Riley's Modern Life: GP Birmingham Report

12 min read

Given that Modern is my absolute favourite format, it won’t surprise you to learn I was keen as mustard to get into the booth over the weekend and see what Europe’s best would acquit themselves. It was a terrific weekend – here is a (rather long) collection of the highlights from each round!


Day One

Round 1: Sara Pedro vs. Mark Wraith

I was amped as anything when Wraith opened with [mtg_card]Celestial Colonnade[/mtg_card] – here we go, I thought, we’re going to see UW Control stamp its dominance on the format from the absolute get-go! Just as the doctor ordered, this deck is poised to overtake the tournament, its time has come to… crash and burn horribly, it turns out, as Pedro plopped an Urza’s Tower onto the battlefield. Gross.

Instances of UW Control actually beating Tron are about as rare as a Frenchman’s steak, and this was no exception. Pedro methodically took Wraith apart with her GB take on the deck, which gave her access to cards like [mtg_card]Fatal Push[/mtg_card] and[mtg_card] Collective Brutality[/mtg_card]. I think this is a really interesting direction in which to take Tron, and warrants further exploration – Push is the best removal in the format, and Brutality is a strong utility card that completely hoses decks like Burn. In any case, it was an early victory for the bad guys, and UW Control was left to slink away and lick its wounds.


Round 2: Christophe Gregoir vs. Alasdair Darroch

More Celestial Colonnades made me very happy indeed – Gregoir was backing these ones up with Steam Vents, which is a bit of an unorthodox choice as [mtg_card]Lightning Bolt[/mtg_card] isn’t at its best these days. Darroch, similarly, was living in the past with his Four-Colour Death’s Shadow list, complete with [mtg_card]Lingering Souls[/mtg_card] and[mtg_card] Tarmogoyf[/mtg_card]s. Casting Bolts and [mtg_card]Electrolyze[/mtg_card]s isn’t going to get it done, it seems, and Darroch won with a timely [mtg_card]Claim // Fame[/mtg_card] after Gregoir ran out of [mtg_card]Cryptic Commands[/mtg_card].

On one of the back tables, Pedro continued to dominate with GB Tron, chewing through Affinity – Susanne Bornelov came ready with two Blood Moons, but even that wasn’t good enough. We also saw Burn go down in incredible circumstances to Elves – Martin Cordeiro had an [mtg_card]Eidolon of the Great Revel[/mtg_card] and an opponent on four life. You’d think it’s all over red rover, despite his opponent having infinite mana thanks to the new kids on the block, Vizier of Remedies and Devoted Druid – the Eidolon means that Luke Southworth can play a single spell before dying. Southworth didn’t care about that, however – a freshly-peeled [mtg_card]Ezuri, Renegade Leader[/mtg_card], meant the Elves player was able to attack for a million billion squillion to get the W.


Round 3: Catching up with Larsson and Nielsen

I wasn’t in the booth for this one, so I took the opportunity to stroll around and chat with some of the three-bye players. Joel Larsson was busy hunting for [mtg_card]Thoughtseize[/mtg_card]s to round out his Esper [mtg_card]Death’s Shadow[/mtg_card] list. I asked him why he favoured white, and his answers were straightforward enough – “Lingering Souls and [mtg_card]Path to Exile[/mtg_card],” he said, simply. “They absolutely crush the other Death’s Shadow decks.”

I saw Simon Nielsen’s signature red tie and so sped over to chat with him, as well. He was on Scapeshift, and so we chatted about the deck and he shared some of his thoughts. “I wasn’t joking when I tweeted asking to borrow [mtg_card]Witchbane Orb[/mtg_card]s,” he told me. “It smashes the mirror. I saw a Scapeshift mirror where it was Witchbane Orb vs. [mtg_card]Leyline of Sanctity[/mtg_card], and it came down to decking!” With Scapeshift being a popular deck choice this weekend, people were looking for every edge they could get – anything from Witchbane Orb to [mtg_card]Joraga Treespeaker[/mtg_card].


Round 4: Javier Dominguez vs. Christopher Larsen

As the three-bye players entered the arena, the feature match saw some of Europe’s most powerful wizards strap on the gloves and chuck some punches around. Javier Dominguez sat down with Death’s Shadow – widely considered to be the deck to beat – and was promptly obliterated by Christopher Larsen and his incredibly streamlined Counters Company deck. Somehow, Larsen was able to ignore the huge one-mana threats Dominguez deployed, and pulled together two incredibly victories with piddly 0/1s and 2/1s.

