Preparing for Grand Prix Lyon

Wow, that was a great Pro Tour to watch. Any concerns about Modern not being able to hold up to the scrutiny of the pro teams were pretty much rendered mute. The top 8 had 7 different archetypes, and the diversity continued throughout the posted decklists. The most popular deck was 5-color Humans but because it’s just a bunch of creatures it is very beatable if you just try a little.

Lantern winning the whole thing seems to have garnered the most talk about banning but I’m not sure it’s warranted. I have very little experience playing against Lantern so I don’t have a good idea of how beatable it actually is. It seems like Burn and Tron have decent matchups but I for one do not want those decks to see more play. Anyway, as long as there are so few people actually capable of piloting Lantern, the problem might be too small to warrant bannings. Then again, it’s a pretty weak argument that it’s only a small number of people ruining things for the rest of us. I’ll stay out of the debate for now and be content whether something is banned or not.

Instead I’ll try to figure out what I should play at Grand Prix Lyon next week. When deciding on a deck in Modern I think you should always choose between decks you have extensive experience with. There are so many different matchups and weird interactions that you will be very hard pressed picking up a new deck the day before a tournament and do well. Of course, if you have a long time to prepare and build up a mastery of a new deck, by all means go for it, but a week which includes working full time is not enough.

That actually brings me to an important announcement if you haven’t heard: I have decided to quit my day job and spend all my time on Magic. For this blog it means that I will be devoting more time to writing and I will try to do more writing while I’m playing. This way I write down my thoughts as they occur so I don’t have to remember a couple of days back when I sit down to write an article. So if you feel like my posts are of low quality (yet are somehow still reading?) you should see an improvement soon. If you don’t, then I hope you will still see an improvement. I will also be trying my hand at streaming and a good friend and I have started working on a Youtube project so keep an eye out for that. I’m very excited for all of this and of course a bit nervous but I hope the excitement will win out and shine through.

Back to Modern, I have 3 options: Storm, UW Control and Mardu Pyromancer. I have played both Storm and UW at Grand Prixs before and I played a lot with Mardu during December and January. Given ample practice time I think I would play Tron since it’s good against Mardu, Lantern (I think) and Humans, all of which I could see being popular in Lyon. Then again, it’s Modern so week to week metagame changes are pretty negligible, another reason why I favor just playing something you know well.

Of the three, I have the least experience with Mardu so there would have to be some big tendencies in the metagame for me to choose it over one of the others. If I knew the metagame would be the same as the Pro Tour I would snap it off but the trifecta of Burn, Tron and Scapeshift will likely be more popular at the Grand Prix so I don’t think I have the guts to bring it.

I had actually thought UW Control to be kind of dead but the printing of Search for Azcanta and maybe more importantly Field of Ruin has given new life to the deck. I definitely enjoy playing it more than Storm but not enough to want to play it unless it is as good or better, so I’ll have to figure out if that’s the case.

Looking over the Pro Tour lists, they are actually quite similar to what I used to play, and I have tried both with and without Ancestral Vision. Last I played it, around Grand Prix Birmingham, I had abandoned Ancestral but when people like Raphael Levy, Lee Shi Tian and Tomoharu Saito include it, I consider the discussion reopened at least.

There were two main reasons why I cut it. First, the most important thing for the deck was to play its fourth land on time to unlock Supreme Verdict and Cryptic Command. Cards like Wall of Omens were more help there. Second, the top dogs were Grixis Shadow and Eldrazi Tron who had Stubborn Denial and Chalice of the Void respectively, which made it too uncertain that Ancestral would resolve.

I set to testing with a non-ancestral list and found myself struggling to get to just 3 wins in a league. I don’t think I played the same deck more than twice during 5 leagues, so it’s not like I just faced a bad matchup all the time. It’s just that UW is a deck that really requires you to be focused almost all the time. The games are often close until well after turn 5 and even in the late game you can lose by spending the wrong counterspell/answer on their threat. Since it was so long since I had played UW I often made these small missteps in the first two leagues and then I got frustrated and made even more in the next. For me at least, if I am going to play this deck I need to be calm and comfortable which I wasn’t. Since I don’t know if I can get there before the Grand Prix I turned back to trusty old Storm.

