This coming weekend will see both a Modern Grand Prix in Vancouver and a Team Constructed extravaganza at SCG Baltimore which will, naturally, include Modern. Having spent the last few weeks gushing about all the sweet things we can do in Standard right now, the time has come to focus on a larger and arguably even more diverse format. What can we brew up for this weekend’s Modern festivities?
As it happens, I have some ideas. Who could have seen that one coming? I have a brew of my own, an update to possibly my favorite Modern deck, and some ideas from some local players that really caught my eye at a recent local Modern event. We’re going to start with one that really, you have to see to believe.
I’m Sorry, Shadowborn Apostle?
If you’ve played any amount of Cube, you have probably played with or against Shelldock Isle. In 40-card formats it is significantly easier to get to the trigger condition, and Cube is not exactly lacking in powerful card-draw effects or powerful things to cast with it. One place you might not have expected to see Shelldock Isle is in a Modern deck.
Well, that’s the shortest decklist I have ever typed.
I initially could not figure out what on earth this deck was doing. Shelldock Isle being the last card in the decklist was basically burying the lede, and it took me a minute. Then I thought I would love to know how Aaron arrived at the exact number of Shadowborn Apostles that he played. Is 34 actually the optimal number? Can we survive on four lands that tap for black mana?
None of that matters, because this deck is beautiful. I’m sure at least one person reading this is still scratching their head over how it wins, so here’s the typical game:
Mulligan until you have a source of black mana and a Shadowborn Apostle. Cast turn 1 Apostle. Block with it at your first opportunity. Surgical Extraction or Extirpate the Apostle. Play Shelldock Isle, exiling Emrakul, and immediately activate it. Win the game.
By Round 2 Aaron was regretting the choice of Mystic Speculation. I think it should just be four more lands, but he wants to play another blue cantrip instead. Darkslick Shores would be my choice, even if it isn’t fetchable, though I will admit that it makes it harder to find an Emrakul with Shelldock Isle.
The other head-scratcher is the lack of Griselbrand or, at the very least, Rune-Scarred Demon. I don’t know how often we can get six Apostles on the battlefield, but running a singleton of either (or both) would seem to be very low risk for a very high reward. Either one can find you another Shelldock Isle or whatever piece you are missing, and they can both hit hard. That said, vulnerability to removal is a real thing.
Because I know some of you are wondering, Aaron did not finish 0-X. I don’t recall his exact record, but I do know at least one game was won with Shadowborn beatdowns and I believe he was even responsible for a tilt drop. Goals for which we should all aim, my friends.
But This Isn’t Legacy!
Not many local players share my love for wacky brews. Our FNM environment is decidedly more on the competitive than the casual side, and that discourages creativity to some degree. One person who is unbowed by this is Logan, who has been working on this seemingly anachronistic Modern brew for a while:
- 4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Wall of Roots
- 4 Wild Cantor
- 4 Chancellor of the Tangle
- 3 Hangarback Walker
I know this is not an original idea, but I have yet to see it get any press whatsoever. I’ve worked on this deck with Logan a little bit and I’ve played against it a bunch, and it is explosive. It lacks the turn 1 potential of the Legacy version, but when playing against the deck, you always feel like you have to win right now or he will find the Charbelcher and just kill you. One of the changes I suggested was the inclusion of Wild Cantor, a pet card of mine that often gets forgotten. Unlike Simian Spirit Guide, you do need to be able to cast it, but it can make green mana and set up the morbid condition for Caravan Vigil, which leads to some truly terrifying first-turn plays.
The deck is also surprisingly consistent. From the games I have seen, the problem is rarely finding a land to get started, but occasionally finding a win condition. There aren’t a lot of good ways around that: Vessel of Nascency might be an option (though a tricky one) and we’re already running Ancient Stirrings. All part of the price of playing a combo deck, but the explosiveness of this particular deck makes it worthwhile.
The Hangarback Walker slot used to be Wurmcoil Engine. I don’t know which of those is better, but I think I want to try Walking Ballista in this slot. The ability to still get value through a Path to Exile is important, but Walking Ballista is susceptible to Stony Silence in a way that Hangarback is not. There’s also an argument for Batterskull, which is even more resilient.
A New Kind of Boros Burn
One of my favorite things about local Modern events is that they often attract people who otherwise just play at home. Standard with its regular rotations just doesn’t appeal in the same way to the otherwise-casual player. A great example is this very fun list from Kevin Courtney:
- 4 Soul Warden
- 3 Balefire Liege
- 3 Knight of the White Orchid
- 4 Soulfire Grand Master
- 2 Alesha, Who Smiles at Death
- 2 Hanweir Garrison
- 3 Lone Rider
While some of the choices are not the direction I would have gone, I absolutely adore the way this deck is built. An aggressive deck with a lifegain angle that plays some of my favorite cards is guaranteed to make me sit up and take notice.
This deck needs a little cosmetic surgery before I would take it for a spin. The manabase needs some work for sure, replacing Battlefield Forge with Sacred Foundry and adding Arid Mesa. I love Hanweir Garrison and it does interact well with Soul Warden, but so does Monastery Mentor, and that card has the potential to do more damage. The inclusion of Manamorphose makes me want the Mentor even more.
Soulfire Grand Master is another personal favorite that interacts beautifully with Lightning Helix and Lone Rider, but I would prefer at least one more damage-dealing spell in the deck to make it truly sing. Boros Charm would be my first choice, but I could see a case for Sudden Shock, Incinerate, and even Roast and Combust somewhere in the 75.
