Stoneforge Mystic was once a seemingly permanent resident of Modern’s extensive Banned List. When it was finally let loose on an unsuspecting format, the results were… underwhelming. It eventually found a role in a few shells but was a shadow of its former self that warranted the first Standard ban since the days of Arcbound Ravager (if you joined the game recently, I promise that used to mean something).
As Modern tries to find its new identity, Stoneforge Mystic is enjoying fifteen more minutes of fame. Let’s begin our tour with another throwback:
Urza, Lord High Artificer’s short tenure in Modern has been a real roller coaster. Initially overshadowed during Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis’s reign of terror, it soon showed what it was capable of. As 2020 began, Urza was a linchpin of by far the best deck in Modern.
In a few short months, everything changed. The ban of Mox Opal cut every Urza deck down to size and the Uroza decks that had proved surprisingly effective anyway officially died with the loss of Arcum’s Astrolabe. It looked like Urza would be forced into a permanent and unhappy retirement.
The recent bans may have given Urza a second life. Paying four mana for a midrange threat is more realistic than it has been in a long time. Additionally, the combo that propelled Urza to greatness may be poised for a resurgence.
What I Like
Urza transforms the Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek combo from a way to lock up the battlefield and grind through anything into an immediate win. Without Mox Opal, this is too slow and inconsistent to race the linear decks that can beat that battlefield even with a full commitment to the combo via Goblin Engineer or Whir of Invention. The infinite combo is a useful threat that looms over the game but can’t be your primary plan.
As a result, the success of any Thopter-Sword shell depends on how good that combo is in its own right. It has always been weak against the extremes of the format or decks that fight on a different axis, so it needs to carry its weight against fair decks. Previously, the blue decks could overpower it with Field of the Dead or establish inevitability through it via Mystic Sanctuary and Cryptic Command (sometimes ignoring it altogether by looping Time Warp) and the black midrange decks that it preyed on were pushed out of the format.
Stoneforge Mystic not only helps to assemble the combo, offering access to Sword of the Meek without having to play more copies or lean into a heavier artifact theme, it is a good omen for its success. A format slow and fair enough for Mystic to succeed is one that Thopter-Sword should thrive in — not least because it embarrasses an opposing Stoneforge Mystic.
However, it’s important to be realistic about the combo’s limitations. A good start from Burn or Izzet Prowess on the play can light you up before you have time to churn out Thopters — the loss of Mox Opal really hurts there. The printing of Skyclave Apparition ensures that the various creature decks that couldn’t beat the combo have maindeck answers now.
An innocuous but important part of Simic Urza’s dominance, Metallic Rebuke is one of the strongest cards without a home in Modern. Most one-mana counters are highly conditional but Rebuke effectively costing one instead of two makes it stronger even in matchups where these effects tend to be weak — it’s a fine answer to Stormwing Entity, for example. This efficiency is especially welcome in a deck that’s inherently clunky and needs both early defensive measures and ways to force through or protect its expensive threats. An all-purpose answer helps to mitigate the loss of Goblin Engineer and Whir of Invention as ways to find specific hate cards.
What I Don’t Like
Modern Horizons has been out for less than eighteen months and I’m still none the wiser. Some problems are universal (why are Binding the Old Gods and The Binding of the Titans in the same Standard format?!) but I’m pretty sure this one is just me. Let your local copy editor know you appreciate them. (CEDitor’s Note: Nope.)
Each of these cards is contextually powerful and worth the effort but there are severe diminishing returns on having this many mana sinks and Emry, Lurrus, and Stoneforge Mystic all require an extra cost to do anything (unless you’re buying back Mishra’s Bauble with the first two). The Thopter-Sword combo is already highly mana-intensive and Stoneforge Mystic adds another step to that in return for reducing the amount of blank cardboard in your deck.
The deck’s low land count makes this an even riskier proposition. It’s impossible to overstate how much worse Mox Amber is than Mox Opal but this list is built with a Mox Opal mindset – 21 lands simply isn’t enough to cast your spells when your Mox is this unreliable. The curve is even more skewed than it seems – Emry, Lurker of the Loch and Metallic Rebuke can be one-drops but only with a very high density of cheap artifacts, forcing you to keep in weak zeroes (Mox Amber against highly disruptive decks or Engineered Explosives against many opponents) just to maintain a reasonable curve.
