You don’t need a Grand Prix to make it a Modern month. The SCG Charlotte Modern Open came to a close this weekend, with just over 500 players battling for the prize. Even though the Open was significantly smaller than the GPs we saw earlier in June (and smaller than the last SCG Modern Open in Columbus), SCG Charlotte was still an exciting midpoint between the June circuit and the upcoming GP Oklahoma City. We’re in one of the most diverse Modern metagames of all time and SCG Charlotte pulled no punches, fins, tentacles, and whatever the heck is dangling in front of Gurmag Angler’s mouth in showing the dynamic format. It was also the first major Modern event with Magic Origins cards, and at least one of the new staples made his prodigal debut on the main stage.
With a Day 2 metagame breakdown and a full Top 32 list of decks, we have plenty of exciting data to analyze and a lot of decks to check in on. Our own metagame update for August is coming out in the next week or two and SCG Charlotte will undoubtedly be a big factor in our deck tierings. Today, I want to look at the four biggest takeaways you should keep in mind when factoring SCG Charlotte into your Modern preparations. Because SCG Charlotte was a somewhat smaller event, we need to temper some of our conclusions to reflect the number of players and the more modest (relative to a GP, at least) stakes. These takeaways respect the event size and focus on the biggest conclusions that should translate to larger events in September. Whether you’re testing decks for GP Oklahoma City, grinding out MTGO Dailies, or just excited to rock your Comic Con Jaces, this breakdown has something for you.
Hits: Grixis Control (and Jace)
Grixis Control? Grixis Midrange? Grixis Whatever? I don’t care what you call it but Modern’s newest top-tier deck continues to cement its place as a big format player. Michael Majors piloted his Grixis Control list to a fifth place finish at the event, packing a playset of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy instead of the customary Gurmag Angler duo or trio. Tasigur, the Golden Fang was still out in force, seeing maindeck play in not only every Grixis Control list in the Top 32, but also every Grixis list except one (an incorrectly classified Grixis, not UR, Twin by Robert Chase) in those top decks. Of course, Grixis Control was the big winner here. Of the nine players making Day 2 with Grixis Control, four converted into a Top 32 finish. This conversion rate, 44%, was one of the best rates of the most-played decks in the entire Open. Looking only at decks with 6+ appearances on Day 2, Grixis Control had the second-highest conversion rate to the Top 32 (the highest, Abzan, gets its own section below). When you factor in the prevalence of Grixis Delver and Grixis Twin in both the Top 32 and on Day 2, it becomes clear that Grixis is handily the most popular color pairing in present-day Modern. This is critical for anyone serious about winning big events in the future. Whether you’re playing against Control, Twin, or Delver, be prepared for the synergies of Snapcaster Mage, Kolaghan’s Command, Terminate, and the delve creatures.
Tasigur isn’t the only legendary creature to join the Grixis ranks and propel the deck to the top. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy/jace, Telepath Unbound saw almost as much press this weekend as those ridiculously fake Commander fetchlands, and although he wasn’t a staple in every Grixis deck, Michael Majors’ Jace playset was the talk of the tournament. In my own Origins review earlier this summer, I gave Jace a lukewarm reception on the weaknesses of his +1 ability, which felt irrelevant in too many unfair matchups. I also said “Jace is the likeliest walker to break out of the unplayable category and rise into a tiered control deck”, and SCG Charlotte was the perfect scene for this to happen. A big contributor to this was the relative lack of unfair decks at the Open. Neither Amulet Bloom nor Grishoalbrand had more than a single representative on Day 2. Twin saw a lot of play, but if the Top 32 lists are any indication, many of the lists were running Splinter Twin Plan Bs with Tempo or Control Plan As. This is the kind of environment where Jace thrives. Our very own Trevor Holmes has been singing Jace’s praises for weeks now, and he went to the event with his own Grixis Control list to finish with 21 points on Day 2. You can expect more Jace in the weeks to come, which is bad news if you are trying to outgrind or outvalue Grixis Control but good news if you are trying to do unfair things.
Even if you don’t think Grixis Control is as good as many are saying, it’s hard to doubt that other players will buy into the hype and pile on the Grixis train. We are entering an era where Grixis Control will always be a top five most-played deck, and the metagame will need to shift accordingly. I expect to see more Merfolk in the coming weeks as players adapt to the Grixis menace. Merfolk was well-positioned even before the Open, and now it’s looking better and better by the day.
Hits: UW Emeria Control
Enough Grixis: let’s talk Emeria, the Sky Ruin. Michael Segal piloted a team of Emeria, Sun Titan, Court Hussar, and a bunch of other 2011 Standard expatriots to a 13th place finish at the Open. As the commentators reminded us all weekend, this is a list that doesn’t even look like a Modern deck at all, let alone a deck that could make Top 16 at a major event. Segal’s list is a who’s who of offbeat, fringe, and (let’s be honest) mediocre-looking cards that somehow clawed their way through a high-powered gauntlet of Twin, Burn, Affinity, and Jund en route to his finish. Once you get past the disbelief at seeing Mortarpod, Detention Sphere, and Ojutai’s Command in a high-placing list, you can start to notice just where this kind of deck excels. Lone Missionary and Wall of Omens give the deck a surprisingly robust early game, particularly in tandem with the Path playset and the random disruption in Aether Spellbomb and Mortarpod. Both Supreme Verdict and Ojutai’s Command give the deck stabilization power past turn four, which is all UW Emeria Control needs to get into the mid-to-late game where its Emeria and Titan engines can really shine. This gameplan is particularly strong against decks built for grinding small advantages, such as Jund and Grixis Control.
