Right now, the professional Magic community is gearing up for Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. As the format is Modern, it's an incredibly exciting time for the format – Modern is very popular, and the upcoming PT will put the brightest minds in the game on display playing a format that right now is More or Less at its best. While Modern Pro Tours in recent years haven't been slam-dunk successes, what with untimely bannings and the Eldrazi Winter, the stage is set for this one to be an absolute barnstormer.
There are a few reasons for this, but the principal one is the current health of the format. Deck diversity is at an all-time high—while Grixis Shadow is the by-consensus "best deck," it hasn't occupied much more than 10% of the field in the last few months, and snapping at its heels are a huge variety of wildly different decks, all jostling against one another for dominance.
This wide-open field and the huge scope of playable decks means that the format is ripe for attack from new angles. Last week, Seth Manfield highlighted some fringe archetypes that are worth keeping an eye on—either because they're picking up steam, or are doing things that threaten to have an impact on the format. He also said that he's hoping to go to Bilbao with a deck like this—something out of left field that may take opponents by surprise.
There's a huge amount to be gained by doing this. Innovation wins games of Magic—if you can Undermine all the preparation an opponent has put in by blindsiding them with something new, you're going to enjoy a significant advantage. For this reason, of course it's worth keeping abreast of the latest developments in the format—especially on decks that are, for now, considered "fringe."
For example, Five-Color Humans has been thrust from relative obscurity into the spotlight after picking up both Kitesail Freebooter and Unclaimed Territory from Ixalan—Freebooter is creature-based interaction that represented the final addition necessary for a critical mass of playable Humans, and Unclaimed Territory made the mana better than ever before. Now, the deck is truly a forced to be reckoned with.
It's worth thinking about why this deck is putting up the numbers, all of a sudden—I believe Kitesail Freebooter is just the Glint given off a rich vein that is well worth mining into. In doing so, you may just give yourself the chance to stumble across a card, combo, or interaction that could make it big in Modern.
We've had some breakout decks in Modern in the last little while, and new cards have featured heavily in them. Presumably, everyone is across how excellent Search for Azcanta is, and recognizes how well Field of Ruin performs against the Valakuts and Tron pieces of the format. As a result, today I want to focus on some less obvious recent cards that have changed things up.
Consider other recent innovations in Modern. Search for Azcanta and Opt are opening up new avenues for blue decks, Whir of Invention continues to push Lantern Control towards the top of the format, Spell Queller has helped Jeskai decks regain their rightful place amongst the leading tempo strategies, Walking Ballista has given Abzan Company a way to combo kill, and of course Fatal Push has completely changed the texture of the format.
What's important about this? All of these cards have been printed very recently—as recently as within the last three months. For a format that is dominated by the most powerful cards from the last decade or more, Modern sure is very heavily influenced by recent sets!
At Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, we're going to see innovation from the best in the business. We're going to see the format attacked from angles many of us had never seen—we're going to see fringe cards pushed to center stage, we're going to see weird interactions leveraged to completely overtake games. Due to just how open Modern is as a format, there's absolutely no better time to be putting together new, exciting innovations within the format.
These innovations will take one of two shapes. Either we will see a fringe or entirely new deck thrust into the spotlight—as we did with Five-Color Humans thanks to Kitesail Freebooter—or we will see an existing, established archetype updated with new technology—as we did with Lantern Control and Whir of Invention. Let's look at some of the ways new cards will impact innovation in Modern in the coming weeks!
Jund—once the end boss of Modern—has been relegated to the sidelines in recent times. The one-for-one value game Jund plays so well just can't always get it done in today's Modern format, and so something needs to change. Luckily, a suite of new cards fit right into this archetype and could be the shot in the arm it needs.
The four-drop slot in Jund has shifted enormously over the years, including anything from Olivia Voldaren, to Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. There's another card that may yet prove to completely outshine all other options moving forward, however—Hazoret, the Fervent has claimed her place as Standard's rightful queen, and the format has bent the knee in her presence. Is it time for her to make her presence felt in another format entirely?
Hazoret fits with Jund's gameplan exceptionally well. With cards like Liliana of the Veil, Jund is often hellbent (or at least heckbent, with one card in hand), so she'll be getting in for five pretty comfortably most of the time. In addition, her activated ability shines in a prolonged board stall, pressuring planeswalkers as well as whittling down an opponent's life total.
Another four-drop option is the value machine Chandra, Torch of Defiance—Jund protects planeswalkers exceptionally well, and between her Flame Slash and Outpost Siege modes, Chandra is all business for the deck. There are other recent additions to the Modern card pool that warrant further testing in Jund—Tireless Tracker and Liliana, the Last Hope spring to mind, to begin with. More data is required in order to put Jund on the map, and David George established an excellent starting point at a recent IQ.
Cut the Huntmaster, find room for a Hazoret or two in the starting 60—there are easily-definable starting points from which to further research whether Jund has what it takes to reclaim its old position at the top of the heap.
As Foretold turned a lot of heads when it was first previewed, as people immediately identified its ability to cast Ancestral Vision for free. Well, dedicated scientists have worked away Behind the Scenes since then, and after recognising its equally potent combo with Living End, there's a new way to abuse cycling creatures. A better way, too, you might argue—as this one includes four copies of Cryptic Command.
Living End has been a powerful strategy in Modern for a long time, but this latest evolution offers some extremely exciting new developments. Outside of the fact that you're playing the best blue cards in the format, the biggest difference between this Living End strategy and its Jund-colored cousin is that you get to play cards with a converted mana cost of fewer than three.
A lack of deckbuilding restrictions means that the interaction in this deck is truly top-notch, from Remand to Cryptic Command, and the creatures you cycle away aren't embarrassing either. The real draw (heh) to the deck, however, is playing an Ancestral Vision after slamming an As Foretold. A "free" A-Call is no joke
This list is extremely consistent thanks to the cycling component, interacts well in the early turns, and does some very unfair things with relative ease. For this reason, it's on my radar as we head towards the Pro Tour. Cheating out Living End has a proven track record, which is a great starting point—but this innovation with As Foretold may push the archetype even further than ever before to the top of the format.
There are many other recent additions to the Modern card pool that have changed archetypes in different ways—some on a larger scale, spawning almost entirely new decks, some on a smaller scale, shoring up weaknesses or providing new angles of attack. Here are other new cards to keep in mind when thinking about how new cards can impact a format like Modern.
Modern is a format that is currently full of innovation and exciting changes. Taking note of new cards prompting developments such as these—and then thinking of other ways new cards might drive the format further forward—is a way to gain a significant advantage in the format.
Whether you're tinkering with an established archetype by adding newly-printed cards, or putting together a whole new take on the format thanks to fresh angles of attack opened by recent additions, Modern is a format that rewards players who can bring powerful new innovations to the battlefield!