Greatness At Any Cost: Modern Edition

Looking for a deck to work on for Grand Prix Detroit? Then check out a couple of Dark Confidant-based lists that Adrian thinks could be well positioned for the event.

When I started thinking about what article I would like to write for the upcoming week, I was looking at a harrowing Gen Con. A lot of gaming of all kinds goes on at Gen Con, not to mention a lot of Magic. I was hoping I’d have enough time to be inspired by some of the comings and goings of Gen Con that it would be obvious to me.

Gen Con

I was there for work, so there was no time to play. I loaned a few decks out to my friends in the band Daniel and the LionErik Smith incredibly good U/W/R Delver deck (you should read his article if you haven’t already) and my Rakdos Midrange Aggro deck, which I’m still pretty happy about but can tell needs sideboard work. I did manage to run into a few people besides my friends in the band; all told, I had some fun conversations with Scott Larabee, Rashad Miller, David Williams, Justin Uppal, Caleb Durward, Adam Prosak, and others, but I didn’t get a lick of gaming in unless you count the digital match of Ascension with Justin Gary we had during a “work meeting”.

As a result, on the drive home from Gen Con, I spent it as I usually do on long road trips: listening to Marc Maron and thinking about Magic decks. Initially, I had planned on talking about strategies for building Standard decks after the rotation, but I had a long mental tangent that led me to thinking about Dark Confidant and, eventually, Modern. Grand Prix Detroit is not that far off and is certainly a little bit closer than the release of Theros, so I thought I’d spend some time talking about Dark Confidant in Modern.


I love Detroit. It is just an awesome place to visit as long as you don’t do anything truly foolish. (A word to the wise: don’t walk around alone at night with a big bag full of Magic cards.)


One of my favorite things about Detroit isn’t Magic-card related: the incredible Detroit coney dog. On a more Magic-related note, it is worth mentioning just what a legacy of great Magic comes out of this area. Patrick Chapin cut his teeth here. Eric “Dinosaur” Taylor started writing some of the most influential Magic articles of all time here. In more recent times, RIW is one of many stores that has built up an impressive community. While I’m not sure if we’ll end up seeing Michael Jacob at GP Detroit, I’m hoping we will. Rising grinder Raymond Perez is from the area, and he recently won a PTQ with Esper (I, sadly, was defeated in the quarters, so I never faced him).

The event, which will be September 13-15, is going to be right in the heart of downtown at the Cobo Center run by Mike Guptil and Professional Events Services, so it is definitely going to be a great show. With the size that all of these events have gotten to lately, I expect Detroit to be huge, and I’m incredibly excited to be attending it.

Dark Confidant came to my mind because The Great One himself, Bob Maher, made Top 8 of both of the Detroit Grand Prix that he’s played in, winning the only one that was  Constructed (playing Brian Kowal’s W/R “Slideless” Slide deck). Brian and I tried to talk Maher into returning, but he seemed pretty dubious.

Nonetheless, I now had Dark Confidant in my head.

Modern Decks

Our last major Modern event was probably Grand Prix Kansas City, with nearly 1,000 competitors. Since then we’ve had Worlds, but beyond that we have to go to the beginning of the year to get two more Grand Prix in the mix. Among the three Grand Prix, only one of them had a deck with Dark Confidant, and that was the double appearance of Jund in Bilbao, Spain.

One of those players, Lukas Jaklovsky, made the finals with this list:

Obviously, we’ve lost Bloodbraid Elf, which is a pretty huge deal. In its place, the most common card that we’ve seen is the straight-up swap in Huntmaster of the Fells (occasionally joined by Garruk Relentless). This is a totally reasonable approach, of course. Another card to think about, though, is Legacy mainstay Scavenging Ooze, which has already made splashes in what seems to be every format. Ooze is already somewhat ubiquitous in Standard, but in Modern it can fight against Living End and Melira Pod, the two finalists of the last Grand Prix in Kansas City.

Of course, sometimes you need to step off of the beaten path a bit. I have a soft spot in my heart for Burn. I played Burn throughout much of the last Modern season, and I was certainly thinking about playing it again. It was in this context that a friend of mine ended up in a conversation with me about their deck.

About a month ago, Zac Hill and I were discussing our respective Burn decks for Modern and just comparing notes. He’d had a lot of success with his (what he termed a “Philosophy of Fire” deck), and I’d had moderate success with mine (which technically was as well but was more geared towards the attack phase), and after lots of discussion he just decided to post it online. Here is Zac’s Dark Confidant deck:

Zac is really confident in his Confidant-based list, though I must say I am a little bit more dubious; Patrick Sullivan and I have long discussed Dark Confidant’s role in Burn decks, and usually I feel like they are going down the wrong path. That being said, Zac said he’s tested it ad infinitum, so one can certainly take that to heart.

Lavaclaw Reaches is another card that stands out (as does the lack of Blackcleave Cliffs). In watching Madison player Aaron Dettman play Jasper Johnson-Epstein Burn list, I’ve come around to Blackcleave Cliffs in a deck like this, if only because you need to be able to potentially cast a black spell on turn 1. Zac’s list tries to do this on the back of four black sources plus ten fetchlands that can retrieve them. This might be sufficient to handle the problem, particularly when you keep in mind that he feels comfortable enough in his black mana that he manages to include Geth’s Verdict in his sideboard.

