Innistrad In Modern, Part 2

Gavin Verhey looks at the other two major archetypes for Modern: control and combo. If you want a head start on the Modern format, this is the perfect place to look.

Last time, we looked over Innistrad with an eye toward beatdown and midrange in Modern. Today, we’re going to take a look at the other pillars of the
metagame: control and combo.

As noted in the last article, I’ll be going over some cards for the second time here. If you’re looking for the beatdown or midrange
perspective on a card, you’ll want to check out the last article. For example, when I talk about Liliana of the Veil in this article, I’m only
going to consider how she performs in control and combo builds. Her applications in midrange decks, while strong, won’t be found here. On that
note, if you’re looking for a way to use Liliana in beatdown and midrange, definitely check Part 1 for some decklists.

All right—ready to find out where Past in Flames fits in the combo schematic and which Innistrad cards might revitalize control in Modern?
Let’s get to it!

Blasphemous Act

I pointed this one out in my last article as a potential sideboard card. Since the situation is the same this time around, I’m going to make the
same recommendation.

The short version is that if a deck like Elves plans to spit a bunch of guys out onto the board, or if somebody feels like Emptying some Warrens, then
this is a Wrath effect for a single mana. In control and combo it’s even better, because you don’t have to worry about it hurting you and
the mana efficiency is certainly worth enough to give this a look over something like Firespout.

If you’re looking to fight those specific decks in the potential Modern metagame, this is the card for you.

Conclusion: Niche sideboard card.

Boneyard Wurm / Splinterfright / Wreath of Geists

I’m grouping all of these together because I see all of them being used in the same kind of strategy. The effects are similar and ripe for abuse.
Any card that counts something in your graveyard for a big payoff has to be seriously considered, and these cards are no exception. While in most decks
these cards are going to be situational and unexciting, in the right deck you could easily use them to generate turn 3 kills!

The pieces to make these cards work are self-milling cards and the dredge mechanic. You can’t afford to run any non-creatures except for perhaps
the Wreath, so most mill cards are out. Fortunately, Hedron Crab is still acceptable and a perfect fit for this deck. As long as you can get cards into
your graveyard, dredge does a good job helping you the rest of the way.

Take a look at this deck:

I played a handful of games with this deck and became very impressed with how quick it was. The Innistrad cards certainly pack a punch, and in one game
I even attacked for 20+ damage on turn 3 thanks to Boneyard Wurm coupled with Wreath of Geists! It’s possible you may want to cut down on the
gimmicks and just play some Bridge from Belows and Narcomoebas instead, or perhaps find a way to make Vengevine work. Another card I toyed with was
Jace’s Archivist. While slow and vulnerable, if you untap with it then a single activation will usually mill most of your deck.

A strategy like this may have a place in Modern if fewer turn 4 combo strategies are around. You may want to reconsider leaving those Tormod’s
Crypts at home!

Conclusion: These cards have the potential to fuel an archetype. They’re either going to be big hits or big misses, and I’ll certainly keep
my eye on them.

Desperate Ravings

I want this card to be good. It’s like a very weird Think Twice in that it costs two to play and three to flashback, and each time you’re up a
card. Of course, the weird part is that it can be both better and worse than Think Twice because you see an extra card but end up losing one at random.

Unfortunately for this card’s playability, random discard is not something competitive players tend to try and do to themselves. There are too
many ways for the fickle hand of variance to toss away the card you desperately need, and if you’re looking to discard cards then there’s
no guarantee the one you discard will be the one you want to discard.

It’s possible some U/R combo deck might eventually play this—in fact, there’s even one later on in this article! Overall, I
don’t think this is going to be good enough to see any non-fringe play.

Conclusion: Mostly unplayable, with some potential fringe applications.

Forbidden Alchemy

Several people have pegged this card as an all-star in Standard. For Modern, the outlook is a bit less exciting. It’s a three mana Impulse that
mills you. What deck wants that?

