Team Open Bonanza

God-Pharaoh's Gift
This past weekend, I had the good(?) fortune to travel back to my hometown of Baltimore to play in the absolute best form of Magic out there, Team Constructed. StarCityGames.com was running an Open, and I’d be a fool to deny myself the opportunity to play the future of tournament Magic. There’s simply no better feeling than being carried by two of your buddies to victory, and the events are still few and far between, so it made sense for me to visit my old stomping grounds for a few days of spellslinging. The fact that I got to see my family (and stay at home, rather than some musty low-cost hotel) was icing on the cake, so I boarded my flight back East with high hopes for a strong performance.

Now, there was a wrinkle in the lead-in to this tournament for me, because, you see, I had planned on teaming with Dylan Donegan and Noah Walker for a number of months beforehand. Unfortunately, as young men are wont to do, they “forgot” about our commitment, and promised to team with young Oliver Tiu instead! Damn Millennials! And then they (spoiler alert) went and won the tournament without me, while my new team got bricked with a ninth place finish on tiebreakers. Talk about a tilt!

When I mentioned the need for us to figure out our logistics about three weeks prior to the tournament, Dylan and Noah realized their error, and were apologetic about their forgetfulness, but I was stone out of luck. I would have to strike out on my own and find a team. Fortunately, my friendly neighborhood Lands player, Daryl Ayers, was there to the rescue, with his childhood friend (and known Modern Storm aficionado) Mikael Conrow ready to fill the middle seat. The good news was, I found a team relatively easily, one with a known expert of a stellar archetype in Legacy on my side. The bad news, though, was that I would have to play Standard, land of Energy and Ramunap Red, and cede the more fun formats to my teammates. It was time for one more ride with The Scarab God.

Now, in preparation for a tournament, often Magic players ascribe disproportionate importance to the results of the few matches they play immediately before deciding on a deck. Whether it’s a last-minute 5-0 in a League to hammer home the confidence that you made the right decision, or a tearful 2-3 that leads to spiraling self-doubt and the dreaded last-minute audible, we all make the same statistical error time after time. Fortunately for me, a 5-0 with {U}{B} Gift was all I needed to convince me that it was time to bring back the Gifted Aetherborns for one more rodeo. I always split my matches against Temur Energy, beating all the Sultai and Four-Color versions that eschewed the maximum number of Glorybringers. I generally split my matches against Ramunap Red, though the matchup is and was always close and usually hinges on them drawing one of their power cards or the right topdeck to put it away on turn five through seven. The less-popular decks like Approach and Mardu Vehicles were essentially byes, which is always a nice bonus, as free equity is free equity.

My list:


Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Just beautiful. The addition of Glint-Sleeve Siphoner gives this deck some much-needed card draw with an additional lightning rod creature that happily sucks up an Abrade or Harnessed Lightning and jumps into the graveyard to fuel Gate to the Afterlife. If you thought Attune with Aether into Glint-Sleeve Siphoner was good, just wait until you see Minister of Inquiries into Siphoner! In all seriousness, this deck is complex, with a ton of decisions on every turn, and it’s a pleasure to play when you are making all the right choices. It never runs out of things to do with its mana, which is refreshing compared to the half-mana, flood-prone strategy of Temur Energy. My final record was 11-4 in personal matches, which matched up with our team’s final record. I split my matches with Energy, beat up on Approach and rogue strategies, and split with Ramunap Red, exactly as I expected.

I’d still recommend a Glint-Sleeve Siphoner + Gate to the Afterlife deck for upcoming Standard tournaments, and you can be sure that I’ll be exploring things like Sultai Gift for the near future, but Modern and Legacy are far more in-demand formats with the conclusion of the post-Pro Tour Standard stretch. We just had Modern RPTQ season, and GP Oklahoma City is on the horizon, so it would not be surprising at all to see Modern evolve significantly in the next month or two. Sitting next to Mikael, I was privy to all the fun that Modern has to offer, and got to vicariously enjoy playing a dirty combo deck through him. A few things stood out, watching Mikael demolish most of his opposition en route to his own personal 11-4 record.

First, most people in Modern play horrendous decks. This is known, and has been known for a long time, but it needs to be said again. Please, please, if your goal is to win as much as possible, stop playing these piles, people! Ponza is not a good choice. {W}{B} Eldrazi and Taxes is not a good choice. Elves is not a good choice. Mono-Blue Tron is not a good choice. Skred Red is not a good choice. {W}{B} Tokens is not a good choice. Four-Color Bring to Light Scapeshift is not a good choice. There are a few decks that are decidedly good choices, chief among them Affinity, Death’s Shadow, Storm, and (a half-step behind) Dredge, Eldrazi Tron, Jeskai Pile, Humans, Lantern and Burn. Seriously, most of the gap between the good Modern players and the fish can be covered just by stepping up to play a top-tier deck, and it will pay dividends to do so as soon as possible. I can’t tell you the number of times Mikael, by his own admission only passable player, just won without caring much about the opponent’s game plan, because their game plan was so vastly inferior to his that he didn’t have to care. His list was very tight, to be sure, and I love the addition of two maindeck Lightning Bolts to hedge against annoying hate-bears and Spell Quellers, but too many people sign themselves up for failure before even playing a round, because they don’t respect the best decks. If you are mathematically inclined, and enjoy treating each turn as a mental math problem, Mikael’s Storm list is my clear recommendation for all upcoming Modern events:


