There's no telling what will become of Standard until more of Theros is spoiled. But that doesn't mean we need to sit here holding our breath for three more weeks! With Standard in a transitional phase, I've shifted my attention to other rich and exciting formats: Modern and M14 Limited.
Last weekend was the Magic Online Championship Series monthly tournament, and it happened to be the Modern format. You can see the results here.
For a "rich and exciting" format, there really wasn't much diversity at the top of the standings. The Top 8 consisted of four B/G-based midrange decks, two Affinity decks, and, of course, two Melira Pod decks.
Is it a coincidence that it was the two Pod decks that met in the finals? Perhaps it's their favorable matchup against green creature decks (some of us diehard Jund players might argue this point), perhaps it's the fact that expert Modern players frequently turn to Pod, or maybe it's simply that the deck is that good. Either way, Bing "prolepsis9" Luke took first place in the tournament, piloting Melira Pod.
As an aside, I'd like to extend a heartfelt congratulations to Bing, who will now be competing in his third Magic Online Championship. I truly can't say enough good things about Bing. Although a full-time job only allows him to play live Magic on occasion, he remains extremely dedicated and dominant on Magic Online. He's a great player, understands Magic on the highest level, and always plays with sportsmanship and integrity. I hope to see him as our Magic Online Champion someday soon.
Nonetheless, I have good reason to feature the decklist of Bing's vanquished foe, Malavi.
- 1 Archangel of Thune
- 1 Aven Mindcensor
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Cartel Aristocrat
- 4 Deathrite Shaman
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 3 Kitchen Finks
- 2 Murderous Redcap
- 1 Qasali Pridemage
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 1 Sin Collector
- 1 Spike Feeder
- 2 Viscera Seer
- 3 Voice of Resurgence
- 1 Wall of Roots
- 1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
- 2 Melira, Sylvok Outcast
In addition to all the strength of the Melira combo, Malavi has the additional infinite combo of Spike Feeder plus Archangel of Thune. I like this very much, as both cards are very good in their own right. Spike Feeder is a card that you might want in your 75 regardless simply as a sideboard card against Burn and other beatdown decks. Archangel of Thune is one of the most powerful creatures ever printed. In combination, they represent an infinite combo that offers both infinite life and an infinite-sized army of attackers. Most importantly, it does not use the graveyard.
In third place, we have Jund with white. Syrup16g elected to play a healthy number (six) of four-drops and seems to particularly like Huntmaster of the Fells. I feel that in an objective sense Huntmaster of the Fells is the "best" four-drop available to Jund, but it might not be at its absolute best right now. Against U/W/R, the 2/2 body is a little too fragile, and against Birthing Pod, the transform ability can often be too slow.
As Birthing Pod continues to stand on top of the Modern format, I would look towards Olivia Voldaren. Compared to other midrange creature decks, Birthing Pod is so tightly packed with mana creatures and combo pieces that it can afford very little removal. What's more is that the new legend rule means that even clone effects can no longer remove Olivia. She's great against mana creatures and will dominate any game that goes long.
The third place finisher eschewed the new-to-Modern Scavenging Ooze. On the other hand, two other Top 8 competitors played the full four. I endorse a happy medium of two. Ooze is a remarkably powerful card, but it can be slow and multiple copies only compete with one another for food. On the whole, it's exactly the type of card you're happy to draw a single copy of.
In the past month, there have been two high profile Modern tournaments. I find it curious that the deck that dominated the first was entirely absent from the Top 8 of the MOCS.
U/W/R was the popular Modern choice among Magic's top players at the World Championship and went on to win the tournament in the hands of Shahar Shenhar. While I do respect the deck and its ability to win a tournament, I also view it as a clear case of sacrificing power for well-roundedness.
U/W/R does not have any clear weaknesses, and when you register the deck in a tournament, you will feel as though you have a chance in every game you play. However, the bottom line is that Modern is a powerful format—Affinity attacks for fifteen on turn 3, Melira Pod invariably wins the game a turn or two after resolving Birthing Pod, Scapeshift is a fully-powered control deck with a one-card combo that immediately wins the game. In a format like this, what place is there for playing out six lands one at a time and casting Sphinx's Revelation for three?
Well, many players, even at the highest level, feel that there is a place for this in Modern, and I'm inclined to believe them. I'm expecting to have to beat U/W/R if I'm going to do well at Grand Prix Detroit. However, if I pick the deck up myself, I'll expect a long day with very few easy wins.
I'll begin with my pick orders for the top commons in each color.
Pick orders will vary from player to player and are subject to change depending on how a draft is shaping up. In the end, they really aren't that important except as a learning exercise, but there is something to be learned from the lists above.
I've never liked drafting white in core sets, but in M14 white is remarkably weak and shallow. It's only the top four commons (sometimes five depending on context) that I'd be pleased to put in my deck.
