Behind the Curtain – Harry Potter and the Modern Hallows

Our testing team began asking: “If a house member could choose a Modern deck, which deck would it be?” And so we came up with five competitive Modern decks to satisfy the victorious urges of Hufflepuffs and Slytherins alike.

Hello! This article is, unsurprisingly, about Modern, and it was inspired by the first and most common source of a muggle’s knowledge about Magic — the
Harry Potter saga. The Pro Tour will be starting the day after tomorrow (a special thanks to Steve, who politely permitted me to shift my schedule for
this week), so it’s the last time to speak about interesting and promising decks before the Pro Tour will put everything in its place.

The Diary of Moaning Myrtle

Everything started when my friend said, “Ten points for Gryffindor!” I responded immediately: “What? Gryffindor? Look at him — he’s a pureSlytherin student!” Ten minutes later, the main topic of team e-mail spam switched from ” Aaaaaaaa!!! What deck do we play at Pro Tour Philly????” to “Which Hogwarts’ house do you belong to?

The topic proved itself endlessly enthralling, so we quickly came to the question: “If a house member could choose a Modern deck, which deck would it

The simplest proposal I’ve heard about Houses of Hogwarts was, “Everything is easy: good boys go to Gryffindor, bad boys go to Slytherin, other houses
are inaudible.” This is far from the truth. Of course, two houses gained more attention in the books and films (and with significant bias), but all
four houses are just types of characters, and the key difference is not whether any house is good or bad, but the ways to win that are preferred by
certain house — just like Magic decks, you know.

Blue spells (especially Counterspell and his kinsmen) are often considered “unfair,” “bad,” and “uninteresting” — especially by new and casual players,
who dislike watching their wonderful fatties get dispelled. Nevertheless, that doesn’t make blue a bad color to play — in the same way that Tom Marvolo
Riddle doesn’t make Slytherin bad.

(By the way, Slytherin was translated into Russian using word “Slime” [“Sleez,” “Sleezerin”] and professor Snape lost all his snake connections, while
got a snowball instead [he is “Snegg” in Russian and snow is “sneg”], making bias against this house even harder in Russian.)

An Aside About Translations

NOTE: This is long and will be followed by additional thoughts about Hogwarts’ houses, so if you just want decklists and strategy, ctrl+F “Luna

I don’t really know how good Russian books are translated into English (I expect you to know at least some, maybe “Crime and Punishment” and “War and
Peace”) — but English-Russian translation is always funny.

It can be great (take every Kurt Vonnegut book, who is extremely popular in Russia) or it can be strange — as witness any translation of “Lord of the
Rings.” I’m probably too old to be a Harry Potter fan (oh my, I’m older than PV!) and too young to be a bearded Dungeons and Dragons adept, so the
magic of my childhood was about hobbits.

Problem is, there are three different common translations of Lord of the Rings — with three different surnames of Frodo! He is not just Baggins, but
also Torbins (“torba” is an archaic word for “bag”) and Sumniks (“sumka” is “bag,” so he should be Sumkins, but he is actually Sumniks for some
reason). But every single translation shifts the well-known “Fly, you fools!” into just “Run away!”

Aaand. Translation of Magic cards into Russian is a quarterly topic in the Russian forums since Ravnika. For example, Draining Whelk became “Sewer
Pimple” in Russian. Sometimes I hate Google Translate.

Meddling Mage first appeared in Russian in Alara as “Meddling Witch” — so if the card will be reprinted again with Chris Pikula face, he’ll be forced
to be a girl in Russia.

Okay, that’s too much hurt. End aside. Resume business. Let’s look at Hogwarts houses.


+ courage, bravery, loyalty, nerve and chivalry

– thirst for public admiration and constant attention


+ ambition, cunning, leadership, resourcefulness

– secret hankering for power over others


+ deeply tribal, “group think,” hard work, tolerance, loyalty, and fair play.

– have a nasty tendency to gang up on outsiders, slackers, or people who are perceived to have deliberately let their side down.


