New Modern Kickoff: SCG IQ Report

Welcome to the third week of the new Modern. For many of us this is probably the most significant week simply because now is when the new IQ season really kicks off. Yes, there were a few IQ’s last week concurrent with the Baltimore Open, but this is the week that stores nationally really started to host tournaments, allowing Modern Spikes to finally start grinding without fear again. As a bonus, this also means that Sheridan’s data sample is growing so we can finally start to get an accurate picture of the metagame. With States next weekend, now is the time for deck reevaluation and serious testing.

Saving Grasp

Despite being qualified I was unable (and slightly unwilling) to travel to Columbus for the Invitational, so instead I attended my local Modern IQ. I also expected to benefit from a softer field since many of the better players who weren’t in Columbus were traveling to Albuquerque for the Grand Prix. While I understand the appeal, I won’t travel out of state for Sealed GP’s. I hate having my fate decided by random number generators and the thought of being at the mercy of my Sealed pool after a lengthy drive isn’t my idea of a good time. Constructed GP’s are another story; choosing my deck makes me feel like I’m more in control of my fate and makes the trip more palatable.

The Deck

This should come as no surprise to long-time readers, but I played UW Merfolk again. I’ve often said that you should play what you know in an uncertain metagame, but I actually didn’t want to play Merfolk this time. States is next week and I wanted to get some deck testing in at a more competitive event. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible.

UW Merfolk, by David Ernenwein (SCG IQ)

Creatures (24)
Cursecatcher
Silvergill Adept
Lord of Atlantis
Master of the Pearl Trident
Merrow Reejerey
Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
Master of Waves

Artifacts (4)
Aether Vial

Instants (8)
Path to Exile
Deprive
Echoing Truth

Enchantments (4)
Spreading Seas

Lands (20)
Island
Wanderwine Hub
Seachrome Coast
Mutavault
Tectonic Edge
Sideboard (15)
Stony Silence
Hurkyl’s Recall
Rest in Peace
Burrenton Forge-Tender
Meddling Mage
Hibernation
Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
Unified Will
Buy deck on Cardhoarder (MTGO)Buy deck on TCGPlayer (Paper)

If this looks familiar, that’s because it should—my maindeck and board are nearly identical to Monastery Mentor Cardtheir pre-Eldrazi configuration. Honestly, I wasn’t planning on just reverting to type and running Merfolk again, but when it came down to it nothing else was ready. Ancestral Vision was not the answer to the problems with my Monastery Mentor decks (I’m starting to think I need to take notes from the Legacy Miracles lists), I wasn’t confident enough in the metagame to try a deck like Death and Taxes, and I couldn’t run my current UW Control list that includes the Thopter combo. The latter because I was absolutely convinced that I still had my set of Sword of the Meek from when I played Thopter Depths in Extended. And I don’t. And it was sold out at the local shops. And my online order still hasn’t arrived. Frustration.

Following my failure in Detroit, and receiving assurances that Eldrazi would be banned, I knew that I didn’t want the Eldrazi-specific cards anymore. Thus I had removed a Harbinger of the Tides and the Sea’s Claim in favor of another Master of Waves and a maindeck Kira. Once the Harbinger of the Tidesunbannings were announced I knew that the format would slow down, if only temporarily, as players tried out the new toys. In a world of control decks Harbinger is just not good enough while Kira is phenomenal, so bringing in another at Harbinger’s expense made sense.

When it became apparent that midrange and control would be the most popular choices for the first few weeks, I cut Harbinger entirely. Too often it is just a 2/2 for two and while that’s serviceable it’s also not very good. Harbinger is your best card against Delver and Grow decks, and strong against Burn and Zoo. The first two are very rare, Burn is already a good matchup, and in the Zoo matchup Harbinger isn’t enough to swing things in your favor. All told it’s just not a card I want right now. Besides, I wanted counterspells for the expected control and combo decks. Maybe the format will shift toward tempo and Harbinger will be great again but for now I’d leave it at home.

I initially thought that I’d just go back to Unified Will but the ubiquity of Abzan Company changed my mind. It’s always been a conditional counter that was dead against creature decks and if Company was big I wanted to avoid playing a blank (and no, Harbinger isn’t very effective there either). I was thinking of maindecking Dispel to fight removal and Goryo’s Vengeance when I noticed that a lot of control decks were running Spreading Seas. As Mutavault is an important card in those matchups, this seemed bad for me. Then I remembered Deprivethat Deprive existed. A hard counter that could free my Vaults? Seems good.