If you want cards in your graveyard, there are better ways to do it. If you want an Impulse, you could be casting Peer Through Depths, Thirst for
Knowledge, Telling Time, Worldly Council, Court Hussar, or any number of similar cards. Thieves Fortune has existed and nobody has ever really played
that, so the only reason to look toward Forbidden Alchemy would be the ability to also mill cards.

Very few Modern decks that want to be casting an Impulse will also be looking to mill cards. The primary ones I can think of are Past in Flames
strategies and Reanimator, but Forbidden Alchemy feels too expensive and slow in both.

The flashback is nice, but if you manage to reach that in Modern then your control deck should be in a pretty plush position anyway. While this may
prove to be a Standard contender, I don’t expect it to make much of a Modern splash.

Conclusion: Fringe playable at best.

Gnaw to the Bone

Yes, I’m serious. This card is certainly not great, but it does have one fringe sideboard application worth bringing up: it’s pretty good against
beatdown decks in the sideboard of Dredge decks.

Dredge decks have sideboarded in Ancestor’s Chosen in the past, but without Dread Return in Modern they are short on ways to recoup life. You can
dredge into these and then flash them back for twenty-plus life each, buying plenty of time. A narrow use perhaps, but one worth pointing out.

Conclusion: A very niche sideboard card.

Heartless Summoning

Heartless Summoning is one of the most exciting cards in the set as far as I’m concerned. In slower formats like Standard you’ll be able to
use it as a Sol Ring and turbo out everything from Myr Superion and Spellskite to Acidic Slime and Titans. In many cases, it’s even better than a
Sol Ring because it can reduce the cost of multiple creatures in the same turn!

In Modern, you need to do something a little more unfair—simply using it as an Explosive Vegetation is unlikely to be good enough.

The first thing I tried was a deck with Vedalken Archmage and Summoner’s Pact for Primordial Sage that played a bunch of artifact creatures for
free to draw through its deck Glimpse of Nature-style before finishing with Grapeshot. Myr Moonvessel can even give you the mana to cast other spells,
if you need to.

I didn’t expect it to work, and I quickly proved myself right. The problem with decks like this one is that your draws always get clogged up by
lands that prevent you from continuing to go off. It’s also slow and vulnerable. Considering an average U/R combo deck like Dragonstorm or Hive
Mind can probably just kill you on turn 4 with ease even through disruption, a deck that isn’t as fast and is highly susceptible to disruption
isn’t even close to good enough.

The next thing I wanted to try was abusing the combo between Myr Retriever and Heartless Summoning.

What’s the combo? You can play Myr Retriever for free off the Summoning, which will instantly make it die and in turn will net you another
artifact creature from your graveyard. This means that if you have two Retrievers and a Heartless Summoning on the battlefield, you can loop them as
many times as you want, creating boundless enter the battlefield/leaves the battlefield triggers, storm count, and even lethal gravestorm!

While you can always kill with Grapeshot, Fecundity, Bitter Ordeal, or any number of ways, Congregation at Dawn is a great way to instantly set up all
three pieces of the combo using Falkenrath Noble and two Myr Retrievers. If you’re looking to search them up one at a time, then Fauna Shaman
works, while Tezzeret the Seeker also finds both Retrievers.

However, just like the combos before it, too many pieces are required and it’s a little slow and vulnerable. You also have to find your Heartless
Summoning to make it all work, which might actually be the hardest piece to reliably find.

There’s a ton you can do with this card, and I know it will have a place in Standard. I won’t be surprised at all to see it pop up in
Modern eventually, but not immediately. The right combo deck for it has to be tweaked and heavily refined, or the right card to abuse with it needs to
be printed. Either way, it’s going to take some time for that to happen.

Conclusion: A strong effect that is likely to see Modern play…eventually.

Infernal Plunge

Infernal Plunge has to at least be discussed, solely because it has the potential to be a red Dark Ritual.

The closest comparison is Culling the Weak. Culling was never much of a Constructed-playable card. Of course, that was also in an era where you could
still cast Dark Ritual. Without so much as a Rite of Flame in Modern, could Infernal Plunge be somewhere to look?

