Goblins, Karn, Jace, And Teferi In Modern

The Innovator explores possible directions for Modern! Unclaimed Territory without Humans? Karn, Scion of Urza in Affinity? Why not?

It’s barely been four months since the last Modern Pro Tour, and already the format has evolved quite a bit on account of two major factors:

1. The unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf.

2. The printing of Dominaria, particularly Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Karn, Scion of Urza.

While Bloodbraid Elf has shown up in a variety of fringe strategies, its primary application has been serving as the backbone of the latest Jund decks, giving them much-needed power to fight through Cryptic Commands.

Victor Wood piloted this take on the archetype to a Top 4 finish at the recent Modern Open in Minneapolis. He ran a fairly straightforward array of two-drops, curving into a plethora of Lilianas and Bloodbraids. Perhaps more interesting was his use of 25 lands (maybe run fewer) and the split of one Fatal Push, one Abrupt Decay, one Terminate, and one Maelstrom Pulse.

While I’m generally interested in figuring out how to get this style up to date for the current metagame, I’m concerned about its matchup against the various Jeskai and U/W decks. I’m not sure what the solution is, but wow, would Deathrite Shaman getting unbanned be a game-changer…

As for the world we live in now, I generally agree with the approach of nudging the deck in a slightly more proactive direction. It’s hard to have all the right answers right now, but sometimes you can just keep presenting really good threats and that can be enough.

I still wonder why nobody seems to play Bloodbraid Elf in dedicated Elf decks. They’ve even got lots of excellent threes to cascade into. For instance, could we really not get Bloodbraids into something along the lines of Patrick Whitlow’s Elves deck?

I dunno, man. I mean, it’s not like adding Bloodbraid Elf needs to involve losing our minds with how ambitious we get with the splash. We even get Unclaimed Territory for close to free.

I mean, what spells do we even really need?

Okay, I’ll give you that one.

I guess maybe there’s a version we could end up moving towards that doesn’t even want it, but I’m guessing Collected Company is extremely likely to remain a central fixture. What about Chord of Calling and Lead the Stampede, though?

Are Chord of Calling and Lead the Stampede really untouchable?

Once we get down to just Collected Company for non-Elf spells, Unclaimed Territory is just downright awesome. Even after dropping to ten or eleven lands that tap for the green it needs, we’ve still got four Llanowar Elves, four Elvish Mystics, four Heritage Druids, and four Elvish Archdruids.

Sure, it basically eats up all of the discretionary space in the manabase, so we probably can’t play fun cards like Nykthos, Shrine of Nyx. However, now that we’ve got access to Damping Sphere, are we sure we want to?

Damping Sphere is a really interesting sideboard option for Elves, a strategy that has traditionally been really light on anti-combo interaction. It’s very effective against Storm, particularly since it’s not vulnerable to the same interaction they’ll want to fight your A-game, like Anger of the Gods.

It’s also pretty effective against Tron, basically locking them out of the Tron plan. When they actually have to spend seven to ten mana for their threats, they’re a lot less threatening. It’s also just so sick that Elves gets to still have a major, major mana engine (the mana Elves), while almost nobody else does (I see you, Krark-Clan Ironworks…).

What about something like this?

One Forest might be cutting it a little too close, but I don’t think we really want to go any lower on colored mana. Maybe we could turn a Gilt-Leaf Palace into a Forest and make up for it with an Elves of Deep Shadow or two?

Unclaimed Territory’s influence on Modern has already been dramatic, and I’m interested to see what other tribes might be possible on account of it. Of course, the gold standard of Unclaimed Territory decks is still Humans, which continues to put up excellent numbers, including a win in the hands of Sam Cocchiarella:

The numbers have mostly settled down in these Humans decks, including the relatively recent widespread adoption of the miser’s Restoration Angel.

Restoration Angel blinking Thalia’s Lieutenant has the potential to be game over, and Kessig Malcontents isn’t exactly a bad combo, either.

I still just can’t get over how absurd Thalia’s Lieutenant is. It’s gotta be in the running for absolute best tribal lord in the history of Magic, right?

Auriok Champion brings up a good point. Might there be a new combo deck possible on the fringes that we haven’t quite gotten together?

Soul Warden and Soul’s Ascendant have long been central to Soul Sisters decks (thanks, Conley), but might there be enough combos tangential to the primary theme to consider hybridizing it with some kind of a three-card infinite untap combo?

Midnight Guard is a quirky, sideways Pestermite that can theoretically be combined with an Aura or Equipment that grants a tap ability to create a loop (usually, but not always, requiring a third card to complete the loop).

The relatively recent printing of Famished Paladin gives us access to a second source of unlimited untaps, if only we can get gaining life. That’s where the Soul Sisters come in.

