Where’s The Blue In Modern?

Pro Tour Champion Shaun McLaren is carrying a huge head of steam into the Pro Tour this weekend! Fresh off a GP Top 8, he talks about the new blue movement in Modern and the decks he likes for #SCGStates!

SCG States April 23-24!


I made Top 8 of Grand Prix Barcelona and locked up Gold for the year. Not a bad trip to Spain so far. Seeing as there is still more work to be done, I’ll just share the quick version:

– The best play I made all weekend was checking my plane ticket before leaving. The flight I was booked on didn’t exist… and never did. Spooky. The flight I was actually booked on, even though there was no indication I was, left two hours earlier. If I had shown up to the airport when I was “supposed” to, I probably would’ve missed the GP entirely. Sometimes the best plays you can make for a Magic tournament aren’t about playing Magic.

– Handle airports as you’d handle luck or Magic Online: like an uncontrollable force of nature that shouldn’t be expected to run correctly and often tosses floods or tornadoes your way. Expect things to go wrong and fail in strange and frustrating ways, and try to plan accordingly. Most importantly, roll with the punches and don’t let it get to you.

– My Sealed deck was a powerful G/R Werewolves build that propelled me to 8-1 after Day 1. My pool had no playable rares (other than a Westvale Abbey that unfortunately never flipped) and it was still incredibly powerful, largely thanks to two Pack Guardians. When in doubt, get aggressive! I got plenty of wins by just playing monsters, curving out, and casting pump spells.

– Remember when Sealed used to be slow? It used to be that I would almost always choose to draw in Sealed formats, and every time an opponent chose to play first, I would mentally pump the fist.

These times may be gone completely. Sets are much more about playing efficient creatures and not falling behind, since removal and catchup mechanics are less powerful. Another important factor is the Scry Rule making mulligans less punishing.

Arlinn Kord is good. It is also good that I opened Arlinn Kord in Pack 1 of the first draft at the GP. My next three picks were also flip cards. Not only did I get a bomb, I also got to send the strong signal: Stay out of these colors! My Werewolves!

– G/B Delirium ending up beating me, leaving me 2-1 with deck. It is a very powerful archetype if you can get tools like Vessel of Nascency, Moldgraf Scavenger, and Kindly Stranger. I’m surprised there aren’t more cards like Paranoid Parish-Blade with “Paranoid” in their names, because I can’t imagine anyone trusting lasting long on Innistrad.

– In the second draft, I needed to 3-0 to Top 8 and was getting signals all over the place. Then I saw a Fleeting Memories and went all-in on U/G Clues. I ended up with two Fleeting Memories; Jace, Unraveler of Secrets; and Tamiyo’s Journal.

– I’m up against a very tired opponent. I’m stuck on four lands. I pass the turn with seven cards in hand, crack a clue on my opponent’s end step, and untap and draw for my turn. My opponent asks me how many cards I have in hand, and I show my hand and say “nine.” He immediately calls a judge and I’m just sitting there wondering if he actually didn’t remember I just drew a card with my clue on his end step.

The judge rushes over and my opponent starts explaining how I untapped and now have nine cards in hand. I’m just sitting there chuckling at this silly and confusing situation, waiting to get a word in edgewise. Eventually the judge starts trying to figure out what happened and begins questioning me: “Did you forget to discard last turn?” I calmly tell him I cracked a Clue during my opponent’s end step and then drew for my turn, putting me from seven to nine cards. Both the judge and my opponent look sheepish. Then I mill him out.

– The next round, I’m up a game but about to die next turn in Game 2. I have nine mana and a couple of Clues and Fleeting Memories on the battlefield. I play a second Fleeting Memories, use all my mana, crack all my Clues, and mill him for eighteen, the exact number of cards left in his library.

– I win my last round and have to wait for an hour for the Top 8, since there’s an unfortunate glitch in the Tournament Software, the only program that makes Magic Online look as competent as AlphaGo.

– The Top 8 Draft doesn’t go particularly well for me. I try to run back the U/G Clue strategy when I see Ongoing Investigation and Fleeting Memories in the first pack. Unfortunately, not many tools are opened in our pod and my deck seems mediocre.

– My quarterfinals match is uneventful. I win Game 1 fairly easily through mill, lose to an aggressive start Game 2, and finally lose by being stuck on one land after a mulligan. All things considered, I’m really happy with my performance and the result, although losing in the quarterfinals of GPs is starting to become a bit of a trend.

Where’s the Blue?

After a great Grand Prix experience, the perfect way to finish off the day is to grab a glass of fine wine and bask in the glow of the success the blue decks surely had in the Modern portion of the #SCGINVI.

When I went to check the decklists, my monocle nearly popped out.

Not a single unbanned card appeared in the Modern lists that went 7-1 or better.

This surprises me a great deal, because I still think both Ancestral Vision and the Thopter/Sword Combo are excellent in Modern.

Every single deck that went 7-1 or better had a green card in it, and eight out of the ten decks had access to red. Xenagos, the Reveler himself would be proud of the great revel-stomping that occurred.