My answer is a resounding no. I don’t think this card is any good, mostly because it’s too hard for the decks that want a ritual to bother
with creatures. Snapcaster Mage is perhaps the one exception that comes to mind, but you can’t play Infernal Plunge with only four Snapcaster
Mage to combine it with. You need many more creatures to make the Plunge work out for you, and no combo deck really wants to waste spots to do that.

Though you could certainly build an obtuse creature-based combo deck to take advantage of this, I highly doubt it will be stronger than any combo decks
currently available in the Modern format. I’ll be surprised if this sees serious play.

Conclusion: Unplayable.

Laboratory Maniac

If you took part in the Leveler rush after this card was spoiled, I have some bad news for you: I don’t think this card will be a part of any
serious Modern deck.

The dream combo, of course, is Leveler (or Mirror of Fate) plus Laboratory Maniac. It’s a two-card combo that wins you the game. Unfortunately,
it has some huge downsides.

First of all, it’s mana intensive. Deceiver Exarch / Pestermite and Splinter Twin is a two-card combo that costs three mana at instant speed
followed by four mana at sorcery speed and instantly wins you the game. None of the cards in the Maniac combo play at instant speed, and Leveler/Mirror
costs one more. Furthermore, you will likely have to wait until your next draw step to win the game, which makes relying on multiple Pact of Negations

And then there’s the largest problem of all.

If you go for something like Splinter Twin / Pestermite and they kill your creature in response, it’s okay. You can still rebuild. Sure,
it’s possible you might be dead to their board, but the Maniac combo isn’t going to be any better in that respect either. If you go for
Maniac combo and they deal with your Maniac, you just lose. There’s no rebuilding. No chance to go off again. With your deck gone, the
game is over.

And really, that’s the problem with Maniac in general. No matter how you try to make him work, whether you’re casting Leveler or returning
him with Unburial Rites after you’ve dredged your deck, if they have an answer then you just end up dead.

While Maniac is going to be something fun to try casually, if you were holding out to play it in Modern I’d try and get it out of your system at
a low-stakes event. While a neat card, it’s not going to be playable competitively.

Conclusion: Cute, but not seriously playable.

Liliana of the Veil

As I showed off on Monday, Liliana is insanely powerful against control and combo decks. She breaks apart the hand those decks so carefully sculpt.
However, if you build your control or combo deck correctly, you too can take advantage of her insane power. Liliana is one of the best cards in
Innistrad, and she can fit into several different roles.

For example, take a look at this U/B Control list:

Some of those interactions are insane! Repeal plus Liliana? Jace Beleren plus Liliana? You can also tear apart your opponent’s hand with discard
first to make sure Liliana puts them in a position where they have to play off the top.

I am not a huge fan of countermagic in this deck because it doesn’t work well with Liliana, but I wanted access to a pair of Mana Leaks for some
extra early action and because they play well with Snapcasters. In general, I would try to avoid a lot of countermagic in your Liliana control decks.

Although it is part counterspell, Cryptic Command works well enough with Liliana. It’s essentially a cantrip Vindicate if they have no cards in
their hand, so I wanted a pair of them. I could definitely see playing a third Cryptic Command and Think Twice, probably cutting the two Mana Leaks.

As for the combo part of Liliana, once again, you just have to build the right deck for her. There is one combo deck, after all, that actively wants to
discard cards…

In a deck that wants to discard cards and reanimate, Liliana is perfect! Not only does she help defend against beatdown, not only does she strip away
the cards in control’s hand so you can freely reanimate, but she also serves as an easy discard outlet for you.

The deck has essentially a two-card combo: Goryo’s Vengeance targeting Emrakul, the Aeons Torn while its shuffle ability is on the stack. You
just have to find a way to pitch Emrakul, and Liliana—alongside Thoughtseize targeting yourself and Thirst—is a great option for reanimator

After playing with Liliana in all of these decks, and in practically every style of Magic deck out there, I’m convinced she is one of the best
planeswalkers we have seen so far and is going to be playable in Standard, Extended, Modern, and maybe even Legacy. The small incremental advantages of
her abilities may not look like much on the surface, but in reality she puts the game in control of the person behind Liliana, giving a strong player a
deadly tool.