I started out with a chat with Snapcardster buddy Michael Bonde who had just played it at the Pro Tour to a 6-3-1 record. He still like the deck so I questioned him about his list:

Creatures (6)
Baral, Chief of Compliance
Goblin Electromancer

Spells (37)
Serum Visions
Opt
Sleight of Hand
Pyretic Ritual
Desperate Ritual
Manamorphose
Remand
Unsubstantiate
Gifts Ungiven
Noxious Revival
Past in Flames
Grapeshot
Empty the Warrens
Lands (17)
Spirebluff Canal
Steam Vents
Shivan Reef
Mountain
Island
Snow-covered Island

Sideboard (15)
Pieces of the Puzzle
Empty the Warrens
Wipe Away
Echoing Truth
Gigadrowse
Shattering Spree
Lightning Bolt
Dismember

There are a couple of new things here, compared to my last list. First off is the full amount of one mana cantrips which I don’t have any argument against; you want to churn through your deck so let’s play all the cards that help do it. Then there is one Unsubstantiate instead of the third Remand. I think this is brilliant because while you lose out on a card, being able to bounce something like Meddling Mage or Eidolon of the Great Revel can give you a chance in a lot of games where you otherwise wouldn’t have any. Next, it seems Noxious Revival has claimed another victim. I even gave it a second chance after talking to Michael and I never cast it. Either I was winning without it or I needed it to be a card in my hand and not on top of my library to be able to win. I am sticking to Simian Spirit Guide and I will spend a lot of thought over the next weeks to come up with a proper argument rather than just “one has been great for me, the other hasn’t.”

Finally, the manabase is completely free of fetches. The advantage is that when you scry something to the bottom of your library, you get to keep it there until you play Gifts Ungiven. The downsides are that you are slightly weaker to Blood Moon and I think you take slightly more damage from your lands (calling Frank Karsten to do the math here). I think both downsides are pretty negligible; since playing without fetches, I have faced Blood Moon twice and won even with no Islands in play. The cost is just one mana for playing a Manamorphose before you play a guy. No matter how the actual math shakes out, I’m sure there is a less than one life per game difference. I remember one game in Madrid that I won because my turn 1 Scalding Tarn made my opponent play his turn two a bit differently in case I was playing a deck with Lightning Bolt or Spell Snare, but I think that’s extremely rare and doesn’t move the needle noticeably. I like going fetchless.

The sideboard is where things get really interesting. Michael had gotten it from Caleb Scherer’s blog  and I recommend you read the 5 or so posts he has written about Storm. I played some leagues with his list and followed his sideboard guide. The essence is that when you expect graveyard hate (which is close to always), you cut the Gifts package for Pieces of the Puzzle and look to play a long game where you either play multiple smaller Empty the Warrens or just stock up your hand and kill with Grapeshot plus Remand. I had just been playing Pieces as an extra grindy card and rarely shaved even a single Gifts, but I tried it out nonetheless.

My opinion after 10 leagues or so is that Caleb goes overboard with the Pieces plan, at least in some of the matchups. Against Tron, for example, I don’t think there’s a need to take them in, I would rather just keep my game plan intact, force them to draw hate and when they do, you still have bounce and/or artifact removal to power through it. I like to have some number of Pieces, but I see them more as a way to help dig for a bounce spell. Against all the blue decks, Gifts is often better, even for grinding, because it’s an instant, and you still get card advantage.

The only matchup where I agree with making the full Gifts-Pieces switch is against Shadow decks where can be quite sure that you won’t be able to combo off the normal way, and where even small Empty’s are likely to win the game. Otherwise, the main plan is just so strong that by switching you have already given up considerable percentage points, whether they draw hate cards or not. Of course, I am not 100% on this and I’m not sure how it is possible to have a rational discussion about this since it basically come down to numbers which none of us are able to calculate properly (I would think even Dr. Karsten would be hard pressed). Nevertheless, I am very interested in any points you might have, no matter which side of the argument they favor.

I am not quite sure what list I’ll play but if you swap Noxious Revival for Spirit Guide in Michael’s list above, you’ll be pretty close. If you have a list, I’d love to see it and hear your reasoning. Wish me luck in Lyon, and good luck to you wherever your next tournament might be. If you’d like to see some of the video content I’m going to do, follow me on social media, I’ll post whenever something goes up.

