I don’t know why, but in some part of my mind I’d always kind of expected Spain to be blessed with scorching heat-waves and glorious sunshine all year round, and beautiful tanned townsfolk laughing their troubles away. As any of you who’ve actually been there in November can attest, I was greeted with cold wet drizzle when I stepped off the plane Friday evening in search of our accommodation so that I could try and actually get some rest.
After nearly dying on the ten flights of stairs to the apartment where me and five others were staying for the next two nights, and ordering the all important pizza, I managed a fitful four hours of sleep or so before I had to be up for the players meeting at 9am on the Saturday.
If you take nothing else from this report, you’d do well to remember this one piece of advice – when you have a late flight before a tournament and are maybe lucky enough to have byes for said event, I would highly recommend to invest in a sleep-in special if available. Your body will thank you for it.
Anyway, the format for GP Madrid was Modern, and the format had just been shaken up by the innocuous addition of Ancestral Recall. I’d been testing for a good few weeks, and had decided with both the addition of Monastery Swiftspear raising the creature count aavailablein Burn past a critical mass of aggressive red 1 drops, and Treasure Cruise being frankly obscene, that Cruise Burn was the deck to be on. Traditionally, I have always preferred midrange strategies, so sleeving up a Burn deck felt strange to me.
However, there was no doubting the deck was strong, and I was more than a little scared of the Jeskai Ascendancy deck in general, which was weak to a 4 of solid maindeck hate card of Eidolon of the Great Revel. Furthermore, although the MTGO meta game was comprised of basically solely UR Delver and Burn I was hoping that people in real life would tend to stick to whatever deck they had built and battled with at their local FNM.
As it turns out, from the 14 different decks I played against over 15 matches this wasn’t too far off the mark. However, when a deck is as highly publicised as Burn was before the event (with Bob Huang going so far as to call Cruise Burn the best deck in the format) I didn’t really take into account the amount of hate some people would pack in their sideboards – but that’s for later…
This is the deck I ran with in the end:
2 Molten Rain
2 Deflecting Palm
2 Relic of Progenitus
3 Kor Firewalker
3 Lightning Helix
OK, so lets see how the games went!
Round 1 / 2
I utilise my byes effectively to find food and a bottle of water. The water was a pain to carry and the sandwich mediocre, but as the day went on I was immensely grateful for both. Was also fairly nice to have the break before the seven hours of magic yet to come.
Round 3 – vs UWR control
The turn 1 Flooded Strand he laid gave me hope that I was going to lead off against the delver menace, but that was perhaps a little too hopeful. My notes are fairly limited on this match, but I definitely remember multiple Lightning Helixes ruining my fairly creature light draw, and that Treasure Cruise would have been an out at several points over the game. This was going to remain a theme throughout the day.
My sideboarding was as such for a couple reasons – he hadn’t shown me any Wall of Omens so the Searing Blazes and Forked Bolt were not great, making them the weakest card in my maindeck. I therefore replaced them with Molten Rain which was good because on the play it can deny them a colour whilst still dealing damage, Lightning Helix as another damage spell that could help in a damage race in a pinch, and a Wear//Tear as a hedge against possible hate cards they might bring in. In this matchup, if they show me a maindeck Batterskull or some sideboard cards that can be hit I generally bring in more Wear//Tear for the third game.
Game 2 was not particularly close. I drew a few too many lands and Kor Firewalker is a tricky one for Burn to beat, which was the primary reason that three were sat nestled in my board. After the trashing, I wished him good luck for the rest of the day, he showed me the 4 Lightning Helix, 2 Warleader’s Helix and the 4 Kor Firewalker in the board. On occasion, you get paired against a player who has decided they are not losing to your deck today. With a shrug, I just had to hope that this would be the last time that this happened, fully expecting maindeck Leyline of Sanctity in the next round.
Round 4 – vs Melira Pod
This is much more like it. Pod is the sort of deck that I was much more hoping to see, with the Forked Bolt I’d added to the deck and Searing Blaze pulling their weight to the extreme. As well, Pod is a deck that is a little frivolous with its life total from necessity, and burn is more than happy to take advantage of this. Skullcrack is a very important card here, especially with the metagame shift towards cards such as Siege Rhino and Thragtusk.
+ 3 Lightning Helix
– 3 Eidolon of the Great Revel
For sideboarding here it’s important to add more spells, as they’ll be a lot more effective than creatures against a stalled board as pod often works towards. However, the 1 drop creatures can still come down early enough to make a relevant impact, so can stay in.From experience bringing in a card such as Wear//Tear to kill their Birthing Pod is attempting to fight on an axis that Burn can’t win, as their midrange plan is much stronger.
The games were mostly fairly standard affairs – I ran him over game 1 with creatures and burn spells, game 2 he crushed me by drawing the life gain cards in his deck, and game 3 he kept a hand that couldn’t do anything until turn 4 and died a horrible death to hasty 2/2’s.
There was one situation of interest which I feel exemplifies that burn is not quite as autopilot as many classify it. My opponent has a board of Birds of Paradise, Orzhov Pontiff and Birthing Pod is on the stack. He is at 7 life, and my board comprises of a Goblin Guide and Eidolon of the Great Revel. I have three lands in play, and 1 card remaining in hand of Shard Volley. Do I respond to the Birthing Pod? It was a little less clear cut at the time when it wasn’t as well known that almost all the Pod decks were playing Siege Rhino somewhere in their 60, but I can tell you that the look of surprise on his face when I spent a land and a spell to bolt his 3 mana 1/1 was worth it.