I vastly prefer this list to Zachary Kiihne’s second-place list, because:

A: Noxious Revival is a weak, silly Magic card.
B: More maindeck Lightning Bolts is critical in a Spell Queller, Meddling Mage, Kitesail Freebooter format.
C: Sideboard Dismember is the key to beating stupid cards like Eidolon of Rhetoric and the additional copies of hate bears most of these durdle creature decks bring in.

You don’t need a million copies of Pieces of the Puzzle in the sideboard, you need to not die to hate bears. The one weakness of this version of the deck is a resolved Rule of Law, to which you only play a single answer in the whole 75. If that card starts ticking up in popularity, though, it might be time to move on from Storm for a while until the hate dies down, and play something like Dredge or Affinity in the interim.

Of course, none of those decks is my pick for the true best choice in Modern. If you read my recent article, “Spooky Scary Death’s Shadow”, you should know that the ultimate Modern deck for the foreseeable future is the lean, mean, fighting machine that beats people silly with lean, aggressive draws and huge piles of disruption.


If you foresee a lot of KCI, Lantern, and Tron in your metagame, it might be prudent to play a third Ceremonious Rejection over a Collective Brutality or Izzet Staticaster, but other than that, this is the creme de la creme of Modern power. It’s basically a Legacy deck in a format where some people still play amalgamated Standard piles, which is about as unfair as it sounds. If you’re not playing Legacy, do the next best thing and play the most Legacy deck Modern has to offer.

The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
Or, just play Legacy, as Daryl Ayers was lucky enough to do for two days despite a shameful personal record that was saved by Mikael’s and my intervention. Thanks for nothing, so-called “best Lands player in the world”! For the record, I respect Daryl’s ability to play Lands at a world-class level, and every time I peeked over I watched him mulligan a few times and die horribly, but it was still humorous to watch him steam after losing another match and giggle as I told him that we carried him again. He played a normal Lands list, as is his M.O. at this point, but I wouldn’t recommend Lands to players who don’t already know what they’re doing with it. Of course, Jody Keith, Jarvis Yu, and Kevin King all made it to the elimination rounds with Lands, and our team got ninth on breakers with the same archetype in our Legacy slot, so Lands clearly dominated the tournament, but the story is a little deeper than that. The simple truth is, most good Lands players are highly desirable commodities for teams that intend to do well in a Team Open. The reason for that is complicated, but the idea is that Lands has always been something of an exotic archetype, and the idea of having a rare archetype master in the difficult-to-master format of Legacy is highly appealing for skilled Modern and Standard generalists. Lands’ strong matchup against the fair Blue decks that most decent Legacy players prefer is part of it as well. Often, the best Lands players get snapped up by good teams, boosting a strong archetype’s performance even further, and you often end up with results like those at recent Team Constructed Opens, where Lands players are a huge percentage of the Day 2 and Top 8 fields. That being said, if you are in that rarefied air of Pendrell Vale and know how to extract the most life from your loam, more power to you, but don’t assume that Lands is that much better than the other great decks in Legacy. Personally, I can recommend nothing more than the decks chosen by two of the most in-demand non-Lands players of the tournament, Noah Walker and Bob Huang. Noah Walker’s Czech Pile and Bob Huang’s Grixis Delver lists are the two clear Brainstorm decks to beat going forward in Legacy, with the sheer customizability of Czech Pile winning the tiebreaker for me:


I wouldn’t play a maindeck Pyroblast these days, but I love how hateful Noah is against Lands, with the requisite three Surgical Extractions and three Diabolic Edicts to cover the matchup sufficiently in the post-board games. Respect is key, and you may disrespect Lands at your own peril.

As for the tournament itself, of course, it stung a little being rebuffed by my would-be teammates and getting a double-slap of poor luck with bad tiebreakers while they won the tournament. However, playing with Daryl and Mikael was its own privilege, and I am glad they let me anchor them with my kooky Standard concoction. As team tournaments continue to become more and more common, there will be many opportunities to network and befriend lots of different players, so it makes sense to branch out from players you’ve worked with before, especially in the lower-stakes tournaments like SCG events. This event gave me a bird’s-eye view on all three formats, and I’m beyond excited for the Team Constructed GP in January. I’ll be lucky enough to team with Rob Pisano and Christian Calcano, two great Constructed minds who have given me full rein to explore all of my Legacy options. Here’s to hoping that I can put the team on my back, and live up to their expectations of me.


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