Faithless Looting Is Brainstorm

Uh oh. Have Ben Friedman and company figured out the mystery to unlocking true power in Modern? Read his case (and his deck) for going for broke at SCG Baltimore!

“The two decks with the highest win rate in the tournament are built
around abusing Faithless Looting, the card I have been saying is the
most egregious offender in Modern. It’s as if the data is supporting my

– Craig Wescoe, April 2, 2018

I used to be with it, but then they changed what ‘it’ was! Now what I’m with isn’t it . And what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary to me.” -Abraham Simpson

“It,” in this case, is traditional evaluation of the meaning and
significance of card advantage in the context of current Modern. I, like
many players, have some long-ingrained habits and heuristics surrounding
what it means to gain an advantage in a game of Magic that are simply less
true in Modern today than they’ve been in any historical format during my
tenure with the game. This is unsettling, to say the least, but it offers
the consolation of yet another example that demonstrates that within the
infinite game of Magic: the Gathering, there are very, very few universal
rules for gaining an edge. There is always more to learn, and the case
study of Faithless Looting provides an excellent object lesson.

Part One: In Modern, mulliganning is less harmful now than it’s ever been

Nut draws are the name of the game in this day and age. Whether it’s Mox
Opal, Tron, multiple Hollow Ones, Chalice of the Void, Blood Moon, G/W
Hexproof, the dredge mechanic, or a host of other unfair or one-sided
effects, Modern is a lot less about squeezing every drop of value out of
your cards nowadays. Instead, we see decks trying to overwhelm opponents
with incredible synergies or invalidate whole swaths of opponents’ decks
with unique, game-ending effects. It doesn’t matter how many Fatal Pushes
you have if your opponent leads with a Slippery Bogle. Thoughtseize looks
silly against an army of Hollow Ones. Path to Exile is useless against
turn-3 Karn Liberated.

What this means is, if your deck is even remotely capable of doing
something broken, you probably should mulligan most marginal seven-card
hands in the dark in an attempt to find a more broken six-card hand. Humans
hands without a one-drop are generally mulligans (against an unknown
opponent, mind you). Most Affinity hands with no Mox Opal, Springleaf Drum
+ zero-mana creature, or Cranial Plating are also generally mulligans in
the dark. G/W Hexproof is the extreme example, where any seven-card hand
without a hexproof creature is a certain mulligan, barring prior knowledge
that the opponent has very little removal in their deck. You need to hit
the battlefield hard and fast to succeed, and if the goal of your deck is
to play less Magic (in the traditional sense), it’s often worth it to cash
in a card for a new chance to do something crazy. The full seven cards just
aren’t as important as they used to be.

Of course, decks like Blue Moon, U/W Control, Jund, Mardu Pyromancer, and
Death’s Shadow exist to break up synergies, and hefty components of
removal, discard, and/or countermagic can turn powerful opening hands into
a random assortment of underpowered cardboard. In that case, a Dark
Confidant, Tarmogoyf, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Death’s Shadow, Gurmag
Angler, Bedlam Reveler, or Blood Moon can bat cleanup and close off the
game for a hapless opponent. When opponents mulligan more proactively in an
attempt to find the busted hands, Thoughtseize gets even better. Part of
the reason I’m generally so enamored of Grixis Death’s Shadow is that it’s
one of the only decks that can both execute a broken gameplan in its own
right and disrupt an opponent into oblivion while winning with a
random undercosted threat. When you pilot a mashup of Infect and Grixis
Control, it means that it’s a lot harder for an opponent to plan for
whatever half of the deck decides to show up in a given game. But does that
mean that, as a Shadow player, I should be mulliganning aggressively to
find hands that provide broken starts? Is a quality opening hand of…

…a mulligan now? There’s a decent chance that the Fatal Push ends up being
a dead card anyway. How does that factor into our decision?

Part Two: The reason Brainstorm is so good is that it offers a free midgame

For as long as Legacy has existed, a vocal minority has consistently
reminded us that Brainstorm is overpowered, and that if there were any sort
of impartial criteria for banning a card, Brainstorm would fit those
criteria. Occasionally, the clamor shifts to focus on fetchlands as a
culprit, especially with recent attention on Deathrite Shaman. Fetchlands,
Brainstorm, and Deathrite Shaman form an unholy triumvirate that pushes
Grixis Delver and Four-Color Leovold to the top of the format, but
Brainstorm and fetchlands have been ubiquitous even before Deathrite Shaman
came along to boost those decks specifically. Miracles. Stoneblade. Sneak
and Show. U/B Reanimator. Temur Delver. Storm. The history of Legacy is
littered with Brainstorm decks specifically because it allows the unfair
decks to mulligan away their excess lands when they need combo pieces or
combo pieces when they need mana, and it lets the fair decks mulligan away
their removal spells when they need countermagic, their countermagic when
they need removal, or both when they instead need threats. It also lets
many decks keep a wider range of opening hands, because any hand with a
Brainstorm and two lands (one being a fetchland) essentially comes with a
free mulligan anyway.

This is before we even get into the fact that the Brainstorm mulligan comes after the opponent has exposed what deck they’re playing, thereby
telling the Brainstormer what cards they need to be looking for. This boost
to fair, interactive decks cannot be overstated. It increases the impact of
sideboard cards by letting a player draw them more frequently. It means
that Delver players can quickly shift gears and turn their hands from Dazes
and excess lands into Lightning Bolts to finish the game. For one mana,
there’s no better investment in your deck’s consistency than Brainstorm.
Hell, I even insist on extra Snapcaster Mages in most of my fair blue brews
in Legacy specifically because a three mana 2/1 + Brainstorm is still a good deal!

