Sick Decks

Don’t say Chris VanMeter didn’t warn you. The Pugfather called out Ad Nauseam as a broken Modern deck to beat, and guess what happened at SCG Indianapolis? He follows up with his take on the winning list and why he hopes Mishra’s Bauble is lurking in Modern Masters 2017!

Holy Modern, Batman!

The SCG Tour stop in Indianapolis for the Modern Open over the weekend capped at 900 players during preregistration on Friday.

Go ahead. Read that again. As much as some of the top players in the game (oh, and also me) like to complain about the format, it is clearly popular. Standard can get stale. You are afraid of Cats or Snakes, or whatever it is that has you down on that front? In Modern, you can truly do whatever you want.

And it’s very clear that what people want is to play Modern.

You don’t show up with a Japanese Foil Merfolk deck because you kind of like to play Magic every now and then. You show up because you freaking love Merfolk and want to play as much Modern as you can. You show up because you have “Rejeerey Rocks” and “Lords for Lyfe” tattooed on your shoulders.

I may not love the format per se, but I love the players. I get more requests for deck reviews for Modern than I do for every other format combined. I’ve even had people make donations to have me play their favorite Modern deck and get my feedback on their labor of love.

Enough of me gushing about how much I love watching people play what they love. What happened over the weekend, exactly?

Down with the Sickness

Well, it seems like someone took to heart my words from a few weeks ago about how I felt everyone was crazy to not be playing Ad Nauseam. Yes, I have been trying out the Amulet Titan deck, which is very good, by the way, and yes, I have been killing people on turns 1 and 2 with Puresteel Paladin, but my sentiment for Ad Nauseam hadn’t waned.

It seemed that it also hadn’t waned for Nicholas Byrd, as he took the whole thing down with a bit of a different take on the deck.

His manabase is a bit different than the norm, but I can get behind having an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth in the deck. This helps make it so that your Gemstone Mines will be dying less, which is a good thing!

I don’t really like the fetch-and-shock portion of his list, but I do understand it a bit since he has a Desperate Ritual in his deck, and you can’t reliably cast it with only Gemstone Mine and you can’t really afford to play “off-color” fastlands.

Going up to seven Temples is interesting, and I would love to hear if people like it or not after trying it out.

Now, the big differences with Nicholas’s list from most typical Ad Nauseam decks is that he doesn’t have a Laboratory Maniac in the main, and has opted to play a Desperate Ritual, three Peer Through Depths, a Slaughter Pact, and a Mystical Teachings in exchange for cutting a copy of Pentad Prism, a Phyrexian Unlife, and all the Spoils of the Vault.

These changes give the deck a much less “all-in” feeling while playing. It is going to make the deck a bit more consistent, but it does reduce the raw power level of the deck. That being said, Peer Through Depths plays very similarly to Spoils of the Vault. The big difference is that we can Spoils of the Vault for a Simian Spirit Guide to combo off if we happen to already have the pieces we need, and while Peer Through Depths can’t find a Simian Spirit Guide, it can find a Desperate Ritual, which plays a similar role. There is only one copy of Desperate Ritual, though, and while I’m sure finding it to win using Peer Through Depths comes up a nonzero amount of the time, I’d be willing to bet it’s still a pretty small percentage.

From his winner’s interview, Nicholas talks a bit about how he feels his list is more patient and how he likes to sit back and kill his opponent in response to a fetchland activation or some random spell. This is something that I can appreciate. Nicholas also claimed that his Death’s Shadow matchup was favorable, which I can see. Yes, they can rip your hand apart, but we have Leyline of Sanctity in the sideboard to help fight that, and the deck is more than capable of winning through all the discard.

In fact, the one card that I am super-impressed with from watching coverage over the weekend was the Timely Reinforcements in his sideboard. This card played perfectly against the “discard into Tarmogoyf” decks by giving Nicholas a nice life buffer and putting some chump blockers onto the battlefield. With all the ways to find the combo pieces and having redundancy in the Phyrexian Unlife / Angel’s Grace slot makes playing this deck feel a lot like Sneak and Show in Legacy.

I tell you what, though, Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand aren’t no Brainstorm.

Speaking of Modern decks that feel like Legacy decks, watching these Death’s Shadow decks operate feels like watching Delver in Legacy when it’s doing its Delver-y thing. It’s almost like they are operating at an entirely different speed from the opponent.

One of the identifiers of “being ahead” and “tempo” in Magic is “Who is doing more stuff?” Death’s Shadow is almost always winning on that front.

It didn’t take down the championship, but it did put two copies into the Top 8 and a few more in the Top 32. I guess my question of whether it was going to have legs or be a flash in the pan is being answered. Prepare to be forced into interaction early for the foreseeable future.

There have been plenty of articles written about how to pilot this deck and the theory behind its construction. Gerry Thompson and Sam Black, two of the players who Top 8ed GP Vancouver with the deck, have written some great articles about the deck (Gerry’s article here and Sam’s here) and I highly suggest them.

