Grand Prix Brisbane Report *9th*
After a terrible performance at Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze and just missing out on the Captain Slot for the New Zealand WMC Team, I decided to take this upcoming Grand Prix very seriously as I wanted the chance to compete in a Pro Tour again. Since we only get one PTQ per season and limited isn’t a strong ground for me, Grand Prix Brisbane was going to be the main way for me to try and qualify for Pro Tour Born of the Gods in Valencia early next year.
I started testing with my team right after Grand Prix Kansas City (early July). At the beginning, I was a big fan of Scapeshift as it consistently beat Melira Pod, Jund and UWR which were doing very well at the time. However this all changed after the World Championship as the Deathrite Shaman decks adopted Tectonic Edge and Fulminator Mage. Even the three-color Jund decks started utilizing more Land Destruction in their Sideboard which made this once good matchup a very bad one for Scapeshift.
Soon after, I decided to start looking into decks that could beat this new Rock variant but struggled to find anything good as decks that could beat GB Rock often struggled against the other top decks e.g. RG Aggro had a good GB Rock matchup but struggled against UWR and combo decks. At this stage, I decided to start playing GB Rock myself and subsequently won a GPT for Brisbane with it and consistently did well in Daily Events online. However, soon enough the metagame changed to beat GB Rock. UWR started to play more Spell Snare, Jund decks played more Huntmaster of the Fells and Olivia Voldaren, and Pod decks adopted the Spike Feeder+Archangel of Thune combo as a way to get around graveyard hate. Consequently, my results started to dip and I wasn’t feeling as confident with the deck anymore.
Around this time, Cedric Phillips started consistently crushing Daily Events online with RG Tron. I started watching his stream every day and was surprised by how consistent the deck actually was. Watching him crush events on his stream everyday was enough to convince me to get the cards for the deck and start testing it. However, in testing I quickly found why the deck hadn’t done well in past Grand Prixs. The deck has a REALLY bad matchup against other Combo decks and while the deck is quite consistent, you still end up losing a number of games due to inconsistency. While the deck was fine in four round events like Dailies on MODO, I wasn’t confident enough to play the deck in an event like a Grand Prix where there would be 14-15 rounds. Jund was also starting to become popular and they have Sowing Salt in the sideboard which is unbeatable for RG Tron. My assumptions about the deck were proved correct during GP Detroit as the deck performed admirably on Day 1 but didn’t have the legs to get there on Day 2 as zero copies showed up in the Top 16.
After seeing the results of GP Detroit, I was completely lost. I had just spent two months testing three decks and I wasn’t confident with any of them. I thought about playing Affinity since hate for it was at an all-time low and the deck obliterates Rock variants like GB Rock and Jund which were popular at Detroit, but the deck is too hard to learn in just a month so I decided against it. I also thought about going back to GB Rock but I didn’t want to play mirror matches all weekend (The mirror involves trading resources one for one and the player who outdraws the other player usually wins. There is very little skill involved.) and I expected people would be prepared against these Rock variants.
As I skimmed through the GP Detroit coverage (PS: Please have video coverage for all US Constructed Grand Prixs!), I saw a Deck Tech that had been done with Brian Kibler and his Naya deck. I knew Kibler had been playing Naya in Modern but I just assumed it was just another “Kibler deck” and that it wasn’t actually that good. However, his list from this Grand Prix looked very well-tuned and he had put up a respectable Top 16 finish with it. Like Kibler, I am a huge fan of Midrange Creature Decks (I played Naya to an 11th place finish at GP Auckland last year) so I decided to start testing the deck and soon enough I was sold. The deck had a very good matchup against other fair decks such as Jund, UWR and Melira Pod and I expected these three to be the most popular decks at Brisbane. Although the deck did have a bad matchup against combo decks like Splinter Twin or Ad Nauseam, I expected that with two byes I wouldn’t have to face these decks often (they will be crushed by decks like Jund and UWR in earlier rounds). I predicted Affinity would also be popular and is a bad matchup for Naya, but I decided to devote a large amount of sideboard hate so I could have a fighting chance against it. For reference, this is Brian Kibler’s list from GP Detroit;
Main Changes from Kibler’s list:
