Going into Grand Prix Dallas this past weekend, my expectation — along with many other players — was to see the fast decks of Modern do very well. The "fast decks" are those decks capable of winning on turn three, as I mentioned in my article last week. There were two large major tournaments last weekend, with the Open in Baltimore and Grand Prix in Dallas. The results were not exactly what I expected, to be honest, since the winning deck from both events was not an aggro deck.
Why didn't the fast decks win it all, if they are so great? The fact remains that Modern is a vast and diverse format with a variety of different strategies. Many of the slower decks were able to adjust and make card choices in preparation for the aggro decks, and that paid off. Control players want to be able to tune their decks to be good against aggro, while keeping their late game engine in intact, and though it isn't easy it was effective last weekend.
While he did not win the Grand Prix itself, the award for the most impressive performance from the weekend should go to Corey Burkhart. He has been playing Grixis Control for quite a while, and knowing a deck inside and out definitely has its advantages. Grixis Control is not a deck many players actually prepared for, and this helped him catch the field a bit off guard. Over the course of the tournament he dropped only a single match, in the finals of the Grand Prix.
This is a deck that plays a lot of card advantage. Ancestral Vision has been seeing some play since being taken off the banned list, but perhaps not as much as some players expected. This list runs the full four copies as a way to gas back up as the game goes long. Ancestral Vision is a card that feels great when in your opening hand, but can definitely be a bit of an awkward draw later on. Since you can't get any value off your Ancestral Vision until turn four, Burkhart chose to run cards that help him survive until then.
That means relying heavily on early spot removal, while aggressive decks try to tax it as much as possible. Lightning Bolt is, of course, the best and cheapest spot removal card the deck has access to. While there are some big creatures that can come down early like Death's Shadow, a lot of the early creatures in this format do tend to die to a Lightning Bolt. After Lightning Bolt, Burkhart is playing three copies of Terminate as hard removal. Having a card that can take any opposing creature off the table is so important. For control decks having lots of versatility is definitely a good thing.
The deck is mostly one-for-one answers, but Burkhart also plays so many cantrips and card advantage spells that Grixis Control can be dubbed the grindiest deck in all of Modern. This deck wants cards going to the graveyard quickly in order to be able to play a Tasigur, the Golden Fang on turn two or three of the game. Thought Scour and Serum Visions help go through a lot of cards as well as being some of the best delve enablers. The deck wouldn't be a control deck without countermagic, but it is definitely interesting to see which counterspells Burkhart elected to go with.
The biggest and baddest of counterspells is still Cryptic Command. Burkhart played all four Cryptic Commands because, as it turns out, countering an opposing spell plus getting additional value is quite good! The most-used mode of Cryptic Command is counter and draw a card, but the versatility here means it can also get you out of some tight spots. There are not any copies of the traditional two-mana counters like other lists have run in the past. This means no Remand or Mana Leaks to be found! There is a different two-mana Counterspell in the maindeck, and that is Countersquall. This is basically just a strictly better Negate, and it turns out that isn't bad.
Rounding out the deck, there does need to be a way to win the game. Alongside Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Burkhart played Creeping Tar Pit and Snapcaster Mage plus Kolaghan's Command. Kolaghan's Command isn't seeing as much play in Modern as it once was, but here it is getting a chance to shine. Being able to return a Snapcaster Mage from the graveyard and get more value from it can be a backbreaking effect. Also, even ignoring the decks that play a ton of artifacts like Affinity and Lantern Control, there are still a number of other decks that incidentally play artifacts that get blown up by Kolaghan's Command.
Enough of Grixis Control. Let's look at the deck that was able to take the title of Grand Prix champion away from him. That deck is Skred Red, a deck that has been in the format but does not typically see much play at all. To see the deck win an event like this is a shock, but means this deck has a lot more going for it than some people gave it credit for after Kevin Mackie's win.
