Video Daily Digest: Filling Holes

Black control in Modern had a removal-sized hole to fill. No more! Ross Merriam highlights a notable list featuring Dominaria debutant Cast Down!

For a long time, black got short shrift in Modern when it came to quality, cheap removal spells. Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile were the cream of the crop, and black had to make due with having Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek as its early disruption.

The problem with that exchange is the discard spells are weak in a traditional, reactive control shell. They are inherently proactive cards, so there’s a strategic dis-synergy that those decks run into.

Discard spells also lead to gimped games where both players are light on resources, which makes it more difficult for a control deck to execute the “kill stuff, cast a card advantage spell, counter your follow-up” gameplan they want to. Lastly, the propensity for control decks to play long games runs you into the liability of those discard spells showing up when the opponent is empty-handed.

As a result, control decks have historically looked to Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile, with black only making an appearance as a splash color in the odd Grixis deck. But with the printing of Fatal Push and now Cast Down, I think black has the goods to be a true support color for reactive control decks in Modern. Fatal Push is well-known at this point as a staple of the format, but Cast Down is an important addition to the package.

The previous options in that spot, Doom Blade, Go for the Throat, and Murderous Cut, all have significant liabilities. Murderous Cut is hard to cast early unless you have cantrips and fetchlands and works against Logic Knot, which is an important hard counter for control decks. The other two have holes that are too big to stomach. Doom Blade misses Kitesail Freebooter, Vault Skirge, Dark Confidant, Gurmag Angler, and Death’s Shadow, among others. Go for the Throat is a blank against Affinity, one of the most common aggressive decks.

Cast Down has three significant holes: Thalia, Guardian of Thraben; Tasigur, the Golden Fang; and Vendilion Clique. The latter two are relatively small given that Tasigur largely has been replaced by Gurmag Angler, mostly appearing as a singleton in a split of the two, while Clique is a one- or two-of in control decks that you can easily cover with your other removal. That leaves only Thalia, which is an important threat to answer; still, this makes the card much better-rounded than the other options.

The rest of the list is built in the same mold as other Modern control decks, but the removal suite is better-prepared to answer big creatures, especially early, when Path to Exile can be a liability. With black you also get perhaps the best creature-land in Creeping Tar Pit and the ability to play some discard spells as a tool against combo and big mana decks. The weak removal was the big hole to fill and that’s been done, so I expect decks like this to pop up much more often from now on.