Preparations for MagicFest Bilbao
Grand Pr.. uhh MagicFest ™ in my favorite format: Check
Located in an accessible and visit worthy city: Check
Awesome people travelling there: Check
It seems all ingredients for another astonishing Magic weekend are there. With the last awesome GP-weekend in Liverpool last december fresh in my memories I am thrilled to travel to Bilbao. Not being able to play my favorite deck in Liverpool, due to being a team event, left a little mental scar. This is making me even more eager to play in this event!
As soon as the weekend was confirmed I started preparations for the event. As some of you might know, deck choice wasn’t that much of an issue for me. At least I knew I would be playing a deck packing 4 Death’s Shadows. The Grixis variant would be the most obvious choice, since the deck puts up the best results and fits my playstyle and experience the best. However, I did some minor testing with Traverse variants and even Suicide zoo because sometimes the Grixis deck gives me headaches due to the low threat count, which does lose games every now and then. However, in the end the Grixis variant of the deck feels less clunky then others and keeps on putting reliable results in large events.
So after choosing the deck I could start expanding my current experience with the deck. However, Grixis Death’s Shadow is an highly complex deck with many micro decisions. I do have the basic experience and skills with the deck, but mastering the deck would take a lot of time, which I don’t have at all at the moment. In order to maximize the effect of my limited testing, I decided to pick dedicated area’s where I felt I could get the most percentage points within the limited testing/preparation time I had:
- Finding the optimal build for the metagame
Of course, the modern meta game changes as often as the Dutch weather. On the other hand, there are some clean patterns to be seen when looking closely. For the Bilbao event, my most important predicted trends, influencing the exact 75 cards to play, will be:
- U/R Phoenix will be the main contestant in the room
- Mono-R Phoenix and Burn will follow closely
- Dredge is on the rise the last few weeks. I expect this to continue
- Spirits and Humans meta shares keep decreasing
- There will be a fair share of the usual suspects of the last year: Hardened Scales, Tron, BG Midrange, GDS, UW(R) Control
- And of course the 20+ other viable modern decks…
The main deck of GDS is quite tight, but based on the expected meta game, I think adding the 4th main deck Stubborn Denial is a must. To accommodate this card, the number of removal spells will be cut from 7 to 6, which is possible due to the decrease in Humans/Spirits. This change in the meta game also allows to go from a 3-1 to a 4-0 split in Fatal Push/Lightning Bolts main deck as an option.
For the sideboard, I am still going back and forth on a few of the cards, but with Phoenix and Dredge on the top of the field, I want to have a strong graveyard hate package. For Burn and mono-R Phoenix, some card against direct damage are useful as well.
Speaking about the sideboard, sideboarding with GDS is not always easy. In some match-ups it is easy to decide what to side out, like Dismembers and Street Wraiths against Burn or Stubborn Denials against Humans. In other matches, it is less easy. The deck needs a lot of its cards to keep the engine running and sometimes all of your cards have its role in a matchup. For example Snapcaster Mage seems like a card which is solid in all match-ups. However, sometimes it is your weakest card and the right choice the side out the card. Finding out these nuances of sideboarding costs a lot of time and experience. That’s why I mainly trust on the opinion of some highly regarded GDS players (as Ben Jones, Brandon Dollaway, Dylan Hovey) who regularly share sideboard plans which I combine with my own preferred play style. In order not to figure out the sideboarding again each match, I always take written notes on sideboarding with me. These notes do not only comprise of what comes in/goes out, but also what I can expect from my opponent. Do I need to take into account getting hit by a Blood Moon? Is it likely that my opponent sides in Dismembers?
Opening hands with GDS are often quite awkward. You play a lot of blind cards (Street Wraith/Mishra’s Bauble) and only play 17 lands. First important thing to learn when playing GDS is when to keep 1-landers. It is difficult to make a rule of thumb for these since a lot of parameters do have influence. Are you on the play/draw? Do you have a scry? Do you have an awesome hand against a known opponent? In order to get an objective view on this is calculating what the chance is to draw a land before needing to make your 2nd land drop. How many draw steps do I have and how many cards does my hand draw (and/or see)? Based on that you can calculate the change to get into trouble and knowing to keep a hand or not. For example, a 1-lander on the play with Serum Visions gives you 82% to make your 2nd land drop on time. A 1-lander with Thought Scour only 56%.
