Matt Plays Modern – U/R Humans Don’t Quite Get It Done in Chi-Town

Last weekend I battled nine (well, eight) rounds of Modern during a weekend that was one of the most transformative the format’s ever seen. Some of those changes trickled down to the SCG Regional in Chicago, where I could be found attempting to flip Delvers and Bolt-Snap-Bolting opponents out, but I didn’t end up facing any of them directly. The Eldrazi menace was visible on either side of me throughout the day (with the UR version apparently being easier to put together in a pinch), but my match-ups were mostly par for the format. So how’d I do?

Well, the most accurate description is “not great”. But the day started out well enough.

As you know if you’ve been following along, I was on a tempo-oriented version of UR Delver last weekend. The full list can be found here. I made a couple of changes in the days leading up to the event, swapping my Spreading Seas for Molten Rains to help my Delvers flip, and adding a Breeding Pool to the main deck so I could run Ancient Grudge in the sideboard and set Engineered Explosives to 3 in a pinch. Both of these changes worked out pretty well, with one of them winning a match and one of them doing work but not quite enough work.

I met up with a couple members of our quote-unquote “team” the morning of the tournament to make the short drive from southern Wisconsin into Rosemont, IL. The ride was smooth, getting out of the parking structure was not. We ended up leading our fellow nerds the wrong way through the bottom level of the structure and through a bunch of alleys before finally backtracking far enough to find the entrance to the hotel the tournament was being held at. I’m not sure exactly how we became the group leaders, but it was a poor choice by the group.

Four members of our normal tourney group made it to the event, and all of us were on different decks. We had one Tron player, one UR Prowess player, and one Burn player who started the morning on Naya Burn but was on Boros Burn splashing green before the tournament actually started. I had made sure to copy out my decklist the night before, as I’ve had some mishaps with misregistering cards based on last-minute changes, so it was my job to make sure everyone else’s decklists added up to 60 and suggest terrible deck names for us to throw on our sheets. I suggested calling Tron “Warping Wail and Friends” because of the “secret” Warping Wail tech we’d brought. This tech ended up not being so secret, as I’d find out first-hand over the course of the day.

The tournament started on time at 400 strong, and we all wished each other luck as we spread out for our first rounds.

Round 1: Vs. Jund

It didn’t take long for me to figure out what my round 1 opponent was on, as he played a Blackcleave Cliffs and Thoughtseized me immediately on turn 1.  Oh Jund, please never change. My opponent took one of my threats, I believe a Snapcaster Mage, and passed it back to me.

As the game progressed, my opponent shocked himself and played more Thoughtseizes, setting his life total pretty low, as I drew Young Pyromancers and relevant spells. It took him several turns to find green mana, and it didn’t help that the green mana he found came in tapped. His last act was to cast a Tarmogoyf that had been stranded in his hand for awhile, and he conceded when I fired off a Snapcaster to make use of a Spell Snare that had been Thoughtseized away earlier.

I sided in my Blood Moons, Roast, and extra Spell Snare, cutting Deprives, Dispel, and a Gitaxian Probe. In game 2, my opponent would have gotten blown out if I’d ever drawn Blood Moon, as he fetched not one basic land, but it didn’t come to that. Instead, I set an early Grim Lavamancer that my opponent once again helped out through aggressive fetching and Thoughtseizing, and I was able to Bolt and Roast my opponent’s Dark Confidants and Tarmogoyf off the table while keeping a clock with Grim Lavamancer and Young Pyromancer-generated elemental tokens.

I talked with my opponent afterwards, and he said he had just put the deck together after realizing he was short only a few cards. We talked through some hands and plays and had a really genial post-first round chat. Overall, things were looking good after round 1, both record-wise and for the day as a whole.

Result: W (1-0)

Round 2: Vs. G/R Tron

I groaned a little internally when my round 2 opponent played an Urza’s Tower into an Expedition Map, as this match-up is tilted a little in the Tron player’s favor, and I was hoping to dodge Wurmcoil Engines for a round or so more. But I lucked out game 1, as my opponent was slow at assembling Tron and sticking a threat, and I was able to counter his few relevant spells with Mana Leaks and Deprives.  My main threat for this game was Grim Lavamancer, who when backed by my Bolts and Snapcasters was able to get the job done. A Young Pyromancer that I had found semi-early ate two Warping Wails (one that got countered and one that didn’t). So apparently our tech was not-so-secret at all.

I sided in Blood Moons, Molten Rains, and one Ancient Grudge, taking out the tiny bolts and mostly useless Dispel.

In game 2, my opponent resolved a turn 3 Wurmcoil Engine, and I didn’t come up with an answer. It wasn’t much of a game. If you could look at my life total sheet, you’d see my opponent’s life total go down to 19, then up by a few chunks of 6.

