As Dominaria United hits the shelves, there are high hopes for its impact in every Constructed format. Something has gone badly wrong if it doesn’t shake up Standard, and you expect it to do something for Pioneer, but the bar is high for Modern.
Luckily, the initial results give some cause for optimism – and the format was already going through a relevant churn even before this injection of new cards.
People love tribal decks and they love these tribes in particular. This return to Dominaria is a great excuse to boost its iconic tribes and give small creature decks in general some much-needed support in Modern.
On that front, this weekend was a smashing success!
Fans of Goblins are used to getting their hopes up, only to suffer a swift collision with reality. The first Modern Horizons flooded the format with sweet new Goblins… which barely saw any play. The printing of Conspicuous Snoop opened up Turn 3 kills with Boggart Harbinger finding Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, a powerful combo that never found a good home. As a jaded Goblins fan, you’d be forgiven for treating any new Goblin with some skepticism.
The new Rundvelt Hordemaster unites these various Goblins under one banner. When you need to apply pressure with your motley crew, Hordemaster is a cheap Lord that lets you replace any dying Goblins – when you’re trying to fight through removal, Hordemaster makes that possible and becomes a lightning rod for removal in the process.
The Snoop combo gives you the speed to race the fast linear decks like Gruul Charbelcher or Amulet Titan, but is weak to targeted removal – an all-in Snoop combo deck wouldn’t have the staying power to succeed in Modern.
On the other hand, almost every other Goblin in the deck points in the other direction. Mogg War Marshal offers several bodies for one card, and you have lots of ways to make them matter. With enough time – and possibly Aether Vial bypassing their high mana costs – you can chain together Goblin Matron and Goblin Ringleader, culminating in Sling-Gang Lieutenant to power through cards like Prismatic Ending or Solitude.
One-drops remain the missing link. Mogg Fanatic has some appealing targets, from Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer to Esper Sentinel, but Rakdos Goblins already lines up well against those cards – and, if it can’t snipe anything immediately, Mogg Fanatic is underwhelming. The first Skirk Prospector opens up a lot of lines for the deck, but you could easily build a list that leaned harder into sacrifice synergies that would want the full four Prospectors.
Perhaps the answer is just Ignoble Hierarch. It’s easy to forget that this reskinned Noble Hierarch is a Goblin, but a consistent form of acceleration may be the most you can expect from a one-drop with these tribal limitations.
Glimpse of Tomorrow
I did my best to contain the Goblin menace, but fell just short…
Glimpse of Tomorrow went from an occasional gimmick to the next Cascade success story. The current 60-card lists lean on the Elemental subtheme with Risen Reef as a backup plan that also powered up your Glimpses, without the difficulty of casting previous Glimpse boosters like Goblin Dark-Dwellers or Chancellor of the Forge (which has worked its way back into some recent lists). As I floated long ago, you can extend this principle even further in an 80-card version that embraces white as a fourth colour alongside Yorion, Sky Nomad.
This doesn’t address the structural issue I highlighted back then – with fewer virtual copies of your best enablers as well as your best Glimpse hits, the average output of a small Glimpse is not powerful enough to make you confident in cascading early. Some matchups give you the time to wait and develop your battlefield in advance, but you feel this weakness quickly in matchups that become a race.
I chose the deck because it’s a blast to play and has proven powerful, but also because I was keen to test a Modern front-runner from Dominaria United:
In a format where fetchlands and Triomes give you on-demand domain as early as Turn 2, Leyline Binding jumps out as a premium removal spell. In Four-Color Control (Yorion), it competes with cards like Unholy Heat or March of Otherworldly Light as a secondary removal spell alongside Prismatic Ending, but it serves a more valuable and unique role in the Cascade decks as flexible removal that dodges the mana value restriction.
Costing one mana when you have full domain is crucial here – casting it and immediately following up with a cascade spell on Turn 4 is the best way to flip the script on Teferi, Time Raveler or other hate. I still have reservations about it in Glimpse of Tomorrow, but it’s a home run in the Four-Color Crashcade deck that Magic Online streamer d00mwake put on the map ages ago and revived this weekend.
