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6 Questions About Modern from the World Magic Cup

The World Magic Cup was an interesting tournament, showcasing some strategies and cards that we’re not used to seeing in these numbers. Today I’m going to examine those strategies and cards in an attempt to conclude whether they overperformed because they’re better than we thought, or if they’re simply a product of the tournament being Unified Modern instead of regular Modern.

Is U/R Thing in the Ice Good Enough for Conventional Modern?

One of the breakout decks of the tournament, so to speak, was U/R Thing in the Ice. This is a blazingly fast deck (we saw it kill turn 2 on camera) and its win percentage at the WMC was high. This is Team Panama’s list:

U/R Thing in the Ice

Of all the decks in the tournament, this is the one that caught us off-guard. Not that we didn’t know it existed, but we never really considered it, and didn’t think other people would play it either.

I think the main problem with this deck in an open format is that, much like all the other “play a creature and try to win with it” decks (Infect, Death’s Shadow, Bogles, etc.), it has a problem with the color black. Thoughtseize, Inquisition, Abrupt Decay, Bolt/Path, Liliana, the Last Hope—those cards are all problems for decks that rely on keeping one of their creatures alive. At the WMC, black decks were often awkward to play because they took cards from most other decks, and you knew there would be at most one black deck on each team. In a normal Modern event, those decks will be more heavily played, which makes U/R a worse choice.

Historically speaking, B/G/x decks are usually the most popular decks in any Modern tournament because they’re the one “safe haven” for people who want to interact. That said, we’re far from the days when B/G/x decks were 30% of the tournament, and I think it’s okay to play a deck that has a bad matchup against them if it’s good or even against the rest of the field.

Verdict: Definitely a real deck that you can win a Modern tournament with, but not as good as it seemed at the World Magic Cup.

Is Lantern Control Good Enough for Conventional Modern?

I tested a decent amount of Lantern for the World Magic Cup, and I was going to play it until 2 days before the tournament (when I eventually switched to Abzan for a few reasons). I think it’s a very strong deck in Modern right now, and although it looks like a kid’s deck that can never win, I recommend that you not shy away from it.

This is the list Italy Top 4’d with:

Lantern Control

There are some things on this list I do not agree with. Pyrite Spellbomb, for one, feels like a “win more” card to me—you only truly need it if you’re slow at killing your opponent with mill, so I don’t think you should play it. It’s never going to be awful as it’s a 1-mana artifact that cantrips, but I think it’s suboptimal.

Crucible is another card that I don’t love. If I have my thing going, then I don’t need it, and if I don’t have my thing going, then I can’t use it. It’s only good if you mill Academy Ruins and an artifact you want and then you draw it, but that’s so narrow, and I’d rather not play another 3-casting-cost card in a deck with Ensnaring Bridge.

Collective Brutality was another card that didn’t impress me nearly as much as I thought it would. In theory it’s great because you want to empty your hand, but in practice this is a deck that works on quantity as well as on quality, and you do not have a lot of extra cards to discard—you have uses for extra lands with Ruins and Inventors’ Fair, and every other piece of the combo is better if it’s redundant. It’s still a good card against Burn, which is one of your worst matchups, but I don’t think I want to play 2.

Here’s the list I would have played:

At one point I had a main-deck Grafdigger’s Cage because I thought Dredge might be popular in Unified Modern, but I don’t think you need it and it’s certainly not good in a normal Modern event.

Most people don’t play Bauble in Lantern, but I like it quite a lot. It’s good for emptying your hand if you need to, it turns Mox Opal on, and it works as a pseudo-Lantern in many spots. With a mill piece, it’s actually a 0 mana: draw 2 a lot of the time—if you ever played Pokemon, you’ll know how good “Bill” was.

A card that a lot of people play and I don’t is Glint-Nest Crane. I tried them and thought they were suboptimal—they were just too slow, and bad to draw in too many spots.

Verdict: I think this is a great deck that I would happily take to any Modern tournament. If anything, it was worse than normal at the World Magic Cup because people expected Affinity.

Is Eldrazi Good Enough for Conventional Modern?

Eldrazi was another popular deck, in large part because it doesn’t take much from anyone else—it steals Path from Abzan and Burn, and Noble Hierarch from Infect, but other than that you’re good to go. It also had a very high win percentage. This is the list from Australia:

Bant Eldrazi

The deck performed well, but my opinion is that it’s just underpowered for the format. It’s supposed to prey on decks like Burn and B/G/x, and while it does beat Burn pretty handily, I don’t think it’s even that great against Abzan. On top of that, it’s abysmal against Affinity (you can never, ever win game 1) and I also think it’s quite bad versus Infect if you don’t draw Spellskite or if they draw a way to remove it. All in all, I’m not sure how it actually did well at the WMC, as it seems to me that it should have faced more bad matchups than good ones in the Unified format.

