“It’s just a GP.” “Nothing that special.” “I’ve been to many GP’s why does he think this is something spectacular?”
These are probably just a few thoughts running through your head right now as you question whether or not you should continue reading this article. But like many of you, as you enter the convention hall for the Grand Prix it isn’t about just being there, it’s about Day 2. It’s about earning 33 points. It’s about making the Top 8, having a chance to be Grand Prix Champion. However, for some, it is about the Pro Tour. It is about earning the spot the play with the best of the best from around the world. This is my story of how I am preparing myself for Grand Prix Charlotte. My chronicle of getting to improving myself to earn that seat at the Pro Tour.
It started at the end of April as I was gathering data from all the SCG States results and compiling them into Top 8 and Champion tables. Listing every archetype and tallying how many titles they took and how often they appeared in the Top 8. While going through this 1 list in particular stood out to me by title alone, Titantshift.
It doesn’t take someone who has been playing modern for a little while to know exactly what this deck is about, and I knew it was love at first sight. I opened the list and picked apart the 75. It was clean. Ready to party and able to answer most problem decks. There was a concern with Tron and Eldrazi but I figured with the number of overall Top 8’s from the states weekend alone (28 Top 8’s for Scapeshift with 3 Titles). I knew these concerns may not require immediate attention. So after mulling it over and bouncing between the complete Infect lists I had, contemplating on finishing G/R Tron, or buying and learning Titanshift I decided that I would buy and learn Titanshift.
Overall the deck wasn’t too expensive to buy on MTGO and I wasn’t too far off from having the full 75 in paper. I assembled the deck and began playing. After over a full day of play, at least 30 matches, within the first week I had figured it out. The deck ran smooth. Not an auto-pilot deck by any means though. A lot of attention on the number of mountains you have, what play to get Valakut off is better, sequencing to get full use out of your Khalni Heart Expedition, and so much more. I am use to simpler decks: infect, griselshoal, storm, burn. This deck was a whole new animal. Not as intense as a RUG version where you are also trying to balance islands to ensure you are able to cast Cryptic Command. But believe me when I say this is not a beginner’s deck.
The real test though was came up on the 8th of May. On this day I piloted it in its first actual tournament, the Modern Grand Prix Trial for Grand Prix Charlotte. At stake, not just 2 byes at Grand Prix Charlotte but also my vote of confidence that this is the deck I should pilot.
The day began with me getting to store and finding out they did not have any Relic of Progenitus’ for sale. Damn me and my procrastination, those are mainboard. So I had to make a last minute change. I threw 2 Spellskite in the mainboard and added a 3rd Nature’s Claim and a Grafdigger’s Cage to the sideboard to complete my 75. This would have to do, so I filled out my deck registration sheet and waited. There were 16 people total and 5 rounds were to be played with a cut to Top 4. I’d have to win 4 rounds before I could even consider drawing into the Top 4.
Round 1: The Mirror
I sit down across from an opponent who is incredibly courteous and seems just happy to be playing Magic. We shuffle up, roll dice, he wins, and draw our opening hand. Well…already it is looking like I will be taking a mulligan. I don’t know what I am up against and I see no interaction in my hand and little ramp, so I reshuffle and draw six. Luckily, the six is fine. As we play, I learn my opponent has only been playing for six weeks. I see he needs some help with interactions and stack order but as I am helping I remind myself that I am in this to win. Now this does not mean I will go out of my way to mislead my opponent, but I can’t hold back and must play to win. I see cards that appear to show he is on Scapeshift, but I didn’t think a new player would start with a complex deck. So after I take game 1 I go to the sideboard and am cautious. I can’t assume anything at the moment but scapeshift seems like the deck of choice for my opponent so I bring in 2 Nature’s Claim and 2 Crumble to Dust and shave Khalni Heart Expedition, Lightning Bolt, Explore, and a Search for Tomorrow. I want to keep him off of Prismatic Omen and limit his Khalni Heart Expeditions as well as try to destroy 1 of his win conditions by taking out all Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle.
Game 2 he is on the play and mulls to 6. I play on as normal but his hand is nothing but ramp, and before I know it I am staring at 7 land and at 15 life. Thankfully though, there was no Scapeshift to be found and I fire mine off first dealing the fatal blow and taking Round 1.
Round 2: Jund
As we get ready my opponent is making off comments on my SCG Open Playmat and my States Top 8 pin attached to it. Comes off as casual mocking as though I am showing off that “I play in big events” or “look at the intimidation that I made Top 8 at States.” I don’t believe I am trying to do any of that. I am proud of the few major accomplishes I have and the Top 8 from States is the only one that I have something to show of. Also, I do like the kitchen lynx SCG playmat from their season 1 open series. Anyway, Game 1 is a slaughter, I lose with my opponent at 20 life. I think to myself I just need to stay calm, sideboard, and continue playing. I bring in 2 Obstinate Baloths to take advantage of Liliana of the Veil shaving on Khalni Heart Expedition and Search for Tomorrow.
