Tibalt And His Trickery Are Getting His Revenge On Modern

Between Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor and Tibalt’s Trickery, the planeswalker has set Modern on fire. Dom Harvey explores the builds… and the counterplay.

Tibalt’s Trickery, illustrated by Anna Podedworna

A writer wants to love their subject. However objective or clinical we try to be, it’s easy to tell when someone has a genuine passion for their topic — there’s a clear skip in my step whenever I talk about Primeval Titan. I’m rarely moved by a love of the newest Four-Colour Midrange deck, but helping others to play or beat it offers that sense of purpose. 

Today, I’m driven by despair.

Violent Outburst Tibalt’s Trickery Ardent Plea

Tibalt’s Trickery is a terrible mistake that will warp Modern until action is taken. If you’ve played or watched the format this week, you won’t need convincing — the Leagues are infested with Tibalt’s Trickery and anyone unprepared for it is dead on arrival. Even if your matchup is good in the abstract, the games are rarely satisfying; you either win easily or hope you don’t get crushed by the weighted coin. 

Zendikar Rising and Kaldheim have unleashed a new Combo Winter on Modern. Neobrand was once the go-to example of frustrating combo decks that violated the unspoken rules of the format and robbed both players of any agency. Modern now features a whole family of similar decks more relevant than Neobrand could ever be. 

Patrick Chapin explains the mechanics of the combo and frames your first and most important choice with his usual flair: do you play the minimal combo package to guarantee that Trickery hits or do you embrace redundancy on your cascade effects at the cost of introducing a fail rate to the combo? Both approaches have seen early success after rapid iteration over Kaldheim’s first few days:

Modern combo expert Tomasz Sodomirski won the race for Twitter clout with some early finishes with Tibalt’s Trickery on the back of an impressive transformational sideboard. Some combo decks like Oops All Spells demand a high number of slots for the combo’s basic architecture, forcing you to keep some remnants of the combo in your deck or push your main plan and backup plan at once. This build of Tibalt’s Trickery imposes the steepest deckbuilding requirements of any combo deck in Modern but the combo takes up very little space as a result, allowing you to swap in another strategy. 

Castle Garenbrig Dryad of the Ilysian Grove Primeval Titan

This gambit is only worthwhile if the new plan sidesteps hate aimed at the main plan or fixes a key strategic weakness. Tibalt’s Trickery matches even the fastest decks on raw speed but is highly susceptible to disruption; Primeval Titan ramp decks are slower than the linear decks but have enough redundancy to fight through discard, while Cavern of Souls and Field of the Dead make Primeval Titan a safe, lethal threat against blue decks (though Aether Gust remains a thorn in Primeval Titan’s side and trumps Tibalt’s Trickery).

Confining the ramp package to the fifteen sideboard slots eats away at the redundancy that makes it so resilient. Summoner’s Pact is a useful bridge between Dryad of the Ilysian Grove and Primeval Titan but it makes Violent Outburst a dud. Luckily, Kaldheim offers another way to break cascade:

Valki, God of Lies Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor

My Modern preview piece for this set noted the potential of a Jund Cascade shell using Violent Outburst and Demonic Dread to deploy Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor as fast as possible alongside proven Modern threats like Blood Moon. Variations on that theme are already a common fixture in Modern Leagues as well and will ensure Violent Outburst continues to offend even if Tibalt’s Trickery is cut short. My initial testing with that deck showed that Tibalt requires little backup to win those grindy games and can add a new dimension by itself:

  • 4 Dryad of the Ilysian Grove
  • 4 Primeval Titan
  • 4 Hour of Promise 
  • 2 Valki, God of Lies 

With Violent Outburst staying in the deck (possibly joined by Demonic Dread to round out this sideboard), this configuration retains some of its explosive potential while harnessing the benefits of this transformation and enjoying a higher threat count.

Madcap Experiment Platinum Emperion

Chapin’s suggestion of Madcap Experiment for Platinum Emperion as another self-contained pivot is intriguing. I’ve found that package impressive enough against the various Prowess decks and Rakdos Death’s Shadow (Lurrus) to consider leaning on it heavily in more conventional decks.

Throes of Chaos Tibalt’s Trickery

Throes of Chaos alongside more copies of Tibalt’s Trickery ‘upgrades’ your cascade card into one that dodges discard and lets you attempt the combo several times against counters (if the gratuitous exile clause on Force of Negation doesn’t ruin your day).

The four-colour approach trades one form of consistency for another. By removing the ban on cards not named Violent Outburst, you open up Ardent Plea and Demonic Dread as additional enablers, removing the pressure to mulligan (while increasing the range of keepable hands with acceleration like Gemstone Caverns) and adding insurance against disruption. Playing more copies of Tibalt’s Trickery means you don’t lose the game on the spot by drawing the only copy and lets you use it as a conditional counterspell as needed or manually re-combo against disruption by casting it from your hand. 

