Coming out of Grand Prix Indianapolis, I had very strong feelings about the Esper Tokens deck in Standard. I felt as though the deck was playing a lot of cards that were well-positioned given the state of the metagame, but also were independently powerful enough to justify on their own. The games that were lost with Esper Tokens mostly felt like variance, with a lot of them coming from the manabase. In the games where you open with a pair of tap lands and only a single basic, it is easy to fall behind against an opponent who is just playing on curve. I made some changes moving into the Open in Philadelphia this past weekend, but I do not think I did enough to work on the problems I pointed out.

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The main change that was made between the Grand Prix and the Open was the swapping of Hangarback Walker for Seeker of the Way. While this does take us away from the "tokens" theme of the deck, I felt as though it was an overall better call for the weekend.

The format has become very hostile to Hangarback Walker, and I've found it to be a liability in a lot of matchups. With almost every deck in the format having access to Silkwrap, Anafenza, the Foremost, or a game plan that largely ignores the slow robot, it seemed like trying out a different card would be worth it. Seeker of the Way is one of those cards that I always like on paper of the decks that I am playing, but in games themselves is generally lacking. Having the right mix of creatures and noncreature threats to trigger the prowess, while also justifying having a grizzly bear in your deck, is not an easy task to accomplish. That being said, I feel as though this deck does it very, very well.

Before I go further on Seeker of the Way though, I want to mention Painful Truths, as one of my favorite cards in this deck and format. With the majority of the format being about trading resources at a one-for-one rate and generally having the last threat means you are victorious, Painful Truths offers a rate that we are not used to in Standard. While three life can be a burden at points, the ability to draw three cards on turn three with minimal hoops to jump through is very powerful. While traditional card drawers such as Dig Through Time, and even the more comparable Treasure Cruise, require your graveyard as a resource, Painful Truths allows you to play other delve spells and still offers a positive rate on card advantage.

I went up to a third copy in the main, moving the one from my board, as I felt the games that were being lost were because of stumbling and lack of resources in the mid game when other decks are casting Dig Through Time. This change urged me to keep my life total in check, as casting two copies of the draining spell was much more possible now. I wanted to think that my pair of Sorin, Solemn Visitor would be enough to keep me in the game, but in reality I was considering cutting a copy of Sorin already because of the awkwardness when playing into Crackling Doom and the ease Abzan Aggro and G/W Megamorph had at being able to deal with the token and the planeswalker when playing from behind.

This is when I started trying out Seeker of the Way over Hangarback Walker, as not only a two-drop replacement for Walker, but also a great two-drop in front of Painful Truths. The experiment worked, and I quickly found that Seeker lead to some of the decks most busted draws when on the play. This was important to note as the deck played much smoother on the draw and giving it the ability to run away with a game while on the play was great. Seeker into Painful Truths while on the play has not lost for me yet. Grizzly Bears too strong.

I don't want to ignore Seeker's downsides though; it is a weaker top deck in the mid-to-late game, where Hangarback could easily be a 3/3 or a 4/4 that dominates in a few turns. To that I say, we have a lot of cards that shine on turn five and later, and I wasn't really interested in another card that filled that role. I wanted to try and find a better two-drop than Hangarback for this deck, and I believe that I have. Seeker gives you a slight hedge to the uptick in Virulent Plagues that should be expected because of this deck surge in popularity, while also offering you a much quicker clock against the R/G Ramp deck in the format. Seeker into Secure the Wastes for two is the easiest way to put the ramp deck away before you have to worry about cards like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon showing up...because we all know that he isn't any fun when you are trying to play to the board with tokens.

The other changes that were made was the shaving of a Knight of the White Orchid to the sideboard and the tradeoff of a Wingmate Roc for an Ob Nixilis Reignited. Both of which I would do again in hindsight.

While Knight of the White Orchid lead to some of the most powerful draws in the deck when on the draw, I felt as though it was an easy move to have the 4th copy in the sideboard for when I am on the draw or when I feel as though his effect or body will be relevant throughout the games. Ramp, Knight of the White Orchid mirrors, and Atarka Red are decks that meet the criteria for the latter.

