Frank Analysis – Tips and Tricks for Modern

With Grand Prix Minneapolis and the Modern PTQ season coming up, today is a good time to look at interesting interactions, cool plays, and funky maneuvers for Modern.

Some of these will be obvious—others will be more obscure. However, I expect that everyone should be able to take at least one new piece of advice from this article.

I’ll start off with a bunch of blue cards and then move to tips and tricks related to other colors.

Vendilion Clique

Most of the time, you will want to play this in your opponent’s draw step and take the best card from his hand. But don’t get locked in that mindset—targeting yourself can often be correct, too, especially if you have an (almost) dead card like Spell Snare in hand. But I want to focus on timing, as it is often best to cast Vendilion Clique at another time than the opponent’s draw step.

• You can cast it in your own turn. This can be best if your opponent is tapped out and you want to play around countermagic or instant-speed removal. Another reason could be that you want to take a peek before deciding how to attack.

• You can cast it in your opponent’s upkeep if your opponent had plenty of untapped lands on your turn and he might be holding countermagic. Then, playing it in the upkeep means that you don’t give your opponent the chance of drawing Remand and countering your Clique, but if your opponent already had the Remand, he has to tap the mana on his own turn.

• You can play it during combat to unexpectedly ambush a problematic creature like Qasali Pridemage.

• You can play it during your opponent’s second main phase if you want to take Goryo’s Vengeance or Through the Breach. If you had played it during your opponent’s end step instead, you might be facing a Griselbrand on your own turn.

• You can play it at the end of your opponent’s turn if you want to play around sorcery-speed removal like Liliana of the Veil or Anger of the Gods.

• You can play it in response to a fetchland in order to snag a Lightning Bolt while your opponent is unable to cast it or to snag Searing Blaze before your opponent achieves landfall.

• But my favorite timing is in response to an Aether Vial activation. The look on your opponent’s face will be worth it.


• The main thing to remember about Remand is that it becomes a straight-up Dismiss against Snapcaster Mage. Or more specifically, the card that Snapcaster Mage grants flashback. So, when playing against blue decks, don’t just fire off your Remand on the first spell you see, but rather try to keep it until your opponent goes to flashback something with Snapcaster Mage.

• The other thing to keep in mind is that you can target your own spells as well. This can be quite useful in response to a counterspell. When your opponent counters your Pestermite with Cryptic Command, Remanding your own Pestermite is a great value play. Similarly, if you cast Pyroclasm and your opponent sacrifices all of his small creatures to Arcbound Ravager in response, you can Remand your own Pyroclasm and save it for a better time.

• The same advice about targeting your own spells holds for Swan Song as well.

Cryptic Command

Many players default to drawing an extra card or countering something while failing to consider the many uses of the bounce effect.

• In the late game when you have plenty of mana, bouncing your own Snapcaster Mage is often better than drawing a card. At worst, you get to flashback your Cryptic Command and draw a card with that one.

• Combining the bounce effect with a Vendilion Clique in hand is another nice way to go. This allows you to deal with a problematic permanent.

• Bouncing your own permanents is rarely better than countering the spell that would destroy your permanent, but it is a relevant way to save your Pestermite from an opposing Grim Lavamancer or Abrupt Decay. Similarly, you can bounce your own land in response to a Tectonic Edge if you’re land-light.

• When your opponent plays Scapeshift with seven lands in play, you should consider not countering Scapeshift but rather bouncing a Mountain in response to the six ensuing Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle triggers. This way, five Mountains will only see four other Mountains in play when their triggers resolve and won’t deal damage to you. More importantly, your opponent may not have enough Mountains left in his deck to combo you out again with a second Scapeshift. On the other side of the table, if you’re the Scapeshift player, you should float mana for Remand before playing Scapeshift for this exact reason.