Modern Pro Tour Predictions

Hello and welcome to a little appetizer for the Modern action coming your way this weekend. The Modern Pro Tour is back, and I decided to look at 15 of the most played decks and talk about their strengths and weaknesses in the metagame. Buckle up!


Grixis Death’s Shadow
Grixis Death's Shadow

It is not that many months ago that the format revolved totally around this deck. Players were packing silly protection from black creatures in their sideboards, and you could expect to face this archetype at least a few times every tournament. While those days are over, it is still the deck to beat going into any high level tournament. At this level of play, I doubt many competitors will sign up with a deck with a bad Death’s Shadow matchup, so the Shadow players will have their hands full and the free wins will be at a low this weekend.


Affinity

Affinity is a deck that has come and gone a lot of times over its’ history of existence. When the metagame becomes too preoccupied with dealing with the graveyard, the stack and demands narrow answers in players’ sideboards because of other decks, Affinity will strike and claim victory. Unfortunately, there are a few other creature decks at the top of the metagame at the moment, so universal sweepers like Engineered Explosives and Anger of the Gods will be present at the event. While I’m not sure that players’ sideboards are completely dry of artifact hate just yet, I predict the Affinity specialists to have a ball this tournament.


Green Tron

Oldschool Tron has been threatening its’ comeback for a while, and looking at the metagame percentages, it looks like turn 3 Karn Liberated is back with a vengeance. Tron will thrive in metagames with many fair Midrange and Control decks, historically how Pro Tour metagames have looked when there is no clear best deck (Eldrazi and Summer Bloom, I’m looking at you), while it has built-in matchup difficulties against spell-based combo and fast creature decks with burn spells to close the deal should you manage to activate your Oblivion Stone before you die. My gut feeling is that not too many professional players will lean towards a simple strategy like Tron, but those who do will reap the rewards.


Burn

With the printing of Fatal Push, Burn moved away from the green splash featuring Wild Nacatl, Atarka’s Command and sideboarded Destructive Revelry for a better manabase and more direct burn spells in the Boros version. The format has become so big that only coincidental lifegain cards are playable main deck and sideboard options, so the success of Burn will depend of the amount of those it faces. I’m talking about Lightning Helix, Collective Brutality and Kitchen Finks mostly, but good manabases with a lot of basic lands and fastlands will also result in headaches for the red mages. The days where players starting lifetotal was effectively 15-17 are gone, and Burn has dropped in popularity as a result.


Dredge

Before the bannings, Dredge was a part of the deadly trio that ruled the metagame. Death’s Shadow moved to other color combinations, Infect is more or less dead, but Dredge just replaced the banned Golgari Grave-Troll and tried to find back to winning form. Now and then Dredge manages to take down big tournaments like SCG Open’s and online Pro Tour Qualifiers, but it’s clear that it’s not the powerhouse it once was. With Storm as a top 5 popular deck, graveyard hate will be very common and Dredge loses valuable percentages against the expected field. I don’t see Dredge bringing home the bacon at the Pro Tour.


Humans

Humans as a deck has undergone serious surgery over the course of its’ life span, but the current version looks like the best yet. Combining blazing speed with a touch of disruption is a great strategy in a “wild west” format like current Modern. I especially like the uptick in Phantasmal Image which can combo with either a disruptive creature like Meddling Mage or Kitesail Freebooter in combo matchups or try to help close the deal with Thalia’s Lieutenant or the new addition, Kessig Malcontents. However, the deck is very soft to sweepers like Anger of the Gods or Supreme Verdict, so the Human players should keep their fingers crossed that opposing players find these too narrow for the current metagame.


UW(x) Control

The only classic control deck in Modern, oldfashioned Blue/White Control, lately got a more proactive alternative in Jeskai. While traditional Blue/White will prey on creature decks and end the game on turn 15, the Jeskai version will use burn spells and Geist of Saint Traft to close out the game. The usual problem with control in Modern still applies – it’s almost impossible to muster good answers to a wide open format, but at the same time good players can really leverage their skill with decks like this. I don’t have very high hopes for the Azorious-based clan this tournament, but I would love to be proved wrong by masterful plays by the game’s greats. Also note that Spreading Seas and Field of Ruin are great “free” ways of beating big mana decks.


