Packing Heat in Modern

The incomparable Brian Braun-Duin had quite the PTQ weekend experience! Read about his hilarious troubles as well as his deep love for the little Modern menace he just cannot wait to set free on the metagame.

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I know the upcoming Pro Tour is Standard, and all of my focus should be on breaking that format.  With that being said, if there is one thing in this world I know that I can’t control, it’s my own restless mind.  I just can’t stop thinking about Modern.  And not just anything in Modern  because let’s be honest, I spend somewhere between zero and negative zero percent of my daily life thinking about the unfun Modern decks like Splinter Twin, Tron, or Scapeshift.  Especially Tron.  Nobody in their right mind plays that deck.  Why would I ever want to do something silly like casting a turn 3 Karn Liberated when there are turn 3 Sin Collectors to be cast in this format?  One is clearly more powerful than the other.

I’ve been thinking about our favorite Standard card, Pack Rat!  I feel like while certain strategies have really risen to the top in Modern, there is still a ton of room for innovation and lots of areas of the format that have been overlooked.  One such area is Pack Rat alongside MutavaultPack Rat has indeed started to see marginal amounts of play, but I simply don’t think it’s enough.  I feel like the little Rat is very well-positioned in Modern and I, for one, want to see more people sent packing in the future.

Part of the reason I’ve been thinking so much about Modern is that I played in back-to-back Modern PTQs last weekend.  It was the 4th of July, and I had Friday off from work.  I hadn’t seen my family in a long time, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to pay them a visit.  Also, it just so “randomly” happened that there were two PTQs within striking range from my parent’s house on Saturday and Sunday.  What a sheer coincidence.  Well, if I’m already in the area, I might as well go!  It would be a shame not to take advantage of this…uh…this coincidence.  Coincidence, I tell you.  It was also a lucky coincidence that I had my exact Modern deck on me and no other deck when I visited my family.  Sometimes things just work out exactly right…unplanned, of course.

Saturday was a trip down memory lane.  I got to make the drive from my parents house in Northern Virginia to a PTQ just shy of Pittsburgh, PA.  When I was a kid, we used to make that drive all the time to my aunt and uncle’s house.  The only real point I have to make here is that I was actually pleasantly surprised that the Pennsylvania Turnpike didn’t suck nearly as much as I remembered it sucking when I was a kid.  I’m pretty sure the road was strictly undriveable back then. It wasn’t perfect now, but I certainly didn’t feel like I was rolling dice with my life just by putting my car on that road this time around.

I went 4-2 before dropping to head home.  I went 1-1 against Affinity on the day and also 1-1 against Living EndLiving End was a deck I considered to be a pretty great matchup for Pod, but now I am not sure.  Both of my opponents had 4 Leyline of the Void in their sideboard.  I don’t remember ever having to play against that card in the past.  Most of my prior Living End opponents have had things like Faerie Macabre.  While Macabre isn’t my favorite card to see, it’s certainly not as backbreaking as a Leyline.  With access to 4 Leyline of the Void, it becomes imperative for Pod to beat Living End in game 1.  I lost both of my game 1’s to Living End in the event, however, which put me in a rough situation for games 2 and 3.

I ended up losing to Affinity on turn 4 despite casting Abrupt Decay on turn 2 and Lingering Souls on turn 3 and I didn’t even deal damage to myself with lands.  It seems almost unbelievable, but that’s the sheer power of the Affinity deck when things click.  My opponent had turn 1: Darksteel Citadel, Mox Opal, Ornithopter, Arcbound Ravager, Welding Jar and a follow-up of a turn 2 Cranial Plating and equip.  My turn 2 Abrupt Decay on the draw just ate the Welding Jar, and he drew a creature on turn 3, so my turn 3 Lingering Souls could only block two of his three lethal attackers.  Deader than dead.

On Sunday, I woke up at like 6 AM and thought to myself, “I should just skip this event.  Sleeping would be a much wiser choice.”  That was the last good idea I had on the day.  Because my very next idea was “Naaaaah.  I’ll regret it if I don’t go.”

