The Formerly “Turn 4” Format

Todd Stevens can’t share his Players’ Championship tech just yet, but he does want to talk about the evolution of Modern! How do you feel about the format as we approach the #SCGPC and 2017?

I never realized how difficult it was writing an article every week was until I became a weekly columnist this past summer. Some weeks are easier than others, with the easiest being when new sets are released and everyone has their hottest takes about which cards will be cornerstones of Constructed play.

This week? Well…

I’m playing in the biggest tournament of my life next weekend, the #SCGPC, and with the field being fifteen extremely talented competitors, I probably shouldn’t write about my thoughts on the formats or what I’m playing yet, even though I already have all three decks ready to go.

This Standard format is all but over, with Aether Revolt previews just starting to be released. Speaking of those previews, that was my tentative plan for an article this week, but with release date still over a month away, only eleven cards to write about, and with my focus being on the current format and the #SCGPC, I’ll wait for some more previews before tackling Aether Revolt.

You can yield for another time, Ajani.

Admittedly I’ve never been the most experienced Legacy player, but I have a deck I’m comfortable enough with for the #SCGPC. Commander 2016 brought some new powerful creatures to the format, and over on the Premium side Tom Ross wrote a nice article about Leovold, Emissary of Trest’s impact on the format on Monday.

Frontier is intriguing, because if you ask me, the more ways to play Magic: The Gathering the better, but I haven’t had the time to take a look at the format yet.

So that leaves Modern, the format I play the most and therefore am most familiar with. What to do with Modern has been a hot topic over the last couple of months, with seemingly everyone having an opinion of cards that need to be banned or unbanned, while Modern’s popularity continues to rise.

Personally I don’t see anything wrong with Modern at the moment, except maybe it’s no longer the “turn 4 format” it was originally defined to be. Modern is currently the most diverse format I’ve ever seen with no clear best deck, and having a card from your personal pet deck get banned is a feel-bad moment that I don’t think is necessary right now.

Well, glad we determined Modern is great and nothing needs to be done. Thanks for reading my article this week. I’ll see ya next Wednesday!

Okay, okay, I’ll admit that wasn’t the most helpful piece I’ve ever written. Let’s stay with Modern though, and go over some observations of the format that I’ve had over the last couple of weeks, some classic Wednesday morning scatter-shooting.

Is Infect Even Playable Right Now?

It wasn’t long ago that Infect was the best deck in Modern. Andrew Jessup and Brad Carpenter were crushing Open after Open with the deck.

Some people were demanding either Become Immense or Gitaxian Probe (which was my pick) to be banned. I called it playing Legacy Infect on “easy mode.” The strategy even received a reinforcement in Kaladesh in the form of Blossoming Defense, but these days all I see is Infect lose match after match with the number of good matchups the deck has dwindling.

What happened?

Well, in short, I believe the fall of Infect has been caused by the format adapting to how dominant Infect was. Decks that it would beat up on, such as Merfolk, Affinity, and Naya Company, have had their numbers recede from the metagame. Even G/R Tron, which was Infect’s best matchup by far, has been replaced by G/W Tron, which has access to Blessed Alliance, one of the best sideboard cards in the format against Infect.

In order to fight not only Infect but the other creature combo decks and Dredge, these decks are being replaced in the metagame with decks like W/R Prison, Skred Red, Grixis Control, Lantern Control, and Grixis Delver. I’m not sure if you ever witnessed Infect against the W/R Prison deck I’ve been playing recently, but it isn’t for the faint of heart. My “poison counter received” count and my “apology to opponent for them not being able to do anything” count is probably close to 1:1.

No one like losing to Infect, no one.

With good matchup after good matchup being hated out of the format and replaced with interactive control decks, I seriously question if Infect is a good choice to win in Modern right now, much less if anything needs to be banned from the deck. I personally wouldn’t mind seeing Gitaxian Probe go still, but overall I think the format is just fine with Infect being a part of it. Don’t be surprised if Infect is back on top soon if the metagame changes, but right now I’m staying far away from it.

Permanents Aren’t Good Enough to Beat Dredge

Countless times over the past few weeks I’ve deployed a turn 1 Grafdigger’s Cage, turn 2 Rest in Peace, or even “turn 0” Leyline of the Void, only to be defeated soundly by Dredge. Dredge has one of the best Game 1 percentages in the format, and with a sideboard full of Ancient Grudge, Nature’s Claim, Abrupt Decay, and Golgari Charm, relying on two or three permanents for your graveyard hate to win both Games 2 and 3 is a daunting task, if not unrealistic.

If your only goal with those sideboard slots is to beat Dredge, then I believe instant-speed graveyard removal, namely Ravenous Trap and Surgical Extraction, to be better options. This doesn’t mean that Dredge doesn’t have answers to these instant-speed removal spells either, as Jacob Baugh was coming ready for them with a full playset of Thoughtseize to try to proactively take them from his opponent’s hand. Even still, if I had slots in the sideboard that were dedicated only to Dredge, then I would prefer these two cards, but the large variety of decks that you may face in a given tournament usually means that Rest in Peace and Grafdigger’s Cage make the cut.

