Introducing…The Bugler!

Move over Chainwhirler! The Bugler is coming in hot, only this time it’s in Modern! Get on the next level of this popular archetype for SCG Indianapolis!

The last time I seriously thought about Bugles and their relation to Magic,
it was because of Alex Majlaton’s timeless story about a PTQ from over
twelve years ago, and a particularly troublesome bag of Bugles snacks. If
you haven’t heard this incredible tale, do yourself a favor and

check it out

. It’s a true gem from the old days of Magic tournament reports.

Truly a throwback to a simpler time, when young Magic players rode off to
parts unknown for single-shot PTQs behind their parents’ backs. But this
article isn’t about auto insurance checks, it’s not about secret road
trips, and it’s certainly not about chipping a tooth on a dangerous snack.

This is about another dimension for an already-potent Modern deck, one that
will keep it relevant despite deep hostile metagame swings, able to wade
through larger amounts of removal or find narrow and gamebreaking creatures
in specific matchups.

Wake up, people! Militia Bugler is here to play a victory tune for Humans
as it upends formerly bad matchups and pushes the limit of what you can do
with a pile of unassuming creatures.

What exactly is it about The Bugler (
thanks, Owen!
) that takes Humans to the next level? The answer is threefold:

The Bugler Provides Card Advantage

The Bugler
offers Humans an effect that the deck has been lacking since its inception.
Humans, like Merfolk before it, is a swarm-based, synergistic aggro deck
that needs a certain sheer quantity of moving parts to assemble a
threatening battlefield. Sure, there are a few individually powerful cards
that Humans has access to, like Mantis Rider, that can win games when the
swarm plan falls apart, but the primary game plan of the deck is creating a
massive battlefield presence and overrunning the opponent. To that end,
Merfolk has always been a deck that hinged on drawing Silvergill Adept to
fight through waves of removal, and Humans has lacked that effect to its
own detriment. It’s part of the reason that Jeskai Control is traditionally
strong against Humans. The straightforward game plan of piles of removal, a
few sweepers, and a Planeswalker to close things out is tried-and-true
against these sorts of decks, and part of Humans’ recent dip in success can
be attributed to more players picking up that general strategy.

The Bugler
changes all that. Now, Humans can apply two creatures worth of pressure to
the battlefield with only one actual card committed. With Phantasmal Image
involved, there’s even the possibility of significant Bugler chains,
demanding sweepers turn after turn after turn without running low on fuel.
First and foremost, The Bugler is Humans’ answer to Silvergill
Adept, but there’s a lot more than just a simple cantrip effect attached to
this bad bugle boy.

The Bugler Provides Card Selection

In sideboard games against a number of the major archetypes of Modern,
Humans benefits greatly from a couple of narrow sideboard bullets. Auriok
Champion, Reclamation Sage, Kataki, War’s Wage, and Izzet Staticaster are
the most prominent ones, but all the different high-impact cards are
disproportionately potent in their target matchups and drawing them is
often the difference between winning and losing. The Bugler digs
deep to find these two- or three-ofs against tricky matchups like Affinity,
Mardu Pyromancer, Infect, and Ironworks. Humans’ primary gameplan isn’t
equipped to deal with every curveball Modern can throw at it, but The Bugler helps increase the percentage of games in which you
find your equalizers after sideboard and toot your way to victory.

No shame in making them play on your level with a little more consistency
than before!

The Snapcaster Effect

Gallons of digital ink have been spilled in attempting to quantify the
effect of powerful card selectors that increase the virtual density of
different effects in your deck. I’ve taken to calling it “The Snapcaster
Effect” in homage to the most popular and ubiquitous card that offers this
capability. Basically, whenever a card can be additional copies of whatever
effect you already play, it amplifies the ability of your deck to offer
that angle of attack. For example, additional Meddling Mages and Kitesail
Freebooters against combo decks, or additional Thalia’s Lieutenants in the
mirror match. Phantasmal Image was the first example of this effect used to
kick Humans into overdrive, offering additional virtual copies of
much-needed effects as soon as it was incorporated earlier this year.

Now, The Bugler offers an even higher density of draws that get
you towards the effects you need. It’s going to add more elements to the
Snapcaster effect of Phantasmal Image in Humans, digging you through
pockets of lands and ensuring that you always draw four or more virtual
copies of whatever effect you need as the game progresses.

And of course, it goes without saying that Phantasmal Image is fantastic
with The Bugler, as chains of copied Buglers offer an opportunity
to rip through the deck with astonishing speed to assemble a killer
battlefield despite an opponent’s best efforts. I cannot emphasize enough
how these two great effects in a deck like Humans work together to offer
resilience and choices. And those are two of the most desirable effects for
an aggressive deck like Humans. Flipping the Jeskai matchup on its head
will go a long way towards pulling Humans right back to the top of the
Modern metagame dogpile.

