Ah, Las Vegas. Just the name is synonymous with indulgence, exuberance, and well, poor decisions. But such a magical place deserves to be revered and one would be remiss to ignore the gravity of its existence. The strip’s theme of being densely crowded with people spilled over into the Grand Prix hall where 3500 people showed up to play Modern Magic on Saturday and Sunday. Modern is everyone’s favorite format and this held true in Vegas as it outsold the other events by a pretty clear margin.
I was intent on making the most of this GP as I needed 2 points for silver and needed a way better record (like top 4) to financially break even on the weekend. I would accept the losing weekend on the financial front if I could just lock up silver without going to Kyoto. Airplanes really stress me out. Five hours to Vegas isn’t bad at all, but man do I loathe the idea of 18 hours to Japan. Getting silver that weekend would set me up to make a run on the Pro Tour in the 2018 season. I didn’t have a team for Cleveland and much preferred SCG Atlanta to GP Toronto so it was pretty much silver here or initiate nervous breakdown regarding day long airplane flight. After punting away my Legacy GP with a bad deck choice despite the field being quite soft, I realized Modern was pretty important for my Magic future or whatever you wanna call it.
With a fair amount of things riding on my result I decided that I would play Grixis Death’s Shadow. The reasons were many: I love Grixis decks, I’m great with them, and it’s the best deck by a consensus opinion.
But then I didn’t do that. I borrowed all the cards for Jeskai Control from my brother the night before I flew out of NY. When I got to Vegas, I was torn between Jeskai and Grixis.
Then I talked to Ethan Gaieski about his Esper Death’s Shadow deck and its position in the format. Ethan is a really smart young dude and I’ve learned a lot from talking to him about eternal formats. As I alluded to last week he taught me how to sideboard my own Legacy deck. He was sold on Sleight of Hand over Thought Scour to mitigate mana flood in the mid game as the Grixis Shadow decks are pretty susceptible to just hitting pockets of air. I agreed and figured this was a really good approach to the format. White sideboard cards and maindeck Path to Exile and possibly Lingering Souls puts you in a decent spot in the mirror match.
Ultimately though, I didn’t have the cards for this deck and didn’t really know how to play it. I figured it was mostly intuitive and I had played some Grixis Shadow so I could’ve figured it out if I had to, but Spell Queller was just pestering me from the bag saying “I’m really good right now! Jeskai forever!”
Before we show where we ended up, let’s take a look at how we got there with an amusing anecdote on the universal language of Magic.
Ryoichi Tamada is the truth. Just so we are clear, he’s one of the hottest players in the game right now and his top 8 in Kobe and win in Manila are manifestations of his hard work and talent. The first day of GP Vegas, Dan Ward and I were wandering the site after we both got swiftly crushed in our first round off byes. Sitting alone at a table on the edge of the event was Ryoichi Tamada. Dan encourages me to approach him since he knows I’m a big fan. Tamada’s deck choices lean towards blue-based tempo builds, my favorite strategy in all of Magic. When I saw that he won a Grand Prix with a strange WU Flash deck, I was both surprised and not surprised. I didn’t think WU was well positioned against much in the metagame save Marvel and UR Control, so its victory was certainly a bit of a shock. When I saw who won with the deck though, I wasn’t surprised anymore at all. If anyone can win a GP with a weak tempo deck, it’s Tamada. He’s one of the best in the world at this strategy.
Ryoichi doesn’t speak much English, understandably since he lives in Japan, but sad nonetheless because it was going to make talking to him difficult. So, as a stereotypical stupid American, I just started gesturing wildly and yelling things at him in English, gems like “big fan!”, “Jeskai!”, “I play your deck!”, and “you’re a master!” He’s smiling tentatively and when I pull out the list that I planned on playing, the Jeskai Queller deck he took to top 8 at the 2500 person GP Kobe, he begins to smile wider and reciprocates my enthusiasm. Shortly after we walk away and wish him good luck.
Fast forward to the end of Legacy. I find him sitting in the hall again and I have a sharpie marker. I go up to him and I say “sign!” and hold up the marker. He agrees and I pull out my set of Spell Quellers. He signs them, both in English and Japanese which is very cool of him, and we part ways. I really appreciate that he took the time to sign my cards. He was a totally classy dude.
Fast forward again to Sunday afternoon. I’ve just finished an impressive but slightly frustrating 12-3 in the Modern GP with Jeskai Queller. I’m standing by the SCG booth and milling around, just generally being a lurker and talking to people at random. Tamada wanders by and I take out my deck again and gesture to it and myself and say “12-3!” He realizes what I’m saying and says basically “What did you lose to?” So I told him about my losses, Grixis Control, Eldrazi Tron, and Affinity (Etched Champion). When I say Etched Champion he makes an “ugh” expression. It’s great to know that two people can be from different parts of the world and speak different languages but can equally hate a stupid cards like Etched Champion. These interactions were likely a bit awkward for him, but again, but I still want to thank him for his time. Tamada is a great guy!
