This past weekend was Modern Grand Prix Kobe, and as usual the Japanese scene produced all sorts of exciting decks. I have chosen the most interesting of the bunch to share today.


Opening the Vault

Taisuke Ishii is a Grand Prix Champion and a fierce Magic Online competitor. He can also brew quite the Modern deck. Earlier this year, he posted a 7-3 record at Modern Pro Tour Born of the Gods playing an Open the Vaults / Krark-Clan Ironworks plus Urzatron deck. I took note of it, and I even wrote a bit about the deck in an article following the event.

Ishii has refined his creation and brought it back to the competitive scene. Last weekend he played his brew to a Top 32 finish at Modern Grand Prix Kobe.

DECKID=1211929

Much like Ishii's previous Modern brew, this deck is built around abusing Open the Vaults which is capable of generating massive value from the graveyard. Going farther, Krark-Clan Ironworks is a degenerate mana producer that works to enable the graveyard recursion abilities of Open the Vaults.

The deck is fueled by an assortment of cheap artifacts that replace themselves. Familiar artifact cogs Chromatic Star and Terrarion draw cards when sacrificed, Prophetic Prism cycles itself and fixes mana, and Ichor Wellspring is pure card advantage. The rarely-seen Mindstone serves as acceleration, and it has great synergy with Open the Vaults because it can sacrifice itself.

With a high artifact count of 35, this deck takes advantage of a set of the powerful Mox Opal, a card rarely seen outside of Affinity, to speed things up.

A single Conjurer's Bauble belies the fact that this deck can draw its entire library and generate a loop of spells. This deck shares some similarities with the now-defunct Second Sunrise combo deck, but this one is not built to truly go infinite on a single turn. The nature of Open the Vaults allows the deck to generate value over time before unleashing the haymaker for massive value. This also means the deck is much more resilient to disruption over the course of the game, as it's capable of slogging through a game before seizing control with a topdecked Open the Vaults.

What I haven't mentioned is how this deck wins the game. It doesn't have Pyrite Spellbomb or Grapeshot like the Second Sunrise combo deck, but it instead wins in a more elegant and flexible manner, and the plan is seamless with the sideboard and sideboarding strategy. I'll explain.

The main win condition here is Thopter Foundry. This card was once part of a degenerate combo deck in Extended before Sword of the Meek was banned at the inception of Modern, but Thopter Foundry does so much more. It carries deep synergy with this Open the Vaults deck. This deck plays three Thopter Foundry, which reveals it is not simply a dedicated kill-condition but a bonafide engine and combo piece that plays a pivotal role in this deck.

The main strategy with Open the Vaults is to get as many cheap artifacts into play as possible, including lots of mana acceleration, then sacrifice the artifacts and convert them into some sort of value. Thopter Foundry is great when paired with a bunch of cheap artifacts, especially ones that can be sacrificed for value. It turns out that the Open the Vaults plan of dumping artifacts into play works really well with the motives of Thopter Foundry.

For example, rather than simply cycling through cogs like Chromatic Star and Terrarion, Thopter Foundry converts them to value while still drawing the card. Thopter Foundry is also a redundant sacrifice outlet to Krark-Clan Ironworks, which is especially handy with Ichor Wellspring.

In pinch, a board of artifacts can be cashed into a winning army. The key thing to realize here is that Thopter Foundry creates options, and in some situations making a bunch of 1/1 flying tokens and generating some life points is going to be good enough to win, and a skilled player who sees the opportunity will use Thopter Foundry to win games that the straightforward "Open the Vaults combo deck" can't.

This deck does not end here, as Ishii went further with the deck by adding a more nuanced kill. Ishii's previous build had three copies of the Eldrazi, and with Urzatron he would cast it regularly. In this build, a single Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is a source of inevitability should the deck exhaust its library. It will take over the game and is the ultimate card to be drawing towards should the deck go off, but it can also be used to steal a game opportunistically paired with Krark-Clan Ironworks.

Ishii also plays a single copy of Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. This card is a pure trump against many decks, like Birthing Pod, Affinity, and Splinter Twin. Costing just one more colorless mana than Open the Vaults, this deck should have no issue with casting the white legend.

A single copy of Polymorph can be used to dig for the creatures. Powering Polymorph is Thopter Foundry, which generates plenty of token fodder, and Blinkmoth Nexus. Looked at as a package, the two legends and the Polymorph join to give Ishii three dedicated win conditions, which matches the three Eldrazi he played in the previous build of the deck. Part of the reason Ishii played the Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is to ensure Polymorph would be effective with at least two targets. It also provides him additional options, because the Eldrazi is often overkill but the Praetor costs half as much and is nearly as devastating, and in some cases much more so.

