With the emphasis on team events increasing over the past year or so, being able to come up with three strong decks in three different formats has become very important. While I was the Modern player for Grand Prix Toronto, I also gave input on the other decks and the gameplay as the tournament went on. This was my first ever Top 4 finish in a team event as Brian Braun-Duin, Brad Nelson and myself ended up finishing in second place.
Honestly, I was questioning myself about why I wasn't doing well at team tournaments previously. I believe many players fall into a similar trap of wondering why they might have a string of bad finishes. My best advice is to stay with it, because once you finally do break through with that big result it will feel that much sweeter.
I want to talk through each format, starting with Standard. I happened to have the best Standard player in the world on my team, so it was easy to choose who would be piloting our White-Blue Control deck. We concluded that a deck without any creatures would be extremely well-positioned. Other decks are main decking removal like Fatal Push and Unlicensed Disintegration, and this way in game one the opponent will have dead cards, granting us a significant advantage.
This is the new control deck to beat in Standard. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is enough of a win condition by itself. Milling the opponent out is the way to actually win, as you can continually minus Teferi targeting itself to keep the planeswalker on top of your deck after ultimating and keeping all the opponent's permanents off the board. This planeswalker has been making a splash in multiple formats and was a major focus in our deck building process.
Five-mana cards are where you can play something that just takes over the game single-handedly if left unanswered – The Scarab God dominated the format for a while, and now it looks like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria may be able to do the same. Being able to draw an additional card every single turn while getting to untap your lands after casting spells on your turn to hold counters during the opponent's turn is very strong. This deck also gets Seal Away which matches up very well against Scrapheap Scrounger, one of the most popular creatures right now.
Settle the Wreckage and Fumigate combine to make life very difficult for the opponent, as it's hard to not overcommit your creatures. Pull from Tomorrow does a great job icing a game once you have made it past the first few turns. With this list we were able to not have as many actual card draw spells but still had plenty of card advantage. A card like Blink of an Eye is interaction that can double as card advantage. There are also some Memorial to Genius which is a low-cost way of allowing your lands to give you a big advantage.
The sideboard gives you a transformational package to bring in when trying to get more aggressive. Knight of Grace and History of Benalia can come in alongside each other to make life difficult on the opponent once they side out removal spells. There really isn't a major weakness to the deck, other than how painful the mirror can be. This sideboard plan means that after sideboard you can win the games much more quickly and aren't as reliant on Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Expect players to stop main-decking so many spot removal spells to improve their White-Blue Control Matchup.
I was the Modern player at the Grand Prix, so this was my primary focus. If you are looking for some actual gameplay with the deck I played the same 75 I took to the Grand Prix here.
I didn't make any last minute changes, and simply played the same list I had been running the past couple weeks. In a format like Standard where the metagame is constantly shifting this likely wouldn't have been the case, but in Modern the metagame doesn't move quite as fast. Sometimes the best thing you can do is realize how strong a deck is as it is and not try to change a whole lot. This can be a hard concept, as many players always feel like they can improve the deck somehow.
I played against six Humans decks at the Grand Prix, and it was by far the most popular deck, I also have never lost to Humans. In the finals I was going to win my match versus Humans, though it wouldn't have mattered as we lost the other two matches. Brian and Brad helped carry me through a couple earlier rounds though when I took losses to Bogles and Tron while they won their matches. This is how team events go, and when you lose hopefully your teammates can pick you up with wins and vice versa.
Humans is the clear most popular deck right now, so I wanted to pick a deck that I knew had a good gameplan against it. Jeskai Control might be the best deck to play if you are gunning to beat Humans. The deck has so much removal, and Humans is a deck chalk-full of creatures. There are not just one-for-one removal spells, but also sweepers and Snapcaster Mages to go along with them. Electrolyze can be insane against the one-toughness creatures and Phantasmal Images in the Humans deck.
We see some similarities here to the White-Blue Control deck in Standard. Search for Azcanta is one of the best ways of taking over late-games in any format. Early on it provides card filtering and then later if you have stabilized the board being able to repetitively activate Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin will take over the game in a hurry. We can find our Secure the Wastes with it and win the game that way pretty easily. Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin is even more impressive if you happen to have a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria in play as well, as you can activate it on both your turn and the opponent's as well.
Is Teferi, Hero of Dominaria actually better than Jace, the Mind Sculptor? In this Jeskai Control deck I think it is because of how important being able to untap two lands is, though Jace, the Mind Sculptor does cost one less mana, so it is close. The fact that Teferi can answer any permanent like a Blood Moon or opposing planeswalker is really nice. It is definitely surprising to see no copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor considering how scared players were about it taking over the format after being unbanned.
Jeskai Control is at its best against creature-based strategies, and those happen to be quite popular right now. The addition of Damping Sphere to the format hurt decks like Tron and Storm that are pretty tough matchups for Jeskai Control. With that said, this deck does have game against everything. The sideboard is versatile enough that it allows you to take out removal for more counters and such. On the flipside, against creature decks with Cavern of Souls in them you want to take out your countermagic.
As a team, we decided we wanted to play three different control decks. We did pick up one unintentional draw during the tournament because we were playing against the clock frequently, but at the same time we were playing decks that have lots of decisions. Many decks in Modern don't interact much with the opponent, and this one in unique in that it is able to successfully disrupt the opponent and eventually win the late game with card advantage.
Legacy can be mystifying. It really is unlike any other format. We didn't have to go out of our way to find a strong blue control deck, it was right in front of our noses. The top deck – or at least what many players consider to be the best deck – is Grixis Delver. However, we knew that wasn't a deck for us, since sometimes certain players just aren't cut out for the Delver life. BBD wanted to be much more controlling, and has experience playing the Four-Color Control deck, also known as Czech Pile.
The trend with our deck choices is clear – the lategame will favor us, and in Legacy the case is no different. This deck wants to trade resources with the opponent early on and then will have better topdecks. We don't have cards like Daze that are really good for the first few turns but get worse as the game progresses. There is a variety of removal, and that is what you lean on to not get run over early.
Once you can get a Jace, the Mind Sculptor onto the battlefield, the game shifts pretty quickly in your favor. Kolaghan's Command can help grind out the opponent and has a lot of utility when the opponent is playing artifacts. The Affinity deck is actually pretty popular right now in Legacy, and Kolaghan's Command is insane there. Chalice of the Void is one of the most-played hate cards in the format right now, and this is the perfect answer.
Before the event, Czech Pile deck was looking great against most of the field and only struggling against one deck. That sounds great right? Well unfortunately the deck it was struggling against was Grixis Delver. At the last minute we added the Tarmogoyfs to the sideboard, and they helped to swing the matchup. We dropped no matches to Grixis Delver on the weekend. It turns out that Tarmogoyf matches up pretty well against a deck that has Lightning Bolt as their primary removal spell.
The deck looked really good in Toronto, and the fact that the finals of the tournament was a mirror match was no surprise. Having both a great Legacy player and deck for a team event is where teams can get an edge on the field, as many teams don't prepare for Legacy enough. It turns out that while Grixis Delver is the default best deck in the format, I have come around to liking the Czech Pile deck more and believe it can also make a case for being the top choice in the format.
Thanks for reading,