Last week I shared my predictions about the future of Standard with Ixalan, and there has been nothing in the last week to change my opinions, so while we wait for the set to be spoiled I am going to revisit Modern before Ixalan completely dominates the conversation. I am always on the hunt for Modern tech and new decks, and this week some very exciting decks popped up.
The synergy between Hollow One, Vengevine and Faithless Looting forms thecore of the best new deck in Modern that has popped up on Magic Online since the release of Hour of Devastation. Hollow One Zoo has yet to see any mainstream, high-profile success, but players have begun to explore the possibilities this package has when working alongside other shells. I did a double-take when I came across this decklist, which combines the package with some of the most powerful cards in all of Modern.
The Hollow One and Vengevine plan is enabled by Faithless Looting, Cathartic Reunion and Insolent Neonate. This discard happens to be ideal for enabling another graveyard plan, Griselbrand and Goryo's Vengeance. Reanimating a Griselbrand is known to be good enough to single-handedly beat opponents in Modern and even Legacy, because even if they can deal with the huge lifelink flyer, they'll struggle to beat the new hand or two of cards it will draw. In this deck, it's a great alternate plan that piggybacks off of the enablers for the main plan, so it's a very seamless addition that doesn't require any additional setup. Any issues with consistency are alleviated by the looting effects that help smooth draws, so it's a relatively small cost compared to the huge upside. I'm a big fan of working a combo-style plan into an otherwise straightforward deck, so I think that this reanimation package is a great addition to the deck that could help bring it to the next level.
This build of the deck goes even farther by working in another angle, Death's Shadow. Hollow One Zoo decks use Street Wraith because it is a free cycler, and cycling is technically discard that reduces the cost of Hollow One, but this deck seeks to take advantage of the life loss component with Death's Shadow. Street Wraith combined with a fetch land and shock land mana base goes a long way towards supporting Death's Shadow, and the addition of Thoughtseize completes the package to give the deck life loss comparable to dedicated Death's Shadow decks. Thoughtseize is just a great card in Modern and a reasonable addition to any sort of aggressive deck, but it even adds a bit of synergy here by being another way to discard your own cards. It can reduce the cost of Hollow One, put a Vengevine in the yard, or best of all, set up Griselbrand and Goryo's Vengeance.
Rounding out the deck is Gurmag Angler, a great threat that helps take advantage of the graveyard in the same way that the typical Hollow One decks use Hooting Mandrills. The change makes sense given that this list has reduced green to a minimum, and it's simply a more powerful card that should be no problem to enable.
This approach to Hollow One Zoo is ambitious, but I am in awe of how effortlessly it uses the core cards to enable two of the most broken strategies in Modern. It's just good deckbuilding, and it's this sort of experimentation that could bring the strategy from a novel curiosity to a real contender in the metagame.
The typical Hollow One Zoo deck uses Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage as a combo-style finisher on top of the aggression started by Goblin Guide and Monastery Swiftspear. This new approach to the decklist adds cards that further support this aggressive red strategy, Burning-Tree Emissary and Reckless Bushwhacker.
Burning-Tree Emissary just makes sense in a Vengevine deck that needs cheap or free creatures, and it will help give the deck more busted starts that take advantage of its mythic. Reckless Bushwhacker has a history of being found wherever Burning-Tree Emissary calls home, and it gives extra support to the one-drop red creatures, so it helps the deck win even without any sort of graveyard shenanigans. It also brings its own sort of synergy with Hollow One, which it can give haste to enable an immediate attack and loads of extra damage. This package of red creatures helps to give the deck an identity beyond its main plan, yet offers direct support for both Vengevine and Hollow One, so it should add consistency to the main plan while simultaneously making the deck less reliant on it. It's another example of great deckbuilding and another approach that could bring the Hollow One Zoo deck to the next level.
Control has been going through a renaissance in Modern with White-Blue and Jeskai Control seeing consistent success in major Modern events, and they have paved the way for other control decks to succeed. The most promising alternative to white-based control is black-based control, like this decklist that nearly reached the Top 8 in the last online Pro Tour Qualifier.
The biggest draw to black control in Modern is Fatal Push, which eliminates the need to play white for Path to Exile. Another major benefit is discard, which in this deck includes Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek and Collective Brutality, the latter of which seems to have risen into the pantheon of top discard in Modern and can now be found in most decks sporting the former two. This discard is one of the main competitive advantages of black control compared to white control and a key reason to play the deck. It's excellent against other control decks, because history tells us that black control with discard should be favored against white control, but it's best of all against combo-style decks like Storm and Titan Breach. Rounding out the disruption is countermagic, which includes four Cryptic Command as a powerful tempo and card advantage play and remains one of the most compelling reasons to play a control deck in Modern.