Game 2 went the pace, but I was finally able to land Primeval Titan and get double Valakut while having Valakut active. He terminates Primeval Titan the following turn and passes. I am able to resolve an explore and play 2 mountains the following turn taking him down to 4 from 16. Only need a mountain or fetch and I win game 2. He draws, shows a little frustration and passes. Draw step. Mountain. Game.
Move to game 3. I keep my 75 and he goes back to his sideboard, shuffles up and we proceed to look at our hands. Looks like my opponent is having a rough time as he immediately mulls to 6. He looks at the six, shrugs and scrys, and proceeded with play. An early fetch takes him to 19 but 2 kitchen finks later he is back to 23. Sadly for him, it just wasn’t enough. My deck is doing exactly what it was designed to do. Turn 1, I suspend Search for Tomorrow. Turn 2, play a land and cast Khalni Heart Expedition. Turn 3, cast Search for Tomorrow from suspension, play a fetchland, play Sakura-Tribe Elder, pass. Turn 4 saw Primeval Titan come down and he survived long enough to swing for an attack. All the while I had Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle active thanks to Primeval Titan’s Enter the Battlefield effect. With that and a timely lightning bolt, the game was over and I was looking at moving into Round 3 at 2-0. The deck is doing just what I need it to do.
Round 3: American Control
Not an unwinnable match for me. Need to play around mana leak and jam when I feel it is safe to force him into an answer. Game 1 went the distance but I finally got beat down by Vendillion Clique, Celestial Colonnade, and Snapcaster Mage. One thing I did admire about this deck is I finally saw Ancestral Vision being played. My sideboard choice for this one was 2 Nature’s Claim to combat Runed Halo, Leyline of Sanctity, or any other enchantments which may punish me that white has access to, and 2 Obstinate Baloths to just beat him down. I also brought in 2 Crumble to Dust, but in hindsight that is a poor choice. I chose the Crumble to Dust to kill Celestial Colonnade because I wanted to try and slow him down, but thinking back I feel I could have left more things in. I shaved on the normal cards described above as well as a Primeval Titan.
Game 2 went pretty quickly for me as I played Scapeshift with him at 13, dodging mana leak by leaving enough mana up to pay for it. Game 3 was too close for comfort as he had me down to 3 life and I was finally able to resolve a Primeval Titan and crack Khalni Heart Expedition for the fatal bolts. Now I go into Round 4 at 3-0.
Round 4: CoCo
From the beginning of the match I knew it was a race. I am familiar enough with the deck to know what to look out for and what he needs to win. Game 1 I keep a Lightning Bolt in hand, waiting for Melira, Sylvok Outcast to hit the table so I can kill it in response to him sacrificing Kitchen Finks. I tried to bait my opponent by leaving up just a single forest. He played right into it, attempting to go off without noticing the Prismatic Omen in play,The following turn saw Khalni Heart Expedition get sacrificed, and on turn 4 I resolve Scapeshift for lethal.
Game 2 I bring in creature hate in the form of Sudden Shock, primarily for Aven Mind Censor, but if needed Visera Seer as well, and Anger of the Gods to clean up a clogged board. This game dragged on for quite a bit, as he was unable to assemble his combo, and I finally beat him down with Primeval Titan and Valakut triggers. I win Round 4 2-0.
While waiting for Round 5 my heart is racing. I am on the best streak I’ve seen since the VA Beach Classic in 2013 and I need to keep calm. Standings are posted and I am the lone 4-0 with 5 others at 3-1 all battling for position in the Top 4. Talks are starting about if they can draw or not to get in or if they have to play. This is a moment I can relax a little, I am locked. No chance for me to get knocked out on breakers or bad draws. I will see the Top 4. Pairings go up and I see the name of the guy I wanted to avoid all day.
Round 5: Ad Nauseum
Great, the only deck in the room that has me completely demoralized before we even look at our opener. Combo’s were a concern of mine coming into the event, especially all-in combo’s like Ad Nauseum. My deck doesn’t have a lot of interaction with it and I know how powerful the deck can be, Jerry just took down the GPT in his Local Game Store the previous day with it. Game 1 I have him on the ropes and he doesn’t have a lot other than cantrips and Angel’s Grace to keep him alive from turn to turn as I force more and more mountains into my double Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. Eventually he runs out of answers and I take game 1. Only 1 more to go and I finish 5-0.