Conclusion: Liliana is the second best card in the set and will see plenty of Modern play.

Memory’s Journey

This card isn’t too noteworthy, but Krosan Reclamation has seen some play in the past. While Krosan Reclamation was partially a weird tool for
some combo decks, the way I see Memory’s Journey being used is just as a reusable graveyard hate card in blue and green.

Like Purify the Grave, if your opponent is playing a strategy like Reanimator, which asks you to target a specific card once, then cards like this are
good. If your opponent is playing something like Dredge, you would much rather have Tormod’s Crypt. While Memory’s Journey is on the low
end of playable against graveyard decks, it’s still worth keeping in mind regardless.

Conclusion: A niche sideboard card.

Mentor of the Meek

I don’t think Mentor of the Meek will see a lot of play in Modern intending to give weenie decks a few extra cards, but, as I mentioned in my preview article, it is something you could
try out in Elves as a Glimpse of Nature replacement. If you’re curious for more on how that could work out and look for Elves, I wrote about it
in the preview article linked above. Check it out!

Conclusion: Potentially playable in one deck.


A lot of players are attracted to this kind of card because of how alluring the ability to shut off a deck is. In reality, these play out worse than a
card like Memoricide, and Memoricide isn’t even that good!

In aggressive decks, they can occasionally be okay ways to shut off combo and buy you a few turns so you can kill them. In control decks, these tend to
be worse. The combo deck will eventually find a way to defeat a Nevermore. While it’s true that you can hold back countermagic or discard to
protect it, if you’re doing that then you’re probably in good shape against their combo anyway!

There are far better ways you could be attacking combo. I would recommend against sideboarding Nevermore in control or combo decks.

Conclusion: Technically sideboard playable, but not a card you should be playing.

Past in Flames

Here we are. Past in Flames is easily the biggest combo card in the set and perhaps one of the most ominous combo cards in the past several years. In a
format without cards like Lion’s Eye Diamond and Black Lotus, it’s really just Yawgmoth’s Will for a mana more. It doesn’t even
exile any spells you cast afterward from your hand, meaning that if you have enough mana you can re-up on Past in Flames later in the turn!

The card is going to be broken and find its place in a combo deck. The only thing not totally clear is what exactly that combo deck is going to look

Any Past in Flames deck will feature plenty of rituals. With Rite of Flame gone, that means Seething Song, Desperate Ritual, and Pyretic Ritual are the
top on-color picks. Certainly not the most robust ritual crew, but they can still get the job done. If you expand into green, Channel the Suns is
another available option.

After those rituals, Manamorphose is also a good call. If your mana needs to be fixed while going off, such as to get blue and flashback Serum Visions,
then it can do that. At a minimum, it draws you a card twice.

With this core, the first Past in Flames deck I built was a little out there, using some cards that have never been seriously played in Constructed
before. Seriously, I’m warning you before you scroll down—this is the kind of combo deck a mad scientist would build.

This deck killed between turns 3 and 6, which is probably a new record for any deck playing Burning Inquiry and Goblin Lore.

I quickly identified that, since Past in Flames can be in your graveyard and you could still go off, you don’t really care about discarding it.
As a result, you just want to get as many cards out of your deck and into your hand and graveyard as possible. Goblin Lore plus Burning Inquiry were
the best at doing that, and that is how this strange deck was created.

Of course, the problem with this deck is just how much variance there is. Burning Inquiry, Goblin Lore, and Desperate Ravings don’t exactly lend
themselves to stable draws, and in some games you would just end up discarding all of your rituals and having a hand full of lands. Plus, cards like
Burning Inquiry aren’t that great to flashback if you need extra cards—Past in Flames gives your cards flashback upon resolution and
won’t give it to cards placed in your graveyard later on in the turn.

