Modern In Full Bloom

If you’re seeking a combo-tastic deck in Modern, Chris VanMeter just might have your answer! Losing Summer Bloom might not have been enough to stop Amulet Combo. Is this the deck you need to crack the SCG Indianapolis code?

SCG Indianapolis February 25-26

Last weekend was a whirlwind of formats. The Team Open in Baltimore was entertaining to watch all of the different format masters battle with their decks of choice, and I’m not surprised that we got to see a team as good as Sam Pardee, Ben Stark, and Matt Nass take the whole thing down.

My predictions were a little off from last week, as I didn’t know who Brad and BBD’s third was going to be. I correctly put Brad in Standard on B/G and BBD in Legacy on Miracles, and had I known that Jeff Hoogland was going to be their third, I could have pegged Kiki Chord.

Sadly, things didn’t turn out so well for them after a good start on Day 1 and they ended up doing well in the Classics on the second day of play.

There were also two Modern Grand Prix that happened around the world, and if you looked at the results from all the events, you’d have no idea what happened like the rest of us.

What happened? Merfolk? Dredge still crawling back from the dead like its namesake mechanic is seen doing. Death’s Shadow and its second, or third, or fourth, who can even remember now, coming-out party. Todd Stevens doing everything he can do keep the world honest with his Eldrazi Tron deck.

We even see some Bant Spirits and old-school Jeskai Control doing well over the weekend. Truth be told, I am very excited to see all these different decks putting up results and further solidifying that Modern truly is a “play whatever you want” format.

I will be honest, though. I still feel like there isn’t enough Ad Nauseam being played, but I will state, for the record, that when I turned on the GP Vancouver coverage and saw Bobby Fortanely playing a win-and-in with Amulet Titan, I stood up at my desk and shouted “Yessssss” and then made train like noises and motions with my arms because that’s what I imagine Primeval Titan does when it’s romping through the woods.

Note that Sakura-Tribe Scout is not a typo for Sakura-Tribe Elder!

Now, I will say this. When this deck first started getting some press a while ago via Magic Online, I immediately dismissed it. I played a game or two, had no idea what I was doing, and gave up. It felt different from the original Amulet Bloom deck, obviously, and in my stubbornness, I just gave it up and moved on.

We’ve seen a few versions get close at Opens, so I have always kept my eye on the deck, but to see Bobby, a former Open Champion with Amulet Bloom, do well with the deck put a smile on my face. Then I noticed this:

I’ve seen Edgar play this deck before; in fact, he made a deep run during an Open in which I was commentating, and it seems that another Amulet Titan deck placed in the Top 32 of Vancouver. Three good finishes in the same weekend for the deck has my interest piqued. Let’s see if we can break this deck down a little bit.

We have part of the same engine that we had with the original Bloom Titan deck, Ravnica bouncelands and Amulet of Vigor. This interaction lets us stack triggers and get mana from the land before we must bounce anything. When we combine that with effects that allow us to play extra lands, then we can generate a lot of mana in a turn. This lets us cast Primeval Titan, and from there it’s elementary how the interactions work with Amulet of Vigor. Getting there is the important part, though.

See, with Summer Bloom, we could perfectly go turn 1 Amulet of Vigor, and then on turn 2 play any land and then Summer Bloom into the same bounceland three times, which would give us six mana and let us cast a Primeval Titan. Summer Bloom truly was the most degenerate part of the deck, but if we focus on Azusa, Lost but Seeking and Sakura-Tribe Scout, can we do the same thing.

Is it possible to cast a Primeval Titan on turn 2 with just one Amulet of Vigor?

If we lead on Sakura-Tribe Scout and have an Amulet of Vigor for turn 2, what’s the most mana we can generate?

Turn 1: Untapped land, Sakura-Tribe Scout.

Turn 2: Cast Amulet of Vigor with land from the first turn. Bounceland is two mana, Sakura-Tribe Scout activation on a bounceland is four mana. We can cast Azusa, Lost but Seeking floating one mana and then play the bounceland two more times for five mana total, which leaves us short one mana to cast a Primeval Titan.

Maybe we can use Simian Spirit Guide to make up the difference, but none of the versions that I have seen have this card.

It may not be a Titan on 2, but Batterskull on turn 2 is also darn good.

So, if we aren’t casting a Primeval Titan on turn 2 (without double Amulet of Vigor, which is a straight-up kill in and of itself), we’re more focused for turn 3. This lets us sculpt a gameplan a bit better with Ancient Stirrings and Serum Visions but makes our hand and permanents a bit more vulnerable. Is that a bad thing, though? The old busted version of Amulet Bloom, in my opinion, was so busted because its post-sideboard plans against most of the decks with a bunch of hate was also very good.

