Modern Tales From Vancouver

It wouldn’t be a Judging trip for Chris Lansdell without stories and brews to bring back to his readers! He describes the Modern mayhem he saw in Vancouver and builds a brew of his own. Should you shuffle up that Immortal Coil for SCG Indianapolis?

SCG Indianapolis February 25-26

We often hear from Mark Rosewater and Sam Stoddard that although Wizards of the Coast does keep Eternal formats in mind when designing new cards, they do not test them. This has led to some truly broken Modern formats (Eldrazi Winter and the Treasure Cruise / Dig Through Time tag team being notable ones) in recent memory, and one could be forgiven for expecting them to slack off the power level with sets going forward. I certainly was on that train.

Fortunately, I have been proven wrong. Aether Revolt has had a profound impact on Standard (and may yet cause a banning), but it has also revived some fringe archetypes in Modern and given new angles of attack to others. I saw a lot of that in action this past weekend while judging at GP Vancouver, and of course I cannot help but share those observations with you.

Death’s Shadow Somehow Got Better

When Gitaxian Probe got banned, I was worried that the wrong weapon had been taken away from Infect and Death’s Shadow. Become Immense is a far, far scarier card, despite Gitaxian Probe’s ability to tell you if the coast is clear. Although Infect has dropped off considerably, Death’s Shadow was at the top of the standings all weekend in Vancouver. Gerry Thompson, Josh Utter-Leyton, and company really found a monster.

The deck lost not only Gitaxian Probe but also stopped playing Become Immense…and put three players in the Top 8. Oh, and Fatal Push was printed, which kills every creature in the deck. The world makes no sense, friends. It’s basically turned into a hand-control deck with a brutal combo finish, which might be more powerful on average than the old-style all-in version.

I have always wondered at the exclusion of two things from the stock lists: painlands and Orzhov Charm. While I can understand not wanting to play more than one or two painlands (or even City of Brass or Mana Confluence) as they cannot be searched up, they can play a solid role in pumping your Death’s Shadow. Orzhov Charm however seems tailor-made for the deck, as all three modes are relevant and two are actively good. With Abrupt Decay and Fatal Push being so good against the deck, an end-step Orzhov Charm to return Death’s Shadow to the battlefield can often result in a surprise “you’re dead” moment. In a similar vein, the removal mode can not only take out any blocker but also grow Death’s Shadow, potentially by a lot against something like Wall of Omens or Tarmogoyf.

With Kolaghan’s Command and Traverse the Ulvenwald, plus Liliana, the Last Hope in some versions, the deck is more resilient than it might look, and I saw it win several games from hopeless-looking battlefield states. Be aware, and be afraid.

Expertise Is a Scary Thing to Have

Free spells are always a dangerous thing to print, because invariably someone ends up breaking them. Dan Ward came up to me on Friday in Vancouver and was convinced that the new Kari Zev’s Expertise deck was too good and needed a banning. Though the tales of its prowess may have been slightly exaggerated, the list I saw certainly had a lot of power and explosive potential. Like most other Goryo’s Vengeance decks, though, it does struggle against hate and can just plain brick off when trying to win.

Dan had trimmed a copy of Through the Breach to the sideboard for Vancouver, replacing it and I believe a Collective Brutality with Izzet Charm (at the time of writing, his updated list is not published).

Plenty of words have been written about the absurdity of Kari Zev’s Expertise stealing a creature and casting a free fused Breaking//Entering, which can then net you a Griselbrand or an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. This works because the converted mana cost of the split card in your hand is both two and six, so the Expertise lets you cast the card. Since it is in your hand, you can cast it with fuse. No, that’s not especially fair. Welcome to Modern!

That sequence of plays avoids some of the spot-graveyard hate like Relic of Progenitus and Scavenging Ooze, and, unlike with Goryo’s Vengeance, the hasty beatstick you bring back stays on the battlefield. I know one player was running Nicol Bolas in their sideboard against grindy decks, and I have never wanted to do something more in my life.

As potentially scary as this deck is, I saw another one which combines one of my old favorite “archetypes” with a new Expertise…

In the same vein as Dan Ward’s deck above, Henry is looking to combine the power of free spells with the probably unintended interaction with fuse cards. In this case Henry is being a bit more reasonable, only looking to draw four cards and make seven 1/1s for four mana. That’s fair, right? As a backup plan. he just casts Ancestral Vision for free instead of a fused Beck//Call. Not a bad second option, I guess.

While I really like what this deck is doing, I can see a few things I would like to change. If we are going to eschew creatures, playing the Polymorph / Emrakul, the Aeons Torn package seems like a slam dunk. Although we cannot cast Polymorph for free with Sram’s Expertise, it is a way to just win the game. Both Polymorph and Emrakul can be cast via Windbrisk Heights as well, although I think three copies of that card might be a little much.

