Magic Online's new series of Super Players Tour Qualifier tournaments is the program's response to a surge in demand due to the cancellation of paper events and more players being stuck at home during this pandemic crisis. Sending two players to the tour and relatively rich payouts have made these into essentially miniature online MagicFest or SCG Open events, drawing hundreds of players.
They are happening every day in almost every format, and are speeding up the evolution of metagames and the decks within them to an unprecedented pace. Instead of having to wait until the big event next weekend to try their changes, a deckbuilder might only have to wait until the following day for another opportunity.
These events have been the perfect breeding ground for all sorts of innovation, and for weeks I've been writing about the rapid stream of decklists they're creating. But things are moving quickly, and over the past couple weeks there have been some major developments in both Modern and Pioneer. In Modern, a few old favorites have been rebooted to the top of metagame by crushing the established order. In Pioneer, a breakout win by a forgotten archetype has surprised a stable metagame.
The biggest new trend in Modern has been the revival of the Gruul Ponza deck. Its plan of land destruction backed by big threats has always been something of a second-tier strategy in Modern, but it has slowly evolved into one of the biggest forces in the format.
The deck has slimmed down on the land destruction, using it as more of an afterthought now. It has removed Blood Moon but kept the more aggressive Magus of the Moon, and cut down to just three Stone Rain effects—now the more flexible Pillage. Instead, the deck plays a midrange game, with the addition of 2019 pickups Seasoned Pyromancer and Bonecrusher Giant as threats backed by card advantage.
Things finally came together completely with the addition of Klothys, God of Destiny, which is now one of the centerpieces of the deck. The utility it offers can be compared to that of Deathrite Shaman, offering the same combination of life gain, damage, mana acceleration, and graveyard hoser all wrapped into one.
Like Deathrite Shaman, the mana ability is easily fueled by fetch lands, and it helps ramp right into its top end of Glorybringer. Unlike Deathrite Shaman, the life gain and life loss ability are rolled into one effect that doesn't cost mana, and doesn't discriminate between nonland card types. In most practical situations Kloyths is always going to always have fuel, and can be reliably counted on for a 4-point life swing each turn.
The ability to exile graveyards also gives it the maindeck graveyard hoser aspect that made Deathrite Shaman that much better, and is especially important now against Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath (which has infested of the metagame) and the recent rise of Dredge. It's all capped off by the high devotion in the deck, aided by things like Arbor Elf and Utopia Sprawl, making it reasonable to turn Klothys into a creature in some games.
A new variation of the deck adds a whole new element with a white splash for Stoneforge Mystic and a package of equipment including Embercleave.
Since its Modern unban, Stoneforge Mystic has been doing good work in Azorius and Bant Stoneblade decks, but Embercleave's printing as one of the best equipment in years has made red enticing. It's a great way to close out a game quickly, and is a nice alternative to the defensive-minded Batterskull and the value-grinding Sword of Feast and Famine.
Adding Stoneforge Mystic to this archetype specifically is a creative addition to be sure, but a sensible one given the high creature count for equipping. It's an overall power-level upgrade that allows the deck to start pressuring opponents harder and earlier in the game, and it's a strong step further in the midrange direction it has been headed. Stoneforge Mystic replaces the more expensive and clunky Glorybringer, which has its merits but feels more like a Standard card trying to make it in Modern than an Eternal staple.
This variation also includes Wrenn and Six, replacing the more expensive Chandra, Torch of Defiance, adding another card that starts applying early pressure to the opponent. It's better in the Naya version with extra fetch lands to recur, and Sunbaked Canyon even adds a value engine. The damage effect adds another tool in its midrange arsenal, and is especially useful for killing the mana dorks that counteract the Ponza plan. Wren and Six's ultimate ability is also a threat despite the deck's low spell count, with Lightning Bolt as a kill condition and Pillage offering the potential to lock out the opponent's lands in true Ponza fashion.
White opens more sideboard options as well. A major pickup is Rest in Peace, the strongest graveyard hoser in the format, which is seeing a big rise to combat Dredge with Ox of Agonas. Path to Exile fills a hole as catch-all removal, and Knight of Autumn adds a versatile two-for-one that's ideal in midrange decks.
Another deck that suddenly looks like a tier 1 Modern deck is the Niv-Mizzet Reborn deck. It had an incredible weekend, winning both the Modern Challenge and the Modern Super Qualifier.
The Niv-Mizzet Reborn deck appeared soon after its printing a year ago and grew into a solid tier-two Modern strategy, but it now looks to have hit the next level by incorporating Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath.
