Innovations – Modern And RUG-Pod Updates

So Wizards dropped a bomb last week when they changed the Pro Tour format to Modern. What does Patrick Chapin have to say about it? Also, look here for more meat on the RUG Pod deck, a major player in Standard.

The Constructed-format portion of Pro Tour Philadelphia, previously scheduled to be Extended, has been changed to Modern…


Just three weeks before Pro Tour Philly, WotC actually pulled the trigger and unleashed Modern! What was going to be one of the worst Pro Tour formats of all time has now been changed into a basically unprecedented event that has players more curious and excited than any format in some time. Although Extended was changed last year from seven years to four years, that change had three times the lead-in time and shrank the format nearly in half. This week’s announcement unveils a format that is more than twice as large, has a totally different texture due to the 21 cards on the banned list, and gives players just three weeks to begin to explore what might be the deepest format since Legacy!

Last year’s change-up in Extended led to one of the greatest Top 8s in Pro Tour history, featuring Paul Rietzl, Brad Nelson, Brian Kibler, Michael Jacob, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, Tom Ma, Marijn Lybaert, and Kai Budde. I am very excited to see what this year’s changes mean! No question, everyone has been caught a bit off-guard, but Magic is a dynamic game. At the end of the day, the old format was one of the worst ever, and the new one is so exciting it has been prompting a wave of Modern events cropping up all over.

Why was the format originally scheduled for Pro Tour Philadelphia going to be one of the worst formats ever? After all, generally WotC likes to see a format actually broken on a large stage before taking such drastic measures. That said, there are some things that make this format a bit different.

To begin with, Blade decks were already the best during the last PTQ season. By the end of the season, Blade decks were winning more than all other decks combined. That was before Batterskull, Mental Misstep, Dismember, Sword of War and Peace, and Timely Reinforcements were printed!

This format was going to be a massacre. Blade decks formed the most dominant Standard strategy of all-time, then after getting their two best cards banned, still proved to be the strongest strategy in the format. It is even one of the most successful Legacy decks, a format that is far, far more hostile.

In Extended, what competition did it have? Faeries and Valakut? It doesn’t take long to realize how degenerate Stoneblade decks are, and I suspect we actually would have seen the first Pro Tour featuring over 50% of a single archetype (possibly over 60%!). They didn’t need to let Memory Jar ruin a Pro Tour before banning it. Sometimes, the evidence is overwhelming.

It isn’t just that most players didn’t want to play the format; people at home are not looking to tune into the worst of Standard Redux. Blade, Blade, Blade! Can you honestly tell me with a straight face that people are supposed to be cheering for Faeries and Valakut? That’s like rooting for Ebola and the Bubonic Plague to make a comeback and kill people faster than Malaria.

Magic has been experiencing unmatched growth ever since M10 and Duels of the Planeswalkers began the new and awesome era we are in today. There are more Magic players than ever before and more chances to play Magic. This growth continued until Caw-Blade reared its ugly head. Tournament attendance has actually suffered a bit this year, which correlated almost exactly with the emergence of Caw-Blade. The last thing Magic needs is another format that drives people away who just don’t find the joke funny anymore.

Instead, we have a brand new world to explore, rich in possibility. Information on the new format can be found here . Outside of being the first nonrotating format since Legacy, there are other important attributes that make this format different from “old” Extended. To begin with, 32 legal sets is a larger card pool than has ever been legal in Extended. Possibly even more importantly, the banned list makes a lot more cards playable. After all, just look at Legacy vs. Vintage. Why does Legacy feature so much diversity, whereas the same half a dozen strategies get all the play in Vintage? After all, there are more cards legal in Vintage than Legacy.

When Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, Time Vault, Mishra’s Workshop, and Bazaar of Baghdad are legal, it effectively bans almost every card in the format by default. When done right, bans can actually open up a metagame, allowing more strategies to be playable than otherwise are.

While the general consensus has been overwhelmingly positive for Modern, a number of people have been thrown for a loop by the banned list. Some people are against bans on principle and wonder why WotC would ban a card from every deck, instead of leaving them all in place to balance each other out. Other people are confused as to why the cards that were banned were selected. After all, Ancestral Vision, Dread Return, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Mental Misstep? No one denies these are great cards, but what about Aether Vial? Wild Nacatl? Surely Ancestral Visions isn’t better than they are, right? And Mental Misstep? Really?

