Modern Expertise

Modern is in a pretty amazing place, and The Boss is absolutely loving it! In addition to all the decks from before, some forgotten strategies are back in action! Established decks, resurrected decks, brand new decks–Tom Ross just has to talk about this format before SCG Baltimore!

Most people’s major Magic focus has been on Standard lately. It’s been a little while since we’ve had a Modern Open or Grand Prix.

I’m here to go over some Modern trends, some cool decks that you might’ve missed, and some decks featuring new Aether Revolt cards.

Most of the decks today are not of my own brewing. To take a peek into my wheelhouse, check out last week’s article full of my own personal brews and takes on popular archetypes.

Let’s get to it!

Resurgence of Graveyard Decks

Dredge may not be dead, but it’s not nearly as popular or successful without Golgari Grave-Troll. Dredge’s decline has left sideboard space for people to reallocate to other matchups.

The existence of Dredge suppressed the playability of other graveyard decks from Modern.

Now, with less sideboard space dedicated to fighting Dredge specifically, there’s more room for graveyard decks to thrive in Modern.

Storm is a scary deck that can win as early as turn 2. If you play against it, you need to know what they’re up to now.

U/R Storm was thought dead after Gitaxian Probe got the axe. As it turns out, Baral, Chief of Compliance was enough to reinvigorate the deck. It just has to take a slightly different approach now.

Baral, Chief of Compliance gave Storm enough cost-reducing creatures to count on having one when you’re going off. Without Gitaxian Probe to go with Manamorphose, there aren’t enough “free” spells in the deck to want Pyromancer Ascension.

Cards like Rest in Peace used to be a real pain for Storm, and still are to a degree. Now it’s a bit easier to make a big Empty the Warrens, which circumvents the reliance on the graveyard post-sideboard.

The first list is a stock take on Grishoalbrand that won the last Modern Classic in Richmond. At Richmond, Todd Anderson and I were trying to think of a deck that beat both Burn and Tron, the two decks we felt were the decks to beat at the time, and concluded that a Goryo’s Vengeance deck would do the trick. It wasn’t surprising that it won the Modern Classic, though I was a little sad the cat was out of the bag.

The second list is from SCG Regionals in New York last weekend. It’s a fresh take on the archetype that Dan Ward took to second place. It adds Breaking//Entering and Kari Zev’s Expertise to present another “win condition” in an already powerful shell.

Kari Zev’s Expertise says:

“You may cast a card with converted mana cost 2 or less from your hand without paying its mana cost.”

If you cast a split card with fuse from your hand without paying its mana cost, you can choose to use its fuse ability and cast both halves without paying their mana costs.

You can choose the two-cost spell “Breaking” for Kari Zev’s Expertise and then cast the entirety of the eight-mana fused spell for free. The rules are complicated, but it works.

You target yourself with Breaking//Entering to hopefully mill over Griselbrand or Emrakul, the Aeon’s Torn. Since Breaking//Entering resolves all at once, there isn’t a window for the opponent to use Scavenging Ooze, Surgical Extraction, Relic of Progenitus, or any number of other traditional graveyard hate cards.

It’s no surprise that granting a spell the ability to be cast for free will eventually be broken. Phyrexian mana, cascade, Aetherworks Marvel… even cost-reducing effects like Flash or fast mana in general like Dark Ritual have been known to lead to extremely broken things.

How else can the new cycle of Expertises be abused?

Expert Infusion

Kuldotha Red has been around for a while, winning with cheap artifacts, Goblin tokens, and a big rush attack with Goblin Bushwhacker. From there, Goblin Grenade and Shrapnel Blast finish the job.

Gone are the burn elements of Goblin Grenade and Shrapnel Blast and in come combo elements to use with Beck//Call.

Just like with Breaking//Entering, you can cast both halves of the fuse card to get four Bird tokens and draw four cards. Beck is a pretty good effect to have going on when your deck is full of Ornithopters, Memnites, and token makers!

Brain in a Jar functions similarly to Kari Zev’s Expertise. Once the second counter is placed on Brain in a Jar, you choose Beck as your sorcery and cast the fully fused Beck//Call.

Adam Koska goes even harder on “cheating” out free spells with his take on Esper Tokens.

Ancestral Vision is good on turn 1 but lackluster when drawn later in the game. This is where Sram’s Expertise comes in. Ancestral Vision’s converted mana cost of zero qualifies as a spell “3 or less” and thus can be cast for free off of Sram’s Expertise.

Sadly, Brain in a Jar can never be used to cast a zero-cost spell, since you have to add a counter to it upon resolution. Barring shenanigans, that is.

