The Madcap Experiment

Matt Higgs is taking a week off of the Standard brewing to try his hand at Modern! What wild combo does he have in store for the wanting Modern masses?

Standard has some great cards, and I think at this point we’ve pretty much seen every one of them.

Aetherworks Marvel might be the newest addition to this list, but at the end of the day, it’s a means to an end to summon the mighty Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Emrakul, the Promised End. Standard has fallen into place, I’d say, and the best have shown themselves for their strengths, and anything less than that doesn’t really fly.

In short, Standard is a bit dull for my tastes at the moment because we’re waiting on Aether Revolt. I still have fun with the decks I’ve built and the games I play, but something’s missing, that certain oomph that brings me back to a card, a deck, or a format in general.

So, when you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Let’s play some Modern!

Modern has always been on the edge of a format I like. On one hand, it has lots of room for brewing thanks to a card pool that spans half of Magic’s history. There are thousands of unexplored interactions possible in Modern, and those interactions which are known quantities each make their presence known, even on the highest stages.

At #SCGINVI this past weekend in Atlanta, the Modern field featured six archetypes in the Top 8, covering all five colors broadly with a healthy baseline of deck choices. As a brewer, Modern is a perfect blend of variety and accessibility. You can get into Modern on the cheap, and many of the format’s staples can travel between decks as you tweak.

On the other hand, though, Modern has a broad expectation/reality gap that impacts me whenever I sit down to play this middle format. For me, when the rubber hits the road, I get bored or defeated too quickly.

This may be the motto of Obvious Magic Players Anonymous, but when I’m in the thick of a tournament, the more easily I’m distracted, the less I like a format or deck. I’ve been in tournaments where I was done after Round 1, even if I won. There are others where I’ve waited for those pairings with anticipation, just waiting to unleash my deck upon an unsuspecting soul, win or lose. I last played Modern in a tournament setting about a year ago at #SCGCIN, but since then, I’ve been turned off by the format.

It’s time to give it another chance, but even in Modern, I’m looking to a Standard-legal card for inspiration.

Any deck that uses this card as its namesake would be perfectly descriptive.

Madcap Experiment has the makings of a plant: a strong, potentially overpowering effect folded into a set and a format that have neither a means of reward nor a mitigation of its risks. It’s a card that doesn’t like to play with artifacts in general, just one specific artifact. It’s too chancy to throw into any old deck. It needs support that doesn’t exist in Standard. It’s all but worthless in Limited, and in Commander, you’re throwing the dice. No, we have to launch into Modern to find the right team to make this experiment work.

Once you open the door to Modern, many other options make themselves available. Even before we choose which artifact we’d like to target, it makes the most sense to marginalize the potential to destroy yourself.

There are several ways to do this, but they all have the same thing in common: they’re white.

Each of these can stop a Madcap Experiment gone wrong, so long as they’re on the battlefield (or activated, or cast) before it starts to resolve. When we dip our toes in white, we can utilize some of Modern’s best removal, which will buy us the time to hit our best artifact with Madcap Experiment. To be honest, the artifact seems like an afterthought; choose the one that has the best chance to win the game once it’s out, much like today’s Aetherworks Marvel decks.

This is a comfortable place for me. Cheap, efficient removal is one of my favorite parts about Modern. However, I’m not sure this is the right direction; filling a deck with a bunch of removal and independently worthless combo pieces doesn’t seem like it’s a practical or thematic match to a wild experiment.

In a brief conversation with our editor Danny West about the deck, he brought a familiar Modern interaction to my attention, and considering the direction I was heading, it seemed like a perfect addition.

Anyone who’s played Modern who sees a Mountain and a pair of Simian Spirit Guides has had that sense of impending fear, especially if you’re sitting on a hand of tri-colored lands. This well-known Todd Stevens combination gives the deck a level of consistency, legitimacy, and velocity. But that means Sacred Foundry has little benefit.

Mono-red? Mono-red.

Right, so we’ve simplified the deck and the manabase from one suggestion, but now I’m curious where Madcap Experiment plays in. Regardless of what artifact we aim for, we need to survive to get there, and we need to survive the Experiment. Instead of pursuing the somewhat circuitous route of sticking a white permanent to protect us, let’s use our mana and spells more efficiently and effectively by following an archetype that recently has added red to its broad color palette: dredge.

