Moons Over My Modern

A new set brings new cards to update favorite decks! Chris Lansdell takes a look at some of his favorite Modern brews ahead of the #SCGCOL Classic and updates them to incorporate top additions from Eldritch Moon!

With #PTEMN being mere weeks away and a Standard event, most people are looking at Eldritch Moon with an eye on Standard. The SCG Tour® is also Standard for the next several weeks as #SCGCOL and #SCGBAL, along with Regionals, fall under that banner. I’ll be writing about some Standard brews next week for sure, but with Modern PPTQ season starting this weekend and the SCG Tour®‘s Syracuse stop in August being Modern, there is some focus on one of the other popular Constructed formats.

I have been playing a lot of my brews in the format recently, to varying degrees of success. I want to update you on some of those and also look at potential additions to them from Eldritch Moon, and at the end of the article I have what I think could be a particularly spicy number going forward. Let’s start with the most fun deck.

Rainbow Riders

I was inspired by a Vintage Fish-style deck to come up with this list:

I played it, I won the event with it, and I fell in love. This thing is explosive. Thalia’s Lieutenant, Mayor of Avabruck, and Champion of the Parish combine to do some serious work, and if at any point you get multiples going you’re basically unkillable. The deck can easily kill on turn 4 with solid draws.

I was a little unhappy with the interaction between Collected Company and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, as getting to five mana was proving a little challenging. I did try Domri Rade in the CoCo slot and was quite happy with him as a way to refill my hand and as a good card on an empty battlefield. However, on his own he does nothing to win you the game, and you cannot explode as well as with Collected Company. It’s possible that the correct change is to put Thalia in the sideboard and run with Company and Vial in the maindeck.

Reflector Mage is a house in the format. Bouncing creatures that have been delved or otherwise cheated onto the battlefield is a great feeling, especially if we can do so through Aether Vial or Collected Company. While that wasn’t particularly news to me, the power of Mantis Rider was. I figured it would most often just draw fire as a creature that died to Lightning Bolt, but very often it would not only survive, it would hit hard. Vigilance plus evasion is a powerful combination, and the haste allows us to get surprise attacks in without needing a Vial or a Company. However, as red is the lightest splash, it is possible we could and maybe even should cut the Riders for a more stable manabase.

The black addition is far more solid. Dark Confidant is of course a powerful card, but it has a hidden mode in aggressive decks in that it draws removal spells away from the bigger threats. Hitting a Collected Company is the best and worst of things, as it can be a big life loss but also means you get to cast a Collected Company in the near future. Anafenza, the Foremost was also impressive as a solid body that is hard to remove and as a creature with two relevant abilities against a fair few decks in the format.

With how little play it has seen, Mayor of Avabruck consistently surprised me. A 1/1 for two mana is hardly impressive, but the suite of abilities definitely is. On one side we get the Human Anthem; on the other we get an army in a can. If we’re playing against a deck that is slow to start, we might want to look at playing another Werewolf in the sideboard. Huntmaster of the Fells isn’t a bad choice but might well require an additional land in the sideboard.

One thing that needs more work is the manabase. I was relatively happy with the Noble Hierarchs in the deck, but the lands need to be tweaked. Path to Exile is a real bomb against us, so we need to squeeze some basics in here. We also have too many lands that hurt us, considering the lack of lifegain we have in the maindeck. Cutting down on the Mana Confluence and City of Brass to one each lets us add an Exotic Orchard and some basic lands. We might also want to take out a shockland or two, given the lack of fetches.

Grand Abolisher is good, but maybe not a maindeck card unless you are expecting a lot of Jeskai. Similarly, Qasali Pridemage is probably better in the sideboard. Cutting those does free up some maindeck slots, which hopefully we can use on new cards. Although not a new card, I am curious as to whether Bant Sureblade would have a place here. There are not that many multicolored creatures in the deck right now, but it is something I am considering.

Hanweir Garrison however is a new card, and one about which I am very excited. Bringing two Humans on to the battlefield will buff our Champion of the Parish and Thalia’s Lieutenant, and the tokens are in turn pumped by Mayor of Avabruck. Although we can’t squeeze a Hanweir Battlements in the deck, I think the Garrison alone would be just fine. The power of this card is actually making me consider keeping red in the deck.

