The Last Few Minutes

I was in game three of the finals. I was playing against Jund, a good match-up for Valakut Breach. On turn four, my opponent revealed a Liliana of the Veil to a Dark Confidant trigger, cracked a fetch so they could Fatal Push my Courser of Kruphix, and killed my Chandra, Torch of Defiance with a Tarmogoyf. Then I watched him tap three mana, assuming it was the Liliana he revealed. My heart was pounding, I had Through the Breach in hand and a Summoner’s Pact on top of my deck (revealed by Courser) and would untap and attack my opponent for more than lethal. Instead of playing Liliana, my opponent played Blood Moon. I felt my face drop, knowing that I couldn’t win next turn and had not boarded in any way to deal with Blood Moon. My only hope was to Breach in a Primeval Titan, fetching the two basic (but snow-covered) Forests out of my deck and hope to win a fair game against a deck much better at playing fair magic. The only silver lining in this scenario is that my opponent had one Swamp and a bunch of now-basic Mountains, shutting him off of green and double black. I assumed I would have to hit my opponent with a Titan, take a turn off to pay for pact, and hope that I could draw a Relic of Progenitus to shrink the Goyf while my opponent got super unlucky with Bob triggers and killed himself.

What happened instead is that the following turn my opponent Thoughtseized me, making me breach my Titan in on his pre-combat main phase, fetching the lands and chumping a 6/7 Tarmogoyf. After titan hit the bin, my opponent paid two life for Surgical Extraction to strip the rest from my deck.

On my turn I paid for pact, played a Simian Spirit Guide and passed.

On my opponent’s turn he paid a few life to Bob, dropping him to eight, and attacked with Goyf. I didn’t block.

Then on my turn, I drew Chameleon Colossus. I stared at it and knew it was big enough to get through Goyf, couldn’t be killed by anything aside from Liliana -2 (which he couldn’t do given his mana predicament). I carefully tapped my mana and put in into play.

My opponent paid some life to Bob, played a non basic land, and attacked with Tarmogoyf. I chumped with Spirit Guide. He took another look at his hand, at the board, and at me before extending his hand.

I took down a PPTQ while beating a Blood Moon in the process.

Decklist, Record, and Rationale

Now let’s go back a few weeks to a series of conversations I had with my friends Tim Fay and Nik Heleen about the upcoming Modern season. Between us all we could build most decks in the format but had no idea what we wanted to play. After getting demoralized for several months playing Elves, I knew I didn’t want to do that which left me considering Ad Nauseam, UW Control, and my pet deck, Amulet Titan. After going through the pros and cons of each, agreeing to lend Ad Nauseam to Tim, and considering my play skill and knowledge of decks, I scrapped all the above to play Valakut Breach. I had played the deck last summer to some success, felt comfortable with it, and had seen some 5-0 lists recently on MTGGoldfish despite the rise of the super disruptive Grixis Shadow lists.

Here is the list I played over the past four PPTQ’s*

Valakut Breach

Lands (25)
Snow-Covered Forest
Snow-Covered Mountain
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Stomping Ground
Cinder Glade
Wooded Foothills
Arid Mesa
Bloodstained Mire

Creatures (13)
Primeval Titan
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Simian Spirit Guide
Courser of Kruphix

Spells (22)
Search for Tomorrow
Summoner’s Pact
Through the Breach
Relic of Progenitus
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Sideboard (15)
Chalice of the Void
Lightning Bolt
Sudden Shock
Chameleon Colossus
Ancient Grudge
Obstinate Baloth
Woodfall Primus
Reclamation Sage
Anger of the Gods

*I did switch in two Obstinate Baloth for Crumble to Dust and an Ancient Grudge, after the first two PPTQs, given the prevalence of Burn in the New England meta

My record over the four events was:

7/15 Norton, MA [4-2]
7/16 Danvers, MA [3-1-2] (Double draw into top eight, lost in quarter finals to Grixis Shadow)
7/22 Acton, MA [4- 2-1]
7/23 Abington, MA  [8-1]

While I think the deck performed extremely well (19-6-3) over the four tournaments, I think it’s worth trying to address the deck choice as well as a few individual card choices.

Valakut Breach vs. Titan Shift

Right now, Titan Shift is certainly the more popular Valakut plus Primeval Titan deck. I know a lot of folks prefer having a one card combo, Scapeshift, to the two card combo of Through the Breach and Primeval Titan. I think Shift certainly stands up better to the disruption provided by Death’s Shadow decks which are out in full force right now.

