Modern Misfits: An Epiphany

Anthony Lowry returns to Modern to talk about the effect he thinks Journey into Nyx’s Temple of Epiphany and the Temples in general will have on the format.

The flood gates will open.

It’s been a while since Grand Prix Richmond, and it’s been just as long since I really gave some Modern food for thought. With our Born of the Gods Standard season at a close and our Journey into Nyx season beginning, I’ll be spending this week and next week talking about Modern just in time to get you prepared for Grand Prix Minneapolis!

So what has changed since Richmond?

As of now not a whole lot, but you better believe some things will when Journey into Nyx hits. Why?

Wait, we had some Temples already though. They’ve even seen play in Ad Nauseam, so why is this one more relevant than the others?

Getting the obvious out of the way, Izzet is the best color combination in the format. It has the two best cards in Modern—Lightning Bolt and Snapcaster Mage—and is also home to at minimum five entirely different subarchetypes that each perform and behave radically differently. Delver has an aggressive tempo pace, while Blue Moon contains a defensive and disruptive angle with an explosive finish. Splinter Twin and Storm are both combo decks but create dramatically different gameplay experiences, and we aren’t even counting U/W/R, which utilizes heavy control and midrange elements primarily with blue and red cards.

Where does this leave Temples? More specifically, Temple of Epiphany?

Almost any deck that isn’t fully reliant on curving out early and uses both colors can benefit from Temples. Fortunately, a lot of decks in U/R fit these criteria and would love the extra velocity without using up a spell slot.

I think that many players (myself included) won’t understand the true power of the Temples in Modern until they learn how to play them differently. They are far and away the most difficult cards to play in Standard, where information and micromanagement is key. If given the choice, you may not want to play a Temple on turn 1 because you have no idea what you may or may not need. A spell that doesn’t seem important now could mean the game later, and scrying it to the bottom can seal your fate.

In Modern (more specifically U/R Modern), the decks that you play Temples in are most likely going to be much higher in velocity and overall card quality. There are so many cheap and efficient spells that serve multiple purposes that even if scrying into it winds up wrong, there’s a good chance you’ll find some use for it during the game. If you’re playing a combo deck, then you now have a ground to work with, a step one. Do you need lands? If not, ship lands. Otherwise, find the combo piece you don’t have. Of course it gets much more complicated than that in practice, but that’s just an example of the added level of simplifying when playing this land in that situation.

Remember the Modern Misfits article a while back that talked about pivot cards and the most important turns in the format? If turns 2 and 4 remain the defining turns of Modern, then turns 1 and 3 are the best turns to stick a Temple. Turn 1 is great because it doesn’t mess with your curve should the importance of curving out become an issue. Turn 3 is effective as well because you’re scrying after your first defining turn and setting up for your second defining turn. The latter is especially important because now the complexion of a given game is known and you can better decide how to steer the game in a direction you want.

I know that there are people out there ready to get on me about how aggressive decks will eat you alive and all, but I think if you’re worried about that then something went wrong in the deckbuilding process. Are we really going to just take the decks we have now and blindly jam Temples in them, giving no consideration to anything else?

We’re better than that!

Yes, having two Temples in your opening hand against a turn 1 Wild Nacatl or Cursecatcher can easily mean lights out if you aren’t ready or don’t have the Lightning Bolt, but are we not going to argue that the beauty of Temples in Modern is having the ability to immediately get action when you scry since answers are so cheap and efficient? The entire dynamic is different in Modern. You can afford to lose half a turn most of the time to get an extra half of a card.

You’re going to lose the game sometimes because the land that you needed comes into play tapped. You have probably also lost games because you unnecessarily damaged yourself with a shock land. Look more at the games you can win because you saw that extra card or didn’t take damage off of Shivan Reef or Steam Vents. The mana bases in multicolor Modern decks are super punishing no matter how you look at them. Does this mean we should ignore the drawbacks? Of course not, but we shouldn’t shy away from things like this just because there are drawbacks.

