Innovation in Every Format

Feature Article from Adam Yurchick
Adam Yurchick
10/19/2017 11:01:00 AM
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In two weeks, pro players will lay their cards on the table at Pro Tour Ixalan and reveal the very best Standard decks that they have developed. The world will be watching, and the results will have a major impact on the metagame. The prospect of powerful new strategies emerging is exciting, but there is already innovation occurring. Events like Nationals and Magic Online Pro Tour Qualifiers provide plenty of incentive to break the format, and today I'll share some decklists from players that attempted to do just that.

Last weekend's SCG Modern Open put Modern into the spotlight for the first time since the release of Ixalan, so today I'll examine the set's impact on the metagame. I'll also share a few fun decks that have appeared in recent days, and identify some archetypes that suffered bannings but may be back in the picture.

The North American Vintage Championship and Legacy Championship are this weekend, where the event known as Eternal Weekend will bring many out of the woodwork to play formats that don't always receive much attention. I'll be in attendance for both events, and to help highlight these formats I'll share a couple of new brews that might appear this weekend.

Standard

Red-White Approach

The craziest deck to come out of US Nationals is this White-Red control deck with Approach of the Second Sun as a win condition.

The highlight of this deck is a set of Sunbird's Invocation, which is used as a card advantage engine to extract extra value from every spell that is cast. It doesn't actually win the game on the spot if casting an Approach of the Second Sun reveals second copy, but it does have strong synergy with the card because of its ability to filter through the top cards of the deck to dig towards the card buried seven down.

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For example, with Sunbird's Invocation in play, following up Approach of the Second Sun with a Fumigate the next turn will set up drawing Approach of the Second Sun. Sunbird's Invocation's ability isn't optional, so its controller definitely has to be careful not to dig too deep and send Approach of the Second Sun to the bottom, but overall the card is a potent card advantage that few opponents will be able to keep up with over the course of a long game, and it allows for an Approach of the Second Sun strategy that isn't tied to blue.

Bant Approach

Another take on Approach of the Second Sun is to utilize green for its mana acceleration, like this decklist that has been appearing recently on Magic Online.

Adding green allows the deck to cast Approach of the Second Sun a turn or two earlier than usual, and speeding up is desirable in a world where aggressive Ramunap Red and Temur decks are at the top of the metagame. Green also gives the deck Hour of Promise to help shut down the battlefield and buy more time. This deck utilizes Thauamatic Compass, which works well with the deck's plan to ramp out lands and will reliably flip into Spires of Orazca.

Four-Color God-Pharaoh's Gift

The plan of adding green to bolster the mana of a deck has also been applied to God-Pharaoh's Gift decks, like in this list that reached the Top 8 of the Magic Online Pro Tour Qualifier last weekend.

Servant of the Conduit speeds up the deck, and Attune with Aether helps to fix the mana. Adding these energy cards opens up the possibility to support more of them, and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is a great addition for its ability to generate card advantage in a way no other option can. The extra energy also helps to fuel Minister of Inquiries, which makes Gate to the Afterlife more reliable. If a deck isn't quite in the top-tier, then adding more power might be exactly what it needs, and I like this attempt to do that.

Modern

Green-Blue Merfolk

Ixalan is full of tribal themes, and its new cards have trickled down to Modern and its tribal decks. No deck has been a bigger beneficiary of the new cards than Merfolk, which is a directly supported tribe of the set and has gained some excellent new cards good enough to make the cut in Modern.

Kumena's Speaker gives the deck its most aggressive one-mana creature ever, but what's exciting is that it hasn't replaced Cursecatcher, but now sits alongside it to give the deck potential for some extremely fast openings. Green also provides Merfolk Branchwalker, which is aggressive in its own right, but is functionally similar to Silvergill Adept, which might be the most important card in the deck for its ability to generate value. Explore isn't quite drawing a card, but when it hits a land it's identical, and when it hits a spell the ability to scry it to the top or bottom is often worth a card in itself. A Modern deck receiving new cards is always big news because the barrier to entry into the format is so high, and Green-Blue Merfolk has already earned a Top 8 with its finish in the SCG Modern Open last weekend, so it may be the new face of the archetype and could elevate the deck firmly into the top-tier of the metagame.

Kitesail Freebooter in Humans

One of the most important Ixalan cards for Modern has been Unexplored Territory, which provides five-color mana fixing that is perfect for a polychromatic deck like Humans.

Unexplored Territory allows the mana to be more ambitious, and that's perfect for supporting the black mana of Kitesail Freebooter. Modern is full of great non-creature spells to hit with this effect, and while an even more powerful version of the effect was available in Tidehollow Sculler, adding it onto a Human body opens up enough synergies in the Human tribal deck to earn it a slot.

