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A Bittersweet Pro Tour

A Bittersweet Pro Tour

At the end of June we saw Pro Tour Modern Horizons 3. It's no secret Modern is one of my least favorite formats despite having one of the highest win rates at the Grand Prix level. Past Pro Tours have been very match-up dependent. With no one making mistakes, it comes down to what deck is across the table from you, rather than having room to outplay the opponent.

However, at this Pro Tour, we had something special. Nadu was by far the best deck in the format, and everyone knew it going into the tournament. It still managed to put up an exceptional nearly 60% win rate despite being the boogeyman of the format. This is nearly unprecedented.

I had many friends and old teammates with strong finishes. Sam Pardee, one of my closest friends from my years on the circuit, made it to the finals and lost to the nigh-unbeatable Simon Nielsen.

The question on everyone's mind is will Nadu be banned? If so, will it be emergency banned?

I think it's unlikely to be banned in the next week or two, and WotC will stick to the normal banning schedule. This will give WotC an opportunity to gather more data on the format and watch how it churns. There are decks capable of beating Nadu, and things may turn around with a little more time.

Like many, I think if Nadu goes then Grief will go with it. Grief is still the single best card in the format at the moment. Nadu is the most exploitable card, but Grief is the 2024 version of Thoughtseize. You feel obligated to play it in every black deck and add the Scam elements almost for free.

We've spent enough time protecting Grief. I like the card and think it's one of the cards I'd most like to play in Modern, but it's time for it to go.

Nadu creates a bunch of problems. It's not easily hated, and it's an awful play pattern to track. Nadu requires explaining loops to players. In many cases, players not playing Nadu will not understand what's going on. As someone pointed out, it has the KCI problem of hard-to-understand loops, the Eggs problem of taking too long to win, and a win-percentage issue where it's the best thing to be doing and it's not close.

Storm had an awful weekend. I talked with friends leading into the tournament where I expressed this would be the case. Storm has a history of underperforming in strong fields in Modern. It's been tried and tested for years, and sometimes it sees a little rise in popularity until people respect it and then it's beaten down. The argument against Storm having issues was the strength of Ral, Monsoon Mage.

Ral is an exceptionally strong storm enabler and payoff, but it still doesn't fight the hate. Damping Sphere, Trinisphere, and a large amount of hate bear-type cards still provide big issues for Storm.

While I made my assertions without playing games and a full understanding of the format, I have a lot of Pro Tour experience, and many would say deck selection is one of my biggest strengths. I understand how Pro players react to trends. I noticed no one in the community was touting Storm as a deck that needed to be banned, but many people commented that it was a solid deck. Generally in this instance, that means people are well-prepared for it, understand how to beat it, and will take those steps. If people are clamoring for a ban then it's a tougher nut to crack.

Storm has a chance to be a sleeper deck for upcoming tournaments as more decks scale back on hate because of its poor performance at the PT. If you could come up with a solid postboard plan that beats the hate in a proactive way, then that deck could be S-tier. It's an insane game-one deck and suffers when opponents can take out all the bad cards.

If you make it so storming off is not your primary plan postboard, there's a chance the deck could have legs. Storm will be off people's radars as they adapt to Nadu, Necro, and maybe Esper Goryo's, another deck that got some shine this weekend.

This Esper Goryo's list had a perfect record at the Pro Tour in the hands of Matt Sperling. Matt is a seasoned world-class player who always quietly performs well. Matt might be the most underrated player on the planet, and his performance with this deck is no fluke.

This is where a lot of players will be looking right now. Not only did Matt have a perfect record with the deck, he left it with Magic legend Kai Budde when he left the tournament, so Kai could play it in the Second Chance PTQ, a PTQ held for players from the Pro Tour who failed to secure an invite to the next event. This is an exceptionally challenging field for a PTQ, yet Kai also managed to lose no matches with the deck.

Esper Goryo's would be the first place I look for a non-Nadu deck after the PT. It may fly under the radar for a week or two before people go hard at work to attack the deck itself. I suspect we will see a massive rise in the metagame share that's given to Esper in the coming week or two.

Speaking of Kai, if you missed it, please watch this touching tribute to the game's most successful player. Growing up, Kai was more than the best Magic player to me and my peers. Kai was a legend, a god. Kai's success is unrivaled. When you watch how impressive a player like Simon or Javier is in the modern day, recognize this kind of performance is what Kai was accomplishing. He was winning every tournament, not just Top 8ing, and it lasted years.

Kai won the Player of the Year Title four times. FOUR. Player of the Year isn't an easy title to win. Trust me. When I won the title nearly a decade ago, I felt unworthy of it at the time. Some call it impostor syndrome, and maybe that's what it was, but that's only because I grew up watching how dominant players like Kai and Jon were and thinking I could never get to their level. Jon, to my knowledge, has only won the title once. Being at that level feels impossible. Almost every year, Kai won the title, and it looked like it was an unattainable goal.

It's fitting to have Kai's name on the award moving forward, and I couldn't think of a better way to honor the most decorated player in the history of the game. Magic would not be the same without Kai. He inspired so many players who have played for years to become better versions of themselves on and off the battlefield. Seeing Kai with another undefeated run on a Sunday was nothing short of poetic. He is the best of us and deserves all the praise.

Moving forward, I think Nadu will certainly be banned, and it's a matter of when not if. I hope WotC is forward-thinking enough to take Grief with it. Modern Horizons 3 had a massive impact on the format, and there are a lot of awesome cards waiting to make an appearance. If I was WotC, I would wait for the normal schedule rather than issue an emergency ban. I'd let the dust settle, let people who invested in decks get to play with them a little, and then no one could blame them for a ban unless there's a massive turnaround in Nadu's success. I'm curious to see just how swiftly WotC reacts to Nadu, and it will give us an idea of how they may handle similar, future situations with tons of sets on the horizon.

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