I locked in my plans to go to GP Phoenix a month and a half ago. While I don’t usually travel cross-country for GPs, my friend Max had recently moved out there and I had never been to Arizona before so I booked the plane tickets. When I first considered this plan, Bloodbraid and Jace had not yet been unbanned and I was really interested in jamming the Todd Stevens GW Valuetown deck:

GW Value Town

Creatures (29)
Birds of Paradise
Eternal Witness
Kitchen Finks
Knight of the Reliquary
Noble Hierarch
Ramunap Excavator
Scavenging Ooze
Tireless Tracker
Voice of Resurgence
Courser of Kruphix
Azusa, Lost but Seeking
Lands (23)
Gavony Township
Ghost Quarter
Horizon Canopy
Temple Garden
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills

Spells (8)
Collected Company
Path to Exile

Sideboard (15)
Engineered Explosives
Aven Mindcensor
Qasali Pridemage
Ramunap Excavator
Reclamation Sage
Whisperwood Elemental
Stony Silence
Blessed Alliance
Surgical Extraction
Kataki, War’s Wage
Linvala, Keeper of Silence
Sigarda, Host of Herons

While this kind of deck is definitely outside of my wheelhouse, something about slowly Ghost Quarter-ing opponents out of basics via Azusa, Lost But Seeking and Ranumap Excavator appealed to the sadist in me. I had borrowed all the cards I didn’t have and started to test with the deck, hoping I could get in enough games to be familiar with the deck by the time I flew out to Phoenix. The unbanning halted these plans. This isn’t the kind of deck I wanted to jam against Jace or Bloodbraid and I didn’t see a way to play Jace or Bloodbraid in this deck without fundamentally altering the strategy. I know Todd Stevens worked on a Bant version with Jace but I wasn’t sold, didn’t own Jaces, and felt that I should just go back to just playing what I know. I know Valakut decks.

While I had played some Titan Shift last year while running through leagues during Modern Hero, I primarily played Breach Titan as my Valakut deck of choice. I subscribe to the notion that Breach is a more explosive deck but not as resilient to disruption (especially in the form of discard spells). Given that I expected an uptick in Jund and Humans, I wanted to put my Through the Breaches aside in favor of Scapeshift. I don’t know how useful it is to metagame this way because Modern is Modern, there are a million decks and people are going to play whatever they want regardless of metagame shifts and trends. In this particular case, I felt that Shift and Breach are more similiar than not and mostly I wanted to play ramp spells and do a little cascading via Bloodbraid Elf.

Thien Nguyen was nice enough to ship me his list as well as write me a pretty comprehensive sideboarding guide. Thanks Thien. I generally don’t love strict sideboard guides, especially when they don’t take into account being on the play vs. the draw, but I have found a written list to be invaluable during a large event. Sideboarding is really difficult, especially when considering the myriad strategies present at a Modern GP, and it’s been 100% worthwhile to consult a list to help simplify the process and cut down on time between games. Anyway, here is the list I ended up registering:

Titan Shift

Creatures (13)
Primeval Titan
Bloodbraid Elf
Sakura-Tribe Elder

Spells (20)
Summoner’s Pact
Lightning Bolt
Search for Tomorrow
Lands (27)
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Wooded Foothills
Windswept Heath
Stomping Ground
Cinder Glade

Sideboard (15)
Ancient Grudge
Anger of the Gods
Fracturing Gust
Reclamation Sage
Tireless Tracker
Grafdigger's Cage
Obstinate Baloth

This is 73 of Thien’s 75. I played one Thragtusk and one Explore over his two spicy copies of Growth Spasm. Having the “double” ramp provided by Growth Spasm means that you can play it on turn three and if you hit your land drop on the fourth turn, you can jam Primeval Titan. For the same reason, it’s one of the best spells to hit off of Bloodbraid Elf. I didn’t try them out because I didn’t have them readily available and unsurprisingly this was not something the vendors were carrying at the GP. I didn’t mind the one-of Thragtusk as a hedge against attrition decks and a searchable bullet in the game one against Burn and the Explore essentially just functions as another ramp spell in a deck that plays 27 lands.