Although there was a common theme color-wise, the similarities stop there. There was a lot of variety in deck choice. Even the two Burn decks were vastly different, with only one of them playing Wild Nacatl.

What does this tell us?

One key point that was put on the back burner while the Eldrazi ran over Modern is that the aggressive decks have gotten incredibly powerful and diverse. Every deck in Modern is fast and efficient.

You’ll notice that most of the deck would have had a very bad Eldrazi matchup. The size, speed, and power of the Eldrazi monsters quickly outclassed small green and red creatures. Now that the Eldrazi are in the bin, Burn and Zoo decks zoomed into Tier 1 spots.

It’s technically, and practically, a very fresh Modern format, thanks to this most recent Modern Pro Tour being an Eldrazi-fest and all the bans and unbans not getting a chance to air out. Again, the age-old maxim applies: when in doubt, be aggressive! Shove random creatures and burn spells at your blue opponent while they fiddle around with slow cards until they’re signing your match slip.

Perhaps the best versions of blue decks have not yet been settled on. Or perhaps the unbanned cards aren’t quite as good as I first suspected. I’m very interested in how the format will shape up as we move forward, as I predict blue to slowly gain stock in the metagame as people become more confident with how to build and pilot the decks.

Take a look at Gerry Thompson’s U/W Thopter Gifts deck that went 6-2.

Historically U/W Control decks have preyed upon green creature decks, and I don’t think this will be any different. Moving forward, I would not be surprised to see this deck becoming a real contender and I’m certainly going to tinker with it a bit myself.

A quick check through the archives yielded another deck that interests me, Dylan Hand’s Jeskai Kiki-Angel deck featured in Round 5 when he faced off against Joe Lossett.

Dylan’s Jeskai Kiki-Angel deck seems well-positioned to take advantage of Ancestral Vison. Wall of Omens does a good job of shoring up the early-game while you’re waiting for your suspend to resolve and the Restoration Angel plus Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker combo does an excellent job of closing out the game once you’ve drawn all those extra cards.

Giving the Jeskai player Ancestral Vision and taking away the Tron player’s Eye of Ugin seems to swing the matchup nicely towards Jeskai’s favor.

Another deck that caught my attention was Bill Comminos’ Jeskai Ascendancy Combo deck.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen the Glittering Wish version of this deck, as the most recent versions have eschewed green in favor of being more controlling and relying on Fatestitcher. The green version is looking really powerful right now, both for the redundancy of having access to a virtual seven copies of Jeskai Ascendancy and having explosive starts with the help of mana creatures.

Now, my first thought was there are lot of flexible slots in the deck and room for it to be tuned, but after seeing View from Above in the sideboard, I changed my mind. Anyone who has access to tech like that knows what they’re doing. Jeskai Ascendancy and two mana-producing creatures means you get to cast View from Above as many times as you want and loot while doing so. I don’t think I’ve ever seen View from Above before, since I can only imagine my eyes would have glazed over had I tried to stare at it directly whenever I drafted Conflux.

I think Jeskai Ascendancy suffered from the popularity of aggro decks and Eidolon of the Great Revel but could make a comeback if blue decks pick up in popularity.

There was another Modern event that happened that we can take a look at: the Modern Classic that took place on Sunday.

Here’s our Top 8.

Now that’s what I’m talking about! Finally, a deck that packs both Ancestral Vision and Thopter Foundry plus Sword of the Meek. Let’s take a good hard look, shall we.

Ooh-la-la. Now this is my kind of deck.

It’s almost difficult to say anything about it because I love all the cards in it. If I had children, it wouldn’t be difficult to tell them which was my favorite, but selecting which cards to cut from a lovely Jeskai Control list is on another level of difficulty.

It has everything you could ever want. The early-game is covered with Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, and Snapcaster Mage. The late-game is dominated with Thopter Foundry plus Sword of the Meek, Cryptic Command, and Sphinx’s Revelation.

At first I thought Sphinx’s Revelation would be unnecessary, since you’re drawing so many cards with Ancestral Vision. The thing is, you’re drawing a lot of lands anyway, and being able to sink those into a Sphinx’s Revelation is great. It’s also great to have access to for Snapcaster Mage in the late-game.

Desolate Lighthouse is actually a card I want to try in conjunction with Ancestral Vision to get rid of extra lands or extra copies you draw in the late-game. You can also ditch Sword of the Meek and bring it back once you’re ready with Thopter Foundry. Darksteel Citadel is also a consideration.

The sideboard is full of high-impact cards. The only minor change I could imagine making would be to try to fit either Kor Firewalker or Timely Reinforcements in the sideboard, just to make sure the Burn matchup is on complete lockdown.

Another strength of this deck is that it is difficult for an opposing deck to sideboard effectively against you. If they bring in Stony Silence to shut down your combo, you have way too many alternate ways to win, usually through sheer card advantage. One of the most effective ways to combat this deck would be Blood Moon, so if you can anticipate it, you can play around it by fetching your basics and preemptively bringing in answers to it.

All right, time to get back to work. Pro Tour this weekend and all that. Wish me good fortune if you wouldn’t mind.

That’s all I’ve got for today. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a Pro Tour to try to win…

SCG States April 23-24!