In a format as wide open as Modern, with decks that range from hyper aggro to pure control to dedicated midrange to degenerate combo, is there any chance a deck that focuses on gaining life can find success?

A Martyr of Sands deck took down the Magic Online Modern PTQ last weekend, and it opens up some interesting questions. Where does Martyr fall in the metagame, and is this a deck you can pick up and expect to do well with?

Martyr is going to be good against aggressive strategies. Look at a deck like Burn that is looking to trade many of its cards in exchange for 3 damage. Martyr completely invalidates this strategy by itself. By sacrificing a Martyr, every card you reveal effectively counters a single Lava Spike. While they will have cards like Skullcrack to help interact with this, Martyr threatens to gain a lot of life and do it every turn.

The other aggressive decks will have similar issues. Humans is more than capable of going wide and threatening to deal massive amounts of damage, but once they do, your sweepers can shine. Hollow One has creatures that can come back from many of the sweepers, but Bloodghast damage can only do so much once the Martyr player is gaining double-digit life every turn. These decks also focus on the combat step, so setting up a loop with Kami of False Hope and Proclamation of Rebirth to create infinite Fogs spells game over.

Martyr itself isn’t at its best against midrange strategies, but the Martyr shell can be effective there as well. Squadron Hawk and Ranger of Eos fill your hand with white cards (and, in the case of Ranger, finds some Martyrs). These cards do a number to invalidate effects like Liliana of the Veil and make their one-for-one removal spells look foolish. The incidental life gain provided by Martyr means that you have even more draw steps to find your powerful spells or take over with a Serra Ascendant they might be unable to deal with.

Control and combo are where things get tougher for anyone looking to play Martyr, but Magic Online is a funny tool when it comes to how games play out. If you look at a deck like KCI, they should have absolutely zero problem winning versus Martyr. Even if the Martyr player were to gain 200 life, they can set up an infinite loop to deal any amount of damage they want. That is, in paper. For that reason, I wouldn’t recommend Martyr in any competitive paper Modern tournament, but everything is different online.

While the PTQ was won fair and square this weekend with Martyr, both the semifinals and the finals were won by the opponent running out of time. This was against U/W Control and Amulet Titan, two decks that can be really tough matchups and set up some powerful inevitability, but struggle to win a pair of games against an incredibly high life total in time. While some players might call this “cheesy,” it’s actually pretty clever to use the tools at your disposal to win a PTQ and get on the Pro Tour!

Playing a deck like Martyr at your next paper RPTQ brings a lot of risks with it, but the deck is fully capable of beating anything and has a favorable matchup against most of the aggro and midrange decks in the format (except for Infect—an unanswered Blighted Agent just ends the game on the spot). If that’s your metagame, or if you want to try to use the MTGO clock to your advantage versus slower decks, then Martyr might be the card you’re looking to sacrifice.

Martyr

GOBO2009, 1st place at the MTGO PTQ