Hello there! Adam here (or McHugh, as I’m most often known), bringing you a report of our recent trip to the Magic: the Gathering Grand Prix in Lyon, France. It was an amazing weekend full of laughs, banter and lots and lots of Magic. Can’t go far wrong with that!
Me and four other Cumbrians made the trip out to Lyon – three of us tried our hand at fame and glory in the main event, with the other two choosing to sack that off entirely and grind side events in the pursuit of prize wall tickets. There’s so much going on at Grand Prixs now: even if you don’t want to play the main event, they’re a huge celebration of all things Magic and I’d highly recommend getting yourself to one sometime in the future!
Well then, let’s get down to business: what deck did I sleeve up for the Modern main event?
Main Deck: 60 cards
4 Death’s Shadow
2 Grim Flayer
4 Street Wraith
4 Mishra’s Bauble
4 Fatal Push
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Traverse the Ulvenwald
2 Abrupt Decay
2 Temur Battle Rage
2 Liliana of the Veil
1 Blood Crypt
1 Godless Shrine
2 Overgrown Tomb
1 Stomping Ground
4 Bloodstained Mire
3 Marsh Flats
4 Verdant Catacombs
Sideboard: 15 cards
1 Nihil Spellbomb
2 Surgical Extraction
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Collective Brutality
2 Fulminator Mage
1 Liliana, the Last Hope
3 Lingering Souls
1 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Ranger of Eos
A more detailed version with card images can be found here on MTG Goldfish.
Traverse Shadow is built around purposefully lowering your own life total to turn Death’s Shadows into huge 1-mana threats – sometimes as early as turn 1! Mishra’s Bauble, fetch-lands and Street Wraith quickly put multiple card types in your graveyard, enabling Traverse the Ulvenwald to search up more threats while also buffing Tarmogoyf and Grim Flayer. Fatal Push, Abrupt Decay and Terminate take care of problematic permanents, and an 8-pack of hand disruption spells poke holes in your opponent’s gameplan large enough to jam Tarmogoyfs through. Temur Battle Rage swings damage races in your favour and blows out opponents planning to chump-block your large creatures, and Liliana of the Veil gives slower decks fits and runs combo decks out of resources quickly.
I’ll briefly cover the sideboard: Nihil Spellbomb is for graveyard-based decks and Snapcaster Mage, and Surgical Extraction is for graveyard decks and combo decks to rip out key pieces of their gameplan. Ancient Grudge is an all-star in the Affinity and Lantern Control matchups. Collective Brutality is for combo / control decks and is one of the best cards in the format against Burn. Fulminator Mage helps against Valakut, Tron lands and man-lands, and Liliana, the Last Hope makes short work of small creature decks. Lingering Souls and Ranger of Eos give you more gas for grindy games, and Maelstrom Pulse is a nice catch-all to deal with anything else that slips through the net.
So, onto the games: How did they go?
For the first day, a 6-2 record or better is required to make it through to the second day of the tournament. This is already a bit of pressure to start your day; then I accidentally lost a card in the apartment after playing some testing games that morning! I go to write up my decklist at the event and find out that the main deck is only 59 cards… uh oh.
I scramble through the deck, trying to figure out what card is missing…
“Please don’t be a Tarmogoyf, please don’t be a Tarmogoyf, please don’t be a Tarmogoyf… oh thank God it’s only a Street Wraith!”
I leg it to the dealers’ tables and start asking around for Future Sight Street Wraiths. Fortunately, I find one relatively quickly. Unfortunately, it meant that I had to pay 10 euros for the privilege of actually playing the GP that day…
Lesson #1: ALWAYS check that your deck is complete and that you have everything you need before you leave the house for the event! Rookie mistake and I can’t believe that I made it, but I got lucky. That was not the most painful thing that could’ve happened here.
Round 1: vs Bant Knightfall
A Collected Company deck built around the Knight of the Reliquary + Retreat to Coralhelm combo to generate a ludicrously large Knight, find Kessig Wolf Run to give it trample and finish off the opponent.
Game 1: My opponent’s Noble Hierarch gets Fatal Pushed, and I cast a Tarmogoyf and a Grim Flayer to match up with his Voice of Resurgence. Terminate after the Voice blocks my Grim Flayer pushes through damage thanks to trample, Abrupt Decay deals with his Tireless Tracker and he gets smashed about by the Goyf.
