SCG Dallas Welcomes Us To A New Modern

From old stalwarts to cutting-edge Stoneforge Mystic tech, SCG Dallas ushered in the new post-Banned and Restricted Modern. Sword of Feast and Famine, we expected, but Viridian Longbow?!

The SCG Dallas Modern Open was the start of a new Modern format. Disregard that one card, because you probably don’t even want to hear its name after two months of nonsense. Faithless Looting gone, Stoneforge Mystic here.

Nothing was too far out of line for predictions and what we knew about Modern, but seeing exactly what was behind the curtain was a big deal.

What actually happened in Texas?

Which Linear Decks Still Are Great?

Something new happens. Everyone gets all hyped up and spirals off into weird land. Then the best three or four decks that just ignore the normal battlefield game of Magic show up to thonk people into the Sunday Classic bracket.

Welcome to Modern.

Before this weekend we didn’t know what those three or four decks were. For at least the last couple of years, one or more of those decks was always a Faithless Looting deck.

It looks like the answers for “best deck that kills by Turn 4 and doesn’t care about Path to Exile or broad hate” are Burn, Mono-Green Tron, TitanShift, and Four-Color Whirza.

By the way, that’s three Burn players and all of them being SCG Tour regulars. This isn’t just Texas being Texas and letting random red decks win everything.

Notable absences are Devoted Devastation, Mono-Red Prowess, and Infect (care about Path to Exile) and Storm variants (shut down by multiple hate cards). Affinity and Hardened Scales exist in a weird middle ground where they kinda care about removal and kinda care about broad hate, but people just love to shove Collector Ouphe and Ancient Grudge in their sideboard. Amulet Titan and nongreen Tron variants aren’t quite as good at ensuring the Turn 4 kill but exist in the wings as the format realigns to interact.

While previously this situation just results in a revolving door of similarly powerful linear decks with occasionally midrange Top 8ing when the format caught its own tail, the thing that might be different this time is needing one less type of hate. Honestly, it might be one less because Burn often struggles against fairly normal Magic cards that also say the words “gain life.” Whenever I successfully Lava Spike out an opponent with Snapcaster Mage plus Lightning Helix, I feel like I got away with something.

The wild card comes from the Magic Online Modern Challenge, from exactly the player you would expect to force you to play Leyline of the Void again. Magic Online Dredge master Sodeq is just here bashing people with Dredge like nothing happened. If the first four Shriekhorns were good enough, then Tome Scour as fast Shriekhorn is worth a look. Hedron Crab was discussed but Turn 1 Hedron Crab exposes you to Lightning Bolt when the rest of your deck doesn’t care about an 0/2 creature. As Sodeq points out in his follow up thread, he hasn’t even started digging into the sideboard options blue brings, so expect this deck to only improve over the next weeks.

Just some graveyard hate numbers: one deck in this Top 8 had two Nihil Spellbomb, two Surgical Extraction. The other seven had a net total of one Nihil Spellbomb, one Anger of the Gods. The Mono-Green Tron deck with Karn, the Great Creator didn’t have Relic of Progenitus and didn’t even play Grafdigger’s Cage to Karn for. That’s absolutely no respect for anything graveyard-related, and I would be looking to prove them wrong next weekend.

Late-breaking news: looks like having that list on Sunday lead to an easy SCG Dallas Modern Classic win in a Top 8 that had at least five graveyard hate cards. Dredge mechanic still broken, more news next week.

The Stoneforge Mystic Headline

The Twitch comment metagame during this weekend’s Top 8 seemed to be.

Turn 3 4/4 in Modern good joke

Okay, I fixed their spelling and made them sound remotely coherent, but I’m here to tune the baseline ideas the unwashed masses put out. And just utterly bash them when they are wrong, because Stoneforge Mystic showed up knocking on the Top 8’s door in force.

Missing the Top 8 on tiebreakers were two different Stoneforge Mystic decks. Just a draw behind was another Stoneforge Mystic deck, and the next spot in the standings was yet another Stoneforge deck. That’s ninth through twelfth for anyone counting, with Ally Warfield coming one game away from a Top 8 as well. The archetypes here were two Azorius Control, Devoted Devastation, Orzhov Smallpox, and Selesnya Eldrazi.

Looking at the Azorius lists, things are fairly consistent: Stoneforge Mystic with Sword of Feast and Famine as the second flex Equipment, an extra flash creature or two relative to an older Azorius deck, only five planeswalkers split three big and two small, less Cryptic Command, and a bunch of Force of Negation.

The interesting parts are the absolute absence of Narset, Parter of Veils and the disagreement on a sideboard threat. Narset is really powerful, but in a format with no Faithless Looting and Azorius mirrors dominated by an actual creature, it makes sense for Narset to take a break. With the sideboard threat, you have the option of a clunkier card that is less killable by spot removal. I think Monastery Mentor is way better than Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, but this Azorius deck is one people will leave in Lightning Bolt against to cover Stoneforge Mystic. I might experiment with Gideon of the Trials, but I think Peter Ingram is on the right track using an attacking planeswalker to subvert expectations.

Don’t dismiss Smallpox as a Texas anomaly either. Burn, Mono-Green Tron, and TitanShift are all decks utterly crippled by a well-timed Smallpox.

The problem with Smallpox hasn’t been the disruption suite, but the classic Orzhov kill condition issue. When was the last time you saw Orzhov Tokens actually win a game in a reasonable timeframe, or, I guess for more recent Modern players, the last time you saw Orzhov Tokens? Stoneforge Mystic is just the Tarmogoyf-style threat you needed to make this all work, since the real constricting factor has always been Smallpox’s double black cost and land sacrifice not meshing with three colors and the green cards not meshing with sacrificing a creature.