Once you’re chasing domain for Leyline Binding, it’s tempting to revisit the domain cards from Modern Horizons 2 that vanished once the initial hype fizzled. Right now, these cards have to take whatever work they can get – Scion of Draco is most often seen dealing twelve damage with Calibrated Blast – but this may be their big break. Scion’s deceptive mana cost makes it eligible for the Cascade decks too – this increasingly colourful twist on Crashcade may want a strong two-drop threat to curve into a cascade spell.
I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Shadow Prophecy make its way to Modern. After all, if you have graveyard synergies of any sort and can get domain reliably by Turn 3, this becomes one of the best three-mana draw spells of all time. The current crop of control decks that would want this are already in every colour other than black, and this could be the tipping point that gets them to the full five.
We’ll see if other tribes can use the help they received, or if any other sleepers from the set emerge in the next few weeks. The trio of Modern tournaments at SCG CON Columbus held over the Prerelease weekend featured a lot of notable developments worth discussing, even if attention is mostly focused on these new cards.
- 4 Emry, Lurker of the Loch
- 1 Thassa's Oracle
- 1 Dragon's Rage Channeler
- 4 Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer
- 4 Ledger Shredder
If a deck can have several breakout weekends, this was certainly one for Grinding Breach. Ross Merriam, shortly after taking down an RCQ with the deck, bested Corey Baumeister in the mirror in the Top 4 of the Friday $20K en route to winning the whole thing, and their BCW teammate Pete Ingram carried the torch to the elimination rounds of the Saturday $20K. After such impressive results, I expect to see a lot more people trying to emulate their success.
This deck stands out for its flexibility. ‘Grinding Breach’ captures the namesake two-card combo that gives the deck its fastest wins, but it can beat you up with Urza’s Saga tokens; play a long game with Expressive Iteration; assemble a lock with Emry, Lurker of the Loch; or just imitate the Izzet Midrange play pattern of backing up Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and Ledger Shredder with Unholy Heat. Anyone playing with or against this deck encounters a curious paradox – almost any form of interaction or sideboard hate does something against Grinding Breach, but nothing disables it completely. To make matters more complicated, those cards aren’t always as effective as advertised. Corey Baumeister methodically comboing off through an obvious Endurance on his backpack stream from the event was a highlight of the weekend.
The other side of that coin is that none of these alternative win conditions are as strong here as elsewhere. Ragavan has much more difficulty connecting once, let alone repeatedly, and is often relegated to turning on Mox Amber. Ledger Shredder is fine here, but not the imposing threat it is in Izzet Midrange.
Brady Munroe won the other $20K with Prison Tron, a distant but distinct relative of both Mono-Green Tron and Eldrazi Tron that is almost more reminiscent of the Whir Prison decks from the Mox Opal days. Ensnaring Bridge with an empty hand used to beat many opponents singlehandedly. That’s less true now, but a Bridge backed up by a layer or two of protection (such as Spellskite, hailed by Munroe in an impromptu winner’s interview as the best card in the deck) will still grind the game to a stall if not win it outright. Chalice of the Void gets to feast on three different Cascade decks, and a Chalice with X = 1 is crippling for decks like Izzet Midrange, even though their curve is a little higher now thanks to Ledger Shredder.
The big incentive to play this deck and the main reward for assembling Tron in Modern is Karn, the Great Creator. It’s no surprise that Karn is the one payoff that these quite different Tron decks all share. Karn’s static ability alone is devastating for decks ranging from a format staple in Hammer to this weekend’s big winner in Azorius Breach, and the toolbox for the -2 ability gains new additions with every set – such as the well-branded Karn’s Sylex.
Tron decks of all stripes pick up a possible game-changer in Inscribed Tablet. For a deck like Mono-Green Tron that is wholly reliant on assembling Tron, an effect like this doesn’t do much to improve your range of keepable hands because it doesn’t guarantee the missing piece the way Expedition Map or Sylvan Scrying does, but it makes the medium hands a bit better.
For Eldrazi Tron, Mono-Blue Tron, or this Prison Tron deck, where Tron is a nice upgrade but not strictly necessary, Tablet makes that more likely while giving you the tools to play your normal game. Prison Tron is not just an Urza’s Tower deck, but an Urza’s Saga deck – finding your Saga more consistently is very welcome.
Dominaria United is not a revolutionary set for Modern, but it sprinkles some intriguing role-players into the format that will further encourage its impressive diversity.