-2 Liliana of the Veil
+1 Liliana the Last Hope, +1 Maelstrom Pulse
Game 2: Inquisition of Kozilek reveals Birds of Paradise, Knight of the Reliquary, Collected Company and three lands from a mulligan to 6 cards. I take the Knight, but I’m lacking early pressure as my Grim Flayer eats a Path to Exile. His Collected Company flips over Voice of Resurgence and Tireless Tracker. Fatal Push deals with the Tracker, but he draws Knight into Retreat to Coralhelm and I’m now out of removal. He uses the combo to kill me.
Game 3: Opponent mulligans to 6 again, and I cycle 3 Street Wraiths and Thoughtseize him. This reveals Birds, Knight and Retreat with 3 lands, so I take the Birds to deny him a turn 1 or 2 play. A pair of 5/6 Tarmogoyfs start munching on his life total and a Fatal Push for his Knight ends the game.
Round 2: vs 4-Colour Humans
A bit of a home-brewed list, taking elements from the more aggressive 5-Colour Humans deck and playing a slower game with Collected Company. This list was green / white / blue splashing red for Mantis Rider.
Game 1: I keep a slower hand without a turn 1 play. He plays Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and slows down my Abrupt Decay and Terminate for a turn, so I respond with a Tarmogoyf. This play gets completely ruined by Reflector Mage bouncing my Goyf, and then is followed by a Mantis Rider. When my discard spell reveals another Reflector Mage and another Mantis Rider, I see the writing on the wall and scoop.
-2 Liliana of the Veil
+1 Liliana the Last Hope, +1 Maelstrom Pulse
Game 2: My opponent mulligans to 6 but starts the game with 2 Leylines of Sanctity. This makes my discard spells useless, but it means he is now down several cards and won’t have much else going on. Fortunately, I draw mostly removal instead of discard and the Leylines do nothing for him. One Tarmogoyf gets sent on a Path to Exile, but two more turn up and put the boots to him.
Game 3: Multiple discard spells strip his hand of relevant spells. He starts to get mana-flooded and cracks his Horizon Canopy in his main phase, hoping to draw a spell he can cast that turn. He doesn’t and passes the turn: the only card that can get him out of this is Collected Company, so I Thoughseize him on my next turn. I take the Company he drew (phew), then Liliana, the Last Hope clears out his Noble Hierarch. Tarmogoyf, a bunch of removal for his follow-up plays and Liliana dealing with the leftovers was too much to handle.
Round 3: vs 5-Colour Humans
Speaking of the 5-Colour Humans deck… here it is! Very fast aggro deck built around Aether Vial to flood the board with cheap creatures. Champion of the Parish does the heavy lifting, a variety of hate-bears like Thalia and Meddling Mage throw spanners in the works, and Reflector Mage offers some board control.
The first thing I notice is that my opponent appears to have an issue with their sight. Turns out he is blind, and uses Braille markings on his sleeves to read the cards in his deck! I have to verbally announce each play that I make and confirm the board state with him regularly, but it’s amazing that someone who can’t see can still play the game and take part in a Grand Prix! Very inspirational, and he was a lovely guy too.
That said, because of everything else that was going on in this match I forgot to take notes! Here’s what I can remember: Game 1 was a close race that I won on 5 life (a well-timed removal spell for his Mantis Rider was crucial). He drew poorly in Game 2 and flooded out – I picked apart his draw with discard spells and removal and the game didn’t last long after that. Sideboarding was the same as the above two matches: if I expected 3 Humans decks in a row, I may have changed my sideboard for this event!
He was very conscious of taking up too much time, so he called over a judge to help him sideboard between games (a great call that was definitely appreciated). After the games, I happily helped him to de-sideboard and sort out his deck for the next round.
Lesson #2: Don’t be afraid to call a judge! Even if it’s for something unusual like this, judges are there to help you. I had several questions over the weekend, like whether the foils in my deck were acceptable for the event or if sideboarding notes were allowed, and all of the judges I spoke to were very helpful indeed.
Round 4: vs UW Control
I notice that I’m against former Pro Tour winner Ivan Floch, of all people! I remember his predisposition for control decks and am fearing the worst. My suspicions are confirmed and he’s playing Blue/White Control, a terrible matchup for my deck this weekend. Stacked to the gills with countermagic, cheap removal and mana disruption in Field of Ruin and Spreading Seas… this will be tough.
