Grand Prix Barcelona Tournament Report - Choosing a Modern Deck

In formats as old, diverse, and full of different viable strategies as Modern, one does not need to choose a deck based on the current metagame. Most competitive decks you may face only achieve about 3% meta-share, leading to almost unpredictable pairings, giving players who try to get an advantage by making smart deck choices and choosing strategies that are well placed against popular decks a hard time. This time though, it was a different story.

When choosing a modern deck for your next big tournament, there usually isn't much meta gaming in my experience. People are often just playing what they own or what they like. Sometimes, players stick to decks for years because they simply can’t afford to buy the cards for another deck or they want to leverage an advantage over the field by mastering one archetype. Once they learn all the ins and outs about it, they feel comfortable and don't want to invest time and losses into another one.

The Current State of Modern

This was a reasonable approach to a big, old, and slowly changing format as Modern. But in recent years, potent new cards have been printed, creating amazing decks that change the face of Modern constantly. The current Modern meta has been shaken up by the emergence of three brand new top-tier decks: Hollow One, Humans, and Krark-Clan Ironworks have been winning major events as of late, posing big chunks of the winner’s metagame at big tournaments around the world. Existing archetypes have also received new interesting tools with every other set like Karn, Scion of Urza for the Affinty sideboard and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria as a powerful finisher for Blue-White Control decks.

Modern is in an exciting place right now and even players like me, who have been playing the format for years and are experienced with almost all viable archetypes and strategies, need to put in work to learn the new decks and figure out if I want to play them or simply learn how to beat them. For my part, I wanted to explore the control strategies more ever since Jace, the Mind Sculptor got unbanned. I think knowing the format pretty well increases the win percentage of players that have access to Snapcaster Mage and a bunch of cards that disrupt your opponent's strategy or trade for their cards. Also, those decks create the most 50-50 matchups in my experience and I enjoy close and interactive games the most.

Good thing Teferi got printed and increased the power level of Blue-White and Jeskai Control to a tier 1 deck again. With a nicely fitting removal suite versus the previously mentioned top dogs, Hollow One and Humans, plus a plethora of counterspells against the clunky artifact Krark-Clan Ironworks, Jeskai Control seemed like the best choice to me. I was well experienced with Grixis Control before the tournament and wanted to stick with it because I had a great list and more experience with it. But my good friends – and control mages by heart – Sascha Schwarz and Helmut Summersberger convinced me to make the right choice and play the better deck.

This is the list I registered for the Grand Prix:

The GP Barcelona Tournament

Since I only have one bye right now, I was at the table at around two and faced the Red-Green Valakut Ramp deck. This deck tries to cast an early Primeval Titan or Scapeshift in order to search for Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and a bunch of Mountains to win the game. My opponent's deck was full of Mana Acceleration and needed to resolve an expensive spell. This played right into the strength of my slow deck full of counter magic. Field of Ruin interacted favorably with his second game plan as well, which was to just play Valakut and cast a handfull of Rampant Growth effects.

We had a very interesting and exciting game three as I was mulligan-ing to five and kept two Snapcaster Mages, Scalding Tarn, Logic Knot, and Path to Exile. He kept seven and my chances of winning this game became very small, even bee-ing on the play. I managed to cast my Mages on turns two and three, which allowed me to pressure his life total while he was ramping up lots of lands. Luckily, my Logic Knot was able to counter his first Titan on turn four, which left him with one spare mana. He cast Relic of Progenitus and thought for a moment how to use it.

Before I could untap, he tapped Relic to make me exile a card from my graveyard. This would have been a good play in most situations, but not this time. It actually cost him the match since I drew Surgical Extraction and was now able to exile all the Titans from his deck and graveyard and even the second copy he was holding in hand. My Mages chipped in for enough damage to win the game soon after. He didn't consider me having this card, but he could have played around it by not tapping the Relic in order to exile his own Titan in response to my Extraction, making it lose a legal target.

Relic of Progenitus is surely one of the hardest cards to play with and against!

