The Glaring Spotlight is an interview series where I talk to players, personalities and content creators within the Magic: the Gathering community. My first is an interview with competitive Magic: the Gathering player, Zack Kanner. Zack has been playing Magic: the Gathering for the best part of 8 years. Within this time he’s travelled to GPs and SCG Opens in order to achieve his goal of being a regular on the Pro Tour, I ask him a myriad of questions about Magic, Modern and what changes he would like to see in the game.
Firstly welcome to the column! Tell us a little about yourself and your Magic: the Gathering accomplishments?
My name is Zack Kanner and I play Magic: the Gathering competitively. I am based out of New York City and probably on a plane somewhere every weekend that has a Magic event wherever I am landing. Some of my achievements are an SCG Open Top 8, a 13-2 GP finish, 9-7 finish at Pro Tour Ixalan and a few dozen cash finishes on the SCG and GP circuits, ranging from minimum cash to Top 16’s.
When and how were you first introduced to Magic: the Gathering?
I was introduced to Magic: the Gathering in the fall of 2010 in college. They gave out the 30 card intro decks in our mailboxes for free and I just started playing it with people in the hallways. I was instantly hooked on the game.
What was the first Magic: the Gathering set you played?
The first Magic: the Gathering pack I bought was original Zendikar and the format was Zendikar-Scars of Mirrodin.
What’s your favourite Magic: the Gathering card?
It’s hard, but it’s between Sorin Markov and Delver of Secrets. Sorin Markov was the first rare I opened, so I easily fell in love with the card and tried to play black in every deck to use it. Delver of Secrets was my first Tier 1 Standard deck and I played it for 75% of the Standard format.
When was your breakthrough event, how did it come about and how did it feel?
So my breakout event will sound weird for sure since it doesn’t have a happy ending, but still was cool nonetheless. It was 2013, it was a New Jersey Open and it was probably my 3rd or 4th big event. I ended up 10th after losing my win and in on camera against Brian Braun-Duin to finish 9-2 overall. My only 2 losses that event were to Huey Jensen and Brian Braun-Duin, so I felt really good personally to have lost to two of the best players at the event. That being said, it definitely lit a huge fire under me as I was so close to getting there. It gave me the sense that I had a real shot of taking this game more seriously down the road.
Are there any players you admire or look to emulate?
There are two people who I really admire and look up to, who just so happen to be two of my best friends in the game. The first being Caleb Scherer, I really love the dedication and effort he puts into the game, and primarily into Storm. Based off his hard work he will always leave a legacy behind him if/when he ever stops playing Magic: the Gathering. To have something like that means that you’ve touched so many people in the game, which to me is the most important part. The other being Christian Calcano, the way he carries himself and represents himself both as a player and as a professional is something to really strive for. Even though he’s a Gold+ level pro throughout his career, he won’t ever talk down to you because you don’t have the same prestige, he will always listen and give advice.
When was your first foray into Modern and what did you play?
My first Modern experience was in 2012 when Modern was becoming a serious format. My friend was explaining about the new format and how it will be the new Extended. My first deck was Boremandos, which highlighted aggressive Jeskai colour threats with a mix of fetch lands and burn spells. It was easy to build since a lot of the cards were out in Standard and it was a fairly competitive deck too.
Boremandos: Pro Tour Return to Ravnica – 21/10/2012 (Dan Jordan – Top 16)
4x Serum Visions
What deck(s) pique your Modern interest currently?
I generally love midrange to combo style decks. I am a big fan of Collected Company as a card and probably play the ol’ faithful Counters Company. It’s been gone from the meta for a while and if forgotten about it’s hard to know how to combat it. It also has a decent match up against some of the more staple Modern decks and has a lot of good sideboard options, which I am a fan of.
What do you think of the Modern format currently?
I think the format is pretty degenerate but healthy for the most part. When a format is as big as eternal formats go, it’s going to be diverse and different every event. I do think there are some cards that can be unbanned in the form of Stoneforge Mystic. There will be a lot of fear in it like Jace, the Mind Sculptor initially had, but ultimately it will be fine.
What would you say is Modern’s most powerful deck and what would you say is the best deck right now?
The most powerful deck is easily Storm. The deck has a consistent game plan and has a lot of ways to disrupt the hate in the format. I think the overall best deck is 5c Humans though as it can have the perfect amount of disruption while coming out very aggressively.
Is there a Modern deck you really wished you had played or could play?
I honestly wish I could play Lantern Control as efficiently as some of the pros. The puzzle that goes into it and challenge that it creates is different every game, it also seems really fun in my personal opinion. However, if I could play Tarmo Twin or even U/R Twin again I would personally love Modern forever, easily my favoirite deck after Delver in Legacy.
How did you feel about the ‘No-Banned List’ Modern event SCG ran a few weeks ago?
