Some People Just Want to Watch the World Burn

How exciting is the unbanning of cards in Modern? I was thrilled, as a longtime blue mage, to have Sword of the Meek and Ancestral Vision as options looking ahead to the Invitational. I saw plenty of people cooking up lists that looked very similar to what Gerry Thompson eventually found success with that weekend, but I wasn’t sold after playing a handful of matches with a very rough build.

Instead, I jumped back into the world of Grixis and began putting the pen to paper formulating what I thought looked like a very promising control deck. Here is the list I got to:

This deck looks awesome on paper. We have plenty of kill spells, ways to draw cards finally, and Goblin Dark-Dwellers to really seal the deal. I played a ton of games with this deck in order to refine this list and I was doing quite well against established tier 1 decks such as Affinity, Jund, and Infect. Unfortunately, I don’t think this deck can ever beat Burn or the Zoo deck that has picked up in popularity.

I started off a respectable 3-1 in the Standard portion of the Invitational, and was comfortable knowing I only needed to split my matches in the modern portion 2-2 to give myself a chance to play on Sunday.

In Round 5 I was paired against Trevor Petrilli, who I knew was typically on Jund. My deck stacked up pretty nicely against him, but I stumbled and mulliganed in game 3 and he made quick work of me. I was a little upset, as this should be one of the best matchups, but Trevor is a great player and I had to get over the fact that my deck didn’t cooperate for a game.

In round 6 I got paired against Zoo and the games really aren’t worth talking about. I got slaughtered very quickly in a matchup I was willing to concede. I’m not quite sure how you make that matchup better without playing Thing in the Ice in the main deck somehow.

Round 7 became a must win for me which was pretty disheartening considering how well my Standard portion went. I was paired against one of Gerry’s buddies who was actually playing the Thopter Sword deck that Gerry was also on. Games one and two went VERY long, and when we shuffled up for game 3 I believe we had 8 minutes left on the clock. When time is an issue, you have to contort your play in a very odd way if you want to finish the game. I tapped out on my 4th turn to play a Kalitas, which opened me up to Gifts Ungiven, and of course I was punished. The following turn my opponent had an Iona on the battlefield, and all of my Black spells were turned off.

I was under a semi locked board; however, my Creeping Tar Pit alongside a bunch of blocking Pia and Kiran thopters gave me a very good chance of winning the game somehow. The game moved along at a pretty brisk pace until we got into another stalled state. He had the Sword combo assembled but I had Engineered Explosives ready to clear out his board and attack for lethal in 2-3 turns. Unfortunately, we were on the third turn of extra turns and that wasn’t going to be an option. My opponent was unwilling to concede, which is a hot topic in Magic lately, but was well within his rights. I knew both of our decks weren’t very good, and a draw helped neither of us, so in the end I conceded thus ending my Invitational run.

While I was super disappointed with my overall performance, I felt that I played well throughout the day, and I knew that the Grixis deck needed a massive overhaul. It is important to figure out the pros and cons of a deck over the course of a tournament, and to figure out a way to improve it.

I came to a startling conclusion in those 3 matches. Ancestral Vision is unplayable in a Grixis control shell. It was the worst card in my deck by a lot and I was always agitated when I drew one after turn 1. I joked around with people afterwards saying it would be better served to be 4 Wastes in my deck, but that probably isn’t very far from the truth.

You live and learn as they say, and I definitely learned from my mistakes on Friday. I learned so much in fact that on Sunday at the Modern Classic I played the best deck in the Modern format, Burn. Bold claim you say? Look, when the format is in flux, you can always turn to this deck to punish people playing new cards, weird mana bases, and playing midrange or worse control strategies.

Here is list I played to a 9th place finish:

Burn is easily the most consistent deck. Look at all the 4-ofs I’m playing! The biggest improvement this deck has seen in recent months is the inclusion of 4 Searing Blaze. It’s almost always a card you want in your opening hand, and lighting would-be blockers on fire feels excellent while also taxing your opponents.

The last thing I want to touch on with Burn is the sideboard. I’m playing a lot of flexible, efficient answers. The 4 Path to Exile are almost always the best card in your sideboard. You want them against Infect, and obviously the fat creatures from BGx and Tron (if that deck still exists). Next, I have 4 Destructive Revelry. Affinity is likely always going to be the worst matchup for Burn, and having anything short of 4 seems very risky. It’s great against Tron again, Affinity obviously, Infect, and if you are feeling frisky, against decks with multiple Spellskites that could be an issue. The 2 Deflecting Palms and 3 Lightning Helix are a direct concession to the mirror match. A lot of the mirror comes down to who times their Helix the best. A very important removal spell against small creature decks, and without a doubt one of the best cards in your 75 against Burn. Probably the biggest upgrade I made to the sideboard was adding 2 copies of Skullcrack. You definitely want this against the mirror, Abzan Company, and any other deck that gains life. Having 6 of these effects was very good for me all weekend long.

A card I will likely be finding room for is Phyrexian Unlife. This card looked really impressive in the sideboard against other Burn decks as essentially an uncounterable gain 10. It can probably be in place of one of the Lightning Helix, but I’m always nervous skimping on that effect at large tournaments.

Wrap Up

I was 100% locked into playing Burn and planned on policing the format at SCG: Milwaukee this past weekend.  While I don’t have any great success stories from the Open, I did get 12th running a RW Goggles deck in Standard Classic the next day. Still, I suggest Burn if you’re ever uncertain on what to play. It’s relatively easy to learn, but it’s very hard to master.

I’m currently 41st on the SCG Player of the Year leaderboard and am hoping for a few good finishes to end up within striking distance of Top 16 by the end of the season. If you ever see me at an event, feel free to come chat with me! I love talking about the game in general, and about specific decks I’ve been playing.

Thanks for stopping in,

-Mat Bimonte

Mat Bimonte

Mat Bimonte

Mat Bimonte began his Magic playing career midway through the release of Theros. Despite his short time playing the game, he has a Modern 5K championship title along with a handful of smaller Standard tournament wins. Mat spends most of his time on the Star City Circuit with aspirations of qualifying for the Pro Tour in the coming years.
Mat Bimonte

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Published:May 3, 2016

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