The King is dead. Long live the…oh, we also killed the Crown Prince, and his eldest son too. But hey, there’s this page boy you might want to look at. He’s pretty cool, with his dredge and everything.
The recent bannings have obviously changed Modern significantly. The new hotness of Treasure Cruise is gone, taking UR Delver out of tier 1 at the same time. Dig Through Time was perhaps a little surprising, given the fact that it had yet to dominate any tournament, but the reasoning given by R&D was at least solid. DTT could slot in to a lot of Cruise-shaped voids, but it also makes combo decks a lot stronger.
Birthing Pod was always going to get banned; it was just a question of when. The nature of a repeatable tutor effect is such that it can only get better with each new set. If we look at the evolution of the deck since it came on the scene, it’s basically added something new every year: Restoration Angel, Abrupt Decay, Sin Collector, Voice of Resurgence, Archangel of Thune, Scavenging Ooze and most recently, Siege Rhino and Anafenza, the Foremost. I had already heard people talking about Alesha, Who Smiles At Death as a possible inclusion from Fate Reforged, though I have no idea how the mana base stretches that far. The deck also gets to maindeck sideboard cards because of its silver-bullet nature. There really is no healthy way to keep such a powerful enabler in the format without banning a bunch of utility creatures.
So Now What?
I had an entire article written on my favourite Modern deck right now, a demon-child mixture of Scapeshift and Splinter Twin that had a Plan C of Splinter Twin on a Primeval Titan. Sadly the deck kind of needed 4 Dig Through Time to function, allowing us to play 3 of each combo piece and still reliably find them. It might be viable without Dig, but I have my doubts.
I have a few kernels and two decklists to give you some ideas as we head to a Modern Pro Tour that could be the most innovative in a while. Most of these are completely untested, but that’s never stopped me before!
Golgari Grave-Troll isn’t the enabler of broken things that it is in Legacy, but it certainly has me thinking about a Jund dredge list that brings back GGT with Alesha, Who Smiles At Death. That list is very much in the planning stages. Cards like Soulflayer and Varolz, the Scar-Striped potentially also live in this strategy, though we might be looking at two different decks there.
If we combine a Soulflayer package (in that we want cards we can delve away to make Soulflayer as much of an engine as possible) with an Alesha package (keeping our utility creatures at power 2 or less), we don’t lose much utility given the boost in power level from being able to recur things with Alesha as needed. We can get lifelink, flying and deathtouch from Vampire Nighthawk. Flying, deathtouch and four tokens from Hornet Queen. Tajic, Blade of the Legion can give us indestructible, though the value of that is somewhat lower in a format where Path to Exile is legal. Crypt Champion, Marisi’s Twinclaws, Hound of Griselbrand and Prophetic Flamespeaker all grant double strike, with Flamespeaker also giving trample. Lotleth Troll not only grants trample but also acts as a discard outlet. The main issue I can see is getting hexproof, which is only available on small and unimpressive creatures…and Sylvan Caryatid. Some combination of these, with Tormenting Voice and probably Pack Rat acting as enablers next to our pair of Trolls, would be my creature base. Season according to taste and meta.
If we decide instead to go the Varolz route, our creature base naturally looks very different. Lotleth Troll stays, but now we’re looking for a high ratio of power to mana cost. Death’s Shadow is of course the big bomb here, giving a creature 13 counters for a single mana. Phyrexian Soulgorger is a fair amount worse but still packs a hell of a punch when scavenged. We might also want to consider Hunted Horror (potentially bad to cast but cheap to scavenge) or Nyxathid (slightly more expensive but less terrible to cast).
Our recipient of choice is Phyrexian Crusader. He’s resilient to some of the most played removal in the format (only Abrupt Decay and Dismember really hit it). I also want to try and play Plague Stinger or Inkmoth Nexus in the deck, though the latter might hurt our mana base a little. Another possibility is Flesh-Eater Imp, which even at 4 mana has a lot of promise. The goal is to get an evasive threat and make it lethal fast while hopefully avoiding removal. Since we have discard available to us, we’ll be stocking up on that and on the usual suspects of removal. Here’s the list I’d start with:
This list doesn’t run Golgari Grave-Troll but that’s purely because it needs to have a good base of infect creatures for the fast win. You could go another route with things like Troll Ascetic and Thrun, the Last Troll to give you a more robust creature base, but be aware that you’ll need to edit the manabase accordingly.
Polymorphin’ Power Rangers
Getting a fast Emrakul, the Aeons Torn into play remains one of the best ways to win a game of Modern. My son, who is just learning the game and still revels in every FNM game win, was instantly drawn to the big spaghetti monster, recognizing the power and the trade-off with the mana cost. Modern has seen multiple ways to bring ol’ Emmy into play, from Through the Breach to Urzatron (and previously Cloudposts, before the bannings) and even Goryo’s Vengeance. Me, I’m looking to Polymorph him.
A lot of people have never even heard of Polymorph, let alone played with or against it. It destroys a target creature then has the controller of that creature reveal cards from the top of their library until they hit another creature. Normally the balance is that you don’t know what you’re going to hit, but we of course are looking to fix the odds by playing only one creature in the deck.
In order to do that, we still need creatures to destroy. Token producers will be our saving grace there, taking a framework that is already fringe playable and adapting it to our needs. We also want to make sure we can win without Polymorph, so playing some number of anthems seems like a good idea. Here’s the list I’ve been running:
Some of these numbers still need a little tweaking. Triplicate Spirits is a good card but lousy on an empty board. Leyline of the Meek is obviously inferior to Honor of the Pure any time after turn 0, but I think the benefit of it is worth the risk. It could be replaced by another token maker and the fourth Honor. Polymorph being a sorcery AND targeting the token does make it tricky to play safely, which is why we side it out (for the Monastery Mentor) against removal-heavy decks. I can see a case for Elspeth Tirel over her 4-mana version, if only because she makes a more substantial board presence when she comes down. Windbrisk Heights is often better than Polymorph, though less consistent in ending the game.
The sideboard I am happier with. Elesh Norn comes in against Twin and other token decks. Verdict is great against any creature-based strategy, especially Fish. Mark of Asylum is a necessary evil against UWR, Purge is further backup against Twin and Iona is…well, she’s Iona. Promise of Bunrei is a cute card but with Burn being so prevalent this might need to be Kor Firewalker.
Raising The Sky Again
With the Pro Tour just around the corner, I have no doubt we’ll see a lot of innovation. The last time there was a format shakeup before a Pro Tour, we ended up with Sam Black’s Shoal Infect, 12-Post and CounterCat being big parts of the metagame. I can see cards like Fauna Shaman, Countryside Crusher, Tasigur, the Golden Fang and maybe even Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest making waves in a heretofore unseen deck, along with the old favourites of GBx, Twin, Scapeshift, UWR and Bogles. Burn and Affinibots will probably see the usual amounts of play and given that Paul Rietzl and Pat Cox are qualified, you’d be crazy to bet against Zoo.
The bannings have definitely changed Modern, and I know several players who are upset that they can’t play with their decks any more, but almost without exception they accept the necessity of those bannings. A new format with a PT looming is a very exciting time, and I will be glued to my TV all weekend.
Until next time…brew on!