This weekend I was lucky enough to play in a Team Unified Modern event with two of my good friends, Drew Martin and Dr. Anand “Karnfather” Alagappan (famous for his completely-altered Tron deck). Anand, who quite apart from his Modern deck choice is in every other respect an excellent bloke, was of course locked into Tron, and after Drew decided to play Abzan Company, I was happily able to play my favorite Modern deck, White-Blue Control.
Unified Modern is still in this very weird place where the “Unified” part doesn’t really impose any restrictions on deckbuilding, just deck choice. There are so many discrete archetypes with little-to-no overlap that it’s possible to play more or less whatever you like—the default position of Ancient Stirring deck, fetch/shock deck, and then something like Humans is the starting point, but the flexibility of fetch/shock decks make finding two separate archetypes trivial. I’m expecting the upcoming GP Liverpool to demonstrate just how wide open even Unified Modern can be.
In any case, I was happy to lock in White-Blue Control, and started to grind through League after Leagu. I didn’t do a lot of winning—which is normal—but I also didn’t enjoy the process, which is not normal. I just never felt like what I was doing was particularly relevant. As sweet as it was to miracle an early Terminus against Humans, I always felt a touch behind.
Snapcaster Mage and I have had a close relationship for a long time, weathering the good with the bad. I’ve resisted cutting even a single copy in my lists for a long time, but when I saw a list that played zero Snapcasters and tentatively ran it through aLeague, I was convinced. Snapcaster Mage, despite being inordinately powerful in the right situation, kept me behind the pace in far too many games, and made me feel like my plays were lacking relevance.
Cutting Snapcaster Mage altogether wasn’t an easy decision, but as it enabled a next-level attack of the Modern field, I committed to the change and didn’t look back. Here’s what I played during the weekend.
Playing Rest in Peace in a Modern main deck is bonkers. Sure, sometimes you draw it in a matchup like Humans and feel like a cloth-eared buffoon, but slamming it on turn 2 against Dredge, KCI, Hollow One, Hardened Scales, Storm, or Death’s Shadow feels great, and it even has marginal upside against Jund, Rock, White-Blue, Infect, Affinity, Mardu, and various other fringe decks!
Having such a powerful effect available in game 1 felt enormously unfair. It felt unfair when Dredge players would snap-concede on turn 2, it felt unfair when Hollow One players were forced to pay full retail for delve creatures, and it felt especially unfair when I’d have two copies in my opening hand against Tron and questioned my life choices. The amount of graveyard abuse in Modern is truly ridiculous, and even turning Tarmogoyfs into 0/1s provided real, tangible value.
Sacrificing Snapcaster Mage at the altar of main deck graveyard hate improved the deck in many respects, but did come at a real cost. While Rest in Peace did provide a huge, often game-winning impact, I still felt the loss of my favorite creature of all time. In longer games, all you want to draw is a Snapcaster to lock things up no matter what happens, and losing that option wasn’t great.
On top of that, removing my favorite 2-mana counterspell in Logic Knot didn’t feel great either. I hate Mana Leak, and playing two copies was truly miserable. In contrast, extra main decked Negates were always amazing—in the matchups they don’t matter, a single Terminus is usually enough to wrap things up. White-Blue has such a favorable matchup against creature-based decks that having “dead” cards like Negate and Rest in Peace isn’t such a liability.
Besides, reconfiguring the deck around the lack of Snapcaster allowed other cards to shine. Hieroglyphic Illumination, a real stinker as far as Snapcaster is concerned, becomes much better, and cutting Oust and Condemn altogether also improved the deck as a whole. I think I’ll take this further and cut Timely Reinforcements from the main deck, as the card usually sucks and I’d rather just blast them with Verdict next turn anyway.
Even when Rest in Peace is bad, clogging up your hand and making you feel foolish, it’s still not the end of the world. Just as Jace can Brainstorm away dead sweepers in the mirror, he can clear your hand of Rest in Peace when it’s not necessary. Overall, the inclusion of Rest in Peace strengthens the deck against the field, and I recommend its inclusion moving forward—not, however, at the cost of Snapcaster Mage.
Ultimately, I’m not content to cut Snapcaster Mage from the 75. I’m happy to pre-board against graveyard decks, but I still want snip-snap against a wide proportion of the format (especially against decks like Jund, where Rest in Peace’s upside is somewhat marginal). As a result, I’m shifting it back to the sideboard as a 3-of, so it can be directly substituted for Rest in Peace as required.
Timely Reinforcements hits the bench to make room for Ancestral Vision, which is a better call against the slower decks that Terminus doesn’t immediately deal with. A second Clique comes in to apply extra pressure, offer information about whether they “have it,” and cycle away dead copies of Terminus in the mirror. I don’t like Detention Sphere, principally because it can’t hit other Detention Spheres and I don’t want another sometimes-dead card in the mirror.
I also cut Mana Leak. I hate this card. It’s good on turn 2 and then never, ever again. In that case, why not play a card that is also good on turn 2, is never going to be a dead draw, and is another way to trigger a Terminus? Censor is an experimental pick, to be sure, but in the abstract it seems like a sound inclusion over Mana Leak.
All in all, I’m intrigued to see the future of main deck Rest in Peace in Modern. I still think it’s the right call, but my strictly objective worldview, untainted as it is with personal, emotional bias towards card I’ve played with for years, tells me that cutting Snapcaster altogether isn’t the right path to take. What are your thoughts on the archetype? Are you playing main deck Rest in Peace? Can you get behind sideboarded Snapcaster Mages? I’m very keen to hear what people think!