I just had a déjà vu moment. I suppose that’s normal, all things considered. I had a feeling that I had already written an article about a Taking Turns deck for this very site. Turns out I had.
This time around, I’ll be talking about an updated version of the deck that I recently won an MCQ with. To start, let’s look back at where the deck was back when I last talked about it.
Evolution of Taking Turns in Modern
A lot of things have changed in the format since I wrote that article. Not only has the card pool has grown quite a bit, the metagame has shifted significantly. There are still many linear and fast decks out there, but now there are also many slower and more interactive decks that weren’t really a part of the meta back then.
In the past year or so, I had been dabbling with Blue-White Control. U/W was back on the map, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor gave any blue deck a very good control plan (I used to splash red just so I could play the “red Jace, the Mind Sculptor” a.k.a. Chandra, Torch of Defiance, so I was pretty happy the day when the OG Jace was unbanned in Modern). At some point, though, I started jonesing for some time walks.
After tuning the As Foretold build, I figured that I wanted to try something slightly different to combat these blue decks. At first, I was playing a more traditional build: no As Foretold, but with Dictate of Kruphix instead providing the juice. This approach was less explosive but also more stable than relying on As Foretold + Ancestral Vision/Wheel of Fate for card draw. The main reason for the switch was because blue was back in the metagame, and I didn’t want to give my opponent seven new cards to find a counterspell for my time walk. This version of the deck plays more of a draw-go game but looks to win in a similar fashion by taking all the turns. These Dictate lists were pretty good, and I played them on and off for a bit.
Enter War of the Spark. With the printing of so many powerful cards I now had to beat, I decided to try them out for myself. One planeswalker in particular sparked my interest: Narset, Parter of Veils. Facing her static ability from the other side with a Dictate of Kruphix in play felt terrible, but playing her myself and shutting down a lot of commonly played cards felt awesome. It didn’t take long before my Day’s Undoing had a new best friend.
The more I played these two cards together, the more I realized that I didn’t really need all this extra card draw from the Howling Mines. Howling Mine and Dictate of Kruphix will speed up the game and make for a more consistent combo, but you still need to get to 5 mana to cast Time Warp. As a result, you are forced to play Exhaustion, Gigadrowse, etc. just to stay alive while your opponent draws two+ cards each turn, which is fine until your opponent starts interacting with your combo engine.
So I started experimenting by shaving the Dictates and the Exhaustions one by one until I had none left. Drawing cards is the best thing in the world, but you only really need to outdraw your opponent enough to keep yourself ahead. I realized I could transform Taking Turns into a control shell with a combo finish, relying on the inevitability that the time walks provide and focusing on protecting my powerful planeswalkers. Instead of speeding the game up, I wanted to slow it down.
I looked for stand-alone good cards for early interaction, cards that would keep my opponent off their game plan while trading up on mana or netting me card advantage. Remand found its way back into the deck, and it was a perfect fit for what I wanted to do against the slower decks of the format like Tron, U/x Control, midrange etc. I still needed answers to the decks that wanted to go under me, especially those looking to do so with creatures.
Leading up to the MCQ, I was testing all kinds of variants. I have always been a fan of the low-to-the-ground versions with Snapcaster Mage beatdowns as the main way to close out games. Instead of maxing out on interactive spells like UW Control or Blue Moon, the idea was to have “enough” to survive and then go off rather than answering each and every threat that my opponent might have. Instead of sweepers like Wrath of God, I’d use Time Warp.
The biggest question was which 1-mana removal spell to include (and thus which color to splash); Fatal Push, Path to Exile, or Lightning Bolt. I felt it was unacceptable in a deck like this to have a hand filled with creature removal in a matchup without targets for it. With the advent of new planeswalkers I had to kill on sight, I opted for Lightning Bolt. While it is the most conditional card of the three options when it comes to killing creatures, for my other purposes (removing planeswalkers or ending the game), it was excellent. I enjoy the elegance of a deck list without any slots dedicated to pure win conditions, where instead each piece of the deck is a part in card-drawing, turn-taking machine, and Snapcaster Mage + Lightning Bolt fit nicely into this plan.
Part the Waterveil is another commonly played card in the archetype that does both progress the combo and provide a win con, but at 9 mana I think it is too clunky. The flexibility of Snapcaster Mage also helps switch roles between tempo, combo, and control whenever you need to. Doubling up on your best spells is great in a format like Modern where the ability to dig for the cards you need is limited (compared to the other Eternal formats, at least).
Ixalan offered a reprint of an old favorite, Opt. I made the decision to play it over Serum Visions because I’d much rather play my cantrip and Snapcaster Mage + cantrip at instant speed. It’s also a way to play around a resolved Narset on the other side of the table. I would love to fit both in the deck (with Serum Visions over Sleight of Hand because of Temporal Mastery), but I can’t find the room.