To begin with, the banned list isn’t about banning the best cards. It is about banning the cards that make a format unhealthy. Wild Nacatl is a stronger card than Ancestral Vision, but Brainstorm is a stronger card than Demonic Consultation, and Force of Will is stronger than Imperial Seal. As we can see from the Legacy banned list, it is not a list of the best cards that are banned. The bans are with purpose.

In Vintage, turn 1 kills are generally considered too fast, so restrictions are designed to limit strategies that are able to do this. In Legacy, turn 2 kills are too fast. Hence, cards like Imperial Seal and Demonic Consultation are banned, whereas Brainstorm and Force of Will are not. In Modern, the line has been set at turn 3 kills.

This doesn’t mean strategies that can kill on turn 3 should be banned. Rather it is just that if a strategy consistently wins by turn 3, it is deemed “too fast.” This immediately rules out Hypergenesis, Dread Return, and Glimpse of Nature. Additionally, Chrome Mox has been banned to slow everything down just a bit.

Wizards wants Modern to be a format people look forward to playing, not just another format where people revisit Magic’s biggest mistakes. One of the problems with current Extended is that it lacks definition. It is just more Blade, Faeries, and Valakut. Literally the worst mistakes made lately. Rather than just make Modern the worst mistakes made since 2003, Wizards has taken shots at the most unfun and offensive decks. Just like Legacy has Hermit Druid, Oath of Druids, Goblin Recruiter, and Earthcraft banned, Modern also removes a number of undesirable decks from the format.

What are the ten most boring and most hated strategies or combinations of the last eight years?

1. Affinity

2. Caw-Blade

3. Faeries

4. Dredge

5. CounterTop

6. Jitte Battles

7. Valakut

8. Hypergenesis

9. Dark Depths/ThopterSword

10. Elf combo

Now look at the Modern banned list next to this list. The only possible absence is that of Jund, but Jund was mostly the problem of there not being anything else to compete with it. Once Jace, the Mind Sculptor was printed and basically singlehandedly undid “Eighteen Months of No Good Blue Cards,” Jund’s reign began to decline. Besides, there is a reason Michael Flores always spoke so highly of Jund and how we were lucky to have an enemy like that, instead of an enemy like Faeries or Affinity (or, as we have seen, worse like Caw-Blade…).

Wizards’ banned list for Modern is actually the result of very careful and well thought out reasoning. That said, I agree with Zvi Mowshowitz, in that I suspect they may not have banned enough cards. We shall see.

Maybe the format is aggressive enough that Jace would be fine. Maybe Jitte is fine in the format. Maybe Bitterblossom wouldn’t even be good. Wizards has made it very clear they have no problem pulling cards off this list in the future. For the time being, they want to make sure the format doesn’t start out dominated by any of the most hated decks in recent memory. Maybe Bitterblossom is fine, but if it’s banned out the gate, there is no way U/B Faeries dominates in the form that it did for so many years. Would Jace actually be okay? Maybe, but Magic is not exactly hard up for another Jace format. Obviously I would love it if it were legal, especially since he would surely be underrated.

Necropotence was legal in Standard for four years due to being reprinted. Additionally, it was legal in Extended and Legacy for a bit and was initially unrestricted in Vintage. Despite being legal for so many years, it was UNDERRATED basically the entire time it was legal in all these formats. That is how these things go.

The 10 Most Hated List explains most of the banned list, but what about Mental Misstep?

Mental Misstep is an abomination. As we have seen from Legacy, Mental Misstep really has Force of Will power-level in formats that prominently feature one-drops. Legacy has been held together for years by the illusion that you don’t have to play blue (despite Force of Will and Brainstorm ensuring that you actually do). The reason Mental Misstep has been “killing” Legacy is that it is shattering this illusion. With three blue power cards in the format, it has become nearly impossible for people to convince themselves of the fundamental lie of Legacy.

You don’t have to play blue.

Ha ha ha! Okay, sure buddy, whatever you say…

Why doesn’t Mental Misstep dominate in Vintage, then? While Legacy is a format revolving around ones, Vintage revolves around zeroes. Black Lotus, Moxes, Bazaar, and Workshop ensure that people cast spells or generate effects costing more than one on turn one all the time. It is still a decent card there, by the way.