Wasteland Strangler CoCo

Kitesail Freebooter joins Tidehollow Sculler in this Modern brew that breaks their ability to remove cards from the game by using them as fuel for Wasteland Strangler.

Rather than use Collected Company to assemble game-ending combinations, this deck uses it for pure value. The remainder of the creatures all work well with the deck's core cards, like Flickerwisp, which has the ability to blink Wasteland Strangler for another go, or one of the disruption creatures for another trigger if its first target had already been digested by the Eldrazi. It's strange for a Modern deck to aim so low in its ambitions, but its strategy of steady disruption and grinding value will put many opponents in a bad place.

Counters Combo in Green Devotion

The Devoted Druid and Vizier of Remedies combo has proven to be a great addition to decks that can make use of Devoted Druid but don't need to focus entirely on the combo, like in Elves and in Bant Retreat decks. It seems like a perfect addition to Green Devotion, where the mana acceleration of Devoted Druid is a good fit, Primal Command can find Vizier of Remedies, and the deck already has plenty to do with extra mana generated by the combo.

Aether Vial Copy Cat Combo

The Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian combo hasn't made a serious impact in Modern as a successor to the Splinter Twin combo, but this list with Aether Vial is my favorite one yet.

The idea is to make the blink ability of Felidar Guardian and the copy ability of Saheeli Rai as strong as possible without the combo by supporting it with plenty of creature to target for value, just like the old Standard version did with energy creatures. This deck does that with Modern's best value creatures, and it goes deeper than Wall of Omens by adding Coiling Oracle, which is even more powerful because it can accelerate mana. Flickerwisp is a nice addition that can generate even more value, and is quite strong with Oath of Nissa. Reflector Mage gives the deck a taste of what it would have been like had the card not been banned in Standard before the combo was ever legal.

Blue Moon Kiki Combo

Kik-Jiki, Mirror Breaker stands in for Splinter Twin, and while being a mana more expensive is significant, I have always thought that it's only a matter of time until the combo returns to the format. This deck made an impressive undefeated 10-0 run through the swiss and Top 8 on the way to winning an Magic Online Modern Challenge, so that time may be now.

Rather than focus entirely on the combo, the deck embraces a control shell similar to Blue Moon, complete with Blood Moon. The combo gives the deck an advantage over a purely control build because it can win games quickly.

The Return of Infect

Another deck that has suffered a banning but is making its way back into the metagame is Infect, which just barely missed the Top 8 at the SCG Open.

Nothing makes up for the loss of Gitaxian Probe, but the addition of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy to Infects adds some nice card filtering and the ability to flashback spells from the graveyard when flipped. The Legacy version of the deck uses Sylvan Library, so it's no stretch for this deck to spend a couple mana for a card advantage engine. The sideboard has benefited from Ixalan's Shapers' Sanctuary, which does great work against decks like Jund and Jeskai that are full of creature removal.

Legacy

Volrath's Shapeshifter Blue-Black Reanimator

Volrath's Shapeshifter is gaining popularity in Legacy as the centerpiece of a Reanimator-style deck that uses it to stand in for Griselbrand or creatures with game-winning effects.

The deck supports the graveyard plan with Animate Dead as an alternative reanimation spell, and it includes Show and Tell to give it a way to sneak in a creature that doesn't rely on the graveyard. It's hard to say whether or not this is better than a traditional Reanimator deck, but Volrath's Shapeshifter does come with its own advantages, like that its discard ability allows it to enable itself without another discard outlet, and that it's a blue card so it can be removed to cast Force of Will.

Vintage

Abrade in Dragon Stompy

It's one thing for a card to make it into Modern, but something else entirely for a card to make it all the way to Vintage, where only the absolute best Magic cards of all time can survive. That's why it's so amusing that Abrade has made its way into the format. In Vintage, its ability to destroy artifacts is the primary mode, but it can also take out nearly any of the cheap staple creatures that are found in the metagame. It's this flexibility that make it a useful card, so it has been adopted as a four-of in this Mono-Red Dragon Stompy prison deck that reached the Top 8 of the Vintage Challenge last weekend.

Green-Blue Merfolk

Ixalan's Merfolk aren't just good enough for Modern, but have actually made it all the way to Vintage, where they have bolstered the Merfolk archetype with new threats.

Moving into green also gives the deck access to Sylvan Library as a card advantage engine, and it opens the sideboard to one of the best tools in the format, Nature's Claim.

What do you think of these decks? What unique decks have you've seen or played with recently? Share your ideas in the comments section!

-Adam




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