[Editor’s Note: Hello everyone and welcome to another edition ofFact or Fiction! In this column, two Select writers will answer five questions provided by yours truly on Magic-related topics. At the end, you have the opportunity to vote on who won the head to head battle. This week, we have Chris VanMeter and Shaheen Soorani!]
1. Shaun McLaren, Gerry Thompson, and a number of other high profile writers proclaimed the power of Nahiri, the Harbinger last week in Modern. After winning #SCGINDY in the hands of Peter Ingram, Nahiri is here to stay.
Chris VanMeter – Fact: Nahiri is gas. Not fumes, but straight high-octane pure gasoline. It provides something very similar to another four-mana planeswalker, and I’m not talking about my beloved Xenagos, the Reveler. When is the last time an efficiently cost planeswalker could protect itself, generate card advantage, and work its way to a game-ending ultimate in only a few turns? Jace, the Mind Sculptor comes to mind if we’re being honest. Nahiri isn’t Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but she is very good.
Now, Nahiri’s ultimate winning the game doesn’t come without a cost. You do have to have Emrakul, the Aeons Torn in your deck, which can be a liability. Thankfully, though, Nahiri’s card advantage ability lets you discard a card and then draw a card, so we can easily shuffle our Emrakul back into our deck. Easy game.
She dodges Lightning Bolt and Abrupt Decay, kills tapped creatures and artifacts, and can even hit an enchantment out of something like G/W Hexproof. That is a lot of utility on a card that only costs four mana and can win the game by itself.
Anything that lets you attack with an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is just great in my book.
Shaheen Soorani – Fact: Nahiri, the Harbinger is here to stay and that’s a good thing. Control decks have been long dead in Modern and for a very specific reason: control thrives on the ability to grind an opponent out of resources and eventually win in the late-game.
Without a strong way to finish in a format full of high-throttle power, all variants of control fell short of this task. A control player can counter this spell, remove that creature, but when the dust settled, the win condition wasn’t there. Cards like Elspeth, Sun’s Champion or Aetherling were fantastic options in Standard for closing out games, but in Modern their mana cost made them unreachable targets in most scenarios. A consistent line of victory for a control player in Modern has to be in the form of a combo, which Nahiri, the Harbinger provides.
I don’t think Jeskai, or any Nahiri, the Harbinger variant, is overpowered. It is a great win condition that calls for control elements in order to protect it from the overpowered cards that exist in older formats. Get used to it, my friends, because this planeswalker is the missing link for control here in Modern.
Chris VanMeter – Fiction-ish. I think that Ancestral Vision is a great sideboard option against decks that try to attrition you or grind you out of the game. The problem is that Modern is extremely diverse and there is a large chunk of the metagame that Ancestral Visions just does nothing against. There is no Force of Will to give it utility as a blue card. There is no Brainstorm to let us shuffle them back when they are dead. We aren’t cascading into them randomly for insane value.
I expect to see Ancestral Vision in some sideboards but not make a huge maindeck showing at #GPCharlotte.
Sword of the Meek, on the other hand, has the potential to take an event by storm if it starts being ignored. The Sword of the Meek / Thopter Foundry combo is so inherently powerful that I think it needs to be respected at every event. Again, Modern is so diverse that it can be challenging to prepare for every deck and have a perfect sideboard. That’s where the thrill of the challenge of playing the format comes in. The reason Thopter / Sword hasn’t just been exploding so far, as I see it, is that artifacts and graveyards are feared things already, so there are plenty of hate that can translate well between different decks that are trying to utilize both.
I think that we may see a Thopter/Sword deck pop up at #GPCharlotte, much like Gerry Thompson’s Gifts deck, that just happens to have the combo in a different shell unaffected by hate that is effective against the Thopter/Sword combo.
Shaheen Soorani – Fact: I am positive that decks with Ancestral Vision will make an appearance this weekend at #GPCharlotte. Ancestral Vision is busted against certain matchups, but an absolute dud if drawn a bit late against the most aggressive decks.
With Jeskai winning, you’ll see an increase in combo and midrange decks to combat the new control menace, with a slight decline in aggressive strategies. Cards like Lightning Helix make for bad business in the aggro world, so decks that utilize Collected Company or Ancestral Vision will increase in popularity to combat the new kid on the block. The raw card draw power of Ancestral Vision guarantees its place in Modern and will make a mark this weekend for sure.
The reason why Sword of the Meek didn’t get a whole lot of love is because of the emergence of Nahiri, the Harbinger as the control shell’s win condition. Sword of the Meek is an alternative to Emrakul, the Aeons Torn strategy, but is easily hated out. It is much safer to center your deck on a win condition that is tough to stop with a card or two. This doesn’t mean that Sword of the Meek is dead in Modern, but it is going to be significantly less popular than Nahiri, the Harbinger this weekend for sure. Sword of the Meek is great and will see more play, but just not right off the bat.
3. Midrange green decks like Jund and Abzan are the safest choices for #GPCharlotte.
Chris VanMeter – Fact: In any format where there isn’t really a Rock/Paper/Scissors merry-go-round, I think that the Jund- and Abzan-style decks are always safe. Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, and Abrupt Decay are always going to be effective, and you can really never go wrong with Tarmogoyf and Scavenging Ooze. Gaining information on what your opponent is trying to do will allow you to sculpt your game to a point where your resources and strategy can overtake theirs. That is the name of the game for Jund and Abzan, and it’s always going to be somewhat effective. I am also pretty high on Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, and both of these decks can employ him with great effectiveness.