Out of the two instants, Ravenous Trap is particularly devastating, as you can wait for the perfect moment to exile your opponent’s entire graveyard and make them rebuild it from scratch. The only problem with Ravenous Trap is that it is only useful against this one deck, unlike all other forms of graveyard hate. Even though it is the silver bullet in the matchup, having regular bullets that can be used in a variety of matchups is usually more important when it comes to Modern.

Surgical Extraction isn’t quite as good against Dredge on its own, but it has other applications in the format. Against Dredge, the main targets are Prized Amalgam, Bloodghast, and Narcomoeba, depending on the state of the graveyard. I particularly like Surgical Extraction in any deck with Snapcaster Mage, as being able to exile all copies of two of those three should usually be good enough. Put this duo in a deck full of interactive spells to beat Infect and you have Grixis Delver, a good choice to fight Infect and Dredge.

Gemstone Caverns Is the Most Underplayed Land in Modern

I wasn’t playing Gemstone Caverns in W/R Prison at the Milwaukee Open, the first paper tournament that I played with the deck, and I easily regret it. Tom Ross told me the night before to play it, but I had never played the card before and wasn’t comfortable enough with it and passed on it. Gemstone Caverns was printed before I started playing the game and it’s a weird card when you first read it, so it wasn’t until playing with the card and seeing it in action after the event that I really understood how good it was.

I’ve touched on this a bit in the past, but the more I play with Gemstone Caverns, the more I’m impressed with the card. Imagine if Mox Diamond were legal in Modern and how much it would warp the format. Now, Gemstone Caverns isn’t as good as Mox Diamond, of course, but it isn’t that far off. Sure, it’s legendary and only works when you’re on the draw, but the games that you’re on the draw are the hardest to win anyway. Being legendary is definitely a downside, but if you’re only playing one anyway, it doesn’t matter, and Gemstone Caverns has a couple of upsides over Mox Diamond.

You have to discard a land card in order to activate Mox Diamond, but Gemstone Caverns is allowed to exile the worst card in your hand, whether a land or a spell you don’t plan on casting right away. Also, if you draw a Mox Diamond in the late-game, it will most likely just be a dead card, while Gemstone Caverns can still be that land drop you needed to hit to cast your Gideon Jura or Drowner of Hope.

I have been playing one copy in both W/R Prison and Bant Eldrazi and have been very pleased, and although I personally haven’t tried it yet, I believe it could find a home in other Modern decks as well. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend replacing a land with Gemstone Caverns in every deck, but it could be a good option to replace a spell for decks heavy on two-drops, such as Jund.

Greatness, at any cost.

Now, a Gemstone Caverns without a luck counter wouldn’t be very good at casting spells in Jund, so I wouldn’t remove a land in order to play it, but imagine being able to Lightning Bolt your opponent’s Noble Hierarch on their turn 1 and then cast a Dark Confidant, Grim Flayer, or Tarmogoyf on your turn 1! Or imagine being able to play a Raging Ravine tapped on turn 1 while still casting Inquisition of Kozilek to protect your turn 2 Liliana of the Veil. Having the colorless land in your deck certainly isn’t the worst thing; at least you can discard it to Liliana of the Veil if you don’t need the land, and revealing it to Dark Confidant won’t cost you any life.

I also wonder if Merfolk could use a Gemstone Caverns. Merfolk is currently looked at as a too slow of a creature deck, but if you could cast your Silvergill Adept on 1 one and follow it up with a Merrow Reejerey on turn 2, your turn 3 could be as good as anything else in Modern. I could easily see Gemstone Caverns making the cut with all of the two-drops in Merfolk.

Turn 1, cast two Goblin Guides, attack for four. I know, Burn doesn’t need a Gemstone Caverns at all, but that scenario sounds sweet, though. (Still, don’t put a Gemstone Caverns in your Burn deck.)

I’m honestly not sure when it comes to the Valakut decks. Although those decks have plenty of two-mana accelerants and a lack of one-drops, they really need all their resources in order to hit enough land drops to turn on the Valakut. With that being said, Gemstone Caverns speeds the deck up a turn when it’s on the draw, which could make it a useful sideboard card.

Gemstone Caverns isn’t for every deck in Modern, but it’s definitely better than the amount of play it’s currently seeing.

Modern is only one part of the #SCGPC, but it’s the ticket into the Standard elimination rounds of Day 2. Hopefully my experience in the format will help me make it into Day 2, as my confidence in Legacy, the first format, isn’t too high. I was hopeful, but I didn’t expect to make it to the Players’ Championship at the beginning of the year, and now that I’m here, I feel like I’m playing with house money.

No pressure, nothing to lose.

Everything to win.