Doran in Modern

Feature Article from Craig Wescoe
Craig Wescoe
2/13/2015 11:01:00 AM
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I played Doran this past weekend in the Modern portion of Pro Tour Fate Reforged. I only went 6-4 with it, but if I could do it over again I would play the same deck with a handful of changes. Today I am going to talk about why Doran is currently well-positioned, what changes I would make to my Pro Tour build, and how to sideboard against the most commonly played decks in the metagame.


Why Doran?

For reference, here is the list I ran at the Pro Tour:

Doran by Craig Wescoe
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Doran, the Siege Tower
4 Siege Rhino
4 Spellskite
4 Tarmogoyf
Creatures [20]
4 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Planeswalkers [4]
4 Abrupt Decay
4 Lingering Souls
4 Path to Exile
Spells [12]
1 Forest (266)
1 Godless Shrine
4 Marsh Flats
1 Murmuring Bosk
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Plains (250)
2 Stirring Wildwood
1 Swamp (258)
1 Temple Garden
2 Treetop Village
1 Vault of the Archangel
4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Windswept Heath
Lands [24]
Deck Total [60]


1 Back to Nature
2 Baneslayer Angel
1 Cranial Extraction
2 Darkblast
1 Harmonize
2 Memoricide
3 Stony Silence
3 Timely Reinforcements
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!

The top deck in the format is Abzan Midrange and we are a small favorite in game one because we have four copies of Lingering Souls and also because our turn one mana accelerant puts us on the offense quickly and then protects our threats from Liliana's -2 ability. My board plan was not as good as it could have been for this matchup. More on this in the sideboard section.

We are bigger favorites against the next most popular decks: Affinity, Burn, Infect, Zoo, and Twin.

Lingering Souls shines as much against affinity as it does against Abzan but for different reasons. Instead of it acting as a powerful attrition card that matches up well against Abzan's removal spells, against Affinity it provides blockers for opposing Signal Pests, Ornithopters, Vault Skirges, and Memnites. Doran, the Siege Tower also renders Cranial Plating a blank Magic card while Spellskite blocks Etched Champion all day long. Post-board we also get Stony Silence and Darkblast.

Burn is a close matchup game 1, especially if they can Skullcrack us at just the right time. This is one of the matchups where not having Inquisition of Kozilek or Thoughtseize can sometimes cost us game one. We can often fight through Skullcrack though, or force them into tapping out for a different spell the turn we want to gain life. The game plan is to take as little damage as possible and then get out of burn range with Sorin, Solemn Visitor. Post-board we bring in Timely Reinforcements.

Infect showed up in much bigger numbers than expected, which happens to be great for Doran since we run four main deck Spellskites, a card that infect essentially cannot beat, especially in game one. You just pay irrelevant life points to Redirect all their pump spells to the Spellskite. We also have Path to Exile and Lingering Souls to keep from randomly dying to five hits from a naked Inkmoth Nexus. And we sideboard in Darkblast to make things even worse for them.

Zoo can be a close matchup pre-board if they get off to a fast start, especially if they are the Ghor-Clan Rampager version. We have big blockers and cheap removal spells though and Sorin can essentially put a game out of reach in the midgame. Then post-board we get Timely Reinforcements.

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We have all the tools to beat Twin, between Path to Exile, Abrupt Decay, and Spellskite. Twin is always a tough deck to face though and it has a surprising ability to find a window to victory despite an opponent holding a grip full of answers. The matchup is at least 50/50 though, even without discard spells. The more copies of Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize we run, the higher the win percentages go in our favor.

Our tougher matchups are the land decks: Tron, Scapeshift, and Titan Bloom.

I tried Fulminator Mage and it was decent, but I ended up going with Memoricide and Cranial Extraction instead because it's more powerful against Scapeshift, which is the one deck I expected to face the most out of these three decks. In hindsight and given the metagame distribution that showed up at the Pro Tour, I would likely default back to Fulminator Mage. Splashing red for sideboard Blood Moon or blue for sideboard Negates is also a thing worth considering if Fulminator Mage ends up not having a high enough impact in these matchups.

As you can see, Doran has either even or favorable matchups against most of the top decks being played right now, which is why I chose Doran and would stick with Doran. It also presents a fast enough clock that it can punish opponents for stumbling and can randomly win races against decks that are off our radar.


What changes would I make to the deck?

In my in-depth Modern Metagame Analysis prior to the Pro Tour, I predicted how represented each deck would be at the Pro Tour. My predictions were, for the most part, pretty accurate. Despite picking Abzan to be the biggest deck, I still underestimated just how big it was going to be. I overestimated Scapeshift, Amulet, Bogles, and Merfolk while underestimating Infect. Most everything else was pretty spot-on. Based on this new data about the metagame, there are some changes I would make to the deck.