This comes at a steep cost. You’re no longer guaranteed to hit Emrakul, the Aeons Torn — or anything worthwhile at all. Instead of a deterministic outcome, you have a probabilistic one forcing you to fill your deck with high-impact Trickery hits to maximize your odds. This is a somewhat more interesting choice than which 50 lands should fill out your manabase:

Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre Kozilek, Butcher of Truth

This deck finally brings the original Eldrazi Titans back together for their ten-year reunion. You rarely see these even in decks that aim to cheat out Emrakul because annihilator 4 is so much worse than annihilator 6 and ten or twelve damage is a lot less than fifteen if you need to end the game in one attack. This deck can cast the Eldrazi so quickly that any of them should be enough and gets to enjoy the ‘when you cast…’ triggers — a valuable consolation prize against removal. 

Emrakul, the Promised End

If the bigger Emrakul is the best Trickery hit on average, this is easily the second-best. The Mindslaver trigger often wins the game on the spot and protection from instants is important against removal like Path to Exile that causes problems for the other Eldrazi. When cast this early, the opponent won’t always have many resources that you can use against them, but this is a fine problem to have.  

Beyond the Emrakul eight-pack and some amount of extra Eldrazi, this version still needs more Trickery hits to make up the numbers. Rather than finding second-tier replacements, we can run cards that let us reroll towards our best hits:

Brilliant Ultimatum Genesis Ultimatum Emergent Ultimatum

With more than a dozen Eldrazi clunking up your deck, Brilliant Ultimatum and Genesis Ultimatum are very likely to yield one. Brilliant Ultimatum is much stronger as it casts spells, giving you their triggers and letting you go back for more with another cascade card.

Usually just a dubious nod to flavour, the colourlessness of the Eldrazi makes you jump through more hoops for Emergent Ultimatum. A pile such as Omniscience; Turntimber Symbiosis; and Iona, Shield of Emeria or Griselbrand should do the job, but it’s not worth playing cards you don’t want otherwise for a card that doesn’t merit the full four copies itself. 

Turntimber Symbiosis

Turntimber Symbiosis has a lower ceiling than Genesis Ultimatum but is more likely to uncover the first Eldrazi. More importantly, a modal DFC helps build to three mana to cast your cascade card — totally trivial in the 51-land version, less so here when half of those slots become combo pieces. 


Once you devote this many slots to Trickery payoffs, you’re highly likely to be stuck with one in hand even when you mulligan aggressively. Omniscience lets you unload that card or cast a free cascade spell to dig for something better. A hand that contains either Emrakul is slightly less likely to find one with Trickery, making Omniscience a nice hedge in situations where you need a specific payoff. 

Through the Breach

With the full twelve annihilator creatures, Through the Breach starts to look like the holy grail — a somewhat realistic backup plan that’s often a fine Trickery hit. Unfortunately, annihilator’s short half-life is a problem again — unless you have an immediate follow-up, one attack from Kozilek or Ulamog is a mere nuisance and it’s hard to manually cast Through the Breach fast enough for these smaller attacks to matter. Despite this, Through the Breach’s interaction with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn may be strong enough alone to justify its inclusion. 

Simian Spirit Guide

An occasional culprit in Modern mischief over the years, Simian Spirit Guide is the most controversial and exciting card in this deck. Every streamer playing this version keeps a Simian Spirit Guide ‘miss’ tally and every Trickery is met with a chorus of hooting and hollering from a chat eager for monkey business.

It’s easy to wonder what the point of the card — or the deck! — is under those circumstances. One reason is ideological; why bother spinning the wheel if you aren’t willing to live a little?! The possibility of jumping through all these hoops to cast Gray Ogre stirs part of my soul I thought I’d left on the grim floors of the Valley Forge Casino Resort. 

The more serious answer is that your deck is too slow to keep up in many matchups without some form of acceleration. Gemstone Caverns doesn’t always help and the strict requirement of needing a cascade card makes it hard to mulligan for a hand that has both. The popularity of the mirror makes this clear: you have to accept a more volatile Trickery on Turn 2 because you may not get another turn.

When some of your Trickery hits rapidly lose their luster, a faster Trickery is actually more likely to turn up something useful even with this set of jokers in the deck — there are many mid-game situations where Kozilek or Ulamog is no more relevant than Simian Spirit Guide. In hands with multiple cascade cards, Simian Spirit Guide lets you go off twice within an acceptable time frame and your odds of striking gold in one of these is much higher than in one trial with a slightly improved spread.

Finally, Simian Spirit Guide enables manual Trickery sequences where you can use a drawn Trickery to go off again if your first attempt fails. The downsides of Simian Spirit Guide couldn’t be more clear when they occur but it helps the consistency of the deck in more subtle ways.

