Modern changed in a big way last week. The banning of Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis and Faithless Looting left a huge hole in the metagame, while the unbanning of Stoneforge Mystic added a potent new card to the field. There are questions about what happens now and where the metagame will head next, but there were tournaments last weekend that help answer them.
The change looks to have revitalized Modern (or at least made many people curious), because there was a Mythic Championship Qualifier on Magic Online that drew over 400 competitors—the largest I've seen in years—and the weekly Modern Challenge the day before had over 200. Along with an SCG Open and its accompanying Classic side event, the results of these events provide a ton of decklists and a great look at how players are approaching the new metagame.
In some sense, things have gone back to how they were not only before Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis, but even before Arclight Phoenix, all the way back to last summer before Guilds of Ravnica's release. Beyond the now-banned Krark-Clan Ironworks, it's these two cards that have most defined the last year of Modern, and it makes sense that with them gone we'd see people go back to the decks that served them well before the format was warped. The big differences are the powerful new cards of 2019 from War of the Spark and Modern Horizons, and of course Stoneforge Mystic.
One example of an old deck coming back to life is Scapeshift, which saw great success last weekend. It won the MTGO MCQ and Top 4ed the SCG Open, but has been practically absent from the top of the metagame this year.
Another example is Grixis Death's Shadow, which has not been viable for most of 2019 but is now suddenly in the picture, taking both finals slots in the MTGO Challenge and Top 8ing both the MCQ and the SCG Open. These decks haven't gained any new cards, the metagame has just changed that significantly.
There are also examples of old decks that have gained some new tools in the past year to help give them a fresh face for 2019. Jund is suddenly in the picture, for example, but with Wrenn and Six and Nurturing Peatland offering it some upgrades.
At the SCG Open, Burn with Sunbaked Canyon and Fiery Islet put up huge results with three Top 8 slots.
The Burn decks weren't good news for the Urzatron player that Top 8ed, another old deck that looks great again.
Along with the Eldrazi variants, Tron decks are big winners from the new London mulligan rule change, which while not technically a change to the card pool is another X-factor in the metagame compared to a year ago.
A look deeper down into standings shows that there are plenty more examples of older Modern decks rearing their heads again, like Amulet Titan, Living End, Storm, Merfolk and more. These and many others from Modern's history seems like fair game, so I expect to see many more in the coming weeks.
The real exciting part of last weekend was of course seeing Stoneforge Mystic in action, and while it didn't win any trophies in these events, it has certainly arrived in style and made its presence felt in the metagame, where it already looks very comfortable. It appeared in a ton of deck with great diversity of archetypes, but it's notable that Stoneforge Mystic was completely absent from the SCG Open Top 8, which helps alleviate concerns that it is broken and will wreck the format just like Hogaak did. Its best finish was reaching the finals of the MTGO MCQ in a Four-Color Urza, Lord High Artificer combo deck.
Stoneforge Mystic can be used to find Sword of the Meek for the Thopter Foundry combo, so it has synergy with the main plan of the deck, but it comes with the secondary plan of Batterskull, which can win some games by itself. The Mystic is a bit narrower than Goblin Engineer, which offers more utility with its ability to tutor and reanimate any cheap artifact, so it's no strict upgrade, but it's a very real card for the deck. A player with a full four copies also Top 8ed the MCQ, so it was a very convincing showing for Stoneforge Mystic in the deck, and the archetype in general considering Harlan Firer's SCG win with the Goblin Engineer version.
The classic Stoneforge Mystic deck is Azorius Stoneblade, one of which one Top 8ed the MCQ, while two Top 8ed the Challenge and two reached the Top 16 of the SCG Open.
Like Force of Will in Legacy Stoneblade decks, these Modern Stoneblade decks combine Stoneforge Mystic with Force of Negation, which with Hogaak gone is now the most-played Modern Horizons card in Modern and likely to be its lasting legacy. It gives these decks a catch-all disruption spell against the most broken decks in the field, like Thoughtseize does in Jund. Stoneforge Mystic and Batterskull are well-suited for beating creature decks, and backed by powerful removal spell Path to Exile they contain the other side of the metagame. Teferi, Time Raveler plays well against just about everyone, and as one of the best cards printed recently it's a big asset for this strategy.
The highest-finishing version of Stoneblade was a Jeskai version that adds Lightning Bolt and Lightning Helix to the mix. It finished third in the MCQ.
Lightning Bolt is a very strong card in Stoneforge Mystic mirrors, where it's an efficient way to get it off the battlefield while not giving the opponent a land from Path to Exile. Lightning Helix is also quite attractive in a field like the SCG where Burn was huge. Combined with Snapcaster Mage for more uses, it gives the deck a very real secondary burn plan, especially for this very aggressively-slanted decklist. It's unique for its use of Giver of Runes, which helps protect Stoneforge Mystic, and seems awesome for ensuring Spell Queller keeps spells locked down.
There's also a Bant variation of the Stoneblade deck making rounds on Magic Online which includes Noble Hierarch and Knight of the Reliquary, two cards with a history alongside Stoneforge Mystic in Legacy.
The deck is also a great home for Ice-Fang Coatl, Modern's version of Legacy staple Baleful Strix and a soon-to-be familiar staple of the format. It's one of the most convincing reasons to go into green, which also offers Collected Company as a way to generate more value and potentially dig into Stoneforge Mystic.
Another Noble Hierarch deck is Selesnya Eldrazi, which combines its creatures with the best that Stoneforge Mystic has to offer, including the nice trick of blinking it with Eldrazi Displacer to find another piece of equipment.
