Last weekend was extremely eventful with Pro Tour Return to Ravnica and SCG Open Series: Indianapolis providing more exciting coverage of all the three most popular Constructed formats than any human being could realistically watch. As Modern is clearly my favorite format I decided to watch Pro Tour live and Indy in replays. November offers two Modern Grand Prix in the United States and Europe so the time to prepare has come! Today I'm going to provide a little explanation of the sensational Second Sunrise Combo deck played by Stanislav Cifka the Scapeshift deck played by Shi Tian Lee and revisit Dead Vegetables which also sneaked in the Pro Tour even though it had less success than more established decks. Let's start!
Facts about Pro Tour Return to Ravnica:
- Barely one percent of the coverage spectators knew that Stanislav Cifka is Platinum level pro player. Now he finally has the recognition he deserves.
- The unbanning of Valakut the Molten Pinnacle was a correct move. The card is far from broken and just adds another dimension to the format.
- The best card for Modern from Return to Ravnica is Deathrite Shaman.
Modern is widely known for its extreme diversity and this tournament was no different: about 40 archetypes were represented Day 1. Twenty of them consisted of four or more copies and ten decks had five or more representatives in Day 2. Such a great…wait… Jund. Thirty-one percent of the Modern metagame was Jund. I still can't believe it. Such domination in my Modern? Unbelievable! Gerry Thompson stated that he expected to see about fifteen percent Jund so he decided to play a deck with bad Jund matchup—and it was a fair presumption. Jund is very good deck but definitely not broken so what's the secret of its popularity?
Jund has no very good and very bad matchups; its power is in its ability to win matches where the draws of both players are average or below average. Jund is an ideal deck for a long distance: when you need to go 7-2 to make Day 2 of a Grand Prix or 8-2 to draft well and make Top 8 of a Pro Tour. Moreover despite the randomness of the cascade mechanic properly built Jund is very stable and isn't demanding to its pilot saving them enough time to prepare for Limited. Add a good player's ability to consistently prevail in the mirror matches and that's why Jund was so popular at the Pro Tour Return to Ravnica.
Does any card of Jund need to be banned? Certainly not—its power is not in single cards but in their combination and banning of any one of them will not immediately kill the deck. Does any card need to be unbanned? Sorry Ancestral Vision no. Jund is powerful and popular but there are many ways to beat it using the current card pool. So let's just play decks that beat Jund!
What are weaknesses of Jund? It doesn't' beat decks with a much better or much faster average draw. It's hard to achieve against a deck with Dark Confidant and nine discard spells but if you somehow manage to solve this issue you'll be in a good shape. An interesting example of such a deck is Infect which is fast enough to win before Jund can control the battlefield and reliable enough to survive pinpoint discard spells. SCG's own Ari Lax got 9th at the Pro Tour with BUG Infect so I'm looking forward to his tournament report and the reports of members of both Team SCG Blue and Team SCG Black who also played combo decks in Seattle.
In the year since Pro Tour Philadelphia Modern had come to state where slow decks had no fear of fast combo but another Pro Tour set the barrier again. Infect Storm R/G Tron U/R Splinter Twin Scapeshift…if you want to beat Jund and blue decks you must be fast and reliable. If you don't just see Jon Finkel's match against Kenji Tsumura where the Storm deck overcame an active Relic of Progenitus and a ton of various countermagic. The Modern card pool allows for building fantastically reliable combo decks and this Pro Tour showed another one even though this one is powered by a card from Magic 2013 not Return to Ravnica.
Second Sunrise Combo or Eggs isn't new; moreover it's so old and complicated that many relatively new players have no idea how it wins. So let's take a closer look. Eggs is an old school style combo deck based on endless redundant iterations rather than on one card of a two-card combo. There is no way to resolve one spell and win as Scapeshift does. The typical count of actions is counted in dozens and hundreds and even drawing your whole deck is mandatory!
The deck is called Eggs because its very first version some years ago used Skycloud Egg Darkwater Egg Sungrass Egg and Mossfire Egg to draw an ungodly amount of cards and win with the help of Second Sunrise. That deck used Mystical Teachings as Sunrises #5 and 6 Open the Vaults was used in occasional attempts later and finally M13 gave us Faith's Reward which added enough consistency to make Eggs actually playable in Modern.
