to see if the Experiment was really Epic, or if it was just a clever name.
Fortunately, Matthias Hunt and Kyle Stoll found the absolutely perfect home for Epic Experiment: Modern Storm. Chock full of spells and mana-generating cards, Storm has the ability to cast a ridiculously large Epic Experiment and hit spells on a large percentage of the revealed cards. As soon as I heard about this, I was ecstatic. I had to see it in action. We managed to get Kyle Stoll into the feature match area to play against Robots, and he absolutely dismantled his opponent. I got to see an Epic Experiment for seven cards hit five spells, one of which was Grapeshot. I had a lot of fun that round.
The Epic Experiment version of Storm isn't all that far from the Pyromancer Ascension version that seems to be the norm in Modern right now. It still runs all of the same card-drawing spells and the same mana-generating spells as its counterpart. It runs the shockingly good Goblin Electromancer. Yet despite this, there are some major ways that this deck differs from the other version. First, it's faster.
"The main reason that I like this deck is that it turns a deck capable of winning on turn three or four and makes it into a deck that can win on turn three virtually every time," Stoll revealed after demonstrating that exact point just a round before.
"Yeah," Hunt chimed in. "I played against Infect, which is one of the fastest decks in the format, and I was able to outrace it."
Part of what makes it that half-turn quicker than Ascension is the nature of Epic Experiment versus Ascension. With Ascension, you have to both resolve the enchantment and then parse your spells out properly to turn it on, which can sometimes take an extra turn or two. With this deck, when you begin to generate your mana, you just want to play one big spell. There are no hoops to jump through, you just wind up and swing.
"This really is a big spell deck," Hunt admitted as we discussed this. "Epic Experiment effectively takes the place of two or three cards in your hand. It lets you keep hands that the other deck wouldn't be able to. If you have a hand that has nothing but a few Rituals and an Experiment, that's actually a good hand."
Another important thing that the "big spell" nature of Epic Experiment does for the deck is give it a bit more ability to win games from behind.
"Decks that have hand disruption can really slow combo decks like this down," Stoll explained. "Take Jund, for example. If they have a bunch of hand disruption, like Thoughtseize and Liliana of the Veil, you can just draw an Experiment, cast it for like five, and win that game. You can't do that with Ascension."
It's also less vulnerable to decks that pack graveyard hate, which I would not be surprised to find is in the sideboard of literally every deck that was played at the Grand Prix this weekend.
"Traditional Storm decks rely incredibly heavily on Past in Flames to generate their storm count and copies of cards in the graveyard for their Ascension," Hunt said. "They can certainly win with graveyard hate, but it's much more difficult. For us, Past in Flames is an incredibly powerful card, but nowhere near as essential. Epic Experiment itself generates a high storm count. It also fills our hands up with the spells we need to keep going rather than needing to use Past in Flames to make sure we keep going."
Another things they've had going for them is the deceptive nature of the deck. In Game 1, it's really hard to know which version of Storm you are playing against until your opponent starts to go off. As such, many opponents have been making suboptimal decisions, valuing cards differently than they would if they knew which version they were up against.
"I've actually had most of my opponents keeping Abrupt Decay in against me," Hunt told me to illustrate this point. "It kills Electromancer, but it's nowhere near as good as it is against the Ascension decks since it can kill the Ascension."
The decision to play Epic Experiment does have some impact on the cards that are actually being played in the deck, though it isn't like it drastically changes card choices.
"Since our deck is built around Experiment, we're running Peer Through Depths over Desperate Ravings, which a lot of the other Storm decks are running," Stoll explained.
"I'm not even sure that playing Ravings is right if you're the other deck, but it's definitely worse in this deck," Hunt added.
Because of the fact that the deck has to do less finely-tuned sculpting of their hand than the Ascension Storm deck does, this deck is capable of keeping hands that others might not. Unlike Ascension, where you still need your cantrips after you've gotten the enchantment into play, if you have access to an Experiment, all you need is mana and the green light to cast it.
"The hands that are good in the other Storm deck are still good in this one. I would keep a hand with a few cantrips and some lands in either deck," Stoll said.
"Here, though, you're basically a one-card combo deck," Hunt elaborated. "If you have Experiment, you just generate mana, cast it, and it set you up to win the game. If you have a hand with a few Rituals and Experiment, that's not too bad. If you replace Experiment with Ascension, that wouldn't fly."
After watching Stoll coolly calculate his way to victory in his feature match, I was sold. Epic Experiment can do really big things, and it gives you a bit more freedom than Ascension does, but that comes at a cost. As a "one-card combo deck," the deck is a little more vulnerable to counterspells than the Ascension deck is.
