Last weekend, Pro Tour Born of the Gods set the stage for the new post-ban Modern format. The Pro Tour is the ultimate deckbuilder's and brewer's tournament because it offers a fresh format. This particular Pro Tour took place just weeks after the new Modern bannings and thus proposed a particularly difficult challenge. The high-stakes of the Pro Tour combined with the time pressure, when tackled by the best players in the game, produces some wonderful decks. Today I'll share some of the more interesting winning decks from the Pro Tour, with a focus on the homebrews and rogue strategies.
The deck everyone was looking forward to seeing last weekend at Pro Tour Born of the Gods was Zoo. As expected, there was a huge variety of Zoo decks present and a great number did well. I would like to share three successful, unique lists. These decks may not be brews in the sense that they are brand new ideas, but they are highly-developed decks piloted by expert players. They were developed for the realities of the new Modern metagame and represent the face of Zoo going forward
The first deck was played by Owen Turtenwald and Paul Rietzl to winning records:
This is a solid, midrange Zoo deck that is clearly built for the Zoo mirror in mind. Robust creatures provide an edge against small Zoo decks, while the individually powerful cards give control decks problems. This deck can lack speed against the combo decks but Noble Hierarch helps the cause. A robust sideboard gives the deck an almost Jund-like feel.
On the other end of the spectrum is a fast, rush zoo deck full of one-drop creatures, played by master tactician Kyle Dembinski:
This deck averages a much faster draw than the previous Zoo deck, and it's fully capable of racing against the more unfair decks of the format.
These two Zoo decks represent two extremes of where to take Zoo going forward, and they serve as guidelines for building future Zoo decks. A third approach pushes the envelope to the max on another plane, the manabase, sacrificing life points and mana consistency for the increase in power gained by going all five-colors. This deck by Zoo connoisseur Pat Cox represents yet another successful approach:
The ideal Zoo build for playing Magic Online or the upcoming Grand Prix and PTQ season is going to depend on the metagame, but they will likely resemble one those three decks.
Capitalizing on the Zoo-centric metagame was the new "Blue Moon" deck, which garnered a lot of attention from the coverage, and eventually went on to reach the Top 8:
This deck is designed to take advantage of Zoo decks, from the heavy removal suite and Vedalken Shackles down to the Blood Moon The deck does seem a bit weak against other control decks and most unfair decks, but the permission package combined with land destruction from Blood Moon and Spreading Seas is capable of stealing games. This deck benefited a lot from the surprise factor at the Pro Tour, but it may become a staple in the Zoo-laden PTQ scene.
Our very own Craig Wescoe did well with a brew of his own, BW tokens, but chose not to play Bitterblossom!
I am sure Craig will have plenty to say about his Modern deck and his Pro Tour experience in his coming articles.
It was not a huge weekend for Bitterblossom. Just two players, Alex Sittner and Shota Yasooka, put up a winning record with the card, and that was out of Faeries. I used an old Grand Prix winning Yasooka Faeries deck as the template to my post-ban Faeries list, so I was looking forward to seeing what he came up with this time at the Pro Tour.
While this may not be a rogue brew, Shota is one of the finest deck builders in the game and certainly a brewmaster in every sense of the word. This is the Faeries deck I would start testing with going forward this Modern season.
Gabriel Nassif is among the most accomplished players on the planet and has a penchant for brewing control decks. I remember back to Worlds 2009, the night before the third day, where I witnessed Gabe brewing his own UW control deck in the final hour. I am sure Gabe did plenty of brewing for this Pro Tour event as well. He brought the classic UW control archetype to the Pro Tour, updated for the post-ban metagame:
This deck is more consistent than the UWR decks, and it offers more late-game potential at the expense of early game speed. The deck makes up for it with a robust Counterspell suite. A full set of Ghost Quarter over Tectonic Edge belies the fact that this deck is true control, and is not strategically interested in trading off lands with the average opponent opportunistically as would a UWR Aggro-Control deck. Gabe turned to Ghost Quarter, which is inferior to Tectonic Edge as pure land destruction but a much more effective and efficient hate card against decks like Tron, Scapeshift, and Affinity. The coolest card here is Calciform Pools, which provides excellent free mana to a control deck and comes in handy in various situations. Calciform Pools is particularly unreal with Sphinx's Revelation. The five storage lands are among the most underutilized cards in Modern and something I would keep in mind when building any deck.
