The Pili-Pile & Other Modern Brews

As promised in his last article, this week Frank shares a few brews he and a friend have been working on for the upcoming Modern Grand Prix in Richmond!

As I promised last week, I’m going to spend today talking about some sweet Modern decks that I’ve been putting work into over the last couple weeks. However, before we get into the thick of it, I’d like to first tell you about my friend Elliot Wegman.

Elliot is one of my oldest friends and a big reason I started playing Magic in the first place. Although Elliot hasn’t pursued Magic as competitively as I have, it has always had a place in his life. As fate would have it, Elliot recently moved down from New York to Richmond, Virginia.

So why is Elliot important to you? Well, Elliot is a certain type of Magic player. Like a lot of players, when Elliot joins a Magic tournament, winning is his main goal. However, he likes to win on his own terms. When it comes to deck design, he is a mad scientist of sorts. Conveniently enough, it just so happens to be the case that our own StarCityGames.com is hosting a Modern Grand Prix right in Elliot’s backyard on the weekend of March 7th. Elliot and I are really digging deep to find an off-the-cuff deck for this tournament, one that actually stands a chance of winning. So far we haven’t been a hundred percent successful in this venture. However, we have produced some crazy and fun decks and are learning more and more as we go.

The main way that we search for inspiration for these concoctions is simple: pop open the Gatherer engine and start flipping through cards until something hits home. So far we’ve found quite a few ideas worth working on. Today I’d like to take a look at three such decks we’ve pursued and see if anyone would like to pick up the torch with us.

First up, the double-enchantment combo:

While Heartless Summoning has traditionally been used to cheat giant creatures into play, this combination takes it in a different direction. The -1/-1 from Heartless Summoning means that any x/1 creature you play will die instantly, thus netting you a card with Fecundity in play. By playing only one-toughness creatures, you can use this combination to draw through your entire deck. The mana reduction only works for colorless mana, which means playing only artifact creatures that cost two or less mana.

To be honest, we found the supporting cast of artifact creatures to be a little lacking. Myr Retriever and Phyrexian Revoker are the only two options that do much of anything. Revoker provides some utility, and once you get two Retrievers going, you can guarantee drawing the rest of your deck without fizzling by chaining the two of them. Toss in a few Myr Moonvessels and a Chromatic Star and you can play a lethal Grapeshot after tearing through your deck and building up a large enough storm count.

Here’s where Elliot last left off the list:

One of the biggest problems with this deck is inconsistency. Without both enchantments in play, the deck doesn’t do much of anything. With the quality of creatures it’s playing, there really is no plan B where you can just beat your opponent down. Even with Idyllic Tutor, the deck beats itself far too often, especially when faced with heavy disruption.

I’m not exactly sure where to go with tuning this exact version of the deck, but we did learn a few things from it. First off, Abrupt Decay is a huge beating. The reason we added Thoughtseize to this deck was almost exclusively to combat that card. Second, Fecundity is a powerful card that deserves to be looked into in some form or another. Heartless Summoning might not be the direction you want to go with it, but I’m confident it can find a home somewhere.

Next up we have this beauty:

This deck works in a similar way to the last but actually comes with a fallback option. The main plan is to use Young Pyromancer, Beck // Call, rituals, and free creatures to draw through your deck and generate a lethal Burn at the Stake. Unlike with Glimpse of Nature, Beck will actually draw you cards when creature tokens come into play, making it work extremely well with Young Pyromancer.

So what’s the plan B here? Put simply, Kuldotha Rebirth. Since Beck works with tokens and all of the free artifact creatures fuel the Rebirth, it’s an easy addition to the deck. Surprisingly enough, when it’s not acting as a red Ancestral Recall, Kuldotha Rebirth does a great job of beating fair decks all on its own. Playing one or two of these on the first couple turns of the game backed by a Memnite or two can spell big trouble for a deck like Jund.

Here’s the most current list:

An interesting thing we found from playing this deck is just how awesome Mox Opal is. Just like with any other Moxen, it lets you play the game a turn ahead of your opponent for zero mana. The only difference with this particular breed is that you have to put in a decent amount of work during deckbuilding to actually meet metalcraft’s steep requirement. So far the only deck in Modern that makes any use of it is Affinity, but I feel like with more exploration that could easily change. The upside is there.

