Guilds of Ravnica cards are not only defining the post-rotation Standard metagame, they are also making their presence felt in Modern by turning the metagame on its head. Today I'll review the major trends started by Guilds of Ravnica in both formats, highlighting the new cards and the decks they are excelling in.
The big story in Modern right now is Dredge, which has gone from essentially a non-player in the metagame to what looks like the best deck in the format. Its rise comes in great part because of Creeping Chill, which gives the deck another Narcomoeba-like card that can be milled for value.
Draining up to 12 life over the course of the game for no cost has major offensive and defensive implications, and it's why Dredge has filled the elimination rounds of every Magic Online Modern Challenge since Creeping Chill has been legal and why it took two of the top three slots of the SCG Modern Open last weekend. Now that the cat is out of the bag we're going to see more Dredge hate, and history shows that Dredge usually ends up being contained when players are ready for it, so the best plan going forward is to add some graveyard hate, hold on tight and weather the storm. If Dredge proves it can't be stopped, it could be subject to another banning.
In the meantime, Dredge looks like a great choice to play, at least in the immediate future, when players still haven't caught up and added the graveyard hate they need. It's an especially good choice for someone who might not be familiar with Modern or that has been lost on what deck to play - when a deck is so clearly broken it is rarely a bad idea to just play it. If you're already a Dredge player, just keep gettin' it while the gettin's good and don't stop until you start losing or they ban something.
Guilds of Ravnica has also provided a gift to one of Modern's more obscure combo decks, and has unexpectedly turned it into a very competitive deck.
Cragganwick Cremator first entered my radar when it appeared in a decklist sometime after Ixalan, which brought it Ghalta, Primal Hunger to pair with, but it was made better than ever with Impervious Greatwurm, which offers an incredible 16 power. This interaction brought the deck to a MTGO Modern Challenge Top 8 a couple weeks ago, which it followed up with an incredible first-place finish last weekend.
Impervious Greatwurm is an incredible addition to the Cragganwick Cremator deck, as dealing 16 damage is significantly more than Ghalta, Primal Hunger's 12, and it combines with Lighting Bolt to do 19, and considering the damage many decks do to themselves with shock lands or Horizon Canopy, that's usually enough. The deck also has plenty of creatures to chip in damage, which means Cragganwick Cremator doesn't necessarily even need to discard a massive creature to be effective, and even hitting for five damage can be game-winning.
Impervious Greatwurm is also a very real alternative plan for the deck, which has the tools to cast the creature that few opponents will be able to stop once in play.
Cragganwick Cremator is an inherently random card that requires some set-up, just emptying the hand, but Eldritch Evolution does provide consistent access to Cragganwick Cremator and makes the combo more reliable. Fauna Shaman can find Impervious Greatwurm, and it supports a toolbox of utility creatures, including standouts like Scavenging Ooze and Magus of the Moon, and even Nullhide Ferox, another new Guilds of Ravnica addition, which hoses discard like Liliana of the Veil and just hits hard relative to the mana cost.
The fact that this deck and pilot went back-to-back top 8-ing and then winning the MTGO Modern Challenge, a very competitive event that routinely has over 100 if not over 128 players for 8 rounds of swiss, is a sign that it's a real deck that needs to be taken seriously and could be a reasonable option going forward.
I can't speak much more to the deck without first playing it myself, but I'll definitely be looking out for it and will be curious to hear more about it. I'll have a good laugh if it does become a mainstay of Modern, because when Impervious Greatwurm was spoiled as Guilds of Ravnica's Buy-a-Box card I went on record in an article implying there was no chance it would become a competitive staple and cause a fiasco like Nexus of Fate, which was the Magic community controversy du jour. I could never have imagined that the card would be become a Modern staple, which in theory has the power to bring its price to levels far exceeding anything Nexus of Fate could have reached in Standard.
Guilds of Ravnica's most enduring legacy in Modern may end up being Arclight Phoenix, which has created a new archetype based around getting it into the graveyard and recurring it. The card was printed into a golden age of red graveyard decks, with both Red-Black Hollow One and Dredgevine as top-tier decks, so it was clear there would be plenty of tools to support Arclight Phoenix, and it's already excelling. The first I heard about Arclight Phoenix in Modern was a Mono-Red deck, which has all the tools to support the card, and allows the deck to take advantage of another incredible new Guilds of Ravnica card, Runaway Steam-Kin.
Another version popped up this week, which takes a burn-focused approach
As of last weekend, the new Arclight Phoenix deck-to-beat is this Blue-tinged version, which finished in the Top 16 of the SCG Modern Open last weekend.
Blue adds some blue card drawing, which helps maintain a high spell count for Arclight Phoenix, and in the case of Thought Scour actually digs for it as well. Izzet Charm provides another way to dig for Arclight Phoenix and get it into the graveyard, while adding the utility of a Counterspell. Blue also adds some payoff, with Thing of the Ice having a proven history in Modern spells decks as both a threat and a defensive measure. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy adds a discard outlet and some planeswalker action, with Jace, Telepath Unbound having a wide selection of spells to flashback.
Arclight Phoenix is here to stay in Modern – it's already proven to be powerful enough to compete, so now it's just a matter of figuring out what support cards are correct. What's scary is that these various Arclight Phoenix decks will only get better as they are further refined. There's plenty of incentive for whoever can figure it out and unleash the deck at a tournament, so be
sure that there are plenty of brewers working on it right now.
