With Pro Tour Kaladesh just days away, I’d like to take a look at the set’s impact on Modern and its potential. I’ve already been sharing my Standard thoughts for the past six weeks!
Several Kaladesh cards have already shown up in Modern, and I think there are quite a few more with the potential to find a home. Additionally, there’s at least one card in the set that I think has good chances of proving revolutionary.
Let’s start by getting these five out of the way really quickly:
The Kaladesh lands are pain-free, untapped two-color lands as long as you play them among your first three lands. Since Modern is so fast, a disproportionate amount of the game is decided in the first three land drops compared to Standard. Additionally, there are a lot of fast, aggressive strategies, such as Burn and Affinity, which make saving a little damage here and there especially valuable.
While the mana of the format is going to continue to be primarily defined by the fetchland/shockland interaction, these five should be immediately added to the shortlist of options for fast decks without greedy mana. For instance:
Here, Inspiring Vantage is basically a Sacred Foundry that doesn’t do damage to you. How often do you need to search up the fourth Sacred Foundry anyway? It’d be nice to trim a fetchland for an Inspiring Vantage; however, we are still trying to support Searing Blaze. I do, however, think we can easily trim the fourth Mountain for another copy of Inspiring Vantage. It’s not like we need the basics for Blood Moon, and we’ve already got plenty of basics to search up to make our fetchlands not damage us.
Cataclysmic Gearhulk is a little bit of an oddball for Modern; but I wonder if it might have chances because of two important factors.
2. It’s an artifact. As such, there are countless synergies and interactions with it. Whether it’s making Thoughtcast or Emrakul cheaper, being searchable by Fabricate or Reshape, buffing our Tarmogoyfs or Toolcraft Exemplars, or whatever, being an artifact is a great special ability.
Like Cataclysmic Gearhulk, any play seen by Fairgrounds Warden is likely to come from players capable of tutoring it up with a Chord of Calling or whatnot. It’s not totally out of the question to think someone might combine it with Wasteland Strangler, either.
Toolcraft Exemplar is very exciting from a Modern lens on account of being a one-drop with three power. Wild Nacatls don’t just come along every day, you know. Of course, like Wild Nacatl, Toolcraft Exemplar puts a deckbuilding constraint on you.
While the most obvious way to solve the problem is to put it in Affinity, it doesn’t really mesh with their game plan effectively. It’s not an artifact, doesn’t fly, and is actually kind of challenging to cast on turn 1. Maybe it could be a part of some base-white Affinity deck, like Tempered Steel, but I’m actually more interested in it in some kind of Aether Vial deck.
- 4 Flickerwisp
- 4 Tidehollow Sculler
- 2 Spellskite
- 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- 3 Wasteland Strangler
- 2 Reality Smasher
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
- 4 Toolcraft Exemplar
Smuggler’s Copter is a little bit of a weird card in such a deck, since it doesn’t work with Aether Vial and we’re long on twos already. Of course, it’s also just an absurdly powerful Magic card, so we’d be wise to do some gymnastics, if that’s what it takes to make it fit. The looting ability of Smuggler’s Copter makes me think we should be building towards Lingering Souls and Scrapheap Scrounger instead of Eldrazi. What about something like:
Loading up with two-cost artifact creatures ensures we’re generally going to have Toolcraft Exemplar powered up immediately. Smuggler’s Copter and Tidehollow Sculler may be the most compelling, but Spellskite is nice right now with the strength and popularity of Infect and Burn. Additionally, we gain Scrapheap Scrounger if we want it.
It hits reasonably hard, and it’s a mondo-combo with Smuggler’s Copter and Liliana of the Veil. I’m not sure it’s got enough going for it to justify in a world of Tarmogoyfs and Grim Flayers, but it might be worth a shot.
If you have three artifact sources and the combo, you can generate arbitrarily large storm and mana. Now, Muddle the Mixture, Merchant Scroll, Reshape, Blue Sun’s Zenith, or Codex Shredder can kill. Codex Shredder is particularly cute, since we get to untap it over and over with Dramatic Reversal. It’s also a cheap artifact for Mox Opal, and we can use it to get back a key one-of in some spots.
Pristine Talisman is also effectively a kill against some opponents. It counts towards our combo’s mana while also giving us infinite life without needing another kill card. Other cards to consider include Gitaxian Probe; Sleight of Hand; Peer Through Depths; Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas; Remand; Thoughtcast; Ensnaring Bridge; and Thopter Foundry plus Sword of the Meek. In fact, we might even just want to find a way to slot the Dramatic Reversal combo into Lantern. With so many ways to mill one card per tap, plus the ability to use arbitrarily large mana to gain arbitrarily large life and Thopters, we’re never going be want for victory conditions.
Another possible home for Dramatic Reversal is in some kind of Elf deck, where we aspire to untap at least three mana worth of Elves each time (perhaps thanks to Heritage Druid). Such a deck could use its arbitrarily large mana on Ezuri, Renegade Leader or Chord of Calling. You never know; maybe even Imperious Prefect could find a job.
