I haven’t put a great deal of thought into the upcoming Mythic Championship in Barcelona. Most of my preparation has been for Standard, figuring out the best configuration of Esper Control to attack the Season One Invitational with next weekend. Esper Midrange has been a close second for me, giving me an exciting opportunity to use my own token at the always-exciting SCG CON Summer. At this point, there is a very small chance I show up with a deck that doesn’t have four copies of Narset, Parter of Veils in it.
The reason I had the luxury of ignoring Modern is because of my success with Azorius Control at the last Mythic Championship. The 7-3 record in that event was respectable, with two of my losses coming from fellow control enthusiasts. Azorius Control is high-powered enough to perform well on the highest stage the game has to offer, especially with the addition of Narset. It seems that my future deckbuilding endeavors will have some cards that are automatic, and if the powerful three-mana planeswalker exists in Standard, it will be in my decks. This may also hold true for Modern, as it has taken the format by storm.
With Narset, Dovin’s Veto, and Teferi, Time Raveler making Azorius Control the obvious deck choice for me, I’ve been very happy with my Standard progress. That was the case until a few days ago, when Kaya’s Guile was previewed.
Kaya’s Guile is the first Modern Horizons preview card that has rocked the control boat, luring fans of the archetype to a third color. It is difficult to believe, but I have always been hesitant moving to Esper from Azorius. This is due to the volatile nature of the format, which can be very unforgiving to any control player not using the maximum amount of basic land possible. With each multicolor land you dilute a control manabase with, the percentage to win against the aggressive side of the field drops. This is the key reason why Esper Control hasn’t established a foothold in Modern, even though it has been a possibility since the format’s inception.
I’ve tried to determine methods to offset life loss, combat Blood Moon and the likes of it, and guarantee correct colors through some land disruption in Esper Control. The only success I had on this journey was to minimize the number of black sources in the deck, which only affects life total at that point. Blood Moon destruction and color screw are rare when the number of cards in your splash color is low and the amount of basics high. This deckbuilding methodology worked well for me throughout the years, but the payoff cards were never attractive enough to ditch the more consistent Azorius Control.
Splashing black in Azorius Control provided hand disruption, which was poor when drawn late. It also limited me to Inquisition of Kozilek over Thoughtseize, due to the life loss woes that I voiced earlier. Snapcaster Mage loves hand disruption, and with these new three-mana planeswalkers running wild, that effect has gained a great deal of stock. Kaya’s Guile is the answer to that life loss caused by early hand disruption, as well as the shocklands that they require.
Gaining life off a spell that has an additional effect is the reason why people play Timely Reinforcements. I always groan about including that narrow spell in the maindeck, but I understand the logic behind it. There needs to be some way for control decks to gain life Game 1, whether it’s Lightning Helix, Timely Reinforcements, and now Kaya’s Guile. The difference between the first two and Kaya’s Guile is that they can be quite dead against certain matchups. I thought long and hard about when the appropriate time would be to sideboard out all copies of this new “Orzhov Command” and came up empty. There are some matchups where it isn’t an all-star of a spell; however, it has application against every deck in the format.
The lifegain attached to Kaya’s Guile makes it a home run against Burn, which has been a thorn in the side of Esper Control for the entirety of Modern’s existence. The onslaught of direct damage, tied to the effectiveness of the early creatures, made the matchup a bloodbath for control decks without Lightning Helix. These aggressive decks essentially chased out Grixis and Esper Control, only providing one premier second-place finish in recent memory, but Kaya’s Guile provides effective answers against both angles of attack by Burn. Some may question the legitimacy of these findings, claiming that these red-based aggro decks have fallen off. Even if that’s the case, Modern is so diverse in deck choice that those decks still show up at all high-level tournaments, so it would be foolish to not prepare for decks that swiftly come out of the gates, making Kaya’s Guile the premier spell over its competitors.
There has been some excitement for the return of Diabolic Edict, but I have not shared the same sentiment. Diabolic Edict, and similar effects, haven’t been good for quite a while in Modern or Standard. They see play in Legacy, but that is due to the combo element that is often centered around giant creatures that can’t be targeted. There was no way I would add one of those cards to my Modern deck, unless it had at least one other application. Kaya’s Guile takes that prerequisite and crushes it. The additional modes of lifegain, creating pressure with a Spirit token, and exiling a graveyard make it an easy inclusion for the removal package.
Removal in Modern must either kill everything, kill something for one mana, or kill something with flexibility in use. A great example of this is Detention Sphere, which is a three-mana, sorcery-speed removal spell most of the time. The fact that Kaya’s Guile even produces a creature makes it always usable. I would argue that this is the weakest mode, but it allows for this one card to answer two creatures attacking our precious Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The reason that this card will remain in control decks as at least a two-of is its versatility. Kaya’s Guile has versality, but in a much sneakier way.
Having the ability to exile an opponent’s graveyard at instant speed is diabolical. There was a time where Rest in Peace was used in the maindeck of control in order to give us some game against these graveyard-based decks Game 1. This experiment has been ongoing, as my Azorius Control opponent at the last Mythic Championship started three copies in his maindeck. I think there is some merit to that; however, Kaya’s Guile makes it a much less embarrassing strategy when the opponent starts with a Turn 1 Aether Vial instead of a Faithless Looting.
More reasonable maindeck cards have been Surgical Extraction and Nihil Spellbomb. While Surgical Extraction is a free spell that works great with Snapcaster Mage, Nihil Spellbomb draws a card, making both equally good in their respective control decks. With the addition of Kaya’s Guile, both can be safely stowed away in the sideboard. Graveyard hate Game 1 was an honest reaction to a format dominated by Izzet Phoenix, but the format has now settled back to an even split of the top decks. Humans is on the rise, making these narrow cards much more dangerous to use Game 1. Kaya’s Guile is not only safe to start but is also effective against Humans. Having an opponent sacrifice a creature and gaining four life is a huge turn, especially on the play. It isn’t as good as Supreme Verdict there, but the sacrificed power is worth the versatility.
With all the powerful modes on Kaya’s Guile, it would be good enough for me to play as-is. I couldn’t believe that Entwine was added at the bottom, making it a powerful end-game draw against many of the Modern decks at the top tables. After stabilizing against Izzet Phoenix Game 1, I often found myself very low on resources. That deck can pressure our planeswalkers and filter draws through their endless card draw and looting. A Kaya’s Guile topdeck would be exciting, taking down a Thing in the Ice, removing Faithless Looting / Arclight Phoenix, creating a threat, and restoring some of the lost life from their initial barrage. Even if this scenario isn’t common, there will be others that produce similar results.
Kaya’s Guile has ruined my Modern preparation, which was just to play a solid Azorius Control list I crafted with no playtesting. There’s going to be a Modern Esper Control brew coming shortly, all thanks to the wonderful development team that put a lot of words on an Orzhov instant just for me.