I’ve been advocating G/B in Modern for a while now. While it doesn’t create the most riveting, exciting gameplay, there are some matches that will have you
on the edge of your seat. After a flurry of discard spells, sometimes all your opponent needs is a Scapeshift or Cranial Plating off the top to put you
away. Even if the games aren’t always exciting, you can’t argue that the deck does one thing well and that’s win.
Last weekend was Grand Prix Boston, and G/B decks finished first, second, and seventh. Overall, that’s pretty impressive. That type of dominance harkens
back to the Deathrite Shaman / Bloodbraid Elf days. With those gone, G/B remains a contender but is neutered. Deathrite Shaman gave you acceleration,
reach, some much needed lifegain against decks like Burn, and a way to interact with persist creatures while Bloodbraid Elf, again, gave you reach and card
advantage that was key to fighting through control decks.
Overall, losing both of them weakened the deck, but didn’t outright kill it. Instead, the banning of those two cards basically leveled the playing field.
Most people forgot about G/B, choosing instead to pick up Birthing Pod or Splinter Twin, and we ended up in a format that was weak to G/B again! Tron has
all but died out and while Scapeshift can be difficult, that matchup is certainly solvable. Hexproof might be the next worst matchup, but there are also
very few of those.
After this weekend, it might be time for the weirdo decks that beat up on G/B to make a comeback. Maybe G/B adapts as necessary, but maybe it’s better to
get a jump on things and start preparing for those matchups.
As for which version of G/B you play, shouldn’t it be obvious?
I hope you said, “No, Gerry. It’s not obvious.” There are a lot of good options out there.
Robin’s deck is fantastic. He outright won the tournament, G/B expert Willy Edel has been championing the white splash for a while, and another copy of the
same deck finished in Top 8. Some of the white cards fix your Affinity matchup, which is probably the worst matchup out of the popular decks. His maindeck
looks perfect aside from maybe changing a Treetop Village to a Stirring Wildwood.
So what’s not to love?
Well, for starters, the mana isn’t actually great. Dolar has twelve white sources, which isn’t bad, but I’m not exactly comfortable with that when I
absolutely need to cast Stony Silence on turn 2 against Affinity. There is the benefit of Lingering Souls being more of a mid-game card and a card you’d
want to discard to Liliana of the Veil though. Overall, the mana in game 1s is certainly reasonable, but I’d be worried about being able to cast my
sideboard cards on time.
Going forward, there will likely be matchups where Lingering Souls is at its weakest, so that might require another retooling of the deck. For example, if
Wurmcoil Engines start showing up, it might be time to bust out the Path to Exiles. If there are decks where Lingering Souls is at its weakest (or Jund
starts playing Thundermaw Hellkite again), perhaps the white splash is worth abandoning.
Conclusion: If you think Lingering Souls is going to be awesome and your white sideboard cards will get some use, add the white.
Straight G/B is certainly viable, as Kent Ketter showed by tearing through the Modern Super IQ during SCGKC.
G/B is (Rock) solid, but the main issue is that any deck that is going to give you trouble is going to give you a lot of trouble. Decks like Jund and
Abzan typically have a wider variety of answers, so they at least have a shot against a deck like Hexproof. With G/B, you are solid and consistent against
the decks you want to play against, but for the most part, lack options.
Compare Kent’s sideboard to Dolar’s and you’ll see what I mean. G/B has solid sideboarding strategies against the expected metagame but is totally lacking
options against something unexpected. Slippery Bogle? Well, I better have Drown in Sorrow in time or maybe Liliana of the Veil plus Slaughter Pact to kill
your Dryad Arbor, otherwise that’s it.
Against something like Affinity, G/B has a “plan,” but that plan is not necessarily a great one. Drown in Sorrow is for Etched Champion and Steel Overseer,
while Night of Souls’ Betrayal locks out their manlands and many of their draw steps. Drown in Sorrow is frequently better than more Creeping Corrosions,
and you should be playing Night of Souls’ Betrayal anyway, so that’s how the plan came together.
Would I rather be playing Stony Silence when fighting Affinity? Of course, but is something that narrow worth splashing for? In my opinion, not unless the
splash gives you something else incredibly valuable. Lingering Souls kind of fits that bill, but stuff like Aven Mindcensor I could take or leave. It’s
nice to have a different way to fight Scapeshift than land destruction and discard, since Mindcensor covers us against a topdecked Scapeshift, but I think
it’s a luxury.
I’ve (unsurprisingly) had difficulty with the Birthing Pod matchup, but I thought I was finally getting to a place where I liked it. I wouldn’t say that I need Aven Mindcensor to make it a good matchup, but as I said earlier, I would be slightly better off against multiple archetypes with two
Grafdigger’s Cage and two Aven Mindcensor than three Grafdigger’s Cage. Whether or not that’s worth it is up to you.
