Breaking the Ice – My Testing Process for GP Liverpool

Arne Huschenbeth

Arne Huschenbeth

Introduction

In this article, I will go through my testing process for the Team Unified Modern Grand Prix in Liverpool and I am going to present to you the current best Control deck in Modern.

Noble HierarchAncient Stirrings

My teammates for Liverpool were my very good friends, Jasper Grimmer and Thoralf Severin who were locked in on playing a 《Noble Hierarch》 and an 《Ancient Stirrings》 deck. This setup gave me quite the amount of decks to choose from.

Preparation for the Event

Here a list of decks I have tested in the past two weeks.

  • The decks I tested
  • Mono Red Hollow Phoenix
  • UR Phoenix
  • Mardu Phoenix
  • Hollow One
  • UB Faeries
  • Grixis Death’s Shadow
  • Jund
  • BG Midrange
  • Bant Spirits
  • Blue Moon
  • Jeskai Control

Dredge

Life from the LoamPrized AmalgamCreeping Chill

You might wonder why Dredge is missing. I was told by multiple sources not to play Dredge, one of them the Dredge master Matti Kuisma himself. So I didn’t even bother trying the deck. I am not a fan of the playstyle anyways, which made it easier for me to disregard the archetype.

UB Faeries

Spellstutter SpriteBitterblossomJace, the Mind Sculptor

Yuta Takahashi missed the Top 8 of GP Atlanta by one win with UB Faeries. Me, being a fan of Aggro-Control and Dimir as well I had to try the deck. Unfortunately, I realized quickly that 《Bitterblossom》 is not the card you should be playing right now. It gave me the feeling of playing a ticking time bomb which was supporting my opponent’s strategy more than my own. When 《Bitterblossom》 isn’t good in Modern, Faeries isn’t good in Modern and with the format so linear and fast as is, 《Bitterblossom》 is clearly not where you want to be. Yuta Takahashi is a master with the deck, congratulations to his Top8 finish at GP Portland with UB Faeries. But this is a case of “Don’t try this at home, kids”.

Grixis Death’s Shadow

Death's ShadowSnapcaster MageKolaghan's Command

Next up, the fair black decks. Grixis Death’s Shadow felt strong but lacked consistency and all the creature matchups felt very close. Too close. My experience was similar with Jund and BG. You would think that you beat Spirits, Humans and Scales with all your removal and interaction, but more often than not they can tempo you out or even card-advantage you out with 《Hangarback Walker》, 《Collected Company》 or 《Militia Bugler》 or even worse, do both at the same time. These Inquisition decks all felt fine, but not spectacular. I think BG and Grixis Death’s Shadow are solid Tier 2.

Try to Find the Best 《Arclight Phoenix》Deck

Arclight Phoenix

One of my main goals in testing for Liverpool was to find the best 《Arclight Phoenix》 deck. After a few days of trying different versions of 《Arclight Phoenix》, I settled on UR being the best home for the card. One major thing that made me dislike the non-blue 《Arclight Phoenix》 builds are the draws without 《Faithless Looting》.

The deck is operating on another level with 《Faithless Looting》 in your opener and without it, it was often extremely underwhelming. I got the same feeling from playing Hollow One. The inconsistency in your draws scared me away from playing those decks. 《Burning Inquiry》 and 《Goblin Lore》 are not card selection. I wanted more control over my draws.

Serum VisionsSleight of HandChart a CourseIzzet Charm

UR Phoenix has the card selection in 《Serum Visions》 and 《Sleight of Hand》 to find Looting or even play additional discard outlets in 《Chart a Course》 and 《Izzet Charm》. These Looting decks usually have a tough time catching up if they fall behind in Looting “Mirrors” or against 《AEther Vial》 decks. 《Thing in the Ice》 is the perfect card to catch you back up, being able to flip it on turn 3 the majority of times. Another reason why I prefer UR over the non-blue Looting decks.

I put much of my time into UR Phoenix. Shoutout to Peter Vieren for the brainstorming and discussions about the archetype, that helped me a lot. You can build the deck in so many different ways, nobody knew what the right list was (keep in mind this was before Ross Merriam won the SCG Open). What cantrips do you play? Which threats do you play? What kind of interaction do you want?

