Modern Decklists: Last-Chance Trials
by Marc Calderaro
Kane Lee - Gruul Zoo
Grand Prix San Diego Last-Chance Trials - Modern
Scott Gerhardt - 4c Zoo
Grand Prix San Diego Last-Chance Trials - Modern
Benjamin Battle - UWR Control
Grand Prix San Diego Last-Chance Trials - Modern
Marshall Gibson - Robots
Grand Prix San Diego Last-Chance Trials - Modern
Donny Jones - Scapeshift
Grand Prix San Diego Last-Chance Trials - Modern
Mark Schmit - Robots
Grand Prix San Diego Last-Chance Trials - Modern
Round Four Feature Match - Josh Ravitz vs. Patrick Sullivan
by Nate Price
It's time to kick it old school with the first text feature match of the weekend. Josh Ravitz and Patrick Sullivan have known each other for quite some time as members of the old guard of East Coast Magic. Ravitz has been playing Magic since the days of the Junior Super Series, which is an incredibly long time for those of you who have only been playing since the digital age. In his many years of play, Ravitz has played more than his fair shar of matches against Patrick Sullivan, who relocated out here to California from his native New Jersey to move into game design. Sullivan is famous for his utter devotion to the almighty Mountain, taking decks that many players feel require very little skill to play and ekeing out wins in situations where lesser men would have failed. He owns fire.
"Ha HA! I'll go first," Sullivan erupted, beating Ravitz's already high die roll by one.
In addition to sharing many of their formative Magic years together, Ravitz and Sullivan also appeared to share similar approaches to killing opponents in Modern. Sullivan started on the play, but it was Ravitz who hit home first, landing a first-turn Goblin Guide and attacking. Sullivan flipped over the top of his deck, drawing a chuckle from Ravitz as the card was revealed.
"Molten Rain, eh? That's an...interesting card to see in the main deck," Ravitz ribbed Sullivan.
"Hey man," Sullivan laughed. "You gotta choose your matchups."
Ravitz nodded in semi-agreement and passed the turn with a smile on his face. Sullivan removed the Guide with a Burst Lightning, returning Ravitz to an empty board, before adding a Goblin Guide of his own to the table. Ravitz used a Burning-Tree Emissary to make a Seal of Fire, killing the Guide and passing the turn. When Sullivan made another Guide and chose not to attack, Ravitz started to joke around with him.
"Defense mode," Ravitz laughed.
"Hey, screw you man," Sullivan laughed right back.
Ravitz just attacked with the Emissary, which Sullivan blocked. Sullivan's draw was light on threats, drawing a load of lands. Fortunately, Ravitz kept providing him with threats that were reasonably easy to deal with considering his hand. Two consecutive Vexing Devils reduced Sullivan to 9. Sullivan took advantage of the clear path to land another Goblin Guide, attacking Ravitz to 13. He suspended a Rift Bolt and passed the turn. Ravitz flipped a Guide of his own onto the table, attacking for two. When Ravitz made another Guide on his turn and attacked, Sullivan dropped to 7.
Rift Bolt came down and left Sullivan with a choice. He had Ravitz to 13, but was at a precarious 7 himself. He chose to fire the Bolt at the Goblin Guide rather than Ravitz's head. Another attack dropped Ravitz to 11 and revealed an Experiment One on top of his deck. After combat, another Rift Bolt showed why there was such thought during his upkeep.
Ravitz was down to one card in hand, his draw giving him a second to match Sullivan's two. When he played an Experiment One after so blantantly washing one away on the previous turn, it became curious whether or not he had drawn it or simply realized that a second copy did him no good. He followed that up with a Burning-Tree Emissary on the next turn, using the mana to make a Lightning Bolt, killing Sullivan's blocker. When he attacked, Sullivan used a Lightning Bolt to kill off the Ooze, keeping himself from taking damage.
Ravitz attacked for two on his next turn, dropping Sullivan to 1. Sullivan made things interesting with an end-of-turn Burst Lightning, kicking it to drop Ravitz to 3.
"We've got some draws," he laughed as he rubbed his hands together in eager anticipation. "You know what would not be a good draw right now? Molten Rain."
Both players got a good laugh out of that as Sullivan peeled his top card and placed it face-down on the table. He let a little chuckle escape as he slowly rolled it over to reveal why you never say "you know what wouldn't be a good draw here" right before drawing your last card. It was the Molten Rain. He just smiled and killed a land, dying on the immediate crack back.
Josh Ravitz 1 - Patrick Sullivan 0
Sullivan got on the offensive early this game, his Goblin Guide revealing a Burning-Tree Emissary on top of Ravitz's deck. Ravitz had a Goblin Guide of his own, leaving it home to defend. Sullivan sent it packing with a Burst Lightning, clearing the way for his Guide to reveal a Ghor-Clan Rampager atop Ravitz's deck. On his turn, Ravitz played a Kird Ape, currently a 1/1 thanks to his only land being a Copperline Gorge.
Sullivan attacked. Ravitz finally got to draw a card, putting a Scalding Tarn into his hand, though he dropped to 14 in the process. When he sacrificed the Tarn to grab a Stomping Ground, Sullivan just nodded his hand and asked, "How many?"
Ravitz laughed, "Well I get to play three guys this turn..."
Those three creatures were a pair of Burning-Tree Emissaries and a Vexing Devil, which Sullivan immediately dropped to 14 to kill. On his turn, Sullivan ran his Guide right into Ravitz's team, revelaing another Vexing Devil waiting in the wings. Ravitz decided to block the Guide with the Ape, allowing Sullivan to use a pair of Burst Lightnings to pare away the board, leaving Ravitz with a lone Emissary. After combat, Sullivan added a Grim Lavamancer to his team. With Ravitz so low, the Lavamancer provided a real, dangerous threat. Ravitz immediately killed it with a Flame Slash, celaring the way for his Emissary to attack Sullivan. After combat, a Vexing Devil lived up to its name, causing Sullivan to think for a while before deciding to take the damage.
He had Ravitz down to 3, and all he needed was one of his many Lightning Bolt-type spells or a black source to kill Ravitz with the Bump in the Night in his hand. In a cruel twist of fate, he drew a Blackcleave Cliffs for his turn, adding a tapped black source to his side. He would need to survive one more turn to be able to untap and kill Ravitz, taking this match to a third game.
Ravitz had other plans, however. He sent in his Emissary into Sullivan's open board, bloodrushed a Ghor-Clan Rampager that Sullivan knew he had in his hand to make it a six-powered creature, and then finished things off with a simple Lightning Bolt. Half of Sullivan's life total evaporated in one turn, more than enough to seal the match.
Josh Ravitz 2 - Patrick Sullivan 0
Saturday, 4:02 p.m. – Cards to Watch in Modern: Part 1
by Nate Price
Modern is a pretty sweet format. It is ridiculously open, with no clear "best deck". Players can build decks around their favorite cards, ones that may have rotated out of Standard. The enormous card pool of the format allows players to find little interactions and combinations of cards that didn't exist simultaneously in Standard, giving the format a splash of uniqueness and creativity. It's easier to get into than Legacy, but offers a similar feeling of power, a feeling that you're doing something unfair, which is always a bunch of fun. I guess that's it: Modern is a fun format.