Eldrazi Tron

Eldrazi Tron has finally taken a small step back after being a top dog for a long period of time. The deck’s game plan is super solid, and you get a lot of even-to-good matchups with the deck. Playing Chalice of the Void with one counter on turn two will get you free wins, and playing a creature strategy that blanks Lightning Bolt – and to some extend Fatal Push – also leads to game and match wins. Time will tell if having a tough time against the comeback kids of Affinity and Green Tron coupled with the poor Titan Shift matchup will be enough to keep prominent players off the deck.


Storm

Storm is the perfect choice for the good player who isn’t a Modern specialist. You can mostly focus on learning your own deck’s math, sideboard plans against the field and alternative Gifts Ungiven piles and do well without any huge format knowledge. That being said, I expect every good testing team to have a serious plan against Storm and get a lot of practice games in which will ultimately lead to way fewer free wins for the Storm players. I would love to see an innovative sideboard plan from the Storm pilots as a reaction to this, but I’m not holding my breath.


Blue/Red Control

As the picture indicates, this archetype is all about Blood Moon and less about your actual win condition. Whether the Izzet mages choose to finish the game with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, a horde of Pestermite copies or a protected Platinum Emperion, the cores of their decks are the same and has the same flaws. It has a tough time dealing with creatures that survive Lightning Bolt, and without their combo it is very hard to be a good enough control deck to compete – something they will need to in a world of more copies of Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek than usual. I think time is up for this shell, and the Blue/Red color combination should be used for Storm only.


BG(x) Midrange

Black/Green Midrange is never a bad choice and never a good choice. The players who fancy this archetype likes to influence the game with their targeted discard spells and answer the opponent’s resolved threats with one-for-one removal while beating down with a Tarmogoyf. The nature of the deck makes it good against combo decks, but bad against big mana decks, so the matchup roulette will determine a lot of this deck’s success. I wouldn’t be shocked if we see Reid Duke compete on Sunday in the top 8 against all odds, but overall I predict a quiet weekend for Liliana.


Mardu Pyromancer

The Mardu version is very similar to Abzan and Jund in a lot of ways, but the main differences are Bedlam Reveler instead of Liliana of the Veil, the lack of Tarmogoyf and the ability to play Blood Moon. The Reveler will refill you after killing your opponent’s creatures or pointing burn spells at his life total and provide a good clock, while Blood Moon will give you a fighting chance against previously horrible matchups. The trade-off is losing Tarmogoyf, so your clock will not be as fast and as a result opponents will have more time to draw out of it. The decklists I saw online had very unfocused sideboards, but if high level players figure out the expected metagame and put together 15 strong ones, I have very high expectations for this deck. Mardu is here to stay.


Titan Shift


The Green/Red ramp deck with a combo finish went from fringe Modern deck to the most played Modern deck on Magic Online to something between those two. When this deck was played a lot, players could easily prepare for it with cards like Crumble to Dust and Runed Halo to name a few, but now that it is entering the sub-3% metagame share, devoting sideboard cards to it seems too narrow. Like with Affinity and artifact hate, this is working for TitanShift’s advantage, and we may see another breakout tournament for it this weekend if players have the guts to play it.


Lantern Control

Lantern Control recently got a sweet upgrade in Whir of Invention that made the deck even more consistent in finding its’ key pieces at the right time. With this addition, the games where they don’t find Ensnaring Bridge in time and gets killed by creatures are almost eliminated which is scary to think about. However, this deck is not for everyone. A few dedicated players have kept playing this deck, and this is the weekend to cash in the prize. Couple their dedication and insane amount of practice with people’s hostility and unwillingness to play test against it, and you have a recipe for success. I predict big things for Lantern Control this weekend, and oh boy am I happy that I’m not sitting across from it.


Abzan Company

For players that like creature combo decks with a reasonable aggressive backup plan with solid matchups overall, Abzan Company will be their weapon of choice. With Chord of Calling in your deck, building your main deck and sideboard correctly down to the last slot is super important, and many players find this task intriguing. Both being capable of turn three kills and grinding down removal heavy opponents with Gavony Township makes this deck a more flexible deck in practice than on paper, and if the pilots get their silver bullet slots right for the weekend, a top 8 appearance is within reach.

