Preparing for Team Unified Modern

by Zen Takahashi on 30 April 2018, Monday

Zen Takahashi


Preparing for Team Unified Modern

Hello everybody!

Two weekends ago, I competed in GP Sydney – which was Team Unified Modern, and I played alongside Jason Chung and Phoenix Taku, both of whom are some of my closest friends. I was very much looking forward to this tournament ever since it was announced a year ago, and was even more excited to play this event than any of the recent Pro Tours. 



When the tournament was announced a year ago, we jokingly discussed that our line up would be W/B Hatebears, Dredge, and Storm – as they were our pet decks. 


Jace, the Mind Sculptor Bloodbraid Elf

Since then, the format has changed a lot – especially with the unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf, as well as the creation and rise of 5c Humans and Hollowed One. 

However, even with all these changes made to the format, we ended up running the previously mentioned line up. 

Deck 1: W/B Hatebears

Although Phoenix may not be well known, he is probably the best W/B Hatebears player in the world, and is the pioneer of the now commonly played list – as he tears through Magic Online leagues under the username "penips".

In fact, he has now played over six hundred leagues with the deck, and while he was studying at University, grinding W/B Hatebears was his primary source of income – as he profited about $9 an hour through playing the deck. 


Lingering Souls Bitterblossom

Initially, after the unbannings, he brought up that the deck might be poorly positioned now as he was struggling against Jund. I then suggested Lingering Souls and Bitterblossom in the sideboard – especially as these cards are also useful against Affinity, which we expected would be more popular in Team Unified than it would be in a usual event.

After giving them a try, he quickly found that by just adding these cards to his deck, the Jund matchup had significantly improved to the point that he now felt favored against it – and it did not give up much percentage against other decks to do so. 

The list he ended up submitting was reasonably close to what he had been playing online, except for the fourth Stony Silence in the sideboard, was added as Tron and Affinity would be more popular in Team Unified than in a normal Modern event. 

Out of the three of us, Phoenix prepared the most, playing about sixty leagues with the deck between the unbannings and the Grand Prix. During this time, he managed to make about 900 tix playing the deck. 


Deck 2 – Dredge

Even from when the event was announced a year ago, I was reasonably sure that I would play Dredge unless something obscure happened and the deck became poorly positioned. Unfortunately, after Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, it felt like that was the case, and I started to look at other options – mainly RG Valakut and Tron. 

However, then the unbannings happened. This led to the death of Lantern Control, as well as an increase in Jund and Control decks – all of which was great news for Dredge. Also, graveyard hate was also at an all-time low. 

Initially, I was worried that the presence of Jund and the Control decks would lead to an increase in big mana decks such as R/G Valakut and Tron – which is bad for Dredge. Instead, Hollow One and 5C Humans became much more popular and solidified their positions as being the two best decks in Modern. 

While both these decks are close matchups for Dredge, ultimately, I felt favored against both of them. The Hollow One matchup is largely die roll and draw dependant, but the fact that if I am on the play, I can make their Burning Inquiry actively terrible for them is a huge advantage.

The 5C Humans matchup is close, and there is a lot of play to it, but I tested against the deck so much before the Pro Tour and felt very comfortable with my ability to navigate my way through the matchup. I also felt that my build of Dredge was well equipped against them, as I had a pair of main deck Lightning Axes and a diverse range of removal spells in the sideboard to play around their Meddling Mage

I kept my list fairly close to what I played at the Pro Tour. The notable change was cutting the 21st land for a second Darkblast. While I have been an advocate for 21 lands since the deck's inception, Modern is now the slowest it has ever been since the deck's birth.


Life from the Loam Darkblast


With the full playset of Life from the Loam and the format slowing down, it felt like I could get away without the second Dakmor Salvage. I have also wanted a second Darkblast in the main deck for a while now, especially as I often felt like eleven Dredge cards were not enough. 

The sideboard mostly remained the same, but I did go up to three Nature's Claim, as I expected Hollow One to be popular and they often have Leyline of the Void in the sideboard.

Since Burn is now a lot less popular, the Gnaw to the Bone was no longer necessary, and I was underwhelmed by Maelstrom Pulse as it was so expensive. I also added a second Abrupt Decay as I had an open slot from moving the Darkblast into the main deck. 

