The NEW Modern Rundown

Thundermaw Hellkite and Stormbreath Dragon
There are no Thundermaw Hellkites in this Modern episode. Even fewer Stormbreath Dragons.

… But there could have been.

It’s Modern! Don’t Blink

Modern is a great format! It’s waaaaay different from other formats, though. One way we know that is that we have such a hard time predicting what will be good from one week to the next.

What decks do you prepare for?

Affinity?

Humans?

Storm?

Jeskai?

… and when you say “Jeskai” what exactly do you mean? Is it Geist of Saint Traft, Spell Queller decks, the new Search for Azcanta stuff… Or are you talking about warping in an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn?

Yet another look at Jeskai: Jeskai Breach, by Patrick Tierney

Who is to say?

Who is to say you’re not up against Thundermaw Hellkite this week?

I mean, it just so happens that this week the right answer was “giant green things” (whether Primeval Titan or Tron-based colorless bombs), but we think you take our meaning.

Don’t Forget the Graveyard! Black Resurgence in Modern

Patrick recently commented that the graveyard may be a place to angle for an advantage in this wide and wonderful format.

Was he predicting the future?

Despite weeks and weeks of Humans and Storm, the graveyard came back in a big way at Grand Prix Oklahoma City. Dredge and Living End almost can’t be more different (despite being two different graveyard-centric creature decks). These two very different decks both kicked butt, took names, and claimed Pro Tour invitations last weekend:

Don’t Blink! Dredge, and Living End from OKC

What Week is it Again? Modern Cuteness Hotness

A few weeks ago we started talking about the new / now-seminal Humans deck based on a critical mass of Unclaimed Territories. But what if, rather than pushing “Human” with our Cavern of Souls, we just play four copies of Sliver Hive?

Instead of the bobbing and weaving of Meddling Mage and Kitesail Freebooter, we may just see mono-offense.

To Wit: Slivers, by Chris Warren

These decks barely scratch the surface of this week’s Modern Rundown. Get ready for multiple Tron styles, double-combo Collected Company decks, and our intrepid duo completely ruining a perfectly wonderful Orzhov Zombies deck.

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Cryptic Command is Good in All of the Spots

Cryptic Command
Every card in your deck has purpose some of the time; Cryptic Command is the card that is the best, the most.

Welcome Back to Modern, Cryptic Command!

One of the most successful [new-ish] decks in Modern is Jeskai Control.

This archetype, featuring Search for Azcanta from Ixalan has reinvigorated pure control in the format.

Seminal to this strategy is the power of Search for Azcanta to flip into Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin. In its mana-mode, this card implies the availability of four mana. You can leave up four, and threaten Cryptic Command. If you don’t have to use the Cryptic Command, you have four lands to go find it.

Former US National Champion Ali Aintrazi played a version at a recent StarCityGames event, moving up to Nahiri, the Harbinger and Torrential Gearhulk as his late game heavy-handed threats.

Nahiri is particularly exciting in this archetype. She can discard cards to help flip Search for Azcanta, and will dig you to a big Torrential Gearhulk.

Also decks WITHOUT Cryptic Command

In the spirit of gearing Mike up for the upcoming #SCGInvi in Roanoke, Virigina, our intrepid duo goes over all kinds of decks beyond the soaring Jeskai Control…

  • Storm Combo – ever thought about playing Runed Halo on “Gifts Ungiven”?
  • Humans – now featuring “colorless” spells like Dismember!
  • Grixis Death’s Shadow – including all the one-ofs, spice, and strategies
  • Jund – with Hazoret the Fervent!
  • (and lots more)

When do you play FOUR copies of Cryptic Command?

  • Whenever it’s right!
  • … and half the time, when it’s not 😉

Check out this meditation on Modern now!

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The Rise of Ixalan in Modern

Modern remains one of the freshest, most dynamic, Magic formats. One of the big reasons? Ixalan in Modern is driving new combinations, and even new archetypes!

Modern Manipulation: Opt

Opt

The funny thing about Opt is that it is barely playable at all in Standard… But it is awesome in Modern!

