Talking To Modern Masterminds

CVM and his magnificent beard offer up a double-dose of Modern as he gets hints on Ad Nauseam and G/R Land Destruction from two of their top proponents, including play insight and sideboard guides, plus a follow-up to his predictions for Modern Masters 2017!

Grand Prix Orlando March 24-26!

Greetings, fellow Modern Masters. If you’ve been following my content as of late, you may have noticed that I’m in the midst of an affair with Ad Nauseam.

It’s true, and I won’t deny it. I love the simple pleasures of sitting back and doing nothing, sculpting your hand until the moment you pounce and kill your opponent. It’s great, but I hadn’t figured out just why there weren’t other people on the deck.

Then Nick Byrd came along and won the Modern Open in Indianapolis, and he did it using a list that is a bit unconventional. Had he broken it? I talked about my thoughts on his deck last time in my article, and when he reached out to me via Facebook to thank me for mentioning his deck on StarCityGames.com, I thought that I may have a nice opportunity to strike up a chat and ask him some questions about his Ad Nauseam deck.

But first, I wanted to get to know him a bit more. So the first question I asked him was if he could tell me a little more about himself. He writes:

Nicholas Byrd (NB): I am currently finishing my bachelor’s at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI. I was pursuing the Pro Tour last year, grinding every PPTQ, SCG Open, and Grand Prix within driving distance, earning my two GP byes by March of 2016. The opportunity to go back to school presented itself and I decided to go back while putting competitive Magic on the shelf. Modern being my favorite format, the buzz around MM17, and accidentally winning an entire Open givesme the itch to start playing more. In my free time, I enjoy spending time with friends, trying different foods, traveling as often as possible, weekly trivia, and of course playing Magic.”

Well, Nick sounds like a regular Modern-loving Magic player, and winning an Open is a decent reason to start battling more. 30 SCG Points is a healthy amount, and I urged him to try and go to as many SCG Opens as he can!

In regards to his deck, I wanted to have him explain to me what exactly the Ad Nauseam deck does. It’s not exactly the most popular deck in Modern, and some players might not be familiar with how the deck functions. I also wanted to pick his brain about why he thinks Ad Nauseam is good in Modern.

NB: Ad Nauseam is one of the few combo decks present in Modern. The deck works to sculpt a hand of Ad Nauseam plus Phyrexian Unlife or Angel’s Grace alongside five to six mana (depending on which white combo piece is drawn) with its twelve to fourteen cantrips. Once the combo has been assembled, you draw your entire deck with Ad Nauseam because either you cannot lose this turn or your life total going below zero is acceptable, and then finish your opponent with a Lightning Storm. I believe the deck is good in Modern due to its ability to kill at instant speed, its resiliency, and the overall unpreparedness of opponents.

That really is Ad Nauseam in a nutshell, and I can see some of his points about why he thinks Ad Nauseam is good in Modern. Killing at instant speed does add some value, but I don’t think it’s as important as the redundancy behind the deck. Utilizing all the cantrips to sculpt your hand is great and gives you some protection against discard. The big point that I want to harp on is that most Modern opponents are just not prepared for Ad Nauseam, either by way of not having enough cards that interact with it specifically or just being unfamiliar with how the deck operates.

Nick is still advocating the list that he won SCG Indianapolis with, but I was interested in some information about matchups. What were the deck’s best and worst matchups and why?

NB: Its best matchups are linear/non-interactive decks: Tron, Burn, Scapeshift, Affinity, and Dredge. The deck curtails the fast damage done by Burn, Affinity and Dredge with Angel’s Grace and Phyrexian Unlife, while Tron is the slower un-interactive deck. Scapeshift can interact, but as we can kill them at instant speed, it’s very difficult for them to go off, and we can sculpt the right hand with Pact of Negation backup.

“Its worst matchups are Thoughtseize decks: Death’s Shadow, Jund, Lantern Control, and Infect. Thoughtseize decks rip your combo apart, while the damage from Infect is often too fast and unpreventable with both Angel’s Grace and Phyrexian Unlife.

“The Thoughtseize decks can be combated with Leyline of Sanctity out of the sideboard, and due to the redundant nature of the deck, Ad Nauseam can always still win any game in when they are far behind. Infect on the other hand is nigh-impossible and is the reason you sometimes see cards like Crovax, Ascendant Evincar in the sideboard.