Now let’s talk about my Modern deck. I liked the matchup Jeskai had against Affinity, Burn, Company decks, and midrange decks like Jund or Abzan. I thought the Grixis Shadow matchup was close but very winnable and Eldrazi Tron was kinda bad but winnable if they don’t have Cavern early. These theories, bolstered by the fact that Spell Queller is big game against random combo decks while being a nice catch-all pseudo-answer against some of the format’s best threats, pushed me to play the deck. I figured I would also play a deck like this well and could leverage my knowledge of the format by leaving open optimal mana whenever possible. Here’s the list I played:
I changed up the maindeck very slightly. I added a Vendilion Clique over the fourth Electrolyze as I wanted an additional card to clock Death’s Shadow with and figured a 3/1 flash flier would do just that. I also figured it would provided high upside against any unfair decks I might play against while adding action against some tougher matchups like Eldrazi Tron and Scapeshift. The Clique was awesome all weekend and I will likely continue to play it going forward.
I also subbed a Remand over the fourth Logic Knot. The Remand was solid and I think upgrading the fourth Logic Knot to be better against opposing Snapcaster Mages and to add a cantrip that we lost when we cut the Electrolyze was the right choice. Knot is certainly better against Burn or Scapeshift though, so if you have a ton of that locally I would just play the full set. Delving was tricky sometimes and you do tax the graveyard a fair amount so I don’t think mitigating that is a bad idea even if math says you could get away with 4 Knots.
A brief aside on Logic Knot: this card really messes with Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek. If they can’t sneak a threat in before you have two mana up then they basically have to take the Logic Knot because the additional card in the graveyard makes it a functional hard counter on turn two. I never got to delve and counter something while they also had a Surgical Extraction on the stack, but I imagine that would be the coolest thing ever. The card is mildly awkward when boarding in Rest in Peace, but going forward I wouldn’t actually bring the enchantment in against Deaths Shadow. Your Snapcaster Mages and Logic Knots are too valuable early and late.
On that note, I’m certainly going to change the sideboard going forward. Lavamancer is unnecessary and often taxes your red mana too heavily. It could be a Izzet Staticaster or probably just another Engineered Explosives. Something like Condemn could be solid as I felt a little light on answers to big creatures out of Death’s Shadow. The answer could be another Purge – the card overperformed – or even something like Valorous Stance as it can push a Colonnade attack through Fatal Push in a pinch.
Before we go today I’ll give a brief rundown of my tournament and highlight some of the interesting cases.
Round 3 – Grixis Control: (0-2) I think I was still shaking off sleep and wasn’t caffeinated enough yet and I got outdrawn and outplayed by a really nice guy named Carlo. Creeping Tar Pit is annoying.
Round 4 – Affinity: (2-0) My opponent had a turn two Bitterblossom in game two but I was able to easily beat it with Electrolyze, Explosives, and Wear // Tear. Also, my opponent, Ken Parsons, was a cool guy with some mutual friends. We had a great conversation, took a sweet picture, and both won every round we played on day one after our match.
Round 5 – Grixis Shadow: (2-0)
Round 6 – Elves: (2-0)
Round 7 – Jeskai Control: (2-0) He had Kiki-Jiki and Restoration Angel as well as Nahiri. These cards make my cheaper, reactive cards so much better and he couldn’t really beat the smoothness of my deck and all the inherent 2-for-1s since he was priced into playing a clunky pseudo combo game. Also, shout-out to Stuart for the awesome conversation we had about music.
Round 9 – Affinity: (2-1) Another close match but Etched Champion stayed off the board so I was able to pull it out in 3.
Round 10 – Eldrazi Tron: (0-2) I got crushed this round. Karn is good.
Round 11 – Eldrazi Tron: (2-1) My opponent, Micah Greenbaum, was a fellow alumnus of the Northeast PTQ circuit. We had some solid games and I cast Spell Queller on a Thought-Knot Seer cast with Cavern. It felt as great as you would think it would.
Round 12 – Affinity: (1-2) My opponent outplayed me in a close game 3 where I died with lethal burn spells but not enough red sources when I failed to start the aggressive role early enough. He played Plating into Champion in the mid game and killed me out of basically nowhere.
Round 13 – Affinity: (2-0)
Round 14 – Affinity: (2-0)
Round 15 – BG Rock Delirium: (2-0) This deck was strange but also seemed quite good. My opponent played well but ultimately had some mana troubles while I had some Cryptic Commands.
My finish was 44th out of 3500. Not a bad finish but frustrating to have an 80% win rate and only get what’s essentially min cash. That’s a rant for another time though! This weekend is the SCG Invi and I can’t wait to battle. Come and say hello if you see me there. Thanks for reading!