When learning the old Amulet Bloom deck, I had to train myself to think in terms of what was possible. Rather than seeing a Summer Bloom, I would see turning two mana into six mana. With Azusa, Lost but Seeking, you had to think about the damage that you could deal on the following turn if she lived, but also calculate the mana you could generate with her two additional land drops on that turn, powered by Amulet of Vigor or just letting you return a used Gemstone Mine and replay it with full charges to fire off another one-mana spell that turn.

A common line when playing the old Amulet Bloom deck, which I feel will be more common here with a full four Azusa, would be as follows.

Turn 1: Gemstone Mine and Amulet of Vigor

Turn 2: Bounceland, float a mana and pick up the Gemstone Mine, and cast Azusa, Lost but Seeking. Play the Gemstone Mine, cast a one-mana spell, and then play another bounceland to reset your Gemstone Mine yet again.

This is going to set us up for an explosive turn 3, especially if we happened to cast a Sakura-Tribe Scout along with the Azusa, Lost but Seeking.

Is this something we want to be doing? Well, if there ends up being a decrease in Path to Exile and Terminate and an influx of Fatal Push, I am quite happy casting Primeval Titan. There are other decks that can cast Primeval Titan, though, so what makes this one more appealing than the others?

Honestly, I’m not quite sure what the answer is to that question, and it may be that’s the reason we haven’t seen more of an influx of this “new-ish” Amulet Titan deck. Once it gets going, it’s tough to stop, though. In the Titan-Scapeshift deck, if you kill their first Titan it’s less of a guarantee that a second is coming, but the first Titan generally makes every other card in their deck lethal, so it’s not that big of a deal.

The playstyle of this deck is much different from the old Amulet Bloom playstyle, which turned me off it initially, but seeing people stick to their guns and putting up results with it may have me reconsider and give it another chance. Keep an eye out for me in the MTGO queues trying to stomp Titan sized holes in my opponents.

Another big question for me from this weekend must be: “Where are the Puresteel Paladin decks?”

After playing with and against this deck over the last week, I figured we would see a lot of people on it. Maybe the recent spike in Chalice of the Void frightened a lot of people off the deck, but I think that using sideboard spots to interact with that card is worth it, because all my goldfishing with the deck showed a crazy consistent turn 3 potential with the deck while also having draws that can kill on turn 1 or 2.

Turn 1 kill. Turn 2 kill. That should not be happening in Modern.

Birds of Paradise, go.
Okay, kill you.

Land, Faithless Looting, go.
Okay, kill you.

Turn 2, dredge eighteen, put a million power on the battlefield, go.
Okay, kill you.

For me, Modern is in this weird state where I want to be the least interactive as possible, but I also see this Death’s Shadow deck using Traverse the Ulvenwald and I giggle like a school kid and want to play that deck too.

Is this deck interacting? Well, sort of, but is it enough to classify it as an “interactive” deck?

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, Modern is a format where anyone can play anything, and if that’s the goal of the format, then it is swimmingly successful.

Now, the Team Open wasn’t just Modern; there were also Standard and Legacy to be played. Ben Stark sleeved up B/G Delirium and mowed through the competition. Brad Nelson also took second in the Classic with a G/B Aggro list that is like what he (and subsequently I, since I was so impressed with it) wrote about the other week.

As much as I like the inventiveness of these Four-Color Saheeli decks and the coolness factor of Mardu Vehicles, I think there really isn’t a reason to not sleeve up Winding Constrictor in Standard. The deck is great. The cards are all powerful on their own and get souped up when in tandem with each other. You get the best removal spell in Fatal Push and the best card advantage in Tireless Tracker.

Legacy was far more interesting to me than the Standard portion of the Team Open. I knew that we would have our BBDs on Miracles, and our Daryl Ayers types on Lands, but with Reid Duke’s recent GP win with Sultai Control, I am interested to see just what kind of legs this deck has.

Sam Pardee played it in the Legacy seat on their way to winning the Open, and the more I watch this deck in action, the more I love it. Reid Duke not only has great hair, he can also make great Noble Hierarch decks in Legacy. True-Name Nemesis is still great, and what were they thinking when they printed Leovold, Emissary of Trest?

At least we got that Sultai commander we’ve always wanted for Tiny Leaders, right?

The card is bonkers. Being part of a justification to play eight mana accelerants as a creature is a pretty big deal in Legacy. I also smile at the subtle bonuses you get from Noble Hierarch with True-Name Nemesis. Killing Jace, the Mind Sculptor in one hit is nice, and the one-drops can insulate you from Liliana of the Veil’s -2.

I have always been a fan of being extremely unfair in Legacy, and while a three-mana creature isn’t generally on my radar as unfair, Leovold is not fun to play against for sure.

This coming weekend is the Indianapolis Open and we will get to see some more Modern action. Do we think that Death’s Shadow is here to stay, or will it fade away like the other one-time fringe decks that pop up and win something and then slink back into obscurity?

SCG Indianapolis February 25-26