On Jan. 13, the two most powerful cards in Modern were banned.
Oko is the most powerful planeswalker of all time and Mox Opal should have been banned years ago. The only reason it didn’t go in years past was that Affinity never truly broke it and Krark-Cland Ironworkswas too annoying to keep around. Mycosynth Lattice wasn’t too powerful for the format, but its absence has weakened Tron decks where Karn isn’t a one-turn-clock if left unanswered. I don’t think it will cripple those decks, but pilots will be more reliant on nailing the metagame before breaking them out.
With three fresh formats leading into Richmond the Brothers Jessup and myself each set out on our own path to prepare for the event. It was a toss up if I would play Pioneer or Modern because I needed to test leading into the Pioneer Pro Tour, but I got pushed into Modern now that [Card]Primeval Titan[/ Card] appeared to be king. If you look at the most powerful cards in the format my shortlist would look something like:
From that list if I had to choose the most powerful it would be Once Upon a Time by a country mile. Free spell is best spell. The decks that currently use Once Upon a Time the best are of course Primeval Titan decks because it’s able to find your ramp, payoff, and lands for free — a pretty good deal if you ask me.
I have a ton of experience with Amulet Titan, but I didn’t want to be so quick to dismiss the TitanShift or the Simic Field decks with a fresh metagame looming. After playing some leagues in addition to just theory-crafting it was clear to me that Valakut and Simic Field more consistently offered you a turn four Primeval Titan, but almost completely give up their ability to turn three titan without the perfect curve of Arboreal Grazer and Castle Garenbrig. A slight increase of consistency at the cost of nut draws is never where I want to be in Modern. So Amulet it was.
Assuming there wasn’t a set release with big impacts on Modern I think I would have still came to the conclusions I did, but Theros: Beyond Death gifted me a Prismatic Omen that also happened to be what I always wanted Explore and Wayward Swordtooth to be. One of the problems with Amulet Titan decks of formats past is that it felt like a 56 card deck. And then every week you had to hunt to find the best filler to complete your 75 for the weekend.
In the past those finals slots have been occupied by Trinket Mage, Explore, Walking Ballista, Dismember, Coalition Relic and even Skyshroud Ranger. Dryad of the Ilysian Grove provides all the removal you could ever want in combination with Valakut while also providing a recurring source of acceleration that is large enough to block most creatures in the format. It also just happens to survive Lightning Bolt and we all know how important that fourth point of toughness is in Modern.
Without beating around the bush too much, this is where I came to after testing with a large amount of input from Keith Capstick, Matthew Dilks and Will Pulliam.
Amulet Titan – Daryl Ayers
The big changes from previous lists are pretty obvious:
When Throne was first coming out Amulet lists were only playing 2-3 because they have diminishing returns, but that was fairly foolish. When Wizards prints Ancient Tomb for your deck you should probably play four. In order to make this happen, it’s necessary to increase the number of forests in your deck so you’ll see that reflected in current lists.
Fetchlands allow you to increase the number of basic lands in your deck, still find blue when needed for Tolaria West, and have some synergy with Field of the Dead and Valakut. Just make sure you have fetchlands with different names to work with Field. I had an early list with two of each Wooded Foothills and Windswept Heath, but a 2/2 is better than a pretty border.
Amulet Titan is a deck that has been short on removal for years. Walking Ballista and Engineered Explosives have tried to fill the shoes of hard removal, but often fell short. The inclusion of Valakut gives a way for Amulet to remove planeswalkers without the combat step, completely neuter the opponent’s battlefield and kill the opponent in a single turn without having to worry about a Path to Exile.
With Valakut and Field of the Dead being the real endgame of Amulet now it’s less necessary to lean on Sunhome. It was the worst land in the deck so good riddance.
It’s been true for a long time that Hanweir Battlements is an upgrade over Slayers’ Stronghold, but the additional power was important to finish opponents before Field of the Dead and Valakut. Sunhome already pushed you to play Boros Garrison so having Slayers was kind of a free-role because you already needed the non-green bounce land.
It’s worth noting that Hanweir Battlements is much, much easier to activate and haste a Titan when you’re lacking an Amulet of Vigor wich is a MASSIVE upgrade. In the ten or so leagues I’ve played up to this point I’ve found hasting Primeval Titan to be a breeze without the need of white mana and only costing seven mana plus a land-drop rather than eight and a land-drop. It’s also kind of nice when giving titan haste you can fetch Valakut to active Battlements which is already a land you’re looking to find.
For years the Magic community begged for Ancient Stirrings to be banned because it makes cards like Serum Visions look like a joke while Preordain is banned. For a long period of time Amulet leaned on Stirrings to find bounce lands and Amulet of Vigor, but with Castle Garenbrig being so important and the need for hasted Titans heavily reduced, Ancient Stirrings has taken a back seat to the more broken Once Upon a Time. I think if Once Upon a Time gets banned then Amulet will revert closer to something like previous versions that used Stirrings to tie things together.
