This weekend featured the first Grand Prix of 2019, and with it came a unique solidification of the Modern format. With a Top 8 consisting of four KCI and one Arclight deck, the decks to beat continue to show their power. For us here at Kingslayer Games, the weekend held a greater promise than simply success — our players were out there, putting their hard work to test. I am going to briefly recap the overall event for Kingslayer Games, and follow it up with my Tournament Report. Three of us made Day 2, though many others lost Round 8, fighting to make the cut. I was 8-1, while Kurtis was 7-2, and Kyle was 6-3. Kyle’s Day 2 was cut short after a couple of losses, giving him the opportunity to drop and play some Draft. Kurtis took his third loss shortly after, while I escaped a loss until back to back losses at 10-1.
With any GP we award Comp to players who perform well, and compensation for GP Oakland is distributed as follows:
Dylan Feeman — $250
Kurtis Roberts — $150
Kyle Miller — $50
Modern PTQ – Day 0
GP Oakland started with a Thursday night road trip. Jose Santana, Bobby McCamey, and Andrew Goodwin and I were piled up into a car about the size of a kiddie pool. Ordinarily, I like to talk about Magic with some background music on our road trips, as sitting with other good players for hours is a great way to pick their brains. The four of us were planning to play in the Friday PTQ, so we came prepared to talk sideboard strategy. That sideboard breakdown never quite happened, as we quickly became engrossed in stories of tournaments past and LA Traffic. Eventually, we put on some stand-up comedy routines to compensate for our fading wit and saved the discussion for dinner.
We arrived at the hotel at around 1 AM, but with the buzz of activity settled to sleep late into the night. The first night at GPs is rough for me since I’m a light sleeper, so I knew the ensuing two hours of sleep I would get that night was expected. I woke up continuously from the thunderous rumbling of Andrew’s snoring. I was completely exhausted when it was time to leave for the venue. Our hotel was in San Francisco, so we needed a thirty-minute cushion to ensure timely arrival. We arrived at the venue as the hall was opening and met up with some of our friends from SoCal.
Andrew and I worked on a sideboard plan for various matchups shortly before the event. Sideboard discussions are crucial for understanding the underlying play patterns of matchups. Still formulating plans for the mirror, I sat down for what would prove to be an eventful PTQ. In Round 1 I found myself paired against a Blue Moon deck (I would later find out it was Madcap Moon). After a few Thing in the Ice triggers and some timely Bolts, I started the tournament off with a win. There were over two-hundred players in the PTQ, so a 5-0 record would likely be needed to Top 8, as only 1 4-1 player could potentially get in. In Round 2 I played the mirror, and my countermagic heavy version let me sneak in a win in both postboard games.
I was feeling pretty good, as 2-0 is a great spot to be in. More importantly, I was confident in myself and in my deck. My opponent in Round 3 was Alex Yearwood on Hollow One. I had seen Alex at other events but had no foundation of his skill level. Game 1 he casts a Burning Inquiry and I draw into a flame slash to kill his Hollow One. From there, I put a couple of Arclight Phoenixes into play with a counterspell for his follow up spell, and we move into game 2. In game 2 I was very far ahead, even though he had a Nihil Spellbomb in play. I played the control role, countering his Goblin Lores and trying to buy as much time as possible to draw a threat. After he answered my next two threats, I succumbed quickly to a Gurmag Angler. In Game 3 we start trading resources again and I resolve a Surgical Extraction on his Bloodghasts. Removing this best threat in the matchup let me win the resource war, and a resolved Crackling Drake nets me a handy 3-for-1. He runs out of black sources in his deck, so his big Goblin Lore turn doesn’t let him cast the Gurmag Angler in his hand. I draw a Ral and it quickly takes over the game.
At 3-0, I get paired against my friend Roman Fusco. Roman has been a big name in the SoCal area since moving here, but I had not seen his skill with Burn until we had played at GP LA. Burn is a tough matchup for Arclight, and I had skimped on sideboard cards for it. Mishaps were bound to happen, and as we present we are stopped by a judge for a deck check. Sleeves are typically an issue with me as I shuffle hard and fast. This means that noticeable wear can show on sleeves quite quickly. My new sleeves had been thoroughly scuffed after a few rounds of play, and I get pulled aside to talk about a sleeve issue with one of the judges. She explains that many of my cards had knicks on the back, with the playset of Thing in the Ice having more knicks. Upon demonstrating how I shuffle she determines that the extra knicks are from pulling the card in and out of the sleeve. However, this constitutes a potential for abuse and at competitive play is an automatic Game Loss.
