After a sweep of Azorius Control results, Modern has stabilized a bit. Colossus Hammer decks have a new Orzhov splash and Temur Crashcade fiddled with some creature slots, but those decks and Izzet Midrange and Living End and everything else are still winning.
But somewhere in the middle, a new contender snuck in. Or rather, what seemed like an outdated version of an archetype that was even further on a downswing has shown itself to have some new life.
- 3 Eternal Witness
- 2 Wall of Omens
- 2 Titania, Protector of Argoth
- 4 Ice-Fang Coatl
- 4 Omnath, Locus of Creation
- 4 Solitude
- 4 Fury
Four-Color Blink (Yorion) won a Modern Challenge at the end of September and I largely wrote it off as a fluke. Then the next weekend it made the finals of yet another Challenge.
And this weekend it pulled off another Top 8 with Azorius Blink (Yorion) winning that Challenge executing a very similar strategy.
What changed? Why are multicolor midrange piles winning again? Why is this deck the winning strategy over something with more punch, whether that’s Risen Reef, Indomitable Creativity, or Bring to Light for Scapeshift?
Azorius Control Is Flawed
If you go back to the weeks of Azorius Control putting up the best results in this format, you can point towards a Four-Color storm brewing. In fact, you can even look right at the Azorius Control master Guillaume Wafo-Tapa’s win with Four-Color Indomitable Creativity in late August in an event where he was trying to beat his own Azorius Control lists and Jund Midrange (Lurrus).
Modern Azorius Control has to be built in a very specific way to compete with the hyper-efficient decks propped up by Modern Horizons 2 threats. You can’t get away with the sort of broad, sweeping interaction of old Azorius Control decks, where you just smush people with card-agnostic Snapcaster Mages and Cryptic Commands. There’s some of that in Counterspell and Archmage’s Charm, but it’s still not Cryptic Command plus Snapcaster Mage because that’s the kind of thing that leaves you dead against Urza’s Saga and Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer.
Instead, you see a significant amount of narrow answers. Cards that would historically be narrow but phenomenal sideboard cards have made their way into maindecks.
The other thing to note is that Azorius Control still hasn’t solved the longstanding Path to Exile problem. It just transferred the material deficit. You end up down a card when you Solitude a creature early on; it’s just your own resource you burned. You can fire off a Turn 1 Solitude and not just lose on the spot to the free Rampant Growth.
Sure, Solitude eventually becomes a two-for-one and you have Prismatic Ending, but Azorius Control can be bossed around by the exact things these Blink decks are doing. Even when they draw the answers, they draw a bunch of Chalice of the Voids too. If you just don’t care about those hate cards, play piles of two-for-ones, and pressure them with chunkier threats that evade Prismatic Ending, Azorius Control is going to have a bad time.
What About the Rest?
So Four-Color Blink (Yorion) is well positioned against Azorius Control, but as I mentioned, that deck’s time as the metagame king came to an end. What does Four-Color Blink (Yorion) have going for it against everything else that keeps it winning?
Before I start talking about old Four-Color Control decks, I want to be clear that you should not compare Four-Color Blink (Yorion) to that deck when it comes to gameplay. But if you want to look at a card-by-card basis and try to figure out where it might be coming from, it’s best to start there.
When Four-Color Control had some results to its name a couple of months ago and then fizzled out, it was a vastly different deck. It was built like the Azorius decks are now, but without any of the lock pieces. It just wasn’t operating on the level of the format in the Modern Horizons 2 era. Some games it was trying to be a purely reactive deck in a format that doesn’t support that, and even when it was being proactive it did so in a fragile way emphasizing planeswalkers vulnerable to Unholy Heat or really any attacker.
The Blink lists are playing additional good cards. Omnath, Locus of Creation is a really good card, but you need more than that. Solitude and Fury are on the right path, where your deck gets to play removal when it’s time to not die to more proactive decks and push with threats when it gets a chance to be ahead. And unlike Azorius Control, this is a deck playing ways to push to the five-mana threshold where casting those Incarnations as threats…or to use Ephemerate to just jump right to that conclusion.
