I’ve had my fair share of distractions throughout my Magic career.
We all have cards or strategies that tempt us away from playing a Tier 1 strategy. Sure, some of them worked out. The ones that didn’t? Well, those probably didn’t get printed and rightfully so. And trust me, there were far more that didn’t work out than did. When an archetype using your favorite cards comes together, there’s no better feeling, which is what keeps me coming back.
Ah shit, here we go again.
I’m not gonna lie. The nonlegendary clause on Unmarked Grave removes a ton of potential playability from it. At the end of the day, we don’t exactly need more Griselbrand in our lives, so it’s likely for the best, even if it kills some of the enthusiasm for the card. Trying to find ways to utilize it involved digging deep into Modern’s card pool.
With Flash, Footsteps of the Goryo, and Through the Breach, Protean Hulk has occasionally made scary appearances in competitive Magic. Get ready for the next installment.
Your goal is to get Protean Hulk onto the battlefield and have it die, either with Footsteps of the Goryo or Through the Breach’s end step triggers or by sacrificing it to Viscera Seer. Then you search for Body Double and Viscera Seer, copying the Protean Hulk in your graveyard. Repeat the process and then get Reveillark, and use that to return both Body Doubles. From there, you should be able to create infinite Reveillark loops, which you can use to sacrifice Mogg Fanatic over and over.
Another combo that requires fewer deck slots is Inverter of Truth and Thassa’s Oracle, although that requires you to not have a graveyard. Considering you’re spending most of your time depositing cards into your graveyard, it seems like a tall ask. You’d have to Tormod’s Crypt yourself with the Inverter of Truth trigger on the stack, which requires your combo to have an extra piece. Given how consistent it is to set up Protean Hulk, that might not be the worst thing. Not playing Viscera Seer means you might not be able to remove your own Protean Hulk after an Unburial Rites or Makeshift Mannequin and that could cause problems. Maybe there’s a world where you can merge the two decks.
Unmarked Grave makes this deck the most consistent and deadly it’s been since Flash. Does that mean Protean Hulk will be part of Modern’s new metagame? It’s hard to say. Grixis seems fine but Mardu seems better.
Mardu doesn’t have the early filtering power of Serum Visions and Izzet Charm but it probably doesn’t need it either. We have Viscera Seer and Bone Shards to sacrifice Protean Hulk from Unburial Rites and Unmarked Grave to directly tutor for both halves of the combo. What else do we need besides Cathartic Reunions?
It’s been over a decade since I locked someone out of the game with Possessed Portal.
This deck is sweet! It has the normal Goblin Engineer / Thopter Foundry package you’d come to expect from decks with Urza, Lord High Artificer as the headliner, except it now has huge power spikes with Trash for Treasure and Unburial Rites. Not only does Unmarked Grave set you up for reanimation, it also deposits Sword of the Meek into the graveyard. Enabling Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek has never been easier.
After doing a deep search through Modern’s card pool, I was disappointed by the lack of artifact bullets. Sphinx of the Steel Wind can be strong in the right matchup but it can also be easily dealt with if your opponents are prepared. It’s not quite the full lock you’ll get in some matchups from the creatures like Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. Even Sun Titan creates enough value that it can bully creature decks. When trying to Treasure for Treasure people, it’s less reliable. Sundering Titan used to be an absolute bomb against control or midrange but even that doesn’t hold up well.
I love the idea of using Goblin Engineer and Emry, Lurker of the Loch to their fullest. Maybe Trash for Treasure isn’t the best way to go about things and we should focus on setting up Thopter Foundry instead.
Dakkon, Shadow Slayer is a potential addition to this archetype as well, although you may want to reconfigure the deck to ensure you hit all your land drops. Being able to cast Dakkon in the mid-game and immediately ultimate it is one of the best parts of the card.
Enough about trying to actually kill people with Unmarked Grave. The real fun will involve using it for value.
Instead of trying to assemble a combo, this deck is trying to play a fair Solar Flare game. You operate like a normal midrange deck with a bigger end-game than other midrange decks.
The combination of Grief and Ephemerate (or Malakir Rebirth) is likely going to be powerful. This deck doesn’t have many things worth using Ephemerate on, at least until Sun Titan is on the battlefield. We can’t play all four but I’m happy with two copies to try to spike the combo.
Priest of Fell Rites is actually really cool. Playing one copy as an uncounterable Unburial Rites to search for with Unmarked Grave makes sense but you could easily play more copies. It’s nearly always going to be a must-kill threat and that’s only a delaying tactic. If it lives, you can use it as a reasonable combo alongside Grief.
Merfolk, Goblins, and Elves each have some strong cards in Modern Horizons 2. Plague Engineer is solid against most of the metagame and is very maindeckable, especially if those tribal decks start showing up more.
Seasoned Pyromancer makes sense in an archetype full of flashback cards, plus it’s a fine card to return with Sun Titan. Smiting Helix is a solid addition, although it’s cumbersome to truly treat as an Unmarked Grave bullet. Playing it for value is reasonable in any deck with Pyromancer, Liliana of the Veil, and Collective Brutality.
On the other hand, Ox of Agonas is the perfect target for Unmarked Grave. At one point, it was somewhere in the 75 of each of these decklists. Realistically, it would be stronger in a deck that didn’t have much staying power and this deck won’t be running out of gas often. Much like Smiting Helix, it’s fine to play for value.
Red also adds Wear // Tear and Cleansing Wildfire to the mix. They aren’t entirely necessary but both shore up major issues, like graveyard hate and big mana strategies.
Let’s be honest, most of the cards in this deck weren’t strong enough in 2009 Extended, so trying to get them into Modern probably won’t go well. On paper, it all makes sense. You can Unmarked Grave for a Nether Spirit to block, a Vengeful Pharaoh to hold off a Death’s Shadow, Life from the Loam to get the engine going, and Worm Harvest to eventually end the game.
If you want to Death Cloud people, you should probably cut the Unmarked Graves and the surrounding package for Utopia Sprawl and Garruk Wildspeaker. Despite knowing this deck wasn’t likely to be playable, I had the idea and needed to see it through. Now you have to look at the decklist and see my unhealthy obsession with both Nether Spirit and Worm Harvest.
Testing the Protean Hulk decks should be priority number one. Unmarked Grave sets up both halves of the combo and is a huge addition to the archetype. I like the idea of using it alongside Sun Titan but am uncertain it will pan out except in very specific metagames. Thankfully, Modern is a slower format these days, so that bodes well. Still, we have no idea what Modern Horizons 2 will do to the format.
Anything is possible.