Krark-Clan Ironworks is a degenerate mana generator unlike anything typically seen today. It harkens back to an older, more broken time of Magic and pushes the limits of what is capable in Modern. Mirrodin is among most influential and powerful blocks in Magic history, and it is where the battle lines for the Modern format were drawn. The oldest block in Modern also contains many of the most powerful cards. One card I completely did not expect to see at the Pro Tour was Krark-Clan Ironworks:
For an in-depth look into the Krark-Clan Ironworks combination with Open the Vaults, check out this article by Conley Woods. The modern format Conley describes is different from today but the points still stand.
Ishii's take on the deck is the most innovative I've seen yet, much in part to the Urzatron lands. Ishii's deck it built to abuse a degenerate mana produce in order to play out a very expensive creature, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. The addition of the Urza lands gives the deck yet another way to generate unfair amounts of mana. While Ishii does not have any dedicated ways to find Tron lands, he does not have much use for colored mana, either, which allows him to play the Tron lands at little cost. Over the course of a game Ishii's deck is capable of drawing many cards and will eventually assemble the combination. As a long-time proponent of Urza's lands, this deck is something I can get behind.
Also innovative in the deck are two copies of Tezzeret, the Seeker. This planeswalker has a multitude of uses, including acceleration, value, tutoring, and even doubles as a win condition. This gives Ishii's deck that multi-dimensional nature so effective when employed in combination decks.
One of the coolest brews in the event is a new take on a fringe archetype, Restore Balance:
This is certainly one of the most unique brews from the weekend. The combination of Restore Balance and cascade spells is not new. This deck plays nothing cheaper than the cascade spells besides Restore Balance, meaning the cascade spells necessarily dig through the deck to find the 0-cost Restore Balance. This gives the deck an effective eight Balance effects along with the potential to actually just suspend Restore Balance and wait it out.
The deck abuses Restore Balance in a number of ways, the main abuser being Greater Gargadon. Greater Gargadon can sacrifice all creatures and lands before Restore Balance resolves, leaving the opponent with nothing and its controller with a large creature. It is this powerful combination that drives the deck and gives it its greatest explosive power. Further breaking the balance are Borderposts, which operate as pseudo-lands that make sure the opponent is on the losing end of the Restore Balance.
From here, the deck diverges from the typical Restore Balance deck. Whereas the typical deck is jammed full of suspend creatures like Keldon Halberdiers, this deck is filled with planeswalkers and other control elements. Planeswalkers are immune to the impact of Restore Balance, so they stay in play and create value on an empty board. These planeswalkers also have the most to benefit from an empty board, so they are great even when Restore Balance acts as simply a Wrath of God. Combining planeswalkers with effective three mana sweepers is a plan for success.
I was surprised by Thassa, God of the Sea, but it is a great card for this archetype as a source of card selection and as a post-Restore Balance threat Thassa is typically going to be an enchantment while in play, meaning it can ignore Restore Balance. Thassa plays very well with the blue Borderposts, which act as an effectively free form of blue devotion that survives Restore Balance.
The devotion god goes hand in hand with Jace, Architect of Thought along with another support card for the deck, Vendilion Clique. A couple of Riftwing Cloudskate generate devotion while providing great utility and offering an additional way to break Restore Balance with suspend. Rounding out the deck is Dismember, a three mana removal spell that dodges cascade but is effectively a one-mana removal spell because of its Phyrexian Mana cost. A single Detention Sphere does work against a wide format and gives the deck a great answer to cards like Pyromancer Ascension and Birthing Pod. This deck seems like a real improvement on an already pretty scary archetype, and it might have made it competitive enough for the brutal world of Modern.
Here is a brew that is not completely new, but this is the first time this archetype has been seen successfully in some time:
The deck relies on either Angel's Grace or Phyrexian Unlife to make the player invulnerable, followed by Ad Nauseam drawing the entire deck. Simian Spirit Guide ensures enough red mana, and a large Lightning Storm ends the game immediately. The artifact mana combination of Lotus Bloom and Pentad Prism provide the speed necessary to survive in the fast-paced modern world. Redundancy in combo pieces combined with great card selection and the aforementioned artifact acceleration are the strengths of this deck.
