Dark Ascension In Modern: Faithless Looting, Gravecrawler, And B/W Tokens

Todd Anderson believes there are a few Dark Ascension cards people are underestimating, especially in Modern. He explores Life from the Loam interactions and more in this article.

Hi everyone, and welcome back. Today we’re going to be discussing Modern with Dark Ascension and some of the sweeter cards that will (hopefully) impact the format. While Dark Ascension doesn’t seem to give a lot to Standard, I think people are really just looking at the format in the wrong light. Certain cards can and will breed entirely new archetypes, and I don’t think people are giving enough credit to some of the less hyped cards.

Faithless Looting is a card that is not overhyped and one card that can singlehandedly change how we build our decks in Standard, as well as Modern. If you think the interaction between Unburial Rites and Faithless Looting is powerful in Standard, just wait and see what we can cook up in Modern. We have so much more to work with! To say I’m excited about the card just doesn’t cut it. I’m ecstatic!

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Faithless Looting is a great card, but there are plenty of others that need to be examined. At first glance, there are a few cards from Dark Ascension that stand out more than others, but we’re going to focus on my Top 4 today. Here is my short list of cards that I want to work with, and hopefully break in the rest of the Modern PTQ season:

While this list isn’t very flashy, I think that these are definitely the cards that we want to focus on in the early stages of the format. Faithless Looting in particular is probably the most powerful card to see print in years, but people haven’t quite seen it that way just yet. If you scour StarCityGames.com Spoiler Generator, you will find that there is no other spell in Modern that allows you to draw and discard cards for a single mana. The addition of Faithless Looting to the format can help fuel all sorts of archetypes revolving around the graveyard. Looks like it’s finally time to dust off those Tormod’s Crypts!

For starters, I really like me some Smallpox, and I think that having cards that interact favorably with the graveyard alongside it can be quite powerful. Gravecrawler is pretty sweet with Faithless Looting and Smallpox, but those cards together aren’t quite enough to make a deck. You need some sort of engine to really fuel the fire, and that engine will probably end up being Life from the Loam (alongside Raven’s Crime). If we’re just starting from scratch, here’s an interesting decklist that did well in a recent Magic Online PTQ:

If you can’t see the synergistic effects running around in this deck (and there are a lot), let me point out the most important ones to you:

While both mini-combos go well with Burning Vengeance, it almost feels just like icing on an already well-built cake. Smallpox, Death Cloud, and Liliana of the Veil all help you wreck your opponent while setting up your graveyard-fueled monster. Raven’s Crime can also target yourself in a pinch, should Haakon get stuck in your hand. While Haakon might be a bit too cute, he does give you more synergy with Burning Vengeance and allows you to machine gun your opponent’s creatures at will.

My only problem with this particular list is that you have no acceleration to make Death Cloud actually castable in a reasonable time frame. If you ever cast Smallpox, then Death Cloud will likely end up a dead card. While it can end games against certain control decks should it resolve, you will be using a ton of your resources early to cast things like Raven’s Crime to disrupt them, which is probably more important that trying to force through an Armageddon effect. They will usually have a tough enough time beating Raven’s Crime alongside Life from the Loam anyway, let alone whatever other crazy things you’re doing.

While you can’t use this exact type of list with Gravecrawler and Faithless Looting, you can see that there is a ton of synergy just waiting to be abused. Alongside Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, you have the potential to do some crazy things with your mana, including playing a full set of Mutavaults to help fuel Gravecrawler. Mutavault does two things very well for the deck:

1. Alongside Life from the Loam, you should always be able to recur Gravecrawler.

2. You gain access to a cheap win condition that can survive Smallpox and dodge sweeper effects.

While the colorless mana part is probably going to be annoying at times, I feel like you can build your manabase to support it. This version of the deck definitely wants to play more Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth even though it is legendary. Since you have Raven’s Crime, Faithless Looting, and Smallpox, drawing multiples should rarely be a problem.

What Faithless Looting does for this deck is pretty cool because you can start to gain an absurd advantage early in the game by discarding graveyard-centric cards. If you also pack annoying little guys like Bloodghast, you can easily outrace your opponent should your draw become overly aggressive. If you want to get really spicy, throw in some Zombie Infestations to go along with Life from the Loam, but that may be going just a bit over the edge.

I’ve been messing around with various versions involving Unburial Rites, Flagstones of Trokair, and large reanimation targets, but I can’t quite get it right just yet. There are too many cards to fit into the shell and not enough white cards to justify playing so many Plains alongside Flagstones, though the dual lands usually make it acceptable. Flagstones combined with Smallpox just feels like cheating, and I’ve been doing everything in my power to find some way of making it work. Sorin, Lord of Innistrad might help push the deck over the edge, giving you another reason to play white, but he doesn’t really do much other than churn out a steady stream of 1/1s. While powerful, Elspeth could already do that, though she was a bit harder to cast.

But back to the task at hand, here is a sample decklist using Faithless Looting and Gravecrawler. P.S. Did you know that Haakon was a Zombie too!?

One of the biggest losses for this deck is Tarmogoyf, since he can provide you with a lot of defense in the early game, as well as a solid clock. However, with so much targeted removal running around in the format, he doesn’t usually survive very long. Gravecrawler works so much better with the rest of your deck, though it is not quite as powerful when you are racing a combo deck. Your plan in most games should be to grind your opponent down to nothing, finishing them off afterwards with Gravecrawler, Mutavault, and Haakon. With a bit of added removal to the deck and the cutting of the monumentally slow Death Cloud, I think our answers to aggro decks become a lot more concise. Kitchen Finks is still a bit of a problem for the deck, but I think all of our other matchups become a lot better as a result.

