Modern has been the focal point for a few weeks now and we just saw a Grand Prix with a relatively diverse Top 8, given that there have not been many large shake-ups for the format in quite a while. Luckily, cards from recent sets do seem to be making their way into the format. Collected Company has seen some play as a sort of Birthing Pod replacement while cards like Kolaghan's Command seem to bring the rebirth of Jund.
Modern has quite the deep pool of cards though and while new cards are certainly the most flashy of things to be focused on, it is important to take a look back through time to see what forgotten cards might serve a niche or possibly even standout role in the current format. For example, how much better is Tectonic Edge right now than it used to be, with multiple decks now running the Zendikar creature-lands or even more important fare such as Tron pieces.
Tectonic Edge is certainly strong right now, but fortunately for it, it is never really a card that faded away. It serves a utility role in the format and players remember that when they are in need of such an effect. Other cards are not so lucky however and today I wanted to take a look at some of these lost cards that might be well suited in the current metagame.
We have the Top 9 of Grand Prix Charlotte to look at for a reasonable shape of the metagame, but there were also other decks lurking around in the field that are worth talking about, such as the Lantern Control deck by Zac Elsik as it leads into our first card.
This deck can be a difficult one to wrap your head around, so allow me to assist. We are essentially looking at a prison deck here that looks to know the top card of its opponent's deck and then manipulate it to prevent the drawing of anything relevant.
It does this by milling the top card or forcing you to shuffle whenever it is a good draw and to leave it alone when it is a dead draw. With a ton of ways to look at your hand and thus to know exactly what you are working with, they can do this whole process with a great deal of confidence. My biggest issue with the deck (aside from being miserable to play against) is how poorly the deck seems to operate without a Lantern of Insight in play.
Without Lantern, you have eight cards in your deck that are now milling blindly: essentially doing nothing. While you can hope to disrupt them enough with discard and Pithing Needles, chances are good that if you don't find Lantern fast, you will lose. Why then, are we not running more cards that replicate Lantern of Insight? Wizened Snitches is bad, dying to Bolt and overall being clunky. Sadly, there are not many more options beyond that. One card that could potentially fill a role, however, is Zur's Weirding
While this does not function in the same way that Lantern does, it will provide you with a ton of information. You cannot use your mill cards to preempt a good spell coming off of the top, but instead you have the self-contained option of just paying two life and throwing it into the graveyard. This allows Zur's Weirding to be a stop-gap while you assemble other pieces of your combo.
Your opponent should not be able to pay more life than you if designed correctly and even if they can, we can find other workarounds. For example, what if we had Buried Ruin in our deck to make sure that we get Lantern into our hand regardless of whether our opponent pays two life or not?
Your optimal draws with the deck are still going to involve early Lanterns but Zur's Weirding does give a nice fall back plan that you can sneak out on turn three. From there, most decks are going to struggle to win, especially if you have other lockout components such as Ensnaring Bridge or Pithing Needle doing work for you.
Sometimes, a solid sideboard card can be all the difference in a format as powerful as Modern. I remember back in my first Grand Prix ever back in the old Extended, I ran three copies of Silent Arbiter in my sideboard. The idea was that I was playing four copies of Wildfire and Arbiter could live through that while holding off aggressive decks like Goblins until I could cast my six mana sorcery.
Silent Arbiter did a good job of his intended role, coming up big against Goblins and Zoo multiple times. One match, however, was a deck I had not prepared for at all. It was an Ichorid deck that would dredge itself a bunch and then Reanimate Ichorids until you died. This was essentially the first ever Dredge deck. Well, despite having a slower deck that did not interact with the graveyard at all, I managed to take down my Ichorid opponent almost by accident thanks to the strength that Silent Arbiter provided. Four copies of a 3/1 coming back turn after turn were not much of an issue against a 1/5 that only allowed one to attack ever. A Platinum Angel being Trash for Treasured out on turn four in the final game gave me a win in a match up I did not even know to be prepared for.