This list reappeared on my radar a few weeks ago when it put up a Challenge Top 8 in the hands of Tommy "stainerson" Ashton. He was previously playing and winning with the then-new breakout Mono-Green Karn Devotion deck, so I wondered if he had found the next big thing, but neither he nor anyone else followed up with more finishes. Now they have, and it brings to light one of the most underrated decks in Modern.
I've always liked to compare the Niv-Mizzet Reborn deck to a true midrange deck like Jund, with Niv-Mizzet Reborn filling in as a super-sized Bloodbraid Elf. Jund has been going through somewhat of a renaissance in Modern with its own Theros Beyond Death Titan addition Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger, so it seems that Niv-Mizzet Reborn's midrange plan should also be well positioned in this metagame. With maindeck Thoughtseize, this particular list is built even more like a Jund deck than the Utopia Sprawl version, which won the Modern Challenge and has been more popular in recent months.
Another innovation is Glittering Wish, the primary use of which is to find sideboard Niv-Mizzet Reborn to effectively increase the total number in the deck. It also provides critical game-one access to hosers like Deafening Clarion, Dovin's Veto, and Wheel of Sun and Moon without the risk of having a dead card in the maindeck. The sideboard also includes extra tutorable copies of both Unmoored Ego and Kaya's Guile, which highlights their importance to the strategy. Unmoored Ego is a straightforward hoser against decks built around a single card like Primeval Titan, while Kaya's Guile is a more versatile hoser.
Kaya's Guile hasn't received a ton of attention or seen much play, but this deck shows that it's still underestimated as a Modern staple. It's reminiscent of a "charm" style card with multiple modes to choose from, but choosing two makes it more like a "command", just disguised by its lower mana cost, or maybe a "super-command" when entwined for the full four modes.
The primary mode is an edict effect, so it's effectively a removal spell, and comes with life gain that makes it function much like the Lightning Helix the deck also plays. Together they give the deck a ton of game against Burn (which has been seeing increased success lately) and other aggressive decks. Making a 1/1 flying token is strong in grindy matchups, but the ability to exile an opponent's graveyard is what really makes the card exceptional. For one, Dredge has been very successful in Modern lately, and having a maindeck hoser turns the matchup around. It's also an answer to opposing Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath from decks like Bant Snow, or any graveyard reanimation from Emry, Lurker of the Loch.
This deck hasn't quite "made it" like Ponza or Niv-Mizzet with big Premier Event finishes, but the Gruul Reckless Bushwhacker deck has been rebuilt to support Gallia of the Endless Dance, has now put up multiple successful runs in Preliminary events. It might be on its way toward bigger things.
I've taken note of Gallia of the Endless Dance being used similarly in Pioneer, but Modern provides some major upgrades. Goblin Guide, which with haste is especially good for triggering Gallia on demand, really helps to make the legend more consistent. The deck also splashes into white to make the most of Wild Nacatl, which bolsters the one-drop count with a hard-hitting creature.
Hidden Herbalists is Pioneer-legal, but it really requires Modern's fetch lands to reliably trigger revolt, which turns it into a free spell like Burning-Tree Emissary. It gives the deck more potential for broken draws, especially with Reckless Bushwhacker. A fetch land-tutorable Dryad Arbor is also another nice quality of life upgrade from the Modern cardpool.
Hardened Scales hasn't been a major player in Pioneer for months. By the time of Theros Beyond Death and the Players Tour event it had completely fallen off, but it's back in business with Dominic Harvey's Pioneer Super Qualifier win.
This SCG grinder has been championing the deck on social media for weeks telling people how well he was doing with it, and he backed it up with a big win last weekend. In the days since, multiple players have already put up finishes of their own with the deck that's on its way towards a wider breakout.
There's not a whole lot new here. This is essentially the same list of the deck that broke out on the SCG tour at the beginning of the year, but the metagame around it has completely changed, and is apparently unprepared for it.
The list takes an extremely straightforward approach, leaving all the disruption in the sideboard and focusing completely on synergies.
This gives the deck the highest potential for its fastest and most broken draws. In that sense, it can almost be viewed as a combo deck, just like the Mono-White Heliod and Dimir Inverter decks that it's competing against, with "I Win" draws of its own.
In a Pioneer metagame defined by these combo decks, Hardened Scales shows that there is room for other combo or combo-like strategies.The upside of a strategy like this is that even without any combos it's still an efficient aggressive deck that can beat down opponents the fair way. It also brings a great sideboard to the table, with the black splash for maindeck Winding Constrictor opening up Thoughtseize to disrupt other combo decks and control, and Fatal Push giving it more play against creatures.