This deck aims to trump an opponents' deck. It does this by playing cards that are very hard to deal with and can win the game by themselves. Blood Moon is a card that can give the Skred Red player a lot of free wins, and other times it slows your opponent down just enough while not disrupting the Skred Red player at all. The threats are also very difficult to answer. Koth of the Hammer gets the nod as the decks primary planeswalker, but the Chandra, Torch of Defiance is also capable of doing work.
There are not that many threats and win conditions, so Mackie plays some that are almost impossible for an opponent to answer. Eternal Scourge can provide inevitability, as there are very few ways of stopping it from ultimately being in play and attacking the opponent. Relic of Progenitus works great alongside Eternal Scourge in case it ends up in your graveyard, you can just exile it and then get it back into play. The deck also plays some very efficient burn spells.
Anger of the Gods is a nice all-purpose sweeper to have access to, and there are a lot of creatures in the format that hate being exiled, while your own Eternal Scourges really don't mind that happening at all. Lightning Bolt is the classic one-mana burn spell of choice, but even better than Lightning Bolt in this deck is Skred. Skred is a card that can only really be played in a deck with all snow lands, but there is really no downside to playing Snow-Covered lands instead of simple Mountains. The only issue is once the opponent sees a Snow-Covered Mountain they are more likely to put you on the Skred Red deck, if they didn't know what you were playing before. I look forward to watching Modern as we see whether a breakout deck like Skred Red has a place as one of the more popular Modern decks.
While Skred Red and Grixis Control were dominating the tournament, I was playing one of the fast decks I have been advocating, and I want to share my thoughts on it. The deck I ended up playing in Dallas is Blue-Red Prowess. This is a deck that hasn't been around for very long, but definitely kills a lot on turn three, and I even had a turn two kill! That doesn't mean the deck is perfect, but after my experience playing the Blue/Red Prowess deck it is good, and definitely has a place in the metagame. My updated decklist:
The list has been changed a little bit from the one which is typically seen on Magic Online. This deck is in many ways a combo deck, in that it wants to have one big turn. Generally this involves either flipping Thing in the Ice, or attacking with Kiln Fiend, which are the two most important creatures. The deck pretty regularly can play Thing in the Ice on turn two and immediately flip it the next turn, which as it turns out is pretty good. With a Kiln Fiend, if you untap with it there is a good chance the opponent is immediately dead even if they are still sitting at 20 life. Alongside Temur Battle Rage it doesn't take much to make Kiln Fiend a huge double-striking trampler.
Since you need to have noncreature spells in hand for all of the creatures besides Bedlam Reveler, I like to hold onto my Gitaxian Probes and early cantrips a lot of the time. Even though it is nice to know what is in the opponent's' hand, if you are able to save the Gitaxian Probe, playing it on a critical turn can be very important. This deck does deal itself a reasonable amount of damage though between Gitaxian Probe and Mutagenic Growth, so that is certainly something to keep in mind. The reason the deck wins so early on is because of how mana efficient it is. None of the cards cost more than two except for Bedlam Reveler sometimes, and the majority of the spells are one or effectively even zero mana to play.
Concerning the deck's matchups, pretty much any deck that doesn't play a lot of spot removal is a favorable matchup. This is one of the fastest decks in the format, so it is either going to be able to race another fast deck or win before a lot of the combo decks. It's also worth noting I really like the Dredge matchup.
Of course, you also don't want to just write off the removal decks as bad matchups. There is definitely a plan for those matchups which has been quite effective for me. Game one sometimes you have to go for the win when they could have a removal spell, but other times you have protection like Apostle's Blessing, or the opponent is forced to tap out. Then after sideboard you can play a longer game with the additional Bedlam Reveler and Young Pyromancer. There is no longer a need to win early anymore, and you can dodge a card like Liliana, of the Veil by making tokens with Young Pyromancer. I have actually been beating Jund more than losing to it.
Moving forward I like Blue-Red Prowess. At the Grand Prix I ended up with three losses and a draw, but with tighter play I could have found myself in the Top 8. This deck isn't easy to play. While there will be games where you can goldfish the opponent, other times playing around opposing removal is tricky and requires careful timing and thought.
Thanks for reading,