Beating Big Mana In Modern

Big Mana decks took gold, silver, and bronze at the SCG Charlotte Modern Open! Abraham Stein thinks it’s time to target Big Mana, and he’s here to show you how!

In Dallas we saw Dredge rise before our eyes, yet ultimately, we saw a difficult-to-pilot deck in Traverse Shadow use double striking and trampling 6/6 creatures take the trophy. This week in Charlotte we saw Dredge kept in check as it was respected by the field at large while we watched a different difficult-to-pilot deck take home the trophy with some double striking and trampling 6/6 creatures.

See the similarities?

Of course I’m talking about Amulet Titan, a deck that somewhat silently has been sitting atop Modern for over a month now. The finals of the Modern Open consisted of a mirror match which showcased two different versions of the archetype in the fight for the trophy.

I had seen Will Pulliam’s version of Amulet Titan before this weekend, and while I hadn’t seen Austin Robbins’s take on things involving Lotus Bloom and Hive Mind, such differences between the two are minor. The overarching strategy of these decks is still the same: use lands like Simic Growth Chamber and Amulet of Vigor alongside additional land drops to make a wealth of mana very quickly and power out a haymaker like Primeval Titan or Hive Mind.

Looking just past first and second place, TitanShift had the next-best finish, meaning that of the twelve copies of Primeval Titan in the Top 8, they couldn’t have done any better than they did. That’s a pretty big deal, especially in Modern. Decks like these are often referred to as “Big Mana Decks” because they’re trying to cast spells that are traditionally more mana than is considered affordable in the format. Generally the best example of the Big Mana decks in Modern is Tron. It fills itself with Karn Liberated, Wurmcoil Engine, and other expensive threats that take advantage of the quick access to colorless mana it creates.

Based off the results of last weekend, it’s time to put Big Mana back in our sights as Modern players. Unlike Dredge, where shutting down the graveyard is a pretty easy task in Modern, big mana decks like TitanShift and Amulet Titan are tricky to interact with. Note that I said “tricky,” but not “impossible.” Modern is a big format, and while historically decks built around nonbasic lands have been difficult to interact with, it feels like the card pool for interacting with them increases with almost every set that comes out.

These two relatively new additions to Modern come to mind first as cards that could certainly see an uptick in play in the coming weeks with the rise of Big Mana strategies. Alpine Moon is unfortunately not exactly effective against Amulet Titan but is a home run against Tron and TitanShift when it’s backed up by pressure. Starting the game with a play that can entirely invalidate your opponent’s first plan of attack is great, but without any pressure to follow it up, is ultimately useless. A deck that used Alpine Moon well last weekend in Charlotte was Jordan Rieth’s Izzet Wizards deck from the Top 8.

In a deck full of cheap countermagic and cheap threats, having your hate card cost one mana is a huge advantage. One of the big weaknesses of cards like Blood Moon with similar shutout potential is that it costs you a full turn when your opponent has already developed, leaving yourself vulnerable for a potentially pivotal turn. Izzet Wizards is able to weave in a one-mana spell fairly easily without ever letting up on the pressure.

As I mentioned, Alpine Moon has a lot of weakness in the Amulet Titan matchup. Naming a land of theirs doesn’t put as much a dent in their plans as naming Urza’s Power Plant or Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. Not to mention, as much as Delver of Secrets and I have had some great times together, I’ve sort of fallen for a different one-mana Human from Innistrad after last weekend’s Open. After losing playing for Top 8 with Humans over the weekend, Champion of the Parish has my heart as the threat I want backing up my disruption for the foreseeable future in Modern.

It’s been more than a year since Humans broke onto the scene and with its quick clock and proactive disruption. It’s almost always a good choice for the wide-open format that is Modern. Damping Sphere is also an easy fit for the deck’s sideboard, and alongside a Meddling Mage or two it can become almost impossible for decks like Amulet Titan to overcome. Humans will almost always be an excellent choice for any given Modern tournament, provided you build it correctly, and for the next few weeks I expect Thalia, Heretic Cathar to work herself back into the maindeck as a response to Big Mana decks and creature decks alike.

These are a couple of the decks to look at involving the new guard of fighting Big Mana decks, but this article wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the true GOAT.

Blood Moon has been the bane of many a Modern player’s existence for as long as I can remember. There’s nothing more frustrating than looking at a grip of spells you want to cast and not being able to cast them for one reason or another. There really isn’t such a thing as a “fair” Blood Moon most of the time in Modern, but not all Blood Moon decks are created equal. Moreover, not every Blood Moon deck is even good against Big Mana decks despite Blood Moon being one of the most potent pieces of hate for those strategies.