"This deck is definitely weaker against counterspells than the other deck is," Hunt explained. "That being said, it's hard to make a deck filled with counterspells work in this format. Right now, you have Merfolk and the UW deck packing a number of counterspells, but that's about it."
Weakness or no, to my eyes, it appears that the Experiment has been a success. At least so far. But experiments are only valid if they're repeatable. Maybe I might have to sleeve this deck up at a future event and see if I can't help lend a little credence to what Stoll and Hunt are preaching.
Chicago Grand Prix - Modern
Sunday, 12:37 a.m. – Playing Combo in the Face of Counterspells
by Nate Price
Every time you have a large card pool, players instinctively search for the most broken, degenerate combos they are allowed to play. In Legacy, you have Show and Tell and Hive Mind, Omniscience, and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. In Vintage, you have Time Vault and Voltaic Key. The faster, more degenerate, and more consistent the combo is, the better.
Modern is no different. Right now, there are multiple decks which deserve the combo tag. First, you have Infect, which combines cheap infect creatures with as many +4/+4 spells as they can to try and kill on turn two or three. you have Second Breakfast, which abuses artifacts Second Sunrise to generate an absurd advantage before cycling through Pyrite Spellbomb enough times to kill an opponent. Finally, you have Storm, which uses a plethora of cheap card drawing and Seething Song-esque mana generators to build up a massive storm count before finishing people off with Grapeshot or Empty the Warrens.
In the history of Magic, the most reliable ways to stop combo decks has been countermagic. The holy trinity of control, combo, and aggro and their "paper/rock/scissors" relationship came to define how we thought of formats keeping themselves in check. Combo decks were fast enough to kill the aggressive decks, which in turn provided threats that were capable of keeping control in check, which used its countermagic to keep combo in check.
Recently in Modern, there has been a rising tide of traditional control decks, most recently culminating in the UW Angels deck that is doing well on Magic Online and just made Top 8 at Grand Prix Lyon. This deck tends to pack a reasonable amount of countermagic, from Cryptic Command to Mana Leak to Spell Pierce. For combo players out there, this trend could spell a big problem.
You see, most combo decks have a point where applying the right amount of disruption can cause them to break. Be it a timely counterspell or two, well applied discard, or permanent measures to counteract what the combo is trying to do (think Leyline of the Void), playing combo against disruption is one of the hardest things to do. This is especially true in the case of countermagic, which is reactive as opposed to proactive. In order to beat countermagic, you have to get them to react to the spells that you want them to react to, and leave the ones you want alone.
Mattias Hunt and Kyle Stoll are playing Epic Experiment Storm here at Grand Prix Chicago. Their deck is a little less resilient against countermagic than the Pyromancer Ascension version most other players are playing. Because of this, they have a bit more to consider when trying to go off against blue mana sources, making them the perfect people to help explain to me what to do if you want to beat blue.
"What you want to do is force them to make the wrong choice about what to counter," Stoll explained. "You have to bait them with cards that you don't care about as much, for us that's cards like Seething Song."
There are a couple of ways to do this. First, Hunt suggested playing your spells in a way that might seem incorrect.
"One thing that you can do to help with this is to sequence your spells in unorthodox ways," he said.
"I had a situation earlier where I was a bit choked on red mana," Stoll offered as an example. "I knew that he had Spell Snare and Remand in his hand, but he wasn't at a point when he could cast both in one turn. I knew that if I could get him to bite on a ritual then I might be able to get the Manamorphose I needed to fix my mana to resolve. So I cast a Desperate Ritual, which he countered with a Spell Snare. On the next turn, I figured I could cast the Manamorphose and wouldn't care too much if it got Remanded since I could just wait one more turn. Unfortunately, he had a second Spell Snare, got to properly counter my Manamorphose, and beat me."
Still the point they made was right. What are you telling your opponent when you cast a Ritual with a Storm deck? You're telling them "I'm ready to go off now." At least that's the way that it will be perceived by them more often than not. Hence, if you have a card that you actually need to improve your situation, you can send a signal that they have to act now with a card that they will read as important, even though it's just a diversion.
Another important thing to take into account is what the composition of counterspells you're facing is, as Hunt explained.
"If he has two different counterspells in his hand, and I can make one irrelevant, I am always going to try to do that. For example, you want to try to bait with Seething Song over Desperate Rituals if you know they have Spell Snare. Spell Pierce works the opposite way."
When you are trying to bait cards out of an opponent's hand, you always want to try to bait out the least restrictive counterspell they have, negating their ability to interact with a larger number of your cards. Sure, in Hunt's example, if you know they have Spell Snare, you want to use a three-drop to try to bait out any Spell Pierces they may have. They'll still have that Snare, but it affects less relevant cards than the Pierce does.