Put either of these Auras on Famished Paladin, and any of the various Soul Sisters will complete a loop, leaving you with as much life and as many creatures as you want. In fact, in the case of Elemental Mastery, you’ll even get to attack with them immediately. Either of these enchantments on Midnight Guard and you’re off to the races right away!

It’s possible this version is just too long on combo pieces when we might really be in the market for some interaction or some way to protect our combo. Still, if we wanted to go even deeper, we’ve got some interesting options.

Resplendent Mentor is a two-card combo with Famished Paladin that gains you an arbitrary amount of life. Five is obviously very expensive, but is Chord of Calling an option?

Archangel of Thune might just be synergistic enough with the rest of our deck to run anyway, but if we had Chord of Calling, it seems like it’d be a slam dunk (not to mention maybe a little Spike Feeder action to be even more comborrific).

I don’t see how to fit it all, but another avenue we might consider is the use of some kind of pinging effect (like Fire Whip or Viridian Longbow) and some kind of lifelink effect (like Spirit Link or Basilisk Collar). Put one of each on a Famished Paladin and that’s game.

If we did refocus to be all about the Famished Paladin, Forerunner of the Legion is an option to help set it up more reliably.

It’s a bit slower and more awkward, but this combo is actually possible in Standard if you’re dedicated…

As for Modern, I’m still on the Unclaimed Territory train of thought. What about Goblins?

Goblin Warchief might be a big game. What about something like:

We’d even get Goblin Chainwhirler out of the sideboard, which is pretty solid against Dark Confidant and many other Humans, not to mention Infect, Affinity, and a few miscellaneous “fair” decks.

Alternatively, if we wanted to really take advantage of having eight haste-granting lords, what about Krenko, Mob Boss?

Krenko has the biggest bullseye on him, but if he comes down with haste, we are really doing it. Such a large supply of Goblin tokens starts to make Skirk Prospector look a lot more interesting as well.

I don’t think we can just Skirk Prospector straight-up, at least not in the above list. However, if we had more Goblin Bushwhackers and were more token-centric, maybe it’s a different story?

The more token-centric we get, the more attractive Foundry Street Denizen is, obviously. It could be a part of a lot of Turn 4 kills if we wanted it to be.

I’m not sure that we’re that heavily motivated to reduce the cost of our Goblins, but it’s worth keeping in mind that we’ve got the option.

I know nobody plays this one in Modern, but it’s not the worst if enough people are relying on blocking with Tarmogoyf as their primary form of defense.

I could see us wanting Goblin Rabblemaster even if we didn’t go more token-heavy (though it’s probably a slam-dunk there). It can just take over a game so quickly.

For instance, here it is appearing in Legacy, without even Goblin synergies:

Obviously it benefits a lot from Ancient Tomb, City of Traitors, and Chrome Mox, but we could play Simian Spirit Guide if we wanted, and Skirk Prospector is still an option. Of course, I also just think you might be able to play something along these lines in Modern (whether mono-red or splashing green or white).

Now that things have settled down a little with Karn in Standard, it’s interesting to explore the places we might be able to take the card in powered formats. For instance, what about Karn appearing in Affinity? Remember, Karn is at his best when activating his -2 ability is your best option. Affinity is going to be pretty good at making the -2 Constructs very attractive.

Remember, you don’t have to go overboard. Affinity doesn’t have the highest land count, and the first two copies of Karn go a long way.

Side note: Damping Sphere showing up again…


Lots of people have lots of opinions on Jace vs. Teferi in Modern, but what I want to do is play ’em both.

Some decks particularly appreciate Teferi’s ability to leave you with Logic Knot mana, solve hard problems, or close out a game swiftly with his ultimate.

Here’s a great example of this first style that really does make better use of Teferi than Jace:

This is a style that Jim Davis has been talking a lot about, and one he used to Top 8 that same event. Here’s the build he piloted to a first-place finish in an IQ last week:

As you can see, not a ton different, though Vendilion Clique and Sphinx’s Revelation are definitely interesting.

Would it really be so wrong to get a little Jace action in here, though?

Likewise, I look at these U/W decks that feature nothing but Jaces and various Gideons, and I wonder, why not get Teferi in there?

For instance, what about something like:

It’s a little top-heavy, sure, but that’s a lot of raw power. Besides, I’m not sold on just playing two planeswalkers, and there’s a lot of value to splitting them. It’s not just the legend rule, either. Drawing two Jaces means your Turn 5 play isn’t going to be as strong as drawing a mix, since a Teferi has a bigger battlefield presence once it’s on the table. Drawing two Teferis, however, can leave you a turn behind.

Maybe it’s crazy, but what if we played a lot more planeswalkers…