Keepin’ it Old School

So, I believe most of you are now familiar with the old kid on the block: the elusive, intriguing and vastly expensive format of 93/94 or simply Old School magic.

The format had its humble beginnings in Sweden, but these days it seems more and more people are (triple-?)sleeving up those Savannah Lions, them Icy Manipulators and all of the moxen they can get their hands on. The format is – as far as I can tell – thriving in most parts of Europe.

For those of you who are not familiar with the format, the basics are these:

You can only play cards printed in the following sets: Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Summer/Edgar, Arabian Nights, Legends, Antiquities and The Dark. Yep. Only those! Do you know these sets? Where you even born, when they were released?! Oh! Also Chaos Orb is legal. Go look it up. One of the greatest, most iconic pictures in all of Magic‘s history. Unfortunately also a dexterity-based card (you have to throw it), which makes it banned in all formats. That is, of course, all formats besides Old School (which, for the time being, ensures that Old School can never become a sanctioned format).

The main intention with the Old School format is to relive the feeling from back when our beloved card-game was brand new: Back in the 90’s when Spice Girls was a thing. When Clinton had no sexual relations with that woman and when Christian conservative groups were dumbfounded and outright outraged by the fact, that the original printing of Unholy Strength had a pentagram in the background – surely the youth would now be beyond salvation and the end was, by all means, near!

Back on track. It was also a time – believe it or not – when there was basically no thing called internet. Which mean there was no thing called net-decking. Also no thing called Grand Prix’s or Pro Tours and therefore practically no professional play- and test-groups. This meant that there was a lot of brewing and kitchen-table testing and playing – the original way to build decks and play games. You would play the cards you had access to, and there were no giant internet-shops with every card ever printed on display, so you had to hide your collection from the bullies in the schoolyard, and stay inside to trade and be lucky to find that extra Goblin Balloon Brigade to finish your crazy, blistering fast, friend-removing, mono-red goblin deck (complete with Ball Lightning and Blood Lust)…

It is this format that is now beginning to thrive. But how is that even possible? you ask. And you are right. Make no mistake. Even though it is possible to make a somewhat budget mono-colored deck. It is not that possible. These cards are expensive, and they are on the rise! Remember only the original printings are allowed, which makes it impossible for Wizards – even if they wanted to – to make the format cheaper and more accessible by, for example, printing new versions of the cards. This is a format, where you will have to shell out around 30€ for the cheapest possible Savannah Lions – the unlimited one. Counterspell is around 20€ and Shivan Dragon is closing in on 100€. And I’m not even starting to mention some of the all-stars: the Power Nine, the dual lands, Library of Alexandria, the aforementioned Chaos Orb and Juzam Djinn, Erhnam Djinn and Serendib Efreet. Oh, and beta and alpha versions of the cards! It is a format for the very rich, the very lucky or the very foresighted who bought the cards years ago and held on to them.

But the format is thriving and expanding and it actually makes sense. It is thriving because of several things:

  1. Nostalgia! Even though it is impossible to recreate the feeling from the early 90’s – especially in regards to no net-decking – for a lot of players, there is a lot of nostalgic feeling in playing with these cards.
  2. Players from the 90’s have grown up, cut their hair, shaved their necks, crawled out of their basements and even landed paid jobs, so they are able to actually buy all the Nightmares and Serra Angels they’ve always dreamed of! (and let’s be honest, we have all dreamed of that particular Angel…)
  3. People want to play with and show off their crazy expensive, beautiful cards and decks.
  4. Less restrictive local (or national) rules are emerging all over the world. Which means the price of entering the format is drastically reduced. When revised or even 4th edition becomes legal, you can actually make playable or even competitive decks for a couple of hundred euros. And they won’t rotate out…

Enough of this introduction to a format I am sure most of you have already heard of. What I actually wanted to write about today was an experience I had playing the format at a tournament recently, which led me to think, or at least ponder. It has to do with the differences between playing kitchen-table magic with your friends and tournament-magic against unknown, less-casual players. And indeed about the possible near future of the Old School format (at least in Denmark).