-I cut the Knight of the Reliquary for Woolly Thoctars. ARE YOU CRAZY?! ISN’T KNIGHT LIKE THE BEST CARD IN THE DECK?! While Knight of the Reliquary may seem very crucial for the deck, it took about 10 games of testing for me to realize how bad the card is in Modern right now. The Knight was terrible against Rock variants like GB Rock and Jund due to Deathrite Shaman and Scavenging Ooze. Even against non-Rock decks, Knight was often bad as it worked very badly with your own Deathrite Shamans. So why Woolly Thoctar? Pretty much the deck wants a very big three drop creature that can smash your opponent’s face and works well with Domri Rade and that is exactly what Woolly Thoctar does. Although Knight of the Reliquary did have some utility with silver-bullets like Kessig Wolf Run, in this deck it was mostly just a big vanilla creature that got bigger as the game went long. Woolly Thoctar is the same but it’s already big from the start and is resilient to commonly played removal cards such as Lightning Bolt and Pyroclasm and also graveyard hate like Relic of Progenitus and Rest in Peace. Woolly Thoctar is bigger than most other creatures in the format so it interacts very well with Domri Rade. It’s a huge beating against other Midrange decks as they have a very hard time killing it and none of their creatures can trade with it efficiently (Goyf is usually a 4/5 which means it still only trades with the Thoctar). You may have some doubts about the card but it was amazing in my testing and shined all throughout the Grand Prix as well and I definitely recommend that you test it first.
-I cut the Ajani Vengeant for a 4th Voice of Resurgence as I expected a lot of UWR and Rock variants. Until the day before the Grand Prix, I had Thundermaw Hellkite in this slot but during the grinders I saw that the most popular Rock variant was Junk which played 4 Tectonic Edges, making Thundermaw Hellkite much worse. I also found that the UWR decks were cutting down on Spell Snares so I decided to opt for the 4th Voice of Resurgence.
-Replacing Knights for Woolly Thoctars meant I could play a less painful manabase as I cut fetchlands for some Scars duals. This was very crucial in Round 4 against Burn where I won game 3 on 1 life. I wouldn’t have won that game had I played a fetchland on turn 1 instead of a Razorverge Thicket. Adding the Woolly Thoctars did mean that I had to cut the Kessig Wolf Run but I found that this deck barely ever floods so I wasn’t too concerned about having to cut it.
-In the sideboard, I decided to max out on Stony Silence. Affinity is a really bad matchup for me so I wanted more sideboard hate for it. Stony Silence is also very good against RG Tron which is another unfavourable matchup. While playing four may be excessive due to it being poor to draw in multiples, I found that many Affinity and RG Tron players will board in Wear // Tear and Nature’s Claim respectively to try fight it so I was happy to play four. It did mean I had to cut down on one Bonfire of the Damned but I liked the swap as I didn’t want 3 Bonfire of the Damned against Pod anyway and I didn’t expect BW Tokens or Soul Sisters to be popular.
-I chose to play Torpor Orb over Avenmind Censor as I believed Melira Pod was already a good matchup for me so I decided to play a more broad answer as Torpor Orb also had applications against Splinter Twin which is a terrible matchup for Naya. In retrospect, I should have just played Combust instead as I didn’t even board in Torpor Orb against Pod decks during the event. Post board, Melira Pod plays more like a midrange deck so you don’t want to be down on cards which Torpor Orb essentially does. While it does stop the combo, the Pod player is unlikely to go for it in this matchup as you have enough removal to stop it. Other than stopping the combo, Torpor Orb doesn’t really do anything other than stop Kitchen Finks from gaining life and Murderous Redcap from dealing that two damage to your face.
-Cutting the land destruction package i.e. 2 Choke and 1 Ajani Vengeant for an extra Linvala, Keeper of Silence, Path to Exile and Flame Slash. The land destruction package was Kibler’s way to combat the UWR deck by essentially mana-locking them. However I was already happy with the UWR matchup so I decided I didn’t need these extra land destruction cards in the Sideboard. Instead, I decided to play more cards for Rock and Pod by playing a second Linvala and more removal spells. Flame Slash may seem like an unusual choice, but the card performed admirably. I wanted another removal spell that could kill an early Deathrite Shaman or Dark Confidant (Path’ing a guy on Turn 1 or 2 is very bad) while also being able to kill Scavenging Ooze or Tarmogoyf. The 4 damage means it can often kill Ooze or Goyf early in the game where as other one mana burn spells like Burst Lightning can’t. Flame Slash can also kill Spellskite and Wall of Roots which is very relevant in the respective matchups.
