Everything Old Is New Again

This week has been amazing. I was really beginning to fear for my Magic fun levels with Fate Reforged on the horizon. Modern, which was the format nearest and dearest to my heart was in an unhealthy place (unless you were playing UR Delver or Pod), and after just latching on to a Standard deck which I liked (4 color Delve), that format looks poised to also shift gears significantly making it a poor choice in the opening weeks. I was able to at least rekindle some old flames for Commander, thanks to Carlos Gutierrez of Gathering Magic fame, but something real big was going to have to happen soon, or I was in for a long few weeks. Thankfully, I got my wish. Wizards of the Coast announced a set of bannings in Modern which will shake up the format arguably more than any that have come before it. In case you missed it:

Modern: [card]Treasure Cruise[/card], [card]Dig Through Time[/card], and [card]Birthing Pod[/card] are banned.

I read the announcement. Then I read it again. Then I refreshed the page, and read it once again.

“Okay. Now THIS is something.” I said to myself. The fires of hope were stoked in my belly. We were back. And this time, there will be no quarter given.

I have had the privilege of working with an amazing group of people over the past year on a deck which has come to possess a life of its own. I’m not sure the story has ever been told about how #TeamGeist came to be, but I’ll sum it up for you. During the heyday of Jund’s dominance in the modern format, which is before both [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] and [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] were banned, then SCG Select writer Larry Swasey had broken the format with a UWR midrange deck which focused on Geist of St Traft, designed to drive a truck through a hole that he had identified in that metagame. The list was so good, that both he and Brandon Large won back to back MTGO PTQs with the exact same 75 over a weekend. The deck was widely played for a while, and then once both Bloodbraid and then [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] were banned, it faded from the spotlight. PTQ Grinder and my Twitter buddy Jason Clark, had been playing with UWR Geist since Standard days, and had been a strong proponent of the deck for quite some time. Once [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] was banned, and I could no longer play 5 color [card]Tribal Flames[/card], I turned to Jason for help.

I had traditionally been a Jund player, but had fallen in love with the good Ghost Daddy during my run of 5c Flames, so I was looking for any excuse to play him. I knew that GP Boston was a tournament which I would be attending, so I was committed to finding a deck. Jason shipped me his list, and we started to tune it on the anvil. I streamed the deck with him, he wrote some articles about it, and then one day, Larry somehow got wind of this likely through Twitter, and commented to Jason that he was interested in what he was doing. I looped the group of us together on Facebook, and history was made. Jason’s base ideas and Larry’s base ideas came together and the end result is best described as lightning in a bottle. We all were using the Twitter hashtag of #TeamGeist when we were discussing our successes with the list, and it kind of stuck, both as the name of the deck, and the name of this group we had created. I lovingly refer to it as the #TeamGeist Braintrust. We all crushed in Boston with the deck, with Larry narrowly missing top 8. We converted another to the cause in GP top 8 competitor Andrew Huska after he watched us dismantle our opposition in Boston, and it’s been the 4 of us since. Here is the Boston List for reference:

#TeamGeist – Pre KTK

[deck]
[Lands]
4 Arid Mesa
4 Celestial Colonnade
1 Eiganjo Castle
2 Ghost Quarter
1 Hallowed Fountain
2 Island
1 Moorland Haunt
1 Mountain
1 Plains
1 Sacred Foundry
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
1 Sulfur Falls
[/Lands]
[Spells]
3 Electrolyze
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
4 Path to Exile
4 Remand
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
4 Geist of Saint Traft
1 Keranos, God of Storms
3 Restoration Angel
4 Snapcaster Mage
1 Thundermaw Hellkite
3 Vendilion Clique
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
3 Aven Mindcensor
1 Batterskull
1 Celestial Purge
1 Combust
2 Counterflux
2 Engineered Explosives
2 Magma Spray
2 Wear // Tear
1 Anger of the Gods
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

The introduction of KTK was a mixed blessing for us, as there was an entire clan of cards dedicated to a similar philosophy which our modern deck was based on, and the introduction of allied fetches really helped us perfect the mana base which we were running. As it turned out, most of the cards which we thought would be useful, like [card]Jeskai Charm[/card] for example, ended up being too low impact and for a while, it was only [card]Flooded Strand[/card] which would make the list from KTK. Then something happened; people realized how broken it is to be able to play [card]Ancestral Recall[/card] in Modern, and UR Delver became a prominent deck. [card]Dig Through Time[/card] turned [card]Scapeshift[/card] into a stone cold killer, and gave Twin a way to find what it needed all at instant speed. One more major item hit the tables also, and Standard all star, [card]Siege Rhino[/card] became an overnight success story in [card]Birthing Pod[/card] decks around the world. All of these changes ended up putting our deck into a very bad position as we were already having to load up on sideboard slots for UR Delver and Burn matches, in addition to the rest of the matches, but ubiquitously adding a 4/5 Trampler was going to be bad enough, let alone one that come with a [card]Lightning Helix[/card] attached to it. We all lost interest in the format for a while; the chats got slower, spirits were down, and we were intentionally playing less Magic. All of these are good signs that the format is in a downward spiral, but we were all hopeful for what the future could hold. As a point of reference, here is the deck as it was before last week’s bannings.

