One More Before The Pro Tour

Glenn moves to Tuesday, and he has a plethora of Modern brews to look over as we get ready for Pro Tour Born of the Gods and Grand Prix Richmond.

Welcome to Tuesday! This shift is permanent, so you’ll be seeing me here every week in which I muster the willpower necessary to fill the stark white page. Fortunately, I’ve been on something of a streak lately, so we’re looking good in that department.

It’s hard to imagine a more interesting time to be thinking about the Modern format. We’re on the eve of a Pro Tour and following one of the most significant alterations to the Banned & Restricted list in years. At the same time, it’s a bit tense — the best players in the world are sitting in rooms day in and day out, collectively struggling to break the format with fame, Pro points, and thousands of dollars on the line.

Me, I just like to type while I watch Netflix and play Magic Online.

With that said, the changes have finally gone into effect on Magic Online, which gives us the first taste of the hive mind’s reaction to the shift. First up: Jund!

We Can Rebuild Him

Let’s examine the list.

Losing all the Shamans meant the deck needed more mana sources. I approve of adding lands over playing things like Birds of Paradise for all the reasons outlined in previous articles. We’ve got more Ravines and Tectonic Edges than most flavors of Jund played previously, giving us ways to mitigate the effects of flood. I’d much rather be drawing Edge, additional Raging Ravines, or the mana necessary to activate one than committing to a mana dork on any turn after the first with a deck like Jund. Without something like Birthing Pod or a Sword of some kind, I’m not keen on those guys… but in fairness _DarkBeast_ did Top 16 the same Premier event playing Noble Hierarchs.

Beyond that, the switches are small. All four Inquisition of Kozilek before the first Thoughtseize keep your life total better protected, with the full amount of Scavenging Ooze and Huntmasters hardly unorthodox but serving a similar purpose with their life gain and power level over the long game. Perhaps the largest adjustment is the full amount of Abrupt Decay and the utter lack of Terminate—no doubt a switch made to account for the rise of Twin while the adoption of three maindeck Tectonic Edges accounted for opposing manlands.

The sideboard adds the fourth Edge alongside a compliment of Stone Rains, but that’s nothing unexpected. I’m more interested in those Anger of the Gods! Now that Deathrite Shaman has left the building, it’s a lot more realistic to open on combinations like turn one discard spell or Bolt, turn two removal spell or Tarmogoyf, and turn three Anger against Birthing Pod and other creature-based strategies.

I’m still not really interested in playing a deck like this. It’s relatively under-powered, to the point that no one has to “plan” to beat you because you’re just trying to play Magic at a pretty basic level even though the cards are all good. Jund has become slow to successfully enforce its midrange management strategy against several major archetypes, especially on the draw — but anyone hellbent on Junding has the option.

Let Me Tell You More About My Cats

That’s right — last week’s article wasn’t enough!

What hasn’t been surprising on Magic Online has been the widespread adoption of Wild Nacatl by aggro enthusiasts. I explored a few iterations that interested me last week, but the crown online has largely settled for an aggressive Naya shell backed with early drops and burn spells. Eschewing virtually any attempt at tactical trump or inevitability, these decks just want you dead as quickly as possible.

If you’re going to go hard, I’m a firm believe in going really hard. The most aggressive Zoo variant I’ve seen has been enzoreal’s 4-0 list. I like it as a starting point for this particular Zoo strategy, and if you’re testing against Zoo for the Pro Tour then a deck like this one would be an excellent barometer for gauging any deck’s ability to handle the early rush, even if it lacks some of the closing power that burn-heavy lists might employ.

There’s not too much to say; the deck “makes sense” for the most part. Splitting Pillar and Path keeps the deck exactly as resilient to Kitchen Finks as most four-Path lists while offering some burn to the dome. You’re more vulnerable to Tarmogoyf, in theory, but Rampager and the pair of Mutagenic Growths can let most creatures burst through and survive to attack again. It’s going to be unexpected the first time you do it, so that’s a plus!

On the other end of the spectrum, pedrocristiano rebuilt “Bloody Zoo” with Wild Nacatl included and posted a Top 8 in one of the first Premiers under the new banlist.

I predicted a deck like this becoming an important midrange strategy immediately following the banlist reveal, and I stand by that claim. It’s pretty potent, although I am surprised to see Domri Rade nowhere in sight. Naya’s the only deck capable of consistently casting a strong planeswalker on turn two in the Modern format now. As Brian Kibler explained following his Grand Prix performances, Domri actually compares quite reasonably to Liliana of the Veil in many ways.

For The Twin

U/R Twin has continued to be a winning deck online, and one of the most popular. It remains very difficult to pin down much of a core decklist, as players shift between Snapcaster Mages and burn spells to hardcore defensive spells that protect the combo. One of the cards growing more popular has been Flame Slash, which is an overt reaction the presence of Zoo online. Slash is one of very few spells capable of efficiently killing any one-drop Zoo might muster, with Lightning Bolt being the premier choice, of course. Slash has the additional upside of often killing Tarmogoyf while handling any Spellskites you might run into during sideboarded games as well.