The one big takeaway from the Burning Inquiry version of the deck was how good Ideas Unbound was. It’s a draw three on your fundamental turn that
you can also cast to help smooth out your draw and sculpt your hand on turn 2. When I revisited the deck intending to be a little more serious than
using Burning Inquiry, it was one of the major elements I kept.

This is one of the best Past in Flames builds I found.

This deck was killing sometimes on turn 3, and almost every game on turn 4. Considering Rite of Flame was axed and Ponder plus Preordain are no longer
options, that’s pretty impressive. I shudder to think about what this deck might look like if those cards were still around.

It’s possible there are some small tweaks to be made. Namely, the deck has no form of interaction right now. A final version of this deck might
want to consider Remand, Repeal, Vendilion Clique, or something to counteract the various forms of disruption most competitive decks will have. The
weakest card in the deck is probably Gitaxian Probe. The Probes cycle twice for free and up the storm count, but the extra information doesn’t
really help that much and against beatdown the damage is quite relevant.

In any case, give it a try. Past in Flames seems to be the future of Modern combo.

Conclusion: Past in Flames will be a staple for U/R combo archetypes. While it may not obsolete all other combo decks, it’s certainly going to be
a contender for the top spot.

Purify the Grave

As in the beatdown review and in the discussion of Memory’s Journey above, this is a potential sideboard card against graveyard decks that focus
on one specific card. The same rules apply. Feel free to Mystical Teachings for this, I suppose.

Conclusion: Niche sideboard card.

Stony Silence

If there’s ever a deck that has a ton of artifacts to shut off, this is a good sideboard card for white. It’s likely a little harder to
deal with than Null Rod was. It’s a pretty reasonable sideboard answer to Affinity, though it doesn’t shut off their ability to attack if
they already have some board presence.

Conclusion: What you see is what you get, and what you get is a narrow sideboard card for artifact-heavy decks.

Snapcaster Mage

Snapcaster Mage is the best card in Innistrad and will affect Modern for a long time to come. I covered his beatdown and midrange uses, which are all
right, comparatively, but where he really shines is in control. I’ve already featured him in the U/B Liliana deck above, but in this section I
have a few Snapcaster-specific builds.

Not only is Snapcaster Mage insane and not only is he great in control, but he also works perfectly with two great Modern draw engines.
It’s insane how well he is set up to perform in Modern control decks.

Snapcaster Mage, among other things, has flash. Why is that relevant, aside from the obvious? That means he can be searched up with Mystical Teachings!
Not only is he great to draw on his own, but he also beats and lets you easily reuse all of your singleton bullets when you need to. By playing
Snapcaster Mage, you can cut down to one on a lot of the cards you were using Teachings to search for.

If you thought Teachings with Snapcaster looked good—the other engine looks even better alongside Snapcaster Mage!

Gifts Ungiven and Snapcaster Mage is insane!

First of all, Regrowth effects have always been good with Gifts because they guarantee access to the cards you want. If you Gifts for Snapcaster Mage
and Noxious Revival, it means you’re getting the other two cards. If they give you Revival and/or Mage, you can get back the other two cards you
searched for on the cheap—either by targeting an instant or sorcery directly with Snapcaster or by Snapcasting Noxious Revival.

Second, if you just cast Gifts and have a Snapcaster Mage in your hand, then your opponent is doomed to give you exactly what you want, whether they
realize it or not. You can just grant flashback to any instant or sorcery they didn’t let you have off of Gifts.

Finally, you can just flashback Gifts itself and start the craziness anew!

Gifts plus Snapcaster is incredibly powerful, and there are all kinds of shells you can put these cards into: Punishing Grove, Next Level Blue,
Reveillark, and more. This interaction could potentially grow to define a control archetype in Modern.

Snapcaster Mage is incredible in Modern. The card pool is deep, there’s plenty to target, and there are a lot of good synergies around. I would
get used to seeing Tiago Chan face—I wouldn’t be surprised if Snapcaster Mage ends up being as ubiquitous in decks that can support
him as Dark Confidant is in the decks that can support him. Better yet, how about the deck where you get to play the two side by side? Incredible!

