Wizards of the Coast sent the community abuzz, last week, when they announced the formats for the annual Community Cup. The Community Cup is an
exhibition between eight notable Magic Online community members and eight Wizards of the Coast representatives. This year, three formats will be used:
Scars of Mirrodin Block Draft, Unified Standard, and Unified Modern.
The unified aspect of those two Constructed formats means that each team will be subject to the four-card limit per team, not per player (i.e. 4 Jace,
the Mind Sculptors per team). This will ensure greater diversity in the competition, rather than eight copies of the same deck. What is new is Modern
as a format. While Modern is not an official major format or anything, this is very clearly a trial run of the format and the launching of a talking
point to get feedback from players on it. People have not been loving Extended (primarily due to being too close to Standard and having no identity),
and WotC is listening.
In the Modern format, players may use cards from Mirrodin and 8th Edition forward (the point at which the card frames switched to the “modern” frames,
though non-modern frame versions of legal cards are still allowed). Many had speculated that “Overextended” would reach back as far as Masques or
Invasion, and this experiment for “Modern” is hardly set in stone. Personally, I’m greatly looking forward to the deckbuilding possibilities, as there
is no purer pleasure than brewing in a virgin format.
The initial banned list for Modern (at least for the Community Cup) is the following:
I’m not going to be in the Community Cup event, and very few of you will; however it still seems like a marvelous idea to brainstorm some
decks for this format. First of all, there is a good chance that this is a precursor to the next official major format. After all, it might be
far enough away from both Legacy and Standard to accomplish the goal of giving all those cards in the middle a home. The real test is going to be if
the format is actually fun. Being at the cutting edge of what is possible in this format may also be quite profitable for people who trade cards. If
this format takes off, the staples of the format (that are not currently used in any format) are likely to gain a lot of value.
Additionally, this format is brand new but has a number of similarities to pieces of old formats with a ton of new cards added to the mix. This is an
excellent opportunity to talk about the process of brainstorming decks in new or young formats, in general. Over the past two years, a vocal minority
of players who care deeply about the art of deckbuilding have been speaking up. While it is true that deckbuilders are certainly in the minority these
days, it would appear there is no lack of passion among those who still practice it.
Modern is certainly miles away from both Legacy and Standard; however it does have some similarities to old Extended (though with a ton of new cards
added and a significantly different banned list). My first reaction was to look at the banned list and read between the lines. What does that banned
list tell us?
Dark Depths and Sword of the Meek are certainly banned because of their combos with Vampire Hexmage and Thopter Foundry. In both cases, Wizards banned
the Donate part of the combo, which is to say, the least playable card in an unfair combo kill.
Skullclamp is certainly the most powerful card on that list and is surely banned on power level alone.
Umezawa’s Jitte was never banned in Extended but always quite prevalent. It may not have led to an unplayable format to allow it, but it would be
annoying. Jitte battles are nothing new and not particularly fun for most. Additionally, the last thing WotC wants is to risk Stoneforge Mystic ruining
everything for everyone. The hope is that without Jitte, there will be much more diversity (and hopefully fun).
Golgari Grave-Troll is another interesting one, in that it was never banned in any format. While it is very possible that Dredge would never end up
becoming a big problem in this format, Dredge is unfun enough that Wizards seems to want to nip any possibility in the bud.
Sensei’s Divining Top is offensive for a number of reasons. It slows down tournaments, is overpowered, can be used in far too many decks, leads to
repetitive game states, and results in players’ least fun experiences when combined with Counterbalance.
Chrome Mox is a bit more surprising, as there is not an immediate obvious reason, beyond the fact that it is fast mana that would end up getting played
by an awful lot of people. This isn’t inherently a Bad Thing, but it would seem WotC wants to slow down the prospective format a bit, which sounds good
Finally, the five artifact lands on the list are a clear signal that WotC wants to take proactive measure to prevent Affinity from totally warping the
format (yet another move made in consideration of “fun”).
It’s clear that this list was made to try to make the format fun and prevent people from “breaking” it…
…Of course our job is to do exactly that. Our goal is to break the format and make it no fun for anyone else because we always win.
An excellent example of this is Caw-Blade, in Standard. At this point, Caw-Blade isn’t fun anymore, and most people don’t like what it does to the
format. It has very literally “broken” the format, making people not want to play anymore because so often, they just can’t win. Caw-Blade is too good.
