Examining The Future Of Mystic Sanctuary In Modern

Can Mystic Sanctuary thrive in Modern without Arcum’s Astrolabe? Sam Black analyzes what Mystic Sanctuary needs to succeed.

Mystic Sanctuary, illustrated by Randy Vargas

Arcum’s Astrolabe and Mystic Sanctuary were a great pair that almost always showed up together. Arcum’s Astrolabe made it easy to trigger Mystic Sanctuary without any real effort and with minimal pain while playing three or even four colors. Without Arcum’s Astrolabe, Mystic Sanctuary decks will be considerably weaker, but Mystic Sanctuary remains one of the best cards in Modern (maybe even the best) and will continue to define control decks until it is banned itself. Today I’d like to look at how decks might have to change to adapt to the loss of Arcum’s Astrolabe and what Mystic Sanctuary decks might look like moving forward.

Triggering Mystic Sanctuary in a three-color, 60-card deck without Arcum’s Astrolabe requires a judicious manabase that avoids cards that cost two nonblue mana, careful fetching, and a lot of pain despite all that.  It absolutely is possible to play decks built this way, but I’d like to look at the alternatives that there had been less reason to play before, yet now have the benefit of overcoming some of those difficulties.  The best solutions are to restrict your deckbuilding to two colors or to play Yorion, Sky Nomad, which allows for a more flexible manabase thanks to the additional lands you’ll want to play.

Historically, I always prefer to play fewer colors if I can get away with it, so let’s start there.

Dimir Control

When Mystic Sanctuary was first legal, I played a Sultai Control deck based around Mystic Sanctuary that used it alongside Drown in the Loch and Into the Story.  I played green largely for Abrupt Decay because I wanted to be able to answer opposing planeswalkers, and also for Pulse of Murasa so that I could have a reasonable lifegain spell.  Playing a third color also meant that I naturally had enough different kinds of lands in my deck that I could use Field of the Dead to end games.  Fortunately, new cards have been printed that decrease the need for a green splash, allowing me to accomplish most of what I care about in two colors:


Eliminate offers a cheap answer to three-mana planeswalkers.  It doesn’t provide coverage for artifacts and enchantments, which definitely makes it quite a bit weaker than Abrupt Decay, but it might be worth taking that hit to avoid an additional color of mana.

Cling to Dust

Cling to Dust serves several important functions.  First, it replaces Pulse of Murasa in offering the deck some way to gain life.  It’s not ideal to spend a card just to gain three life, but this deck accumulates way more cards in the graveyard than it needs, so it can cast Cling to Dust several times in a game, which can allow it to climb to safety against burn decks.  Further, it offers a maindeck answer to Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath that doesn’t exile the entire graveyard the way Nihil Spellbomb does, which would pair poorly with Drown in the Loch.  Finally, it functions as a limited Whispers of the Muse in the late-game to help provide this deck with a bit more inevitability.

Shark Typhoon

The other major addition that wasn’t available the last time I played this strategy is Shark TyphoonShark Typhoon offers a strong and fairly reliable way to win long games that doesn’t require tapping out, removing the need for Field of the Dead.  This makes the deck a lot better against opposing planeswalkers and generally improves your control matchups.  Four copies might be a little heavy, but I’m optimistic about this card, so I’d start here and dial it back if it feels like too much.

Archmage's Charm

A final difference from when I first played the deck is a move away from Into the Story with a focus on Archmage’s Charm and Cryptic Command instead.  This isn’t new for me, as I’ve been a huge fan of Archmage’s Charm since Mox Opal was legal and I’ve basically been playing four copies ever since.  The addition of Shark Typhoon only solidifies the decision to focus on the cheaper, more interactive card rather than trying to really bury my opponent in cards, since I’m actually able to end games now.

The sideboard contains a lot of fairly normal Modern sideboard cards.  I’d note that the decks I respect most at the moment are Eldrazi Tron, Uro-based control decks, Mono-Red Prowess, Gruul Midrange, Goblins, and Grixis Death’s Shadow, so I’m trying to include some general coverage for Modern while specifically trying to make sure I have tools for those matchups, and that will continue to inform my choices in the rest of my decks.

Izzet Control

Izzet can be built in a very similar way, with a marginally more aggressive slant that still takes advantage of Shark Typhoon:

Lightning Bolt naturally makes the deck a little more aggressive, and I expect this deck to make much smaller Sharks on average, using them to push a bit of damage rather than trying to wait longer to make a giant, game-ending Shark.  This deck has fewer Cryptic Commands and more cantrips, since it’s playing shorter games.