It was no big tournament – 13 players arrived – but it was highly enjoyable and very much fun.

For me at least. People who know me, knows that I am no grinder, I am not a very competitive person or player and, indeed, not a very good player at all. But when I take the time to play at a tournament, for the most time, I am there to try and win. And have fun, of course. Besides being a mediocre to bad player, I also enjoy playing combo and/or prison strategies, and my weapon of choice this day was to play a 5 color PowerMonolith-monstrosity filled with most of the restricted cards of the format. Yep, a combo deck featuring cards like Balance, Strip Mine and Recall. And 4 power sink. I think I’m in love…

Emil’s Deck

It is a very capable deck and without a doubt one of the most powerful of the format. It ends games playing an arbitrarily large fireball to the opponents face or firing a Rocket Launcher (no, actually the card Rocket Launcher – look it up!) for 50 billion damage at the opponents baffled crotch. This is done via the age-old unlimited mana combo of Basalt Monolith and Power Artifact. Much fun is had. At least I think it is much fun. And that may be a problem.

During the 5 rounds of the tournament I had several surprising reactions to my deck and the games we played. My opponents didn’t seem to have much fun. Let me just pause a minute to make something clear – I am not advocating that one has to be happy about being killed by a combo deck, but if playing against combo ruins your day or gives you a feeling of being unfairly treated, is tournament-magic really your thing? My deck is in no way unbeatable. A well-timed Shatter ruins me day! A Blood Moon makes me cry and a turn one Argothian Pixies followed by a turn two Serendib Efreet can be very tough for me to beat! But of course, to beat it, you have to come prepared. It is not a casual deck – you have to bring counterspells, removal or your own combo.

I know that a deck like mine won’t make me many friends at kitchen tables. I admit that it is based on decklists I’ve seen online and I know that there is a lot more nostalgia in attacking with a Sengir Vampire or landing an impressive 2/3 Kird Ape off a taiga in the first round (Kird Ape was actually banned for being too powerful back in the day…). But I will still hold that in tournament-magic it is not unsportmanlike conduct to play combo or prison. It is not being a bad friend to play to win. And especially in Old School it is not very cool to be mad about losing to a bizarre interaction between three old cards. These bizarre interactions is – I would argue – what the format is all about.

Also: many of the games in question were very interesting and not decided before the resolving of the infinite ball of fire. I had to keep my opponent off black mana, so he couldn’t play his mind twist; I had to find a Mox Sapphire AND a Blue Elemental Blast to kill an opposing Blood Moon; I had to play and replay my Demonic Tutor (via Regrowth) to find both mana and a removal to a horrible Energy Flux and the list goes on. This format – for me – is all about enjoying the interactions between cards – often relatively unknown cards – as the game were originally thought. It is quite a simple game of magic but it stills requires you to think. It is about having fun doing that – and even if you should sometimes lose, don’t despair!

In the next round you will face another strange, spicy brew consisting of Triskelions, Titania’s Song, Hypnotic Spector, Sol’kanar the Swamp King or even freaking Copper Tablet. So if all else fails, play your deck, lose or win and just enjoy the immensely powerful, expensive and beautiful decks that are roaming the format. Again: I would consider entering an Old School tournament with a brew of only Mountains and a single Fireball – hell a brew of only Mountains! – just to look at all the incredibly, iconic, sexy pieces of cardboard. They don’t come any hotter than here! But anyway, this is – for now at least – a very open format where many strategies are viable.

And that leads me to the next of my worries. Even though the format is expanding, it is – still – a somewhat obscure, fringe format with a relatively small dedicated group of players. Many of whom have a very casual mindset when playing, some of whom are not very skilled players – or at least not very used to play at tournaments. My fear is that at some point some maybe not-so-nice but great players will take advantage of these facts and begin to roam the Old School tournaments flinging the “Best deck of the format” and simply be almost certain to win. This will be a heavy blow to some of the vibe and feel of the format, and it will probably enhance the notion, that it is impossible to win a game of Old School, without playing the legendary power nine. Which really is not true.