Brainstorm is simply too good in concert with fetchlands. A
no-card-disadvantage midgame mulligan is just bananas. With that context,
I’ve spent some time thinking about if the following card would be too
strong for Modern:




Draw two cards, then put one card from your hand on top of your library.

You get what you get and you don’t get upset!”

This is the weakest Brainstorm variant I could possibly come up with, and
it’s right on the line of “too good.” Allowing a midrange blue deck to turn
a dead Path to Exile or Thoughtseize into two new cards would be incredibly
strong. Even this incredibly weak version of a midgame mulligan would be a
huge shot in the arm for blue in Modern, and it would swiftly replace all
the Opts and Serum Visions that currently occupy the velocity slots in a
number of powerful decks.

Part Three: Faithless Looting, in the context of current Modern, is a
better Lamestorm

We live in a Modern world where the marginal value of an extra card in a
starting hand is not quite as high as it would ordinarily be. We live in a
Modern world where the salient factor for success is lining up your
interactive spells properly to pick apart opposing synergies, opposing
synergies that differ wildly in what cards work against them. We live in a
Modern world where getting mana flooded is a death sentence, where games
are compressed such that it’s hard to ride out mana flood before your
opponent wins the game. In short, we live in a Modern world where Faithless
Looting’s natural drawbacks are minimized and its strengths are maximized.
Faithless Looting is the midgame mulligan engine that will turbocharge any
deck that can utilize it. The only reason we haven’t seen it yet is because
many of the best players and brewers have a (quite reasonable and generally
useful) natural aversion to card disadvantage, one that keeps Faithless
Looting squarely in the realm of “niche card for those decks that can abuse
it” in their minds.

Mardu Pyromancer takes advantage of Looting by leveraging Lingering Souls
and Bedlam Reveler to make up some of the natural card disadvantage in the
spell while using it to ditch unwanted Lightning Bolts against combo or
excess Thoughtseizes against aggro. Hollow One takes advantage of Looting
through its synergy with all the deck’s threats. It can provide three cards
in the graveyard for delve, uses the two discarded cards to turn any drawn
Hollow Ones into one-mana 4/4s, and ditches Flamewake Phoenix and
Bloodghast to turn those into free creatures. It even conveniently boosts
Flameblade Adept with a quick +2/+0. Additionally, the card makes it nearly
impossible for Hollow One to flood out, as the Flashback can turn midgame
fourth and fifth lands into more Gurmag Anglers. This is all very powerful
stuff, but it’s not the end of the power of this midgame mulligan engine.

The point is, it’s not necessary to sculpt one’s deck around abusing all
parts of Faithless Looting. Any deck that fears flooding out, that has
answers that only work against portions of the Modern metagame, and that
often finds itself digging for specific cards to end the game before an
opponent can wriggle out of early disruption is a candidate for Looting.
This means Grixis Death’s Shadow. This means Blue Moon. These decks are in
line for major upgrades with a few minor tweaks.

On the other hand, the natural tension between Looting as an antidote for
flooding out and creature-lands or Liliana of the Veil as an antidote for
flooding out means that Jund can’t make quite as much use out of Faithless
Looting as other midrange decks, and therein lies part of Jund’s weakness
right now. The tension between Faithless Looting and cards like Celestial
Colonnade, Cryptic Command, and the expensive spells that comprise Jeskai
Control mean that it’s not the right candidate for jamming in a few
Lootings. No, we need a deck that has little use for lands beyond the third
or fourth one, a deck that often finds itself stuck with extra cards in
hand that have no utility in a given matchup with no way to get rid of
them, a deck that often needs to shift gears quickly from disruption to
door-slamming. Grixis Death’s Shadow (and, to a lesser extent, Blue Moon)
are those decks.

Welcome to a bold new Grixis Death’s Shadow:

This much-redder version of Grixis Shadow is well-equipped to fight Humans
and Affinity with Abrade, Kolaghan’s Command, and Grim Lavamancer (which
comes in over two Gurmag Anglers, which are weak in those matchups). The
two Liliana, the Last Hope are stellar against Mardu Pyromancer and various
control decks. Three Engineered Explosives are a concession to G/W
Hexproof, but one could be cut to fit another Lightning Bolt, Abrade,
Disdainful Stroke, or Collective Brutality into the 75. And yes, the two
Faithless Lootings are excellent as ways to quickly turn dead removal into
discard or countermagic, or vice versa. They provide additional avenues to
turn-2 Gurmag Angler, and the Flashback side often comes up when digging
for a Temur Battle Rage to end the game. These are significant upgrades
from Opt or Serum Visions.

If I end up looking foolish down the road for only having two
Faithless Looting in my Grixis Death’s Shadow deck, I apologize in advance.
A third Looting could easily come in over the Stubborn Denial, which would
then move to the sideboard over an Engineered Explosives. There’s also the
option now of bringing Faithless Looting technology into the Traverse
Shadow shell, as well as a hybridization with Mardu Pyromancer and
subsequent innovation of Mardu Shadow. If you squint, Bedlam Reveler is
sort of like a Gurmag Angler stapled onto a Treasure Cruise!

Call me cautious to start, but in this new world of Faithless Looting as
Modern’s Brainstorm, there is no shortage of new tech to uncover.