Has a lot of good stuff going on but I’m not convinced you have the time or mana for it.
Japanese streamer musasabi (musasabi0 on Twitch) took a typically experimental Mardu Stoneblade list to an undefeated run through the Swiss of February’s ManaTraders series. Mardu Pyromancer fans will be thrilled to hear that a similar deck is viable again, even if its namesake has been aged into an older and wiser Pyromancer.
What I Like
With Burn and the Prowess variants as litmus tests for the format, decks like Selesnya Hexproof and Dredge are poised to prey on them. Kaya’s Guile happens to excel against every part of this food chain and some combination of modes will be useful against all but the most extreme villains like Mono-Green Tron. These anti-aggro decks happen to be tough matchups for Mardu Stoneblade so the help there is vital.
It’s a weird quirk of Modern that Blood Moon is often easier to kill than Magus of the Moon for the land-based strategies that live in fear of these effects. Titanshift and Amulet Titan can unlock their lands from Blood Moon via Summoner’s Pact for Reclamation Sage but killing a 2/2 is surprisingly difficult for Amulet Titan. Mono-Green Tron can hedge safely with Wilt but a card like Dismember or Spatial Contortion runs a higher risk of rotting in their hand. As a tiebreaker, Magus of the Moon is a warm body that can carry Equipment and apply pressure.
Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger is no stranger to Modern but conditions are more favourable for it now. Without Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and Field of the Dead, constricting the opponent on resources is much easier – this makes Kroxa itself stronger and unbans the ‘Fatal Push your best creature, Thoughtseize your best card’ sequences that enable it.
Mardu Stoneblade is a more promising home than other midrange shells that flirted with Kroxa. The deck’s threats work as an ensemble – Kroxa is often a poor card to cast but a great card to escape, making it the perfect fodder for Seasoned Pyromancer or Magmatic Channeler. Lingering Souls fits that same description and lines up well against removal like Path to Exile or Skyclave Apparition that permanently deals with Kroxa. Savai Triome as a fetchable tri-land is also non-trivial in helping to cast spells in your third colour without jumping through hoops to have BBRR.
What I Don’t Like
Castle Locthwain is a little suspicious in a deck that’s already built to grind well and contains various dual lands without basic land types.
Beyond some minor gripes, I think this is a well-built version of a promising archetype and I’m glad musasabi’s hard work paid off.
What I Like
The biggest benefit of keeping it simple will always be the mana. Orzhov Stoneblade has a clean, relatively painless manabase that can balance its colour requirements while supporting some utility lands.
A common fail case for black midrange decks is some threat dodging discard by jumping off their library at the wrong moment and dodging your other interaction by having the wrong types or stats. Skyclave Apparition is a useful catch-all that you can time well using the information gleaned from discard spells.
I like that RagingTiltMonster has Damping Spheres and I like that they have this many. As Ross Merriam argued in a prescient piece last week, Mono-Green Tron was poised for a comeback as people embrace the chance to play traditional fair decks and Karn Liberated is out in full force in the Leagues on Magic Online these days. I’d also respect writing off that matchup entirely but, if you do want to fight it, you have to go this hard. Damping Sphere has relevant text against the few combo decks that have stuck around so those sideboard slots aren’t always wasted otherwise.
What I Don’t Like
The major limiting factor for this style of the deck is not the disruption but the threats – Rakdos Midrange breathed a sigh of relief when Magmatic Channeler was printed because it finally had a good two-drop and the Rakdos Death’s Shadow decks did and do often splash green ‘just’ for Tarmogoyf. Dark Confidant had aged poorly even before Modern Horizons made it target practice for Lava Dart or Wrenn and Six and Tidehollow Sculler.
