What I Learned about Deck Selection at GP Madrid

by Simon Nielsen on 03 January 2018, Wednesday

Simon Nielsen

What I Learned about Deck Selection at GP Madrid

How can you not think a deck is good when you get a 14-1 record online?

What are you supposed to think about it when you get sent home early from the Grand Prix at the impressive record of 3-3-1?

I already had good experiences from Unified Modern as I got 12th place at Grand Prix San Antonio earlier this year, so naturally, I ran back the same team with my two Swiss (no, that doesn't mean Swedish!) friends Julian Flury and Serafin Wellinger. 

Back then we had the spicy line-up of Restore Balance, Green-White Hatebears and Jund Shadow, as I have written about before. 

This time, we knew we wouldn't be running it back because of Julian, our Restore Balance player, had a lot of experience with Lantern Control which had now become the best deck.

The Truth about Lantern Control


To me, there is no doubt that Lantern is the deck with the highest win rate in the format.


Whir of Invention Lantern of Insight


It was already a pretty good deck, but now that it has been improved with the addition of Whir of Invention and a lot of great minds working on the deck, like Piotr Glogowski, Sam Black, Brian Braun-Duin, Justin Cohen, etc.

It's especially good because nobody wants to play the deck as they feel it is intimidating, annoying, bad and so on. This means that it's simply not viable to play specific hate cards against the deck, like Tireless Tracker or a large amount of Ancient Grudges. 

At this point, the deck only really has one bad match-up in Tron (as well as some match-ups that are close to even).

Julian has a different approach to the deck than most other players, such as disliking Tezzeret in the sideboard, because it's weak to Stubborn Denial out of Death's Shadow, and prefers to go with creatures like Dark Confidant and Magus of the Moat instead. He also played Fatal Pushes and Collective Brutality main to have more interaction against decks like Humans which can be a tough match-up if they land an early Thalia. This is the list he played:


Serafin's Dilemma

Serafin was our Green-White Hatebears expert, as he has played the deck for more than four years and also boasts a GP top 8 with it. We were slowly leaning towards Serafin playing this deck, especially since he wasn't playing too much Magic at the moment, so it felt safer to have him, pilot, what he was comfortable with.

The problem was that to him; the deck looked quite ill-positioned in the metagame. It isn't at its best against Eldrazi Tron, Storm, Valakut and such, and he had low confidence in the deck.

Another problem was that he was on a big losing streak. 

Coming off an excellent Silver season last year, he now scrubbed out of every GP and couldn't win matches online. He was feeling very low on his ability to play anything well. 

He did run Green-White Hatebears through a couple of leagues and went 2-3 and 1-4, exactly as he suspected. Julian, however, who also had a lot of experience with the deck, played three leagues with it and went 4-1 in all of them. 

Undoubtedly, the deck was not the problem. 

We were also talking a lot about 5-color Humans, the sweet new deck that seemed very powerful to us and used up many of the same card slots as Hatebears. Also, it wouldn't be as harsh to play which seemed great if Serafin felt a bit rusty. 

I urged Serafin to run through a couple of leagues with Humans, but he never got around to it. After the event, I was talking to him about why. And he revealed to me that he felt like he would just go 2-3 again and end up playing Hatebears anyway.

I told him that in these spots, his results didn't matter at all. It would be a very small sample size anyway. But by playing 10 or so matches with a deck, he would get a feeling for it, even if he lost.

Losing streaks are bound to happen to anyway. They stink, but we can't do anything about them, except ignore early results in our testing and navigate with our intuition and conversations with people we respect. 

I wish I had followed the same advice even though my situation was quite the opposite.



"My Friend Is Doing Well with Grishoalbrand"

For as good as Lantern is, it does eat up a ton of options for what your teammates can play. Thoughtseize decks are a no-go and Affinity is blocked out as well through Mox Opal. I tested Tron for a while and highly considered playing it, but then Julian pointed out to me that even Ancient Stirrings is cut off. Eldrazi Tron didn't even seem that appealing with Serafin sitting on our Ghost Quarters. 


I did have a couple of quite good options. Lightning Bolt was unoccupied, so Red-Green Valakut and Blue-Red Storm were obvious. I already Top 8'ed a Grand Prix with Valakut, and I love the deck, but because of the heavy presence of Storm and that there were too many decks that Demands different interaction, I wasn't too hot on the deck anymore. 

Apparently, it had a great weekend, so I just ended up looking stupid. 

The last time I tried Storm, I felt quite uncomfortable with the deck, though that was something I could kink out with a couple of weeks of grinding on Magic Online. Then Julian mentioned that one of his friends apparently was doing well with Grishoalbrand online. I had played the deck before, and to me, it seemed to be very close to Storm with some critical differences. 


