This past weekend I played in a Modern PTQ and finished in third place with a Black/White deck containing four Pack Rats. Earlier in the week Chris Dearing (immapwner on MTGO) 4-0'd a pair of Daily Events with the deck, so I then played his exact list in the PTQ. After the tournament I made a few changes to the deck and 4-0'd a Daily Event with my modified list. Today I would like to share with you both versions and talk about how to play and sideboard with the deck. I consider it a great option for the PTQ season if you're looking to play something other than one of the top four or five decks.
Here's the list I played in the PTQ:
The deck was a lot stronger than I expected it to be and several of the cards performed above expectations.
The core plan of the deck is to play hand disruption spells in the first few turns of the game and to then neutralize whatever creatures the opponent resolved with our removal spells or blockers. Then we want to use Dark Confidant to draw cards while killing the opponent with Lingering Souls, Baneslayer Angel, or Brimaz, King of Oreskos.
Most of the creatures in the deck are good on offense or defense. For instance, Brimaz is great against Wild Nacatls and Goblin Guides while Lingering Souls are great against Vault Skirge and Signal Pest. Few things attack past a Baneslayer Angel, and an unanswered Pack Rat can win a game just as quickly in Modern as it can in Standard.
The thing I liked most about Pack Rat in this deck was its ability to make our worst draws much better. The problem with heavy discard strategies is that drawing excess discard spells after the opponent has no more cards in hand can end up losing you the game because the opponent's draw steps yield threats while ours yield non-threat, non-answer spells. If we have a Pack Rat in play, however, all these excess discard spells and/or lands turn into Pack Rats and win the game in just a couple turns instead of drawing out the game into a top deck war that goes back and forth for several turns. Overall Pack Rat was the one card in the deck that performed further above expectations than any other card.
The second card to exceed my expectations was Darkblast. I thought it was a little too cute and I was going to cut it for Zealous Persecution but decided to just run the deck unmolested – and I'm glad I did! The card is unreal against Affinity (as is Persecution) but is also very good against many of the other top decks in the format. Against pod you can kill a Viscera Seer to break up the combo or you can kill a Birds of Paradise or Noble Hierarch on turn one. Against Jund you kill Dark Confidant and can recur it at any time to kill future Dark Confidants. Against UWR it takes out Vendilion Clique and Snapcaster Mage. Against Twin it kills a Pestermite. And against Affinity it is the stone nutterbutter, killing Steel Overseer, Vault Skirge, Signal Pest, Memnite, Blinkmoth Nexus, Inkmoth Nexus, and basically everything short of an Etched Champion. And after you kill their whole team you find that you've dredged a pair of Lingering Souls into your yard which further shut down his creatures.
The deck was a little weak to a topdecked Etched Champion though. We have ten discard spells for it, six of which can hit it even when we're on the draw, but if they draw it after their opening hand we only have three Mutavaults to answer it. I have since fixed this problem by adding Blade Splicer, but in the PTQ I lost to Affinity in the Top 4 because I couldn't block Etched Champion in two of the three games. I had beaten the other two Affinity opponents I played in the tournament, but all three matches were close and I would like to make the matchup a little more in our favor.
Liliana of the Veil performed worse for me than any other card, but I'm guessing this is largely because I did not play against any Bogle decks or Scapeshift decks – the two matchups where Liliana really shines. Instead I was pretty much boarding her out every round.
So the next day I made some changes to the deck and played the following list in a Daily Event (which I recorded and will share with you at the end of the article today).
These were the changes I made:
+1 Tectonic Edge+2 Arid Mesa+1 Darkblast+1 Tidehollow Sculler+4 Blade Splicer+3 Restoration Angel
-2 Temple of Silence-1 Slaughter Pact-1 Disfigure-1 Smother-3 Liliana of the Veil-2 Brimaz, King of Oreskos-2 Baneslayer Angel
Temple of Silence is a card that has been on my radar for a while in Black/White Tokens, but it underperformed in this particular deck. Dark Confidant makes the scry less important and dredging Darkblast does too, so the drawback of entering tapped ended up outweighing the advantages. So I replaced those with Arid Mesas to find Godless Shrine more easily.