Another critical point, as mentioned before, is your ability to close the game. I feel there is a significant amount of games I lost due to not finding a threat, so this is one of the key aspects I look for in my opening hand. Does it have a finisher, or a way to find one (for example Serum Visions)?
Besides these basic rules, it is a matter of testing. For example, during testing I often keeps sketchy hands just to see what happens and get a feeling to keep or mulligan these kind of hands in the future.
- Basic sequencing
During turn 1-2 there is a lot going on in this deck. Lots of decisions to make in cantrips, discard spells and how and when to fetch. Some considerations:
- I always tend to cast discard spells before Serum Visions. This way you have more information knowing what to look for. Unless you have to look for a land to make your 2nd land drop.
- Mishra’s Bauble is a very flexible card and it is difficult to get the full potential out of it. Basic mode is play fetchland, Bauble yourself and decide to fetch or not (‘pseudo-Opt’). But sometimes you already know you have to fetch because you want to play a discard spell turn 1, or you don’t have a way to manipulate your library, then it can be helpful to Bauble your opponent to gain information what they will draw. Or maybe you activate Bauble in your opponents turn to protect your top card from discard spells, or want to turn on revolt. Or, or, or… so many choices!
- Never cycle Street Wraith just for the sake of cycling. It has strong synergy with baubles and Serum Visions and can act as a combat trick with Death’s Shadow. On the other hand, cycling your Street Wraith before playing a discard spell gives you more information about what is the best card to take.
- Always fetch before playing Serum Visions to get the full use of the scry. Unless.. maybe you have to keep the fetch land to enable revolt or play around Field of Ruin?
What I’m trying to say here is, there are no fixed rules for the basic sequences, there are so many considerations and exceptions in different situations, which makes the deck so hard to play.
The way how I play is always check the basic option and try to recognize if you could be in a situation which is an expectation from the basics. If not, go for it. If so, reconsider!
- Mini game-in-games
When playing GDS, there is always this mini-game of life total management. Against some deck you (almost always) want to go as low as possible (Ad Nauseam, Tron), while against Burn and Mono-R Phoenix you want to preserve your life total, because your opponent will do the jobs for you. Against a lot of other decks, the truth is in between, which is what makes it difficult. This delicate balance also involves recognizing when it is better to let your opponent attack you and not block/destroy their creature to get you on the right amount of life to kill them in the strike back with Temur Battle Rage. I often lost on 1 or 2 life, just because I fetched/shocked too aggressively in the early game, or cycled a Street Wraith where there was no true need for that. Learning this takes lots of practice but will give you a lot of percentage points in a lot of match ups.
Another mini game you are playing against yourself, is making sure you get a threat on the table and stick it there. Since you only play 8, sometimes it is difficult to find one. If you finally did, it is not always just a matter of slamming in on the table, especially not against interactive decks. Playing a creature without discard/counter back-up can cost you the game when it gets removed immediately. Recognizing the situations when and when not to go for it is key when playing GDS.
Enough complex subjects to think about during these weeks prior to the event. Let’s hope it pays of, which you will read in the next column!
- 4 Polluted Delta
- 4 Bloodstained Mire
- 2 Scalding Tarn
- 2 Watery Grave
- 2 Blood Crypt
- 1 Steam Vents
- 1 Island
- 1 Swamp
- 4 Death’s Shadow
- 4 Gurmag Angler
- 3 Snapcaster Mage
- 4 Street Wraith
- 3 Mishra’s Bauble
- 4 Thought Scour
- 2 Serum Visions
- 1 Faithless Looting
- 4 Fatal Push
- 2 Dismember
- 4 Stubborn Denial
- 4 Thoughtseize
- 2 Inquisition of Kozilek
- 2 Temur Battle Rage
- Sideboard: to be defined
Dennis van Meurs
Started with Magic the Gathering since Invasion (at the end of 2000). Won two DOS qualifiers and between 2005-2010 some Top 8’s in Legacy.