All the best decks

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A few weeks back, my team of Matthew Dilks and Jon Rosum won the Team Open in Philadelphia.

We played the absolute best deck in each format and with every passing round that became more and more clear. My opinion on this is formed through my expertise in both Modern and Legacy. I tested both formats pretty extensively within the comfy and closed confines of nightly Google Hangouts call and feel like we pretty much nailed it.

Photo via. @SCGTour on Twitter.

That said, if I’m being honest, I don’t even know what the cards in Standard do. Throughout the event I would ask Rosum why he was taking a certain line or recommend something I believed he was missing, but after the second time of him informing me about the lines of text literally printed on the card I thought it might be better to let him battle on his own. In the finals you can literally see me get up and just walk away from the table while we were waiting on the Standard match to finish. With that perspective in mind I’m going to let the insane results and subsequent banning of Bant Golos speak for themselves.

That said, if you’re trying to learn about how to build Amulet or how to move forward with RUG Delver then you’re in the right place.

RUG Delver

I’ll start with RUG Delver as it was the deck I played myself and I have already broken my deck down in detail on this very site.

With the continued growth of RUG Delver lists containing Submerge the time of Hooting Mandrills might be coming to an end after Philly. RUG is a deck that does not excel at filling its graveyard, making recasting Hooting Mandrills somewhat of a pipe dream. I have been looking elsewhere for a powerful threat that costs one mana and I believe it’s time for the return on Nimble Mongoose. It’s a creature that’s powerful against removal spells… and that’s it. Nimble Mongoose sucks. Even if it’s effective against Submerge and Swords to Plowshares it’s just far too weak against what today’s Legacy looks like. I think there is another card that has already seen extensive play in the format, but is being pigeonholed due to a few extra lines of text.

I think Elvish Reclaimer is the truth. It always costs one mana without any set up or other considerations, survives Lightning Bolt, has enough power to be a real threat and can be a huge obstacle for some strategies to overcome. Having access to five copies of Karakas without having to play a pile of Crop Rotation is a real feat for Dark Depths decks to overcome. Most Depths players believed RUG Delver with two to four dedicated hate cards was already troublesome. Reclaimer accomplishes this without having to reduce your sideboard down to 11 cards. Before the Stifle-based lists I have been playing caught on I was able to defeat Depths players with a few Submerges, but it is not a hard card to play around so it’s time to switch things up.

Reclaimer also has the ability to provide other small benefits that can be called upon should the meta require it. With Reclaimer in the mix I found that Fiery Islet is a reliable tool against both Miracles and Snow Control to enable Wrenn and Six as a must answer threat. Both of these decks have large quantities of basic lands blunting the recoupable Wastelands, so often times Wrenn’s real threat would be it’s ultimate. With Islet pumping a fresh card into your hand every turn the threat of Wrenn is immediate and you keep your advantage even if it’s answered after a few turns. Ghost Quarter is another card that occupies a similar slot against control as it can strip Miracles of their few white sources while also sidestepping Pithing Needle against land-based combo.

Reclaimer can also tutor a fetchland in order to enable itself and all future copies. A threat that enables itself is a rare thing in Magic and I’m not going to overlook it. All of the perks of Reclaimer sway in and out of favor depending on the meta, but if you want a TLDR comparison to Hooting Mandrills it would be this:

Pros

  • Ability to tutor Wasteland, Karakas or Fiery Islet
  • Saves sideboard slots against Depths
  • Can be played without any set up for a single mana
  • Better with Stifle, threat→Stifle > Stifle→threat

Cons

  • Cannot be cast through Chalice of the Void
  • Does not have trample, thus weaker to True-Name Nemesis
  • Has less power, four > three for the mathematicians
  • Worse with Wrenn, it can be hard to keep three lands in your graveyard

I do not have any Legacy events in the near future, but have managed to 5-0 on Magic Online multiple times with the following list already and recommend it wholeheartedly to those looking to crush local events or earn a few chesties.


The sideboard for this list remains largely the same, but it is relatively weak to cards like Rest in Peace. So, if your local metagame is littered with Tundra I would recommend some number of Cindervines or Return to Nature. The ins and outs of the sideboard are largely the same as my previous article, with the small exception that I find myself bringing in my Force of Negations while cutting Daze against Miracles regardless of play or draw. I have found that the games go far too long and in conjunction with the fact that most Miracles players will go out of their way to make Daze ineffective I no longer believe it warrants a slot in the matchup.

Other things I have been meaning to try are The Royal Scions and Oko, Thief of Crowns. Both of these are powerful new cards that can grind. That said, am skeptical of three cost non-creature cards in a deck like this, but these are both uniquely powerful cards that deserve to be considered.

