It was nice having Worlds in our back yard this time around.

Worlds was a lot of fun. I was glad to meet those of you who I got to talk to in person, and it was cool getting to play against international players who don’t normally make the jaunt from Brazil, Japan, or the Czech Republic to hit up the big Saturday tournaments at Superstars. I really do hope that the coming year’s tournament structure will feature some events with the same combination of open access and an international pull to hit this excellent mix.

My ambitions for Worlds were to hit up the Saturday Modern event and the Sunday Legacy event. Today I’m going to talk about that Modern tournament, how I fared, and the all-new take on [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card] that powered me through many undefeated rounds with only a few hiccups in between.

Collecting Gifts at Worlds

[card]Gifts Ungiven[/card] is my favorite card of all time, so I’ve had my eye on it for Modern since the format was announced.

But I’m also a pragmatist, and Gifts wasn’t right for the format.

At least, not until Innistrad. Innistrad brought with it two cards that broke Gifts wide open, and prompted me to run a novel three-color Gifts deck in the Public Modern event at Worlds.

The list I ran

Snapcaster Gifts (from Worlds – not recommended)

[deck]3 Path to Exile
1 Raven’s Crime
1 Doom Blade
1 Go for the Throat
4 Remand
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Telling Time
4 Kitchen Finks
3 Timely Reinforcements
1 Damnation
1 Day of Judgment
4 Gifts Ungiven
2 Wrath of God
1 Azami, Lady of Scrolls
2 Unburial Rites
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
2 Creeping Tar Pit
3 Godless Shrine
3 Hallowed Fountain
1 Island
1 Snow-Covered Island
4 Marsh Flats
2 Plains
1 Snow-Covered Plains
3 Scalding Tarn
1 Swamp
1 Snow-Covered Swamp
2 Watery Grave
Sideboard
1 Extirpate
1 Purify the Grave
3 Spell Pierce
3 Thoughtseize
1 Disenchant
1 Revoke Existence
1 Timely Reinforcements
2 Glen Elendra Archmage
1 Worm Harvest
1 Angel of Despair[/deck]

Don’t get too attached to this list, though. It did well enough for me during the event, but it was still quite rough around the edges with clear room for refinement.

Playing in the main Modern event

I ran this initial take on Snapcaster Gifts during the main Modern Public Event at Saturday on Worlds. Overall, I was very happy with its performance, as it took me to a respectable fifth-place finish (respectable but annoying, since the event cut to top four rather than top eight).

As I’d expected, I was able to give my aggro opponents a thorough stomping. It’s honestly hard to make a Gifts list that doesn’t crush aggro, since any resolved Gifts gives you at a minimum two powerful solutions to your opponent’s primary line of attack. On the other hand, Gifts builds in the more traditional “Gifts Rock” mold can find themselves helpless against opposing control and combo builds.

The build above was meant to be significantly more tilted against opposing control than a normal Gifts list would be. It wasn’t quite enough, however, as my two full-on control opponents accounted for my one loss and one draw in the tournament. The revised list that I’m going to talk about today works to correct that issue.

An aside – killing the clock without, you know, cheating

In round two of the tournament, I encountered a personal first – the match went to time on game one, ending in a draw.

Although it wasn’t in intentional draw in the traditional sense, I did end up having to play for the draw, and I think it’s worth checking in on how I did that without (1) being a jerk and (2) cheating.

My opponent for that round was Andrew Harris, playing a Next-Level-Blue-ish deck designed by Joey Pasco (you can see the decklist and read more about the deck here at Joey’s blog). Joey’s design runs the [card]Punishing Fire[/card] / [card]Grove of the Burnwillows[/card] combo, and over the course of my game with Andrew, that led to an uncomfortable stalemate. Once Andrew successfully Pathed away both of my fatties, that left me with literally no creatures that could punch through the wall of (Punishing) Fire. At the same time, eviscerating my board with the Fire / Grove combo meant that Andrew was giving me piles of life, and thus time to kill all of his threats with my abundance of main deck removal.

Some forty-five minutes into the round, I realized two important things.

First, unless I could somehow overload Andrew’s mana, I wasn’t going to be able to make it through for that last point of damage.

Second, I was going to get decked.

That second one came about because I’d cast all my [card]Remand[/card]s and resolved Gifts a few times…and then [card snapcaster mage]Snapcastered[/card] some of those [card]Remand[/card]s again. My deck was awfully, awfully thin, and with a few minutes left on the clock, I needed to make sure I wouldn’t run out of cards to draw in extra turns.

But I certainly wasn’t going to stall.

Stalling is cheating, of course, so you’d rightly get DQed for doing it. More to the point, it sucks, and it’s a stupid thing to do to your opponent.