In the third round, I was paired against a Grixis Death’s Shadow player who made it to the semifinals. He played the matchup impressively well and had some insightful advice for me on sideboarding after our match. I defeated him 2-0. I think the Jeskai deck is more favorable, since four Path to Exiles and four Snapcaster Mages make it hard to win with their best Creatures, Gurmag Angler and Death’s Shadow. The fact that Jeskai can take advantage of their low life total with Lightning Bolt, Lightning Helix, and a hard to deal with Celestial Colonnade, makes their life even harder. (They usually board out Fatal Push and Terminate.)

In the fourth round, I beat another Grixis Death’s Shadow player. The games were closer this time and I was about to lose to a big board of Shadow and Angler on my opponent’s side. I had nothing and was stuck with Secure the Wastes because I knew his Disdainful Stroke and Snapcaster Mage could flashback Stubborn Denial, due to a previous Vendilion Clique. Luckily, he decided to sacrifice one of his fetch lands. This left him with only one untapped land when the ability was on the stack in my endstep, so that I could cast my instant and create a bunch of Warrior tokens. Those helped me stabilize and win a dramatically close damage race.

Playing with fetch lands is very difficult to do perfectly. I usually fetch in my upkeep if I want to get an untapped land and reduce the chance of drawing lands, instead of my opponent's end step if some of my lands are tapped, simply to have more mana available when my fetch land activation is on the stack. This does not come up often nor translate to an advantage, but the more instants there are in a deck, the more likely it can create opportunities. So, think hard about when to fetch if you can avoid risks without having a disadvantage. If you don’t need all your mana during your next turn, you probably don’t need to fetch your tapped shock land right now if it is risky against instants they could hold.

I then proceeded to throw away a super close and fun match against a very experienced Affinity player. I didn’t flash in my Izzet Staticaster in response to my opponent’s third chapter of The Antiquities War. This would have allowed me to shoot his Signal Pest before it becomes a 5/5. The few excess damage that I took this turn was enough for him to kill me when he needed to topdeck a damage source, while my Celestial Colonnade presented lethal. I was pretty down on myself for this dramatic mistake, since I even planned the turn in advance but failed to execute it properly. We were short on time and playing really fast.

The next round was versus another good matchup against Blue-Green Infect. Again, I was up against a very experienced pilot from Croatia who had been playing the deck for years and decided to get every card in foil. I guess in hindsight, I should have played to safety and took the unnecessary poison in order to not get blown out by a pump spell. This may have been what cost me the match. A good player needs to know when to take a risk and when to play it safe!

From there on, my confidence was destroyed, and I faced two Tron Decks, which I consider as the worst matchup for UWx archetypes among the popular decks. I went 4-4 and received the fitting punishment for not taking my chances. If I would've won one or two of my good matchups, I may have dodged those Karn Liberated and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger casting mages and maybe advanced to the second day.

My Conclusion

While my score may seem lackluster, I'm not as results-oriented as I was in the past. I still think this tournament was a success. I may not have won many matches, but I'm really happy with my deck choice. If you look at the so-called "metagame of the three-bye players" which means the decks Hall of Famers and Platinum and Gold pros, chose to play, you can see that UWx decks were the most popular choice among the top players.

GP Barcelona 2018 Tweet

Also, there were three copies of the Blue-White Control deck in the Top 8. Spanish all time Pro Points leader, Javier Dominguez, destroyed the Swiss portion of the tournament with Jeskai Control, posing a 14-0-1 record. This does not only mean that many experienced players came to the same conclusion as me, but it also means that it actually turned out to be a great idea to cast Teferi, Hero of Dominaria in Modern. Since I managed to qualify for the second day at my last two Grand Prix events, I wasn't too disappointed with the weekend and sunny Barcelona was a blast anyway. I even finally met my idol Kai Budde in person. I'm looking forward to preparing for Grand Prix Turin at the end of the month, which will be my next big Magic tournament.

I hope you found my experiences useful. I look forward to hearing in the comments if you were in Barcelona this weekend and had as much fun as I did.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.

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