Silent Arbiter is a card I played with an intended purpose, but it is not hard to see how it can stretch even further than that purpose and impact other match ups. Damping Matrix is a card that I feel can do a very similar thing right now.
If you take a look at the Top 8 from this past week, many of the decks there are hurt or possibly even stopped completely by a Damping Matrix. The artifact based prison deck we just discussed is going to have an impossible time against Damping Matrix, but even going further than that:
AffinitySplinter TwinCollected Company (combo)Reanimator
All of these decks have a real tough time doing anything with a Damping Matrix out. Plus, because the card does not impact mana abilities, a deck like Elves, which won the tournament, can run Damping Matrix in its board without being hurt much by it. Ezuri can't activate until you blow the artifact up, but all of your mana is free to fire off at will.
Right now, there are a lot of decks that plan on executing their combo through whatever hate you have due to the inexpensive nature of protection spells. Running a bunch of Pact of Negation, Dispel, and Spell Pierce is really easy to do and helps to make sure that whatever you want to resolve is resolving.
One mechanic that people are not used to playing around in this way as a result is Split Second. Sudden Shock, Sudden Death, Krosan Grip, Trickbind, and Wipe Away are all quite playable under the right circumstances. I have run Wipe Away in the sideboard of a few different Modern decks and the card has over performed for me. Dealing with Splinter Twin through their protection or taking out a Phyrexian Unlife before the player has had the chance to cast Angel's Grace can completely turn a game around for you.
The split second cards do tend to cost a little more because of their special ability, but at least give them some consideration when building your next sideboard.
Despite them being one of the more powerful card types printed on a consistent basis, if you look at Modern, there is a surprising lack of planeswalkers that actually see play. Sure, Liliana is a staple in the format and you might catch a random one-of walker in a list, but what other walkers see play consistently?
The thing is, walkers are generally a four mana play or more, which makes them a big investment in a format where everything is so cheap. Because of this, it can be scary to run them as they need to do more in order to actually be worth those extra mana. But, in the process of being more expensive, walkers do tend to dodge cards like Abrupt Decay and Inquisition of Kozilek which can be a big characteristic to own.
If you take the time to browse recent successful decks on Magic Online, you will actually see an assortment of various walkers starting to make appearances. Cards like Elspeth, Knight Errant, Ajani Vengeant, Gideon Jura, and Garruk Wildspeaker all offer some pretty powerful engines for the midrange and control decks to utilize. Just to give some inspiration, here are some decks I dug up with a few more walkers than Modern is used to seeing. First up is an interesting red/white concoction that managed to do some winning in the last month.
And while Garruk is commonly seen along cards like Death Cloud, he can put in work in more extravagant situations as well:
I have written about hybrid decks recently, specifically within the context of Standard, but Modern is an even better place to do some experimenting and combine ideas together. Recently, we have seen decks like Temur Twin and Living Twin have success, both of which are decks in their own right, combined with Splinter Twin combo to some degree.
The tools to make this work stretch well beyond just Twin though. Collected Company makes for an excellent value card that also happens to assemble combos randomly and the places where it can fit best have only begun to be investigated. Or maybe Affinity wants to add something like the Eggs combo deck into its shell. There really are a ton of possibilities to explore and I think there are some gems yet to be discovered.
Modern seems like a pretty healthy format right now which makes playing it quite fun. I think that deckbuilders can really find an edge in the format if they are willing to do one of two things:
1- Brew: Obviously this is the easiest thing to say, but the format is so large that a dedicated brewer can stumble upon a lot of fertile ideas.
2- Learn a single archetype. Brew with it and play with others' lists, but become the master of one archetype. Maybe that is Affinity, or Tron decks, or Gifts decks, but just learn one through and through and constantly iterate on it as new cards and bannings happen. You will always have the best version of that deck which can provide you with a ton of consistency in such a hostile format.
Until next week, thanks for reading!