Modern had been quietly humming along for months without much fanfare, but two consecutive weeks of large Modern events, including two Grand Prix and last weekend's Modern Open combined with the impending release of Modern Masters 2017 have put the community into a Modern frenzy. Renewed interest in Modern means more people are playing and thinking about the format, so we've suddenly learned a lot about how the metagame is taking shape without Gitaxian Probe and Golgari Grave-Troll, and with the new staple Fatal Push.
Death's Shadow Aggro has emerged as a top contender and will demand that the metagame reacts, and the metagame will push back with interactive fair decks like Abzan, Grixis Delver, and Bant Eldrazi that can contain Death's Shadow Aggro's creatures while pressuring its tenuous life total. Today I am going to explore some Modern cards that aren't currently seeing much play, but are positioned as fantastic options in the emerging metagame driven by Death's Shadow Aggro.
With its breakout performance at Grand Prix Vancouver, and continued success online and last weekend at the SCG Modern Open in Indianapolis, Death's Shadow Aggro has ascended to a top-tier deck in the format. Consistently beating the deck will require that opponents adapt, and it seems like the best way to do that is attacking its threat base, which comprised of just Death's Shadow and Tarmogoyf is predictable and thus exploitable. Specific answers, like Fatal Push, are especially strong against an opponent where it kills all of the creatures they rely on, and Threads of Disloyalty goes a step farther in its attempt to control these threats. Threads of Disloyalty steals their creature for value and a tempo boost that leaves them down a creature and now facing a threat. Tarmogoyf is always great to steal, and depending on life total Death's Shadow will either immediately die or start going to work for its new controller.
Threads of Disloyalty would be effective in any blue-heavy deck, like Merfolk, and looks like an especially good fit in decks like Grixis Delver and Jeskai Control, where it fits the plan of grinding out the opponent with creature removal and card advantage. One key factor here is that Death's Shadow decks aren't currently playing Abrupt Decay, and thus are completely susceptible to Threads of Disloyalty from the sideboard.
In a world where Death's Shadow Aggro and Bant Eldrazi are the two top creature decks and Tarmogoyf and Tasigur, the Golden Fang are frequent sights, Galvanic Blast isn't very effective as a removal spell when the opponent's creatures survive four damage. Switching to Dispatch gives Affinity decks the most powerful and efficient removal spell in the format, assuming they have Metalcraft, and the ability to even stop bigger creatures like Primeval Titan. It lacks the versatility of going to the opponent's head, but Affinity needs to adapt its perspective it it hopes to compete with the new metagame, and this list proves Dispatch has a lot of potential for the future of Affinity.
Bronson Gervasi was last seen playing Mardu Vehicles to the finals of Grand Prix Pittsburgh a few weeks ago, so it's no surprise he's on the cutting edge of Modern aggressive decks with two maindeck Deflecting Palm in his Burn deck that he used to nearly reach another top 8.
Death's Shadow hits very hard, but that makes it susceptible to Deflecting Palm, which will often deal enough damage to immediately kill the opponent. It's quite strong against Tarmogoyf too, and against Bant Eldrazi it will convert to more damage than a traditional burn spell while preventing damage. Deflecting Palm is something like a turbo-charged Lightning Helix, and it's a perfect tool in this metagame.
The rise of Death's Shadow has brought about an interest in Blessed Alliance, which has the ability to give the opponent four life and Shrink Death's Shadow, hopefully killing it, and potentially multiple copies at once. It's also effective for its ability to make the opponent sacrifice an attacking creature, which is perfectly suited for taking out a Tarmogoyf or Death's Shadow against a deck without any expendable creatures or tokens to sacrifice. Beyond being quite strong against Burn and Zoo decks, Blessed Alliance also does a fine job against Bant Eldrazi, where it can potentially catch large creatures like Reality Smasher unprotected, and it's an all-star against White-Green Auras and Infect decks.
Blessed Alliance earned a slot into the maindeck of Dan Musser's Bant Eldrazi deck, where it surely stole games from opponents all weekend long, and could pave the way for more players to move Blessed Alliance to the maindeck.
Blessed Alliance surely shines as a sideboard card, and it does great work in this White-Green Tron deck.
There's a lot of excitement around the reprinting of Damnation in Modern Masters 2017, and for good reason. Like Wrath of God and Supreme Verdict, it's a powerful sweeper that stops any and all of the nearly-endless assortment of creatures that are played in Modern. It has a rich history as a sideboard card, and I wonder if it would be played more if not for its hefty pricetag. Now more copies will get into the hands of players, and it will excel in the sideboards of decks like Jund and Junk, like the copy in the list that made the finals of the SCG Open last weekend.
Damnation was also in the sideboard of Grixis Control deck that finished in the top 4.