Conclusion: Snapcaster Mage is awesome. He’s not just your usual ball of hype—he’s everything that’s been talked about plus
everything that hasn’t been discovered yet. The card is only getting better in time, so get your playset during this block and hold onto them.

Unburial Rites

The last time we saw a flashback reanimation spell, it ended up being a huge mistake—see Dread Return. How does Innistrad’s take on a
flashback reanimation spell do?

After trying it myself, I can say Unburial Rites is nothing to worry about. While the Rites may end up being played somewhere casually, don’t
trick yourself—this is no Dread Return. You don’t get any Bridge tokens (often the real incentive to play Dread Return) and reanimating
Iona or something on turn 4 isn’t as scary in a format where you can just kill people on turn 4. I tried it out in the Boneyard Dredge deck I
talked about earlier, and it wasn’t even close to impressive.

I’ve heard a lot of chatter about this card supporting dredge/reanimation strategies in Modern. Those strategies may be viable at some point, but
it isn’t going to be because of this card.

Conclusion: Not worth playing.

Victim of Night

I talked about this card pretty extensively in Monday’s column, so if you want to hear all about how this card fits into Modern you can go check that out.

The short version is this: If you’re playing a deck that can easily get BB, it’s better than Doom Blade and Go For the Throat. The trick is
playing a deck that can consistently have BB so easily.

Conclusion: Better than other removal spells if you’re in a very specific archetype.

Village Bell-Ringer

I just wanted to point out that this card combos with Splinter Twin and Kiki-Jiki in the same way that Pestermite and Deceiver Exarch do. It’s
not super likely to ever show up, but I remember some people trying U/R/W Splinter Twin builds for the Pro Tour and I could see cases where that deck
wanted another four toughness piece of its combo against beatdown, though losing the tap ability to do so is a tough sell. Its ability also can’t
be Spellskited, so if you’re going the Kiki-Jiki route then that’s another advantage.

Conclusion: Probably never happening.

Woodland Cemetery / Hinterland Harbor / Sulfur Falls / Isolated Chapel / Clifftop Retreat

Just like in the beatdown and midrange review, I’ll say that these lands are probably exactly as good as you think they are. We’ve played
with the Core Set cycle of dual lands for long enough that you know what to expect when playing these.

The one thing you want to make sure to keep in mind is that, even if the colors match up, these still aren’t any good at casting one-drops.
That’s less relevant in control than in beatdown, though there are still Thoughtseizes and Spell Snares to leave up and in combo you want to make sure
you can Sleight of Hand and Serum Visions on turn 1—or Burning Inquiry, if that’s what you’re into. The Core Set lands haven’t
seen a ton of play in Modern because of how crucial one-drops are to the format, and I wouldn’t expect these to see an overwhelming amount of
play either.

Conclusion: Not insane in Modern, but totally respectable mana-fixing lands some of your Modern decks may use.


That wraps up my Modern Innistrad set review! The three spells that will no doubt have the highest impact on the format are Snapcaster Mage, Liliana of
the Veil, and Past in Flames, but there are enough other interesting cards in the set that I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of the cards
I’ve talked about end up as breakout playables. Hopefully I’ve given you enough of a heads-up on them that you have an edge and can see
them coming.

If you’re curious about any of the cards I talked about or wondering about any of the cards I missed, please let me know your thoughts! You can
post in the comments below, send me a tweet, or e-mail me at gavintriesagain at gmail dot com.

I’ll be in Indianapolis alongside Brad Nelson this weekend, doing coverage of the Indianapolis StarCityGames.com Open—it’s going to
be exciting seeing what new Innistrad cards make a splash. If the Modern queues are firing off, I’ll try to get some reports from those and relay
what’s doing well in a post-Innistrad, post-Cloudpost world. Stay tuned to the @SCGLive feed to hear about any exciting Modern developments.

Have fun with Innistrad in Modern!

Gavin Verhey

Rabon on Magic Online
@GavinVerhey on Twitter