Kitesail Freebooter is passable in Five-Colour Humans because it sets up Meddling Mage; it is a flying attacker that can be boosted by Thalia’s Lieutenant and Noble Hierarch; and the deck’s rapid aggression combined with other disruption like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben means that the Freebooter doesn’t need to survive for long to be relevant.
Orzhov Stoneblade boasts none of those benefits, leaving Tidehollow Sculler’s fragility on full display. Taking their best card means it’s perversely safe from your other disruption and can be reclaimed with a single removal spell; taking some other card is often a poor use of your time and a card.
A solid base without enough closing power.
I assumed I would have a wide range of successful Azorius Stoneblade lists to choose from, but the Magic Online grinders known for their love of blue cards seem to be gravitating to classic Azorius Control.
What I Like
A staple of blue decks in every format for nearly a decade, Snapcaster Mage was shockingly absent from the Mystic Sanctuary generation of Modern control decks. Azorius Stoneblade can’t offer Snapcaster the flexibility it enjoys in other colour combinations, where it can provide reach with Lightning Bolt or proactive disruption with Thoughtseize, but Equipment means the body on Snapcaster Mage is at its best here.
As fair decks rely more and more on high-impact sorcery-speed plays like planeswalkers, a flash threat that lines up well against those while protecting our own planeswalkers (and giving Teferi, Time Raveler or Jace, the Mind Sculptor a good card to bounce) looks even more appealing.
Snapcaster Mage gets a lot better with modal cards and brings its own modality – with Opt and Path to Exile in your graveyard, Snapcaster Mage looks a lot like a Charm or Command. Archmage’s Charm grafts useful modes onto Snapcaster Mage, making it an ideal mid-game play, but is also a fantastic card in its own right. The counterspell and ‘gain control…’ modes cover a wide range of situations between them and drawing cards is a fine fallback that means you never have to waste mana if your opponent doesn’t make the other modes relevant.
Archmage’s Charm was excellent with Mystic Sanctuary – you would always want to rebuy it and both cards demanded a blue-heavy manabase – but the removal of Sanctuary opens the door for a wider variety of control decks and I expect a deck that leans hard on Archmage’s Charm to be among them.
You can reasonably put lands like this in your blue decks again and straight Azorius has more room to do that. I’d hate to discover that Celestial Colonnade was unplayable the whole time but blaming Mystic Sanctuary is much easier…
What I Don’t Like
I have nothing but love for Shark Typhoon as a card and it’s a perfect fit on either end of a Sword of Feast and Famine. I’m putting it here as a call to be realistic about its performance. In Standard a baby Shark usually trades with something and games go long enough that giant Sharks can show up and dominate the battlefield. Both of these uses are tightly squeezed in Modern – Shark Typhoon is embarrassing against Monastery Swiftspear on one end and Karn Liberated on the other.
If you intend to use it as a flexible Ice-Fang Coatl or a mirror-breaker against other blue decks, fine – just don’t expect it to be part of your post-sideboard configuration against everything by default as in other formats.
While we’re here, since there has been some #discourse about Magic crossovers recently…
A straightforward and solid choice.
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Stoneforge Mystic
- 3 Spell Queller
- 4 Ice-Fang Coatl
- 1 Brazen Borrower
- 3 Toski, Bearer of Secrets
Bant Snowblade has been around in some form ever since Stoneforge Mystic regained its freedom. Its newest form comes from Twitch streamer Evart Moughon (aspiringspike). Sam Black applied his own indomitable creativity to the archetype, 5-0’ing a League on stream with a list on the thicker side featuring Yorion, Sky Nomad.
What I Like
With the usual caveats about Lava Dart or Wrenn and Six, Noble Hierarch is part of the best starts for any deck that can support it and that’s no different here. Bant Stoneblade has several important three-drops and can almost always find a good use for extra mana. Don’t ignore the power of exalted in a deck with a lot of fliers that wants to end the game quickly.
With how fragile mana creatures are in Modern right now, it’s important to ensure your deck can function properly without them in the brief window you have to stay in the game against aggro decks. Shaving lands with Hierarch in mind (or just to make room for it) is a natural move but can easily end in disaster – as we’ve seen, these decks have no shortage of action or mana sinks and the risk of flooding is much less severe.
