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My Descent Into Modern

2019-08-07 | Share: Twitter | Reddit | WhatsApp

Imagine you started watching basketball two years ago. You learn to love the game. You can't stop watching games, basketball content on YouTube and listening to basketball podcasts. Eventually you start identifying with teams and players. Furthermore you pick up the strategy and theory behind the game. Your deep dive into the game continues by researching its history and you are spiraling into a basketball fan and expert. Albeit you never actually played the game before. Of course you have basic athletics skills but you never played basketball before. Now the opportunity arises and you find yourself on the court for the first time. Adrenaline rushes through your veins as you're about to shoot your first basket. In your mind you see yourself as one of the players you look up to. You've seen again and again how they are scoring three pointers with ease. Somehow you are mimicking the movement of these players. The ball launches from your hands in a high arc but you lose your balance and stumble. Lying on the ground - feeling your body ache - you see the ball travel. But you also see that its trajectory is far off. It's a horrible air ball. In the end you realize that you are miles away from becoming even a decent player.

The paragraph above is a metaphor of how I felt when I played my first five competitive matches of Modern. Before I was only playing Standard and occasionally Limited. I played a few times in paper but 90% on Arena. I dare to say I am a decent Standard player as I reached Mythic in multiple seasons. Also I am constantly studying the game. Every day I am checking Magic's biggest content sites for educational content. In addition I am following every relevant tournament to stay on top of the meta. When you do this you can't avoid content about other formats. So I pick up the newest developments in Modern too. I am interested in the format and I like to watch it on stream. That's why I know the recent top tier and playable Modern decks. Anyways I wasn't playing it until recently. My interest grew so tall that I had to try it. However there is a big obstacle to overcome to start playing Modern. Generally you need to be able and willing to spend a huge amount of money to buy a competitive deck. To be honest I wasn't willing to spend lots of money. What I did to play Modern nonetheless was turning to MTGO because the prices for a Modern deck in MTGO are more reasonable than in paper. After dealing with the first obstacle I immediately faced the next one. What deck should I buy? A journey started deep into the deck and tournament archives of the following three websites:

  1. https://www.mtggoldfish.com/metagame/modern#paper
  2. https://www.mtgtop8.com/format?f=MO
  3. https://magic.wizards.com/en/content/deck-lists-magic-online-products-game-info

There are so many cool decks I struggled to decide which one to pick. That's when I stumbled upon https://www.manatraders.com. You can sign up there for different monthly subscription plans to be able to rent MTGO decks. For Modern you need at least the Premium plan for 35$ a month. This plan allows you to rent decks up to a maximum value of 350 tickets (~350$). Though they are some Modern decks that exceed this limit you can rent most of them. Still, I think 35$ a month is a hefty price to pay. The neat thing is that you can end your subscription from month to month. So whenever I know I have enough free time the coming month I sign up. Mana Traders advantage is that you can rent and return as many decks as you like during your subscription. That's how I overcame the struggle to choose a Modern deck. With this solution I can try all of the decks I like.

Training and Settling on a Deck

First I started trying a bunch of decks in open play. Basically I was training and testing in casual matches. Here are the three decks I enjoyed the most and their most recent version:

  • Mono R Phoenix by Juan José Rodríguez López, 8th Mythic Championship IV Barcelona (https://www.mtggoldfish.com/deck/2125122#paper)

    4 Arclight Phoenix
    1 Bedlam Reveler
    4 Monastery Swiftspear
    4 Soul-Scar Mage
    4 Faithless Looting
    1 Finale of Promise
    4 Lava Spike
    4 Light Up the Stage
    4 Gut Shot
    3 Lava Dart
    4 Lightning Bolt
    4 Manamorphose
    1 Blood Moon
    15 Mountain
    3 Sunbaked Canyon
    
    3 Abrade
    1 Alpine Moon
    1 Dragon's Claw
    1 Kozilek's Return
    1 Ravenous Trap
    2 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
    1 Shenanigans
    2 Shrine of Burning Rage
    3 Tormod's Crypt
    
  • Amulet Titan by Joshua Hollan, 2nd SCG Modern Classic Columbus (https://www.mtggoldfish.com/archetype/modern-amulet-titan-88330#paper)

    1 Walking Ballista
    1 Hornet Queen
    4 Primeval Titan
    4 Sakura-Tribe Scout
    2 Trinket Mage
    4 Azusa, Lost but Seeking
    3 Forest
    1 Bojuka Bog
    1 Boros Garrison
    1 Cavern of Souls
    4 Gemstone Mine
    1 Ghost Quarter
    1 Grove of the Burnwillows
    4 Gruul Turf
    1 Khalni Garden
    1 Radiant Fountain
    4 Simic Growth Chamber
    1 Slayers' Stronghold
    1 Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion
    3 Tolaria West
    1 Vesuva
    4 Amulet of Vigor
    1 Coalition Relic
    2 Engineered Explosives
    1 Pact of Negation
    4 Summoner's Pact
    4 Ancient Stirrings
    
    1 Engineered Explosives
    1 Grafdigger's Cage
    1 Tormod's Crypt
    1 Obstinate Baloth
    1 Ramunap Excavator
    1 Reclamation Sage
    2 Abrade
    1 Force of Vigor
    2 Negate
    1 Emrakul, the Promised End
    1 Ruric Thar, the Unbowed
    2 Firespout
    