The only other notable main deck inclusion is the two copies of Slagstorm. Valakut decks tend to play a couple copies of Sweltering Suns or Anger of the Gods in the maindeck and Slagstorm gives a little bit of flexibility when cascaded into via Bloodbraid Elf. While the spell resolves before Bloodbraid, and wouldn’t kill the hasty 3/2, having the ability to go to the dome is useful when playing against both combo and control lists.

The sideboard is reasonably stock as well with the notable exceptions being Fracturing Gust over Nature’s Claim and Grafdigger’s Cage over Relic of Progenitus. While Fracturing Gust isn’t the most versatile card, it was included to combat the potential rise of Bogles and to wreck Affinity and Lantern strategies. Given that we’re a ramp deck, it’s not unreasonable to have access to five mana on turn three so the fact that it’s color- and mana-intensive is mitigated here. Cage is certainly worse at clearing the graveyard than Relic but it also hoses Collected Company and Chord of Calling, which is certainly relevant.

Round One—BYE

Round Two— Jason on Burn (1-2)

In game three, I was at nine life, I had Anger’ed away three of Jason’s creatures last turn, and Jason was on four lands with two cards in hand. I had four lands in play and had to decide on whether to Summoner’s Pact for Obstinate Baloth or cast Bloodbraid Elf. The upside of the Elf play is that if I hit a ramp spell, next turn I play my land drop, Summoner’s Pact for Sakura-Tribe Elder, sac Elder, and then Scapeshift for 18. I decide to go for the Elf play because I think there’s a good chance Jason was sitting on Skullcrack, which would punish me for playing Baloth and mean that the following turn I was doing nothing at all. I do end up hitting the ramp spell but Jason has two Lightning Helixes and a Lava Spike off the top.

Round Three—John on Burn (2-1)

I sigh when John fetches and plays turn one Guide. I’m not anxious to lose to burn again. Luckily, I am able to Scapeshift him in game two when he has Ensnaring Bridge out and get there in game three off the back of Obstinate Baloth and a bunch of Bloodbraid Elves.

Round Four—Scott with Taking Turns (1-2)

Scott ended up finishing 30th place with Taking Turns. This is the first time I’ve played this match-up and it seems pretty bad given that I have no disruption for his turn taking shenanigans. I boarded into Ancient Grudge and Fracturing Gust to hopefully stop his Dictate of Kruphix/Howling Mine effects but knew that it was probably not good enough. He killed me both games with a giant Inkmoth Nexus.

Round Five—Gaston with UW Control (2-1)

This was my favorite match of the GP. Gaston played well but was still friendly, the games were long with a lot of decision points, and it felt like the match could have gone either way. The MVP of this match was definitely Tireless Tracker in game two which drew me somewhere in the realm of eight cards.

Round Six—Harrison with Jund Shadow (1-2)

This one was also close. In game three I was feeling good after Harrison missed a Mishra’s Bauble trigger and was forced to make me discard an Obstinate Baloth off Thoughtseize. Unfortunately, the game stalled out and he drew into Death’s Shadow while I drew into lands. It sucked to be out of contention so early but I suppose if I’m not going to make day two, I’m glad I still had the whole night ahead of me.

Max also went 3-3 (he was on Ad Nauseam). We elected to drop and bail rather than grind out the points and went off bar hopping around Phoenix. We found a bar with a boxing ring inside, a barcade teeming with people in their St. Patrick’s Day garb, and a gay bar that was enjoyably lacking in “Kiss Me I’m Shitfaced” shirts. It wasn’t hard to shake the bad feelings of a poor performance in beautiful weather after a few (non-green) beers.

As always, thanks for reading. I’ll be back next week talking about some dope decks that popped up at GP Phoenix.

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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