Having said that, I played Breach over Shift for three reasons. One, Breach is faster, arguments about consistency aside, Breach can deal 18 damage on turn three and Shift cannot. I won a lot of games I had no business winning against Burn, Company, and Eldrazi and Taxes because the explosiveness of Breach paired with the inevitability of future Valakut activations. Two, I have more experience playing Breach than Shift. Knowing the ins and outs of a deck is more important in Modern than picking the right deck for a tournament. Three, I don’t own Scapeshifts. I know card availability should be a non-factor for a person looking to play competitive Magic but, well, sometimes it is. I didn’t want to shell out $160 when I was not convinced that Shift would be a better deck for me to play.

No Maindeck Sweepers or Spot Removal

A lot of the lists I’ve seen recently have played a split of Anger of the Gods/Sweltering Suns in the maindeck instead of Courser of Kruphix and one Farseek. I think this is a meta call. In the last PPTQ, I played against Burn, UW(R) Control, Jund, Shadow, and Tron and in all cases I would much rather have Courser. Given that you need to resolve a Titan to win a game, having the added card selection provided by Courser (especially given so many shuffle effects) is something I value in game ones. Admittedly, it would be nice to have a maindeck way to destroy Elves, Dredge, Company, and Merfolk but I’m fine with the pre-board match-up being a straight up race in these match-ups with plenty of options for sideboarding in the proceeding games.

No Fun-Ofs

I didn’t play a singleton Scapeshift or a maindeck Woodfall Primus like I’ve seen in a few lists. I don’t think the deck needs an alternate win condition and I’d only want Woodfall Primus in the extreme event of maindeck Blood Moon, which I only played against once in the previous 26 matches. In most games, Courser is more castable and as mentioned previously, provides a good deal of card selection.

A Tournament Report

I know I spoiled the ending already but here is a write-up on the PPTQ I won. I’m doing this from memory so it’s short on specifics and first names. I do remember the tournament had 70 players for six rounds of swiss.

Round One—Eldrazi and Taxes (2-1)[1-0]

Game one my opponent played a turn one vial off of a Caves of Koilos and I grimaced a little. The Eldrazi and Taxes match-up can be really difficult thanks to the Leonin Arbiter/Ghost Quarter interaction and the additional disruption of Thalia, Tidehollow Sculler, and Thought-Knot Seer. This game, Arbiter completely shut me down.

-2 Course of Kruphix
-4 Relic of Progenitus
+3 Anger of the Gods
+2 Lightning Bolt
+1 Sudden Shock

Game two, my opponent kept a two lander with no vial. He Ghost Quartered a Valakut reasonably early but it set him back on mana and I kept ramping. The game ended when I used Chandra to kill a Thought-Knot Seer, drew into Titan, and killed him.

Game three, I had a quick Breach and he didn’t have the Arbiter or Aven Mindcensor to stop me.

Round Two—Merfolk (0-2)[1-1]

The opponent was a nice guy named Carlos. Game one he mulled to five but I couldn’t draw the sixth land I needed for Titan before he killed me with fish.

-2 Courser of Kruphix
-4 Relic of Progenitus
+3 Anger of the Gods
+2 Lightning Bolt
+1 Reclamation Sage

Game two, he led on turn one Vial and had a nut draw. I played a Titan a turn too slow again and was dispatched by a bunch of lords. Merfolk isn’t a bad match-up but I certainly kept some questionable hands while my opponent played really tight.

Round Three—Esper Shadow (2-1)[2-1]

I’m pretty sure my opponents name was Dale and we talked about the how good Taking Back Sunday’s “Tell All Your Friends” is before the match. I had the play and kept a two lander with Farseek, SSG, two titans and a Through the Breach. He led on an untapped Hallowed Fountain. I assumed he was on UW Control and was leaving Spell Snare up. Since UW Control is usually a pretty easy match-up, I figured I’d try to play around the counter and just pass. He instead Thought Scoured himself and I realized he was on Esper Shadow. He played a turn two Tasigur, made a Death’s Shadow soon after, and countered my relevant spells till I died.

-2 Courser of Kruphix
-2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
+3 Chalice of the Void
+1 Chameleon Colossus

All I remember of the following games is that I played an early Chalice for one in each. He played out Lingering Souls and Tasigur but couldn’t stop my Titans.

Round Four—Eldrazi Tron (2-1) [3-1]

My biggest punt happened in this match and eclipses just about all the other memorable details for me. I won game one with a relatively quick Breach. Game two, I mull to five and my opponent mulls to three. Three cards. I proceed to get entirely flooded with multiple Through the Breach in hand while my opponent hits his land drops and threatens to turn on tron. When I finally top deck Primeval Titan, I am so relieved to see it that I just slam it in play without breaching it. My opponent was able to Oblivion Stone away my Titan and take over the game with a Reality Smasher and a Batterskull. I don’t remember Game Three at all, but I did get there despite my best efforts to tank the match.