That sounds a lot like Four-Color Blink (Yorion) is trying to play at being Four-Color Elementals (Kaheera), and you would be right to say that.
So why not just play Four-Color Elementals (Kaheera)? Why are we making an entirely new Four-Color Blink deck when we have a perfectly good one at home?
Dom and I ranked Elementals quite highly on our Modern tier list last week, but mentioned one crucial flaw with the deck. Sometimes it just doesn’t do anything. The problem with Elementals is it needs to play Elementals, and not just whatever good cards it wants along the way. You aren’t getting the upside of playing Elementals unless you have enough Elementals to chain off with Risen Reef when that card untaps, and if you play that many Elementals, you quickly run out of room to play cards that actually matter. Or you ignore that requirement and play an unreliable deck.
Or you can just drop the Risen Reefs and play Four-Color Blink (Yorion).
Four-Color Blink (Yorion) still has a powerful end-game in Eternal Witness plus Ephemerate. It isn’t self-starting or arbitrarily scaling the way Risen Reef gets it own snowball rolling downhill, but it does create a self-sustaining engine to bury your opponent in cards. You’re sacrificing some in that end-game department, but not a ton.
Playing a true control deck also solves one of the continuous problems with Elementals. You want to play Wrenn and Six because it’s such a strong card in a lot of scenarios, but it doesn’t inherently do anything outside of those. When it pings something down, that’s great. When it makes your hand have functional mana, perfect. But it isn’t an Elemental, and sometimes a ping or a land isn’t a relevant resource.
Where Four-Color Blink (Yorion) succeeeds that Elementals fails is in making Wrenn and Six into a standalone threat. Rapidly escalating to a Wrenn emblem is a route to wins for many other Wrenn and Six decks that didn’t quite apply to the Elementals pile of creatures. Four-Color Blink (Yorion) gets to play a bunch of great spells to retrace, but recent lists have incorporated an old favorite for this plan in Time Warp.
Back when playing the older Time Warp heavy Indomitable Creativity lists, I made a comment that I thought the Time Warp plus Wrenn part of the deck might be better than the Velomachus Lorehold part. That’s finally getting taken to heart, in part because Time Warp is also a combo end game with the primary Eternal Witness + Ephemerate engine of the deck.
What does Four-Color Blink (Yorion) have going for it against everything else that keeps it winning?
What does Four-Color Elementals (Kaheera) have going for it against everything else?
Free interaction, overpowering end-games, and a pedigre of this exact style of deck succeeding against the metagame at large.
Does Kanister smoothly moving from Elements to Blink now make sense?
The Next Step to a Better Blink Deck
Let’s talk about another forgetten Modern Horizons 2 gem: Abundant Harvest.
The original lists of Four-Color Blink (Yorion) had laughable land counts. 27 lands in an 80-card deck is equivalent to twenty lands in a normal 60. That’s a land count for an aggro deck or at best a heavily cantripped midrange deck, not a four-color pile. Maybe you can try to argue the Abundant Growths and Utopia Sprawls are sorta lands, but literally 25% of the opening seven-card hands with this deck will have one or zero lands when you play 27.
- 4 Eternal Witness
- 2 Meddling Mage
- 1 Venser, Shaper Savant
- 1 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Wall of Omens
- 1 Stonehorn Dignitary
- 1 Knight of Autumn
- 1 Deputy of Detention
- 1 Soulherder
- 1 Thassa, Deep-Dwelling
- 1 Drannith Magistrate
- 1 Skyclave Apparition
- 2 Solitude
- 1 Sanctifier en-Vec
Kanister has a bit of respect and added a land, but what interests me more is the one Abundant Harvest. Way back in June we saw big-time grinder cftsoc3 win a Modern Challenge with a wild land-light Bant Soulherder deck, and Abundant Harvest did some heavy lifting there. If you’re already skewing your mana towards green for Utopia Sprawl, using a Turn 1 Abundant Harvest to lock in a second land is pretty much free.
But why are we even going through all this effort to raise our spell density?