As for Modern, there is no question that Modern would go the same way as Legacy. Who wants to Wild Nacatl when it is just eating a Mental Misstep? Mental Misstep being banned gives blue a very real weakness. You actually have to pay to solve your problems. Add this to Vision and Jace being banned (the two best ways for blue to draw cards without paying for them), and you start to glimpse a plot to slow blue down and give it a real cost.

Why isn’t Wild Nacatl banned? The short answer is that people love playing Zoo, and no one can really ever get mad at Zoo as an enemy. WotC wants to give the edge to aggro because almost every time they mess up, it’s combo, control, or aggro-control that get paid. Some combos are too fast to do anything about. Some aggro-control decks have too much synergy and efficiency. Some formats are “solved” by a control deck with all the right answers.

If Zoo is the best/most popular, just play more Firespouts, more Bolts, more Engineered Explosives, more Goyfs, more Threads, more Finks, more Timely Reinforcements, and so on. You can always do something about Zoo.

Is the new Modern banned list perfect? I would guess it’s not, but I absolutely love it as a starting point, and WotC erring on the side of too many bans rather than too few, for a change, is music to my ears .

What is going to be good? It is hard to say this early what else will be good (besides Zoo, of course), but for an extremely detailed first look, I recommend Gavin’s article from yesterday . There is nothing I love as much as a new format, and this format is one of the newest I’ve seen. Major props to WotC for actually making this move. The game is far better off.

What does this mean for Extended? After all, Modern has officially replaced Extended in the individual portion of Worlds, as well. My guess? Lorwyn block rotates soon, which will solve one problem. The next time they announce the banned and restricted list, I wouldn’t be surprised if Stoneforge Mystic and maybe even Valakut are banned. Innistrad is coming soon. Hopefully, next year when some Extended Grand Prix roll around, it will be a very different format. I don’t think we have seen the last of Extended, but a little space would do us good…

Switching Gears…

I was originally planning on writing about US Nationals a bit more, but have been asked about Modern so much that I thought it better to split the space with that subject. That said, I would like to share a bit more about my experiences playing Value RUG both at Nationals and at the TCGPlayer Championship in Chicago, this past weekend. For reference, here is the list Michael Jacob lead-designed and that I piloted to a 9th place finish at the National Championships.

Since I couldn’t get Paul Rietzl to write a tournament report on my behalf, I am not going to break down every match or anything, instead just focusing on a few key situations that I found interesting.

Round one, I had a feature match against Matt Nass playing U/r Twin. We eventually reach a point where I have a Hero of Oxid Ridge, Sylvok Replica, Llanowar Elves, and eight land in play. My hand is Forked Bolt and Nature’s Claim (which Nass has known about for a while because of Gitaxian Probe), as well as another land I drew for the turn.

Nass has five cards in hand and is at ten life. He has a Deceiver Exarch, a Shrine of Piercing Vision at eleven, a Shrine at three, and five land of which only one Island is untapped (his tapped lands include two Mountains, an Island, and a Halimar Depths he played last turn). He has played exactly one Twisted Image this game.

What is the play?

Now does it change anything if I add that Matt made a show of calling a judge to ask about the interaction between Hero of Oxid Ridge and Twisted Image?  

See, the dilemma is that if he doesn’t have a Twisted Image, he is dead this turn. I just attack and Forked Bolt. As a result, he is going to have to Shrine to look for one. After all, he only played one between main and sideboard in Seattle.

If he has the Twisted Image, he Twists his Deceiver so that it can trade with the Replica, dropping to four life. That gives him a solution to his biggest problem at the moment (the Replica), while not dying to my Forked Bolt. Now he can just play another Deceiver next turn, tap my Hero, and hold off my Elf. Then he can untap and play Twin, presumably protecting with a Dispel.

While it seemed as though he had it, it seems suicidal to walk away from the on-board kill and not attack with the Replica. If I do that, he will just Twist and block my Hero, leaving him at eight life and me with almost no clock at all. I was pretty sure he had the Image, but if he does, I am in real bad shape anyway, and it seems likely enough that his question was a “bluff” to just attack anyway. Even if he has the Twist, he still needs another Deceiver, a Twin, and a Dispel. It was not until after the match that I saw another play. I could have Forked Bolted the Deceiver for one and Matt for one, precombat. Now, he can’t Twist his Deceiver to block anything, since it would already have one damage on it.

