Fact not Fiction – Belgian Waffle: Modern Marvels Part 1 by Michael Maxwell

Fact not Fiction – The Winners and Losers from Pro Tour Paris by Michael Maxwell

Fact not Fiction – Belgian Waffle: Modern Marvels Part 1

In a few months I’ll be heading to Belgium for GP Antwerp, where the format will be Modern. There are quite a few Modern events in the north-west, and I’ll be testing in between events too in preparation, so I’m going to document my thoughts, testing, and results over the coming weeks. This will also give me a head start on the Modern PTQ season, so even if you don’t play much Modern hopefully this series will be useful for preparing you for the PTQs.

The Decks

In the last season I’d played a variety of U/W and U/W/R decks, so those were a natural starting point for me. Modern as a format is still under two years old, so I think there is a lot of room for innovation if people are prepared to put down the known decks and brew for a while, and there may well be a deck out there that breaks the format.

I was thinking about the format a few weeks ago and had the idea that the two creatures which lead to the most wins when you untap with them are Dark Confidant and Geist of Saint Traft, so I put together the following list to test my hypothesis:

Dark Confidant Modern Masters4 Dark Confidant
4 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Deathrite Shaman
3 Liliana of the Veil
3 Lingering Souls
4 Remand
3 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Thoughtseize
3 Serum Visions
4 Path to Exile
1 Smother
3 Snapcaster Mage

22 lands

There were some things I liked about this list, you could have some pretty unbeatable starts and if you untapped with either Bob or Geist then you are pretty far ahead, but hands without either of those guys had a bit of a tendency to do nothing. I’m also not sure that isn’t just a bad Jund list and a bad U/W/R list at the same time, but I’ll probably put a bit more work into this since it showed some promise.

At the end of June there was a tournament for a set of Vendilion Cliques in Manchester, and since I wasn’t happy with the above list I went back to something tried and tested, U/W/R.  It was just a case of figuring out where I wanted to be on the tempo-midrange-control spectrum.

At FNM I tried a pretty controlling list with Revelations, quite a few Planeswalkers, and maindeck Pyroclasm + Boros Reckoner, which was sweet when it worked but probably a bit too cute. Pyroclasm is an amazing card in the format and I’m always looking for decks that can maindeck it, but it’s good enough by itself and doesn’t really need Reckoner, which I just wished was Geist every time I drew it. It’s an interaction worth remembering if Reckoner becomes better positioned and more 4 toughness creatures start being played, but I don’t think it’s quite the time for it now.

For the 4 Cliques event I decided to go with a pretty aggressive U/W/R list – Geist of Saint Traft just gives you free wins – with a couple of Ajani Vengeant thrown in, mostly because it’s sweet:

Geist of Saint Traft4 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Snapcaster Mage
3 Restoration Angel
2 Vendilion Clique

4 Lightning Bolt
3 Lightning Helix
3 Electrolyze
3 Path to Exile
3 Remand
2 Mana Leak
2 Izzet Charm

2 Ajani Vengeant

4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Arid Mesa
1 Misty Rainforest
2 Hallowed Fountain
Lightning Helix 233px2 Steam Vents
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Island
1 Plains
1 Mountain
1 Sulfur Falls
2 Glacial Fortress
1 Eiganjo Castle
2 Tectonic Edge


2 Stony Silence
2 Pyroclasm
1 Disenchant
1 Celestial Purge
1 Baneslayer Angel
1 Batterskull
1 Negate
1 Counterflux
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
1 Sowing Salt
1 Phantasmal Image
1 Wrath of God

The Swiss Matches

Wear TearDisenchant should have been a Wear/Tear, but I just forgot that card had been printed. Six of us headed down from Preston, with a total of 40 people showing up to battle, which is a great turnout and will hopefully encourage more Modern events. From scouting around Affinity seemed to be the most popular deck, followed by various U/W/R and Jund/Junk decks, with 1-2 of many other archetypes and homebrews present.

There were 6 rounds of swiss, in which I defeated U/W Tron, U/W/R mulligans, U/W/R control, and Aggro Loam before a pair of IDs into second place. U/W Tron is a deck I hadn’t seen a while, but the plan against that sort of deck is fairly straightforward – kill them before they do anything too broken, with burn going to the face early and often.

An ideal game goes something like this; turn 2 bolt you, turn 3 snapcaster, bolt you, turn 4 Restoration Angel, then just hold up counters whilst beating them down. This worked fine games 1 and 3, although I couldn’t find an answer for Elesh Norn in game 2.

Round 2 was a bit of a non-event as my opponent mulliganed to 5 in both games and started missing land drops early. I didn’t see a creature out of him so I assume he was on the controlling version, but it doesn’t really matter as missing early land drops in any sort of U/W mirror is usually a death knell.

Round 3 I’m paired against Lee Houldsworth, who has been on Kiki-Pod the last couple of times we’d played but turned out to be on U/W/R control this time.

