GP Pittsburgh Recap and Analysis!

*Normally I post my Video Series on Monday, with my text article on Thursday, but with Thanksgiving this week we’re bumping my text piece to today and postponing the Video Series until next Monday. If this tortures your soul let my boss know so I can make more videos!

This past weekend, Modern players worldwide were given a rare treat; an actual high-level Modern event to watch and play! I’ve been struggling my way through this Modern offseason, and while I should have been working this weekend I was glued to my TV screen watching 2,679 players fight for Modern dominance! Today, I’ll be breaking down the results from the event, covering the Day Two Metagame, Top 8, and some list-specific technology. Let’s get started!

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GP Pittsburgh in Context

Leading up to the event, the general consensus had Jund and Affinity at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Grixis Control in the hands of Danny Jessup had breathed some new life into the archetype and it seemed like the stage was set for GP Pittsburgh to become a midrange grindfest as Jund and Grixis fought to out-value each other. On the fringes were creature decks like Naya Company and combo like Scapeshift. Amulet Bloom seemed like a fine choice for the weekend, as it had fallen almost completely off the radar and should be a good matchup if everyone is gunning for Jund (an unfavorable matchup for Amulet). With this information in mind I suggested two decks for GP Pittsburgh in my last article; Amulet Bloom for those looking to “metagame”, and Grixis Control as my go-to choice in Modern. Were these good choices for GP Pittsburgh?

Day Two Metagame Information

Archetype Total % Field
Twin (All Types) 37 12.1%
Affinity 32 10.4%
Jund 27 8.8%
Zoo (All Types) 23 7.5%
Tron (All Types) 20 6.5%
Abzan 18 5.9%
Company (All Decks) 18 5.9%
Amulet Bloom 17 5.5%
Burn (All Types) 12 3.9%
Infect 11 3.6%
Merfolk 10 3.3%
Grixis Control 9 2.9%
Scapeshift (All Types) 9 2.9%
Living End 7 2.3%
All Other 57 18.6%
TOTAL 307 100.0%

The Day Two Metagame information paints a picture that is surprisingly unsurprising. Everyone knew Jund and Affinity were the decks to beat going in to the event, and there they sit at the top of the hill, joined as always by Splinter Twin! With 30% of the field on one of these three decks, and no other single archetype coming close to their representation numbers, we see a clear division between the Top Tier and everything else in the format.

There are some interesting pieces of information we can pull from this, however.Eidolon of the Great Revel First and probably the most important is Burn’s abysmal conversion rate to Day Two. While Burn is slightly overrepresented online compared to real-life events due to its cheap cost, the fact remains that it is cheap in real life as well and always puts up a strong showing at events. 3.9% on Day Two is a clear sign that player were prepared for Burn this weekend (we’ll get to this more in the list discussion section). The most-represented combo deck was Amulet Bloom, which validates my stance pre-event and is encouraging to see. The fact that zero Amulet Bloom decks were able to punch into Top 8 suggests to me that they were able to carve up the Day One field but ran into some combination of bad matchups and prepared opponents on Day Two.

Grixis Control put up unimpressive numbers again, grabbing 9 slots out of 307 to make Day Two. My explanation for this is the same I’ve had for a while;Cryptic Command Modern is a format that punishes reactive strategies, and the vast array of things to do in the format make it extremely difficult for decks like Grixis and Jeskai to truly “control” the game. Grixis’ best draws are its proactive ones, which is why we’ve seen that archetype shift away from Cryptic Command and Mana Leak towards Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Pia and Kiran Nalaar. Unfortunately, this just makes the deck weaker vs. those random combo decks and strengthens an already solid matchup vs. midrange and creature decks. I still think a list similar to Jessup’s is the best one we’ve seen so far. That said, I’m afraid that without some significant metagame shifts Grixis will always be an archetype that’s good enough for Day Two, maybe Top 8, but will remain a long shot to win an event.

Other points of note are Living End’s minor resurgence, due to a reduction in graveyard hate as people shift towards help for other matchups. Naya Zoo is here to stay, and I expect these numbers to increase. The deck has a solid matchup against almost everything, and while Jund is tough and some fast combo can be difficult the archetype can build its sideboard to pick on anybody (usually Affinity and Twin).

