February 15, 2018

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Tarmogoyf’s Adventures in Torontoland: A Top 64 GP Report.

Tarmogoyf was beginning to get very tired of sitting by the dice on the desk, and of having nothing to do: once or twice it had peeped into the Modern decks lying around, but they had no green or blue in them, “and what is the use of a deck,” thought Tarmogoyf, “without green or blue?”

Grand Prix Toronto was a great event for me. Not only did I put up a totally unexpectedly nice finish, but I also had a chance to spend time with some good friends from all over the country. In fact, I was reunited with one long forgotten friend for two glorious days.

In the weeks preceding GP Toronto, my plan was to play Grixis Shadow.

I tried a few different configurations, including cutting some land, and adding some Mishra’s Baubles. I even removed Tasigur, the Golden Fang in favour of a full play set of Gurmag Angler. While the deck still performed well, Liliana of the Veil became harder to cast, which is a problem since it’s one of the best cards in the mirror.

Then the Pro Tour happened.

Humans was the most popular deck and I quickly discovered that it was not a great matchup for Grixis. Filling up the graveyard to be able to land a Gurmag Angler happens pretty quickly, but you expend a fair amount of resources to do it. It’s rare to ever be able to play two in a single turn. Having the Gurmag Angler bounced back to your hand over and over by Reflector Mage makes it difficult to cast again later.

I had to decide what my goals were – play the deck I know the best, or play a deck with a great chance to day two the GP. Given how much I value a bye in events, and that I haven’t played enough yet this season to secure a bye for next season, it wasn’t a difficult decision. It was time to abandon the big fish. Now the big question became, “What should I play?”

The Day Two Metagame Breakdown from the PT became instrumental in my decision-making process. Traverse Shadow had an excellent conversion rate of 84.6%, and it was the closest deck to the more familiar Grixis Shadow. It also runs Tarmogoyf as the other big threat.

Tarmogoyf is just as easy to cast and, more importantly, can easily be replayed if it’s bounced with no setup required. My set of Goyfs had been gathering dust for years, and the time was ripe for a comeback!

With the decision made, I immediately bought a set of Traverse the Ulvenwald from the Wizard’s Tower and went to pick them up. While there, I ran into fellow Ottawa player Justin Murphy and explained my rational behind choosing Traverse Shadow. He joked about how he chose RB Hollow One due to its 100% day two conversion rate at the PT. It proved to be a good choice by him as well with a top 32 finish, but as for me, I had the last cards I needed for my deck.

Traverse Shadow

Spells (27)
Abrupt Decay
Dismember
Fatal Push
Inquisition of Kozilek
Mishra’s Bauble
Stubborn Denial
Temur Battle Rage
Thoughtseize
Traverse the Ulvenwald

Planeswalkers (2)
Liliana of the Veil

Creatures (13)
Death’s Shadow
Grim Flayer
Street Wraith
Tarmogoyf

Lands (18)
Blood Crypt
Bloodstained Mire
Breeding Pool
Marsh Flats
Overgrown Tomb
Polluted Delta
Swamp
Verdant Catacombs
Watery Grave

Sideboard (15)
Lightning Bolt
Liliana, the Last Hope
Ancient Grudge
Collective Brutality
Duress
Fatal Push
Fulminator Mage
Maelstrom Pulse
Kozilek’s Return
Stubborn Denial
Temur Battle Rage

The trip to Toronto was pretty typical for a February in Canada; it only snowed for about half of the drive. Luckily, Tarmogoyf and I left on Friday morning, so it was an easier drive in the daylight. We had a nice lunch at a sushi restaurant in Whitby called Tatemono, and I was happy to find that they have a fantastic black pepper beef dish for all of us non-fish eaters.

After lunch, we went directly to the Enercare Centre while we waited for our accommodations to be ready. Since I actually had zero games played with Traverse Shadow, I joined a Modern Trial to try out my new deck. After a quick 0-1 finish, the experiment was over. The only thing I learned was that Modern is a mad format with crazy decks! I ran into something that looked like RG Ponza, but used Madcap Experiment to cheat Platinum Emperion onto the battlefield.