Oh, how wrong I was.

About an hour and a half into the drive to Wilmington, Delaware, I was pulled over by an officer of the law.  As I was driving the speed limit in the right lane of traffic, I was unclear as to why I was being pulled over.  I figured maybe one of my taillights wasn’t working or something.  It turns out that my registration had expired at the end of June, unbeknownst to me.  I felt like a minor offense like this, especially so close to the date of expiration, might just be met with a warning instead of a ticket.  Or at least, that was what I thought at first.

That notion drastically altered when, also unbeknownst to me, it turned out that my Driver’s License was suspended for reasons unknown.  Let’s just say, it’s not a good thing when you get pulled over and you’re driving in a different state with a suspended license.  Things could have ended very badly for me, but I was lucky enough to get a sympathetic cop.  I can assure you, if it were a cop in the state of VA, I would have been decimated, but this Maryland cop didn’t go for the full blowout.

He offered me an ultimatum: “We can either fill out some paperwork right now, or I can take you to jail.”  I decided that my best bet was to just take the lesser of two evils.

“Take me to jail, Officer.”  **** paperwork.  Nobody wants to fill that out.  Just a colossal waste of time.”

Yeah.  So I’m not actually that much of a madman.  Paperwork it was.  It took the cop roughly thirteen hours to get all the paperwork done.  Despite that, it still paled in comparison to the amount of paperwork I was going to have to do at the PTQ to register my Melira Pod deck.  One copy of how many cards?  Was Linvala not good enough for you?  You had to also be the Keeper of Silence?  Greedy.

Afterwards he told me that he was just going to drive away and I could do whatever I wanted after that, but if I got pulled over by another cop, things would end poorly for me, as I am not legally allowed to drive.  I thanked the officer, legitimately meaning it this time (my “thanks” in prior cop encounters have been less than heartfelt in many cases).  After he drove off, I waited a minute and then contemplated my next destination.

I checked my GPS.  I was set to arrive at the PTQ right around 10:00 AM with this delay.  I was faced with two choices:  I could either turn right back around with my tail between my legs and head home, or I could be a complete and utter degenerate and continue on to Delaware to play in this Modern PTQ with a suspended license and an expired tag.

Delaware it is.

Roughly 45 minutes later, traffic grinds to a halt.  Surprising exactly nobody, there was an accident on Interstate 95 causing traffic to cut down to one lane for a short period of time, also causing my arrival time for the PTQ to be cut down.  I was now set to arrive about 20 minutes late.

No worries.  I’ll just message a few friends who I know will be at the event and have them sign me up.  I’ll miss the beginning of the player meeting, but I’ll be there well in time for round 1.

I get a call back from one of them saying that they aren’t holding a player meeting and the PTQ is going to start right at 10 AM.  For the first time in recorded history, a PTQ begins on time.  Also, for the first time in history, I am actively complaining that this PTQ is being run efficiently.  “Who in their right mind actually starts a PTQ on time?  These people have a lot to learn about the PTQ system if they want to run one again in the future.  You never start them on time!  That’s the golden rule.”

When I arrived at 10:20, they were already about 15 minutes into the round, and I had to sign up for the PTQ with a round 1 loss.  I ended up getting destroyed round 4, dropping, and then driving all the way back home.  Because so many other people were driving home from their various 4th of July excursions, traffic was a nightmare.  There were also more cops out in force than any other time I can remember.  I was driving the speed limit, but I had no control over any cops that might end up just randomly driving behind me who might also notice my expired plates.  I had to sweat a few bullets, and I had to get creative a few times and run the ole “take a wrong turn on purpose” gambit.

