Continuing The GAM Podcast: They’re Good Decks, Bryan

Gerry and Bryan looked at some oddball decks last week, and not everyone liked the review! Bryan plays a little defense today by explaining The GAM philosophy on rogue decks and their role in Modern!

On this week’s GAM Podcast, Gerry Thompson and I talked about all 47(!)
entries contained in Magic Online’s July 24st list of

5-0 Modern Decks

. After drawing the ire of some archetype devotees with our controversial
10 Modern Cards to Stay Away From
episode, we vowed to approach this deck dump with an open mind and a sunny

That lasted about five minutes. It’s not that we hate innovation or don’t
think there is room for under-the-radar archetypes in Modern. It’s just
that The GAM Podcast is focused on discovering the optimal decisions, the
best decks, and the tech and advice that will catapult our listeners to
success. Many of the decks we came across this week seemed to be achieving
at the top of their range just by cobbling together a 5-0.

But what if we’re wrong? What if these archetypes are sitting on the
precipice of greatness, needing only a gentle shove to become the new
scourge of the format? It happened with Lantern Control. We see it
happening now with Ironworks. These decks were known quantities for quite
some time prior to (however briefly) assuming the mantle of the best deck
in Modern. Could one of the decks that we dismissed and derided in this
week’s cast be the next to rise to the top?

Probably not. But regardless, I do think it is worth analyzing the
circumstances under which several of these oddball archetypes could find bigger success. It’s impossible to predict where the
Modern metagame will go in the future, and we want to have the right arrow
in our quiver for whatever the SCG Tour may throw at us.

The Good:
Creatures backed up by removal and some burn has never been a recipe for
success in Modern. A deck that intends to win through creature combat
almost always requires a B-plan to succeed. Be it the combo-esque kills of
Affinity and Infect, or the disruption of Humans, creature combat cannot be
your deck’s sole path to victory.

The Cragganwick Cremator Aggro deck understands this principle. The deck
certainly does an admirable job of presenting the beats via early
aggression from Strangleroot Geist and Steel Leaf Champion. The real
shining light here though is the not-quite-good-enough-for- Shadowmoor-Limited Cragganwick Cremator. When combined with the
massive bodies of Ghalta, Primal Hunger, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, and
Worldspine Wurm, Cragganwick Cremator gives a middling beatdown deck access
to some turn 3-kills and a win condition that can steal a game even after
an opponent has effectively dealt with your combat-based threats. Add in
some tools to consistently find combo pieces such as Eldrich Evolution and
Fauna Shaman, and this deck presents an angle that many opponents are just
not equipped to deal with.

The Bad:
Remember those tools for consistency I mentioned above? You’re going to
wish you had a lot more of them. This optimal scenario for this deck is
very difficult to argue against. However, the deck plays several virtually
uncastable cards, a tool box of three and four-drops that are only going to
be strong in certain matchups, and its combo is often going to ask you to
take 50% or lower stabs at possibly winning the game. Obviously, we’d all
love to wait for the ideal setup for Cragganwick Cremator to do its thing.
This is just not going to be feasible in many instances given the frenetic
pace of Modern.

I get that in some ways Modern asks you to accept match outcomes that you
have very little control over. Sometimes, Infect will turn 2 you.
Sometimes, Mono-Green Tron has Karn Liberated on turn 3 in back-to-back
games. Part of learning how to succeed in Modern is making peace with this
aspect of the format. This deck is asking you to do this every round
regardless of your matchup.

Maybe I’m clinging to an illusion, but I would like to take at least a
little more agency when I sit down to play Magic.
If the Modern format gets to a place where the optimal strategy is
flipping coins all day, then I’ll show up to the SCG Tour with my lucky
Krark’s Thumb and a fistful of Cragganwick Cremators.
Until that time though, I’m going to have to pass on this deck.

The Ugly:
Your one friend who is going to pick up this deck and constantly
tell you bad beat stories about discarding the wrong card to Cragganwick
Cremator. This is probably the same person who delights in telling you how
many dice rolls they have lost on the day. Act preemptively and cut them
out of your life now.

The Good:
This deck is very good. No, I’m being serious. The plan of Drogskol Capitan
into a Phantasmal Image remains as potent as ever, and now we can find both
parts of the “combo” at instant speed and with one card. The incredible
resiliency Spirits have in the face of targeted removal, as well as
Selfless Spirit’s ability to turn off some mass removal, allow your
critical mass of lords to quickly forge an unkillable flying army. Some
light disruption in the form of Mausoleum Wanderer and Spell Queller really
cement the archetype as one to be feared.

So what’s the problem?

The Bad:

Everything you can do I can do better…

Admittedly, the default build of Bant Spirts is likely favored heads up
against a stock Humans list. But when thinking about every almost every
aspect of the Bant Spirits gameplan in other matchups, you find an upgrade
in the Humans tribe. Thalia’s Lieutenant is a better lord. Meddling Mage
and Freebooter are better disruption. Militia Bugler is card advantage
tacked on the right creature type.

