Highlights in Bilbao: Modern at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan

Last weekend, the best Magic players in the world gathered in Bilbao to fight for the crown at PTRIX. After two years without a Modern Pro Tour, everyone was excited to see if the Pros could shake up the format and bring new strategies and cards from recent sets. Here are the tournament highlights.

PTRIX Bilboa

Day One: Metagame

On day one, we enjoyed the first five rounds of Modern. As expected, we saw a wide variety of archetypes and the most played deck by far was 5-Color Humans with 43 decklists.

This is one successful brew in the Modern metagame thanks to the new cards on the block. Kitesail Freebooter, in tandem with Unclaimed Territory, pushed the deck forward and now it seems to be the best aggro choice. The other two decks in the podium were Affinity and Burn, both all-time favorites since the format’s inception.

Aside from those aggro builds, we found a total of 58 Tron decks (32 straight Tron and 26 Eldrazi Tron) looking to blow their opponents away by casting turn 3 Karn Liberated. The rest of the decks piloted by more than five percent of the field were Grixis Shadow, Blue Control shells, whether UW or Jeskai, and UR Storm as the deck of choice for combo players.

Archetype Number of Players Percentage of the Field
Five-Color Humans 43 9.3%
Affinity 37 8.0%
Burn 34 7.3%
Tron 32 6.9%
Grixis Shadow 30 6.5%
Eldrazi Tron 26 5.6%
Jeskai Control 23 5.0%
U/R Gifts Storm 23 5.0%
W/U Control 23 5.0%
Dredge 17 3.7%
Titan Shift 16 3.4%
Devoted Company 14 3.0%
Mardu Pyromancer 13 2.8%
Traverse Shadow 13 2.8%
Abzan 10 2.2%
B/G Midrange 9 1.9%
Lantern Control 9 1.9%
Bogles 8 1.7%
Tital Breach 6 1.3%
Hollow One 6 1.3%
Grixis Control 5 1.1%
Madcap Moon 5 1.1%
U/R (/W) Breach 5 1.1%

Day One: Top Played Cards

Kessig Malcontents

One mana spells were the most played cards overall: Black placed three in the shape of Inquisition of Kozilek, Thoughtseize and Fatal Push. Red had Lightning Bolt and White had Path to Exile as format-defining cards. Finally, Serum Visions and Snapcaster Mage were the blue highlights as they see play in almost every deck packing Islands.

Day Two: Top 8 Decks

After an exciting second Draft and Day 2 of Modern, we had the Top 8 for Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, and it couldn’t be more diverse. Seven different archetypes were represented by seven different countries.

First on the list, we had Pascal Vieren from team Cardmarket who managed to finish undefeated in the Swiss, so congratulations! His deck of choice was a spicy UR Pyromancer brew.

Thing in the Ice

Traditional Blue-Red archetypes usually rely on the following two-card combinations to win the game on the spot: Through the Breach + Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, Madcap Experiment + Platinum Emperion, or even the old Kiki-Jiki, the Mirror breaker paired with Deceiver Exarch. Instead, Pascal decided to play cheaper threats like Thing in the Ice and Young Pyromancer.

Another great tech was the inclusion of Field of Ruin and no Blood Moon, since opponents usually play around the red enchantment and fetch for basics. In that situation, Pascal could Strip Mine his opponents for the win.

In second place, Luis Salvatto from Argentina piloted one of the most hated decks in Modern –Lantern Control – with no significant additions, except for a single Search for Azcanta in his sideboard. He showed his mastery of the deck throughout the weekend and gifted the audience with skilled Magic moments, like killing a Burn player by recurring and recasting Collective Brutality, thanks to Codex Shredder’s ability.

Hollow One

In 3rd and 4th place, we had two different Red-Black archetypes. Ken Yukuhiro from Japan is well-known for playing unfair decks and his choice B/R Hollow One is one of them.

We saw Ken casting the namesake of the deck on turn one several times during the weekend, as well as turn two Gurmag Angler. This deck is capable of super-fast starts and at the same has some RNG flavor when playing Burning Inquiry and Goblin Lore. After this Pro Tour, expect a lot of people to play this deck in your local tournaments and FNMs since it’s both cheap and effective.

The other B/R deck was piloted by the American Pro Player and Pro Tour Amonkhet winner Gerry Thompson. He is a master of the Modern metagame and has been playing Bedlam Reveler in different shells until he found the card's ultimate place. This deck relies on the Devil Horror as an Ancestral Recall effect to fill up his hand once he is out of gas.

Mantis Rider

Next, Javier Dominguez (the only local), who reached 5th place, and Andrea Mengucci from Italy, who reached 8th, played 5 Color-Humans. This archetype might be considered as the deck of the Pro Tour since it was the most played deck. Also, it was the only one in the top 8 twice.