However, if we back up a few months, back before Pro Tour Paris, Caw-Blade was a new concept. The invention of Caw-Blade was a ton of fun, for
those who invented it.
Sometimes we have our Nice Guy hats on and try to figure out ways to make formats better. When a new format is unveiled is not one of those times. We
want to try to break it as hard as we can, so that later, when we put our Nice Guy hats on, we have the best information possible to improve the
format. Mostly, though, we want to win.
While considering that banned list and the decks that are hit by it, I used Bottom->Up thinking to see what was not there. What cards were
not banned that maybe should have been? Seeing Dark Depths and Sword of the Meek banned reminded me of the banned list for the new Extended, when it
was unveiled. That list featured three cards, though. The third card? Hypergenesis.
Hypergenesis is certainly one of the most abusive possible ways to approach the new format, and I would be really surprised if it were not banned if
the format were introduced on a large scale. While Unified Modern ensures that we will see diversity at the Community Cup, the extremely high incidence
of non-interactive turn 3 kills (or earlier) is really not fun for a lot of people. It seems so strange for them to go to all this trouble,
fighting Dredge, Affinity, Countertop, Depths, ThopterSword, and so on, yet allow Hypergenesis to get a pass.
It is not as though Hypergenesis is not without new cards, either. Emrakul is an obvious fit, as you can do little better when it comes to creatures.
Akroma’s Memorial plus Emrakul is going to be pretty tough to beat (and maybe we should push this theme even more). Mirrodin’s Core is another small
upgrade made possible by the enlarged card pool. It’s kind of interesting that there are so many good non-basic options in this format that we can’t
possibly play all the good lands in decks (as we just don’t need that many!). Sakishima the Imposter, Bogardan Hellkite, Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre,
Iona, the Shield of Emeria, and Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur are all reasonable options to consider for other fatties. The right mix is surely a function
of the rest of the format. I went with the mix I did because Progenitus and Emrakul are the best “durable” threats, and Terastodon and Angel of the
Despair have the best “enters the battlefield” triggers.
There are a variety of other possibilities that may make the maindecks but will be sideboarded at the very least. Dismember is a particularly exciting
option for Hypergenesis players, as it lets them “cheat” the three-casting-cost rule. Part of what makes Simian Spirit Guide so great in these decks is
that it lets them make a play before turn 3. Dismember has a casting cost of three, as far as your cascade is concerned; however it can remove
troublesome Ethersworn Canonists and Meddling Mages on turn 2, setting up the natural turn 3. Additionally, Dismember provides natural resistance to
Magus of the Moon. Unfortunately, Magus of the Moon is the least of our worries, as Blood Moon itself is legal. I’ve tried to warp the mana base to
take this into consideration, but it may just be better to replace the Misty Rainforests and shocklands with Reflecting Pools and another Fungal
Chancellor of the Tangle is a consideration, as it does increase the number of turn 1 kills; however, I’m not sure it’s worth the inclusion, since even
if you have it in your opener, it’s a waste if you don’t have a Simian Spirit Guide (or second Chancellor). As a fatty, he isn’t the worst; however I’m
hesitant in this build. It is kind of a radical idea, but if you reworked the mana base to include three Gemstone Caverns and just chose to draw, you’d
have a lot of ways to actually get the turn 1 Hypergenesis (since a Cavern can combine with the Chancellor to cascade turn 1). Chancellor of the Annex
is the other Chancellor I like in Legacy Hypergenesis, but without Force of Will in the format, it’s a lot less relevant.
My initial reaction is that Hypergenesis will be one of the defining decks of the format, forcing people to play interactive strategies. While
Hypergenesis is fast, it’s not immune to disruption, including:
Even Damnation and Wrath of God can be devastating; it’s just going to be a matter of making sure whatever deck you play has a good plan. Keep in mind:
just dropping a Chalice of the Void on zero isn’t going to lock up the game. Outside of storing up enough counters to hardcast creatures, the
Hypergenesis player is also going to have access to sideboard cards like Ingot Chewer or Bant Charm, not to mention Oblivion Ring.