UW Control’s success over the weekend is a big gain for Modern. For one, this kind of deck is the very definition of a control deck: deliberately interactive at every stage of the game and with a slow, incremental win condition. I personally think there are other spaces control can occupy in Modern, but it’s good to have more representatives in this oftentimes underrepresented area of “traditional control”. Another reason for UW Control’s significance is its price tag. With no Snapcaster Mages, Cryptic Commands, and only a single playset of fetchlands, this is by far one of the cheapest decks with competitive potential: a mere $215 with TCG Mid prices (and not a single card under lightly-played condition!). Snapcaster’s exclusion seems suboptimal to me, especially because lategame Emeria-recurred Snapcasters feel very unfair. Then again, Snapcaster’s targets are more limited here than in other control decks. Notably absent are the cantrips like Thought Scour and Serum Visions, along with the burn spell Plan B you see so often in red-based Snapcaster decks. Perhaps Snapcaster has a home here, in which case the pricetag increases significantly. If not, however, this is a strong, cheap choice for future events. A final reason for UW Control’s importance is its representation of format diversity. If a Sun Titan playset can make its way to the Top 16 of a 15 round event (indeed, the deck made its way to the T16 based largely on Titan himself), it forces us to reevaluate a lot of other cards previously dismissed as unplayable or subpar.
I can’t decide if Segal is just the luckiest budget player of the summer, or if his deck was really onto something. I’m leaning towards the latter based on the internal synergies within the deck, as well as UW Control’s broader metagame profile even before the event. Looking only at MTGO, UW Control decks make up about 2.8% of the metagame, with roughly 1% of that falling in the Pilgrim’s Eye/Emeria/Lone Missionary category. This suggests broader viability before Segal even sleeved up the deck, so perhaps his finish will push that further. I’m excited to see what the deck does in the coming months.
Hits: Abzan’s Return?
Back in early June, I predicted that Jund would surpass Abzan as the BGx deck of choice. By the end of the month, it was clear that Jund’s Dark Confidants and Terminates had triumphed over Abzan’s Siege Rhinos and Path to Exiles. Abzan plummeted into tier 2 with a sub 4% metagame share, Jund rocketed to the top of the charts, and there was much rejoicing by anyone not named Willy Edel. As anyone who has played Modern for more than a few months knows, however, BGx is a versatile creature and neither Tarmogoyf nor his mistress Liliana of the Veil are particularly loyal to one pairing over the other. If the metagame shifts, so too can BGx. SCG Charlotte saw a small but noteworthy shift back to Abzan, and although it’s too early to know if this signals a more permanent change, it’s something we need to keep an eye out for. Five players made Day 2 with Abzan and three of them converted into a Top 32 finish. On top of this 60% conversion rate, Charles Stephens brought his own traditional Abzan list to the Top 8 before falling to Tom Ross’s Infect, a historic Abzan predator, in the quarterfinals.
I can’t stress enough that it’s not yet clear if Abzan is on the rise or if this was just a one-time anomaly. We’ll need to review the full August metagame data to see if other trends suggest movement in one direction or the other. In the meantime, we can speculate on some reasons for Abzan’s possible success over Jund. One big explanation is the same reason for Jace’s success in Grixis Control: the format is increasingly fair, grindy, and midrangey these days. Abzan thrives in this kind of metagame, where Lingering Souls clogs up Angler, Tasigur, and Goyf-heavy boards for multiple turns and where Path to Exile kills these cards much better than Lightning Bolt. Incidentally, Jace is a great card in the inevitable Abzan vs. Grixis matchup because Abzan can’t remove him as efficiently as Jund, but that’s a topic for another time. Rhino is also a big factor here, providing incremental damage against lifeloss-reliant Grixis decks and putting up a giant Bolt-proof and Kolaghan’s Command-proof body.
If the Abzan shift is real, we are likely to see a return to the Pro Tour Fate Reforged metagame where increasingly linear decks (Tom Ross had the right idea with his SCG Charlotte Infect list) emerge to battle removal-inefficient Abzan grinders. I’m not yet convinced Abzan is the real deal if for no other reason than Joseph Herrera’s tournament win with his own Jund list. Still, it’s hard to ignore Jund’s abysmal conversion rate (only one of the eight Day 2 players made it to the Top 32) and Abzan’s relative success.
