Last weekend I went to Omaha, Nebraska for the second time in my life. In 2005 I visited the zoo while a friend and I drove through town on our road trip from Atlanta to Seattle. Ten years later I came back to play some Magic at the last Modern Grand Prix before the Pro Tour and the expected banned list announcement. I guess I should make plans to go back in 2025.

This week we have a theme song:

Modern is in a weird spot right now. I’ve followed the format since its inception, and ocassionally sleeved up a deck when something I like to play happened to be competitive (or when something competitive seemed like it might be something I’d like to play). Not until I qualified for Pro Tour Fate Reforged back in November had I ever taken it seriously, though. It is just my luck, then, that I need to delve into the Modern metagame during “Cruise Winter” which seems likely to have ended before the big tournament next month. Wizards of the Coast wants the Pro Tour to feature Modern decks that people will can build and play for the rest of the year. I don’t think they want to feature Treasure Cruise.

Modern may be a lame duck format right now, but it’s still interesting and fun to explore. As my readers know, I built Scapeshift a few months ago and have played it a bit at smaller tournaments. Over the holidays I borrowed cards online from the wonderful Matt Jones so I could start getting in more reps. As someone preparing for a Pro Tour without a team to test with in person, Magic Online is a necessity. I was horrified to learn that Scapeshift costs 30 tickets online. I may still spend that money after the banned list announcement if Scapeshift seems like a strong deck in the new metagame, but at the time I decided to play a deck that Matt and I already had the combined cards to build: Blue-Red Delver of Secrets.

Delver decks are a ton of fun to play, and it’s very forgiving to new players. I found myself quite comfortable with it in quick order. Playing in daily events I discovered, though, that Abzan decks with Siege Rhino (with or without Birthing Pod) and other big green creatures absolutely crush the Delver deck. It doesn’t matter how many cards you draw off Treasure Cruise if you can’t attack past a life-draining brick wall. Vapor Snag and Hibernation can help, but bouncing Siege Rhino is, shall we say, a very short term tempo play.

Knowing that Delver would be public enemy number one at Grand Prix Omaha discouraged me from playing the deck. Siege Rhino is a real problem, and lots of people are also trying to jam Chalice of the Void. I don’t think Chalice is that great against Delver on its own because you can still trigger Young Pyromancer and prowess on Monastery Swiftspear even if your cantrip gets countered by Chalice of the Void. And you can still go cruising. A deck running Chalice still needs to win proactively, or use it as a tempo play to weaken Delver long enough to take over the game. Regardless, I didn’t feel like playing Delver in a field built to beat Delver.

You know what deck beats up on green creature strategies while simultaneously not caring at all about Chalice of the Void? Yeah, Scapeshift. The only decks Scapeshift really hates to face are faster combo decks, very aggresive creature decks, and Geist of Saint Traft. I heard (admitted Scapeshift lover) Ben Stark give a similar analysis for why he would have played the deck during the day one coverage. It also helped my analysis that I have the deck built already.


Creatures (6)
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Snapcaster Mage

Spells (29)
Cryptic Command
Search for Tomorrow
Dig Through Time
Lightning Bolt
Izzet Charm
Echoing Truth
Lands (25)
Misty Rainforest
Steam Vents
Stomping Ground
Breeding Pool
Flooded Grove
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle

Sideboard (15)
Krosan Grip
Ancient Grudge
Anger of the Gods
Inferno Titan
Obstinate Baloth
Boseiju, Who Shelters All

The main deck has a few “flex” slots beyond the stock combo pieces, ramp, and control elements. Lately the new hotness has been to run Pyroclasm in the main deck, which is good against Delver and Affinity and decent against Pod. I felt that more people would be playing Tarmogoyf and Siege Rhino strategies, which make Pyroclasm look bad. Tribal Zoo especially laughs in the face of two damage, other than Geist of Saint Traft. Pyroclasm is totally useless against Jeskai Ascendancy (even if you manage to kill a Fatestitcher they can just unearth it) and other combo decks (unless they run Empty the Warrens, which they don’t).