The sideboard is quite similar to my Regionals one, just -1 Hibernation and Forge-Tender and +1 Unified Will and Kira. With Thopter and Vision around I expect fewer Kiki-Chord and Burn decks so I don’t need as many cards for them, but I do need more cards for control and combo. Will gets the nod over Deprive here because I only bring in counters against decks with few to no creatures. Since I want to counter many different kinds of spells I take a general one over Dispel or Negate.

I arrive at the venue later than expected to find I was right about the field: it was much smaller and lacking in known competitors. I have to rush to register and finish my decklist, so I don’t get to scope the field very much.

The Tournament

With only 22 players there would be five rounds and then a cut to Top 8, with a 3-1-1 record being the goal. This is tiny for a Denver area IQ. The late-season “blizzard” (it really wasn’t, despite the weather reports) and the GP shrunk the field far more than I expected. This could either be really good or really bad for me—the more unknown the format, the better it is to be aggressive, but also the more likely you will run across something unexpected. It also makes it more likely that other aggressive decks will rise to the top and Merfolk struggles against many of them.

Round 1: Taylor, Soul Sisters (Win 2-0)

While no one has ever complained to my face, I’ve gotten enough flak in the comments about using full names that I didn’t record them this time. I have never seen Taylor before and have no idea what to expect from her.

Game One

Ajani's PridemateI win Rock, Paper, Scissors and start with a mulligan. I lead with Vial and Taylor has Plains into Soul’s Attendant. Soul Sisters, lovely. This is actually a pretty good matchup for me since incremental life gain is not very effective against large chunks of damage and their clock is not very fast. The main concern is Honor of the Pure and Spectral Procession.

I use Spreading Seas to dig and then Vial in lords while Taylor plays out a total of four sisters but has no offense thanks to Deprive on Procession and Path on Ajani’s Pridemate. Gaining four a turn buys her a number of draw steps, but against twelve damage she just cannot pull ahead or effectively attack back so I win easily.

Sideboard:

Nothing. I have nothing I want to bring in and nothing I want to take out. I’ve heard some people bring in Torpor Orbs against Soul Sisters but if you’re going to go that route Chalice of the Void for one seems more effective. My A game is strong enough that I don’t need either.

Game Two

I mulligan into a slow hand with no creatures to cast before Kira, Great Glass-Spinner, but it does have Path, Deprive, and Echoing Truth so I keep. Taylor has Soul Warden into Pridemate into Spectral Procession into Honor, just about the best curve possible, but Path and Truth clean up her offense and buy me the time to get an actual board presence together. It ends up being a race thanks to her Honor, but my size and evasion carry me through her defenses.

Weirdly, we’re one of the last matches going. That either means a lot of aggro in the room or variance-fueled blowouts. The last rounds going all involve Junk decks which means my earlier metagame assumptions were correct but could prove difficult to overcome.

Round 2: Ethan, Five-Color Scapeshift (Win 2-1)

Ethan works at the shop and frequently plays the owner’s fully foiled (with Expeditions, triple-sleeved) RUG Scapeshift deck. He’s also known to go into Jund and his own brews so there’s no telling what he’s actually playing until he drops his deck during shuffling and reveals Sakura-Tribe Elder.

Game One

I mulligan again and keep based on the Deprive in my hand. This doesn’t end up working because I draw very few creatures and only Kira sticks. It turns out that Ethan is playing a Bring to Light version of Scapeshift using Gemstone Mine and five-color lands to play all the best removal and Wall of Omens. I counter his first Brought Scapeshift but have no answer to the second.

Sideboard:

-4 Path to Exile
-2 Echoing Truth

+2 Meddling Mage
+2 Burrenton Forge-Tender
+1 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
+1 Unified Will

Knowing Ethan, his deck will have no offensive creatures or permanents that I want to remove so I put in my anti-combo and -control package. Forge-Tender does nothing against Scapeshift but it does stop red sweepers which are far more dangerous.

Game Two

Meddling MageThis time it’s Ethan’s turn to mulligan, twice in fact, and Aether Vial plus Cursecatcher and Spreading Seas cause him to stall on lands. I drop a Master of the Pearl Trident and Vial in Meddling Mage naming Supreme Verdict with multiple counters in hand to seal the game. Ethan plays Bring to Light into my Cursecatcher just to slow my clock down but I Vial in another threat to finish him.

