I always have fun exploring the Modern format. While the constant changes to the banned list can be hard on collectors, it’s great for the experienced competitive crowd. While everyone knows that Lightning Bolt and Snapcaster Mage will always be pillars of the format, different archetypes cycle in and out of favor as new strong decks come into the forefront and sometimes fall victim to the ban hammer.
So it was with a renewed enthusiasm that I began preparation for Grand Prix Los Angeles. My playtesting notebook was filled with broken dreams and failed experiments.
- Mardu—Strong results overall, but weak to Ancestral Vision. Mixed results versus Bant Eldrazi.
- Abzan Company—Hard to play, not my style, and weak against Tron.
- Infect—Strong deck that I probably did not spend enough time exploring.
- Ad Nauseam—Didn’t like the fail rate or the matchup versus Eldrazi Hate Bears. I also felt like it would take a lot more practice time than I had to play optimally.
- Hate Bears—I felt like it just wasn’t the right time. Hate Bears are great if you can correctly predict the metagame but are often weak to rogue decks. It also really needs to draw sideboard cards to compete with Affinity.
- Scapeshift with Ancestral Vision—Matt Sperling obliterated me 6 straight games with Reckless Bushwhacker Zoo. I wouldn’t normally advise giving up on a deck after playing 1 matchup, but sometimes you just know.
- Merfolk—I didn’t believe the metagame would break well for Merfolk. You have to get very lucky to beat Affinity and you have very close matchups versus decks like Zoo, Burn, and Jund. It seemed to me like a tough deck with which to go 13-2.
- Jeskai with Nahiri—I didn’t understand the hype behind this deck, tried it for myself, and then was sure it was bad. Nahiri is obviously great sometimes, but is not a good card for Modern.
- Affinity—Sure, I lost a few games here and there to sideboard cards, which was frustrating. But what got me off this deck was how severely I was defeated by Dredge…
- Dredge—I was pretty close to playing this in the Grand Prix. Ultimately, I think this deck got “found” about a week too early. Extremely strong and consistent, it’s also very easily hated out by just about any form of graveyard disruption out there. Once people knew to be prepared, I moved off it.
Which led me to Blue Moon. I tried Blue Moon a bit before Pro Tour Eldrazi and had good results, but it was missing something. Too often you would get a few cards ahead, but then your Remands and Mana Leaks would decrease in effectiveness and it was really hard to finish people off with Snapcaster Mage and burn. I felt like the unbanning of Ancestral Vision might solve a lot of my problems. Here was the first version I tried:
Blue Moon, First Draft
This deck was doing a lot of good things. I loved Ancestral Vision, the low mana curve, the removal, the sideboard, and the mana base. You’ll notice I kept a lot of that shell in my final version. But Thing in the Ice was just too bad. Obviously it was poor against combo decks, but it also randomly gave opponents a great target for Abrupt Decay and Path to Exile, or a juicy victim for Liliana of the Veil. Creature decks could basically ignore it until it was about to pop, and then deal with it. I also felt like 4 Blood Moon was too many. With Serum Visions, Ancestral Vision, and Snapcaster Mage, plus the thinning effect of fetchlands and the incidental card draw Electrolyze and Cryptic Command, the deck was capable of churning through cards quickly. You frequently (although not always) wanted to get to the first Blood Moon, but additional copies were often dead.
Some people have utilized Desolate Lighthouse here and asked why I didn’t include one. First, in a reactive deck with only 23 land, I feel like you really want all your lands to produce colored mana or you’re going to have to mulligan too much. Second, Desolate Lighthouse does nothing to mitigate “Blood Moon flooding,” as the first Moon turns it off. Third, the mana base is more ambitious than it might seem, as you often want to Snapcaster Mage–Cryptic Command, or cast Anger of the Gods on turn 3. Fourth, I didn’t often find I needed to work through mana floods. You only have 23 lands to begin with—fetches thin your deck, and I really liked Wandering Fumarole’s positioning in a world with lots of Liliana of the Veil and Nahiri, the Harbinger. Fumarole would be my preferred flood insurance.
Thing in the Ice sucked, but I didn’t want to give up. I started to look at what decks were popular in the online metagame. I kept playing against Infect, Affinity, and Jund, but the format seemed extremely diverse. I noticed that some people had been experimenting with Goblin Dark-Dwellers in Ancestral Vision shells online, and this made a lot of sense. I reconfigured the deck with the trigger in mind, removing the uncooperative countermagic (which isn’t great against Infect, Affinity, and Jund anyway). It turns out the removal suite I wanted was hiding in my sideboard! I won 13 of my first 14 matches online with this deck and ended up submitting the following list in Los Angeles.
Tips and Tricks
- It often makes sense to target yourself with Vendilion Clique’s trigger, especially in game 1. This is specifically true in situations where you are holding red removal versus a control or combo deck, and don’t feel like the disruption will be enough.
- When in doubt, suspend Ancestral Vision on turn 1. It may be tempting to cast Serum Visions or Thought Scour to smooth your draw or lead with Wandering Fumarole to set up your mana, but Modern moves fast, and you want to make sure that you get to crack the Ancestral. The exception to this rule is when casting a Lightning Bolt or Flame Slash on turn 1—it will very likely buy you the extra turn you need (such as when your opponent has led with Goblin Guide, Wild Nacatl, or Glistener Elf). The truly tough spots are when you can suspend Ancestral or leave up Spell Snare. I’d heavily bias toward suspending Ancestral here unless you have extremely good reason to believe your opponent will play a great target for Snare on turn 2 (such as a deceptively non-explosive turn 1 from an Affinity player who did not mulligan).