I can attest to that. Interestingly enough, though, Nick did exceptionally well against the Death’s Shadow deck in Indy, even though it is a Thoughtseize deck that can also pressure while disrupting. I would have to imagine there were some miracle opening-hand Leylines and some Timely Reinforcements holding down the fort.

Nick’s version of the deck is different from most, and while I could only speculate the reasons why he liked it, I figured, what better opportunity than to get the answer straight from the horse’s mouth?

NB:This version is more consistent than the Spoils of the Vault version while at times being slower. Yes, the fetchlands seem out of place, but having the utility of grabbing a Steam Vents for a Desperate Ritual allows the deck to overextend with Simian Spirit Guides and gives you an out to a Blood Moon where the Spoils of the Vault version has almost zero play against the card.

Mystical Teachings is often seen as ‘too slow’ but can be a useful tutor for some silver bullet sideboard cards and usually digs me out of a Liliana lock given that it has Flashback, turning into a fifth Ad Nauseam. Having additional Temples also facilitates a more patient playstyle and allows you to lean on that instant-speed kill while your opponent has their shields down.”

I agree that this version makes the deck a bit more consistent while also being slower, but I think that it also drops the power level of the deck down a bit. Now that it is becoming a bit more of a known quantity, I think that consistency is going to wind up being better. This was the same mentality with the old Amulet Bloom decks cutting Simian Spirit Guide.

Speaking of Simian Spirit Guide, I believe that it is once again potentially on the block for a banning in Modern. I wondered if the recent banning of Gitaxian Probe and Golgari Grave-Troll affected his view of the deck.

NB:To a degree. I’m not sure if the banning of Gitaxian Probe or the printing of Fatal Push was more detrimental to Infect’s supremacy on the format, but I am more than happy that it has and Ad Nauseam can once again take its rightful place at the Modern throne!”

All right, Nick, calm down there a bit. I understand that you love Ad Nauseam, but there are plenty of other decks in the format. What would you say is your favorite card in the deck?

NB:Ad Nauseam, of course. Who doesn’t like drawing their entire deck in one turn? With 80% of the deck being converted mana cost two or less, there are many opportunities to cast an Ad Nauseam without the other side of the combo to fill your hand again, and since it is an instant, you can do it in your opponent’s end step!

Well, color me surprised that someone’s favorite card in the deck is the card the deck is named after. Where is team Simian Spirit Guide? Right here, that’s where!

I had one final question for Nick, and I wanted to know if he had any tips or tricks for someone who decided to pick up the deck now and start battling with Ad Nauseam.

NB:The deck is highly unforgiving to misplays. You should definitely jam quite a few games both pre- and-post sideboard to get comfortable with the deck.”

Thank you for that insight, Nick. I think he’s trying to say that to learn how to play Ad Nauseam, you should just play Ad Nauseam ad nauseam.

Before I move on to the next deck, let’s look at some sideboarding for a few popular Modern decks.

Sideboarding with Ad Nauseam

Death’s Shadow



I would also sideboard this way against Jund and Abzan decks.

Bant Eldrazi









I really do love this deck, and if I weren’t being honest, I would say that it is the deck that I recommend for any Modern event you have coming up.

Landing Hard

But, since I like to be honest, there is another deck that almost cracked into the Top 8 in Indy. This is a deck that has been floating around in Modern for some time, and in fact, I even wrote a bit about it before. Now, there isn’t any reason that I am drawn to this deck; I just have a bit of a soft spot for ramping and land death. Yep, no reason at all.

This time, though, I wanted to go right to the source and chat with the person who has been putting in a lot of time with this archetype, a good friend from the Kansas City, Missouri area, Matt Mendoza.

Now, Matt is a writer, so I asked him to write a quick blurb for me to use to introduce him, and, being the professional he is, he gladly obliged.

Matt Mendoza (MM): “Matt Mendoza has been trying to play Magic for about 21 years; he’ll succeed someday. He’s worked for WotC as a member of the coverage team, was the fourth member of the Eh Team Podcast, and has attacked Magic journalism many ways, including for two with Jackal Pup. He’s a proud husband and Jayhawk, father of three cats, and can give CVM a run for his money in the Best Beard in Magic (Under 35 division). “

I don’t know about that beard thing, but Matt is a great guy and has been playing Magic forever, and again, there isn’t anything in particular about this G/R Land Destruction deck that I am drawn to.