After doing some sideboard card shopping, I ran into my friend Kostas Tataropoulos. He had brought Burn and was willing to jam some test games with me.

We were quickly able to determine what hands from each deck had the greatest chance of success and failure. Mainly, if Traverse Shadow didn’t have one of its eight threats in the opening hand, it was going to go downhill in a hurry. Multiple discard spells without a threat just fizzled out and died.

From the Burn side, hands with a single mana source rarely developed fast enough pressure. Discard would rip the hand apart before it could even get going.

Post-sideboard, the matchup became more favourable for Traverse Shadow. Collective Brutality proved to be a major game-changer, usually escalated to use all modes. It was a small test sample, but a valuable one as Burn is a popular deck in Modern.

Next, I tested with my buddy Drake Honess from North Bay. He had brought one of the worst matchups for Shadow decks – UW Control.

We had a chance to play a single match and Traverse Shadow was able to put enough pressure on to at least feel like it could have a chance. The Duress was key out of the board, but how many UW Control decks did I really expect to face? We pulled apart the Traverse Shadow deck and Drake made some key suggestions on both the manabase and the sideboard.

A second basic went into the main deck, and white cards were added to the sideboard. The soul sole reason I pulled out a match win versus Affinity was the addition of Lingering Souls in the sideboard. So it was, that at 8:30pm on Friday night, I finally had the finished version of Traverse Shadow for the GP on Saturday.

5C Traverse Shadow

Spells (27)
Abrupt Decay
Dismember
Fatal Push
Inquisition of Kozilek
Mishra’s Bauble
Stubborn Denial
Temur Battle Rage
Thoughtseize
Traverse the Ulvenwald

Planeswalkers (2)
Liliana of the Veil

Creatures (13)
Death’s Shadow
Grim Flayer
Street Wraith
Tarmogoyf

Lands (18)
Blood Crypt
Bloodstained Mire
Breeding Pool
Forest
Overgrown Tomb
Polluted Delta
Swamp
Verdant Catacombs
Watery Grave
Wooded Foothills

Sideboard (15)
Temur Battle Rage
Ancient Grudge
Collective Brutality
Godless Shrine
Hostage Taker
Kozilek’s Return
Liliana, the Last Hope
Lingering Souls
Maelstrom Pulse
Stubborn Denial

I was lucky enough to have a bye on Saturday morning, and since I didn’t need to be at the venue until 9:50am I had the luxury of grabbing a leisurely breakfast. This, combined with a nice walk to the Enercare Centre in the fresh air, left me ready to do battle.

Round two was the first time I played the above configuration of the deck. The second basic felt pretty strong for the early Traverse to fix my mana. It was a mirror match where my opponent seemed to get out first on the race to damage ourselves and try to land a Death’s Shadow. Unfortunately for him, my hand was a little more removal heavy that he bargained for, and I easily took game one.

Discard is key in the matchup, as the last thing you want to do is cast Temur Battle Rage and watch your creature die in response. A final Thoughtseize in game two showed the way was clear for the pump spell and the match was sealed up.

Temur Battle Rage was the best card of the day. It showed its power again in round two versus Merfolk, where I swung for twenty-four trampling damage and the Merfolk just couldn’t soak up enough to survive at sixteen life. Kozilek’s Return in game two made the outcome a forgone conclusion.

One important lesson I learned on day one is that a deck that applies more pressure can cause its opponent to make mistakes. I escaped lethal for two solid turns against an Eldrazi and Taxes deck and found a series of top decks that turned the game into a win. Eldrazi Displacer could have turned off one of my blockers and my opponent knew I had nothing but a Thoughtseize in hand. No worries though, I was to hand over an easy victory for an opponent later on too.

The matchup versus Scapeshift seemed really easy. I found multiple discard spells both games and held him off the ability to tutor for a Chameleon Colossus.

My creatures were way too large to handle, but Nahiri, the Harbinger still managed to kill one. It just wasn’t enough though, as I was able to land multiple threats. Perhaps it is a bit lucky to draw multiple discard spells, but I also boarded into a ten discard spells and four counterspells configuration.

Round six was where the wheels started falling off.

