The plane of Ravnica has a storied history of impact on non-rotating
formats. There have been egregious missteps like Deathrite Shaman and the
entire dredge mechanic, weirdo role players like Glimpse the Unthinkable,
or even just solid cross deck staples like Lightning Helix and Abrupt
Guilds of Ravnica
promised no less for the third appearance of the plane, and our first look
at Modern with it at the StarCityGames.com Dallas Open has lived up to the
Dredge and Its Fallout
The immediate shock to the Modern ecosystem has been a massive resurgence
in Dredge. It was the most prevalent Day 2 deck in Dallas and put multiple
copies in the Top 8.
Honestly, it might have been about time for the deck to be back anyways.
Over the last few months Dredge had fallen out of favor, oddly almost right
after its win at Grand Prix Barcelona at the end of June. It was in a bad
place for a graveyard deck.
Everyone started packing graveyard hate to fight Ironworks Combo. They were
biasing towards absolute hate like Rest in Peace that Ironworks couldn’t
circumvent with smart Scrap Trawler-ing, which is incidentally brutal for
Dredge. Hollow One and Flameblade Adept were a real plan against hard hate,
and Vengevine was just faster than Rest in Peace, so other graveyard decks
outperformed the pure classic graveyard deck.
The prevalence of Azorius Control and Terminus was also a huge strike
against Dredge as it meant the control deck had a ton of extra tools to
fight. If they tucked the battlefield a couple times they could find a Rest
in Peace long after turn 2 and still easily win.
Then a couple things happened in a row. First, Core Set 2019 gave
Ironworks a legitimate non-graveyard threat in Sai, Master Thopterist,
making Stony Silence a significantly more powerful answer to the deck as it
attacked their mana. Humans returned as the top threat in the format,
pushing control to diversify their sweeper names away from the one that
incidentally wrecks graveyards. Humans also started including real hate
like Gaddock Teeg, and Ironworks Combo just stopped winning nearly as much
as it did.
So people backed off a bit on graveyard hard, and the door was a bit open
for Dredge before Creeping Chill kicked it wide open.
Creeping Chill just ramps up Dredge’s clock a bit closer to that of a real
combo deck. It also makes it near impossible for Burn to goldfish you,
which is a big upside with Burn also on a resurgence this fall.
The simple Lava Spike aspect of the card is amplified by other Dredge
stalwarts Bloodghast and Conflagrate. Getting your opponent to ten life
with a small attack and a drain or two is easy, letting you immediately add
haste’d Bloodghasts to a final closing attack. That last attack can also be
supplemented with Conflagrate damage, giving you a ton of reach for a
weirdo graveyard deck.
That all said, this is still 2018 and Dredge is still Dredge. This isn’t
2005 and the original Ravnica Extended where we had to beat Dredge
with the actual card Morningtide and some dryer lint. We have Leyline of
the Void and Rest in Peace and Relic of Progenitus and tons of ways to
actually fight graveyards. People will start playing more than a Surgical
Extraction or two, and Dredge will retreat for a while.
If you aren’t already on the Dredge bandwagon, you are probably better off
waiting this one out. You will always just have another chance to hop on
approximately in February.
Golgari Takes Home Trophies
The obvious broad spectrum addition from Guilds of Ravnica is
Assassin’s Trophy. It is literally seeing play in every format including
Vintage. While the card is showing up in Dredge sideboards, it’s much more
relevant to talk about its applications in fair decks.
Assassin’s Trophy gives midrange a card that plays double duty against
control. Previously, a big stress in that matchup was that no single answer
handled all the Azorius threats at once. Midrange can’t overload on answers
in the matchup or control will just bury it in a long game, so Jund would
have to accept getting clocked to death by a 4/4 flying land that Maelstrom
Pulse misses for multiple reasons. Or maybe you kept in a Terminate and
then died to a Jace, the Mind Sculptor with a stupid creature removal spell
With that in mind, it makes sense why Peter Hollman’s trophy-winning
Death’s Shadow deck might start the card in the sideboard. Death’s Shadow
decks were already moving away from Terminate towards Dismember. Even if
the two mana answer is really good, mana efficiency with a life loss bonus
is better. You have Assassin’s Trophy as the best possible catch all answer
when you need to kill enchantments or planeswalkers or non-basic lands, but
most of the time Modern is still about efficiently picking off creatures or
efficiently bashing your opponent’s face in.
