It’s Modern PTQ season! I don’t know about you, but I haven’t played a significant amount of Modern in ages. I’ve played a couple of local events but now it’s time to take a vested interest so I can qualify for Pro Tour Honolulu—because, seriously, who doesn’t want to go to Hawaii to play Magic?
You may be asking yourself: I wonder what Carrie has been playing at her local events?
Regardless as to whether you were or not, I’m going to tell you. Nothing good! Immediately after the bans/unbans I tried putting Tribal Zoo back together in celebration of the release of Wild Nacatl. I ran a fairly stock list (see below). Honestly it just didn’t seem to do enough. If you want to play aggro in Modern then the only choice in my opinion is Affinity. It is by far the best aggressive deck. The combined power of all the lord-like effects is devastating and it can manage fairly reliable turn 4 kills. It can mulligan itself to death, but so can Zoo, so it’s not an argument against Affinity; rather an argument against high variance decks in general. Actually, I feel Zoo mulligans more, especially Tribal Zoo, as you really have to have at least green and red in your opening hand and often need a white source too. Affinity can even function with no lands! Zoo is less vulnerable to sideboard hate than Affinity but also just feels less likely to win games.
The other deck I tried was Assault Loam. If you are new to Magic then you probably missed when this deck was the biggest love of my life. I ran this deck non-stop after someone won a GP with it. I made some tweaks and in one PTQ season made 3 Top 8s with it. Though, sadly, converted none. Then Deathrite Shaman was printed, which, as you’ll recall, has the following text printed on it: “Exile target Life from the Loam from your opponent’s library, mwhahaha!” Or words to that effect. Regardless, Assault Loam was clearly no more. As Shaman got banned (while Wild Nacatl got unbanned) I wanted to put the old 75 back together.
While I admit that running into two decks running Dryad Militant (which also reads “Life from the Loam is not allowed in the graveyard”) was unlucky, I felt the deck just isn’t where it used to be in the metagame. It does have a good Pod matchup as they can’t reliably stop you from assembling your pieces and then you can ping off all their creatures until they want to cry. Pod is a really big part of the meta at the moment which would make this a good choice—Unfortunately, the other big part is control, and this deck hates control. They just have to counter your Seismic Assaults and kill a few creatures and it’s good game. Ironically, before Deathrite Shaman, Jund was your other good matchup, but with Bloodbraid and Shaman gone then so has Jund (mostly). Maybe I’m just not committed enough to making it work, but counterspells really do suck.
I’ve now moved on to a Pod list. I started with Melira Pod but after playing against LSVs “value Pod” I’ve decided I want to give it a go. One card I tried that I kind of liked was one Courser of Kruphix. With all the fetchlands in Modern it works as a draw engine/filtering mechanism. It also gains you life and is a sizeable roadblock against aggressive deck. I replaced one Kitchen Finks with it. Its downside is that it makes for a terrible Pod target as it can be easily removed (unlike Finks) to break your chain.
LSV Angel Pod
I would like to see more Courser of Kruphix in Modern even if it’s not in Pod. Which leads me nicely into the next segment of this article.
Cards that Aren’t Seeing Enough Play in Modern
Looking back over the last couple of Modern GPs post-bans/unbans you see the same decks. Not a big surprise. Modern is very stable as the card pool remains mostly the same. I’m not even about to write about how I’d like to see some changes. Rather I’m interested in pointing out some of the more powerful Modern-legal cards that don’t currently see play. In many cases I feel they are just waiting for their time to shine when that one missing piece gets printed (like the Merfolk deck that appeared after Theros), but maybe others are simply being unjustly ignored.
1. Delver of Secrets
When Modern was younger (so much younger than today-ay-ay) Delver decks were prevalent. This was in part owing to the fact that Delver was the big deck in Standard around that time as well, so it made a logical place to start. There were a few variants but, like its Legacy and Standard brothers, the plan is to play Delver and other efficient threats and beat down while tempo-ing your opponent with cheap counterspells and bounce effects. You could play UWR for Burn and Geist of Saint Traft (this version also tended to run Isochron Scepter) or BUG for Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, and hand disruption.
I have seen people playing Delver lists in Modern recently but it feels like an edge case when it used to be a popular and strong option. It should have a strong matchup against all the Pod decks. LSV actually ran a Delver list in his Modern video series recently and commented that he both really enjoyed it and did well so perhaps it’s time for a resurgence.