Obviously, we all know that all kinds of classics will be worth considering, like Zoo, Faeries, and Caw-Blade, but what’s really interesting is seeing
if we can figure out what WotC is trying to stop us from doing…
…and do it anyway.
Many players seem to have taken the banning of those five artifact lands as a ban on the Affinity deck in general. When I see this list, I can’t help
but see that Darksteel Citadel, Arcbound Ravager, Disciple of the Vault, Aether Vial, Cranial Plating, and Mox Opal are not banned.
- 4 Arcbound Ravager
- 2 Frogmite
- 4 Disciple of the Vault
- 4 Ornithopter
- 4 Master of Etherium
- 4 Memnite
- 4 Signal Pest
This is certainly not the only possible build of Affinity in Modern, and while it is unclear what the correct build will look like, we do know where it
can be found (Paul Rietzl deck-reg form). While I declined Aether Vial in this list, I did consider it, possibly even as a two-of. Believe you me;
it’s as offensive to my eyes as to yours to see a list with two Aether Vials, but there is a real shortage of room, and I’m just not sure if we should
be going towards zero or four. Aether Vial isn’t super popular in Legacy builds, leading me to believe that Springleaf Drum fits better into Affinity’s
ultra-aggressive current form. Still, Aether Vial is a very potent option that is well worth working with. I was about to ask how Faeries is beating
it, but then I asked myself how Faeries ever beat Affinity? Damnation…
Perhaps it is sacrilege to cut down on Frogmites and Myr Enforcers, but without all the artifact lands, I wonder if we’ll get the value we are looking
for. Other important cards to consider include Etched Champion, Galvanic Blast, Chromatic Star, Atog, Glimpse of Nature, Dispatch, Contested Warzone,
Kuldotha Rebirth, Salvage Titan, Inkmoth Nexus, Chalice of the Void, Nihil Spellbomb, Pithing Needle, Phyrexian Revoker, Erayo Soratami Ascendant,
Repeal, Dark Confidant, Thoughtseize, Assault Strobe, Tainted Strike, and Immolating Souleater.
As you can see, banning a card or a set of cards is not necessarily a reason to believe that the strategy is banned. After all, the first Extended Pro
Tour after Disciple of the Vault was banned was won by Pierre Canali playing Affinity(!). Playing without the original five artifact lands is
quite a restriction, but (everyone now…) restrictions breed creativity.
At this point, I wanted to try to gauge the general power level of the “stock” decks, so I sketched out some concepts sure to be popular. After all,
you can’t be a hero if you don’t make any enemies.
Faeries has so many exciting possibilities to choose from.
Before you get all worried that Faeries is just going to take over and ruin the format for everyone, I’d like to remind you that Punishing Fire + Grove
of the Burnwillows is legal, and no format where it has been legal has ever been dominated by Faeries. Surgical Extraction is a new tool to try to
combat this menace, and Faeries can always stick to Tectonic Edges, but historically that combination is just devastating for the Faeries players, who
can’t keep a creature on the table. One possible counter-technique is to consider Sword of Fire and Ice. Protection from red ensures you keep bashing
through, and the extra cards and shocks give you plenty of counter-play to fight the rest of your opponent’s deck, racing quite well.
Will Faeries be good? Well, a blue creature deck will surely be good, and it will likely involve Spellstutter Sprite, but that can mean a lot of
things. Black contributes discard, removal, and Bitterblossom, but it’s not clear that those cards couldn’t be replaced. For instance, what about
Sword of Fire and Ice is one of the biggest new additions to the archetype, providing a fine counter-point to Sword of Feast and Famine. It’s the only
Sword to really compete with Sword of Feast and Famine on power level, with two great abilities that let you advance the board and build card
advantage. The difference between these two Swords and the other three is that these are the only two where you really do want both sides of the Sword
(unlike milling, life gain, and Storm Seeker). Additionally, Sword of Fire and Ice gives you a natural plan against Punishing Fires (which would
normally be quite tough for us). Batterskull is either “new” or “old” depending on your perspective but probably another great fit for rounding out the
The right mix of reactive cards is an interesting puzzle, so I’m currently going with a wide variety. The mix isn’t about “hedging”; it’s about getting
maximum utility out of each. When you use more copies of the same type of card, you start getting diminishing returns. All you have to do is imagine a
hand of Spell Snare and Mental Misstep versus a hand that has two of one or the other to see what I mean. This is not to say that every deck should be
a highlander list or anything. It’s just that the vast majority of people underestimate the value of diversifying your reactive cards (and sideboard
cards). When you have cards that you just always want against everyone, like Cryptic Command, it’s not the same thing. Now, this format may be too fast
for so many Cryptic Commands, but mise well err on the side of happiness.