Misses: Burnt Out
Speaking of abysmal conversion rate, no single decktype did worse at the Open than Burn. Ten players made Day 2 with the deck. One of them made it to the Top 32. That lone Burn champion, Arya Roohi, didn’t even crack the Top 16, settling at 22nd with Modern’s most linear aggro deck. This is definitely not to diminish Roohi’s finish (congratulations!), but it is very much to highlight some glaring shortcomings in the most-played deck at the Open. To some extent, no one should be too surprised with Burn’s lackluster showing. There are few decks hurt more by sideboarding and over-preparation than Burn (Affinity is another one in this category). The more lifegain and countermagic you bring, the better the Burn matchup becomes, and the Top 8 alone was packed with Dispel, Kitchen Finks, Feed the Clan, Spell Pierce, and other ways to beat the Burn game. Players have also shifted away from Destructive Revelry and Wear // Tear bait like Leyline of Sanctity and Dragon’s Claw, which makes Games 2 and 3 even more an uphill battle than they were before.
To be clear, Burn isn’t without its strengths. Eidolon of the Great Revel remains a format powerhouse, either giving Burn a quick edge in an aggressive mirror or taking over fair games with nonstop pressure. The Atarka’s Command/Skullcrack pairing is also still a strong way to fight lifegain, although even Roohi’s seven total copies of the cards wasn’t enough to get him into the Top 16. Roohi’s shift to maindecked Wild Nacatl was one way to address the classic Burn problem of running out of steam. In many ways, Nacatl acts as a second set of Goblin Guides, giving you a recurring damage source that can keep swinging under Negates and Dispels. Nacatl also struggles with the omnipresent Tasigurs and Anglers, so it’s not as if Nacatl is necessarily the solution to Burn’s woes. That said, Nacatl has seen a lot of play in recent MTGO Dailies, which might signal a larger shift towards Nacatl-based Naya Burn lists. This will probably be a necessary shift in the longrun, especially with the uptick in Grixis decks and their increased arsenal of countermagic (indeed, Roohi brought Exquisite Firecraft to combat this).
Misses: “Broken” Decks
July was a rough month for banning discussion. It seemed like everyone, pros and major content providers included, had plain forgotten the banlist criteria and were crying for a host of strange and unsupportable changes. This included arguments for an Amulet Bloom and Grishoalbrand ban, whether Amulet of Vigor/Summer Bloom or Griselbrand/Nourishing Shoal. Or both. Or all four, just to be safe! Thankfully, level heads prevailed at Wizards and it was the “No Changes” announcement heard across the world. As I discussed in both my banlist prediction article and my announcement review, this shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone paying attention. Neither Bloom nor Grishoalbrand were turn four rule violators because neither deck was top-tier. This made them ban-proof in July and should have insulated them from all the torches and pitchforks aimed their way throughout the summer. In case you needed any further evidence about the decks’ safety in Modern, head on over to the Day 2 breakdown for SCG Charlotte. With a single player on each deck, and only the Grishoalbrand player cracking the Top 32 at 24th place, the event showed that both decks were far safer than many gave credit. Or, perhaps more accurately, it showcased the format’s ability to self-regulate potentially broken decks.
Have we seen the last of either Amulet Bloom or Grishoalbrand? Absolutely not. These are still strong combo decks which will absolutely rise again, especially when the metagame least expects it. As the past months have shown, however, our format is well-prepared to check their rise. SCG Charlotte was a major datapoint in this narrative because it happened after the banlist announcement. There was considerable buzz around the decks before July and it was entirely possible that Modern players were actively avoiding decks which could be banned. The July announcement should have eliminated any lingering doubts and fears in this regard and any skeptical players should have invested in the decks. If this happened it didn’t affect the top tables at the SCG Open, and if the rest of the metagame is any indication, these decks are still solidly tier 2 and exist in a very fair and balanced place right now. You would be foolish to totally forget about these decks and come unprepared to face them, but the hate cards (Blood Moon, Relic of Progenitus, Dispel[/mtg_card, etc.) are relatively accessible and highly relevant across matchups. Come prepared and show the format why these decks are not monsters to be feared but rather diverse combo representatives to be embraced.
Post-SCG Charlotte Modern
Just because a deck didn’t make the hits and misses list today, doesn’t mean it didn’t have a good (or bad) weekend at Charlotte. Affinity was quite solid, as were Merfolk and Infect. Abzan Company saw a slight comeback after weeks of mediocre performance, but Elves crashed and burned.
Also, Lantern Control. Give me more Lantern Control please.
Hopefully we’ll see more of these decks in the coming weeks, especially as we gear up for GP Oklahoma City. I’m particularly excited to see more Grixis Control as a mainstay in Modern’s top-tiers: our format needs more interactive policing decks, and Grixis (plus Captain Jace) fits that bill nicely.
What decks did you see succeed at the Open? Did you go yourself and bring any awesome tech we should know about (or encounter it over the weekend)? Are there any other takeaways you think I missed? Let me know in the comments and get excited for an upcoming metagame breakdown to hopefully be released next week!
Editor’s note: An earlier version of the article incorrectly classified Robert Chase’s Grixis Twin list as a UR Twin list. The article has been corrected to reflect this inaccuracy.