Goals and Retrospective After GP Birmingham

I’m travelling home from GP Birmingham as I type this, and whilst I didn’t finish particularly well in the main event I wanted to write about what I got out of the event and my aims going forward, along with a few words about my deck choice for the event. A lot of these are relevant to many people looking to improve in Magic, so hopefully it’ll be an interesting read!

The Little Fish in a Big Metagame

Going into the main event I’ll admit that I have not put a great deal of time into testing the Modern format over the past year, since the World Magic Cup really, and it’s changed a fair bit since then, but I like to think I have a strong knowledge of what most decks are trying to do. Based on this, I chose to play Merfolk, which is a proactive deck with a bit of disruption, and whilst there is some sequencing and some interesting lines, a number of the games will be fairly straightforward and predicated towards combat math.

A lot of decks rely on or have a limited manabase, whether it’s a core part of their gameplan (Tron, Scapeshift), they are multiple colours (GBx) or simply run very few mana-producing lands (Burn, Jund Shadow etc.). This opens up a lot of free wins where you remove the ability to cast spells with your 8 Spreading Seas effects after sideboard and beat them down with some Mutavaults and 2/2s. It’s almost like transforming into a prison deck!

The final reason I opted for Merfolk was that in such an open format it only has a couple of matchups that are genuinely awful – Affinity and Lantern – and while I did end up running into Lantern in round 9, the fact I played against 9 unique decks over the day spanning a wealth of different deck types just goes to illustrate how hard it is to strongly metagame for Modern. Despite my 5-4 finish (reaching 5-2 before losing rounds 8 and 9), I’d still make the same decision. Most of my losses were matches that could have gone either way, and I was able to make it very hard even in games where I had mulliganed or drawn very badly.

Now onto the meat of the post!

Coming off a year where outside of the WMC and a few PPTQ top 8s I’ve actually played very little competitive magic, I wanted to look at what I’ve started improving and what I’m looking to improve going into a year where I’m going to be playing a lot more.

Playing more and reflecting upon events in greater detail

The first part of this is a no-brainer – Magic rewards repetitions and practice. My first aim is to be testing and going to a lot more tournaments, but that’s only half of it. Going to loads of tournaments is only good for development if you can gather learning points from those experiences – sideboard choices, gameplay interactions or what made your deck choice a good/bad decision to name but a few. I used to fell like I was good at being analytical post-event and being able to replay game events in my head to expand my understanding, but it’s fallen off in recent years and is a characteristic I really want to bring back into my game.

Fighting back from early slumps

Those who know me well will know that I have a horrendous early round record, and learning how to deal with that is something that I’ve improved. It’s very easy for many Magic players to react emotionally to these kinds of starts and let it affect their play, and I’ve long advocated taking 5 after every round where possible to reset and center yourself. It’s again something I’ve been sloppy adhering to recently though and again a big goal is to take that time out, avoid the bad-beats stories and be ready for the next round. After a 1-2 start this weekend I managed to avoid spiralling and rattle off 4 wins to put myself in a decent spot to day 2, and it’s definitely a useful thing for many players to remember.

The other side of this coin is early round mentality, which is still something I’m trying to find a solution to. Getting into the right mindset for the beginning of play is definitely one of my goals for the next year.

Caffeine and hydration

I’ve spent years between university and Magic with a pretty significant caffeine dependence, which I’ve looked to tackle recently. The issue is that a can of energy drink or strong coffee will keep you going for a little while, but after that the crash comes in and you feel worse. At that point the only real solution is more caffeine and your attention and mental state degrades. This weekend I prepared with plenty of water and food I could regularly eat between every round to keep my concentration up and avoid energy crashes, and I was amazed at how awake I felt even after 8 or 9 matches and a 7am start. It also had the upside of avoiding the horribly overpriced convention centre food!

Playing the right deck

I have a history of solid results with off-meta or tier 2 decks, and when looking to take my game to the next level I think it’s a big deal to consider whether I’m really making the optimal choice. Card availability etc. are factors but realistically if my aim is to improve my results I really need to make that not a barrier, between investing more into the game, trading and playing more limited. A little caveat about Modern – there are so many Tier 1.5-2 decks and the margins are so small that I think it’s reasonable to prioritize decks you are familar with, but in order to do that my goal is to increase my experience with plenty of decks. With that experience it’s much easier to make an informed and complete choice about what to play.

One last aside – even if you personally aren’t having a great day, make sure you cheer on others who are! I had a great time following friends who were making a great run, whether they were a GP first timer or a veteran. It was even cool to see the guy who beat me in round 8 making a deep run at the top tables!

I hope some of this is interesting or useful to people in a similar boat as me, even if it isn’t a tournament report about how I crushed the GP. Check back for more next week!