• One of my favorite ways to play Cryptic Command is to counter a spell and bounce a planeswalker that hasn’t been activated yet. For example, counter Wurmcoil Engine and bounce Karn Liberated. Reversing the perspective, when you’re playing against a blue deck, then it may be better to use your sorcery-speed activated abilities before casting new spells.

• Against Liliana of the Veil’s +1 ability, Cryptic Command also has a few interesting modes. First, if your opponent has an empty hand, you can bounce Liliana in response and she’ll be gone for good. Second, if Cryptic Command is the only card in your hand, you can bounce one of your own lands and draw a card. You might just be able to discard the land, play a freshly drawn Pestermite at the end of your opponent’s turn, and topdeck Splinter Twin for the win.

Serum Visions

• You don’t have to play it on turn one. Waiting one or two turns to see what you draw can help you make a more informed scrying decision. In particular, it may reduce the risk of flooding.

• One cool play is to leave a speculative card on top (e.g., a Lightning Bolt that is only going to be good if your opponent casts, say, Goblin Electromancer on his next turn) along with a fetchland that you will sacrifice if you don’t see the Goblin Electromancer and keep in play if you do see it.

• It is a good habit to make a mental note of which cards you scried to the bottom. A couple turns down to road, when you need to draw Splinter Twin on your next turn to win the game, knowledge of which cards are on the bottom of your library will help with your decision of whether or not to crack a fetchland or not. You should not crack it if you scryed two lands to the bottom, but you should crack it if you scryed a Splinter Twin to the bottom. It’s a small percentage difference, but it’s always good to maximize your outs.

Snapcaster Mage

• There’s nothing wrong with putting Splinter Twin on a Snapcaster Mage. All too often, I see players holding on to their Splinter Twin in anticipation of a Pestermite, while they have a graveyard filled with sweet spells that will win the game by themselves.

• How to deal with Scavenging Ooze when there’s Lightning Bolt in your graveyard: When your opponent casts Scavenging Ooze, then you should play Snapcaster Mage in response and target Lightning Bolt. After the Ooze resolves, you can flashback the Bolt to kill it. If you had waited with your Snapcaster until after the Ooze had resolved, then your opponent would respond by exiling your Bolt.


• Most of the time, you will play Pestermite in your opponent’s upkeep and tap a land. Sometimes, however, it will be better to play it at another time: In your main phase (if your opponent is tapped out and you don’t want to give him the option of countering your creature), during your opponent’s attack step (to ambush a Signal Pest, for example), or during your opponent’s end step (if you want to play around sorcery-speed removal like Liliana of the Veil or Anger of the Gods).

• You should also remember that Pestermite can tap Birthing Pod or Aether Vial in your opponent’s upkeep. The latter is particularly useful, as there’s always the risk of an instant-speed Flickerwisp or Phantasmal Image breaking up your Splinter Twin combo.

• At other times, you may prefer to untap something. Your own Grim Lavamancer is an excellent target if you have some spare red mana and plenty of cards in your graveyard. Untapping a land is also useful—in that case, Pestermite effectively only costs 2 mana. There’s also the option of untapping your Vendilion Clique so you can ambush a creature.

Mana Leak

Remember that this card is in the format! So, against blue decks, consider giving up bluffing potential and play the third land before casting your spell. A similar piece of advice applies for Spell Pierce.

Delver of Secrets

I love the synergy with fetchlands. You get to look at the top of your deck in your upkeep, and if you don’t like it, you just shuffle away. So, if you’re playing a deck with Delver of Secrets, consider keeping an uncracked fetchland in play at all times. It will benefit you if you draw the double-sided card.

Master of Waves

We’re so used to seeing this as a 2/1 in Standard that you might forget it’s a Merfolk as well. Don’t leave back a single Memnite with the intent of blocking Master of Waves. Lord of Atlantis will put an end to that plan.

Path to Exile

• Remember that you can Path your own creatures. This play makes the most sense if both you and your opponent are light on lands.

• Timing a Path to Exile in your opponent’s upkeep just after he scried two cards to the top with Serum Visions is also wonderful. Searching for the lands is a may ability, so the opponent may opt to decline the free land, but it’s still an excellent timing.