  • Titanshift by Ari Lax (sadly no link to his list but here is a more conservative list instead: https://www.mtggoldfish.com/deck/2124927#paper

    2 Field of the Dead
    1 Prismatic Vista
    3 Arboreal Grazer
    4 Hour of Promise
    1 Sheltered Thicket
    2 Cinder Glade
    2 Anger of the Gods
    4 Primeval Titan
    1 Cultivate
    4 Explore
    1 Verdant Catacombs
    3 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
    3 Scapeshift
    1 Summoner's Pact
    4 Search for Tomorrow
    4 Stomping Ground
    2 Farseek
    4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
    4 Wooded Foothills
    1 Windswept Heath
    4 Mountain
    1 Forest
    1 Snow-Covered Forest
    3 Snow-Covered Mountain
    
    1 Veil of Summer
    2 Force of Vigor
    2 Weather the Storm
    1 Tireless Tracker
    1 Anger of the Gods
    2 Grafdigger's Cage
    4 Relic of Progenitus
    1 Engineered Explosives
    1 Reclamation Sage
    

The deck I like the most and settled on is Titanshift. There are two aspects of Modern decks I dig. I love playing combo decks. Assembling a game winning combo tickles my brain. Somehow it makes me feel like I'm good at the game and it's satisfying to have "solved" a game. It's like succeeding at a mind challenging puzzle. However I also like winning by figuring out smart value plays or beating down opponents with giant creatures coming down ahead of curve. Titanshift offers all of these aspects. Besides my personal preferences some version of Titanshift or Gruul Valakut keeps finding its way into competitive tournaments with more or less success (e.g. the latest Mythic Championship or a recent MTGO league: https://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/mtgo-standings/modern-league-2019-08-06).

Here are some key cards I am going to write about:

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Ari Lax's configuration of Titanshift is a new one. Though it kept its core concept in winning with Scapeshift and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle it was enhanced by the addtion of Field of the Dead, Arboreal Grazer and Hour of Promise. Arboreal Grazer enables you to ramp into three lands on turn two. So you can spend turn two to cast Explore, play two lands and have five lands in play. Turn three you play your sixth lands which is enough to play Primeval Titan and win from there with either Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle or zombies created by Field of the Dead. You can't always achieve this dream scenario. It happens more often that you have five mana on turn three. That's where Hour of Promise chimes in. It's a good ramp spell because it fetches any land - not just basic lands. Effectively this mean you can set up Field of the Dead by casting Hour of Promise with five lands. Or you search for Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle to set up your other combo. All you have to take care off is to ideally put lands into play with different names or enough mountains to activate Valkakut, the Molten Pinnacle.

Competing in My First League

Enough of the deck theory. Once I played enough games to not feel lost with it I started my first competitive modern league. I was in for the first five games of Modern where winning actually mattered. Also I expected a fair share of good or at least experienced players on top tier decks. Through out the games I made lots of mistakes but learned something every time. From game to game against current meta decks I managed to improve sequencing my plays. Furthermore I learned which opening hands are worth keeping. For that purpose the league was a success and I had fun playing. I finished my games as follows:

  • Vs. Jund (1-2, https://www.mtggoldfish.com/archetype/modern-jund-46470#paper): All of the games were very close. In the end my opponent managed to interrupt my game plan and drown me in value. I made a lot of mistakes. One was of technical nature when I chose the wrong pile to keep after Liliana of the Veil's ultimate because I wasn't paying attention to the MTGO interface.
  • Vs. Azorius Control (0-2, https://www.mtggoldfish.com/archetype/modern-azorius-control-53624#paper): Azorius Control crushed me. I had no idea how to approach the match and have to learn a lot more about it. Also my opponent played very tightly without major mistakes.
  • Vs. Humans (2-0, https://www.mtggoldfish.com/archetype/modern-humans-46452#paper): I guess my opponent was as new to their deck as I was to mine. Lastly I managed to do less mistakes and win.
  • Vs. Sram-O's (2-0, https://www.mtggoldfish.com/archetype/modern-sram-o-s-73479#paper): After I won game one by assembling my combo my opponent conceded the whole match. Though I would have wanted to play the whole match I was happy about a free win.
  • Vs. Hammer Time (1-2, https://www.mtggoldfish.com/deck/2113436#paper): There weren't many interactions or decisions to be made in this match. Game one I got killed on turn two by a 1/1 Double-Strike creature equipped with a Colossus Hammer. Game two I managed to interrupt my opponent and win. Game three I got killed again by a creature swinging Colossus Hammer. This time on turn three. Although I was beaten badly by this deck I loved it. It's a fresh and also cheap deck that has potential to see more competitive play.

All in all I finished my first league 2-3. I was disappointed with the result as I was flirting with a 3-2 record once I finished the fourth match. At least it wasn't a complete failure. To come back to the metaphor at the beginning of the post: I found myself down on the ground. I realized I have to learn and train a lot to become a decent Modern player. But it wasn't a horrible air ball. I leastwise hit the rim - providing me hope to be able to consistently score three points in the future.



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