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Metagame Mentor: Modern at the Las Vegas Secret Lair Showdown

September 28, 2023
Frank Karsten

Hello and welcome back to Metagame Mentor, your weekly guide to the top decks and latest Constructed developments on the path to the Pro Tour. Last weekend, we had the awesome MagicCon: Las Vegas, featuring Magic World Championship XXIX, the $100,000 Limited Open, and the Secret Lair Showdown among even more competitive events.

The focus of this article is an analysis of the Top 32 decklists of the Modern Secret Lair Showdown. First, however, let me briefly highlight Standard at the World Championship and Limited at the $100,000 Limited Open.

Standard at the World Championship

Jean-Emmanuel Depraz, playing a mostly stock build of Esper Legends, took down Magic World Championship XXIX. It was a well-deserved victory for the Frenchman, who has been widely regarded as one of the strongest players in the game for years. In the finals, he defeated Japan's Kazune Kosaka, who finally got his breakout finish this weekend, playing Esper Midrange.

Jean-Emmanuel Depraz, Magic World Champion XXIX

Although the finals was an Esper mirror featuring Sheoldred, the Apocalypse on both sides, we saw far more diversity and innovation throughout the Swiss. For example, one of the best-performing Esper Midrange versions did not actually play Sheoldred, the Apocalypse at all: Alexander von Stange, Derrick Davis, and Ken Takahama went a combined 15-5 in Standard with a list featuring Edgar, Charmed Groom and Ao, the Dawn Sky instead, which are more resilient against Go for the Throat.

Their build also had Void Rend over Virtue of Loyalty as a notable tweak. Even though their draft rounds did not go well, which resulted in them falling short of a Top 8 finish, their version of Esper might be the right way forward in Standard.

In addition, there were several well-performing, innovative brews that heavily relied on new cards from Wilds of Eldraine. Let's take a closer look at two of them.

Alexey Paulot went 4-2-2 in Standard, ultimately finishing in ninth place, with an awesome combo deck featuring Agatha's Soul Cauldron.

The game plan is to exile Sleep-Cursed Faerie with Agatha's Soul Cauldron, putting two +1/+1 counters onto Kami of Whispered Hopes and granting it the untap ability from Sleep-Cursed Faerie. This means that Kami of Whispered Hopes now taps for three mana and untaps for two mana, allowing you to generate infinite mana. If you control Rona, Herald of Invasion with a +1/+1 counter or if have exiled one with Agatha's Soul Cauldron, then you can use infinite untaps to loot through your entire deck, find Realm-Scorcher Hellkite, and torch your opponent for infinite damage.

The difficult part is finding all the combo pieces and putting the required creatures into the graveyard. For this, Wrenn and Realmbreaker, Wrenn and Realmbreaker, and Seed of Hope are perfect—they mill yourself and dig for Agatha's Soul Cauldron. In addition, Argoth, Sanctum of Nature and Teachings of the Kirin can put key combo pieces into your graveyard, allowing you to potentially return Agatha's Soul Cauldron with Unnatural Restoration. Meanwhile, Witness Protection is an effective answer to Dennick, Pious Apprentice. Based on Alexey Paulot's Standard record, this brew is a real contender in the new Standard.

Greg Orange went 7-2 in Standard, ultimately falling in the quarterfinals, with an amazing Bant Control brew.

The standout new card in his deck is Up the Beanstalk. The enchantment is triggered by Leyline Binding, Sunfall, Horned-Loch Whale, a large Syncopate, or a large March of Otherworldly Light. Many of these cards double as efficient interactive spells in the early game while turning into spells with mana value 5 or greater later on.

Another unique feature of the deck is the collection of tri-lands, which allow him to exploit both Lay Down Arms and Leyline Binding. With these hyper-efficient removal spells, answering opposing creatures for a single white mana becomes easy. If you like to play control decks, then this is certainly a sweet Standard list to try out.

Limited at the $100,000 Open

MagicCon: Las Vegas also featured the first ever $100K Limited Open. A whopping 1501 players entered this competitive event with a prize pool of $100,000 as well as eight invites to the first Pro Tour of 2024. The multi-day event featured eight rounds of Wilds of Eldraine Sealed on Day 1, two three-round Wilds of Eldraine drafts on Day 2, and a single-elimination Wilds of Eldraine draft in the Top 8 on Sunday.

In the Top 8, Jason Ye drafted a Grixis deck featuring 3 Unruly Catapult, alongside an abundance of instants and adventures to trigger them. The strategy catapulted them to victory. The first-place prize was $20,000, in addition to some serious bragging rights. We're looking forward to seeing Ye and the other Top 8 competitors, including Andrea Mengucci, show off their Limited skills at the first Pro Tour of 2024!

Modern at the Secret Lair Showdown

The Secret Lair Showdown is a premiere tournament series found only at MagicCons. At MagicCon: Las Vegas, hundreds of players entered the four qualifying events on Friday and Saturday. After several rounds of Modern competition, a total of 32 players qualified for the culminating Sunday event. In this Sunday Championship, each participant receives a beautiful Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, and the winner receives an exclusive Brainstorm Secret Lair Card and an oversized card to match. After the four MagicCons held this year, there are only 128 copies of this Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and four copies of this Brainstorm in existence, making them really cool and coveted prizes.

Before checking out Anuraag's winning deck, let's take a step back and take a look at the Top 32 metagame. Since Modern is the format for the ongoing round of Regional Championship Qualifiers, as I explained in my recent in-depth format primer, the results of the Secret Lair Showdown Championship will be of prime interest to aspiring competitive players.