• If your opponent has 3 Hallowed Fountain, 3 Steam Vents, and a Celestial Colonnade and aims to attack with the 4/4 flyer, then you should play Path to Exile at the beginning of his combat step, not during combat. This way, if your opponent wants to Mana Leak your Path to Exile, then he has to tap his Colonnade and it won’t be able to attack you.

• Against Affinity, keep in mind that most lists only run one basic Island, so the second Path won’t have a downside.

• It’s wise to keep Path to Exile in mind when deciding which lands to get with your fetches. If you’re playing a midrange deck that needs a lot of mana in the late game (e.g., for Raging Ravine or Gavony Township) then it’s often better to take 2 damage for a dual land if it means that you retain one or two basics in your deck for Path to Exile.

Angel’s Grace

Ad Nauseam combo has been popping up occasionally, but people don’t always realize the many uses of Angel’s Grace, in particular the second copy. First, It can buy them an extra turn, which is especially useful against other combo decks. Second, it allows them to pay for Pact of Negation via a single white mana. However, Angel’s Grace will never save them from an Inkmoth Nexus kill.


This card has all kinds of uses: removing a blocker, breaking up metalcraft, resetting a Pyromancer Ascension, and so on. The bag of tricks is even larger when you sneak it into play at instant speed with Aether Vial.

But my favorite is to blink a morphed Akroma, Angel of Fury. Various G/W Hatebears decks have started to run this card, so if your opponent plays a morph, you will know what’s up.

Slaughter Pact

If your opponent has made a strange attack, tapped out, and left himself dead on board, then he might be holding this one. Slaughter Pact can target nonblack creatures only, so if you’re playing Affinity, equip your Cranial Plating to Vault Skirge.

Inquisition of Kozilek

Just like with Thoughtseize, targeting yourself is a legal play. This can be particularly effective to provide food for Scavenging Ooze when playing against Scapeshift. When you’re at 18 life and just need 1 more life to get out of range, discarding a creature of your own can help you get there. After all, Inquisition of Kozilek cannot actually take the four-mana sorcery from your opponent.


In line with the previous entry, you can target yourself with Inquisition of Kozilek to grow your Tarmogoyf. You typically only do this if you can guarantee lethal damage this way, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind.

More importantly, when your opponent has Tarmogoyf in play alongside a planeswalker, then don’t just blindly attack the planeswalker if it means that your opponent’s Tarmogoyf will grow. For example, if Liliana is at 1 loyalty, Tarmogoyf is a 2/3, and you have a bunch of 3/3s, then this can make all the difference.

Wall of Roots

A main reason why many Melira Pod lists run this creature is that it can effectively generate two mana for Chord of Calling. But there are other cute uses as well. If needed, you can suicide it to get an extra creature into the graveyard for Scavenging Ooze. Similarly, you can suicide it if you need to kill your Voice of Resurgence token that is haunted by Orzhov Pontiff.

Spike Feeder

It is not just a 2/2 that can gain life; it has another ability! Most notably, you can put a +1/+1 counter on a persisted Kitchen Finks or Murderous Redcap. This will cancel out the -1/-1 counter.

Sowing Salt

You don’t have to remove all cards: If you search a library, then you can fail to find. So, when you’ve already removed all of their copies of Urza’s Mine and you cast a second Sowing Salt on Urza’s Tower, then you may prefer to leave those lands in your opponent’s deck to reduce their odds of drawing Karn Liberated.

Hellspark Elemental

Unearth works differently than flashback. Against flashback, you have to remove a card with Scavenging Ooze or Relic of Progenitus before your opponent puts it on the stack. If you try to remove it after your opponent has cast it, you’re too late. It’s the same deal with Pyromancer Ascension by the way; you’ll put a quest counter on it even if the card in your graveyard has been exiled by the time the trigger resolves.

