I won't be playing any more Standard until Amonkhet releases.
I guess you could call it a boycott on this Standard format for being so homogenous at the top. Well, you could call it that, but you'd be wrong. I actually just don't have any more Standard events on the ol' schedule for the next month. I think we all know that if I did, I'd probably be grinding away games on Magic Online trying to find the perfect build of Mardu so I can hope to draw the mythic side of my deck come tournament time. I'm too enfranchised to take time off!
Instead, I've been looking at Modern. Grand Prix San Antonio in two weeks is Team Unified Modern, which means that each team consists of three players, all playing Modern, and no teammates can overlap on cards. If a teammate registers a card, no matter how many copies of that card they play, nobody else on the team can register any copies. So if you're only playing three Lightning Bolts in this hypothetical dream scenario, your teammate can't play the fourth one and hope to get lucky.
The team format creates a different set of considerations, so my overall look at the format doesn't exactly fit in perfectly to testing. With that said, Modern is such a broad format with so many vastly different decks that it actually isn't too hard to get three decks that don't overlap at all.
I want to cover some decklists that I've come across that may not be the same classic fare you're used to from Modern. Some of these are newish decks, while many are updated takes on old archetypes. Some are just sweet. Either way, most of these decks are not something that you were likely to run into three or four months ago in their current form. But they are becoming a part of the new Modern format and are worth being aware of; If you feel bold and daring enough, maybe you can even give them a spin.
Storm is an old-hat archetype in Modern. In fact, a lot of the early bans in this format were made at least partially with Storm in mind. Rite of Flame and Seething Song were purely attacked Storm decks, and Ponder and Preordain had some splash damage on Storm as well.
For the past few years, Storm has been a pretty nonexistent player in the format. It saw sporadic play from time to time, but never really put up any results. Will this time be different? That I cannot say, but Storm has been picking up in popularity recently, thanks to a new tool in Baral, Chief of Compliance and a brand-new build.
These new versions of Storm are no longer trying to go bananas with Pyromancer's Ascension, a plan that can often fall apart in the face of hand disruption or cards like Abrupt Decay. Instead, they use Baral and Goblin Electromancer to cheapen spells and Gifts Ungiven to give them the goods they need to go off. Thanks to the flashback on Past in Flames, it doesn't really matter if it ends up in your hand or the graveyard when you find it from Gifts Ungiven.
One neat thing about this list is the inclusion of Merchant Scroll, a fancy little 8th Edition card that has been almost completely untouched in Modern up to this point. Another great thing is the inclusion of Remand in this strategy. There are two cool interactions with Remand in this deck. The first is that it costs only one mana and it gives you a loot if you Remand a spell with Baral in play. The second is that it allows you to do some fun things like cast a big Grapeshot, and then Remand the initial copy back into your hand to cast it again for even more Storm. Fun times.
Jund Death's Shadow took the Modern world by Storm last month when it won GP Vancouver in the hands of Josh Utter-Leyton and put two additional copies in semifinals in the hands of Gerry Thompson and Sam Black. It was a truly dominant performance, but it's only progressed from there. People have been experimenting with all kinds of versions of Death Shadow decks, and it seems that as long as you maintain the same core cards there are a variety of ways you can realistically build the list, from Abzan to Esper to Grixis.
This Abzan list eschews the red cards in Tarfire and Temur Battle Rage and instead opts for a little higher power but less synergistic cards in Lingering Souls and Path to Exile. This list even has a copy of Varolz, the Scar-Striped, a card I have not seen since Junk Aristocrats played it back in Return to Ravnica Standard. It certainly seems sweet if you can pay one or two mana to turn a Death's Shadow or Tarmogoyf into a Battlegrowth on horse tranquilizer level steroids, although ultimately I'd be surprised if it ends up being worth it.
The most popular variant on Death's Shadow right now is definitely Grixis. I think with the newfound popularity and success of the Grixis versions of the deck, it's conceivably possible that this is actually a better version of the deck than the traditional Jund version.
The major strength of this version of the deck is that it gets to eschew playing the delirium-based cards that traditional Death's Shadow does. No need for Tarfires or Mishra's Baubles or even Architects of Will to turn on delirium for Tarmogoyf and Traverse the Ulvenwald. Instead, this deck gets to play a cleaner and more streamlined game-plan based around filling the graveyard. That means you get to play cards like Lightning Bolt instead of Tarfire.
The primary payoff for Grixis is that you get to run four copies of Snapcaster Mage. I was about to launch into a paragraph extolling the virtues of playing Snapcaster Mage, but then I stopped myself. I mean, it's Snapcaster Mage. I don't think I need to talk too much about how great it is with all the phenomenal one-mana spells in this deck.
The other big upside is the delve cards. Tasigur, the Golden Fang, and Gurmag Angler are both great in Modern, much more than they would seem at first glance. They are giant creatures that are bigger than most everything in combat and they also turn on Stubborn Denial. Most Importantly, they cannot be killed by Fatal Push or Abrupt Decay, which is a huge blow to so many decks in the format that are trying to rely on those cards to handle opposing threats.
Jund Death Shadow wasn't the only deck to put up a dominant performance recently. That same weekend, Dredge also put up a similarly dominant performance halfway across the globe at GP Brisbane in the hands of Zen Takahashi and Lee Shi Tian, who both found themselves in the top four, with Zen Takahashi losing to Lantern Control in the finals.