Thanks a lot for making it this far. In your opinion, which decks will “top” and “flop” this weekend’s Modern Pro Tour?

Standard is open for business again

A new set and a big round of bannings means we have a brewer’s paradise in Standard right? Well, unfortunately the brewing opportunities mostly involve doing a gatherer search for a creature type and then putting all the best results together along with lands and a little interaction. Other than the tribal cards, Rivals of Ixalan doesn’t seem very powerful so I don’t see what should compete with the preexisting decks that survived the bans. God-Pharaoh’s Gift exists in two different decks and both do more powerful things than anything from Rivals appear to enable.

We also already have multiple control variants in UB Control and UW or Esper Approach, and since Rivals contains no great sweepers, counterspells or card draw, I don’t see why the existing decks wouldn’t remain the top choices for that archetype. There might be some space to brew up a good midrange deck but Grixis appears to have already staked its claim as Temur’s successor.

Luckily, a lack of brewing potential doesn’t mean the format isn’t interesting; even though a lot of the decks are established, we still have to figure out which to play and how to build them. True to my heart, I started with control. I was originally more inclined towards UB because it has The Scarab God and because it operates more at instant speed. Sweepers are great against tribal decks generally but Merfolk is the tribe gathering the most hype and their access to cheap countermagic makes it a risky proposition to base your game plan on resolving Fumigate or Settle the Wreckage. In that case, 1-for-1’ing them beginning from turn 1 with Fatal Push is likely a safer route to victory.

On the other hand, UB has two major issues as I see it. The lack of sweepers might be preferable against Merfolk, but it really hurts against all the other creature decks. Fumigate is just fantastic in the current Standard and even against Merfolk it can save you if your early plays didn’t line up. You can’t count on resolving it every time but it’s not like they always have Spell Pierce or Negate. Second, as has always been the case, UB can’t remove artifacts or enchantments. Tokens is still a deck and turn 2 Hidden Stockpile is close to unbeatable. If the Vampire deck picks up, Oketra’s Monument spells trouble as well and the list goes on.

So I looked to Approach of the Second Sun for help. You get sweepers, Cast Out and a win condition that doesn’t just die to the removal that has been stuck in your opponent’s hand. Yes, you can sometimes jam The Scarab God turn 5 and it wins the game by itself while Approach usually requires you to establish control of the game first. I don’t know the definitive answer to this question but for now I’m leaning towards Approach. I have already had a few games against UB where I was able to remove all of their Scarab Gods and Torrential Gearhulk, and it is especially reasonable to have happen in game 1.

As I was putting together a UW list, I got increasingly concerned about Merfolk. Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca was 20 tickets on MTGO and the deck seemed quite hyped. I didn’t want to rely on just sweepers and I still am in love with The Scarab God so I tried if I could have my cake and eat it too.

Creatures (2)
Torrential Gearhulk

Spells (32)
Fatal Push
Censor
Search for Azcanta
Disallow
Supreme Will
Cast Out
Glimmer of Genius
Settle the Wreckage
Fumigate
Approach of the Second Sun
Lands (26)
Fetid Pools
Irrigated Farmland
Glacial Fortress
Drowned Catacomb
Concealed Courtyard
Aether Hub
Plains
Island

Sideboard (15)
Regal Caracal
The Scarab God
Fragmentize
Baffling End
Duress
Negate
Arguel's Blood Fast
Fatal Push

This didn’t work out. The mana is too stretched and there are far too many tapped lands. You need 14 black sources for Fatal Push turn 1 (and turn 1 is sort of the point of playing push, 18 white for Settle turn 4, and 20 for Disallow turn 3 (this one you don’t have to have turn 3 so a little less could be fine). Aether Hub is the closest we have to a tri-land and it leaves quite a bit to be desired in a deck like this. Without a tri-land would need almost all your lands to produce two colors in order to satisfy these requirements and then the amount of tapped lands kills you.

Not to be discouraged, I cut push and just splashed for the black sideboard cards. I also cut a Cast Out and added 2 Essence Scatter 2 Opt. I could then rework the mana:

Lands (25)
Irrigated Farmland
Glacial Fortress
Fetid Pools
Drowned Catacomb
Aether Hub
Field of Ruin
Swamp
Plains
Island

I’m not sure how much of a colored source you should count Field of Ruin, but I wanted to try out the lighter splash and killing Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin in the mirror would be a nice possibility.