Round 5 – vs UR Twin
Twin is an odd matchup. Every time I talk to a Twin player they seem mortified of the Burn matchup. The odd thing is, I’m terrified of the Twin matchup. Burn really doesn’t have many creature damage spells, and they have enough countermagic and blockers that can tap down one of my attackers to slow me down to combo off with ease.
Both of the games I actually played went really long so I’ll spare you the full details, but suffice to say that he finished both games on 1 life. Enough had happened that I couldn’t tell you if there was a window to get through the extra damage, but maybe something as simple as casting Boros Charm compared to a Lightning Bolt at the wrong point would have cost me the damage.
That said, the three Splinter Twins that were within five cards of each other were pretty good, and I sadly only drew two of my Wear // Tears, so I picked up my second loss of the day. For those of you unfamiliar with how GP scoring works – any less than X/2 for day one knocks you out of contention, so for my remaining four matches for the day I couldn’t afford to lose one… (OK, I can appreciate the tension is defused somewhat when you know I made it, but trust me when I say that I was more than a little bit terrified.)
Round 6 – vs GB Rock
There’s an odd tension when both players are painfully aware that a loss at this point will knock them out of contention for day two. I try to maintain a fairly cheerful demeanor with my opponent, but at the same time, if an opponent gets frustrated it’s often better to just let them tilt and only call a judge if they take a swing or something.
Anyway, game 1 he plays some black discard spells and a Liliana of the Veil. For most of the game, I put him on a mediocre 8-rack draw, and hoped to draw Treasure Cruise to combo with my full graveyard to finish the game. Treasure Cruise, is fairly powerful against the 1 for 1 decks of the format. Who knew? While I didn’t manage to go on a cruise I was fortunate enough enough to draw a few burn spells off the top which is not what the rock deck wants to see in a hellbent LOTV scenario.
Before he perished to my (Boros) Charming ways, he did show me a Tarmogoyf and a Scavenging Ooze, which combined with the Overgrown Tomb that he had shown me put him on the rock (GB midrange), which is still a solid matchup.
Generally, my plan is to cut the burn spells which I’d normally want to point at creatures, because in a scenario with Liliana keeping both players on an empty hand the chance of drawing a dead card in a Searing Blaze without landfall, or a Forked Bolt as a sorcery speed shock are both things important to avoid. The Helix served a role as another burn spell which could possibly buy a turn, and the relic could keep Tarmogoyf small enough to be manageable.
Quick aside – Relic of Progenitus was easily the worst card in my sideboard, and if I could have changed it after the tournament started I probably would have. It was meant for decks like Jund and the Rock, but against these decks Treasure Cruise should be your trump card, which is obviously not synergistic with Relic. If I had played against Gifts Ungiven Control or a dedicated graveyard deck such as Living Endit would have pulled its weight and may not have been completely wrong given how diverse the field proved.
Game 2 my opponent opened with Thoughtsieze taking my Eidolon of the Great Revel, into a Tarmogoyf and a mix of Coursers and Kitchen Finks which lined up particularly well against my creature heavy draw. While the burn creatures can put on some serious pressure early it can be difficult for them to break through a Tarmogoyf and he was able to close it out pretty quickly.
Game 3 was not particularly interesting, although at one point I declined to cast a burn spell mid combat, which would have triggered a Swiftspear and gotten an extra point hoping my opponent would use his Liliana to make us discard instead of edicting my Swiftspear as the Swiftspear isn’t very threatening as a simple 1 / 2. This is mostly interesting in that with the addition of the card most people assume that it’s always correct to cast instants in your own turn for the extra point of damage, whilst in fact sometimes waiting is the correct course of action.
Round 7 – vs Scapeshift
In this match it is particularly important to win game 1. Barring the occasional Pyroclasm they generally lack relevant interaction to overcome most reasonable burn draws. However for the following two games they will have access to some number of Obstinate Baloths, Bow of Nylea, Pyroclasm and Negates. Therefore my mulligan to five was probably not the ideal start to avoid a a lethal Scapeshift. My opponent did his thing, I did mine and as a result of my mulligans I came up a few points short.
+ 2 Molten Rain
+ 3 Lightning Helix
– 3 Searing Blaze
– 2 Forked Bolt
I approach this matchup very similarly to the UWR matchup, as a lot of the same principles apply. However, it’s important to note that their sideboard cards rarely take the form of artifacts or enchantments, so I generally leave the Wear//Tear in the sideboard.
Take a moment to imagine the dramatic soundtrack playing in my head as I tried to keep calm and prepare myself for two tough games.
I wish I could tell you that these two games were some of the toughest fought in my Magic career, where the to and fro of two Planeswalkers battled brought all who watched to freeze with mouths agape while I masterfully out played my opponent at every turn. In reality he mulliganned to 6 for game 2, and kept a mediocre hand that wasn’t able to get there, and then mulliganned to 5 for game 3 and did not see the second land for a Sakura-Tribe Elder into Obstinate Baloth. Sorry to deprive you of a dramatic recount to round off Part One, but sometimes Magic plays like that I guess.
Community Question: What deck would you personally take to a Modern GP?
Till next time!
Stream – twitch.tv/Sean_dk (Streaming modern most Mondays at 6pm)