Since Matt has been innovating this archetype since its inception, I wanted to get his current list that he used to almost Top 8 a recent large Modern event in Kansas City. I also wanted to have Matt explain just what exactly this list of durdly green and red cards is trying to do.

MM:G/R Land Destruction is a soft-prison tempo deck. It aims to either lock your opponent out of the game completely or, at the very least, knock them back a few turns while we ramp forward so our insane topdecks and fatties can win the game. This deck is good in Modern because it leverages the power of Blood Moon, one of the format’s most potent weapons, with a strategy not often seen: land destruction. Additionally, red and green have much to offer in the way of resilient creatures like Stormbreath Dragon, Chameleon Colossus, and Thrun, the Last Troll, and powerful sideboard options while not being a victim to those options.”

Hmm, yes, yes. I see. So, G/R Land Destruction aims to have all the fun in the match. Play Blood Moon and/or destroy some lands, and win with big creatures like Stormbreath Dragon.

Give me a second. Much like some other cards in the deck, I’ve got to look that one up and see just what it does.

Oh man, a flying haste Dragon with protection from white and Fatal Push? That seems all right, I guess.

Why should anyone play this deck, though? In Modern you can literally do anything, so why this? What is it good against?

MM:This deck’s best matchups are decks with any combination of Urza’s Tower, Eldrazi Temple, and/or Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. It turns out, that’s a good portion of the format. It is also strong against Grixis and many of the other control decks. Its weakest matchups are the combo decks that don’t require many lands to operate (Ad Nauseam and Grishoalbrand). Its worst matchup is Blue Turns. But if you play against that deck, who’s really winning? No one.

I’m sure Ali Aintrazi will disagree with you on the Turns thing, but being favored against Tron decks, Primeval Titan decks, and Bant Eldrazi seems like a great start. With Ad Nauseam winning the Open in Indy, I think we may see more people trying to play decks that can prey on the combo decks, and that leaves them wide open for a Stormdaddy attack, I mean Stormbreath Dragon attack, a card that I just learned about while writing this.

It seems that Matt is very passionate about this deck and had some great insight into playing the deck for the uninitiated.

MM:Oftentimes your paper opponent will try to attack you with the Beast Within token you give them during their upkeep, but remember, it does not have haste. Also, allow your opponents time to read your cards. They will need it and you’re probably winning that match anyway.

“In all seriousness, you’re playing a deck with land destruction. Sometimes, that strategy is downright bad but can still steal games. Don’t get enchanted by that luck. Sideboard into an R/G Midrange deck when necessary. I often will sideboard out Stone Rain, Mwonvuli Acid-Moss, and even Blood Moon. On this topic, recognize that Moon is the most efficient LD spell we have and should stay in, in some numbers, to battle Mutavault, Inkmoth Nexus and Blinkmoth Nexus, Ghost Quarter, or manabases with powerful, colorful spells, but few basics (Burn, Zoo, etc.).

“Beast Within is the most difficult card to play and some tricky plays include killing your own Kitchen Finks or targeting your Thrun, the Last Troll and regenerating it. You can also use Inferno Titan or Lightning Bolt to kill your own Finks.

It seems that there is a lot more thought going into the deck than just simple land death. I wonder if the recent bannings of Gitaxian Probe and Golgari Grave-Troll played any part into Matt’s use of the deck and Ryan Shaner’s Top 8 miss.

MM:The bannings helped the deck a lot because two of the strongest decks in the format, Dredge and Infect, got neutered. Dredge is now slower, which plays into our midrange plan. Infect now seems to be on life support, which frees up the sideboard slots we dedicated to Sudden Shock. Tron is now better-positioned, which is better for us.

That’s an interesting take on it, and if we look at the results from the last few events, we can see that Infect has declined significantly. Is this an effect of Gitaxian Probe being banned or is it something else? I think that Death’s Shadow may have some impact on this, as the deck is much like Infect in playstyle, yet isn’t as vulnerable to the type of spot removal that Infect is vulnerable to. I wouldn’t be surprised if a good chunk of the current Death’s Shadow players were also Infect players.