Game 1: Awkward opening hands on both sides lead to attacks from me with an anaemic 2/3 Tarmogoyf and him missing his 4th land for a few turns, with no source of white mana. He draws out of the slump quicker than me and Path to Exiles my Goyf, then my Liliana of the Veil gets shut down by a maindeck Negate! Gideon of the Trials makes a mockery of my second Goyf, and he runs me out of relevant threats. I die to Gideon attacks with Fatal Push, Temur Battle Rage and Terminate stuck in my hand.
-4 Fatal Push, -2 Terminate, -2 Temur Battle Rage
+2 Collective Brutality, +2 Fulminator Mage, +3 Lingering Souls, +1 Ranger of Eos
Game 2: A comical affair that highlights how fragile Traverse Shadow’s mana-base can be under stress, with 3 copies of Spreading Seas cutting off most of my coloured mana sources! I’m left with a lone Swamp and 3 “Islands” after his meddling. I resolve Ranger of Eos and find 2 Death’s Shadows, which are promptly wiped off the face of the earth by Day of Judgment. His Jace, Architect of Thought finds a Ghost Quarter for my Godless Shrine, then a second Jace activation revealing 2 Cryptic Commands and the FOURTH Spreading Seas prompts me to pack up my cards.
Round 5: vs Living End
An interesting deck, and not one you see often these days. Cycling creatures fill up the graveyard quickly, then either Violent Outburst or Demonic Dread cascades into and casts Living End, reanimating all of the discarded creatures and wiping the opponent’s board in the process. A powerful strategy, but one that needs to hit the right matchups to perform well.
Game 1: I mulligan to 5 into a mostly non-functional hand, but I reluctantly keep as a mulligan to 4 would likely be even worse. I have discard and removal but no threats to apply pressure, which lines up poorly against him. He cycles through almost half of his deck (using all 4 Street Wraiths and all 4 Monstrous Carabids!) before eventually hitting a cascade spell for Living End and putting me out of my misery.
-4 Fatal Push, -2 Abrupt Decay, -2 Liliana of the Veil
+1 Nihil Spellbomb, +2 Surgical Extraction, +2 Collective Brutality, +2 Fulminator Mage, +1 Maelstrom Pulse
Game 2: A thoroughly bizarre game. He mulligans to 6, cycles through a ton of cards but somehow gets stuck on 2 lands! I make him discard his cascade spell, he finally draws lands #3 and #4, then I remove his Living End from his hand to prevent him from suspending it. Sure enough, he draws a second Living End and suspends that one. However, my Death’s Shadow and Grim Flayer kill him before it resolves.
Game 3: I keep a 1-land hand that looks great if it finds a second land (and granted, this deck and operate decently well with just one land). Predictably, I miss on drawing my second land for 4 turns, which gives him far too much time to set up Living End, demolish my board and end the game.
From 3-0 to 3-2… awkward. I’ll admit that I was a little frustrated after how the last game ended, but I shake my opponent’s hand and wish them well for the next round.
I think about how I need to win the next 3 rounds to qualify or day two… oh well, take each game one at a time and see how it goes. If I lose, I can just drop and play side events, so it’s not the end of the world.
Lesson #3: Try not to let bad losses discourage you. Sometimes you make a mistake, sometimes it’s due to bad luck, and sometimes it’s somewhere in between and it’s hard to figure out exactly where you went wrong. Look back on the game briefly to learn from it, but try and play on to the best of your ability.
Round 6: vs Mardu Pyromancer
The pet deck of several Magic Online grinders and recently championed by Gerry Thompson at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. Young Pyromancer and Lingering Souls establish a solid board presence, and a heap of hand disruption and creature removal grind the opponent down. Bedlam Reveller recoups the cards spent early on and can end the game in a hurry.
Game 1: My Inquisition takes his Blood Moon and I land an early Tarmogoyf to face off against a Young Pyromancer. I Abrupt Decay the Pyromancer and he responds with a Lightning Bolt to my face to make a token. My Goyf is a whopping 6/7 thanks to his Blood Moon and my Mishra’s Bauble, so it starts taking sizeable chunks out of my opponent. He casts Lingering Souls to stall for time, but Temur Battle Rage lets the Goyf smash through his Spirit tokens.
-4 Fatal Push, -2 Liliana of the Veil
+1 Liliana the Last Hope, +3 Lingering Souls, +1 Maelstrom Pulse, +1 Ranger of Eos
Game 2: Discard takes his Kolaghan’s Command and leaves a Liliana of the Veil. This all seems fine until I pass my second turn without playing a land! I stare at the two lands in my hand and shake my head, realising that I was so caught up in sequencing the rest of my plays that I simply forgot to play one of them. This game ends in heartbreaking fashion with me being exactly 1 turn too slow: Liliana, the Last Hope is too late to stop his Young Pyromancer from making a bunch of tokens, and my Ranger of Eos for 2 Shadows isn’t fast enough to prevent a Liliana of the Veil ultimate. A silly mistake that I was heavily punished for.
