Top 8 Tech: Grand Prix Birmingham

Yesterday, we looked over the large dataset provided by CFB but today we will be putting the microscope to the Top 8 decklists. When you look beyond the Hog, the results of Grand Prix Birmingham were diverse and exciting. We saw the usual suspects, we saw newly developing archetypes, and we even saw an old format top dog reinvented to bring home the trophy. Today we will be looking at the best deckbuilding choices put on display in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Birmingham. As always, all decklists are available here.

UW Control: Celestial Purge
Lately I have been kicking around the idea of a “Most Underrated Sideboard Cards in Modern” article just so I could gush about Celestial Purge. For a few years now this has been a personal favorite as a sideboard one-of. Two mana to exile any permanent in two colors, especially when they are often played together, is a superb rate. In recent months though it has just gotten better and better. Against Hogvine it gives you a truly permanent answer to Hogaak, Bloodghast, Gravecrawler, and more. Against Jund it takes out Liliana, W6, BBE, and Dark Confidant if they are still on it. Against Phoenix decks it takes out Arclight Phoenix, Blood Moon, and Aria of Flame. The list really goes on and on. Taking note of this Borja registered three copies in his sideboard and clearly it paid off in his Top 8 placement. And of course he also made the wise choice to mainboard his graveyard hate in the form of two Surgical Extraction.

Burn: Deflecting Palm
I do love this cheeky card. Lucas went with the same sixty we saw in our last entry and I stand by this being the optimal build. I was not much of a fan of the playset of Leyline of the Void from the previous list though; Burn cannot mulligan aggressively. I imagine that is why this list went with RiP in its stead. I do understand that this can be too slow against Hogvine’s more absurd draws though and that is where Deflecting Palm comes in. Do not get me wrong, this is not a narrow card. The times I have played Burn, I always played at least on copy and brought it in for any matchup in which it could outpace Lightning Helix. Against Hogvine in particular though, it is particularly devastating when played in response to a swinging Hogaak or well-fed Carrion Feeder. The matchup is a race after all and in these situations Deflecting Palm is equivalent to two mana “deal eight damage, gain eight life”. Talk about a blowout.

Hardened Scales: Taking it Slow
Stan’s list is a thing of beauty and makes me think back to when this deck first hit the scene. It was looked down upon and called a meme compared to traditional Affinity builds. As time has gone on this deck has only become slower and grindier but that is its true strength. Traditional Affinity is full of hot air like Memnite to enable nut draws. Scales builds are chocked full of value though and still can kill you out of nowhere with their Hardened Scales hands. What sets this build apart is that he is on three copies of Llanowar Reborn and a full set of Animation Module. ETB tapped lands are no fun but with Scales in play you can think of it as playing a sorcery that says “the next time you play a creature that creature enters the battlefield with two +1/+1 counters” better yet, that sorcery did not actually cost you a card in hand. If the game goes long at all Module will be growing threats and spawning a token for a go wide win every turn. This is not a traditional Affinity build where you can remove a couple of their payoff cards and expect to easily win the lategame.

Thopter Sword: Continuing to Innovate
I believe it is fair to say that you never see the same Thopter Sword list more than once. After Sword of the Meek was unbanned, the deck massively underperformed. It was just a non-infinite combo deck that lost to both artifact and graveyard hate. Modern Horizons changed everything with Urza, Goblin Engineer, and Arcum’s Astrolabe. I do believe that this deck is one of the format’s best and we have not even settled on a build yet. The most shocking thing at first glance is that his Whirs have been moved to the sideboard. However, this is just another reporting mistake on CFB’s part. The Whirs were in the mainboard with a half-dozen silver bullets and two more in the board. They are locked in on at least Grixis colors but Abdullah managed to sneak in white for Teferi Time Raveler. The +1 is useless in Game 1 but the static ability tears through interactive decks and the -3 helps you deal with permanent-based hate cards.  I cannot wait to see where the archetype goes from here.

Hogvine: Playing The Best Deck
Here we go again. This is the best deck in the format and will be gone next week. Choosing to play this deck at a Modern event puts you at a significant advantage before you even shuffle the deck. Three of the players in the Top 8 were on it and it dominated any way you slice the dataset. The only development the deck has seen in recent weeks is Force of Vigor. Where they once ran only Nature’s Claim and struggled with Chalice, they now can blow up both a Chalice and Leyline without mana investment. The deck was already close to having enough green cards so it was as simple as adding a few Lotleth Troll or Glowspore Shaman. Their maindeck beats your maindeck and their hate cards beat your hate cards; you just have to hope that they draw poorly.

Mardu Shadow: Believing the Hype
Oh boy do I love this deck. I have quite the soft spot for Shadow decks but before Modern Horizons, I had never given much thought to Mardu builds. Ranger-Captain of Eos has been a significant boost to the deck though. Not only does it find more Shadows, but it can sacrifice itself to secure your Temur Battle Rage wins before you dive in. Probably the sweetest function though is digging up a Hex Parasite when you already have a Death’s Shadow ready to swing. You can activate it multiple times, choosing 0 for each X, to shred yourself down to one or two life to pump your Shadow into a 12/12 or 11/11. This deck has begun to garner some attention recently but had yet to break out on the big stage. Rory bought into the hype though and that earned him the trophy. I would not call myself an expert by any means but my gut tells me that this is the best Death’s Shadow build that Modern has seen yet.

Wrap-Up
Can you imagine this exact metagame with just Hogvine being banned and traditional Dredge taking its place? Now that is the Modern format that I want to play. There is so much fun to be had and still so much room to innovate. Do you think we will see an unban to shake things up further though? Who do you see coming off the bench? Please share your thoughts with us 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 another article for you to enjoy. Until then my friends.

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