I got back from my week in California late Monday evening, and have been pretty disconnected with my regular set of experiences until at least Tuesday.
The hotel had Wi-Fi… It just didn’t work very well.
Anyway, I was busy basically my entire trip. Given the option between using my Palm Pre as my primary source of Internet connectivity, or just not
having any connectivity, I think you know where this one is going.
Case in point: I never managed to log in to Facebook until I had been back in New York for almost two days! I had been off of the onetime home of Dungeons & Dragons Tiny Adventures for basically 1/52nd of a year. Separately, I had
researched and written all my Magic obligations ahead of time, so I didn’t know about seemingly basic stuff… For example, Patrick Chapin scoring
that Grand Prix Top 8 with his signature RUG list
(great job, Pat!); or the fact that they are now running Modern â€” real Modern â€” on Magic Online.
Once informed of this little fact by Brian David-Marshall, I had to immediately go home and brew.
One of the things that has improved since my last allegedly Modern session is that everybody else’s decks had gotten better! Which is great for
actually producing something of value in a competitive context.
For example, back when “Modern” was just Legacy or Freeform with self-imposed restrictions, and there was very little in the way of tournament
performance framework, it was hard to know what would be legitimately viable. Hence, I tried to do whacko things like make Knight of the White Orchid +
Mulldrifter + Reveillark value decks. I got to play with Pro Tour Paris Top 8 competitor Tom Martell with some of these brews, and… it wasn’t pretty.
Now that I had some actual decks to look at â€” and what is amazing is that players seem to have really embraced Modern, given all the deck lists
available now â€” I had things to hold onto, like the fundamental turn deck speed, and a narrowing array of the kinds of threats one might encounter.
Given the spread of Zoo, artifact aggression, and Elves â€” all with an overall bundle of tournaments that seem to love a Cloudpost â€” I got to thinking
about previous Pro Tours that were like what this one might be like… And summoned up what I had designed last time around.
Before there was Naya Lightsaber, the Flores-Coimbra collaboration produced decks like the Mono-Blue Andre played at Pro Tour Berlin. Our Mono-Blue deck was the
literal best deck against All-in Red (which I thought was going to be super popular), and super-duper favored against Zoo (we had four Vedalken
Shackles and three Threads of Disloyalty main… and a mana base that started us at an actual twenty life). Right before the tournament, Andre wanted
to add two cards “for Elves.” We even already had the Tolaria West engine!
(We used Tolaria West specifically to obtain zero-mana lands [Academy Ruins] and spells [Tormod’s Crypt] as recursive anti-Dredge cards, after
considering and rejecting the more common Trinket Mage route.)
“Elves?” I asked. “Is that even a real deck?”
The World Champion-to-be said he had heard someone might summon an Elf, yes; but I dismissed him. Andre opened up X-1 on Day One, ending up on a final
round loss to Luis Scott-Vargas (who would eventually win that Pro Tour). Andre mostly beat up on Zoo.
However on Day Two, he played against seven Elves decks, and lost every such matchup. Our deck was very poor against Elves the way Andre fielded it.
Now, an even better blue strategy for that tournament was Kenny Oberg and his original Tezzerator deck.
Kenny worked from some of the same principles I had â€” blue is good, Vedalken Shackles is possibly one of the best cards in the format â€” but added
Cutting to the chase a bit, I borrowed heavily from Kenny’s deck in working on the one I want to talk about today… Not the least of which is the mana
Liberal inclusion of faux-Island fetchlands allows our “blue” deck to splash for spells like Firespout and Ancient Grudge… and even kill flying
creatures, or flash back that sharpest of Shatters via one Breeding Pool.
This is the deck, after several roundabouts on Magic Online. For example, one of the big improvements I made was to go from one Darksteel Citadel to
four. Do we lose a tiny bit in the way of ted availability? I actually lost a match against Tempered Steel tonight that would have been easy, but I
kept no red in a six-card Game Three (I actually had both Breeding Pool and two Academy Ruins by the end of the game); Vedalken Shackles is a wee bit
harder to get online, as well.
But on balance, Thirst for Knowledge is so much better!
Mox Opal has skyrocketed so much in performance that I added a second!
So we all know this deck is a port from Oberg’s Berlin Blue; there are certain bits that are different because they have to be (no Chrome
Mox), and others where I made some deliberate tuning choices… For example, I moved away from some of Kenny’s conditional Counterspells, viz. Spell
Snare (even if Spell Snare is one of my all-time favorite cards) in order to accommodate options like Relic of Progenitus.