Arclight Phoenix is also making a name for itself in Standard, where a Blue-Red deck similar to the Modern versions aims to get multiple Arclight Phoenix into the graveyard and Reanimate them, just with less powerful enablers than are available in Modern.
I ran up into a deck like this online when testing Golgari and while I initially didn't think it would be too much of a challenge, my opponent had the Last Laugh as they made relatively short work of me. What's scary is that the deck I ran into might not even be the best version of the deck. I recently caught wind of another version of the deck,
*which Riley Knight highlighted in his Channelfireball article this week, a nearly mono-blue monstrosity that uses Drowned Secrets to become a true self-mill deck, complete with Narcoemoeba and even Creeping Chill!
Arclight Phoenix fills in as another source of value from the graveyard, sort of Standard's Bloodghast. It's enabled by a healthy spell count, including a set of Mission Briefing, which essentially counts as two spells in one towards the three necessary to Reanimate Arclight Phoenix, and is really strong for triggering Drowned Secrets.
The deck also boasts a pretty creative sideboard, a transformation plan that loads up on creatures that the opponent will not be expecting – Tempest Djinn will hit really hard in this Island-heavy deck. So far this deck is just a standout brew piloted by a great player in small-scale local events, but if it performs as advertised it looks pretty unfair and could become a player in the global metagame.
Tempest Djinn made a name for itself recently in the Mono-Blue Aggro deck, which had a few moments in the spotlight last season, but broke out as somewhat of a legitimate contender in the post-rotation world. Player are beginning to tweak its mono-blue blueprint, and a new version with black has appeared.
Black adds Thief of Sanity, a perfect candidate for the strategy, as it's essentially a flying with Curious Obsession already attached, and the deck has Dive Down and Spell Pierce to protect the value-generating engine.
One of the most novel strategies I've seen since rotation is a true Standard burn deck.
This deck is really made possible because of Risk Factor, which makes a burn strategy appealing because it takes full advantage of Risk Factor's eight potential damage. Beyond the obvious red burn spells it's supported by some unlikely Standard cards.
Sword-Point Diplomacy serves as extra copies of Risk Factor in that it offers the opponent the choice of taking damage of giving more cards, which are likely to just be burn spells anyways. It's actually more taxing than Risk Factor, and the opponent is more likely to Fork over the cards. Sovereign's Bite acts like a Lightning Helix targeting the opponent, which buys extra time against aggressive opponents.
The strength of burn decks is that burn is hard to interact with, so I can see a deck like this succeeding against a metagame relying on removal spells – Modern Burn generally has a strong Jund matchup, and I see a deck like this preying on Golgari decks in Standard that will have trouble stopping burn spells and aren't fast enough to race them.
Another deck to break out this week is Mono-Green Elves, which gained Guilds of Ravnica's Beast Whisper, an Elf with Glimpse of Nature built in.
Another new Elf, Pelt Collector, joins Steel Leaf Champion and Thorn Elemental to give this deck some potentially very aggressive starts, but it's equipped for grinding out the longest games with a set of Vanquisher's Banner in addition to Beast Whisperer, along with a set of Elvish Clancaller as a mana-sink that generates extra value.
Last week Seth Manfield explored control decks with a series of videos, starting with Jeskai and then moving to Grixis, which he sounded thrilled with. A key feature of that decklist was a full set of Disinformation Campaign, which generates immediate two-for-one value and then more throughout the game as it is repeatedly re-used. Last weekend a build with a set of the card finished Top 4 of the SCG Standard Classic, except it took a more simplified approach by cutting red and playing a strictly Dimir shell.
This deck plays a full set of Doom Whisperer as a top-end threat and surveil engine and backs it up with a pair of Dream Eater, which we've seen excel in various control decks since rotation. What was more surprising to me was three Blood Operative main deck. The card clearly has great potential, but I saw it as more of an aggressive card and didn't consider that it could be used an endlessly recurrable creature in the vein of Nether Spirit, a former staple of control decks.
Between Blood Operative and Disinformation Campaign, this deck has a tremendous amount of value built in, will rarely run out of action and looks to have the tools to out-grind just about any deck imaginable. I will note that this deck is quite sorcery speed and tap-out in nature, and completely lacks Counterspells like Sinister Sabotage, so it's not a traditional blue control deck and is more black-based in nature. That said, the sideboard offers counters, and the main deck could always be tuned to include countermagic or whatever other disruption would be useful against the evolving metagame.
Last week I discussed some variations of Golgari, which is setting pace as the top deck in Standard. Now players are looking to get an edge on the mirror, and a few pieces of technology have emerged.
One key card showing up is The Immortal Sun. Golgari decks typically rely on Vivien Reid and Vraska, Relic Seeker for their Naturalize effects, but they are useless against The Immortal Sun, which turns off planeswalkers while giving its controller a big advantage. To fight back against The Immortal Sun, Golgari decks may want to turn to alternative measures like Thrashing Brontodon. Of course, Assassin's Trophy does deal with The Immortal Sun, which makes it slightly unreliable, but keep in mind that Assassin's Trophy is otherwise not a great card in the matchup because giving the opponent a land is a raw deal in such a grindy attrition-based matchup, so it does force the opponent to keep in a card they would otherwise sideboard out.
Some more robust tech for the mirror match is Carnage Tyrant, which dominates combat in a mirror match full of small creatures. It can be stopped by Plaguecrafter, or just overwhelmed with blockers, but it's a huge play that can definitely end some games quickly. It's also great against control, which is on the rise, and solid against red, so it's nearly a main deck staple at this point.