All In For Modern

Ari Lax shows you all the combo decks that didn’t take the spotlight in Modern but are still viable candidates, even after any proposed bannings. Will Modern be an all-combo format even after multiple bannings?

Looking back at Pro Tour Philadelphia, the real story of the event was the success of combo. More specifically, the top tables were flooded with combo decks that focused less on resilience and interaction and just wanted to kill you on turn three. While Splinter Twin, the “good guy” in the world of combo decks that showed up with legitimate answers, ended up winning, there were more than enough Rite of Flames and Blazing Shoals to go around.

Since then, there have been a slew of discussions on how to refocus the format towards the turn four critical turn Wizards was aiming for when they created it. Various bans have been discussed, and everything up to Preordain has been named as an offender.

Sorry to break the news, but the decks you saw at the Pro Tour were just the surface. They’re certainly more reliable than the other options, but there are many more ways to resolve the game on turn three than what we saw. These are just a handful of the ones I found, and I’m sure there are more.

This was my top combo choice when we left for Pennsylvania. In the end it was ditched for real interaction, but it is the real deal. It killed on turn four almost every game and had a reasonable number of turn threes if you just went for it every game (around 20%). Once you actually start going off, you put up similar numbers to Legacy High Tide in terms of fizzling (around 95% success).

For those who haven’t played some Eggs variant before, the basic idea is to get a Lotus Bloom in play and use it to cast Second Sunrise. This will return the Lotus Bloom, as well as any of the cantrip artifacts you sacrificed and any Ghost Quarters or fetchlands you sacrificed. From there you cantrip through a bunch more cards and Sunrise again and again until you are out of cards in library.

At this point, you sacrifice a Conjurer’s Bauble to return Sunrise to your deck and draw it again. Pyrite Spellbomb goes to the face for two; Sunrise rebuys it and the Bauble; and through a million iterations, they die. In order to pull this off, you need four mana each loop, which is possible either with multiple Lotus Blooms or a Ghost Quarter, Lotus Bloom, and either a Flask or Star. In the latter case, you simply just have to execute the later actions in response to the draw a card trigger from the artifact.

Almost everyone had some version of this deck, but all the ones I saw were a bit behind this one. Most of them still had Open the Vaults, which is just a bad Drift of Phantasms, as if you Drift for Sunrise then later Reclaim, it saves you three mana a loop compared to a Vaults. Time Sieve also made an appearance in some lists alongside Ichor Wellspring, but again this moves you towards Open the Vaults and doesn’t actually accelerate a combo.

In terms of other Sunrise-based versions, most of them were still on Edge of Autumn and lacked Mox Opal. Mox adds the same one mana as Edge but does so pre-Sunrise while also being an artifact to Reshape. The cantrip off Edge is fairly marginal, as the key factor post-Sunrise is often mana—you have twelve copies of Sunrise between Revivals, Drifts, Reclaim, and the actual card (not even counting copies you shuffle back in with Baubles). The tradeoff for the marginal post-combo stability is a significant increase in the number of turn-three kills, something you will gladly take.

Hive Mind had Pact of Negation backup and a similar kill turn, but in exchange was completely cold to a Thoughtseize plus a clock. While both cards only had four of their namesake cards and transmute, Hive Mind not only lacked the rebuy power of Noxious Revival, but its auxiliary cards were Pacts instead of cantrips. You often were also on a partial clock depending on which Pact you had and which deck you were playing against. Some of the Cloudpost builds could legitimately just pay starting on turn three, making things difficult.

Swath Storm was able to put up a similar clock and got to run Remand, but this deck had a large bonus due to the arbitrarily large nature of its combo. If your opponent was just at twenty life, it was often difficult for Swath to kill them on three and often four. If they went over twenty-one, it got even more difficult, as you needed over seven storm and a Swath or ten storm, which are both difficult at best. I won a game at the Pro Tour just because I had a Seal of Primordium and more than seventeen life.

While it may seem difficult for this deck to combat artifact removal, the fact Second Sunrise is an instant makes it much easier than it looks. Upkeep killing a Lotus Bloom just means your first Sunrise gets a little less value. Their best option is usually just killing a cantrip you played early, which is a minor setback at worst.

In fact, the same is true about most one-shot disruption.

Against counter-heavy decks, this deck could easily wait them out and threaten to power through a hand of interaction. Tormod’s Crypt or Surgical Extraction was laughable, simply requiring another copy of Sunrise. You go through everything, Sunrise, let them Crypt, then Sunrise again in response. They hit your Sunrise, then you just go off again with the original still on the stack. Against Extraction, you can just leave up a Revival or Bauble to counter it. Their best option with their disruption? Countering a Reclaim effect, which is beatable.

The cards that actually beat you? Permanent-based hate, like Rule of Law and Leyline of the Void, forces you to have an answer. The bear forms of these cards are less of an issue, as you can board additional Spellbombs to remove them without really diluting your deck. Gaddock Teeg and Aven Mindcensor are mere nuisances, while Ethersworn Canonist shuts you down.

Chalice of the Void on one is an issue, making you go off with what you have in play, but you can get the Spellbomb into play through it via Reshape or first casting it and Conjuring it back if it is in your hand. Trinisphere is also beatable, just forcing you to have multiple Lotus Blooms to reliably Reclaim anything.