+ intelligence, creativity, learning, and wit

– values cleverness purely for its own sake, strong determination to be proven right

The key points of each house are very clear, and could be easily transferred into magic terms. I named both the good and bad points, because everybody
knows that Harry Potter is primarily arrogant bastard and only after that — superhero. There are four houses and five colors in Magic, so straight
comparison is impossible — but the simplest attempt would be like this:

  • Gryffindor: Red-Green of Red-White, depends on loyalty over bravery;
  • Slytherin: Blue-Black or Blue-White, depending on levels of unscrupulousness;
  • Hufflepuff: Green-White;
  • Ravenclaw: pure Blue or Blue-Red, depending on the levels of individualism.

This is, obviously, a very rough delineation; moreover, many decks could be considered different Houses from different positions. For example, take Dragonstorm combo. It is
straightforward enough to be the declaration of Gryffindor courage. It can be treated as the strong interconnection of spells that makes Hufflepuff
tick. It is smart and effective enough to be Ravenclaw deck. But it is definitely not Slytherin’s. A Slytherin mage would play even something like
Legacy Dredge or Ad Nauseam combo if it would lead him to victory (even in Modern, if he could persuade the judges that his deck is legal).

Now the target for ctrl+F for those who skipped the previous five hundred words (are they ready for Cruciatus? I think they should be):

Luna Lovegood is superior to any other girl in Harry Potter Universe.

Formalities are made; let’s go to actual Magic.

Twelve Posts to Gryffindor!

The House of Gryffindor is like Harry Potter and Brian Kibler themselves: strange combination of courage, goodwill, self-confidence, and arrogance.
Hmmm, very. Sorry, that was a typo; I meant Verhey, Gavin Verhey (his ” Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” is the ideal dark
side of Gryffindor representation).

…Or a straight Zoo deck. The main weapon of Gryffindor is “Do what you like, and see if your opponent will lose. If he will, proclaim yourself as the
savior of the humankind. If you die in a battle against Nightscape Battlemage, ask to be proclaimed a martyr.”

I don’t want to post another more Zoo deck, so here is an attempt to represent the other feelings of Gryffindor — courage instead of bravery, and
loyalty instead of self-confidence. I think that Green-Red Twelvepost is the essence of such a noble Gryffindorian as Hagrid. The deck is a clean
manifestation of power without touch of trickery — and it has significant advantage over Zoo decks in a very good matchup against sophisticated blue

An Aside About Namedropping

I’m sorry for the arbitrarily large amount of Russian names in the article, but these decks are mostly homebrews, so I should respect their

The following list is a courtesy of my teammate, Russian National ’09 Champion and true ‘Slyth Andrey Kochurov, who polished the deck and posted it to
local forums. Magic Online users Paukan and Zenith777, who are commonly used as the list’s source from the very first Modern Daily Event, slightly
changed Andrey’s deck.

By the way, I don’t see any controversy in using a Gryffindor deck built by a Slytherin. He’s just good deckbuilder, open to any ideas — a true
Slytheriner should consider any available options. Time stands still, so there is an update. It contains a fair amount of true Slytherin trickery, but
it really makes the deck better.

Three Eldrazis are common, and the lack of Banefire in the sideboard says, “Gryffindor is incorruptible! Pack four Beast Withins and do your best to
prevent Bribery!” (+2 Beast Within, -2 Oblivion Stone in the mirror; this concept has proven itself to be effective and saves the sideboard from thin

Wurmcoil Engine is not good, but it is mandatory in some matchups. It can be Karn, Liberated or Mindslavered (this card is the true connection between
the dark sides of Gryffindor and Slytherin).

Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time for precise testing of the Scapeshift build, but it looks like a great and interesting decision. It was one
of the most interesting questions after the ban announcements — will Scapeshift and Prismatic Omen be playable anywhere? — along with the same
questions about Swords, Mistbind Clique, etc. So Scapeshift finally found its home, and we are going to our next stop.

The four Green Sun’s Zenith and the toolbox needs some explanation. Nest Invader and Kozilek’s Predator are both acceleration, and also
immune-to-spot-removal blockers (so they’re better than Overgrown Battlement). Oracle of Mul Daya is a contending option, but it depends on metagame:
Oracle acceleration is great, but he’s ssssooooo bad against any sort of aggression.