In the booth, we were super impressed with the Counters deck – it can win out of nowhere on turn three, but can also grind away like an overworked miller with Gavony Township and Eternal Witness. It was particularly filthy to watch Larsen cast the same Collected Company three times in a row thanks to [mtg_card]Eternal Witness[/mtg_card] – Dominguez never really looked to be in it.


Round 5: Autumn Burchett vs. Simon Nielsen

We already knew Nielsen was on Scapeshift, which is above all elseconsistent. With a high land count and twenty or so more cards that get lands out of your library, this deck is all about having great big… tracts of land. Autumn Burchett, however, had other ideas about how useful those lands were going to be. Her start was innocuous enough, [mtg_card]Champion of the Parish[/mtg_card] into [mtg_card]Thalia, Guardian of Thraben[/mtg_card] – okay, GW Humans, no worries. Nielsen is sitting pretty until she plays [mtg_card]Cavern of Souls[/mtg_card] and then [mtg_card]Magus of the Moon[/mtg_card] – oops.

Generally the Scapeshift player wants as many Mountains as they can get, but at this stage Burchett looked a little bit like the devil with Homer Simpson and the doughnut machine: “So, you like Mountains, eh? Well, have all the Mountains in the world!”. Nielsen had to take his lumps, and did it with a characteristic smile on his face. To add insult to injury, he somehow managed to get mana screwed in the last game, and went out with style by casting two Summoner’s Pacts with only three lands in play. He also failed to find; what a baller.


Round 6: Catching up with Raph Levy

I hung out with Raph Levy, the Hall of Famer and – this is not a joke – the French National Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Champion. Raph was playing Dredge, obviously. This is a man who has a copy of [mtg_card]Golgari Brownscale[/mtg_card] glued to his laptop – of course he was playing Dredge. Raph was experimenting with some new technology: Driven // Despair. His excellent writeup on TCGPlayer goes through the ins and outs of the deck, and I highly recommend giving it a read.


Round 7: Guillaume Wafo-Tapa vs. Martin Velikov

I was thrilled when I had the list of feature matches passed to me as I returned to the booth – Guillaume Wafo-Tapa was on table one, and the sun will rise in the west before this guy doesn’t play blue-based control. Wafo-Tapa’s favourite card is [mtg_card]Think Twice[/mtg_card], and his Modern decks are essentially built around it. In this case, he was splashing black, so as to draw even more cards off [mtg_card]Esper Charm[/mtg_card] – his opponent, Martin Velikov, had other plans though. Playing Burn, he never gave Wafo-Tapa the chance to flashback even a single Think Twice, and the French Hall of Famer went down very swiftly.

On table two, Jerome Bastogne was putting on a show with the deck he’s played for years – Grishoalbrand. He’s a stone-cold master with this list and unfortunately for his opponent, Wayne “Wayne-Dillon Clique” Dillon, he maneuvered expertly to take down another blue-based control deck. Dillon played an exceptional game two, pressuring Bastogne with a Vendilion Clique backed up with disruption, and it made me think about how control decks still need to pressure the opponent. Something has to change, anyway – Celestial Colonnade was still winless on camera.


Round 8: Matia Rizzi vs. Christopher Larsen

The Coverage Curse of Colonnade Control™ continued in round eight, as Matia Rizzi sat down across from the Danish juggernaut we’d seen in round four. Initially, Rizzi was able to take out the first game, once again by applying pressure with a threat (in this case [mtg_card]Gideon Jura[/mtg_card]) while disrupting Larsen’s gameplan with countermagic and sweepers.

Rizzi wasn’t able to seal the deal, however – after sideboarding, Larsen leveraged his [mtg_card]Selfless Spirit[/mtg_card] to completely throw off any chance Rizzi had. Larsen is a supremely confident player, and Rizzi’s best efforts to get up into his brain zone with some on-point bluffing wasn’t as successful as it might have been. Larsen wiped the floor with his opponent after Rizzi suffered some unfortunate draws, and the curse remained unbroken.


Round 9: Getting ready for Windmillionaire

The excellent blokes from Windmill Slam had invited me to take part in their “Windmillionaire Game Show” after the rounds finished for the day, so I spent the last round brushing up on likely topics. This proved to be a complete waste of time, as once the game show started, I was quizzed on things like Odyssey-block flavour text and the storyline of the Weatherlight Saga. Surprisingly, I held my own until the final round, where I went down in a tie-breaker after not knowing the average number of hours a housecat spends sleeping each day (14, apparently). I had a great time, and the next time you’ve got some time to incinerate on YouTube, get across some of the gutbusting stuff on Windmill Slam.


