I’ll be honest with you folks: it is not easy to write about brewing right now. The lack of Standard bans seems to have led to even more homogeneity in Standard as Mardu Ballista gradually subsumes the format. There are still some G/B and Four-Color Saheeli loyalists clinging desperately to their decks, but the more we see these matchups played out on camera, the more it appears that Mardu is just unreasonably good.
Modern might be better off, but not by much. Death’s Shadow is such a consistent and powerful deck that it is starting to crowd out other decks with similar strategies. Although the format is far from being stagnant, the top few decks are very powerful and hard to overcome with rogue strategies. Hard, but not impossible.
Still, the material floating around in my head is somewhat limited. I’ve basically only drafted Modern Masters 2017 this weekend (the format is a blast and you should try it), but my performance has been so dismally mediocre that you really don’t want to read about that. I have heard from many of you that you are also finding it hard to brew in the current environment, so I am not alone. When creative people, especially writers, find themselves in such ruts, they will often share writing prompts with each other to get the juices flowing.
I may not have the usual plethora of deck ideas floating around in my head, but I do have some kernels of ideas to share. Maybe the hive mind can flesh them out into something we are proud to take into battle. There are so many cards I want to play with in Modern, surely one of them will spark something.
Playing in the MUD
Some Tier 1 Legacy decks lose far too much to successfully make the transition to Modern. Reanimator, for example, has no low-cost reanimation spells to give us the degenerate early turns that we want.
Temur Delver loses its key permission spells and of course Wasteland. And Mud…well without City of Traitors, Ancient Tomb, and Metalworker the deck is nowhere near as powerful as its Legacy counterpart.
Is that the end of viability though? Trinisphere is a hell of a Magic card, and we can cast it on turn 2 with Simian Spirit Guide to help us. Lodestone Golem can do a lot of work in the games where we either don’t draw or don’t want Trinisphere.
We almost definitely want mana rocks, but whether we risk playing Mind Stone or go for any of the multitude of three-mana rocks is up for debate. Hedron Archive is probably an auto-include. At the top end we can go with Wurmcoil Engine, Spine of Ish Sah, Steel Hellkite, Myr Battlesphere, or even Eldrazi titans.
Do we want Tron lands for this deck? Without question they provide us the best mana base for the big mana strategy we have at our top end, and unlike traditional Tron decks, we can still function well without assembling Voltron. Trinisphere does prevent us from playing Expedition Map efficiently, so we’d have to draw them naturally.
Most of the powerful cards outside the lands in the Legacy builds of the deck are Modern-legal. We don’t need the super-fast starts that Legacy MUD gets, but we do need consistency. Card draw is not exactly rife unless we dip into colored spells, but that will adversely impact our mana consistency. Temple Bell, Staff of Nin, Endbringer, and Ghirapur Orrery are all options to help us fly through our deck.
We have Spatial Contortion, Warping Wail, Titan’s Presence, All Is Dust, and Scour from Existence as possible removal options. Walking Ballista and Endbringer can also chip in on that front. This will be a weakness for the deck in all likelihood, so we will need to make up for that by denying our opponents the chance to cast anything. Ever.
Devotion strategies dominated two straight Standard seasons, and all the colors but white got a chance to shine. Modern is a less fruitful stomping ground for Nykthos and friends, but we have seen green versions hovering below the top tier before. Blue and red are probably nowhere near good enough to compete in Modern, but I think black has some serious potential.
I’m pretty sure I have written about black devotion here before. The weakness of the deck was always a lack of a powerful two-drop, a problem at least partially fixed by Gifted Aetherborn. When I have tried the deck in the past, it always felt like it wanted Vampire Nighthawk, but the three-drop slot was already taken up by Geralf’s Messenger and Phyrexian Arena. I occasionally managed to squeeze in a couple of copies, but that meant sacrificing elsewhere. On the other hand, my two-drop slots were rough. Black Knight might be great against Path to Exile, but it just doesn’t cut it in Magic today. Despoiler of Souls is a decent option, but that one toughness and inability to block is really frustrating. The best options I found were Foul Imp (if we went aggressive), Gatekeeper of Malakir (which needs to stay), Withered Wretch, and Nantuko Shade. Hardly an impressive selection.
Black devotion asks some interesting questions of us. Do we want to play the deck like the Standard version, which was mostly removal and hand destruction with a few creatures? Pack Rat is somewhat playable in Modern, but Desecration Demon has yet to break through. Nightveil Specter is in all likelihood a must-have. The controlling slots would go to Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, and some sort of two-mana removal spell. Without fetchlands we are less likely to want Fatal Push, but we do have the option of playing those fetches to enable a light green or red splash. We have access to a few different battlefield wipes: Mutilate, Damnation, and Black Sun’s Zenith have all been in my version of this deck.
Phyrexian Obliterator is the reason to play this deck. Although it has no innate protection from removal, it is a huge stop sign for any sort of aggressive deck. Death’s Shadow decks, for example, can only remove it with a revolted Fatal Push. It also informs some of our other choices; we probably want Pit Fight to act as a removal spell with annihilator and Profane Command as a recursion option that can go to the dome and/or make your team unblockable.
At the top end I have favored Massacre Wurm, which we can fairly easily cast on turn 4 with the help of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. At least one copy of Gray Merchant of Asphodel needs to be in here as a way to completely ignore Worship and Ensnaring Bridge. However, the possibility of playing Mikaeus, the Unhallowed is really appealing right now, especially as we would be playing no Humans. With enough Zombies in the mix, do we want Relentless Dead as a two-drop? Geralf’s Messenger, Mikaeus, Gray Merchant, and Withered Wretch are all Zombies that we can recur, making our deck very resilient to any non-Path to Exile removal.
