Make a rat.
Make a rat.
Make a rat.
This always happens in Modern. A card gets good in Standard in a way that is outside the ordinary. It eventually starts creeping into Modern more and more
as people figure out how to use it in the more powerful format.
Pack Rat is a pretty messed up Magic card. That it is a one-card gameplan for completely taking over and winning the game is not in and of itself a
problem. What makes it obnoxious is the power level relative to how repetitive the gameplay is.
Oh, you’re making another Pack Rat? Just like last turn? Just like every turn of the game before? Oh good…
But it’s not our job to play with cards that are fun to play against. If WotC wanted us to, they should have made the best cards fun to play against.
In all seriousness, this is their usual strategy. Whatever is really strong can be frustrating because of how often it beats you, but there are
different types of “strong” cards. Look at Baneslayer Angel. When Baneslayer Angel is really strong, it makes for very good gameplay. You can be losing
by a lot, drop it, and actually comeback. It is strong in some matchup
s and less strong in others
which makes for variable gameplay. If you are ever sick of losing to it, there are very good answers, whether
it be Doom Blade, Combust, Plummet, whatever.
● Dynamic gameplay that can change the pace of a game
● Variable gameplay turn to turn, and game to game
● Many opportunities for counterplay
This isn’t exactly Pack Rat’s story.
Where all could Pack Rat go in Modern? So far, the most popular home for it is U/B Faeries. These kinds of Faerie decks have long struggled with being much
less powerful than they are when they have Bitterblossom turn 2. Pack Rat gives you another gameplan, another way to progress the game in your favor.
So far, most people have just stuck a copy or two in their Faeries decks, but I wonder if you might just want the full package. Speaking of which, I’ve
heard some players say that Pack Rat is a four or zero type of card, since when you have a Pack Rat, a second Pack Rat is better than most cards due to
costing only two and giving you the option to start Pack Rat-ing again if things go wrong.
This overlooks an important point, however. Pack Rat isn’t just amazing at all stages of the game. There are times where Pack Rat-ing isn’t good enough,
and a second Pack Rat gives you no new options, while a Smother, a Mistbind Clique, or a Cryptic Command would. When you are already Pack Rat-ing and it’s
good, how much do your chances of winning really increase by drawing another Pack Rat? Now, when Pack Rat isn’t good, how much do you gain by having a
Even if you have just one or two Pack Rats in your deck, they serve as a single card plan all by themselves. There is absolutely no reason why you should
feel compelled to play the full playset, and in fact, many, many successful decks have used less than the full amount. Now, if you’re argument is just that
Pack Rat is busted beyond belief, the best card, and you definitely want four, I can buy that, but it’s not like it’s Accumulated Knowledge or whatever.
All that said, I am interested in trying the full package in Faeries. With four Bitterblossoms and four Pack Rats, we’ve got better than a 70% chance of
playing one turn 2. To play this up, we can slant towards one-cost discard spells instead of using so much permission. Opening turn 1
Thoughtseize/Inquisition of Kozilek into turn 2 Bitterblossom/Pack Rat is a pretty consistent and powerful proactive gameplan across the board, helping us
face a metagame as diverse and Modern’s.
Usually one of the costs, one of the risks to playing a ton of one-cost discard spells is the scenario where your opponent is ahead on board but has no
cards in hand and plays whatever they draw. Pack Rat goes a long way towards alleviating this risk, since even if you don’t have one yet, eventually you’ll
draw one and need cards to discard to it. I wouldn’t normally want eight maindeck discard spells, but once you have Pack Rats, I kind of feel like the full
eight is kind of the default.
Jace Beleren works especially well with one-cost discard spells, since you’re going to make both players draw at times. Likewise, Liliana of the Veil is
another fine option (and could potentially replace one of the spot removal spells).
Which spot removal spells to play is obviously mostly a function of your metagame, however, against a completely open field you have to compare the fail
cases (since generally, the success cases are about the same). Smother is the most reliable, hitting Arcbound Ravager, Dark Confidant, and Deceiver Exarch,
but using all Smothers can give you some blind spots, such as Phyrexian Obliterator, Baneslayer Angel, Thundermaw Hellkite, Olivia Voldaren, or whatever.
Doom Blade and Go for the Throat each cover most of those weaknesses, but straddle you with a vulnerability either to Affinity or Dark Confidant/Pack Rat.
I slightly prefer Go for the Throat in U/B Faeries, since Affinity is going to be really hard game 1 anyway, while killing a Dark Confidant or a Pack Rat
will literally steal games against B/x opponents.