The primary win condition of the deck is Pyrite Spellbomb. Yes it's supposed to crack Pyrite Spellbomb ten times during a single turn. To achieve this you should have Lotus Bloom (Reshape helps) and some "Eggs" which are now Chromatic Sphere Chromatic Star and Elsewhere Flask. You sacrifice Lotus sacrifice "eggs" to draw cards then cast Second Sunrise return everything to the battlefield and repeat the process hopefully drawing Second Sunrise or Faith's Reward. At the some point you'll be able to get the second copy of Lotus Bloom and go infinite. Conjurer's Bauble and shuffle effects ensure that you'll have enough Second Sunrises to draw during preliminary iterations.
When you manage to draw your entire library it's time to actually win the game. Conjurer's Bauble puts Second Sunrise to the bottom of your library then immediately draws it. A pair of Lotus Bloom generates six mana to explode Pyrite Spellbomb and to cast Second Sunrise returning a pair of Lotus Bloom a Conjurer's Bauble and a Pyrite Spellbomb. Conjurer's Bauble puts Second Sunrise to the bottom of your library then immediately draws it. A pair of Lotus Bloom generates six mana to explode Pyrite Spellbomb and to cast Second Sunrise returning a pair of Lotus Bloom a Conjurer's Bauble and a Pyrite Spellbomb. Conjurer's Bauble puts Second Sunrise to the bottom of your library then immediately draws it. A pair of Lotus Bloom generates six mana to explode Pyrite Spellbomb and to cast Second Sunrise returning a pair of Lotus Bloom a Conjurer's Bauble and a Pyrite Spellbomb.
Yes that's a very long haul. The combo turn literally lasts for five or even ten minutes and that's a reason why you'll not often see this deck in Magic Online: endless clicks just make it almost impossible to win two games in 25 minutes. However enthusiasts adopted a bunch of alternative win conditions aiming to speed the deck up. Grapeshot Banefire Disciple of the Vault Laboratory Maniac and even Bitter Ordeal have been seen in various attempts. Stanislav Cifka's deck has only sideboarded Grapeshot as protection against Slaughter Games but other win conditions would also be suitable especially if the deck somehow becomes real contender and opponents know how to hose it. And an emphasis for those who like to do crazy things: Laboratory Maniac is playable here.
What could happen to you during the combo turn?
First you don't draw enough Second Sunrise early so the "Eggs" count is crucial. Evaluating chances to combo off is extremely hard so you need to be good at math and very experienced with your list to play well and at least reasonably fast. Stanislav Cifka by the way is a chess FIDE Master so he is extremely good at math.
Second Second Sunrise can be countered. That's why Silence is in the deck although it's also useful when you need to hold your opponent from further action (Might of Old Krosa is much worse on upkeep and any sort of sorcery speed combo like Storm is completely useless).
Third you can have your graveyard removed from the game with Relic of Progenitus Jund Charm Rakdos Charm and other popular cards. However both Second Sunrise and Faith's Reward are instants and you may have seen Stanislav Cifka starting to combo at seven mana and avoiding Yuuya Watanabe's Jund Charm.
Fourth you may see your Lotus Bloom meeting Surgical Extraction or Slaughter Games. Cifka's deck has no way to combo from that point so see the recipe for Jund Charm. A note: there is a possible way to generate enough mana with Krark-Clan Ironworks but I'm not sure if it's viable without artifact lands.
Fifth you may fall asleep or do something wrong and fizzle—that's another reason why extensive testing is needed if you somehow want to play this deck.
Ufff… That's all I want to say about Second Sunrise Combo. And as I know some people who actually enjoy the whole process I'm going to ignore any blame for loving Valakut the Molten Pinnacle. As for Valakut I've already said that it didn't break format being fair contender and viable choice for them who like the deck and feel comfortable with it. Different versions of Scapeshift took under ten percent of the metagame and delivered one deck to the Top 8.
In my opinion Shi Tian Lee's list is very close to the best possible Scapeshift deck. I actively dislike non-blue Valakut decks for having no real way to interact with the opponent. Seriously if you want to play R/G Valakut just pick R/G Tron instead. It's non-interactive too but at least one turn faster and inevitable in long games. Straight Valakut is generally too slow on the draw against any other combo deck so blue is mandatory. Shi Tian Lee's deck has ten counterspells and three Snapcaster Mages alongside sideboarded Vendilion Cliques. I'm afraid of the low land count but eighteen cards that cycle themselves backed by three Izzet Charm and three Snapcaster Mage definitely help. I'd prefer playing 26 lands instead of 24 and having Peer Through Depths / Augur of Bolas instead of Telling Time / Serum Visions but it's mostly a matter of personal comfort because the cards do essentially the same thing: dig for Scapeshift or answers.
