A month ago Modern Constructed was an untamed wilderness full of limitless potential. Three days ago the watchword was "Cloudpost," and dealers were selling out of Amulet of Vigor. Two days ago it was crazier than anyone had expected. Now it has an undisputed champion, Samuele Estratti, and another exciting Pro Tour is in the books. Let's take a look at the five cards that defined the weekend.
Cloudposts may have done the heavy lifting, but it was the biggest, baddest Eldazi in the multiverse that stole the show on Day 1. After all, what better way to spend that much mana than on an unstoppable, Time Walking, board-devouring killing machine? The card may claim it's a legend, but it seemed like there were hundreds of these things out there. Worse were those players who were shoving their Eldrazi monstrosity Through the Breach, not only indicating a breach of some considerable size but also making hardcasting seem downright neighborly by comparison.
In the Top 8 you had Splinter Twin, Pyromancer Ascension, and Infect Combo. Just outside, you had Jeremy Neeman's Empty the Warrens (9-1 in Modern) and Jon Finkel's Pyromancer's Swath (8-1-1). All of these are blue-based combo decks built around staggering redundancy and explosive power, and all of them had an innocuous-looking card to thank for their success. Preordain (with his ubiquitous partners in crime Ponder and Gitaxian Probe) gives players the ability to tear through their decks to find whatever they're missing. That same draw power also provides a cover against hand disruption, since players can't rely on simply Thoughtseizing or Duressing away a key piece on the first turn, further marginalizing control decks.
Heading into the event this weekend, superteam ChannelFireball emerged from their intense week-long testing ready to play Pyromancer's Swath. Throughout, however, Hall of Famer and Avatar of Green-White Beatdown Brian Kibler insisted that there was a better way. The result was an audible to the Midrange Naya deck that brought Josh Utter-Leyton to the finals.
Now, Wild Nacatl is the deck's marquee card, and its ideal turn-one play, but I think calling the deck "Zoo" is rather missing the point. The deck starts by forcing the opponent on a fairly quick clock, but then has the luxury of backing that pressure up with a suite of disruption. Against the many true Zoo decks, they had access to many Planeswalkers and could simply take the control role, crushing them with superior firepower.
The first victims of this brutal deck might have dismissed it as a joke, but the truth of the matter is this: When someone plays Inkmoth Nexus on turn one and then kills you on turn two, then the joke is on you. Blazing Shoal pitching Progenitus (or, if you prefer, Reaper King, or even Dragonstorm in some builds) turns any infector immediately lethal.
There were many different takes on how to construct this deck. Some put all their eggs in the combo basket with Plunge into Darkness, Spoils of the Vault for tutoring, and full complements of Pact of Negation and Slaughter Pact (and even limited all-star Apostle's Blessing) to force through the kill. Top 8er Sam Black took it in the opposite direction. His mono-blue deck features a lot more countermagic to fight other combo decks, and a most elegant solution to the consistency problem: having Dragonstorm as a go-to card to pitch to Blazing Shoal, because it can be served up by Peer Through Depths, where the Reaper King cannot.
Also worth noting is that Black tried to ascend Mount Cleverest when he gave the deck its name: Juliet. Why Juliet, you ask? Because sometimes it's suicide poison.
Every Pro Tour has that one moment that seems to put an exclamation mark on the whole event. For Philadelphia, that moment came in game four of the finals, when Samuele Estratti resolved Blood Moon against Josh Utter-Leyton's board of nonbasics and hand full of fetch lands. Utter-Leyton seemed caught completely off guard. He had faced Alessandro Portaro in the quarterfinals and played around Blood Moon every game. Portaro was surprised; he hadn't been bringing in Blood Moon. Utter-Leyton remarked afterwards that in his testing that match, too many of his losses had come to getting locked out by Blood Moon.
However, when it came to the finals, testing suggested that Estratti wouldn't have the room to bring in the fatal enchantment. No Blood Moons were played in games two and three. But Estratti had planned to only bring them in on the play, and his plans came to fruition in the fourth. Once the Moon was full, he had all the time in the world to assemble his combo and needed worry only about Lightning Bolt. In short order he was hoisting the champion's trophy.