Still, every format has its detractors. One of the most common complaints about Modern is the fact that many of the decks feel the same. This is an interesting argument considering the fact that there are so many options in Modern. Really, the argument breaks down to the fact that many of the decks in the format are trying to accomplish their goals in the same way, though using different cards.
In a format filled with some incredibly powerful cards, it is only reasonable that the cores of many of the decks would be the same. Standard is no different. There are multiple decks that abuse powerful interactions like Thragtusk/Restoration Angel, Sphinx's Revelation/Snapcaster Mage, or Falkenrath Aristocrat/four lands. Even as open as Standard is right now, there are still a number of decks that feel the same to play against. In Modern, there are effectively four different classes of deck. There are the decks that win through large, efficient creatures like traditional Jund and Tron decks. There are decks that blitz opponents down through a diffuse sea of creatures, like Robots and Gruul Zoo. There are the control decks of the format, most of which are virutally creatureless like UWR Control, relying on disruption, permission, and recursion to win their games. And there are the multitude of combo decks Modern has to offer, each of which tries to win games by assembling a Voltron of parts before killing opponents in one fell swoop.
These categories are fairly simplified, but they roughly encompass the main things that decks are trying to do in Modern. Cards that are capable of interfering with multiple of these strategies have the potential to be very powerful in Modern, and we have seen the rise in importance and respect of a number of these cards over the past couple of months. Here are a few of the cards that I am most interested in following over the course of the weekend:
It is no surprise that Liliana of the Veil is a good card. She has been a mainstay of Standard and Modern since her printing. Despite always being around and possessing obvious power, she has often been overshadowed by other, flashier cards in the decks that best abused her. Jund ruled Modern for over a year, and she was (not so) arguably the best card in the deck, but cards like Bloodbraid Elf, Deathrite Shaman, and Tarmogoyf overshadowed her in people's minds as the face of Jund.
Look at her abilities in the context of the four deck types. Her discard ability is a very powerful form of disruption against both the control decks and the combo decks. Her Cruel Edict ability is very strong against the decks with concentrated threats. The only real weakness she has is against the decks with diffuse threats, but she is so well supported by Lightning Bolt, Abrupt Decay, and the like that she is often able to use both of those abilities to lock up the aggressive decks after clearing away their initial salvo.
Possibly her best feature is her mana cost. Three mana is not a very large amount to pay, especially for a spell as potentially powerful as she is. She is almost guaranteed a two-for-one, which is devastating in a format with as much concentrated power as Modern. Considering the large amount of press that Primeval Titan-based decks and UWR decks have been getting recently, I expect great things from Liliana. Jund has proven that it is capable of thriving after the targeted ban of Bloodbraid Elf, and I expect that she will prove to be a major reason why.
Still, not everyone is as hopeful of Liliana's future. Pro Tour Gatecrash winner Tom Martell was fairly skeptical of her strength in the current picture of the format.
"Too many of the aggressive decks are swarming, blitz-style decks," he explained. "Edict effects are at the worst they've been in a while, so Liliana isn't nearly as strong as she has been in the past right now. It's hard ot pick a best card in Modern right now, since the format is so open, but I've heard people saying things like Deathrite Shaman and Lightning Bolt. Lightning Bolt is really good right now."
With the addition of Burning-Tree Emissary to the format creating a new wave of aggressive, swarming decks, Martell may be proven right.
Another planeswalker is on the rise in Modern right now, and he is a little more of a surprise to see on this list than the previous one. Ajani Vengeant was a card that saw a reasonable amount of play in his Standard environment, but was never truly an all-star the way that Liliana was.
His abilities are very powerful, and versatile enough to make a big impact in this format. His +1 ability allows a player to lock down one permanent over consecutive turns, useful against Urza's lands, four-color decks, and decks with singular threats. His Lightning Helix ability is useful against the mulit-threat aggressive decks, able to both kill creatures and gain precious points of life. If he hits play early enough, usually via a Deathrite Shaman, he can reliably fill up to his ultimate, decimating decks like Tron, UWR Control, and Scapeshift.
While he is most frequently found in small numbers in UWR Control decks, he has been spotted around this event popping up in four-color Jund lists. This is an interesting new development, as the Jund shell is designed to do nothing but disrupt opponents' strategies from turn one on. This shell makes it fairly easy to protect planeswalkers like Liliana and Ajani, which compound the disruption upon hitting play.
"Ben Stark really liked the card in UWR," Luis Scott-Vargas explained to me. "He joked one day, 'why don't we just put it into Jund.' And then we added it to Jund. Do you like A-Jund-i or Ajan-stice better?"
As for the strengths of the card, LSV went on to detail how the card fits into the rest of the Jund deck.
"The deck is very light on things to do at four mana now that Bloodbraid Elf is gone, so it fits the bill in that regard. It also does a great deal to control people with its first ability, especially when you can use it in conjunction with Liliana of the Veil. Even against the aggresive decks, getting to Lightning Helix one thing and soak up some damage is often good enough to make it a good card."
LSV agreed that one of the hallmarks of a good card in Modern is the ability to interfere with as many decks as possible.
"Modern is very wide open, so it's hard to be prepared for everything Ajani's abilities are useful in almost every matchup, so it's rare that you're unhappy to see him."
It is very funny to me that the basic shell of a deck that is playable on is a viable deck in the power-packed Modern metagame. Cards like Martyr of Sands and Soul Warden combine with Ajani's Pridemate and Serra Ascendant to create massive monsters capable of winning the game in very short order. Unfortunately, this deck has been just shy of the power curve of Modern, keeping it from seeing play.
Things changed with the release of Gatecrash and a little card called Vizkopa Guildmage. This has allowed for a new sort of aggro/combo deck, capable of winning through damage over a couple of turns or simply ending it with one big slice. The key lies in the interactions of the two branches of the deck with its lynchpin: Martyr of Sands. The Martyr can be used to turn a Serra Ascendant on immediately, turning it into a 6/6 powerhouse that easily outclasses theother creatures on the board.
Supplementing this in the new, more viable version of the deck is the Vizkopa Guildmage's second ability, which turns your lifegain into your opponent's life loss. This can serve to double the damage an Ascendant deals, as well as offering a potential immediate kill when combined with the Martyr and a hand full of cards. The addition of the Guildmage takes turns off of the clock, making the deck suddenly able to compete against the speedy combo decks of Modern. The single-punch power of the Martyr/Guildmage is essential in matchups like Tron, Scapeshift, and Eggs.