Amulet Titan

If you want to win your next Modern event you should have started playing Amulet Titan six months ago, but today is better than tomorrow so if Amulet is a deck that you want to pilot I would start now. The new additions over the past three months have supercharged the deck and thrown it back on top of the metagame once again. If someone asked me to describe how these three cards changed the deck it would be pretty simple.

While each of these statements might be a little hyperbolic, it’s worth noting that none of them are too far off. They each do have some deck building cost so in order to move forward with the deck it’s important to know what the sacred cows truly are and what can be removed. I consider all of the following too important to remove under any circumstances from the starting 60.

Mana Producing Lands

Combo and Utility Lands

Payoffs

Acceleration

Manipulation

If you add all the maindeck spells together it gets to 30 spells. That leaves room for one to three additional spells dependent on metagame requirements. It’s clear to me that the real hurdle of building Amulet in its current form is how to optimize your manabase to cast your spells. The easiest place to start would be a manabase of days past, but obviously the two additions of that we really care about mean a ground level makeover is on the menu. Given the mandatory lands I listed above that leaves us at:

Totaling 20-22 depending on how things shake out between the forests and bounce lands. The next step is to analyze and incorporate both new cards. Field of the Dead is simple. Put a copy in your deck and make sure you have enough unique lands to reliably trigger it once you put it into play. Given that we have 14 unique lands already if you count Field of the Dead and a split between snow basics than that’s already checked off as adequate. The real challenge is Castle Garenbrig and that presents a few challenges to overcome.

The first thing you need to do is have a Forest. The deck currently has four Forests, so that number will need to be increased in order to prevent castle from being just another tapped land. Next, in order for Castle Garenbrig to shine you need to be creating situations where the activated ability is strongly desirable. We already know that Titan costs six mana and Castle can help us produce that, but using it while having an extra mana or two lying around would completely defeat the purpose of building your deck with it. What I’m looking for here is to find ways of making Primeval Titan coming into play on turn three with castle doing the heavy lifting to get us that one extra mana. It’s already fairly trivial to play Titan on turn four with scout or Azusa and often means having seven to eight mana, invalidating castle’s entire purpose. What I’m getting at here is that it’s those extra turn three Titans that make me want to put this card in my deck, and that’s what we should be optimizing for.

Tackling the first problem is increasing the number of Forests. It’s pretty easy to take the first step and just throw some basics into your deck. But, that creates a problem that is two-fold: having enough blue sources to support Tolaria West as well as having fewer lands with unique names for Field of the Dead. Luckily for us Wizards has reprinted Breeding Pool a number of times so grab your favorite art and slot three copies into your deck. This brings the total number of forests up to seven to enable castle while maintaining your blue requirements.

The second problem is making Castle Garenbrig be uniquely good compared to the other ways Amulet Titan has to develop mana. Will Pulliam added a Skyshroud Ranger on his path to a finals finish at the Indianapolis Open in order for the sequence of: Scout into ramp over two turns with a castle on turn three to create the magical six mana required for Primeval Titan. This is the line that truly makes castle shine. Games involving Amulet lead easily to turn three Titans and hands with Azusa are at beast turn four Titans without the assistance of an Amulet. If Castle Garenbrig’s only benefit was a turn one Scout without Amulet then we wouldn’t be talking about it now. Castle’s true power is that it’s amazing when your opponent disrupts your game plan. A Field of Ruin, removal spell, or discard spell can often be enough to disrupt your game plan, but [Card]Castle can jump you a turn ahead of your opponent’s expectations without any added work.

That all said, Castle obviously has diminishing returns. It’s is an extremely powerful card, but the second one is useless and it provides nothing once you have developed past six mana. With the inclusion of a play-set of both Ancient Stirrings and Once Upon a Time it can be easy to dig towards it in a pinch reducing the number necessary in your deck to be effective. Currently I believe that two is the optimal number for these reasons. This puts our current manabase here after adding a field, three Breeding Pool, and two Castle Garenbrig:

The current total of lands is up to 27. With the 30 spells already in the deck, that’s a total of 57 slots occupied. The last three spots in my list are Reclamation Sage, Gemstone Mine and Bojuka Bog. Their explanations are relatively simple, but have critical roles to play:

Reclamation Sage

Provides maindeck outs to Blood Moon, equipment and most importantly Ensnaring Bridge. Both Eldrazi Tron and Green Tron have incorporated Karn, the Great Creator and I not need to explain this, but Engineered Explosives is pretty bad at removing things while Karn is on the battlefield.

