How Modal Double-Faced Cards Make Oops, All Spells A Tier 1 Modern Deck

It’s time to take Oops, All Spells seriously in Modern. Ari Lax breaks down the latest tech, the deck mechanics, and the key matchups.

Balustrade Spy, illustrated by Jaime Jones

I love what the modal double-faced cards (DFCs) have done to Modern.

Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath Hollow One

Modern has been overwhelmed by changes driven by cramming the best cards of this millennium in the last two years. That is in extreme contrast to how Modern has evolved for most of its lifespan and honestly what made the format its best back in 2018. In that era, some new printing interacted weirdly with some card from ten years ago, and suddenly zones ceased to matter and the game ended. But that was fine, because this new combo lost to a subset of hate cards and wasn’t actually faster than the rest of the bunch and it all worked out as you threaded the needle between whatever fair decks were popular those days.

Last week, that classic Modern feel presented itself with Goblin Charbelcher showing up in “zero land” decks, resulting in a Modern deck that had a seven-cost win-the-game effect that you could even pay in easy installments of four and three mana. Or whatever Recross the Paths math works out to once you stack your library.

But it’s 2020, and new deck development moves pretty fast. Goblin Belcher is last week’s news, and Balustrade Spy is this week’s hotness.

Balustrade Spy

Oops, All Spells has been a meme-tier deck for a while in Legacy so it’s a natural next place to move the no-land archetype in Modern. The first I heard about the deck was a few days ago when Grand Prix Reno (aka the last Paper Grand Prix) Champion Nathaniel Knox started riffing on it.

From there, the deck evolved from a Dredge scenario where you passed the turn with a ton of power to an immediate kill.

And from there, it got further tuned into an actual deck with interaction instead of filler, put up a showing in at least one Magic Online Challenge, and is now what I would consider a real threat in the format.

What Is This Nonsense?

Agadeem's Awakening Undercity Informer

The basic premise is easy. If you have no lands in your deck and you mill until you hit a land, you will mill your whole library. Balustrade Spy and Undercity Informer both let you target yourself with that ability. That gives you eight cards that for four mana will mill your library, and from there we can get into the business of resource conversion of deck in graveyard to game win. If you can do that, you have accomplished what Belcher is trying to do for only four mana.

Prized Amalgam Nexus of Fate

The original list did the Dredge thing where it flipped some some power onto the battlefield with Narcomoeba, Silversmote Ghoul via Creeping Chill, and Prized Amalgam. You still needed a combat step to kill your opponent, so a Nexus of Fate shuffled back into your deck for a draw step and lethal attack. Maybe Conflagrate could close the one-turn-kill gap, but the math isn’t great for you and that starts pushing you closer to Belcher costs.

Dread Return Cabal Therapy Bridge from Below

The problem to solve is that Modern lacks the additional free graveyard action that fuels the immediate Legacy kills. It’s not in the format because it’s too old or too banned.


If you recur a set of Vengevines, that adds up with Creeping Chill to kill your opponent even if a Chill or two was stuck in your hand. So all you have to do is cast two creatures the turn you mill your deck. The first one of those is typically your Balustrade Spy or Undercity Informer, but how do you get the other cast for free?

Sword of the Meek Salvage Titan

Enter some weird stuff.

Narcomoeba is a 1/1. That gives you free access to any number of Sword of the Meek in your graveyard since there’s no intervening “if” on the recursion trigger to check that your Narcomoeba levels up to a 2/3 or 3/5 before recurring the Sword. With three Sword of the Meek, you have the resources to recur and cast a Salvage Titan. That recurs your Vengevines and the game wraps up. If any of your Vengevines or Sword of the Meek are stuck in your hand, you can bin them to Phantasmagorian in response to the Narcomoeba triggers.

If you’re short some damage, you still have the Nexus of Fate reshuffle to get an attack in the next turn with your Salvage Titan and Narcomoeba. You can even get another extra turn by discarding Nexus of Fate to Phantasmagorian, and Nexus of Fate’s reshuffle is a replacement effect so it can’t randomly get exiled by Scavenging Ooze like a Worldspine Wurm trigger could.

