I sat at the table of the LGS. Outside, an afternoon of ice and snow had slowed the air. I could see it hover malignantly from my seat. Bright and thick and almost imperceptible, it pushed through tiny cracks and particles of glass and spread itself across the floor of the LGS in silent waves. It coiled up our feet and legs and chilled them. I put my coat back on to stabilize my temperature, then took it off again, the sweater underneath pilling and the sleeves all stretched out. Layering, then layering again as I swelled and shivered under the hot lights.

The table sprawled with stacks of markered cards and sleeved up decks with different colored backs. Yellow, Pink, Black, Purple. A laptop glowed with spreadsheets and open tabs to pages of the internet. Decklists. And around the table: Hugh, Abe, and store owner Luis. Abe and Hugh are running a matchup. One has his deck sleeved, the other has his deck markered on the backs of commons. The Abzan mirror.

“Abzan mirror?”

“It’s the best deck.”

“Yeah, the mirrors gonna be an important matchup.”

I wasn’t going to the Pro Tour. Abe and Hugh, though, would be. Richard, who arrived later, was also going to DC. I volunteered my help for testing, and there I was. The two guys in front of me, Abe and Hugh, they’re limited guys. Constructed was where they needed the most practice. And I love constructed, especially modern, so I thought I could lend an informed hand wherever I could find one.

They were both nearly dead set on playing Abzan, both as their deck choice but also as the deck to beat. Wanting to find an optimal build was important and I had my opinions. The big game cards were obvious to us: Siege Rhino, Lingering Souls, Liliana of the Veil. Sideboarding in Fulminator Mages. Twenty Five lands. These were given. So how to navigate the rest was what Abe and Hugh were there feeling out.

We knew we wanted Bobs. Dark Confidant was so powerful in the mirror. Left unchecked for a turn or two and you have significant advantage over your opposing Abzan deck. We also knew we didn’t like Courser of Kruphix and loved Scavenging Ooze. So the deck started taking shape and the remainder was the removal suite and discard spells. Then, rounding out the sideboard for the bad matchups.

As we talked and played, the sky grew dark and the cold deepened. People began trickling into the LGS and we gathered the stacks of cards and moved them all upstairs to push the night along in a private apartment. The apartment was high and the floors were dark and wooden. You could feel the night slithering between the floorboards and up your legs. It was penetrating, but we kept pressing and running matches. I grabbed decks off the table and offered to test with different strategies. I played affinity poorly but had a blast thinking through the amount of eary play and sequencing the deck presents.

Soon Richard arrived and we were on an eating break as bags of take out arrived. The warm food and the company Luis kept moved the cold down our legs and back into the floorboards and out the corners of the windows, and the more we laughed and played and corroborated together the farther the cold was kept outside. Soon we were all very tired and knew something more of what to expect and we got our things together and left and I said goodbye while climbing into a cab to take me home. I told the driver the directions and I pulled my backpack closest to me and steamed with anticipation for my friends. I believed in them.

* * * * * * * * * *

The Tuesday before the Pro Tour I met with Hugh to borrow some cards so I could run Abzan at the LGS and try a few interesting sideboard ideas I had. He gave me a green deckbox with three Fulminator Mages and a few other cards. I slid the box into my coat pocket and walked home to assemble the list. I still needed a few lands but otherwise had it ready. Here is what I ran:


Creatures (15)
Dark Confidant
Scavenging Ooze
Kitchen Finks
Siege Rhino

Planeswalker (4)
Liliana of the Veil

Spells (16)
Inquisition of Kozilek
Abrupt Decay
Lingering Souls
Maelstrom Pulse
Murderous Cut
Lands (25)
Verdant Catacombs
Windswept Heath
Marsh Flats
Tectonic Edge
Treetop Village
Stirring Wildwood
Woodland Cemetery
Overgrown Tomb
Godless Shrine
Temple Garden

Sideboard (15)
Fulminator Mage
Engineered Explosives
Sigarda, Host of Herons
Stony Silence
Creeping Corrosion
Timely Reenforcements
Thrun, the Last Troll
Golgari Charm

It was based off a Reid Duke list. I went 3-1, losing only to the mirror, to a guy who exquisitely overboarded for it. Other than that the deck played like a dream. I was happy with it.