Pyromancer AscensionCrackling DrakeMonastery SwiftspearYoung Pyromancer

On the topic of threats, I tried 《Pyromancer Ascension》, 《Crackling Drake》, 《Monastery Swiftspear》 and 《Young Pyromancer》. 《Pyromancer Ascension》 is good because it gives you a different angle of attack and inevitability in the late game. The downside is that post-board it’s quite bad against 《Rest in Peace》 and 《Leyline of the Void》. 《Young Pyromancer》 is a nice way to get ahead versus the fair decks. 《Crackling Drake》 is good post-board, but maindeck to slow from my experience. I want to be as fast as possible game one. 《Monastery Swiftspear》 is perfect for the job.

My final list would have looked close to this.

Carlos Moral played a similar version to an impressive 15-1 record at GP Liverpool. Check his list out if you are looking for a more controlling take on the archetype. 15-1 without byes is an incredible accomplishment. Also much respect to the Spanish community for putting twelve Spanish-speaking players, three Mexicans and 9 Spaniards, into the Top4. They truly know how to play Modern on the Iberian Peninsula.

Encounter with Blue Moon

Back to Mr. Moral, the man won multiple Modern tournaments in Spain with a different 《Steam Vents》 deck this year. A long forgotten archetype. Blue Moon. When I saw his list at GP Stockholm, I was immediately hooked. The deck did everything I wanted to be doing in this format. Unfortunately, Stockholm was the last Modern tournament for a while. My focus went back to Standard and Limited. Here the list from GP Stockholm.

Thing in the IceAnger of the GodsLightning Bolt

I took something very close to this list to the Modern GP in Atlanta with actual zero testing. I was that confident in the deck. I was spending my time on the more important Limited and Standard Formats. The Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica was a week after the GP. Overall, as many did, it felt like a weird decision to put a Modern GP into the same city a week prior to the PT. I went 11-4 while having a blast playing the deck and I was looking forward to testing it more for GP Liverpool. 《Thing in the Ice》, 《Anger of the Gods》 and 《Lightning Bolt》 are fantastic right now.

Snapcaster MageCryptic Command

Fast forward to my Liverpool testing, it didn’t need much to make me play many leagues with the deck. After playing all these linear (boring) Looting decks, it was quite refreshing to go back to 《Snapcaster Mage》 and 《Cryptic Command》.

Ral, Izzet ViceroyRending Volley

I quickly discovered how great 《Ral, Izzet Viceroy》 is. I found 《Rending Volley》, which was great against Humans and Spirits as well as the problematic 4 toughness creatures like 《Crackling Drake》, 《Thing in the Ice》 and 《Sai, Master Thopterist》 a nice fit, especially for Unified Modern.

Spell Pierce

《Spell Pierce》 was overperforming as well. You want to be as low to the ground as possible. 《Spell Pierce》 can counter 《Goblin Lore》, 《Manamorphose》, 《Krark-Clan Ironworks》, 《Sylvan Scrying》 and 《Conflagrate》 as well as being effective in Control Mirrors made it easy for me to include two copies in the final list.

TSPJendrek, a MTGO Modern Grinder, known for his love for 《Snapcaster Mage》 decks got his Blue Moon list published a week prior to Liverpool.

Anger of the GodsSnow-Covered IslandSurgical Extraction

I copied his 《Anger of the Gods》 in the main since I didn’t like 《Electrolyze》 that much anyways. Three mana to deal two damage is too low impact in a fast-paced format. Of course, you have to play 《Snow-Covered Island》 to make your opponents think you might be on Storm in the early turns. Free value. TSPJendrek also opted to play three 《Surgical Extraction》, which assured me in my decision to play them. The card was truly great all weekend. Exiling 《Urza's Tower》, 《Faithless Looting》 and many many 《Arclight Phoenix》.

This is the list I chose to play in Liverpool. At the end, I was deciding between UR Phoenix and Blue Moon.

Good Match-up

Drogskol CaptainChampion of the ParishArclight PhoenixCryptic Command
Karn LiberatedKrark-Clan IronworksPrimeval Titan

In my experience, Blue Moon was significantly favored versus Spirits, Humans, UR Phoenix, other Blue decks, Combo decks, Tron, KCI and Titanshift.