I am aware that many Old School groups and indeed several of the larger tournaments, don’t really play with prices and oftentimes don’t play top4/8. This means that the tournaments have a heavy emphasis on playing games, rather than win. This also helps ensure, that the incentive to grind these tournaments become a lot less appealing. Since you won’t win anything worth anything, and you won’t even gather those sought after Planeswalker points.

BUT as a former tournament organizer, with around a hundred tournaments in the sack, I discovered that, at least in Denmark, one of the best/only ways to make people actually show up at tournaments is to hand out good to ridiculously great prices based on a reasonable entry-fee. And so we have a classic dilemma: No prices means more dedicated, casual players, that ensure the right “Old School vibe”, but also less players overall. Prices means more “outsiders” – players who can’t remember trading their Serra Angel for a Black Lotus – but also, probably a lot more players overall. What to do?

I honestly don’t know. A friend of mine is trying to harness a competitive Old School scene in Copenhagen. That means entry-fees, prices, play-offs and a general feeling of playing competitive magic (which means: if you want to win, you have to play an optimized deck). But he also tries to make sure that the cozy element of just playing whatever crappy combo you wish that specific day, is there. I am excited to see where it ends, as of now some of the more casually oriented Old Schoolers are not too keen on the idea. But let’s see. I think the most important part is to enjoy a unique and highly challenging format.

Modern Pro Tour Recap

Hello there and welcome back. Today we have some fresh Modern data from the Pro Tour to look at, so let’s dive in! First of all, let’s have look at the metagame percentages recorded on Wizards‘ homepage.

Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan metagame

The Archetype Breakdown – click to see full graph

 

Yeah, that’s an insane amount of diversity ranging from 1% to just below 10%. Going in, a lot of people were afraid that we would see a top heavy metagame with too many Tron lands and too many one mana 9/9’s, but those people sure got a pleasant surprise. The strength of Modern in a casual FNM and a competitive Grand Prix has always been the diversity, but at the professional level we have a tad more unstable track record until this Pro Tour. I think everyone from the players and spectators to Wizards them selves are beyond content with the outcome. My gut feeling is that Modern on the Pro Tour is here to stay this time.

The players who managed to win half of their matches or more on day one got to play 10 rounds of Modern total. Up next are the decks that managed to win eight or more matches, and there are a few sweet pieces of tech I would like to highlight.

2 Tron
2 Lantern Control
2 Grixis Shadow
Abzan Midrange
Blue/White Control
Bogles
Traverse Shadow
Grixis Control
Storm
Eldrazi Tron
Affinity
Burn
White/Black Eldrazi
Humans
Black/Red Hollow One

8-2 or better decklists

Unsurprisingly, Corey Burkhart sleeved up Grixis Control this event and managed to best eight of his ten opponents. Winning with controlling decks in Modern is no easy task, but he clearly got something right for this weekend. Looking at his decklist, you will notice he plays no less than 25 lands and a full playset of Field of Ruin. Traditionally, three-color control decks have had a horrible Tron matchup and no good way to fix this. Tectonic Edge was too much of a setback for their own gameplan, and no matter how many copies of Fulminator Mage you packed in your sideboard, the bad guys would always win.

Field of Ruin lets you disrupt Tron lands and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle while not setting you back manawise in your mana hungry control deck deck. In a recorded deck tech from the Pro Tour, Corey said that cutting the Serum Visions was a great change because playing it looking for lands felt too clunky in a blazing fast format like Modern. For me, control is suddenly much more interesting because I can now almost freeroll a playable big mana matchup that used to be a huge concern.

Yet another Grixis deck, whose pilot decided that Serum Visions and Opt are too slow, is Ben Friedman with his Grixis Shadow deck. He added a playset of Mishra’s Bauble to make sure he hits his land drops, builds a graveyard for Gurmag Angler and gets a little free information along the way. This version of Death’s Shadow wants blue because of Stubborn Denial, Snapcaster Mage and the blue Dark Ritual (Corey’s reference to the synergy with delve spells) Thought Scour. Red adds Temur Battle Rage to close out combo decks or boardstate decks like Devoted Company and Affinity, but also some flexible sideboard cards in Kolaghan’s Command and Rakdos Charm. I really like this build instead of the traditional Grixis lists and the four color Traverse versions.