The lands here are also worth a stop. Silent Clearing is another small yet big addition as a much better untapped multicolor land than Concealed Courtyard in an attrition deck. Shambling Vents is also less of a win condition and more lifegain value.

I might have to eat my words here, because Orzhov Smallpox feels like a deck that actually wants Sword of Fire and Ice. This deck is great at exhausting its opponent’s resources and light on mana sinks, so Sword of Feast and Famine isn’t the one you want. It is trimming both hand sizes, so Sword of War and Peace isn’t the one you want. You don’t have a ton of bodies, so Sword of Light and Shadow isn’t it. You just want to produce a material advantage with an evasive Spirit token, and that’s Sword of Fire and Ice’s job.

Taken directly from Ryan Overturf’s What We’d Play entry last week, Selesnya Eldrazi is super-straightforward. I’ll just note that I was super-impressed with Noble Hierarch and Talisman of Unity supporting Karn, the Great Creator and Mycosynth Lattice. Talisman not being soft to removal and Ancient Stirrings upping your land density both felt like real upgrades from past mana-creature-plus-Karn shells.

Devoted Devastation is about what you would expect, plus a handful of spicy unexpected singletons.

Dryad Arbor is the most normal of these cards. Other Devoted Devastation decks in the past have played it, but when it lets a fetchland pick up an Equipment, it becomes way more exciting.

Tireless Tracker is an extremely powerful standalone threat, but in previous versions of Devoted Devastation it would be carrying the beatdown plan alone. Here, it backs up Stoneforge Mystic in games where you’re trying to deal less than a million damage to your opponent.

Lightning Greaves just makes a ton of sense. People were trying to play Hall of the Bandit Lord and Postmortem Lunge to let you haste out Devoted Druid and win without a passed turn cycle. This also gives haste and it gives a crucial shroud to ensure the combo kill.

Viridian Longbow is a kill condition with infinite Devoted Druid untaps. The two-card combo of Devoted Druid plus Vizier of Remedies is secretly a three-card combo with “anything to spend mana on,” and that has always been Duskwatch Recruiter or subpar singletons. With each recent set and unban, it feels like you get to trim back on those and play real cards, first Eladamri’s Call and Finale of Devastation that set up the combo, and now Stoneforge Mystic as a backup plan. Slowly, this deck is working its way out of the loosely glass cannon status it held prior to this year.

Other Fair Stuff?

One of the cleaner answers to Stoneforge Mystic is to Thoughtseize their Equipment. In Legacy, this is a bit of an ask because Force of Will is so much better than Thoughtseize and plays poorly with the card in a lot of spots, but in Modern we have no problem playing the card that I think is cooler in a totally biased way.

I couldn’t get away from this event without mentioning John Lim’s list. I had a lot of questions about how to build a good Rakdos or Mardu deck coming out of the Mythic Championship, and he moved towards solving one of them.

My big issue was that none of the two-drops carried you to a win. Dreadhorde Arcanist is value but not damage. You could splash Stoneforge Mystic, but in a Blood Moon deck, that’s sketchy. The answer was not to kill them with a two-drop; just hammer it home with a four-drop after the rest of your deck mops up the rest. Bedlam Reveler and Hazoret the Fervent do the “technically killing them” job, while Sunbaked Canyon and Chandra, Acolyte of Flame give you the card advantage to go a bit longer each game. Chandra is also the reason to play Pillage as a recurrable land destruction effect when flexibility matters more than Molten Rain’s chip shot.

The other reason you can avoid full Mardu is Seasoned Pyromancer taking over for Lingering Souls. I think a lot of people were leaning on Pyromancer to replace Faithless Looting, but you can’t turn a one-drop into a three-drop. Replacing your prior splashed over-the-top value card with an on-color one is much more comparable.

Somehow, every time someone says Grixis Death’s Shadow is dead, it wins another event. This time it was a Magic Online Challenge and almost an Open. There’s isn’t a lot of new tech in this archetype, but there are some consistent trends here. Kolaghan’s Command and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy are reactions to a fairer Stoneforge Mystic metagame, and Plague Engineer deserves a sideboard slot in every black midrange deck.

The Hot Tech

What were the individual card choices that defined these top tables?

Mystic Forge was everywhere. I think the Vintage restriction of the card and hearing some of the stories of it from older formats were a lightbulb moment for Modern players too. It just plays a bunch of spells and casts colorless mana with the only condition being “my deck plays Mox Opal,” and what more do you want from a single card? Maybe we just didn’t see this before because Mox Opal was too restrictive a condition for a weird [redacted now-banned card name] format.

While some of this might fall at the feet of Harlan Firer and Zach Allen’s exceptional play skill and off-the-bat byes, it sure seemed like the key to Whirza decks this weekend was choosing an obvious way to kill Collector Ouphe. Assassin’s Trophy and Fatal Push supplanted Teferi, Time Raveler as the splash of choice.

All of the Lotus Box Burn lists showed up with full sets of Kor Firewalker. People will be copying that, and you don’t want to play the Burn mirror as the player without Kor Firewalker.

The breakout sideboard card of the weekend might be Weather the Storm across a couple of archetypes, mainly Mono-Green Tron. The other card I would lock into my Burn lists is Skullcrack, a card I was considering fully cutting a week or two ago.

Like I said, this is all Modern decks we knew existed plus Stoneforge Mystic brews people had talked about. What we can’t quite see until they happen are the second- and third-order effects of everything bashing into each other. While this weekend was fairly enlightening, I can’t wait to see what happens with another weekend or two of developments to really kickstart the metagame spiral.