There was a lot to take in from the weekend's results. Not only did Grand Prix Toronto showcase Magic across three formats, but a slew of other tournaments – particularly Modern tournaments – provided some spectacularly off-the-wall lists that are well worth a second look. Given the history of the Modern format and the decks that have dominated it over the years, it's always a good idea to stay at the bleeding edge of the format's latest developments.
Many decks have laid dormant, undiscovered, waiting for their time to strike – for example, it took years for Death's Shadow to finally rise to prominence, and that was only after it was the centerpiece of a "wacky" brew that was big in Japan for awhile. While there's no guarantee that any given innovative list will be the Next Big Thing and eventually end up as Modern's next Grixis Death's Shadow, it pays to be aware of the different angles that players are taking when attacking the format. Let's have a look at what people cooked up this weekend!
Any card with a built-in cost reduction mechanic should always be put under the microscope for tournament playability, and Hollow One was finally broken, harnessed and ridden to the Top 8 of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan by Ken Yukuhiro. Big strong vanilla beaters (the creatures, not Ken) can often be good enough, especially when they cost zero or one mana. Most of the time, that's what Hollow One will cost in its traditional shell.
Richard Nixon III, however, had other ideas this weekend. Free 4/4s are all well and good, but what about free 4/3 hasty bois as well? The synergies write themselves – discard Vengevines to cheapen your Hollow Ones, then cast your Hollow Ones to bring back your Vengevines. It's the circle of life, and it moves us all.
Any deck looking to abuse Vengevine needs to be filled with cheap creatures. Bomat Courier and Insolent Neonate are around to trigger the 4/3 and force-feed your opponent a Vengemite sandwich – which can be something of an acquired taste, it must be said. In addition, both these creatures are also able to put themselves in the bin when they've outlived their usefulness – not only does this fuel delve, but as the activation of both Courier and Neonate involves discarding cards, they help to power out Hollow Ones!
The most impressive part of this decklist is Nixon's near-absolute refusal to play anything other than cards that add to the powerful synergies of the list. We can talk about Hollow One and Vengevine as the headline all-stars of this deck, but the most important card in the list – head and shoulders above all others – is Faithless Looting. As a natural source of card disadvantage, Faithless Looting is easy to overlook as a powerhouse of Modern. If you jam-pack a deck full of graveyard synergies, however, there's no better card to enable some absurdly busted plays.
If you'll join me in this one-horse open sleigh, we can head down to Magical Christmas Land and consider some of the openings this deck is capable of. A lucky Faithless Looting can dump Hollow Ones into play, Vengevines into the bin, and have you attacking for 26 on turn two.
How, you ask? On the draw, loot away two Vengevines and cycle Street Wraith, play four Hollow Ones, and on next turn play two Couriers and attack with four Hollow Ones, two Vengevines, and two Couriers. I did make it clear we're in Magical Christmas Land, right?
Even if we disregard the situations in which we're attacking for lethal on the second turn, this deck's capacity to absolutely dominate the battlefield in the early turns is difficult to understate. Black-Red Hollow One lists rely on Flamewake Phoenix and Bloodghast as recursive threats – Vengevine hits a lot harder, and its one-drop enablers only power up the overall synergy of the deck. Plus, curving Burning-Tree Emissary into Reckless Bushwhacker is a tidy, hard-hitting Plan B, and doesn't even use the graveyard!
How many Jaces have been printed in total? By now it must be at least ten or eleven million, right? Despite the fact that a Gatherer search for "Jace" results in more hits than an ABBA compilation, everyone's favorite blue mage wasn't the chief beneficiary of the most recent change to the "Planeswalker Uniqueness Rule," which now means you can have two planeswalkers that share a type on the battlefield at one time. Rather, it's good old Hercules McMuscles who is shining brightest – and Kyle Smitherman is out to cast as many Gideons as he possibly can.
It's very difficult to pull together a control deck that doesn't rely on blue for things like countermagic and card draw, but this deck is exactly that. Who needs blue cards when you have nine copies of the mighty Mr. Multiverse? All three flavors of Gideon work supremely well on both offense and defense and are backed up by an all-star cast of Modern's best interaction.