I liked the idea of playing Echoing Truth in the main deck instead of Pyroclasm. It can deal with tokens almost as well as clasm, but is generally useful against a lot of annoying cards. Some Scapeshift decks play Repeal, but I don’t think the extra mana you have to spend to bounce anything other than an Insectile Aberration is worth drawing the extra card. Being able to bounce two Tarmogoyfs, three unearthed Fatestitchers, or sixty-nine Deceiver Exarch tokens seemed a lot better. Truth overlaps a bit with Cryptic Command, but tapping doesn’t work against Jeskai Ascendancy and honestly the four mana seems too expensive to solve problems in the current Modern metagame. I was too afraid to run two copies of Echoing Truth in the main deck, but I definitely think I should have played a second over the fourth Cryptic Command.  And maybe Cryptic wasn’t the right card for the weekend anyway.

The tournament started out well, with a great matchup against a Boros Prison deck. He played Ghostly Prison and Ensnaring Bridge, and I cast Scapeshift. Post-board I had to deal with Leyline of Sanctity, Blood Moon, and Ajani Vengeant. I failed in game two but succeeded in game three, with an assist from Echoing Truth bouncing two copies of Leyline.

And then my tournament imploded in a torrent of bad matchups. Round four I met Josh Utter-Leyton and his Jeskai AscendancyPyromancer Ascension hybrid deck. I managed to win game one, but lost the other two. Echoing Truth would have been amazing had I ever drawn it. In round five I got de-fucking-stroyed by Jeskai Geist. Then round six was another, more “normal” Jeskai Ascendancy deck. He won the roll and killed me the turn before I would have killed him. Game two I never drew a third land and eventually died, dropping me to 3-3 in the tournament.

I stayed in the tournament and played out the day. I lost a close match against Splinter Twin, won an easy match against Jeskai control, and then lost the final round to Blue-Red Delver. I was half asleep in round nine, causing me to forget mid-fetch that I meant to get a red land instead of a Breeding Pool, and lost because of it. A final record of 4-5, including two byes, looks pretty bad, but I learned a lot and enjoyed playing.

As it turns out, my read on the format was pretty good. Day two was dominated by decks built to beat Delver, mostly Rhino Pod and decks that could run Chalice of the Void, along with some decks that beat the decks that beat Delver. Scapeshift didn’t have a good showing, but Red-Green Tron made the top 8, and that deck is basically a worse version of Scapeshift. I never played a single green deck on day one. If I had, maybe I would have been more successful. But that’s how it goes in grand prix—you can play anything on day one.

My other takeaway from Grand Prix Omaha is that Jeskai Ascendancy is a scary deck. Playing against it feels like Eggs. It’s a real mess. Josh Utter-Leyton commented to me, and I agreed, that while people complain about handling all the triggers online, it’s actually much worse to play in paper. In the combo turn, you usually cast Jeskai Ascendancy, then unearth Fatestitcher and start going off. After a while you hit more Fatestitchers and more ascendancies. As you play them all out, you have to track the different number of +1/+1 bonuses on each of the creatures. I waited to see actual lethal attackers on board before conceding, and that takes most of the round and quite a bit of tracking with paper or dice.

Will Wizards ban Jeskai Ascendancy? I think they will. It hasn’t put up huge results, but I think the overwhelming Delver hate in Omaha, especially Chalice of the Void, also hurts the ascendancy deck. If only Treasure Cruise gets banned, Delver will be weakened considerably, but ascendancy could survive and prosper. Dig Through Time slots into ascendancy more easily than it does in Delver. Regardless, though, the ascendancy deck is exactly what Wizards wants to push out of Modern. I don’t think they will risk letting it dominate Pro Tour Fate Reforged. We’ll see soon enough.

Carrie O’Hara is Editor-in-Chief of Hipsters of the Coast.

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