"I'm not sure what else there is to say. It's awesome." Jackie Lee gushed with praise for the new Gatecrash addition. "I didn't really like the original versions of this deck, the ones that were running Ajani's Pridemate and the like. If that was all you had to do with your lifegain, I wasn't interested. The Guildmage lets you use your lifegain to your advantage and actually clock your opponents. Against combo decks, which tended to be too fast to deal with, you actually have the speed advantage against them with the Guildmage, especially the combo decks that don't want to interact with you. You have to be careful, though. Most of the time, I don't even want to play it until I can activate it on the same turn and get some use out of it. The only time I really am interested in dropping it into play early is against decks I know don't have a way to deal with it early, like Eggs."
Lee was also happy with the lifegain theme of her deck given the way that the format has seemingly shaped up. With the aggressive decks tending towards speedier, less substantial individual threats, the lifegain gives the deck the ability to survive while the other parts of the deck begin to take over.
Round Five Feature Match: Josh Ravitz vs. Luis Scott-Vargas
by Marc Calderaro
Here is the first time to really showcase the 4c Jund build that many of the Pros here are playing. And Josh Ravitz is piloting a perfect deck to test-drive how this slower Jund variant fares against some of the format’s strong aggression. Ravitz’s Gruul deck, showing off Gatecrash’s shiny new Ghor-Clan Ravager and Experiment One, is an unforgiving, smashing, stomping force of repeated blunt instruments to the torso. Borborygmos is be proud.
One of the main reasons Scott-Vargas decided to add the White to Jund was the great sideboard options. And though Game One can be tough, Timely Reinforcements can be a bitter pill for a deck trying to race Jund to 20.
Scott-Vargas got there with the all-important die roll and led with a Godless Shrine into Thoughtseize. This move caused Ravitz to smile. Though he lost a Kird Ape from his hand of Scalding Tarn, Stomping Ground, Copperline Gorge, Mountain, Kird Ape, Kird Ape, and Vexing Devil, all Scott-Vargas really did was turn a Kird Ape into a Vexing Devil, and even at the cost of a card. This was still a win for him. It was 20-16 and Ravitz had yet to play a card.
After that salvo, it was all the beatdown deck. The second Kird Ape came down and was answered with a Deathrite Shaman. Ravitz didn’t blink and cast a Vexing Devil that went to the graveyard hitting for 4, and a Lightning Bolt that took out the Shaman, letting the Ape tussle in there to Scott-Vargas’s sternum. It was 18-10 and it was the end of the second turn.
The next turn Kird Ape attacked and a 4/5 Tarmogoyf hit the field. Though the six power in creatures didn’t literally represent lethal damage, after his next untap, Ravitz flashed the Lightning Bolt in his hand and Scott-Vargas’s remaining life exited stage left.
Josh Ravitz 1 – 0 Luis Scott-Vargas
Josh Ravitz’s first-turn Experiment One was Bolted down before he ever grew up. He was never able to stay out all night as a 2/2 adolescent—never experienced true love for the first time as a burgeoning 3/3—never got to watch his daughter graduate college as a 4/4. And it was all Scott-Vargas’s fault. The five-time Pro Tour Top-8’er’s Tarmogoyf started life as a larger 3/4 and stared down Ravitz’s second-turn plays of Experiment One, then Goblin Guide—both 2/2s. The next turn, Kird Ape used his bigger butt to make a 3/3 green attacker (and true-love experiencer). Experiment One glided past the Tarmogoyf, who declined to block, and after fetchlands, Scott-Vargas was down to 15, trailing Ravitz by one.
Scott-Vargas surveyed the table on his fourth turn, staring down Experiment One, Kird Ape, and two Goblin Guides. His sideboard shined as he cast a Timely Reinforcements. The life totals went to 16-21 and three chump blockers jumped onto the field. But would this be enough to turn the tables?
On the next turn, 1/1 Soldiers triple-blocked a Goblin Guide, Ghor-Clan Ravager teamed up with Experiment One to take down the Tarmogoyf, and Seal of Fire came onto the battlefield. As Ravitz was able to follow-up attack on his next turn, Scott-Vargas’s life total, having gone up to 21, in two turns dropped to 8. Ravitz confidently paid four life to Dismember a Deathrite Shaman and passed the turn with three creatures and the Seal of Fire awaiting instructions.
Scott-Vargas wasn’t doing anything because he kept hitting land. Though he was darwing extras from the Goblin Guide, they weren’t as helpful as, you know, not lands. Even Stirring Wildwood, doing its best “not-land” impression didn’t cut the mustard. The Seal of Fire said “3/4 Reach” translated into “I will trade with one 2/2 dork for three mana.”
Though he had the powerful deck behind him, Scott-Vargas ran into a big, fast monster of a deck that had drawn quite well. He was dead the next turn.
Josh Ravitz 2 – 0 Luis Scott-Vargas
Not a great showcase for the 4c Jund, but a great example of the variety in the format. I bet you in 5 out of 10 games, Scott-Vargas’s deck goes toe-to-toe with Gruul. But variance is as variance does. Scott-Vargas sinks to 4-1, and Josh Ravitz up to 5-0.
Saturday, 4:46 p.m.: Adapt or Die – An Abundance of Jund
by Marc Calderaro
As this is the first Grand Prix since the most recent Modern bannings, it will give a good indication of what shake-ups occurred. The disappearance of Seething Song has ham-strung Storm, and Bloodbraid Elf’s exit has mixed up Jund. Though it’s safe to say Storm will be unlikely to make the top tables without its Dark Ritual impersonator, Jund is a bit different. Though Bloodbraid Elf helped the deck go “over the top,” as Sylvester Stallone would say, Jund is clearly still a player. In fact, many pundits say Jund might still be the best deck in format. But which version? Since the Elves’ exeunt, Jund players have factioned off, all vying for the Disruptive Aggro crown. And most of them are out in force today.
The four main Jund variants, as we see it, are Traditional, Aggro, 4c, and BUG. Each with different strengths and weaknesses, and different proponents. The common ground among all four is their varied successes, proving that Jund’s position out of the bannings is more stable than Storm’s. Truthfully, Liliana of the Veil is still one of the best cards in the format (even though she’s arguably at her worst yet), and the deck using her the most efficiently and effectively will have a place in this format. I believe that deck is still Jund. And with Tarmogoyf, Deathrite Shaman and back-up, what more do you need? There are at least a few of each version out in force today, and make sure to check out Ari Lax’s article this week which dissects many of these Jund variants giving a good primer on the archetype and sub-archetypes.
Traditional Jund’s viability was the first argument after February 1st (the effective date of the ban). The articles quickly surfaced saying, “simply replace Bloodbraid Elf with [Olivia Voldaren, Falkenrath Aristocrat, Huntmaster of the Fells, etc.] and you’re good to go.” Each alternate four-drop provided good support for different match-ups, while competently filling the Elven role. For a while, the only question was what numbers were right in which metagame. This argument held sway and Neo-Traditional Jund finished in PTQ Top 8s within weeks of the Elves passing away. There were some haters about the deck’s viability, but because everyone already had the Jund shell built, why not just switch a few cards and see what happened? Traditional Jund has the distinct ability to destroy the decks it destroys, then go about 50% with everything else. In a world of variance, those stats seem good enough. However, in the world of the Pros, you really want a little different edge to get you there. Everyone knows where this Jund is coming from, being so predictable can be a bit of a liability. I scoured the tables and couldn’t find one big-name Pro slinging this ultra-traditional build. It seemed that the Pros have moved on. Though not necessarily off of Jund as a whole, but certainly the traditional style. As Matt Costa said to me, “All the critics who said the bannings wouldn’t do anything have really quieted down.”
