This week, I'd like to talk about the impact a handful of Magic 2015 cards will have on the Modern format. Modern is a deep and diverse format with more than 40 legal sets, meaning the barrier for entry of any card is very high. In order for a new card to see competitive play in the format, it would need to do something better than any similar card printed in the last decade. M15 is going to be the ninth legal core set in the format, but unlike many of those, there are few vanilla reprints and many interesting cards with new abilities.
One card in particular screams "PLAY ME IN MODERN!" and that's Hushwing Gryff. In addition to completely hosing entire Birthing Pod decks, the card also shuts off key cards from several other top tier archetypes - Snapcaster Mage, Restoration Angel, Pestermite and Deceiver Exarch to name a few.
Typically, when looking at a new card to make an impact on an older format, cards that let you cheat on mana are the first things to look at. Chief Engineer and Generator Servant both seem like they have the possibility for abuse, but may prove to be just slightly below the power level necessary to perform in Modern.
Waste Not, the newest of the "You Make the Card" series, appears in Magic 2015, and only time will tell if it's powerful enough to see play. The mana cost is reasonably low, but unlike Crucible of Worlds, another YMTC that is universally powerful, Waste Not requires serious commitment to become playable; let alone good. Let's give it that commitment, and see how it looks.Waste Not, Recycle Please
This is probably the most discard you can realistically fit into a deck, without being cold to not drawing Waste Not. Liliana of the Veil is the clear other centerpiece of this strategy, and probably the best legal planeswalker in Modern as well. Both cards can take advantage of a plethora of discard, but games where you draw neither card are likely to be an extremely uphill climb, as we give our opponent plenty of time to draw out of our hand disruption.
One big issue with Waste Not is if you get to a mid-game where your opponent has no cards in hand, but has enough lands to play the spells they draw. This will leave both your key enchantment and all of the discard spells in the deck as essential blanks - meaning we either need to end the game before it gets to that point, or have some alternate use for those cards. Pack Rat is a good example, as it can create an overwhelming board presence quickly (bonus: there are other rats in the deck!), and it makes use of otherwise dead discard spells.
While Pack Rat may be better than Worm Harvest (or other cards) in the main, right now there are no good targets for removal, making it more likely to stick in post-board games. Additionally, your opponent is likely to bring in graveyard hate, and boarding out Gravecrawlers and Bloodghasts for Pack Rats and Dark Confidants is a good way to sustain into longer games, while being less vulnerable to a Tormod's Crypt or Grafdigger's Cage.
So what exactly happens when we have a Waste Not in play? Using the card effectively means that we need to be able to take advantage of each of the card's abilities. Let's start with the third ability: draw a card. It's easy enough to be able to take advantage of drawing extra cards; you simply need to be able to use those cards before the game ends. If our opponent discards a creature card, we get a 2/2 Zombie Token. While not a terrible ability, assembling our "combo" of sorts to put a couple of 2/2s into play isn't particularly exciting. We maximize this ability by using Bloodghast and Gravecrawler to supplement the 2/2 plan. Adding BB to your mana pool when your opponent discards a land card may be the hardest to take advantage of, but also offers the most reward.
As an example, if we cast Delirium Skeins with a Waste Not in play, and our opponent discards both a land card and a noncreature, nonland card, we get an additional BB and a draw. To capitalize, we want to maximize the cards we can draw and can cast in that scenario. Keeping this in mind, we want to keep the mana costs of the deck low. Considering cards like Grave Titan or Batterskull out of the sideboard for the matchups where we need some haymakers and longevity, they may often be stranded as Delirium Skeins and Liliana of the Veil typically don't allow you to easily reach five or six lands.
Erebos, God of the Dead is only a one-of in the board, as typically you won't want to or be able to cast him until your opponent is empty handed, but gives us something to funnel BB into for good use. Additionally, this deck pays a lot of life already, which is a reason why Dismember is purposefully omitted. This is also why I think five fetchlands is probably enough, I don't believe the deck needs the full eight.
Other options which may be worth exploring include The Rack and Shrieking Affliction. Nezumi Shortfang can complement these, but is vulnerable to removal. The upside of Nezumi Shortfang is that you can use it during your opponent's draw step - something most discard effects cannot do.
Shhhh...enough about Waste Not.
Hushwing Gryff and friends
When you first look at Hushwing Gryff, the immediate thought is "looks like Aven Mindcensor." They cost the same, and have the same stats and abilities except for their hoser mechanic. Comparing Hushwing Gryff to Torpor Orb doesn't do the card much justice, as Torpor Orb is sorcery speed so you can't surprise "Stifle" the trigger as you can with Hushwing Gryff. Keep in mind, you need to cast Hushwing Gryff while the creature or spell (such as Chord of Calling) is on the stack, as opposed to when the trigger is on the stack.