This means he definitely isn’t dying this turn, but it also means I can attack without losing my clock. Regardless of whether he Twists my Hero to prevent two damage or saves it (dropping to one), he will be on a very short clock. I will still have my Hero messing up his blocking and two pieces of disruption in the form of Nature’s Claim and Sylvok Replica.

When I asked MJ about the play, he said attacking was right unless I was absolutely certain that he had the Twisted Image because if I split the Forked Bolt, he thinks I would probably lose anyway, even if he didn’t have the Twist. How sure would you have to be? After all, he only had one Twisted Image before, and if he doesn’t have it, you win 100% on the spot. On the other hand, if he does play another Twisted Image and finds it, how likely are you to win anyway? What if it were 10%? How sure would you have to be that he has the Twisted Image? 91%?

He had it, giving me my only loss in Constructed for the weekend.

Round two and three I crush Caw-Blade very easily. Round four I have a feature match against SCG Open regular, Dan Jordan. He has a history of playing RUG decks, though he is an SCG Open Grinder, so Caw-Blade was certainly a possibility. As it turns out, he is on RUG-Twin-Pod.

Our final game comes down to my playing an Inferno Titan with a Vengevine in play, knocking Dan to four. Dan uses his Birthing Pod to turn his Solemn Simulacrum into an Urabrask, then taps out to play an Inferno Titan of his own. His Titan arcs my Titan twice and attacks for six (knocking me to nine, since I had fetched five times). Urabrask and Spellskite stay home to protect the fort.

On my turn, I tap six land, pay all my life but one, and Act of Aggression both of his untapped creatures for the win. What should I have done?

What I should have done is pay four life and Act of Aggression his Urabrask. That would kill him outright, since I’d have two hasty four-power creatures to his one blocker. His only play would have been to pay two life to Spellskite the Act, which would let him survive unless I had a second Act. Then, I could Act of Aggression his Urabrask with my second copy. Why is this the better play? It’s the same in every way, except it plays around Gut Shot

My later rounds involve defeating the true mirror, Tempered Steel, another RUG-Twin-Pod (but with Memoricide and Sunblast Angel), and finally Phil Napoli playing Valakut. Though I was the only 11-3 to not make it, I was definitely very satisfied with the deck. I knew all day that I was a long shot even if I won out since I had bad breakers from getting three losses on day one, so I can’t be too disappointed with my 7-0 Day 2.

Giving sideboard plans is always risky business, since it invites people to stop thinking for themselves and just copy notes on a piece of paper that can often lead them astray. Published sideboard plans don’t take into consideration personal play style of you or your opponent, nor minor tweaks either player may have made. Still, here is a basic starting point using the above list.

Sideboard Plans:


+1 Vengevine, then +some number of Combusts depending on their build (0-3) or possibly add a Wurmcoil, maybe a Flame Slash

-1 Obstinate Baloth, -1Forked Bolt
Then possibly cut a Tuktuk Scrapper and/or a Nature’s Claim depending on how you think they sideboarded. It is also possible to keep the Baloth in, if you want to be even more beatdown. It’s even possible to cut an Acidic Slime, if you just want that much spot removal.

Sideboarding against Caw-Blade is mainly about which creatures your opponents play. If they play almost none, then more threats are desired. If they have Emeria Angels or Heroes, that starts pushing you towards red removal. If they have Mirran Crusaders, you generally want all you can get. Additionally, Mirran Crusader is usually accompanied by more artifacts, whereas the creature-lite builds might just board out their Swords against you.

Tempered Steel

+2 Pyroclasm, +1 Flame Slash

-1 Hero of Oxid Ridge, -1 Urabrask the Hidden, -1 Phantasmal Image

RUG Twin-Pod

+3 Act of Aggression, and maybe +1 Flame Slash
Depending on their build, you may want to board a Pyroclasm or two, on the draw.

-1 Phantasmal Image, -1 Obstinate Baloth, and maybe -1 Hero of Oxid Ridge (depending on how you want to play it)
Additionally, you can shave numbers and make “bad” moves, like cutting a Preordain, Lotus Cobra, or some other card that you probably shouldn’t actually be cutting…

UR Twin

+2 Act of Aggression, +3 Combust, +1 Entomber Exarch(?)