Magus of the Candelabra gives the edge in the mirror match (and, really, an edge anywhere) when it’s possible to untap with it. A lot of mana
shows who’s the real superhero. The metagame seems to have been invaded by different versions of Twelveposts, so Magus is must, and after few
games it became clear to me that he is probably best card in the entire deck — maybe as important as Hagrid himself (and there’s a cool idea
for alteration).

The deck lacks Hagrid’s beloved Dragons and Spiders, but there is a point where thinking should exceed Gryffindor’s blind courage.

…And the place where team thinking completely prevails over individualism is Hufflepuff, so let’s go.

Infinite Hufflepuff

The living manifestation of Hufflepuff’s essence is Slivers — although you could choose any tribal deck (say Elves), or creature-based combo (I choose
you, Reveillark!).

Then again, Hufflepuff is very close to the idea of Selesnya.

The dark side of Hufflepuff is Melira Combo. Yes, despite the fact that house essence states “have a nasty tendency to gang up on outsiders,” a combo
based on a creature with the word “outcast” in the card name fully belongs to Hufflepuff. Look precisely: what is Hufflepuff, if not a fellowship of
mediocre outcasts surrounded by outstanding personalities from other houses?

(This opinion is, obviously, biased.)

Here are singleton creatures usually considered as “mediocre” or ‘”barely playable” — but in a team knitted together with Chord of Calling and Birthing
Pod’s inspired self-sacrifice, they form a strong power base with many lines of attack. There’s new-style Melira-Kitchen Finks / Melira-Murderous
Redcap combo, and old-fashioned ReveillarkBody DoubleMogg Fanatic.

I must also note the presence of Saffi Eriksdotter — it’s a sort of crime to play sacrifice outlet and Reveillark, and then ignore her. Saffi is a way
to combo off without Melira.

One more vital addition is an extra sacrifice generator that is less vulnerable to hate. Greater Gargadon, who also allows us to play red for Mogg
Fanatic, gives us an additional way to win.

As for the sideboard, I still have no idea of what should go here. The format’s immaturity makes it hard to pick specific. But general ideas are to
pack discard to suppress hate, and use Fecundity to play against removal-heavy decks. One more idea is to play Avalanche Riders as a way to clear
Twelveposts’ lands away, or…

I should stop here. Hufflepuff’s diversity is probably unlimited (you may note that I did not say a word about, for example, Through the Breach), so I
leave you alone at the Hufflepuff’s doors and go to Hogwarts’ dungeons — into the Slytherin common room.

The Elder Wand Of Slytherin

Slytherin is known as a place for bad boys — but if we move away from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and his Puppeteer Clique, there’s nothing inherently
wrong with Slytherin. They’re strong individualists who see not the only goal as attainable via their own power (as Gryffindors tends to behave) — they
see the goal as attainable through all possible means (even is some of them are impossible for more squeamish persons).

While building the idea of building a great rogue deck to beat the metagame clearly belongs to Ravenclaw (Conley, I see you!), driving the metagame to
the state where your deck is perfect is for Slytherin. If impossible, the goal is to make your opponent powerless, despite anything he could do.

So the Modern imagination of any Slytherin mage (including He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named himself) is Elder Wand.

Elder Wand suggested by Basil Sasorov

First, a truth about split cards: It is possible to imprint Research / Development onto the wand (Isochron Scepter), and then cast Development every
turn. It is possible to transmute Muddle the Mixture into Research / Development. It is possible to cast Development with Chalice of
the Void set to two. It is possible to cascade into Boom / Bust and to play Bust (not for this deck, admittedly, but for Bloodbraid Elf and
Living End — side out Living End, side in Boom / Bust, and then kill Twelveposts with draft creatures is a working strategy).

The next point is Isochron Scepter. In the right hands, it can serve as a real Elder Wand, both devastating and powerful. The main targets for
imprinting are Silence (it’s not quite Orim’s Chant, but still able to ruin many players’ days, especially in combination with Teferi, Mage of
Zhalfir), Lightning Helix (obviously) and Research / Development.

The deck is a sort of heavy control, and its main goal is to lock the opponent out of the game. The plan has to be carefully masterminded, and can be
easily adapted to any circumstances (casting Research is often good idea). The next point of the deck’s power is that your opponent doesn’t know what
can you do even when you’re in face-to-face battle — true Slytherin intrigues are deep and unpredictable, and Isochron Scepter is usually your Horcrux,
allowing you to win safely and comfortably. (Comfort is important, too — look at Horace Slughorn! He preferred comfort to greatness.)