When incorporating Temples into an existing strategy, the whole dynamic of your mana base and even the spells you play needs to be looked at and possibly revised. The more lands that come into play tapped in your deck, the cheaper your answers should be.

Let’s use U/R Twin as an example. Twin is a deck that loves to "getcha" sometimes by simply running out a Pestermite or Deceiver Exarch into Splinter Twin on turns 3 and 4. Oftentimes you will fail in doing so, and even more often you don’t really need to do it then unless you’re under the gun. Using the same rule as before, we can easily use a Temple to help sculpt our game plan in a more nuanced way, without the need for chaff like Peek. Gitaxian Probe gets even more value by way of shipping a bad card to the bottom and drawing a fresh one or drawing a card that we know is good, and Serum Visions gains a lot more stability now that shipping a bad card to see one card deeper is a thing.

If we cut all the fat from the spell slots and rework the mana base a bit to support Temples, we wind up with a huge increase in velocity and action cards.

The actual cards in this list aren’t really important beyond showing how you want to build a deck like this with Temples. You lower your curve to more ones and twos to make up for the "untapped land into tapped land" draws, but you also wind up with a whole lot to do on two as well. When you invest in Temples, Spell Snare becomes a lot more effective than it normally is on the play, which in turn alleviates the stress Remand would otherwise have because you can’t land it on turn 2 as often. Vendilion Clique on yourself gets a bit more effective when the situation arises, and you can even make more informed decisions when you Clique your opponent.

In a deck like Storm you want to see as many cards as you possibly can, and the same "damage versus delay" principle applies here as well.

Outside of combo decks, I’m interested to see how Temples work in a deck like Delver and if the tempo loss is worth the upside. A turn 2 Delver is way worse than a turn 1 Delver, especially when you can’t protect it via a second Temple as your land drop.

Let’s try it.

Hmm . . .

I do like the fact that we can actually get away with playing fewer lands. I like the big focus on more one-mana spells, and I absolutely love how efficient Snapcaster Mage is here. I don’t like how the bad Temple draw can really mess with Young Pyromancer hands (though we could argue that simply waiting on getting it going is a thing). Perhaps the biggest turnoff, I strongly dislike the lack of real cards that your Temples can help you get to if you’re falling behind and the massive tempo loss when you have to play one at an inopportune time. Landing a Temple on turn 4 is the worst when trying to protect your Delver with Snapcaster Mage and a two-mana spell.

Yeah, the now twice mentioned "damage versus delay" principle really hurts us here, as you’re much more suited to get into a life race and make up for lost life with timely tempo plays. Maybe there’s a build that doesn’t get hurt as much from Temples—possibly something like Ninja Bear Delver but with Temples instead of Faerie Conclave? Disrupting Shoal does give you a bit of a tempo cushion.

While Temple of Epiphany will be far and away the best Temple in Modern and both Temple of Enlightenment and Temple of Deceit have seen fringe play, I certainly don’t think they’re the only ones that will see regular play. Nonblue Temples are in an interesting spot because the rules that they have to follow are quite a bit different. They resemble Standard’s rules more than Modern’s, but is that good enough?

Let’s look at B/G. If you think that playing Treetop Village in your Phyrexian Obliterator deck is hilarious, then maybe you should consider Temple of Malady instead. It helps Dark Confidant, and you can get rid of useless Thoughtseize or Inquisition of Kozilek in the late game. My only concern is the lack of countermagic in conjunction with these Temples, as they’re the few things keeping you from straight dying to major four-drops in the format (two-drops aren’t as big a deal because of discard). Because of this I’d probably limit myself to playing two Temples to start with to see how it works out for a non-counterspell attrition deck like B/G.

I fully expect the Temples to make a strong showing at Grand Prix Minneapolis, mostly because I believe Splinter Twin and U/R decks in general will show up in droves. What do you think about the Temples in Modern?