Last weekend I won the Birmingham Modern WMCQ and am proud to say I’ll be joining captain & fellow mtgUK writer Fabrizio Anteri and Tom Law on the England team at the World Magic Cup in December.
Prior to this weekend, it had been a very testing few months for me personally, Magicwise. After a pleasing start to the year, qualifying for two RPTQs and cashing GP Utrecht, it began to go downhill. Losing a final and multiple PPTQ semi-finals to miss the third regional and losing win-and-cashes in Lille and London. The latter from an 8-1 on Day 1 had me seriously questioning if continuing to put the work in was worth it. Fortunately, when I raised these thoughts to friends, they were quick to put me in a better frame of mind and point me towards the positives.
Early in the year I won a PPTQ with Modern Abzan, but since then I had been unable to look even remotely competent with the deck. This annoyed me because my default deck choice had always been “something Midrangey and Jundish”. I decided to take something degenerate to an event and borrowed Grishoalbrand on the morning of a PPTQ where I lost in the final. I may not have won the event, but I knew it was the deck I wanted to be playing in Modern. It’s absurdly powerful and surprisingly resistant to hate, but requires lots of practice to work out lines in odd situations. I know I made a lot of mistakes that day, so continued to test with the deck and make adjustments hoping I could borrow it again for the WMCQ. A big thanks to Paul Fysh for going to Venice instead of the WMCQ and lending me the deck!
The final list I took was similar to that of Bob Huang and Zach Jesse’s from GP Charlotte, but I replaced the Noxious Revival in the maindeck with a third Manamorphose. Revival had always underperformed, whereas Manamorphose could cantrip, allowed Goryo’s Vengeance to be cast without black mana and pitched to Nourishing Shoal as a 4 mana spell, as opposed to 3 (avoiding Eidolon of the Great Revel). The sideboard Necrotic Ooze was amazing – many decks brought in Grafdigger’s Cage or Pithing Needle and Ooze allows you to win through these. Three Pyroclasm help against Infect and Affinity, two of the hardest matchups while the Pithing Needle is a catch-all answer to Scavenging Ooze, Relic of Progenitus and co. It is also a one card win against Ad Nauseum decks relying only on Lightning Storm, as naming Lightning Storm leaves them unable to win (outside of Simian Spirit Guide beatdowns).
4 Worldspine Wurm
2 Borborygmos Enraged
4 Simian Spirit Guide
4 Goryo’s Vengeance
4 Through the Breach
4 Nourishing Shoal
4 Faithless Looting
4 Night’s Whisper
2 Tormenting Voice
2 Desperate Ritual
4 Temple of Malice
4 Bloodstained Mire
2 Blood Crypt
2 Blackcleave Cliffs
Normally after an event, if I’m asked what decks I played against, I can either remember them all or be quickly reminded by looking at the life pad (though given my love of Thoughtseize, hand contents written down help.) On Saturday night my friend asked me what I played against and it took me 10 minutes to name four of the six decks I played against – the four that cast cards I had to play around or beat. I do not mean any disrespect to the decks that had no hate cards, I merely wish to point to the power of Grishoalbrand that its routes to victory are so powerful and proactive that it doesn’t usually care how the opponent wants to win, only how the opponent wants to stop it.
R1 – Manveer Samra, UWR
In game 1, Manveer clearly knew what was going on, bolting me and then snapcaster-bolting me within the first few turns. A clock and disruption are the best way to defeat Grishoalbrand. Unfortunately, he only drew Remand as disruption and as Goryo’s Vengeance only costs 2 mana, I was able to keep jamming it until it resolved.
Game 2 saw me keep a contentious hand; Blackcleave Cliffs, 2 Simian Spirit Guide, Desperate Ritual, Through the Breach, Pact of Negation, Manamorphose. The hand only sees 1 new card after the initial drawstep, but it can generate 4 of the 5 mana for Through the Breach to put in a Griselbrand with Pact backup. If you draw Wurm or Borborygmos instead, you can play for a longer game, maybe using Manamorphose to pay for the pact, as UWR doesn’t put on a superfast clock. Winning large tournaments requires as much luck as skill, if not more and I drew Griselbrand and another mana within the first 3 turns.
R2 – Tony Elliot, UW Merfolk
Another advantage of the deck is that it can be complicated to play against, which certainly played to my benefit in round 2. My opponent didn’t sacrifice his Cursecatcher at the most optimal time and Griselbrand showed up to block, gaining me enough life and drawing enough cards for me to win on my turn.
In game 2, I won on turn 2. Turn two kills are frequent enough for it to break Modern’s turn 4 rule, which is a big reason I personally think the deck should be banned.
R3 – James Allen, Boggles
I played James in Round 3 and it is likely he put me on Abzan, as we’ve played twice before in PPTQ Top 8s, him on Boggles me on Abzan. It turned out he was indeed on Boggles, which is an excellent game 1 matchup for Grishoalbrand due to their lack of interaction.
Game 2 saw James play a turn 0 Leyline of Sanctity, forcing me to win by attacking instead of Borborygmos’ land throwing. I looted a Griselbrand on turn 1 and passed turn 2 intending to reanimate him at the end of James’s turn 3. Instead James played Rest in Peace, forcing me to reanimate in his main phase which would exile Griselbrand before it got to my turn. However, as mentioned, the deck is absurd, and I drew enough cards to be able to Through the Breach, splicing on another Through the Breach (9 mana required) on my turn 3 allowing a Wurm and a Giant to attack for 22.