Two Remand round out the spells, and ideally they can be used to buy a turn or protect a key card from disruption.

Ishii has ditched the Tron lands in favor of a more color-intensive deck with a more reliable manabase. This opened up some room to play with.

A full set of Blinkmoth Nexus has a ton of utility here. First and foremost, they provide an insurance policy for Polymorph, and occasionally the combo will lead to an Eldrazi as early as turn three. Going deeper, Blinkmoth Nexus is actually part of the deck's mana engine. Blinkmoth Nexus can be activated for one mana to make it an artifact, which can then be sacrificed to Krark-Clan Ironworks for two mana, for a net gain of one mana. Blinkmoth Nexus is a poor-man's artifact land to supplement a full set of Darksteel Citadel. Blinkmoth Nexus is also great on defense, especially against Affinity's manlands or for buying a turn against Tarmogoyf. Of course, it's also capable of attacking to speed up the clock of a Thopter Foundry army.

Glimmervoid, Tendo Ice Bridge, and Adarkar Wastes are remnants of the previous build. They act as weak Tundras but are less painful than Hallowed Fountain, while a pair of Mystic Gate has been added to reliably cast Thopter Foundry early on. Like the previous build, because it has so many cantrips this deck operates off of just 20 lands which leaves more room for spells.

While this deck is built to Withstand some artifact removal, like Ancient Grudge, Open the Vaults is particularly vulnerable to graveyard hate. The commonly played Scavenging Ooze is a real annoyance, but it's theoretically beatable by amassing resources in play and overloading available green mana. Direct graveyard hate like Relic of Progenitus is significantly more oppressive. This deck gets around graveyard hate without touching the sideboard. Thopter Foundry and components of the Polymorph package can win the game by themselves, and they don't interact with the graveyard, so by its very construction this deck is designed with outs to graveyard hate.

Ishii's deck has certainly evolved from the last time we saw it, and I look forward to seeing if it catches on this time, either at live events on Magic Online. I'll be keeping my eyes on Ishii in the future. Whatever he creates, whether it is another evolution of the Open the Vaults deck or something else entirely, it will certainly be worth giving a second look.


Emrakul, the Cheatyface

Using Through the Breach to cheat Emrakul, the Aeon's Torn into play is not new to Modern. In fact it reached Top 8 of the first major Modern event, the first Modern Pro Tour, in Philadelphia in 2011. Since Griselbrand was printed, people have gone further and tried to cheat that legend into play too, often pairing it with the Eldrazi to create a core of powerful creatures to abuse. In Legacy, players use Sneak Attack and Show and Tell to cheat the massive creatures into play.

In Modern, Goryo's Vengeance is the card most often turned to to supplement Through the Breach for cheating huge legends into play. Goryo's Vengeance takes a lot of work, but paired with discard like Faithless Looting, it can be used to summon even the mighty Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.

This strategy has been used to some fringe success in Modern for a while. After the graveyard-hating Deathrite Shaman was banned, Goryo's Vengeance saw a surge in interest but never materialized into anything concrete. The deck was too fragile - too reliant on specific cards in a format without great card selection - and too inconsistent. Tatsushi Tsukamoto seems to have fixed many of the problems with the strategy:

DECKID=1211930

The big reason I shared this deck today is Howltooth Hollow, which this deck can use to cheat a big legend into play in the same way that Windbrisk Heights has been used for years. Howltooth Hollow has always seemed very powerful but has proven too difficult to use consistently. In the nearly seven years it has been around I can't ever recall seeing it as anything more than an awkward value card in a monoblack discard deck.

Liliana of the Veil changes the equation, because it works tirelessly to make both players hellbent and thus enable Howltooth Hollow. Howltooth Hollow is also naturally strong in a deck looking to discard its own cards as Plan A. Howltooth Hollow is especially valuable because it carries so little opportunity cost to play; the only investment is playing a tapped land, and beyond that it sits in play and Threatens to generate value, potentially with the ultimate payoff of an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and its take-an-extra-turn trigger.

This deck is straightforward, and it doesn't play awkward underpowered enablers like Lightning Axe or Izzet Charm. There are nine combo creatures, a set of Griselbrand, a set of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, and a redundant Eldrazi in Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre. A set of Through the Breach powers those creatures, and all by itself. Goryo's Vengeance does so when paired with Faithless Looting, Liliana of the Veil, or even Thoughtseize. In addition to enabling Goryo's Vengeance, Thoughtseize pairs with a set of Inquisition of Kozilek to give this deck a disruption package rivaling that of BGx Rock decks. Howltooth Hollow provides redundancy as a third potential combo piece, and it combines well with the loads of discard.

