Whenever I cast a Terminus – preferably for the low cost of a single white mana – I think of what used to happen whenever I'd catch the bus out to Tegel Airport when I lived in Berlin. As we arrived at the airport, a prerecorded message would announce "Terminus. Please leave the bus here." I always found the announcement pretty funny, as of course I was going to leave the bus there. It's not as if I was going to take it with me.
The only Terminus I'm announcing these days, however, is the six-mana Hallowed Burial from Avacyn Restored and make no mistake – everyone is getting off the bus when I do it. In my preparation for this weekend's Modern GP in Prague, I've found Terminus to be a pleasingly frequent game-winning play. The current Modern format just isn't set up to contest a one-mana sweeper that doesn't send creatures to the graveyard.
Today, we're going to discuss the merits of Terminus, its position in the Modern format and the best deck in which to play it.
Modern, in contrast to other nonrotating formats such as Legacy and Vintage, is and has been overwhelmingly creature-focused. For years and years, contesting the battlefield has traditionally been the most straightforward path to victory. While there are obvious exceptions to this – Storm, Ad Nauseam, and now KCI – generally speaking, controlling or otherwise dominating the board has been the way Modern games are won. Sweepers, therefore, are a hugely important piece of the puzzle for anyone looking to control the board, rather than play to it.
Terminus has three specific characteristics that set it apart from other sweepers. While Supreme Verdict's uncounterability is incredible in the face of everything except Spell Queller, and while Wrath of God removes even the enormously irritating Thrun, the Last Troll, Terminus offers unique strengths that other sweepers can't hope to compete with.
Firstly, Terminus costs just a single mana. Obviously the reality of that statement isn't quite as black and white – but when it counts, a single white mana will often be enough to sweep the board clear. The importance of this can't really be overstated – in a format as quick and as unforgiving as Modern, the mana cost of a card is perhaps the single most important aspect of its viability.
Look at cards like Hollow One, Gurmag Angler and Death's Shadow - they're all dumb vanilla creatures, nothing special once on the battlefield. Rather, it's their cost that makes them special – deploying powerful cards for one mana is a recipe for success in Modern. It's no different with Terminus. Wiping the board for one mana is absurd; usually you're lucky to kill one creature at that price, let alone multiple.
Of course, there are hoops to jump through. Hitting a Miracle Terminus isn't as simple as all that, and brings with it some interesting deckbuilding challenges and restrictions. Still, the payoff is very, very real, and ultimately doesn't cause you to play cards that are significantly worse (for example, choosing Opt over Serum Visions).
Secondly, Terminus can be played at instant speed. Thanks to cards like Opt, Think Twice or even Cryptic Command, casting Terminus during your opponents' turns can be backbreaking. Rout, perhaps the best-known instant-speed sweeper, costs seven mana – and Terminus should only cost you one!
Snagging creatures as they go into combat can be huge, but the real blowouts come when you can take a hit during combat, then cast a Terminus during their end step. This leaves you with a full turn cycle "off," during which you can deploy a Teferi or a Jace and settle in to pull further ahead while your opponent rebuilds.
Finally, Terminus has an odd effect that, right now, is extremely well positioned against the Modern format. Putting creatures on the bottom of the deck instead of sending them to the 'yard offers a huge number of benefits, as we'll discuss, and means that the upside of Terminus outstrips even the uncounterability of Supreme Verdict. Suffice to say, a Hallowed Burial effect is much more effective than a Wrath of God effect in today's Modern.
The final strength discussed above is, beyond a doubt, the most important one when casting Terminus against the current field. With the number of graveyard-reliant creature decks - not to mention those that offer direct graveyard recursion or actively benefit from their creatures dying – it becomes very clear that Terminus is the superior choice when it comes to clearing the board.
Consider the best creature decks in Modern. Undoubtedly, Five-Color Humans is towards the top of that list, and against Humans more or less any timely sweeper is going to get the job done. Looking deeper, however, the number of decks with profound weaknesses to the effect offered by Terminus becomes readily apparent.