With three Sram’s Expertise, four Brain in a Jar, and a bit of card drawing, it’s easy enough to find the pieces to your combo.

There’s always the usual plan of playing as a normal Tokens deck that goes wide with Lingering Souls and Sram’s Expertise and boosts the tokens up with Intangible Virtue or Sorin, Solemn Visitor.

The ability to play like a normal deck is what I like the most about these Expertise decks. They have a combo element that’s outrageously explosive. Fusing spells for free shouldn’t even be a thing.

Some number of your draws will combo them out for insane value. Others will play out like regular Magic games. Variety is the spice of life!

The New Zoo

Ross Merriam did an excellent Daily Digest of Naya Landfall here.

This version of Zoo looks to be the most explosive yet, rivaling previous Bushwhacker Zoo decks with Reckless Bushwhacker and Burning-Tree Emissary.

I’m expecting this powerful new take on Zoo to take over the space that previous small-creature-and-burn decks previously held. This includes some amount of R/W Burn, Naya Burn, Naya Zoo, and stragglers that have abandoned Death’s Shadow and Kiln Fiend decks. This might even attract some Infect players. It sure caught my interest.

I also wholeheartedly agree with how many Thalia, Guardian of Thrabens are in this list. There are goofy combo decks on the rise that get hosed by Thalia. She’s also quite reasonable against control too.

Renegade Rallier will greatly impact Modern. Getting back a fetchland is the bare minimum the card can do. It’s useful in a variety of combo strategies involving anything from Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit to Saffi Eriksdotter. I think Todd Stevens was right about this one being the best card from Aether Revolt for Modern, beating out Fatal Push.

Sultai: The Final Wedge

I played Sultai Delver in a VS. Video against Michael Majors that will be ready for your viewing pleasure next week here on StarCityGames.com.

Sultai has long been the shard/wedge left in Modern that was without a premium one-cost removal spell. The other combinations had access to either red or white (or both) and thus access to Path to Exile and/or Lightning Bolt. Now Sultai has the range of tools needed to efficiently solve any problem.

The three-color midrange decks all do similar things. They have cheap interactive spells and play efficient creatures. They tend to not have many favorable or unfavorable matchups. Fatal Push is great but doesn’t completely take over the spot of Lightning Bolt or Terminate in Grixis or Jund. Likewise with Path to Exile in Esper and Abzan.

With Sultai, the combination of discard spells like Inquisition of Kozilek alongside counterspells like Mana Leak sets a nice disruptive stage to coast a Delver of Secrets or Tarmogoyf to victory.

This particular trifecta may not appeal to everyone, but it will surely catch the eye of some Modern enthusiasts who enjoy game against the field. I predict some number of Jund, Jeskai, and Grixis players to shift over to Sultai, since it’s a spicy alternative that’s not far outside of their wheelhouses while still different enough to experiment with.

The Best Chalice Deck?

This is a 5-0 Magic Online Modern League decklist that does a few things, if you’re interested in them.

Without Infect being a big player in Modern anymore, there are fewer decks for W/R Prison to prey on. W/R Prison was the most popular deck playing maindeck Chalice of the Void. Now there are fewer Chalice of the Void decks going around. This fact is one reason Puresteel Paladin combo decks briefly did well.

Eldrazi Taxes (or Thalia Stompy) is a creature beatdown deck that gets to play Chalice of the Void while having a bunch of other interaction and a fast clock.

Gemstone Caverns, Simian Spirit Guide, and Eldrazi Temple are mana acceleration cards that have somehow slipped around the banhammer that Modern has on fast mana. Turn 2 Thought-Knot Seer is great, and turn 1 is even better.

Leonin Arbiter and Ghost Quarter combine to strip your opponents of lands. The Path to Exiles out of the sideboard are sweet with the Arbiter’s effect when you sideboard out Chalice of the Void.

I think Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is really good in Modern moving forward, and if Chalice of the Void fades off the Modern radar, then this build of Eldrazi Taxes could be perfect to play.

Modern for Baltimore

Team events have always had a different dynamic from individual events. Teammates rely on you, can help you if needed, and vice versa.

I don’t expect many people to bring anything too wild or high-variance. If something hasn’t been proven by now, I don’t expect it to be played at #SCGBALT. After all, you’ll (probably) need to get the approval of your teammates before registering something drastic with their tournament lives on the line as well.




G/X Tron


Naya Zoo/Landfall

Not Expected:

Puresteel Paladin



Death’s Shadow

Lantern Control

Expect to play against a top-tier deck every round at SCG Baltimore.