Looking at the top 8, we were blessed with seven different decks and a truck load of interesting matchups. When the dust settled, Luis Salvatto was standing tall with the trophy in one hand and his Lantern of Insight in the other. Huge congratulations to him! Here are the eight decks that battled on Sunday:

2 Humans
1 Lantern Control
1 Mardu Midrange
1 Blue/Red Control
1 Black/Red Hollow One
1 Abzan Midrange
1 Traverse Shadow

Top 8 decklists

In my preview before the tournament, I talked about how Izzet Control decks were not controlling enough to win without a combo and how all the combo options were bad. I even said that Izzet equals Blood Moon, but Pascal Vieren wouldn’t listen to that kind of nonsense. He ran the tables with his deadly duo of Young Pyromancer and Thing in the Ice all the way to the semi finals with a combination of Izzet cards we have not seen before.

Blue/Red Control by Pascal Vieren

Creatures (10)
Snapcaster Mage
Young Pyromancer
Thing in the Ice

Spells (28)
Serum Visions
Ancestral Vision
Roast
Opt
Lightning Bolt
Spell Snare
Abrade
Remand
Mana Leak
Electrolyze
Cryptic Command
Logic Knot
Lands (22)
Scalding Tarn
Flooded Strand
Misty Rainforest
Polluted Delta
Steam Vents
Spirebluff Canal
Sulfur Falls
Snow-Covered Island
Snow-Covered Mountain
Island
Field of Ruin

Sideboard (15)
Spell Snare
Abrade
Electrolyze
Anger of the Gods
Dispel
Negate
Ceremonious Rejection
Vendilion Clique
Relic of Progenitus
Disdainful Stroke
Molten Rain
Crumble to Dust

Note that he also incorporated Field of Ruin in his mana base and decided to diversify his win conditions, all of which synergize with his eight cantrips. For card advantage, Pascal hopes to suspend Ancestral Vision on turn one and use his many reactive cards to buy time until the last time counter is removed. Snapcaster Mage and Cryptic Command ensures that he has a superior lategame than most Modern decks, and from there closing out the game should be simple. I like the two copies of Roast to make sure he doesn’t die to the first Gurmag Angler or Tarmogoyf that hits the battlefield.

Bonus

We have the banned and restricted announcement coming up, and I just wanted to add my two cents on the matter. Bloodbraid Elf would be a welcome addition to Jund Midrange that has recently fallen out of favor and would incentivize some Big Zoo brewing and would possibly have players look into the Temur color combination trying to get lucky with a cascade into Ancestral Visions. Just make sure you don’t put too many counterspells in your deck in the case of Temur.

What was your favorite tech, play, moment or deck from the 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.

Harambe is evolving Modern

Editorial Note: This is the third guest article on Snapcardster. We’re always looking for innovative and interesting techs and people from the magic community. If you want to contribute, feel free to email us at blog@snapcardster.com

Hello all – in case you don’t know me (and why should you), my name is Hans Christian Ljungqvist – Beast_with_2_backs on Magic Online, and I previously popularized the budget Mono-Green Stompy deck piloting it to a top 8 at the 2014 Bazaar of Moxen tournament. If you are familiar with that deck you will probably notice some similarities in the creature package of my newest creation.

I’ve recently had a lot of success with a RUG version of the traditional budget U/G Evolve deck – managing a couple of competitive League 5-0’s. I wanted to share this deck with you all since WotC recently published a decklist of mine.

I’ve been working on and off on an U/G Evolve list for the last year or so, but it was only after the addition of red to the deck that my win rate went above 50% consistently. Below is my latest list – it is still in the early stages of tuning, so the numbers may appear a bit rough. I’ve chosen to name the deck “Harambe“, as it really is, at it’s core, a monkey deck. Basically what we’re trying to do is turn a random assortment of 10 cent commons and uncommons into powerful apes. And as you all know, the most noble and best known ape in recent times has to be Harambe. Also, the Zoo name was already taken.


