Khans of Tarkir has had a bigger impact on Modern than any other set that I can recall. Not only did it supply five new fetchlands to the format but it also provided an aggressive one-drop ( Monastery Swiftspear) and a centerpiece to a new combo deck ( Jeskai Ascendancy). The two cards that have made the biggest impact on Modern, however, are the two premium card draw spells based around the delve mechanic (Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise).
Today I am going to discuss the best decks utilizing these two new card draw spells.
Note: this is not an exhaustive analysis of Modern but rather a comparison among the best decks that are running these new cards.The Five Best Treasure Cruise Decks5. UR Burn
If you're on a budget, this is the best Treasure Cruise deck for your buck. Note that you can replace Arid Mesa and Scalding Tarn with Wooded Foothills and Bloodstained Mire since any of the red fetches are equally good since they each can fetch any of the mana-producing lands in the deck.
Burn decks have been Tier 2 in Modern for quite a while. The burn spells in the format are so efficient that the deck essentially plays like a combo deck with many redundant pieces. And since everyone is playing mana bases with fetches and shocks, you usually only have to deal about 16 damage.
In addition to Goblin Guide, burn decks gain Monastery Swiftspear as yet another premium one-drop. It doesn't hit as hard as the guide on turn one, but it hits harder on subsequent turns due to the prowess mechanic. Eidolon of the Great Revel is a bit slower but is nearly guaranteed to deal at least two damage when trading with a removal spell. It is also a great built-in answer to several combo decks in the format, some of which we will discuss later in this article.
While the Swiftspear was certainly a welcome addition to the burn deck, the biggest new reason to play burn is that it finally has a solution to the "topdecked mountain" problem. What I mean is that burn decks often get their opponent within striking distance and the game comes down to whether they can draw that last burn spell (or two) to finish the game. Treasure Cruise makes it such that instead of having to topdeck a burn spell on the final turn, you're spending that turn reloading your hand to essentially guarantee that you find that burn spell. It also allows the burn deck to play the control game, pointing burn spells at opposing creatures all game since Treasure Cruise will find it more burn spells in the late game. 4. Jeskai Burn
Another approach to burn is adding white for Boros Charm. It's the most efficient two-mana burn spell in the format and is worth the added cost unless the mirror becomes super popular, at which point Sacred Foundry might not be worth the added liability.
In addition to the slightly increased quality of burn spells in the deck, white also provides better sideboard options. For instance, Refraction Trap is great in the mirror and against various other Lightning Bolt decks. When you and the opponent plan to point burn spells at each other, Refraction Trap is essentially a two-for-one for just a single white mana.
The other sideboard improvement is Wear // Tear over Smash to Smithereens. This helps improve some of the combo matchups, especially Jeskai Ascendancy combo since it can blow up their enchantment at instant speed for just one mana.
I think adding white is a slight upgrade, though it's close. And of course I would always be in favor of adding white to a deck regardless of whether it is right or wrong, so take that for what it's worth.3. Temur Midrange
With all the burn decks doing well on MTGO recently, it is no surprise that a successful Temur deck involves 11 creatures that gain life. Maindeck Obstinate Baloth seems like a bit of a concession to the abundance of burn decks floating around, but Courser of Kruphix and Scavenging Ooze are powerful cards even without the inflated amount of burn in the field.
Courser of Kruphix ensures that you hit your land drops each turn while also finding more action as the game progresses. It works especially well with fetch lands since you can reset the top card whenever you want. All these extra lands work great at allowing you to cast your Treasure Cruises more efficiently, leaving cards in your graveyard for Tarmogoyfs, Snapcaster Mage, and further Treasure Cruises.
Scavenging Ooze is especially good right now because it works great against other delve decks. If we have cards in our graveyard and the opponent doesn't, then that means we're resolving our Treasure Cruises and the opponent is not. Also given the amount of burn spells in the deck, it's easy for this deck to put opposing creatures into the graveyard, which allows the Ooze to feast and grow strong.