Before talking about Top 8 I want to touch on the Day One Undefeated decklists.

1 Abzan
2 Jund
2 Elves (with Lead the Stampede)
1 RG Tron
1 Grixis Control (the Midrange version!)
1 Amulet Bloom
1 Affinity
1 U/B Faeries!?

Woah, hold it right there.

U/B Faeries, Anthony Huynh, 13th – GP Pittsburgh

Creatures (12)
Spellstutter Sprite
Snapcaster Mage
Vendilion Clique
Mistbind Clique
Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Enchantments (4)
Bitterblossom

Instants (12)
Cryptic Command
Mana Leak
Remand
Go for the Throat
Murderous Cut
Slaughter Pact
Disfigure
Dismember

Sorceries (6)
Thoughtseize
Inquisition of Kozilek

Lands (26)
Polluted Delta
Watery Grave
Drowned Catacomb
Creeping Tar Pit
Mutavault
Ghost Quarter
Island
Swamp
Sideboard (15)
Slaughter Pact
Countersquall
Damnation
Hurkyl’s Recall
Engineered Explosives
Sower of Temptation
Dispel
Go for the Throat
Ætherling
Duress
Sword of Light and Shadow
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Now, the first thing I thought when I saw this at the bottom of the Day One Undefeated page wasSnapcaster Mage “yeah, sure, it can beat a Day One field but can’t hold its own against the real decks”. Then I took a peek at the standings, and Huynh grabbed 39 match points (13-2 for those counting at home) missing Top 8 on breakers. For reference, 10 players earned 39 points, and 4 of them made Top 8 (including eventual winner Alex Bianchi). We were very close to witnessing a U/B Faeries list Top 8. Just saying. This list eschews Scion of Oona for Snapcaster Mage, which I’ve seen enough to recognize that its not revolutionary, but still worth pointing out. That Aetherling in the sideboard though… I will be transparent and say I have not played a match with this deck, but I have played against it numerous times and I’m struggling to argue against swapping out Aetherling for Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, or at least Jace, Architect of Thought a la U/R Twin. Maybe I’ve found my next Modern Video Series deck?

The Top Eight

It’s interesting to note that only one Day One Undefeated pilot managed to convert to Top 8 (Aaron Webster piloting Affinity). Neal Oliver’s Amulet Bloom was only able to scrape together one win on Day Two after a 9-0 Day One performance to finish with 30 points. Matthew Rayes’ Grixis Control only fared slightly better, picking up two wins on Day Two to finish at 33. Besides the Abzan list, every other Undefeated Day One deck finished relatively strong.

Top 8
2 Affinity*
2 U/R Twin
1 Jeskai Twin*
1 G/W Aggro*
1 Titan Scapeshift
1 Grixis Control

*denotes Top 4 performance

Before diving into some lists, a full 62.5% of the Top 8 slots were gobbled up by Tier 1 decks, in this case Affinity and Twin. While Twin had higher Top 8 representation, Affinity had a better T8 performance, but this is due to some of the Twin decks knocking each other out in the quarterfinals. First up, the winner:

Jeskai Twin, Alex Bianchi, 1st – GP Pittsburgh

Creatures (14)
Wall of Omens
Snapcaster Mage
Deceiver Exarch
Pestermite
Vendilion Clique
Restoration Angel
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

Sorceries (4)
Serum Visions

Instants (16)
Lightning Bolt
Path to Exile
Spell Snare
Dispel
Remand
Electrolyze
Cryptic Command

