Modern is a complex format with a huge number of unusual interactions. Given that the Modern Pro Tour and Grand Prix in Toronto and Lyon are coming up, it’s a good time to review ten cool plays you can make in Modern.
Some of these will be as obvious as keeping lands in hand against Reality Smasher decks or keeping fetchlands in play against Lantern of Insight decks. Others will be more obscure. Yet, I hope that everyone can take at least one new piece of advice from this article.
10. Fix Your Mana with Blinkmoth Nexus
I’ll start with a maneuver for my favorite deck in Modern—Affinity. The potential of Blinkmoth Nexus’ ability (such as pumping itself while blocking, or boosting an attacking Inkmoth Nexus) is fairly well known, but its capacity for fixing mana is somewhat more obscure.
For instance, if your opponent starts the game with “Blinkmoth Nexus, Mox Opal, Memnite, go” then don’t act surprised when they activate their Nexus to achieve metalcraft at the end of your turn and tap their Mox Opal to cast Galvanic Blast.
Likewise, if your Affinity opponent attacks all-out while leaving Inkmoth Nexus, Darksteel Citadel, Springleaf Drum, and Glimmervoid untapped, then be aware that this mana source arrangement has the capacity to produce double black for the insta-equip ability of Cranial Plating. These kinds of plays may be corner cases, but it’s good to be aware of them.
9. Remand Your Own Spell
The typical use of Remand is as a pseudo-Time Walk, countering an opponent’s spell while digging deeper in your deck. The dream scenario is to counter a flashbacked Lingering Souls—in that case, Remand turns into a straight-up Dismiss. And in certain unusual cases, you are incentivized to counter your own spell.
One situation where this can be correct is in the late game against a control deck where your opponent Cryptic Commands a spell you’d like to resolve. If you then Remand their Cryptic Command, they can just cast it again. But if you target your own spell, then you will get a second chance to resolve it while their Cryptic Command (if they chose the Dismiss mode) is countered for lack of a legal target.
Another situation where Remanding your own spell can be useful is when your opponent responds to your Fatal Push by sacrificing that creature to Arcbound Ravager. In that case, you might as well Remand your own Fatal Push so that you can recast it and target their Arcbound Ravager. Conversely, if you’re the Affinity player and know that your opponent is holding Remand, then you should sometimes restrain yourself and opt not to feed your Ravager in response to a removal spell. That’s perhaps my favorite line of play in this article.
Another situation where countering your own spells can be beneficial is with storm cards. Suppose your opponent is at 21 while the current storm count is 9. You can then play Grapeshot, let all the copies resolve to reduce their life total to 12, return the original Grapeshot to your hand with Remand, and cast it again for exactly lethal.
Finally, if your opponent is beating you down and refuses to cast any new spells, then as a desperation move you could Remand your own Serum Visions (or any other spell). If you control Baral, Chief of Compliance, you even get to loot in the process, so this can sometimes be a good move for Storm players.
8. Vendilion Clique in Response to Through the Breach
The most common time to play Vendilion Clique is in your opponent’s draw step. This maximizes your options before they enter their main phase, although you should keep in mind that you don’t have to take a card—it’s sometimes best to leave their hand as it is—and that targeting yourself is a valid option too, especially if you have a dead card in hand.
But my favorite use of Vendilion Clique is to play it in response to an effect that asks your opponent to put a creature from their hand onto the battlefield. After all, Aether Vial or Through the Breach don’t move the creature until the trigger or spell resolves, so stripping their Emrakul, the Aeons Torn while Through the Breach is on the stack is a super sweet play.
As a final trick, you can play Vendilion Clique in response to a Bloodstained Mire activation to snag Searing Blaze before your opponent achieves landfall. Correspondingly, the optimal sequencing as a Burn player would be to cast Searing Blaze, hold priority, and respond by cracking the fetchland.
7. Dodge Chalice of the Void with Engineered Explosives
Sunburst is a weird ability in that Engineered Explosives only counts the number of colors spent to cast it. You’re free to sink extra colorless mana into it, but that won’t increase the number of charge counters. But it can prove useful when you’re trying to dodge certain countermagic. I have four examples.
• Finally, if your opponent controls Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, then the tax goes towards sunburst. In other words, if you tap UR, you can play Engineered Explosives for X=1, pay Thalia’s tax, and end up with two charge counters. That’s right—Thalia’s ability doesn’t disrupt Engineered Explosives at all.
6. Kill a Blocking Etched Champion with Skullcrack
As a Burn player, protection-from-red creatures are a nightmare. You can’t block them. You can’t target them. And all damage dealt to them from red sources is prevented.
But if you have Skullcrack, then that damage prevention effect no longer applies, which offers an opportunity when your opponent is in blocking mode. So if your opponent blocks your Goblin Guide with Etched Champion and you cast Skullcrack before damage, then their Etched Champion will die. The same holds for Kor Firewalker and Master of Waves.