There is a bit of anti-synergy between Treasure Cruise and Tarmogoyf, but each is so powerful that if you have one going and not the other, you're still likely in fine shape. And the anti-synergy typically works out fine in practice. For instance, if you have to exile your entire graveyard to cast Treasure Cruise, your opponent still has cards in their graveyard to keep Tarmogoyf at a reasonable size. And then next turn you are going to cast some of those cards you drew off the Treasure Cruise, which will grow the Lhurgoyf again. So if you cast the Cruise post-combat after attack with your Tarmogoyf and then cast the cards you drew off the Treasure Cruise on your next turn's pre-combat, Tarmogoyf will never even miss a beat.
This Temur deck seems like the newest installment of "RUG Good Stuff" that takes advantage of all the most powerful things the Temur wedge has to offer in Modern.2. Jeskai Ascendancy Combo
This was originally hyped as being the combo deck too degenerate for Modern. It can goldfish kill fairly regularly by turn three and has the possibility to kill on turn two a reasonable amount of the time. This goes against the philosophy of combo decks in Modern and hence many people expected Jeskai Ascendancy to meet with a quick exit from the format.
After allowing some time for the format to adapt, I think we're finding that the deck is a lot more vulnerable to disruption than initially believed. Just like in Standard, if you want to beat Jeskai Ascendancy Combo, you can. And it's not like you have to play some hyper-warped deck to do so. For instance, burn has a great matchup against the deck, as do Delver of Secrets decks.
With that said, there are still several decks in the format that are not equipped to handle the speed and consistency of Jeskai Ascendancy Combo. It is likely the fastest combo deck in the format and will appeal to many of the same players that Second Sunrise decks appealed to.
The basis of the deck is to cast Glittering Wish to Find Jeskai Ascendancy (or to just draw the Ascendancy) and to then cast it using lands and at least one mana-producing creature. You then play a series of "free" spells such as Gitaxian Probe or Cerulean Wisps that replace themselves while netting a mana and an untap trigger (along with a lot trigger). Then once you have two extra mana you can either play a Manamorphose or another mana creature and a Crimson Wisps. At this point you are netting a mana each time you play a Serum Visions, Sleight of Hand, or any of the aforementioned spells. By this point you can essentially cycle through your deck until you find Treasure Cruise. Then the Cruise will allow you to cycle through the rest of your deck to make a handful of arbitrarily large attackers from the Ascendancy's +1/+1 triggers. At this point you attack for lethal with a huge Birds of Paradise or Noble Hierarch. The second copy of Crimson Wisps should ensure that you have enough attackers. Alternative, you can Glittering Wish for Flesh // Blood and Blood your opponent out with your 20/21 creature.1. UR Pyromancer
I take this to be the best Treasure Cruise deck (right now) in Modern. Like the burn decks, it can pressure opponents quickly with Delver of Secrets and Monastery Swiftspear and follow it up with burn spells to end the game in a hurry. Unlike the burn decks, however, it can build a large board presence with Young Pyromancer. This means that a control deck cannot rely on one-for-one removal spells to Negate the creature-dimension of your deck. At minimum you can get one to two Elemental Tokens out of the exchange even if they have the instant speed removal spell ready in hand when you cast the Pyromancer (since you have priority and can cast your sorcery first, and then you can respond to their instant with your own instant, thus netting two Pyromancer triggers before it dies).
In addition to the Staying Power afforded by Young Pyromancer that allows the deck to go wide with tokens, Delver of Secrets offers an evasive threat that allows the deck to go over the top of ground blockers.
Aside from the creature dimension, it also has access to cheap blue spells that smooth out our draws. The burn decks will sometimes draw too many lands early or be stuck on one or two lands. Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand will reduce the frequency of these things happening. Gitaxian Probe also lets us know what we're up against and what we need to play around. This can be huge in dictating when we need to hold up removal and when we can afford to go crazy with a Young Pyromancer.
Since this deck has more board presence elements and is thus less reliant on the burn plan, it can afford to play more controlling cards such as Electrolyze and Snapcaster Mage to eventually grind out an opponent. It still has the Treasure Cruise element too as a way of refueling in the midgame.