I am not going to do a specific card-by-card rundown on this one for a couple of reasons. First of all, this deck â€” this kind of deck â€” exists
in a strange place. This is a deck, like a con-fusion of Jon Finkel 2000 US Nationals and World Championship decks, that can potentially profit by
seemingly exaggerated measures when only one card changes. Because of all the Trinket Mages and Tinker-like seeking by The Seeker, it can potentially
benefit from these seemingly tiny twists and turns. Ergo, it is more interesting for me â€” and would probably be more productive for you â€” to exercise
some decision-making around particular frameworks… If the strategy is interesting to you.
That said, there are many big-picture tools that “get things right” irrespective of the details… Even if you didn’t see them to begin with.
Here’s an example: Would you think that “Cloudpost” (whatever that means, given some of the different builds available) would be a good matchup, or a
Let me walk through how I approach at least the kind of Cloudpost I have been most impressed by (green, with a Scapeshift engine). Yes, I know there
are others, but they by in large try to do the same things (get Cloudposts into play, smash you with Emrakul).
1) Our goal is to get Tezzeret in play. We are going to go to Stage Three immediately there (even if you don’t know why, yet).
2) Our operating guideline is to “not lose” before we stick ’em with our Stage Three. Cloudpost can be hella-explosive. Let’s say we are demolished if
the opponent is given an unfettered turn 4. We have to not only do something before that demolishing point, but to try to get ourselves into
Stage Three position, so we can win.
2a.) Early-game strategy and sequencing is not ambiguous: We have to move the opponent off of turn 4 while driving to our Tezzeret. Luckily we have
some reasonable tools. The fastest is Spreading Seas. You guys know how I feel about a Spreading Seas! It’s basically the perfect Magic card, ideally
reducing the opponent’s operating flexibility while acquiring you more options in the form of card access… Thereby increasing your operating
The implementation here is simple: Spreading Seas usually buys us a turn, while taking a little bit of explosive mana away from the villains. It
doesn’t flat-out win the game but pulls us one card closer to drawing Tezzeret and/or the mana to play him. Great!
2b.) Once we buy sufficient time out of Stage One (simultaneously taking a little edge off of the opponent’s Stage development) we can get into a fair
fight in terms of mana-to-spells, where a Cryptic Command actually looks much nicer than what he has probably got. Assuming everything is not-dead, we
move to Tezzeret the Seeker!
3.) What do we get? The answer is probably Ensnaring Bridge. All the scary spices in the opposing Red Zone have six or fifteen power. He might have all
the mana in the worldâ€” but if he can’t actually attack, the Cloudpost opponent will be ceding a truly annoying amount of operating flexibility.
3a.) Have we “just won”? No! However we are officially â€” at least as I know the deck lists â€” in Stage Three. We are dictating the field of battle (“You
need to deal with my Ensnaring Bridge before you can get me”), and have reduced his relevant topdecks to a comparatively small subset of cards
(probably just Beast Within). He can’t All is Dust our Ensnaring Bridge â€” and we have slightly more answers to a maximum number of Beast Withins than
even that, you know, maximum number.
Can he just have one and bone us on the spot? Obviously. But if he doesn’t, we’re in the driver’s seat with a ton of flexibility. We’ll probably have
to Pithing Needle or Spread an Eye of Ugin along the way, but that actually improves our argument: Because we have generally better routes to card
drawing than he does, as long as he doesn’t for-sure get us with a Beast Within at a key moment, our margin of advantage is going to ideally increase
turn after turn.
We don’t have to take this exact route. Sometimes we just have the Bridge and can slam it down without being forced to steal turns to get to five (or
four, if we’re lucky on the Mox). Other times the worst happens â€” yet we can still get lucky and can buy three turns in a row with Cryptic Commands.
I said earlier that it’s more interesting to look at different framework models for a deck like this, at this time period. I certainly think the deck
can be improved, but if someone were actually interested in doing so, it would require a bit of context… You don’t improve a deck like this
generically (you aren’t swapping out Grey Ogre for Suq’ata Lancer). I think you have to improve at certain things, against certain potential enemies.
Here are some I have been thinking about:
Osyp asked me how we would deal with Splinter Twin. Originally I laughed and said “we lose,” because we have no Spellskite or Torpor Orb. The reality
is, 1) we can play a Spellskite (or lots) if we want, and 2) we still have a plan. An open Spellbomb (including Pyrite Spellbomb against Pestermite
and/or Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker) demands notice.
I’m not saying we win… But they have to do something about it before they win. A combination of Aether Spellbomb, patience, and
ultimately a Vedalken Shackles increase your sense of safety quite a bit.