Something else that was made evident by playing a few games with this deck is how potent playing a rogue strategy can be. It’s a lot harder for your opponent to combat you when they have no idea what the heck you’re doing. Cards like Thoughtseize can make your opponent’s head spin when they have no clue what to take. For example, when your opponent sees Young Pyromancer, they might think you’re playing a grindy/value-oriented deck. Next thing they know, they let you untap with it in play, and you kill them out of nowhere.

The biggest problem with this deck is how many dead cards it needs to play. Burn at the Stake is far from an incidental win condition and takes up a lot of room in the deck with four slots. Making our win condition "built in" is something we really strived for after playing with this deck.

Speaking of which, it’s about time for the piece de resistance. This is my personal favorite of the three decks, if for no other reason than the awesome combination it’s based around. While looking through artifact creatures for the Heartless Summoning deck, Elliot stumbled upon the long-forgotten Pili-Pala. Seeing some potential in it and perhaps because of its incredible name, he decided to write it down on his list of interesting cards. Luckily, ever a sucker for artifacts, Elliot also had Grand Architect written down on his clipboard.

This brings us to our next combo:

Infinite mana!

By using Grand Architect to turn Pili-Pala blue, it can tap to add two colorless mana to your mana pool and then use that mana to untap itself and net a colored mana in the process. Rinse and repeat as much as you’d like to create an enormous amount of mana. The next step was to find something to do with this potent two-card combo. Clearly an X spell is the easiest way to win the game once achieving infinite mana. We wanted one that could actually do something when not going for the win, and Blue Sun’s Zenith seemed to fit the bill.

In the first take of the deck, we decided to just jam in a bunch of dig spells and protection spells and see how quickly we could get the combo online. Additionally, since we were throwing so many artifacts into the graveyard, we decided to try to work another Elliot favorite into the deck in the form of Trash for Treasure.

Here’s the list:

As it turns out, the Trash for Treasure plan doesn’t really cut it. Its main shortcoming is the lack of great targets that it can reanimate. The biggest and baddest artifacts on the block in Modern are Sundering Titan, Sphinx of the Steel Wind, and Inkwell Leviathan. Of those we found Inkwell to be the most effective, but even still it was just too slow. Most creature strategies can actually race it, and the shroud doesn’t save it from cards like Supreme Verdict or Liliana of the Veil. All in all, the Trash for Treasure package just led to the deck being too scatterbrained.

Another problem we found was that Blue Sun’s Zenith wasn’t as incidental of a win condition as we had hoped. The way this deck is set up means it doesn’t really have time to play a slower game and build up resources to fuel a small Zenith that will eventually lead to winning with the combo. The Kessig Wolf Run, on the other hand, provided a way to use the infinite mana to win the game that only took up a land slot.

Moving forward with this version of the deck, I’d try to cut the Trash for Treasure plan and go all in on the Pili-Pala plan. Additionally, I’d move up to four Kessig Wolf Runs and cut Blue Sun’s Zenith from the deck entirely. This could open some room to play a Mindslaver / Academy Ruins / Expedition Map / Fabricate package to add some much needed redundancy to the deck.

Another option we’ve yet to explore is trying to play a control version of the deck based around Grand Architect, which would only play Pili-Pala as a side plan. This could lead to bringing Blue Sun’s Zenith back into the deck and using it as an actual draw engine. Getting to play Wurmcoil Engine as a win condition is a tempting draw to this version of the deck.

The clock counting down to Grand Prix Richmond is ticking lower and lower. Although I’m not sure if any of these ideas will be the basis of Elliot’s deck when crunch time comes, I know if you look for Wegman on the pairings board and go to his table he’ll definitely be playing something zany.

Before I head out for the week, I’d like to share with you some of my favorite cards from Elliot’s list that he hasn’t quite gotten around to yet. I’m going to include the notes he has attached to them for value. Maybe you can find an interesting way to make them work.

Semblance Anvil – "This card definitely deserves a look."
Timesifter – "One card that can generate infinite turns? Yes please."
Scarblade Elite – "Weed-Pruner Poplar = Treefolk Assassin. Best creature type ever."
Freed From The Real – "Now I know this definitely does something productive."
Galvanic Alchemist – "It’s kinda just Freed From The Real . . . but bad."
Bazaar Trader / Bronze Bombshell – "????"

Modern musings aside, I hope everyone has a great time at their local Prerelease this weekend!