I was pretty sure that the decks would all be Hypergenesis and Infect decks that have the turn 2 win essentially. Seeing that it was 6/8 Eldrazi decks in the Top 8 really showed how powerful that deck was. It definitely caught me by surprise to see that many copies of the deck in Top 8 let alone dominate the “format”.
Do you think Modern is in a healthy place right now?
Yeah, like mentioned before I think Modern is fine. The format is way too big to actually make everyone happy. Not one deck is winning all of the events and the top 8’s have been pretty diverse, so I think it’s fine.
Would you want to see any bans or unbans within the Modern format? If so what? And why?
If anything should be banned it should be Ancient Stirrings. It is currently one of, if not the best cantrip in the format. The way it makes some decks consistently smooth is really impressive. Banning it also doesn’t completely kill any decks, it just kind of slows them down. Unbannings probably would be Splinter Twin and Stoneforge Mystic but I don’t know if they could be in the same format. I think both cards have a lot of answers for them in the format and doesn’t make it that difficult to lose to those decks.
Where do you see Modern going in the coming months?
I honestly don’t see many things happening in modern in the next few months. Unless some crazy ban or unban happens I can’t see the picture changing much.
If there was a Modern event this coming weekend, then what would you play and why?
I would probably play Counters Company since I do think the deck is positioned fine, it’s easy to tune a silver bullet deck to beat the heavy hitters of the format.
Are there any Core 19 (M19) cards spoiled you think would make an impact on Modern?
Scapeshift…? In all seriousness I feel like there are some cards that I can see making an impact in Modern, for instance, Supreme Phantom can see some spots in the Bant Spirit deck as it’s another lord. Another is Elvish Clancaller, could potentially see some numbers in Elves. Mistcaller in Merfolk or even blue decks against Dredge/Griselbrand decks if they become popular again, Alpine Moon as another Tron/Valakut hate card. Infernal Reckoning if Eldrazi Tron makes a come back or Affinity is popular as it’s such a cheap interaction spell.
What made you realise you wanted to do this as a career? What encouraged you to take it more seriously?
After I graduated college and was able to string together some consistent cash finishes. The thing is I never consider this as a job or full time career as it’s really hard to become self sustaining financially from it.
How do you find the SCG Tours in comparison to Grand Prix?
I’ve always said that SCG Day 1 is harder than GPs when byes are in the mix. Playing 9 rounds and avoiding variance is just so much harder than 6 rounds and 2 wins already. With that being said the Day 2’s of the events switch, Opens are usually a bit easier compared to GP day 2’s. In GPs you will mostly play against grinders and pros on the second day.
What do you want to achieve in Magic: the Gathering?
Being on the Pro Tour as I would love to find a way back on to it. More importantly I want to keep being positive in the community and help us to grow as a community in whatever way I can. I love the community and the people I have met in the last 8 years, so keeping it alive and healthy is important to me.
Zack was a former member of the Team Sourcery along with 2017 US Nationals Champion, Oliver Tomajko. More information on Team Sourcery and the
2017-2018 Team Series can be found here.
If you were going to a Team Constructed GP or SCG Open, who would your dream team-mates be and why?
Without picking the easy way out and saying Caleb Scherer and Christian Calcano, I would have to say my good friends Teresa and Allison. Those two are probably my two closest friends that I’ve made playing Magic and would love to sling spells with them. It helps that Allison is an expert with BUG in Legacy and Teresa loves to ride her vehicles in Standard.
Who are your sponsors and where can we find more information about them?
My sponsor now is a store called Gamers Vault based out of southern New Jersey, you can check them out here; http://www.gamersvaultonline.com/
Do you produce any Magic content yourself? If so, where can we find it?
I used to write articles on Spellsnare.com but haven’t done that for awhile. I did stream for the year of 2017 and I’m considering starting back up at twitch.tv/zkannermtg which is also my twitter handle (@zkannermtg) where I would tell you guys when I go live.
Any advice for aspiring Magic the Gathering players wanting to test themselves on the competitive scene?
Don’t forget why you started playing. Once you keep that thought there and forget about the results you’ll enjoy it more, also win more. Another thing is make sure you financially can support both living and your hobby. I luckily have a full time 9-5 job that allows me to travel on the weekend but it can be demanding at times.
Finally, if there’s anything you could change in Magic (or how Wizards of the Coast do things), what would it be and why?
Bring back 9 rounds to day 1. The extra round in day 2’s makes it harder to travel home for work the following Monday. It adds an extra hour to the day at least and it really makes it rough to get home so late.
Big thanks to Zack for the interview and the insight into his career! What do you think? Do you agree with Zack on his opinions on Modern? Would you like to see more interviews in the future? Comment below or on our Twitter @MTGDeckTechs with your thoughts.