Game 3 went about as well as you can draw it up post-sideboard. I stuck Grim Lavamancer on turn 1, played a Snapcaster Mage as an Ambush Viper at the end of my opponent’s turn 2, cast Blood Moon turn 3, and cast Molten Rain turn 4. It was about as much of a game as game 2 was. Blood Moon also managed to strand a Warping Wail in my opponent’s hand, which I counted as sweet sweet justice.

I got lucky on this one, as the Tron match-up requires a decent bit of luck to win. I’d get less lucky when this match-up came around again later in the day.

Result: W (2-0)

Round 3: Vs. Grishoalbrand

This was my first loss, and I deserved to get it. I managed to win game 1 on the back of some decent early pressure, counterspells, and my opponent bricking after drawing a bunch of cards with a Through the Breach’d Griselbrand. Going into game 2, I discovered that I had de-sideboarded from round 2, but I had failed to add the cards that I’d taken out back in. So I had presented a deck that was only 55 cards.

This threw me a little bit, and I spent a good amount of time moving piles of my deck around and making sure that I actually had 60 cards for game 2. As a result, I mis-boarded a little bit. I know for a fact that Electrolyzes were still in my deck, and those should have been cut with Vendilion Cliques coming in. I managed to bring in my extra Spell Snare and Negate at least, I remember.

Game 2 was intense, with me resolving an early Delver that never flipped, a Young Pyromancer to back it up, and casting some timely Vapor Snags and Snapcaster’d Vapor Snags hitting Worldspine Wurms. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough, as my opponent was able to Through the Breach in a Borboygmos Enraged that finished me off. I did the math and figured out that I would’ve gotten him if my Delver had flipped at almost any point after turn 1.

I finally sideboarded correctly for game 3, but my opponent managed to go off on turn 3 with the help of Simian Spirit Guide. I had an interesting choice at the end of my turn 2, on whether to Mana Leak a Goryo’s Vengeance targeting a Griselbrand, or let it resolve and then Vapor Snag the Griselbrand. I chose to Vapor Snag the Griselbrand, assuming my opponent had a second Goryo’s if he felt the need to try this all on my end step. I was right, but my opponent found the Faithless Looting he needed to re-entomb his Griselbrand on his turn 3. I didn’t really feel bad about the loss, considering what’d happened, and wished my opponent luck in the next rounds.

Result: L (2-1)

Round 4: Vs. Affinity

I had made my peace with the last round, seeing as I didn’t really deserve the win and my opponent was a good guy, so I was excited to get back at it in round 4. My new opponent, however, was pretty disinterested. We did the die roll, and when I won and said I’d play first, my opponent responded with a deadpan “Shocking”.

I cast a Gitaxian Probe and discovered he was on all-foreign-text Affinity. It took me a minute to assess my opponent’s hand, being unable to read the card names, but I noted everything down then passed it back to him.

Affinity is supposed to be a decent match-up for my deck, as all of the Bolts and Electrolyzes are supposed to help me stabilize pretty well and then turn the corner to finishing the opponent off. That’s not what happened here. Instead, I drew mostly lands and dead counterspells that couldn’t interact with what was on the board, and I died pretty quickly without much of a fight. There was one key moment where I maybe should have kept a Dispel up for Galvanic Blast to protect an already flipped Delver, instead of playing a new one as I chose to, but my opponent would’ve gotten the first Delver eventually anyways, as he had two Galvanic Blasts.

Going into game 2, I sided out a good chunk of countermagic and brought in Ancient Grudges, Izzet Staticaster, Spell Snare, and Engineered Explosives. I said I’d play again, and I got the same wonderful, witty response as in game 1.

The game was going pretty well, with me hitting a Young Pyromancer and some interactive spells, including Ancient Grudge, when my opponent resolved a Ghirapur Aether Grid followed by a Whipflare. This was, as the kids say, bad for me. It essentially shut down any threat I could draw from my deck full of 1-toughness creatures, and I was not prepared for it. I still had outs in my two Engineered Explosives (which would have also taken care of the Master of Etherium that was killing me), but I didn’t find them and proceeded to die instead.

I told my opponent good games, and he responded with “Yeah, if there can even be good games in Modern.” Man, there are always some stinkers at these things huh? Hopefully he did actually have some fun at some point in the day? And look, now he’s in a blog post!

Result: L (2-2)

Round 5: Vs. Mostly Mono-Red Burn

I started round 5 by blind-casting Gitaxian Probe by paying 2 life. I was greeted by a hand full of fantastic-looking Mountains, Goblin Guides, and burn spells. Oh my.

Game 1 went about as well as could be expected, with Goblin Guides and Eidolons of the Great Revel getting Bolt’d, some burn spells getting countered, and Young Pyromancer and his elemental friends attacking for victory. At the start of the turn in which I was able to end the game, both of our life totals were at 3. It was a good game against a friendly opponent.