This also means you can kill your opponent in some convoluted scenario where you don’t get back Vengevines, like if your mill condition is to cast Undercity Informer one turn and activate it the next turn so you don’t get two casts for Vengevine, with all the Chills one turn and a Salvage Titan bash the next. I’m sure most of this last bit never really happens, but just remember you can win games from these weird spots if needed.

Nexus of Fate also removes your opponent’s ability to exploit your deck with their own Mind Funerals or Balustrade Spys, an interaction that should rarely come up anyway. Instead of getting milled out and dying on your draw step, your opponent would have just set up the win for you.

Pentad Prism Talisman of Resilience Simian Spirit Guide

Four mana is a significant amount of mana for Modern, so we would like to get there faster. There’s the usual culprit of Simian Spirit Guide, but you also need artifacts to recur Salvage Titan and this is the perfect place to slot them in. Pentad Prism and Talisman of Resilience serve the important purpose of representing four mana on Turn 3 while letting you slide in a Thoughtseize or Nature’s Claim after casting them on Turn 2.

Turntimber Symbiosis Emeria's Call

Pentad Prism also helps push you towards the seven mana to use your mythic modal DFCs as Rosewater intended. They do have a front side of a spell and aren’t just a nonland land, and your deck is over half mana. You will eventually get to seven, and Pentad Prism can help you get to triple-white to cast a Emeria’s Call. But probably not a Sea Gate Restoration, even if Shaheen really wants you to.

The most important of these are the ones that also incidentally lines up with Talisman of Resilience: Turntimber Symbiosis and Agadeem’s Awakening. Both of these cards represent additional ways to produce a Balustrade Spy or Undercity Informer against interaction, and Turntimber Symbiosis is notably a kill condition without needing to draw one of the creatures first. You have enough fast mana that a hand where your first try at the kill is a quick Turntimber Symbiosis is a real possibility, and you are in the 70-75% range of finding a mill creature with it under those didn’t draw a miller by Turn 4 scenarios.

On the narrow subject of seven-mana spells, this category also includes Nexus of Fate. It’s not necessarily easy to draw multiple Sea Gate, Reborn to keep casting it forever, but you technically can attack an arbitrarily large number of times if you mill yourself and have 5UU available afterwards. Spike Feeder plus Heliod, Sun-Crowned? Technically you have an out.

This ramp can also bail you out in the nightmare scenario of drawing all your Narcomoebas. Just get to six mana and cast one after milling yourself! Similar things apply to drawing your Phantasmagorian and a Sword of the Meek, where you cast the Sword or just sacrifice a Pentad Prism to Salvage Titan, or the ramp can even cast Vengevines from your hand because your opponent is a jerk with graveyard hate.

Goblin Charbelcher Leyline of the Void

The only really interesting part of this deck beyond the convoluted kill condition is the backup Goblin Charbelchers hanging out in the sideboard. The Goblin Charbelcher deck sideboards into a Recross the Paths into a stacked Collected Company kill involving Undercity Informer to beat Leyline of Sanctity, a peek into stealing the next week’s deck mojo. Guess what, it’s way better to not have to borrow a convoluted compact version of the primary kill condition against an opposing Leyline of the Void and just straight-up Charbelcher someone. You likely have to go through the two-turn process of casting it and then activating it, as seven is a lot of mana, but you can just chuck the Charbelchers in your deck as live draws to hedge. No drawing Thassa’s Oracle and staring at blank cardboard, just revealing your library to win the game somehow.

Leyline of Sanctity Nature's Claim Duress

The rest of the sideboard is really straightforward: Duress for when they have counterspells, Leyline of Sanctity against discard, Nature’s Claim or Fatal Push against problematic permanents, and good luck to your Burn opponents. This is all optimized for efficiency since your hands that curve out with a mana artifact have exactly one spare mana to use by Turn 3.

Veil of Summer Force of Negation

The absent card that stood out to me was Veil of Summer, but the reason that card is missing might be the most exciting part of this deck. See, the Goblin Charbelcher kill is hampered in current Modern by exposure to probably the most constricting 2019 card that is still legal in the format.