+1 Ancient Grudge
+1 Woodfall Primus
-2 Relic of Progenitus

Round Five—Gb Tron (2-1) [4-1]

I remember talking with my opponent afterward about how good these games were, but as I’m trying to write I don’t remember much about them. In a post board game I led with a turn one Chalice on one and shut down a hand full of baubles. In another game, I opted to Summoner’s Pact for Woodfall Primus instead of Primeval Titan to Breach it into play, destroying an Urza’s Tower, killing a Karn, and then persisting back to kill another land. He almost rebuilt in time but I hit the clutch mountain to hit him for the last few points of damage via Valakut.

-4 Relic of Progenitus
-1 Courser of Kruphix
+1 Ancient Grudge
+1 Woodfall Primus
+3 Chalice of the Void

Round Six—Jund (2-0) [5-1]

From what I remember these matches were over really quickly. I was able to play an early Breach both games and spent the next 30 minutes watching everyone else in the area play their matches.

-1 Through the Breach
-1 Farseek
-1 Courser of Kruphix
+2 Obstinate Baloth
+1 Chameleon Colossus

I entered the top eight in the 5th seed.

Quarterfinals—Jeskai Midrange (2-1) [6-1]

This match was against my friend Kei, a regular at Pandemonium and an excellent player. The thing I remember most about this match is that I punted pretty hard on a pivotal turn. I had eleven mana available and Kei was at nine life. I had one Valakut in play. I led with a Search for Tomorrow, putting him at six, Then played a Farseek putting him to three, then cracked a fetch for a Mountain to bring him to zero, except that he had a Lightning Helix to stay at three. I then tried to play a Primeval Titan which got Cryptic Commanded. I had one mana left. I decided to leave up Relic of Progenitus thinking it was likely he would try to win with Snapcaster Mage into Helix. What I should have done was to exile the Spirit Guide in my hand, tap my Stomping Ground, Summoner’s Pact for Sakura-Tribe Elder and then get the last land to kill him. I died to Celestial Colonnade plus Lightning Bolt the following turn.

I did not sideboard anything and won the following two games by going for a Through the Breach on his end step, getting it countered, and then untapping and playing a Titan.

Semifinals—Burn (2-1) [7-1]

I won game one with a turn three Breach for Lethal.

+2 Obstinate Baloth
+3 Chalice of the Void
+2 Lightning Bolt
-2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
-4 Relic of Progenitus
-1 Farseek

Game two, I kept a risky hand on the draw with a turn one Chalice of the Void. His T1 Goblin Guide hit me bunch without revealing any green sources and I died to Eidolon plus two mana burn spells.

Game three, I played a suspended a turn one Search for Tomorrow. Turn two played a Courser of Kruphix thanks to SSG. Turn three, I played an Obsinate Baloth. I stayed at a healthy life total and eventually played a Primeval Titan.

Finals—Jund (2-1) [8-1]

I went over the best parts of the game in the introduction. This match really was a slobber-knocker though, as we were both feeling the pressure and exhaustion after a full day of Magic. At one point I cut my opponents deck, knocked over a card which touched his hand set down on the table. I pointed to the card I knocked over, my opponent put the card on top of his deck, and then picked up his hand and shuffled it around. This led to several minutes of judge involvement, eventually ending with both of us receiving a warning. While my opponent was very friendly throughout the whole ordeal, the room was eerily quiet the rest of the match and every decision I made felt heavy and slowed down. It was really good to win but it felt almost as good to just not have to think about Magic anymore for the rest of the night.


  • Primeval Titan rules. Valakut for life.
  • Battlegrounds put on a solid event with a great prize payout.
  • Al was a very patient judge who took the time to explain all of his rulings and to answer questions during and between rounds.
  • The deck felt well positioned in the tournament and has put up consistent numbers for me over the past two weeks.
  • I’m kind of a brick but as I said, Primeval Titan rules.
  • Sudden Shock was in the sideboard to help mitigate the nonbo of siding in Lightning Bolts with Chalice of the Void but in practice I think the Lightning Bolt is so much more efficient, the nonbo isn’t that big of a deal.
  • I’d like to try out Tireless Tracker in the board but am unsure of what to cut.
  • I don’t think I’d change anything about the starting 60 unless you were certain to face a ton of Affinity, Merfolk, Company, or Hatebears and then I’d make the Courser of Kruphix/Anger of the Gods swap.
  • All of my opponents were really pleasant. Sorry I am terrible with names.

In terms of Magic, Shawn Massak is a Modern enthusiast, with a penchant for tier two decks, counterspells, and pre Eighth Edition frames. In terms of life, Shawn lives in Brighton, MA where he works as an employment director for people with disabilities, plays guitar in an indie-pop band, and spends his free time reading comics, cursing capitalism, complaining about pro-wrestling, and wishing his apartment allowed dogs as pets.

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