I had been checking dailies for new data in the days before the Pro Tour. On Thursday I noticed a grouping of Infect, Grixis Twin, and other Tasigur decks pop up on MTGO. The decks all seemed to be reacting specifically to the Abzan-heavy predicted metagame people had been expecting. I had wondered whether decks like Burn, or other decks that would metagame well against Abzan, would show up, and this was a sign to confirm that suspicion. I was suddenly panged over the decision to run Dark Confidant.

* * * * * * * * * *

Saturday came and our friends were off drafting in Washington, DC. Keeping a pulse on everyone while working throughout the day meant I was constantly checking my phone and streaming twitch on my lunch break. But I got it down. One of our Hipsters cohorts didn’t make day two, but the rest, the Brooklyn guys, they made it to the other side. I celebrated by drafting at the LGS. I put together Jeskai for the first time since, well, since Khans came out. I had a blast. I went 1-1-1 with this pile.

This was a good deck. I wish it didn't draw 14 lands for a few of those games.

This was a good deck. I wish it didn’t draw 14 lands for a few of those games.

jes-kan I make it?

Creatures (14)
Monastery Swiftspear
Seeker of the Way
Leaping Master
Horde Ambusher
Mardu Scout
Sandsteppe Outcast
Abzan Skycaptain
Aven Surveyor
Sage of the Inward Eye
Efreet Weaponmaster
Glacial Stalker

Spells (8)
Wild Slash
Force Away
Feat of Resistance
Jeskai Charm
Jeskai Runemark
Whisk Away
Lands (18)
Swiftwater Cliffs
Tranquil Cove

Sideboard (3)
Channel Harm
Act of Treason
Abzan Advantage

So it goes. I got my prize pack, got drunk with a friend around the corner afterwards, and fell asleep, dreaming of my friends mowing people down, and tried not to think of all the teams who brought with them Burn decks and Infect decks.

The rest of the Pro Tour by now you know. As it turns out, the top 8 was an assortment of Abzan and non-Abzan decks. Abzan turned out to be almost 30% of the metagame, and the team practice and deck choices reflect this correct prediction. Overall, the meta was interesting, but I knew it was a closed system. No one could look at the results of what performed well at the Pro Tour and make generalized or even prophetic statements regarding the future of the format. Modern stays open and diverse, with a healthy mix of old staples and fringe strategies. What you play, and when you play it, and how adept you are at your deck, will each play themselves out according to the room before you.

* * * * * * * * * *

So what does this mean for Modern? Not a whole lot, I’m afraid to report. The deck choices won’t change much, except for the slow ebb and flow movement that the meta makes and evoles into over time. People will react, and then react to the reaction, and then to that reaction. And so forth. In one great big spinning ball. With any luck, we can have another big shakeup in Modern without requiring the serious and significant bannings that took place this year. With any luck, Modern can withstand Pro player scrutiny, and the format can survive another round of unbannings to open things up a little more. We have some large scale tournaments coming up that will showcase the health of the format as it continues to evolve.

I sat down at the table on Saturday night with seven other guys to draft in Brooklyn. Among them was our fellow Hipster Carrie, cracking her packs, fresh off the train from Washington, DC. It was as if her 2-5 record drove him back to New York City, in order to calm herself, she had to jump into some local drafts and play with the guys she knew and loved. It was the most important and rejuvenating thing I would think to do after such an experience.

We cracked packs and I moved in early and incorrectly into red and ended up with a poor Gruul Monster deck. I went 1-2, and was disastisfied with my fun level, and my patience level. After all, I could only think of Modern. I wanted to play, I wanted to win, and I wanted to be there with my friends. Supporting each other among the games greats.

I went home, and I slept.

Derek Gallen lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY.



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