It's not difficult to argue that blue – the traditional overlord of eternal formats and undisputed best color in Magic – lags a little behind when it comes to Modern. There are a number of reasons for this: the lack of a truly excellent two-mana counter, the lack of truly excellent card draw and the lack of a truly excellent Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
2017 has been a big year for Modern, with cards like Fatal Push and Walking Ballista changing the format's landscape pretty significantly. In my view, however, one of the most important additions to the Modern card pool came as we landed on the sandy shores of Ixalan, and it's already going a long way in helping control decks get back up and about.
I'm talking, of course, about Search for Azcanta. You can't have missed the power level of this card, and I think it's time as a format all-star is only just beginning. Let's dig into some of the decks that are early adopters of this exciting new blue technology!
Well, of course, we're bloody well going to begin by talking about a Celestial Colonnade deck – there's no M. Night Shyla-myla-ding-dong twist ending here! After searching high and low for Azcanta in White-Blue based decks, I've found this card to be absolutely bananas. Hiding a win condition in your mana base is the oldest control trick in the book (or maybe the second oldest, after snap-keeping a seven-lander).
Irrespective of which flavor of Azcanta deck we're talking about – straight White-Blue, Jeskai or even Jeskai Breach – these decks are really seeking to prove a truth about Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin: Untap with it, and the game is all but yours.
Either you have the answer you need in hand, or will draw to it in short order – and while I can't endorse playing fewer than four Snapcaster Mages, the fact over half your deck is a hit for the Sunken Ruin means you're basically never not getting there.
Every element of Search for Azcanta is relevant and beneficial in this deck. Not only do you get to filter your draws and fill your bin with trash for Snapcaster Mage to later root through like Oscar the Grouch, when it flips you also take advantage of the extra mana! Any deck with Sphinx's Revelation and various six-drops will take a bonus land any day of the week.
But that's not even mentioning the Impulse ability. For so long, blue decks in Modern have suffered hugely due to a lack of effective card draw – even Ancestral Vision didn't get us there! Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin offers an instant-speed, nigh-uncounterable source of card advantage, and in any control deck that's absolutely bloody huge.
I'm not much of a fan of Lantern Control, as when given the option, I like to play the popular trading card game Magic: the Gathering rather than… well, rather than whatever it is that Lantern players like to do. One recent convert to the dark side – wait, no. How can a deck built around lanterns be the dark side? Whatever. My point is this: BBD is now playing Lantern, and the free world weeps for him.
I caught up with BBD about his recent choices and it turns out he's not just doing it to get enough dark side points to unlock Force Lightning (although that does come into it somewhere, you'd have to think). As he mentioned in his article, he's a big fan of the strategy, and has tuned his list after hours and hours of work at his unpaid lanternship. His joke, not mine. I know. It's an absolute ripper.
I asked him about the Searches in the sideboard, and he identified them as critically important game two cards. "They come in against control decks," he explained, "and grindy matchups like Abzan, Jund and the mirror."
It's no surprise that Search for Azcanta helps you get on that grind, but what do you need to grind through? "Decks that have too much interaction to beat normally," BBD answered. "It's important to have something to beat decks with 15 counters and Stony Silence."
Essentially, Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin gives Lantern pilots a way to fight through overwhelmingly interactive decks. However, Lantern doesn't typically run fetch lands, and is very low on cheap spells. Is flipping the Search ever an issue? "You can shred yourself, and Mishra's Bauble helps," BBD told me. "It takes awhile to flip sometimes, but that doesn't always matter if they aren't pressuring you."
There you have it – some people just want to watch the world burn, and unfortunately for us all, Search for Azcanta is helping them do just that in postboard games – although very, very slowly. Can you hand me that fire extinguisher?
My esteemed colleague Adam Yurchick was on Burkhart Watch last week – he brought us the scoop on what Corey had been up to at Grand Prix Oklahoma City. And what a shock it wasn't to see the control master and part-time Devil May Cry character make the Top 16 with his Grixis Control list, this time with Search for Azcanta up in the mix.
This list has that many one-ofs, you'd think he'd accidentally turned up to the GP with a Thraximundar EDH deck and his trade binder instead of a real Modern deck, but as usual Burkhart showed us the way. Just like all the cool kids are doing these days, he was hitting 'em for six in the end step – turns out Bolt-Snap-Bolt is really good! Who knew?
The huge number of one- and two-ofs make a lot of sense in this list. In Grixis Control more than any other deck, the sheer number of cards you see is staggering. For the longest time this was thanks to Thought Scour, which is a great piece of technology when playing with both Snapcaster and Kolaghan's Command – all of which are four-ofs.
Combine Thought Scour's ability to mill cards with Search for Azcanta's deep hunger for a stocked 'yard, and the synergies continue – In the olden days, we used to be afraid of a turn-two Tasigur – these days, it's all about flipping that Search first thing!
Grixis has the best answers across three colors to any and all questions the Modern format can pose, and the many one-ofs are all the more effective when snagged by Azcanta. Given how deep you can dig with a flipped Azcanta in addition to how you can use cards out of the graveyard, one-ofs are much more useful in this list due to the sheer number of cards you'll see in a game.
If there's even a sniff of a chance that straight Blue-Black Control will work in Modern, Gabriel "Chapeau Jeune" Nassif will be the bloodhound to follow the scent to the bitter end. Recent video evidence has emerged, showing him streaming a Dimir monstrosity with all the guilt of a toddler repainting the walls – and in it were the industry-standard two copies of Search for Azcanta.
This deck is the Evil Twin of White-Blue Control, and shares many elements (rather obviously, mainly blue ones), but sacrifices sweepers like Supreme Verdict and planeswalkers like Gideon, Gideon and Gideon to instead take advantage of the very finest in hand disruption, as well as point removal such as Go for the Throat and Hero's Downfall.
One way in particular that this list maximizes Search for Azcanta is its curve. While it is, of course, a one-drop, Path to Exile isn't a terrific turn one or two play – compare that with Thoughtseize, Fatal Push or Inquisition of Kozilek. Flipping Search is pretty trivial with such a critical mass of cheap spells.
As ever, old mate Snapcaster Mage is the only four-of creature in the list, and alongside Tiago Chan reprising his role from Pacific Rim is Torrential Gearhulk. Outside of that, it's all Azcanta hits all day – I haven't run the numbers properly, but my back-of-the-envelope calculations indicate that your chances of whiffing with Azcanta are about a squillion billion to one.
Search for Azcanta shines in this deck in the same way it does in many other blue-based control decks, but the fact you'll be flipping it quick as a hot pancake means this deck can take advantage even faster than most, and potentially draw further ahead much more speedily.
But that's it! That's all she wrote today, sports fans – these are the decks that are ahead of the curve, pushing control back to the forefront of the Modern format with the aid of Search for Azcanta. As I mentioned, this card is yet to showcase its true power and I think we're still yet to see its full impact on the format. Keep an eye on this one, my friends. Until next week, thanks for hanging out with me, and I'll see you next time!
- Riley Knight