Game 2 went about the same way, but was interesting for a couple reasons. I discovered that my opponent had brought in Dragon’s Claw against me. He resolved one relatively early, and another one ate a Spell Snare late in the game. This isn’t completely unreasonable, as it slowed me down some and actually resulted in a curious last couple turns where I couldn’t cast an Electrolyze for the win without fearing my opponent would be able to kill me in response to my cracking my fetchland. But, I discovered after the game that my opponent had boarded out Eidolons, which I’m pretty sure can’t be right, and boarded in Destructive Revelry, which had no targets as of game 1 and only one as of game 2 (I had brought in the extra Spell Snare and Negate as well as Spellskite, cutting all three Gitaxian Probes). A Revelry was sitting dead in my opponent’s hand at the end of the game.

My opponent also chose at least a couple of times to not bolt my flipped Delver of Secrets, instead preferring to aim his bolts at my face. This also seemed unwise, as it was still early in the game and Delver represented a pretty fast clock. It’s possible my opponent wasn’t prepared for the amount of countermagic I had and figured his clock was fast enough to race mine.

I ended up winning, again at 3 life, and chatted with my opponent about the sideboard choices above, then I went off to see how the rest of our team was doing.

Result: W (3-2)

Interlude: The Great SCG Chicago Regionals Fire

Our team had all been finishing pretty early in each round, playing relatively fast decks, so we were all sitting around chatting about decks and records when the heating units in the ceiling began to fill the room with smoke. The ceiling started shaking, and there was a sound from above us not unlike a soft jet engine roaring up. With about fifteen minutes left in the round, the event organizers told us to evacuate the room, taking all of our things with us.

And so a gaggle of nerds proceeded to pile into the hotel lobby. We were not allowed to stay there, as there was a wedding going on in one of the other ballrooms and we were just generally taking up a lot of space in the entrance way. I’m sure a lot of people were confused as to what the heck was in town. We were moved into the bar and lounge area to wait out whatever was going on in the tournament room, and after some amount of time we were let back into the room. The staff had opened up a wall that connected to the outside to air out the smoke. This also, of course, defeated the purpose of turning the heaters on in the first place, but I don’t think anyone really minded much.

The round, of course, took forever to end from there, as everyone had to get re-seated and start playing again with twenty minutes on the clock, and then go to extra turns. But the staff handled it as well as could be expected, and really it didn’t derail the tournament any more than it should have.

At this point, most of our group was either 2-3 or 3-2, and none of us were very hopeful about doing any better than squeaking into 32nd for the last cash payout. Oh, how right we were, but that’s a story for later.

Round 6: Vs. Affinity (Again)

This Affinity match went about as well as the last one. Game 1 was actually a game, and I might’ve lost it on the back of a decision to race a Signal Pest-pumped Vault Skirge with my flipped Delver of Secrets. I figured I’d draw something to kill either the Pest, the Skirge, or both, and I just never did. It’s possible I should’ve just kept Delver back to block the lifelinking flier, as I might have won the race then. Eventually, Etched Champion finished me off.

I sideboarded pretty much the same as before, and played a game 2 in which Etched Champion and Cranial Plating killed me stone dead. They were backed up by my new least favorite card, Ghirapur Aether Grid. I’m pretty sure my opponent misplayed some with the Grid, and he could have finished me off a turn earlier by attaching both of his Platings to Etched Champion (he attached one to a very-boltable Ornithopter instead). As it was, it didn’t matter much; I was pretty dead by then anyways.

I wished my opponent luck and moved on to see how my 3-2 teammate was doing. He had managed to snag the win, which meant we were going to play some more Magic.

Result: L (3-3) 

Round 7: Vs. R/G Tron (Again)

This series of Tron games did not go as well as the ones before. In game 1, my opponent was able to stick multiple Wurmcoil Engines. I was able to deal with 1 by combining Grim Lavamancer, Lightning Bolt, and Pillar of Flame, managing to exile the worm so he wouldn’t get his replacement tokens. After that, I was pretty tapped out for dealing with the second one. My opponent resolved an Ulamog and I probably should have just scooped, but a) I like to make my opponents kill me and b) it seemed like he wanted to get his attack on with his Ulamog. I was in for allowing that.

Game 2 was a little bit more of a game, with a Young Pyromancer and Grim Lavamancer getting to do a bit of work before getting swept away by my opponent’s third sweeper (I’d managed to counter the other two). The opponent then stuck a Wurmcoil that I was unable to answer, and that was that.

My teammate managed to win his match again, keeping him alive for actually placing in the money. At this point, I was kind of drained and a little demoralized, but hey, I came to play Magic right? And my losses hadn’t been terrible, they’d mostly been on the back of poor draws and possibly minor misplays. So hey, let’s saddle up for another round, I figured. We might still be able to break even.