- All of your creatures have ETB abilities, so remember that you can reuse them with the bounce ability from Cryptic Command.
- Harvest Pyre’s main function is to kill unboltable creatures like Restoration Angel, animated Celestial Colonnade, or Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. But don’t forget that exiling cards from your graveyard can be a boon when your opponent has Tarmogoyf or Scavenging Ooze.
- The default is to Thought Scour yourself to fuel Snapcaster Mage, Goblin Dark-Dwellers and Harvest Pyre, but you can also Thought Scour your opponent! This came up for me twice in Los Angeles, once to “undo” a Serum Visions where my opponent left both cards on top, and once when I had to deck someone with infinite life.
- Fetching to thin is often a good idea, but not necessarily correct. This is especially the case when Serum Visions and/or Vendilion Clique have put cards on the bottom of your library that you want to stay there.
It’s impossible to do a complete sideboard guide given that there are 40+ decks in Modern and subtle variations within each archetype. So instead, I’ll describe the purpose of each sideboard card and then note which main-deck cards often come out for games 2 and 3.
Blood Moon: Naturally, you want the third Blood Moon versus decks like Scapeshift and Tron. It’s also reasonable versus any deck with weaker/more ambitious mana, like Jund, Dredge, Grixis, Jeskai or Ad Nauseam. Occasionally, you want 1 versus Affinity, but only if you’re on the play.
Relic of Progenitus: This was a last-second addition. I was afraid of Dredge and Storm, but this is the sideboard card to cut if you are so inclined. It has some additional utility versus Melira Company, but keep in mind that it’s kind of a nombo with your creature base.
Batterskull: Your best card versus Burn and Zoo, it’s also pretty good versus Boggles and Bant Eldrazi. Be careful boarding it in versus decks like Jund and Grixis, who may have Kolaghan’s Command.
Dispel/Negate: Because the main deck is so streamlined to work with Goblin Dark-Dwellers, you need this sort of sideboard package versus decks like Ad Nauseam, other blue control decks, and Burn.
Sun Droplet: A unique, narrow bullet against Zoo and Burn. You don’t normally want this against Affinity since they tend to hit for chunk damage and can also pivot and kill you with poison. I have never lost a game to Bushwhacker Zoo or Burn where I cast this on turn 2.
Vandalblast: Your Affinity insurance. I slightly prefer Vandalblast to Shatterstorm because of the ease to flash it back with Snapcaster Mage and interaction with Goblin Dark-Dwellers. Also nice against GR Tron, Ad Nauseam (where killing a Pentad Prism is often the whole game), and WB Eldrazi Hate Bears, where it can kill both Aether Vial and Tidehollow Sculler.
Molten Rain/Boom // Bust: Sam Black and Matt Sperling persuaded me to play the Boom // Bust over a 2nd Molten Rain and boy were they right. In fact, moving forward I’d play 2 Boom // Bust. There are a lot of decks in Modern that don’t want to get Stone Rained on turn 3. The interaction with Goblin Dark-Dwellers and Bust is something that others like Patrick Chapin used to great effect in Los Angeles and that I anticipate growing in popularity moving forward.
What Comes Out
Vendilion Clique: Bad against decks with lots of 1/1 flyers.
Ancestral Vision: I would sometimes take 2-3 Ancestral Vision out on the draw against very fast decks like Affinity and Infect. I now believe that Burn is the only deck that you want to take Ancestral Vision out against.
Anger of the Gods, Flame Slash, Roast: Duh.
Harvest Pyre: Deserves its own special mention as this is the removal spell to leave in against decks like Jeskai Nahiri where you still want to kill Restoration Angel or Colonnade, but the sorceries are pretty bad. Still comes out versus pure combos like Ad Nauseam.
Electrolyze: I don’t bring Electrolyze out too much mostly because of how good it is with Goblin Dark-Dwellers. Against decks where it will literally never even help to kill a creature, like GR Tron, you can take them out.
Spell Snare: There are very few decks, like Melira Company, that have too few targets for this extremely efficient card.
Blood Moon: Fairly easy—you want to take these out against decks that put you under a tremendous amount of pressure, like Zoo, Affinity, Infect, and Burn. Also, remove them against decks like Merfolk, Hatebears, and Elves that don’t necessarily need their lands.
- The big question is whether this deck is a bad version of Grixis and it really boils down to how effective you expect the card Blood Moon to be. If your local metagame has a lot of Merfolk, Hatebears, Affinity, and Infect, consider playing Grixis. But if you expect a diverse field, with the normal smattering of nonbasic-reliant 3-color mana bases and Urza lands, I like Blue Moon.
- Consider adding more Boom // Bust to the sideboard. Patrick, Sam, and Matt were on to something. I worried that I didn’t have enough fetchlands to use the Boom side effectively, but I was wrong. This card is just great in this deck, and punishes some people for tapping out even more than Goblin Dark-Dwellers/Ancestral Vision.
- Ditch the Relic of Progenitus. Accept that Storm and Dredge are going to be hard to beat and hope other people do your dirty work.
- The sideboard could use a little more love (hate) for Affinity.
I wouldn’t change the main deck, but here is the sideboard I now recommend:
I hope you have as much fun turning off or blowing up your opponents’ lands as I did.