Harambe Tempo by Hans Christian Ljungqvist

Creatures (23)
Young Wolf
Experiment One
Narnam Renegade
Cloudfin Raptor
Strangleroot Geist
Avatar of the Resolute

Spells (18)
Pongify
Rapid Hybridization
Lightning Bolt
Spell Pierce
Vapor Snag
Chart a Course
Lands (19)
Wooded Foothills
Windswept Heath
Misty Rainforest
Botanical Sanctum
Breeding Pool
Stomping Ground
Forest
Dryad Arbor

Sideboard (15)
Ceremonious Rejection
Ancient Grudge
Life Goes On
Dispel
Unified Will
Abrade
Magma Spray

3 reasons why you should play Harambe:

It’s fast! It’s cheap! And it’s a LOT of fun to play – blowing your opponent out with a random collection of draft unplayables appeals to a certain kind of people (not the Lantern kind of people – those are bad people). If you are one of those people – keep reading!

The difference between my list and the more general budget Evolve lists is that I am not trying to build an all-in Evolve deck. This is not the second coming of Hardened Scales or Winding Constrictor. Rather it is my attempt at building a tempo/aggro deck in Modern and in my opinion the Evolve/Undying creatures serve that role better than Delver of Secrets. Given that there are no free permission spells like Daze or Force of Will in Modern, playing protect the queen is often a losing proposition, and even a dedicated deck like Grixis Shadow has trouble protecting it’s threats. Harambe has a multitude of threats and Pongify/Hybridization serve as pseudo-threats.

First off – as anyone who has played with the Undying/Evolve creatures are aware, the combination of an Evolve creature + Pongify effect + Young Wolf = 8 power on the board on turn 2. That is one of the main draws to playing the deck – a lot of decks simply can’t keep up with that kind of opener. If you are unfamiliar with the math, I suggest you check out the Evolve primer part about stacking your triggers from Undying + Pongify. In short, you can stack the triggers so that the Evolve trigger from the token goes on the stack first and then the evolve trigger from undying goes on top allowing both to resolve.

The approach to playing the deck is “get ahead – stay ahead”. This approach requires you to be able to get on the board early and interact at relevant levels with your opponent at a mana discount. The playstyle resembles a mix between Zoo and Legacy R/U/G Delver. While it is possible to play Harambe like an aggro deck, I strongly discourage you from doing so – instead try to establish a dominant board presence and force your opponent to respond to it rather than just piling on. Knowing when to smash your own creatures with a Pongify effect and when to smash the opponent’s creatures is the most complex part of playing the deck.
So far so good – now off to the individual card-choices:


These cards all serve as the core Evolve package and I strongly suggest you start off with 4 of each when building the deck. While 8 Pongify effects seem like a lot, experience tells me that you usually won’t be sad to draw one off the top.


These two cards serve as the filler-threats of the deck while still synergizing with the main theme of +1/+1 counters. Narnam Renegade is by itself a decent threat and in my opinion the only viable 4th 1-drop available to the deck. Also with the conspicuous absence of Kird Ape, Narnam Renegade has to play the role of honorary ape. In this deck, Avatar of the Resolute is a powerhouse for only 2 green mana and will frequently enter the battlefield as a 5/4 or bigger, easily trumping what other fair decks have access to for 2 mana. The Avatar’s synergy with the rest of the deck is one of the main reasons to not play Tarmogoyf in the 2-drop slot. The Trample is also quite relevant as Pongify effects allow for instant speed removal of blockers on the Avatar.


These cards serve as your relevant game 1 interaction and are chosen for their flexibility – the sideboard includes more specific answers for different matchups. Vapor Snag, while seemingly a bit underpowered, works well in the situations where you have to smash an opposing creature – bouncing the token allows for a free attack. While spending 2 cards to remove 1 card is not optimal, being a tempo deck with a very fast clock, we can sometimes allow ourselves a 2-for-1 and still maintain a superior board presence. Lightning Bolt also serves the dual role of killing roadblocks and allowing the deck to have a bit of reach to close games out.