For those of you who don't know about the deck, Grishoalbrand is another take on a strategy that attempts to cheat a Griselbrand into play for a single turn with Goryo's vengeance or Through the Breach


Nourishing Shoal Worldspine Wurm Borborygmos Enraged


The twist here is that it runs 4 Nourishing Shoals to pitch your 4 Worldspine Wurm which enables it to often draw the entire library when going off, after which it can generate tons of mana with Simian Spirit Guide and Desperate Ritual to Through the Breach in a Borborygmos Enraged and discard all the lands for the win. 

This can happen as early as turn 2, and everything can be done instant speed as well, so the opponent can't even feel safe by tapping out for something at end-of-turn. Through the Breach with Worldspine Wurm is a quite decent backup plan that comes up a lot, and Nourishing Shoal can help cast Through the Breach a turn early because the cost of Splice into Arcane is one mana cheaper. All in all a well-oiled machine and a genius stroke of a deckbuilding gem. 

Here it my decklist for reference:


To me, it seemed close to Storm in that both decks often end the game on turn 3. Grishoalbrand does have a decent amount of turn two kills but also has the turn three kills less consistently than Storm. 

It's better against graveyard hate because you often board out some Goryo's Vengeances and rely more on Through the Breach, but it's weaker to discard than Storm. It's also better against Eldrazi Tron which is apparently a 50/50 match-up Storm. Grishoalbrand also seemed to be favored against Storm.

If the deck was close to the power level of Storm, then it could easily be the better choice because I've already played the deck so much before. With all these considerations, I thought that it couldn't hurt to fire up a league with the deck to try it out.

And all of a sudden I was 14-1 in my first 15 matches. 

How Do You Not Settle On The Deck In This Spot?

To me, it seemed perfect. 

I was crushing with the deck online, knew it well, some of my opponents at the Grand Prix might have never faced this deck before, it seemed okay in theory and I even got to contact Jerome Bastogne who piloted the deck to a 2nd place finish at last years World Magic Cup so I could get some expert advice. 

So I locked it in and decided to play at least seven more leagues before the Grand Prix. 

To this day it still seems hard to make a good case against playing Grishoalbrand in this spot I was in. But I think I should have been able to identify that it wasn't the best way for me to go.

As we got closer to the event, I went 1-3 in my last two leagues (which only brought my win rate down to 66 %), and it started to dawn on me that a lot of match-ups might just be worse than I thought they were. Should I switch decks the day before the event? 

At least I knew the deck well, and if I had a lucky day the deck is very powerful. And I wasn't feeling too great about Valakut either. 

The tournament didn't go great. Julian had a bad day, and Serafin and I were playing suboptimal decks so we couldn't pull him out. We dropped at 3-3-1. Grishoalbrand turned out to be a deck that is just too fragile against hate to also be as inconsistent as it is. It's pretty clear to me that I misjudged a lot of the match-ups for Grishoalbrand, and that Storm is just the better deck.

My fault was to put any emphasis at all on my initial results. 15 matches is simply not a feasible sample size to determine anything. In those three leagues I had five turn two kills and ran into a bunch of good match-ups, and that made me feel great about the deck.

My thought process was: "I went 14-1 and kept seeing good match-up, and the deck kills on turn two quite often". 

But that's not how it works. I went 14-1 BECAUSE I mostly ran into good match-ups and BECAUSE I got a lot of turn two kills. That doesn't mean that Modern is full of good match-ups, and it doesn't mean that the deck wins on turn 2 15% of the time. It just means that I got lucky, and that's why I was sitting with those results. 

I should have done like I told Serafin to do: To not put any stock into my early results, winning or losing. At that point, I should only rely on common sense, theory and be very skeptical.

You shouldn't get excited by a deck when you seem to get lucky in the initial testing and win a lot. It's a good sign if you meet supposedly bad match-up but beat them anyway, or if you draw poorly but sneak out victories anyway. Any deck can win when it gets lucky, especially a lopsided one like Grishoalbrand, but winning when things don't go your way is the sign of an actual good deck.

I should have relied more on the information that I had from last time I played the deck and thought more about why I stopped playing it back then. Because the deck was too inconsistent, making the average kill turn slower than Storm. And even though I had some smart people to talk to about the deck, they're going to be naturally biased towards it. When everybody else is making barf noises as you tell them your deck choice, maybe it's not the best idea after all. 

And with such a short testing time, I simply shouldn't have risked it and just picked a known good deck. Even if I didn't like Valakut, I knew it was powerful enough to win bad match-ups or draw out of a bad hand. 

That's all for me this year. I hope your New Year's resolutions are to be more critical of your initial testing results so that you may one day avoid the traps that the rest of us keep falling into. 

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