Fatal Push, Path to Exile and now Cast Down provide a catch-all suite of removal spells, while the usual discard spells tear their hands to bits. Lingering Souls is a great way to protect various planeswalkers, while the four-way split on sweepers makes it very difficult for Meddling Mage to do its job properly. If none of this works for you, however, there's always just the flavor text on Gideon of the Trials - you're unlikely to run out of Gideons, at any rate!
One of the less obvious strengths of this list is its capacity to make the most of Field of Ruin. We've seen how much work Modern's latest Wasteland variant can do in basic-heavy decks like White-Blue Control, and things are no different here as this deck is sure to run the opponent out of basics before its nine Plains and Swamps dry up. Field of Ruin continues to be strongly positioned against much of the Modern format, and beyond blowing up utility lands, it becomes a "free" Wasteland in the late-game!
The deck that took down Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan has stayed pretty quiet since this mighty victory. Lantern Control has kind of fallen off the face of the Earth, vindicating those who claimed a ban wasn't warranted (even a broken clock is right twice a day). Michael Coyle hustled and bustled this weekend with a new take on an artifact-based prison strategy, cooking up whole new flavors of misery for everyone to enjoy.
Whoa, there. What is even going on with this list? How does it win? It doesn't even look like a Magic deck – I half-expect to see a playset of Jack of Diamonds registered in it, along with a singleton Second Prize in a Beauty Contest. While you sit down hoping to play some of your cards with pictures of monsters, this deck hopes to fiddly-fart around with its library, graveyard, and battlefield until it's impossible for you to play anything remotely resembling Magic.
We've seen decks like this in the past, of course, but this is a fresh take on the archetype. Obviously the centerpiece of the deck is Ensnaring Bridge – I'm certain there's an extremely positive correlation between games won and games where Ensnaring Bridge hit the battlefield, and Ensnaring Bridge's interaction with Bottled Cloister is particularly cute. Additionally, however, there are a couple of new angles here that are important to understand.
Firstly, this deck doesn't seek to mill the opponent out with mill rocks, as we've seen before. Instead, it uses either Pyrite Spellbomb plus Academy Ruins to loop recursive damage each turn, or alternatively mill them out with Ipnu Rivulet plus Crucible of Worlds. Notably, both these win conditions require the graveyard, which we'll come back to directly.
Secondly, this deck is a lot more all-in on tutor effects. Not only is Whir of Invention a four-of, there is also Tezzeret the Seeker to, well, seek out what might be needed. Further even to this, four copies of Tolaria West search out various zero-CMC cards and Expedition Map helps to find the many different utility lands this list runs. These tutors allow the deck to play a toolbox-style game; for example, Tolaria West can find Tormod's Crypt for game-one graveyard hate, or Tezzeret can activate an emergency-mode Witchbane Orb.
Thirdly, a playset of Engineered Explosives significantly changes the way games will play out. Cheaply sweeping the board of one- or two-drops is a very strong second fiddle to Ensnaring Bridge when it comes to locking up a game (and handily prevents Noble Hierarch-based shenanigans). As this deck isn't relying on Codex Shredder and friends, EE for one or two can be a backbreakingly asymmetrical effect.
Finally, don't rely on graveyard hate to combat this deck post-board. While contesting their 'yard is a great way to neuter both Spellbomb/Ruins and Rivulet/Crucible, it's not going to work in game two – they'll just embarrass you with Ghirapur Aether Grid and ride that to victory in slower, more interactive post-board games. Plan accordingly and given the choice, play Disenchant over Shatter.
As discussed, it's by no means guaranteed that any of these decks are going to run roughshod over Modern or become the new scourge of the format. If, however, you expect to succeed in a format like Modern, it's imperative to have the broadest possible knowledge of what might be thrown at you.
Armed with this knowledge, you'll have a better idea what to expect if someone bins green cards off a Faithless Looting, Inquisitions you off a Godless Shrine, or transmutes Tolaria West for Engineered Explosives. And if one of these decks takes off and ends up being the Next Big Thing, well, you were into it before it was cool.
- Riley Knight