With that in mind, rather than pass the turn, I activated my remaining [card]Creeping Tar Pit[/card], knowing full well that it wouldn’t live to make the kill. What it would do is take up time on required mechanical actions, even with them done at full, normal speed. I had to tap lands, then move to combat. Andrew had to tap his lands and cast [card]Punishing Fire[/card]…and then buy back those Fires because he might need them to survive once we went to time.

…and it worked. That entire sequence (animate, kill the land, buy back Fires) took maybe twenty seconds, which is enough time to bump me off of a single draw step.

Which was important, since the match ended on extra turn five with Andrew at 1 life and many cards, and me at 30 life and exactly no cards in my library.

So there you go – that’s how I turned a potential loss into a draw without being a jerk and without breaking the rules.

Gifts, Snapcasters, Rites, and you

The general theory of [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card] remains the same as it’s always been. Gifts gives you access to win packages and solution packages. Innistrad has revolutionized our approach to both options with two simple cards.

Meet judges and win games

One of my favorite moments in Magic comes from a prior Worlds tournament – Worlds 2005. I talked about it, along with a video clip of the actual play, here. In that play, Frank Karsten forces Akira Asahara to give him access to the cards he needs by running a Gifts Ungiven for just two cards. Frank had the cards in hand to let him get the most out of those two cards in his graveyard.

With the advent of [card]Unburial Rites[/card], now all you need is two cards. In the list I took to Worlds, the default Gifts “win” package was [card]Unburial Rites[/card] and [card]Iona, Shield of Emeria[/card].

If you’re confused, here’s how this works.

Gifts Ungiven tells you to do this:

Search your library for four cards with different names and reveal them.

That little line of text is why I ended up asking for a judge to come by and explain the situation to four of my opponents during the Modern tournament. Here’s the relevant text from the Comprehensive Rules:

701.15b If a player is searching a hidden zone for cards with a stated quality, such as a card with a certain card type or color, that player isn’t required to find some or all of those cards even if they’re present in that zone.

As it happens, “different names” is a stated quality, and your library is a hidden zone. This means that you can use [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card] to find from zero to four cards, as long as they all have different names from each other.

Now check out the next two lines on Gifts Ungiven:

Target opponent chooses two of those cards. Put the chosen cards into your graveyard and the rest into your hand.

The opponent must choose two cards, and must put them in your graveyard.

So cast Gifts on the end of your opponent’s turn, hand them [card]Unburial Rites[/card] and your reanimation target of choice, and then flashback Rites to reanimate that target on your next turn. Voila.

Just be ready to remind your opponent that they’re allowed to call a judge if this rules interaction confuses them.

Solutions powered by Snapcasters

Sometimes we aren’t in the right position to go for a win. Rites to bring back Iona is no good at all if your opponent has already flooded the field with Elves and is just going to rush you for the win. In those cases, we really need to cast Gifts and pull up solutions to our current situation, letting us stabilize before we go for the win.

We traditionally take two approaches to ensuring access to these answer packages.

First, there’s diversification. You’re seeing that in the list above, where we have [card]Damnation[/card], [card]Day of Judgment[/card], and [card]Wrath of God[/card] side-by-side in the same deck. Similarly, [card]Path to Exile[/card], [card]Doom Blade[/card], and [card]Go for the Throat[/card].

Second, there’s recursion. In four-color Gifts decks, that could likely mean having [card]Eternal Witness[/card] and [card]Noxious Revival[/card] in the list, such that you can Gifts for Witness, Revival, and two cards you actually want. That recursion option is a touch slower, but still quite handy. Of course, it requires having green cards in the deck.

Snapcaster changes the recursion option significantly. As you may have noticed, those removal packages I just ran through each consist of three cards. The typical fourth card is [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card].

In the Gifts Package context, Snapcaster is a total rattlesnake. Your aggro opponent almost certainly doesn’t want to give you two sweepers, but giving you a sweeper and a Snapcaster typically feels even worse, since Snapcaster can rebuy any Instant or Sorcery in your graveyard, pretty much whenever you feel like it.

Sure, it can’t rebuy the full variety of card types in the manner of [card]Eternal Witness[/card]…but it’s one mana cheaper and it has flash, both features that make it abysmal for your opponent to plan around.

Being blue rather than green, Snapcaster also conveniently reduces the incentives to have green in the deck at all. This, in turn, lets you clean up the mana base and reduces those awkward opening turns when you don’t have access to the color that’s critical right now.

…and, of course, a Snapcaster off the top of your deck is still ridiculously effective, even letting you flashback a copy of [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card].

Snapcaster Gifts, leveled up

With one major event under my belt and those theoretical tenets in mind, I’ve reworked Snapcaster Gifts into a more robust form, in the process fitting it with the tools to help avoid those uncomfortably drawn out control mirrors and to stomp the default opponent – Zoo – even more thoroughly.

