The Post-GP Prague Metagame Breakdown
Although the European Modern scene leans toward control more than its American counterpart, the numbers that W/U Control put up at GP Prague came as an eye-opener for someone like me who expected things to be a lot more linear. Regardless, I want to take a look at the archetype's performance, examine an up-and-comer from the tournament, and wrap things up with a look towards the future. Without further ado, let's jump right into the deck of the hour, W/U Control.
W/U Rules the Weekend
With eight copies in the top 32 of GP Prague, W/U Control crushed the tournament even if none of the lists made it into the top 8.
W/U Control by Grzegorz Kowalski, 13th Place, GP Prague
|25Lands||11Other Permanents||24Instants and Sorceries|
|4Celestial Colonnade||2Snapcaster Mage||1Condemn|
|4Field of Ruin||2Vendilion Clique||3Cryptic Command|
|4Flooded Strand||1Detention Sphere||1Logic Knot|
|1Ghost Quarter||1Search for Azcanta / Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin||1Mana Leak|
|2Glacial Fortress||3Jace, the Mind Sculptor||2Negate|
|2Hallowed Fountain||2Teferi, Hero of Dominaria||4Opt|
|6Island||4Path to Exile|
|1Baneslayer Angel||1Celestial Purge||1Disdainful Stroke|
|3Rest in Peace||1Spell Queller||2Stony Silence|
|1Surgical Extraction||1Timely Reinforcements|
The more the metagame has solidified, the better the control decks have been able to identify which cards need to be played in the 75, and this was definitely the case for W/U Control at GP Prague. The archetype seemed to have identified Humans, the graveyard decks, KCI, and the mirror as the top threats, and the deck lists all incorporate various technology to handle these decks. Terminus is lights out against Hollow One decks because it shuts off the recursive nature of the decks' threats. The standard package of wraths is particularly efficient against a go-wide deck like Humans, and the ability to counter important combo pieces gives W/U Control a solid game plan against the top combo deck of the format, KCI. The W/U pilots obviously identified the potential of their own deck, and the otherwise risky main deck copies of Ancestral Vision hint that players were prepared for the mirror. With some of the best European players playing W/U Control for the weekend, these finely-tuned lists found great success at the tournament.
A New Challenger
One other deck I want to talk about is the Harden Scales Affinity deck, an archetype that isn't new but hadn't seen the level of success that it had at GP Prague. Doing one better than the performance put on by Johann Fink at GP Barcelona this past summer, two copies of the deck made it to the top 32, with one of them taking down the tournament. For a deck that more or less came out of the left field, the results from the weekend were nothing if not outstanding.
Hardened Scales Affinity by Lauri Pispa, 1st Place, GP Prague
|1Blinkmoth Nexus||4Arcbound Ravager||4Ancient Stirrings|
|4Darksteel Citadel||4Arcbound Worker||1Evolutionary Leap|
|6Forest||4Hangarback Walker||4Hardened Scales|
|2Horizon Canopy||4Steel Overseer||2Animation Module|
|4Inkmoth Nexus||4Walking Ballista||4Mox Opal|
|1Pendelhaven||2Throne of Geth|
|1Phyrexia's Core||3Welding Jar|
|1Ruins of Oran-Rief|
|4Damping Sphere||2Dismember||1Grafdigger's Cage|
|2Karn, Scion of Urza||4Nature's Claim||2Surgical Extraction|
Hardened Scales Affinity is a deck that relies on counters matter synergy and its namesake card, Hardened Scales. While the deck is an aggressive deck, the modality of counters in conjunction with cards such as Arcbound Ravager, Walking Ballista, and Steel Overseer gives the pilot a wide range of lines to choose from. Like any other aggressive deck in Modern, Hardened Scales Affinity can explode for a ton of damage and end the game in a multitude of ways that aren't quite obvious until you pick up the deck and play it.