With all great stories, there is a beginning, middle, and end. Here we are seeing a fairly tuned list for this deck, but I wonder what things looked like in the beginning for Matt and his G/R Land Destruction party.

MM: “In the earliest drafts of my deck, the strategy was too incremental. My goal was to play Acidic Slime at every point in the curve. It started with Avalanche Riders and went all the way up to Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. The problem was, when I got behind, it was nigh-impossible to catch up. I needed hammers, and I was playing a deck with mostly scalpels. So, I gave my list to my teammate Michael Nielsen and he added hammers: Inferno Titan, Bonfire of the Damned, Stormbreath Dragon, etc. Basically, you slow them down a couple of turns while setting up your mana and then you play hammers to turn the tide or win outright. The strategy is now a solid mix of scalpels and hammers, but getting that mix right was tough and is an ever-changing aspect of the deck.”

Man, we keep seeing this Stormbreath Dragon card brought up. If it’s this exciting in Modern, I wonder if anyone ever did anything with it in Standard?

Modern truly is a format where you can play anything you want. Just look at the results from the different large Modern events around the world. There is generally a deck or two that will crop up and be viewed as the “popular” deck for that weekend, but you will always have your Hatebears and Merfolk players battling to within arms’ reach of the Top 8. Affinity is always going to show up, and those who like to count right from two to seven will be there slamming Karn as their opponents shout, “What in Liberation is that?”

Here is a must-know tip from the mouth of Matt himself!

MM:The one thing I would tell people is to understand when you can and can’t keep a hand without an Elf, Sprawl, or Birds of Paradise. Most are unkeepable, but there are times when you can start playing on turn 3 and that’s fine. In the dark, it’s probably not okay. The next level is evaluating how each hand lines up against the possible decks in the format. Rest assured, however, that the deck mulligans well and can reward you with some insane four- and five-card combinations. Worst-case, you can set up your mana for your awesome topdecks.

That makes a lot of sense! I’ve played a few “ramp” decks in my time, and when your deck is designed to ramp into threats faster than the opponent can handle them, not being afraid to mulligan hands that don’t do enough, or don’t enact the strategy you are needing to put forward is important.

Before we go, let’s check out some sideboarding notes for the G/R Land Destruction deck against a few popular decks in Modern.

Sideboarding with G/R Land Destruction













Note: keep Lightning Bolt if you see Dark Confidant.




Death’s Shadow



Note: I think that some amount of land death may be worthwhile, considering the deck only has a few actual lands, but this is the plan that Matt and his team have been using for the matchup.

Thanks for Your Time!

I want to thank both Nick and Matt for taking time out of their week to chat with me about their respective decks. Matt also wanted to give a big shout out to his teammate and friend Michael Nielsen for all the work he’s put into the deck, and if anyone has any questions for Matt, you can find him on Twitter @mattmendoza.

I would love to see either of these two decks do well soon. [Copy Editor’s Note: After CVM submitted this article, Ricky Linn and Gordon Clinard did him proud at the SCG Tour stop in Texas.] I have been on a big Ad Nauseam kick, and the G/R Land Destruction deck just looks sweet. I mean, there isn’t anything else about the deck that makes me want to see it do well.

How’d I Do?

Before I leave, I do have to address my predictions from last time and the contents of Modern Masters 2017!

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

We are already seeing price increases in cards like Engineered Explosives and Chalice of the Void. I mean, just look at Merchant Scroll. I will admit, though, that this prediction was low-hanging fruit.

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.

I was right on this one too. The new Snapcaster Mage art is not something I am inclined to like.

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

Wrong. Oops.

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.

I was quite off-base on this one and didn’t consider the delay in the Banned and Restricted announcement in relation to the release of the full set list. I still think something will be unbanned, though!

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

Hey, I got that one right!

6. Tarmogoyf isn’t in the set and will creep back towards $200.

Well, color me wrong on this one. I am surprised that the ole Goyf is in the set, but very happy about it. Having cards not hit $200 is a great way to keep the format active and popular.

I would love to make some predictions for Modern going forward, but I’ve been quite off lately other than my few recent hits. Hopefully this Stormbreath Dragon card (or Ad Nauseam) can keep winning!

Grand Prix Orlando March 24-26!