As a side bonus (or downside, depending on how you look at it),
incorporating The Bugler into Modern Humans upsets the
carefully-structured sideboard plan that I’d designed for Grixis Death’s
Shadow to grind out Humans. Another grindy element that pressures Shadow
while it keeps Humans from running dry is exactly the kind of card that
Grixis doesn’t want to see in the deck. Additionally, Grixis doesn’t like
seeing Humans gain even more consistency in finding troublesome cards like
Auriok Champion or Dire Fleet Daredevil in the protracted sideboard games.

As much as I love Grixis Death’s Shadow, even I must admit that it may be
too much for my favorite deck to overcome The Bugler. If this
version of Humans becomes the new standard, it’s going to be hard to
justify playing Grixis Death’s Shadow in upcoming Modern tournaments. On
the bright side, there’s nothing wrong with being recruited to join forces
with a handsome fellow tooting a fine horn.

What Downsides?

As incredible as The Bugler is, there are some limitations to the
card. Unlike Restoration Angel, it’s not resilient to Lightning Bolt in and
of itself. One of the greatest things about Restoration Angel was its
ability to shrug off all the non-Path to Exile removal spells out of Jeskai
Control, but Lightning Helix and Lightning Bolt will hit home against the
2/3 body. Without Aether Vial involved, it is a sorcery-speed effect, and
it can’t save your other creatures from removal or induce misplays the way
Restoration Angel can. It’s also another potential point of clunkiness in a
deck that can easily choke up on three-mana effects if it doesn’t have its
Noble Hierarchs and Aether Vials.

In faster matchups, a 2/3 body with no immediate battlefield impact is not
going to do enough. Some draws from Burn, Infect, or Affinity will leave
you with no time to deploy The Bugler before you’re overrun. Of
course, the same could be said for the even more expensive Restoration
Angel, so it’s not as though you’re slowing down the deck in any meaningful
way. It’s just something to keep in mind, that the card can’t do everything
for you. The Bugler shines the brightest in slower matchups where
the body actually makes an impact and the extra card is necessary to wade
through removal.

Don’t be misled; you can also whiff on the trigger, although it’s hardly
going to be a common occurrence in Humans. With nineteen lands, Aether
Vials, and Mantis Riders as the only misses in the deck, you’ll miss a
little under 5% of the time. A simple rule of thumb is that if about half
the deck is whiffs, you’ll need to lose four coin flips in a row to whiff
on all four of your chances to grab a creature. It’s more like 45% of the
deck that fades the trigger in Humans, so the chance of completely missing
is a little lower than that.

It’s not going to happen often, but there will come days where it seems
like all your attempts to find another threat come up dry. If you’re the
kind of person who bemoans bad Collected Company misses, or starts to tilt
at every mulligan to five, then the randomness inherent in The Bugler may not be in your best interest. Bugling is a
high-variance game, and sometimes even the loudest Bugler fails to wake up
any comrades. Be cognizant of that, and don’t beat yourself up for the
failure of the deck to cough up the goods. More often than not, you’ll be
happy with what does turn up.

I Want YOU To Play Militia Bugler

Look. Pundits of late have been talking smack about Humans. Don’t get me
wrong, Humans is not an unbeatable deck in Modern, and several archetypes
on the rise are packed with the kind of proper interaction that was missing
for several months. Ironworks has Engineered Explosives, Pyrite Spellbomb,
Galvanic Blast, and Ghirapur Aether Grid. The control decks are chock full
of removal and if they ever untap with a Planeswalker, it might as well be
the end of the game right there. Infect can goldfish Humans effectively,
and Mardu Pyromancer just piles loads of removal on top of lock elements
and a Tarmogoyf + Treasure Cruise fuse card. It doesn’t look like a
wonderful time to be casting a bunch of wimpy creatures and hoping to
cobble together a win, does it?

Not so fast! The Bugler has had enough of your bellyaching! That’s
a defeatist attitude, and not one that will be tolerated in this Modern
format. Buck up, look at your top four cards, and if you can’t find a way
to win in those cards, maybe you just don’t want it bad enough!

In all seriousness, lately Wizards of the Coast has been doing a great job
printing new cards that make noticeable impacts on older formats, and The Bugler is one example of that trend. It opens up new options
for an archetype that was beginning to become a bit stale and easily
targeted. Plus, now I can dig out an old shofar from my parents’
house and bring it to the next Invitational or Open I attend for a
hilarious deck tech with our own Nick Miller.

And who wouldn’t want to see that?