Day Two

Round 10: Sleeping in

On Sunday, I had won the coverage sleep-in lottery and didn’t have to be at the venue until the beginning of round 11, as Simon and Marijn were taking care of the first round of the day. I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, taking advantage of the fact that the UK has proper, actual bacon on offer. In Berlin I can only get rubbish, floppy, streaky, “American-style” bacon – but now that I was in Britain, I filled my stupid face with proper, thick, short-cut bacon (what Americans call “Canadian bacon”). It was glorious and I was firing on all cylinders as I made my way to the venue afterwards.


Round 11: Carlos Moral vs. Oscar Christensen

Again we saw a Death’s Shadow deck get torn limb from limb by the Counters Company deck – this time it was Carlos Moral going down to Oscar Christensen, who was playing a more or less the same list as Christopher Larsen’s. Larsen had told me yesterday that he thought it was a bad matchup for the Counters deck, but seeing its performance on camera made me think otherwise. With infinite chump blockers and an extremely powerful lategame, the Counters Company list may become a major contender moving forward. You can find the list here – it might be a good pick for your next Modern tournament!


Round 12: Chris Arlow vs. Ivan Floch

Chris Arlow had his work cut out for him here, with the Pro Tour Champion Ivan Floch sitting across from him with his characteristic smile – Floch is a powerhouse player and was very confident in his Eldrazi list. Playing Abzan, Arlow got off quickly however, with an unanswered [mtg_card]Dark Confidant[/mtg_card] sitting around for virtually the entire game. The cost of greatness proved to be a little high, however, as Floch ripped a fresh [mtg_card]All is Dust[/mtg_card] at the opportune moment and that was that. Arlow took a mulligan to five in game two, and it wasn’t long before Floch had cleaned him up and taken the round

in straight sets.


Round 13: Catching up with Ivan Floch and Ondrej Strasky

After his win, I sat down with Floch to chat about his deck choice. He contended that Eldrazi is the best “fair” deck, and that it absolutely crushes all the other fair decks. “It isn’t as broken as it used to be,” he tells me, “but it still has game against combo with Chalice of the Void and Thought-Knot Seer.” He’s also supremely sure of the Death’s Shadow matchup, and just wants to play GB-based decks all day. Ondřej Stráský joined us while we’re chatting, and he agreed. “Thought-Knot Seer is the best Magic card,” he says. “I would play 12 if I could.”


Round 14: Michael Parker vs. Steve Hatto

Michael Parker was absolutely crushing it at his first ever GP – he was sniffing away at a Top 8 appearance on the back of his Jeskai Control deck. Steve Hatto on straight Green-Black stood in his way, however – and the match got off to an incredible start. Parker was visibly overwrought from the extra pressure of being featured, and the poor fellow just F6’d straight through his second turn, forgetting to play a second land. Hatto pulled ahead comfortably off the back of his Dark Confidant, and Parker looked to be in dire straits.

All of a sudden he points a Bolt at Hatto’s scone, despite a wealth of other targets, and Hatto is left on five after a succession of Bob triggers. When Parker untapped and slammed a Thundermaw Hellkite onto the battlefield, Hatto couldn’t do anything other than scoop them up, scratching his head in confusion – how had he lost to a turn-two F6? Then again, he did go on to win the match, to the anguish of control players everywhere – Celestial Colonnade decks had not won a single feature match all weekend.  


Round 15: Samuel Marti vs. Simon Nielsen

Despite some early misfortune, Simon Nielsen was seated for a win-and-in for round 15 – his opponent, Samuel Marti, was playing Dredge. After having his pants pulled down in game one, Nielsen was up against it after they hit their sideboards. Things were looking grim for the “Daneblast” champion, as Marti opened with a turn-zero [mtg_card]Leyline of Sanctity[/mtg_card]. Nonetheless, Nielsen dug in and battled hard, keeping the board clear with four active Valakuts and whittling away at Marti’s life total with the hidden mode on [mtg_card]Sakura-Tribe Elder[/mtg_card] – it can, in fact, attack for one. After winning an astonishing game two, Nielsen tidied up with a prompt Scapeshift finish in game three and snagged himself another Grand Prix Top 8!