Mardu Pyromancer is a perfect example of the wrong kind of Blood Moon deck for the metagame as I see it. While Blood Moon serves as a powerful tool in fighting against Big Mana decks, I can’t count the amount of times I’ve seen an early Blood Moon resolve and a deck like Tron simply plays its lands and casts its spells, easily overpowering Mardu even with a Blood Moon on the battlefield. This is because Mardu Pyromancer generally lacks a fast closing speed in addition to its disruptive effects. Putting a horde of 1/1 Elementals onto the battlefield with Young Pyromancer is about as fast as this deck operates, and in Modern, that’s not quite going to cut it against a Big Mana deck.

Mardu Pyromancer is a deck I often think of in the same vein as another, similar fair Blood Moon deck, Blue Moon. The analogy I like to make is that Mardu Pyromancer is the Jund to Blue Moon’s Jeskai. Mardu leans more on Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, and planeswalkers, whereas Blue Moon leans on Cryptic Command and Snapcaster Mage to do the heavy lifting as a fair deck to back up the power of Blood Moon.

Historically, Blue Moon has had the same problems in closing games out that Mardu Pyromancer has, but as Ross Merriam has proved from time to time on the SCG Tour, the deck is highly viable with Jace, the Mind Sculptor back in the format. In fact, over the weekend, Blue Moon put up a second-place finish in the Modern Challenge on Magic Online.

This deck is probably my frontrunner among Blood Moon decks I’d want to play in a Modern event, but I also have a huge soft spot for Snapcaster Mage and Cryptic Command. Blue Moon especially is such a customizable archetype and the options are essentially limitless on what you can play. I know that Benjamin Nikolich has been known to prefer Docent of Perfection as his kill condition. I prefer a Tidings, and maybe fewer copies of Opt and Thing in the Ice for a more robust deck with less velocity. I’ve been toying around with the idea of Crackling Drake as a quick kill condition that works with answers like Harvest Pyre. Blue Moon is a really flexible and fun deck to work with on paper, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it kept putting up results like this one if it started seeing more play.

The last Blood Moon deck I want to talk about is the deck that won the Modern Classic in Charlotte over the weekend, Gruul Land Destruction, another Blood Moon deck that benefitted from the most recent unbannings in Modern, with Bloodbraid Elf being a powerful addition to a deck that is all about messing with mana, big and small.

Unsurprisingly when you look at the creature count, I think this is the best Blood Moon deck at closing the game once it has its disruption on the battlefield for Big Mana decks. This deck goes out of its way to shut down decks that are looking to cast spells that cost more than one or two mana and poses a nightmare for decks like TitanShift and Amulet Titan alike. Especially with decks like Hollow One on a steep decline, Gruul Land Destruction is an extremely well-positioned deck for the coming weeks and one I wouldn’t count out of Modern just yet.

Beyond Blood Moon decks, there aren’t many decks that are equipped to play a fair game against Amulet Titan. Fortunately, this is Modern we’re talking about, and playing fair isn’t exactly everything it’s made out to be. One of the costs of being a Big Mana deck is that so much of your resources are placed into producing fast mana that you cannot also easily be an interactive deck.

Decks with extremely fast kill speeds such as Infect, Hardened Scales, Storm, and Ad Nauseam are all excellent choices in fields full of TitanShift, Tron, and Amulet Titan. After all, one of the biggest factors in the continued success of Amulet Titan is the speed at which it can produce a Primeval Titan and put the game away, so playing a deck that locks the game up sooner and drag racing with the opponent becomes viable.

With this weekend being a week off from the SCG Tour prior to SCG Regionals, it will be extremely interesting to see how the metagame responds to the results from Charlotte and the coming Grand Prix Atlanta. Staying on the cutting edge of Modern is extremely rewarding, and if you want to succeed, understanding and following the trends week to week is the most important thing you can do. In addition to packing your Damping Spheres and Alpine Moons, you should figure out your plan against decks that prey on the winning decks from Charlotte as well. That way, if the hate works out, you’re prepared for the rest of the room as the cream rises to the top.

If people don’t respond to this weekend’s results, maybe I’ll spend the next two weeks before Regionals studying up on Amulet Titan and show people what they should fear, but until then, I’ll probably keep playing and tuning Humans. My list will be available in the “What We’d Play” article going up later this week for those of you playing in GP Atlanta or elsewhere. So far, just one thing is for certain:

There will be Damping Spheres.