All right, everyone. Settle down. In case you’ve been living under a rock, here’s the announcement from earlier this week:
- Faithless Looting banned.
- Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis banned.
- Stoneforge Mystic unbanned.
Hogaak getting banned was almost predetermined, but the other two choices are going to shake up Modern in a big way. Over the last four months or so, Modern has been given a virtual facelift. With Modern Horizons, War of the Spark, and a few bans and unbans, there are so many new things about Modern to take in and understand. First of all, two of the format’s top decks before Hogaak are now effectively done for.
- Izzet Phoenix without Faithless Looting won’t exist.
As a result, I expect a few different archetypes to pop up that try to utilize Thing in the Ice and Manamorphose, two of the other incredibly powerful tools that the Izzet Phoenix deck utilized. I also expect some Storm decks to adopt Aria of Flame as an alternate win condition that doesn’t utilize the graveyard. Storm in general should get a lot better now that people will go back to Surgical Extraction and the like as graveyard removal, as opposed to knockouts like Rest in Peace that neuter one of your best cards, Past in Flames.
- Dredge and any other deck that relied heavily on Faithless Looting as an enabler are dead.
There are a lot of mediocre decks that could potentially show up, but we all know that Faithless Looting was the glue that kept those decks together. Without Faithless Looting, a lot of their draws will feature slower starts and less redundancy. I expect Hollow One will be one of the few Faithless Looting decks that might survive, if only because Burning Inquiry meets the “discard three cards” requirement for Hollow One without any other help.
- Stoneforge Mystic will spawn a host of new or revamped archetypes.
I know a lot of people are going to write about Stoneforge Mystic this week, so let me just say that Stoneforge Mystic is a busted card that just might take over Modern now that two of its potential natural enemies were axed at the same time it was unbanned. I think both Dredge and Izzet Phoenix could have been well-positioned against the archetype, but having neither in the format to help potentially check this new powerhouse is troubling.
But let’s focus on the positives. Stoneforge Mystic getting unbanned and Faithless Looting getting banned mean there’s a lot of room for innovation. Decks that were previously weak to Izzet Phoenix or Dredge now have room in the format. Stoneforge Mystic might constrict that space to a certain degree, but I think there’s a lot of room between the two, and a lot of unfair decks that could be disastrous for a normal Stoneforge Mystic strategy.
The first place I think people will go with Stoneforge Mystic is the same place I went: Azorius Stoneblade. A throwback to the Standard deck, this iteration of Stoneforge Mystic relies on having an incredibly constrictive control package that uses this cheap threat to gain a foothold in the early turns. Control decks rarely have a tool like that at their disposal. The closest thing I can think of in recent memory is Thing in the Ice or Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, two cards that have seen a ton of play in the last few years.
But aside from that, Stoneforge Mystic gives you a real way to close games without investing a ton of slots in your maindeck. Your plan versus aggressive decks just got a lot tighter, because them failing to kill Stoneforge Mystic means they’re likely going to lose to Batterskull. But isn’t that okay? I mean, I’ve seen some really messed-up stuff in Modern before, but a third-turn Batterskull doesn’t really strike fear into the hearts of most Modern archetypes.
But the time for arguing the theory of whether Stoneforge Mystic is too good for Modern has now passed, and we’ve got to start figuring out what place it represents. Is it good in Control? That seems like the obvious starting point. But what about white-based aggro like Legacy’s Death and Taxes? What about a more combo-oriented version featuring Urza, Lord High Artificer? I’ve seen rumblings of all three archetypes on Twitter over the last 24 hours.
I’m sure I’m going to regret taking this from Shaheen Soorani, but here are some control builds featuring Stoneforge Mystic I’ve been thinking about for a while. Because of my work on VS Live! and the VS Series before it, I’ve had plenty of time to experiment with Stoneforge Mystic as we tried it out in various stages of Modern over the last few years. In addition to that, I’ve just been silently brewing Stoneforge Mystic decks in my head for the last seven or eight years, reminiscing about the days of when I could play it in Standard, Extended, Legacy, and now Modern.
Taking into consideration what I’ve learned playing the card over my career, I present three versions of Stoneforge Mystic.
This iteration features a few ways to punish people for tapping out to kill Stoneforge Mystic in the early turns. Both Mantis Rider and Teferi, Time Raveler are huge spells to resolve on the third turn of the game in different matchups, giving you an obscene amount of pressure to pair with all your burn spells or a defensive measure against opposing creature or control decks.
Aside from that aspect, this Jeskai build tries to utilize the most efficient creatures at the two- and three-drop slots that might want to wield Equipment. While Mantis Rider doesn’t really need help, it does a great job of playing offense and defense while suiting it up with some weaponry. Plus, having it equipped by a Sword of Fire and Ice is pretty damn terrifying.
The removal package leans on red for Lightning Bolt, as I think red removal will come back in a big way. You can’t really afford to let Stoneforge Mystic untap from the opposing side, so going hard on Lightning Bolt instead of Path to Exile just makes sense. Giving them a land in the early turns is also really bad.
This iteration also puts an emphasis on the fast lands from Scars of Mirrodin and Kaladesh. Having lands that don’t deal you much damage is important when playing three colors, as dealing yourself too much damage is certainly the easiest way to die before you get Batterskull online. Because of this emphasis, you’ll notice a severe lack of four-mana spells in the deck. That’s because we don’t want to have our fourth land enter the battlefield tapped on a crucial turn, so we’re leaning on three-mana creatures (for Stoneforge Mystic) and Teferi, Time Raveler to do some heavy lifting in that spot.