After several more leagues, I realized a big problem: the sweepers weren’t getting it done. Settle was too easy to play around because I’m not applying pressure and there are too many creatures that are resilient to Fumigate, Rekindling Phoenix in particular is seeing a lot of play at the moment. I lost so many games because my sweepers were not able to kill more than one creature.

In that case, UB might just be the better choice but I couldn’t let the sweepers go so I looked for a deck where they might be more effective and remembered Abzan Tokens:

Creatures (4)
Anointer Priest

Spells (34)
Renegade Map
Legion's Landing
Fatal Push
Hidden Stockpile
Treasure Map
Start//Finish
Cast Out
Anointed Procession
Settle the Wreckage
Vraska, Relic Seeker
Lands (22)
Concealed Courtyard
Evolving Wilds
Shefet Dunes
Arch of Orazca
Plains
Swamp
Forest

Sideboard (15)
Profane Procession
Lost Legacy
Duress
Sunscourge Champion
Treasure Map
Ixalan's Binding
Arguel's Blood Fast
Regal Caracal

Usually, this deck has played Fumigate as it’s sweeper but I think the time to switch to Settle is now. The plan is to grind towards an insurmountable board presence so the opponent has to try to kill you. They will rarely have the luxury of being able to play around Settle and it will get rid of whatever creatures they have.

This is where I am at the moment, and I do recommend this deck for now. Try it out and let me know what you think. Would you build it differently? Any sick tech I am missing? Let me know, and thanks for reading.

Standard hit by the banhammer once again

What just happened?! I know Standard had been a pretty binary format for a while but 4 cards seems like an overreaction. Until you start going into the details that is. Wizards provided a lot of context for their decision in the announcement, including a lot of matchup data for both Energy decks and Mono Red. In that data you can see that Energy (both Temur and Temur Black) is the classic “Jund” deck in terms of matchups; they all hover around 50% and it almost always improves after sideboarding. This is just how midrange decks play out almost by definition and that alone isn’t enough for me to advocate a ban. But then consider that this is with everyone who doesn’t play Energy trying to beat it. It is problematic that no matter how hard you try, you can’t get a considerable edge.

If you take the BG Midrange decks in Modern, many of their matchups are close to even but it can’t take over the metagame because a few decks like Tron and Scapeshift could then rise and prey on it. In Standard, the counter strategies available like the UW Control decks hold a massive advantage in game 1 but they are so inconsistent or low power that the Energy decks could sideboard their way to a reasonable matchup.

I personally enjoyed having Energy decks in the format because the games were often very deep and interesting, but I agree that it would get to monotonous to keep having it around with Rivals of Ixalan looking like it wouldn’t be able to change much.

Then we have the takedown of the Mono Red deck. This one I unequivocally agree with, for a couple of reasons. First, I hate Mono Red. It’s a deck that just plays the hardest hitting cheap haste creatures it can find along with whatever burn is available and just hopes the opponent misses a spot on their curve and/or doesn’t have any lifegain. It leads to boring games where the opponent just has to try and take as little damage as possible and hope they can stabilise out of burn range. When you play against Mono Red you rarely have to think more than a turn ahead and most decisions are quite obvious. When I lose a game, I can often find a decision that I could have made differently to give me a chance of winning. This basically never happens against Mono Red.

Second, Mono Red destroyed the metagame outside of Energy. Some decks rose up to beat Energy, like UW Approach and UW Cycling and not only were they not as good at that as intended, they got crushed by Mono Red to the tune of around 70% of matches. The Mono Red deck boasts both blistering speed and incredible resiliency. You couldn’t just fill your deck with life gain because you would just lose the long game. Red aggressive decks still look quite viable but the power level seems more reasonable.

Now for the individual cards removed from the format. Let’s start with the two energy cards banned; Attune with Aether and Rogue Refiner. I agree that these are the core of the Energy decks’ power; they are both reasonable without the energy so it becomes very close to a free addition.

Banning Attune only would definitely kill off the black versions of Temur Energy but straight Temur would still be viable albeit weakened. Banning Rogue Refiner only would hamper the decks consistency a lot and it would need to be replaced by less generic 3 drops like Deathgorge Scavenger. This would also allow the deck to stay but would take most matchups down a notch. I think banning either one would have been interesting but with the risk of leaving it atop the metagame still, I understand the “safe” choice of taking out both.