Another thing to remember is how much the value of certain cards in your deck change when the game slows down. For example, lands become much better when you are trying to fight through multiple counterspells or simply find advantages.
"Lands are great against control, so much better than Rituals," Hunt told me.
Stoll elaborated by explaining that, "Rituals are only good once, and only good for a couple of extra mana. Lands are good every turn, and they ultimately generate more mana than a Ritual will. Especially the charge lands."
They also help you in actual confrontations involving counterspells, as Hunt explained.
"Sometimes, you just want to play a mini-combo against control. Like cast a couple of Manamorphoses and then try a Past in Flames. If they counter it, it doesn't matter because you didn't really need to kill them this turn anyway. You can always do it next turn. If they don't, you get to use those cards to draw five cards or so, which they probably can't beat. Past in Flames is really good against control because of this, but it takes a lot of mana."
One final point that Stoll made was the importance of the card drawing spells against discard.
"Card drawing spells are so much better than having the actual card in your hand when you are playing against discard. If they Thoughtseize you when you have the actual card in hand, they get to take it. If they take one cantrip from your hand, you can always just use the other to dig for the card you want later
Round 14 Feature Match - Christian Calcano (Doran) vs. Josh McClain
by Steve Sadin
Christian Calcano had a rough couple of months at the end of the 2011-2012 season that ultimately saw him fall just short of reaching Gold level in the Pro Players Club. But rather than give up after a disappointing end to the season, Calcano decided to redouble his efforts.
Since then, he's had the best stretch of his still young career – winning Grand Prix Minneapolis, and finishing in 25th place at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica. Now Calcano has an invitation to Pro Tour Gatecrash to look forward to, and 22 Pro Points for the season, and is well on his way to reaching Gold (or even Platinum) level in the Pro Players Club.
Calcano's opponent for this round, longtime grinder, and Pro Tour Return to Ravnica competitor, Josh McClain is looking for his first Grand Prix Top 8 – and if he wins this match (and potentially the one after this) then he'll be able to get it.
McClain mulliganed down to five to start the match, and to make matters worse for him Calcano had a first turn Thoughtseize. Calcano chose to take a Kitchen Finks, and left McClain with just two lands, a Restoration Angel, and a Chord of Calling.
While McClain did manage to draw a Birds of Paradise, and the lands that he needed to cast his spells – that ultimately wasn't enough for him to give Calcano any sort of scare.
A pair of Dark Confidants, a Kitchen Finks, a Deathrite Shaman, and a pair of Path to Exiles were more than enough for Calcano to take the first game against the card-starved McClain.
Christian Calcano 1 – Josh McClain 0
The second game started considerably better for McClain as he was able to keep his opening 7, and open on a Birds of Paradise. Calcano's first turn Inquisition of Kozilek revealed that McClain had a hand with a couple of lands, Birthing Pod, Obstinate Baloth, and a Linvala, Keeper of Secrets but no spells cheap enough for Inquisition of Kozilek to take.
Calcano hoped that he could mitigate the effectiveness of his opponent's second turn Birthing Pod by using an Abrupt Decay to take out a Birds of Paradise – but an Eternal Witness just brought it right back a turn later, ensuring that McClain would have more than enough creatures to Birthing Pod with should the game go long.
Calcano, realizing that he didn't have much time to make his move, played a Doran, the Siege Tower then followed it up a turn later with a Tarmogoyf, and a Path to Exile that took out McClain's Murderous Redcap. But before Calcano could pull ahead too far, McClain played an Obstinate Baloth, and used Birthing Pod to upgrade it into a Sigarda, Host of Herons.
Undeterred by the 5/5 angel, Calcano attacked with his 4/5 Tarmogoyf, and his Doran, the Siege Tower. McClain thought for a little while, and opted not to block (he explained after the match that he was concerned that Calcano had Zealous Persecution in his hand) and fell from 13 down to a lowly 3.
Thoughtseize took out a Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, and another Tarmogoyf put McClain very much under the gun.
Birthing Pod turned a Birds of Paradise into a Spellskite, and an Obstinate Baloth put McClain back up to 7 life – but these plays served only to buy McClain a bit of time.
Calcano attacked with his two Tarmogoyrfs, and his Doran, the Siege Tower – McClain put his Sigarda, Host of Herons in front of a 4/5 Tarmogoyf, and chump blocked with his Spellskite – ultimately falling to 2.
Loxodon Smiter, and a Deathrite Shaman were enough for Calcano to seal the match, and advance to 12-2 – putting himself within one match win of earning his second Grand Prix Top 8 of the season.
Christian Calcano 2 – Josh McClain 0
Deck Tech - Gifts Control with Shane McDermott
by Nate Price
Gifts Ungiven is one of the hardest cards in the history of Magic to play correctly. Despite this fact, the sheer power and potential of it has caused players to continue to search for homes for it in any format they could.