Verdict: Certainly a competitive deck, but one that I’d consider of below average power level, and therefore would not play anytime soon.

What’s the Best Dredge Mana Base:

Fetches or 5-Color Lands?

There are two possible mana bases for the Dredge deck—the fetch mana base and the City of Brass mana base. With fetchlands a valuable commodity for other decks, many teams opted for a 5-color mana base for the WMC, and it was certainly good enough. But which one is better? There were three Dredge decks in the Top 8:

Australia

Finland

Greece

Australia chose the City of Brass mana base, and the other two countries chose fetches. Given that the other two decks from the Australian team were U/R and Eldrazi, they could have played the fetch mana base if they wanted to, so it wasn’t a format constraint that led them to play all 5 colors.

Each configuration has its advantages. For the 5-color mana base, the advantage is that you can hardcast Narcomoeba and Prized Amalgam without having to play Steam Vents. This rarely comes up in game 1, but matters a decent amount of the time in game 2 where there is more sideboard hate. There’s also a small advantage in not running out of lands in your deck, which could happen if you Dredge a lot, and you take less damage.

The advantage of the fetch mana base is being able to return Bloodghasts at instant speed. This is very important because it lets some of your creatures dodge sorcery-speed removal, such as Anger of the Gods and Ugin.

In my opinion, the ability to dodge Anger of the Gods is more important because when it comes up, it’s the difference between winning and losing. If you really want to hardcast Narcomoeba and Prized Amalgam, then you can do what Greece did and just jam 1 Steam Vents. Finland played a Forest, but I would recommend against that.

Verdict: I think fetches are a bit better.

Is Ravenous Trap Good, or Did People Only Play It Because They Were Playing Cage in Another Deck?

A full 5 of the Top 8 teams had Ravenous Trap in their sideboard, but this happened mostly because it was Unified Modern and Grafdigger’s Cages were already taken by other decks. That said, I think Ravenous Trap is a better card than Grafdigger’s Cage in a lot of decks that can run both.

I think Cage is better when:

  1. You want to hate on library manipulation (such as Chord from Melira decks).
  2. You want a card that wins the game by itself. Sometimes, if you’re a control deck, you exile their graveyard and then they just Dredge more cards and you lose anyway.

Trap is better when:

  1. You can be hosed by Cage because you’re a graveyard or library manipulation deck.
  2. You don’t need a card that wins, all you need is to buy some time.
  3. You expect them to bring in artifact removal against you anyway.

The deck that comes to mind is Infect. It is normal to play Cage in Infect, or at least have a split. I think that unless you’re particularly worried about Melira decks (and you shouldn’t be because they aren’t very popular right now, even though they’re good versus Infect), Trap is just better. The reason is that they’re already incentivized to bring in Abrupt Decay against you, and they’ll likely bring in Ancient Grudge too because you have Inkmoth Nexus, so they’ll naturally have something that deals with Cage. Trap they can do nothing about, and that short burst of hate will almost always be enough for you to win.

Verdict: As strict Dredge hate, Trap is better if you think they’ll bring in artifact removal.

Is Blossoming Defenses Good?

This doesn’t have much to do with the team format, but it’s still a question a lot of people asked after the World Magic Cup. Some people think the combination of pump + protection for only 1 mana makes it an automatic 4-of—some people think the card is too slow and play 0 or 1. Owen Turtenwald, who has been playing Infect for years, played only 1 in his deck and said he didn’t like it very much. Our team played 4.

My opinion is that the card is good but not great. I agree with Owen that, if you play 0 Groundswells, you are going to goldfish too slowly, and there are many decks in the format that will punish you for that. Basically the most threatening scenario for most Infect games is “attack for 1+4, attack for 1+4,” and without Groundswell this becomes harder to pull off.

I disagree, however, that cards like Apostle’s Blessing and Spell Pierce are better. Most of the time they serve the same function in protecting the creature, except they can never be pump spells, and Blossoming Defense can. Therefore, I’d play all Defenses before I played any of the other cards, which in most lists means you’ll play about 2 and maybe 3, with likely an equal number of Groundswells.

Verdict: You shouldn’t play 4 and 0 Groundswells, but I like them more than the other protection options.

 

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