Let’s just say the lady on my GPS was in the process of working on a new remix album called “Recalculating”.  She just kept saying it over and over again.  Thankfully, the gambit paid off and I made it back unscathed.  When I got back to Roanoke, I visited the DMV right away.  There was no explanation for my why my license was suspended, and the only thing I had to do was pay a reinstatement fee to get it unsuspended.  It didn’t make any sense to me, but I was too defeated to care.  I paid the fee and now I am a legally licensed driver in the state of VA.  PTQs beware.

Long story short, I spent about 20 hours sitting in a car driving to and from various locations last weekend.  That gave me plenty of time to sit and brood.  And brood I did.  I brooded on my disdain for the driving system.

I brooded on Pack Rat

I may have gotten off track a bit with the whole license debacle, but let’s take things back home to Pack Rat, home where they belong.

Modern has a lot more answers to Pack Rat than Standard, but nobody is really playing those cards.  Bile Blight, Detention Sphere, and Supreme Verdict all see almost no play in Modern.  Maelstrom Pulse is usually just a one-of in decks.  Even Anger of the Gods has been on a downswing.  Decks like Junk and Jund are all about just grinding you out with one-for-one removal.  Decks like Pod don’t usually interact that much with your creatures.  As a result, Pack Rat is likely to stick around without dying a lot more in Modern.  Pack Rat can also run away with a game in Modern in exactly the same way it can in Standard.

Let’s take a look at a few decks that can take advantage of Pack Rat.

This list is Craig Wescoe’s B/W deck with two Dismembers instead of Darkblast.  I had the pleasure of playing the above list in a VS Video against Todd Anderson last week.  My Pack Rat obsession had begun prior to this point, and I actively searched for a Pack Rat deck to play in the video, but having a chance to jam some games with this solidified my love affair with the Rat.

This deck has so much disruption between Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, and Tidehollow Sculler that it is very easy to strip relevant cards from your opponent’s hand and set up a game plan around Pack Rat.

There are a few things I didn’t like about the deck, however.  One is that Restoration Angel doesn’t really do much other than serve as a 3/4 flier.  Occasionally, it can reset a Blade Splicer, and there is some value in resetting Tidehollow Sculler in rare occasions, but most of the time it’s just a flash 3/4.  I would much rather play Hero of Bladehold.

I am also unconvinced that Blade Splicer is the best three-drop.  I have found myself generally unimpressed with the card whenever I have seen it in action in Modern.  I’d much rather have a hateful creature like Mirran Crusader, a disruptive creature like Aven Mindcensor, or just a more powerful creature like Brimaz, King of Oreskos.

Granted, Crusader, Brimaz, and Hero all cost double white, which makes casting them a reasonable concern, especially in a deck with seven colorless mana sources.

Conveniently, that segues into my last disagreement with the list, which is the seven colorless lands.  I think the deck wants a full four MutavaultsMutavault takes advantage of the heavy disruption the deck offers by also providing a clock, and Mutavault is just insanely good with Pack Rat as we’ve seen in Standard.

I think the deck can get away with cutting Vault of the Archangel, and while Tectonic Edge is very good, I’m not sure that it’s a necessity.  One or two copies is likely fine, but I’d rather have four Mutavaults before I touched any.  It might be worth playing something like Aven Mindcensor to provide a disruptive element and also take away some of the burden from cards like Tectonic Edge to carry weight in matchups like Scapeshift.

Playing a card like Mirran Crusader also gives this deck more game against something like Pod, which from my experience is simply the worst matchup for a deck like this.  An active Pod is just nigh impossible to race, and all of the disruption and one-and-a-half-for-ones don’t really matchup against the value of persist creatures and Birthing Pod.  Mirran Crusader and Thoughtseizes at least gives a game plan of trying to keep them slowed down and then just killing them with evasion as fast as you can.

I like the idea of cutting some colorless lands, replacing with white sources, and then playing cards like Mirran Crusader and Hero of Bladehold instead of the Blade Splicers and Restoration Angels.  That might make you worse against a deck like UWR but it should certainly improve your bad matchup (Pod) by a significant amount.

