Modern Tidbits

Sam takes an in-depth look at the results from the Season Two Invitational and projects where he thinks the metagame will turn for Grand Prix Charlotte – while also exploring some lesser-known brews that have been popping up on Magic Online!

My opinion on Modern hasn’t changed since last week, when I argued that Amulet Bloom is the best deck, as it has been at least since Treasure Cruise was banned, and the Season Two Invitational only provided further evidence for that claim. Chris VanMeter getting swept by Ali Aintrazi’s G/R Tron deck in the finals might lead you to believe that it has a bad matchup against the deck that won both Modern events in Columbus this past weekend, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Amulet Bloom is a heavy favorite, but you have to know how to play it. Prematurely exposing your Amulet of Vigors, for example, is a big mistake.

To me, this feels like a solved format. I don’t know if I’m going to Charlotte, but if I go, I’ll play Amulet Bloom. For others with less experience, or who simply prefer something else, the choice is not as clear. Having made the case for Amulet Boom last week, this week I want to focus on the other pieces I’ve picked up on about Modern.

First, let’s discuss metagaming. As someone reading SCG Premium, you’re likely up-to-date and trying to stay ahead of an evolving metagame. This is going to be a giant Modern Grand Prix. It’s not filled with people like you. Many players likely locked their decks in weeks ago, though I hope they’ll at least check recent results to choose their last few sideboard cards.

People do adapt, and, as far as I can tell, Amulet Bloom is showing up more on Magic Online, but again, I think Magic Online is populated by people who are more likely to change decks than the average player at the Grand Prix will be. This raises what I consider the obvious question to be asking going into this week:

“With Big Mana/Land decks dominating Columbus, how much hate should I bring for them in Charlotte?”

Honestly, the answer is that you probably don’t want to devote many more slots to attacking those decks than you already were. As many people are going to avoid playing them because they anticipate an uptick in hate as will choose to play them because they’ve seen their strength. Players should already know the strength of Amulet Bloom and G/R Tron, this isn’t the first time anyone’s seen either of these decks.

The biggest reason you’d want to include more hate is if this has caused you to recognize that you were previously underestimating these decks – I don’t think they’re going to be a large portion of the field, but I do think they’re going to be a respectable portion. There are a lot of decks in Modern where you’ll just have a horrible matchup against them if you don’t come prepared, and coming properly prepared could help you a lot there.

The trick is that Ari is completely right in his article yesterday when he says that, despite their structural similarities, the best ways to attack Amulet Bloom and G/R Tron are different. In both cases you want to attack their lands, but the difference between Blood Moon (the best possible card against Amulet Bloom, but mediocre against G/R Tron) and Sowing Salt (among the best cards against G/R Tron, but mediocre against Amulet Bloom) is huge.

Fulminator Mage is somewhere in the middle, and you need to test to figure out if it’ll help enough to make your deck beat either or both decks in order to figure out which use of space would be best for you.

Expanding on Fulminator Mage, and shifting focus a little, I think the hive mind is still early in the process of figuring out how to use Kolaghan’s Command (and Collected Company, for that matter). So far we’ve verified that Kolaghan’s Command is good, and we’ve put it in decks that can cast it, but I don’t know that we’ve done enough to maximize the rest of the deck around it. Specifically, it has a really nice interaction with Fulminator Mage or any other creature that we can put straight in the graveyard.

Certainly inspired by a desire to beat big mana decks, I’ve been wondering if a dedicated land destruction deck could be viable, maybe starting with a core that looks like this:

4 Birds of Paradise
4 Dark Confidant
4 Fulminator Mage
2 Alesha, Who Smiles at Death
4 Avalanche Riders
3 Kolaghan’s Command
2 Shriekmaw

Add interactive spells to taste, maybe Tarmogoyfs, and hope to dodge Burn (or load up on Feed the Clans and friends in the sideboard).

Shriekmaw isn’t a land destruction spell or a creature Alesha can return, but it’s a really nice curve with Kolaghan’s Command against a heavy creature deck.

Maybe I’ve been playing a little too much Modern Masters Limited, but I also have to wonder if the next evolution in Grixis Control, going further than Zack Witten, Gerard and Matt Costa‘s Grixis Control lists went, is to add some Mulldrifters to really grind people. The power level isn’t far off, as we’ve recently seen Gerard succeed with Compulsive Research, and getting to buy back a 2/2 flier with Divination strapped to it in the late-game sounds like something I’d at least want to consider.

Snapcaster Mage with Kolaghan’s Command is nice, but Snapcaster Mage exiles, preventing you from looping the two of them, unlike Eternal Witness. Matches in Modern generally aren’t grindy enough that I’m really looking for ways to combine two two-for-ones into a slow unbounded loop, but I can imagine that if you had a single Eternal Witness in your Jund deck with Kolaghan’s Command, you’d find some fair matchups where you ended up taking advantage of that loop.