With the release of Gatecrash, another card entered the four-drop discussion, which unintentionally kick-started the Aggro Jund archetype. Ghor-Clan Ravager hit like a ton of bricks. Though he began as a four-drop replacement possibility in Traditional Jund, Carlos Pal won a daily event pairing the 4/4 bloodrushing beast with more aggressively costed Jund creatures, instead of the usual midrangers. Bloodhall Ooze, Putrid Leech and Blightning got the nod, making the deck look at little more like the Standard or Block Constructed Jund of yore. Blightning seems slow (especially now when you actually pay for it), but is poised to potentially become a bigger part of this format.
Admittedly the faster cards in Aggro Jund are overall less powerful than the big, dumpy mid-range beasts usually found populating the Black-Red-Green list. But the deck maintains a significant amount of disruption—just enough to keep combo and other aggro decks a few turns off their games, while the one- and two-drops grow out of Lightning Bolt range. This deck keeps putting up good results, and seems to be the deck of choice on the PTQ circuit. There’s still a lot of criticism lobbied towards it from the Pro community, but much of it is admittedly without testing.
“I actually don’t really know if it’s any good,” Eric Froehlich said. “I just know it’s not even on my radar of what I want to be doing....Let me said it this way: I’ve been playing with a lot of decks, and I haven’t even played with that one.”
This has been echoed by most of the Pros I talked to. As the rise of UWR brought Lightning Bolt, Lightning Helix, and Electrolyze’s presence in just about every deck that can stand it, smaller creatures just don’t seem good enough. When I asked Luis Scott-Vargas about the deck, he just gave a little chuckle and shrugged off the question.
Why such Pro hate of this version of Jund? Possibly because about 8-10 players today are on a version on the other side of the Jund coin. They are playing a slower, four-color variant. Adding White potentially gives Lingering Souls, Path to Exile, and even Gavony Township (the Melira Pod–standout). And the sideboard additions are the real treat, with Stony Silence, Aven Mindcensor and Linvala, Keeper of Silence if you’re crazy. These versions are slower, but up the inevitability of the deck while still reaming proactive. The answers are bigger and better, and the sideboard shores up some weaker match-ups (Eggs, in particular). Though many players here have chosen the Junk route for a more consistent mana base, the four-color combination gets both Junk and Jund into one package, taking the best from both. Perhaps we should call it Junk’d.
As various players told me, the important part is to get the package of Dark Confidant, Deathrite Shaman, Tarmogoyf, and Liliana of the Veil. Where you go from there is just gravy. And from watching both Owen Turtenwald and Tom Martell pilot a certain underused Planeswalker who shall remain nameless to smooth victories, I’d say it’s pretty good gravy. When I asked Martell why this version, he said, “All that Bloodhall Ooze nonsense just isn’t where I want to be. And the white sideboard options are just the nuts.”
In fact, though he was unsure, Martell wanted to see a little more White in the board, suggesting to swap Thundermaw Hellkite with Baneslayer Angel. “That would make the deck look more like Junk splashing Bolt, rather than Jund splashing Path.” Of course, when Froelich got wind of this BoltJunk idea, his reflex response was, “That sounds terrible.” After a second he said, “Maybe if there were a Blackcleave Cliffs–type card for Black and White, but otherwise, no thanks.” It’s funny to think that there’s a certain level of greedy that is extremely acceptable and quite encouraged, but once you cross that line, you’ll be immediately thrown under the bus.
Humorously, the joke being tossed around was when is Jund just going to add the fifth color. Though it’s unlikely that such a move would be positive, or if the concoction would still be anything resembling “Jund” but at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it. Blue has some great offerings, and with the addition of the last five Shocklands to the pool of fetch-able lands, they seem ripe for the picking.
A deck that already showcases the color is the Jund-like BUG, which is basically Jund with counters and a couple flyers instead of Bolts and couple Oozes. An issue is, as Ari Lax points out in his article, the blue cards you really want to play are quite blue: Jace Beleren, Vendilion Clique, Cryptic Command, etc. So you’re left in a weird spot where you get to play good blue cards, but not the best ones. But who knows? With a little jostling, BUG might just give the tempo variation Jund-y decks need to squeeze to the top.
The survival and continued evolution of Jund is a sign of the format itself. The deck possibilities are still so wide open, that the best deck choice is likely a Swiss army knife of a deck that’s proactive, but still floats somewhere in the middle of the pack. A scan of the top twenty tables in Round 4 revealed at least sixteen distinct archetypes (more depending on how minutely you want to parse). So in such a broad field, big dudes that attack while sorceries rip hands apart is, if not the exact correct choice, certainly close enough.
The banning of Bloodbraid Elf, even if it didn’t dethrone Jund from its tenuous perch as king of the Modern hill, it’s caused such a fractured evolution that the format is much better for it. And as Matt Costa said, you no longer don’t hear too many people saying that Bloodbraid Elf hasn’t changed the format.
Saturday, 5:58 p.m. – Bzzt!
by Nate Price
"I don't know what the best card in Modern is. It's really hard to because of how big the format is. Lost of people have been saying either Deathrite Shaman or Lightning Bolt, though..."
~ Tom Martell
"I'd say the best cards in Modern are Lightning Bolt and Tarmogoyf."
~ Reid Duke
"The best card in Modern? It has to be one of the one-drops with insane reach, like Deathrite Shaman, Thoughtseize, or Lightning Bolt. They form the foundation of the format."
~ Drew Levin
"Lightning Bolt is probably the best card in the format..."
~ Patrick Sullivan
Virtually every person I asked about the best cards in Modern gave me the same answer (except for Gerry Thompson who said "Screw that, it's Timely Reinforcements."), and their answer included Lightning Bolt.
Lightning Bolt is about as simple a card as they come. It deals three damage to any target for one mana at instant speed. Simple, and brutally efficient. It is a testament to the simplicity of the design of the card that it has survived from its original printing in Alpha to be a major player in the Standard format. It is a testament to its power level and versatility that it considered one of the best cards in the very powerful Modern card pool.
While Lightning Bolt has always been a very good card in Modern, it is possibly the best it has ever been due to some recent developments within the format. With the release of Burning-Tree Emissary, a new wave of aggressive decks has entered the fray. This has given Lightning Bolt both a new set of very important targets, but a new home as well.
In order to get a better grip on why Lightning Bolt is so powerful right now, I talked to a man who has probably cast more Lightning Bolts than any other man alive: the red mage himself, Patrick Sullivan.