G/B/x decks also tend to have the widest range on impactful sideboard options, which is really the main reason that we always see someone being successful with the archetype. Eventually someone will have the right mix of hate cards for an event and just breeze through it. In fact, if we could have eighteen-card sideboards, I think that it would definitely be G/B/x decks versus the world.
Shaheen Soorani – Fact: Jund and Abzan are always players in Modern and nothing has changed. Both decks have the cards to answer all combo, aggressive, and control strategies and require little tweaking to perfect them for any metagame. This weekend at #GPCharlotte, both midrange green decks will be ready for a Jeskai explosion with additional hand disruption, ways to answer planeswalkers (Maelstrom Pulse), and the appropriate sideboard cards to enhance their generic control matchup.
Jund and Abzan are always great, which makes them always safe choices. Abzan also has a combo option in case additional power is required to defeat the field. During the Eldrazi Winter, Ralph Betesh used this strategy to conquer the world in a much more dangerous time. This weekend will reward those consistent green warriors if their setup is right and if they play well.
4. Todd Stevens brought the Eldrazi back and narrowly missed the #SCGINDY Top 8. There’s still a dangerous Eldrazi deck that no one has found yet.
Chris VanMeter – Fact: The Eldrazi creatures, Thought-Knot Seer in particular, and Eldrazi Temple are all still extremely powerful cards. I really liked Todd’s choice to go Bant so that he can still have access to a turn 2 Thought-Knot Seer with Noble Hierarch accelerating. Hierarch also lets us make some attacks that we normally wouldn’t be able to make, namely a 4/4 Thought-Knot Seer into a 4/5 Tarmogoyf.
Eldrazi Displacer and Drowner of Hope have very powerful effects that can take the game over by themselves and create some unwinnable situations for your opponent when they join forces and use their power for good (or evil, depending on which side of the table you sit).
That all being said, I think there still might be a busted Eldrazi deck that we haven’t found yet. Gerry Thompson did a lot of work on the G/R archetype, and Todd with his Bant list. It just feels like there is something we haven’t figured out yet.
Although, technically, this Jeskai Control with Nahiri is also an Eldrazi deck. Just saying.
Shaheen Soorani – Fiction: The deck is dead, and by “dead” I mean it’s much weaker. Thought Knot-Seer and Reality Smasher are great cards, but without the eight Ancient Tomb effects, they are reduced to the level of “fairly costed.” The only reason why Eldrazi were so dominant was the fast mana, and when that was cut in half, their power level was too.
I’ve seen some Tier 2, medium-power-leveled versions that mixed it up with hatebears, but the power drop was tremendous. I tested against G/W, B/W, R/W, and none of them could put up the numbers required for Modern dominance. There were some hands that had multiple Eldrazi Temples, but outside of that draw it looks grim for the colorless creature team.
I don’t think there is a current pool of cards that can revive the Eldrazi menace and that is definitely for best. The health of Modern is dependent on the ability for decks to set up and play Magic: The Gathering. With Eldrazi nerfed, it’ll never have the ability to become “dangerous” like before and will linger around as another midrange option that’s weaker than Jund or Abzan.
5. Modern is now a “play what you know” format.
Chris VanMeter – Fact-ish: I think that Modern is more a “know what you’re playing” kind of format. Picking one deck and just playing it over and over will keep you on track for mastering that one deck, but I believe that Modern is so diverse that playing multiple decks and learning the ins and outs of as much as you can will help you even more.
With only fifteen sideboard cards, you may be a master on what to sideboard against what deck, but you still have to be able to determine which fifteen cards you need to bring to the battle, and knowing your enemy just as well as knowing yourself is a great tool for determining that.
I’m not saying that you should switch decks every event, but getting in reps with popular decks while you are testing for an event is a great way to broaden your understanding of the decks in the format, which will in turn help you master yours against the field.
Some people are just nose to the grindstone and only focusing on their deck, and their list, and will just play either the same 75 every week or maybe change one or two cards, but with there being so many viable decks in Modern, I prefer to be knowledgeable about most or all of them and use that to my advantage when preparing for an event.
To an extent Modern is a “play what you know” format, but I think it’s just as much a “know what you’re playing” format.
Good luck to everyone at #GPCharlotte!
Shaheen Soorani – Fiction: I wish Modern was a “play what you know” format! In a perfect older format, we could sleeve up our Kird Apes and charge into battle even after the new champion Jeskai unveils a strategy that utilizes all of the cheap removal, lifegain, and Snapcaster Mages to do it all over again. In that same world, I could arrive at #GPCharlotte and play Esper Control with Lingering Souls, counterspells, good removal, and some card draw.
In the real Modern format, the one we are all preparing for this weekend, we have to play a deck that can close a game quickly and isn’t easily beaten by the best decks. This could be with a Scapeshift strategy, Jeskai Combo, Abzan Company, Jund Midrange, Living End, Affinity, Infect, and the list goes on and on.
Don’t get me wrong…the format has a ton of choices. You could choose any of the existing decks or brew something spicy that can close out a game quickly, but that kind of choice isn’t true free will. In Legacy, I honestly feel I can play my favorite blue and white cards and dominate even without a combo kill, but in Modern we aren’t there yet. There are many different decks in the metagame that have an extremely high power level, which puts the pressure on us to choose the right deck, with the right cards, for the right metagame, and not simply playing a deck we know or like. Choose wisely, my friends!