I liked the colorless lands a lot and even wanted a seventh colorless land. Mutavault was very good with Pack Rat and was also great at blocking Etched Champion. Tectonic Edge is better than Ghost Quarter against Scapeshift but worse against Affinity and against manlands in general. It also can't prevent a third turn Karn from Tron like Ghost Quarter can. So I'm not quite sure which is better, but I know that I want three copies of whichever one is, and they combine great with Fulminator Mage post-board against things like Tron. Vault of the Archangel was also a great way to not die to Dark Confidant. It's probably the most expendable of the colorless lands, but instead of trimming the lands I decided to change the spells.
Brimaz, King of Oreskos and Baneslayer Angel were pretty strong in the deck, but each had some downsides. Brimaz was difficult to cast on turn three due to having so many colorless lands, in addition to the two Swamps and one Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. So I replaced those with Blade Splicer, which is only single white to cast and also makes a colorless blocker for Etched Champion. Then once Blade Splicer was in the deck, Restoration Angel looked better than Baneslayer Angel. Restoration Angel also works better with Tidehollow Sculler (blink it during their draw step) and is better against decks like Twin where I never want to tap out on my own turn.
In hindsight, and after talking to Chris some about the deck yesterday, I think I probably want to put a few more removal spells back in the deck. So I would go down to two Restoration Angel and three Blade Splicer in favor of two Dismember. This makes us better against Twin decks, Tarmogoyf decks, and Birthing Pod decks. Our Affinity matchup should be about equal with the change since we still have six ways to block Etched Champion, between three Blade Splicers and three Mutavaults. I would also consider replacing the Vault of the Archangel with a sword (probably Sword of Fire and Ice, but possibly Sword of Light and Shadow or Sword of War and Peace).
So now let's talk about how to sideboard and play against each of the top matchups.Sideboard Guide
Against Melira Pod
+2 Damnation +2 Stony Silence (for Birthing Pod and Spellskite)+1 Fulminator Mage (for Gavony Township)
-3 Blade Splicer -2 Restoration Angel
After tearing apart their hand, we want to try and close the game with Lingering Souls or Pack Rat while holding up a removal spell to disrupt their combo. We don't have forever because if they draw Birthing Pod they can potentially overpower us. We also want to save a Fulminator Mage or Tectonic Edge for their Gavony Township as that is another way for them to potentially overpower us. Damnation is awesome and when we draw it we can sculpt a game plan where we discard all their important cards (including Birthing Pod, but also Kitchen Finks so it doesn't persist back) and then wipe their entire board before playing a win condition.
Birthing Pod is their best card against us, but we have several strong lines to beat it. The matchup feels favorable by maybe a 2:1 margin.
+2 Disenchant (for Splinter Twin and Spellskite)+2 Sword of Fire and Ice
-3 Blade Splicer-1 Tectonic Edge
Depending on the version, they likely have Grim Lavamancer and Snapcaster Mage (and sometimes Vendilion Clique), making Darkblast very good. Path to Exile and Dismember are basically the best removal spells against the deck, so we're in good shape there. Don't tap out for the Sword, but once it gets online it will win the game in just a few hits. Pack Rat is especially good in this matchup because it allows us to keep mana open until their end step each turn while applying enough pressure to force them to go for it prematurely (or just die quickly). This matchup also feels favorable, by about the same margin. Discard + instant speed removal + pressure = headache for Twin.
+2 Disenchant +3 Fulminator Mage +2 Stony Silence +2 Damnation
-4 Dark Confidant -4 Tidehollow Sculler -1 Tectonic Edge
Sword of Fire and Ice is tempting to bring in, but it is not worth it, especially when we are bringing in Stony Silence. If you replace Tectonic Edge with Ghost Quarter, then definitely leave in all copies of Ghost Quarter and use them to kill Nexus at opportune times. Sculler dies to Galvanic Blast and we can't really make use of the body, and Dark Confidant is often a liability since we generally get low on life before stabilizing. Fulminator Mage is another answer to Nexus, Disenchant is a two-mana instant speed Vindicate, and Stony Silence and Damnation are our heavy hitters.
We have a variety of answers to everything they are trying to do, both main deck and in sideboard. So I feel like the matchup is favorable, but they are the most explosive deck in the format for a reason, and if we can't find the right answer at the right time, they can capitalize on it quickly. With that said, this matchup also feels about 2:1 in our favor, maybe slightly higher with the addition of Blade Splicer.