The one thing about Lavaclaw Reaches and Dark Confidant in a deck like this is that they definitely give you the opportunity to masquerade as another deck. One of my favorite things about (usually mono-) red decks is that between your main and your board you can behave like one sort of deck and then post-board behave like an entirely different sort of deck. Back in the days of Baneslayer Angel, I had opponents thinking that they had me on my knees with their anti-damage package, only to be torn apart by my slow Obsidian Fireheart, Chandra Nalaar, Punishing Fire deck that was certainly ready to go for a long game. With Zac’s deck, you have the capability of playing a long game against a deck that might think that all they need to do to survive is manage to cast a Kitchen Finks or two.

Of course, you might be thinking that I’m missing the elephant in the room.

Right now the deck that comes to mind for a Modern Dark Confidant deck has to be the B/G list that was played by Eric Froehlich, Josh Utter-Leyton, and David Ochoa in the World Championship. Many call this deck a “new take on Jund” without the red, but long-time players will recognize this deck as a very clear version of The Rock (and many players have long-called Jund the current incarnation of The Rock).

Here’s the list of B/G that Brian Braun-Duin played against Chris VanMeter in their Versus video last Friday (“the deck that Dwayne Johnson would play if he played Magic”):

There are a few things I really love about this list. The most important thing in my mind is that the creatures are incredibly efficient and powerful—these are all A-listers. With my own list, I finished in the Top 64 of GP Chicago, but it is definitely a deck from another era. I ran B-lister Hypnotic Specter specifically because there were so many combo decks that I really hungered for something to punish an opponent. These days combo is so much less prevalent that you don’t really need a card like that.

The things that I don’t like, though, are the small details. I don’t know that I care for a deck with four Tarmogoyfs, four Scavenging Oozes, and four Deathrite Shamans; I’d probably end up wanting to cut down Tarmogoyf to three copies (Maher says that he actually prefers two Tarmogoyfs because he feels Ooze is so good), and if I felt I needed a little more defense, I’d keep the extra Goyf in the board. More importantly, though, there are a ton of cards I’m not seeing that I really want to be seeing.

If you’re like me and you’ve watched the coverage of the World Magic Cup and Championship, you saw this deck spending a lot of time doing, well, nothing. You can change that pretty easily, though, simply by including Phyrexian Obliterator. The cost of that choice is pretty huge; you have to spend BBBB to make it happen. But the only real thing this means is Treetop Village has to go.



Now, I love Treetop Village, and I’ve played it a ton of times. I just don’t think that it is all that exciting in the current moment. You tend to kill the opponent any old way a lot of the time. Having a Treetop Village sitting on the bench in a Rock-style deck might seem crazy, but I think it is a completely reasonable path.

When you look at BBD’s sideboarding versus CVM in the above video (around minute 43), you see another thing—it has unexciting sideboard cards. Here are the kinds of cards I want: Creeping Corrosion; Darkblast; or even Damnation. It does have Thrun, the Last Troll, which is a potent card for sure, and it also has Phyrexian Arena, but I just feel like you could do more.

I’ve married this list with my own from Grand Prix Chicago and updated it for the new cards of M14. After talking it over a bit with The Great One himself, who spent a lot of time playing my old list, here is my current list:

I’m much more confident in the maindeck than the sideboard, which I’m still tweaking in order to approach the current metagame. One thing that is for certain though, even without a few more lightning rods to pull out the Path to Exile an opponent might cast, is that Phyrexian Obliterator is a complete monster. While Garruk Relentless can certainly be, well, relentless, it is also slow, and I don’t know that I’m interested in having it in my maindeck at all, though I could see it having some place in some boards.

This deck as built has even more trouble against Tron than the World Championship build, which despite having four Tectonic Edges and sideboarding Fulminator Mage still feels like it is struggling. So far I’m not missing the extra Tarmogoyf at all, and Scavenging Ooze has been doing wonders to give the deck another angle. Lunatics and dreamers can sideboard Pit Fight if they like just for the chance to nuke the other person’s table, though frankly even if you manage this trick, I’m not sure that you’re going to have enough for it to matter—you can’t Pit Fight an Emrakul, for example.

Some other minor tweaks include the continuation of the use of Funeral Charm from my old list. A part of the reason is that it helps make Liliana even more powerful, as well as provides even more removal against Birds of Paradise and the like. Even Affinity has good targets, and I’ve been very happy with the card. Especially now that I’m up to four Obliterators, the times when I Funeral Charm their creature to make it “stronger” have definitely increased.

I continue to remain happy with Leechridden Swamp and have found that the incidental damage from the card generally ends up equating to several points a game (2-3+) at very minimal cost. The alternative, Treetop Village, is still worth considering, but Obliterator tends to make that a much more difficult call.

Overall, I still love B/G in Modern. I don’t really care for waiting around to kill the opponent, though, and I think that moving to an Obliterator base is an incredible way to make sure that happens. In addition, sometimes an opponent just completely loses because an Obliterator on the table is simply unbeatable. When my friend Sol Malka made The Rock almost fifteen years ago, one thing it definitely wanted to do was close out the game; there are few better ways to do so than Phyrexian Obliterator.

I’ll be PTQing in Madison this weekend at good ol’ Misty Mountain Games. We’re out of Constructed and into the world of M14 Limited. Wish me luck.

Until next week,

Adrian L. Sullivan

@AdrianLSullivan on Twitter