Then we have Ramunap Ruins and Rampaging Ferocidon. Ruins was from the beginning touted as a game changer because it provided reach to aggressive decks at basically no cost. The Mono Red plan is to get in damage early with creatures and then finish the opponent of with burn once their better creatures have gained control of the combat phase. The creatures can deal more damage because they can do it every turn, but they are easier to stop. You want creatures in your opening hand and draw burn later. Ruins meant burn in lands so you could play more creatures and thus have more creatures in your opener while still giving you burn for the late game when you need it. Land also meant it didn’t get stopped by Negate so the damage was all but guaranteed. Without it, Mono Red goes back to the “traditional” way of needing to draw creatures and burn spells in the correct order, making it more manageable.

Lastly and to many, most confusingly, is Rampaging Ferocidon. I think it makes perfect sense actually. I don’t think ferocidon was a ban worthy problem in the pre ban format. But consider that now we are getting the second set of a tribal block, and a lot of players will be looking to play their favourite tribe in Standard. Then imagine playing your Vampire deck and making a gazillion 1/1 lifelink tokens and thus stopping any hope the Mono Red opponent had of getting your life total to 0, except they have a 3/3 that not only prevents you from gaining life, it kills you for making all those tokens. Beyond just the Vampire deck, a normal plan against Mono Red is to gum up the board and gain some life. The dino stopped both those plans. It is still just a creature that can be killed by removal without having any effect on the game, but tribal decks, almost by definition, are light on removal and would be very vulnerable to it.

In conclusion, I think the bans are reasonable and more importantly the reasoning laid out by Wizards seems sound and thorough. On the other hand, it is very disconcerting that we continue to need bans in Standard, which already has a yearly rotation to keep players’ wallets under pressure and I’m afraid Standard support will keep dwindling for a long time before confidence in Wizards is restored. Finally, on a positive note, Standard now looks fresh and exciting and I look forward to exploring it (get it?).

I was getting worried that I would have to do a Vintage article but it looks like that can wait until I actually get an idea of what I’m talking about (don’t hold your breath).

Let me know in the comments or on social media what you think of the changes if you haven’t already.

Thinking Creatively to Improve Modern

Thinking Creatively to Improve Modern

Today I’ll talk about how to improve my favorite format. Now don’t get me wrong, Modern is in a good state at the moment, but I always look to improve even functional things. I’m not settling for a good format. I want the best format!

So far, we’ve known two ways of adjusting the format: bannings and unbannings. While I think we should definitely continue to look into both of these options every three months, I have a third suggestion later on in the article.

Would banning one or more cards improve Modern?

I actually applaud the DCI on each and every change they made in Modern, from the unbannings of Wild Nacatl, Bitterblossom and Ancestral Vision to the bannings of Birthing Pod, Splinter Twin, Summer Bloom, Gitaxian Probe and Eye of Ugin. They bring out the ban hammer when a deck is too dominant, kills too fast on a consistent basis and when a card is making similar archetypes irrelevant and just inferior. When they unban cards, they try to breath life into tier 3 archetypes and make even more cards playable. This is why there are 20+ playable archetypes in Modern today, and why it’s the most popular constructed format by far.


Living on the edge

Death’s Shadow, or maybe Street Wraith if you just want to make the archetype worse instead of killing it, has been flirting with the DCI ban hammer for quite some time. At first it made people do some crazy things like playing with Condemn and Engineered Explosives in their main deck, which reminded me of the Affinity times in Standard where artifact removal were present in main decks because Affinity was such a big part of the metagame. However, time has showed that Modern players are smart and started playing archetypes that actually matchup up well with Death’s Shadow instead of playing narrow cards that only really shine vs. said matchup. The result is a super healthy metagame where Death’s Shadow is just a good deck. Big thumbs up to the DCI for letting the players figure it out and being patient. No bannings needed.