Against Jund and UWR Control
-4 Tidehollow Sculler -1 Mutavault
+2 Sword of Fire and Ice +3 Fulminator Mage
We have Tectonic Edge (or Ghost Quarter) and Fulminator Mage for their manlands and they must answer our Sword right away or they'll die to it very quickly. Both these matchups come down to attrition fights almost every time, so whoever wins the seventh or so fight will triumph. I feel like this matchup is about as close to 50/50 as it gets, assuming equal skill level of pilots.
Also make sure to be on the lookout for unorthodox lines because oftentimes strange scenarios arise that require you to notice an obscure line to win a game. For instance, in the final round of the video I was able to kill an opposing Baneslayer Angel with a Darkblast by Darkblasting it on my upkeep, dredging back the blast, hitting the angel with the blast again, and then shooting it with my Sword of Fire and Ice (and dredging back the blast with the Sword's draw trigger) so I can hit it for the third time with Darkblast to finish it off.
Scapeshift: This is not a terrible matchup since we have three Tectonic Edges and three Fulminator Mages. It was certainly much better with the version I ran in the PTQ since Liliana of the Veil is so good against them and I also had Leyline of Sanctity. Still I think the matchup is decent but probably slightly unfavorable. If you want to improve the matchup you could add a third Memoricide or a Surgical Extraction (targeting Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle or Scapeshift). You could also replace a Tidehollow Sculler or Inquisition of Kozilek in the main for a fourth Thoughtseize.
Bogles: This is the other matchup I made myself worse against by removing Liliana of the Veil. I added a second copy of Damnation, which helps a little (only a little because they have Umbras), but I don't expect this deck to be all that big. Liliana is not as good against the top decks of the format to merit its inclusion in the main deck. I would consider boarding them if you want to improve your odds against Bogles and Scapeshift though. There is also Patrician's Scorn if you want the strongest possible card to specifically beat Bogles.
Tron: I finally found a Black/White deck that is favored against Tron! Between Tectonic Edge (or Ghost Quarter) and Fulminator Mage, we have several ways to keep them off Urza Tron. We also have Stony Silence to disrupt their artifact game plan. We also have lots of hand disruption to disrupt them and to clear the way for whatever threat we plan to win with. Lastly, we have Pack Rat – a win condition that can close out a game in a couple of turns and doesn't get trumped by Karn!
Storm: Storm is not our greatest matchup either, but we at least have some hope with our discard spells and a miser Rest in Peace and Rule of Law in the board. Living End is basically the same, except we also have Fulminator Mage. If Storm brings in Empty the Warrens, I would also bring in Damnation.
Without Leyline of Sanctity our burn matchup also gets worse, which was already my one loss in the Swiss during the PTQ. I'm not sure it's worth trying to fix though since it's only around 2% of the field, and some burn decks run cards like Destructive Revelry anyway to beat our Leyline of Sanctity.
Some cards I would consider for the sideboard in general are Surgical Extraction and Runed Halo. Conclusions
Pack Rat is the real deal in Modern!
I've been playing around with various versions of Black/White pretty much since Modern first became a format, and right now I think this is the best route to go. Some of the other versions are also very reasonable, including the one I talked about two weeks ago. Dark Confidant is a step in the right direction I think, helping to win the long games. More importantly, however, is that Pack Rat fixes the deck's biggest weakness: flooding with lands and discard spells. The card won't look very impressive when we have an otherwise good hand, but we're usually able to win anyway with a good hand. The tradeoff for making our good hands a little worse is that he makes our worst hands much better and allows us to win games we would otherwise have no hope of winning. Having played probably over a thousand matches with Black/White decks in Modern, I'm fairly confident this is a worthwhile tradeoff.
Now if you would like to see the deck in action, as a bonus I recorded the daily event for you with commentary:
Some notes about the video
In game one of round one I made a critical misplay on my final turn. When he played Zealous Persecution in response to my activating Mutavault, I discarded a card to Pack Rat in response. Instead I should have simply activated the same Mutavault again in response. This would keep the rat alive by only spending one additional mana instead of three, leaving me with enough mana to flashback Lingering Souls and pass with mana open to activate the other Mutavault to play around Zealous Persecution. So the one game of the tournament that we lost was due to a mistake. We also got pretty lucky a few times to survive through our Dark Confidant as long as we did, and we misclicked twice with Tidehollow Sculler after I explained the correct play (and we weren't punished either time). Overall I think the videos do a pretty good job of showcasing the power and versatility of the deck, despite my less than optimal play.
Craig Wescoe@Nacatls4Life on twitter