Overall it's less one-dimensional than the burn decks and less vulnerable than the combo deck, yet unlike the Temur deck it doesn't have to resort to things like maindeck Obstinate Baloth in order to compete against the Treasure Cruise fueled burn decks of the format. Instead it simply tries to beat them at their own game.The Five Best Dig Through Time Decks
Treasure Cruise is great at refueling quantity of cards, but some decks prefer finding exactly what they're looking for. The following decks are better suited for Dig Through Time.5. Monoblue Tron
This is an interesting and unexpected home for Dig Through Time, but in hindsight it makes perfect sense. Tron's plan is to build up a bunch of mana and then cast big mana threats. The problem is that it can't afford too many big threats because then it gets clogged. Instead it needs to invest a lot of its resources into finding Tron and then hopefully have a couple big things to do with all that mana.
Thirst for Knowledge is great because it can help find Tron or can help find a big-mana card to cast once Tron has been found, and the deck runs enough artifacts such that you'll usually have a redundant artifact in hand that can easily be pitched.
Dig Through Time is uniquely great for this deck for a few reasons. While it isn't going to help us find Tron, it is going to do a much better job than Thirst for Knowledge at finding two big threats. And by the time we get to the point in the game where we want to cast Dig Through Time, we'll likely have four or five cards incidentally in the graveyard, making Dig Through Time cost about the same as Thirst for Knowledge at that stage in the game.
Whether we're looking for the other half of the Mindslaver lock or just the Wurmcoil Engine and a Condescend, Dig Through Time will find us a route to victory. And if seven cards isn't quite enough to find what we're looking for, it will likely at least find us a Thirst for Knowledge to keep digging for it.
Unlike some of the other decks discussed in this article, I'm not sure Dig Through Time provides enough of a boost to bring Monoblue Tron into the ranks of Tier 1, but it certainly makes the deck better and gives it more Staying Power.4. Geist Midrange
Maindeck Anger of the Gods and Deflecting Palm seem slightly out of place, but this deck is overall a strong shell for Dig Through Time.
The burn decks and the Delver decks aim to put a threat into play on the first couple turns and then spend most of the rest of the game aiming burn spells at the opponent. That's similar to this deck's game plan except it sequences its turns in a slightly different order. Instead of playing a creature on the first two turns it waits until the third turn to play a more resilient and hard-hitting creature. In the meantime it spends its first two turns either setting up for the third turn Geist or playing defense in anticipation of turning the corner on the third turn.
It plays Spell Snare and Path to Exile to combat Tarmogoyf and a whole bunch of cheap burn spells to combat everything smaller than a Tarmogoyf. It also has just enough counter-magic to keep a combo deck in check (10 total, including Remand).
The deck's fundamental game plan is typically to pull ahead in the late game with Snapcaster Mage and Dig Through Time. It can go on the burn plan against decks without a lot of targets for burn spells, effectively turning them into Time Walks instead of removal spells. The deck can thus change gears quite drastically depending on the opposing strategy, even in game one. And Dig Through Time can find the two burn spells it needs to finish the game or the Snapcaster Mage and Cryptic Command to establish inevitability against a combo deck.
The big question is whether this flexibility makes it the best deck or whether it makes it a compromised version of a better deck. The verdict is certainly still out, but there is another similar deck that moves even further away from the Treasure Cruise Burn decks and into the Dig Through Time Control decks...3. Jeskai Control
Although I have ten total deck lists in this article, there are really only eight distinct decks. Just as UR Burn and Jeskai Burn are essentially the same deck, this is essentially the same deck as the Geist deck just mentioned. The only difference is that it plays even more control elements ( Mana Leak) over Geist of Saint Traft. It can still burn an opponent out, but it does so eventually instead of after turning the corner. The game plan is almost always to attrition an opponent out.
This is a somewhat risky proposition in a format as diverse as Modern, but as Shaun McLaren proved at Pro Tour Born of the Gods, Jeskai Control can win if you have exactly the right combination of answers. Dig Through Time is a great way to find the exact answers.