-4 Birds of Paradise
+4 Noble Hierarch

This is a change that teammate Steve Mann tried to convince me to make the night before the Pro Tour. Noble allows me to attack into opposing Tarmogoys and to generally be able to close out games quicker. I felt that the black mana from Birds of Paradise was too important and that being a flyer could also have useful applications with Doran and Sorin. In retrospect I was wrong and Steve was right. There ended up being more scenarios where having a Noble Hierarch would have been much more relevant than Birds of Paradise. So the first change I would make is to switch these out.

-1 Vault of the Archangel
+1 Overgrown Tomb

Vault of the Archangel was intended to act as a 5th copy of Sorin, Solemn Visitor against Zoo and Burn decks, but in reality it never really had an impact on any of the games. There were a couple times where having the second Overgrown Tomb in the deck would have been important though. Having a third green source to fetch with Marsh Flats would have been relevant, especially in post-board games when people bring in Fulminator Mages (which for some reason they always do). It also helps against Tectonic Edge, Ghost Quarter, Karn Liberated, or any other land destruction plan an opponent is on. The scenario that comes up the most with Vault of the Archangel, however, is simply wanting to cast Doran, the Siege Tower and not being able to with a colorless land. The upside just isn't there, and I'm happy with 24 lands in the deck. So Overgrown Tomb gets the nod over Vault of the Archangel.

-2 SB Baneslayer Angel
-1 SB Harmonize
+3 SB Phyrexian Arena

I tested post-board games against Abzan prior to the Pro Tour and determined that Phyrexian Arena was the card I wanted most for the matchup. Then the night before I decided Harmonize and Baneslayer Angel would be just as good and so I switched. I ended up losing to a Sultai Midrange deck where Phyrexian Arena would have been an all-star and I almost lost to an Abzan deck for the same reason. The Arena is excellent against Abzan and much higher impact than Harmonize or Baneslayer Angel, so I would switch back to that.

-1 SB Cranial Extraction
-2 SB Memoricide
-1 SB Back to Nature
+4 SB Fulminator Mage

As I mentioned in the previous section, the reasoning behind running the Memoricide effects over Fulminator Mage is that it is a better card against Scapeshift. Given the prevalence of Titan Bloom decks and Tron decks relative to Scapeshift decks, I would switch back to the more versatile sideboard card. Scapeshift decks often bring in Leyline of Sanctity against us anyway, thinking we have Thoughtseize effects in our deck, which would incidentally blank our Memoricide plan. I don't think I would bring Fulminators in against Abzan, but I would bring them in against various combo decks (Storm) where we have an abundance of lower impact cards in the matchup.

Back to Nature was essentially a hedge against Bogles in case four Spellskite wasn't enough, but given the lack of popularity of that deck, I see no reason to have extra sideboard hate for it, so that card can easily come out for the fourth Fulminator Mage. And if you don't want to run Fulminators, at least replace Back to Nature with a fourth Timely Reinforcements or a fourth Phyrexian Arena.

So here's how the updated list looks:

Doran by Craig Wescoe
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Doran, the Siege Tower
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Siege Rhino
4 Spellskite
4 Tarmogoyf
Creatures [20]
4 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Planeswalkers [4]
4 Abrupt Decay
4 Lingering Souls
4 Path to Exile
Spells [12]
1 Forest (266)
1 Godless Shrine
4 Marsh Flats
1 Murmuring Bosk
2 Overgrown Tomb
1 Plains (250)
2 Stirring Wildwood
1 Swamp (258)
1 Temple Garden
2 Treetop Village
4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Windswept Heath
Lands [24]
Deck Total [60]


2 Darkblast
4 Fulminator Mage
3 Phyrexian Arena
3 Stony Silence
3 Timely Reinforcements
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!



How do I sideboard?

Abzan

+3 Phyrexian Arena
+2 Darkblast
-4 Spellskite
-1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor

None of your cards are bad, but Spellskite is the least important since it doesn't block well in the matchup and the best case scenario is that it protects another card from a removal spell. I'd rather just play another copy of a card it would protect instead. Noble Hierarch is good for the reasons mentioned in the first section. Darkblast is good against Dark Confidant and when attacking Tarmogoyfs or Siege Rhinos into each other.

Burn

+3 Timely Reinforcements
-3 Lingering Souls

Both of these cards serve a similar role except Timely Reinforcements also gains six life. If you play a fourth copy of Timely Reinforcements in the sideboard, it would come in over the fourth Lingering Souls. Between Timely Reinforcements and Sorin, Solemn Visitor, it's very hard for Burn to keep us from stabilizing.

Infect

+2 Darkblast
+2 Phyrexian Arena
+2 Fulminator Mage
-4 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
-2 Siege Rhino

Sorin is the easy cut and Darkblast is the easy add. The rest I'm not certain on. Siege Rhino is slow and requires us to tap four mana on our turn, which is generally not what we want to do since our game plan often involves holding up mana for removal. Fulminator Mage can kill Inkmoth Nexus, Pendelhaven, or their untapped land at an opportune moment. Phyrexian Arena seems great since our life total is generally an expendable resource in the matchup and getting ahead on cards would put a game out of reach and find us more removal and Spellskites. This is theory though. I have not tested the matchup with Fulminators or Arenas. It is already a great matchup just with Spellskites and removal though.