5. Win the Game with Conflagrate Despite Spellskite
Specifically, if you run Dredge and want to kill your opponent with Conflagrate, then you should target Spellskite for 1 damage and your opponent for the rest. If you don’t do that, then Spellskite can redirect the damage sent at your opponent to itself. But if you do target Spellskite, that play turns illegal since the spell has two targets and the same target cannot be targeted twice. A similar observation holds for Electrolyze—if you want to secure a Noble Hierarch kill, you should target Spellskite for 1 damage as well.
Spellskite can also stop a land-light Ad Nauseam player who has already used their Slaughter Pact. Since Spellskite can continually redirect Lightning Storm after it’s boosted up to 21 damage, many Ad Nauseam players will be cutting it close with the number of lands in their deck.
And while I’m at it, let me just mention the ultimate surprise nightmare for an Ad Nauseam player: Kira, Great Glass-Spinner. If the opponent has a land in hand to redirect Lightning Storm to their Kira, you’re in big trouble.
4. Remember to Respond to Whir of Invention or Chord of Calling
When search spells like Whir of Invention or Chord of Calling resolve, the permanent fetched by your opponent enters the battlefield right away. You don’t get to see what they search before deciding whether to respond or not. And when they get Pithing Needle, they get to name a card before you can take another action.
What this means is that you should activate your permanent before Whir of Invention resolves—otherwise they can find Pithing Needle and you won’t have a chance to activate it again. Likewise, you should play that Skullcrack or flashback that Ancient Grudge before Witchbane Orb or Grafdigger’s Cage prevents you from doing so.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking “I’ll just respond after I see what they get” but that could be a grave mistake with Chord of Calling too. Against the green instant, you should activate your creatures before Linvala, Keeper of Silence enters the battlefield, you should kill their creatures before Selfless Spirit hits the board, and you should kill that Devoted Druid before Vizier of Remedies hops in.
Finally, in the same vein, if you’re playing against Eldrazi & Taxes and they activate Aether Vial at the end of your turn, don’t be a fool. If you say “sure, that resolves,” you may subsequently think “damn, should’ve activated my fetchland before that Leonin Arbiter hit the board.” Don’t let this happen to you!
3. Activate Ghost Quarter or Field of Ruin in Their Draw Step
Often, the optimal timing for Ghost Quarter or Field of Ruin is during your opponent’s draw step. You generally want to use it before their main phase to prevent them from casting powerful sorceries, but if your opponent only has one basic land in their deck—a common occurrence in Modern—then the land they were going to find could be the card they draw for the turn. If that were to happen, then you deny them a free land by Ghost Quartering in their draw step.
Likewise, you should cast Surgical Extraction during their draw step. You might just get lucky if they draw an additional copy of the card you were going to exile. As with any rule, there are various exceptions to this: For instance, if you’re planning to Surgical Extraction an instant, worry about them drawing a counterspell, or they just scryed good cards to the top with Serum Visions. But most of the time, the draw step is where it’s at.
2. Flashback the Snapcaster Mage Target Later That Turn
When Snapcaster Mage gives a spell flashback, you don’t have to cast the spell immediately—you can wait for a later moment that turn. There are several scenarios where this could be particularly valuable.
First, you can cast Snapcaster Mage, target Kologhan’s Command, block a creature, and then flash back Kologhan’s Command to return your Snapcaster Mage. You can do a similar trick by targeting Cryptic Command, blocking, and then bouncing your blocking Snapcaster Mage. In grindy matchups, these are sweet ways to get value for free.
Second, if your opponent casts Scavenging Ooze, you should cast Snapcaster Mage and grant your Lightning Bolt flashback before Scavenging Ooze resolves. You can flashback the Bolt to kill the Ooze after it resolves without giving them a chance to exile it in response.
1. Survive a Seemingly Lethal Scapeshift with Fulminator Mage
When 6 Mountains and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle enter the battlefield at the same time and there is no Prismatic Omen, you can destroy or bounce one of the Mountains to avoid five of the six triggers. The trigger corresponding to the destroyed Mountain still sees 5 other Mountains when it resolves and will thus deal 3 damage, but all other triggers will only observe 4 Mountains on resolution and won’t do any damage as a result. After all, Valakut has a so-called “intervening if” clause that checks the number of Mountains twice: as it goes on the stack and when it resolves.
This means that when your opponent plays Scapeshift with 7 lands and you have Beast Within or Cryptic Command in hand, you can let Scapeshift resolve, take out a Mountain in response to the triggers, and survive. Of course, you could just eliminate one of their lands in response to Scapeshift and take no damage whatsoever. But allowing their Scapeshift to resolve can be wise if it leaves their deck without enough Mountains to make a second Scapeshift lethal. TitanShift decks typically only run 13-14 Mountains, so if you have enough land destruction effects you can potentially run them out.
That wraps up my list of Modern tips and tricks. What’s your favorite interaction that wasn’t included in this article? Share your insights in the comment section below!