The deck is great against any sort of aggro — it can buy a plethora of time to set up intrigue, and is reasonably good against other blue decks. The
first draft of the deck had an embedded weakness to some sorts of resolved permanents (like a Chalice of the Void set to two), but Repeal and Wipe Away
solved this problem perfectly.

The weak part of the Elder Wand deck is the weak place of every great plan in every fantasy book: there is always somebody who is hard-bitten enough
that his struggle can demolish your carefully woven web. The common mistake of all evil overlords is that they underestimate good guys, and try to
solve problems with sophisticated methods; they may even catch the opponent and start telling him about their plans! Obviously, any good hero will cut
the rope on his wrists during this long story.

So make no mistakes. There is a problem: Twelveposts. This is rough and dowdy, but an effective solution: four Magus of the Moon (more Nature’s Claim
against Blood Moon, please!) and three Briberies.

Sometimes it’s good to beat Griffindor with their own weapons.

That’s all about Slytherin, so let’s go to the last but not least: ‘Claws. I have two decks for this house — because of obvious reasons.

Steal Claws

The key features of Ravenclaw are strong determination and creativity — so decks of this house would be either be blue, or or full of unusual
interactions and synergies (yes, I meant “rogue deck”).

The Ravenclaw values of “cleverness purely for its own sake, a strong determination to be proven right” gives us easy representatives of Luna-type
‘Claws — Conley Woods and Kyle Sanchez. (Less crazy persons to name are Michael Jacob and Patrick Chapin.)

I want to tell you about another person: Kenny Oberg, who was seen playing Ad Nauseam in Amsterdam, Grand Architect / Birthing Pod in Nagoya, and who
is best known as “Mr. Tezzerator.” The deck lost some important cards (Chrome Mox and Ancestral Vision), but is still an interesting choice against
aggro and combo decks (unfortunately sharing the usual embedded weakness to Twelveposts with other blue decks).

The list is a kind of “my precious,” but it’s unfortunately far from optimal — metagame changes very fast these days, so we have to be in constant
search for proper answers. Nevertheless, I’m pleased with the current list.

The five-colored manabase is inspired by Gabriel Nassif — and I actually played Engineered Explosives for five once (my opponent has Teferi at the
battlefield and Baneslayer Angel in his hand). Unfortunately, Trinket Mage can fetch only Darksteel Citadel and Mox Opal, which are worse than colored
artifact lands. Moreover, only white is useless, whereas other splash colors are required for maindeck and sideboard spells.

I choose Tezzeret the Seeker over Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas because I wanted a strong finisher and tutor for critically-needed spells (most often
Ensnaring Bridge). U/B Tezz is good, but for another deck (and definitely not Affinity — he’s too heavy for Affinity). He’s probably a good fit in some
sort of Counterburn (with Galvanic Blast and Shrapnel Blast; If Fireblast was legal, I’d call the deck Twelveblasts).

The cards that probably deserve places in the maindeck are Contagion Clasp (instead of Trinisphere) and Everflowing Chalice — some acceleration is
still welcome here. Unfortunately, the deck can’t play the old-fashioned “turn 1 Chrome Mox, turn 2 three-mana spell” plays like it wants to, but it’s
still mana-hungry. Sideboard is recognition of deck’s weaknesses: six cards against Twelveposts (Annex is sssooooo good and Magus of the Moon is far
less vulnerable to artifact / enchantment hate) and a full four Ancient Grudges. Some of these cards can be cut, but it is highly unlikely that the
format will come into equilibrium — which is a shame, as maindeck Firespouts are perfect against random opponents like R/G Shamans or even Merfolk.

Tezzerator perfectly shows ‘Claw’s inherent erudition and open-mindedness — the deck consists mostly of tutors and options, so the deal is to
understand what you need and to find it. But encyclopedic knowledge is not all — there is also logical thinking and wit! So I want to present the deck
that is mostly — if not almost — wit.