Like White-Blue Control, this deck uses a small selection of planeswalkers to generate value and ultimately win the game, including Ob Nixilis Reignited making the jump to Modern right before it rotates out of Standard. Snapcaster Mage and a set of Creeping Tar Pit will finish other games, and a pair of Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet can help finish the job while also functioning as a graveyard hoser and a roadblock for aggressive decks.
A more proactive approach to a Black-Blue control shell is this Gifts Ungiven-powered deck, which uses Gifts Ungiven to set up the Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek combo by also finding Crucible of Worlds and Academy Ruins to ensure access to the combo engine.
Lacking Cryptic Command and not being fully equipped to play the control role into the late game means the deck includes plenty of threats beyond the combo that can take out the opponent, so delve creatures Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Gurmag Angler apply pressure alongside Liliana of the Veil. A small black splash provides Abrupt Decay and Maelstrom Pulse, which also make Gifts Ungiven more potent as a tutor and source of value.
Back when Black Devotion was the dominant deck in Theros Standard, I made no effort to hide the fact that I was a huge fan of the deck, or of its most broken card, Pack Rat. I even went so far as to create an Adam Yurchick Pack Rat Token when TCGplayer created tokens for its writers. I haven't played with Pack Rat since, but it might be time to take out those tokens because Pack Rat has emerged from the sewers and made its way into a successful Modern deck.
This deck first got my attention when it 5-0ed a league a month ago, and I nearly included it into an article, but since that time it has won a Modern Challenge and qualified someone for the Magic Online Championship Series Playoffs, so it's evidently the real deal. The deck takes a page from the Jund playbook by loading up on disruption with tons of discard and removal, but instead of green for Tarmogoyf and other threats, it uses Pack Rat as an easy way to apply pressure and take over the game. Another former Standard star, Goblin Rabblemaster, adds another source of pressure that will win the game if unanswered.
The streamlined mana of a two-color Jund-style deck provides access to Blood Moon, which rounds out the strategy with a hoser for the land decks that typically give Jund and Abzan a very hard time, and it could be the biggest reason to play this deck over the three-color options. The two-color mana also opens up access to Mutavault, which as a Rat supercharges Pack Rat as a threat.
Another alternative to Jund and Abzan is Mardu, which has always struggled to find the same level of success as its counterparts but has the potential to excel, like this build of the deck that reached the Top 16 of the MTGO PTQ last weekend.
This deck's threat of choice is Young Pyromancer, and it goes all-in on the prowess plan by playing a set Monastery Mentor on top of that. Monastery Mentor was just restricted in Vintage, and helped lead to the banning of Sensei's Divining Top in Legacy, so it's time to take a hard look at Monastery Mentor in Modern because it's almost assuredly underplayed in the format. This deck uses Monastery Mentor very effectively with a ton of spells, including Lingering Souls as a great source of value to trigger its creatures. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar tops off the threat base, and its anthem ultimate ability does great work with the tokens in the deck.
A cool piece of tech from the sideboard is Monastery Swiftspear. This aggressively-oriented prowess creature plays very well with the spell base in the deck, and adds a way to apply pressure to combo decks to help kill them before they can execute their plan.
The Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian combo was so good as to be banned in Standard, and that leaves Modern as the next best place to make it work. This attempt at the combo slots it into a control shell full of disruption and card draw, along with some specific card choices that add synergy to the combo pieces.
Snapcaster Mage is a given in any Modern control deck, and it's an ideal card to be blinked by Felidar Guardian or copied with Saheeli Rai to get an extra trigger and cast another spell. Vendilion Clique can disrupt the opponent to help push the combo through, and it's another great card to hit with the combo pieces. Spreading Seas is ideal to blink with Felidar Guardian to draw an extra card, and it does great work disrupting the opponent's mana.
Dipping into black provides Kolaghan's Command, which is great in any deck with Snapcaster Mage, and it's great here for returning a fallen Felidar Guardian to help set up the combo. Collective Brutality is a bit of discard to disrupt the opponent and protect the combo, with the flexibility of turning into a removal spell. Pay special attention to the sideboard, which includes Geist of Saint Traft and Lingering Souls to provide an alternate path to victory when the combo is under disruption.
To make even better use of Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian, this green-based approach to the combo loads up on value creatures that are perfect for blinking or copying, and provides Eldritch Evolution to find any of them, Felidar Guardian or even Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker as an alternative way to combo with the Cat.
Green provides mana acceleration in Birds of Paradise and – like the Standard version once played – the deck also includes Oath of Nissa to find either half of the combo. Besides Path to Exile for disruption and the combo pieces, the rest of the deck is filled with a curve of value creatures to support Eldritch Evolution. What's particularly exciting is Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, which is not only great for generating value, but can function like Saheeli Rai and combo with Felidar Guardian. It is this fact that makes Eldritch Evolution so strong, as it can find either half of the combo, and it's what makes this version of the deck so appealing.
What do you think of these decks? What are the most exciting novel new Modern cards, decks, and strategies that you have seen in the format? Share your thoughts in the forums, and I'll answer any questions.