While this is obviously a rough draft of what I want to start working with, I think it could have a decent amount of potential should I find the right mix of spells. There are still some creatures (and decks) that give you trouble, but the engine of Life from the Loam and Raven’s Crime is really good. Worm Harvest might also make an appearance eventually, since there are a lot of games where you dredge over half your deck digging for Raven’s Crime.

What people are focusing a little too much on, in my opinion, is Burning Vengeance. There have been plenty of games where I’ve drawn it and it did virtually nothing. Alongside the already powerful combos in the deck, it is pretty sweet. However, it can often feel like a “win more” card. I still like playing a few of them, since it can singlehandedly crush most control opponents should it resolve, but I feel like Raven’s Crime is already backbreaking enough for them.

With that said, Burning Vengeance gives you a way to grind against decks that can stick resilient creatures like Kitchen Finks. It can also be your only win condition against matchups that play a ton of removal. Alongside Burning Vengeance, it is usually okay to go all-in on Life from the Loam in the early turns of the game, even without a Raven’s Crime at hand. With the dredge from Life from the Loam, you are virtually drawing three cards a turn, even if they’re just lands. Once you hit the Raven’s Crime off the dredge, you should be able to wreck their hand and eventually kill them with your Burning Vengeance.

While Faithless Looting could produce a fair number of new strategies, there are already a few lists doing well on Magic Online without it. The addition of Faithless Looting could push certain archetypes over the edge on power level, and we might even see a resurgence of Dredge. While some of the cooler Dredge cards are gone, there are plenty of cards with the mechanic left to brew with. Alongside Worm Harvest, Crypt of Agadeem, and a slew of powerful unearth creatures, you might just be cookin’ with Crisco. Here is the current decklist:

While you would obviously need to change the manabase, you can definitely do some crazy things with Faithless Looting in this deck. If all you do is have another discard outlet on the first turn, then you’re much farther ahead of the curve than any other Dredge deck has been in years. Since the banning of their best cards as well as the rotation of any powerful discard outlets (think Extended a few years ago), Dredge hasn’t really had a chance to shine. With this new iteration featuring some really cool ideas, Faithless Looting could be the key that unlocks this archetype completely.

I think that it is important to keep in mind how strong Gnaw to the Bone is in the deck. Without it, you can quickly become overwhelmed by an aggressive deck while you’re trying to set up. Gaining 16-30 life for three mana will easily buy you enough time to start unearthing creatures and going bananas on your opponent. While Grafdigger’s Cage will be annoying and probably one of the better sideboard options against you, it doesn’t affect Crypt of Agadeem or actually dredging cards. Something like Noxious Revival alongside some answers to Cage, or just drawing Ancient Grudge, should be enough to handle that pesky artifact.

While Faithless Looting will seem frightening at first, I think it will mostly get players brewing new archetypes, forcing people to actually prepare for graveyard-centric decks. Combo decks are currently running rampant in Modern, but very few of them have any interaction with their graveyard, meaning Storm and Splinter Twin are on everyone’s radar. Should you decide to build a sweet Reanimator or Dredge deck while people are still unprepared for it, you could give yourself a huge advantage at your next PTQ.

But enough about Faithless Looting for now. We just got a sweet new planeswalker and token generator to add to the mix. It is pretty clear that we are able to bring back archetypes from years past with a few upgrades, and I think B/W Tokens is no different. While you are up against some tougher opponents than you were in Standard, you have a lot better tools at your disposal, including a pristine manabase.

For starters, here is a potential decklist:

While obviously pretty rough, this list gives you the ability to quickly outclass the creatures your opponent will throw at you. The obvious lack of spot removal should suggest that you don’t really care what your opponent is doing most of the time, so long as they aren’t comboing you. Path to Exile is actually pretty bad at the moment, and you can’t afford to have too many dead draws against the control decks. You want all of your cards to generate creatures or pump your creatures.

If you are worried about creature decks, and specifically Dark Confidant, Dismember is probably your best sideboard option, though Path to Exile is still acceptable. Kitchen Finks should probably have some sideboard space as well, since he is the most efficient creature for racing another aggressive deck. Other than that, I think this is a great shell for a token-based deck. You have a lot of pump effects with Honor of the Pure, Intangible Virtue, and Sorin. While it sucks a bit that he doesn’t generate white tokens for Honor of the Pure, his ability to generate multiple emblems pushes him over the top.

While tokens hasn’t really shown up much in Modern as of late, I feel like people are really underprepared for it. Delver decks have a tough time beating any of your resolved spells, and control decks won’t find it easy to fend off your “army in a can” cards. While none of your threats are amazing on their own, they combine well with your anthems to apply a ton of pressure. Have you ever seen someone with a hand full of Lightning Bolts staring at your 3/3 Lingering Souls tokens? It gets pretty awkward for them when they start that exasperating chain of removal to slow down your team, only for you to refresh the ranks with a Spectral Procession. Overall, tokens is pretty solid if you build it correctly. The Thoughtseizes and Ethersworn Canonists should slow down the combo decks long enough for you to kill them, but you could always sideboard a lot more answers if you need to.

As far as Modern is concerned, I am very excited to start brewing with Faithless Looting. I think that card is just ridiculous, and no one really understands just how good it really is. I’m looking forward to PTQing soon, and I hope you guys are too. The Modern content I’ve generated over the last few weeks has been a ton of fun, and I’m really proud of all the positive feedback I’ve been getting. If you get bored, I should be streaming on twitch.tv/strong_sad a decent amount, and I’ll update Twitter and Facebook before going live. Come check it out, and see you next week!

Thanks for reading.


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