Deck Archetype Number of Players Percentage of Field
1. Rakdos Evoke 11 34.4%
2. Four-Color Omnath 5 15.6%
3. Living End 2 6.2%
4. Temur Rhinos 2 6.2%
5. Amulet Titan 2 6.2%
6. Hardened Scales 2 6.2%
7. Izzet Murktide 2 6.2%
8. Azorius Control 1 3.1%
9. Bring to Light 1 3.1%
10. Boros Burn 1 3.1%
11. Azorius Hammer 1 3.1%
12. Domain Zoo 1 3.1%
13. Dimir Mill 1 3.1%

There are two main take-aways from the Secret Lair Showdown Championship. First, Rakdos Evoke kept up its dominance after winning Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings, remaining the most popular deck in Modern. Second, Wilds of Eldraine introduced several new cards that boosted a variety of archetypes, including the winning deck. To reinforce these take-aways, let's take a closer look at five standout decklists.

Rakdos Evoke is a midrange deck that can evoke and return Grief of Fury as early as turn one. It used to accomplish that with Feign Death and Undying Malice, but Wilds of Eldraine introduced an even better option: Not Dead After All. It represents a minor upgrade because it adds an extra life loss after your opponent finally deals with your returned Grief or Fury...or if you kill your own creature while your opponent is at one life.

Most lists still play six undying effects in total, but the choice for the fifth and sixth effect remains a point of contention. Some players have stuck with Feign Death, which will return the creature for sure, whereas others have moved to Undying Evil, which doesn't tap the creature. Since Not Dead After All doesn't add a +1/+1 counter, it makes Undying Evil a more appealing option. Brent Vos, who made up for a poor finish at the World Championship with a good run at the Secret Lair Showdown, used Feign Death. However, he told me afterwards that Undying Evil probably would have been better. He also said that he would have tweaked his sideboard, cutting one Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger and one Blood Moon to add one Seasoned Pyromancer and one Kolaghan's Command. But regardless of the exact card choices, the deck archetype remains a formidable force in Modern.

Hardened Scales can produce lethal damage out of thin air by putting +1/+1 counters from Arcbound Ravager onto Walking Ballista. From Wilds of Eldraine, it received Agatha's Soul Cauldron, which was included in the main deck of both Hardened Scales players in the Top 32.

The Cauldron makes all kinds of new combo finishes possible. Pretty much every creature in the deck already starts with a +1/+1 counter, so when the Cauldron exiles a creature, its activated abilities are immediately granted to most or all of your creatures on the battlefield. For example, by turning all of your creatures into Walking Ballista, you will usually be able to deal lethal damage immediately. And exiling Arcbound Ravager will make combat an absolute nightmare for your opponent. Even Zabaz, the Glimmerwasp's flying ability or Hangarback Walker's counter ability provide powerful new lines of play. Finally, don't forget that if you control Hardened Scales, then every activation of the Cauldron dishes out two +1/+1 counters. Overall, it's an powerful addition to an already strong deck.

Four-Color Omnath uses at least three copies of the namesake card Omnath, Locus of Creation. It's easy to trigger multiple times per turn by sacrificing fetch lands and recurring them with Wrenn and Six. It was a popular strategy in the Secret Lair Showdown, and it gained an important new card from Wilds of Eldraine.

Up the Beanstalk, which has largely replaced Delighted Halfling, has the potential to generate a lot of card advantage. You don't actually have to pay five mana to trigger it—you just need to cast a spell with mana value 5 or greater. This includes Leyline Binding, Fury, Solitude, and a big Prismatic Ending. With the help of these cards, you can race through your deck rapidly. Some Four-Color Omnath players even went beyond 60 cards to improve the fetch-shock ratio of their mana base and to reduce the likelihood of decking when you "go off" with multiple copies of Up the Beanstalk.

Up the Beanstalk led to multiple innovations, and the results so far suggest that it's the most important Modern addition from Wilds of Eldraine. Chase Masters made it to the quarterfinals of the single-elimination portion with a list that looks similar to Four-Color Omnath but whose reliance on Bring to Light makes it stand out as a distinct archetype.

Due to the way it is worded, Bring to Light can find Valki, God of Lies and then cast Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor without paying its mana cost. Other good options are Time Warp or Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines, which can have a huge impact on the game in certain spots. Best of all: if you control Up the Beanstalk as you cast Bring to Light, it can trigger twice in the process, providing massive card advantage on top of the powerful tutor effect.

Naturally, we conclude the article with the deck used by the Secret Lair Showdown champion. Although it could also be called Bant Control or Four-Color Control, the splash is extremely light and Anuraag Das labeled it as Azorius Control himself. When I asked Anuraag why he chose the deck, he explained that he had been playing Azorius Control since 2014, "so it's just the vibes".

Although his list has similarities to Four-Color Omnath, including Up the Beanstalk, there's only one copy of Omnath, and the deck is more controlling in nature, featuring Counterspell and Supreme Verdict. Logic Knot is a sweet piece of countermagic that can trigger Up the Beanstalk in a pinch. Cosmic Rebirth, which Anuraag highlighted as a standout card for him this weekend, provides a lot of flexibility, returning Teferi, Time Raveler or even the one-of Omnath.

With his victory, Anuraag not only won the coveted Brainstorm but also showed the key to success in Modern: years of experience with an archetype, combined with a few tweaks to adjust to the metagame and to incorporate the newest cards. Congratulations once again!

Looking Ahead

While last weekend was all about Standard, Limited, and Modern, the biggest events this coming weekend are Pioneer! It's the start of the first cycle of Regional Championships of the 2023-24 season, and it will kick off with the Legacy European Championship in Lille, France and the F2F Tour Championship in Calgary, Canada. The event in Europe will have live coverage on Twitch, and I look forward to learning about the impact of Wilds of Eldraine on Pioneer at a high level of competition!

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