The story leading into last weekend's Modern tripleheader of two MagicFests and an SCG Open was the announcement of "no changes" to the banned and restricted list the Monday prior, which left Faithless Looting with free reign. It took full advantage by taking half of the Top 8 spots at MF Tampa in Izzet Arclight Phoenix decks, and five of the Top 8 spots at MF Bilbao—in three Dredge and two Izzet Arclight Phoenix decks, including the winner's. Izzet Phoenix also took two of the Top 8 spots at SCG Philadelphia, including first, where Faithless Looting also appeared in a Hollow One deck. It was a convincing weekend for Faithless Looting, a card it's hard to argue against playing.
Izzet Phoenix decklists have started to become relatively standardized at this point, with Snapcaster Mage now widespread, but the weekend did reveal a few new pieces of tech that helped their pilots succeed. I've never tested with Echoing Truth, but it appeared in the maindeck of two Top 8 lists, including Guillaume Matignon's Bilbao-winning deck.
Echoing Truth is a catch-all answer to problem permanents, a card that historically has been reserved for the sideboard of Legacy combo decks like Storm as an answer to hosers. With two Pyromancer Ascension, Matignon's deck does have a strong combo element, and it allows for drawing through the entire deck and gaining access to everything, including one-of's like Echoing Truth. Against a deck like Whir Prison, this is an invaluable tool that will win games that otherwise might be impossible, like when locked by Ensnaring Bridge and Witchbane Orb—all while laughing at Welding Jar.
Spending one maindeck slot is no small price to pay for such insurance, but a deck so rich in power and cards can afford the luxury, especially when it includes Faithless Looting to loot it away when not needed. Izzet Phoenix is a tempo deck at heart, like Splinter Twin before it, and Echoing Truth fits the bill as a card plenty capable of generating tempo. Echoing Truth will also get the job done as a versatile removal spell in many unexpected situations. It seems quite solid in the mirror match, where it can answer Thing in the Ice after it flips, or even bounce multiple Arclight Phoenix to buy some time. Echoing Truth also gives the deck its only solution to a resolved enchantment, and it's particularly effective against Leyline of the Void.
Eli Kassis cut the pair of Pyromancer Ascension he won MF Oakland with, but he still included an Echoing Truth. He stretched its versatility with Snapcaster Mage, which gave him the ability to reuse this unique effect. When including a singleton, it's nice to be able to get more mileage out of it. Echoing Truth can also be turned on Snapcaster Mage to get another use out of it, which is of course incredible when you have two copies to bounce. The metagame will continue to grow more hostile against Izzet Phoenix, and this versatile solution to problem permanents will render much of it ineffective, so I imagine Echoing Truth will only get better from here.
The sideboard of Izzet Phoenix is a great place for spicy technology, but at this point in Izzet's development it has become about as standardized as the maindeck. Matt Costa was able to innovate within the proven framework by playing Keranos, God of Storms in the slot where most turn to a planeswalker like Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, or Ral, Izzet Viceroy.
Compared to planeswalkers, Keranos, God of Storms is a bit slower and clunkier, not impacting the game immediately nor offering the same utility as planeswalkers, but it's impossible for most opponents to interact with. Just like planeswalkers, it has great ability to grind over a long game and doubles as an alternate win condition, but it's much more reliable. It's the perfect sideboard card against decks like Jund and Jeskai Control, where planeswalkers are at their best, but are still susceptible to dying to creatures like Tarmogoyf or Celestial Colonnade. In the Izzet mirror match decks often become stripped of threats because of Surgical Extraction and Snapcaster Mage reusing it, so sideboarding in a planeswalker as an alternative is prudent, even if they are very vulnerable to Arclight Phoenix and Lightning Bolt. Keranos, God of Storms comes with none of those vulnerabilities, but will win the game just the same.
I've recently been having a ton of success with a piece of tech of my own (well, a borrowed one). A friend asked me to help him test his Valakut deck against the Izzet Phoenix matchup, but before we started he lamented that in his last three matches against the deck online he had lost to players maindecking Remand. I told him not to worry, because it wasn't something I had seen since the early days of the deck and was news to me. The idea sounded fantastic to me, and I decided to add a pair to my sideboard to stress-test him in testing, and there they have remained. I've since gone on a tear, 5-0ing a pair of leagues and Top 8ing the Modern Challenge last weekend.
Remand gives Izzet Phoenix a ton of game against big-mana decks like Urzatron and Amulet Titan. I had been struggling at beating these decks, but since adding Remand I've been beating them consistently—even convincingly. Against these decks Remand often functions like a Time Walk, not eliminating their big spell, but buying an extra turn, which quite often will be enough to kill them or get close enough. Remand has long served this role in combo and tempo decks, where the card it draws proves far more valuable than being true countermagic.