Victim of Night and Dismember are even more robust, but each has a secondary risk associated with it. Victim of Night would be the best, but it’s double
black is not trivial for a deck with Mutavaults and Islands, and it has a few misses anyway (speaking of Mutavaults…). Dismember is reliable and can be an
invaluable option at one mana, but it can prove very painful against aggro decks, not to mention occasionally missing Tarmogoyf or Knight of the Reliquary.
Bile Blight could prove to be a sweet option in the future, particularly if Pack Rat continues to grow in popularity, however, its vulnerability to
Deceiver Exarch and Tarmogoyf is just too great at the moment.
I have not included any copies of Mistbind Clique, which may just be foolish on my part, but we really don’t have that many Faeries. Besides, there’s
enough removal going on that it isn’t super reliable. That said, eight discard spells goes a long way towards clearing the way for a Mistbind Clique, not
to mention how good it is at sticking people with a spell in hand to give your discard spells utility later.
Historically, I have found Creeping Tar Pit to be incredible in Faeries. The racing potential, the extra threat; it is exactly what Faeries is looking for.
Normally, I would never play less than four, however, we want the turn 1 discard, turn 2 black two-drop opening so badly that I could see experimenting
with less than the full amount. There are so many U/B dual lands, it’s not like we need it. We’re not even playing Secluded Glen which I find to be an
overrated card anyway. The information is a real cost in Faeries, and it enters the battlefield tapped a disappointing amount of the time.
Recently, I stumbled upon a pretty sweet B/R Tempo deck by sam51087. Here’s my tweaked version that I think makes great use of Pack Rat:
- 4 Lightning Bolt
- 2 Terminate
- 2 Slaughter Pact
- 4 Thoughtseize
- 1 Relic of Progenitus
- 4 Inquisition of Kozilek
Turn 1: Thoughtseize or Inquisition of Kozilek
Turn 2: Dark Confidant or Pack Rat
Turn 3: Liliana of the Veil or Prophetic Flamespeaker
There’s a lot to like here. The redundancy makes for consistent openings. There’s enough disruption to interact with the combo decks while being fast and
lean for making sure we can keep up with aggro decks. We’re even super threat dense thanks to our manland-heavy manabase. In many ways, we’re a Jund deck
with better mana and Blood Moons in the sideboard. Eight discard spells gives us real good chances of actually sticking a Blood Moon and stealing
some free games.
Building from here, I’d kind of like to try Pack Rat in Jund. The biggest challenge here, is that we already have access to so many good twos (Tarmogoyf
and Scavenging Ooze on top of Dark Confidant), but it’s still worth a shot.
Realistically, this build may be trying to Pack Rat too hard. We could cut down on Mutavaults, maybe replace two of the Rats with a Prophetic Flamespeaker
and another removal spell (maybe Maelstrom Pulse) and move on.
That sure is a lot of Prophetic Flamespeaker action.
Yeah, Prophetic Flamespeaker’s great. People should be playing more of that guy in Modern. He lives a lot and puts massive pressure on people. Your spells
are so cheap, you can usually just straight up draw two cards a turn off of him.
Of course, Green isn’t the only color we might want to cut from Jund. What about taking out Red and doing something kind of Smallpox-centric?
I love the manlands here, but we’re still glutted at two, and frankly, Lightning Bolt is just an absolutely amazing Magic card. Pack Rat, in particular,
makes me really appreciate good one-drops, since even if we’re all-in on Pack Rats, we want a spell for turn 1 and would love one turn 4.
Another strategy I haven’t seen Pack Rats in yet, but could, is Jund Loam:
- 2 Pack Rat
Life from the Loam is a pretty intense card to discard to Pack Rat. Not only can you get it back to start dredging, you can actually start Loaming so that
you actually hit all your land drops, use some of your new spells, and possibly even just make multiple Rats a turn.
Of course, Loam decks aren’t exactly short on cards that make Life from the Loam good. Besides, these lists are so tight on space. Trying to make
room for all the retrace cards you want, all the ways to pitch lands (Seismic Assault, Liliana of the Veil), all the utility cards, and still have room for
28-ish lands is real tough.
In thinking about possible homes for Pack Rat, one idea that sprung to mind was some kind of a Zombie deck. I’m not sure Necromancer’s Stockpile will pull
its weight given how many interactive cards we’re going to want to play, but it’s worth trying.
