Modern is a very interesting format for the casual observer. You can sit down to watch a 15 round Modern tournament and see a variety of decks ranging from low to the ground Burn strategies all the way to decks trying to, and successfully, hard casting Emerakul, the Aeons Torn. Since the banning of Birthing Pod, it has proven more difficult to predict the Modern metagame for a given tournament.
While the format does have the same ebb and flow as a Standard metagame, the cost barrier for entry is simply too high for most players, which causes people to buy into one deck and stick with it. My weapon of choice in this format is a deck that gives me a handful of 50/50 matchups, barely any free wins, and a few 20/80 matchups that I'm just looking to dodge. Still interested? Good, we would get along.
This list was good enough for a Top 32 finish this past weekend at the SCG Open in Charlotte and I would say overall I was pretty happy with everything going on. I've been on the Grixis Control deck since just before Grand Prix: Charlotte back in June, and I can safely say it is my favorite deck that I've played in Modern. (Assuming of course we aren't mentioning those glorious months where I could cast Dig Through Time, because that was a wonderful time).
What does this deck do well?
The card selection in Modern is not exactly something you are going to write home about. Being forced to use cards such as Serum Visions over the more powerful Ponder, Preordain, and even Brainstorm is something that makes the blue-based control decks - and combo decks for that matter - less consistent overall. While the combination of Thought Scour and Snapcaster Mage alleviate that problem slightly, that shell is still underpowered.
The printing of Kolaghan's Command changed all of that.
Being able to have an engine of Snapcaster Mage and Kolaghan's Command is something that most fair decks in Modern cannot keep up with. The ability to kill a creature and return a Snapcaster Mage or a large delve creature, such as Gurmag Angler or Tasigur, the Golden Fang, that was previously milled by a Thought Scour, is something that gives this deck a lot of Staying Power in the mid-to-late game. While the cards might not be as individually powerful as Jund, the synergies that exist give a more lasting effect on the game.
When discussing decks with my local testing group, I often make a point about the mana efficiency of a deck. I often feel that given a normal interactive game of Magic, the player who was more mana-efficient, even on seemingly innocuous things, would eventually edge out enough small advantages to be victorious. This build of Grixis is pretty good at being able to maximize its mana every turn between cheap cantrips, removal, and Counterspells. The delve creatures play a large role in the mana efficiency as well, allowing you to play Tasigur or Gurmag Angler for as little as one mana fairly often.
When delving, it's important to know what spells are important in what matchups, since this deck is very good at rebuying spells at a later point. For example, while Spell Snare is good against Jund at most points in the game, Dispel is very rarely relevant, so when delving with Tasigur, I would try to leave Spell Snare in the yard, as opposed to Dispel. It seems like an obvious thing, but it's easy to make mistakes when delving with this deck. Your creatures are important for Kolaghan's Command, and a healthy of mix of spells is good for Snapcaster Mage to have access to. Being able to reuse the high-impact spells in each matchup is an easy way to pull ahead.
Overall, I would say the Jund and Twin matchups are favored for the deck. A lot of what both decks are doing is being recreated in our shell. Twin has a large number of cards that are one dimensional, and often are difficult to put to use against us because of how tough it is to get the combo together. Post board, the Twin deck wants to look like our deck, while we get even more tools for the matchup. Jund is something that we also can emulate pretty well. The grindy midrange nature of the match is something that we can exploit well. Snapcaster, Kolaghan's Command, and Cryptic Command all offer powerful options for two for ones that will let us pull ahead in the match.
What does this deck struggle with?
While this deck is very good at grinding out midrange slugfests, it does have issues with very aggressive decks such as Burn, creature decks that invalidate one-for-one removal, such as Collected Company, and combo decks that can punish our slow clock and minimal non-creature interaction.
My losses in the Open last weekend were to Abzan Company, Ad Nauseam, GW Elves, and the Grixis Control mirror, against Michael Majors. Collected Company decks in particular are very good at punishing the one for one removal we play, even when Snapcaster Mage is added to the mix.