Remand also does great work against control, where it profitably stops flashback from Snapcaster Mage, and has the ability to save one's own spell from opposing countermagic. This ability to return one's own spell to hand also gives it a bit of synergy with Arclight Phoenix and Thing in the Ice, because it counts as two spells when combined with another spell to return and replay. Remand has been a valuable part of my sideboard, and with Snapcaster Mage to recast it, it's capable of quickly putting the opponent into a no-win scenario.
The most convincing argument against playing Faithless Looting is Ancient Stirrings, which pound-for-pound is an even more efficient and powerful card selection spell, at least in terms of digging for a specific card. It's the lynchpin that holds together the second-most successful part of the metagame, which are artifact prison decks and land decks. Whir Prison reached the finals of Bilbao, and Sam Black showed his mastery of Lantern Control by bringing it to the Top 8 of Tampa.
Lantern Control typically includes Surgical Extraction maindeck as a way to help neutralize the opponent's deck and deal with graveyard cards it might mill, so that alone makes it worthy of consideration in this Faithless Looting metagame. What's surprising is Sam went further with a copy of Kaya, Orzhov Usurper. Last week I identified it as a card people were using to help fight against Arclight Phoenix, but I did not realize it would be so effective in Lantern Control. Beyond being a graveyard hoser, it's also a source of lifegain, which is quite welcome in the deck as I know historically Burn was a tougher matchup—and the ultimate also serves as a win condition! This element is particularly great because it gives the deck a tool to close out games much faster, but it doesn't require a spot dedicated to a kill condition with no flexibility.
Lantern Control and Whir Prison are positioned as anti-Izzet Phoenix decks, each with plenty of tools for shutting down what the deck does, and with Ancient Stirrings to help find them. Ancient Stirrings can also help find pieces of the Urzatron, which remains an intriguing strategy.
One copy reached the Top 8 in Tampa, and another in the SCG, but it had especially good performance in the weekend's Mythic Qualifiers, winning Friday's event in Bilbao and the Magic Online event on Sunday.
Tron has the tools to go over the top of Izzet Phoenix, with Ugin, the Spirit Dragon or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger spelling lights out, and Karn Liberated and Wurmcoil Engine also presenting serious problems. What might give Tron the edge is also going under Izzet Phoenix with Relic of Progenitus as a maindeck graveyard hoser.
Another approach to Tron is Mono-Blue, which as much as I love in my heart due to my history with the strategy as an Extended deck, hasn't proven to be a top-tier deck in Modern, but made it to the finals in the Mythic Qualifier!
Without green spells like Ancient Stirrings, the deck doesn't consistently assemble Tron early in the game, so it's more of a blue control deck with a powerful late-game. We'll see if this finish is just a fluke or if the deck sticks around as a contender, but I am taking it as a sign that things are good for Urzatron right now.
Grixis Death's Shadow won Tampa, repeating its finish in Toronto and proving it's one of the best decks in the format.
Death's Shadow Zoo broke through to the Top 8 of Bilbao, its first major Top 8 since the banning of Gitaxian Probe. It recently won an MTG Online Mythic Qualifier, and I wrote about its comeback, where I predicted the deck could break through at a major event this month. Now the question is how many people will take notice and pick up the strategy.
Grixis Death's Shadow shows there is a place in the format for true midrange decks, so the rise of Golgari, which fills a similar niche, is not surprising. The deck finished 9th in Bilbao, and reached the finals of the SCG Open.
The deck comes with multiple ways to hose Faithless Looting decks, including Scavenging Ooze and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Izzet Phoenix is at its heart a tempo deck, and the best way to fight it is on that axis. With Arclight Phoenix and the graveyard contained, Golgari can out-tempo Izzet's remaining threats with the efficient Fatal Push and Assassin's Trophy. Golgari presents powerful threats of its own like Tarmogoyf that Izzet has trouble dealing with, so it's capable of beating it at its own game.
One intriguing way to go over the top of graveyard decks is Bogles, which can gain so much life it invalidates anything Arclight Phoenix or the threats from Dredge can do. Thing in the Ice does provide Izzet Phoenix with a way out, but Path to Exile gives Bogles an answer.
Faithless Looting is here stay, at least until Mythic Championship London and the rollout of the new mulligan rule. Wizards is looking toward the event to see if the pros can break the rule and the format. I imagine that Wizards is pretty set on rolling out the rule permanently, so adapting the banned and restricted list would be a way to compensate. If Faithless Looting is broken now, then I suspect it will be even better when it can more consistently enable broken things. For that reason I suspect we'll see some sort of ban this spring, whether it's Faithless Looting, support cards like Manamorphose or Stinkweed Imp, or even Arclight Phoenix itself.
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