Personally, I did not do much testing for the event – in fact; I just played three leagues on Magic Online. While I do think that practice is important, there are steep diminishing returns on testing –, especially over a long time. I would have been happy to play more games if I felt like I was learning something, but that did not feel like the case in the matches I was playing. 

Deck 3 – Storm

Jason is a Storm master, as he has been playing the deck for over a year now, and recently went 8-2 with the deck at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan with close to zero testing – which was the best result out of all the Storm players at the event. You can watch his deck tech from the Pro Tour here.


After the unbannings, Jason initially expressed interest in playing either Bogles or Jund, as he felt like Storm was poorly positioned with the increased presence of 5C Humans. Unfortunately for him, Phoenix needed Path to Exile so he could not play Bogles, while I tried Dredge with rainbow lands but found it wanting, so I had to take the lands away from Jund. This locked Jason into playing Storm due to our deck choices. 


Remand Unsubstantiate

The list he submitted was very close to what he played at the Pro Tour, with the main difference being moving the two Lightning Bolts from the main deck to the sideboard for a third Opt and an Unsubstantiate. He also added a Search of Azcanta and a Pyromancer Ascension to the sideboard for the Jund matchup. 

Like myself, Jason did not prepare much, but he did not need to as he already knows his deck inside and out. It is super impressive to watch Jason play Storm, as he can navigate his way through an obscene amount of hate and find the most complicated lines to win the game. 

In addition to our individual preparation, we also competed in three local Unified Modern tournaments together, where we ended up winning two of them and Top 4'ing the third. While these tournaments were not exactly the most competitive, they were good for getting familiar with team communication – or in our case, the lack thereof.

We quickly realized each of us knows the most about how to play our respective decks. Hence, getting help from teammates was detrimental, as it led to us possibly giving away information to our opponents and getting distracted from our original trains of thought. 

Grand Prix Results

Phoenix and I flew into Sydney late Friday night as we did not want to miss work since we were already planning to take a lot of unpaid leave for Pro Tour Dominaria next month. Thankfully for us, the time difference between New Zealand and Australia works in our favor - as we are two hours forward – so we were exhausted by the time we got to Sydney and went straight to sleep, and we woke up with relative ease.

Or at least that should have been the case, except for the fact that Sydney was unreasonably hot and I could not go to Sleep, so I then turned on the air conditioning, which led me to waking up a few hours later, shivering and parched. I ended up starting Day 1 with about two hours of sleep. 

Thankfully, Day 1 went fairly smoothly for us, as we managed to start 4-0 before losing a close match. We then bounced backed and won the last three rounds to finish the day at 7-1, and in fourth place due to having good tie-breakers. 

Day 2 started well for us, as we managed to take down the Japanese super team of Yuuya Watanabe, Ken Yukuhiro, and Kazuyuki Takimura in the first round on Sunday. At this point, I was feeling great, as I slept a lot better than I did the previous night, and was happy with how I played against Yuuya. 

However, things quickly went south from there, as we lost back to back rounds in a pair of extremely close matches that were both decided by the third game in the final match. Since we were now at 8-3, we thought we were out of contention for Top 4, but to the large number of draws in the event and our good tie-breakers, we realized there was a small chance that we could make Top 4. 

From there, we managed to win back to back rounds and found ourselves at 10-3 before the final round. As standings went up, we calculated that we could make Top 4 if we won our final match - and either the one team at 10-3 with better breakers than us lost their match, or if the team at 12-1 chose to play against the team at 10-2-1 and wins that match. 

Unfortunately, we lost our final round, and we ended up finishing in 10th place. Had we won the match, we would have managed to scrape in at 4th place, as the team at 12-1 ended up crushing out the team at 10-2-1 out of Top 4 contention. 


Overall, this was a pretty disappointing result, as I really wanted to win with this team – especially as I expect the number of Team Grand Prix would decrease from next season due to the lower attendance compared to its individual counterpart. Despite that, I did have an enjoyable weekend, and I could not have asked for better teammates. It was also great to catch-up with all my friends from Australia, since it had been ten months since the last Australian Grand Prix.

Over the next few weeks, I will be focusing more on Standard and Dominaria limited, as I begin my preparation for Grand Prix Washington, D.C. and Pro Tour Dominaria next month! 

Until next time!

Zen Takahashi
@mtgzen on Twitter 

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