This recent addition from Ixalan serves as the most mana-efficient refueling card available in the R/U/G colors. While traditional cantrips aren’t effective enough in this type of deck, Chart a Course‘s rate of 2 cards for 2 mana is a good rate for a tempo deck.


The manabase is currently built to support 3 things.

First of, every single mana source provides green mana. This is a necessity, as 12 of our 1-drops cost green mana. Only 4 of the lands do not produce blue mana, which means that we will almost always have access to Cloudfin Raptor turn 1 if we want it.
Secondly, the deck has 10 fetches – currently tied with Burn for the second highest number of fetches in a Modern deck (Death’s Shadow decks tops that list with 12!). This allows us the luxury of only playing 2 Stomping Ground and means we usually always have a way of triggering Revolt on Narnam Renegade.

The third point is the Dryad Arbor. While traditionally Dryad Arbor serves as Liliana of the Veil protection for creature combo decks like Infect and Bogles, the Dryad Arbor in Harambe serves as a low-cost way to get the engine rolling. It serves as free fodder for Pongify/Hybridization and is able to trigger Cloudfin Raptor on it’s own. While the deck only plays 19 lands, the lack of cantrips means that you will occasionally flood out a bit. Having access to an extra attacker or a surprise blocker is very valuable.

As for the sideboard cards, the deck is generally quite flexible, so you have a lot of options to choose from. While many of the cards that I have included are meant for fairly good matchups, my approach to sideboarding is often to make decent/even matchups even better postboard rather than try to fix some of the abysmal matchups (Bogles is virtually unwinnable). The only card I would strongly advise against tinkering with is Ancient Grudge, as it is the pillar of postboard strategies against the artifact based tier 1 decks.

Some of you may notice that I include no graveyard hate in the sideboard. This is mostly since the relevant cards either hurt us too much (Grafdigger’s Cage) or just don’t do enough in Modern (Surgical Extraction). Apart from that, the graveyard based decks are usually fine matchups – Dredge for instance is easily on of the best matchups, since it turns out that dead creatures block very poorly.


The case against 3-drops

I’m going to spend a few lines explaining why the deck doesn’t play any 3-drops despite a prevalence of powerful cards available in the R/U/G colors. The most obvious choices would probably be Kitchen Finks and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar in the sideboard for the grindier matchups and honorary 3-drops like Snapcaster Mage and Hooting Mandrills in the maindeck.

The reasons for not playing the more mana-intensive cards are two-fold. First of all, my core philosophy for the deck is that it should be able to operate off of 2 lands, similar to the Burn deck’s ability to function on only 2 lands. Having only 19 lands with no filtering means that you will often have games where you never see the third land or choose to prioritize a Dryad Arbor over a third shock. Second of all, the deck is a tempo deck that usually doesn’t tap out past turn 2 or 3.

Tapping out for a 3-drop is very dangerous in Modern, as a lot of decks will be able to punish you for it by either winning on the spot or by deploying their more impactful cards. That being said, both Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Kitchen Finks are very decent choices for the sideboard, I just firmly believe that cheaper, more targeted cards, can serve the same role. Disclaimer: If your meta includes a lot of B/G/X and Eldrazi Tron it is probably correct to include some number of Dismembers in the maindeck to deal with their threats.

Off to the matchups – I’ve chosen to go through the matchups you’re most likely to run into at your local FNM.


Affinity

This one can be a bit rough – Affinity has a fast clock and a number of hard-to-deal-with threats. The games are very play/draw dependent, but the key to winning is to continuously apply pressure while trying to deal with their haymakers. Prioritize getting Steel Overseer off the table, as he can really ruin your day. Arcbound Ravager is not the end of the world, as keeping one mana open means your opponent has to respect your ability to interact with a Ravager target. This matchup drastically improves postboard.


Grixis Shadow

Quite positive matchup – we are very fast, even for Modern standards. The Grixis player will have a very hard time punching through, as Harambe blocks exceptionally well due to the Undying creatures and Narnam Renegade. Don’t be afraid to smash a Shadow that has grown too large. Do make sure to finish the game quickly however, as their superior card quality will take over once they get rid of all the air in the deck.