- 1 Gatekeeper of Malakir
- 4 Diregraf Ghoul
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 4 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Pack Rat
- 4 Slitherhead
- 2 Lifebane Zombie
There really are a lot of Zombie lords, if we wanted to go that route, but that really pushes you to play 28 Zombies or so and minimize your discard and
removal. The problem with that approach is that Modern is too dangerous a format to not interact unless you’re winning on turn 4 (at the slowest). Besides,
Pack Rat kind of does that, only better. Still, if you’re in the market for more Zombies, here are some to keep in mind:
In sketching out possible Zombie decks, I got to thinking about just how many two power one-drops there are in Black now. What about a straight-up Suicide
- 4 Vampire Lacerator
- 3 Pulse Tracker
- 4 Diregraf Ghoul
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
- 4 Tormented Hero
- 4 Gnarled Scarhide
- 17 Swamp
While I originally had Pack Rats in here, the list eventually turned out fast enough that we just really aren’t going to have time to be on the Pack Rat
plan. Besides, seventeen land doesn’t exactly make Pack Rat all that realistic to activate.
27 one-drops is so many! Maybe this is crazy, but we are generally going to be able to play a threat turn 1, then play two spells a turn for the
next three turns. We might be able to just overwhelm people if we aren’t completely shut down by a Tarmogoyf.
What about Grixis?
Now we’re talking! One of the problems with Grixis in Modern has been having to play so many lands and so many reactive cards while not having an
overpowered card draw engine like Jace, the Mind Sculptor to fuel it. Sphinx’s Revelation and Cruel Ultimatum are fairly comparable. Cruel is more
powerful, while Revelation is more reliable. The biggest thing holding Cruel Ultimatum back, making it a little short of the overpowered card draw engine
we are looking for, is how much it limits our ability to play colorless lands like Tectonic Edge. Tectonic Edge actually goes a long way towards helping
address the inherent problems of playing 27 land in terms of flooding out.
What if we had another way to put our extra lands to good use? What if we had another way to smooth out our draws? This is where Pack Rat comes in. Pack
Rat eliminates manaflooding and ensures that we have something to do with the reactive spells we draw at the wrong times. It also gives us a proactive way
to get aggressive, to end the game, since it’s not always easy to actually lock up it up in Modern.
I think the Temples are criminally underplayed in Modern right now. People are already putting them in some combo decks, but they should be showing up more
places. Need to smooth out your draws? They are a very efficient way to do so, and honestly, we need to play a certain amount of dual lands anyway. Plus,
we’ve got cards like Lightning Bolt, Terminate, and Damnation to help recoup the tempo spent.
I still like the idea of playing Serum Visions, but it is so much less reliable since you really want to be fixing on turn 1, then reacting. If you spend
turn 1 Scalding Tarning for an untapped dual land, you’re taking a lot of damage. Even if you have a basic Island on turn 1, that can limit some of your
options for turn 2, particularly if you want to play another tapped land and a one-cost spell. With the Temples, you get the selection regardless of what
other lands you drew, and Temple of Malice can find your blue source (while Serum Visions would just sit in your hand). Then, on turn 2, you’ve already got
a dual land to keep your options open. Finally, getting utility out of your land slots goes a long way toward helping address the lack of Tectonic Edges.
One card with a giant question mark around it is Spell Snare. The card has been quite good, but lately, I feel like there are a fair number of opponents
that aren’t super vulnerable to it. Besides, I want to play a tapped land on turn 1 unless I know I can spend the mana (Bolt or Inquisition).
Spell Snare also doesn’t combo nearly as well with Pack Rat as Inquisition.
Two other options to consider are Liliana of the Veil and Jace, Architect of Thought. The value of Planeswalkers can fluctuate a lot in Modern, so even
though I haven’t loved Liliana in control lately and have found Jace, Architect of Thought to not be worth a mana more than Jace Beleren, there are a lot
of worlds where both of these change.
There are a lot of possible homes for Pack Rat in Modern, and we’ve only barely scratched the surface. Looking for a creature to sideboard in for your
combo deck? Pack Rat is the perfect creature for such a transformational role.
Want to really abuse Pack Rat? I looked at the rats in the format to see about making a Rat tribal deck, but the problem is that basically every rat is
just worse than making another Pack Rat, and there aren’t any good lords to pay you off for when you don’t draw Pack Rat.
This isn’t to say that you can’t abuse Pack Rat though. I mean, using it at all is pretty abusive, but even beyond that, what about Training Grounds?
Turn 1 – Training Grounds
Turn 2 – Pack Rat
Turn 3 – On their end step, make three Rats
Turn 4 – Make a Rat and attack
That’s a turn 4 kill on its own, which isn’t enough to have as the sole focus on a deck, but if you could make use of Training Grounds in other ways, this
would be a fine complement to such a strategy.
Modern is an incredibly rich and deep format with so much that hasn’t been discovered yet… like the best way to ruin opponents’ days with Pack Rat. What’s
the best technology you know of in Modern that the mainstream tournament scene doesn’t seem to be up on?
Okay, Pack Rat and I gotta go wipe some smiles off of faces!