Gatecrash spoilers are already here, but there are too few of them to speak about reasonably, so I'm going to note that I'm excited about the interaction between Zameck Guildmage and Strangleroot Geist and write about Modern one more time. The format is still evolving, and the first PTQs on Magic Online proved it's incredible flexible and open to innovations. Modern is slowly being driven from combo to fair decks, and it's even healed its primary weakness, the lack of good blue decks. Today I have two sweet examples of Modern's development: a new deck and a recent step ahead made by the format's boogeyman.
The prize for the most innovative deck since I last wrote goes to Slippery Bogle and friends. The deck is somewhat similar to Infect and Nivmagus Elemental but tries to ignore the opponent completely rather than protect its threats. So it's also similar to Tron and shares Tron's weaknesses rather than Infect's. Regular damage means that there's almost no way to win with one big attack (and there's no Ground Rift to feed Nivmagus Elemental), so Bogles stumbles against fast combo decks which it can't realistically outrace.
However, aggressive decks without Thoughtseize have very few ways to deal with a large, hexproof, evasive threat on turn 2. Infect uses pump spells, but they are not enough for regular damage, so auras are the only choice for the plan to assemble a robot and outrace anything opponent offers. The core of the deck is eight hexproof threats, Spirit Mantle, and some very efficient auras like Rancor and Ethereal Armor. The most successful version of the deck is the following:
A little aside: there are two Magic cards with the word "daybreak" in their names. Guess which one, Daybreak Ranger or Daybreak Coronet, is currently out of stock on StarCityGames.com? My very first (and probably last) piece of financial advice: if you've drafted Time Spiral extensively, it's time to check your pile of old cards (not only for financial reasons but also to help brewers go crazy). By the way, be careful with Daybreak Coronet. The risk of trying to enchant a creature with only one other aura is relatively high now since most players understand what's going on. However, there are only two cheap auras that provide more than two points of power in one card, so Daybreak Coronet is indispensable.
Hyena Umbra and Spider Umbra provide priceless help against sweepers along with reasonable pumping. I'm not sure if seven or eight is too high; six would be enough if a removal-light metagame is expected. Rancor provides another sort of anti-sweeper protection and, more importantly, trample for cases when you don't draw Spirit Mantle. Non-pumping auras are generally bad as they don't really help outrace opponent the, but some copies of Lifelink and Curiosity (in the form of Keen Sense) would be nice in rare long games.
The last pieces of the maindeck puzzle are a few cards to interact with the opponent (Path to Exile in this case) and some additional threats. Eight threats simply aren't enough, but the deck can't have animated lands (like Inkmoth Nexus in Infect) or Tutors (like Flamekin Harbinger in Elementals). So the two most realistic options are Kor Spiritdancer and Silhana Ledgewalker. I personally prefer Silhana (two or three copies, not a full playset) since she's a threat while Kor Spiritdancer normally dies on the spot. However, the deck is unstable, so Kor is a chance to survive mulligans. The Infect-inspired Noble Hierarch is also an option, but she isn't good enough at pumping creatures (as you need twice the amount of damage) and doesn't accelerate you to new level.
Countermeasures to hate begin in the maindeck with a pair of Dryad Arbors in a very complicated and color-greedy mana base (hello, Daybreak Coronet's mana cost!). Dryad Arbor is sort of a bad Inkmoth Nexus and a way to beat Liliana of the Veil pre-board, which is also very important. Aside from that, the deck can hardly play any lands that don't produce green and white simultaneously, even though some players try to play basic Forest in hopes of surviving Blood Moon. Most of the sideboard is usually dedicated to various combo decks, although Phresh87 ran some cards for the mirror match (and I've seen Back to Nature on Magic Online).
Leyline of Sanctity is almost inevitable as it helps to beat so many decks, including Jund (Liliana of the Veil and Thoughtseize), Storm, and Scapeshift. Other important cards include Stony Silence (against Affinity, G/R Tron, and the very nasty Spellskite), Torpor Orb (against the most popular combo deck and Pod decks), and possibly Gaddock Teeg (as old Kithkin with Umbra is hard to beat).