Pursuing a dredge-oriented path makes sense. We can thin the deck to reduce the chance of taking a lethal blow from Madcap Experiment while also giving much better card selection. The idea, then, would be to slim the deck and cast Madcap Experiment as close to on-time as possible, perhaps at the expense of slots for removal.

The combination of a Blood Moon and Dredge deck leaves a bit of space for some unique spells, but here, we’re using them for Madcap Experiment and the artifact target. Which one should we choose?

Perhaps the most terrifying bruiser in Magic, Blightsteel Colossus is exactly the card we’re looking for, and there are a couple of reasons why. First, and probably most importantly, this card ends the game. If you can survive to untap, which is admittedly a tall order in the breakneck world of Modern Magic, Blightsteel Colossus will cripple your opponent, no matter how high their life total. Your opponent must exile or bounce your artifact to keep themselves from the edge of oblivion. They can’t destroy it, and they can’t attack through it or block it very well. All in all, this is probably the best combat creature we could choose.

Secondly, Blightsteel Colossus shuffles back into your deck if it hits the graveyard. This means that, if you happen to discard or dredge a Colossus, it goes back into your deck, keeping the percentage chance of hitting a Blightsteel Colossus disproportionately high as you shrink the deck by searching for, removing, and drawing the rest of them. The faster you can downsize your library, the easier it is to blindly cast Madcap Experiment.

This should be enough of a preamble. If you’re a pro at Modern, you probably already know more about this deck than I do.

Within this simple list, we have all the tools we need to make a splash in Modern.

I tested this deck a bit and found it surprisingly challenging to pilot. I’ve always thought Dredge pilots in Modern and Legacy have to carry a lot of things in their head while they play, and this deck provides a small test of those decision trees. Even before playing an opponent, I tested the deck dozens and dozens of times to get the timing right; Standard makes you soft, I tell you.

After a couple of hours and a few broken sleeves thanks to the extensive shuffling this deck requires, I finally got the rhythm of the deck. It was humbling to play, and it required way more thought than I’d expected, making testing a bit unwieldly with lots of takesies-backsies.

Desperate Ritual and Simian Spirit Guide helped create some terrifying early turns. The combination of them can give a turn 1 Blightsteel Colossus, too. If you start with 53 cards in your deck and three of them are Blightsteel Colossus, a turn 1 Madcap Experiment has a 1/17.66666 chance of hitting one, so you’ll, on average, start the game at two life. Just hope they don’t have a Lightning Bolt!

This Miracle is a perfect one-of. It gives you the chance to replace seven draws for Dredge to totally thin your deck out for Madcap Experiment, but it’s also easier to activate, thanks to Noxious Revival. Many years ago, I played a U/R Delver deck with Noxious Revival and Thunderous Wrath. I loved seeing the face of a person safely stabilized at ten health and blasting them with back-to-back Thunderous Wrath. Removal-heavy decks seem less common in today’s Modern, so if your opponent gets wind of your plan and sandbags a Path to Exile for Blightsteel Colossus, this will toss it away for you. GItaxian Probe is both a free dredge enabler and a way to make sure the coast is clear before conducting your Experiment.

Fetchlands, while a bit gaudy for my taste, do actively slim the deck here. Bear in mind, though, that if you would have drawn the land you took and lost one more life, the fetchland asks you to pay it. What it does help do, however, is make fixing post-sideboard possible and provide opportunities to shuffle your deck.

The sideboard is a bit if a question mark, save for the Blood Moon. There are several different Blood Moon decks at our local shop, so it’s not really a maindeck card. We’re utterly immune to it, yes, but there are some decks that use enough basics to be safe or are simply red enough to not care. Koth of the Hammer is a great threat-in-a-box, but it also can help you cast Blightsteel Colossus should one end up stranded in your hand. Ancient Grudge is a Dredge staple, but Golgari Brownscale is a bit cuter. Gnaw to the Bone, which does not have as many targets here, is less reliable; thus, cycling Golgari Brownscale helps keep your life without much of a net cost. I packed a Forest for the matches where Blood Moon is needed. Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded? Well, I guess it’s just because I can, isn’t it? His -4 isn’t bad against decks pinned down by Blood Moon, and his +1 does let you trigger Dredge. That’s something, right?

This deck was really fun once I got the hang of it, but there is quite an incline to get there. Still, it was something my friends and I could enjoy while everyone else sleeves up someone else’s deck. It may not be great, but it was just an experiment.

Madcap Experiment has lots of potential, especially with new artifacts coming out with each set. Have you found an Eternal or Standard home for this red sorcery?