An excellent improvement to the archetype since I last saw it is the addition of scry lands. This is a combination deck that needs to put specific cards together to win, and any help in finding those cards is desirable. For a deck that does not need to make early plays, adding in these on-color scry lands helps the color consistency as well as card selection power in a meaningful way.
This deck finished in ninth place, so in a slightly different world this could have been holding the winning trophy last weekend. Another copy also finished with a winning record, so it is not just a fluke. This combination seems strong against aggressive decks that do not have much interaction, like Zoo, but it's also capable of racing against other unfair decks.
Reid Duke and Matt Costa put up winning records with their new take on the Jund deck in a world without Deathrite Shaman. They have removed red, and turned the deck into a solid Rock package featuring an entire playset of Phyrexian Obliterator:
I can't speak to how effective this deck is, but what it has lost in speed and utility from traditional Jund it has gained in raw power. Phyrexian Obliterator is undercosted, hard-hitting, and simply hard to deal with for most opponents. A full set of Kitchen Finks gives this deck board presence against aggro and control alike while also acting as a source of card advantage. I wonder if this deck was a flash in the pan or is here to stay going forward, but time will tell.
The title of ultimate brewmaster goes to Patrick Dickmann. Dickmann was recently noticed when he won Grand Prix Antwerp with his innovative Tempo-Twin deck. This was a more aggressive oriented version of Splinter Twin, made apparent by card choices like playing more ot the two-powered, evasive Pestermite than the one-powered turtle that is Deceiver Exarch. Tempo-Twin could also transform into a functional control deck with cards like Batterskull, not relying on the combo at all.
RUG Twin is the next evolution of the Tempo-Twin archetype. Dickmann took his homebrew all the way to the semifinals of the Pro Tour and yet again proved that he has a great understanding of Modern. This understanding is reflected in his build:
(A special shoutout to Samuel Manti, who also put up a winning record with his own, apparently independently developed version of RUG Twin.)
The addition of Tarmogoyf to Splinter Twin turns it into a true tempo deck capable of fighting fair with the heavyweights in Modern. Tarmogoyf gives the deck an efficient source of board presence that is effective on defense and offense. Tarmogoyf is also a two-drop that fills the curve before the combo pieces come down. Dickmann stated that the main driver for adding Tarmogoyf was the unbanning of Wild Nacatl and the rise of Zoo, which Tarmogoyf plays great against. Supplementing the Tarmogoyf is two copies of Scavenging Ooze, which gives the deck another large green creature against creature decks along with some utility against the format. The combination of Tarmogoyf, Scavenging Ooze, and Snapcaster Mage give RUG Twin a powerful base on which the rest of the deck stands.
Turning Splinter Twin into a more aggressive deck makes the combo all the more effective. A straightforward Splinter Twin deck can be easy to play against because it is so one-dimensional. An opponent can sit back on something like Abrupt Decay or Combust indefinitely and make it quite difficult for Splinter Twin to win. RUG Twin is able to get aggressive and pressure the opponent without the combo, forcing them to interact with creatures like Tarmogoyf and Snapcaster Mage. This leaves expends their resources and leaves the opponent vulnerable to the combo . This hybrid aggro-control-combo deck is a lethal combination that is quite difficult to play against over the course of a match.
I once played a hybrid combo-control RUG colored deck to success at the Extended format Pro Tour Amsterdam, which was built around abusing Pyromancer Ascension to provide immense value with cantrips and removal, leading into Time Warp to take extra turns. What made this deck so effective was Tarmogoyf, which turned it into a flexible weapon that my opponents had much difficulty dealing with. RUG Twin reminds me very much of that deck, and I can understand how Dickmann had so much success. This is one of the best and most fun looking Modern decks I've seen, and I'm looking forward to playing around with it this season.
There are upcoming Modern Grand Prix along with a Modern PTQ season beginning in late spring and going through the summer. Decks from the Pro Tour have been crafted by players with a lot at stake, and they offer an invaluable look into the mind of the Pros. Their decks offer a great springboard from which to approach the new Modern forma.