Eldrazi Tron

One of the hardest matchups for Harambe – the game revolves around you being able to handle a Chalice of the Void for one. This is almost impossible to do game 1 and is one of the main reasons for including Ancient Grudge in the board. Apart from that, the deck is able to stall the ground quite effectively with big bodies and annoying card like Matter Reshaper.


Jeskai Control

Very positive matchup – they rely on single target removal, which Pongify effects severely punish. The only card you need to worry about is Anger of the Gods. Otherwise it’s smooth sailing.


Storm

Quite positive matchup – the combination of a fast clock and relevant disruption is just what the doctor ordered against the pure combo mages. Prioritize keeping removal up rather than counterspells.


Humans

Even matchup – we are faster, but they have a number of incredibly annoying cards like the two Thalias. Don’t get caught off guard by a Reflector Mage – keep a Pongify effect up if you can!


Burn

Positive matchup – we goldfish as fast as burn and are quickly able to outmatch their groundbeaters. The only drawback is our manabase, which means you have to fetch carefully in order to not hurt yourself. Postboard a resolved Life Goes On means game over for Burn.


G/X Tron

Even to positive matchup – Tron games feel quite lopsided. We either win very fast leaving them with no relevant way to interact or they manage to land a haymaker in time to stem the bleeding. Wurmcoil, Ugin and Oblivion Stone are the real issues here, whereas Karn and Ulamog are usually manageable. Counterspells work wonders postboard.


Titanshift

Negative matchup – Our interaction lines up poorly against Titanshift meaning we are forced to race and overextend. The presence of Anger of the Gods makes life hard for the monkeys. Try to keep a hand that goldfishes turn 4.


Counters Company

Even matchup – our interaction is very relevant, but the deck wouldn’t be a contender if it wasn’t able to grind through a few lightning bolts. Kitchen Finks is also a very annoying card. That being said, the deck has a lot of air and Harambe will punch through eventually, given enough time.


U/W Control

Positive matchup – they are by far the slowest of the controlling decks and their interaction is quite expensive like Detention Sphere and Supreme Verdict. Don’t overextend into a Supreme Verdict unless you’re doing it with Undying creatures, but make sure to still keep enough power on the board to be able to pressure their planeswalkers.


Lantern Control

Negative matchup – our inability to remove Ensnaring Bridge game 1 means the preboarded games are very lopsided. Postboard we have a lot of interaction but will often have to win two sideboarded games.


B/G/X midrange

Negative to even matchup – Jund and Abzan have a number of annoying cards. While Liliana of the Veil does very little against Harambe (and may even be a liability), Tarmogoyf and Scavenging Ooze present real problems. The Scavenging Ooze needs to die on sight as it invalidates a large part of our gameplan. As for the Goyf, the stage of the game decides how the old Lhurgoyf should be handled. Experience tells me that it is usually correct to smash him and move on, taking the 2-for-1 in stride.

Hope you enjoyed the article. Take the deck for a spin at your next FNM – you might like it 😉

Until then,

Beast_with_2_backs

Beating Modern #3

Editorial Note: Make sure to check out Beating Modern #1 and Beating Modern #2. They are great. Trust me.

Welcome back to yet another batch of basic guides to beating the usual suspects of Modern. I’m really enjoying writing these overall matchup blueprints, but I enjoy getting your input even more. Maybe you have played the deck for three years and my testing is useless compared to your expertise. Great, then contribute in the comments here, on facebook, reddit or where ever you are reading this. Let us get better together!


BG/x Midrange

Black and Green-based Midrange decks with one mana discard spells, Tarmogoyf and Liliana of the Veil fall under this category. Even though their threatbase and removal suite will differ and depend on their splash color (if any), playing against these different versions of the archetype feels very similar. Ideally, their objective is to grind both players down on resources so their superior card quality can take over the game. They use cheap discard and cheap removal spells to make sure the game doesn’t get out of hand quickly, so turns 1-2 it is very difficult to get an edge there.