The fact the both Spell Queller and Selfless Spirit do almost nothing in
the face of Terminus, which is arguably now the most widely played mass
removal spell, is the final nail in the coffin for the Spirt tribe. While
Bant Spirits otherwise has what it takes to be a player in Modern, Humans
is just a superior execution of the same macro archetype of disruptive
creatures backed by a swift clock.

The Ugly:

When Good Ghouls Go Bad

(2001) starring Christopher Lloyd. Seriously. Don’t watch this movie. It’s
just terrible.

The Good:
U/B Mill has been skirting around the fringes of Modern for almost as long
as the format has existed. We’ve all heard the stories of a poor sap who
just wanted to use their fetchland on turn 1 and found themselves
quad-Archive Trapped into the nether realm.

U/B Mill presents opponents with a reasonable clock and does have that
theoretical nut draw, but the real power of the archetype comes from a card
that is usually relegated to sideboard duty.

When single-card kill conditions are king, U/B Mill has the chance to
shine. The deck can easily put half of an opponent’s deck in their
graveyard by turn 3. In this scenario, a Surgical Extraction in the opening
hand will spell doom for a pilot of several widely played Modern decks.
Ironworks, various Scapeshift Decks, Tron, and a few other outliers are
simply not going to be able to overcome losing their key cards.

The Bad:
For every opponent that is devastated by U/B Mill’s ability to remove a key
card from their deck, there are two that do not care at all. In these
matchups, U/B Mill is a slower version of Burn that doesn’t have the
strategic flexibility of being able to aim its kill spells at key

The problem of your slower clock is exasperated by the fact that several
decks are going to benefit from their library being sent to their
graveyard. As Stitcher’s Supplier gains a foothold in the metagame and as
long as Hollow One and Dredge remain present in reasonable numbers, milling
your opponent remains a liability in many matchups.

The Ugly:
It would not shock me to see U/B Mill take down a sizable Modern event
soon. The brave soul who shows up with U/B Mill on that fateful day will
either have made one of the boldest and most inciteful metagame calls of
all time, or stubbornly adhered to an archetype for far too long, when all
evidence pointed to the face that Glimpse the Unthinkable is a completely
laughable Magic card. Either way, they will look like a genius.

The Good:
In the right metagame, Chalice of the Void on one is an absolutely messed
up play. There have been popular and successful decks that may as well have
scooped on the spot when Chalice of the Void came down. Similarly, at many
points throughout Modern’s history, Blood Moon has been the single best
available piece of disruption. Simian Spirit Guide, in and of itself, is
one of the most busted cards remaining in Modern, enabling both lock pieces
to enter the battlefield ahead of schedule.

Furthermore, W/R Prison uses two of the best sideboard cards in the format
more efficiently than any other deck. Rest in Peace and Stony Silence are
game-breakers in several matchups, demanding answers before opponents can
even begin to execute their fundamental plans. Modern decks that can
successfully play these two cards without damaging their own plan are few
and far between. W/R Prison is not only wholly unimpeded under Stony
Silence and Rest in Peace, it can power these cards out on turn 1. This
seems like a promising start to a deck.

The Bad:
Literally everything else. There are so many cards in this deck that are
completely irrelevant against sizable portions of the format. “Cool Gideon
Jura,” says Mono-Green Tron. “Nice Blood Moon,” says Mardu Pyromancer.
Ironworks is very impressed by your eight wraths. This problem is
exacerbated by the fact that W/R Prison has minimal ways to manipulate its
draws and find the pieces it needs in a given matchup. As it stands now,
the two maindeck lock pieces, Chalice of the Void and Blood Moon, simply
don’t do enough to prevent W/R Prison’s average opponent from playing the
game of Magic. If Blood Moon and Chalice of the Void someday regain their
status as the best on-battlefield disruption in Modern, this deck can make
a comeback. Until then, I think it is correct to stay far away from this

The Ugly:
The deck also has one of the highest average converted mana costs of any
non-big mana deck in Modern. Hitting land drops is an absolute must, and
there’s little you can do to achieve this goal besides hoping the top of
your deck is kind to you. Prepare to play some frustrating games where you
die with a handful of four mana spells and three lands on the battlefield.

If I had to pick one of these decks to play in a tournament tomorrow, I’d
probably choose Bant Spirits. As I mentioned, the deck is clearly powerful,
and only the existence of a similar (and possibly more efficient strategy)
is keeping these poltergeists from getting more run. With an edge in the
disruptive creature mirror, Bant Spirits could be a great call in a
tournament featuring a lot of Humans pilots.

While the time may not be right for any of the other decks to shine right
now, we’ll be ready for the days when lady luck is on our side; graveyards
are no longer filled with hasty Plants, Vampires, and Phoenixes; and
Chalice of the Void on one is backbreaking once more.