Hollow One and Bridgevine both depend upon cards like Bloodghast, Rekindling Phoenix and Stitcher's Supplier to get their wheels spinning, and Terminus is nothing but a stick in the spokes of those wheels. Wrathing away Bloodghasts is a terrible feeling, as you know they're going to come back next turn and continue to apply pressure. Play Terminus instead, and your opponent is playing two-mana 2/1s with downside. Don't forget, either, that Terminus doesn't trigger Bridge from Below against Bridgevine!
Other decks take splash damage from Terminus. Kolaghan's Command – one of Mardu Pyromancer's key value engines – becomes a lot worse when they can't buy back their slain Young Pyromancers or Bedlam Revelers. Bant Spirits can't flash in a Selfless Spirit or Spell Queller to save the day. Burn can't activate the secret mode on Boros Charm to save their team.
This is all without mentioning how valuable it can be to deploy an instant-speed sweeper, too. Snagging a hasty Mantis Rider Bloodbraid Elf, or Vengevine helps to take the pressure off, in addition to being an amazing end-of-turn play, as mentioned.
Admittedly, the card is still a stone-cold blank against many decks. Against Storm the best you can hope for is removing an early Baral, while against KCI it does actual nothing. At least it removes Ulamog against Tron, I suppose. Still, if they're resolving Ulamogs then that particular ship may have sailed.
We've established that Terminus is a uniquely powerful card that lines up incredibly favorably against Modern's creature-based decks. What's the best home for the card? Well, you'll be unsurprised to learn that I'm advocating White-Blue Control as the deck you should be playing in Modern right now.
This is my current list, and I've been very happy with how it has performed. I have specific reasoning for each card I've chosen to include – not just the playset of Terminus – so I'll run through a few of them quickly.
I haven't played with Serum Visions since Opt joined Modern with Ixalan. Serum Visions is the better card in a vacuum, but in conjunction with Snapcaster Mage I believe Opt is the better choice. Now that Terminus is at its best, we have even more of a reason to play Opt – along with Think Twice, it allows the instant-speed Terminus thanks to the miracle triggering on your opponent's turn.
It took a long time, and some people are still not quite convinced, but we finally realized that Logic Knot is just about the best two-mana Counterspell available to us in Modern. There is some built-in tension with Snapcaster Mage and delve, but we've made allowances for that, as we'll discuss.
Negate is one of my all-time favorite cards, and hits so many relevant cards in the format that I'm happy to main deck multiple copies. There's a great way to ensure it doesn't hurt you when playing against Humans, too – just don't draw it, ever. Easy.
I don't know why anyone would ever play fewer than four of this card. I see lists with three, two, or even one, and I don't understand it. It might be the best card in the format, and you're choosing not to play four? Madness. In a deck full of Spreading Seas, sure – but in this deck, it's a no-brainer.
I wasn't playing Vendilion Clique until a recent Frank Karsten article reminded me that "the first copy of a card is always the most valuable" and so added a copy. I've liked it so far, but the card is never hugely exciting. I particularly enjoy that it can close out games quickly, reducing the mental Fatigue involved with playing a slow deck.
It blows me away that Jace isn't far-and-away the best planeswalker in Modern, but that's the world we live in. Jace and Teferi work extremely well together, however, Jace is critical in this deck for setting up Terminus. He's the most reliable way to ensure you'll cast a one-mana sweeper, although is enormously fragile. It's important to have the board under control before deploying him, so leverage early interaction aggressively if you draw him early.
Playing more than the industry-standard four Flooded Strands is, I believe, hugely beneficial to the entire deck. Firstly, it fuels the Logic Knots without hampering Snapcaster Mage; secondly, it allows you to shuffle after a Brainstorm more than you would otherwise. Considering the number of matchup-dependent cards (Negate, Timely Reinforcements, and even Terminus itself), shuffling away dead cards can be game-changing.