Coming off the game loss, I lose a very close Game 2. With one round left and likely dead for Top 8, I resign myself to just play my best. Gathering data and trying out innovative sideboard plans is a crucial part to success in Modern, and I make a habit of never dropping from events if I have something to learn. We take a look at standings before pairings are put up, and I notice that I’m the 3-1 player with the best breakers, and Top 8 is not a clean cut. What this means is that my table and the table next to me are playing win and ins, assuming that my breakers cooperate. I found myself paired against Gan Yan, the only 18-0 GP Winner in Magic’s history. His historic 18-0 run with Monored happened at GP Seattle last year. I knew he was on Bant Spirits, so I decided to be proactive in the first turns. He plays a Mausoleum Wanderer, and I kill it and put a phoenix into play. He stumbles from there, and a flurry of burn spells finishes him off.
In Game 2 he blows me out with a turn two Rest in Peace, with a sizeable spirit army on board. In the high stakes Game 3, I put two Arclight Phoenix’s into play on turn 2 but he has a Path to catch back up. A Moorland Haunt draw for him keeps blocking my Phoenix, while his Geist of Saint Traft beats down. I decide to trade Phoenix for geist while he is at 3 life, and a few turns later I draw the bolt to finish him off. When Top 8 is announced they call my name, and congratulations abound. The Quarters ended quickly for me, as I lost a couple of close games against Burn. Respecting the matchup would prove to be an important lesson.
On the drive back from the venue, we let Jose navigate with his phone, which naturally leads us in the opposite direction. Driving around in circles puts everyone on edge, but luckily we make it into bed by around midnight. I have two byes for the event, but the rest of them had none, so this means I need to wake up at 7 to leave with them. Learning from the PTQ, I had resolved to respect Burn and jammed 2 copies of Timely Reinforcements into my sideboard.
Modern Main Event – Day 1
Coming off of my byes, I get paired against Storm. This match is close, but in Game 2 he draws the right sequence of cards to kill me, and in Game 3 I make a huge punt. I was flustered and assumed he was distributing his Grapeshot copies in a different way than he was, costing me the game. Had I asked for clarification, I can Spell Snare a copy and win the game. Frustrated at this loss, I promised myself I would play tight the rest of the tournament.
Round 4 I am up against Monored Phoenix, and the main deck Spell Pierce caused my opponent to stumble, and I win this match 2-0. In Round 5 I am paired against Rachel Agnes, a well known Magic personality. She is on Tron and I get decimated in Game 1. In Game 2 I draw very well and my Turn 2 board state consists of two Arclight Phoenix and an Alpine Moon. In Game 3 I keep a risky hand with multiple sideboard cards, but we both have slow starts. Eventually, I hit my second land drop and put phoenixes into play. Round 6 I play Burn, and win game one off of a turn two Thing in the Ice. Game two I blow him out with Timely Reinforcements and find myself at 5-1 shortly thereafter. Salvaging the punt versus storm, I know I’m playing for a chance to make Day 2. Round 7 I get paired against Tron again and lose pretty quickly to Karn in Game 1. Just Tron things I guess. Alpine Moon and countermagic get me there in postboard games. At 6-1 I get paired against the Arclight Mirror, but my opponent is on an innovative Jeskai version with Monastery Mentor and Path to Exile in the sideboard. Game 1 we both keep slow hands that present like Jeskai control, but I draw a threat before he does. Game 2 is crazy close, and I get punished for not casting Flame Slash on his Thing in the Ice. He only had one card in hand, so the chances of him flipping it are low. I cast a Crackling Drake instead, and he flips Thing in the Ice. With no outs, I concede and we move to Game 3. I have an aggressive start back up by counterspells and this slows him down enough to put him to 6 life. He casts a couple of thought scours, and each one mills over a phoenix, and has a huge turn with 3 Arclights to help him stabilize. He makes an attack to put me on a two-turn clock, but I draw the Lightning Bolt to finish him off. I’m ecstatic, as being 7-1 means I make the cut for Day 2 and only have one round left. An 8-1 finish would put me in a good position to Top 8 or cash. In Round 9 I get paired against Burn again and win Game 1 off of Thing in the Ice while he floods out. Game 2 I cast Timely Reinforcements, and his Searing Blood on my phoenix is not enough to save him. I was feeling great. Ending Day 1 at 8-1 after punting Round 3 left me with a lot of confidence. The list was strong, and I was playing well.