Back to this again, and back to lessons from another deck. Mono-Red Eldrazi played Shatterskull Smashing for basically the sole purpose of pitching it to Fury. Four-Color Blink (Yorion) is trying to do a similar thing with Fury and Solitude, and it’s trimming on lands to do so.
Abundant Harvest isn’t directly a card to pitch to Fury or Solitude, but it readily converts to any other spell. It feels like that’s the Shatterskull Smashing this deck is trying to tie everything together with, only I expect to cast Abundant Harvest and be excited for a spell flip way more than I was casting Shatterskull Smashing in Mono-Red Eldrazi.
I think Kanister’s latest list is a massive improvement on the prior Four-Color Blink (Yorion) lists, but if you want to make the next step in innovating the archetype I would lean harder into Abundant Harvest.
Where Four-Color Blink (Yorion) Comes Up Short
So far I’ve written a pretty enticing pitch for Four-Color Blink (Yorion), but it isn’t all upside. By moving away from the Four-Color Elementals (Kaheera) core, you do take some losses.
My big concern with this deck is Urza’s Saga. If you ever ask what could go wrong when you start dropping your deck’s power level for other advantages in Modern, the answer is Urza’s Saga. Risen Reef can go over the top of Urza’s Saga, but Eternal Witness is largely just trying to match the card. Even worse, Urza’s Saga will find Soul-Guide Lantern or Nihil Spellbomb and cut off Eternal Witness’s ability to even compete with Saga.
There was another reason Four-Color Control never made it off the ground: it lost all the four-color pile mirrors to decks with combo kills. I don’t expect a resurgence of Four-Color Indomitable Creativity to come and crush Four-Color Blink (Yorion), but I would be skeptical of the pseudo-mirror against Four-Color Elementals (Kaheera).
Elementals also has some weaknesses that these Blink decks inherit. Many of the classic linear decks just don’t care about a Solitude or a Fury, and the Blink decks are short on cards that directly interact with them. No matter how well your mana values add up for Tasha’s Hideous Laughter, Dimir Mill (Lurrus) is going to be a bad time. Urza’s Tower will claim yet another midrange victim.
All of this is going to be further magnified by Yorion, Sky Nomad. When you play a 60-card Elementals deck, you can sideboard against a variety of things with just fifteen cards. With an 80-card deck, you lose a significant portion of that impact. While Elementals might be able to reliably stack up interaction against Living End, I’m unconvinced I could do the same with Four-Color Blink (Yorion). Or if I did, it would cost so much sideboard space that I couldn’t do the same against Orzhov Hammer (Lurrus) and Boros Burn and so on.
I’ve avoided talking about the Azorius Blink (Yorion) deck, because here is where it comes in. By playing that deck, you’re losing ground against things like Jund Midrange (Lurrus) or Izzet Midrange where the overpowering four-color threats and additional cheap interaction in the form of Incarnations come up the most. But instead, you have Counterspell, which gives you some chance of catching the extremes of the metagame.
This is where the pitch for Four-Color Blink (Yorion) comes back. The deck is extremely well-targeted towards a fair metagame, with maybe a couple of outliers you can plan for. If I expect to play against a ton of Ragavan and Teferi, Time Raveler and even Crashing Footfalls, Four-Color Blink (Yorion) is a phenomenal option.
I have a long history of biasing towards deck choices that take a hard stance, and that history doesn’t end today. That said, I don’t have a clear answer of when I would want to play Azorius Blink (Yorion) in a metagame. I have to construct a weird scenario where Azorius Control is good, but it’s also pressured by creatures I can fight with Restoration Angel, but also the metagame hasn’t fully turned away from the things Azorius beats. If you look at the Tweets about the Azorius deck, that sure sounds like the metagame it ran into.
But if I just want to really mush the fair decks as the metagame folds back on control, or want to exploit people trying to hard-target Elementals with sideboard cards and not actual archetypes? We now know Four-Color Blink (Yorion) is the metagame deck to fight that battle, and I expect to see it get used and reused for that purpose moving forward.