Attacking Big Mana in Modern

Feature Article from Seth Manfield
Seth Manfield
12/15/2017 11:00:00 AM
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Looking at the latest Grand Prix results, it is clear just how dominant Scapeshift and various versions of Tron were. In my opinion, their dominance is a result of a metagame shift. I want to go ahead and flip the script upside down. Rather than talking about how great Black-Green Tron is, this time around let's go over exactly how to beat this deck. These are the decks, cards and strategies I was very happy to be able to dodge at the Grand Prix on my way to the Top 8.

Blood Moon

Let's start by talking about one of the deadliest cards in the format, a card that can prevent your opponent from being able to win when it comes down early in the game: Blood Moon. We know how absurd Blood Moon is against these decks that rely heavily on their nonbasic lands, so how come more decks don't play Blood Moon? The problem with Blood Moon is it isn't as simple as jamming it into any deck with red in it. In many cases Blood Moon may hurt you just as much as the opponent, depending on the matchup.

There are some three-color decks that can play Blood Moon, but in order to do this you have to prioritize basic lands or mana creatures. Here is a look at a Jund build that can play Blood Moon in the main deck.

This deck plays a lot of fetch lands alongside a host of basics to take advantage of Blood Moon while being able to cast your own spells. Once getting two Swamps and a Forest into play there will be no issues with having Blood Moon in play. There are some sacrifices that do need to be made, like cutting the Raging Ravines, but having Blood Moon in the main deck does help improve your worst matchups. Tron is traditionally one of the worst matchups for Jund, but having Blood Moons certainly changes that.

Seeing Blood Moon in a Jund deck is not typical these days. The most common place Blood Moon sees play is in straight blue-red decks. The reason Blood Moon is at its best in these sorts of decks is that it is very easy to get some basic Islands into play, so Blood Moon doesn't hurt your mana base much. Of course, Blood Moon is very strong against Scapeshift too, as it completely shuts down Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, the most important land in the deck.

I believe that the best deck to play if you want to have a great matchup against both Scapeshift and Tron variants is Blue-Red Breach. The deck does struggle in some of the midrange matchups, which is why it isn't incredibly popular, but it is the perfect answer to big mana strategies. The combination of both mana denial and a combo that can't be answered in Through the Breach plus Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is going to be enough to overwhelm those decks.

Spreading Seas

In a way, I see Spreading Seas as a mini Blood Moon. It isn't going to completely destroy the opponent's mana base on its own necessarily, but it is going to be extremely annoying. Spreading Seas is also going to be at least solid against any deck, while Blood Moon might not actually be helpful depending on the situation. The fact that Spreading Seas replaces itself by drawing a card makes it a better fit in grindier control strategies than Blood Moon. Not only does Blue-Red Breach have Blood Moon, but it can play Spreading Seas as well.

Normally we don't see the full playset of Spreading Seas in the Blue-Red Breach deck, and in this particular list there is a split between Spreading Seas and Blood Moon. You don't want to play four Blood Moon, because you don't need multiples and they are easy to find with all the card filtering. The opponent is forced to use counters and discard on your Through the Breach combo, as that is the easy way to actually win the game.

There are certainly other decks that rely more heavily on Spreading Seas than this one. White-Blue Control is a pretty special deck because it is a control deck that actually has a pretty good matchup against the big mana strategies.

Unlike a three-color control deck like Jeskai, White-Blue Control is able to include Spreading Seas and Field of Ruin. This disruption package is often going to be enough to stop a player from getting one of each Tron piece online. These decks also typically play Runed Halo. Runed Halo is not just a good catchall answer to creatures, it can stop Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle from dealing you any damage, which is pretty cool. This deck can keep Valakut off the board quite easily, or simply drop a Spreading Seas on it.

Going into Grand Prix Oklahoma City, I expected Jeskai Control to be the most popular control deck, but now that could change. I know players love their cheap removal like Lightning Helix and Lightning Bolt, but the metagame is shifting. If I were to choose to play a control deck right now it would be straight White-Blue Control. The planeswalkers can easily close out the game, and Search for Azcanta is a way to take over late.

