Evaluating The Options For Skyclave Apparition In Modern

Skyclave Apparition gives white decks in Modern a key option. But which decks use it the best? Ari Lax reviews the early lists putting up results.

Skyclave Apparition, illustrated by Donato Giancola

After a long streak of bad times for white decks in Constructed, Zendikar Rising has offered up a powerful tool to get the color going again.

Skyclave Apparition isn’t just making white playable in Zendikar Rising Standard, it’s pushing the color in Modern. It’s almost easier to list the important cards that Skyclave Apparition doesn’t answer. A spread of decks utilizing Skyclave Apparition has started having success in the format, and I dove in to find out which ones were the best options for anyone looking to play the card.

Death and Taxes

Death and Taxes is currently the highest-profile Skyclave Apparition deck in Modern, rattling off multiple Magic Online Challenge wins in the relatively short amount of time Zendikar Rising has been legal.

Leonin Arbiter

But it’s a Leonin Arbiter deck. Maybe at the ten-year mark of Modern people will sit down and reflect on all the time they wasted on that stupid card, but it certainly hasn’t happened yet. Even at the height of Leonin Arbiter’s success during the summer of 2017, when Brian Coval won a SCG Tour Invitational with the deck and multiple copies Top 8’ed the massive Grand Prix Las Vegas, the deck was weak and working really hard to exploit a metagame position. And even then, it had the same exact issue it always had where all of the creatures in it were garbage threats and it was easily overpowered. When something just slips slightly out of place in how your disruptive elements line up and your opponent just casts one normal Modern-powered threat, the game falls apart.

Giver of Runes Archon of Emeria

That said, this might be the first revision of the deck that starts to come close to resolving this issue. Giver of Runes and Skyclave Apparition start to give you effects that let you compete in the scenarios where past Death and Taxes decks have struggled. This deck can probably beat a Kitchen Finks resolving, for example, while every other prior iteration of the deck was only slightly better off than Burn in that scenario. Archon of Emeria is also a step in this right direction in terms of a broadly effective hate card, and Flickerwisp has somehow racked up a bunch of high-impact uses, like exiling a DFC sorcery played as a land, resulting in it never returning to the battlefield.

But it’s still playing Leonin Arbiter, aka Runeclaw Bear. All your creatures are small fragile doofuses. There’s no better way to illustrate this issue than look at how this deck lines up with Rakdos Death’s Shadow. You have eight removal spells now, but they have Death’s Shadow and Scourge of the Skyclaves that outclass all your creatures. Beyond that, they have Lurrus of the Dream-Den that you have to kill every game and none of your creatures even stand up to a Monastery Swiftspear with a prowess trigger in combat. They have a ton of removal too, and that’s even not counting what happens once they recur Seal of Fire with Lurrus. Your deck has a pile of cards that cost three mana and their deck is all efficient one- and two-mana spells. Even Stoneforge Mystic, your most powerful standalone threat, has huge issues since it dies to the same efficient removal that punishes the rest of your deck.

Auriok Champion

Regarding the Rakdos Death’s Shadow matchup, I was asked how that deck beats an Auriok Champion. The answer is a lot of ways. You can splash white and have access to Path to Exile, which is probably my least favorite answer. You can get into combat against it and fire off a Stomp, which is probably the most reasonable maindeck answer if people start getting really spiteful. But the best? Kozilek’s Return. Just a clean one-sided sweeper after all the prowess triggers resolve. So even if the Death and Taxes player wants to really slant towards that one matchup, they buy themselves one game a match and maybe a week of deck adaptation.

If Modern shifts around to be a bit less inherently hostile to smaller creatures, I’m sure Death and Taxes can be a good choice. Like I pointed out, it is now largely full of decent cards that aren’t just absurdly narrow hate cards that you hope to draw in the right matchup. Sure it’s a bit clunky, but a good metagame position can easily outweigh that. I would probably even call the deck generally playable right now. I just don’t think it’s quite the edge I would be looking for going into any important event.