#TeamGeist – Pre FRF Bannings

[deck]
[Lands]
2 Arid Mesa
4 Celestial Colonnade
3 Flooded Strand
2 Ghost Quarter
1 Glacial Fortress
1 Hallowed Fountain
2 Island
1 Mountain
1 Plains
2 Sacred Foundry
3 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
1 Sulfur Falls
[/Lands]
[Spells]
2 Dig Through Time
2 Electrolyze
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
4 Path to Exile
4 Remand
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
4 Geist of Saint Traft
3 Restoration Angel
4 Snapcaster Mage
1 Thundermaw Hellkite
3 Vendilion Clique
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
3 Aven Mindcensor
1 Batterskull
1 Celestial Purge
2 Counterflux
3 Kor Firewalker
2 Magma Spray
2 Wear // Tear
1 Wrath of God
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

As you can see, we had a lot of hate ready for Pod and Burn, with some utility slots for good cards like [card]Counterflux[/card] and [card]Wear // Tear[/card]. This still left us very exposed to [card]Siege Rhino[/card], especially in the Abzan Midrange decks which were picking up the Rhino in a shell which also included [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]s and [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card]. Our [card]Path to Exile[/card]s and [card]Celestial Purge[/card] effects were being severely over taxed in that matchup, and what was previously a difficult, but winnable matchup became quite poor for us in short order. The slant towards Pod and Delver in our sideboard left us with some gaping holes across the meta which were impossible to fill, given the importance of the cards versus those two primary matchups. Thankfully change was coming.

The bannings release did a lot for us. Without having to worry about [card]Birthing Pod[/card] or UR Delver decks being top dogs, we could go back to some of our more flexible and powerful card choices for the sideboard.

– [card]Engineered Explosives[/card]: I think that of all of the cards we had to shave, I missed this one the most. The utility of this card cannot be overstated. Being able to selectively remove an entire casting cost of permanents from the battlefield is an effect which we have missed greatly. Tokens having a casting cost of zero, and [card]Tarmogoyf[/card], [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card], [card]Dark Confidant[/card] and [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] all having a casting cost of 2 are all relevant points to remember when considering this card.

– [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card]: Made quite popular by Shawn Mclaren as an UWR swiss army knife, graveyard hate was something that this deck had often eschewed. The parallel nature of most of these effects made them unappealing given our reliance on [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] to maintain velocity during the game. [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card] gives us more control over the effect, and if played early enough, can be used to great effect to help contain the opposing graveyards without disturbing ours.

It not only frees up sideboard slots for us, but it also gives us some new and powerful tools with which to fight back against the newly expected enemy number one: Abzan Midrange.

– [card]Valorous Stance[/card]: Here is the card that once spoiled, got our creative juices flowing again in the Braintrust. Not only can this card protect one of our own creatures from sweeping effects like [card]Pyroclasm[/card], [card]Anger of the Gods[/card], or [card]Supreme Verdict[/card], but it also just kills 90% of the creatures which our [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] effects cannot. [card]Tarmogoyf[/card], [card]Siege Rhino[/card], [card]Tasigur, the Golden Fang[/card], and even [card]Deceiver Exarch[/card] all will find out very quickly how effective this is, especially at instant speed.

– [card]Monastery Mentor[/card]: This one is first on the block for my testing next week. People had been playing [card]Young Pyromancer[/card] in shells like ours to some success, but often from my side of the table, [card]Electrolyze[/card] was just way too good against it, that it fell from my interest quickly. Mentor having 2 toughness is more appealing, despite the additional mana in the casting cost, and the fact that it has Prowess makes this even more attractive. Being able to play around edict effects and create scalable blockers for free while you work to remove opposing creatures seems like it could be very good against both Abzan and Zoo type strategies. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what turns out to be good.

I will be streaming this deck and the testing process throughout the month of February to prepare for the SCG Modern event in Baltimore at the end of that month. Please feel free to drop in and find out how things are going, and stay tuned here while I chronicle the journey!

For Starters, here is where I going to begin my testing:

#TeamGeist – Post FRF

[deck]
[Lands]
2 Arid Mesa
4 Celestial Colonnade
1 Eiganjo Castle
3 Flooded Strand
2 Ghost Quarter
1 Glacial Fortress
1 Hallowed Fountain
2 Island
1 Mountain
1 Plains
1 Sacred Foundry
3 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
1 Sulfur Falls
[/Lands]
[Spells]
1 Batterskull
3 Electrolyze
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
4 Path to Exile
4 Remand
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
4 Geist of Saint Traft
3 Monastery Mentor
3 Restoration Angel
4 Snapcaster Mage
1 Thundermaw Hellkite
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
2 Relic of Progenitus
1 Keranos, God of Storms
1 Celestial Purge
2 Counterflux
2 Valorous Stance
2 Engineered Explosives
2 Vendilion Clique
2 Wear // Tear
1 Wrath of God
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

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@MrScottyMac