Bonus decklist – 4 colour control (Unpowered graveyard cube)

Creatures (6)
1 Flickerwisp
1 Trinket Mage
1 Curator of Mysteries
1 Archangel Avacyn
1 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
1 Torrential Gearhulk

Spells (16)
1 Thought Scour
1 Brainstorm
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Miscalculation
1 Cyclonic Rift
1 Feeling of Dread
1 Unexpectedly Absent
1 Liliana of the Veil
1 Hero’s Downfall
1 Dissolve
1 Soul Manipulation
1 Thirst for Knowledge
1 Crystal Shard
1 Day of Judgment
1 Ojutai’s Command
1 Murderous Cut

Lands (18)
2 Celestial Colonnade
2 Misty Rainforest
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Lumbering Falls
1 Concealed Courtyard
1 Scattered Grove
1 Temple of Mystery
1 Fetid Heath
3 Island
2 Swamp
2 Plains

Davie Whyte

@fullofgravy

Could B/W Zombies be a Standard Solution?

We’re entering a new dawn of Standard following Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, and it’s an aggressive one. Aggro was the most widely played strategy, had the best winrates and filled the entire Top 8. The centrepiece of this metagame shift was of course red, brought to life by Ramunap Ruins and Earthshaker Khenra, whilst mono-black Zombies and B/G Constrictor decks also dominated the 24+ points Standard finishes.

Ramunap+Ruins+5BHOU5D

(Sidenote: It’s amusing to me that after players were bemoaning the fact that Ramunaps Ruins’ art was not used for a Standard playable Lightning Bolt effect, it ended up being the primary reason why red aggro is good.)

So what does this mean for deckbuilding? You need to have a good plan for beating aggro and be able to close out games quickly enough to render the red deck’s reach a nonfactor. Resolving an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is of course a convenient solution provided you can reach 10 mana quickly enough, but you do need to be in a stable board position for that to work. Personally, I like to be proactive, so I had a look at the other well-performing strategies that fit the bill.

Zombies was the second-best performing deck and had powerful, consistent draws, but facing Ramunap Red looked like it could be challenging, between a comparative lack of reach, pressure upon its life total and more limited removal options. Kalitas is a fine threat, but costing four and being susceptible to cards like Ahn-Crop Crasher and Chandra can leave it in an awkward spot. However, a new card from Hour of Devastation got me thinking whether it was time to resurrect an old Zombies build from early Amonkhet Standard.

Sunscourge+Champion+5BHOU5D

Sunscourge Champion is a card we’ve already seen in various U/W decks since its release. The Wizard provides a passable Kitchen Finks impression and can be rebought into a significant threat further into the midgame, as a threat you can rebuy gaining 6+ life over the two iterations. But there are a few reasons why it could be a great fit into Zombies strategies, on top of the fact that it is a solid creature at face value.

Cryptbreaker+5BEMN5D

Cryptbreaker is great friends with Sunscourge Champion. If you find yourself without white mana early on or simply have other ways to use your mana. it can discard the Champion for you to eternalize later. As well as this, the Champion’s ETB ability provides a great chunk of life for you to spend with Cryptbreaker to draw cards.

Another synergy that makes Sunscourge Champion even more attractive is eternalize. Something that will come up occasionally is the ability to discard a Dread Wanderer to pay for the eternalize ability, but the big deal is that just like embalm, the creature token created is a Zombie, which means it will trigger Wayward Servant and get pumped by Liliana’s Mastery and Lord of the Accursed. Of course, if you have any of these lord effects on the battlefield when it enters, you’ll gain even more life because Champion’s ETB scales off of power.

Wayward+Servant+5BAKH5D Shambling+Vent+5BBFZ5D

Speaking of Wayward Servant, this two-drop Zombie can also provide a source of both reach and lifegain, which is an added tool in aggressive mirrors. B/W also adds Shambling Vent into the equation, a potent creature-land threat against both aggressive and controlling decks.

When we put this all together, we get something like this:

Maindeck

4 Cryptbreaker
4 Dread Wanderer
4 Wayward Servant
3 Metallic Mimic
4 Diregraf Colossus
2 Lord of the Accursed
3 Sunscourge Champion

4 Dark Salvation
3 Fatal Push
2 Grasp of Darkness
3 Liliana’s Mastery

4 Concealed Courtyard
4 Shambling Vent
10 Swamp
6 Plains

Sideboard

1 Sunscourge Champion
2 Declaration in Stone
3 Transgress the Mind
1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
1 Aethersphere Harvester
2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
1 Collective Brutality
1 Anguished Unmaking
1 Never // Return
1 Fragmentize
1 Grind // Dust

The sideboard features the ability to modify your threat base against sweepers, supplemental removal for various creature and planeswalker matchups, and interaction for control decks. The most experimental card in this board is the new aftermath spell Grind // Dust, which can be great in aggro mirrors and also provide a two-for-one opportunity against bigger creatures. It’s possibly not good enough though as Constrictor decks will rarely have -1/-1 counters on their creatures, even if Constrictor itself does mean that Grind puts extra counters on the creatures you target. But, if Ammit Eternal does see a spike in popularity, this card does have bonus upside against it.

What are your thoughts on the post-PT Standard metagame and are you a fan of the resurgence? I’ll be back later this week for a look at Modern heading into GP Birmingham, and some Hobo technology.

@fullofgravy on Twitter