For the last ten days or so I've been playing Modern exclusively. I had a PTQ in Adelaide on Saturday and I was determined to be prepared. This meant giving Standard a break and devoting all my Magic Online time to Modern. There were a couple of decks that I thought were good so I started testing these. First I started with Melira; I still think it's a good deck. The problem though was that it was too much of known quantity and didn't seem to have the raw power to bash through the hate. The deck practically rolled over to a Grafdigger's Cage and there seemed to be a lot of people playing them online; it was also vulnerable to sweepers and just felt weak against faster decks. I decided that I'd have Melira as a backup but that I would start looking for something else.
The next deck I started playing was Dredge. A mate of mine Brennan DeCandio had shipped me a list and I was eager to give it a go. I played a bunch of two-mans and four Daily Events all while tuning and testing different cards. I managed to go 3-1 in a bunch of Dailies and it even caught of the eye of Gavin Verhey who posted my list here. That being said the deck wasn't fast or consistent enough for my liking. It was really good if they weren't prepared for it but you could still lose games and if they did have a bunch of graveyard hate things got pretty difficult.
It was around this point that Jeremy Neeman said that he wanted to write about Constructed but didn't really have anything to write about. I chucked him an update of my U/B deck that I wrote about here. The update was to add Lingering Souls and Path to Exile and it really did turn the bad matchups around. You can read his article on that deck here. I hadn't given the deck much time because I was still testing Dredge but Jeremy really liked it. When I started to lose faith in Dredge it seemed like the obvious deck to test next.
I started messing with some numbers as it wasn't feeling powerful enough. The first change I made was to cut Sword of Feast and Famine and one of the Cryptic Commands for three Geist of Saint Traft. After that I stated looking at playing some Zealous Persecutions in the maindeck. Even after these changes I just wasn't feeling it; it was a little too inconsistent as far as early colors go. It also felt a little threat light against control disruption light against combo and removal light against aggro. I just felt that it wasn't doing anything powerful enough.
I played against a Strom deck with Gifts Ungiven and it looked kind of cool so I started testing that. Gifts is one of my favorite cards and being able to find three Rituals and a Past in Flames seemed kind of sick. The sideboard was a transformation into Splinter Twin and that also seemed cool but you wanted to tack out more than fifteen cards and this meant leaving some Rituals in; I didn't like that. I also didn't like how slow the deck was or how vulnerable it was to permission. I thought and still think that Pyromancer Ascension is a better Storm deck.
I briefly experimented with getting Unburial Rites Iona and Elesh Norn into it but it wasn't a good fit at all. I wanted to explore Gifts further though as it felt like it was able to do really powerful things. I built a Deathcloud deck a Loam deck and then a beatdown Bant deck all with Gifts Ungiven. Each time they felt a little bit off. The Bant deck had a lot of promise; Knight of the Reliquary is an insane card that I think deserves more of a spot in this format. Noble Hierarch and Tarmogoyf are indisputably powerful and combined with Knight can establish a pretty impressive board early in a game. The Gifts Package wasn't great though. Sometimes you want Elesh Norn or Iona and Gifts won you the game but you also drew the fatties or had too many Gifts or the Unburial package just wasn't going to get there so you end up fetching something like Path to Exile Tarmogoyf Knight of the Reliquary and Eternal Witness and it sucks.
At this point I had run out of time and had resigned myself to just playing Melira. I really didn't want to and considered just not going; instead I packed my bag with my Melira deck but also with the cards to build pretty much every tier one deck.
Adelaide is a nine-hour drive from Melbourne and this gave us a lot of time to talk Magic. I was travelling with four good mates of mine: Luke Mulcahy Isaac Egan WIlfy Horig and Simeon Mann. They're all great Magic players but no one had really done much testing and they were all playing different decks none of which I liked. I was pretty desperate to not play Melira though so everything else was appealing. About five hours into the trip I started talking to Simo about Gifts as he was playing Gifts Storm. I was saying that I really liked Knight of the Reliquary and Noble Hierarch. I started talking though Gifts synergies and what you can do in each matchup; we discussed Lingering Souls Inquisition of Kozilek and Raven's Crime-Life from the Loam.
