Looking at GP Barcelona and the Post-Tournament Metagame
Isn't Modern great? Non-interactive decks like KCI and Tron run roughshod over the metagame, and in one weekend, we get five UW Control decks that top sixteen a Modern GP. It's a wild, wild world, and I want to take a quick look at how the direction of the format provided a window of opportunity for the control archetype, how the UW decks took advantage of the opportunity, and what this will mean for the metagame going forward. Let's jump right in!
Leading up to GP Barcelona, the non-interactive, linear decks had made huge marks months prior on the tournament scene and the Modern metagame at large. Five-Color Humans was the de-facto best deck in the format, with decks such as Hollow One, Mardu Pyromancer, Tron, Affinity, and KCI bringing up the rear. Also significant was the fact that the metagame had begun to congeal by this point and players knew which top decks they would expect to be facing heading into the weekend of the GP. One of the important elements for success for a control strategy is a known metagame so that the control decks can be tuned to counter the expected strategies. While control strategies never stay on top of the metagame due to the fluidity of the Modern landscape, certain weeks are ripe for the taking, and GP Barcelona provided a perfect chance for control strategists.
Shock at GP Barcelona
With the stage being set, UW Control crushed the tournament with three copies in the top eight and five copies in the top sixteen. Furthermore, the various lists had differing flavors when it came to card choices and detail, a fact that made the combined performance of the archetype even more impressive. In other words, different players arrived at a general conclusion ("Play UW Control"), but the specific tools that they used to carry out their goals were slightly different for each player. Here's a look at Daniel Ballestin's UW Control list that got 6th place:
UW Control by Daniel Ballestin
|25Lands||22Instants and Sorceries||13Other Spells|
|4Celestial Colonnade||3Cryptic Command||2Snapcaster Mage|
|4Field of Ruin||1Logic Knot||2Vendilion Clique|
|4Flooded Strand||2Negate||2Detention Sphere|
|2Glacial Fortress||4Opt||1Runed Halo|
|2Hallowed Fountain||4Path to Exile||2Search for Azcanta / Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin|
|6Island||2Serum Visions||3Jace, the Mind Sculptor|
|3Plains||1Supreme Verdict||1Teferi, Hero of Dominaria|
|1Wrath of God|
|1Baneslayer Angel||1Celestial Purge||2Dispel|
|1Negate||3Rest in Peace||2Spell Queller|
|3Stony Silence||2Timely Reinforcements|
A few things stand out in all of the lists that made the top eight, with the most notable being the two to three copies of Terminus played in each of the decks. In fact, out of the five flavors of UW Control that found themselves in the top sixteen, only one deck – piloted by Pedro Soler – didn't play Terminus. Terminus, at least in this metagame, seemed like a slam-dunk pick for many of the UW Control players at the tournament, with aggressive strategies in the form of Humans, Hollow One, and Affinity all demanding the presence of mass removal in the control decks.
Furthermore, Humans and Hollow One have unique ways of playing around board wipes (in the form of Meddling Mage and Kitesail Freebooter for Humans and Flamewake Phoenix and Bloodghast for Hollow One) that make them surprisingly resilient to the typical Wrath of God effects. Terminus gets around this problem in two distinct ways: Terminus can be cast via Miracle, and creatures are put on the bottom of their owners' libraries. Being able to cast Terminus via its Miracle ability means that the card isn't a liability against Freebooters and Collective Brutality, and getting it named by Meddling Mage just means that those Path to Exile, Wrath of God, and Supreme Verdict can actually be cast. Putting creatures on the bottom of the library is also a huge advantage because it gets around recursion, particularly graveyard recursion, that cards such as Bloodghast have.
Another key detail the three, top-eight decks share is the copies of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. I wrote in last month's article "Teferi and the Resurgence of Jeskai" about the card's breakout performance in Jeskai Control lists, and it seems that Teferi got the green-light to be played in the UW lists, as well. It makes sense, too, when taking into consideration the kind of interaction that UW Control decks play. They have access to the same two-mana counterspells that Jeskai does, except that many UW lists tend to play in their maindeck, as is the case in Ballestin's deck. Two-mana spells are just as abundant in UW lists as Jeskai Control lists, and Teferi is a natural fit in any deck that incorporates Search for Azcanta.
Combing through the three top eight deck lists, it's apparent that the pilots read the metagame well and loaded up on cards that they felt would be impactful in their matches. Some one-of's that the decks played and caught my eye were Ruined Halo, Ancestral Vision, Oust, and Entreat the Angels. The UW archetype provided the baseline tools to combat the top decks, but the individual decisions by the pilots to include differentiating cards also showcased the flexibility of the archetype in handling a given metagame.
Looking Forward: Early Risers
Full disclosure: I followed GP São Paulo and thus know what the top sixteen of the tournament looks like. That makes "predicting a metagame" much cheesier because I saw how the metagame has bounced back from GP Barcelona, with big-mana decks making a huge showing in the form of Valakut and Tron. While this was predictable (I would have guessed that the Titanshift and Tron decks of the format came out in droves to punish the players who had picked up UW Control after the finish the week before), there's hardly anything interesting about a section devoted to "I told ya so" when hindsight is 20/20.
Instead of forecasting what's already happened, then, I figured it would be worthwhile to comment on the possible metagame of GP Prague, which is right around the corner next month. Considering how quickly the format moves, people are going to take note of the rising popularity and performance of Dredge as well as taking into account of Primeval Titan and Tron decks. Therefore, I predict that a lot of hate is going to be focused on big-mana decks and graveyard decks by the interactive strategies of the format, while people skimp on artifact hate. I expect Affinity to make a big showing, and a deck like Mardu Pyromancer will capitalize on that opportunity due to the power of removal and main-deck artifact removal.
That's all for today – thanks for stopping by, and I'll see you next week!
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