After Calgary and Sao Paulo we tested out the Top 8 Tech series and the response was overwhelmingly positive. So we will keep this train rolling. Today’s entry was especially fun to write as the Japanese players are famously innovative in deckbuilding. These are the most interesting pieces of technology that the Yokohama players utilized in their Top 8 runs. All eight decklists are available here.
Izzet Phoenix: A Mainboard Playset of Nix?!
This one is a serious headscratcher for me. Nix has never been a Modern playable card but here it is as a full set in a Grand Prix Top 8. At face value, paying one mana to counter something that was free is poor value but free spells are often quite good. At the moment, Surgical Extraction is a serious concern for Phoenix players. But many other free effects are not spells that are cast; Arclight Phoenix, Creeping Chill, Aether Vial, etc. Other free effects that actually are spells will often come down before Nix mana is available; Mox Opal and Mishara’s Bauble come to mind. So the card is actually quite narrow. The saving grace is that it has the Fatal Push style “if” clause. This means that you can cast it to target a spell that had mana spent on it; it just will not do anything. However, it will still enable Phoenix and trigger Titi. So you can target your own spell to go off on your turn when necessary. It is much worse than a cantrip in such situations but the main attraction is still countering free spells. I enjoy Takashi’s ambition here but I honestly doubt that it is optimal.
Update: The decklist as reported by CFB is missing Phoenix entirely and has been titled “Izzet Drakes”. It is unknown whether the list eschewed Phoenix for Nix or if this was a simple typo on CFB’s part; Nix is part of the word Phoenix after all. For the reasons stated above, we are now operating under the assumption that Takashi did not run Nix at all.
Esper Control: Splashing Black but Maintaining the Core
In many ways this is a typical UW Miracles list. However, Yuya added a small black splash while maintaining the playset of Field of Ruin. Embracing the dark side has provided him with two copies of Kaya, Orzhov Usurper. She acts as a split card between graveyard hate and Isolate. Of course she, and the six other planeswalkers, can also act as win conditions if they go unchecked. Out of the board we also see two very underrated additions in Chromium the Mutable and Unmoored Ego. Chromium is the hard to remove dragon win-condition that Ojutai always wanted to be and Ego is powerful hate against combo decks and Tron. Between this and the SCG Cleveland results, it would appear that the optimal UWx Control deck in current Modern is Esper.
The breakout archetype of the tournament was Dredge as it managed to put three players into the Top 8. Despite their shared success, there was quite a bit of variation among the players’ lists. In Taiga’s list, I was most surprised by the two copies of Alpine Moon. The more popular choice among Dredge players has been Damping Sphere but Taiga ran both. Considering the Sao Paulo results, the playset of land hate is a solid choice. I am also a huge fan of the singleton Vengeful Pharaoh that Taiga and Kurenai utilized. Between Pharaoh and Stinkweed Imp, it is a very difficult for creature decks to close out the game. I also appreciate that Kurenai is running a Ghost Quarter with a playset of Life from the Loam. This lategame grind can brutalize ramp decks as well as basic-light decks. Harada went as far to mainboard that little loop. His sideboard land of choice was Bojuka Bog; which is obviously great with all of the graveyard decks around. Dredge mills out much of its deck and can then Dredge up milled Loams which then grab Bog. This singleton will show up much more often than a singleton typically does. I see solid reasoning behind these deckbuilding decisions but the choice to play Dredge in general appears to be their saving grace.
Golgari Midrange: Running All of the Hate
This is the definition of a 50/50 deck if I have ever seen one. It may be less aggressive than Jund and lose more Game 1s as a result. But I am not sure that any deck in the format can call itself favored in postboard games against such a list. Control decks will be facing down the grind of three Bobs, a full set of Trackers, and five Planeswalkers. Aggressive decks must fight through the eight lifegain effects in the 75. The ramp decks must contend with three Trophy and a full set of Fulminator Mage. The graveyard decks have it the worst as seven graveyard hate cards have made the maindeck with a Cage in the board. The best way to beat this list appears to be combo as Leo ran only six discard spells in the main and cannot turn the corner quickly. However, this appears to be a conscious decision based on the relative rarity of combo decks at the moment.
Bant Spirits: Focusing on Collected Company
This is the first time we have seen Bant Spirits in a Top 8 in quite some time. The poor Phoenix matchup pushed it aside for Humans and many of the Spirits faithful were going for straight Azorious; though they were not earning great results with it. Tetsuhiro was not having any of it and, with his trusty Bant, placed higher than any Humans player. The beauty of this list is the renewed focus on Collected Company. Make no mistake. Collected Company is perhaps the greatest draw to Spirits. However, over time players have added more and more noncreature spells to the mainboard and rendered it inconsistent. I respect that Aether Vial is a necessary evil but it is one fewer CoCo hit and you will need four actual mana to cast CoCo; Vial will not help you here. Tetsuhiro trimmed a Vial for a Birds of Paradise to help him race out CoCo. Furthermore, he ran only two Path and ran three Deputy of Detention as removal that he could CoCo into. This decklist is a lesson in playing to your deck’s strengths and it clearly pays dividends.
Hardened Scales: Slowing Down
I never thought that I would see the day that it is optimal for Affinity decks to take it slow but here we are. Combo decks have become rarer and rarer as we move through 2019. As a direct result, we have seen the slower Hardened builds surpass traditional blitz builds. With combo decks at an all time low, it is logical that the Hardened players would slow down and become even more resilient. At this point you could argue that these decks are artifact midrange. With a full set of Animation Module, three Welding Jars, and three Throne of Geth, I imagine Kobayashi was very comfortable playing the long game. He has passed on Steel Overseer entirely as it is a terrible standalone threat. Do not underestimate the deck though. This build may be slower but it still has the combo-esque Hardened Scales turns that can kill you out of nowehere. Towing this line took Kobayashi all of the way to a trophy in Yokohama.
We hope that this Top 8 tech series presented you with some ideas to test out in the coming weeks. Or, if you do not play these decks, it at least lets you know what to watch out for when facing them. So what was your favorite piece of technology in this entry? Do you have any innovations of your own to share? We would love to talk it over in our discussion group. Or if you would like to take a swing at writing content for the site you can contact us directly here. We will be back tomorrow with a Modern brew utilizing one of the hottest new cards from War of the Spark. Until then my friends.