Two hours later I'd decided to play the deck even though it wasn't at all built yet. The plan was to play a bunch of Magic Online when we reached Adelaide and at least get some games in. This didn't exactly pan out. We got in kind of late and I had done a lot of the driving and was exhausted. There was also no access to a reliable Internet connection. At this point I didn't really care that much and wanted to sleep resigning myself to playing a deck that I hadn't had a single game with. This was the first time I've ever gone into any event this unprepared. I'd played hundreds of hours of the format but none with this specific deck.
This isn't the exact list I played but it's the list I would play from now. I've changed about three cards from the actual list I played as they were obvious changes that it didn't take me many games to see. One obvious one was to play Watery Grave over Breeding Pool as it can be fetched by Marsh Flats as well as allowing Misty Rainforest to fetch a second black source. The others were minor sideboard things.
- 1 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Qasali Pridemage
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
- 1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
I've never had such low expectations going into an event like this. I was hoping to play a bunch of games and learn as much as I could about the deck. There are plenty more PTQs coming up. The deck outperformed my expectations as modest as they were. It would've out-performed them even if they'd been far loftier; I went undefeated and won the event. The deck felt awesome. Even in its untuned state it achieved everything I wanted my previous Gifts decks to.
The deck has two distinct roles. First it plays like an aggro Rock deck. You have a bunch of discard a bit of removal and threats like Tarmogoyf and Knight of the Reliquary to provide pressure. This frame was able to keep me in the early game in pretty much every matchup. I wasn't just trying to survive until I resolved Gifts; I was disrupting their plan and providing a bunch of pressure while playing good cards. The card that fit this plan better than I expected was Lingering Souls. Lingering Souls is one of my favorite cards at the moment and it definitely didn't disappoint in this deck. It trades for multiple cards against most decks and provides a bunch of pressure against the others. Knight of the Reliquary fetches Gavony Township and this pushes the Lingering Souls plan right over the top.
Against Melira Affinity Storm and plenty of other decks this will pretty much win you the game. There are plenty of matchups and situations though where this is not what you want to be doing. Against decks like Tron or Teachings Iona and Elesh Norn are pretty unimpressive. This is when you fetch something like Raven's Crime Life from the Loam Tectonic Edge and Lingering Souls/Unburial Rites/Urborg Tomb of Yawgmoth/Treetop Village/Gavony Township etc.
Raven's Crime also plays another important role in this deck. You Gifts for it and Unburial Rites when you've drawn Elesh Norn or Iona. You then Raven's Crime targeting yourself and Reanimate it. This was something that the Bant deck couldn't do. The Storm deck had to Gifts for Faithless Looting and if they didn't give it to you flashing it back cost three mana which was usually a whole turn.
The other form of Gifts package that you have is the Standard Rock package. This means fetching three cards you want and an Eternal Witness. If you have a lot of time you can fetch Unburial Rites Eternal Witness and be able to get either of the other cards you fetch into your hand. It's these kinds of Gifts piles that explain most the one-ofs in the deck. Being able to Gifts for three pieces of removal three pieces of discard or three threats is just really useful. It's also fine to play different cards that are similar in this color combination as they are all maindeck quality cards. The sideboard is also geared towards this kind of Gifts package.
Jund is special and deserves its own package. Iona is sometimes awesome sometimes Elesh is sometimes Eternal Witness packages are good but most of the time none of these are going to win the game on their own. This is why there's a Wurmcoil Engine in the deck. It was momentarily a Sphinx of the Steel Wind and that does do a great job of just beating them but I didn't want such a narrow card in my maindeck. Wurmcoil is also castable which means two things: you can cast it against any deck if you draw it and you can have a Gifts package that's not just two cards. You can put Eternal Witness Path to Exile Unburial Rites and Wurmcoil Engine; in fact the first two cards I just listed can be pretty much anything. Lingering Souls and Knight of the Reliquary are two obvious options. I'm not sure if this is the right way to approach the maindeck but I was expecting Jund to be a major player and this definitely did the job when I played against it in the PTQ.