While matchups like Splinter Twin are traditionally easy regardless of what version of G/B you play, playing straight G/B gives you a slightly more
consistent mana base. The mana base is probably better than Abzan’s, but it has its awkward moments too. You can only open on Tectonic Edge / Twilight Mire
and Treetop Village / Woodland Cemetery a few times before wondering how a two-color deck with a bunch of a dual lands can have such a bad mana base. At
least we’re not trying to cram Phyrexian Obliterator in there though.
Conclusion: G/B has (slightly) better mana and more robust plans against the expected metagame. If you play against something outside of that expected
metagame, you’re going to be an underdog.
What about something more traditional?
Boswell’s deck is great. I love the Grim Lavamancer and Olivia Voldaren as ways to beat Birthing Pod. Once you have their Pods in check from something like
Grafdigger’s Cage or Ancient Grudge, you just need something to stop their army of Kitchen Finks and Voice of Resurgences.
Lifebane Zombie was fine as a more aggressive approach to beating Pod, but I ended up wanting something that would give you a lot of virtual card
advantage. Something with a lot of toughness was an option, such as Courser of Kruphix, but that didn’t solve all the problems. They could get out of
control with Gavony Township and then Courser looks pretty stupid. Olivia and Lavamancer (and to some extent Batterskull) allow you to keep playing the
game in those situations.
What makes Jund different is that it has some sideboard options that are good vs a wide variety of decks while also getting to play more haymakers in
Sowing Salt, Shatterstorm, and Olivia, which G/B (and even Abzan) doesn’t really get to do. Whether or not Lightning Bolt is good matters a lot also.
Conclusion: You lose Tectonic Edge (which doesn’t even solve your mana base issues) but get way better against creatures. This format seems rather creature
heavy right now…
Others have been experimenting with the notion that out of the G/B base, only the black is really necessary for playing the disruptive, midrange game. One
of those options is B/W, championed by our very own Brian Braun-Duin.
I have faith in BBD to come up with a good midrange deck, and he’s been doing pretty well with it on Magic Online. However, there are two things I don’t
like about cutting green, and the first is the loss of Tarmogoyf. It might seem like a random big creature that is replaceable, but once Goyf is gone, you
are so much worse against random creatures nickel and diming you. Tidehollow Sculler basically can’t block and Pack Rat takes a while to get going. Even
then, you might just be better off racing because a timely removal spell could take out your entire rat army if you try blocking.
The second thing I miss is Abrupt Decay. While you might remember the times where you couldn’t kill a Linvala, Keeper of Silence or a Phyrexian
Obliterator, there are far more times where you get to hit Pyromancer Ascension or Cranial Plating. Having Abrupt Decay means that some stuff is allowed to
slip through the cracks and you can afford to Thoughtseize other stuff like Etched Champion.
I feel like white is a reasonable option, but you’d need a good reason to cut green entirely, which I don’t think this deck has. Pack Rat is fine alongside
Tarmogoyf but is slow to get going. It also requires you to run Mutavault, which is a good card but one that fights with slots for Tectonic Edge, a card
you basically need if you want any hope against Scapeshift. BBD still has two, but that’s not enough to beat Scapeshift reliably.
Conclusion: If the format is less about creatures and more about permanent-less combo, I think B/W is a fine choice. B/W loses a lot of the utility that
the various G/B decks have and for little gain.
So maybe white’s not the answer. A couple weeks ago, I showcased this deck in Daily Digest.
This deck has many of the same problems as B/W has, except you have Lightning Bolt instead of Path to Exile and Prophetic Flamespeaker as your three-drop
of choice. Again, Flamespeaker is one of those cards that is great against decks with few creatures. If you’re able to keep their board relatively clear,
you’ll be able to force Flamespeaker through again and again.
Against a combo deck, that might be a great way to find your important disruption, but most of your cards have diminishing returns, so drawing extra cards
isn’t as powerful as it normally would be. For example, drawing extra cards only for them to be extraneous Dark Confidants and Liliana of the Veils isn’t
going to help you much. Flamespeaker does allow you to keep casting spells while still having food for Pack Rat though.
I think the biggest boon for playing B/R is being able to play four Blood Moons out of the sideboard. That’s a hate card I can get behind! Additionally, we
see some copies of Olivia Voldaren in the sideboard, but we could definitely take Boswell’s approach of playing some of them maindeck to help against our
poor creature matchups.
Conclusion: I think this has potential. Maybe Flamespeaker isn’t the right way to go and you should have more Olivias and Grim Lavamancers. Regardless, I
think the B/R shell that gets to play Blood Moon and Shatterstorm has most of the bases covered. Relic of Progenitus and Terminate help you against the
bigger threats, like Kitchen Finks and Tarmogoyf, so not much is lost there.
After Grand Prix Boston, it looks like G/B is officially back on the map, and I would expect an influx of hate. How do you think people will try to fight
G/B? With the four above decklists, it looks like there are viable counter plans, each with their own pros and cons. It’s all about whether or not you