The countermagic package is not doing a lot for me, to be honest. That could be where we find room for our Polymorph nonsense, though I would not be against keeping the Remands around. I feel like 24 lands might be a bit on the heavy side; perhaps we can fit a Sorin, Lord of Innistrad or a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in there somewhere? I would also dearly love to find room for Baral’s Expertise, but if we are adding a five-mana sorcery, I do not want to be cutting lands.

Renegade Rallier Really Rocks, Returns Repeatedly

Alliteration aside, Renegade Rallier was all over the place this weekend. Very few people paired it with Saffi Eriksdotter (which is sad), but it did frequently team up with the likes of Selfless Spirit, Ghost Quarter, Qasali Pridemage, Voice of Resurgence, and Horizon Canopy. I have been trying to find the optimal place for this new beauty and this list is the closest I have been able to come:

I have gone back and forth with Chord of Calling and Eldritch Evolution maindeck, but right now this is where we are. While Chord is no doubt a better draw on an empty battlefield, Eldritch Evolution will always cost 1GG, which, in a deck that sometimes wants to sacrifice half its manabase, is important. The flex slots in the main deck are the Martyr of Sands and the Woodland Bellower, the former of which often goes to the sideboard. As a total sucker for any sort of combo finish, I had to keep the Blasting Station around; it can sometimes be a dead draw but it can also sometimes win the game. It’s also very good against Affinity and Infect.

Yes, that really is a Riftsweeper in my maindeck. No, I am not sorry. With Path to Exile being the preeminent removal spell in the format and with Eldritch Evolution exiling itself, I really like the idea of a card that can be a bear that buys back something our opponent was sure they had permanently removed. I’m not saying the card is top-drawer incredible, but I have been very happy with it so far.

Cards that are on the shortlist for inclusion are Smuggler’s Copter, Epochrasite, and Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit. Copter should be pretty obvious: looting is generally good, and when we discard cards that we know we can bring back with Renegade Rallier, the minor drawback is negated. Looting in toolbox decks is even better, which is relevant in sideboarded games. Epochrasite might be too cute, but both Renegade Rallier and Blasting Station are big fans and it is a complete pain to try and remove. Anafenza of course just adds value to every creature and can be returned by Renegade Rallier, which can’t be bad.

After sideboarding we can often become a Chord/Evolution toolbox deck if needed. You have not lived, however, until you lock someone out with Kami of False Hope, Renegade Rallier, and Eldrazi Displacer. The salt flowed freely in that game, let me tell you.

Challenge Accepted

I always read the comments on article from previous weeks, mainly because so many of you have so many great ideas for inclusions in my brews. Some of you are also really good at detecting my lapses in card text, which is just as appreciated. One thing I do not normally get (and would like to get more, actually) is a challenge to build around a certain card. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when one Tommy Johnson told me that Immortal Coil was being overlooked. I assume the comment was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but I am not one to turn down a challenge no matter how obliquely it is presented.

Immortal Coil is not a good card. It’s one of a long line of attempts by Wizards to make a new version of Lich, only this one is just a disaster waiting to happen. With so much graveyard hate being played, some of it even in the maindeck, trying to do anything fair with Immortal Coil is asking for trouble. Fortunately, I have no intention of being fair.

Nine lives is almost immortal, right?

Donating this card is probably the best way to do anything powerful with it. Rest in Peace might seem like a great card to combine with it before giving it away, but it is categorically not. As soon as we cast one with the other on the battlefield, we will lose. No, we need to combine it with Leyline of the Void and Relic of Progenitus to make the most of donating it to our opponent.

Since we are in black and are looking to donate things, Demonic Pact seems like a solid addition. Bazaar Trader is also a possibility, but is somewhat fragile and might be better off coming out of the sideboard. I think our best bet is to fill the rest of our spots with hand control, removal and card draw. That way if we do have to cast the Coil and keep it around for a turn or two, we will have plenty of fodder in our graveyard.

I am under no illusions that this deck will destroy the competition. What it will do is make your opponent read a bunch of your cards, and if you win even one game with the combo, it will put them on a salt-infused life tilt the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the Cleveland Indians blew a 3-1 lead. If you pull it off, I need to see pictures. Please.

Trading Post and Phyrexia’s Core are here to sacrifice Immortal Coil in case of emergency. Trading Post has other utility, of course, and is just one of my favorite cards ever made. I wanted to fit Trash for Treasure in here with something like Myr Battlesphere or Wurmcoil Engine, but that might be a solid sideboard plan if we want to do something transformational against decks that have their own graveyard hate. Chandra, Torch of Defiance enables us to cast both halves of the combo on turn 5, assuming we hit our land drops or have cast a Mind Stone. With all the removal and discard we have, her ultimate is a reachable goal that can also win the game in a hurry.

I should probably stop now. Writing about this deck any more is going to be dangerous and will encourage me to build it. So, on that note, that will be all for this week, folks. As always, thanks for stopping by the LAB, where Lansdell’s Always Brewing…even with horrible cards. Until next time…Brew On!

SCG Indianapolis February 25-26