Blue is on the other extreme; there are many more than ten "good" blue commons, and very few are unplayable. There seems to be consensus in the pro community that blue is the strongest color in M14, and I support that notion. However, green and black are also excellent, deep colors. I wouldn't shed a tear if you told me I could never again cut from my deck a card from the green or black top commons lists. In the case of black, I've even had to spill the banks of "top ten" because I feel that every card from Festering Newt down to Mark of the Vampire are strong cards that are very close in power and should be adjusted according to what your deck needs.
If I'm forced to choose, I'd have to say that black is the second best color. However, one thing that I like about green is that while it has a very deep pool of cards, there are no obvious first pick commons. Because of this, there's more of a tendency for green to go underdrafted and more potential for you to strong arm your neighbors out of green (since they won't be too attached to a first pick removal spell). In the drafts where I don't get excellent cards of other colors right away, I'm looking for green as a "safe" backup.
I also quite like red, although it doesn't have quite the depth of the other three colors. When I first started with the set, I viewed Marauding Maulhorn, Act of Treason, and Pitchburn Devils as solid filler, but the reality is that they're absolutely premium cards and a real reason to go for the color. I'd be willing to first pick Act of Treason from a weak pack and go for a B/R deck with a sacrifice theme.
Drafting and Constructing Your Deck
M14 is an extreme—and not altogether pleasant—change of pace from Return to Ravnica block in the sense that there's no good mana fixing. Lay of the Land, Shimmering Grotto, and Darksteel Ingot can be playable in some extreme circumstances, but all are generally poor and come at a high cost. Plan to never ever play more than two colors. In fact, I believe that it's ideal to build your deck with a single primary color whenever possible. I've even seen quite a few successful monocolor decks, especially in black and red.
The question is not quite so obvious for green, but I feel that it's equally important. As you can see above, I've ranked Elvish Mystic as the second best green common, and for good reason. When you start the game with an Elvish Mystic and begin dropping huge beasts before they're supposed to be on the table, it's very difficult for the opponent to come back. However, Elvish Mystic is a low impact card, and you should try to avoid playing decks that have eighteen lands in addition to multiple Elvish Mystics because you put yourself at risk of flooding out.
So if you want the option to play a low land count (let say sixteen) but want enough Forests to reliably cast your turn 1 Mystics (let's say ten or eleven Forests), that doesn't leave much space for basic lands in the other colors. It's best to make your deck primarily green with a small amount of a secondary color. (The Elvish Mystic problem is even more extreme if you find yourself playing with Lay of the Land).
Here is where white and red find their saving grace. M14 is deep in playable cards, and you sometimes only want to play with a small amount of your secondary color, so you don't necessarily need to fear the shallowness of red and white. Both colors have a number of great cards that can serve as excellent complements to any deck. You don't need to fear picking up an early Pacifism because there's a good chance that your small number of good white cards will be perfect to round out your mostly blue or mostly green deck. Plus there's always the chance that white will be very open and you'll get multiple copies of each of those premium commons you're hoping for.
Following a Strategy
Cards change in value dramatically once you begin to identify your plan for winning a game. Never be too extreme; in Limited (and especially in core set), you almost always want to build a well-balanced deck with individually good cards. However, it's good to have a vision for how you want your deck and your games to play out.
The clearest question is whether you will be aggressive or controlling. To build a controlling deck, you must feel confident in your ability to win the late game based on card advantage or a high concentration of powerful, expensive cards. Cards like Accursed Spirit, Trained Condor, and Time Ebb plummet in value as your deck becomes more focused on the late game; you'd prefer that your cheap cards contribute more to defense.
When you're aggressive, you'd like to end the game quickly, or at least to put your opponent at a disadvantage quickly. I particularly love green aggressive decks because your creatures will be the largest on the battlefield the turn they come down. Once you force your opponent into chump blocking, it's very difficult for them to turn the game around. Aggressive decks make the best use of cards that help you force past blockers like Frost Breath, Time Ebb, and Act of Treason.
As mentioned above, feel free to build a well-balanced deck in any two-color combination, but here are a few archetypes that are worth paying special attention to.
I typically only go for a dedicated Sliver deck if I get a rare Sliver early on. However, I frequently like to have a small Sliver package in any aggressive deck I play. In particular, I find Blur Sliver to be underrated. Green and red are the best colors for Slivers; white is in the unfortunate position of having a lot of Slivers but none of the ones that you really need.
This is one of my favorite archetypes. There are tons of sacrifice outlets, and most of them are great cards in their own right. Once you have four or five sacrifice outlets in your deck, Act of Treason becomes better than Vindicate! Plus it's a great answer to problem cards like Pitchburn Devils, enchanted creatures, and bomb rares.
I would only go for this if I got a Witchstalker or if my draft was going badly, as Gladecover Scout is quite poor under ordinary circumstances. However, this is a deck that's capable of very powerful draws and can steal games against even the best draft decks.
Tons of removal and as much card draw as you can get. I believe this is the best archetype in M14 Limited. Definitely look for it if you're fortunate enough to get an Opportunity early on in the draft.
If you're headed to Grand Prix Oakland this weekend, I'll see you there.