This story starts during the testing phase of Pro Tour Fate Reforged. Testing with the Cabin Crew, I couldn’t find a deck that I liked. I had qualified playing a deck centered around Birthing Pod, but unfortunately, that got banned. Maybe it was best for the format. For me, it meant that I had to find a new toy to play with.
It turns out that I should’ve been thankful for the ban of Birthing Pod, as it sparked my affection for the puzzliest of decks. At first I didn’t understand how great the Bloom Titan deck could be, but soon it dawned on me. After a few test runs, I became familiar with the basic intricacies of the deck and my results got a lot better. In a format that isn’t prepared for a deck that uses lands in an unfair way, this deck was absurd. Flash forward to the end of the Pro Tour and I’m left with an 8-2 record in Constructed.
Flash forward another year, and I see Splinter Twin and Summer Bloom (rightfully) banned. So the consensus is that Bloom Titan decks are not good enough anymore, and they wane in popularity just as soon as they had started to see the limelight.
After a glorious winter full of Eldrazi decks, which had people longing for a ban, Eye of Ugin also got the axe. This ban might be even more important than it looks at first sight. The splash damage this does to the longevity of Tron decks is pretty serious, which means Tron’s popularity also started to wane. For half a year, people have been cutting land disruption from their sideboards. The time of Blood Moon in Jund was over (well, until Levy and Dezani started running them main deck)—and no more quadruple Ghost Quarters main deck in Jeskai. People even started shaving Fulminator Mages.
The nail in the coffin was Dredge. As Modern is such a diverse format, sideboards are spread out across all kinds of possible matchups. This makes it hard to cover all your bases. As Dredge hate started to grow, something had to give. Turns out it was the last few Fulminators people were running.
Well, this looks like the perfect moment to dust off those Amulet of Vigors.
Except that isn’t really how the process went, at all. I was lost. Lost beyond telling. I just couldn’t figure out the format. After the banning of Summer Bloom, I mostly played Abzan Company, as it resembled the Birthing Pod decks of times long gone. Collected Company adds a lot, but the constrictions it puts on deckbuilding are also its downfall. Not a single deck was head and shoulders above the rest. Every deck had weaknesses that others could exploit, either by being better at something or having better sideboard cards.
This led me to evaluate what I find most important in Modern:
- Have a powerful deck. If it does what you designed it to do, then your opponent should lose quickly after you execute your game plan.
- Be fast, because your opponent will be. If you can knock out each other’s key pieces though, you still need to be able to play a long game.
- Be consistent and resilient. Try to have many cards that can do the same thing or find and replace the cards if they are taken care of by your opponent.
- Have answers. You won’t draw a perfect hand to combo kill your opponent on turn 2 every game with your Goryo’s Vengeance deck, so it is important to be able to interact with your opponent’s game plan to get them off balance just long enough so you can execute your own game plan.
- Do not play into common interactive cards too much if you can help it, or have a way around it. This pretty much comes down to not playing Death Shadow Zoo when everyone runs Chalice of the Void main deck or Bloom Titan when people run Blood Moons, Ghost Quarters, and Fulminator Mages main deck.
Doing something powerful is important, as you are playing with a card pool that has some degenerate stuff going on. This isn’t a beauty contest—it’s a nuclear war. So bring your A-game. Speed and consistency are important because they allow you to do the same thing over and over again before your opponent’s spells can take over. If you can’t do it consistently, then your plan B needs to be very good, as you can’t pick out your starting grip.
With these points in mind I began scouring the top Modern decks. Multiple tries with Eldritch Evolution decks yielded no promises results.
I tried Joel Larsson’s Flash deck, which could do marvelous things, but just wasn’t powerful enough.
Abzan Company had troubles with Kalitas.
Decks like Elves, Merfolk, Jund, Tron, Infect, Suicide Zoo, Burn, and Jeskai were all on my radar, but I felt ill-equipped to run decks that I knew someone else would have a better list, and could play better than I could.
Do you know that feeling? You’re looking to an upcoming tournament, but somehow cannot find a deck that fits you. That was my life for the past 4 weeks. Until the Wednesday before the GP…
Scouring 5-0 lists from Competitive Modern leagues, this diamond in the rough came to the surface:
Could it be true? Had my eyes deceived me? The list looked like it could use some help, but there was something there. Sure, main-deck Hornet Queen, a Gemstone Caverns, and Kessig Wolf Run weren’t the best, but the base was solid. The sideboard was also all over the place, so a lot of work needed to be done over the course of the next few days.
I played my first League with the list above, with just a minor change. I ran Sunhome, Fortress of Legion over the Kessig Wolf Run. Your double Amulet draws almost demand that you kill your opponent on the same turn. Sunhome turns Primeval Titan into a 20-damage dealing monster in that scenario, while Kessig Wolf Run doesn’t.