Bojuka Bog

Dredge is still played and without Bog it can be difficult to win game one. Many other decks gain value from their graveyard so a Bog can make it impossible to come back after you put a Titan on the table.

Gemstone Mine

Old lists used to have a full set of mines, but the need for additional Forests meant something had to go. One is still a great tool for getting a painless colour for Slayers’ Stronghold or Engineered Explosives.

The obvious thing missing here is the sideboard. Current lists are not quite tuned to deal with the new metagame, but that’s something that is going to take work and time. The current sideboard I have been jamming to success online is as follows:

An additional Field of the Dead and Cavern of Souls allows Primeval Titan to come down un-counterable and tutor two zombie armies. Control decks in Modern are nearly all Field of Ruin-based so having a back up field is more than enough to seal the game up. Throw a Vesuva into the mix and it’s not hard to produce over ten power per turn at practically no cost. The rest of the sideboard is pretty self explanatory in their function.

Compare the current sideboard to past lists and it becomes clear that there is no longer any additional colour supported. Old lists used to rely on Path to Exile or Abrade to clear the board, but swapping Gemstone Mines for Breeding Pools means that it’s no longer feasible to have access to other colors of mana reliably. Certain downgrades, namely Dismember, have been necessary prices to pay for Castle Garenbrig to make it’s way into the deck.

Putting it all together gives you the following 75


Some last parting gifts I will give to you are things to consider trying that are currently on my to do list and how playing the deck has changed.

Mana Leak

I think this might be a suitable replacement for Disdainful Stroke. It’s more versatile against things like control, but comes at the cost of not always countering payoffs in big mana mirrors.

Mystical Dispute 

The same as Mana Leak, but costs an additional mana in ramp mirrors. The upside can be huge to counter Urza, Ascendancy or Cryptic Command for a single mana.

Oko, Thief of Crowns

A somewhat clunky card, but can remove a huge variety of permanents from being serious threats. It’s also a midrange threat that can threaten opposing planeswalkers.

Ashiok, Dream Render

Not a card I would want to play, but a serious threat people are packing to beat Amulet. Being prepared for Ashiok is necessary. Cheap creatures, Oko, Mystical Dispute and Mana Leak seem to be the best options are the moment.

Tireless Tracker

The biggest upside here is attacking Ashiok. I often find Tracker doesn’t present a real threat against most decks and you’re better off finding a way for Titan to get into play.

Field of the Dead

Outside of combo killing your opponent with Amulet this is the real strategy of the deck. Sequencing your lands in a way to guarantee zombie tokens the turn titan enters the battlefield is more important than nearly anything else you could be doing.

Castle Garenbrig.

Being able to top-deck castle is something you have to keep in mind. Sequencing your lands so that Amulet is a broken draw is just as important as its always been, but Castle gives a new route to peel to. Having 2GG on at the ready is something that can make or break a game.

If you’re looking for a sideboard guide, I’ll post mine from Regionals last weekend for reference. One thing to keep in mind is that with Field of the Dead using Sunhome to close the game quickly is no longer necessary. Feel free to cut it against nearly every fair deck, but you’ll want it against combo and big mana strategies.

Sideboard Guide

Outcome – 8
-1 Sage, 1 Fountain, 1 GQ, 4 Stirrings, 1 Gemstone
+1 Cavern, 3 Dismember, 2 Stroke, 1 Negation, 1 EE

E Tron – 4
-1 Bog, 1 Cavern, 1 Negation, 1 Fountain
+2 Dismember, 2 Oko

Burn – 4
-1 GQ, 1 EE, 1 Bog, 1 Pool
+1 Cavern, 2 Baloth, 1 Negation

Amulet – 5
-1 EE, 1 Sage, 1 Bog, 1 Fountain, 1 Gemstone
+1 Negation, 2 Stroke, 1 Ramunap, 1 Cavern

Tron – 4
-1 EE, 1 Bog, 1 Cavern, 1 Fountain
+1 Ramunap, 1 Negation, 2 Stroke

Jund – 9
-1 Negation, 1 Sage, 4 Stirrings, 1 Sunhome, 1 Cavern, 1 Gemstone
+2 Baloth, 1 Ramunap, 2 Oko, 1 EE, 1 Field, 2 Dismember

UW Control – 8
-1 Fountain, 4 Stirrings, 1 EE, 1 Sage, 1 Sunhome
+1 Negation, 2 Stroke, 1 Ramunap, 2 Oko, 1 Field, 1 Cavern

Grixis Shadow – 9
-4 Stirrings, 1 Negation, 1 Sage, 1 Sunhome, 1 GQ, 1 Gemstone
+2 Oko, 3 Dismember, 1 EE, 1 Colossus, 1 Cavern, 1 Field