2. Elspeth, Knight Errant
With the exception of Jace, the Mind Sculptor, this first iteration of Elspeth is widely regarded as one of the most busted planeswalkers ever (maybe she comes third after Liliana of the Veil). She absolutely crushed during in her time in Standard and at only 4 mana she is cheap enough to be viable in Modern. Yet, she really hasn’t seen any use outside of the odd one-of here and there. I think her issue is that control decks are using Ajani Vengeant in her slot (which is reasonable as you rarely have opposing creatures worth blocking with a 1/1 which Ajani can’t just kill) and actually I think she most fits a midrange creature deck… of which there are currently none. Nor have there ever really been in Modern. I guess Jund was kind of good for her in terms of style, but obviously she’s a little bit White for the deck to run. Perhaps Junk Rock could have. Anyway, if there is a midrange deck running white in future she will surely make the cut.
3. Domri Rade
Speaking of planeswalkers I love, this guy is insane for creature-based decks. Really cheap, a crushing ultimate, and card draw. Particularly strong against control-based decks as you can sneak him past their counter Magic by using mana-dudes. Again though I feel that like Elspeth, he’s waiting for a nice midrange creature deck to belong to. He might work well with the aforementioned Courser of Kruphix too—that synergy is one of the more powerful ones right now in Standard.
4. Knight of the Reliquary
Knight of the Reliquary has never really taken off in Modern, but did see some play before the pest that is Deathrite Shaman made her a permanent bear and incidentally provided mana for your opponent. However, Deathrite is gone, leaving the door open for Knight of the Reliquary once more. I do like being able to run a tutor effect. Even narrow tutor effects are powerful in Constructed as Stoneforge Mystic demonstrated wonderfully. And with a bigger format like Modern, that narrow parameter matters less as you get to search an even larger pool for relevant targets to include. I particularly like Bojuka Bog as an option against Snapcaster Mage, Living End, and other graveyard-based decks. You can also consider something like Kessig Wolf Run to push through your now-giant Knight.
Once again though we are looking at a midrange card in a format with no midrange decks. The last three cards do all fit together and personally I would be looking at Brian Kibler. If anyone is going to throw together a Naya Midrange deck at the right time it’ll be him.
5. Gifts Ungiven
Moving away from midrange, Gifts Ungiven is a once popular card gone missing. It was particularly good when abused with Unburial Rites. For those unfamiliar with the combo, Gifts Ungiven allows you to tutor up to 4 different cards from your library. However, when searching your library you can always “fail to find,” thus you can present your opponent with just Unburial Rites and some big creature, like Elesh Norn. Your opponent then has to choose two cards for you to discard (you get to keep the rest). Thus you get to put Unburial Rites and your reanimation target into your graveyard. As a bonus Gifts Ungiven is an instant, so you do this at the end of their turn and then flashback Unburial Rites on your turn. This package normally came in a control shell and was destroyed by the appearance of our good friend Deathrite Shaman, who could very cheaply remove either target or Rites from the graveyard. With combo-control being in fashion at the moment (many are running a Splinter Twin combo finish) then perhaps this will also be on the up. Regardless, Gifts is a powerful card and even when not abusing it the effect is powerful—even an imperfect tutor effect can often supply lose-lose choices for your opponent (using cards such as Snapcaster Mage and Eternal Witness within the four choices, for instance).
6. Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
Tezzeret completes my list of planeswalkers good enough to be in Modern. In Tezzeret’s case I feel the problem is the inadequacy of the artifacts available to play with him. Not that there aren’t plenty of artifacts around, but if you look at the artifacts that a Legacy Tezzeret deck is playing you realize the key pieces aren’t legal and there are either no equivalents or only poor ones. Plus Legacy gets all the colored artifact lands if you want them. Some, notably our own Caleb Durward, have tried Tezzeret in Modern—perhaps it just needs more work. As Modern can only grow perhaps some artifacts for this deck will materialize in sets to come. Until then I hope people keep trying, because I love turning Signets and indestructible lands into 5/5s.
7. Lotus Cobra
My final card is actually a card I have played in Modern in the past. Lotus Cobra was insane in its time in Standard, because a turn 4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor was beaten by a turn 3 one. This card works so well in a format with fetch lands. Yes it is vulnerable to Lightning Bolt (and all manner of other removal spells) but its upside should you untap with it is huge! I really despise the “it dies to Bolt” argument, because lots of creatures die to removal (expect frickin’ Bogles!). That’s pretty much the entire reason Bolt sees play. Yet if the upside is high enough you still play the creature. Dark Confidant has the same stat line and sees play. Yes Dark Confidant draws cards, but Lotus Cobra can be very explosive. I ran it in my reincarnation of Mythic Conscription and I was seriously impressed. If quick mana is a desirable feature of a deck then Lotus Cobra has to be your go-to card.
Those are my musings on Modern for this week. What cards do you think are powerful enough to be played in Modern but haven’t quite made it yet? Or perhaps you think things have been forgotten? Feel free to comment below or Tweet @onionpixie. See you next week.