When it comes to hobbies, we all have our reasons for the hobbies we choose. Magic is special because it can and does fill so many different roles for different people. Some enjoy the competition, the thrill of defeating opponents. Some like to pit their minds against others in a strategic battle both before and during a match. Still others enjoy the social aspect of the game, meeting and interacting with people who have at least one interest in common with them. Yet another group is here for the opportunity to be creative, to express themselves in the creation of a deck that is truly their own creation. Or perhaps they like to collect the cards, or laugh with friends while throwing around expensive spells and blowing things up.
Figuratively, of course.
Probably the best part of Magic, though, is that very few people fit into just one of those groups. Magic appeals on a bunch of levels, and the list above is by no means exhaustive. Since joining the writing team here at StarCityGames.com, I have found a renewed and enhanced love for the creative side that has also grown my competitive urges. I’ve also found something I wasn’t expecting: people who want my decklists.
In a previous life, I hosted a relatively popular podcast on which we interviewed multiple professional players and high-profile deck builders. I asked a lot of questions of those players, but it never occurred to me to ask them how it felt when someone asked them for a specific decklist. Let me tell you folks: it feels good. Really, really good. I write these articles as a creative outlet and to share my love of deckbuilding with people who share that passion, but getting tweets asking me for decks was an unexpected and much-enjoyed feeling.
With both Standard and Modern being brand new formats right now, and with a Pro Tour and SCG States and Provincials this weekend, it seems like as good a time as any to share some of the lists with you that people have asked me for on social media. I’ve played and tested all of these, and they are all good and/or fun.
Blue Can Do That?
So you think green has the monopoly on ramping? That white is the token-making king? That black and white are the best at sweeping the battlefield? Turns out, no.
- 3 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
- 4 Drowner of Hope
- 2 Bane of Bala Ged
- 4 Eldrazi Skyspawner
- 1 Kozilek, the Great Distortion
- 2 Thought-Knot Seer
- 4 Hedron Crawler
I was looking at this deck before rotation when we had access to Dig Through Time, Reality Shift, and Tomb of the Spirit Dragon. I never got around to building it, but it kept calling to me. I thought the loss of Dig would be a big problem, but Epiphany at the Drownyard might actually be better in this kind of deck.
One of the biggest problems I have had with ramp decks is the annoyance of ramping to nothing, a very real possibility when you are casting Explosive Vegetations and Hedron Archives. Not only are we mitigating that by using Scions for some of our ramp, we also have Epiphany to draw (potentially) huge numbers of cards in their end step. Granted, there is danger in letting our opponent choose which pile we draw, but they won’t know what we are holding in our hand, and if we are casting this for a large enough X, we are likely to hit two threats or more anyway.
Westvale Abbey might seem out of place here, but it has been trivial to get five creatures on the battlefield. Transforming the Abbey is not automatically the correct play when you get there, but it is an uncounterable threat that is essentially something to which we can ramp and is hard to deal with at instant speed. Don’t overlook the two hidden modes on the card, making tokens and tapping for colorless mana. Both of these abilities are relevant in the deck, as we sometimes need to stem an aggressive tide.
Displacement Wave has seen approximately zero play. It was basically terrible against Rally, which made it basically terrible, period. With Humans being such a big part of the current metagame, we need a way to keep the battlefield clear for a couple of turns. They can come out to explosive starts, but we have the ability to trump their triple one-drop by turn 2 start with a three-mana Displacement Wave on turn 3. Yes, it will always kill our Scions and will often also bounce our Hedron Crawlers and Eldrazi Skyspawners, but we can work around that by using the Scions and Crawlers to cast it or float mana to redeploy after the spell resolves. Later in the game, we can clear out those annoying blockers and smash face with Drowner of Hope and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
Adverse Conditions has been great, and in fact was the reason I started looking at the deck in the first place. Spells like Frost Breath have been close to playable before, and although we don’t get to draw a card with Conditions we do get to ramp. The combination of two denied attacks and an extra mana/attacker/blocker puts Adverse Conditions in a sweet spot for this deck…and probably not many others. Just another example of a card that is so good in Limited that it really has to be playable in Constructed somewhere.
