“For me, it feels like there a more factors than the powerful combination of Faithless Looting + Manamorphose + Arclight Phoenix alone which caused the enormous raise in popularity and steady results of this deck on the larger tournaments during the last few weeks” – Dennis van Meurs
Looking back at the MagicFest Bilbao weekend I can only say I have had an awesome time over there! In this third and last part of my Tournament Report I would like to dive a bit deeper into what is currently going on in the Modern metagame and what the position of Grixis Death’s Shadow in this exiting time is.
The modern metagame
Looking at the metagame during the GP Bilbao weekend (and other big tournaments as the GP Tampa and SCG regionals), there is no denying that 1 card overpowered everything else: Faithless looting. With a combined Day 2 metagame share of about 30% of the field, mostly in Izzet Phoenix (23%) decks and Dredge (6%), it isn’t a surprise there was, and still is, a lot of discussion about possible bans to protect the health of the format. However, the rest of the metagame shares seemed to be a healthy mix of the usual suspects as Humans, Tron, GB Rock, Burn and many of the other Modern viable decks.
For me, it feels like there a more factors than the powerful combination of Faithless Looting + Manamorphose + Arclight Phoenix alone which caused the enormous raise in popularity and steady results of this deck on the larger tournaments during the last few weeks:
- The Izzet Phoenix strategy falls under the ‘Turbo Xerox’ decks, meaning they can drop low on land count, play a higher amount of cantrips (which also enhances your game plan!) ensuring a high level of consistency. Where other decks sometimes stumble and draw the wrong side of the deck, Izzet Phoenix often sees many cards of the deck, resulting in being a highly consistent and resilient deck. This helps really helps in tournaments with 8+ rounds.
- Some people still were getting used playing against Izzet Phoenix. For example, in the most Sideboard Guides of Grixis Death’s Shadow from January/February, people opted for boarding out 1 or 2 Snapcaster Mages against the deck, while in the end the card is key in game 2 and 3, which often turn out to be very grindy in this particular match-up.
- Spikes who only play modern occasionally, without being fixed on a particular deck, often pick ‘the best deck of the moment’ as a default option, which tends to be Izzet Phoenix at this moment, as a deck of choice. Of course this is not only true for the Spikes of this game, lots of players in general act this way. If you can’t (or don’t want to) invest time looking into ways how to beat them, why not join them!
Looking forward: The modern metagame
What now? Will this be the new Modern, facing Izzet Phoenix and other Looting decks all day when participating in competitive events? Do we need a ban on Faithless Looting? Or another card?
In my opinion I think we will be fine without a ban. Totally fine. Yes, a metagame share of this size might not be healthy, but I do not advocate a ban for Faithless Looting for this moment for the following reasons.
- Faithless Looting is a card which enables an important and format defining archetype in Modern: graveyard based strategies. Looting provides diversity in the format, by enabling more aggro/combo strategies as mono Red Phoenix, Reanimator and Dredge and more midrange and fairer strategies like Mardu Pyromancer and Izzet Phoenix. Banning the card will slash down this complete archetype which is not a great path to follow. In the end, if a banning appears to be necessary, I would opt for a banning of deck specific cards, like Arclight Phoenix itself or Crippling Chill for Dredge, leaving the archetype intact, but lowering the power of the Tier 0 deck.
- Modern is a highly flexible format. People are getting used to play against the top decks and make their strategy choice or deck choice accordingly. During the Grand Prix Bilbao people where already playing strategies to beat the Phoenix decks like Whir Prison. What is happening already, particular in online Magic, where metagames tend to shift the fastest, is a shift towards decks like GB Rock, UW Control and Ensnaring Bridge/Chalice of the Void decks to push Phoenix decks out of the format. As an answer, Izzet Phoenix starts packing Snapcaster Mages and Pyromancer Ascensions maindeck to battle these decks. All signs of a healthy metagame up to me. In other words, Modern will solve itself.
Grixis Death’s Shadow in the metagame
What about Grixis Death’s Shadow in this metagame? To be honest, and with pain in my heart, I think these weeks were not the best times ever for the deck. Yes, I feel like we have a positive match-up against Izzet Phoenix, where game 1 can be difficult to navigate, but game 2 (and 3) feel quite solid. On the other hand, the set-up we need to beat the Phoenix decks leaves us struggling versus Hardened Scales and Humans and we need to draw well and play incredibly tight to beat Dredge, Burn and Tron, but that’s the thing with a deck which has lots of 50-50 match-ups. As results prove, we still have the possibility to do well in large competitive events, but it requires a highly skilled pilot combined with a bit of luck here and there.
Looking forward: Grixis Death’s Shadow
Looking forward, things might change for the better or worse. If indeed the megagame gets slower and more GB Rock, UW Control gets played, this might also mean that more people will be playing decks to battle the midrange and control decks, so it is quite hard to predict where we will exactly be in the coming time…
But all in all it feels like things are slowing down a bit, which means we might want to do that also with GDS. Just as the Modern format, GDS is quite flexible in adjusting to the metagame and people are already testing going back to 4 Snapcaster Mages, switching Mishra’s Bauble’s for Serum Visions and relying a bit more on the midrange game then the lightning fast starts GDS sometimes has. This gives us more game against GB Rock (which feels as a positive match-up) and UW Control (which is still unfavorable), and gives us more options against the creature strategies of Spirits and Humans, but leaves us more vulnerable against the faster strategies as Dredge and Burn. And to be honest, in my first testing is felt quite clunky again to pay 1 mana for cantrips, instead of being able to freely cast Baubles and still being able to play a discard spell on turn 1. Whichever way it goes, exciting times for modern and for the deck!
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.