Be Proactive!

by Zen Takahashi on 22 March 2016, Tuesday

Zen Takahashi

Be Proactive!


Hello everyone!


Three weekends ago, I had the pleasure of competing in GP Melbourne, the biggest Grand Prix in Australian history with just over 1100 players! Since I expect Modern will be significantly shaken up with the new banlist, the focus of this article will center around my methods of preparation, instead of the tournament itself.



Firstly, the core tenet of my preparation is to ensure that my time practicing is being utilized most effectively. This is essential as each event requires careful preparation and between University, a part time job and a busy social life, it is often difficult to put in a lot of hours to test. Therefore I have set myself certain “rules” to try be as efficient with my time as possible, one of which is to always play a proactive deck at a constructed Grand Prix.


The main reason is that the larger a tournament is, the more the metagame will be varied and scattered with rogue decks becoming increasingly prevalent. The nature of large tournaments such as Grand Prixs, is one that attract players of all competitive levels, where the ratio of casual players ends up much higher comparative to a PPTQ or local cash tournaments, which cater more for just competitive players. This is even more apparent in Modern, where there’s a large cost barrier associated with changing decks. While I expected many of the competitive players to adapt to the drastic metagame changes, I assumed the majority of the crowd would stick to their original deck choices.




If Being Proactive Is Always Right, Why Do Control Decks Succeed?


The success of a reactive deck, for example a Control or Rock deck, largely hinge on having the right answers to the commonly played threats. Usually these answers have built in mana advantage or card advantage, which means trading your spells for their threats would put you ahead. However when they don’t align, you often find yourself with very poor or often even completely dead cards, as they’re based around reacting to a specific game plan or threat base.


Abrupt Decay Snapcaster Mage


An example would be having cards such as Abrupt Decay against a Control deck. This is less than ideal since its only target is Snapcaster Mage. Even worse would be to draw a card such as Supreme Verdict against a combo deck, reducing its usefulness to nothing.


On the opposite end of the spectrum, proactive cards are almost never dead.


Usually in the form of Creatures or Planeswalkers, these cards will almost always help towards beating your opponent even in matchups when they’re less than stellar, due to their pressuring and aggressive nature.


Wild Nacatl Thoughtseize


An example is a card such as Wild Nacatl. In matchups where pressuring your opponent’s life total is important, such as against Combo decks, this card is amazing! Often, it can even do more work than a card such as Thoughtseize, as your whole game plan is likely to be based around aggressive threats in a Wild Nacatl deck. Therefore you can pressure them hard and bottle neck them on time, while against a slower deck they may have been able to draw out of the disruption spell due to the lack of pressure.


Lightning Bolt


Even in matchups where it’s less than stellar such as against Jund, it is still a threat that your opponent is forced to give attention to, because of its pressure on their life total. Proactive decks can also utilize their spells better in bad matchups as they likely have some built in aggression. A card like Lightning Bolt has less utility outside being a removal spell in a deck like Grixis Control, compared to in a deck like Zoo where its role is shared as being a removal spell and a threat to your opponent’s life total.


Although by no means do I believe that proactive decks are generally better than reactive decks. The best deck on any given week is based around how the metagame is modeled at the time.


However this rule is important to me, as limited time is a huge factor that influences the way I prepare. Reactive decks don’t often defer in card choices on a week to week basis, for example decks such as Burn and Affinity only have 3-4 “flexible” spell slots that can be changed-the rest are locked in. In comparison a deck such as Jund, can be built in any number of ways due to the fluid nature of the deck, encompassing everything from its threat base to the disruption spells you play. Much more work needs to be put into getting the “right” reactive deck configuration, as you’re looking deeper than just your deck’s position against the expected metagame.


That in itself doesn’t sound too difficult, you’re simply looking for the right cards to combat the week’s metagame. However the reality is, most people do so at a steep expense. Reactive decks are often in the color combinations that give them the access to all the best disruption spells that exist in the given format. However, interchanging one for the other simply means you’re just trading a matchup for another. In fact more often than not, people make the mistake of diluting their deck from its original flow, which contributes to the cost of changing cards. Decks such as Jund and Abzan emphasize heavily on their mana curve, which is often overlooked when people make changes and they end up making their decks much clunkier.




Jace, The Case Study


Jace, Vryn's Prodigy Leyline of the Void


A recent example was in the wakening of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy being printed, Grixis Control became a major player in Modern. The matchup was tough for Jund, and people tried to compensate by adding cards such as Leyline of the Void in their sideboard.


While the card was great in the matchup if it was in your opening hand, it often became redundant and clunky when drawn at later stages of the game – which happens often, as games became long, attrition battles. It also hurt Jund’s matchup against other decks, as the 4 Leylines really ate into the sideboard of the deck, giving less tools for other matchups.




As it turned out, the more efficient way to approach the matchup was to replace Abrupt Decay with Terminate. While Terminate obviously had less of an impact than Leyline of the Void, this minor change actually pulled much more weight than it looked.