I hadn’t played the Humans matchup before and I really gave away game one with a terrible sequence of plays. In response to a Phantasmal Image, I cast a Fatal Push to kill one of the two creatures on the table. It was a Meddling Mage. The problem was, there was a Kitesail Freebooter that had snagged an earlier Fatal Push. Had I hit the Freebooter, I could have also gotten the Meddling Mage and the Phantasmal Image would have died as a 0/0.

Disheartened by the misplay, I had a mediocre hand in game two and went meekly into the night on Table Three.

Then I faced a friend on RB Hollow One. I won the die roll and mulled to five on the play. Yet, I pulled out that game due to double Death’s Shadow, and double Thoughtseize.

The next games I didn’t find Death’s Shadow, and death was quick to find me instead. That left me one last chance to make it to day two, and luckily Burn was next. Given the practice with Kostas, and knowing the hands I needed, I quickly raced to a 2-0 victory and day two!

It really felt like I was going to miss day two after starting 5-0 (one bye) and losing two straight. However, the last victory felt great and I repeated the excellent morning from Saturday for Sunday. I’m as superstitious as any hockey player, eh, so don’t change a routine that’s working for you!

Day two play started with a quick game one loss to Affinity. However, my sideboard with soul came through for me. Lingering Souls was key in taking down both Blinkmoth Nexus and Inkmoth Nexus equipped with Cranial Plating. Two rounds of Burn went by quickly with 2-0 victories again. There was one turn where the Burn player could have drawn a burn spell to win one game, but he whiffed.

The mirror match stared me in the face in round twelve. We split the first two games, and I took one of them when he cast Thoughtseize at low life only to see that I had two Temur Battle Rages in hand. I drew a Stubborn Denial for the turn and had no fear. I brought in Lingering Souls and was one turn from getting him in game two, but he had a timely Traverse the Ulvenwald for his own tech: Izzet Staticaster.

Game three, he was under pressure again, and he missed a sequence where he could have destroyed my Liliana of the Veil. He had cast a Snapcaster Mage with Abrupt Decay in the yard, but used it on Traverse the Ulvenwald for another threat. This was a mistake as Liliana is one of the best cards in the mirror, and he lost soon after.

Superstitions for the win! Another 4-0 start to the day!

I was knocked out of top eight contention in round thirteen versus one of the undefeated day one players. He was on Esper Gifts and his sweet, sweet choice of Obzedat, Ghost Council brought both games home for him.

Just wow, that was a hilarious deck!

After that loss, I was lucky to hit a good matchup, and even luckier to win the die roll. That allowed me to steal an Amulet of Vigor and prevent my opponent from ramping in any reasonable amount of time. In much less than reasonable time, I landed multiple giant Tarmogoyfs and swung for victory. Game two had a minor speed bump in the form of Thragtusk, but it didn’t buy my opponent enough time to execute his game plan.

In the penultimate round of my tournament, I faced Mardu guy. He was an awesome opponent, and we were both happy to be finishing a 1677 person tournament on the top table. Unfortunately for me, in three close games, I couldn’t quite keep up with his card selection and advantage engines. Faithless Looting was an all-star in dumping unneeded cards from his hand and overpowering my discard and removal.

Overall, my record was 11-4 and my rounds went as follows:

  • 2-0 Traverse Shadow
  • 2-0 Merfolk
  • 2-1 Eldrazi and Taxes
  • 2-0 Scapeshift
  • 0-2 Humans
  • 1-2 RB Hollow One
  • 2-0 Burn
  • 2-1 Affinity
  • 2-0 Burn
  • 2-0 Burn
  • 2-1 Traverse Shadow
  • 0-2 Esper Gifts
  • 2-0 Amulet Combo
  • 1-2 Mardu Pyromancer

Modern is not a format I play that often, so having the best Grand Prix result I’ve ever had in it was really odd. I felt it was somewhat like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, and so it was the natural choice to lampoon as the opener for this article.

As for my deck, I’d really recommend it in any normal situation, but honestly, we ‘re not in normal times! Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf have just been released from prison (surely not a Moon prison?), and the format is going to be in an Upheaval. By next Monday, Modern could be drastically different and I’m looking forward to it!

Until next time, lock your deckboxes and hide your Death’s Shadows, because ♫ the times they are a changin’! ♫