I don’t want to bore you with a round by round analysis so I will just go over what I played each round and a few key notes from the matches.
-Round 1-2 Byes
-Round 3 vs Colin Jaih Harris playing Affinity: Loss (0-2)
Having to play against one of the best Affinity players in Australia in the first round was very rough and I lost in about 10 minutes. Although losing your first round is frustrating, I have historically done better when I started with a loss (at GP Auckland I lost my first two rounds then won until my win and in for Top so I decided to relax and try to recoup myself.
-Round 4 vs Sean Lappin playing Burn: Win (2-1)
This round was very close. We split the first two games as the person on the play won both times. For Game 3, I was on the draw and was very nervous. On about turn 5 or 6, I attacked him down to 5 life with 4 creatures in play while I was on 11 life. At the end of my turn, he tanked for a while before casting Flames of the Blood Hand to drop me to 7 life. As he drew for his turn, I asked if I was dead but he didn’t reply. He then tanked for a while before showing me only enough burn to get me to 1 life.
-Round 5 vs Nektarios Nicolaou playing Affinity: Win (2-1)
Three rounds in and I’m yet to verse a good matchup! I manage to win Game 1 after he mulls to 5 (still very close though), get crushed Game 2 as he draws a decent hand, and win Game 3 after playing a Turn 2 Stony Silence followed by double Bolt on his Signal Pests.
-Round 6 vs Yifan Wei playing Jund: Win (2-0)
Finally a good matchup! Neither games were very close as I just ran him over with my big dudes. In game 2, I played a turn 2 Woolly Thoctar followed by a turn 3 Domri Rade to kill his Dark Confidant which pretty much sealed the match.
-Round 7 vs Xi Han playing Melira Pod: Win (2-1)
My opponent this round was from China and he actually tried to read my Woolly Thoctar when I cast it for the first time! In Game 1, he stomped me quickly with a bunch of creatures and an active Gavony Township. However I managed to win Game 2 with a turn 2 Woolly Thoctar followed by a turn 3 Loxodon Smiter and Path to Exile on his Kitchen Finks, and won Game 3 thanks to double Scavenging Ooze and a Miracle’d Bonfire of the Damned.
-Round 8 vs Hongfei Zhou playing Ajundi Win (2-0)
In Game 2, there was a crucial turn where I had a Scavenging Ooze (zero counters), Woolly Thoctar, and four lands (one untapped Razorverge Thicket) while he had a Tarmogoyf and Liliana of the Veil on one. He tanked for a bit before casting an Ajani Vengeant to kill my Scavenging Ooze and things were looking bad for me. However, my opponent misplayed by choosing to plus his Liliana, which allowed me to put into play a Loxodon Smiter. I then Path’d his Tarmogoyf at end of his turn then untapped and killed both his planeswalkers on my turn. This was a huge turn of events as I managed to destroy his whole board when I was behind.
Final Score after Day 1: 7-1
-Round 9 vs Wee Yuen Khor playing Affinity Loss (0-2)
Like Saturday, I started the day with a round 1 loss against Affinity. This match highlighted just how bad of a matchup Affinity is as he managed to win Game 1 on a mull to 4 where he went all in on his Inkmoth Nexus with Arcbound Ravager. In Game 2, he managed to beat my turn 2 Stony Silence with triple Etched Champion.
-Round 10 vs Daniel Willing playing Junk Win (2-1)
This matchup is very good for me and went as accordingly as I ran him over with my dudes. In Game 3, I lead with a turn 2 Domri Rade followed by a turn 3 Woolly Thoctar to kill his Tarmogoyf which pretty much won me the game.
-Round 11 vs Pratik Sadi playing RUG Control (similar to Kenji Tsumura’s) Win (2-1)
I had spent Day 1 sitting next to him for most of my rounds so I knew his deck very well. I expected the matchup to be very good for me as his burn spells can’t kill my Loxodon Smiters or Woolly Thoctars and my creatures get under his Cryptic Command. I also knew about his maindeck Blood Moons so I could play around it by fetching basics early. In Game 1, I mulled to 6 and played a turn 1 Noble Hierarch into turn 2 Loxodon Smiter. He simply couldn’t get rid of the Smiter and I won after four swings with it. In Game 2, I managed to lose after misplaying with my Domri Rade against his Batterskull (I didn’t know he gains life when it fights) and he managed to equip the Batterskull to his Tarmogoyf which won him the game. In Game 3, I played double Woolly Thoctar which he couldn’t kill and soon enough the match was mine.