So we've got a relatively powerful static ability on a white "hate bear." We've seen a lot of these lately, most recently from cards like Aegis of the Gods and Eidolon of Rhetoric. What makes Hushwing Gryff so special is just how many decks in Modern it gets value against right now. For whatever given Modern tournament you are playing in, there are likely to be significantly more decks playing creatures with enters the battlefield triggers than those who aren't.
So we know the card is good against Birthing Pod and Splinter Twin. Against UW or UWr though, Restoration Angel is good at blocking Hushwing Gryff (as well as getting its trigger shut off), making it an unreliable attacker. Even against Snapcaster Mage, the Hushwing Gryff needs to resolve with the Snapcaster still on the stack, meaning your opponent can still remove the Gryff and get the trigger out of their Snapcaster anyway.
Perhaps the reason I'm most excited about the card is that it gives us a viable alternative / supplement to Spellskite as a card that can be played before the Splinter Twin combo that works to prevent it, without being useless in other matchups. Another reason is that I really dislike playing against Birthing Pod, so perhaps I'm personally influenced and slightly overzealous.
Moving on.The Underdogs
A few other cards which piqued my interest are Chief Engineer, Generator Servant and Military Intelligence.
Chief Engineer doesn't work in current Modern Affinity builds. The deck is already designed to cast most of its spells for free, and if it wanted a 1U non-artifact, it would probably play Erayo, Soratami Ascendant. However, that doesn't mean the card won't find a home.
I'll make a comparison to Grand Architect here, a card which only briefly saw triumph, but seemed like it had a lot of potential. For that matter, the cards are likely able to be played together. Letting your creatures tap for mana with pseudo-haste (in the case of both Chief Engineer and Grand Architect) is powerful. Here's a list of cards which may be able to find a home in a deck like this.
Chief Engineer Grand Architect Phyrexian Metamorph Vedalken Engineer Vedalken Archmage Phantasmal Image Trinket Mage Treasure Mage
Perhaps a more aggressive approach with cards like:
Phantasmal Bear Delver of Secrets Judge's Familiar Enclave Cryptologist Hall of Triumph Bident of Thassa
Where I get stuck when trying to come up with a decklist is figuring out what exactly the deck is accelerating into, and what this deck does better than any other. This pile of cards doesn't look like it's building a deck that's more aggressive or has more longevity than any other deck that tries to assemble a critical mass of permanents. However, blue cards and artifacts have a history of doing broken things together, so if you can think of something, I'd love to hear it!
Speaking of new cards in blue decks, I believe Military Intelligence is aggressively costed enough to find a home somewhere. Whether it's in a Merfolk deck, or a UR Delver deck, if you can reliably turn the card into a 1U Phyrexian Arena, it's certainly worth taking a look at. Blue is the color which is least likely to be attacking with multiple creatures on the early turns, which is probably why the card doesn't cost three total mana.
In a UR deck, Military Intelligence plays very well with haste creatures, such as Goblin Guide and Hellspark Elemental. Snapcaster Mage of course fits a deck like this well, and can help trigger Military Intelligence from a cleared board as well. Finding a balance of creatures and spells is key; chaining a few cheap Counterspells like Remand, Spell Pierce, and Spell Snare while drawing an extra card a turn can easily take a game away.
If not Modern, the card will likely make an appearance in Standard.
Finally, I want to talk a little about Generator Servant. Let me preface this by saying I think it's more likely that the card doesn't see play than it is that the card finds a home in a powerful deck. That being said, the card can do something powerful, and it's worth considering.
If you play Generator Servant on turn two, you can sacrifice it and play a creature with a CMC of five on turn three with haste. This seems appealing, yet we have to find a way for Generator Servant to be good on any turn of the game, as well as playing enough cards to ramp into that if it lives through the turn you'll be getting good use out of it. Playing Generator Servant over something like Sakura-Tribe Elder or even a Mind Stone would have to be deliberate. Getting use out of a creature going to the graveyard or really maximizing the ability to give a big creature haste ( Inferno Titan?) are a few ways the card can be better.The Love of the Game
Even before a new set comes out, sometimes I find myself literally giggling over possible card combinations and deck concepts and synergies. Even weeks before playing the cards themselves, this feeling of excitement and joy is what keeps me and so many others in it for so long.
It's hard to talk about limited before a set comes out, but Frost Lynx is a blue copy of Kor Hookmaster, a card which was a very high pick in Zendikar limited. Maybe hoping to open a common isn't particularly ambitious, but I do hope my first 2015 draft starts with an Elemental Cat and is packed to the brim with Coral and Squid.
Thanks for reading!-Nick Spagnolo