Bane of Bala Ged is not our optimal threat, especially in a world of both Roast and Lightning Axe, but the alternative of Sphinx of the Final Word is considerably less impressive and a second Kozilek, the Great Distortion is too expensive to have. I am open to options here, and if a solid option presents itself in Eldritch Moon, we’ll have to take a strong look.
If we did decide to try out the Sphinx, I would be interested in more Part the Waterveils. One of the goals I have for this deck, a goal I have yet to meet, is to awaken a Part the Waterveil onto Westvale Abbey before transforming it. It might be a case of winning more, but that sure beats winning less!
The sideboard plan is largely obvious. You want Hangarback Walker against most non-white decks. Reality Smasher and Thought-Knot Seer allow you to pressure the slower decks, the ones against which Adverse Conditions and Displacement Wave are largely dead cards. Thopter Spy Network is a sweet card that can really break open the grindier matches. With five ramp artifacts plus the Hedron Crawlers to get you started on the Thopter track, you can easily keep your hand filled up while applying pressure in the air. Flying is still good, kids.
The deck has a rough time with the more traditional G/R Eldrazi decks, as they can keep your Scions off the battlefield with relative ease while still developing their side. You definitely want the Hangarback/Smasher plan for this one. Aggro decks need you to have a slow draw, but be aware that you will often have to chump-block with Scions in order to stay alive. Displacement Wave is your best weapon here.
Even Modern Players Have to Pay Taxes
If you do follow me on Twitter, you will know that I am a Death and Taxes aficionado in Legacy. What’s that? You’d like to see my DnT list? Sure, any excuse to post this!
Without Karakas, Rishadan Port, Wasteland, Umezawa’s Jitte, and Stoneforge Mystic, one could be forgiven for thinking that the deck is not playable in Modern. Well to think that would be to forget one crucial fact: Modern is less powerful than Legacy across the board, not just with this deck. Sure, we lose some powerful hate cards, but we also don’t have the same power level to fight against.
Friend and fellow Level 2 judge Alex Mullins has been working with me on Death and Taxes brews across various formats for quite a while, and our latest innovation adds blue. Turns out that Reflector Mage is just as powerful in Modern as it is in Standard, and possibly even more so. Adding Magic’s most powerful color does wonders for our suite of taxing cards:
- 2 Meddling Mage
- 1 Venser, Shaper Savant
- 1 Kitchen Finks
- 4 Flickerwisp
- 4 Leonin Arbiter
- 1 Mirran Crusader
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 2 Blade Splicer
- 1 Fiend Hunter
- 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- 3 Restoration Angel
- 1 Lyev Skyknight
- 1 Lavinia of the Tenth
- 3 Reflector Mage
- 2 Eldrazi Displacer
Let’s start by talking about the obviously weird inclusions. Yes, that really is Lavinia of the Tenth in my deck. Stop laughing. She does a lot of work against a lot of decks and can be a soft lock when combined with Eldrazi Displacer. She also doesn’t die to Rending Volley, Anger of the Gods, or Combust and will hit pretty hard in the process. We also considered Stonehorn Dignitary here, and in some matchups the universal attack prevention is better, but Lavinia does more in more situations.
Lyev Skyknight plays a similar role, albeit with fewer restrictions and a less blanket approach. It’s been solid against decks that present one big threat, and much like our old stalwart friend Flickerwisp, the Skyknight gets in for three in the air.
You can add Venser, Shaper Savant to the list of cards that are just way better with Displacer. Unlike a lot of Vial decks, we do actually want to tick up to four in this, which helps with the sometimes-dicey double blue requirement. The payoff is worth it, though, especially if they get to a point where they can only cast one spell a turn and you have the ability to blink out Venser, Shaper Savant.
The land package is “under construction” but the variety is a real strength of the deck. Access to colorless mana is never an issue, and the addition of Sea Gate Wreckage to draw cards, Eiganjo Castle to protect your legends, and Mystic Gate to smooth your mana is a real boon. The land MVP, though, aside from the obvious Ghost Quarters and Tectonic Edges, has been Moorland Haunt.
Death and Taxes matches can often go long, and having that additional grinding ability can make all the difference. The lack of an Anthem is a minor annoyance, but Lingering Souls decks seem to do just fine without one. Thistledown Liege is sadly terrible, but we might be able to find room for Wilt-Leaf Liege if we tweak the mana base slightly.