As many players predicted, losing Golgari Grave-Troll wasn't a killing blow to the deck, merely a setback. In many regards, it was the perfect ban for the deck. It hurt the strategy, but not enough to kill it, allowing players who thrive love graveyard decks like Dredge the ability to continue playing the strategies they enjoy without it being too weak to be viable.
I could spend a few paragraphs talking about how much I love it when they ban cards to neuter but not render a strategy unplayable, but I'll keep it brief. We've seen this happen multiple times now in Modern. A deck becomes too powerful or too oppressive, and they ban a key piece that certainly cripples the strategy, but doesn't outright kill it, and that strategy ends up crawling back eventually to become a key but fair part of the Modern format. Some easy examples are banning Summer Bloom leading to Azusa versions of Amulet still being fair options or banning Eye of Ugin but keeping Eldrazi Temple legal, leading to Bant Eldrazi and Eldrazi Taxes and Eldrazi Tron all as fair and balanced Modern decks. Lastly, they even banned Splinter Twin and then accidentally printed Felidar Guardian to go with Saheeli Rai, providing us with a fair alternative. They have every angle covered.
Since GP Brisbane, the deck has continued to put up good results on Magic Online. Zen wrote a great article on the deck, outlining that the main strategy for this version without Grave-Troll is to take things slower and focus more on getting the most mileage out of your dredges rather than going for the most speed. An easy example is saving Cathartic Reunion for turn three and using turn two to instead ensure that there will be enough fodder in the graveyard to keep dredging for all three draws off of Cathartic Reunion when you do eventually play it.
Another deck that has recently seen an uptick in popularity and success is pure White-Blue Control. The deck's place in Modern seems to be as a solution deck whenever the format becomes too inbred with any one strategy. With the current dominance of Death's Shadow, White-Blue has shown itself to be a capable answer to the strategy. It attacks Death's Shadow decks with card advantage and disruption in the form of Spreading Seas to throw them off their mana.
The last time I saw pure White-Blue Control as a popular part of the metagame was during Eldrazi Winter, when it rose in prominence as an answer to the Eldrazi decks. I imagine as the format adjusts to Death Shadow decks that we will see White-Blue Control naturally decline as well, but for now, if you're a control mage who has been biding your time, now's the best opportunity you'll have to dust off your Sphinx's Revelation and Gideon Jura. Who knows when the next time will come.
Right now, Modern is in a place where most of the top decks are all fair strategies. Well, they might not do the most fair things, but at their core they are just playing normal Magic, not trying to do some funky combo thing. When that's the case, you get strategies like White-Blue Control doing well (see above), and you can also get decks like this putting up a good result.
This deck is a pile of fun cards that I love to play, but at the same time it seems like an underpowered strategy in Modern. Big props to Todd Stevens for taking a deck that he played a ton on his stream because he loves playing those cards, piloting it at the SCG Open in Dallas, and crushing the swiss rounds to make the Top 8. That's how Magic is played, ladies and gentlemen.
Is this deck going to be a major player in Modern moving forward? Probably not. But much like how I love playing Abzan Aggro strategies in Modern and will go out of my way to do so whenever I can, if you like green and white creatures and getting as much value out of them as you can, this decks seems right up your alley. I just can't believe I'm looking at Azusa, Lost but Seeking in a fair Collected Company deck. It still blows my mind, but I love it.
Littered throughout the Top 16 and Top 32 of the SCG Open in Dallas were a bunch of Revolt Zoo strategies. When we did a set review for Aether Revolt here on TCGplayer, I predicted that both Narnam Renegade and Hidden Herbalists would both be good cards in Modern where fetch lands make turning on revolt super easy. I'm happy to see that prediction start to come to fruition. Sorry to toot my own horn here, but when you're a broken clock that's only right twice a year, you can't waste opportunities like this.
Hidden Herbalists gives the deck a full eight two-drops that generate enough mana to replace themselves. Pair that up with Reckless Bushwhacker and that can be an enormous amount of damage on the second turn. The one drawback is that Hidden Herbalists can only produce GG, which doesn't play well with Reckless Bushwhacker. The solution comes in the form of Simian Spirit Guide, which can give you the red mana necessary to whack their bush. This version also plays a full 12 one-drops that you can play with green mana, allowing for an easier time if you're stuck with a bunch of Herbalists and no copies of Burning-Tree Emissary to filter the mana through.
I see people discuss all the time the idea of banning Terminus to neuter Miracles. Much like how banning Golgari Grave-Troll only hurt Dredge but didn't destroy it as an archetype, the idea is that banning Terminus would hurt Miracles but not destroy it. Well, as it turns out, Terminus is my least favorite card in Miracles anyway, and I have long toyed with the idea of playing a Miracles build with zero Miracles cards. Terminus has warped the format such that decks that Terminus is good against are played much less than they used to be. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. I want to look at what a potential Miracles deck without Terminus would look like.
This is certainly a rough take, but the idea is that without Terminus, you'll need to use Monastery Mentor to keep the board manageable and rely on Engineered Explosives to be a sweeper when needed. I love the idea of using Gitaxian Probe with Monastery Mentor in Miracles and without Terminus in the mix, it could finally be the time for this idea to shine. All part of the master plan.
I think it's unlikely we'll ever see a Terminus ban, but hey, maybe this version of Miracles would be fun to play sometime anyway. I know I'll probably try it out regardless.
- Brian Braun-Duin