For the record, I’m not certain that Teferi, Time Raveler is better in that slot than Narset, Parter of Veils, but the themes of this deck revolve around tempo in no small part. In fact, there’s a chance that this deck should be built a bit more creature-heavy, featuring Reflector Mage in order to get more mileage out of these creatures and Equipment. It also leads me to believe that an Azorius Death and Taxes-style deck featuring Aether Vial and some hatebears might end up being a great strategy to try next.
This is the baddie out of the sideboard that I’ve wanted back for a long time. People are going to interact with you quite a bit because of your reliance on Stoneforge Mystic, but that just means you can punish them hard for tapping out. With all your removal, it shouldn’t be too hard to clean up the blockers they put in the way, and very few removal spells in the format can do much against this blast from the past.
While it isn’t the biggest creature to put Equipment on, creatures with hexproof are often great targets for stuff like Auras or Equipment. And while you won’t be suiting it up with Batterskull too often, I expect Sword of Feast and Famine or Sword of Fire and Ice will be joining hands with Geist of Saint Traft quite a bit over the next few months.
But Geist of Saint Traft isn’t the only powerful three-drop to pair with Equipment. Next up: a Golden Oldie.
Shaheen Soorani, please forgive me. I will try to do you justice.
This iteration revolves around Lingering Souls as your other big threat. Combining Stoneforge Mystic with Lingering Souls is a longtime Legacy tradition, as it gives you plenty of bodies for whatever Sword you want to find. Additionally, if the format becomes heavily interactive, cards like Lingering Souls give you an overwhelming advantage in a lot of scenarios. And since I don’t see a lot of Sword of War and Peace running around just yet, Lingering Souls might just be the perfect call for this weekend.
The synergy between Lingering Souls, Tasigur, and Thought Scour is intentional. You have a lot of counterspells, so you want to play at instant speed as much as possible. Thought Scour is a great spell to cast early while protecting yourself with Spell Snare, but it’s still great on the third turn after activating Stoneforge Mystic. Putting more cards in your graveyard also helps make Snapcaster Mage a bit better, as it doesn’t really work with the Equipment, planeswalkers, or Lingering Souls. That’s also the reason we’re down to three copies.
There’s a good chance that Thoughtseize is a big card now and you should just be jamming four copies in the maindeck. It’s a great way to fight an opposing Stoneforge Mystic, stealing away the card they tutor up so that they’re left with a 1/2 body without a lot of relevant text. Thoughtseize is also great against the decks that are looking to punish you for being interactive. Combo decks like Gifts Storm are slightly insulated from discard because of their redundancy, but you just need to hit them with an overwhelming amount of disruption, both in killing their creatures and countering their spells or taking them with discard.
I wouldn’t mind trying a version featuring a manabase similar to the Jeskai build and topping the curve at three. That would make the damage from Thoughtseize hurt a lot less. After all, we don’t have the same manabases that Legacy provided, which means we’re going to be putting our life total in jeopardy quite often if we aren’t careful.
I also like the addition of Tasigur, the Golden Fang as another big threat that stands alone and dodges a lot of the removal people are going to throw at Stoneforge Mystic. Plus, the fact that it only costs one mana later in the game means you’re going to have some absurd tempo turns.
Last up, we’re going for a classic.
- 4 Mana Leak
- 1 Sword of Fire and Ice
- 4 Opt
- 3 Spell Snare
- 1 Cryptic Command
- 4 Path to Exile
- 1 Sword of Feast and Famine
- 1 Batterskull
- 2 Hieroglyphic Illumination
- 2 Force of Negation
Forgive me, but Hieroglyphic Illumination seems like the perfect fit for this deck, and especially so when you combine it with Sword of Feast and Famine. In the early turns, you don’t really have time for these four-drops, and in that scenario it just cycles. But when you have access to excess mana, just like Wilderness Reclamation in some previous brews, cards like Hieroglyphic Illumination really start to shine.
In a lot of ways, this is the safer pick for the weekend, if only because you have a lot of Mono-Green Tron protection. Both Spreading Seas and the maindeck Field of Ruin help alleviate some of those concerns, shutting down the heavy mana production without hurting your development. Additionally, this version also puts some heavy emphasis on card advantage with three copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. While Narset, Parter of Veils might end up being the better play in the long run, there’s really no substitute for Jace, the Mind Sculptor once you’ve gained control. There’s also no substitute for Jace, the Mind Sculptor when you’ve run your opponent out of resources.
In a lot of ways, all three of these Stoneforge Mystic decks approach the same solution at different speeds. Finding the right mix of selection and disruption is key to building the right iteration of Stoneblade. I mean, what if all this time it was Preordain that made Stoneblade busted in Standard? And the synergy with Brainstorm in Legacy is what kept it on top?
If I had to choose between these three, I’d likely end up on the Jeskai version, if only because I love me some Snap-Bolt, and I would love to see the look on my opponent’s face after I resolve Geist of Saint Traft after they kill my Stoneforge Mystic. Regardless, there’s a lot to explore, but if you’re planning on going to #SCGDFW this weekend, any of these three decks would be a fine choice.
Over the next few weeks, as I get settled into my new place out in California, I’m going to start streaming full-time. If you want to check out how Stoneforge Mystic decks end up changing, and how the Modern format changes around it, check out my Twitch stream. I’ve got a lot of cool stuff coming down the pipeline soon, including a big revamp. Hope to see you there! But this weekend, I’ll be gaining a lot more information about the Modern format as I do commentary alongside Ryan Overturf. Should be a lot of fun, even if you can’t be there in person, so make sure to check out all the coverage at the SCG Tour’s Twitch channel!