But with unearth, the creature won’t enter the battlefield if it is exiled in response. So, you don’t have to commit mana to your Ooze or Relic until your opponent has acted first.

Goblin Guide

Your opponent attacks you with a Goblin Guide while you have Misty Rainforest in play. One way or another, you are planning to sacrifice it for a tapped Steam Vents. But should you crack it before or after the Goblin Guide trigger?

Well, it depends.

If you want to maximize your chances of hitting your next land drop, then you should wait. If Goblin Guide gives you a land, then you’re already there. However, if Goblin Guide reveals a spell, then you get to shuffle and have another chance for a land in your draw step.

If you already have more than enough lands, then things are different. To see why, suppose that 60% of your deck is spells. If you would crack the land at the end of your opponent’s turn, then you will only draw a nonland spell if there’s one on top of your deck after the shuffle, which happens with probability 0.6. However, if you would crack the land before the Goblin Guide trigger, then you will draw a spell if the top of your deck is a spell or if the top of your deck is land, spell. This happens with probability 0.6 + 0.4*0.6 = 0.84. So, fetch your land before!

Orzhov Pontiff

Suppose you have Viscera Seer in play and that your opponent has four Goblin Guides and a tapped Grim Lavamancer. Without considering the question why you’re not dead yet, the way to approach this situation is as follows: You cast Orzhov Pontiff, giving your opponent’s creatures -1/-1, and sacrifice it to Viscera Seer in response, haunting Grim Lavamancer. When the original -1/-1 trigger resolves, Grim Lavamancer dies, and via haunt you get to kill all the Goblin Guides as well.

Most of the time, you will want to destroy an opposing land, but there are situations where you are better off by targeting your own lands.

One such situation is if you have three lands in play, Blackcleave Cliffs in hand, and need to have access to four mana immediately. Then, tapping a land for mana, destroying it with Fulminator Mage, and subsequently playing Blackcleave Cliffs will get you there.

Another scenario is when you are playing the Living End mirror match. If your opponent is attacking you with Street Wraith and you only have one (nonbasic) Swamp in play, then you should consider destroying it to block the swampwalker.


Counterflux is a nice card against Storm, but it’s generally a bad idea to go for the plan of countering all copies of Grapeshot with overload. This just loses to Past in Flames. Usually, it’s better to counter a Manamorphose mid-combo, with the hope of bottlenecking your opponent on cards or mana. Just make sure to overload it after the Pyromancer Ascension trigger has put the copy on the stack.


There are various interactions to know about. Paying 2 life is always a legal play, but you don’t want to discover upon resolution that it was futile.

• Against Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, you can’t redirect the copy ability. So Spellskite cannot stop Kiki-Jiki plus Restoration Angel or Kiki-Jiki plus Deceiver Exarch—all those cards specifically say “permanent you control.” However, you can break up Kiki-Kiki plus Pestermite by redirecting the untap ability of the Pestermite copy to Spellskite.

• Against Electrolyze, if it has two targets, you can only change one of the targets to Spellskite—the same creature cannot be targeted twice. So, if you are facing Spellskite and Noble Hierarch, then your Electrolyze should target both creatures for 1 damage. That way, Spellskite won’t be able to change the fact that Noble Hierarch will die.

• Finally, cards like Combust or Daybreak Coronet cannot be redirected it to Spellskite if it’s not a legal target. For the specific case of Daybreak Coronet, if Spellskite doesn’t already have an Aura attached to it, then it won’t do anything.

Etched Champion

Etched Champion has protection from all colors, but not from colorless creatures. This includes Mutavault, Spellskite, Wurmcoil Engine, and the token from Blade Splicer! It’s easy to get into the mindset that Etched Champion has protection from the entirety of your opponent’s deck, but that’s not always the case. Similarly, the shortcut that Etched Champion has no ability in the Affinity mirror match is usually true, but when it blocks Master of Etherium, all of a sudden the ability becomes very real.