Result: L (3-4)

Round 8: Vs. Four-Color Nacatl

This…was a strange one. First off, almost half of our table was matched up against no shows, including myself and two of my teammates who were sitting slightly above me. However, my opponent happened to show up just before the round began, so we shuffled up to play.

I kept a slightly slow hand and proceeded to get beat up by Wild Nacatls and Tarmogoyfs. I don’t remember much here, but my life total sheet has me dropping pretty steadily down to 2 and then 0, while my opponent remained at 12. I did notice that my opponent was playing Naya splashing at least blue off a Hallowed Fountain, so I figured Blood Moon, Roast, Explosives, and the extra Spell Snare might be good.

In the second game, I mulliganed, was forced to scry a Blood Moon to the bottom because I only had one land, and stuck a Grim Lavamancer turn 1. My opponent passed to me with nothing in play on his turn 2. I proceeded to flash in a Snapcaster Mage, and in response my Lavamancer ate a Lightning Helix. My opponent again didn’t do anything on his turn 3, and I figured I had to keep applying pressure if I had any chance of winning. So I flashed in another Snapcaster Mage.

This was a mistake. Before the turn ended, my opponent flashed in an Izzet Staticaster, taking out both of my Snapcasters in one fell swoop. The Staticaster also turned off the rest of my threats, and I found myself pushing Young Pyromancers and Delvers to the bottom with Serum Visions, looking for some way to deal with the Staticaster. Meanwhile, my opponent played a Nactl and slowly beat me down with it, preferring to keep mana up rather than stick another threat on his next few turns.

There was one turn where I had a glimmer of hope. I played a Delver, a Grim, and a Young Pyromancer in the same turn, hoping to overload my opponent’s removal. He proceeded to Helix the Young Pyromancer, Path to Exile my Grim, and Staticaster the Delver. Things were pretty over at that point.

My opponent was pretty talkative, in a weird way in which he was kind of dissecting the game as it played out, and I talked with him for a little bit after the match. But mostly I was exhausted and a little discouraged, so I went to go find my teammates. Our winning teammate was still playing for top 32, so we were still in it. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to play more Magic at that point, but figured ah, what the heck, there’s only one round left anyways and my opponent is unlikely to even show up. Also, the rest of our team had to battle to make sure we weren’t the king of the losers, with all of us having very similar (sucky) records. So the fight was still on.

Result: L (3-5)

Round 9: Vs. No Show

We did it, y’all. My round 9 opponent didn’t show up, and I got the free win that my other teammates had gotten the round before. I ended up sitting next to a guy I knew tangentially from the Madison Magic scene whose opponent also didn’t show up (actually, he showed up and then quickly left, confusing the judges). Once my free win had been sorted out, the two of us sat down for a game. I was excited when I saw turn 1 basic Island into turn 2 Serum Visions. I was less excited when I died to a Goryo’s Vengeance’d Griselbrand on turn 2 (a turn 2 which took nearly forever, as my opponent drew all of the cards in his deck but three). But them’s the beats. I could have kept up a Spell Snare I had in hand instead of tapping out for Delver on turn one, but if that’s what I have to do to not die on turn 2 in Modern, I’d rather just die on turn 2 I guess.

Figuring that that was probably the signal to call it a day, I politely excused myself from playing any sideboarded games and waited to see how our winning teammate did. He ended up getting there, so we waited for standings to be announced after the round.

Result: W [Sort of] (4-5)

Wrap-Up:

Our winning teammate ended up getting exactly 32nd, earning him 50 bucks and the ability to claim that he’s now a professional Magic player. We were pretty pumped for him, and took his picture with his spoils. On the ride back, we discussed team names, and while we didn’t come up with any good names, we came up with a good motto:

“You can ban our decks, but you can’t ban our friendship.”

Neat, right?

As for me, I need to figure out what to play in the new Modern. It won’t be UR Delver, as I don’t think I can play a deck that a) probably just loses to Eldrazi (as it can’t outrace it, auto-loses to Chalice of the Void on 1, and has no real answers if any of the Eldrazi hit the board) and b) auto-loses to cards like Ghirapur Aether Grid and Izzet Staticaster. Whatever deck I play next will have more varied threats so that all of them don’t die to cards that kill X-1s.

With the cards I own, I’m likely looking at building some sort of Grixis Control list or some sort of Blue Moon list (starting from the semi-successful Pro Tour list). I don’t think I’ll be buying many new cards to adapt if I can help it, as it seems unlikely that the format will remain the way it is right now…

But deck building is a story for another post. For now, thanks for sticking with me through this tournament report, and I’ll see you here next week!

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