Quicksilver Amulet provides this deck a great form of redundancy by acting as another combo piece, but it's also more powerful when compared to the other options. There are very few answers to Quicksilver Amulet, and once active it will end the game in short order. Quicksilver Amulet is also excellent for combatting the graveyard removal that would otherwise neutralize Goryo's Vengeance. This makes Quicksilver Amulet a potent part of the sideboard package, which contains two copies. The card also seems excellent as a way to develop the board, which would be useful against decks like BG Rock, which when facing down a resolved Quicksilver Amulet will be left defenseless against topdecked threats.


Timeshifted

DECKID=1211931

This next deck does not have anything hidden, and there are no deeper interactions going on like in the combo decks today. What does make this deck interesting is a full set of Lighting Angel, a card I have not seen much of in Modern. Playing a 3/4 flying creature in a deck like this is hardly news, because this strategy has been playing Restoration Angel for years.

Notice that this deck doesn't have Restoration Angel at all? Ougi decided that the power of haste on Lightning Angel paired with the defensive utility of Vigilance outweighed the value of flash and the Flicker ability of Restoration Angel. It's not hard to imagine, seeing that Lightning Angel is excellent for immediately destroying a planeswalker like Liliana of the Veil, it speeds up the clock against Burn, and it never forces its controller to decide between offense and defense. Once a turn goes by and the cards are sitting in play, there is no question that Lightning Angel is more powerful than Restoration Angel, and it served Ougi well. I could easily see players in the future running a mix of these angels to provide tactical value and keep opponents guessing.

The innovation in this deck doesn't stop with Lightning Angel, as he also played two copies of Venser, Shaper Savant, which is a rare sight indeed. In some ways, Venser makes up for the loss of Restoration Angel because it provides a flash creature to interact with the board, and while it does not hit hard or generate card advantage with Snapcaster Mage, it comes with a very reliable, flexible, and efficient ability. A Remand/Boomerang hybrid, the ability is always relevant, and it gives this deck a way to maneuver out of many situations.

Note a full set of Lightning Helix, a concession to the huge upswing of Burn in the Modern metagame. Spell Snare is also quite strong against Burn, and it's important for fighting the tide of Rock creatures like Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant.


The Tezzerator Himself

DECKID=1211932

I couldn't end this article without sharing the newest deck from Shota Yasooka. Shota is one of the most celebrated deck builders in the world, and he's also a longtime fan of Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. When all the other pros were playing Standard Caw-Blade with Batterskull, Shota was playing Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. Shota has gone on to play Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas to success multiple times in high-level Modern events. Given his deckbuilding pedigree and experience with Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, Shota's decklist is the new model for approaching this planeswalker in Modern.

Shota built first and foremost a Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas deck, and it's powered by mana acceleration like a set of Dimir Signet, a trio of Talisman of Dominance, and even a pair of Mox Opal. Tezzeret also helps enable an assortment of hate card that are typically relegated to sideboards, including a pair of Torpor Orb and Relic of Progenitus, a Spellskite, and even a Pithing Needle. The major artifact win conditions include Wurmcoil Engine and Batterskull.

The deck is packed full of creature removal to support the planeswalker with a control shell, including a pair of Damnation and an assortment of flexible targeted black removal including a pair of Smother, Slaughter Pact, Go for the Throat, and even Doom Blade. Inquisition of Kozilek serves as discard disruption, and a set of Thirst for Knowledge provides card advantage. With the rest of the deck supporting planeswalker Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, Liliana of the Veil becomes a clear fit. It's part of the controlling disruption package but also exists as a threat and potential win condition in its own right.

It's interesting that Shota jammed his deck full of manlands, including two Creeping Tar Pit and sets of Mutavault and Blinkmoth Nexus, the latter of which pairs well with Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. Manlands are typically excellent in controlling decks with lots of disruption, and they work in this deck to help Shota fight and win games with an attrition strategy.

A pair of Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver in the sideboard is another planeswalker option that slots right into the control shell. It's best against creature decks like Birthing Pod. Other sideboard hits include Sower of Temptation and Glen Elendra Archmage which respectively give this deck powerful tools against creature decks and spells decks.

In Modern, everywhere you look, anything goes.

-Adam