As you can see, in more traditional midrange decks Assassin’s Trophy takes
a direct path to the starting 60 cards.
Death’s Shadow’s victory this weekend was indirectly bolstered by the other
new card we already discussed. Creeping Chill is actively punished by
Death’s Shadow, often letting them cast the card a turn earlier and
threaten very lethal attacks while Dredge is still on its tapped Prized
Amalgam turn. The Four-Color version of Death’s Shadow outperforms Grixis
on this axis by just being a better proactive deck. Traverse the Ulvenwald
plays a large role in this, giving the deck more reliable access to actual
Death’s Shadow and letting it find Ghor-Clan Rampager to break through
Dredge’s relatively few blockers.
Sadly, one of the other awesome Guilds of Ravnica cards is being
held down by Assassin’s Trophy. If given the chance to be a hard to answer
permanent, I think Experimental Frenzy would be an insane value engine in
Modern. Planeswalkers are great but can get attacked down in midrange
mirrors when you are behind, while Experimental Frenzy just buries them.
But now those are all things that die to removal like a Tarmogoyf.
If you are looking for an anti-midrange card, it might be time to look at
things that don’t die to Assassin’s Trophy due to being literally
indestructible. Hazoret the Fervent had a moment or two late last year as
the anti-Jund card of choice in both mirrors and out of random decks like
Affinity. I expect the card to show up again soon in the same role. I would
advise against the low impact versions like Kitchen Finks. Make sure your
hard to kill threat is actually worth caring about.
It’s a Creature, With a Type!
Below these in your face winners, Cavern of Souls Aggro had a great
weekend. Both Spirits and Humans littered the Top 32 decks, with the more
traditional Humans option taking three of the elimination round slots
before being promptly eliminated.
Knight of Autumn was present across these decks. Previously they played
Reclamation Sage, and this card does everything that did and more. The
lifegain upside against Burn is a huge deal as both Humans and Spirits
could struggle against that deck, and Phantasmal Image lets you absolutely
bury Burn opponents in life. The +1/+1 counters mode also lets you safely
sideboard Knight of Autumn against decks that might have an Ensnaring
Bridge you care about, but still want to draw a real card when they don’t
have one. A 4/3 body is a sizeable threat against Mardu Pyromancer,
battling into Spirit tokens and not dying to Kolaghan’s Command’s damage at
In Spirits the inclusion is basically automatic. The deck only plays one or
two Cavern of Souls, and the normal Bant mana takes care of the rest of the
Humans is a bit more questionable. Casting non-Humans is always a bit dicey
in the deck, and there aren’t any other Dryads or Knights to share a Cavern
of Souls type with Knight of Autumn. To be fair Humans was playing Gaddock
Teeg, but casting that card is often pulling teeth. You have to precisely
time your land drops from turn 1, then bank on not drawing a Mantis Rider
at the wrong time and regretting your decision to name Advisor. Against
Ironworks in particular the double up on weird creature types with Kithkin
and Dryad is a concern as you want the Reclamation Sage effect and Gaddock
Teeg. I have enough concerns about the Burn matchup that I really want to
try the newer card that is better there, but if future lists end up pulling
back to the easier to cast Reclamation Sage, I wouldn’t be shocked.
- 4 Meddling Mage
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- 4 Mantis Rider
- 3 Reflector Mage
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 4 Kitesail Freebooter
- 1 Militia Bugler
- 2 Tajic, Legion's Edge
Kevin Ambler also showed up with Tajic, Legion’s Edge in his Humans list
and made it all the way to the Top 8. After a closer look at some decks,
I’m willing to count this one as a Fact or Fiction loss.
Tajic does some weird things in Modern I hadn’t quite realized, and I’m
willing to give it a chance.
In Humans mirrors Tajic, Legion’s Edge shuts off Izzet Staticaster. Well,
sorta. It’s a bit more than that, and a bit less. Izzet Staticaster is one
of the more powerful effects in the mirror. It picks off ungrown Champion
of the Parishes, Noble Hierarchs, and just breaks some weird combats in
your favor. Tajic prevents your opponent from doing that but also breaks
the symmetry on your Staticasters accidentally killing your own things. You
can run your Reflector Mage into theirs and just win the fight. The thing
Tajic doesn’t protect against is Izzet Staticaster taking down Phantasmal
Images, which could be a bit of an upside as if you have him and an Izzet
Staticaster they can’t just copy your Tajic to shut it down. It isn’t a
perfect setup, but since Thalia, Heretic Cathar is honestly a liability on
the draw I’ll take it.