R4 – Steve Lawford, Abzan
R5 – Tom Hayward, Boggles
As before, game 1 against boggles is good due to the lack of interaction.
Game 2 I died to a suited up Dryad Arbor, but first I asked my opponent what happens to it when a Blood Moon is in play. I had not brought in Blood Moon nor did I intend to in Game 3, but I assumed he’d fetch basics more aggressively and every little helps.
Game 3 was one of the silliest I’ve played in a long time. Highlights include 4-for-2ing myself to remove a Gaddock Teeg, ambushing a 7/7 boggle with a Worldspine Wurm, topdecking a Shoal on 1 life to go to 12, and hardcasting Griselbrand, all through a turn 0 Leyline and turn 3 Rest in Peace.
R6 – James Shapiro, Esper Gifts
I love Gifts Ungiven and was glad to see it doing so well in the tournament, until I realised that I was going to get Iona’d. On turn 5 or 6, James end of my turn cast Gifts Ungiven, and tapped out to put Iona in play on his turn, naming Black. I untapped and killed him with red spells. If he’d named red, black spells would have sufficed also – Grishoalbrand is a dumb deck.
Game 2 we both mulliganed into slow hands and missed land drops (though mine were intentional to try to discard big G). After being Thoughtseized, I was able to Desperate Ritual out a Blood Moon against his lone Watery Grave, allowing me to win the following turn.
In Rounds 7 and 8 I was able to ID with Joao Choca (making his second consecutive WMCQ top 8) and Mark Knight, with his fully foiled out Living Twin deck. The WMCQ was a two day event, which meant the top 8 would be played the next day. Thanks to the £50 bursary provided by Francois (the ever-excellent TO) I was able to get a room at the venue and rest properly. A couple of Team Hatred buddies stayed with me, as they were playing (and indeed won) the Team Sealed the next day. We played some test games against Burn, my QF match the next morning where we expertly determined “Skullcrack bad. Worldspine Wurm good.”
Quarter Final – Luke May, Atarka Burn
Upon arrival at the event hall the next morning, an area had been surrounded by chairs and there were 4 tables with 8 playmats laid out. I sat at one and awaited the arrival of Luke May, my QF opponent. In game 1 an early onslaught forced me to attempt an attack with Griselbrand, knowing that if his last card was Skullcrack or Atarka’s Command, I’d die to his Eidolon the next turn. This was especially disconcerting, as he’d been representing the card since turn 2 – my head was duly cracked and I died. Borborygmos was the hero in game 2, where breaching him in allowed me to throw lands at Luke’s face (not literally).
Game 3 was one of the tensest games all weekend and came down to me needing to breach in a Borborygmos and hit one land off the three flips to win, or I would lose. Lady luck smiled again as Swamp, something and a Temple of Malice were revealed. Luke played the entire match excellently, sequencing his burn spells well showing good knowledge of my combo possibilities. He was also a lovely chap, all of which made this match one of my favourites of the tournament.
Semi-Final – Mark Knight, Living Twin
In the semi-finals I played against Living Twin, which I consider to be an excellent match up. Mark played well, but Grishoalbrand’s instant speed combo is more explosive than Living Twin’s which put him behind the 8-ball. Nevertheless, I know I was close to being Twinned out in both games had I not been able to Breach in lethal Worldspine Wurms. The match finished in time for me to watch game 3 of the other semi-final between Joao and Pete Ward. I stood behind Pete and watched him completely nutdraw Joao and I thought to myself “if he does that to me, not even Griseldad can save me.”
Finals – Pete Ward, Burn
Pete and I met two years ago at the London WMCQ where we discussed “I hope we’re good someday.” While that day might never come, it was still nice to play him in the final knowing that whoever lost would be losing to a friend. In game 2, I was able to breach and reanimate Griselbrand on consecutive turns to lock Pete under his own Eidolon while his attack would put me to 3. I was then able to attack once more with a Griselbrand for victory.
Over the tournament, some onlookers praised the way I piloted the deck. Throughout, I insisted that I was being helped by some lucky draws. The only time I truly felt my draws were bad was game 1 of the QF against Luke. After this game, I sideboarded, shuffled and presented. Upon doing so, I looked down at the top 8 mat laid out before me and saw Nissa’s face and her sword. I shook my head, rolled up the mat and replaced it with my beloved Tasipurr the Golden Paw. I didn’t lose another game.
It took a while for the win to sink in, and I spent the rest of the day in a slight daze (this will be obvious to those of you in attendance who saw my inability to hold a flag). The remainder of Sunday was spent watching the two Team Hatred teams crushing the Team Sealed, finishing 1st and 5th – the trash talk in their R5 match was hilarious, I’m blessed to have such immature friends.
I started the article noting that without the encouragement of some community members, I wouldn’t even have been at Birmingham. Over the course of the day, I was overwhelmed by the number of congratulation messages I received from players in the community, even those not in attendance. The UK Magic Community has some truly wonderful people and I hope to be able to do you justice in December by delivering victory with fellow mtgUK writer Fabrizio, Tom and an as yet unknown person. It could be you.
Thanks for reading,