We sideboard and move into game 2. He is on the play and I mull to 6, keeping my scry on top. We start play and he announces before the first turn he has Leyline of Sanctity, in fact, he has 2. I think through real quick and come to the startling realization I have no enchantment hate in at the moment. This game looks all but lost, however I do have Obstinate Baloths and Primeval Titans to beat him down so all hope isn’t lost. On turn 4 I decide to attempt to take him off his mana by casting Crumble to Dust to destroy Gemstone Mine, 1 of 2 lands currently in play for him. I look at his hand and see 2 Phyrexian Unlife, 2 Goblin Guide and 1 Ad Nauseum. He also had a number of Pentad Prisms in play mind you, well, this game is over. I use this time though to look through his deck and see what he brought in before conceding.
I go back to the board for game 3. I can feel myself getting nervous. I want to go 5-0, I want to enter the Top 4 as the #1 seed. I can feel my hands trembling. My shuffles are sloppy. I drop a card or two. ‘I need to calm down’ I think to myself. I set the deck down, take a deep breath and think. I’m already in, locked, why be nervous. I shake it off, offer the cut, and draw the opener. Seems like a solid keep, he keeps his 7 as well. Easy turns back and forth as I begin my ramp plan and attempt an early Primeval Titan which is quickly met with a Pact of Negation. The following turn he showed me his deck and in spite of me having 2 Spellskite out, there wasn’t anything I could do. I lost. 2-1 was the result in favor of the opponent. This locked him for Top 4 as well. Now I have a new concern, will I face him again?
Top 4: CoCo
Results and pairings go up. I enter as the #2 seed overall playing a rematch of Round 4. Things went smoother this time around for me, kept my cool and stuck to the plan. Game 1 was close as he clogged the board but Turn 5 and Turn 6 Titans ended it all for him. Timely Lightning Bolts killed off Visera Seers, and keeping him off combo was the only thing that saved me. Game 2 my opponent had to mull to 5. He was able to land an early Aven Mindcensor, which met an abrupt death thanks to Sudden Shock being able to kill it through his Spellskite. After that it was only 2 more turns, thanks to Khalni Heart Expedition and Prismatic Omen, and the round was over. I walked away with the 2-0 victory and the other match was ending as well. From the talks the finals would be interesting.
Finals: American Kiki Combo
Thankfully the Ad Nauseum player lost and I was playing Kiki instead. We talk a little before the round while shuffling, asking if we are going to the GP or not. We both are which means we both are playing hard for the byes. With me being the higher seed, I was on the play and was able to keep a good ramping hand. My opponent was on the mulligan plan and things started feeling good for me. I am able to land an early Prismatic Omen and get Khalni Heart Expedition online as well. The deck is firing on all pistons and things aren’t looking too good for him. With 7 lands out I saw the math and noticed I had 2 routes. I have a Valakut already active, in hand was a Primeval Titan and a Scapeshift. He had 5 mana up with 2 blue sources. I put him on a counter. I hadn’t played a land yet and had 1 in hand. If it’s Mana Leak I’m covered. If it’s Remand, I am covered. If I play Primeval Titan however I wouldn’t end the game and if countered my turn ends giving him more time to find an answer. I jammed Scapeshift and waited. He started moving mana around and then did a quick land count on my end. He asked if I had played a land yet for the turn and I answered no. He then conceded and we moved on to game 2.
Game 2 was one that went the distance. He was able to keep a high life total with Lightning Helix and Snapcaster Mage. I forced an early scapeshift but it was countered. I still had the land drop plan since I did have 2 Valakut’s out and active but he was able to keep beating me down with Celestial Colonnade. I hit a dry patch and he was able to close it out with Restoration Angel, Snapcaster Mage, and Celestial Colonnade. On to game 3.
Game 3 he was on the mulligan train going to 6 and I was set up for some early ramp with a Summoner’s Pact in hand with Valakut. Should be good. We play it out. Two byes for GP Charlotte are on the line. I start with a suspended Search for Tomorrow followed by a turn 2 Khalni Heart Expedition then turn 3 fetch and Sakura-Tribe Elder. Amazing start. Across the board however, the same cannot be said for my opponent. He had a slow start which greatly impacted the result of the game. Going into turn 4 I am looking at 6 land and draw into a second Summoner’s Pact. I attempt to cast the first which is promptly counter by remand. Decision time, do I pay 2 and delay playing Primeval Titan for two turns, or do I cast the second Summoner’s Pact? I need to win. I have to win. I cast the second and follow it with Primeval Titan. I grab a Valakut and ensure I get the mana set to pay for the two pacts. Titan lands. My opponent’s draw is a fifth land and he has Restoration Angel on board. If he draws a Kiki-Jiki,that’s the game. He looks up and passes the turn. On the attack, I grab another Valakut and Cinder Glade and my opponent goes from 16 to 4. He draws, looks at the board and extends his hand. The game is over. The finals are over. I just earned 2 byes for the GP in Charlotte.
All in all, the deck performed amazingly. I cannot wait to pilot it this weekend in Tampa Bay, FL as well as at the Charlotte GP. The grind continues on MTGO with nightly leagues to get more and more reps with the deck.
Check out the full decklist here.