Pyromastering Modern

Brennan DeCandio took his spin on Bedlam Reveler to a Top 16 finish at SCG Dallas! Get his insights from fifteen Modern rounds in Texas and his latest list!

This past weekend was the first time that Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf appeared in the main event of the SCG Tour, and what a weekend it was! We saw all kinds of decks make a splash over the course of the tournament, from the off-the-wall control decks making use of the powerful planeswalker to seal the game away to our eventual winner and fan favorite in G/R Land Destruction!

It was a surprise to me as well as many others as to how a deck like G/R Land Destruction could take down the title, but hey, Blood Moon is a powerful card when paired with a 3/2 haste coming down right after or even alongside it! No one could have predicted the outcome of the Top 8 we found ourselves with, but that doesn’t mean the deck isn’t good; it just means there were so many other things going on that it was hard to truly imagine any given deck winning.

This is all well and good for the format, as it proved it could endure the unbannings of Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor and not be left in ruins (at least for now). Believe it or not, I found a deck in Modern I can actually say I enjoy playing and might be championing my team to register at the upcoming Team Constructed Open in Cincinnati!

I myself toyed with a few decks in preparation for what was mostly a wide-open field in Dallas, but nothing compared to the feeling I got when I was testing the deck I ended up on, which cast both Traverse the Ulvenwald and Grim Flayer. You can only fathom my excitement when the experimentation began. The deck I played derived from a Top 4 performance from the Modern Classic the previous weekend in Worcester but then evolved into this work of fine art!

I would not recommend just picking up this deck and bringing it to an event without getting a ton of reps in with it first.

Young Pyromancer and Bedlam Reveler are relative newcomers to Modern, with Gerry Thompson really putting the dynamic duo on the map at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. These two want a deck filled with cheap spells and interaction. That’s relatively simple, since doing a lot of things to interact early is the name of the game for Modern these days.

The glue that really holds these two cards together is Faithless Looting, which might just be the best card in the deck. From filling your graveyard early for Bedlam Revelers to filtering your draw steps to find additional spells or lands (depending on what your hand needs) or just getting a little bit of value by discarding Flashback spells like Lingering Souls, Faithless Looting does it all!

One takeaway from this tournament is that I don’t think we’ve seen the end of Faithless Looting’s reach in Modern. You only really need to read the first line of text to figure out how good this card really is: “Draw two cards.” While, yes, you do have to discard two cards as well, in a format like Modern where people often herald how powerful individual cards are and how important certain linear sideboard cards can be against any given opponent, you should be able to see the consistency edge a deck with Faithless Looting has over other decks.

This may be one of my favorite cards ever printed, and getting to attack with it in a deck where I don’t feel embarrassed to do so felt amazing all weekend. While delirium isn’t a strategy many decks can achieve easily, this one adds a few artifacts to the mix to make the inclusion seamless. Whether or not you’re actually able to get delirium is largely irrelevant for what this deck is trying to do, since it has so many removal spells that connecting with a Grim Flayer actually isn’t that difficult.

Of things this deck would like to flip over with Grim Flayer, this deck has no shortage. Whether Lingering Souls, Faithless Looting, excess lands, or discard spells that aren’t relevant later in the game, I’m happy to announce that Grim Flayer has found its home in Modern! One thing I didn’t think of when initially playing this deck was being able to set up Bloodbraid Elf cascades for Turn 4 so that you always hit something relevant.

Speaking of Bloodbraid Elf, this was my main divergence from the list initially making Top 4 of the Modern Classic in Worcester. While casting Traverse the Ulvenwald for Bedlam Reveler is fantastic, sometimes you already have a Bedlam Reveler or you really need to attack a planeswalker such as Jace, the Mind Sculptor immediately, and Bloodbraid Elf fits the bill, just as I’d hoped!

Pressuring an opponent always felt a bit difficult because, while you had several army-in-a-can cards like Young Pyromancer and Lingering Souls as resilient threats, you had to wait to attack an opponent, giving them time to recover. No such luck against Bloodbraid Elf! This card truly does it all and we’ve only scratched the surface.

The main appeal to this deck is that it never runs out of gas once it starts going. This deck can play similar to a Jund deck with the hand disruption and removal spells that Jund has, but it also has the hyper-efficiency of a Death’s Shadow deck with its low land count, high density of threats, and filtering with Faithless Looting and Traverse the Ulvenwald.

If there’s any matchup in Modern I’d like to sit across from when playing this deck, it’s traditional Jund. They simply don’t have enough gas in their entire tank to compete with what you’re up to.