This deck, more than any other deck, plays Dig Through Time in a precise fashion. What I mean by this is that you will often have the resources to cast Dig Through Time and will choose not to simply because the value of keeping particular resources in your graveyard (for Snapcaster Mage) or keeping mana untapped (for counter-magic) is more important. Most decks just jam Dig Through Time on the opponent's end step, exiling whatever cards are in the graveyard, but this deck utilizes every zone as a resource and so you'll constantly have to re-evaluate the value of each card in each zone.
I believe this deck will prove to be a popular Dig Through Time deck for exactly the above reason. Control players love to make intricate decisions every single turn, all while moving toward inevitability. Every time I pilot a control deck successfully in a tournament I feel like I was on the verge of losing on nearly every single turn and had to utilize all my resources perfectly in order to barely win. That's exactly how it feels to play this deck and Dig Through Time is a key part of that.2. Splinter Twin
So far we've talked about some burn decks, some control decks, some midrange decks, an over-the-top Tron deck, and a single combo deck ( Jeskai Ascendancy). Now let's talk about a few more combo decks, the two that I feel gained the most from Dig Through Time.
Treasure Cruise is clearly the better draw spell for Jeskai Ascendancy Combo decks because the Ascendancy already provides the filtering offered by Dig Through Time. Most other combo decks prefer four extra cards of selection than one extra card in quantity. Splinter Twin is one such combo deck since it is looking for specific pieces to complete (and defend) its combo.
It's unclear whether Grixis Twin or UR Twin is better, but Thoughtseize certainly works well with Dig Through Time in that it fills up the graveyard and will alert us as to whether we can go for it now or whether we need to keep digging for more protection.
Dig Through Time in general is a great way to find the missing combo piece, recover from an opposing Thoughtseize, to go off again when we go for it and get disrupted, or simply to find both combo pieces later in the game when we are drawing off the top of our deck. I can't think of a better card to draw than Dig Though Time when I have no other cards in hand and a bunch of cards in my graveyard. During their end step you cast it, find both combo pieces, play the Deceiver Exarch, untap, and play Splinter Twin for the win. The card really makes it way more difficult to play against this deck, knowing that there is a reasonably high likelihood that they find the combo and kill you off just one card in hand (if it happens to be Dig Through Time).1. Scapeshift
If Splinter Twin improves a little with Dig Through Time, Scapeshift improves a lot! One of the biggest drawbacks of Dig Through Time is that you often don't have the resources to cast more than one copy over the course of the game. The first one usually costs three to four mana and exiles your entire graveyard, leaving any additional copies of Dig Through Time stranded in hand for the next few turns. Not so, however, with Scapeshift!
Scapeshift is a unique combo deck in that it is not only looking for specific pieces but is also constantly adding to both resource zones that fuel Dig Through Time. It is putting lands in play and filling up its graveyard, so even though it exiles its graveyard each time with Dig Through Time, by the very next turn it will likely have enough (combined) lands in play and cards in graveyard to cast the second copy.
There is still a bit of a dance going on between Snapcaster Mage and Dig Through Time, but unlike some of the other decks that run both of these cards, this deck produces enough mana to actually flashback Dig Through Time with Snapcaster Mage! Note that delve is cost-reduction, not alternate cost, so you can delve with Dig Through Time (or Treasure Cruise) even when you're flashing it back with Snapcaster Mage.Conclusion
Khans of Tarkir has really shaken up Modern and made it look quite different than it did a couple months ago. Treasure Cruise has moved various UR burn-based strategies into Tier 1, and in conjunction with the newly minted Jeskai Ascendancy, fuels the fastest combo deck in the format. Dig Through Time, on the other hand, provides added consistency to some of the format's already top combo decks (most notably Splinter Twin and Scapeshift) while also playing an important late game role in various control strategies.
Who's ready to do some delving in Modern?
Craig Wescoe@Nacatls4Life on twitter
P.S. If there's enough demand I can write a follow-up article talking about the best ways to beat these Treasure Cruise / Dig Through Time decks.