Damnation could not be reprinted at a better time, because it's better now than ever with the metagame shaping up to be a battle between Death's Shadow Aggro decks and Bant Eldrazi decks. These decks are both acutely susceptible to this board sweeper, which elegantly answers their large and hard-to-deal with creatures. Damnation is useful against a wide swath of the metagame, most creature decks included, like Affinity, where it stops Etched Champion, Abzan Company decks, and Merfolk.
Wrath of God offers the same effect as Damnation, so it's something I'd look to for white-based decks. For those with blue, like Jeskai Control, Supreme Verdict is a great option.
Last weekend Bant Eldrazi proved to be a strong competitor able to contain Death's Shadow decks, and it's going to gain in popularity as the metagame adjusts. As Bant Eldrazi becomes a central fixture of the metagame, decks will need to react to countermeasures like Ceremonious Rejection, which will help contain them, assuming they don't control Cavern of Souls. Eldrazi Tron decks don't include a set of Cavern of Souls, and play even more colorless spells, like Walking Ballista, so they are especially susceptible to Ceremonious Rejection. Its value against artifact decks like Affinity and Lantern Control, and general versatility for stopping key cards like Lotus Bloom against Ad Nauseam combo decks, and even Amulet of Vigor, makes Ceremonious Rejection a powerful option that will slowly but surely earn a place among the pantheon of great Modern sideboard cards.
Modern players have taken interest in the new cycle of Expertise cards because of their ability to cast for free both 0-mana suspend cards and both halves of split cards as long as one half is cheap enough. Kari Zev's Expertise is the standout of the cycle because at just three mana it's the most efficient card for the job, and it's already seeing competitive success in a variety of shells.
A full playset of Kari Zev's Expertise and Breaking//Entering are meshed with the Goryo's Vengeance and Griselbrand combo deck, providing an alternative way to put a powerful creature into play at a discount. Breaking//Entering is extremely powerful when Fused because it's capable of simultaneously milling and reanimating an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn before it's ever shuffled in the the deck, making this archetype more power and consistent than ever before.
Kari Zev's Expertise is also being used in Living End strategies as a way to immediately cast Living End from the hand, which was previously relegated to being Suspended or rotting away as a dead card. Kari Zev's Expertise seems particularly strong in the Restore Balance deck, which plays Greater Gargadon as a sacrifice outlet to turn Kari Zev's Expertise into a Terminate.
Kari Zev's Expertise is also being used in more fair strategies, like the Revolt Zoo deck, where it's fantastic for stealing Tarmogoyf and Death's Shadow.
A great piece of Modern tech that I haven't seen applied before is combining Generator Servant with Primeval Titan.
Much like Through the Breach, Generator Servant gives Primeval Titan haste and allows it to immediately attack, which provides a second trigger to search for land and will typically be enough to put the game out of reach for the opponent if they don't immediately die. Generator Servant functions as mana acceleration, and is in some ways comparable to Sakura-Tribe Elder, but it's even more powerful because it will singlehandedly accelerate into a turn-four Primeval Titan. It seems to be perfectly on plan of accelerating into a hasted Primeval Titan, so it's an innovation I can get behind.
Tireless Tracker has been one of the finest creatures in Standard ever since it was printed, and it's starting to make its presence felt in Modern. It's a fantastic source of Clues in a format with fetchlands, so it generates twice as much value in Modern than it does in Standard. While it might be too slow against many opponents, many matchups do come down to a card advantage grind, and Tireless Tracker is an extremely potent tool in these situations.
Tireless Tracker was at its best in Standard when combined with Collected Company, and the same is true in Modern. It's a great way to generate card and dig towards the combo in this Retreat to Coralhelm-Knight of the Reliquary deck.
Kazu Negri put Tireless Tracker to great use over the weekend as a sideboard bullet for Chord of Calling in his Abzan Company deck.
I've even been considering the merits of Tireless Tracker as a sideboard bullet for Traverse the Ulvenwald in Death's Shadow Aggro. The deck is filled with fetchlands, and it seems like an unexpected way to change gears on the opponent by shifting into a card advantage game. It seems most desirable as a threat that ignores the graveyard in the face of cards like Relic of Progenitus, but one issue is that these cards will turn off Traverse the Ulvenwald and might make Tireless Tracker unreachable.
The coolest new Modern combo combines Rite of Passage with Hardened Scales and Walking Ballista. Remove a counter from a 3/3 or larger Walking Ballista to damage itself, and it will replace the counter with two new counters. Repeat, and it will eventually grow infinitely large and K.O. the opponent.
Hardened Scales and Walking Ballista have already proven they work well enough together to win in Modern, so it's not a big jump to add Rite of Passage to create a bonafide combo deck. It's hard to say whether this is a new competitive Modern deck or something better reserved for Commander, but the only way to find out is to try.
Here's how I'd build the deck to start:
How are you fighting back against Death's Shadow? What are the best unconventional Modern cards you are playing? What's your take on the Rite of Passage combo? Share your ideas in the comments, and I'll answer any questions.