So I joined the League and after 25 minutes I’d lost my first 2 rounds. 0-2. Sure, I was rusty, and MTGO messing up by breaking Amulet of Vigor (again…) didn’t help.
The most important thing that I took away from playing this deck was that I was having fun! This facet of the game really doesn’t get enough attention. It isn’t always about playing the best deck or breaking a format. You are playing this game because you enjoy it. After finding the Amulet list online and playing it in the first League, I was sold. Instead of waiting for a GP I envisioned wasn’t going to be any fun, it became a tournament that was going to be great no matter my record.
But still. Maybe this wasn’t the second coming of the turn-2 Titan (Spoiler: it wasn’t). Eventually I managed a 3-2 record in a League. After some tweaking I came closer to the list I would play at the GP. After 5 more Leagues I settled on the following list:
- Main-deck Slaughter Pact: Modern revolves around creatures. Having a free, tutorable removal spell is worth a lot and saves you from a lot of unpleasant outcomes. As weird as it may sound, an 8/6 double strike, vigilant trampler is sometimes just not big enough to bash through your opponent’s board.
- Main-deck Engineered Explosives: This card saves you from all kinds of wonky main-deck configurations your opponent can muster, from Liliana threatening an ultimate to blasting away an army built by Suicide Zoo that would decimate your face. I have used it to destroy Blood Moons, Restoration Angels, Bogles, and Affinity boards. Explosives pulls the most weight as a Tolaria West target.
- 2 basic Forest: For a lot of decks, Path to Exile is their main answer to interact with your Primeval Titans. Moreover, having a 2nd Forest main deck also frees up room in your sideboard. You need 2 Forest in your 75 if you want to stand a decent chance to beat Blood Moon and Path to Exile.
- 0 Explore: This card is just too clunky for Modern. Too often you can only play it on turn 3. When you have Amulet all it does is cycle—it doesn’t generate mana. Ramping for a single land just isn’t enough. Modern is too fast and too unforgiving to tap out to play an additional land. You need to be either casting Ancient Stirrings or Serum Visions to do broken things the next turn, or play Azusa and Sakura-Tribe Scout so that you can use your land drops to generate immediate effect.
- 1 Spell Pierce: If I could find room, I’d run a 2nd, but the list is tight. You aren’t as explosive as you once were. Therefore you need interaction that doesn’t come with an upkeep cost of 3UU. Spell Pierce best fits that role. It counters their counter, and it stops Thoughtseize and Liliana. The cherry on top is the Suicide Zoo player that tries to kill you with a Temur Battle Rage but instead, well, doesn’t.
This list has its flaws. You have a lot of trouble beating Infect and Death’s Shadow Aggro. Elves is not a great matchup. Jeskai and Tron are also a lot worse than they used to be.
Well, you ask, what does this deck beat then? Jund, Abzan, Chord/Company decks, Burn, Merfolk, Zoo, Delver, RG Valakut are all very good matchups. Affinity and Ad Nauseaum are more even.
But this will only stay true for as long as people do not respect the existence of this deck. As long as people aren’t running enough cards that interact with big mana decks, this deck remains great.
For the future, I would try to fit a 2nd (and maybe a 3rd) Engineered Explosives in the sideboard. That card allows you to interact with Death’s Shadow Zoo and Infect, which are your worst matchups. You can cut the 2nd Thragtusk, as it is mostly there as a threat versus aggro decks and Burn, where finding it with Summoner’s Pact is good enough most of the times.
With the removal of Summer Bloom and the addition of Sakura-Tribe Scout, some new lines of play have opened that were not possible before.
- You can play lands in your upkeep to pay for Pacts you played in the previous turn cycle. This comes up pretty often when you want to play 2 or more Pacts in a single turn.
- You can get the land drop out of your Scouts while trading with Dark Confidants.
- You don’t need to always fetch Khalni Garden against Liliana decks, as Sakura-Tribe Scout is also very good at being sacrifice fodder after its job is done.
- You can now add any color of mana during your opponent’s turn to your mana pool, even if you are tapped out. People were not so pleasantly surprised by Dismembers, Swan Songs, Spell Pierce, or unexpected Engineered Explosives activations.
- End-of-draw-step Bojuka Bog is just as great as it sounds.