Sowing Salt 233pxGame 1 some burn to the face and a Snapcaster put him under early pressure and he ends up having to wrath my snappy, which lets me resolve Ajani who goes the distance. This leads Lee to believe I’m on the control version so when I make turn 3 Geist in the next game he lets out a laugh and tells me he has sideboarded completely incorrectly, which becomes apparent when he dies to Geist very quickly and shows me the Sowing Salts and Surgical Extractions he’d boarded in. We discuss our sideboards and Lee remarks that it will be a bit awkward if we play in the top 8…

In that round I’d been sitting near to one of the guys who’s a regular at Manchester legacy events, where he usually plays loam, and I got to watch him play most of his 3rd round with the Modern equivalent. We get paired in round 4 and have a pretty interesting match.

Round 4 – Games one and two go the same way, with my burn and creatures putting some pressure on his life total as he goes to work on my hand with Raven’s Crime and Liliana. It gets to the point where we both have no hand, he’s on about 6-8 life and he has a Liliana on 1-2 counters. Game 1 a Tarmogoyf gets me before I can draw enough burn, game 2 I rip back to back Snapcasters to burn him out, and game 3 is a bit of an anti-climax as he stumbles on mana (somehow, he must have nearly 30 lands) and Geist racks up another free win.

Two IDs and a trip to the pub later and it’s time for the top 8. Our car has put 4 in the top 8 (me, Tom Davies and James Orum with affinity, and Luke Southworth with UWR Twin) with the other guys (Henry Edmondson with Jund and George Burrowing with Kiki-Pod) finishing 9th and 10th, which is a pretty good showing and a testament to the amount of modern we play in Preston and the rewards of testing.

The Top 8

Quarter-Finals – I really like the fact that you get rewarded for finishing higher in the swiss now, as second seed I would be on the play throughout the top 8 unless I face the top seed in the final. I faced Lee again in the quarterfinal, where we had a really close, interesting match. Aggression is they key here, you have to put the control deck under enough pressure that they have to try and cast revelation before they have protection for it, making your soft counters effective.

My games against Lee over the years have always been interesting matches, when you play someone good it’s always more fun as you know that their actions mean something which then opens the door for bluffs and lines of play that you wouldn’t necessarily make otherwise.

Celestial Colonnade 233pxGame 1 goes to plan as Geist plus burn puts him in a spot where he has to cast spells into my counters, game 2 he stabilises and colonnade finishes me off.

Game 3 is a really close one where I get him low before he manages to resolve Ajani Vengeant, keeping my Eiganjo Castle tapped down rather than a Colonnade which stops me attacking with Geist for a turn for fear of Snapcaster Mage, so I get in with my Colonnade which gets Pathed. Now I can’t afford to play around Snapcaster anymore and get in the with Geist, which takes down Ajani. Wrath takes out the Geist but I have another one in hand, however he’s been representing Counterflux for several turns, but a Sowing Salt on his red source lets me get Geist down who finishes him off.

Semi-Finals – In the semi I face James, in his first Modern event, and his affinity deck. The affinity match-up is pretty good in my experience, with the two main ways you lose being lightning fast starts and Etched Champion + Cranial Plating.

Game 1 he has one of those lightning starts, with my curve of bolt into leak into Ajani not being enough to keep up.

Games 2 and 3 go to plan, as I kill all of his guys and manage to stop him getting plating on a champion. Pyroclasm claiming a 4-for-1 and Electrolyze eating an Inkmoth and a Blinkmoth are particularly brutal. This is I think the only match-up where I board out Geist, as all you want to do is spend the first 4-6 turns killing all their creatures and from there you can win with Snapcasters, burn, and Colonnades.

The Finals – I split the final, which would have been against R/G Tron, and leave undefeated.

Final Thoughts

Lightning Bolt 233pxThis deck really is very good, it’s quite hard to lose to decks with creatures and you have access to the best sideboard cards for combo, which isn’t always great game 1 but Geist + burn + counters gives you a pretty decent shot. I love playing decks with a good sideboard, which is a factor oft overlooked when people decide what deck to play. 

There are a lot of ways you can go when building UWR, and while I like the aggressive version I wouldn’t fault you for playing a more controlling version, but try not to get stuck in the middle. Either Geist should be the best card in your deck or Sphinx’s Revelation should be. I’ve seen lists with Wall of Omens and Geist, and while both are fine cards seeing them in the same deck makes me cringe.

It’ll be interesting to see if Young Pyromancer makes an impact in modern, where Phyrexian mana spells are legal, either in decks like this or other archetypes. Scavenging Ooze will obviously have a major impact on the format too. There are still 3 months to go till Antwerp, which is plenty of time to both brew and to refine known decks.

What do you like in Modern right now? Any decks you’d like me to try out in a tournament/FNM?

Thanks for reading,

Michael Maxwell


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