Verdict: Finally not terrible, but not great either.

Orzhov Stoneblade

If the goal is to play more individually powerful cards, Orzhov Stoneblade certainly does that.

Liliana of the Veil

The immediately obvious thing when playing Orzhov Stoneblade is a total reversal in the Rakdos Death’s Shadow matchup relative to Death and Taxes. Liliana of the Veil remains unbeatable for Death’s Shadow, and Kaya, Orzhov Usurper is even worse for them. You win the game with cards like Lingering Souls that aren’t vulnerable to spot removal, and Cling to Dust is not to be underestimated as an engine.

Tidehollow Sculler

I don’t love Tidehollow Sculler right now. Modern isn’t really in a place where the non-interactive decks it punishes are playable. Cleansing Wildfire appears to be the biggest driver of that, pressuring out Urza’s Tower decks and really punishing the DFC landless decks. Finding the right replacement there is the next big step for this deck to take.

Wrenn and Six Bloodchief's Thirst Celestial Purge

On the fair side of the metagame, there has been a massive uptick in Wrenn and Six. While Orzhov Stoneblade has fewer things that just die to Wrenn pings than Death and Taxes, the land recursion part of the card is fairly troubling. Wrenn also follows the more recent planeswalker trend of having stupid amounts of loyalty, so pressuring it down with Lingering Souls is fairly ineffective. You can only lean so hard on Skyclave Apparition, so I wouldn’t mind access to a couple of extra direct answers for a planeswalker in the deck. Bloodchief’s Thirst lines up so well in this spot that I would look at the first copy or two in some of the flex removal spots in this current list. I’ve just never understood Kaya’s Guile as a playable card.

Along these lines, wow Celestial Purge is good right now.

Veil of Summer

The main thing that gives me pause with this deck is playing against Veil of Summer. Despite playing a fair amount of Thoughtseize and Cryptic Command over the last year, exactly how messed-up that card is never fully sunk in. Maybe it was because I was always playing aggressive Death’s Shadow decks, which just kill their opponents instead of caring about Veil, or decks with Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, where Veil is largely just a Disrupt since your broken card draws infinite cards and gains life to negate it.

Playing an honest Magic deck trying to use black interaction against Veil of Summer felt really rough. There’s just enough going on with the white half of the deck that you can sometimes maneuver your way into your opponent needing to cycle the card, but I would not want to put myself through that repeatedly if possible.

Orzhov Stoneblade again felt reasonable, slighty better than Death and Taxes, but still not quite the “it” deck I was looking for.

Verdict: Solid but with a scary flaw.

Bant and Azorius Spirits

I’m not going to waste any time here. Spirits is unplayable. I want to really emphasize this — I mean unplayable. Not “this isn’t the best deck in the format,” not “this deck wins some matches but feels like it’s in the wrong spot,” actual “this deck is not fundamentally a Modern deck; you accidentally registered the seventh-best Pioneer deck in Modern” unplayable.

Reflector Mage Drogskol Captain

Problem one is a similar issue to Death and Taxes: the deck is way too three-drop-centric. Even worse is that those three-drops are central threats in the deck. It’s not like Humans, where your deck produces a bunch of pressure off the back of Champion of the Parish and Thalia’s Lieutenant and then closes out whenever it gets around to casting Reflector Mage or Mantis Rider. Trying to beat people with Rattlechains and Mausoleum Wanderer is not the speed of Modern.

Noble Hierarch Aether Vial Mausoleum Wanderer

Problem two is along the same lines. Just like Humans, you require a one-drop to get off the ground, even more so since your two-drops are so much worse and you can’t even convince yourself Thalia, Guardian of Thraben on the play might be good this time. But unlike Humans, you have way fewer one-drops that can carry a game. You have replaced the dominating Champion of the Parish with the marginal Mausoleum Wanderer, and you can’t keep hands based on that card. You have to play way more lands than Humans does to support all the three-drops and Collected Company, so suddenly your double Aether Vial hands are a mess too.

