Shadows Over Modern

Lots of players are studying the impact Shadows Over Innistrad will have on Standard, but don’t forget that we’re probably looking at a brand new Modern format once the new set hits. Sam Black does some spoiler studies!

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<p>Without knowing the rest of <i>Shadows over Innistrad,</i> it’s hard to imagine what Standard might look like after the set’s released. The landscape will entirely change, and details like the full set of lands available will be essential to figuring out what’s going on in the future Standard format. Modern, on the other hand, is a lot more stable. When we see a new card, we can evaluate how that card will play in Modern as we know it now, and that can offer a pretty solid guess as to how it will play in Modern after <i>Shadows over Innistrad</i> is released.</p>
<p>The big question in Modern is always how potential bannings and unbannings will shake up the format, as that has a larger chance to change the core the way a major rotation would. In this case, I think Modern will look very different, because I expect <a href=Eye of Ugin to be banned. I don’t know if that will be the only change, but I’m willing to speculate from the assumption that Eye of Ugin will essentially rotate out of Modern once Shadows over Innistrad is legal and evaluate things from that Modern format.

So Modern will look very different next month, and while I think the banning of Eye of Ugin will be a larger contributor to that change, Shadows over Innistrad looks like it’s positioned to make an impact as well.

I think the most exciting card is Thing in the Ice. Playing this card in Standard will require playing some cards you wouldn’t otherwise want in your deck and will take some serious dedication. In Modern, this can be a bit more of an afterthought. To me, the fourth toughness sends a real message that they wanted this card to be a consideration in non-rotating formats, as surviving Lightning Bolt is always one of the benchmarks.

This card is looking to replace Tarmogoyf in Delver of Secrets decks, allowing them to drop green where they were playing it and potentially pick up another color, and this gives them their hard-hitting finisher. It also might even hit hard enough that Storm can use it as a sideboard plan by itself. In a deck that’s really built to maximize it, it should be able to attack on turn 4 pretty reliably, and bouncing everything before doing so is a huge benefit.

The major problems with this card are that it’s going to be terrible to draw in the late-game, where Tarmogoyf will often be one of your best draws. Aside from having four toughness, it’s fragile, and because it doesn’t have an immediate impact, your opponent gets to take their time to line up their removal perfectly, potentially punishing you for investing mana in trying to flip this creature that could otherwise be spent advancing your battlefield.

If this is widely played, expect Twisted Image to pick up a bit, as it’s outstanding in the Thing in the Ice mirror. My guess is that this creature slightly underperforms initial readings, based on how bad it is when things go wrong, but I think the dream will pull a lot of people in, and this card will get a lot of early attention.

Mindwrack Demon is interesting. Delirium is very easy to achieve in Modern, and big fliers have a lot going for them. This hits the sweet spot of living through Lightning Bolt and Abrupt Decay. The problem is that four mana is way too much to pay for a creature that attacks and blocks unless it’s doing something for you when it enters the battlefield.

Mindwrack Demon does that, but it’s not clear how valuable milling four cards is. If that’s worth a card to you, this is pretty good, but if you’ve done enough work in deck design to make milling four cards worth a card, there are likely better ways to do that. I think this is a fringe consideration, but it’s a good enough rate and an unusual enough effect that it could find a home. It’s probably too much to hope that that home ends up being Demon Tribal with Shadowborn Demon, but that would be sweet.

The other Black Mythic, Relentless Dead, is in a similar spot. It’s a great rate. This card is just outstanding, but does it have a home? Is it doing things that matter in Modern? A 2/2 with menace is very small. This isn’t a good clock against combo decks, and it doesn’t win fights against very many creatures.

The kind of value it generates is very slow and very low-impact, which is exactly the opposite of what generally matters in Modern. On the other hand, this is the only creature in its class that can block, and you can play a lot of cards that this theoretically plays well with in Modern.

The dedicated home for this is Black Devotion with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx; Geralf’s Messenger; and Gray Merchant of Asphodel — which, in case you forgot or never noticed when it was in Standard, is also a Zombie. What this deck really needs is one of the cards I’d most like to see reprinted so that it would be playable in Modern: Carrion Feeder.

As is, I’m guessing Zombie Tribal will be a little short. If this set has another Zombie on this level, it might have a chance, but there’s also the problem that mono-black decks are just horribly positioned against Affinity regardless of what cards it plays because of black’s inability to deal with artifacts. On the other hand, mana in Modern is good enough that you certainly don’t have to be mono-black just because you want to cast Geralf’s Messenger.

Compelling Deterrence is a really good card if you can count on having a Zombie on the battlefield. I don’t think I’d go so far as to play it in a current deck that has Gurmag Angler, but if you do try to make a Zombie deck in Modern, I’d definitely try to work that into it.

Topplegeist is unassuming, but it might quietly be great. Tapping a blocker is actually reasonably big game when it costs this little, and Topplegeist gets a lot better with Aether Vial and blink effects. Delirium is very easy to hit in Modern, though not necessarily in Aether Vial decks, but playing Aether Vial with Topplegeist isn’t mandatory. If you hit delirium against an opposing creature deck, this card basically demands an answer.

That’s a pretty solid start, but where this creature really gets me is its type. There’s not quite enough for Spirit Tribal in Modern, which is weird considering how common a creature type it is, but there are a few really good cards that care. Notably, this is perfect for a Tallowisp deck, as the fact that it costs one means you can plan to cast Tallowisp and this on turn 3 to ensure value on your Tallowisp.

Also, Drogskol Captain is a great lord; the problem is that there just aren’t enough good one- and two-mana Spirits to cast to lead into it. Drogskol Captain, Topplegeist, Aether Vial, Phantasmal Image is a pretty good start to a Spirit deck.