It is very likely that Sullivan actually cast an Alpha Lightning Bolt back when they were the only versions around. A member of the old East Coast, New Jersey/New York/Boston school of Magic that brought us YMG, our own Brian David-Marshall, and Jon Finkel himself, Sullivan has been playing with fire since the very beginning. A staunch defender of the skill in playing monored, Sullivan is famous for taking Mountains into formats that shouldn't be very hospitable, and turning them into winning cards. Who better to enlighten me about Lightning Bolt than him?
He and I had spoken briefly prior to the event about how good Lightning Bolt could be in the new Modern, and it had everything to do with the changes in the format.
"There are so many good targets for it now," he explained. "With the Blitz decks taking over, Deathrite Shaman popping up everywhere, and the shift away from big mosters, Lightning Bolt is exactly what you want."
Part of the reason it's so good, he acknowledged, is because of the other perceived "best cards of Modern". Deathrite Shaman is another card in contention to be the best deck in the format, and Lightning Bolt kills it immediately. Thoughtseize is another that gets mentioned in the top cards discussion, and it hits its caster for two, making Lightning Bolt that much more lethal. Even this rush to have perfect mana to play all of the powerful spells goes a long way towards making Lightning Bolt better. Players start at less than 15 life on average, which makes things perfect for an aggressive deck backed by Lightning Bolt.
In addition to its strength against the other big cards in the format, Lightning Bolt is bolstered by the fact that it is virtually never a dead card.
"Lightning Bolt is never a bad call," he explained to me. "It's a great way for the attacking decks to close things out against the control decks. It's great in those same control decks to slow down the aggressive decks. Lightning Bolt is the only card I can think of that you never come away thinking, 'if only I'd drawn less of these'."
Taking a look around the room, it's like looking at a bunch of lightning rods. Burning-Tree Emissary and Goblin Guide are everywhere.
There are a reasonably large number of Deathrite Shaman spread over various Jund and BUG decks.
There are a respectable number of Pod deck that want to try to keep creatures around to sacrifice and set up their combos.
Everywhere you look, there are situations that are set up for Lightning Bolt to take advantage. As complex and diverse as this format is, in the end, the key to doing well really does appear to be, well, simple.
Saturday, 6:36 p.m. – Deck Tech: Aggro Loam with Gaudenis Vidugiris
by Marc Calderaro
There was this odd moment in 2009 when everyone was talking about Gaudenis Vidugiris—a rising Midwestern player, Lithuanian by birth (he often represents the Lithuanian national team)—but all he had accomplished on paper was losing to Jelger Wiegersma in the finals of Grand Prix Indianapolis 2008. Then it just started up, and Gau finished in the Top 8 twice in 2009 before taking his first Grand Prix down in Tampa near the end of the year. Then in both 2011 and 2012, he won a Grand Prix and finished in the Top 8 of a Pro Tour. Since that time in 2009, everyone who’d already expected Gau to take down a Grand Prix, breathed a sigh of relief that he would finally be talked about in the canon of top active players.
But way before that—way back in PTQ season for Pro Tour Yokohama—Gaudenis loved Life from the Loam decks. He qualified for his first Pro Tour with a version in Extended right after people realized you didn’t need Solitary Confinement to win. “Man, that deck was just packed with, like, Terravores, and Burning Wishes; it was so good.” Gaudenis had a sly smile on his face when thinking about that night. “The finals lasted until 2 AM, and my match with Owen [Turtenwald in the semifinals] lasted forever.”
Ever since that competition, from time to time Vidugiris takes out some Loam variant and tries to make it work. But most often it ends with him saying, “Yep, I know why this isn’t Tier 1,” and puts it back on the shelf. “But right now, graveyard hate is at an all-time low, and midrange is at an all-time high.” So Gau found a couple lists online, started comparing and tweaking, then was off to the races.
For those unfamiliar, there are plenty of decks that play Life from the Loam for various reasons—Gifts Ungiven decks looking to dredge, 42-land in Legacy looking to draw cards, etc.. But Aggro Loam specifically pairs the Ravnica Sorcery with a fairly obscure enchantment, Seismic Assault. The two are a gross little pair that makes Grove of the Burnwillows–Punishing Fire seem cute. Once the engine is online, the deck is a machine gun, mowing down every creature it needs to before turning the crosshairs to the opponent’s head. Each draw step, instead of yielding the top of the library, nets a Life from the Loam and three more cards in the bin. Life gets three lands inevitably sitting in the graveyard and can be converted into 6 damage per turn. Then rinse, and repeat.
Right now Vidugiris is 6-0, and looking to make it one more, and his list is quite different than some others floating around. Rather than highlight card inclusions, his deck is more remarkable for its exclusions—no Tarmogoyf, no Dark Confidant. The deck is basically creature-less. “Since everything is midrange and has removal, I’d rather blank it all.” In fact, even the creature seemingly invented for Aggro Loam, Bloodghast, often gets boarded out.
Gaudenis laments that Bloodghast is often unnecessary because it’s not needed to actually win, so the rest of the cards in the deck should just help you to “not die”. And Bloodghast isn’t really great at that. For cards examples that help him to not die, Gaudenis pointed to Flame Jab, Liliana of the Veil, and then his favorite inclusion, the quartet of Smallpox. “That doesn’t seem like a ‘not-die’ card, but it really is.” He continued, “There is no better feeling than watching someone go ‘Forest, Hierarch, Go’ and then scoop up the cards after one Smallpox wipes the board.” Gaudenis later amended that statement by saying it actually felt better to play an Inquisition of Kozilek on the first turn and to see that you are going to Smallpox them out the next turn.
“The deck generally knows whether it’s going to win on Turn 4 or 5,” but he said often, just with an early discard spell, he can see a clear path to victory. Though that victory might take a while to actually happen. He won in his second round on turn 5 of extra turns with his opponent at 25 by revealing three Life from the Loams and four land. He counted out loud, “6, 12, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26 damage.” An eventual win, for sure, but also inevitable. “Often, I’ll play Inquisition on the first turn, and know I’m going to get there.” He continued, “Yeah, it can be a little repetitious, but those first three turns of sculpting and figuring out how not to die can be really interesting.”
There are some reason for concern, but Gaudenis has answers. Even though it seems like a Life from the Loam–based deck would be hard in a field full of Deathrite Shaman, Gaudenis is for the most part unconcerned. After all, the other half of his two-card combo kills Shamans pretty easily. And for as easy as the midrange match-ups are, the aggressive decks can get a little tricky. But Gau flashed me his sideboard plan against red decks and all I could do was laugh. Splayed out on the table was the fourth Flame Jab and four Dragon’s Claws. “It’s silly, but just discarding three lands to Flame Jab and gaining one life each time is more than most red decks can take. He pointed to the artifact and said, “This card is really good at what it does.”
