My New Favorite Modern Deck

While Chris VanMeter and his fabulous facial hair will not grace any tournament halls this weekend, he is plenty interested in the upcoming results! Get his take on the state of Modern and his new favorite deck going into Grand Prix Vancouver and SCG Baltimore!

We are a few weeks removed from Pro Tour Aether Revolt, and looking back now, I can say that it would have been a challenge for me to be any further removed from the truth in regards to the predictions that I had for the tournament and what the format would look like in the weeks after.

Two weeks later, we see that the Top 16 at GP Pittsburgh is literally only green and black decks, Mardu Vehicles, and Jeskai Saheeli. The bottom line is that the synergy provided by Winding Constrictor exacerbates the power of Walking Ballista and Rishkar, Peema Renegade; Toolcraft Exemplar powers up Heart of Kiran along with Thraben Inspector enabling Spire of Industry; and Splinter Twin is playable, but the shell is at tension with wanting to be more of a control deck than anything.

Ultimately, I think something is going to have to happen, but in the mean time I am more than happy to jam Brad Nelson’s B/G Energy deck with Gonti, Lord of Luxury.

I’m still learning some things myself with the deck and the different playstyles of B/G that are available, but I highly recommend Brad’s article from last week if you haven’t seen it.

It’s not quite thirteenth place at the Pro Tour, but I did play his list (swapping two Appetite for the Unnatural in the sideboard for two Natural Obsolescence) and went 4-0 at my local FNM. Mileage may vary, but Gonti, Lord of Luxury is the real deal. Here are some of the highlights:

Against Jeskai Control I got to Disallow a Torrential Gearhulk and cast Glimmer of Genius in one game. In another game, I got to Quarantine Field two Torrential Gearhulks to push damage and force my opponent on the back foot.

In a mirror match I had the luxury of snagging a Tireless Tracker to start generating card advantage, but I also shipped two Fatal Push to the bottom and knew that there were fewer of those available that I needed to be worried about.

On top of that, the body was always relevant and Gonti played great defense. I expect to keep seeing a rise of Gonti, Lord of Luxury as B/G continues to dominate the Standard metagame.

That’s not all that’s coming up, though, as the SCG Tour makes its way to Baltimore for the Team Open this weekend and GP Vancouver will offer players the chance to battle Modern.

I knew that I wasn’t going to make it out to Baltimore for the Team Open, so I had set my sights on GP Vancouver and started trying to prepare myself for Modern. I have had a bit of an on-and-off relationship with Modern over the last couple of years, and I have found that my enjoyment of the format increases as my care of what my opponent is doing decreases.

In the past I have tried decks that are looking to interact. Jund-style decks always seem like they are so interesting to me, but I find, and it happens in Modern in particular, that I am just miserable playing those decks. It is a great feeling when what you play happens to line up with how you have configured your highly interactive deck and you get to use all your sideboard cards to crush your opponents, but Modern is just so big and I find that I’m often caught on the wrong side of the parings battle and get crushed by non-interactive decks, even ones I’m supposed to have a good game against sometimes.

I have come to realize that with Modern I have two options:

Option A is that I can play an interactive deck and hope to have my sideboard cards line up with what I’m playing against.

Option B is that I can play a non-interactive deck and plan my sideboard to line up against what I expect will be bad for me, and even have the chance to win the game through any amount of hate because of the degeneracy of my deck. Also, there are options in this category that aren’t commonly “hated” and can navigate the game exceptionally well.

I’m done with Option A and am currently entrenched in Option B for the time being and I’ve never felt greater about the format.

Here is my current Modern weapon of choice, and a deck that I recommend putting in some time learning if you plan on playing it.

This build of Ad Nauseam is what Danny Spencer used to win the Modern Classic during the SCG Tour stop in Columbus a few weeks back. I have always been intrigued by the deck but honestly never gave it too much credit. I always thought that it was some wildly inconsistent deck, and every time I got paired against it, I would end up losing and just blaming it on variance.

This was the same mindset I had about Amulet Bloom before I picked it up and started playing it. The turn 2 Titans weren’t just variance; the deck was designed to maximize that potential.

This deck is also built to maximize the turn 3/turn 4 potential, and it’s scarily consistent. This is all while playing some fun and interesting cards and practically ignoring a lot of what your opponent is doing. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the deck, the idea is that if we can cast Angel’s Grace or have a Phyrexian Unlife on the battlefield, then we can cast Ad Nauseam and draw our deck.

How does that work, you ask? Well, both Angel’s Grace and Phyrexian Unlife make it so that we don’t lose the game if we go below zero life, which then allows us to just pick up our deck and put it in our hand with Ad Nauseam, all while going to a very large negative number in the life points category.

From there we have a few ways to kill. The most common is by casting Lightning Storm, retaining priority and adding lethal counters on it. Our opponent can cause us to add more by discarding their own land, but the fact that we’ve drawn our entire deck means that we will undoubtedly have more land to discard than they will.

To cast the Lightning Storm, we can exile the Simian Spirit Guides that are left in our deck. This is important to keep in mind, since if you end up using multiple Simian Spirit Guides to combo off and only have two mana available when you draw your deck, then you will end up losing.