Shi Tian Lee perfectly understood that Prismatic Omen isn't really broken since it forces us to have four Valakut the Molten Pinnacle and makes us vulnerable to the fearsome Sowing Salt. Two Valakuts give a much better chance to avoid an early Sowing Salt while ten Mountains allow surviving through a Salted Stomping Ground or Steam Vents. I'd play even eleven Mountains for additional reliability but of course not with just 24 lands. The last tweak I'd make for post-PT tournaments is the adoption of a third Obstinate Baloth. Jund is too popular now and its most powerful weapon against Scapeshift is Liliana of the Veil. Baloth and Vendilion Clique are the only realistic ways to deal with a resolved Liliana; because you have such a low amount of creatures it's hard to dodge the "sacrifice a creature" ability other than putting creatures into play after Liliana could force them to die.
One more of Jund's threats is surprisingly Deathrite Shaman. I mentioned earlier that a deck aiming to deal with Jund must be able to overpower Dark Confidant's card advantage and a ton of discard. Snapcaster Mage ensures that we can reuse our discarded best spells working as Scapeshifts five through seven or anything else. Deathrite Shaman completely shuts off this line of play gains some life (probably giving the opponent an additional turn) and makes endless stream of threats too fast to deal with. I think that RUG Scapeshift still has a slightly positive matchup against Jund but Deathrite Shaman is definitely a problem especially pre-board which is highly in Valakut's favor if we're speaking about Shaman-less versions.
I must admit that I underestimated Deathrite Shaman. I did see his potential claiming him as "my choice of the sleeper for this set" when it was in fact a powerhouse and the best card for the Modern in Return to Ravnica. I just overlooked the possibility to incorporate eight fetchlands into Jund and so compensate life loss from lands and even the lack of Kitchen Finks (though Yuuya Watanabe still has Kitchen Finks instead of Geralf's Messenger in his Shaman Jund list).
However I have a little reason to be proud too. In my Modern set review I presented the deck named "Dead Vegetables": a Lotleth Troll and Vengevine deck aiming to beat Jund by both speed and invulnerability to discard. Further testing and very useful discussion with my friends and both English and Russian speaking readers showed that the deck actually has a very good matchup against Jund—importantly even with below average draws. The Pro Tour proved us right as Raphael Levy's and Matthias Hunt's testing groups came with similar ideas. Due to my Monday schedule their decklists are unavailable at the time I write this but I've seen some feature matches and was very pleased with what I saw.
Both Hunt and Levy used Stinkweed Imp which is very questionable to me but Matt didn't have red and Faithless Looting so it's very understandable. Levy used Blasting Station—the closest analogue to Goblin Bombardment and an interesting control-ish option—while Hunt played Smallpox and Rotting Rats as ways to slow opponents down. I personally prefer being faster rather than slowing the opponent because combo players know how to play against discard so you can't rely on a single Thoughtseize buying you enough time. Russian players at the Pro Tour in Seattle chose other decks but we have been constantly working on the deck in our community for the upcoming Grand Prix Lyon and local tournaments. So I'm proud to present you our most recent attempt on Dead Vegetables made by my fellow compatriot and original Dead Vegetables co-author Basil Sasorov.
This list is a little bit short on Zombies (only ten including Mutavault and the surprisingly good Slitherhead) but I believe it is more reliable than Raphael Levy's deck. It's faster and has nearly unbeatable goldfishes powered by a fast self-milling engine. I dislike Stinkweed Imp because it's too slow while turn 2 Grisly Salvage often means that the opponent will be in trouble on your third turn. This card is absolute bonkers!
I'm not very good at either not showing Vengevine with Dark Confidant's trigger or recurring Gravecrawler with ten Zombies in the deck so I'd cut Bob Maher's Avatars for three copies of Putrid Leech. The initial deck included Tarmogoyf in these slots but Leech is straight-up better against any combo deck where Goyf is 2/3 and Leech is 4/4. Deathrite Shaman helps when you need to clash Putrid Leech with an opposing Tarmogoyf when you need to hard cast Vengevine or when you need to just add more pressure. I think that such a deck is the best possible home for Deathrite Shaman and that makes sense.
The deck still needs some work and adaptation for upcoming metagame waves but it definitely deserves to be respected contender in Modern. It's not the simplest deck to learn how to play but when you become familiar with it you'll be rewarded with power and incredible fun! That's why I love Modern—even when it's Jund dominated there are many ways to beat the villain and to have fun regardless of your personal preferences. Modern can satisfy everyone!
P.S. I encountered SCG's own Jesse Smith with an interesting G/W/B Vegetables deck featuring Thalia Guardian of Thraben and Tidehollow Sculler. Hopefully his article will come out tomorrow so I won't say anything else about it. Just stay tuned to Starcitygames.com!