Modern Technology – Junk, Zoo, Twin, Infect, and Amulet

This week, I’m actually going to go back a little more than a week and talk about interesting cards from PT Fate Reforged, because I think there are many peculiar choices there that haven’t yet been fully explored. As this column goes on, however, you should expect it to synchronize with weekly events.

#5 – Vault of the Archangel in Junk

With the decrease in popularity of Tron, Scapeshift, and UWR, there’s less need for Tectonic Edge in the Abzan decks. The fact that you play Siege Rhino also means you probably don’t want four colorless lands, and Edge is better when you have multiples. As a result, lots of people swapped their Edges for some normal lands and 2-3 Gavony Townships. Jesse Hampton, however, played Vault of the Archangel in his Top 8 deck:

Jesse only played one of the BW land, but I think this build easily supports 2 if you want them—or perhaps even a mix with Township, like Florian Koch played in the Top 8 of GP Vancouver. I think Township is in general a better land if the board is even or if you’re ahead, but Township will never win you a game in which you’re very far behind, and Vault will.

Imagine a scenario in which you both have Lingering Souls but your opponent has a Township first. In this spot, you’ll always be one turn behind if you have your own Township, but Vault will give you parity. It also works pretty well with the trample you get from Siege Rhino, and if you have the time it seals the game against Burn. Moving forward, I’d expect most Junk decks to play one Vault, unless they have a ton of mana creatures (those are better with Township).

#4 – Hornet Queen in Amulet

When we play Amulet, we’re conditioned to see Summoner’s Pact as either a kill condition with Hive Mind or Primeval Titans 5-8—we don’t really think of it as a tutor. Justin Cohen, however, did. Here’s his PT 2nd-place build:

He has a number of targets (Hornet Queen, Thragtusk, Sigarda, and a Wurmcoil Engine that he cannot get and therefore I have no clue what it’s doing there since it’s weak to Path anyway), but Hornet Queen stands out as the biggest silver bullet here. It’s weak to Lingering Souls, but it can trump Rhinos and Tarmogoyfs all day long, and if it doesn’t win the game by itself, which it’s perfectly capable of doing, at least it buys you enough time to execute any other game plan.

#3 – Tarmogoyf in Infect

The nature of Infect decks makes it really awkward to sideboard in more creatures, since there aren’t many guys with Infect at all and you’re probably playing all the good ones in your main deck. Pantheon solved that with Carrion Call in their sideboard. The Brazilians/Spaniards solved it with… Tarmogoyf! Here’s their list from the PT:

It seems very counterintuitive that you’d want ‘Goyf, but, according to them, it’s usually big enough that it demands a removal spell anyway and, if they don’t have one, they’re just dead to it in a couple swings. People take so much damage against you because they know you are an Infect deck, and your pump spells still work for damage—they’re not as good, but a Might of Old Krosa + Become Immense on Tarmogoyf is usually lethal much like an Infect guy would be. The real upside, of course, is that it’s a great blocker—it brickwalls everything, and your Hierarchs and pump spells will let you attack through opposing ‘Goyfs and Siege Rhinos. I don’t know whether Tarmogoyf is good or not, but the people who played with it said it was, so I’d be willing to give it a try.

#2 – Phyrexian Unlife in the Sideboard of Zoo

All Burn players know how devastating any amount of life gain can be. If the opponent ever resolves a Timely Reinforcements and gains 6 life, it feels like you can no longer win. Phyrexian Unlife is much, much worse. Luckily for Burn players, the only people who play Phyrexian Unlife are the very rare Ad Nauseam players… and Steve Rubin. Here’s his list:

Once upon a time, people had to play Delusions of Mediocrity if they wanted to gain 10 life. Nowadays, you can play Phyrexian Unlife and that’s much more effective because any overkill damage that puts you below 0 is wasted. So, if I’m at 1 life, and you Boros Charm me, I go to -3 – and then your stuff starts having infect, so it effectively gains me 13 life. And the best part? It’s immune to Skullcrack, Flames of the Blood Hand, and Rain of Gore. There’s not one thing they can do about it, other than randomly siding in Destructive Revelry and drawing it, which I strongly think they shouldn’t do. It even has applications against combos like Splinter Twin, since it gives you a whole extra turn, but it’s not likely be good enough there.

I’m not sure whether this card is better than Leyline of Sanctity or not, but it might just be, since it’s much easier to cast if it’s not in your opening hand, and 3 is cheap enough that you will pretty much always get to cast it if you draw it. It seems significantly better than Feed the Clan and Rest for the Weary to me, and, if you don’t want Leyline, I think this is the best Burn hate you can possibly play.

#1 – Humble Defector in Twin

When we selected “Humble Defector” to be the card that represented Tom Martell’s seat in our testing drafts, we never imagined it was actually going to see play at the PT. We did give brief consideration to Jeskai Ascendancy/Humble Defector, but if you can find Ascendancy and untap with that plus a guy in play, you should win regardless, so we dismissed it.

Makihito Mihara, however, went much deeper than we thought—he played the full playset of them, not in Jeskai Ascendancy but in his Twin deck. We don’t have access to Mihara’s full list, but we also know he played black for Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek, though you can play Defector regardless of that (and in fact I think he might be better with Dispels than Inquisitions).

For those who didn’t catch it, the idea is to use Humble Defector’s ability and respond to that with Pestermite or Deceiver Exarch, untapping it and using it again. This will result in you drawing four (or six!) cards before handing control of the Humble Defector to your opponent. Sure, they can draw two, but you’ve already drawn four, and if they draw two you can always draw two more—or four more—next turn.

If you have Humble Defector but no Exarch, you can also make it work with Splinter Twin or Kiki-Jiki by making a Humble Defector token and giving that to your opponent. It will then disappear before he has the chance to use it. If your opponent kills the Humble Defector, well, that’s also not bad for you. You’re playing Twin and it’s awesome if they spend premium removal on your 2-drop. In a Lightning Bolt format it might not be the case, but you’ll gladly trade it for Path to Exile or Abrupt Decay.

Despite that, there is one thing holding Humble Defector back: the fact that you can only use it on your turn. Yeah, it does say that—read it again. This commits you to casting Pestermite or Exarch sorcery speed, and makes sure that they have access to two extra cards on their turn, which is dangerous if you’re playing against any other combo deck. You also have to cut something for them, and if you cut combo protection, the cards you’re giving them might be worth more than the ones you’re drawing yourself (since a Path to Exile undoes 7 mana and 2 cards from you for only one mana). One of Twin’s greatest strengths is that it can pass and then decide what to do depending on what the opponent did, and when you tap out on your turn then you lose a lot of that. Therefore, I don’t think it’s quite good enough, but it’s certainly very interesting.

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