The list I’d run

Here’s the updated list:

Snapcaster Gifts (updated and recommended)

[deck]3 Path to Exile
3 Delay
1 Doom Blade
1 Go for the Throat
4 Remand
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Kitchen Finks
3 Timely Reinforcements
1 Damnation
1 Day of Judgment
4 Gifts Ungiven
2 Wrath of God
2 Unburial Rites
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
1 Sundering Titan
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
2 Creeping Tar Pit
3 Godless Shrine
3 Hallowed Fountain
1 Island
1 Snow-Covered Island
4 Marsh Flats
2 Plains
1 Snow-Covered Plains
3 Scalding Tarn
1 Swamp
1 Snow-Covered Swamp
2 Watery Grave
Sideboard
1 Extirpate
1 Purify the Grave
3 Spell Pierce
4 Thoughtseize
1 Disenchant
1 Revoke Existence
1 Timely Reinforcements
2 Mulldrifter
1 Worm Harvest[/deck]

So what changed?

The original list had a few cards that didn’t work out for one reason or another, as well as some needs that drove new inclusions.


[card]Raven’s Crime[/card] was ostensibly there to let me discard an [card iona, shield of emeria]Iona[/card] or [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card] if I ended up with one in hand, and possibly against control decks. It just isn’t good in the anti-control role, and the “fatty stuck in hand” issue isn’t frequent enough to warrant killing an entire card slot to resolve it.

[card]Telling Time[/card] was a kind of ersatz [card]Ponder[/card], but it really wasn’t bridging enough different solutions to warrant inclusion. Far better to have more actual action cards in its place.

Finally, [card azami, lady of scrolls]Azami[/card] offers a cute interaction, turning all of your [card snapcaster mage]Snapcasters[/card] into card drawers…but with a mere 2 Toughness, she is imminently flammable. In a land rich with [card]Punishing Fire[/card], she’s a non-starter.

With the slots opened up in the main deck, I was able to bolster the deck against control and combo – and make it more effective generally.

The often-overlooked [card]Delay[/card] makes an appearance here. [card]Delay[/card] is a counterintuitive card in many ways. On the face of it, it’s card disadvantage for tempo gain, in the manner of [card]Unsummon[/card]. However, it actually plays out quite differently in this deck in the Modern environment. It’s a hard counter against opposing counterspells, since having your counterspell come off of Suspend on your upkeep is far from useful. It’s also just fine against aggro opposition, since three whole turns is a long time for you to build your defenses, draw into a response, or just Gifts for Rites plus a fatty and win.

The Rites target package has also been updated to include [card]Sundering Titan[/card]. I’d simply forgotten about the Titan for a time, or I think I would have had it in my deck for Worlds. Titan is crushingly dislocating for Zoo decks, especially ones that focus on domain. If Titan hits the battlefield, the typical Zoo deck will end up with either zero or one land, facing down a 7/10 beater. Good luck with that one, Mrs. Nacatl.

Sideboarding

Here are my current notions on sideboarding:

Zoo

+1 [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card]

-1 [card]Delay[/card]

Affinity

+1 [card]Disenchant[/card]
+1 [card]Revoke Existence[/card]
+1 [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card]

-3 [card]Delay[/card]

Jund

+1 [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card]
+2 [card]Mulldrifter[/card]

-3 [card]Delay[/card]

Melira combo

+1 [card]Extirpate[/card]
+1 [card]Purify the Grave[/card]
+2 [card]Mulldrifter[/card]

-3 [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card]
-1 [card]Wrath of God[/card]

Splinter Twin (and other combo)

+3 [card]Spell Pierce[/card]
+4 [card]Thoughtseize[/card]

-3 [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card]
-1 [card]Damnation[/card]
-1 [card]Day of Judgment[/card]
-2 [card]Wrath of God[/card]

Control ([card]Cryptic Command[/card] users)

+3 [card]Spell Pierce[/card]
+2 [card]Mulldrifter[/card]
+1 [card]Worm Harvest[/card]

-3 [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card]
-1 [card]Damnation[/card]
-1 [card]Wrath of God[/card]
-1 [card]Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite[/card]

Gifts Given, two at a time

This take on Gifts is powerful, flexible, and significantly more resilient against a diversified field than prior takes on the archetype have managed to be. It also leverages the dramatic power of [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], a card you should clearly be taking into consideration whether you’re building a control deck that wants to win by reanimating a nine-mana angel or an aggro deck that wants to kill with a one-mana kitty cat.

Good decks in Modern are always going to rise from the intersection of powerful cards – and for the foreseeable future, I think I’m going to live at the intersection of [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] and [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card].

***
magic (at) alexandershearer.com
parakkum on twitter