Enchantments (3)
Splinter Twin

Lands (23)
Scalding Tarn
Flooded Strand
Steam Vents
Hallowed Fountain
Sacred Foundry
Island
Mountain
Plains
Sulfur Falls
Cascade Bluffs
Celestial Colonnade
Sideboard (15)
Dispel
Wear // Tear
Stony Silence
Pia and Kiran Nalaar
Engineered Explosives
Celestial Purge
Keranos, God of Storms
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
Blood Moon
Flashfreeze
Negate
Timely Reinforcements
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The main draw to Jeskai Twin has always been better removal in the form of Path to Exile, some great beaters in the form of Restoration Angel, and a wider array of strong sideboard cards. Here we see a list that is built with Jund in mind, with a maindeck full of value and a sideboard with access to Keranos, God of Storms, Pia and Kiran Nalaar, and even an Elspeth, Sun’s Champion! I really like Bianchi’s choice for this weekend, as he picked a powerful archetype with subtle shifts that paid dividends against a field full of Jund and aggro. Those Timely Reinforcements definitely did great work for him this weekend, and the ability to blink Wall of Omens or Pia and Kiran Nalaar with Restoration Angel or Kiki Jiki, Mirror Breaker sounds awesome.

GW Hatebears, Craig Wescoe, 4th - GP Pittsburgh

Creatures (30)
Noble Hierarch
Voice of Resurgence
Qasali Pridemage
Scavenging Ooze
Leonin Arbiter
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Loxodon Smiter
Aven Mindcensor
Linvala, Keeper of Silence
Wilt-Leaf Liege
Brimaz, King of Oreskos

Artifacts (4)
Æther Vial

Instants (4)
Path to Exile

Lands (22)
Stirring Wildwood
Plains
Forest
Tectonic Edge
Ghost Quarter
Horizon Canopy
Temple Garden
Razorverge Thicket
Sideboard (15)
Stony Silence
Sigarda, Host of Herons
Dismember
Spellskite
Gaddock Teeg
Burrenton Forge-Tender
Kor Firewalker
Choke
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So, first of all, Craig Wescoe brought a Pro Tour deck to a Grand Prix. Stony SilenceYou don’t put 4 Stony Silence in your board unless you want to send a message. Craig carefully constructed his deck to prey on the expected combo decks this weekend, while relying on his maindeck discard hate in the form of Loxodon Smiter and Wilt-Leaf Liege to help in the Jund Midrange matchup. While not necessarily unfavorable, Jund exists to beat creature decks like this to a pulp, and Craig took advantage of the perceived Jund hate this weekend and was able to slip through into the Top 8. His sideboard, tuned to fight Burn, Affinity, and Twin, looks almost like he knew exactly what the Top 8 composition would be. It’s like Craig is a super genius or something…

Watching him dispatch Corey Burkhart with his singleton Choke in the quarterfinals was painful to watch, but there’s no denying the power of that card in the Grixis and Twin matchups. I’m really in love with this list (as I am with most Pro Tour lists) but I don’t expect it to be sustainable post-event (as with most Pro Tour lists). Craig’s deck is awesome, but is a slightly underpowered list carefully constructed for an accurately predicted metagame.

Titan Scapeshift, Thien Nguyen, 7th - GP Pittsburgh

Creatures (8)
Primeval Titan
Sakura-Tribe Elder

Sorceries (15)
Search for Tomorrow
Farseek
Explore
Scapeshift
Primal Command

Artifacts (4)
Relic of Progenitus

Enchantments (4)
Khalni Heart Expedition

Instants (2)
Commune with Lava

Land (27)
Stomping Ground
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
Cinder Glade
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Forest
Mountain
Sideboard (15)
Obstinate Baloth
Crumble to Dust
Nature’s Claim
Rending Volley
Anger of the Gods
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No frills. No counterspells. Just ramp. This deck is an awesome throwback to the old R/G Valakut Ramp decks, all the way down to the Explore and Khalni Heart Expedition.Explore The thing that strikes me about this deck is how great it plays against both Blood Moon and Thoughtseize; unlike Tron or Amulet, the built-in redundancy can just position Nguyen to draw into another threat if he loses one (as he plays nine). Under a Blood Moon, he can still ramp like normal, and casting a huge Commune with Lava can find him a Nature’s Claim should he need it. Turn 3 Crumble to Dust in the ramp semi-mirrors seems sweet also, and I’m really liking the simplicity of his list, all the way down to the 3-3-3-3-3 sideboard. Nguyen was dispatched by Aaron Webster piloting Affinity in the quarterfinals, even though he has a full nine cards to bring in for the matchup. Webster even beat Wescoe and his 4 Stony Silence in the semis, talk about fighting through hate! I think this deck is solid, though maybe a little underpowered/one dimensional, but I’m going to hold any significant judgement until I play it for myself.