Thing in the Ice

This deck uses Thing in the Ice despite the fact that there’s some awkwardness with Shark Typhoon, but I think each card is powerful in different matchups, and I don’t think the conflict should be especially meaningful.  Thing in the Ice is split between maindeck and sideboard here because it’s much more impressive against creature decks than control decks.  If you expect a more creature-heavy metagame, it could be reasonable to play all four copies maindeck and relegate Shark Typhoon to the sideboard.

Simic Control

If Mystic Sanctuary isn’t the strongest card in Modern, Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath might be.  Those two cards have thoroughly proven themselves together in Modern in a fairly short time, but without Arcum’s Astrolabe, is it possible to make a competitive Uro deck in Modern that’s just blue and green without splashing another color for removal?


Tarmogoyf and Uro are interesting allies, since both ask you to fill your graveyard, but casting Uro might take a bit of size away from Tarmogoyf.  Ultimately, I don’t think that’s much of a concern since Tarmogoyf will still have your opponent’s graveyard and you can likely leave specific cards that offer unique types.  We’ve seen Tarmogoyf and Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger play together, so this shouldn’t be a problem.

For the most part, the plan against opposing creatures is just to have larger creatures, or at least, large enough creatures to stall a battlefield until you can win with Cryptic Command, but this deck does play a bit of interaction in the form of Vapor Snag and Primal Might.


All five creatures in this deck care about the graveyard, so the sideboard offers Hexdrinker as a token out to Rest in Peace.  Obviously, Shark Typhoon could be used in its place, but I think Hexdrinker might be a little more reliably hard-hitting.

Tarmogoyf was popular as a splash in blue decks before Modern existed.  It’s been long enough that it feels really weird to build a deck this way now, but maybe the time is right.

Bant Control (Yorion, Sky Nomad)

As I mentioned, the other approach that I like is to play three-color Mystic Sanctuary decks with Yorion.

Thought Scour

This deck is essentially just Arcum’s Astrolabe-powered Bant Control with Thought Scour instead of Arcum’s Astrolabe.  That’s definitely a downgrade, both because the mana is a little worse and because Yorion is weaker without Arcum’s Astrolabe, but both cards allow you to spend one mana to further your gameplan in a meaningful way.  Thought Scour finds and powers up Uro and helps build a toolkit for Mystic Sanctuary.

Beyond that, there are some minor tuning differences in accordance with my preferences. I love Cryptic Command and Archmage’s Charm.

Ice-Fang Coatl

Ice-Fang Coatl is appreciably weaker without Arcum’s Astrolabe, but I still think it easily pulls its weight in a deck that can afford to play plenty of fetchlands and snow basics that also gets value out of the Coatls with Yorion.

This deck is a fairly well known quantity — it dropped off in popularity when Yorion was nerfed, but I don’t think the nerf was a death blow to its utility here, and I think the pressures on the mana tip the scales back in favor of playing the companion in three-color control decks now.

Esper Control (Yorion, Sky Nomad)

For something a little fresher, here’s another approach to Yorion Control:

This deck gets more cheap removal, and then leans on planeswalkers and Charms for card advantage.  On paper, I think this is less powerful than Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, but if people are prepared to exile your graveyard, as this deck attempts to with Nihil Spellbomb, backed by Ashiok, Dream Render and Rest in Peace out of the sideboard, the instants and planeswalkers might offer a safer path to inevitability.

Kaya, Orzhov Usurper

The lack of incidental lifegain from Uro hurts, though I’ve made room for a little in the form of Cling to Dust; Kaya, Orzhov Usurper; Oath of Kaya; and Absorb, but mostly I think you’re hoping the additional early removal thanks to Fatal Push and Eliminate preserves your life total.  The really tricky part is sequencing your early fetchlands to cast timely answers while setting up Archmage’s Charm and Esper Charm, which is a tall order. Weirdly, this deck would really benefit from an Esper Triome, which might be a small argument for Sultai or Temur Yorion-based builds.

As I mentioned, I think Uro might be the best card in Modern, so trying not to play it in a three-color blue control deck is probably just too fancy, but I know there are some fans of Esper Control out there.

I think Bant Control will likely continue to be the most popular Mystic Sanctuary deck, but I think Izzet is also a pretty safe choice.  Dimir feels less like a sure thing; I think the cards might be there, but it would take a little more tuning, since new cards are likely important to the strategy, whereas Izzet Control has been around for awhile.  I think the deck that’s improved most recently is Dimir, but that means it’s less tuned.

Mistbind Clique

Personally, I’m kind of excited at the idea of being able to play a Dimir deck with big flash flying finishers again, even if they’re Sharks rather than Faeries.

SCG Advertisement