Painful Truths And The Modern Banned List

Pro Tour Champion Patrick Chapin analyzes the deck choices from the #SCGINVI weekend, focusing in on a card draw spell with a meteoric rise! Then, he turns his attention to Modern and the rumors about upcoming bans. Is it time for any troublesome cards to go?

Painful Truths is a misunderstood Magic card.

It’s not just that evaluating Magic cards is really hard. It’s not even just that people are notoriously bad at evaluating the true opportunity cost of resource manipulation propositions (like paying life, or the chances of only having two colors of mana to cast the card with).

Card draw, in particular, is chronically and perpetually misunderstood. It’s not so simple as “all card draw is good,” or it would be an easy bias to correct for. How many extra cards do each of these cards draw?

Most people would say Night’s Whisper draws two extra cards and Painful Truths draws three extra cards; however, each of those cards costs a card. This means that Night’s Whisper is actually +1 card, and Painful Truths is +2. This helps illuminate why Painful Truths is a rare (and shows up in Legacy). After all, Painful Truths is like paying for a Night’s Whisper, and then getting a second Night’s Whisper for half-price on mana and half-price on life lost!

The second confusing part about Painful Truths is how much being black, instead of blue, factors in. It sees play in a lot of blue decks, so clearly that’s not the only thing going on. However, it also shows up in non-blue decks, and there really hasn’t been a similarly powerful spell in black in a bit.

Painful Truths proved to be an enormously important card this weekend at the #SCGINVI in Vegas in both Standard and in Modern. Six(!) of the top 8 Standard decks took advantage of the black Treasure Cruise, including Alex Smith, continuing the recent trend towards Painful Truths in Jeskai Black that Gerry Thompson’s been advocating:

Smith’s list is similar to the Jeskai Black list suggest in last week’s article that splits the difference between Zach Mandelblatt’s Monastery Mentor build and Todd Anderson’s Mantis Rider-less Painful Truths build. No idea if he even saw the list I wrote about, but they overlap so much it’s useful to compare them to get an idea of where Alex went a different direction.

In this case, the five cards different in Alex’s build tell a story of wanting more small creature kill instead of Tasigurs (surely connected to the recent increase in Roasts, Valorous Stances, and Ultimate Price).


Tasigur, the Golden Fang Tasigur, the Golden Fang Treasure Cruise


Kolaghan's Command Kolaghan's Command Soulfire Grand Master

I love the mixture of Treasure Cruises and Painful Truths. Both give you diminishing returns when you draw multiples, and playing a mixture helps ensure you don’t get stuck with two card draw spells you can’t cast (whether short on delve or life).

The use of Painful Truths in addition to Treasure Cruise helps fuel the Mentors. To further increase their effectiveness, Smith has cut back on some of the versatility of expensive interaction options:

Replacing them with cheaper options that let him play out his hand faster:

Additionally, Smith has traded in sideboard Disdainful Strokes for Dragonlord Ojutais, giving him a powerful offensive option to help make up for the missing Tasigurs.

Of course, Jeskai Black was hardly the only deck getting in on the Painful Truths action. The two Abzan decks to top 8 differed on their two-drops, but both agreed on sideboarding Painful Truths.

While not strictly Abzan, Joe Lossett’s Five-Color Bring to Light deck is structurally similar to Abzan; though, we’re talking more Abzan Control. While Painful Truths doesn’t work with Bring to Light itself (since you will have spent zero colors of mana on the spell you find), it’s still a great sideboard card for the attrition matchups.

Talent of the Telepath, eh?

What an awesome card to find with Bring to Light! It’s not just a “draw two.” Getting to cast both spells for free means you can kind of turn your Bring to Light into a Bloodbraid Elf of sorts (with an extra spell instead of the haste creature). Seems like a great option against Jeskai Black, where you might hit their Kolaghan’s Command and Ojutai’s Command, or maybe a Crackling Doom and Treasure Cruise!

Not surprisingly, the Esper decks were also in on the Painful Truths action. Michael Fortez’s build of Esper was actually just a W/B midrange deck (a la Craig Wescoe), splashing blue in the sideboard for a little permission.

The exile theme with Wasteland Stranglers is very cool, but the use of Silkwraps and Stasis Snare means we’re often going to be short on cards in our graveyard. Good thing we’ve got Painful Truths instead of Treasure Cruise!

Vidianto Wijaya’s Esper list was an actual blue deck, full-on Esper Dragons. However, it wasn’t without a twist…

Just three copies of Dig Through Time…?

Oh, there’s also three copies of Painful Truths maindeck!

I love it! He’s even got multiple maindeck Dragonlord Silumgars and Duresses, plus Monastery Mentors in the sideboard. This is a man after my own heart! I also dig the move away from Ojutai’s Command, keeping with the general theme of Painful Truths encouraging us to play cheaper interaction.

If I were playing in a Standard tournament tomorrow, I would snap off this list or Alex Smith’s build of Jeskai Black (either way, I’m playing Monastery Mentor + Painful Truths, no matter what I’m playing).

Vidianto went a step further, playing Painful Truths in his Modern deck, too.

He played Grixis in one format, Esper in the other? If Vidianto’s wrong, I don’t wanna be right!

This wasn’t the only appearance for Painful Truths among the top 8 competitors. The top 8 format may have been Standard, but Modern was a key part of getting there. Christopher Juliano’s Modern deck served him well, a Dark Confidant-based Jund deck that took advantage of Painful Truths as a big non-blue card drawer for winning the mirrors and semi-mirrors.

Which four-drop is he playing? None! Playing into the Dark Confidants (and Painful Truths) even more, Juliano has more two-drops and cheap interaction, instead of any maindeck Huntmaster of the Fells, Olivia Voldaren, or Pia and Kiran Nalaar.

What do I like in Modern? Good question. There are so many directions to explore. Here’s a possible starting point for Esper Mentor (because I don’t know why Monastery Mentor wouldn’t be amazing).

Damn, now I just wanna go out and find a Modern tournament to play in. There’s no chance I’m waiting until February. This deck just looks too fun.

Besides, there are a lot of big questions to find the answers to in Modern.

● What’s the best under the radar deck in Modern right now?

● Will G/R Tron explode in popularity after everything it gains in Oath of the Gatewatch?

● Is Wild Nacatl about to make a big comeback?

And this doesn’t even factor in the possibility of changes to the banned and restricted list in January. Personally, I hope Sword of the Meek gets unbanned. I’m not sure it’d even be that great, but it’s got chances. Normally, I’d love to see Bloodbraid Elf unbanned, but this isn’t the time, as that would dramatically boost Jund (which doesn’t need the help).

Also, put me down for just not believing Amulet of Vigor needs to be banned, yet. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind in the slightest if it was; however, if anything from that deck was banned, it seems like Summer Bloom is the card, as that is where all the turn 2s come from. That said, I’m still unsure action is even necessary. The format survives with Goryo’s Vengeance legal, and I definitely wouldn’t change anything there.

It’s close, and I would believe Bloom banworthy, but I guess I am just not sold. Yet…