Thalia, Heretic Cathar has more utility in the maindeck than her younger self. We’ve discussed the power of the card in fetchland/shockland formats before, and of course Modern is one of them. She is also of course a Human, which is convenient.

The only other new card I am considering is Lone Rider, which I think is being greatly overlooked. Getting it up to three power is not difficult in this deck, and when transformed it hits very hard. Sure, it loses the bonuses from Mayor of Avabruck, but I can live with that.

Here’s a speculative new list:

Blink and You’ll Miss it

Land destruction has been a favorite strategy of mine since my early days of brewing. Although I tend to emphasize having fun when I play, for some reason I enjoy stopping others from doing anything sometimes. A turn 1 Dark Ritual into Icequake or Birds of Paradise into Stone Rain was common from me, backed up with Hypnotic Specter and Hymn to Tourach. A very strange dichotomy, but here we are.

You should all know by now that I am just about the biggest fan of Alesha, Who Smiles at Death that exists. This list was one I threw together to take advantage of her powerful triggered ability:

Before I even tried to play this deck, I realized it was missing Simian Spirit Guide. Destroying lands is all well and good, but if you can’t get out ahead of the opponent in this format, then you are often going to be playing catch-up. The deck as it stands is trying to do just a few too many things and as such doesn’t do any of them at a high enough level to be powerful.

There are several ways we could go about fixing that, but the one that made the most sense was to cut the Nahiris and the Angel of Serenity. Just because we are playing the right colors doesn’t mean we need to play Nahiri, the Harbinger in our deck. Although she does help fill the graveyard and can find a finisher, I have a rule that I won’t play a planeswalker primarily for the ultimate. We’re also really heavy at the three-slot, so cutting an Eldrazi Displacer for the fourth Spirit Guide made sense to me.

Once the engine got going, the deck was absurd. Alesha is a powerful card in the deck, but I often found I was attacking with a full suite and had nothing to return. I was still ahead, though, because of the blink effects.

Another recurring concern was that sometimes I had nothing to blow up with a Fulminator Mage, which is a nice problem to have in some cases and a sign the deck has a weakness in other cases. Avalanche Riders of course does not have the same problem; if it has no targets, it’s likely a good thing. That said, I cannot see dropping to two maindeck Fulminator Mages unless we add another land destruction option.

Speaking of that option, let’s talk Blood Moon. Although there is clearly a solid reason to play Modern’s most hated card, it actually works against our plan in a couple of important ways. Our utility lands, especially Eiganjo Castle, play an important role in our deck. Eldrazi Displacer needs colorless mana to work, and unless we want to cut that card to find room for Blood Moon I don’t think we can play it. I would rather cut some of our two-color lands to add Ghost Quarters to the mix. Although they do allow our opponent to fish out a basic land, they can also target basic lands and most opponents will run out sooner rather than later.

Another card that runs contrary to our plan is Path to Exile. When our gameplan is to attack our opponent’s manabase, why are we ramping them? Yes, Path is the best removal spell in the format. “Best” is not a synonym of “only,” however, and we should look at options that do not give our opponent the very thing we are trying to take away. Right now I am looking at three Oust and two Declaration in Stone, but I might reverse those numbers. Sacrificing a Clue to draw a card is a lot harder when you can’t make two mana.

I did try a Boros Signet in the deck but it never felt good enough. I do think some sort of ramp might help, but perhaps we should look to a new card for that: Conduit of Storms. Any card that can make mana for free deserves a second look, and when it’s something we can bring back with Alesha it gets an even higher score on the potential-meter. I should point out, however, that bringing back Conduit tapped and attacking will not allow you to get the mana trigger that turn. If ever we get the mana to transform Conduit of Storms, a 5/4 that adds two mana on each attack should win us most games.

Another card I am looking at is Selfless Spirit. A lot of the important cards in the deck are somewhat fragile, and having the ability to make our team indestructible once per turn cycle can be a huge difference-maker. That said, it doesn’t interact with the blinking half of the deck. One card that does is Extricator of Sin. Hitting delirium should not be difficult at all with the addition of sorceries, and we could add Vessel of Volatility or even Terrarion to make that easier. Even without the delirium, we can blink or reanimate the Extricator of Sin repeatedly to keep making 3/2 tokens. It isn’t a land destruction strategy but it does fit the overall goal of the deck.

