Introducing Four-Color Snowheeli

What’s Modern set to look like after an expected Hogaak banning? Ben Friedman reveals one of several wild possibilities: Four-Color Snowheeli! Can Arcum’s Astrolabe and snow lands turn the infamous Saheeli Rai – Felidar Guardian combo into a Modern contender?

Modern is broken. Obviously. We can talk about Hogaak until we’re blue in the face, but it seems like the people who are unwilling to just play it are not going to change their minds, and the people who are willing to play it will keep winning at an unreasonable clip.

We’ve got a number of different flavors of the deck, and everyone has their own personal preferences with it, but perhaps the more useful discussion is the one that no one else is having (publicly). What decks gained a lot from Modern Horizons and stand to become the best around after the banhammer falls on Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis? The recent deluge of powerful additions to Modern has not had nearly enough time to properly percolate into the format, as we got hit with War of the Spark, the London mulligan, Modern Horizons, and Core Set 2020 all in a short three-month period.

But things look like they’re on the cusp of settling down with the forthcoming ban, and it’s time to get out ahead of the hive mind with some innovative additions to rogue strategies. With so many powerful enablers and payoffs in the last few sets, there’s a high likelihood that something unexplored could break into the top tier of Modern.

Of course, Jund, Izzet Phoenix, Mono-Green Tron, Mono-Red Prowess, and Azorius Control are the quick go-to decks that will immediately fill in the gaps in the metagame created by the Hogaak ban. Once we know this information, though, it’s time to start brewing and tuning in order to exploit this early-stage format.

Now, immediately prior to the Hogaak takeover of Modern, I was particularly enamored by Jeskai Saheeli and how it leveraged the new three-mana planeswalkers so well. When I first started tinkering with it in after War of the Spark hit, I would generally beat up on Izzet Phoenix with Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils, and on Humans with the classic package of Snapcaster Mage, Lightning Bolt, and Path to Exile.

Unfortunately, a number of negative developments came into the format with Modern Horizons. Not only was Hogaak an offensively powerful deck, but Magmatic Sinkhole and Aria of Flame made my planeswalker plan significantly weaker against Izzet Phoenix, and Wrenn and Six meant that suddenly Jund, which is naturally pretty good against Lightning Bolts and planeswalkers, picked up quite a bit in popularity.

So, after Modern Horizons hit, I dropped Jeskai Saheeli like I’d dropped Grixis Death’s Shadow (and Death’s Shadow in general, Aria of Flame being so thoroughly game-ending against it). To be fair, I’ve enjoyed tinkering with various builds of Hogaak in this unique format, but I’d recently begun to worry about what deck I would play after the Hogaak ban.

Then Jacob Nagro shared with me at Mythic Championship IV that he was excited to brew with Four-Color Saheeli, which I’d dismissed previously as a poor substitute for the Jeskai shell. I wasn’t sure how to make the mana work, but Oren Lagziel (@OrenLagzielMTG on Twitter) explained that the way forward was a snow manabase and the surprisingly powerful Arcum’s Astrolabe. Give him a follow if you’re interested in extremely creative and persistent tweaks on the Saheeli combo in Modern; he’s my Saheeli consigliere when it comes to figuring out how to keep it fresh in a hostile format!

So if we’re interested in Arcum’s Astrolabe and Prismatic Vista, suddenly the whole world is ours when it comes to including different or unexpected cards in our list. The mana is basically free, right!?

At first glance, one of the most appealing inclusions in a post-Hogaak world is the best upgrade to Wall of Omens I could possibly imagine, Ice-Fang Coatl. It pressures planeswalkers, cycles, pitches to Force of Negation, trades with everything when paired with a mere two snow basic lands and an Astrolabe, and has flash to allow for the ever-present surprise factor. Obviously being a 1/1 means that it’s highly vulnerable to opposing copies of Wrenn and Six, but aside from that small downside, this is the card to play in a Saheeli deck. With Ice-Fang Coatl and Arcum’s Astrolabe, Saheeli Rai can consistently use the -2 ability to draw cards like a champ, which was a real issue with the previous version of the deck.

Next on the Modern Horizons hit list is the perpetually underrated Seasoned Pyromancer. This card synergizes with Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian, true, but even without the sick synergies, it clogs up the battlefield to protect your planeswalkers. At the same time, Pyromancer comes with a free inverted Faithless Looting attached, filtering you and digging you towards your combo. It even acts as a tremendous topdeck in grindy matchups like Jund, drawing you two fresh cards if you’re hellbent. That’s insane value, and I imagine winning a great number of games by peeling a Pyromancer into a Saheeli or Felidar Guardian, drawing new cards, and presenting a sizable battlefield out of nothing. This kind of high threat density and massive suite of velocity-rich permanents (Pyromancer; Astrolabe; Coatl; Teferi, Time Raveler) means that matchups like Azorius Control and Jund actually swing back to even-to-favorable, depending on the specifics of their list.