Against Mono-Red, if you block Goblin Guide then keep in mind that if your opponent plays Skullcrack, the damage won’t be prevented to your Etched Champion. Blocking may still be the best line of play, but at least take this possibility into account.

Blinkmoth Nexus

It can pump itself (or Inkmoth Nexus!) when it’s blocking, but only if it was in play since the beginning of your last turn. Summoning sickness is still a thing, after all; so plan ahead when sequencing your lands.

Also, remember that if you have Springleaf Drum, Blinkmoth Nexus, Darksteel Citadel, and Glimmervoid untapped, then this will allow you to generate double black for Cranial Plating. Turning Blinkmoth Nexus into a creature and then tapping it for Springleaf Drum is somewhat convoluted, but sometimes it’s the only way to get colored mana.


The Amulet of Vigor deck typically runs one Vesuva to copy its own Boros Garrison or Khalni Garden. However, you can also copy an opponent’s land. For instance, you can copy Tectonic Edge to destroy theirs and protect your Slayers’ Stronghold. You can also copy Blinkmoth Nexus and block their Signal Pest.

Tectonic Edge

• As an Affinity player, when you’re facing Tectonic Edge, it is often wise to hold back your fourth land in order to protect your Blinkmoth Nexus. For the same reason, you should sometimes decline to get a free basic land from Path to Exile.

• As a Melira Pod player, when you’re facing Tectonic Edge, you should often slow-roll a Gavony Township until you can immediately activate it.

• When you’re playing Tectonic Edge yourself and are facing 4 Celestial Colonnade and two Steam Vents, then you should destroy a man-land in response to the activation; not when it is attacking. This way, you don’t give your opponent the opportunity to turn his Path to Exile into an extra land.


• If you don’t need the mana right away, then it’s customary to sacrifice the land at the end of your opponent’s turn. That’s usually fine, but remember that it can be dangerous against white creature decks with Aven Mindcensor or Leonin Arbiter (which can be flashed in via Aether Vial). Also, there’s Squelch and Shadow of Doubt—although they don’t see as much play as they deserve, no one ever seems to play around it.

• If you’re playing Mono-Red Burn, you should remember that Scalding Tarn can provide landfall at instant speed for Searing Blaze. From the other side of the table, if your Burn opponent is holding up a fetch, then be sure to play around Searing Blaze.

• When playing against Hexproof or Living End, watch out for green fetchlands. They can turn into Dryad Arbor!

• Finally, it can be useful to try and deduce your opponent’s hand based on the lands that he fetches. At the Pro Tour, for instance, I played one match against Tribal Zoo in which my opponent fetched Steam Vents rather than Blood Crypt with Scalding Tarn, despite already having Hallowed Fountain and Stomping Ground in play (along with plenty of other lands) and Tribal Flames in his deck. This told me that the Blood Crypt (which I saw in the previous game) had to be in his hand, which helped me narrow down the range of tricks that he could be holding.

Another example from the Pro Tour is when I played against UWR Control and my opponent went Scalding Tarn into Sacred Foundry on turn one and Plains on turn two. (I was on the play with my Affinity deck and had played Darksteel Citadel and Springleaf Drum on my first turn.) Following up the Sacred Foundry with Plains was rather suspicious because if you keep an opening hand with Scalding Tarn and Plains, you would get Steam Vents, not Sacred Foundry. So, I figured that either (i) my opponent kept an opening hand containing Scalding Tarn, Island, and Lightning Helix, but drew Plains and wanted to play his Helix right away, or (ii) my opponent kept an opening hand containing Scalding Tarn and Tectonic Edge as his only lands and chose to sacrifice his Scalding Tarn right away because he wanted to play Path to Exile and/or Lightning Bolt as soon as possible without taking 2 damage from his dual land. One way or another, this knowledge helped me immensely in figuring out my best line of play on turn two.

That concludes my bag of tricks for today. What’s your favorite unorthodox line of play in Modern?


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