That said, I don’t know that Splinter Twin will be the combo deck of choice at this Pro Tour.
Separately, I’ve had very good results against Living End combo. Originally I was just forcing their hands with Relic of Progenitus, but there’s
nothing that deals better with an errant cascade combo than Chalice of the Void for zero.
Big picture question: Do we want lots of Chalices? I haven’t had many problems beating Living End with the one in my main, but a lot of that’s just
making their guys battle each other with Shackles after the fact. There’s certainly something to be said for having an actual three to four copies and
being able to draw one early… Especially if you need to put actual mana in (you can’t play a Chalice for one until turn 2, usually), or you actually
want Chalices on two different numbers â€” most likely one and zero, or one and two.
Additional consideration: Trinisphere.
2. Creatures… Which Creatures?
As presented, this deck has a pretty generic outlook to fighting fast threat creatures. It’s not optimized to fight any kind of creatures, with the
possible exception of Doran, the Siege Tower. You have access to fast Engineered Explosives or Ratchet Bomb â€” but the primary line of defense is
Vedalken Shackles, and typically from a Tezzeret.
You have the tools to be set up to crush any kind of creature deck you want. For instance, earlier I referenced a Mono-Blue deck I worked on with Andre
Coimbra; that deck started four Vedalken Shackles and three Threads of Disloyalty, in addition to playing four Spell Snares and a fair number of value
bounce spells. Zoo was a non-issue.
As the story goes, we weren’t good at all against Elves, and Elves was the one true threat deck of the tournament.
For this deck, I have a lighter Vedalken Shackles component (but that can be upped), and no Threads anywhere. Instead I went with Firespout, which is
generically good against Elves, Tempered Steel (at least during some points in the game), and most of the x/3 Zoo creatures (think Wild Nacatl). The
setup is not good against Tarmogoyf.
If you want to be good against Tarmogoyf, you can up Threads of Disloyalty, and you’ll gain effectiveness in many other types of creature fights…
It’s all a question of managing against the scarce resource of available deck space.
Vedalken Shackles – The Ace. Unbelievable against Doran, the Siege Tower, and very good in many cases where the opponent is attacking with more
than one creature. You can do fun stuff. Example: My opponent destroys my Vedalken Shackles with a maindecked Qasali Pridemage; in response, I
steal his Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender and just sacrifice it. Not necessarily great against big guys; flat-out awful against Titans or Emrakul, the Aeons
Threads of Disloyalty – Great against Tarmogoyf; very good against swarms with high quality, cheap, threats. This can include cards like Signal
Pest, where you steal for value and just buy time.
Firespout — A totally separate type of functionality than the “steal” suite. Best against swarms and lower-quality threat creatures, or decks that
break general rules of card economy (i.e. Elves) that can put out a huge number of individual threats, but where none of them are actually very
Just a fun story I’ve had practicing this deck…
Game two against Doran.
So it’s game two, and he has a bit of pressure. I get the first Shackles and he kills it with a Pridemage. I draw into Tezzeret, but he still has a
Pridemage in play. I therefore go for Pithing Needle on Qasali Pridemage, leaving Tezzeret at three counters.
I draw another Tezzeret and immediately get the Shackles, knowing Tezzeret is not long for the world. Yep, he kills the sad, one-loyalty Tezzeret.
Next turn, I finally have mana to activate the Shackles and steal his Doran.
A little time goes by and of course he’s not attacking me, for fear of Doran gulping down some delicious green creatures. He draws into double-Knight
and decides to make some 6/6 Knights to get big enough to attack.
In the meantime, I draw yet another Tezzeret and set up double Relic of Progenitus. I just use Tezzeret’s untap ability to double-Scrabble him every
turn â€” which is, of course, annoying for his hard-working Knights.
He gets to the point via getting so many Verdant Catacombs and so on that his Knights are 6/6 and he can attack. I block one with Doran and
take the other. Post-combat, I blow one of the Relics to draw a card. This puts the fought-Doran Knight to 2/2 (dead), but has the side effect of
costing me the Vedalken Shackles patiently waiting in my graveyard (which I really wanted back).
On my turn, I steal the remaining Knight of the Reliquary.
He now has some 0/3s or something. I have like six cards and my Trinket Mage still… but all my cards are lands.
The next turn, I draw a super-cool card. I think a moment and make this sequence:
1. Play a fetchland and get Breeding Pool.
He may have had a Swamp with Spreading Seas on it, but if I recall, he had sacrificed all his basics trying to ramp up the Knights. He had lands left â€”
but in a poor imitation of Patrick Sullivan, suddenly they were all Mountains.
Just a fun story!