This is also important and ties into using the card Spoils of the Vault, which is one of my favorite cards of all time. I will get into that after we talk about the second win condition: Laboratory Maniac.

In instances where our opponent prevents us from targeting them with something like Leyline of Sanctity or the lesser-used Aegis of the Gods, then we will rely on Laboratory Maniac to win the game. This sequence will end up with us using Simian Spirit Guide along with Pentad Prism to cast Laboratory Maniac and Serum Visions to draw us a card win the game since our entire library is already in our hand.

Now, with us only running one of each win condition, I can understand the scrutiny that Spoils of the Vault will fall under, since an extremely unlucky one can potentially cause us to lose the game, but that is a risk that we must make sometimes and there are situations where Spoils of the Vault is invaluable.

First, if we already have one of our win conditions in our hand, then it makes it much easier to be aggressive with Spoils to ensure a combo turn. Generally, we are going to be Spoils-ing for a card we have four copies of in our deck to also mitigate the life loss and the odds of losing something we need. Here are some of the uses that I have found acceptable for Spoils of the Vault.

  • End-step Spoils of the Vault for a Simian Spirit Guide so that we have enough mana to combo on the following turn in cases where we will likely only have that turn before we are dead.
  • Likewise, I have used it to find an Angel’s Grace or Ad Nauseam when I already have the other pieces.
  • I have also used it when I already have the protection of an Angel’s Grace or Phyrexian Unlife to not die that turn if I am super-low.
  • I haven’t tested enough with it to see if it’s right to also Spoils for a certain land so ensure a land drop for mana on the following turn, but I suspect that it’s likely not correct, since we have a higher chance of drawing a land for the turn over another card, and Gemstone Mine is the only four-of land that we play in the deck that enters the battlefield untapped.

Spoils of the Vault is also an easy card to sideboard out when we are configuring our decks for the post-sideboard battle. These will generally go a bit longer and we will want to find our sideboard cards with Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand rather than just trying to jam into the combo. That is, of course, in most cases. There will be decks like Infect where we will likely still want it so that we can just try to kill them before they kill us.

This deck really hits a lot of the same feelings for me that Amulet Bloom did. There was a feeling of “leveling up” when I started to comprehend sequences and shortcuts for calculations. The moment I understood how to quickly calculate the math involving bounce lands, Amulet of Vigor, Summer Bloom, Primeval Titan, and the implications of fetching, bouncing, and transmuting Tolaria West, I felt accomplished. I am getting some of those same moments with this deck.

The first time I cast Pact of Negation to stop something I needed to and then untapped, Angel’s Grace in my upkeep with the Pact of Negation trigger on the stack, and then went on to combo out that turn had a smile on my face. This was on Magic Online, though, so I can only imagine that my opponent wasn’t quite smiling.

One of the analogues that I get a sense of while playing this deck is the old Donate / Illusions of Grandeur combo. Yes, there was this degenerate combo that we could and would pull off in games, but the side effect of gaining twenty life from Illusions of Grandeur was often overlooked and played a huge role in winning games. The extra ten-plus life from Phyrexian Unlife and the Fog effect from Angel’s Grace can’t be understated.

Yes, I said ten-plus life from Phyrexian Unlife. This is one of the more interesting and tricky interactions of the deck, and one that I didn’t quite understand a first, which caused me to lose a game playing against Ad Nauseam in one of my earlier clashes with it.

I have a Phyrexian Unlife on the battlefield and am at seven life.

You have three different 3/3 creatures on your side of the battlefield. When you attack me with all your creatures in combat, what happens?

Well, I go to -2 and have zero poison counters. This is very important to understand from both sides of the table for how to try to kill someone through a Phyrexian Unlife and what you are capable of living through if you are using the Unlife.

My error was that I figured it would deal the damage in separate instances and make them have poison counters, but combat damage is all one batch and with Phyrexian Unlife there is no “trample” effect where they will get poison counters.

One thing that has me slightly concerned is the prevalence of Chalice of the Void in Modern right now because of this busted deck:

Yes, it is good. How good, I don’t know yet, but the frequency with which it kills on turn 2 is astounding. Chalice for one is still decent against Ad Nauseam, which sucks, but Phyrexian Unlife costs three mana and so do both of our win conditions.

Picking the Winners!

Now, here is the part where I would talk about being at GP Vancouver and hoping that you all will stop by and say hi, but unfortunately, we had booked with our tax guy to have our taxes done on Friday and can’t really change the appointment based on their availability, on top of my wife needing my assistance for user testing for her UX grad school project.

Sometimes I’ve got to be more than The Beard to everyone, and in this instance, I’ve got to be an adult and a good partner. That doesn’t mean I won’t be watching coverage all darn weekend, though.

Here are CVM’s picks for the results this weekend. Let me know what yours are in the comments!

SCG Baltimore winning team’s decks:

Standard: G/B Energy

Modern: Infect

Legacy: Miracles

(Also, I have a team in mind. Any guesses?)

GP Vancouver winning deck:

Modern: Puresteel Paladin

Hopefully I can redeem myself from the abysmal PT Predictions!