Bad Match-up

TarmogoyfDeath's ShadowNarcomoebaGoblin Guide

The major matchups I didn’t want to face were BGx, Grixis Death’s Shadow, Dredge and Burn. UR Phoenix had a tougher time than Blue Moon in my testing against Combo and the various creature decks. If they answer your 《Thing in the Ice》, you sometimes don’t have enough interaction to disrupt their proactive game plan. 《Dromoka's Command》 out of Spirits was very troublesome.

Additionally, a few removals into 《Surgical Extraction》 is enough to beat most of your post-board draws. The deck felt less resilient than Blue Moon and I was starting to consistently beat the Phoenix decks with Blue Moon post-board.

Surgical ExtractionDispelRal, Izzet Viceroy

Kill or counter all their stuff, 《Surgical Extraction》 away their 《Arclight Phoenix》 and you will see them run out of threats quickly. Don’t forget to play around 《Dispel》. Also don’t forget to enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling when you play a 《Ral, Izzet Viceroy》 to kill one of their 《Crackling Drake》.

Why no 《Blood Moon》?

Blood Moon

With all the 《Arclight Phoenix》 decks on the rise 《Blood Moon》 got less and less effective in my online testing. Your big mana opponents board in 《Nature's Claim》 no matter what, because they expect you to have 《Blood Moon》,《Alpine Moon》 or at the very least 《Damping Sphere》. I chose to play none, to dodge the enchantment and artifact destruction entirely.

Nature's Claim

To great effect, on Day 2 none other than Seth Manfield playing Tron boarded in 3 《Nature's Claim》 and drew all of them over a long post-board game against me. Many opponents fetched up Basics early on in fear of the red moon, which made 《Field of Ruin》 even more effective.

Ral, Izzet ViceroyJace, the Mind Sculptor

The one change I would make to the deck would be swapping the 《Ral, Izzet Viceroy》 in the board with the 《Jace, the Mind Sculptor》 in the main. 《Ral, Izzet Viceroy》 was great all weekend and better than 《Jace, the Mind Sculptor》 in my experience. Otherwise, I wouldn’t immediate changes.

Why play Blue Moon over Jeskai or UW Control?

Thing in the Ice

Without 《Thing in the Ice》 the deck wouldn’t be nearly as good. 《Snapcaster Mage》 and 《Lightning Bolt》 are better cards, but you need 《Thing in the Ice》. 《Thing in the Ice》 is your 《Delver of Secrets》 vs Combo, Control and Big Mana decks. 《Thing in the Ice》 is your 《Terminus》 vs Looting and Vial decks. Being able to end the game quickly with a control deck is always appreciated. The card does it all.

Snapcaster MageAwoken Horror

To add to that, 《Snapcaster Mage》 is at it’s best in this deck. I have bounced numerous 《Snapcaster Mage》 with 《Awoken Horror》. You get the most out of one of the best cards in Modern. 《Spell Snare》 and 《Abrade》 are also very strong in the current meta. Playing four 《Opt》 and four 《Serum Visions》 gives the deck the level of consistency you would want. I am fairly certain that Blue Moon will be a strong deck in Modern in the next couple of months.

And yes, I am still calling the deck Blue Moon even though I have zero Moons in my 75. The coverage called the deck UR Thing, which is fine but also easily confused with UR Phoenix. If the metagame shifts, the deck might play 《Blood Moon》 once more, which would justify the name again. Everyone knows what kind of deck you are playing when you are talking about Blue Moon. UR Control just doesn’t sound cool enough.

Conclusion

The decks my teammates chose to play were KCI and Druid Combo. We went 11-3. My personal record was 10-3 and one match unfinished. It was by far the most exciting and fun tournament I have played in my three years of playing on the GP circuit. I am very sad, that there will be no Team Grand Prix in the first half of 2019. I could probably write an entire article about the many magical moments of this specific event.

I hope you enjoyed reading this piece. For any questions, please use the comment section down below. Follow me for more 《Steam Vents》 action on Twitter.

Until next time!

@Huschenmtg

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Arne Huschenbeth

Arne Huschenbeth Arne is an enthusiast for Standard and won GP Rimini which was held by exact his favorite format. He also achieved impressive 10-0 record at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation. He has 3 more GP top 8s past seasons, and earned 41 Pro Points during 2017-2018 season which was good enough to become a Gold Level Pro. Read more articles by Arne Huschenbeth