Of the Lieges, only Wilt-Leaf Liege has seen any real tournament play in recent years. Having Balefire Liege in this deck makes me unreasonably happy. The triggered ability fits perfectly in this deck, either speeding up the clock or helping to transform Lone Rider, and the two power lets us return the Liege with Alesha, Who Smiles at Death. I may like that card a little too much. We also get the benefit of buffing Needle Spires, which of course can end games quickly. I would have liked to see maybe Boros Reckoner or another R/W creature in here to really take advantage of that buff ability. Maybe Assemble the Legion in the sideboard? A five-drop might be a stretch for a twenty-land deck, but it’s a card that just plain wins games.
I don’t know that this deck needs Always Watching. With Hanweir Garrison making tokens (or Monastery Mentor if we go that route), I would much prefer Honor of the Pure if we need an Anthem effect. Otherwise this could easily be the Reckoner slot. Making Soul Wardens into somewhat viable attackers might be important though, so further testing is required here.
Wait, That’s a Card?
Among my friends I have the nickname of Gatherer. Well, that’s the one I can share on a family-friendly site, anyway. I have been playing this game for a long time, with a lot of obscure cards, and I have a lot of memory space dedicated to seemingly useless information. Every now and then though I will come across a card that I had no idea even existed. Usually they are from Lorwyn or Alara blocks, which was when I was furthest away from the game I love.
Cards like Talara’s Battalion, for example.
I found the Battalion completely by accident when looking at previews for Greenwheel Liberator. How is this card not seeing any play anywhere? Why has nobody even tried to make it work? That drawback is so small as to be virtually nonexistent! Without much effort I came up with this list:
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 4 Talara's Battalion
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 2 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 4 Reckless Bushwhacker
- 4 Greenwheel Liberator
- 4 Hidden Herbalists
I did some quick testing with this list and got two turn 3 kills. Is that good? I feel like that might be good. I think Atarka’s Command might have a role in the maindeck, and we might want to consider Simian Spirit Guide for the extra explosive start potential. I have had games where a turn 2 kill would have been feasible with the mana monkey, but the games where it would be dead are a small concern.
The lack of one-drops is something of which I am unsure. Goblin Guide is the obvious inclusion, and including Wild Nacatl would not stretch the manabase too much, but Kird Ape might be a safer choice. The question then becomes what we cut, and honestly it might be Tarmogoyf. As good as the card undoubtedly is, it’s less of an all-out aggro card and more of a dominant early- and mid-game machine. I can definitely see cutting it to the sideboard for a one-drop. I can also see an argument for Wild Cantor both as a “free” one-drop and a way to enable revolt on Hidden Herbalists. In a pinch it can even turn G into R to cast a Bushwhacker, which has been a stumbling point a couple of times.
The other card that is knocking hard on the door of this deck is Manamorphose. It plays much the same role as Burning-Tree Emissary or Hidden Herbalists, but it draws us a card instead of attacking. The inability to deal damage is the reason I didn’t include it, but I can definitely see a case for its inclusion.
Remember this deck? It is easily the deck I am asked about the most, and I am just fine with that. A couple of friends have been working on it with me over the past couple of months, and we’ve come to some conclusions. Here’s the updated list:
- 1 Garruk Wildspeaker
- 1 Gideon Jura
- 1 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
- 3 Jace, Architect of Thought
- 1 Xenagos, the Reveler
- 1 Ajani Steadfast
- 1 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
- 1 Kiora, Master of the Depths
- 2 Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
- 2 Nahiri, the Harbinger
- 2 Tamiyo, Field Researcher
- 1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
- 1 Nissa, Vital Force
As it happens, Genesis Wave is just a better card than Deploy the Gatewatch. Considerably better, in fact. One of the things that we lost to quite often was drawing a ton of ramp and no top-end. Although Genesis Wave is another top-end piece, it has such tremendous upside that I could not leave it out. I’ve done limited testing so far but it has done huge amounts of work.
Ajani Steadfast has been incredible. The ultimate is really strong against Infect, and the -1 ability is good on its own and amazing with Doubling Season. Even his +1 ability is in a good place, allowing us to both attack and block with a vigilant creature with lifelink. I may actually have done that to an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn as well.
The sideboard plan is still much the same, but we have Stony Silence now over Rest in Peace. Graveyards are not as relevant as they used to be and Stony Silence has more flexibility in the metagame, helping us against Tron as well as really putting the brakes on Affinity. Farseek is a new addition in matchups where Birds of Paradise are unlikely to survive, but it might need to be Blood Moon. I know that seems really counterintuitive, but Oath of Nissa makes it far less painful.
Narset Transcendent has been so good every time I sideboarded her in that I think I want to squeeze her into the maindeck somewhere. One way to do that would be to remove the red cards entirely and go to a Bant deck. As much as that would improve the mana, I am loath to remove Xenagos, the Reveler and Nahiri, the Harbinger. Xenagos has been an absolute powerhouse in the deck, from ramping my mana to providing an army of Satyrs. Nahiri is another win condition with Doubling Season, and although removing her would free up multiple slots for extra Tamiyo and Jace copies, I would also lose an effective removal spell. Decisions, decisions!
Notable by his absence is Ajani Unyielding. Although I do think the card is good, the reward for that six-mana investment is not high enough in a deck full of “I Win” buttons. It hurts me to say that, but it’s just short of good enough. Were I to switch to Bant and start playing some Oaths, both of Gideon and of Ajani, I may find room for one copy. Until that happens, though, our feline friend will ride the pine.
That’s all we have for today, folks. As always, thanks for stopping by the LAB. I will be in Vancouver this weekend for the GP, so feel free to come say hi! Until next time…Brew On!