I only have one issue with this deck, and it’s not that you get to effectively play a 52-card deck. Gitaxian Probe was even banned recently, which was a card that was being used in this strategy before.

It’s not that you get to play two-mana 5/6s and one-mana 10/10s.

It’s not even that you get to cheat on the rest of the numbers in the deck because of Traverse the Ulvenwald.

It’s this:

I thank my lucky stars that I didn’t proxy on the back of the ones that I had. I’ve been in this game for a long time, and I have boxes and boxes of zero-cost artifacts stored away because you never know. $25, though? Come on buddy.

We are amid Modern Masters 2017 previews and we just had Goblin Guide and the Zendikar fetchlands revealed. This is great news! Modern will be more accessible. People who want to play, can indeed play. Everyone is speculating that the box cover art is Snapcaster Mage. We are all wondering why Stoic Angel was selected as an icon card for the booster art, and I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who is jumping for joy at more Domri Rades being introduced into the Multiverse.

The big question in my mind, though, is “What happens to Mishra’s Bauble if it’s not in Modern Masters 2017?”

It’s not like it can be reprinted in any normal set. Maybe a Commander or Planechase printing, but they can’t really put it in a current set because of its name. I don’t think it’s too good to ban, so what happens if Mishra’s Bauble isn’t in Modern Masters 2017? It’s currently $24.99 and sold out here on StarCityGames.com.

Are we going to live in a world where Mishra’s freaking Bauble is fifty bucks?

Wild Swings, Baby!

Speaking of Modern Masters 2017, they really hit us with a whammy right out of the gates. All the Zendikar fetchlands and Goblin Guide? No mythics as of my writing this though, and as I have recently found my love for listing my predictions, so let’s give this a shot.

1. There will be some card that does not get reprinted that spikes super-hard.

Here is my list of cards that I can see this happening with:

I will be surprised if Cavern of Souls isn’t in Modern Masters 2017, and I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility for Mox Opal to finally get the axe, but the rest of those cards are low in printing and have the potential to spike hard without a reprinting.

2. Liliana of the Veil and Snapcaster Mage will be in the set, and the box top art is indeed Snapcaster Mage, but it looks hideous in full on the card.

3. Basilisk Collar won’t be in Modern Masters 2017 and will spike, but it will be in the next Commander set.

4. There will be a card unbanned in Modern that will be in the set. The two that come to mind are Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Stoneforge Mystic, but it may just be Bloodbraid Elf.

5. Scavenging Ooze will be in, but Mutavault won’t.

6. Tarmogoyf isn’t in the set and will creep back towards $200.00.

I honestly feel like we are at the point with Modern that it’s kind of its own thing that’s being driven by the people. Without any Pro Tour appearances, Wizards of the Coast has the opportunity to experiment and try things that people are asking for. Modern supporters are loud, as are the people who are unhappy with the format. Nothing makes me happier than to see people talking about what they think should or shouldn’t be in the format and why, but a lot of the time I see conversations that go like this:

Person 1: “Simian Spirit Guide shouldn’t be in the format. It’s basically Lotus Petal, sometimes better, and is a degenerate card.”

Person 2: “Shut up, loser, quit complaining. I never lose to that card and I beat everyone!”

[Todd Stevens and I had this discussion yesterday. But nicer. –Ed.]

This kind of conversation doesn’t really accomplish anything and generally leads to more mean-spirited comments and name-calling. If you feel passionate about why a card should or shouldn’t be in the format, talk about why you feel that way. Here are some things to keep in mind when discussing cards in Modern.

  • Understand the differences between format health and format diversity. A big complaint is that the format is too diverse. This can be an issue, but it really depends on what the goal of the format is. In its current incarnation, I think that Modern is too diverse, but it isn’t preventing the cream from rising to the top, and if people feel they can play whatever they want and have a chance to be successful, then that is a healthy format to me.
  • Try to be objective rather than subjective. In our conversation from above, just because you claim to have never lost to a card that doesn’t mean it’s not degenerate. Keeping things out of the realm of getting personal will help keep the constructing discussion flowing.
  • Understand that there is a difference between being right and being correct. Our justification of what’s right may not actually be what is correct, and keeping that in mind when looking at the format and where the cards all land is a great way to keep it even-keeled.
  • Have faith in Wizards of the Coast in that they are listening and working to shape the format into what their vision is. I believe it’s a “play anything you want” vision, and if that’s the case, then they are doing a very good job.

It has taken me some time to come around on the format, and I think that a lot of that had to do with me no longer traveling all over the country and grinding every weekend for income, but it is a treat to play. I look forward each week to see what’s new in Modern and what fun things will crop up next. I mean, people are using Hardened Scales, Walking Ballista, and Rite of Passage to kill their opponent.

Anything is possible!

What do you think of my predictions? What are yours? Is Jace, the Mind Sculptor coming back, and if he does, what happens to his price?

We get to find out this week, so stay tuned for all the Modern Masters 2017 previews!