So we out-Jund Jund and we have game against the combo decks in the format because we have the Thoughtseize / Inquisition of Kozilek suite as well as a reasonable clock. Jeskai Control felt like a bye with how they’ve been conditioned in Benjamin Nikolich style. So what do we not want to see?

There’s no deck in Modern that checks off all the boxes; there’s just too much metagame diversity. This weekend I chose to remove the additional Molten Rains from the sideboard and hammer down on beating decks other than big mana, so certainly Tron and Eldrazi Tron are difficult to keep pace with.

I made that judgment call and only played against one Tron variant all weekend. I lost, but who knows how many times a sideboard card I played instead of Molten Rain saved me? I’ve learned over the past few months that it’s all about picking your battles, and that wasn’t one I wanted to fight this weekend.

It’s no secret that we’re a graveyard deck. We have a very difficult time beating hate cards like Rest in Peace and Leyline of the Void. Relic of Progenitus is a little easier because we can often force the action and then rebuild, but casting a Bedlam Reveler with no graveyard reduction and only eight total mana-producing lands in the deck can be a bit difficult.

This deck tried to take advantage of the fact that more people would be focusing on fighting the fair decks this weekend and perhaps leaving some the hard-hitting graveyard hate behind. While I’ll make no claim that Rest in Peace effects are easy to overcome, they’re not completely unbeatable, since your only real threat the card shuts down is Bedlam Reveler. Grim Flayer is still a 2/2 and Bloodbraid Elf still has haste and cascade!

Another claim I heard from many was that Blood Moon completely shuts me out of the game, and I couldn’t find that statement more laughable. I actually won every game I played in which my opponent cast a Blood Moon. The deck has ten fetchlands and four copies of Traverse the Ulvenwald to find its basic Forest and Swamp, and this deck can cast all but Liliana, the Last Hope and the front half of Lingering Souls under a Moon effect.

Here’s another situation where Faithless Looting shines, since you can dig for your red threats or basics with minimal effort while under a Blood Moon. Sure, in Round 14 on camera my Counters Company opponent topdecked a Magus of the Moon in Game 1 with Temple Garden, Gavony Township, Swamp and Birds of Paradise on the battlefield and “got” me with it, but I wouldn’t have been able to play around it, no matter what I did that game.

My point is, Blood Moon isn’t quite lights-out as a hate card against this deck. Blood Moon backed by Stone Rain and Molten Rain might do the trick, and I’m sure that’s what our G/R Land Destruction champion did most of the weekend to people to get where he got. I’ve come around to the fact that you can’t do something about everything in Modern; sometimes you’re going to die and there was nothing you could have done with any draw your deck could have produced, and that’s okay.

All in all, the deck was the most fun I’ve had in a very long time and it came in Modern, to my great surprise. Last weekend I expressed my disappointment for the second half of the SCG Tour being more of what the first season brought us, countless Modern events and Team Constructed events, but after my experiences this weekend, that might just be okay with me! As long as I can keep casting Bloodbraid Elf and flipping into who-knows-what, I’ll be happy.

Going forward with this deck, there are a few changes I’d make to help out against some of the tough matchups, such as Hollow One and Burn, slight sideboard adjustments and a manabase tweak because Sacred Foundry just wasn’t doing it for me.

Godless Shrine has a more important role to fill than Sacred Foundry, since there’s never a point where you actually want to search for a Sacred Foundry when you want to cast any spell but Lingering Souls, so you often have to take the full three damage to get that white source onto the battlefield. Godless Shrine, however, pairs with Stomping Ground quite nicely and doesn’t mess up our curve for casting Grim Flayer early like the Boros shockland would have.

As mentioned before, Grim Flayer did nothing but impress me all weekend long and made me wish I’d registered the full four. I can’t quite bring myself to cut all the copies of Young Pyromancer to make room for that change, but they were by far the least impressive cards in the deck. Tokens are great and all, but Grim Flayer does more than just filter your draw step in this deck, and I can’t recall a match in which I connected with a Grim Flayer on Turn 3 and didn’t win the game from there.

I’ve never been terribly fond of Surgical Extraction, but with the difficulty this deck has against cards like Flamewake Phoenix and Bloodghast, I’m open to trying new things. I would consider increasing the number of spells like Fulminator Mage with this inclusion to get the Stone Rain / Surgical Extraction combo against an Urza’s Tower strategy, but I’m not completely sold on it as a viable way to attack that matchup deserving of the sideboard slots.

That’s it for me today. I had a ton of fun playing this deck and can’t wait for the next time I get to play Modern with a new version of this deck. I hope the formula for Jace, the Mind Sculptor isn’t broken by then and the format is still as healthy as it felt this past weekend.