One of the strengths of the deck is its resilience to removal, an aspect that is a deviation from the standard version of Affinity. Evolutionary Leap, Welding Jar, and Animation Module blank spot removal in unusual ways, and cards such as Arcbound Ravager, Walking Ballista, and Hangarback Walker recoup some value even if they are dealt with. Additionally, the creature lands demand instant-speed removal and Inkmoth Nexus presents a fast clock when combined with the counter-synergy present in the deck.
Another aspect of the deck that is difficult for opponents to play against is the mechanical nature of counters. If a player isn't prepared to do some calculations for the match, playing against a deck that relies on a ton of counters being added, removed, moved around, and played with is a mentally taxing exercise that can lead to miscalculations and thus misplays. In a GP, Hardened Scales takes a toll on opponents who have been playing two days' worth of Magic in a weekend, and I'm sure that Hardened Scales players take advantage of that to steal victories.
Decks had their sights set on Humans and the graveyard decks of the format, but it turns out that Humans is just a stupidly good deck regardless of the hate it faces. Three copies of the archetype ended up in the top 32, with two pilots finding their way into the top 8, and in a field stacked to the top with some of the best European players piloting control archetypes the performance put on by Humans is something to behold. I have three takeaways that I will expound upon individually.
1. W/U Control is here to stay.
I had expected that W/U Control would be beaten down after the performance it put up in GP Barcelona, but it turns out that the showing in the summer was simply a prelude for what was to come. In any case, I'm confident that as long as Humans and Hollow One/Vengevine decks are the premier aggro decks of the format, W/U Control will retains its spot as a top-tier strategy. The deck has access to the best wrath in Modern in the form of Terminus, and Teferi is one of the format's best planeswalkers when it comes to closing out a game. This makes W/U Control both a poweful option against the top aggro decks as well as the fair decks that try to go toe-to-toe with it, such as Mardu Pyromancer and Grixis Death's Shadow. Unless Humans or the graveyard decks fall out of favor, I find it hard to believe that W/U Control will go anywhere.
2. Prepare to play against Ancient Stirrings.
Whether its Mono-Green Tron, Hardened Scales Affinity, or KCI, Ancient Stirrings is everywhere in the metagame, supplanting these decks by providing the kind of consistency that no other card in Modern provides. This means that the stocks of cards such as Stony Silence, Ceremonious Rejection, and Ancient Grudge should be at an all-time high, and you should be playing at least one of these cards in your 75. As a corollary, the latter two decks are particular difficult to play against due to their mechanical complexity, and you should be practicing playing against them to not only get your reps in, but also to familiarize yourself with the interactions between the cards' mechanics.
3. Midrange has hit rock bottom.
If you're playing a midrange deck, you've probably seen better days. While some midrange decks have seen individual success (and after all, this is Modern – any deck can win a tournament), traditional midrange such as Jund, Abzan, and Bant have seen a noticeable drop in play. Modern decks are currently going under their opponents (as is the case with Humans, Hollow One, and Dredgevine) or over the top (as is the case with W/U Control and Tron), and midrange decks are having a hard time finding the right tools to deal with both.
What does this mean? Perhaps Wizards has taken notice of the decline of traditional midrange, and it could be the case that they push cards in upcoming sets to try to shore up the power of midrange decks. Fatal Push brought about a resurgence of the archetype at the time, and if a card similar in its power level were to be printed in Guilds of Ravnica, we could see a similar revival for the fair decks of the format. Another direction in which Wizards could go would be the unbanning of midrange favorites: namely, Deathrite Shaman and Stoneforge Mystic. With the fairly recent banning of the former in Legacy, the chances of DRS coming back to Modern might seem like a pipe dream, but the card would be a shot in the arm to B/G/x strategies that need to fight back against the unfair decks of the format. Stoneforge Mystic would also provide the stabilizing force against the aggressive archetypes of the format, and while there is a chance that these cards are too powerful, Modern decks as a whole are carrying out game plans that are much more powerful than simple, efficient threats.
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