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Proactive Decks for GP Phoenix


With a few weeks of new Modern testing under my belt at this point, I can confidently say that; the format is still the same. While Jace and Bloodbraid Elf have both been seeing plenty of success, there is nothing inherently different about the format. The decks that play these cards are some of the better decks in the format, but the hallmark of Modern has always been that the gap between the better decks and the weaker decks is surmountable. Jace and Bloodbraid have not been successful in widening that gap to the extent where the better decks start to invalidate some of the weaker decks. So, for the time being at least, Modern is still as open as it’s ever been, and you can still play pretty much whatever you want. Because of this, I still believe that taking a proactive approach is ideal. Being able to clock your opponent is imperative because you can’t realistically answer every threat that they present. My initial testing for Grand Prix Phoenix has all been centered around proactive decks and tuning my lists to be more proactive.

Since the format is essentially still the same, my current frontrunner for GP Phoenix is my old standby; Grixis Death's Shadow. The reason why I always gravitated toward this deck was the fact that it doesn’t really have any unwinnable matchups. Some of your matchups are far from great, but nothing is unwinnable. You’re capable of grinding decks out with Snapcaster Mage and Kolaghan's Command, and you’re capable of cheesing them out with Stubborn Denial and Temur Battle Rage. Regardless of the matchup, you have a viable path to victory. And aside from just being a safe choice, Grixis Death's Shadow also happens to be extremely well positioned at the moment.

People just don’t seemed to be nearly as well equipped when it comes to dealing with giant Shadows and zombie fish as they used to be. The resurgence of Jund and the emergence of Jace has led to a significant uptick in Lightning Bolts, which aren’t actually very good against Grixis Death's Shadow. It’s easy to imagine punking a Shadow player out with a couple Bolts, but in reality games rarely play out that way. More often than not, Bolt is a low impact card in the matchup. In addition to the increased presence of Lightning Bolt in the format, Fatal Push has been the go to removal spell to gain an edge over Jund. Push is an efficient answer when it comes to dealing with Shadow, but with all of these decks filled to the brim with copies of Fatal Push and Lightning Bolt, they have very little room for answers to delve threats. Because of this, I’ve found the Jund matchup to actually be favorable for Grixis Death's Shadow, and Gurmag Angler is my current pick for the best threat in the format.

I’ve been high on Grixis for a couple weeks now, and wasn’t the slightest bit surprised to see it in the Modern seat for the GP Madrid champions. Grixis was the best deck before people started respecting it, and if players continue to skimp on tools for the matchup it’s going to stay on top.

I’m currently residing at Ben Friedman’s Las Vegas home, and we threw this list together in an attempt to remedy several of the issues the classic wu decks suffer from. With the addition of the creature package, you gain the ability to both apply pressure and protect your Jaces. The card Restoration Angel was also specifically appealing to us for many of the same reasons why Gurmag Angler is great at the moment. With the amount of conditional and sorcery speed removal seeing play at the moment, Restoration Angel has the potential to become one of the more important creatures in the format. Oust is another card that I believe has the potential to achieve relevance in Modern. I was already big on Oust after all of the wu decks starting playing four copies of Field of Ruin, for the ability to shuffle away any threat you Oust is quite nice. But in addition to that, the return of Jund compels you play non-Path to Exile removal spells. If you’re ever forced to Path a Dark Confidant on turn two, you’re placing yourself at a severe disadvantage for the rest of the game. WIth the way most Jund lists are constructed at the moment, it’s incredibly easy for them to capitalize on the extra mana. We haven’t played the deck a ton at this point, but I’ve been incredibly impressed with how it has played out in our sample size, and it’s definitely something I’m going to keep working on for the foreseeable future.

This deck is a bit different from the other two I posted earlier. In the case of the other decks, the format shift resulted in them being better than they previously were. In the case of this deck, the changes haven’t really affected it much. I think the reason this deck might be good all of the sudden is because people are finally starting to figure out a good shell for the Devoted Druid Combo. Previous versions of the deck contained an absurd amount of air, and it made playing any of sort fair game extremely difficult. In most matchups, you were entirely reliant on the combo, and could only rarely win games straight up. But by ingeniously adding a full sets of Knight of the Reliquary and Tireless Tracker, you can completely solve a lot of the problems that plagued this deck. They’re both high impact Company hits that have the ability to take over games single handedly. They both play quite nicely with the Field of Ruin package as well which gives you a lot of game against big mana decks, another matchup in which you were entirely reliant on the combo in order to win. The Devoted Druid combo is one of the most powerful things you can doing in the format, and with addition of a potent backup plan I wouldn’t be surprised to see it become a real contender.

I really can’t stress enough how important it is to have the ability to place the onus of interaction on your opponent, and Scapeshift does an exceptional job at that. Similar to a deck like Splinter Twin, Scapeshift can goldfish relatively quickly when needed but can also play a more controlling role exceptionally well. The addition of Jace certainly makes the control plan more robust, and is likely solely responsible for the resurgence of the archetype. Because of the high density of lands and ramp spells Scapeshift is required to play, the deck was extremely prone to flooding out. Jace does a substantial amount in mitigating this issue by being a single card engine, and even the Unsummon ability is relevant when you have the ability to play a tempo oriented game like Scapeshift. From a theoretical standpoint, Scapeshift has the necessary tools to beat pretty much everything. This could easily be one of the most underrated decks in the field at the moment, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it become one of the best decks in the upcoming months.

I’m really not a very big fan of this strategy, but I am a big fan of winning. Bogles has been excelling in Modern recently because it perfectly exemplifies putting the onus of interaction on your opponent. Bogles is difficult to interact with by traditional means and demands specific answers. If your opponent is attempting to play a fair game without the ability to interact with hexproof creatures and/or enchantments, they’re going to be at a sizeable disadvantage. If people continue to not show Bogles the respect it deserves, it’s going to keep winning. If I can’t settle on a less linear deck for Phoenix, I could imagine a scenario where I’m casting some Slippery Bogles. My main concern with Bogles would be that at this point players are beginning to run dedicated hate for Bogles. Cards like Engineered Explosives are becoming ubiquitous in sideboards, and the large majority of decks have a plan for Bogles. So even if next week isn’t a great week for Bogles specifically, there is something to be learned from the deck’s recent success. Identifying an under prepared for linear strategy is typically a good way to succeed in the format, so if you’re willing to put work in to finding the right busted deck for a specific weekend you can really reap some hefty benefits from it.

The last deck I’m considering for the GP is the epitome of a proactive deck. Similar to Grixis Death's Shadow, Burn has mostly close matchups across the board. It isn’t particularly great against anything, but it isn’t particularly bad against anything either. Burn also benefits significantly from the recent unbannings because both Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor promote long grindy games. And the slower the format is, the better Burn is. One troubling thing for Burn is Bogle’s rise to prominence because that matchup is horrendous, but for the most part Burn is likely one of the safest decks with a high amount of upside for next weekend. If I determine that getting your opponent dead as efficiently possible is where you want to be, I could easily see myself playing this deck in the near future.

So while I certainly have no problem admitting I’m wrong, I currently believe the format is pretty much the same it always has been. The metagame is wide open, and the only real advantage you can gain in deck selection is punishing people who aren’t prepared to deal with your gameplan.

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