Going Rogue in Modern

Feature Article from Seth Manfield
Seth Manfield
7/7/2017 11:02:00 AM
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We know about the Death's Shadow and Eldrazi Tron decks of the world, but there are quite a few lesser-known decks in the Modern format. Unlike Standard, Modern has a huge card pool, which means there are many different directions you can go in. The decks I'm going over here may not be very popular, but that in no way means they are not strong enough to compete.

White-Black Smallpox

This is a deck I have faced off against a couple of times, and both times I lost the match, so I have started playing with it a bit myself! So far, the card Smallpox has seemed great. Smallpox is pretty much the best possible card you can have against the Death's Shadow decks. They don't play many lands, they don't play many creatures, and their last few cards in hand are generally key spells. Casting Smallpox with only a Death's Shadow or delve creature in play on the opposing side is just great.

Our own Corbin Hosler also recently gave the deck a spin to positive results.

The deck isn't a full-blown discard deck playing cards like The Rack, it is more of a Smallpox synergy deck with a decent amount of threats as well. The early discard does help navigate towards knowing when casting a card like Smallpox will be the most impactful. The deck has Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek, which have been proven to be strong cards on their own, and then Collective Brutality is also great. Collective Brutality is a card pretty much all black deck have started to adopt in one way or another, here putting a Bloodghast or Lingering Souls in the graveyard when escalating tends to work out well.

Mid
Low
 Smallpox
$0.40
$0.24
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Bloodghast and Lingering Souls are cards you actively don't mind discarding, and in fact it's actually more beneficial to discard Bloodghast than cast it, which is one reason why there are plenty of ways this deck forces itself to discard. Liliana of the Veil and Smallpox are two key cards of the deck, and both cards force each player to discard. This deck creates card advantage by discarding cards that have value being in the graveyard, while the opponent may not have the same option. There are a total of nine planeswalkers in the deck, so there are many ways this deck can close out the game.

This is a deck full of synergy around Smallpox, and the mana base is no different. There are a full four copies of Flagstones of Trokair, a card which is perfect to sacrifice when resolving Smallpox. If you have it in play when resolving a Smallpox, it essentially means you aren't losing a land at all, since you are able to search up a Godless Shrine or basic Plains to replace the Flagstones of Trokair. The downside to Flagstones of Trokair is that it produces only white mana, and you need double black to be able to cast a turn two Smallpox. However, the deck plays both Fetid Heath and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to enable a turn two Smallpox while having Flagstones of Trokair as one of your first two lands.

The sideboard is full of hate cards for trickier matchups. Dredge is the worst matchup because they don't mind discarding cards at all, so the plan after sideboard becomes all about having Leyline of the Void. Many Dredge decks don't have answers to Leyline of the Void, and at most they bring in a couple of Maelstrom Pulse, so this is going to make the games in that matchup very high variance. The other sideboard cards are also very specific hate cards that will be great when you draw them in the right matchup.

Gifts Ungiven

There are actually quite a few different Gifts Ungiven decks in the format, but this one takes full advantage of the card Unburial Rites, and the fact you have the option to search for only two cards with Gifts Ungiven. If you only search for Unburial Rites and a creature, the opponent has no choice but to put both cards in the graveyard. This is a Reanimator deck with lots of different legendary fatties to put into play alongside Goryo's Vengeance.

This isn't the typical Goryo's Vengeance deck, as it isn't quite as explosive or all-in as the Grixis Vengeance deck. The legendary creatures here are cards like Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and Iona, Shield of Emeria that have the ability to immediately end the game once in play, based on the matchup. There are also a couple copies of Obzedat, Ghost Council which is a very impactful card that can easily be reanimated, or is still good if you simply cast it on turn five. Obzedat, Ghost Council works particularly well with Goryo's Vengeance, as you get to flicker it out of play at the end of turn, and you never need to permanently exile it to Goryo's Vengeance.

Mid
Low
 Obzedat, Ghost Council
$1.95
$0.45
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Certain creatures like Obzedat, Ghost Council want to be put into play with Goryo's Vengeance, while others like Iona, Shield of Emeria would definitely prefer to be brought back with Unburial Rites. There are a full playset Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, which you can Reanimate with Goryo's Vengeace and then flip into a planeswalker on that same turn, so they work really well here. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is a card that can really help set up bringing back a big creature, as it serves as a way to put creatures in the graveyard as necessary. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is also card selection, and alongside Serum Visions helps you dig towards setting up the right combination of a big creature in the graveyard plus a reanimation spell.