Stony Silence in the sideboard is more than likely a necessity. Alex likes bringing it in and leaving the Vials in; I prefer not to. We both agree that, with Ghirapur Aether Grid being in virtually every deck that has enough artifacts to make Stony Silence a worthwhile sideboard choice, Kataki is not a consideration right now.
Venser, the Sojourner is one of my favorite cards ever printed, and I was never happier than when Alex suggested it. I played many a tournament with the Venser-Stonehorn Dignitary lock in Standard and am more than happy to repeat it. Glen Elendra Archmage is our major answer to decks running Anger of the Gods, which look like they might be on the upswing. Burrenton Forge-Tender might be better at that job, but the Archmage has more applications across the board. This is another flex slot, though.
So You Like Drawing Cards?
For some reason, people always answer that with a resounding “Yes!” Well, friends, you will enjoy this deck more than most. Cards with unique effects are often worth looking at very closely, as there is probably something in Magic’s history that was waiting for just that effect to be printed before it became excellent. Food Chain was a good card before Misthollow Griffin. Aluren was a fun Casual card until Baleful Strix made it tournament-quality. Living End saw no play until cascade and cycling both came back. Force of Will was garbage until blue cards were printed. You get the idea.
Several people have asked about the deck I lovingly call Grape Naughts, continuing the fine tradition of naming combo decks after breakfast foods. It’s not as glass-cannon as it looks, either. Here’s my current version:
In the event that this pile of last-picked draft cards is not coalescing into a cohesive strategy in your head, I shall explain. I don’t blame you, by the way; the deck looks absolutely terrible. You’re going to want to land a Puresteel Paladin. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having a Paladin. You can win without it, but it’s really hard. With the Paladin on the battlefield, you start playing out your zero-cost Equipment and drawing cards. Ideally you will hit a Mox Opal and a Retract, allowing you to do it all again. Eventually you build a high enough storm count to cast Grapeshot for the win.
Alternate win plans include a giant Myth Realized or Stormchaser Mage. Post-sideboard, there’s Twisted Image on an equipped creature and the Mentor and his Monk students. Turn 2 wins are possible, though rare, and turn 4 is relatively consistent, taking the deck and its constraints into consideration. Both Monastery Mentor and Myth Realized are amenable to winning over multiple turns without having the Paladin, but that is clearly not the preferred route.
One thing to remember is that, if one Puresteel Paladin is good, two will almost guarantee you a win. Of course, there is the very real threat of removal, so cards like Pact of Negation, Spellskite, Mizzium Skin, and Apostle’s Blessing are all considerations. It’s also quite easy to cast the Paladin the turn you go off, letting you keep it in hand as long as possible.
The equipment choices are not flexible. We are basically running every zero-cost Equipment we can find in Modern, good or not good. Swiftfoot Boots might be worth a look for the hexproof, and Lightning Greaves in much the same vein, but Greaves giving shroud can sometimes be relevant.
I have toyed with the idea of Wandering Fumarole in the maindeck as a way to win the longer matches, as it provides both colors we want while also being able to switch its power and toughness once it’s suited up with Accorder Shields and the like.
The sideboard for the deck is entirely anti-hate. We are very vulnerable to a lot of things and so we need to try and mitigate that…or go even more all-in. I often advocate the latter approach, but this deck is already pretty all-in, and we can afford to tone that down a little in sideboarded games.
I’m not going to pretend that this deck is top-tier tournament quality. What it is, though, is a whole bunch of fun. I have been known to cackle while drawing fifteen cards in a turn. I mean, wouldn’t you?
Off the Beaten Path
Coming up with these lists has been a great deal of fun for me, even if only the first one is truly my own creation. Brewing isn’t always about starting from scratch and coming up with 75 cards of your own choosing. Sometimes it just makes sense to take someone else’s hard work and tweak it until it feels like your own. Sometimes you will improve it, sometimes you will make it worse, but you are always making it yours. In a lot of formats, comfort with the deck is more valuable than power level…to a point. You can’t sacrifice too much, but there is often room for compromise.
As always, folks, thanks for stopping by. Like many of you, I will be playing Provincials (States in your case, probably) this weekend to try to take home that sweet medal and the title of Champion. And to do it, I’ll be brewing.
Until next time…