The secret is that the efficacy of cards — in particular library manipulation cards — is inversely proportional to their casting costs in larger formats. Opt helps make combo decks like Storm more consistent. It also helps keep them going once they start to go off…

And of course? Being a one mana instant is one of the best things you can be.

And Opt is.

For reference: U/R Gifts Storm, by Scott Simmons

Modern Mana: Unclaimed Territory

Unclaimed Territory

It’s not that Unclaimed Territory is so great (though it’s pretty good)… It’s the critical mass this land represents when combined with Ancient Ziggurat and Cavern of Souls.

Collins Mullin absolutely destroyed last weekend’s Open with a Humans deck with only 4 Aether Vials — deck or sideboard — as his only non-creature spells.

Mullen could cast any Human he wanted. All these lands that can tap for any color, put together, let him consistently play Noble Hierarch at the one, [fellow Ixalan Staple] Kitesail Freebooter come two, and Mantis Rider on three mana. Mantis Rider!

That’s G, B1, and URW!

For reference: Humans, by Collins Mullen

Modern Merfolk: Deeproot Waters

Deeproot Waters

Ixalan gives Merfolk players some actual new Merfok. However their sideboard enchantment may be more interesting, and seems much, much more powerful.

Deeproot Waters is quite like an Oketra’s Monument… With tons of upside.

It’s not just that you can make a 1/1 like the white artifact; because Merfolk is full of Lords — Lord of Atlantis, Master of the Pearl Trident, and Merrow Reejerey — so it is probably a safe bet your enchantment will spit out 2/2 or 3/3 Merfolk.

For reference: U/G Merfolk, by Jeremy Bertarioni

These ideas are just scratching the surface of Ixalan in Modern. Settle the Wreckage, Field of Ruin, and Merfolk Branchwalker all performed last week, and in different decks!

Learn more about Ixalan in Modern here!

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Hunka Hunka Burning Rage

Shrine of Burning Rage

Mike can’t stand Shrine of Burning Rage in Modern 🙁

You’d think Mike would be happy about a Burn deck winning Grand Prix Birmingham… But he just can’t wrap his head around Shrine of Burning Rage replacing Eidolon of the Great Revel at the two. To Mike, Eidolon of the Great Revel is simply one of the strongest cards in Modern; by contrast…

  • Shrine of Burning Rage is a poor mid-game topdeck.
  • The New Phyrexia artifact is only good against “fair” decks… Many of which play Kolaghan’s Command
  • A five-mana commitment that does nothing in and of itself is a recipe for getting run over by Tarmogoyfs.

Patrick does little to turn his opinion around.

Burn deck aside: Scalding Tarn

Mike hates Arid Mesa in Modern Burn decks. While many lands are functionally identical for mono-Mountains fetching (Bloodstained Mire and Wooded Foothills have essentially the same text here), Arid Mesa is most likely to tip the opponent off.

It doesn’t come up super often, but if you pass your first turn with the fetch in play, you tend to want the opponent to fetch for an untapped shock land; they are least likely to do this against Arid Mesa.

Mike therefore likes Scalding Tarn in a 4/4/4 split.

Patrick points out a four-fetch distribution has some merit.

The two wax on the difference between the two of them playing a first-turn Scalding Tarn. It doesn’t matter which red fetch Michael plays… The jig is up before he ever breaks it. Patrick, though, is a longtime Grixis mage. He would get even more value from turn one Scalding Tarn when playing Burn than most!

Poor Mike 🙁

More and More Modern

With three big Modern tournaments across three continents to work from, Pro Tour Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin and Resident Genius Michael J. Flores have much to discuss. Everything from Storm to TitanShift is up for discussion. Check it out now:

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Amonkhet in Modern

New Set on the Block Amonkhet had a pretty good weekend in Modern, across three continents, last week. Amonkhet cards contributed to all of the main macro archetypes: Control, Combo, and Beatdown!

Amonkhet Control: Glory-Bound Initiate in Esper

Glory-Bound Initiate
At Grand Prix Kobe, Akio Chiba slotted Glory-Bound Initiate into his creature-poor Esper Control deck, Stonefore Mystic style.

“Glory-Bound Initiate is legal in the format.”
-Patrick

Can’t disagree with you there!