When you don’t have this need for speed, you can feel free to sideboard out Simian Spirit Guide and live a more comfortable but boring life for the few turns the game should last.

Gemstone Caverns

Gemstone Caverns may be the most underappreciated card in Modern. The drawback of a colourless land on the play or other quirky deckbuilding restrictions prevent it from showing up everywhere but I’m confident we should see it more often. This is the perfect home for it — a combo deck that wants acceleration but can’t lean on spells for that, needs few resources for its combo making it easier to pitch a card to Caverns, and is very likely to be stuck with an uncastable payoff card. 

Wooded Foothills Pillar of the Paruns Mana Confluence

Modern features enough rainbow lands to fill out the manabase and ensure consistent access to your colours, with Pillar of the Paruns as the perfect land if you aren’t aiming to cast monocoloured sideboard cards like Throes of Chaos. A fetchland manabase with basic Forest offers some counterplay against Blood Moon, an otherwise impossible card to beat. The main drawback to City of Brass and Mana Confluence is the recurring damage / life payment, but for a deck that aims to pay for exactly one spell, these will be less painful on average than a traditional fetchland setup. With the Jund Cascade deck running the full set of both Blood Moon and Magus of the Moon, Forest is crucial. 

Sideboard construction is even stranger here. We can’t fully transform but pivots like Madcap Experiment are on the table. The manabase theoretically supports all five colours but actually casting any one sideboard card is easier said than done. We’re allowed to run cards that mess with Tibalt’s Trickery but the bar for doing that is high. With that in mind, one obvious route is doubling down on the maindeck plan:

Demonic Dread Bloodbraid Elf

Demonic Dread is risky in the maindeck, as hitting it with Trickery without a valid target stops that chain, but you want as many three-drop cascade spells as possible against fast creature decks. 

Bloodbraid Elf can pressure Teferi, Time Raveler inasmuch as any creature with power can, but I think this is a pipe dream. A more relevant application is opening the possibility of going off through Deafening Silence if the payoff is a creature. 

Teferi, Time Raveler

The bane of this deck’s existence, it’s no surprise that Teferi is excellent against other cascade decks and one of the few cards that can address their severe weakness to blue interaction. Mystical Dispute makes the sideboard for now despite mucking up Tibalt’s Trickery partly because answering Teferi is so important. 

Modern is rapidly adjusting to this new existential threat:

Mindbreak Trap

Mindbreak Trap highlights how powerful an obscure sideboard card can be in Modern — it has virtually no applications elsewhere (other than against anyone brave enough to play Izzet Gifts Storm) but it’s an important safety valve that literally every deck has access to. It requires no commitment to the battlefield or any particular play pattern, so it’s tough to play around, but this deck offers little scope for that anyway. Ultimately, Mindbreak Trap just trades with one cascade spell for free and doesn’t catch the Eldrazi cast triggers — if the opponent kept an otherwise poor draw on the back of Mindbreak Trap or took a mulligan or three in search of it, the second cascade spell should finish the job. 

Force of Negation Mana Leak

Of greater concern are the blue decks that can reliably answer even some of your fastest draws with Force of Negation. These homogenous Sultai and Four-Colour decks that straddle the boundary between ramp, midrange, and control were already perhaps the strongest macro-archetype in Modern and Tibalt’s takeover has made conditions even more favourable for them. These decks also tend to improve post-sideboard against most opponents and the inherent inflexibility of any Tibalt’s Trickery deck only makes matters worse there. 

Mausoleum Wanderer Thalia, Guardian of Thraben Meddling Mage

Modern’s disruptive aggro decks, from Humans to Bant Spirits, are seeing a (temporary?) resurgence as their cheap threats automatically trump the cascade cards — Mausoleum Wanderer is as impressive against Tibalt’s Trickery as it is laughable against Lava Dart.

This new creation from Kelvin Chew would deserve attention regardless but it’s the perfect weapon for ending Tibalt’s tomfoolery. Spell Queller and Teferi, Time Raveler are individually devastating against this deck — with the ramp spells allowing either to be cast on time — and that combo serves Chew well across the board. Force of Negation, Mystical Dispute, and Aether Gust allow Chew to fight over the stack and his threats are cheap enough that he can mulligan aggressively to search for the tools he needs and still expect to apply pressure. 

Tibalt’s Trickery has had little time to prove itself in Modern and many are already praying it won’t get that chance despite the high levels of ban fatigue in the player base after the past few years. Even if Modern adjusts to handle the deck, it’s tough to argue the format is improved by its presence; neither player meaningfully participates in the game and the variance is so overt and dramatic that players can’t reassure themselves by ignoring or making excuses for it.

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. Wrecking Modern has to be a close second.