Would unbanning one or more cards improve Modern?

http://magic.wizards.com/en/game-info/gameplay/rules-and-formats/banned-restricted

Looking at the banned cards for Modern and considering setting one or more free, my criteria is that it should improve or create one or more decks. Therefor unbanning a card like Umezawa’s Jitte or Punishing Fire is not an option, as both of them will kill off creature-based decks and not create any new decks. Splinter Twin got banned because it made non-Splinter Twin blue decks irrelevant in the format, so that’s off the table as well. I want an even bigger format with even more good options. If I want to play a relatively small and defined format with 5-6 decks to metagame for, I will play Standard or Vintage. Modern is the king of diversity!


Time for a comeback?

One of the options is unbanning Bloodbraid Elf. The card is obviously great and would boost Jund Midrange back to tier 1 status, but this is not a bad thing at all. Abzan Midrange, Abzan Delirium and Jund Midrange alongside the various Death’s Shadow variants can easily co-exist in a healthy metagame. If the number of decks with Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize increases, we will most likely see decks like Tron, Eldrazi (Bant or Tron version) and R/G Valakut rise in popularity, all decks which are somewhat weak to combo, and that would make a very interesting rock/paper/scissors metagame with the usual suspects of Burn, Collected Company decks, Affinity and Control on the side. I would be super excited if Bloodbraid Elf gets reintroduced to the format. Please sound off in the comments if you want to make the case for Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Green Sun’s Zenith or something else (if you’re a crazy person).

The natural step

Wizards already introduced this method themselves, so this is not super innovative on my part. With the various Commander and Conspiracy releases, they’ve made it possible to inject cards into Legacy and Vintage without those cards having to pass Standard first, and this is the greatest idea ever! From Leovold, Emmisary of Trest to Dack Fayden to True-Name Nemesis, I love the concept and see no reason why they shouldn’t implement it on Modern also. It could be via event decks or a “Masters” set (they need a new name for this obviously) and we could get some new (old) toys to play around with in Modern. Let me list a few favorites of mine off the top of my head. I’m sure there are many more!


I’ve wanted to boost control in Modern for a long time, and Ancestral Vision clearly wasn’t quite enough. Having access to Fact or Fiction with its best buddy Snapcaster Mage (Snapcardster, pun intended) could push control right back into tier 1 status where it belongs. It still costs 4 mana in a world of proactive decks, but being very good against black-based decks will make it relevant.


Good ol’ Counterspell. The answers in Modern are kind of narrow, and this is a huge reason why building a successful control deck is so hard. Having access to Counterspell would definitely make heavy blue decks more viable, but I’m unsure if Counterspell and Fact or Fiction are a bit too much.


This is a bit more controversial, but I decided to include it anyway. The red part of this card will shine vs. mana and utility creatures, while the blue part will buy you time targeting a land in the early game and a big creature in the late game. This might be too flexible for a cantrip card because stealing a turn from Tron while cantripping is a very powerful thing to do.


Cunning Wish would boost Ad Nauseam‘s consistency in a new metagame where you’re being attacked even more by discard spells. Having both combo pieces, Angel’s Grace and Ad Nauseam, plus some generic bullets like a 4th Pact of Negation and Echoing Truth in your sideboard, will make the deck stay relevant in 2018. The card is too slow to play in Control, so this is solely a combo consistency card.


Oh yeah, that’s right! Sylvan Library is a card selection/advantage engine that comes with a serious cost, especially in a format of shocklands instead of painless duals. However, when blue gets buffed with a card like Fact or Fiction, having some green tools to fight on the card advantage axis in a matchup where lifetotals aren’t super important, is very natural. I think Sylvan Library would be a great card in Midrange and Control matchups without being too good.


P. Diddy is also kind of controversial, but I think it’s fine in the end because of its speed or lack there of. It has obvious synergy with ramp cards and planeswalkers in big mana strategies and could potentially spawn a new deck that needed a good universal answer to opposing board state decks that is not embarrasing to maindeck. I don’t think the presence of Pernicious Deed makes people stop playing with non land permanents.


Maybe a two drop that puts you firmly in the driver seat when you untap with it is too good for Modern. Wrong! We already have Dark Confidant and Steel Overseer that do exactly that, and those cards are super well balanced and fair. I would be interested in seeing what role (if any) Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary would play in Modern. The upside of untapping with him will be too huge to pass up for the average green brewer.

That’s it for today, but since this subject is so deep, I only scratched the surface. Which cards do you want to see get injected in Modern? Let me know in the comments below!

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