Your deck just draws bad hands all the time and it also requires a critical density of creautres and mana to do things. That’s just a key sign of a bad deck.

Spell Queller Tidehollow Sculler

Finally, remember what I said about Tidehollow Sculler? How Modern is saturated with interaction and the low-interaction decks that Spell Queller previously exploited are largely unplayable? The same applies to Spell Queller. Considering that when Bant Spirits was a Tier 1 deck, the main reason was Spell Queller being exceptionally effective against Ironworks Combo. Spell Queller being mediocre in the format is a really bad sign.

This is why Skyclave Apparition is so good in Modern. If it dies, your opponent is still significantly down on the exchange. When your Spell Queller gets Lightning Bolted, that exchange always goes badly for you.

Verdict: Trash, don’t play this.

Selesnya Company

At first glance, I had no clue why this deck was winning. It looks like such a pile: all those Conclave Mentors, all these cards that don’t involve +1/+1 counters. But in the interest of format science, I felt obligated to try it.

This was the best of the Skyclave Apparition decks I played by a large margin.

Conclave Mentor

Once you start playing games, it all makes sense. Conclave Mentor isn’t boosting your creatures; it’s a key combo piece. The problems with the basic Spike Feeder plus Heliod, Sun-Crowned combo were that it just gains life, so it doesn’t beat many combo and control decks, and it can be disrupted by a Lightning Bolt in response to the lifegain activation. With Conclave Mentor, your Spike Feeder enters the battlefield as a 3/3 with a bonus activation to recombo in response to a removal spell, and then it turns your combo immediately lethal. Each Spike Feeder gain puts two counters back in the Feeder, so it has infinite power, but then you can use those infinite counters to gain life and put infinite counters on the rest of your creatures.

Conclave Mentor also significantly improves the backup Walking Ballista plus Heliod combo by letting you cast Walking Ballista for two mana, make it a 2/2 with the bonus +1/+1 counter, and use another two mana for the Heliod lifelink activation and kill off only four mana and not the usual larger commitments of six mana or untapping with a 2/2 Walking Ballista.

While that sounds like a lot of three-card combos, Heliod is a nearly unkillable lead-off piece and Collected Company does the same thing whenever you sit around with four mana up. Not to mention that in many of the Lightning Bolt matchups where your combo setup is under the most pressure, your two-card infinite life combo is good enough to win the game.

Utopia Sprawl Arbor Elf

Kanister is right. Utopia Sprawl is really, really good in Modern right now. With a bunch of power tied up in three- and four-mana cards, the best fast mana is going to be really impactful. Utopia Sprawl fixes colors, it is virtually free to cast after Turn 1, and the Arbor Elf combo lets you turbo out plays like Turn 2 Collected Company. I expect to see a lot more of Utopia Sprawl in the coming months.

Eladamri's Call Scavenging Ooze Auriok Champion

The cards in the deck I didn’t like are the clear “less than four copies” flex slots. Scavenging Ooze and Auriok Champion felt exceptionally narrow relative to just starting some Skyclave Apparitions or a couple of Noble Hierarchs. Eladamri’s Call felt wrong and clunky in a deck whose biggest edge is that it gets to keep playing combo setup to the battlefield. A more efficient card selection spell or one stapled to a body would be better.

Verdict: Surprisingly great.

White Is Back?

While the quality of all these decks ranged, Skyclave Apparition was very good in all of them. I wouldn’t call it the best card in these decks, but it’s a three-mana kill spell. It would be tough for that to be the best card in any Modern deck.

The important part was that Skyclave Apparition was always a critical card in the deck. It provides a broad answer to decks that didn’t have it before, but without the weird awkwardness cards like Assassin’s Trophy can have when you don’t want an answer.

Given Modern’s history it shouldn’t be shocking that the best Skyclave Apparition decks so far were the combo deck and the Thoughtseize midrange deck since those are the historically successful archetypes, but I have a feeling the creature deck enthusiasts will find a way to change that.

No matter what, Skyclave Apparition is going to be an important part of Modern for a while.