Aggro Loam attacks the metagame at an odd angle, and if Gaudenis’s bet is right, he could be on his way to yet another great finish. If he does well this weekend, that would make his seventh Grand Prix Top 8. And it’s great story too: the deck that earned him his first small accolades, comes back almost seven years later to help him after he’s earned his stripes.
At one point of genuine excitement, Gaudenis Vidugiris told me, “Let me tell you how much I love this deck: the first three matches I played with it I lost real hard. And I’m still playing it.”
Saturday, 8:36 p.m. – Top Table Roundup - A Whole Mess of Modern
by Nate Price
It's time for another edition of the Top Table Roundup, this time with a twist! Usually, I'd be tracking the top twenty tables every round to track the ebb and flow of the various archetypes, checking in every few rounds to deliver an update. Unfortunately, this is Modern, and that makes things quite tricky.
To give you an idea of why, here are some stats from the course of the last six rounds of play on Day 1:
- Over the six rounds, the following decks were seen in the top twenty tables: Melira Pod, Twin Pod, Twin, Traditional Jund, A-Jund-i, BUG Jund, Jund Aggro, Boros Aggro, Gruul Aggro, Naya Aggro, GW Aggro, Aggro Loam, UW Tron, RG Tron, Monogreen Tron, Monoblue Tron, Monored Bump, 5c Zoo, UWR Tempo, UW Control, Gifts Control, Robots, Dredgevine Zombies, Merfolk, Bogle Auras, Junk, Junk Tokens, Infect, Eggs, Through the Breach, Living End, Goryo's Vengeance, Scapeshift, Grixis Delver, and Orzhov Sisters. That's 34 different archetypes, for those of you keeping track at home.
- No round had less than 18 distinct archetypes represented. Round 7 had Traditional Jund, 5c Zoo, UWR Tempo, Scapeshift, A-Jund-i, Robots, Twin Pod, Dredgevine Zombies, Eggs, Aggro Loam, UW Control, Naya Aggro, Monored Bump, Junk, UW Tron, Gruul Aggro, Twin, and RG Tron represented.
- No single archetype had more than five decks represented at any given time. Reaching this mark were Scapeshift in Round 4, UWR Tempo and Eggs in Round 7, and Junk in Round 9.
- Of the 34 different archetypes, only 10 were featured in all five six rounds of play: Traditional Jund, A-Jund-i, UWR Tempo, Robots, RG Tron, Junk, 5c Zoo, Twin Pod, Eggs, and Scapeshift.
Due to the hopefully obvious by now incredibly wide open nature of the format, it was really difficult to glean too terribly much from the way the top tables played out over the course of the game. Still, there were a few points of note to take away.
- Eggs and Scapeshift seem to be the most consistent combo decks. In addition to never failing to be found in the top twenty tables, they had the highest representation throughout the day, tying after all was said and done.
- A-Jund-i, the Channelfireball version of Jund featuring Ajani Vengeant, was definitely the most consistent version of Jund. It was one of the only decks that showed a consistent growth or holding patter over the course of the day, never really dropping in representation.
- RG Tron seemed to be the best version of Tron for the Day 1 field. It was the only Tron variant to appear in the top twenty tables every round, and one of the most consistent performers of the day.
- Junk was by far the most represented deck in the top tables on Day 1, putting up numbers nearly 50% greater than the nearest deck. As an alternative to Jund in the format, it appears to be doing quite well.
Tomorrow is where things truly start to coalesce. Rather than watch the top twenty tables, I'll be cutting it back to check the top ten. This will hopefully allow us to get a better idea of which decks are succeeding in the format, and which are simply hanging on.
Based purely on the end results from todays survey, the Top 8 would consist of two Junk decks, one Eggs, one Scapeshift, one RG Tron, one A-Jund-i, one UWR deck, and one random deck from the remainder of the field. Let's see how well this holds up as play continues for six more rounds before we cut to the Top 8!
Saturday, 9:01 p.m. – World Magic Cup Contenders
by Marc Calderaro
At the beginning of Round 8, all the American names in the running for the highest total points this year were still in contention for Day 2. That was not true at the end of the round. Starting from the top of the list, Ben Stark, at 56 points, was able to take down a Tron deck with his Scapeshift. It looked a mite scary with a Leyline of Sanctity in play against him, but some simple planning with Cryptic Command allowed a bounce at the opportune moment. His opponent had mulliganed to five, so Stark took a fairly easy cruise into the last round.
Tom Martell at 52 points, was at 5-2 facing down a Fish deck, packed full of Merfolks and Æther Vials. It was a disappointing match for him. And after the round, he tried to bring up good points about it, but was clearly disheartened. In both Game 1 and 3, his opponent drew the Path to Exile right when it seemed his Four-Color Jund or (“A-Jund-i”) had the match sewn up. And that’s how the Merfolk get you—with all those fishy shenanigans. That was Martell’s third loss and so he’ll end this weekend still at 52 points.
Josh Utter-Leyton, at 49 points, who impresses just about everyone he meets, continued that streak this round. He was 7-0 and could have been 8-0, but his good sportsmanship gave him the loss. Up against an Eggs deck, in the decisive game, his opponent drew an extra card while going off. Because the two were in a feature match area, a judge was immediately available to discuss the situation. Drawing an extra card is punishable by a game loss, and if it was assessed as such by the judge, Utter-Leyton would advance to 8-0. But once it appeared that the remedy was indeed a game loss, Utter-Leyton, seeing that he was definitely dead to the combo, immediately conceded to his opponent and dropping himself to 7-1. Yes, he was undefeated and is one of the best players out there, so he has that luxury. But still, it’s classy moves like this one that make him not just well-decorated, but well-respected.
David Ochoa, at 46 points, was sitting at 5-2. This was the elimination round for him and he was playing just a few tables down from Tom Martell. Unlike his compatriot, he was able to best his ultra-aggressive AggroVine opponent to get the W. It was precarious for a few turns there, but most creatures decks fold to a resolved Olivia Voldaren if they can’t kill it on the spot, even if you’re at 5 life.
Owen Turtenwald, at 42 points had a nail-biter that ended up in a loss. But he was still making it through to the last round of the day. He was sitting at 6-2 and would have to win the last round to have any shot at gaining ground this weekend.
Eric Froehlich took down his opponent fairly easily in the last round rising to 7-1. His only loss on the day came at the hands of David Sharfman a few rounds ago. This could be a good sign for Froehlich, a relative dark horse in the WMC race. He’s sitting at 40 points, and needs something big to get himself back in it. He’s piloting the same “A-Jund-i” deck that has so many Pros Day 2–ready, or at least on the cusp of it. So he is in just as good of a boat as many of the others.
The last person, at the same 40 points as Eric Froehlich, is performing the best of the whole bunch. Brian Kibler finished his round at a solid 8-0. His Domri Naya deck was the only one in the room, but was completely Domri-nating the field. When talking to him about the last round, he said simply, “having creatures consistently out of Lightning Bolt range makes a world of difference. Knight of the Reliquary is still a real card.” He’s been trouncing people left and right, and it’s exactly what he needs to get back in the running. At 40 points he needs a good showing at the Pro Tour, or to just start winning Grand Prix like it’s his job. He’ll be facing an undefeated Eggs deck next round, which is not his deck’s forte so it could be loss number one.