Getting out of the delusional world where we imagine looping two three-mana spells for incremental advantage and looking at the actual Modern format we have to deal with, I completely agree with Ari’s claim that Affinity’s success last weekend was not a fluke but is instead an indication of the deck being well-positioned. Affinity is about as fair as a deck can get while still being competitive with Amulet Bloom and G/R Tron. I think the Amulet Bloom matchup is close, but I wouldn’t be very surprised to learn that Affinity is favored, and I also wouldn’t be surprised if it only takes a few cards that are well within Affinity’s range to become heavily favored against Amulet Bloom. I’m just not sure if things like Thoughtseize and Dispatch are enough, or if you have to go all the way to Blood Moon. I think Affinity is likely a heavy favorite against Tron.

Affinity also enjoys the luxury of being the second-best deck that requires dedicated hate to come out of last weekend when everyone has to decide what cards are competing for sideboard hate slots. People who are looking to find room for extra Fulminator Mages and Blood Moons are unlikely to find room for extra Stony Silences and Ancient Grudges, and may actually end up cutting into some of their Affinity hate to find room. If Affinity is in your range, now is a great time to give it serious consideration – and if it isn’t, now might be a good time to remember that you still need to be prepared for it, as I think it is a great choice for a savvy metagamer. Even beyond the possibility that people might skimp on hate, the recent popularity and success of Grixis (touted as the second most-successful archetype after Amulet Bloom on the stream over the weekend) means a likely all-time low of decks that can play Abrupt Decay, Ancient Grudge, or Stony Silence.

Infect is another deck that’s positioned similarly to Affinity – not exactly combo, but fast enough to outrace all but the best draws from the big-mana decks. Now that we’ve had time for the hype to die down after The Pantheon’s success with the deck at the Pro Tour, it again becomes another deck that could profitably take this metagame by surprise.

Living End is likely the best maindeck Fulminator Mage deck, and as such is another deck that can be a nightmare for both Amulet Bloom and G/R Tron. It’s had success recently on Magic Online with the Splinter Twin package spliced in, which only makes things worse for those decks. As Ari mentioned, Leyline of the Void is a well-positioned card now due to the prevalence of cards like Snapcaster Mage, Kolaghan’s Command, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Gurmag Angler, Kitchen Finks and Eternal Witness, but the potential strong positioning of Living End in this metagame is another reason that Leyline of the Void should make your short list for sideboard considerations.

Scanning recent Magic Online results, I’m reminded by Jeff Hoogland than Dragonlord Ojutai is a Modern power-level card, and that the interaction with Minamo, School at Water’s Edge is particularly fantastic. U/W/X control decks that are looking for a reliable finisher (particularly to replace Batterskull because of the rise of Kolaghan’s Command) should definitely consider Dragonlord Ojutai, especially if they have hard counters. And, speaking of hard counters, Silumgar’s Scorn could be an option – it’s hard to get a high Dragon count in Modern, but extra card selection helps, and top Modern Masters common Nameless Inversion is available to offer a little boost if you’re willing to play a very slightly below-par removal spell in order to access an above-the-curve counterspell.

In further Magic Online results, I’m delighted to see the continued success of one of my favorite decks from MTGO, Ghostway. MIRO83 played an Abzan take on the deck that gave up on Kiki-Jiki + Restoration Angel as a finisher, and only plays a single Ghostway that it can find by using Chord of Calling to find Sidisi, Undead Vizier, and adds Siege Rhino as an excellent creature to Ghostway. This version spends a lot less time casting Elvish Visionary and a lot more time blinking Siege Rhino with Restoration Angel while finding more room for interaction with Abrupt Decay, all of which seem like huge steps in the right direction. Despite access to Fulminator Mage and Aven Mindcensor, I can’t say I like the positioning of an Abzan deck with no access to discard against Amulet Bloom, but this deck is likely great at beating up on other fair decks. List for reference:

Looking at Magic Online lists for Modern is an interesting endeavor. Four matches is not a lot, and the format is diverse, so basically anything can show up, especially if you look as far down as the 3-1 decks. While this means that a deck showing up here should be viewed as weak endorsement for the strength of the deck, it also has the advantage that the low bar means you can find a wide range of ideas.

Utopia Sprawl recently caught people’s attention because of its ability to make four mana on turn two with Arbor Elf, but it can also just function as an Elf-like one-mana ramp spell that doesn’t die to Lightning Bolt. MAGICDEVIL666 put up a 4-0 finish with Utopia Sprawl into Garruk Wildspeaker without bothering with Arbor Elf in Death Cloud, featuring such sideboard hits as Mwonvuli Acid-Moss, a card that’s actually great for what that deck is doing but which rarely shows up. For reference:

Overall, I think this will be an interesting weekend – I think Amulet Bloom is the best deck, but I also think it will be properly targeted this weekend, so even if it is “The Best Deck” I don’t know that it will be the best choice. As always, there are a lot of sweet midrange cards, with new additions like Dragonlord Ojutai, Collected Company, and Kolaghan’s Command pulling people up the curve. But at the end of the day, I continue to think the best way to approach Modern basically to play the most proactive deck you’re comfortable with and hope your opponent didn’t come properly prepared, as there are just too many pressures available in the Modern format for anyone to be prepared for all of them.