The Wild World of Modern
An ominous bell rings in the distance. Both players place the top card of their library into their graveyard.
I run from the sound of the bell, not wanting to know what it represents. Suddenly, I find myself smothered by a shadow that reeks of death and decay. Its power and toughness are equal to 13 minus the life total.
I quiver in fear silently until the shadow passes. I'm not the intended victim. I can't hear the bell anymore, except for a dull residual ringing in my head. I begin to walk aimlessly, looking for any clue to help me find a way out. In the distance a spindly other-worldly creature starts moving toward me. As we lock eyes, I feel my mind violated. My most important memory is gone. I'd tell you what it is, but I don't know anymore. It triggers to look at the hand and exiles a nonland card.
I stumble away from the inexplicable monster. I find myself lost and a part of me is missing, though I don't know what part. I can only feel the absence. I encounter a mysterious man sitting in complete silence. An aura of confidence and knowing surround him. I ask for his help. I need to get out of this place. I need to regain my memory. I need to get away from that persistent bell I can hear ringing again. Please help me make sense of it all? He looks at me, not with pity, nor charity, but with judgment in his eyes. He says no words and seems annoyed by mine. Faster than I can follow, he casts a bevy of spells that culminates in a series of magical bullets that rip me apart. As I drop to the ground, dying, I realize that maybe he was helping me after all. Maybe he was sparing me from a far worse fate. Or maybe he's just a jerk. Storm is 20.
Every foray into Modern is an adventure. It may not be a good adventure, but it's an adventure nonetheless. Despite being around for years at this point, Modern refuses to be solved, and is continually assaulted by new decks that grow in power and popularity until they eventually have to be banned. Each banning throws the format back into disarray, and each passing set provides some amount of new tools to the format that changes the formula just enough to tip the scales for or against a particular strategy.
Compare Modern to a format like Legacy. Legacy is logical and orderly. Your combo decks are things like Reanimator. Strip their hand, put a monster in the graveyard, and bring it back. Or maybe Sneak and Show. Two ways to put monsters into play, and two monsters you want to put into play. Consider Storm: Cast 10 spells, and then deal 20 damage to you. All straightforward decks with the best cards. Streamlined.
Then look at Modern. Some of the decks look ridiculous. Nourishing Shoal and Worldspine Wurm in a reanimator strategy. A bunch of last-pick artifacts that mill your opponent for one card in a Grand Prix-winning deck. A mixture of technicolor bounce lands and off-color utility lands in a deck that looks like a pile of randomly chosen Modern legal cards. Eventually one of those cards had to be banned because it was too powerful and too oppressive.
How people ever discovered decks like Lantern Control or Amulet Bloom in the first place is a miracle to me. It also makes me wonder how many other truly broken strategies exist that are completely undiscovered. It makes me wonder how often we go through a Standard format with the objectively best deck never having been found. We'll never know, and there's no way to ever know. Magic has an infinite number of possibilities, and maybe there is some combination of cards that has existed for years that would blow apart some format, and we've just never discovered it and never will. It's awesome to think about.
Just last week there were two Modern Grand Prix in Vancouver and Brisbane. One of them was won by Lantern Control, and the other was completely dominated by a Death's Shadow Jund deck. That Death's Shadow deck took first, third and fourth at the event, a truly dominant feat. It's crazy to think about, because that deck seemed unbeatable and simply miles better than the other decks in Modern. It looked like a Legacy deck in Modern. Why is that crazy? Because they just banned Gitaxian Probe, which destroyed the playability of Death's Shadow Zoo, one of Modern's top decks. The result of that banning is that we discover an even better Death's Shadow deck, and the best part is that the pieces all existed beforehand. We could have been playing this deck for months, and it took banning a worse version of the deck for us to find it.
This is only the tip of the iceberg as well in terms of what Modern can offer. Aether Revolt has provided us with a bevy of new options. Sram teams up with Puresteel Paladin to give us eight ways to draw cards off of zero mana equipment. Renegade Rallier breathes new life into Eldritch Evolution or Collected Company decks. Expertise cards pair up well with fuse cards like Breaking // Entering and Beck // Call. And then there's Fatal Push, which is going to be a dominant removal spell for quite some time.
Let's take a look at some of the sweeter Modern decks from the weekend.
Death's Shadow's Triumphant Return
This version of the deck feels like a cross between Legacy Delver and Modern Jund. It plays a low land count and a low curve alongside a lot of cantrips like Mishra's Bauble and Street Wraith to find more lands. This deck is less likely than Jund to flood out in the late game, and has the power to close the game really fast with Death's Shadow and enormous Tarmogoyfs, but still has a ton of interaction like a typical Jund deck.