It’s probably nothing, but Eldrazi Temple at uncommon in Modern Masters 2015 seemed a little odd at the time, but then it made perfect sense a little later when we found out that it would be a highly demanded card in Modern. Spirit Tribal felt weird in Modern Masters 2015, since no one’s ever really played Spirit Tribal in Modern.

That doesn’t have to mean anything, since it’s not like Rebels or Giants in the first Modern Masters ever went anywhere, but it’d be cool if that set was reminding us about Thief of Hope because this set was going to have enough good one- and two-mana Spirits to make it a thing. On the other hand, at this point, we’re getting far enough out that I doubt they could have really predicted it when they were working on Modern Masters 2015.

I feel obligated to mention Archangel Avacyn. I have no idea what to do with it in particular, aside from putting it in a deck that can reliably get 3WW, ideally one with other creatures and ways to sacrifice some of those creatures, but the power level is definitely here.

The card is crazy; I just don’t know if it’s crazy in a way that’s useful in Modern. I mean, it kind of has to be, but where? Maybe the first place to try it is as a one-of Chord of Calling target to protect your creatures or go nuts with Viscera Seer, but I’m not sure that that slot isn’t better served by Reveillark.

The last card I want to talk about is Anguished Unmaking, a card I’m so excited about I’ve already built and tested a deck to play with it. At first glance, this seems about comparable to Utter End. I think a mana is worth about three life, but there’s just such a huge difference between three and four mana. I think you can play this card in Modern, and I don’t think the same is true of Utter End.

I’m not saying I expect this card to be everywhere. Thoughtseize is great, as is Painful Truths, and you can only play so many cards that ask you to pay life. I expect this card to see play in small numbers, and mostly in sideboards, but this much versatility is really valuable.

This is the list I tested recently:

The idea is to figure out how to use Eldrazi in a world without Eye of Ugin, and I think this is a great starting point. Wasteland Strangler’s ability to make Tidehollow Sculler, Fiend Hunter, and even Flickerwisp exiles more reliable while killing something was incredible, and Eldrazi Displacer is amazing in this deck, especially with Aether Vial, which lets you use it as a trick or have enough mana to use it on a Fiend Hunter or Tidehollow Sculler as it’s entering the battlefield in response to its trigger, so that you get to exile one thing permanently and another temporarily.

Once you get up to six mana, you can start permanently exiling things by blinking one of them and then blinking again in response to the trigger. Shriekmaw is also busted with Eldrazi Displacer, but I kept the number low in the maindeck because Shriekmaw doesn’t work against Affinity or any creatureless deck.

The mana here is really nice in that all the incentives line up properly. The Eldrazi and Leonin Arbiter both push you to play the same kinds of lands. This deck has fourteen colorless sources, fifteen white Sources, and fourteen black sources. That’s a little lighter on white than I’d like to be, especially since it’s counting Fetid Heath and I only have fourteen ways to activate Fetid Heath. I’d like to get that number up, but Ghost Quarter and Eldrazi Temple are both amazing in this deck, and Aether Vial helps with the colored mana issue, since it lets you skirt most of your casting costs. It’s possible that the second Fetid Heath is too greedy. I’m not sure what the best land to replace it is. Interestingly, I think one Marsh Flats isn’t an unreasonable option.

The fact that blinking gives you more of whatever you have gives this deck an amazing ability to transform in sideboarding. Against creatures, all your cards are two-for-ones that answer creatures, and against spells, they become two-for-ones that attack the opponent’s hand.

When I tried this deck out, I went 4-1 in a League, and Tron, which beat me, was the only deck to take a game off me. Anguished Unmaking would have been the perfect card there, as it might have let me beat their big planeswalkers. All the good removal made the Eldrazi matchups feel great, so it’s kind of a shame that that will be less important, but it felt like the deck had enough play in other places. For what it’s worth, I beat Storm, U/W Control, and two Eldrazi decks.

It might just be hubris that this deck doesn’t have Affinity hate in the sideboard, but I think it just might be good enough at killing creatures that it doesn’t need it. Experience is required on that front to know for sure.

After Shadows over Innistrad comes out, I’d expect the list to start here:

Aven Riftwatcher joins the sideboard in anticipation of more Burn in Modern after Eye of Ugin is banned, and I cut removal because there will be fewer Eldrazi to kill.

So far, none of the cards we’ve seen are really slam dunks for Modern, but there’s enough to explore. I think most of the new decks we’ll see will actually be the new school of Eldrazi, decks that find a “fair” way to use the powerful creatures from Oath of the Gatewatch without Eye of Ugin, when we start to realize that they’re good enough even without eight Ancient Tombs.

Let me leave you with another quick brainstorm for an Eldrazi deck without Eye of Ugin:

This deck uses mana creatures instead of Aether Vial, which means it needs a little more colored mana, so I had to give up a Ghost Quarter. Because it doesn’t have Aether Vial, it’s moved away from Flickerwisp, but the additional mana sources mean that Reality Smasher can be cast in a timely fashion. Boreal Druid picks up some slack in missing colorless sources, and Ancient Stirrings helps find more Eldrazi Temples or Reality Smashers.

I’m not sure that Sword of Fire and Ice is the right piece of equipment for the sideboard, but it’s a cool different kind of thing to be able to find with Ancient Stirrings.

I’m assuming that only Eye of Ugin will be banned from the Eldrazi decks because Aaron Forsythe said he didn’t want to kill the Eldrazi decks in an interview in Detroit. It’ll be interesting to see if Eldrazi can remain a Tier 1 deck even without its best card. Given the dominance we’ve seen so far, I don’t think it’s out of the question.

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