-Round 12 vs Sam Sedgman playing Burn: Loss (1-2)
Before the round, I was fairly confident as I just needed to win two more rounds to be able to ID into Top 8 and the top tables featured many Rock variants. However I ended up getting paired against Burn, one of my worst matchups. Game 1 he annihilated me with triple Searing Blaze. I managed to come back and win Game 2 though thanks to an aggressive early start but in Game 3 he managed to draw the nut hand and kill me on turn 4 after throwing 7 burn spells to my face. This round essentially knocked me out but I wasn’t upset as it was a bad matchup and I couldn’t really do anything about it. People were also saying that one or two X-3s may make Top 8 so I decided to focus and keep my head in the game.
-Round 13 vs Luke Mulcahy playing Affinity Win (2-1)
We got a fake feature match this round as we played in the feature match area but didn’t actually get covered. In Game 1, he killed me quickly with Cranial Plating and Arcbound Ravager on an Inkmoth Nexus. In Game 2, I managed to win with zero sideboard hate by simply playing my big creatures as he drew neither Cranial Plating or Arcbound Ravager and I was able to kill all his relevant creatures such as Signal Pest and Steel Overseer so he was left with nothing but useless creatures like Vault Skirges and Ornithopters. In Game 3, I keep an insane hand of 2 Lands, 2 Stony Silence, Bonfire of the Damned, Woolly Thoctar and Domri Rade. He lead with a turn 1 Memnite and Vault Skirge followed by a Turn 2 Steel Overseer while I cast a Turn 2 Stony Silence to stop the Overseer. Knowing that he had to try race my Stony Silence, he played another Steel Overseer and beat me down with his Signal Pest-fueled creatures. However on my turn I managed to topdeck my third land to play a Bonfire of the Damned which wiped his board of 4 creatures and he never recovered from there.
-Round 14 vs Joshua Fenwick playing RG Tron Win (2-0)
Coming into this round, I knew that a win would either put me at 8th, 9th or 10th depending on the outcome of two other matches. I essentially had to have the two people with better breakers then me to both lose. As we got ready for Game 1, my opponent pulled out his deck face up so I saw the top card (Expedition Map) which gave away what he was playing. In Game 1, I manage to race him by playing turn 2 Woolly Thoctar into turn 3 Loxodon Smiter. His turn 4 Sundering Titan was too slow as I untapped and attacked him before throwing double Lightning Bolt at his face to kill him. In Game 2, I keep a mediocre hand with 2 Stony Silence and a few dudes. I cast a Turn 2 Stony Silence and manage to topdeck a turn 3 Fulminator Mage to stop him from assembling Tron on his turn. As I draw for my following turn, I accidently look at the second card of my library so I call a judge. The judge then gave me a warning and asked me to put the card I drew back on top (I hadn’t seen it yet) and reshuffle. Naturally, I topdeck another Fulminator Mage to stop him from assembling Tron again and he never recovers from there.
Final Score: 11-3 (9th Place)
I ended up in 9th Place on tiebreaks as one of the players with better breakers then me ended up winning their match. Although I just missed out on Top 8 (Back to Back Grand Prix Top 8s would have been awesome!), I wasn’t too upset as X-3 is usually a Top 16 record anyway so making Top 8 would have just been lucky in the first place. It was gutting to not qualify for the Pro Tour, but it just means I have to practice harder for the PTQ next month!
Overall, the whole weekend was an awesome experience (first and hopefully last time I have to sleep in a 4 man room with 7 other people) and I am proud of my accomplishment. I felt like my preparation for the event was very good and both my deck choice and my final list were excellent. I’d like to give a shout out to my team (William, Eric, Xin, Johnson, Alan, Daniel, Liam and James) for helping me test for this event as well as lending me cards! You guys are the best and I’m looking forward to running it back with you guys at GP Melbourne early next year!
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PS: This is my updated Naya list and a full sideboard guide for each matchup;