Something New

One of my friends, the inimitable Paul Sheppard, has been playing Skred Red for a while. He’s also the creative genius behind this display at my LGS:

Paul has serious, serious talent. Here’s his current list as of Shadows over Innistrad:

He’s had a fair amount of success and a tremendous amount of fun with the deck, and although I am not a fan of some of the maindeck choices, I have yet to actually try the list out. However, Eldritch Moon has brought me a card that is crying out for inclusion: Nahiri’s Wrath. No, we can’t double it with Pyromancer’s Goggles, and the list as it stands isn’t exactly full of great options to discard. However, we have two great options to discard: Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and Emrakul, the Promised End.

Discarding excess land, duplicate Blood Moons or even burn spells that we can recur with Goblin Dark-Dwellers can not only make the kill immediate with Reckoner, in the event we have not yet found one, it can help us kill those pesky creatures that our inconsiderate opponents are trying to use to kill us. How dare they?

What’s that? Oh, you should maybe read the card again. Yeah, it doesn’t say “divided” anywhere on there. We can also pick off opposing planeswalkers with relative ease.

If we’re playing those, we might as well add another newish card: Nahiri, the Harbinger. The interaction with Emrakul and Nahiri is already being exploited in the format. What this deck can do that Jeskai Nahiri mostly can’t is actually cast an Emrakul. Either one, actually.

For Emrakul, the Promised End, we have artifacts that are happy to go to the graveyard. We might even be able to squeeze in a Tarfire or two, or a couple of Evolving Wilds. That’s before even considering that Nahiri can fill up our graveyard with card types and help us dig to our Reckoner. Even without that cost reduction, we have the benefit of Koth of the Hammer’s -2 ability to impressively ramp our mana closer to thirteen or fifteen.

Adding white to the deck does nothing to hurt us in casting our Boros Reckoner, which would be my biggest concern. If we’re keeping the splash light, we might even be able to avoid cutting the Snow-Covered basics and thus the eponymous Skred from the deck. More ways to kill our opponent, you say? I am all about it. This will be a lot of fun to try.

One final consideration for the deck is whether or not we want to go a little deeper on the white cards. Both Lightning Helix and Ajani Vengeant are worthy of consideration, but whether or not they are worth the changes to the manabase is up for debate. My current thought is no, but with testing that may change.

Comments from Last Week

I had a lot of positive response to last week’s article, as well as some good points raised in the comments section.

Ciccio Bux mentioned a Legacy decklist he was playing that he’d seen in Ari Lax’s hands:

Eldrazi and Taxes comes to Legacy, eh? I have to admit, it terrifies me. I am still looking for the best answer to the Eldrazi deck as traditional DnT, and this hybrid is scarier. I would think twice about a Legacy deck running 26 lands, and Thalia has some weird anti-synergy with a fair bit of the deck, but the power level here is evident. I really like the addition of Armageddon, a card I have considered for my sideboard several times.

I’ve been running a single Declaration in Stone in my sideboard and like it quite a bit. It deals with all of the normal problem creatures, but can also clean up Monastery Mentor, Young Pyromancer, or Empty the Warrens tokens.

– Robert Holt

I think Declaration is very powerful and worthy of serious consideration, but the extra mana in the cost is something of a concern. Not many decks are running Monastery Mentor right now, though Young Pyromancer and Empty the Warrens are both concerns. Both of those cards tend to be played in matchups where Thalia shines, and I am not sure three mana is that easy to justify.

All right, I have to know. In what matchups do you want the 2x Sunlance in the SB?

I play DnT too and as best I can figure, you basically want more small creature removal against the mirror, Deathrite Shaman plus Delver decks, and Elves.

Personally I play Council’s Judgement in the SB (because it’s great and kills noncreature issues too) but if I did want more one-mana removal, I don’t think there’s any issue with just running Paths.

– Tom Jancik

Much like the R/W Blink list above, Path to Exile works contrary to what Death and Taxes wants to do. There is a fair bit of Infect in the local meta, and giving them a land that is not susceptible to Wasteland is scary. Path does have more applications, but locally those applications aren’t particularly present. Elves is another deck to which I don’t want to give a land, and Merfolk is also something I have to consider.

Well, folks, that’s all I have for this week. As always, thanks for stopping by the LAB, where Lansdell’s Always Brewing. Next week I will be diving in to some Standard brews, starting in all likelihood with Deploy the Gatewatch. Even the thought of casting that card gives me tingles. Until next time…Brew On!