Extirpate is the one-shot card that ends the game, and if you decide to Hide / Seek me, congrats.

The idea was eventually discarded on the basis that you weren’t able to turn four through a Remand in the combo mirror, and Zoo was just faster than you. If they just won the die roll and had you on turn four, odds were things weren’t going anywhere good.

In terms of where to take the deck, the main thing we hadn’t gotten around to was adding a Wargate and a Forest over an Island and another unknown card, letting you Transmute for a Lotus Bloom. This probably doesn’t speed the deck up much, but it adds to the number of turn four hands you can keep.

The most important part of this deck? Literally zero of the cards anyone is talking about banning affect it directly. Even if Ponder goes, it is by far the worst card in the deck.

In terms of pure speed, this was the best deck that we had and is probably faster than everything but the Turbo Poison deck. It killed about half the time on turn three or before.

The issue? First off, there was the fact you had about a million bricks, or more precisely seven.

Second was the reliance on Spoils of the Vault, which was not something I felt comfortable with especially when it was very possible to just exile Mogg Fanatic. A second could be added, but then you have another dead card instead of probably the Wild Cantor, which lets you win with a Viscera Seer in hand but not in deck, or just stores a mana for a later turn.

Third, almost all of the interaction in the format was an issue. Counters, Thoughtseize, Gaddock Teeg, Rule of Law (shuts down Rituals slowing you to a crawl), graveyard hate, even Path to Exile stopped you. Just a Lightning Bolt left you in a position where you had to get another untap step, albeit with Body Double and Viscera Seer to block.

Finally, the deck just bricked about a quarter of the time. You either mulliganed out of the game, your dig spells just bricked, or you flipped half your deck to Spoils of the Vault.

I never really went too far down this path, but it is possible that Ideas Unbound, Thirst for Knowledge, and Footsteps of the Goryo are what this deck wants. There are other discard outlets like Oona’s Prowler to consider, and there may be future tools in Innistrad that also help this out. Keep an eye out for this combo in the future.

Last Extended season this deck was insane, but slightly short in real action cards. You can only miss off Summoning Trap so many times before you light the card on fire. The default choice post-Besieged is no longer legal in Modern (Hint: It starts with a “Stoneforge Mystic” and… wait, no that’s just it), but the same set brought us the obvious replacement.

Not only does Green Sun’s Zenith increase the number of one-drops accelerators you can play and maximize your nut draws, but it is just extra Knights or Titans when you need them. The downside of being a blank when hiding cards is a slight issue, but is mitigated by the addition of another card.

Also, on the subject of Dryad Arbor, you can now not only Knight for a creature that costs zero to attack, but you can fetch for one.

Plow Under is the other game breaker you were looking for. Five mana is much more reliable on turn three than the six required for a Titan, and putting this under a Heights is often just as good as an Emrakul early on.

Let’s just say our official playtesting rule of “You can’t talk if you don’t have permanents in play” was invoked a lot with this deck.

In the end, the Cloudpost decks proved slightly better at doing a lot of what this deck was doing, but you had a definite edge in the mirror and more turn threes against combo. Depending on how much of the Post engine remains as of next week, this may be the go-to deck if you want to make a 15/15.

There was also a real concern that Punishing Fire would be a major force at the Pro Tour. You can power through it, but realistically you are going to lose most of the time to the card.

If you decide you don’t care about Cloudposts, this is where it is at.

The list I posted last week was inbred for a metagame that was 20-30% Cloudpost and built for people who actually had some respect or fear, whichever you prefer to call it. This list is for people who just want to light someone on fire.

There aren’t any smart Red cards in here. There are no Grim Lavamancers or Spikeshot Elders to grind them out with. You have no intention of the game taking long enough that Lavamancer is anything but Kird Ape with an upkeep.

If you want a raw turn-three deck, this is the closest you are getting without playing the card Blazing Shoal.

The deck was originally closer to the Red decks that were floating around MODO, but Hellspark Elemental and Keldon Marauders turned out to just slow the deck down. Just jamming as many one-drops as you could into a stack led to the highest damage output by turn four at the cost of a bit of late game damage per card potential, which given the lack of a late game in the format meant nothing.

This deck probably suffers a bit if any bannings occur, as cards like Kitchen Finks and Engineered Explosives gain some ground, but early on it will still do what it did before. If your opponent’s deck is not tuned, you will just kill them. If their deck is not built to handle a hyper aggressive Zoo deck, they will not have enough.

Even if they think they have what they need, there’s a chance they are wrong or just lose the die roll.

Of course, maybe they just showed up with Chalice of the Void and played it for one. But really, who does that?

My point isn’t to say the format is fundamentally flawed. Each of these decks is a step weaker than what we saw at the Pro Tour for various reasons, each of which is much more exploitable than the current crop of decks.

Just remember what happened when Elves won the Pro Tour, but Riptide Lab dominated the PTQ season. Sure, some bans may be required, but the way to succeed in this format going forward is going to be figuring out what set of interaction best handles the aggressive nature of the format.

Let’s just say Bitterblossom is banned for a very good reason. It’s not an easy job, but someone has to do it.