Then, of course, to put the hammer down on Humans and battle toe-to-toe with Jund, we’ve got the second-most-overpowered card in Modern Horizons, the $100 mythic rare, Wrenn and Six. A two-mana planeswalker with a -1 that mauls Infect and Humans and a +1 that draws cards is offensively good. It’s basically a must-include in a post-Gaak world, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Wrenn and Six be format-warping itself after Hogaak bites the dust.

Now this theoretical list is starting to excite me. We’ve got some impressive synergies going on here! As it currently stands, Oren’s lists that he discusses on his Twitter pack a healthy amount of graveyard hate to try to combat Hogaak, but I’d like to look forward to a format where Rest in Peace isn’t quite necessary, and propose the following:

We’re playing the full set of Lightning Helixes and two sideboard Thragtusks to put the screws to Burn and Mono-Red Prowess. It’s acceptable to play Helix over Lightning Bolt here because there aren’t quite so many small creature decks out there that absolutely require an immediate one-mana clean answer, and having access to a bunch of built-in lifegain is invaluable for a midrange deck in Modern. A mix might also be appropriate, though, and I would not be opposed to fitting in a couple of Bolts, depending on the way the format moves after Hogaak.

We also only have one single Fiery Islet when it comes to leveraging Wrenn and Six’s +1 ability for maximum gain. I wouldn’t mind another Horizon land in the list, though obviously the balance between fetchlands, fetchables, snow lands, and multicolor lands is particularly precarious and requires a bit of analysis before just making changes.

I’m also curious if we can’t play a single Field of Ruin or Ghost Quarter to have a smidge of incidental big mana hate in the maindeck. It’s possible that Ghost Quartering our opponent every turn is actually more useful than drawing an extra card, though the whole “not making red or blue mana” thing is actually a rather large deal in our multicolor pile.

Thragtusk is just a massive wrecking ball against any Jund-type strategy, putting us way ahead in the value race, and makes Saheeli Rai look positively broken. I prefer it to Timely Reinforcements as a supplemental lifegain spell because of how good it is as a fair card. In concert with either of our three-mana planeswalkers, Thragtusk will bury any Jund or Mardu opponent in a heartbeat.

Then there are a few weird ones, including Blood Moon, Engineered Explosives, and Ashiok, Dream Render. These are your flex slots. We’d like to cover Mono-Green Tron, Amulet Titan, Eldrazi Tron, and Valakut decks. Blood Moon is sort of defensible in our deck with Arcum’s Astrolabe and many snow basics to fetch up, though it’s quite a sight to behold when the deck with four colors also plays Blood Moon. It’s the one-card speed bump for big mana decks, though it’s become something of an unfashionable inclusion, as the big mana decks all already pack tons of answers to the card.

I hate nothing more than bringing in sideboard cards that play into the fixed, ossified plans that the average opponent has in their unmutable guide. But it may be that the card is too powerful not to play.

Ashiok offers the necessary supplemental coverage of the Dredge matchup we sorely need, as three Surgical Extraction won’t necessarily be sufficient (though we want to play Surgical over Rest in Peace to prevent dis-synergy with our own Snapcaster Mages and Seasoned Pyromancers, and cover ourselves against the Arclight Phoenix nut draws for zero mana). We’d also like a flexible answer, which currently looks like Engineered Explosives, but it could end up being a Detention Sphere or even a counterspell.

I wouldn’t hate a single Disdainful Stroke or Ceremonious Rejection (or a 2-2 split with Force of Negation), nor would I mind trying a Ghost Quarter package with Wrenn and Six. If we have, say, three Ghost Quarters and pair them with either Surgical Extraction or Wrenn and Six, that is probably enough to consistently keep Mono-Green Tron off its engine. Gaddock Teeg and Lavinia, Azorius Renegade also have some appeal, but that’s the beauty of Modern! We’ll get to play the maximization game with our sideboard slots, squeezing every drop of additional matchup coverage out of those fifteen cards once we have our eyes set on our common enemies.

If, for example, Puresteel Paladin and Neobrand become the biggest, baddest enemies in Modern in the next few months, Lavinia is our go-to gal, covering that and keeping Karns and Ugins at bay. If it ends up being Eldrazi Tron, we’d be happier with multiple Ceremonious Rejections and a bit more artifact removal.

Additionally, it might end up being smart to move away from Serum Visions and Snapcaster Mage, and towards, say, Oath of Nissa, Eternal Witness, and more planeswalkers. I like the idea of incorporating Narset, Parter of Veils; Jace, the Mind Sculptor; or even Karn, the Great Creator alongside a wishboard of useful artifact tools. The sky is the limit with this type of innovation, as this deck has a ton of room for improvement with access to basically any utility spell it needs.

So in the world of Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian, we’ve moved away from a control-combo shell and more towards a midrange-combo shell. Looking back to early 2017 Standard, we actually saw something very similar, with a swift evolution from the original clunky Jeskai Saheeli deck to the well-blended Four-Color Saheeli with an energy subtheme. Now the same might come to pass in Modern! This time, we have Four-Color Saheeli with a Snow subtheme, and I couldn’t be more excited to take it into battle after Hogaak gets exiled from the format for good.