The last part of the deck I’ve gotten together for this weekend is a roughly tuned sideboard. I will say that I haven’t nailed down a perfect sideboard yet. How to sideboard with such a huge fundamental shift caused by Castle, Dryad and Once Upon a Time left me in a spot where I’m questioning if I’m approaching all my matchups correctly. One thing worth noting is that Amulet isn’t a deck that can truly afford to splash anymore. In the past Amulet decks have either been red heavy or white heavy in order to play Abrade or Path to Exile. I’ve had to removed Gemstone Mine for forests and Castle Garenbring and your non-simic bounce lands have to be diversified for Field of the Dead so this makes a splash colour nearly impossible. As a purely Simic deck our options have become much more limited. Right now my sideboard is about 20 cards:
If I had to choose 15 cards this second I think it would be:
The largest new addition is Aether Gust. It’s odd, but it fills a number of unique rolls. In Primeval Titan mirrors it’s a two mana counterspell at any point in the game that can also be used as an early tempo play against ramp spell or get you through Cavern of Souls. It also comes in against Mono-Red Prowess as a removal spell and against decks like Storm to put a Past in Flames on top of their deck to end their combo turn. It’s noteworthy that Aether Gust can remove a Blood Moon from the battlefield as long as you have an active Dryad. (I would suggst looking into how Dryad and Blood Moon interact with time stamps. Basics and non basics are affected differently)
Beast Within is another newer addition that acts as a catch-all for things like Ashiok, Blood Moon, Death’s Shadow or Simic Growth Chamber. The 3/3 isn’t something that ever causes you problems anymore once you create an army of zombies or stack of Valakut triggers.
Dismember is kind of the best removal spell left. You needed it in your sideboard against things like Devoted Druid, Meddling Mage and Prowess even if the price is fairly high. The only card I could see playing over it is Lignify. It comes down at sorcery speed and costs two, but lets you keep four life points for your trouble while still solving a lot of the same problems. It’s worth noting that Lignify is much, much better against Tarmogoyf and Death’s Shadow as they often outgrow Dismember.
The last thing I would encourage you to do while making your sideboard is consider having more narrow, powerful cards instead of flexible cards that come in all over the place. With the addition of Once Upon a Time and Dryad of the Ilysian Grove you very much have a 60 card deck that’s powerful in every match up. I wouldn’t board more than four to five cards in any matchup, but I would make those cards extremely powerful.
I don’t currently have a sideboard guide I’m confident in, but here are a few pointers in each matchup and how you should approach them in my opinion. Just make sure you have enough cards for these match ups while having your sideboard angled for your local metagame.
Lava Spike Decks
I lump Prowess and Burn together. Prowess is much harder to beat and this is the matchup you really get punished for having to play Dismember. Prowess decks are starting to incorporate Blood Moon so watch out. I think these matchups are positive, but can definitely be scary. Don’t be afraid to mulligan to a hand that can keep up in speed.
I’m lumping Amulet, Simic Field and Valakut all into the same slots. If they’re not playing Amulet of Vigor you’re a pretty large favourite. They’re playing the same deck as you, but don’t have the ability to have broken draws.
It’s worth noting that the first Titan is nearly always the best, but with Dryad and Valakut it’s sometimes the case that the second Primeval Titan comes into play with the ability to remove the first and take over the battlefield at the same time.
Bad: Bog, Explosives, Radiant Fountain
Golgari Midrange Decks
Jund and Golgari Midrange have made a real come back which is great for you. This matchup feels close to un-loseable now and it was already good before.
Field of the Dead beats nearly everything they can do and the addition of Dryad means you have more ramp that does it’s job the turn you play it and still needs to be removed before Valakut gets online. Sideboard lightly, but be ready to beat Damping Sphere, Fulminator Mage and Ashiok.
This match up got much, much better game one, but suffers a lot after sideboard. Dryad and Valakut can control the board and completely dominate without having to lean on Engineered Explosives to remove Meddling Mage.
After sideboard the current lists are light on removal without Abrade and Path to Exile. Dismember is necessary, but can cost a lot of life that you can’t afford. I would encourage you to keep hands that get Primeval Titan in play quickly or hands that have the ability to combine Dryad and Valakut.
It’s worth noting that many humans lists are now playing Kessig Malcontents so stay healthy. This is a matchup you can afford to trim some ramp, because your ramp creatures always live.
This is one of your closest matchups in the format. Current Amulet lists have significantly less Engineered Explosives and no Path to Exile to remove Death’s Shadow, but Shadow decks generally aren’t good at countering Primeval Titan and can’t beat Field of the Dead.
If you can I would encourage you to play around Disdainful Stroke, but don’t lose to Ashiok, Dream Render because you’re being too safe. Shadow decks also have no way to remove Primeval Titan outside of a lone Assassin’s Trophy.
Amulet Titan – Daryl Ayers
Amulet is a deck that still needs a ton of work, but is currently the best deck in the format. As the metagame continues to develop I think it will become more clear what kind of removal and sideboard strategy will be necessary to compete should hateful cards like Blood Moon make a comeback.
Without a large metagame shift I wouldn’t be surprised if Primeval Titan had some of it’s tools put onto the banned list to knock it off its throne. My eye is on Once Upon a Time, but in the meantime I’m going to use the broken tools that Wizards gives me.