There were a ton of other Stoneforge Mystic decks in all sorts of shells and styles, and it's going to have an impact on all sorts of archetypes. The highest-finishing Stoneforge Mystic deck in the SCG was an Orzhov deck that put it alongside Bloodghast and Smallpox.
Beyond Stoneforge Mystic there are some other very good reasons for a Smallpox deck to go into white. Lingering Souls is fantastic with discard like Liliana of the Veil, and Flagstones of Trokair breaks the parity of Smallpox. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar gives the deck a powerful top-end, and it all comes together in a pretty nice looking deck, especially with Silent Clearing as an incredible new tool. This isn't actually a new archetype—similar decks have been performing on the fringes of Modern for nearly two years—but the addition of Stoneforge Mystic looks to have brought it to the next level and maybe into serious consideration as a top Modern deck.
A more conservative and classic Stoneblade-style black version Top 8ed the SCG Classic, which puts it in good company alongside Dark Confidant.
Tidehollow Sculler recently proved it's a card to start taking seriously in Modern by winning GP Birmingham in Mardu Shadow. That deck used the Modern Horizons tech of Unearth, which is something I could see being strong with Stoneforge Mystic in this strategy.
One of the coolest uses of Stoneforge Mystic I saw all weekend also came from the Top 16, in a white-green Devoted Druid and Vizier of Remedies combo deck.
Stoneforge Mystic is an ingenious inclusion here because, like in Urza ThopterSword decks, it supports the core combo while also adding it's own "Oops, I win" factor in Batterskull. Its combo piece is Viridian Longbow, which can be put on Devoted Druid to deal infinite damage with a Vizier of Remedies in play. It also opens up the nice option of Lightning Greaves, which has some history for supporting broken creatures. Not only can it protect combo pieces, it can also give them haste, which is nice for eliminating Devoted Druid's drawback of having to wait a turn to get active. With plenty of creatures to equip, the deck also makes good use of Sword of Fire and Ice to help win those games when it has to play fair. All the useful equipment make Stoneforge Mystic another great addition to a deck that quietly received a lot of them in Modern Horizons. Giver of Runes is perfect for protecting a creature-based combo, and Eladamri's Call is perfect for finding the pieces. Even Finale of Devastation has proven to be an upgrade over Chord of Calling, and all of these new elements combine to create a deck that's more dangerous than ever, and all in a metagame more ripe for it than ever.
Another unfair approach to Stoneforge Mystic uses it to find Colossus Hammer, which can then be slapped onto a Blighted Agent with Sigarda's Aid or Kor Outfitter to attack for the win.
It's an absurd combo that I never expected to take seriously when it was first spoiled, but with a League 5-0 now as proof of concept, it's possible that Stoneforge Mystic made it a reality. If it is viable, it's because of the excellent support cards. Giver of Runes helps protect the combo here much like it does in Devoted Druid deck, but this deck also benefits from Teferi, Time Raveler turning off countermagic and other instant-speed disruption. The planeswalker is going to become a familiar sight in this role, already having appeared in Infect decks as an example, and now protecting the Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian combo, another deck that has adopted Stoneforge Mystic.
While not a true combo deck, Mono-White Martyr does play by its own rules, and it's yet another home for Stoneforge Mystic.
Martyr of Sands' life gain can beat some decks like Burn by itself, and it's also combo of sorts with Serra Ascendant, which as a one-mana 6/6 flying lifelink creature realistically isn't that far off from Marit Lage. I'm surprised the deck only plays one, but it makes some sense because of recent pick-up Ranger-Captain of Eos, which is a perfect way to dig for it or Martyr of Sands. It also opens up a toolbox, allowing inclusions like a one-of Kami of False Hope to lock out the combat step with Proclamation of Rebirth, Hex Parasite to destroy planeswalkers, and even Weathered Wayfarer to dig for any of the deck's lands, which include some silver bullets like Cavern of Souls and Blast Zone. The deck also features a potent new interaction I'd never seen before between Lotus Field and Flagstones of Trokair. Lotus Field can sacrifice it to essentially ramp up a free land, which is quite a nice bonus for a deck that otherwise would just play Plains.
I spoke of Modern decks from a year ago being good again, but one strategy that has mostly been missing is the Tribal Aether Vial decks Humans and Spirits. These were arguably the most dominant force in the metagame before the rise of Arclight Phoenix and its wealth of removal, including Thing in the Ice // Awoken Horror. In theory they should return, but it seems that Stoneforge Mystic is helping to keep them back. Not only do Stoneblade decks fill a somewhat similar role in the metagame as a disruptive aggressive deck, Stoneforge Mystic and Batterskull is very strong against these tribal strategies, so it's a hostile metagame. The old saying goes, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, so one possibility is that these decks can be revived by adding Stoneforge Mystic, like this Spirits list that finished 10th place in the MCQ.
Finally, there is the matter of Dredge, which was knocked down with the banning of Faithless Looting but still retains all of the other abusable cards that make it so threatening. The deck seems to have not lost a step, and will require that Modern players not simply cut graveyard hosers now that Faithless Looting is banned. The main replacements for Faithless Looting so far have been Insolent Neonate, which fits right into the old list, but I'm more intrigued by a shift to blue for Tome Scour, which has been championed by the deck's foremost expert on MTGO Sodeq, who Top 8ed the MTGO Challenge and whose decklist won the SCG Classic.