Saturday, 9:27 p.m. – Nearing the Finish Line - Leg One
by Nate Price
Later this year, in the first week of August, teams of four players from countries across the world will be traveling to Amsterdam in the Netherlands to represent their countries in the World Magic Cup. Of those four players, three of them will earn their spots through a series of tournaments to take place in April called the World Magic Cup Qualifiers. Three will be held in each country, one each week, with the winner of each tournament winning their golden ticket to the WMC.
The fourth slot is reserved for a special honor. For each represented country, the player with the highest number of Pro Points gets the honor of representing their country as the captain of their national team. Including this weekend, there are exactly five weeks of events in which players can earn Pro Points that count towards their qualification for the Captain's chair at the World Magic Cup. Currently, there are four players in close contention atop the US standings: Ben Stark with 56 points, Tom Martell with 52, Josh-Utter Leyton with 49, and David Ochoa with 46.
With such a cluster at the top of the standings, there is a great deal riding on the results of Pro Tour Dragon's Maze. Still, four Grand Prix weeks remain to accrue points and try and jostle the standings up some: Utrecht/San Diego, Pittsburgh, Strasbourg, and Portland/Beijing. With as many as 8 points up for grabs at these tournaments, they shouldn't be taken lightly.
"The Pro Points definitely have value," current leader Ben Stark said with a shrug. "I will admit that they make me more likely to travel to Pittsburgh next week than if I wasn't fighting for something."
Pro Tour Gatecrash winner and current second-place contender Tom Martell echoed the sentiment.
"While the fact that we're jockeying for position might not factor in too much to my decision to attend these events, the points are still very relevant," he said.
Fourth on the list, David "Old Man River" Ochoa admitted that pushing for points these weeks isn't particularly high on his list of things to pay attention to. Neither is his standing compared to the others come the Pro Tour in May.
"I'm getting too old for this," he said with a Danny Glover-esque shake of his head. "I don't really go in for all of the drama any more. I'm just a cold, heartless machine nowadays."
After breaking into a chuckling smile after his brilliant theatrical performance, he admitted that it was more of a factor of his position rather than anything else.
"Honestly, I figure that I'm probably a fairly large longshot at this point," he told me. "It's not like the guys ahead of me aren't going to go to any of these events, so they have the same chance of gaining points as I do. It really will come down to the Pro Tour, but even then, I have to do really well and everyone else has to do really poorly. It's not likely to happen that way."
Stark made a similar point when I talked to him.
"I was already planning on going to all of these tournaments anyway," he admitted. "I'm not going to drastically change my routine to press for this. Like I'm not planning to go to Strasbourg to pad a lead or anything. I don't think the other guys are either. It'll all be settled at the Pro Tour."
As for those other guys, all three of them are either current or former teammates, so all four of these guys are put in an interesting position.
"I'm clearly not going to be rooting against anyone at the Pro Tour, even if I'm looking like I'm in position to steal the lead," Ochoa said, immediately dismissing the thought. "It'll be like business as usual. I'll play my rounds, I'll check how they all did afterwards, and we'd celebrate or commiserate appropriately. I'm sure all of us feel the same way, that we'd be happy for whoever wins the slot."
And right he was. Stark echoed a similar sentiment when I spoke to him.
"This is definitely something that would be really cool. I mean, it's on the Magic bucket list: win a Grand Prix, win a Pro Tour, play on the National team. But I'm not going to root against my friends. I don't want it that bad."
Martell was a little bit more...aggressive in his take on things.
"I just lost and am out of the Grand Prix now, so I'm definitely rooting for Ben to lose," he laughed. "Seriously, though, what's the policy if we tie? Does it go to the best finisher? Because one of us has a Pro Tour win..."
After a bit of joking, he admitted that he wanted to see everyone do well. He has found himself on the outside looking in before and knows how much that sucks.
"I was in that position last year for the Player's Championship, where I was the second alternate," he told me. "I really wanted to get there and play, but it didn't end up working out that way for me. I don't want that for anyone. This year, I get to be on the good side of the fight, with a real chance at winning the slot."
Speaking of slots, there are going to be three teammates joining the eventual winner on the squad, and they have no control over who they will be. Last year, Alex Binek and Joe Pennachio joined two of the biggest names in the game, Brian Kibler and Luis Scott-Vargas, on the American squad. Not only did they work incredibly hard during the preparation for they event, they performed incredibly well at the event. While fans of the US squad might have held some trepidation about their potential performance due to their realtive lack of high-level play, they clearly proved that they deserved to be there.
"Winning a big Magic tournament like the WMCQs is hard," Martell said with a serious air. "If you can do it, you clearly deserve to be there. If I'm able to win the slot, I honestly don't care who I play with. I mean, my ideal team would be to have Luis win the California one, Jon Finkel win the DC one, and Sam Black win the Illinois one, but that is a pipe dream on more levels than one."
Ochoa felt the same way.
"My ideal teammates would be Reid Duke from the Midwest, Paul Cheon in the West (we have to get him back in the game!), and Pat Cox or one of the other Florida players from the East," he said with a laugh. "But as we saw last year, anyone can elevate their game. Those guys earned their spot and so will anyone who wins one this year."
Round Nine Feature Match: Brian Kibler (Domri Naya) vs. Joe Raines (Eggs)
by Marc Calderaro
Brian Kibler might be the name here, sitting at 8-0 trying to catch up in the race for the World Magic Cup crown. However, Joe Raines is the story in my mind. Not competing in a Grand Prix since 2004, Raines just returned to the game last August. I asked what finally brought him back to the game. He said simply, “No girlfriend.” But Raines was coming back in style. No simple Gruul deck for him. No siree, folks. Raines goes big or go home. He’s playing Eggs. Like a real man. A real, newly single man.
Kibler’s Domri Naya is poorly positioned to combat the cogs, at least Game 1. Naya’s not known for hand interaction, which is the best way to slow down Eggs, one of the fastest, most consistent combos in the format. He’d have to make do with casting creatures and attacking with them. We’ll see how well that goes for him.
Both kept and Brian Kibler went first. He fetchlanded into a Stomping Ground and Deathrite Shaman then passed to his opponent. Joe Raines started with a Gitaxian Probe, which pulled “Uh Oh” out of Brian. “If your deck plays Gitaxian Probe, I’m probably not going to win.” Raines sculpted his cards with a Sleight of Hand then passed the turn.
Eggs in action.
Kibler dropped a quick Knight of the Reliquary, removing a fetchland in the process. Raines said, “Those two creatures seem counter-intuitive,” pointing to the land-pumped Knight and the land-removing Shaman. Kibler responded, “They might not work so well together, but they are both awesome cards.” BK followed with a Loxodon Smiter, used a Knight activation to fetch a fetch land, then removed it to play a Tarmogoyf. See? They work just fine.