Conclusion

GP Pittsburgh was a blast to watch and I can’t wait to try out some of these decks for myself. While I heard the coverage and organization wasn’t the smoothest, I’m ecstatic at the turnout numbers and the viewership on Twitch all weekend (15,000 viewers at one point, and I doubt that was the all-time high!). If viewers and players keep turning out in such great numbers for these events that’s great news for those of us who love Modern (read: all of us). What do you think? Any information about the weekend that I missed? Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next week!

Trevor Holmes
The_Architect on MTGO
Twitch.tv/Architect_Gaming
Twitter.com/7he4rchitect

 

Trevor started playing Magic in 2011. He plays primarily online and studies Architecture at UNCC. Recent paper Magic accomplishments include a 2015 Regional PTQ win qualifying for Pro Tour: Magic Origins and a Day Two performance at GP Charlotte. He also streams weekdays at twitch.tv/Architect_Gaming! Follow him at twitter.com/7he4rchitect and architectgaming.wordpress.com!

26 thoughts on “GP Pittsburgh Recap and Analysis!

  1. Do you think Burn’s “underrepresentation” has anything to do with WoTC seeing Wild Nacatl in a decklist and saying “welp that’s Zoo!” This seems to explain Zoo’s unusually high numbers and Burn’s unusually low ones.

    1. This is possible, I’m not sure how to approach this moving forward. Some distinction has to be made, possibly the number of Burn spells in the list is a better determining factor for “Zoo vs. Burn”. I’m not sure where the WoTC coverage team draws the line for their naming conventions. Good point!

      1. Yeah, sounds like they are lumping them together. A quote from their Day 2 Metagame Breakdown:

        “The return of Zoo has been a recurring story at Modern Grand Prix, thanks to the various Commands added with Dragon’s of Tarkir. Atarka’s Command, alongside Wild Nacatl and sometimes Become Immense, shifted Boros Burn into a distinctly more creature-based strategy while Dromoka’s Command helped buff the Voice of Resurgence-Loxodon Smiter-Lightning Bolt creature approachs.”

        Kind of annoying to lump them together as Zoo because sticking Wild Nacatl into Burn doesn’t really change the deck on a fundamental level, where as most versions of Zoo have a very different feel.

        There are probably some basic theoretical questions we could ask when clarifying a deck as Zoo or Burn, but as a basic rule, I think if a deck runs Lava Spike or Rift Bolt, it’s probably Burn.

        Not really sure what to make of Become Immense. Is that a thing now? Seems risky.

  2. Well, Twin finally made its way back to the top of the heap. Took it long enough. As a Merfolk player, though, I’m a bit disappointed by the relative underperformance of our deck (3.9% Day 2 and no Top-32), but a meta with Twin and Hatebears promises good things going forward for us. I also think you’re onto something when you say that Grixis needs to change something in order to be considered a threat to go all the way at a major event – I think even more aggressiveness and embracing a true midrange role may be the way to go.

  3. It’s generally accepted that Amulet is a a bad matchup for Jund. Not the other way around like you say.

    It’s ability to just rattle off giant threats is too much for Jund to handle usually. They only play so many Terminates, and every Titan that lands has another coming right behind it.

    After board it gets even worse as they bring in Hornet Queen and Thragtism as more difficult to deal with threats.

    Big ramp decks are a nightmare for Jund and Amulet is no different. I think you’re assuming Amulet is a pure combo deck and would therefore crumble to hand disruption and that’s just not true. It topdecks with the best of them. A common play against grindy matchups is to just play you summer bloom as a broken ramp spell and the slam haymakers the rest of the match.

    1. I agree completely with you, which means I probably didn’t do a great job explaining my stance on that matchup. I view it through the lens of “Amulet is a better matchup for Jund than R/G Tron, but still unfavorable”. Thanks for keeping me honest!