Tajic also tanks a Conflagrate against Dredge. Normally you are focused on
shutting off Dredge’s best tool to handling creatures with Meddling Mage,
but another couple copies of similar effects never hurts. They do only have
to expend a small Conflagrate to handle Tajic, leaving them with cardboard
to fuel a larger one the next turn, but a turn and a hoop to jump through
Just don’t mess up the mandatory mentor trigger when attacking with Tajic
and Phantasmal Images. You have to choose a smaller target if there is one,
even if that target would die because something looked at it funny.
The Fun Stuff
- 4 Lightning Bolt
- 4 Serum Visions
- 4 Fiery Temper
- 4 Manamorphose
- 4 Faithless Looting
- 2 Thought Scour
- 4 Izzet Charm
- 1 Insult
Time to unwrap the real present.
Arclight Phoenix is another in the long line of free graveyard creatures to
make a splash in the format. Last Friday Gerry Thompson
covered the various Mono-Red lists that have been popping up featuring
along side Runaway Steam-Kin, and I have some quick thoughts on those
before moving into this list.
Runaway Steam-Kin and Bedlam Reveler is the real deal. The problem is there
are only so many Bedlam Revelers in the deck. Risk Factor is not one of
them. Risk Factor is a garbage fire. If you aren’t going off, the card is
clunky and bad. If you are going off, it’s still clunky.
I want to try additional methods to churn cards. Experimental Frenzy is one
option, but the obscure card that popped in my head was Act on Impulse.
It’s like a Risk Factor that always works!
Or maybe I just want additional resilient threats to power through my
opponents the hard way. I know Warren Smith, a player Gerry
mentioned last week who has put a lot of development reps into the deck,
has tried Hazoret the Fervent to a fair amount of success.
That said, it doesn’t solve a core issue of the deck. It isn’t faster than
the actual combo decks as is. It is resilient enough to power through some
interaction, but a bit below the power floor of the format as is. Maybe it
will get refined to be better, but people are trying other things.
Good thing fair decks with interaction can play the Faithless Lootings and
Manamorphoses required to make Arclight Phoenix work. Evart’s list makes
good use of the blue mana, hybridizing a slot for more interaction and
Arclight Phoenix enablers with Izzet Charm. Izzet Charm also makes it a
little more reasonable to load up on Fiery Temper, a card I felt
underperformed in the Mono-Red lists when you didn’t draw Faithless
The other cards worth discussing in this list are the blue threats. Thing
is the Ice is really good interaction against a large number of faster
decks like Infect. Admittedly those are the decks you have the best
baseline against with Lightning Bolt, but it’s a really powerful standalone
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy isn’t Snapcaster Mage, but with Bedlam Reveler you
don’t want to be holding onto your cards waiting to cast your flash
creature. I’m not in love with putting a card in my deck that trades for
Lightning Bolt when your other twelve threats dodge it, so if I’m trimming
cards, Jace would be one of the first to go.
Oddly, one of the Izzet cards I was expecting that didn’t show up this
weekend was Crackling Drake. This Magic Online list was brought to my
attention by Jacob Nagro, who I teamed with at Grand Prix Denver last
The more I play with Crackling Drake all over, the more I love it. It just
draws a card, then crackles them to death. In Modern you can turbo charge
it with Thought Scour and Faithless Looting, and the exile clause just lets
you play a “graveyard” enabled card that doesn’t have anti-synergy with
great cards like Snapcaster Mage or Relic of Progenitus. Or maybe even just
okay ones like Harvest Pyre.
Now I want to do something stupid like go off with Crackling Drake and
Thought Lash in Legacy. It counts the card you exiled with Force of Will!
Come on, that’s awesome! If we are going down the nonsense trail, Thought
Lash even combos with Experimental Frenzy!
And The Rest
There are a number of other Guilds of Ravnica role players waiting
for a chance to hit the Modern spotlight. Plaguecrafter is a creature
answer to planeswalkers that just hasn’t really existed at three mana,
and as was mentioned by
Dylan Hand is a Human. Swiftblade Vindicator isn’t Glistener Elf levels of
efficient at doubling pump but is the first of the cheap actual double
strikers to have some evasion in trample. Deafening Clarion is three mana
three damage sweeper like the often played Anger of the Gods or Radiant
Flames or Firespout, but it has different cost restrictions and a unique
This is the first we have seen of the set, but certainly not the last.