Raines received his turn back staring at an Island, Ghost Quarter, Conjurer’s Bauble and Chromatic Star. He stood up and removed some dice from his pocket. Again Kibler audibly sighed, “Uh oh.”
“Yeah, that does not bode well for you,” Raines said as he started the party. The first attendant? Reshape for 0, drawing a card from his dying Star and turning it into a Lotus Bloom. Contrary to popular belief a supernova doesn’t happen from a dying star, as long as there’s a mage in control of the death.
Raines started to move cards around, switching them from zone to zone. His first iteration had two Lotus Blooms the Bauble, two Stars, an Island, and a Ghost Quarter. This was definitely enough to work with–though it might take 20 minutes to get there.
Brian Kibler got an idea and had to ask a very important question. He called a judge. Judge Riki Hayashi appeared on the scene.
“Judge, I have to go to the bathroom. Can you watch this for me?”
Hayashi was incredulous. He stood for a second as if to ask, “Really, Brian? Is this what we’ve come to?” After a few moments, he shrugged. “Ok.” Kibler pumped his fist and went to the bathroom. Raines continued going off and Hayashi began leaning over the table. Raines finished searching his library and then without thinking, presented his deck. It sat there for a moment.
Riki Hayashi, a.k.a. "Brian Kibler's stand-in".
“You want to cut me?” Raines said to the judge. Hayashi looked at Raines. He looked around him, then said “Ok,” at took a seat at the table.
“I have a new opponent!” exclaimed Raines. While all this was going on, I didn’t actually know what Brian Kibler was doing. For all we know he was going to return with a hot dog. I kind of hoped he would return with a hot dog; I was hungry.
About five minutes later, with Raines voraciously sifting through his library now down to about 18 cards, Kibler returned triumphantly. When he was about 20 yards away he shouted, “Am I dead yet?!” He was happy to hear the news that he was still alive and sat back down.
“Oh, I took damage while I was gone?” Hayashi nodded. He never took his eyes off the board state as he stood up and swapped spots with Kibler.
“He was an easier opponent than you.” Rained opined.
“Maybe, but he had the power to DQ you.” Kibler retorted.
Kibler arrived just in time to take the requisite remaining damage and scoop up his cards.
“Guys, I got to hit F6 real life!” Kibler though down a game, he was in high spirits as usual.
Joe Raines 1 – 0 Brian Kibler
Kibler started with a Stomping Ground and Noble Hierarch. An all-around good card for acceleration and some extra damage. Kibler would have to step up his damage output if he was to race this blue beast. Thankfully, his turn two brought a Lotus Cobra and a Knight of the Reliquary. With that, his damage output was just about as fast as you could hope for on the second turn.
Raines had plays on turn one and two, neither of which included suspending Lotus Bloom. He made a Conjurer’s Bauble and an Elsewhere Flask. Kibler returned with a Loxodon Smiter and attacked for 7 damage before passing the turn back. Raines got his turn with 13 life, and he was staring 11 damage currently represented on the board. Raines calmly used a Chromatic Star to make red mana for Pyroclasm. The Hierarch and the Cobra went to the bin, but the Smiter and Reliquary remained.
As Kibler drew for his turn and dropped a Kessig Wolf Run onto the field he said, “Well you were dead if you didn’t Pyroclasm.” He attacked in with his two creatures and used Wolf Run for one extra damage. Bringing his opponent to 4.
Raines will go off this turn or die trying. He started humbly. He hadn’t found a Ghost Quarter, so even though he made a Lotus Bloom, mana would be significantly tighter without a land or another Reshape. After one round, his only cogs were the Bauble, the Flask and the Bloom. All his land were tapped. Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen.
Joe Raines 1 – 1 Brian Kibler
“All I’m saying, is I’m an honest man, casting honest creatures! And you’re over here Reshaping, or whatever!” Kibler was clearing getting a little impatient. It was the last round of a fairly long day, and Kibler was making the next day regardless of what happened to him here. Perhaps he should have gotten that hot dog I was talking about earlier.
Kibler threw his first hand back into his library. Though it was decent, because he’s on the drawn in this last game, he needed something exceptional. He settled for six. It was not exceptional at all. In fact, it contained Kitchen Finks, a card that gained useless life. Kibler had simply ran out of sideboard hate, so kept the mediocre beats in.
Raines had his opening seven. His first two turns net a Conjurer’s Bauble and a Chromatic Star. Kibler answered with a mimed tipping of his hat, announcing, “the mighty Tarmogoyf. It was important to note the mighty Tarmogoyf was currently a 1/2.
Raines, seeing he was under no pressure at all, used his fourth turn to double his cog count. Kibler attacked for one (you know, with the mighty Tarmogoyf), cast a Knight of the Reliquary and passed, asking, “Am I dead?”
Raines started the combo with four cogs, and four land, one being a fetchland. He started the way all Eggs deck want to start—with a Reshaped Lotus Bloom. But he never found another Second Sunrise or a Faith’s Reward. So he left himself in the best position he could and then passed the turn back to the Pro Tour champion. There was a an Island, Hallowed Fountain, Steam Vents, Ghost Quarter, Chromatic Star and a Lotus Bloom left in play.
Kibler picked his hand back up again and began his trademark incessant flicking. (He would always be gotcha’d by Stop That, when playing with his friends.) His opponent was at 13 and Kibler was desperately trying to figure out how not to give Raines another turn. Not only did he want to win, but he also didn’t want to be bored for another ten minutes. After the flicking went uninterrupted for a minute or two as he thought, Kibler sighed, attacked for 8, then passed the turn back. Raines would have a time to try again. One last time.
He started going off confidently. He didn’t have infinite cogs, but drawing six cards a turn would likely be fruitful. It started to get a bit scary when he cast a Serum Visions, drew a land, then saw two more off the Scry. He chuckled a little bit to himself.
About ten minutes went by, time was called, and all that could be heard was the gentle sound of artifacts moving in and out of graveyards and Kibler muttering to himself, “...an honest man, with honest creatures...”
Perhaps it was his soft chanting, taken as a prayer to the god of Naya, Mayael the Anima. Perhaps her holiness heard it as sounding something like, “Dear God, make me a Dragon, so I can fly far, far away from here.“ But Mayael, the Bringer of Fatties both Big and Bigger, bestowed a gift to Brian Kibler.
Though Joe Raines had tried twice, it was time for him to he paid for every instance he almost puttered out, but magically drew what he needed with his last draw. This time, it was the honest man who would prevail. Land after land after land it was for Raines.. And smile after smile after smile from Kibler. As Raines scooped up his cards he groused, “So many whiffs.”
Kibler, after starting down a game, had won the match to go to 9-0. After the he left the feature match arena, he could be seen skipping into the sunset singing, “Honest man, Honest creatures. Honest man, Honest creatures.”
Brian Kibler 2 – 1 Joe Raines