Perhaps the best card to ramp into with Hierarch is Spell Queller. There’s a world of difference between gobbling up a two-drop and untapping with the ability to defend your Queller (perhaps with a second copy) versus passing the turn when they have a more developed battlefield and might be able to remove Queller on the same turn. Spell Queller offers a unique form of interaction stapled to a creature – notably, a way to stop anything from Selesnya Company through even Ranger-Captain of Eos.
Teferi, Time Raveler needs no introduction but its synergy with Spell Queller is a real highlight of these decks. Teferi not only narrows the window in which the opponent can answer Spell Queller – they have to use a removal spell on their turn where you can cast Force of Negation for free, for example – it ensures that Queller dying doesn’t give the spell back. Knowing this, you can use the -2 ability to bounce Spell Queller to have it ready for another threat. Having to chain fragile three-drops is a steep hill to climb in Modern but Noble Hierarch makes that more viable.
Ross Merriam also drew attention to On Thin Ice, which weirdly feels like a well-kept secret. You need cheap removal against the aggro decks and anyone else fielding Noble Hierarch or Stoneforge Mystic, but ramping them with Path to Exile that early feels horrendous. On Thin Ice retains most of Path’s flexibility and efficiency without the glaring downside.
Of all the incentives to play Bant Snowblade, On Thin Ice may be the most underappreciated. These lists can also ‘blink’ On Thin Ice with Teferi, Time Raveler (or Yorion, Sky Nomad for Sam) if a juicier target shows up later.
What I Don’t Like
Yes, the ceiling on Toski, Bearer of Secrets is sky-high – following up Ice-Fang Coatl and Spell Queller with Toski should put the game away. Any playable four-drop should do the same and Toski is notably worse unless everything is going to plan.
Toski’s indestructibility may as well be dummy text in Modern while the ‘can’t be countered’ clause isn’t reliable against blue decks that have heard the good word of Spell Queller. The fact that aspiringspike is so successful with Toski is a testament to his mastery of Modern rather than Toski’s power.
You can sideboard a Sword of Fire and Ice if you really have to, but how are you hoping to use it? The damage trigger pales in comparison to Sword of Feast and Famine. The protection is a pipe dream when the most popular red deck can kill both your creature and you for less mana than you spent casting and equipping your Sword. Drawing a redundant piece of Equipment against a removal-heavy deck or pinning your hopes on a Sword connecting is an easy way to lose a winnable game.
This deck might be the nuts, but keep the Squirrels away.
British grinder Matt Brown also made the Top 8 of last month’s ManaTrader Series with this list from perennial Platinum pro Kelvin Chew.
What I Like
Wrenn and Six is still a game-changer against any fair strategy even though it can’t feed Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath any more. It also makes your range of reactive cards better as it puts the onus on the opponent to act and means you can’t get bottlenecked on mana.
The most feared control decks in history have often revolved around these cheap threats that can define the game by themselves. Stoneforge Mystic has filled that role since the days of Cawblade and Wrenn joins it here.
Look at this card. Then look at Toski. Then look at this card again.
I don’t want to just recite the text on the card (and there’s far too much to bother) but this is the four-drop you want to round out your curve. By some twist of fate, the burst of mana you get from the second landfall trigger is exactly enough to cast Batterskull, return it, and activate Stoneforge Mystic to refresh the Germ token, or cast and equip a Sword. You can’t run too many five-drops like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, so finding cheaper ways to use that mana well is a big deal.
What I Don’t Like
Don’t make me tap the sign…
Everything I said about Toski applies to Tireless Tracker – it only works if you have ample time and resources, a situation in which this deck (and most playable Magic decks) already excels. A format in which Tracker is playable is probably a healthy format but, whatever its other pros and cons, Kaldheim Modern is still not that format.
Requires an ambitious manabase but the upside is well worth it.
It’s not totally clear what will be good in Modern a month from now but some Stoneforge Mystic deck is sure to be. Sleeve them up and suit something up – but please handle your weapons responsibly!