Hunting for Trophies
Todd Stevens is a freaking genius. Not many people could take this deck and make Top 8 of a Modern Open with it, but Todd rocked the weekend.
- 1 Azusa, Lost but Seeking
- 2 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 2 Scavenging Ooze
- 3 Voice of Resurgence
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 1 Tireless Tracker
- 2 Renegade Rallier
Todd’s deck is the closest to Maverick I have seen in Modern. The deck plays a lot of low-cost utility creatures but is focused on using Knight of the Reliquary with Crucible of Worlds and Courser of Kruphix to fish every land out of the deck and constantly blow the opponent out with Ghost Quarters. I have been working on something similar to this, but with a couple of differences. I don’t know that my ideas are better, but they do attack the format from a slightly different angle.
By adding a light blue splash (and I do mean light), we get access to Trophy Mage. When that card was previewed, I spent a long time looking through card lists to find the best options to tutor up with Trophy Mage. Her cousins Trinket and Treasure have both seen play in Modern, both with their drawbacks. Trophy Mage is more restricted in what it can tutor, but the things we do tutor exist at the intersection of “easily cast” and “high enough impact.” Todd’s list has Crucible of Worlds as one such card, an immensely powerful artifact that has seen next to no maindeck play. Trinisphere is another one in a similar vein, though it doesn’t really fit in this deck. What other options do we have?
The G/W Company shell with Renegade Rallier has the potential to go infinite with Blasting Station and Saffi Eriksdotter, which we have discussed before. Conveniently, Trophy Mage can find you a Blasting Station. When I tested the deck linked above, I found it hard to balance the desire to find and cast Blasting Station with the fact that multiples weren’t useful and that I only wanted it when I was ready to combo.
Are there other three-cost artifacts we might want? Both Bow of Nylea and Spear of Heliod have some utility and synergy with the deck, but the Spear in particular can be pretty low-impact. Burnished Hart is a pet card that does some of what we want the deck to do but is otherwise a mediocre option. Any of the Swords could be great options, though I would lean towards War and Peace or Feast and Famine as they offer protection from the prevalent removal in the format. Filigree Familiar offers some very nice utility. Mimic Vat has potential but is probably too slow, though the possibility of imprinting a Renegade Rallier is a very sweet one. Obviously we would not run all of these, but there are plenty of options.
Do we want to stick with Collected Company here, or is Chord of Calling possibly better? Without Leonin Arbiter to restrict our ability to search our library, Chord can find the important pieces to either combo off or start locking out the opponent with Crucible and Ghost Quarter. On the other hand, we become less of a value deck with an incidental combo and more of a combo deck that has a subpar value game. One or two slots for Chord of Calling might be possible, but I don’t think it’s correct to pull the full replacement.
The other option I like is to play Geist of Saint Traft and/or Rhox War Monk in some number, making the best use of the blue mana we have to play some very powerful creatures that can just win the game on their own. Geist might be at its best in a deck that can keep the way clear, which we aren’t really equipped to do, but against decks that do not present a lot of threats, it can steal games easily. Rhox War Monk, on the other hand, is a solid brick wall against red decks that can bring us back into the game.
In a Pickle
Many of you were not playing at the time that Pickles was a real deck. Designed to take advantage of the interaction between Vesuvan Shapeshifter and Brine Elemental, the deck locked out an opponent by never letting them untap. Because one of the pieces is expensive, the combo has not made it to Modern yet.
The Khans block provided some additional tools that brought this deck back to my mind, as both Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector would seem to have a place. Secret Plans is a card I have long wanted to play in a Constructed deck, and this would be a better place than any I could think of. Trail of Mystery would help us ramp up to the morph cost of Brine Elemental, but is that enough to make it worthwhile? Rattleclaw Mystic would be another ramp option, as well as playing into the morph theme.
If we don’t want to spend slots on ramping, we could instead go with the other way to turn a morph face up: blinking. Momentary Blink was the weapon of choice in the first iteration of this deck and remains the most efficient one. Flashback is enough in my mind to overcome the one-mana discount offered by Cloudshift. Restoration Angel is the obvious addition, but it does not interact well with the rest of the deck.
Do we want to play something like Gigadrowse to tap the opponent out before we start the lock? It can be mana-intensive, but against decks that don’t need to cast spells early, we won’t get much value from making them skip an untap step. That said, the Deathmist Raptor recursion engine would be especially potent in those matchups, and Stratus Dancer in the sideboard might be a powerful option. Could we find a way to do something with Yosei, the Morning Star in here? Having it die wouldn’t be easy in these colors, but there’s no doubt that the effect is what we need.
A Note About Brews
Before we wrap things up this week, I wanted to talk about brewing and originality. The internet is a strange place, one that enables anyone and everyone to share their thoughts and ideas in an instant. Sometimes, two or more people can have the same idea at approximately the same time while living thousands of miles apart. They can come to that idea despite never interacting with each other, never sharing ideas. Ownership of a concept, especially something as abstract as a deck idea, is not provable, and even if it were, it would serve no purpose to prove. “I did it first” isn’t a thing.
That said, when I have copied or been inspired by a decklist I saw elsewhere, I have always mentioned that. Others do not extend the same courtesy, but it is just that: a courtesy. There are no rules of internet deckbuilding and content creation. If I write about a deck and I say I came up with it, I genuinely believe that. If you or someone else did it before me, great! That deserves kudos in my mind, but it doesn’t make me disingenuous any more than it would make any other brewer disingenuous for writing about a deck I created first. That’s the internet.
That’s all we have this week, folks. As always, thanks for stopping by. With Amonkhet previews starting soon, we will hopefully be looking at a fresh metagame and a fresh brewing ground. Until next time…Brew On!