Repeal isn’t that old, but it’s going to be before some readers’ times. If you think that Into the Roil is a good card, wait till you try
Repeal(!). Personally, I think that Repeal is very underrated in Legacy, so you know I like it in Modern. Another interesting feature of Modern is the
surplus of good manlands. Between Mutavault, Blinkmoth Nexus, Inkmoth Nexus, Treetop Village, Creeping Tar Pit, Celestial Colonnade, and Raging Ravine,
there is no shortage of amazing manlands to ensure that you always have someone to carry your Swords for you. The implications of this are going to
take time to understand, but it feels like it is likely to be one of the most important elements of the format. One of Repeal’s major weaknesses is an
inability to hit manlands, but at least it can always hold off a Sword for a turn.
I sure would love to work on a Stoneforge Mystic build that uses Shining Shoal. Squadron Hawk seems like the natural complement, ensuring an excellent
supply of extra white cards in hand to play it for free. Meloku is also an excellent option to consider, taking over entire games by himself. I only
left him off of this list because of the endgame provided by Batterskull. As you can imagine, there is no shortage of possible directions to take this
archetype either. The line between Stone-Blade (Stoneforge Mystic + Swords, with no Squadron Hawks) and Faeries is a nebulous one. All sorts of hybrids
are possible, not to mention new possibilities like Dark Confidant. For instance:
Should this deck use Kitchen Finks? Bitterblossom? Mystical Teachings? There are so many exciting possibilities to explore! I know, I know; we’re
talking about Hypergenesis, Affinity, Faeries, and Stoneforge Mystic. This is a laundry list of “unfair” strategies, but if everything is unfair, then
nothing is actually unfair. To understand what’s possible in this format, we have to try to find all the villains. While we’re ripping off the
Band-Aid, we might as well as get Zoo out of the way.
Ethersworn Canonist is another candidate for that two-drop spot, aiming to actually have a chance against combo. Gaddock Teeg has been a popular choice
in the past but doesn’t actually address Hypergenesis. I’ll definitely be looking to Michael Jacob and Tom Ross for ideas on where Zoo is going, but
I’m sure that whatever direction they head will have to take into consideration Mental Misstep and Spell Snare. Being able to negate both of Zoo’s
first two plays, even on the draw, seems so big. I almost wonder if it isn’t worth having even more Mental Misstep and Spell Snare action, despite the
threat of Hypergenesis. They just seem so much better than any of the two-mana counterspells.
Ok, this is enough of a starting base to get a feel for some of the basic constraints of the format, so let’s branch out a bit. Here are some rough
sketches that are surely overlooking some absolutely crucial cards, but at least they are a jump-off point.
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Viridian Shaman
- 4 Heritage Druid
- 4 Nettle Sentinel
- 2 Regal Force
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 4 Elvish Archdruid
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 4 Joraga Treespeaker
- 1 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
Perhaps it is better to build around a Cloudstone Curio kill, but you must start somewhere. Wirewood Symbiote and Birchlore Rangers are the biggest
losses from Onslaught block, but we are very close to full on “Elves!” and it may be that Elvish Archdruid is actually too slow. I can tell you that if
Elves and Hypergenesis are level one of combo, then Chalice of the Void is going to be a major player in this format. Elves is another deck that subtly
gained from New Phyrexia. Even if you stayed just mono-green, you have access to Dismember if you’re in the market for creature removal. Gilt-Leaf
Palace is close to free; you might as well save a few life points, though (Arbor Elf being the primary cost).
Splashing colors is easy, though, if you are so inclined. Fetch/Crack/Sac/Fetch/ConleyWoods is one possible way to fix your mana, but Gilt-Leaf Palace,
Horizon Canopy, Grove of the Burnwillows, and Scars Lands mean no shortage of great options for mana (in pretty much direct opposition to the mana
bases available in Block…).