Stony Silence

Stony Silence doesn't do anything against Scapeshift, but it is still a great sideboard card. Let's not forget that Stony Silence is good versus more decks than Lantern Control and Affinity. Stony Silence is extremely annoying to play against with Tron. I find myself in situations trying to figure out how many Nature's Claims to bring in after seeing white mana from my opponent game one. If Stony Silence comes down on turn two it will be extremely strong against the Tron deck, and possibly just win the game on the spot.

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The decks that really want Stony Silence the most are the midrange ones. Shutting off Oblivion Stone in addition to the mana artifacts, Expedition Map and Relic of Progenitus is pretty insane. Remember that Tron doesn't actually play many lands, only 19. The deck relies on artifacts to cantrip though the deck and find lands. With a Stony Silence in play it is much more likely the Tron player gets mana-screwed.

Abzan Control is the perfect example of a deck that can flip a matchup like Tron based on sideboard cards. Contrary to popular belief this is not just an auto win on the Tron side.

We do see Stony Silence here, but there is always going to be room to play with the numbers on certain cards to improve specific matchups with this sort of deck. Abzan Midrange can be tuned towards a particular metagame, which is definitely part of the incentive of playing it.

Fulminator Mage

The other important hate card in the Abzan deck is Fulminator Mage. This is a very versatile form of land destruction. There will be spots where you can return a Fulminator Mage from the graveyard or simply beat down with it, which makes it significantly better than a straight up Stone Rain. At Grand Prix Oklahoma City, believe it or not, I only ran into one hate card in one round of the tournament – Fulminator Mage. Clearly right now the metagame has not been respecting the big mana decks, which is why they are doing so well.

Fulminator Mage is pretty insane if you are able to use it and then bring it back into play later with a Living End. I was able to draw the match against Living End due to careful play and drawing pretty well, but this is not a good matchup for Tron. The matchup versus Scapeshift is good as well, though we saw an unfortunate mistake involving a Beast Within by Raymond in the Top 8 of the Grand Prix.

Raymond had a Beast Within that he was using to destroy an opposing Mountain, which would have won him the match against Scapeshift, unfortunately for him he conceded prematurely because of failing to understand how Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle works. Living End doesn't see that much play, yet it still continues to put up good results. This is a strategy that players should definitely be looking at more moving forward.

Beyond just Fulminator Mage, Beast Within and even Slaughter Games can be very effective against the big mana decks. Horror of the Broken Lands and Archfiend of Ifnir are still relatively new additions that definitely improved the deck. Simian Spirit Guide can allow you to destroy a land on turn two, making sure that a Tron opponent never has a chance to get all three pieces in play.

Chalice of the Void

Chalice of the Void is a strong card against a number of strategies in the format, Black-Green Tron being one of them. Like Blood Moon, there aren't that many decks that actually want to play Chalice of the Void because they too play one mana spells. A Chalice of the Void on turn one is going to be even more effective than on turn two, but then you need to have Simian Spirit Guide to go along with it. The most popular Chalice of the Void deck right now is Eldrazi Tron. While Chalice of the Void is good against bigger Tron decks, the smaller Eldrazi creatures can be easily outclassed.

Fast Combo

One of the most straightforward ways to beat a big mana strategy is to win before their lands actually matter. A deck that wins on turn three is going to be able to easily beat Scapeshift or Tron. The most popular combo deck in the format is Storm, which is certainly strong, though there are others as well. Getting an Emrakul, the Aeons Turn or Griselbrand into play early on should do the trick!

I have seen this deck both with and without the Kari, Zev's Expertise plus Breaking // Entering package. Either way the primary plan is to Goryo's Vengeance, but there are also backup ways to get a fatty into play, that don't rely on the graveyard.

All-in Land Destruction

Don't believe that these decks and cards are enough to beat decks like Tron and Scapeshift? Let's take things one step further. Rather than play a deck with one or two land disruption cards, how about adding a few more cards that disrupt the opponent's mana base? Red-Green Ponza has never really caught on in terms of popularity, but perhaps that is about to change.

Being able to cast a Blood Moon or land destruction spell on the second or third turn of the game is pretty impressive. The deck is normally able to close the game out with some huge fatty once the opponent's mana has been thoroughly disrupted, and it's a successful strategy in Modern right now.

Thanks for reading,

Seth Manfield
@SethManfield




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