The Abzan version of Collected Company is able to present resilient threats in the form of persist creatures or Voice of Resurgence, can punish the draw-go nature of the deck, and have a looming combo kill if you ever do tap out. Elves, on the other hand, is a much fairer deck. The match was very beatdown-orientated, and I never felt like anything unfair was going on. While my opponent assessed his role appropriately, he never really had to commit to the combo plan and rather just continuously presented a string of cheap threats. While Rest in Peace did a lot of work in the post-board games, the switch to favor Engineered Explosives over Anger of the Gods in my board did not help me against these matchups. In hindsight, I don't regret the card choices. I do not feel as though the Collected Company decks are particularly popular and even further so, I do not believe an additional Anger or two are going to change the matchup that much.
Ad Nauseam was a matchup that I've played a fair number of times before, but I again don't put much respect into the deck in the format. For those of you unfamiliar, the deck aims to cast Ad Nauseum off of Lotus Bloom or Pentad Prism, with the protection of Angel's Grace or Phyrexian Unlife, and Pact of Negation. After drawing their deck, they cast Lightning Storm, discarding all of the lands in their deck to kill you. Easy to follow, right? In reality, the deck has a lot of moving pieces and not many cards that actually matter. If you can contain the Ad Nauseam, they don't have much else going on. While they are good at finding multiple pieces of their combo and protecting it with free Counterspells, the trick is to pretty much never tap out. In our game one, I was in a pretty good spot, but made the mistake of tapping out to Kolaghan's Command their Lotus Bloom in the upkeep, knowing all but one card in their hand. That card ended up being the Ad Nauseam that was enough to kill me. Awkward.
The last loss I would like to talk about is Michael Major's version of Grixis Control. Mike decided to adopt Jace, Vryn's Prodigy into the deck, and it looked amazing. The argument of turning on your opponent's otherwise dead removal spells such as Lightning Bolt or Abrupt Decay is valid, but realistically, the effect that Jace has on the game is enough to warrant the risk. In our match, I figured I would be able to have good targets for my Bolts, unlike in the Grixis mirror traditionally. While the first Jace did fall to Lightning Bolt, the second had to get Terminated, once a Kolghan's Command was cast, I knew I was in trouble. You've certainly heard this elsewhere, but it's worth repeating: Jace, Vryn's Prodigy requires an answer immediately, or he often offers enough card advantage to dominate a game by himself. The addition of Jace does something else to this deck though: it encourages playing discard, such as Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize.
The inclusion of cheap discard is something that is a natural fit with Jace, since he does not play as well with Counterspells as something like Snapcaster Mage. What that does is give you a more proactive game plan against combo strategies by being able to force the issue and prevent them from building their perfect hand over a series of turns. While Major's deck from the Open had a relatively slow clock when it came to closing the game, it doesn't seem like many changes would need to be made to fit a pair of Gurmag Angler and call it a day.
While these spots are not free, we do lose access to Cryptic Command and most of our other Counterspells, the upside is well worth it in my opinion. Spell Snare is the card I'm going to miss the most in the list, since it's so good at what it does, but Inquisition of Kozilek is a card that shines every time I play it, and I'm excited to make the swap out. Not only do we get to be even more mana efficient, but our manabase also gets significantly better. Not requiring triple blue for Cryptic allows us to play Blackcleave Cliffs, which seems like it would be one of the best lands in the deck. Being lower to the ground, more Choke proof, and improving bad matchups? Seems like all upsides to me.
One of the other big innovations from Majors' list was the inclusion of Molten Rain over Fulminator Mage or Blood Moon. In my list, Kolaghan's Command was the primary source of recursion, so Fulminator Mage was a logical choice for the lands-matter matchups. Now with access to a full set of Snapcaster Mage and Jace, moving to the sorcery makes more sense.
This weekend I'll be competing in the SCG Invitational in NJ. While the tournament is Legacy and Standard, I'm planning on playing in the Modern 5k on Sunday, baring a Top 8 of the Invitational of course. I have not done as much Modern testing this week as the other formats, but I am planning on playing a version of Majors' deck that incorporates Gurmag Angler for a slightly quicker clock. I hope everyone enjoys their weekend, whether or not you are playing in anything or just enjoying the plethora of Magic coverage we have. It's going to be a great weekend!