Even though Wingmate Roc was one of the better cards in my deck at Grand Prix Indianapolis, there were certainly board states that were awkward to commit more to the board and an additional non-creature threat would be more fitting. This became even truer after I decided to go down to a single copy of Sorin, Solemn Visitor, so I started testing out an Ob Nixilis Reignited on MTGO and quickly fell in love with it. Having a split card between Murder and Phyrexian Arena in a non-Ojutai's Command-able threat is pretty great when worrying about the Jeskai players in the room. While the -3 ability does leave it open to Shock effects and a hasted Mantis Rider, the ability for Ob Nixilis to take over the game is worth the risk.

The sideboard is where the real innovation comes in, and I sadly can't take credit for it. In the days leading up to the Open, I was talking about the Tokens deck with Florida grinder Brad Carpenter, most notably known for his back-to-back Open Top 8s in Indianapolis and Atlanta earlier this season. Brad and I each value the other's opinion highly, so when we met up Saturday morning and went over some last minute changes, we both jumped on board immediately.

Archangel of Tithes was the card of the tournament for me. The ability to disrupt the Abzan Aggro and G/W Megamorph game plan and steal the initiative was back breaking, and when you can pair that with a sweeper? It was a fight they were not prepared for. I have to admit that the changes were incredibly last minute, so the numbers on sideboarding became a little wonky throughout the day, but it is something that I am very excited to work on moving forward as I still feel this deck is one of the top players in this format.

But Standard gets to take the back seat for the next few weeks, as Grand Prix Pittsburgh is right around the corner, which means a Modern format that I have been largely absent from for the last few months. I've never really found a deck that I've clicked with in Modern, which I assume is largely due to the little amount of the format that I actually play. I do not feel comfortable picking up decks like Twin or B/G/x, as I feel as though the format around me will be more prepared for it, than I am for them.

Over the summer when preparing for an Invitational, Open, and Grand Prix, I gravitated towards Grixis Control, leaning on the raw power of Snapcaster Mage, Kolaghan's Command, and Tasigur, the Golden Fang. The deck was the closest thing I have felt too comfortable when playing Modern, and it showed it my results, as I cashed each event that I played the deck at. While I was happy with that at the time, I would like to try and better those results over my next few Modern events.

I've been following the format, even through my absence from playing, and it seems as though Modern has shifted to a lower, more aggressive base than it was just a few months ago. Wild Nacatl is everywhere, people. Because of this, I am less inclined to play a deck like Grixis Control, as the deck doesn't have many ways to get life back after the initial burst of damage, and can easily just fall to burn spells throughout the game. I don't want to write it off entirely, as there are ways to mitigate those issues, but I think I would rather look elsewhere for the Grand Prix.

Jeskai Control, Grixis' older and less relevant brother, is something I have my eyes on. With a better game plan against the aggressive Zoo and Burn decks, Jeskai Control offers the ability to play cheap, interactive removal, with powerhouse cards like Timely Reinforcements and Kor Firewalker. It is not all upside though, losing cards like Kolaghan's Command and Tasigur, the Golden Fang, the matchup against other grindy decks such as Jund and Abzan will suffer slightly, and I'm not sure if there is a way to help that. Liliana of the Veil is historically good against the decks I like playing.

When just browsing for ideas this week, I did find one that struck my fancy.

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Yeah, this deck is really raw and could use some tweaks, but let's be honest...how sweet does this look?

Having Jace, Vryn's Prodigy paired with Tarmogoyf and Liliana of the Veil just sounds like music to my ears. Lingering Souls and Path to Exile are both cards that interest me right now, as they are superb against aggressive decks, and Souls plays extremely well with both Jace and Liliana. Abrupt Decay is another card that I like playing if possible, as it offers me a catchall in a format that I am not as comfortable in as Standard; plus the extra points against Twin are never a bad thing.