This is Willy Edel’s most recent Junk list.  Willy has been playing decks like Jund and Junk for as long as I can remember in Modern, so I trust him to have a fairly strong understanding of the archetype.

There are two Pack Rats in the sideboard of this deck, but I want to take things one step further.  I want to maindeck them.  This deck packs Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, and Liliana of the Veil along with an absolute wealth of removal spells.  This deck has an insane amount of disruption and I feel like Pack Rat is the perfect finisher card.

Much like Dark Confidant, if Pack Rat goes unchecked for even a few turns, it generates a big advantage that is often very difficult to impossible for an opponent to come back from.

While on the surface, Tarmogoyf and Scavenging Ooze are much better cards than Pack Rat, I think it’s extremely reasonable to consider that Pack Rat might just be better in this deck.  You can use your Thoughtseizes and Inquisitions to clear the way for a Tarmogoyf, but if your opponent just top decks a removal spell afterward, you haven’t actually gained any advantage other than having them at 8 less life.  If you don’t have any other pressure to back it up with, they can easily crawl back into the game.  The same is true for Scavenging Ooze unless they are a graveyard centric strategy.

Dark Confidant and Pack Rat are different animals entirely (Human and Rat as compared to Llurghoyf and Ooze).  If they kill your Confidant two turns later, you’re still up two cards.  If they kill your Pack Rat two turns later, you still have two other rats.  You will still win the resulting rat race.

Maybe it’s worse than Goyfs, Oozes, and Edges, but I could easily see this deck adopt four Mutavaults and four Pack Rats and call it a day.  Thoughtseize into Rat is a fairly quick clock in a format where players are dropping to 15 life on turn 1 for Thoughtseize.  A rat that survives one turn is akin to actually hitting your opponent with Spawnwrithe.  It’s just going to spiral out of control.

This deck caught my eye as I was scrolling through Magic Online daily results.  It takes the semi-popular “hate bear” shell and ports it to BW instead of GW.  For the most part, I like what this deck is doing.  I can’t say I really enjoy 4 Marsh Flats and 2 Arid Mesas in a deck packing Leonin Arbiter, but outside of any potential mana base snafus, the deck itself is 87 grade Exxon Gasoline.  Mostly pure, just 10% Ethanol.

Well, you know, minus the fact that it’s missing four copies of Pack Rat.  This is the nut high Pack Rat deck.  Not only are we making life a living hell for our opponents already with delights like Leonin Arbiter, Ghost Quarter, and Path to Exile along with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Sin Collector, Tidehollow Sculler, and Aven Mindcensor, but we also have Aether Vial.

Conveniently, the turn Aether Vial ticks up to two is the same turn you have access to three mana.  Are you thinking what I’m thinking?  Likely not, because I’m thinking about how delicious a nice plate of sausage and eggs would be right now.  But if you’re thinking that you can Vial in a Pack Rat and then immediately make another Rat on turn 3, then we can still be friends because that is a fantastic idea.

Yes, you can do that.  And it seems dirty to me.  You can untap and attack for 6 or 8 damage, depending on whether or not you have a Mutavault in play.  This deck won’t have any Mutavaults in play unless we, you guessed it, alter the mana base to include Mutavault.  I like that idea.  I like it a lot.

The other gorgeous thing about Pack Rat in this deck is that this deck is loaded with extraneous crap that we are going to always want to discard.  That third copy of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is doing just as much work as that second Brimaz in your hand.  It’s on rot duty.  That turn 7 Inquisition of Kozilek?  That turn 8 Aether Vial right off the top?  Looks like a Pack Rat to me.

I am positive there are other shells out there as well looking to take advantage of Sir Rat.  These are just the few that have immediately come to mind in my quest to make Rat happen in Modern.  I’m likely locked into Pod for the time being in Modern, but let me just state that if anything were to go awry…well, I’d be off that ship first sign of trouble and catching the S.S. Pack Rat at first light.

All aboard.  Hope you packed well.