The core of your deck is pretty big, and sideboarding is pretty fluid. Since your deck is synergy based, there are a lot of cards you cannot sideboard out. The only cards I have ever sideboarded out are:
2 Ancient Stirrings
1 Cavern of Souls
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Golgari Rot Farm
1 Hive Mind
1 Khalni Garden
1 Pact of Negation
1 Radiant Fountain
1 Sakura-Tribe Scout
1 Simian Spirit Guide
1 Slaughter Pact
1 Spell Pierce
The first lesson is that in most matchups you don’t need as many lands as you run main deck. In most cases, I shave 2-3 lands that aren’t needed to put in some sideboard cards. I think 24 lands is the bare minimum you can run after board, but usually you have 25 lands. Cavern of Souls is not necessary versus decks without counters. Ghost Quarter isn’t necessary versus decks with no creaturelands or Urza lands. Basic Forest isn’t needed versus decks where you don’t expect Ghost Quarter, Blood Moon, or Path to Exile. Don’t be afraid to board out Golgari Rot Farm if you don’t have black cards in your deck after sideboarding.
If, after shaving some lands that aren’t needed in the matchup, there are still more cards I want to bring in, I check how fast the matchup is. If it is slow and attrition-based (like Jund), I remove the Simian Spirit Guide, a Sakura-Tribe Scout, or the Spell Pierce.
If it is fast, I check what type of interaction is needed. Versus Death Shadow Zoo and Infect, you need Slaughter Pact and Spell Pierce—versus Ad Nauseam, Slaughter Pact and Hive Mind are bad and Pact of Negation and Spell Pierce are excellent. Versus Affinity, Spell Pierce and Pact of Negation are bad, so depending on the matchup you can shave the bad interactive cards and put in cards that are useful. One of the great things about this deck is that it can find most of the sideboard cards easily due to Summoner’s Pact, Ancient Stirrings, Serum Visions, and Tolaria West. So even if you only run 1 Grafdigger’s Cage or Engineered Explosives, you will see that card most matches you board it in.
So how about the GP? It was glorious. I chose this deck because I wanted to have fun and there weren’t too many Fulminator Mages and Blood Moons around. So I sit down for round 1 and of course I play versus a Skred red deck with 4 Blood Moons after board. I luckily beat him because Blood Moon is only in play in one of the sideboarded games. 2nd round? My opponent sees half their deck in a drawn-out game versus a midrange Zoo deck. I beat him, but it turns out that I dodged 4 Blood Moons that game. Sweet. These were also the last Blood Moons I saw all tournament.
During the day, I have to say that I was blessed with my pairings. I mostly played versus Jund, Eldritch Evolution decks, and Burn. These are all great matchups. I cruise to an easy 8-0. Then I get paired against Death’s Shadow Aggro and the wheels fall off. His draws weren’t great, but I kept horrible hands and my deck decided that I had used up all my luck for that day.
On Day 2, I played versus a myriad of decks, losing to Elves, as the deck apparently can’t beat the Spellskite–Selfless Spirit tandem in a timely fashion. But after beating Jund, Death’s Shadow Aggro, Dredge, and Mardu Resto-Kiki, I found myself at 12-2 and in 8th place.
A win would surely put me in the Top 8. I played against a Jeskai deck that game 1, on the play, went suspend Ancestral Visions, Lightning Bolt your Sakura-Tribe Scout, Snapcaster-Bolt your Azusa, Path your Sakura-Tribe Scout, in your draw step tap out to Vendilion Clique you.
In play I had an Amulet of Vigor, a Forest, and a Tolaria West. In hand I had Summoner’s Pact, Azusa, Primeval Titan, and Gruul Turf. With that setup I can drop Azusa, but not do much else. Still, my opponent takes Azusa with Vendilion Clique and I draw a mystery card. It turns out that I draw the 2nd Amulet of Vigor, which makes me able to fetch Azusa with the Summoner’s Pact, drop Titan, and make it a 10/6 with Slayer’s Stronghold and Boros Garrison, attack and kill my opponent with Sunhome, Fortress of Legion and Vesuva before his Ancestral Visions comes off suspend.
That’s a pretty sweet moment to get lucky. But it doesn’t end there. In game 2 my opponent has to mulligan and gets stuck on 3 lands. Meanwhile I draw Spell Pierce, Pact of Negation, and Swan Song to easily push through my Primeval Titan and beat him with it. So I made my 3rd GP Top 8. Right?
Two people jumped me in the standings. I ended up 9th. In the first split second I was angry over how unlucky I was. But then I realized how much fun I had this weekend, how a trip to Hawaii was on the radar, and that I was back on the PT. And of course how lucky I am. I took a gamble playing Amulet Titan and it paid off. I saw 0 Fulminator Mages and after round 2, 0 Blood Moons and 0 Ghost Quarters.
As long as the metagame does not respect big mana decks, you can play this one. It is pretty good in the field. As soon as people are preparing for it again, the deck will not be as powerful as it used to be. So choose wisely for this PPTQ season and the last WMCQ.