Game Three

I mulligan again and get a hand with no blue source but both my Tectonic Edges, Aether Vial, and Cursecatcher so I keep. This works out because Ethan’s draw is pretty slow so I have time to get some creatures together, though a Supreme Verdict grinds me to a halt. I Tec twice to stall his kill and try to find creatures that aren’t Cursecatcher. Eventually he forces me to use all my Cursecatchers to stop Bring to Light and then he Scapeshifts for 18. That leaves me dead next turn to a topdecked Mountain or burn spell, but I Vial in a Master of Waves for one with a Mutavault in play for exactly lethal.

Despite the close game I’m feeling pretty good with that win. Unfortunately, it was a bit premature.

Round 3: Mario, Elves (Loss 0-2)

Remember when I said that I was rushing to register? This bit me Round 3 when it turned out I had written down Master of the Pearl Trident twice instead of Master of Waves. Whoops, game loss. Not that it really mattered.

Game One

Heritage DruidTurns out that Mario is playing Elves, an appallingly bad matchup, and his hand is really, really good: Heritage Druid into Dwynen’s Elite into Elvish Archdruid, hemorrhage hand (including Ezuri) onto board, Chord of Calling for Craterhoof Behemoth. I would have needed many Path’s to win that game and I don’t even have the white mana to cast them.

The game loss really didn’t affect the outcome here. I’m about 15% to win game one and 30% to win games two and three so I was very likely to lose anyway.

This also finally gives me enough time to scout the room. There is no Tron, two other Merfolk decks, a number of Jund and Junk decks, Jeskai Control both with and without Thopter combo, and a lot of Burn. Not unexpected but surprisingly predictable given the small size.

Round 4: Jason, Junk (Loss 1-2)

I saw Jason playing round one so I know that he has a very creature-heavy Junk deck that uses Farseek to ramp into Archangel Avacyn and Thragtusk at the expense of removal. My hope is to out-tempo him before he overpowers me.

Game One

I have to mulligan another no-lander. All of my mulligans so far have been due to mana trouble and I’m doing it a lot more than normal so I just accept that variance is against me today. I keep a one-lander with Vial since I have a scry and a two draw steps to find another land.

He Abrupt Decays my Vial but I do find the second land to go after his with Spreading Seas and use Deprive against Siege Rhino. He only has a Sylvan Advocate and is restricted on white mana, while my board is made of Cursecatchers and Mutavaults. Accepting that I’m just dead to Maelstrom Pulse, I play the two Master of Waves in my hand and he has no answer.

Sideboard:

-3 Aether Vial

+2 Hibernation
+1 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner

I know he boards in Reclamation Sage and he’s shown how willing he is to kill my Vials. I don’t want to be tempted to keep hands based on Vial. Hibernation is amazing against green creatures and I want Kira to protect my Masters.

Game Two

My one-lander has Cursecatcher, Path, Seas, Silvergill, and Hibernation. With odds of hitting my land drop at 19/53 and 19/52 for my two draws, I keep. It’s usually bad to mulligan against GBx and if I do hit my hand is exactly what I want. I don’t see my second land until Pathing my own Cursecatcher, and then I don’t see another until at length Jason kills me.

Game Three

Another game, another no-land opening. Variance, ergh. My six is another good one-lander and I scry trying to hit lands and again fail. That is really frustrating.

ThoughtseizeI should have mulliganed game two, but the potential payoff of the keep was very high if I hit. It’s terrible to go to five against a deck with Thoughtseize and Inquisition, both of which he showed me game two, but it might still have been correct. At the very least it may have been less frustrating.

The standings are posted and I am in 11th. Thanks to draws in Swiss only the top six can draw in, so I still have a chance since one nine-pointer will make it in. I need 9th place to lose, the seven-pointer to lose, and to have 10th place’s tie breakers go down less than mine will since both my losses will be drawing in. Of course, this all hinges on me winning in the first place.

Round 5: Paul, GR Goblins (Win 2-0)

Paul is a shop regular and I know he’s playing Goblins. This is not good. Merfolk might have the best success rate against the field but it is weak against the other tribal creature decks. Elves is far more explosive and unfair, while Goblins is similar to Merfolk but has haste creatures and burn so it’s much faster. Fortunately, I play Paul nearly every event we both play in (I swear DCI Recorder is programmed to pair players who play each other frequently) so I know how to play this matchup.

Game One

Goblin GuideI mulligan again on the draw and Paul leads with Goblin Guide. This doesn’t bode well. I have a Vial and pass. Paul misses his land drop, attacks me into another land, and plays Mogg Fanatic. This lets me drop Silvergill Adept with Cursecatcher on standby. Paul still has no land and Fanatics Silvergill to attack with his Guide again.