Force of Negation drastically changed the texture of what is a good combo option in Modern. Investing in noncreature spells on your turn is a huge liability. Modern doesn’t have the same hyper-accelerated kills that Legacy has to necessitate Force of Will, so what usually happens is the spell-based combo deck is running their key card right into the timeframe where the control deck is already able to recoup that lost card with some powerful engine.

Or worse, they are tapping out for their Jace, the Mind Sculptor and you know they will just have Force back and you have had no window to do anything threatening before it. Even if you resort to some Legacy Reset / High Tide-style combo-on-opponent’s-turn shenanigans, they can just tap mana for Force of Negation, and often there are other counterspells and Mystic Sanctuary backing these things up so Thoughtseize doesn’t quite break through the wall.

You can’t Force of Negation a Balustrade Spy. Thanks for tapping out, good luck next time. Suddenly the quantity of relevant interaction falls back into Thoughtseize range, especially when an early Force of Negation on a Thoughtseize isn’t a relevant card to Mystic Sanctuary back.

Thoughtseize is notably better than Veil of Summer in the combo mirrors I mentioned way earlier. You are a Turn 3 to Turn 4 combo deck, which isn’t necessarily faster than the Modern combo baseline. A Thoughtseize goes a long way to stopping a fast Amulet Titan draw or some Tron nonsense like Karn, the Great Creator for graveyard hate. Matsugan’s Pact of Negations try to play a similar role, but losing the preemptive interaction in key matchups like the mirror makes me doubt it is better.

Oops, All Metagame

It’s a bit early in the deck’s lifespan to really lock down the matchups, but you can definitely see where the metagame arrows are pointing. Where does Oops, All Spells land in Modern, and what does it mean for the format moving forward?

Lightning Bolt Aether Vial Primeval Titan

The deck is certainly the right power level for the format. You’re going to outpace most Amulet Titan draws, and honestly many Prowess draws. You are fast enough to beat Burn and don’t need to play into Eidolon of the Great Revel, and your sideboard accidentally rolls them. The split names and type line “Creature” of your threats make you fairly resilient to the typical Humans disruption suite, and outside of Spell Queller from people stumbling back into Spirits, most of the other random creature decks should be byes.

Hedron Crab Karn, the Great Creator

I have mild concerns about a few matchups but don’t think they’re huge issues, especially since Modern is still played with hidden decklists. The hot new Dimir Mill list has a few preemptive hate cards against you, but in general you can win through a little bit of disruption and they probably fold to Leyline of Sanctity. Karn, the Great Creator decks also have a specific nut draw that causes problems, but that’s about it.

Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath Death's Shadow

As with most combo decks I don’t expect Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath or Death’s Shadow decks to be byes, but I have more hope than usual. As mentioned you have resilience to Force of Negation, and while a true Cryptic Command lock is lethal, the Uro decks aren’t great at the true lock. You can push two or three Vengevine attacks through, and that breaks through their sketchier loops. Death’s Shadow and Jund are a bit scary due to Thoughtseize, but you have a lot of redraws to win and many of your kill spells dodge Inquisition of Kozilek.

Relic of Progenitus Soul-Guide Lantern Jace, the Mind Sculptor

My real concerns are the format pushing harder towards maindeck Relic of Progenitus or Soul-Guide Lantern, which I’m pretty sure should just be the norm anyway. The other concern is the upward trend in Azorius Control, a deck that just has a ton of Mana Leaks and other counterspells that actually cover your threats well. The other issue might honestly be that the Uro decks are starting to turn towards Mana Leak over Remand, and losing your threat to a counterspell is way more disastrous than untapping and using your modal DFC lands to cast it again.

Overall, I think flipping your library is a promising place to be in Modern right now. A fast combo deck that requires specific interaction to beat always deserves a glance, and once it crosses the line of easily integrating interaction it’s worth way more attention. If you want to meme your way into an actually good deck, try placing that deck directly into your graveyard.