The deck's current state is unstable, but it continued to post impressive finishes (like another PTQ Top 8) two weeks after it became popular, which makes me believe it's the real deal, not a one-shot, and it will have its place in Modern. What are the possible directions of the deck's evolution? Do you remember the way G/R Tron went from a sixteen-land all-in deck to a twenty-land flexible deck with maindeck Pyroclasm and Relic of Progenitus? I think that Auras will go the same way, increasing the number of ways to interact with opponents at the expense of auras—and with additional colors, as green and white are the worst in terms of interaction.
Green provides one-mana threats, and white provides Sprit Mantle and auras that significantly pump toughness. Rejecting these colors is hard, but in the case of white it's not impossible because there are some sweet options in other colors. The most appealing are Thoughtseize and Predator's Gambit in black and Taste for Mayhem and Assault Strobe in Red. Blue offers Invisible Stalker and Unstable Mutation. I still don't have a playable five-color mana base, so here's a rough Jund-colored decklist.
This list has more ways to interact with the opponent, including combo players; these interactions also help outrace fair decks even with significantly reduced speed. The lack of Ethereal Armor and Daybreak Coronet is somewhat balanced by Assault Strobe, but low toughness is kind of a problem, so maybe completely cutting white is a mistake (also, I miss Stony Silence and Gaddock Teeg). This list is rough, so any suggestions are welcome because I like the deck and want it to advance.
The next important trend in Modern is Deathrite Shaman. The dark Elf proved himself at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, but there's still a room for additional innovations as the Shaman's potential is hardly fully investigated. I mentioned Merfolk splashing Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay in a previous article, and I've encountered B/W Tokens with Deathrite Shaman and Maelstrom Pulse, U/R Splinter Twin with Deathrite Shaman and Birds of Paradise, and U/W/R Delver with Deathrite Shaman and Tribal Flames since then. So is anyone splashing in Scapeshift or Tron for Deathrite Shaman? This is just a joke as I'm desperately searching for new ways to break Shaman again.
Yes, the obvious answer is Jund since it has the best weapons against combo in the form of Thoughtseize and turn 2 Liliana of the Veil (still one of the best starts in the format). I also thought about some sort of Smallpox deck, even though it's all about not drawing Smallpox and Deathrite Shaman simultaneously. I mused about a B/W version for Flagstones of Trokair and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and about a B/R version for Boom / Bust or Crack the Earth to complement Smallpox, but the solution came from the other side.
I've never really liked Jund in Modern (while it was probably the only "best deck in Standard" that I enjoyed), but I've been very impressed with its evolution over the time and by players not fearing to exclude the deck's cornerstones when other options become better. Kitchen Finks and Geralf's Messenger, Lingering Souls…what's next?
Willy Edel made a Top 8 of Pro Tour Return to Ravnica with a conventional build of the deck and then won Grand Prix Toronto with a build including Thundermaw Hellkite and Lotus Cobra. Maybe even more importantly, he cut some Dark Confidants (which other players didn't do, even those who played Batterskull maindeck). So if Willy says something about Jund, you better do what he says. Matej Zatlkaj did, using Willy's decklist to win a PTQ on Magic Online. Congratulations, Matej!
More explosive starts and more ways to take advantage of limited resources—the deck can even cast Bloodbraid Elf right after you've cascaded into Bust (Deathrite Shaman plus Lotus Cobra plus fetchland), while both halves of Boom / Bust create significant problems for many decks, including the most popular ones like Splinter Twin and Jund's bad matchups like G/R Tron and Scapeshift. However, this list runs only two Liliana maindeck, which is strange to me, especially in conjunction with three sideboarded Spellskites (for Splinter Twin and the now-popular Auras). The list does look very balanced, though, and I'd snap recommend it to anyone who wants to play in a PTQ and doesn't know which deck to choose.
That's all for today. I hope there will be some sweet Gatecrash cards to talk about next time. I have two early favorites: Zameck Guildmage for Standard and (obviously) Skullcrack for Modern, but I'm waiting for Simic and Orzhov…and Gruul…and Boros…and Dimir… Okay, I'm excited about all five new guilds and can't wait for new interesting cards!