Quarterfinals: Oscar Christiansen vs. Simon Nielsen

With the Top 8 finally assembled, the diversity of Modern was reflected with the wide range of decks that had made the finals. Everything from Grixis Death’s Shadow to Lantern Control had gotten up and about, and we were eager to see how things would shake out.

Nielsen sat down to face Oscar Christiansen, whose Counters Company had launched him into the Top 8. Christiansen got off to a bad start, unable to find his combo before Nielsen played his one-card combo, and sent 18 damage worth of liquid-hot magma upstairs. Nielsen looked to take a slightly different posture post-board, bringing in Kaladesh’s most iconic duo (outside of [mtg_card]Smuggler’s Copter[/mtg_card] and, well, any creature), [mtg_card]Pia and Kiran Nalaar[/mtg_card]. Unfortunately, his hopes to contest the board were undone swiftly in both games two and three, as Christiansen speedily put together his infinite combo, leaving Nielsen as dead as Chandra’s dad.

Semifinals: Oscar Christiansen vs. Loic Le Briand

Mulligans hit both players in game one. Christiansen had to go down to four, then didn’t play a land for several turns – in fact, his second land was drawn off a [mtg_card]Goblin Guide[/mtg_card] trigger while Le Briand was busy booking him a bed in the burn ward. After a swift game one, Loic Le Briand took a much more conservative line after Christiansen played a turn-two [mtg_card]Kitchen Finks[/mtg_card]. Holding back his [mtg_card]Monastery Swiftspear[/mtg_card]s and rather haphazardly shooting off burn spells like a drunken Dumbledore, Christian sailed to victory on the back of Sigarda, Host of Herons, and they were off to game three.

Le Briand mulliganed to five, and things were looking grim for the burn player – but after channelling his inner PV, he came out of the gates like a greyhound. Christiansen wasn’t able to find an opening, and despite his opponent being down two cards from the get go, his face was assaulted by more fire than you’d find in Lil Dicky’s mixtape. It was an astonishing win, but enough to secure Loic Le Briand a seat opposite Steve Hatto in the final.


Finals: Steve Hatto vs. Loic Le Briand

Steve Hatto was kickin’ it old school with his Black-Green Rock deck – no silly business with a third colour or anything like that. The undercosted threats green offers pair exceptionally well with the efficient disruption out of black, and Hatto didn’t think cards like Lightning Bolt or Lingering Souls were necessary enough to mess with an almost painless and very streamlined mana base. This would give him an edge when playing against the deck everyone loves to hate – although Burn’s stock was at a high point this weekend, as it seemed people had skimped on sideboard slots to contest red mages.

Le Briand was offering some innovation in the form of Shrine of Burning Rage, with the artifact getting the nod over the generally-ubiquitous Eidolon of the Great Revel. My coverage colleague Simon Görtzen, contended that this positioned it very well against Death’s Shadow and other decks vulnerable to large burst damage – whatever the reason, Le Briand’s approach had done something right and put him in the finals of a Grand Prix.

Le Briand had to face down a turn-two Collective Brutality – a one-card powerhouse against Burn – but developed his board nicely with Goblin Guide and Shrine of Burning Rage. However, Hatto’s mana developed dreamily with three fastlands, and was able to play a relatively normal game with Tarmogoyf into Liliana. Le Briand, however, was treated very kindly by the top of his deck, ripped consecutive business spells, and had Hatto dead without playing a third land.

Game two was truly remarkable. Le Briand later told me he was actively looking to take a “controlling role”, which sounded like utter insanity from someone playing a deck with four Goblin Guides. Somehow, incredibly, it worked – in the booth we couldn’t believe how Le Briand sought to grind out Steve Hatto with several copies of Relic of Progenitus and Lightning Bolts aimed downstairs.

Slowly but surely, however, Le Briand gained the edge against a deck that grinds harder than a diamond millstone, and over the course of more turns a Burn deck usually plays in a whole tournament, a Lightning Helix off the top was enough to finish things off. Loic Le Briand snagged the title of GP Champion, and red mages around the world rejoiced. It might be time to dust off those Kor Firewalkers!


It was an incredible tournament! As I mentioned, I love Modern and I firmly believe it’s in excellent health at the moment, with the wide array of viable decks reflected in the results of this GP. I had a barnstorming time in Birmingham, and I’m very much looking forward to exploring the format further in its wake. What are you looking to play in Modern at the moment? I want to hear your thoughts – you can find me on Twitter @rileyquarytower, and be sure to follow @mtgdotone as well!