I sideboard like this:
-2 Inquisition of Kozilek
-1 Life from the Loam
-1 Elesh Norn Grand Cenobite
-1 Raven's Crime
-1 Qasali Pridemage
+2 Obstinate Baloth
+1 Kitchen Finks
+1 Maelstrom Pulse
I only played against Jund once at the PTQ but the matchup felt very good. They have a lot of trouble dealing with Lingering Souls and Knight of the Reliquary and Gifts was awesome. Post-board I'm siding more cards that help you reach the mid to late game as I think this is where you're most favored in this matchup.
This is a matchup that comes down to how well they draw and which part of your deck you draw. If you draw Inquisitions and Lingering Souls into Gifts into Elesh Norn this matchup is excellent unless they go completely broken. If you draw a lot of Tarmogoyfs or Knights and not enough early disruption then game 1 is really tough.
With more cheap disruption and less blanks your draws become a lot more consistent. Their God draw will still beat you as you don't have access to Ancient Grudge and Creeping Corrosion but on the whole I feel this matchup is favorable post-board.
There are a lot of builds of this deck at the moment but they all play in a similar fashion. The W/U/R version has more burn range the RUG version has better creatures and the W/U/B one has more disruption but the plan against all of them is to survive until the late game. The maindeck doesn't have quite enough removal for this matchup and this means you lean really hard on Lingering Souls. You generally win with a combination of Knight of the Reliquary and Eternal Witness-Gifts packages.
-1 Raven's Crime
-1 Life from the Loam
-1 Iona Shield of Emeria against U/W/B and U/W/R -1 Elesh Norn Grand Cenobite against RUG
+2 Obstinate Baloth
+1 Maelstrom Pulse
+1 Zealous Persecution
Post-board plays pretty differently. Threads of Disloyalty is really scary; this is why I trim a lot of the Tarmogoyfs. Tarmogoyf is pretty underwhelming anyway and you play to just Rock them out post board. You have far more value than they do so if you can avoid losing early the late game should be yours.
This matchup is sweet. Iona just beats them game 1 and you have a lot of discard and ramp to get it into play before they go off.
Some builds board into Splinter Twin combo and this is something you have to be very aware of. Fortunately you have a lot of discard and that's great no matter what kill they have. Iona is also great against both but you should be cautious of bounce. If you know they have boarded into Twin then naming blue should be game. If they stay with straight Storm then you only name blue if you're sure they can't kill you in the time it takes for Iona to kill them. Otherwise name red and hope they don't draw bounce.
Game 1 is a bit tricky. They're trying to assemble their Loam engine while you try and get Iona into play. Seismic Assault is their massive trump as it will actually beat Iona and if you have to Gifts for a way to kill it then they can grind you out with Loam. If they don't have Assault then things are looking very good. You kind of wish that your Wurmcoil Engine was a Sphinx of the Steel Wind here.
Being able to interact with their Loam package goes a long way to invalidating their game plan. Dark Confidant is still very scary and you definitely want to kill it; other than that your green creatures are better than theirs.
They can be inconsistent and threat light especially if you can make them discard a draw spell.
You need to draw early disruption and either resolve Gifts or have your Knight of the Reliquary survive. Once you can start disrupting their mana your Knights and Goyfs don't take long to finish them. If you aren't able to disrupt their mana they'll usually go broken too early for you to stop.
Things don't get too much better here. You lose some blanks but the cards you're replacing them with are a little narrow. Just hope they don't do anything too dumb too early.
I hope you all enjoyed reading about the deck I used to qualify for Pro Tour Avacyn Restored. I definitely don't encourage any of you to go into a PTQ playing an untested brew but I can say it was pretty exhilarating getting there under those circumstances. As always I look forward to reading your comments.
Sledgesliver on Magic Online