Finally, I decided to add two Force of Negation which would help me against the fast combo decks, Tron, and random annoying non-creature permanents that I would otherwise be unable to remove once in play. Force of Negation is also excellent in some of the fair matchups when I have a window to tap out for a bomb, but am scared of what my opponent might top deck. The card disadvantage is not a huge deal in this deck where cards like Ancestral Visions or Temporal Mastery sometimes get stuck in your hand. I am still testing it, and it might be destined for the sideboard instead, but it’s very powerful.
Taking Turns in Modern
1st Place at MCQ
4 Sulfur Falls 4 Scalding Tarn 1 Mikokoro, Center of the Sea 1 Polluted Delta 1 Steam Vents 1 Flooded Strand 9 Island 1 Mountain 4 Snapcaster Mage 4 Opt 4 Lightning Bolt 4 Ancestral Vision 4 Remand 2 Force of Negation 2 Day's Undoing 2 Narset, Parter of Veils 2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor 2 Cryptic Command 4 Time Warp 4 Temporal Mastery Sideboard 1 Niv-Mizzet, Parun 2 Abrade 4 Thing in the Ice/Awoken Horror 2 Pyroclasm 2 Spell Pierce 4 Ravenous Trap
When I cut Serum Visions, I initially thought Thing in the Ice would be too difficult to flip, but I was wrong. I think the card is still great in this deck for many reasons. First, it will be a bit of a surprise so your opponent is likely to side out their removal. It also blocks fairly well, protecting your planeswalkers. Bouncing is extremely relevant to buy time and as a way to deal with hate bears of all kinds (most notably Gaddock Teeg, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and Meddling Mage). Combined with a Snapcaster (which you get to recast when Thing in the Ice flips!), a Lightning Bolt, and a Time Warp, that’s nearly 20 damage out of nowhere. In order to have it on turn 2 as often as possible, I think it is correct to play four copies. It did put some constraints on deckbuilding, though. For example, I chose to not play Engineered Explosives in the sideoard because it will not flip my Thing in the Ice.
I used to have a mix of two Surgical Extraction, one Relic of Progenitus, and one Tormod’s Crypt in my sideboard. Both Dredge and Phoenix were commonly played and extremely dangerous decks, so I knew that I wanted a lot of graveyard hate. I also knew the Hogaak Bridgevine deck was broken even though I had played against it only once. In a deck with four Snapcaster Mage, I wanted to leverage Surgical Extraction, but I was told by my friend Callum Smith that the Hogaak deck had too many different game plans for Surgical Extraction to be effective. He also told me it is pretty easy to play around on-board graveyard hate like the artifacts I had. In order to beat Hogaak, I needed Ravenous Trap.
One week before MF Copenhagen, I went 6-3 in a Modern MCQ, losing three matches to Humans. All the games were very close, but it often came down to me not having a removal spell to keep my life total high enough or not having an answer to Meddling Mage or Kitesail Freebooter to unlock my hand. For that tournament, I had decided on Anger of the Gods over Pyroclasm because it could kill bigger creatures and also exile everything out of Dredge. The biggest drawback to Anger of the Gods is that it’s harder to cast than Pyroclasm in a deck where red is the splash color. I was already in the process of revamping my manabase as up until this point my list had no basic mountains and only ten red sources in total. Adding a Mountain would be good in a meta full of Field of Ruin and Ghost Quarter, not to mention that having a basic mountain available against an aggressive deck could be the difference between life and death when the only alternative is to fetch an untapped Steam Vents. I cut Gemstone Caverns and an Island to make room for the basic mountain and another fetchland.
30 minutes before the MCQ I had second thoughts. 3 mana is a world of difference from 2 mana against Humans. Anger coming down one turn later (or more) than Pyroclasm would mean that the Humans are likely to grow out of range for the Anger anyway. I was also more interested in removing the utility humans rather than the Thalia’s Lieutenants, Champions of the Parish, or Mantis Riders. With Thing in the Ice on turn 2, I could curve out with Pyroclasm on turn 3 even when facing Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. I switched to Pyroclasm but kept the mana base with 12 red sources
Additional win conditions
In some matchups you want another win con to give yourself the option to attack from another angle. For this tournament, I was trying out Niv-Mizzet, Parun. It was a bit difficult to cast with its triple red mana cost, but for the matchups I wanted it for I figured I would have enough time to cast it. The deck is clunky and weak to countermagic, so once we fall behind against an opposing blue deck it is hard to come back. Niv Mizzet being uncounterable makes a huge difference. I cast it twice during the tournament, but unfortunately both times my opponent had a Path to Exile ready. I wasn’t expecting to see those post-board, but at the same time I don’t think my opponent had any idea what was going on in my deck.