I don’t think we’d end up wanting Kiora’s Followers (which are Merfolk, not Elves); but if we did, we might also consider Triton Tactics. If we put Triton Tactics on our Isochron Scepter, we can use it to untap Kiora’s Followers and a creature that taps for three or more mana (such as Elvish Archdruid or another Kiora’s Followers when we have a Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx on the battlefield). In this way, Triton Tactics is a backup combo piece, but it’s also a reasonable way to protect your creatures or interact with opponents in some spots.
Paradoxical Outcome has already started showing up in Standard a little. Its main purpose has been to bounce zero-cost artifacts. As it turns out, there are a lot of those in Modern. Here’s one possible use:
Puresteel Paladin turns all of your zero-cost equipment into cantrips, and Retract lets you play them all again. Paradoxical Outcome is a little expensive for such a deck, but it actually does both. Monastery Mentor gives you an army instantly, since both Puresteel Paladin and Monastery Mentor want you to hold your Equipment until you have one of them on the battlefield to pay you off. Retract or Paradoxical Outcome after untapping with a Mentor and you’re surely attacking for 100.
I was excited about all of the super-expensive bombs we were going to be able to cheat out with Torrential Gearhulk in Modern. Unfortunately, they don’t really exist.
How is Enter the Infinite not an instant?!
Maybe there’s still hope for Torrential Gearhulk as a Snapcaster Mage, but I’m not optimistic. At least it’s sweet with Thirst for Knowledge, I guess. I just think we’re going to need to find a way to do something better than free Thirst for Knowledges or Kolaghan’s Commands. Goblin Dark-Dwellers is more versatile and cheaper.
Through the Breach is another interesting instant, since cheating out the Torrential Gearhulk gives it haste and we can then use the same Through the Breach to put a second creature onto the battlefield. Of course, if that creature isn’t Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, that sounds worse than just putting Emrakul, the Aeons Torn onto the battlefield.
Essence Extraction is a modest but playable sideboard card for some non-white, non-green deck in the market for lifegain and removal in one package. It’s not a breathtaking rate or anything, but it’s not bad, and sometimes, when you’re Grixis, you take what you can get.
Marionette Master is a long shot, since it’s so expensive. However, it’s not hard to sculpt the game in such a way as to win outright the turn you cast it. Arcbound Ravager and Disciple of the Vault are particularly well-equipped for such a plan, since you ideally just drop the Marionette and sacrifice all of your artifacts, dealing four damage apiece (five if you have Disciple of the Vault, a billion if you have Cranial Plating to equip to the Marionette Master).
Here’s a rough sketch that is surely terrible in this form but might be a jumping-off point.
This version is awkwardly split between Affinity and Krark-Clan Ironworks. The first step is probably finding a more reliable way to get the kind of mana we need and the additional sacrifice outlets we are looking for without having to be so low on creatures.
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Allosaurus Rider
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
- 1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
- 1 Griselbrand
- 4 Hooting Mandrills
- 2 Gurmag Angler
- 1 Distended Mindbender
The thing is, when we’re doing all this work to get an expensive card onto the battlefield, how much value are we getting from the card draw of Morbid Curiosity? After all, we’re not drawing Terminates and Lightning Bolts. We’re drawing a lot of combo pieces and awkward creatures.
Is there any chance this strategy could be hybridized with Gifts Ungiven? We’ve already got the fatties…
I guess Inventor’s Apprentice is a possibility in some kind of a red aggro deck (of course), but I don’t see the need for such a deck yet. It would take a lot for it to be better than a traditional Lava Spike deck, and none of the artifacts really seem to add that much. Maybe Unlicensed Disintegration is enough extra payoff to consider it, but I doubt it.
Modern is a format where people regularly kill each other on turn 4, so it’s hard to just show up with an aggro deck a full turn slower.
At least Lathnu Hellion is trying, man!
We get it. The format’s fast.
Yeah, but Lathnu Hellion is pretty fast, too. Once you’re sleeving up Flames of the Blood Hand, you’ve gotta just look in the mirror and be honest with yourself. You would totally play Lathnu Hellion, if you were confident enough people weren’t going to have blockers. At the moment, however, I think they will.
You might be asking yourself, what does Verdurous Gearhulk have to do with Modern? Isn’t it a midrange-y creature that comes down the turn after combo decks kill you?
Well, sure, but come on, playa. Why ya always be hatin’?
This card is seriously just so absurd, it will find homes. Just watch. Sometimes, there is just a demand for the most absurdly powerful “fair” thing you can do, and Verdurous Gearhulk is one of the most absurd of all time. If people are slamming enough Inquisitions of Kozilek, enough Lightning Bolts into each other that the game gets slowed down a little, Verdurous Gearhulk can quickly take it over. It works great with lots of cards, like Kitchen Finks. It’s always great to put +1/+1 counters on the Finks, but you can also use Eldritch Evolution to sacrifice the Finks and find the Verdurous Gearhulk, putting one counter on the Finks and the rest on your Avatar of the Resolute or whatever.