Game 3: Luckily (for me), my opponent mulligans to 5 and my 2 Inquisitions tear his hand to pieces. A Fatal Push hits the bin, as well as a Manamorphose as he’s stuck on lands and this is the easiest way to cut him off from drawing more. I cast two 4/4 Death’s Shadows and beat him down before he can recover.
Lesson #4: Don’t go on autopilot! Take some time to think about what you’re doing and consider all of your options before committing to a play or passing the turn. I passed because I couldn’t cast any other spells that turn, missing that I hadn’t played a land. I had more than enough time to think a little longer and make sure.
I kinda threw away that second game there, but Lesson #3 is still fresh in my mind and I rally back to win the third one. Alright, that’s enough silly mistakes for one day!
Round 7: vs Affinity
A classic Modern archetype. Blisteringly fast aggro/combo deck sporting Arcbound Ravager and Cranial Plating to overload the opponent quickly. Master of Etherium and Steel Overseer turn its assortment of cheap artifact creatures into a force to be reckoned with.
Game 1: Though this deck has a solid Affinity matchup, this game was exactly what I didn’t want to see: turn 2 Etched Champion into turn 3 Etched Champion makes my removal-heavy hand redundant. The follow-up Cranial Plating didn’t help matters either, and I promptly die.
-4 Thoughtseize, -2 Liliana of the Veil
+2 Ancient Grudge, +1 Liliana the Last Hope, +3 Lingering Souls
Game 2: A Steel Overseer goes uncontested, but I manage to take out its supporting cast to limit its effectiveness. Lingering Souls buys me some time to let me set up a Death’s Shadow. My opponent starts drawing blanks and is quickly forced into chump-block mode. The Death’s Shadow takes care of him quickly.
Game 3: A long, drawn-out game where my opponent’s draws leave much to be desired. My discard spells takes an Etched Champion, seeing a second Champion and a Cranial Plating. He casts Rest in Peace and I cast a Shadow. I decide to take a 5-damage hit from his equipped Champion to buff my Death’s Shadow and attack back for 7. He attacks again and I Abrupt Decay the Plating and take 2, dropping to 4 life. Temur Battle Rage on the following attack with a 9/9 Shadow seals the deal.
Round 8: vs Bogles
Otherwise known as Green / White Hexproof, its simple gameplan of untargetable guy + a ton of Auras is surprisingly effective. Considering most decks’ reliance on removal, Bogles can run right through unprepared opponents.
Game 1: My opponent mulligans to 6 then plays a turn 1 Gladecover Scout, and I know exactly what they’re up to! My Inquisition of Kozilek takes his Rancor, leaving an Ethereal Armor and lands. I drop a Death’s Shadow, but my opponent’s deck doesn’t cooperate and he is forced onto the back foot. I attack and he attempts to use a fetch-land to find a Dryad Arbor to block with, but my Fatal Push removes the Dryad. He blocks with his Scout, and Temur Battle Rage kills my opponent from 16 life.
-1 Fatal Push, -2 Terminate
+2 Fulminator Mage, +1 Maelstrom Pulse
Game 2: My opponent mulligans again, this time to 5 cards. Slippery Bogle gets suited up with a Rancor and Spirit Mantle early on. I cycle 2 Street Wraiths and cast a Death’s Shadow, leaving up 2 mana to Abrupt Decay his Spirit Mantle and block if he opts to attack. He sees right through it and passes the turn with no attacks. I drain myself down to 3 life to start attacking with a 10/10 Shadow, and he chump-blocks with the Bogle. He searches up a Dryad Arbor at end of turn to set up a potential draw of an Aura to buff it and attack me for the win. He doesn’t, and a Fatal Push kills the Dryad anyway, making it a moot point. The 10/10 Shadow smacks him again for lethal damage.
Phew! Made it, but only just. I’m qualified for Day Two, with another 7 rounds to play to figure out if I’m in contention for the Top 8 playoff, for cash prizes or if I scrub out and get nothing. Ah well, only one way to find out!
Join me for my next article, where I’ll recap the results of the second day of the competition. Thanks for reading!