Collected Company is a very good example of what BG/x Midrange is weak to. Cards they can’t use Inquisition of Kozilek, Abrupt Decay or other 1-for-1 removal spells to deal with. Four-mana planeswalkers, Reality Smasher and Gurmag Angler are other good examples, while – if you are playing Affinity – your best threat against them is Etched Champion.

They lean hard on Liliana of the Veil to get pairity in cards and keep the board clean, so cards that match up well against her are at a premium. Lingering Souls, Kitchen Finks, Voice of Resurgence and Matter Reshaper come to mind when thinking about main deck cards, and Obstinate Baloth can blow the BG/x player out after sideboard.

This archetype has traditionally been weak to “big mana” decks like Tron and Scapeshift strategies, and that is still true today. Ramp your lands onto the battlefield and trust that your deck with much higher top end will draw better than your BG/x opponent. Any respectable BG/x sideboard will contain Fulminator Mage, sometimes combined with Surgical Extraction or some main deck Ghost Quarters, so they will also come prepared.

Good Sideboard Cards


Abzan Company

Abzan Company is a creature combo deck that tries to assemble either Vizier of Remedies + Devoted Druid + Duskwatch Recruiter and finish the game with Walking Ballista or Rhonas the Indomitable or the old infinite life combo of Viscera Seer, Kitchen Finks and Vizier of Remedies. The only non-creature spells in the deck are Collected Company and Chord of Calling, and combatting those is how you get the upper hand in the matchup.

The deck also plays a couple of Gavony Township, and these serve as a great plan B when they can’t assemble their combo. Keep in mind that if you are playing a fair deck, a long game against Abzan Company will most likely result in Gavony Township taking over the game.

When they lead on Noble Hierarch or Birds of Paradise, you should always kill it with Fatal Push and Lightning Bolt, and the same goes for Devoted Druid on turn two, but later on managing your removal spells can be tricky. Having one ready at instant speed means you can break up their infinite combo and leave them with a 2/1 vanilla creature and Duskwatch Recruiter which ability is somewhat expensive to use. Also note that the Devoted Druid will be summoning sick, so you always have time to remove it from the board before they combo.

Grafdigger’s Cage is fantastic because it stops persist from Kitchen Finks plus all of their eight green search spells. Anger of the Gods is another great card that will deal with most board states and the Kitchen Finks completely.

Good Sideboard Cards


Blue/White Control

(written by U/W Control pilot Anders Gotfredsen)

U/W Control has pretty much always been a major deck in Magic all the way back to Brian Weissman’s ‘The Deck’ from 1996. Back then it was all about staying alive and eventually kill your opponent with whatever slow – but resilient – win condition was available. With Modern having so many different strategies, staying alive indefinitely against everything is an impossible task, but the win conditions have also gotten more powerful, and counterspells and board sweepers are still great against most decks.

The main plan revolves around planeswalkers, mainly Gideon of the Trials, Jace, Architect of Thought and Gideon Jura which they keep alive with Supreme Verdict, Cryptic Command and cheap interaction like Path to Exile, Mana Leak and Snapcaster Mage. The deck is very good at dealing with conventional creature strategies because if you play one creature at a time, Path to Exile or either Gideon buy them a turn, but if you play more than one, Supreme Verdict can get you.

The way to beat U/W is by not just playing creatures and attack with them. This means you want creatures that provide value even if they are killed right away (these often come as a Collected Company which is also great against U/W) or non-creature threats like planeswalkers or Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. U/W Control can also be quite weak to Tron decks, because even though they have Spreading Seas and Tectonic Edge, they don’t close out the game fast enough to stop the big Eldrazi from being cast. Lantern Control also has a great U/W matchup because it sidesteps the whole creature damage plan and have inevitability for the long game they will surely reach.

Generally, U/W isn’t a deck that has it’s own game plan that you should aim to disrupt; they want to stop you from enacting your game plan and so you beat them by having a plan that they’re not prepared for.

Good Sideboard Cards:

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