Affinity

+2 Darkblast
+3 Stony Silence
+2 Fulminator Mage
-4 Siege Rhino
-2 Spellskite
-1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor

This is another matchup where the Fulminator Mages have not yet been tested but in theory I would like a couple copies to kill Inkmoth Nexus. Spellskite is our only way to block Etched Champion, though if we have Doran in play it's likely not an issue since Cranial Plating would be dead. So it may be correct to cut all four copies of Spellskite. Stony Silence is the nut, Lingering Souls is also outstanding, and Darkblast is a premier removal spell against Affinity. I probably want to keep all four copies of Sorin in post-board, though three is fine.

Zoo

+3 Timely Reinforcements
-3 Lingering Souls

Pretty much the same logic that applies to Burn applies here. Timely Reinforcements is excellent, as is Sorin, Solemn Visitor. Our creatures are big and our removal is cheap, so staying alive into the midgame and using Sorin and Rhino to gain life is our game plan.

Twin

+3 Phyrexian Arena
+2 Darkblast
-4 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
-1 Siege Rhino

This is the matchup where we really want hand disruption. Their game plan is to sculpt a hand and wait for an opportunity to go for it. This means unless we have Spellskite on the board, we have to keep mana up for Path to Exile or Abrupt Decay in order to avoid losing out of nowhere. Phyrexian Arena plays great against this game plan because it allows us to draw into enough lands to cast our spells while holding up mana for removal spells. This strategy forces the opponent to go for it prematurely and lose to our removal spells. The danger of Phyrexian Arena is that it can walk us into their Backup Plan of burning us out with Lightning Bolts and Snapcaster Mage on more Lightning Bolts. Darkblast is good against Pestermite, Grim Lavamancer, and Snapcaster Mage.

Tron

+3 Stony Silence
+4 Fulminator Mage
-1 Abrupt Decay
-4 Spellskite
-2 Lingering Souls

Stony Silence is typically great on the play and a bit too slow on the draw (but still worth bringing in). This is because they can crack their Expedition Map in response to the Stony Silence if they're on the play and thus find Tron for their third turn Karn Liberated (which conveniently blows up Stony Silence if the enchantment is a problem, or it just starts blowing up our lands). Fulminator Mage is another way to keep the opponent off Tron and is especially effective when we're on the play since it allows us to break up Tron before they are able to assemble it. First turn Noble Hierarch can allow us to get ahead by a turn and break serve with Fulminator Mage even when we're on the draw, so it's important to leave all copies of Noble Hierarch (or Birds of Paradise) in.

Scapeshift

+3 Phyrexian Arena
+4 Fulminator Mage
-4 Abrupt Decay
-3 Path to Exile

I would like an eighth sideboard card for this matchup so we can take out all our removal spells, but we currently don't have one. If the opponent has any targets for our removal spells we can leave some of them in and take out Sorin, Solemn Visitors instead. We have a lot of mediocre cards in this matchup and we would really like Thoughtseize here. Phyrexian Arena is not great but it's better than the removal spells. Memoricide is excellent in this matchup since we can name Scapeshift and essentially have lots of time to find a way to kill the opponent. Fulminator Mage is not nearly as good, but it can basically serve as a Time Walk, which is often enough for that last attack phase to kill the opponent. Spellskite can also play the role of Time Walk by threatening to Redirect all the Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle triggers to itself.

Titan Bloom

+4 Fulminator Mage
-4 Sorin, Solemn Visitor

This matchup is mostly a race with some minimal amount of disruption from our side. Spellskite can keep the opponent from targeting their Primeval Titan with Slayers' Stronghold, Path to Exile can kill the Primeval Titan, and Abrupt Decay can kill an Amulet of Vigor or Azusa, Lost but Seeking. This is another matchup where Thoughtseize would really shine. It's still not a terrible matchup but certainly one we would rather dodge.


Conclusion

The updated version of Doran is a very good deck in the current metagame. Thoughtseize is the one card I would like to add back into the deck somewhere, but it's unclear where. It improves our combo matchups, but if we cut a card like Sorin, Solemn Visitor for it then we are much worse against Zoo, Burn, and some of the other aggro strategies. Depending on what you expect in your local metagame, that switch is reasonable. If you do cut Sorin, you definitely want the fourth Timely Reinforcements in the sideboard to Recoup some of the lost percentage points against Lightning Bolt decks (by cutting a Darkblast probably). It might instead be correct to shave a copy of a few cards (Sorin, Spellskite, Abrupt Decay, Siege Rhino) to make room.

Regardless of the exact build you decide on, Doran as an archetype is a great choice right now and the updated list from this article would be an excellent 75 to register in a Modern tournament right now. If I go to Grand Prix Vancouver next weekend it's almost certainly what I would play.

Craig Wescoe

@Nacatls4Life on twitter




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