One of the neat things about this deck is that you can use a lot of existing cards in interesting new ways. For example, Traverse the Ulvenwald for Street Wraith allows you to turn Traverse into a cycle. Similarly, Kolaghan's Command can draw a card if you return Street Wraith to hand with it. Traverse for Ghor-Clan Rampager is also a cute way to push through those last points of damage with a giant Death's Shadow.
From what I saw and heard last weekend, this might just be the new best deck in Modern. Josh Utter-Leyton won GP Vancouver with it and both Gerry Thompson and Sam Black made the semifinals piloting the deck.
Abzan Company Rallies Back
Renegade Rallier adds a new dimension to this deck. Eric Severson's version from the Top 8 of GP Vancouver only plays two copies of the new card and isn't going all-in on it, but you could definitely find a way to build this deck to take full advantage of Rallier and I'm sure there's a version out there to do exactly that. Personally, I see that as being the future of the archetype. Rallier is faster at rebuilding and reassembling combos than Eternal Witness is, and speed is power in Modern.
I Thought This Deck Was Banned?
Bobby Fortanely, who won an SCG Open with Amulet Bloom just before its ultimate banning, isn't quite willing to give up on the deck yet, even with Summer Bloom on the banned list. I know some other players like Edgar Magalhaes have been playing with the new version of Amulet Bloom as well. Perhaps it actually has what it takes to be a real contender in Modern, even without its most explosive card? Bobby finished just outside of the Top 8 and had a few matches gone a bit different he could have been in GP Vancouver's elimination rounds.
My Worst Nightmare
Pascal Maynard, one of my Modern teammates for the upcoming GP San Antonio, finished in the Top 16 of GP Vancouver with one of my sworn mortal enemies, Tron! Eldrazi Tron has been an existing archetype in Modern for a while. I've always considered the deck to be really weak – essentially a worse version of Eldrazi than Bant Eldrazi and a worse version of Tron than normal Tron. However, Walking Ballista, of all. cards may change that dynamic. Ballista gives the deck some early interaction and a late game Fireball and mana sink.
It's Back, Baby
One might think that I would hate this deck. I did, after all, lose in the finals of a Grand Prix to Zac Elsik piloting Lantern Control in what could have been my third GP victory. Instead of being bitter, I found that I actually love this deck. Lantern is a delight to play and creates some really interesting games of Magic. Lantern Control plays Magic in a different way than any other deck does and creates what I call “Puzzle Magic” where the game is just an exercise in problem solving from both sides of the table. Both players have a puzzle and have to find the right pieces in the right order to solve it. Puzzle Magic is my favorite kind of Magic.
Oliver Oks took Lantern Control to its second Grand Prix win this weekend, taking down GP Brisbane. From the testing I've done on Magic Online with this deck, I firmly believe the pure black-green version, like what he piloted, to be the best version of the deck. A lot of other versions are playing cards like Glint-Nest Crane and so forth, but I feel that clogs the deck too much and makes Ensnaring Bridge, the most important card, significantly worse.
Anthony Lee gets in on the ground floor for what could potentially be a viable player in Modern moving forward. The new Copycat combo! I really like how this deck is built. Spreading Seas is a great way to utilize Felidar Guardian and there are two different combos with Saheeli Rai. You can combo it with Felidar Guardian and you can also combo with Sun Titan if you have access to two copies of Saheeli. You minus Saheeli to copy Sun Titan, bringing back Saheeli, keeping the new one, and then doing it again to repeat the process and end up with a bunch of hasty Sun Titans.
This Is Awesome
The last deck I'm going to cover is Michael Majors Brain in the Jar deck that he played last weekend at the SCG Team Open in Baltimore. Thanks to some weird loopholes in how the Magic rules work, if you use an expertise card or Brain in the Jar to cast a fuse card from your hand, you get to cast both sides of the fuse card. This deck uses Yaheeni's Experise and Brain in the Jar to cast Beck // Call.
That makes Yaheeni's Expertise into Beck // Call equivalent to the following: give all their creatures -3/-3 and then put four 1/1 flying birds into play and draw four cards. That's pretty insane.
There is still so much other space to explore in this arena as well. In addition to Beck // Call there is also Catch // Release and Breaking // Entering that can do some serious damage. In fact there is already a Breaking // Entering deck that uses Kari-Zev's Expertise to cast an early Breaking//Entering to put Griselbrand or Emrakul into play.
Modern is wide open right now and new decks as well as updates on old decks are taking the format by storm. And speaking of storm, there are even two new Storm decks right now that I didn't even manage to cover in this article. One plays Baral and uses Gifts Ungiven and the other uses Puresteel Paladin and Sram to loop through the deck before firing off a lethal Grapeshot.
Modern may be hard to keep up with as it constantly changes, but one thing is for sure. It's a brewer's paradise and there is constantly room to try new things, learn new things and explore unmarked territory. I guess you could say that Modern is Magic's last Frontier...err...well, maybe that was a poor analogy.
- Brian Braun-Duin