Chiba played a four Painful Truths deck, where the life gain from Glory-Bound Initiate could be really effective in fueling his main card advantage engine. Glory-Bound Initiate is just that good in Modern!

Subtly, exerting Glory-Bound Initiate may not have that much of a downside, as opponents may actively try to trade with it.

Amonkhet Combo: Vizier of Remedies in Collected Company decks

Vizier of Remedies + Devoted Druid is an infinite mana engine.

Devoted Druid
Devoted Druid says “Put a -1/-1 counter on me and I’ll untap.”

Vizier of Remedies says “Go ahead and untap. But Don’t worry about the -1/-1 counter, no problem.”
Once you’ve got infinite green mana access, the world (or at least your deck) is your oyster. Here are some of the things players did last weekend:

  • Draw every creature in my deck with Duskwatch Recruiter. One of those creatures is Walking Ballista. Pay however much. Get you for however much.
  • Combine with Knight of the Reliquary and Kessig Wolf-Run for infinite power (and trample).
  • Overrun all with Ezuri, Renegade Leader. The coolest thing about this version is that even if you have to tap all your guys to set up / make the infinite mana, you can still untap Devoted Druid to be your lone attacker… With infinite power!

Amonkhet Aggro: Harsh Mentor in Burn

Harsh Mentor
Meanwhile back in Baltimore, MD — USA — Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Stephen Neal added a Harsh Mentor as his “fifth copy” of Eidolon of the Great Revels.

Neal’s version was super atypical for Burn (at least since the release of Inspiring Vantage), going up to some fifteen creatures… But still finding room for some unique spell choices.

Shard Volley, anyone?

What is important for Amonkhet fans is that Harsh Mentor might be Burn’s best friend in certain matchups. Of course it makes life harder on the fetchland player, but think about Affinity: Harsh Mentor makes doing stuff like activating an Arcbound Ravager downright dangerous.

TLDR: Amonkhet hit Modern hard last weekend; and it hit from Control, Combo, and Beatdown. Obviously more on this story as the format continues to develop.

Listen to “Amonkhet in Modern” now for even more decks and details:

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What Makes Ad Nauseam a Fantastic Choice

Ad Nauseam
Ad Nauseam is the centerpiece of a powerful Modern combo deck.

The Winning Ad Nauseam Deck

Nicholas Byrd won the most recent Modern Open with a wonderfully positioned Ad Nauseam deck. This style of deck combines the mana acceleration of Simian Spirit Guide, Pentad Prism, and Desperate Ritual with a number of esoteric and specialized cards to kill with a solo Lightning Storm.

The Ad Nauseum Combo

The core combination here is namesake Ad Nauseam + Angel’s Grace. While Under Angel’s Grace you cannot lose the game. So… You can’t accidentally kill yourself. Yay!

An alternate to Angel’s Grace is Phyrexian Unlife. Because the card Ad Nauseam uses your life total for fuel, Phyrexian Unlife [further] protects you by protecting you from the opponent. Playing against Phyrexian Unlife can be challenging for the unfamiliar.

Example:

If you are at 1 life, it at some level doesn’t matter if the opponent attacks with one creature with one power or one hundred creatures with one hundred power each. A single combat will not “overload” the Phyrexian Unlife. None of the damage from a single attack will start dealing infect.

This strategy might not be the deck you want to play when Infect is popular… But Infect is less popular than it has been in months: Opportunity! This kind of positioning, combined with the raw power and potential speed of the combo itself, are what made Ad Nauseam such a great choice for last weekend.

All that said, this archetype’s sideboard options may be what really set it apart. With four — count ’em, four — copies of Leyline of Sanctity (plus a Timely Reinforcements), it is well prepared for the popular (and performing) Lava Spike decks. I had to do a double take on Darkness. Yep, that Legends instant was in fact reprinted in Time Spiral. Much as regular old Fog can buy Mono-Green Tron tons of setup time, Darkness can effectively undo all the effort an opponent put in to Empty the Warrens, Death’s Shadow, or Cranial Plating.