No fast combo in your area?
- 4 Kitchen Finks
- 4 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Experiment One
- 4 Avatar of the Resolute
- 4 Servant of the Scale
- 2 Hangarback Walker
- 3 Verdurous Gearhulk
Wildest Dreams is basically just way better than Recollect and Restock, which have seen fringe play at various points in the past. I could imagine Wildest Dreams being a one-of in some combo deck as a backup victory condition. I could also imagine so extremely all-in turbo-Time Walk deck that really puts it to use.
Cathartic Reunion is a weirdly strong graveyard enabler that can be used in Goryo’s Vengeance combo decks or other Reanimator-style decks. Additionally, it’s a powerful new weapon for Dredge decks that were already on the upswing from the printing of Prized Amalgam.
- 4 Golgari Grave-Troll
- 4 Stinkweed Imp
- 2 Greater Gargadon
- 4 Narcomoeba
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Prized Amalgam
- 4 Insolent Neonate
- 2 Scrapheap Scrounger
I’m not sure Scrapheap Scrounger will end up making the cut, but it’s a powerful enough card I wanted to give it a shot.
Like in Standard, Chandra is likely to be a niche role-player, not a format-defining all-star. One likely home is in midrange, as a source of card advantage and interaction.
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
- 2 Eternal Witness
- 1 Reveillark
- 1 Fulminator Mage
- 1 Murderous Redcap
- 2 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
- 1 Obstinate Baloth
- 1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 2 Restoration Angel
- 1 Thragtusk
- 3 Voice of Resurgence
- 1 Selfless Spirit
- 4 Filigree Familiar
See! Now Chandra is a great way to cast Kiki-Jiki, the Mirror Breaker! Another use is as a sideboard option for grinding, similar to Jace, Architect of Thought; Ajani Vengeant; and Keranos, God of Storms.
While there’s lots of fancy stuff you can try, like Burrenton Forge-Tender, the most exciting thing to do with Madcap Experiment is find Platinum Emperion (and in the process take no damage). Now it’s like you have four-cost 8/8s that make you invulnerable to damage.
One possible use for this combo is as a sideboard transformation in other combo decks:
It’s a very compact package that lets you completely transform your gameplan very efficiently. Another possible use is as a maindeck victory condition in U/R or Jeskai. For instance:
Blood Moon is particularly effective, as the Emperion completely locks on the battlefield, cleaning up the mess. It also ends the game in a hurry, giving your opponent less time to find basics.
Blossoming Defense is one of the better cards in the set and an instant inclusion in one of the best decks in Modern, Infect. It’s just so efficient and versatile.
Additionally, the card is so efficient, I could see it showing up in fringe amounts in non-combo decks just for value.
Saheeli Rai combines with Liquimetal Coating to loop an arbitrary amount of times. If you have Altar of the Brood or Reckless Fireweaver, you win on the spot. If you have Leonin Elder, you have as much life as you want.
Here’s a list using this combo:
Leonin Relic-Warder plus Phyrexian Metamorph gives us another loop that we can use to exploit the aforementioned kill conditions. Additionally, Saheeli Rai is happy to make a copy of either one, and Liquimetal Coating can turn lands into artifacts so that the Relic Warder can disrupt their manabase.
People are talking about using it as a storm combo kill card, but I wonder if we could use it as part of a Soul Sisters strategy? After all, getting to 50 is very doable, and then we can blast ’em. Alternatively, it’s a great source of lifegain for triggering our stuff.
While this card might be busted in Standard, I’m not sure there’s enough support for it in Modern. It is hot that you can cast Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, which is something. It’s just kind of brutal coming up with six Energy, since most of the Energy-making cards are not inherently Modern-powerful. Maybe there’s enough, but I’m skeptical. I mean, you could just play Summoner’s Trap, Through the Breach, and so on.
Metalwork Colossus is really cool with artifact mana, especially Borderposts. If you cast a Borderpost on each of the first three turns, you can also cast a Metalwork Colossus on turn 3 with your leftover mana!
One of the things I like about Metalwork Colossus in such a deck is the ability to get the game over with, instead of just sitting around while your opponent rebuilds.
We already touched on Smuggler’s Copter’s briefly, but I just wanted to note the possibility of using it in Affinity. It flies, they’ve got Crews lined up, they appreciate digging past Mox Opals for Ravagers, and it survives many sweepers.
- 4 Arcbound Ravager
- 4 Myr Enforcer
- 4 Ornithopter
- 2 Steel Overseer
- 3 Memnite
- 4 Etched Champion
- 4 Signal Pest
- 4 Vault Skirge
While John Dale doesn’t use it, one other card I would consider for Affinity is Inventors’ Fair.
I don’t know, friend. This kind of stuff is almost never good, but sometimes it breaks. Just keep your eye on it, okay?
Okay, time to get back to testing for this here Pro Tour. I’ve got a feeling this is gonna be a fun one…
Top 10 Kaladesh Cards in Modern
6. Smuggler’s Copter
5. Saheeli Rai
1. Kaladesh Lands