I took this deck out for a spin locally this week and liked what was going on in the deck, but Siege Rhino was an awkward slot that never really panned out. With Jace and Liliana, I felt like getting to an aggressive four-drop on curve was rather difficult. Both of those cards are better when paired with cheap, proactive spells, which is a category that Rhino doesn't really fit in. I laid out the deck to see what I was really looking at and what I wanted to be doing, and then just started moving cards around to see what I could come up with. I'm not sure if brewing going into a Modern Grand Prix is a good idea, but this will at least give me a good idea of where I want to be. To start, every deck started with the following base:

4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
4 Tarmogoyf
2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
4 Abrupt Decay
3 Liliana of the Veil

While I would love to live in a world where Sultai Control is a viable option in Modern, I do not think that is the case currently. Without a strong one-drop removal spell (as I say this I have my eyes on Disfigure; it is so close, but not quite there) Sultai just doesn't offer the early game that is needed to compete in this format. Which brings us to a fourth color, either red for Lightning Bolt and a Blue Jund-ish build or white which offers Lingering Souls and Path to Exile as standouts.

When I laid out the white version without Siege Rhino, I have to admit I had flashbacks. My first true love in Modern, from a time when things were a little less simple, I was casting Gifts Ungiven.


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While it was never a Tier 1 deck, it was something that was a ton of fun to play and really hooked me into playing early in the format. Obviously the deck is much different without Deathrite Shaman, but laying out this Blue Abzan deck, I couldn't help but think about what it would look like with the Gifts Ungiven package, Jace does seem pretty powerful in the deck after all...

4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
4 Tarmogoyf
2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria

2 Abrupt Decay
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Darkblast
1 Devour Flesh
4 Gifts Ungiven
3 Path to Exile
3 Liliana of the Veil
1 Damnation
1 Life from the Loam
4 Lingering Souls
1 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Raven's Crime
1 Unburial Rites

This is a rough list based off of the list above. Figuring out the combination between wish targets and the ability to make a "perfect" gifts pile is a tough one to figure out. Then you start considering graveyard hate and having to cast Gifts Ungiven into a card like Scavenging Ooze and you start thinking this might be a bad idea. What if you had the ability to play a toolbox control deck, without losing to graveyard hate? Well, what about this base?

4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
4 Tarmogoyf
2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
1 Thragtusk

2 Abrupt Decay
3 Bring to Light
1 Gifts Ungiven
3 Path to Exile
3 Liliana of the Veil
1 Damnation
4 Lingering Souls
1 Unburial Rites

Bring to Light is a card that has already seen some Modern play in Scapeshift, but has not been tried in a non-combo deck. It is very possible that the card is too slow for the format, but when you have a card like Bring to Light, you have to consider all of the possibilities, as the card offers immense upside.

Again, obviously these are all level 0 ideas, more thinking out loud than anything, but they do interest me. Deckbuilding in Modern offers a lot of interesting decisions. Cards like Abrupt Decay and Cryptic Command are both very powerful, but you have to consider the toll they each take on your mana. It seems easy to just load your deck up with fetches and shock lands to ensure a perfect manabase, but then cards like Blood Moon and Choke are going to really ruin your day, not to mention Goblin Guide loves that extra three damage you take in order to cast your spells. All of these decks are merely ideas that I want to explore, but the more lists that I look at, the more comfortable I will feel choosing a deck for the Grand Prix.

Modern is simple, really. You just need to be able to beat a two-card combo that can happen as fast as turn four, be able to interact with a deck that can cast a Primeval Titan on turn two and likely kill you from there, build a manabase that can beat Choke and Blood Moon, have game against Tron and their turn three Karns, not die to Goblin Guide and Wild Nacatl, have a game plan for Merfolk's infinite lords, and just be able to survive the grind that Liliana of the Veil and Dark Confidant can put you through. What's that? I forgot a dozen viable choices? What do you mean Lantern of Insight won a Grand Prix?!

Maybe this format isn't so simple after all.