Besides the obvious reanimation theme, the deck also has good controlling cards to help interact. Gifts Ungiven is a four-mana spell, so you need ways to stabilize the board long enough to get your engine online. Cheap removal like Path to Exile and Fatal Push really help against any of the fast creature decks of the format, and there are a lot of them. Like in the previous deck, Collective Brutality doubles as both a way to interact with the opponent and a useful discard outlet, the same can be said for Liliana, of the Veil.

The Esper colors offer lots of different options, and we see that in the sideboard choices, as there are no more than two copies of any one card. Having lots of different sideboard cards makes it more likely you are able to have good sideboard options in a larger variety of matchups. This is opposed to just a few very specific hate cards that may only come in for one or two matchups.

Blue-Red Pyromancer

The last deck I want to focus on is a Blue-Red deck which is built to abuse Young Pyromancer and fill up its graveyard with instants and sorceries. This is a very new deck that has a couple of cards from Amonkhet in it.

We are used to Blue-Red being a popular color combination in Modern. Of course, we have Blue-Red Storm, and Splinter Twin was a mainstay in Modern for a while, but there have also been various Delver of Secrets and Blood Moon decks focused around this color pair as well. The deck isn't main decking Blood Moon, but it is a huge part of the sideboard, and of course Delver of Secrets is a big piece of the deck after initially dropping off the radar with the Gitaxian Probe ban.

Gitaxian Probe would have been a nice fit in the deck, but there are plenty of other instants and sorceries you can play to make up for the loss. Starting with obvious inclusions, Lightning Bolt and Serum Visions are great one-mana spells. Blue-red isn't a color combination with access to lots of removal spells, so Lightning Bolt is the best one, and the ability to go to opponent's face with it is really nice. Serum Visions helps you continue to have gas, and find more instants and sorceries to trigger Young Pyromancer, and move towards casting Cryptic Serpent.

Mid
Low
 Young Pyromancer
$1.12
$0.24
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I mentioned that there were multiple cards from Amonkhet in the deck, and Cryptic Serpent is one of them. This card is very similar to a delve creature in that it benefits from filling up your graveyard. Not needing to actually exile cards from the graveyard when casting it is nice, as it means there should always be good targets for Snapcaster Mage, another key creature. Hieroglyphic Illumination is the other Amonkhet hit. It often gets cycled, but can also be pure card advantage in longer games. This is a card I expect to see more of in both Standard and Modern.

The deck plays a lot of creatures that are better the more spells you have in the deck, so you really do need a critical mass of spells to make the creatures better. Thought Scour helps fill up the graveyard, and as a one-mana cantrip is exactly what the deck needs. A key interaction to remember is that you can look at the top card of your deck with Delver of Secrets, and if you don't want to draw it, simply Thought Scour yourself before drawing it – the same play can also be made by cracking a fetch land before drawing. Mana Leak is the counter of choice here, but I could see an argument for countermagic diversity in order to find room for Remand.

Blood Moon isn't in the main deck because it isn't an instant or sorcery spell, but it is still very important to have access to after sideboard, since there are some decks that really have no good way to beat it if it enters play. This deck has five basic Islands to go alongside blue fetch lands, so it is easy to find blue early on. Against a deck like Grixis Death's Shadow, Blood Moon is spectacular. Oftentimes after getting a Blood Moon down you can Vapot Snag an opposing creature, and the opponent doesn't have the colored mana to replay it. Of course, Blood Moon is going to be spectacular against any of the decks reliant on non-basic lands, and that is a huge portion of the format.

This Blue-Red deck can play a midrange value game, with creatures like Snapcaster Mage and Young Pyromancer, there is plenty of card advantage to compete with other midrange decks. This deck also feasts on small creatures, so a deck like Elves, for instance, will have a tough time getting its creatures to stick around. The three copies of Electrolyze in the main deck alongside Forked Bolt, and creatures like Grim Lavamancer and Izzet Staticaster coming out of the sideboard should help reinforce this idea. Sower of Temptation is another back-breaking card that many decks may not be prepared for, and it also gets around Abrupt Decay.

Thanks for reading,

Seth Manfield




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