Relic is still my graveyard hate card of choice. I won't play Rest in Peace in a Snapcaster deck, let alone one that is also playing Logic Knot – and besides, Terminus does a lot of what Rest in Peace seeks to do in matchups like Hollow One and Bridgevine.
Ceremonious Rejection is absolutely ridiculous against so many decks – KCI, Affinity, Tron, Eldrazi. Play this card; it's a one-mana hard Counterspell against some potentially tough matchups.
It took awhile to win me over – I used to be on the triple-Geist sideboard plan – but these Angels Slice and Dice and do it all. Great threats in the mirror, amazing against Burn (assuming it's not too late), amazing against Fatal Push decks, the list goes on. Even better, Lyra makes Baneslayer a 6/6. Come get some.
Ancestral Vision doesn't help the Terminus gameplan, whereas card advantage engines like Jace and Think Twice do. I've been off Remand and Mana Leak for a long time – they just don't cut it, being too situational. Wall of Omens hardly blocks anything these days, with Hollow Ones and Gurmag Anglers everywhere. As for Glimmer of Genius… well, I don't want to argue with Gabriel Nassif, but I'll stick to my pet Sphinx's Revelation and leave him to his Glimmers.
Overall, I'm thrilled to see White-Blue Control is moving back towards a more instant-speed gameplan and away from the old tap-out control style we saw after Gideon of the Trials was printed. Field of Ruin and Teferi have both contributed to this enormously, eliminating the need for Spreading Seas and Gideon Jura respectively.
To that end, being able to play an instant-speed sweeper thanks to Opt and Think Twice (as well as Relic of Progenitus, out of the board) is ridiculously powerful, as you want to leave your mana untapped and play draw-go anyway.
- Keep careful track of where your copies of Terminus are. Did you scry one to the bottom early on, or put one there with an Azcanta activation? Have you shuffled? It's always a good idea to have a rough idea of how likely you are to blindly flip one, especially with the scry on Opt.
- Always, always, always leave cast your card draw before committing to other decisions. Don't blindly counter a creature when you have an Opt in hand – what if you have a Terminus on top? Cracking a Relic of Progenitus can also help cast Terminus, so if you're going to exile graveyards anyway, do it first.
- Cryptic Command and Sphinx's Revelation, while clunky, can still get you a miracle trigger. Never make the mistake of denying yourself access to a single white mana when casting these cards, if possible – and remember that a Celestial Colonnade (perhaps one that just blocked) can still pay for a Terminus, although you'll lose the land in the process.
- There are tons of weird lines that Cryptic Command opens up. My favorite so far has been Brainstorm a Terminus to the top, flash in Snapcaster, flashback Cryptic, Unsummon Snapcaster, miracle Terminus. All for the Bargain price of seven mana!
- Use Field of Ruin aggressively against decks you know don't play many basics. Target utility lands early and often, as this will shut off their lategame Staying Power, improve your Paths and fill your bin for Logic Knot.
- When playing against White-Blue Control, you should offer Terminus more respect than you have done in the past. Most lists run more copies of Terminus than Verdict these days, so it should be what you name with Meddling Mage in the blind.
- If a White-Blue opponent deploys a Jace, be particularly wary of the instant-speed Terminus. There are plenty of ways for them to draw at instant speed – don't run creatures into a sweeper precombat, for example, or over-deploy into an end-step Terminus.
White-Blue Control decks are firing on all cylinders in Modern right now, and I'm thrilled to be slamming and jamming with Celestial Colonnade once again. I'll watch the results from Prague closely (not that I have a choice, as I'm doing coverage) and honestly I expect the deck to overperform while everyone else catches up with the new playset-of-Terminus White-Blue Control lists. In any case, there's no doubt in my mind - for the foreseeable future, I'll be asking people to please leave the bus here.
- Riley Knight