Mulliganing and how you want the game to unfold
This tournament was played with the Vancouver mulligan, but I can only imagine that the new London variant will help this deck a lot. In the dark, you should prioritize lands, Ancestral Vision, Remand, and Opt. Once you’ve figured out what you are up against, it gets a bit trickier.
Some matchups, like Humans, are very unforgiving, where if you stumble and don´t draw any of your good cards, you lose. Against a deck like Jund, it might be the opposite because of the high number of discard spells they usually have. Topdecking Ancestral Vision on the draw after getting Thoughtseized is just gas.
In other matchups you are looking for a key spell, often something that you can pair with Snapcaster Mage, like Lightning Bolt versus Devoted Druid decks or Remand versus Tron. Remember, you should be playing the early game to set up for the late game. Against Ux Control, all you need to dig for is card draw and countermagic. In the late game, you will eventually force the issue with either Ancestral Vision or a miracled Temporal Mastery.
Most decks are worse at playing the draw-go game than you are, so it is all about finding the spots where you tax their mana enough or overwhelm them with card advantage. Be mindful of which cards you present in the early game as hiding information is very advantageous; most opponents will have no idea what’s going on until it’s too late.
Tournament report: Top 8 of the MCQ
Game 1: I had a slow start, but so did my opponent. I cast a Cryptic Command to counter an Arcbound Ravager. It paid off, and I managed to stay alive in the face of an ever-growing army of robots using Cryptic Command’s tap + draw modes. With an Arcbound Ravager in play, my opponent could have simply let Cryptic Command resolve and then animate one of their two Blinkmoth Nexuses, sacrifice everything to the Ravager and then move the counters to one of the creature lands, but they didn’t. Snapcaster Mage + Cryptic Command kept me alive until I could miracle a Temporal Mastery and land a planeswalker the same turn. I proceeded to take all the turns I needed. 1-0
Game 1: In the first game, my opponent had a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben which I Bolted. I managed to stay alive, but on the deciding turn before my Ancestral Vision came off of suspend they got a Phantasmal Image into play copying one of their threats. I had another Lightning Bolt, but I was dead for exactsies regardless of where I pointed it. 0-1
Game 3: In the deciding game, we traded resources back and forth. My life total was pretty high, and I thought Jace was safe with my 3 Snapcaster Mages in play. A Deputy of Detention caught me off guard and got rid of my card-drawing engine. My hope was to find a lethal Lightning Bolt off of Narset, and she delivered. 2-1
Finals: Hogaak Bridgevine
Game 1: Ah, the new bogeyman. I knew this deck was broken and I knew what I had to do. I had no data, so I was a bit scared sitting down on the draw with a mulligan to 5 versus my opponent’s keep of seven cards. They led with Insolent Neonate and sacrificed it to put a Vengevine into the graveyard. Turn 2 was the same, but no second land drop. I somehow stayed alive and resolved Narset which shut off their future Faithless Lootings digging for that second land. Jace showed up as well and it was quite easy from there. 1-0
Game 2: My opponent led with a creature on turn 1 into Altar of Dementia on turn 2. I led with Ancestral Vision into Thing in the Ice. My opponent then cast a Stitcher’s Supplier and sacrificed it saying, “I think I got this”. But they did not, as a Ravenous Trap set them back several turns. I destroyed the Altar and bought myself enough time to have all of the time. I cantripped myself into countermagic and all sorts of protection without really realizing that my opponent was close to dead. Then when I attacked with Snapcaster Mage, my opponent congratulated me on winning the MCQ. I was ecstatic. 2-0
Taking Turns is built to balance enough interactive pieces to stay alive while having as many combo pieces as possible when going off. This balance is constantly changing with the metagame shifts, banning/unbannings, and the printing of new cards. With the restrictive casting costs in the the Taking Turns deck, I have limited my testing mostly to two color versions, but now with Arcum’s Astrolabe and Prismatic Vista from Modern Horizons we can go crazy. I experimented a bit with a 3-color deck using the powerful Wrenn and Six as a sort of a one-sided Howling Mine as well as a removal spell/win con and Ice-Fang Coatl for that very critical turn 2 in matchups where Remand has been sided out.
Some other inclusions I have previously tried before and found lacking at the time include Madcap Experiment + Platinum Emperion, Blood Moon/Spreading Seas, Simian Spirit Guide, and alternate win cons such as Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy or Ral, Izzet Viceroy. Who knows? Maybe these options will be the right choice at some point. In the meantime, there is more than enough room in the deck to experiment. And there’s more than enough time to do so.