In some ways, Mana Leak was even better than a hard counter.
One of the more unique twists in the structure of the tournament here at the Magic Players Championship is the fact that players have full access to their opponents' deck lists. This has had far-reaching implications, from deck building to lines of play.
One of the biggest ways that it has impacted deck building was evident after an interview with Jon Finkel, where he explained that he and Kibler chose not to run the full play set of Mana Leaks in their deck because they knew that opponents would be more likely to play around it. That is one of the more subversive effects that Mana Leak has on any format in which it is legal. It forces players to play around it in a way that is different than most other counterspells. Since players can simply pay additional mana to resolve their spells, players are more likely to simply delay casting them until they can pay the extra mana.
For most other hard counters, players are likely to simply cast their spells to draw out the counterspells from opponents' hands. The end result of this is that Mana Leak is often a better counterspell at holding off players during the early turns of a game. Considering how much of the Modern field at this tournament was comprised of fast decks, like Zoo, Delver, and Affinity, Mana Leak was excellently positioned to have a field day, bolstered by the fact that opponents knew it was in the decklist.
This advance knowledge also benefited the Mana Leak players during the tournament. A perfect example of this came from the match between Jon Finkel and Jun'ya Iyanaga. At one point, Iyanaga had two untapped lands and a fetch land in play when he cast a spell that Finkel had to counter. Despite Iyanaga representing three potential mana, which would allow him to pay for the Mana Leak, Finkel went ahead and tried to Mana Leak it. Iyanaga cracked his fetch and went to get himself the third land to pay for the Leak...and found nothing! Finkel knew that Iyanaga had no more legal targets for his fetch land, which would leave him unable to pay for the Mana Leak. It was just a backbreaking play.
It was plays like this combined with the early-game control of Mana Leak that helped Finkel make Top 4 and landed Brian Kibler a shot to make Top 4 in the final round. Almost putting two players into the Top 4 of the tournament and being integral in one of the coolest skill plays is good enough to make Mana Leak one of our Top 5 cards of the weekend.
Yep. The Goyf is still a massive beat-stick.
When we talk about a card's dominance in a format, one metric that we use to judge that is the degree of saturation of a card in the format. In that regard, Tarmogoyf is the most dominant card in this tournament. Of the sixteen decks in the field, thirteen of them are running Tarmogoyf. We've written about the strength of Tarmogoyf many times since it was printed, and the facts remain the same. It is one of the most efficient two-drops ever printed. It allows decks to contribute an incredibly strong threat to the board with a minimal investment of mana. For aggressive decks, this lets them cast additional threats, and control decks get to keep more mana up to react to opponents.
In Modern, the presence of Tarmogoyf and Snapcaster Mage has brought a couple of cards into prominence to deal with them. While Mental Misstep is too good to be played in the format, Spell Snare is balanced enough that it remains in the field. And the overwhelming power of the two-drops prevalent in the field make it quite powerful. In addition to Spell Snare, players are packing Relic of Progenitus, which also blows out both Snapcaster and the Goyf.
Despite the presence of these incredibly strong countermeasures, the sheer power of Tarmogoyf keeps it a major threat. All if has to do is land, and the sheer number of cheap spells and fetch lands in these decks ensures that it's hitting for three or four a turn, which makes it an incredibly lethal attacker, as well as a stout blocker against every creature in the format, even other Tarmogoyfs. Which, as noted, are everywhere.
Recurring Nightmare put in some serious work for Alexander Hayne during the Cube Draft portion of this tournament. The things it was capable of were astounding.
Alexander Hayne was the last remaining undefeated player this week, and he had this powerful enchantment to thank for much of his early success. Drafting a black-green deck in Cube, Hayne was able to assemble Recurring Nightmare and Survival of the Fittest in the same deck, a combination that once won a world championship.
It was synergies and combos like that which defined the cube period, whether it was Hayne setting up multiple Massacre Wurms or cycling through Eternal Witness and Shriekmaw, or whether it was Jon Finkel Tinkering out Sundering Titan on turn four. Cards such as Recurring Nightmare and Tinker haven't seen the light of day on the professional competitive stage in ages, but the Cube draft portion of the Magic Players Championship gave these old gems plenty of time to shine.
Welcome back to the forefront of a format, Aether Vial.
When Modern was initially announced as a format along with a banned list containing essentially the most powerful cards available in the card pool, the absence of Æther Vial raised a lot of eyebrows. After all, if it was broken in Affinity and was played in Legacy, surely it was something to watch for in Modern. Only, it never really happened that way.
Shouta Yasooka tore his way through this tournament on the back of the one-mana artifact, giving his Modern blue-red-green deck mana and tempo advantages that made the impossible possible. In one sequence that left viewers' jaws on the floor, Yasooka had Finkel at 11 life and 4 power on the board. He activated one Æther Vial to bring in Eternal Witness which, in turn, returned Snapcaster Mage. Then, with a second Æther Vial, he flashed in Snapcaster Mage to flash back his Lightning Bolt, winning on the spot.
And he made plays like that all week, quietly wowing everyone paying attention and very likely ushering a new era of Æther Vial-fueled decks in Modern.
The first ever Magic Players Championship will forever be remembered as the tournament that gave Yuuya Watanabe his second Player of the Year title, but it very likely will also go down as the moment Æther Vial reasserted itself as a Modern powerhouse.
There's no arguing with the sheer power that comes from this cascading cannonball of a creature card.
There were a number of cards we could have chosen from the Jund deck that helped Yuuya Watanabe to the Player of the Year Title. Liliana of the Veil was a key innovation and was stellar for the Jund players all week. Lightning Bolt was ubiquitous and probably the most played spell on the weekend. And Dark Confidant is Dark Confidant.
But in the end it was Bloodbraid Elf that let Watanabe keep up with Yasooka's parade of two-for-ones by being a pretty devastatingly aggressive two-for-one itself. And it was Bloodbraid Elf off the top of his deck that pushed Watanabe over the top to take the fifth and deciding game in the finals.
And while this tournament may be better remembered for the reemergence of Æther Vial, history will always know that Bloodbraid Elf bested the artifact to secure Player of the Year for Yuuya Watanabe.