Modern Main Event – Day 2
I have Day 2 ahead of me and my roommates have the PTQ to play in. I’m feeling a little under the weather in the morning, but Andrew trekked through rain and cold to find me some water. Andrew showcasing himself as the unsung hero of this GP. He spent the majority of Sunday taking pictures of everyone on the team and watching my matches, cheering me on. In Round 10 I find myself up against Bryan Carey. I know that he is on Bant Spirits, and I close out Game 1 with Thing in the Ice. Game 2 I sequence around Eidolon of Rhetoric perfectly and find myself rewarded. He puts his shields down to resolve it, and one Flame Slash later I’ve moved on to 9-1. Round 11 finds me paired against famous Magic teenager Nathan Steuer. I watched some of his prior rounds, so I knew he was a strong player with KCI. Game 1 I win by flipping Thing and hitting him for thirteen on Turn 4. I won this match with some very skillful plays, such as shrugging and hard casting Arclight Phoenixes. He never saw an Ironworks in about half of his deck, and at 10-1 I find myself in a reasonable position to Top 8. In Round 12 my table gets called up for a feature match, but last minute we get deck checked. I am a little frustrated at this, but use the time to get back into a focused mental state. I know I’m up against Burn again, and I lose the die roll. I’m one turn too slow, and he picks up the first game to a timely Searing Blaze. Game 2 is a mess. I mulligan down to six cards, and have to keep a hand without an answer for the Eidolon he plays on Turn 2. I have a Thing in the Ice in play, but take 8 damage to flip my Thing and put him on a quick clock. This puts me down to 8 life, and I have to keep a Timely Reinforcements in hand in case I can draw a white source off the top. He draws his third land and casts a few bolts.
A bit dejected, I tell myself that I still played well and that 10-2 is still a strong record. In Round 13 I am paired against Tron, and I quickly lose this match. Game 1 he has Turn 3 Karn while I am missing land drops. In Game 2 I have 6 turns to draw a spell to flip my Thing in the Ice for lethal. I proceed to draw dead and get run over. At 10-3 my Top 8 dream is dead, but I can still pick up some cash and some Pro Points towards Bronze. In Round 14 I find myself paired against Bant Spirits again, and I quickly 2-0 the match. Thing in the Ice locks it up in Game 1. In game two he has an Eidolon of Rhetoric in play, and I force him to sacrifice his Selfless Spirit to save it from Flame Slash. With Eidolon in play, he cannot protect any of his creatures from my Vapor Snag. When he taps out for a Drogskol Captain I cast the Vapor Snag on his Eidolon and flip my Thing the next turn.
In the final round, I get paired against another SoCal player, Chris Iaali. He makes a comment about playing the best deck in Modern. I jokingly said this about Living End during our Standard IQ the week before which I suspected he was referencing. Game 1 I discard creatures to my own looting spells. He casts a Living End but a Thing in the Ice and Crackling Drake are returned. Seeing no more in his deck, I am able to pressure him, and a timely Vapor Snag gets the first game. In both postboard games, he has a Leyline of the Void in his opening hand, and I draw a lot of cantrips. Game 2 he resolves an early Living End and I die very quickly to his Archfiend. He plays the control role in Game 3 and manages my board with a pair of Shriekmaw. Unable to race the unblockable 3/2s, I lose a few turns later.
Overall, I was satisfied with my list and my play. With exception of my Tron and Storm matches, my losses were close and could have gone either way. Knowing when I have agency over my losses helps me manage my disappointment. Losing out on another 12-3 finish and the additional Pro Point was unfortunate, but Chris is a fantastic player who definitely deserved it. I learned a lot about the format from this weekend, and the only card I would change from my list is the main deck Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. At many points I wanted it to be a Snapcaster Mage, but on Friday night I couldn’t justify making the switch without testing. Going forward, I would play the Snapcaster Mage as it supplements the counterspells very well and often the Phoenix deck is on the backfoot. This was the list I played at the GP, and I have not had a deck with this many decision intensive games since playing Splinter Twin.
Next time I’ll be talking about Ravnica Allegiance Spoilers and manabases, as well as.
You can follow Dylan on Twitter @pariahpopular