At this point I’m out of danger as I Vial in ‘Catcher, play Merrow Reejerey, then Vial in Lord of Atlantis and just swamp him. He did find his second land but just used it to try and Destructive Revelry my Vial, which I counter with ‘Catcher. It’s an interesting inclusion that makes sense for a more artifact-heavy metagame, but I think it’s a bit optimistic all the same.

Sideboard:

-2 Spreading Seas
-1 Aether Vial

+2 Burrenton Forge-Tender
+1 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner

Sideboarding against Paul is hard. He’s a wildcard and is always trying off-the-wall sideboard strategies. He’s used Torpor Orb, Boil, Blood Moon, Rending Volley, and Pyroclasm at various points. Since I know he has and will probably add more Revelrys I remove some targets for more protection against Goblin Grenade.

Game Two

No mulligans for once but Paul leads with Legion Loyalist, which is actually his scariest draw. Atarkas CommandThe best way for me to win is to just trade creatures until my cantrips pull me ahead on cards and Loyalist makes that impossible. Fortunately, he only has a Mogg Fanatic after I play Cursecatcher.

At this point I can add more creatures to the board, but I have Deprive and all my lands are non-basics so if he did bring in Blood Moon I’m dead. I decide to leave Deprive up and just pass. Paul also passes with three lands. Huh. I just play another land and pass back. The longer the game goes on the better it is for me.

Paul draws, looks at his card and attacks. He has no subtlety and neither does his deck—if he plays like he has Atarka’s Command, he has Atarka’s Command, which I counter after blocks and trade for his Loyalist. On my turn I just replay my land, cast Kira and pass.

Paul has Goblin Guide and an attack, but at this point I’m well out of danger and start playing Lords. He has a Goblin Piledriver to wall my attacks but I go wide and just swamp him. He reveals that he had several Revelrys in hand with Bolts and Grenades but Kira kept them from being a viable option to stay alive.

Stage One: Complete. Now I have to wait for the other results. I get up to sort my deck and miss the outcome of the 9th vs. 10th game, but I do see that the seven-pointer is playing Grixis vs. Merfolk, so he’s not favored to win (he doesn’t thanks to Master of Waves in game three). When the announcement is finally made it turns out that the former 9th place made it in. By half a tiebreaking percentage point over me. SO. DAMN. CLOSE.

The Top 8 consists of Merfolk, the Elves and Junk players who beat me, Jeskai Control with Goblin Dark-Dwellers, Burn, Jund, Abzan Company, and a BW Eldrazi Hatebears list very similar to Pascal Maynard’s. I was very surprised by this since I didn’t think that list was viable, but here it is. I don’t know if this is because the deck is well positioned or because he just got lucky, but I’ve been working on a list similar to that so I hope it’s the former.

Lessons Learned

Well, missing an IQ Top 8 isn’t so bad and I did get some insight into the metagame. The usual suspects are out in force but control players are emerging thanks to Ancestral Vision.

I only saw one Thopter player, who was 1-2-1 when I checked after round four, having fallen to his deck’s inconsistency and slowness. In the games I saw, he struggled to draw his pieces in the right order early enough to matter. I think this is common enough and the optimal Thopter list is still elusive, but you should pack graveyard hate regardless. This inconsistency probably means you’ll see it most often in Tezzerator builds, though Gerry Thompson’s deck might change things.

There were also a number of Lantern players and a Burning Bridge deck with Isochron Scepter, so make sure you can answer Ensnaring Bridge.

I intend to test extensively and would like to try out something different for States this weekend, but we’ll see how it goes. Conventional wisdom seems to be to play what you already know, but I’ve never been one to stick to convention.

David began playing Magic during Odyssey block, quit playing Magic when Caw Blade ruled the world, and returned to Modern shortly before Deathrite was banned. He’s made an appearance at the Pro Tour, made money at GP Denver, and is constantly grinding and brewing in Modern.