Although the main deck is already established and both players chose to include Phantasmal Image to clone the best creature on the battlefield, there is still room for innovation. For instance, Mengucci included a single copy of Kytheon, Hero of Akros, whereas Dominguez had Kessig Malcontents to burn out his opponents.

Tarmogoyf

6th placer Reid Duke and 7th placer Jean-Emmanuel Depraz were the only ones playing the good old Tarmogoyf. Duke went for a more traditional route – a midrange strategy with discard and removal spells alongside Dark Confidant and Liliana of the Veil, plus a small touch of white for Lingering Souls and Stony Silence in the sideboard.

Jean-Emmanuel on the other hand combined the discard package with Death’s Shadow and the delirium plan with Traverse the Ulvenwald. In order to protect his creatures, he added a light blue splash with Stubborn Denial, the greatest counterspell if you include huge threats in your deck.

After the Top 8 Announcement, we had to wait until the next day to see who the winner among these amazing players was. 

Day Three: Top 8 Matches

During the quarterfinals, both Human pilots were defeated. First, Pascal Vieren won 3-0 against Andrea Mengucci. Game One was balanced, but on Game Two Andrea scooped after he didn’t hit his second land in the entire game. Game Three was epic and Andrea was about to win, but the Elemental tokens from Young Pyromancer and the Ancestral Vision draws gave Pascal enough time and resources to find Anger of the Gods and sweep the board for the win.

Javier Dominguez lost against Gerry Thompson 3-1 after winning the first match. The other three went on the Mardu Pyromancer side of the table. The Pyromancer tokens combined with the Lingering Souls spirit on Jerry’s deck were too much for Javier, although he made wonderful plays like copying his opponent's Bedlam Reveler with his Phantasmal Image.

During the other two matches, Reid Duke was paired against Ken Yukuhiro and he ended up losing 3-2 against the Japanese player. Luis Salvatto won his toughest matchup against Jean-Emmanuel Depraz 3-2. The pre-board games were in Salvatto’s favor since his opponent didn’t have any answer to Ensnaring Bridge once it touched the battlefield. He won 2-0.

After sideboarding, Depraz managed to steal both Games 3 and 4, thanks to Hostage Taker, which took away Salvatto’s Ensnaring Bridge. During the final game, two Pithing Needles on Depraz’s fetch-lands left him mana screwed while Salvatto joined his prison pieces to lock up the game.

Moving on to the semi-finals, we had some interactive match-ups: The two Pyromancer decks paired against each other. On the other side of the Feature Match Area, Hollow One tried to race against Lantern Control.

After losing the first two games, Gerry Thompson surprisingly won 3 games in a row, thanks to his skills, as well as his sideboard choices, like Collective Brutality and a second copy of Liliana of the Veil. In those matches, we totally saw the raw power Bedlam Reveler has in the deck, making Gerry come back from situations where, otherwise, he would have lost.

Prior to the match, Yukuhiro was aware that he had no answer for the all-mighty Ensnaring Bridge in Salvatto’s deck. That’s the reason why he instantly scooped the first two games when he realized there wasn’t enough burn left in his deck to finish off Salvatto. In Game 3, Yukuhiro managed to win without opposing Bridge and Game 4 his Grim Lavamancer from the sideboard made enough direct damage to get that game.

Sadly for the Japanese player in Game 5, Salvatto used Whir of Invention to deploy a Bridge and prevented an opposing Ancient Grudge flashback with Grafdigger's Cage.

The finals weren’t as close as the semi-finals because Salvatto easily won the first three games in a row. Again, Ensaring Bridge was the deciding card of the match. Once the Bridge was in play, the only thing Salvatto had to do was to control Gerry’s top card of the library, so that he couldn't draw Kolaghan’s Command.

After the first two games without sideboarding, Thompson brought hate in his graveyard with Wear//Tear, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Lantern shenanigans, and finally, Luis Salvatto from Argentina became the Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan winner!

Wrap-Up

Lantern of Insight

There are a lot of discussions and debates going on regarding Modern after Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. First, we will be shortly facing Ban Announcements, so there will be a lot of expectant players waiting to see if some cards get the ban-hammer, or alternatively, if other cards are unbanned.

From my perspective, this tournament proved that Modern is a healthy format with lots of different decks and interactions, where you get rewarded if you know the metagame, while mastering your own deck.

A few predictions that may or may not come true on the following weeks:

  • Lantern Control would be equally loved and hated equally, and people will claim to ban some key cards of the deck.
  • B/R Hollow One and U/R Pyromancer, the rogue decks in the Top 8, will increase in popularity and people will try both.
  • Price Spike: Bedlam Reveler, Thing in the Ice and Hollow One
  • Possible Banning: Mox Opal to slow down Lantern and Affinity
  • Possible Unbanning: Bloodbraid Elf, Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.

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