Shane McDermott came to my attention midway through Saturday, as I wandered the top tables to take notes on archetypes. I saw that he had blue, green, and black mana sources in play, but it wasn't immediately clear to me what he was playing. I saw a Deathrite Shaman in play (which was a big thumbs up), a Raven's Crime and Life from the Loam in his graveyard (I could get behind that), and a Liliana of the Veil in his hand. Whatever it was, I was intrigued.
And then he cast Gifts Ungiven. What would he get? How would his opponent split them? Imagine my surprise when he grabbed two cards rather than four and put them straight into his graveyard. Based on what I had seen from his deck so far, I didn't expect a Gifts Ungiven for Unburial Rites and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. Apparently neither did his opponent, as a look of dread came over his face as he looked over his army of soon-to-be-dead Robots.
When I saw that McDermott was continuing to do well as the day went on, I made a note to make sure that I learned a bit about his deck. After all, you can play so many decks in Modern, I was curious why he chose to play this one.
"The big thing is that I built this back before Grand Prix Lincoln, and I have been playing it since then. I felt comfortable," he explained. I respected this answer a lot since it is constant advice from the top-level players that in a wide-open field, the most important thing is playing a deck that works for you.
Curious about exactly how his deck worked for him, I had McDermott break things down a little bit for me.
"Ultimately, it's a Gifts Ungiven deck, and that's by far the most important card. Against combo decks, you get to Gifts for Iona, Shield of Emeria, and Unburial Rites. Against control decks, you get Life from the Loam and Raven's Crime. Against aggro decks you get Elesh Norn. You have all of these packages that you can get depending on the situation, so you should be prepared for anything."
Not every deck can be prepared for everything, not even Jund. There are definitely a couple of chinks in the armor of McDermott's deck, and they reminded me some of the ones in Jund's armor.
"My mana can be kind of a problem. I have Deathrite Shaman and plenty of dual lands, but cards that mess with my mana really hurt me. Spreading Seas, Blood Moon, stuff like that."
One of the disadvantages of playing a versatile deck like this is the fact that you often have to reach on the mana in order to have all of the cards you need. This is the same issue that Jund has, and the two decks share another common bond. They are essentially resource denial decks at their hearts.
"I've won most of my matches this weekend with my opponent at zero cards in hand, or with very few lands after I lock them down with Tectonic Edge and Life from the Loam."
His deck does have some matchups that prove problematic, though they obviously didn't scare McDermott away.
"Jund isn't the best matchup, but it only slightly favors them. It really depends if they have the non-basic land hate in their sideboards, like Fulminator Mage. It can't beat Merfolk. They have so many Lords that they can usually power through. Lingering Souls is worse against them, too. I have Islands, so their Lord of Atlantis lets them go around the Spirits. My deck is much better at dealing with individual threats than swarms of creatures, so Merfolk presents a challenge."
His deck's reliance on the graveyard has provided enemies a method of attacking his deck, but the power of Gifts Ungiven often allows him to skirt the issue. I saw him beat a turn-two Rest in Peace from an aggressive deck, a testament to his deck's ability to cope with the hate.
"Deathrite Shaman is such a good card for this deck. It lets me cast second-turn Lilianas and third-turn Gifts. I've killed people from 20 with it after locking the game up. But it's also absolutely stellar against me. I do have ways of dealing with the ways most decks use to beat me, like Blood Moon and Rest in Peace. Against those decks, I get to use Gifts Ungiven to fetch Crime//Punishment, Golgari Charm, Abrupt Decay, Maelstrom Pulse, or Snapcaster Mage. I've actually got another Abrupt Decay in my sideboard that probably should have been in my main. I've brought it in virtually every round."
He had a couple other comments on decisions he made coming into this tournament that players looking to pick this deck up should consider.
"I had a Damnation in my maindeck because Robots is still such a popular deck. I suppose I would consider replacing it with the last Abrupt Decay. I have Vault of the archangels in my deck, but my friends don't think I should have. Still, it's incredibly good with Lingering Souls. It does put a strain on my mana, though. Also, I made the change to Mana Leaks in the main deck over discard last minute, and I'm glad I did. This deck is really good at stripping opponents of cards as it is, and I'd much rather be able to stop a lucky topdeck since that is the case. Considering I can keep people land-locked with Life from the Loam and Tectonic Edge, Mana Leak isn't bad very often in this deck."
For anyone looking for a fresh alternative to Jund, this really seems like a great option. It has the same grindy nature that makes Jund so good, but the Gifts Ungiven gives it a more consistent wild card potential than Bloodbraid Elf. Just be careful! Gifts really is a difficult card to play correctly, so it might not be
Chicago Grand Prix - Modern