While we discuss Ad Nauseum at length, this is more of a “Modern Potpourri” episode, with time devoted to everything from Gruul Ponza to Architects of Will. Check it out:

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Previews for Modern Masters 2017 Edition

Modern Masters 2017 Edition
Somebody must like them:
MichaelJ and Patrick sure got some sweet preview cards from Modern Masters 2017 Edition!

Mike’s Modern Masters Spoiler:

Compulsive Research
Compulsive Research
Compulsive Research is near and dear to Mike’s heart. He has both filled his own graveyard with Firemane Angels and forced opposing Firemane Angel decks to draw a lethal number of cards. This is a card that allows you to access every part of the veritable buffalo.

What Patrick Wants to Find in a Modern Masters Pack

Cruel Ultimatum
Cruel Ultimatum
We all know what a soft spot Patrick has for Grixis. There is no more “Grixis” card than Cruel Ultimatum.

Top Level Podcast shares some war stories, and tells you why Compulsive Research and Cruel Ultimatum are some of the most exciting cards in Modern Masters 2017 Edition:

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Back to our regularly-scheduled podcast tomorrow.

Reimagining Death’s Shadow

Death's Shadow
Death’s Shadow produced a clean break — including both Grand Prix and team event wins — and is probably the best deck in Modern.

Weren’t Bannings Supposed to Nerf Death’s Shadow?

Just a few weeks ago there were bannings.

Golgari Grave-Troll was there for Dredge. Yes, Dredge would still be viable, but its biggest, burliest, enabler disappeared.

Gitaxian Probe is kinda sorta not a real Magic: The Gathering card. Why does Gitaxian Probe even exist? The banning of this card pushed a pin into the collective bubbles of decks like Infect, Storm, and… Death’s Shadow.

Gitaxian Probe had a special place in the old Death’s Shadow deck. Sure, the new version still has cards like Mishra’s Bauble, but Gitaxian Probe also cost the Death’s Shadow deck life (in most cases), (oddly) helping to grow the centerpiece threat.

A More Interactive Death’s Shadow Deck

The previous version was mostly an offensive deck. Wild Nacatl or Monastery Swiftspear got the ball rolling; the creatures were much more plentiful… but the interaction was deemphasized.

The current version is almost a Jund deck. This deck has only a few creatures (even if they are doozies)… It has a ton of midrange interaction instead. Fatal Push, a ton of direct hand destruction including the maximum numbers of both Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek, and even Tarfire have repositioned the archetype.

Tarfire?

In addition to having the superpower of being one mana, Tarfire is a Tribal Instant. As such, it’s really useful for 1) buffing Tarmogoyf, and 2) getting Traverse the Ulvenwald online super quickly. Some versions even have Seal of Fire to make Tarmogoyf that much bigger!

Survival

Most of the offense in this strategy is accomplished by only two creatures: Death’s Shadow and Tarmogoyf. Unfortunately — and especially given the printing of Fatal Push — neither of those guys is hard to kill. The deck can weather opposing removal in a number of ways…

  • Liliana, the Last Hope – Played in some versions (over Liliana of the Veil), Liliana can put a creature from your graveyard back in your hand.
  • Renegade Rallier – Played in some versions (over Ghor-Clan Rampager), this creature can recycle cheap creatures
  • Kolaghan’s Command – Played in essentially every version, Kolaghan’s Command is a multi-pronged tool. It can lock opponents out, it can do the last two points, and of course it can raise the dead.

Thirteen creatures have never stretched so far.

Learn more about Death’s Shadow in this week’s podcast:

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Breaking Kari Zev’s Expertise

Kari Zev's Expertise
Kari Zev’s Expertise is already format-warping.
Years from now, when we look back on Aether Revolt, it will likely be the case that what we remember most about the set is how badly it helped players to cheat.

Cheat on costs, that is.

Kari Zev’s Expertise is at this point the most prominent example of how Aether Revolt can break — really break — the rules of Magic to gain a massive advantage. Dan Ward was the first person to innovate Kari Zev’s Expertise in Modern (though he lost in the finals of his Regional Chapionship, to Mike’s apprentice Roman Fusco playing the Inspiring Vantage Burn deck).

How Does the Kari Zev’s Expertise Combo Work?