Tasigur, the Golden Fang Gurmag Angler


This was because in this matchup, Grixis Control was always going to be favored if the game went long, as they had more card advantage. For Jund to win this matchup, it had to be aggressive and try pressure the opponent before they could stabilize. Having Terminate meant that you could kill their biggest road blockers, Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Gurmag Angler, while continuing the pressure.


Overall, playing a card that kept to the manner of the deck’s game plan, nearly did just as much work as the sideboard silver bullet, as you also had access to it in Game One. Now you were able to improve your Grixis Control matchup, without giving up much percentage points against the rest of the field.


This sort of understanding can really only come about with a deep understanding of the deck and the format. Mistakes in card choices is much more punishing in a reactive deck than it is in a proactive deck, and when you’re short on time it is less likely for you to come to the correct configuration of Jund, compared to a deck like Affinity.


Reactive decks often have most of its maindeck slots locked in, meaning the majority of your deck tuning is in the sideboard. This is much easier, as you’re just looking to play the most high impact silver bullets for the matchups you expect. Therefore there is less room for you to make mistakes with your deck list, as you have fewer decisions to make around it.




Making a Deck Choice for Melbourne


Straight after Pro Tour Oath of Gatewatch, I had already decided I was going to be playing Eldrazi, Affinity, or Melira Company at the Grand Prix. Eldrazi as we all now know, is one of the best proactive decks to have ever existed in its format and was definitely my early top contender.


Thought-Knot Seer Reality Smasher


From watching the Top 8 of the Pro Tour, Affinity also became one of my choices; a seemingly good Eldrazi matchup, and a consistent performer in open metagames such as Grand Prixs. As it is very proactive, it has a fighting chance against any deck, and you can punish players when they start giving up sideboard slots for other matchups, as I expected would be the case with Eldrazi on the rise.


Melira, Sylvok Outcast Collected Company


Melira Company was my final choice, a deck that I was very impressed with at the Pro Tour. Lee Shi Tian and Matt Rogers were also both very interested in the deck, and their initial results from working on it seemed promising. Since I was confident they would come up with a good decklist, I chose to work on Eldrazi variants instead, maximizing my time.


Initially I wasn’t that impressed by the Eldrazi decks, but this all changed when White-Blue Eldrazi came about. In my first 12 rounds with it on Magic Online, I dropped just one match. After that I was sold on the deck, and spent the two and a half weeks before the Grand Prix working on it. I worked on the deck predominantly by myself, as Matt Rogers was too busy winning with Melira Company to consider it, and I was very happy with how the list was coming together. A couple of days before the event, I reached out to fellow Team MTG Mint Card member Paul Jackson to share ideas, and together with a number of other Australian players, we came to a final decklist.


This was the list we submitted:



Overall, I was very happy with the list. Between the six of us who played it, all of us managed to make Day 2, with four of us finishing in Top 64-an overall win percentage of 71%!


Eldrazi Displacer Eldrazi Skyspawner


A deck like White-Blue Eldrazi is a perfect example, as the deck is relatively fixed with its card choices, especially in the main deck. This meant I could devote most of my time fine-tuning the sideboard, which I was very happy with throughout the event. The proactive nature of the deck meant I had a fighting chance against everything. This played out perfectly. On Day 1, I only played against 1 Eldrazi deck, and played against a wide range of decks, including Temur Delver, Blue-Black Control and Elves twice! Had I played a reactive deck such as White-Blue Control which was designed to beat Eldrazi and Affinity, I would have gotten destroyed by all the other decks.



Chasing Silver


As for my season thus far, coming into this Grand Prix I was sitting on 12 Pro Points, hoping for a good finish to get me closer to achieving Silver status in the Pro Player’s Club. After finishing a heart breaking 12-3 at Grand Prix Kobe end of last year, I realized that big finishes such as Top 8s are more recognizable, but to me personally, consistency and achieving a season-long goal meant much more.


Since then I have been solely focused on trying to hit Silver, and after another 11-4 finish at the Grand Prix, I am now sitting on 14 points. Before the event I told my friends that if I managed to pick up 2 points, I will book a flight to Grand Prix Taipei in June in hopes of achieving this.


As long as the event doesn’t clash with University exams, I definitely plan on keeping my word! If I manage to get the last four points between GP Taipei and GP Sydney, I will be able to qualify for the Pro Tour in Sydney the following week after the Grand Prix!


Six months ago if you had told me that I will now be part of Team MTG Mint Card and be close to hitting Silver, I wouldn’t have believed you - yet here I am. 4 points over 2 Grand Prix isn’t going to be easy, but having this come down to the wire makes it just that much more thrilling and exciting. As working hard is essential in attaining what I’m striving for, reaching my goal will be something so personally rewarding, that I won’t be able to take it for granted.


Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this article and learnt a thing or two about how you can approach preparing for your next big event! If you have any feedback/questions on this article or ideas for future articles, please feel free to comment and I’ll try to respond!


Until next time!


Zen Takahashi

@mtgzen on Twitter

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