I’ve gone with Ezuri for the kill here, but Emrakul, Mirror Entity, Grapeshot, Devouring Dragon, Cloudstone Curio, Primal Command loops, and Akroma’s
Memorial are all reasonable alternatives. I have also opted to start with Lead the Stampede, but Chord of Calling is certainly a very reasonable
alternative. My primary concern with this archetype is that people are going to be heavily incentivized to play discard, permission, and so on already.
Add to that a vulnerability to Volcanic Fallout, Engineered Explosives, and Punishing Fires, and you are looking at some serious risks.
Karrthus makes a Dragonstorm for just three lethal. Another classic, we have access to better library manipulation that before, as well as better mana.
It’s really interesting just how much overlap there is between this deck and Pyromancer Ascension, as well as Splinter Twin + Deceiver
The other obvious direction to take Dragonstorm is the Spinerock Knoll route, possibly with Lightning Bolt, Lava Spike, Manamorphose, Shrapnel Blast,
Punishing Fire, and more. This strategy sounds hopelessly slow in this format, being non-interactive and not killing until turn 4. Still, if such a
deck can be made to sideboard Blood Moon, it might be an option. The problem becomes: why are you bothering with the Dragonstorms at all? You could
just be a Lava Spike deck, at that point.
I’m not sure what they’ll look like yet, but Blood Moon is sure to spawn a variety of archetypes. One possibility is U/R Control with Vedalken
Shackles, Jace, permission, library manipulation, and Firespouts. Perhaps rather than Shackles and control elements, it will use Seismic Assault and
Swans of Bryn Argoll (remember Chain of Plasma is not legal). Another Blood Moon home is Naya, probably with Bloodbraid Elf. Still another likely home
is in some sort of AIR (All-In-Red) deck or Dragonstompy (basically the same thing). Such a deck would use rituals to aim for a turn 1 threat, such as
Blood Moon, Magus of the Moon, Demigod of Revenge, Deus of Calamity, Chandra Ablaze, Empty the Warrens, Immolating Souleater, and Moltensteel Dragon.
In the vein of combo decks, some other spots to look out the gate include Valakut (Scapeshift and/or Prismatic Omens and/or Primeval Titan),
Pyromancer’s Swath + Grapeshot (with lots of rituals and blue card drawers), Reveillark, Project X (Crypt Champion + Saffi Eriksdotter + Soul Warden),
New Life (Leonin Relic-Warder + Phyrexian Metamorph + Soul Warden, which might overlap with Project X), Ad Nauseam, Melira/persist (for instance,
Murderous Redcap + Melira + any sacrifice outlet), and maybe even Dredge (despite no Golgari Grave-Troll!).
It is not all combo decks, however. There are plenty of incentives to play fair strategies, aiming to take advantage of the unfair decks.
It is going to take quite a bit of time to work on all the possible new decks, but other places we should work include:
-Junk (Dark Confidant/Goyf/Doran/Knight of the Reliquary + discard and removal)
-Teachings (All sorts of control decks are going to want this one, of course.)
-Tezzeret (Whether it’s the Agent of Bolas or the Seeker, these are decks waiting to happen.)
-Five-Color Control (Who knows what it will look like, though? Do you need all five colors? Esper? Grixis? RUG?)
–Life from the Loam (Will it be in an Aggro-Loam strategy, Deathcloud, Gifts, Tron, or other?)
-Urza-Tron decks (A turn 3 Karn might be sick…)
-White Weenie (Which has a lot more options, and maybe Boros is a better fit)
-Jund or Mythic (Are these real decks?)
This is just the tip of the iceberg! There are so many possibilities! Will the format work out? Maybe, maybe not. It is possible that it’s horribly
flawed or gets stale fast or needs a very different banned list. One thing is for sure though; it’s deep enough and complex enough to mean that it will
take a lot of exploration to get to the bottom of it. Rosewater, Forsythe, and the rest of Wizards of the Coast want our feedback on the format. What
do you think? Does it accomplish the twin goals of:
1) Giving us a chance to play with cards too old for Standard but not powerful enough for Legacy?
2) Is it FUN?
More information on the Community Cup can be found here . WotC will be watching player reaction very carefully, as they are looking for alternatives to Extended, so speak up in the forums.
What we suggest today could lead to what we play tomorrow. See you next week!