-1 Phantasmal Image, -1 Cunning Sparkmage, -1 Tuktuk Scrapper, -1 Obstinate Baloth, -1 Acidic Slime, -1 Forked Bolt


+3 Act of Aggression, +1 Flame Slash, +1 Vengevine, +1 Entomber Exarch(?)

-1 Cunning Sparkmage, -1 Obstinate Baloth, -2 Nature’s Claim, -1 Forked Bolt, and either -1 Tuktuk Scrapper or -1 Sylvok Replica (keeping one to hit Tumble Magnet)


+3 Pyroclasm, +1 Flame Slash, +2 Obstinate Baloth, +1 Wurmcoil Engine

-1 Phantasmal Image, -1 Sylvok Replica, -1 Hero of Oxid Ridge, -1 Tuktuk Scrapper, -1 Acidic Slime, -2 Nature’s Claim

This past weekend featured a number of big events, including German Nationals, Spanish Nationals, SCG Open Richmond, and the TCGPlayer Championship. Value RUG put a couple people into the top eight.

As you can see, neither of these lists strays far from the original design. Tormentor Exarch maindeck is a reasonable move and one that MJ and I had discussed quite a bit before the event, though cutting Vengevine seems flawed. Swapping a maindeck Wurmcoil for an Inferno Titan was a metagame call that was spot on for the Spanish Nationals field. Replacing the Entomber Exarch with Spellskite or Tormentor Exarch is totally reasonable. Changing the Forked Bolt into another Nature’s Claim is just about the meta, but given Tempered Steel’s drop in popularity in the US, I wouldn’t go that route. Gerry convinced me to use a Dismember instead at this event, which I am still not sure how I feel about.

I actually lost a game against Conley Woods, this weekend, because of Dismember not being able to kill a Mirran Crusader (which Forked Bolt would have, obviously). If anything, I think I might like to play a little more spot removal, not fewer. I think next week, I might drop to one Nature’s Claim, replacing it with the Flame Slash maindeck.

I wasn’t planning on playing in the TCGPlayer event, having played in none of the qualifiers, but I awoke on Saturday after having a dream where I won a grinder. This had to be a sign, so I promptly rolled out of bed and drove to Chicago in time to play in one grinder, which I 4-0ed after defeating Valakut, RUG Pod, G/W Infect, and U/B Control. It was only later I realized that my dream didn’t actually broach the subject of the championship, itself.

I finished a very mediocre 5-4, including a very disappointing 3-3 vs. Caw-Blade. The problem? I played the same deck I did the week before (just -1 Forked Bolt, +1 Dismember, and -1 Entomber in the SB, +1 Act of Aggression).

The Caw-Blade decks had evolved. Now I faced Mirran Crusaders with Sword of War and Peace, Sun Titans with Phantasmal Image, Caw-Blade decks boarding out equipment, others boarding in Torpor Orb, and finally a little bit of variance. The Caw-Blade matchup is still good, but it is going to take adjusting the Pod deck a bit to get the best results. One of the greatest strengths of Caw-Blade is its ability to adapt to beat anything its pilot wants. It is pretty clear that Value RUG was on people’s radars. Time to adjust!  

For reference, my other wins were the mirror and G/u Mass Polymorph/Eldrazi, while I suffered a loss to the Kyle Sanchez Twin-Crab monster. Major congratulations to Todd Anderson, who took the whole thing down!

Also for reference, we didn’t miss Viridian Emissary; we cut it. We have been testing Pod decks since long before the various Nationals, so while I mentioned using a list similar to Olivier Ruel, we did not get it from those results, but rather independently arrived at similar conclusions. Starting with Viridian Emissary is obvious because of its synergy with Birthing Pod, but when you are Pod-ing, you are already in good shape, and ground blockers are not once they once were.

We actually prefer Perilous Myr to Viridian Emissary, if you want that sort of thing. In fact, in a meta with a lot of Red, Vampires, and Goblins, I would play one. We also considered Grim Lavamancer, which is still an option depending on how the meta shifts.

Thanks for joining me this week. Time to go build some Modern decks!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”

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