Greater Claws

Knight of the Reliquary seems to be the best creature in the format — so if she can be large, she’ll probably provide us with many possibilities to
win. Envisioning the Knight’s growth leads us to a complicated and tightly twisted combination of Greater Gargadon, Countryside Crusher, and Flagstones
of Trokair. We’re still in Naya colors, so let’s fit our precious (ouch! That’s a reference from another book) into a Big Zoo shell.

I also needed land destruction to solve the Twelveposts problem, so the deck finally split into two versions: a Green Sun’s Zenith and Molten Rain
version, and a Bloodbraid Elf and Boom / Bust. The first one is more reliable, while the second one is more powerful — but it requires better a player
seated between the chair and the cards.

Both decks came from the cooperation between Basil Sasorov and I (“cooperation” actually looks like “Basil suggests a great and outside-the-box idea,
Valeriy tests the deck and makes it worse, trying to fit it into its own understanding, cutting too many nice ideas”).

As my mates say, “Valeriy drinks tea with Gargadon.”

Both decks are full of elegant decisions and solutions, along with a piece of craziness (also Ravenclaw’s hallmark) — so they’re both interesting to
play, and to demonstrate your intelligence and mental superiority over the opponent.

These decks have a strong pre-board matchup against Twelveposts and combo because of Greater Gargadon’s ability to eat your own lands (all-in attack is
usually enough), and because of maindeck land destruction. Your plan against aggressive decks is to stay alive during the first few turns, and then win
the Knight of the Reliquary battle (your knights are always larger than opponent’s ones) — probably with the help of Elspeth, Knight-Errant or Greater

Path to Exile is bad in a land destruction deck, so there are Journey to Nowheres and/or Dismembers. By the way, Dismember is actually good against
both Tarmogoyf (who is usually a 4/5 in this format) and Knight of the Reliquary (your opponent will have no ability to cast her in the late game, and
Dismember usually kills the early versions), especially with Lightning Helix and Kitchen Finks — so Dismember is probably underplayed right now.

A quick aside: Tombstalker would be good in post-board Affinity. You’re forced to play nonartifact lands, so it will be possible to play ‘Stalker
after mass removal effects. And Tombstalker is really good in a format where Dismember is heavily underplayed.

One more efficient piece of removal is Act of Aggression, which is pretty devastating with Greater Gargadon. This slot could be Threaten, but I prefer
the additional versatility and the ability to beat Splinter Twin combo.

One of the most interesting advantages of Act is that nobody expects it. Primeval Titan searching for a pair of Glimmerposts is normally the end for
any aggressive deck. With this deck, you have a plethora of ways to win after — even if you have worse removal (like, say, Journey to Nowhere) and
Greater Gargadon in play. Semi-suicidal all-in attacks won many games for me, and often in situations where a “normal” Zoo deck would be

Magus of the Moon in the sideboards is because Greater Gargadon can’t eat enchantments; Gaddock Teeg, Kitchen Finks, and artifact hate are obvious
(Ancient Grudge is better if Affinity is expected). The first list also contains additional land destruction (Sowing Salt targeting Cloudpost?
Sweeeeeeeeet!) and a little toolbox for Green Sun’s Zenith featuring two underplayed creatures: Eternal Witness and Loaming Shaman. Hello, Living End!
I can win even if I drew my Bojuka Bog. But I don’t really care because my Gargadon is already good against you.

Hmmm… I’m speaking with the dead… I think I should drop my resurrection stone and step away from forbidden forest — a big world is waiting.


Nineteen years after events described in the article, Jace is happily married to Stoneforge Mystic, and they have kids named Squadron Gideon and Mirran
Preordain… Oops, I mixed up tales again.

Returning to the very first talk that inspired this article, I’d say that our team ended consisting of three ‘Puffs, two ‘Claws, one Gryffin, one
Slith, and one student who demanded his own house named Hysterydor (I quoted this Gryffindor creature in the very first paragraph of this article).

I also found some house members among other Magic the Gathering players — from all houses. So I hope that combined the efforts of so different and so
talented players and deckbuilders will keep format open and diverse — for interesting future of all four houses and Magic itself.

Good luck to everyone attending Pro Tour: Philly!

Valeriy Shunkov

amartology on Twitter

valeriy dot shunkov at gmail dot com