Dan played Simian Spirit Guide, so he could pop off the Expertise against a second turn beatdown card (say a Grim Flayer). Threatens can be good cards in and of themselves, but this one also gives you the opportunity to play a two mana card for free.

The most important two mana card you can play is Breaking // Entering:

Breaking // Entering
Note two things about these cards:

  1. Kari Zev’s Expertise specifically says the word “card” (as opposed to “spell”).
  2. The “Breaking” half of Breaking // Entering costs two. Bingo! You can play the card Breaking // Entering for free even though if you had flipped this over with a Dark Confidant, you’d be eating eight.

When you are casting Breaking // Entering this way, you never give the opponent a chance to use Relic of Progenitus or Extirpate. If you separately cast Breaking and then Entering, the opponent would have a chance to respond, but entwined this way, it is just one giant beating.

Ward’s deck still had Goryo’s Vengeance, Cathartic Reuinion, and other traditional enablers.

All That and Fatal Push!

Fatal Push is going to continue to be highly effective in Modern… A card (for once not Rare or worse) on the order of Path to Exile. One of the reasons that Ward’s deck seemed so reliable is that he lacked the small creatures that make Fatal Push such an effective defensive card.

Pro Tour Journey Into Nyx Champion Patrick Chapin and Resident Genius Michael J. Flores go over not just a number of ways to cheat costs in Modern, but run down ideas for other archetypes like Burn, Grixis Control, or Abzan Company. Check it all out in this week’s episode!

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Out with the Old, in with Felidar Guardian

Felidar Guardian
Felidar Guardian is going to enable [at least] one new infinite combo in Standard.

Bonus episode!

New busted engines and combo decks in Standard!

A new world order from at least two different directions!

But first, the bans…

We will certainly get to the powerhouse that is Felidar Guardian, but the reason Top Level Podcast recorded a new “emergency” episode this week is the bans. A ton of cards were banned in both Modern and Standard. We devote most of the podcast to the justifications, implications, and ramifications of the bans, but briefly:

Modern:

  • Gitaxian Probe: This card probably had it coming for a long time; it’s hard to balance any card that costs exactly [only] one Phyrexian blue mana. It mostly just drew you into your Become Immense while reducing its mana cost for free. Infect will remain super viable (but will have lost a little juice, which is justifiable), but the jury is out on Death’s Shadow, Storm, etc. Mike predicts the big winner will be Affinity.
  • Golgari Grave-Troll: When this was recently un-banned, Cathartic Reunion had not yet been printed. Don’t look for Dredge to die completely in Modern. There are plenty of Dredge cards to replace this card, just at a downgrade. The graveyard will be “fine” … Just a little less powerful (which is fine).

Standard:

  • Emrakul, the Promised End: “She is the problem.” -Patrick. If there were only one card to be banned, this would have definitely been the one.
  • Smuggler’s Copter: If you were only going to ban two cards, it should have been Emrakul and this one (so WotC got that right). Smuggler’s Copter, remember, is the first card in years to post thirty-two (32!!!) copies in a single Top 8.
  • Reflector Mage: Patrick’s argument around this ban is perfect and you really just have to listen to it. Reflector Mage isn’t the intuitive right choice for blunting U/W (heck, they don’t even always play it, as it has neither Flash nor Flying), but it is not only perfect but a contextually better choice than Spell Queller. Trust us… err… Patrick, rather.

The World According to Felidar Guardian

The spoiling of Felidar Guardian has caused unprecedented interest in Saheeli Rai. If for no other reason than that, banning this new card prior to Pro Tour Aether Revolt would be a disaster. So, they didn’t.

The simple combo is turn three Saheeli Rai, turn four Felidar Guardian. Saheeli Rai copies Felidar Guardian (with haste), the Felidar Guardian blinks and resets Saheeli Rai; rinse, repeat, attack for a ton.

The combo can also be accomplished cleanly on turn six by playing Felidar Guardian and blinking a land (so your two mana becomes three, or enough to cast Saheeli Rai). Infinite again.

Whether this combo wins Pro Tour Aether Revolt or not remains to be seen… But it will certainly be something Pros will be thinking about.

Your bonus episode, “Out with the Old, in with Felidar Guardian”:

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Back Thursday, per usual.