12 thoughts on “New Modern Kickoff: SCG IQ Report

    1. Here’s my Jeskai Control list that got second:

      Creatures:
      4 Snapcaster Mage
      3 Thing in the Ice
      3 Restoration Angel
      2 Goblin Dark-Dwellers

      Spells:
      4 Ancestral Vision
      4 Path to Exile
      4 Lightning Bolt
      2 Spell Snare
      3 Lightning Helix
      2 Mana Leak
      2 Electrolyze
      2 Cryptic Command

      Lands:
      4 Scalding Tarn
      4 Flooded Strand
      2 Steam Vents
      2 Hallowed Fountain
      1 Sacred Foundry
      3 Island
      1 Plains
      1 Mountain
      3 Celestial Colonnade
      2 Wandering Fumarole
      1 Desolate Lighthouse
      1 Tectonic Edge

      Sideboard:
      2 Dispel
      1 Wear // Tear
      3 Stony Silence
      3 Leyline of Sanctity
      2 Crumble to Dust
      1 Izzet Staticaster
      2 Supreme Verdict
      1 Keranos, God of Storms

  1. Sounds like variance in that Abzan matchup cost you a shot at the top 8. Unfortunate. I think you should consider siding out all of your Vials and bringing in more creatures, though – Abzan is going to slow the game down even when you win, so Vial’s acceleration doesn’t matter as much (and you would much rather it be a body). Rest in Peace can also be decent against Goyf and Ooze.

    I do have a bone to pick with your description of the Goblins matchup, though – your list might struggle against it, but I think you should recognize that your list is pretty far from the stock Merfolk list. Those of us that play Harbingers and Tidebinders barely break a sweat against the Gobbos (or the Zoo variants that seem to be doing quite well, for that matter). The Tidebinders could also help you compete against Elves (still a bad matchup, though).

    1. I do board out all or most of my Vials against GBx for the reasons you state, I only left in one this time because I really didn’t want anything else and since I knew he was removal light the acceleration from one could have been good. RiP is not where I want to be against Junk since against most of the deck it’s a blank, and while it may be less of a blank than Vial it’s still not going to save you from removal and discard into Siege Rhino.

      And I knew you’d bring that up, and what you say has not been borne out by Paul’s results. He regularly stomps the more stock Merfolk lists. He frequently plays around Harbinger and the Loyalist draw just crushes people, especially with Atarka’s Command and Goblin Rabblemaster. Tidebinder is frequently a minor speedbump for him since he tends to go removal heavy and has been known to mulligan for Piledriver and go wide with tokens. Not saying that his list or methods are stock or even normal for Goblins players, but I’m the only Merfolk player that gives him trouble because my counters and Path are more disruptive to him than the typical Merfolk deck.

      1. That does not jive with my experience, nor with what has been discussed on the Merfolk thread. I can honestly say Goblins and Zoo are easy matchups for my list, and only the inexperienced members of the community have reported any trouble against them. On the issue of methods, Dismember (which has a home in many a Merfolk 75) addresses Piledriver nicely, but truth be told, he’s typically not that much of a problem (given the existence of Mutavault). Paul is probably a good player and negotiates the matchup better than most, but I would never consider the matchup unfavorable in blanket terms the way you did.

        1. I suspect this is because my version is positioned differently than the version that you, and indeed most Merfolk players, play. The mono/nearly-mono blue decks are more strongly pure aggro/tempo while I’m going for aggro-control. Zoo and similar true aggro are underrepresented in the Denver area metagame while Burn, control and combo are relatively common, so I aim for more interaction with those decks and that moves me towards a slower gameplan that is indeed more vulnerable to Zoo and Goblins. The trade-off is that I don’t fear control decks, Protean Hulk, or Ensnaring Bridge.

  2. I would go a step farther and not even bother people’s names at all. The number of readers who know “jim” are negligible. “He” or “she” is fine. Frankly the more you get into the habits and such of your regular opponents the less credible the report gets. It’s nice that you know Pete plays goblins – but if anything it means you have an advantage the avg reader wouldn’t – or its simply useless information. Maybe just me but the more familiar someone is with the opponent the more it reads like kitchen table magic – you delve more into the person and less into the deck or cards. I care what grixis does, I could not care less what bill does.

    1. The thing is that the names really aren’t for the readers it is for my opponents. When I’m talking about their decks they deserve the credit they’re due and I cite my sources.

      1. I don’t think someone needs “credit” for playing in an event where someone else wrote a tournament report. Hell if they make egregious play errors they might prefer to actually be left in obscurity.

        Anyways, as a reader (we outnumber your opponents) I find it at best pointless, at worst distracting enough to diminish how I view the quality of the content. Stakes are low either way, act accordingly.

        1. I actually prefer the names. I think it makes it more relatable to a normal tournament environment. When I play someone, I write their name and deck type. I thought that was common practice. Maybe I’m wrong but either way its not a big deal whether the writer, writes his opponents name or not in the articles. I’m more impressed that the writer is not using a stock list. Maybe next time he’ll top 8.

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