Less relevant is its ability to kill Restoration Angel, but Restoration Angel itself might be very, very important. No, I’m not talking about the U/W/x decks that see an inordinate amount of online play. I’m talking about U/W/R Twin!

The decklist I’ve got here is an undefeated Daily decklist, but I’d like to give due credit to Caleb Durward for his enthusiastic work on the archetype that dates all the way back to Extended.

There are a lot of reasons to like U/W/R Twin in this Modern format, with the biggest being fewer Lilianas. The card was a truly obnoxious nightmare to face off against with previous iterations — in fact, the Jund matchup was the largest obstacle to seriously considering the deck at all. While the question of Jund’s playability remains up in the air, the question of its popularity does not — there will be fewer Lilianas in every room, and that makes the U/W/R Twin deck better.

That alone would be enough to start looking at the deck again — but wait, there’s more! If everyone’s interested in attacking for three on turn two, there aren’t too many better places to be than casting Wall of Omens for full value. Lightning Helix is the icing on the cake, soothing mana base damage while killing all of the best early drops in the format. U/W/R Twin also inherits the alternate win of damage to the face, thanks to Snapcaster Mage and Restoration Angel, to supplement that Helix.

The Faeries matchup might seem concerning, and it should, but as I’ve stated in past articles… I’m not really sure that the Fae will have what it takes. I’m sure we’ll see something, let’s be clear —Bitterblossom is very good, and I’m a huge Spellstutter Sprite fan — but if the deck isn’t a dominant force then it’s just a hard matchup that you can afford to face once in a while. With Volcanic Fallout on your side, you mostly just have to make sure no one ever bonks you with Sword of Feast and Famine or starts chaining Mistbinds.

Being able to deal infinite damage is handy, as dumb as it sounds. It makes up for the access to a lot of matchup-specific cards while allowing you to make room for matchup-specific cards.

Where Are They Now?

We’re still in the process of seeing stage one of the Modern metagame. It’s early brews and modifications to existing decks, with few truly new ideas emerging. There are three very specific lacks:

  • Decks blending Bitterblossom or Wild Nacatl with a new cast of characters
  • Very few graveyard-dependent decks
  • Even fewer Tron decks

I’m really looking forward to new archetypes that might feature the old powerhouses — that has always been one of the most interesting parts of watching Modern and Legacy evolve. I’m hopeful that the Pro Tour will present us with one or two decks fitting the bill, mostly because I think that would be cool but also because it’s the closest any of us can come to “shaking up” a non-rotating format unless a set release bends something pretty far out of shape.

The disappearance of graveyard-based combo is quite odd, however. I’ve seen the occasional archetype pop up in results of course, but their numbers have been very, very small relative to the sampling of decks available. Now seems like a great time to be piloting Storm, Living End, Goryo’s Vengeance, even Bubble Hulk—and yet here we are. Very few people are taking advantage of the temporary opening in opposing defenses as players show up with no Deathrite Shamans and no compensatory graveyard hate. That’s really bizarre.

Man, now all I want to do is start brewing up Bubble Hulk decks. I’ll just have to fight the urge to Hulk out for a few more paragraphs…

Tron’s absence is less bizarre. I’ve never been a big Tron fan, so my bias makes me a bad analyst, but frankly there are just better linears growing in popularity. Pyroclasm isn’t what it used to be, and Tron isn’t a fan of Twin’s growing metagame share. Simply put, I don’t expect many Pro Tour players to be on G/R or Mono-Blue Tron. It’s possible that U/W Gifts Tron will make a comeback, as there are no Deathrite Shamans to threaten the Unburial Rites angle. The Twin matchup is a little more manageable when you can add Path to Exile to your maindeck, so that’s where I’d put my money if it had to be on Urza’s Tower at the Pro Tour.

In fact, one such list popped up this week in a Magic Online Premier Event!

There are many potential angles to exploit and the metagame is undefined. That’s a tough spot to be in if you’re competing in Valencia this weekend, but it’s a great place for spectators to sit and watch! I’m expecting a lot of even clashes as opposed to one team breaking it wide open, but either way promises to be pretty entertaining. Seattle was a swarm of Jund decks, so I’m hoping we see something much more diverse.

There are only a handful of days left before the Pro Tour shows us what’s what in the new Modern format, setting the stage for months to come and giving us a new metagame to prepare for when PTQs eventually arrive. This is the first Pro Tour weekend I haven’t had to work in some time, so I’m looking forward to watching along and cheering on my friends in Spain. The last Modern PT did have some fantastic narratives — it’ll be tough to top Cifka’s incredible run and Yuuya’s impressive display, but hopefully Valencia is up to the task!