    2. In multiple articles across multiple sites and comment sections I have heard that the consensus is that the Amulet Bloom matchup is good/great/bad/terrible for Jund, with data supporting all conclusions. I’m inclined at this point to think that the matchup is in fact pretty even and experience and sideboarding plans are the difference makers rather than either side having a clear advantage.

  4. Hello Trevor, interesting article. GPPitt was a blast to watch indeed! An episode featuring Jeskai Twin would be great to watch. I really liked how your series started with Herrera and Silberman winning lists and Bianchi’s seems a great option for next week. It’d be really cool to know your impressions and suggestions at the end of the article.

      1. Both winning and cool decks are great options! But it is kinda weird once we start seing 64th places (Chapin) and no-event brews (LSV). Maybe you should focus on T16 lists. Don’t get me wrong, any good player can come up with a good list, but then you’ve got people complaining about card choices for their pet deck (WB Tokens) and feeling they were let down.

        Your video series is awesome and really helpful too. I’m sure we all here want to the see the best in action and you deliver. But I believe it would be interesting if you just focused on lists with top finishes (T8/16 maybe). Give them a spin and then post your own take based on what you learnt and how it played out.

        1. I’m glad you like the series! You make great points, that T16 lists carry more weight, but I think the split between winning lists/under the radar brews is healthy, as long as it remains a solid mix of both. I mean, look at Lantern Control’s history pre-Charlotte, at Charlotte, and then at GP Oklahoma City. Should we only pay attention to the deck once it wins a GP? I’m not so sure.

          What do you guys think? Definitely interested in as much feedback on this as possible!

          1. Agreed. It’s healthy because it lets you play a lot of diverse decks and that’s the whole point. In fact, we can explore the format and get some insight on sweet/new decks. I respect what you’re doing and hope you get to the correct split.

            However, if by “under the radar brews” you mean Tier3 and lower, there’s plenty of good finishes for them on the internet. What I mean is that those brews’ players may feel let down if pro-submitted lists are the go-to for your videos, because that random guy who actually won that random IQ/Open probably knows the deck better.

  5. If you guys do end up doing a series or article on faeries Im sure the faerie crew at mtgsalvation can answer any questions for you. I’m all for good faerie P.R. and after all the hate I read/heard while it was on camera more understanding of the deck could help. It really is a labor of love kind of deck though, and its success really does depend on the pilot and how the deck is personalized.

  6. Are we just not going to talk about 4x cinder glade, 1x stomping grounds in the valakut list? Cause that definitely seems like something to pay attention to going forward. The general consensus has been that shocks are just better, and 11 basics probably has something to do with the composition of the list, but 4 battle lands vs. 1 shock is noteworthy

    1. The guy that pìloted that deck has been posting a lot on Reddit about it, found the answer to that particular question:

      https://www.reddit.com/r/magicTCG/comments/3u6tmh/hi_im_thien_nguyen_im_the_guy_that_top_8d_gp/cxcs7jy

      “The 2 damage from Stomping Grounds matter a lot in many matchups. It’s usual the difference between barely making it and death. Basic forests are huge because it lets you play around Blood Moon. Also having a less painful mana base was a big goal of mine. Being able to fetch Cinder Glades untapped was a huge step up from having to fetch Stomping Grounds especially when I needed green sources that were also Mountains.”

  7. I really like the way that the Grixis deck is streamlined to abuse flip jace and the fearless 3 dispel approach for burn. I am pretty sure that the key to making grixis a better is to give up on being a counterspells-in-the-60 kind of deck.

    It totally sucks, but design is inherenty making counters mediocre. Time to roll with the punches and recast super efficient spells until the opponent dies. Hitch your grixis wagons to flipjace, grixirinos.

  8. Liked to see faeries, but it seemed weird to watch them just ending games with creature lands almost all of the time. I guess it’s the price you pay for having no resistance to fair 1-1 mindrnge-y removal (no Scion of Oona, remember?).

    It was funny to read comments on stream every time Amulet got on the screen. “Broken”, “stupid combo” and trash-talk like this. Well, when on the opposing side is Jund, it can be viewed as “totally OP”. It’s fine, guys!

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