The three decks I'm working on for Modern all have one thing in common: Draw a card.
With the first two decks, we're not talking about card advantage, we're talking about velocity. On the subject of velocity, we have a quote from Patrick Chapin (since he's far more eloquent than I am):
" Velocity is how quickly you're able to look at/access (drawing or choosing whether or not to draw) cards. It's basically your speed in the direction of moving through your library. The velocity of a deck can provide us with useful information particularly for deckbuilding such as the relative impact of miser's cards (which have effectiveness somewhat corresponding to the amount of velocity a deck possesses)."
Velocity lends itself well to tempo, control, and combo decks the most, since those decks are typically the ones interested in playing with card drawing. A deck with a high amount of velocity also ends up being very consistent since you're seeing a lot of cards and have a good shot at finding what you need, when you need it. Someone playing against you might think it's strange that you have the same draw every game, but it's really not.
When you've got the ability to see multiple cards each game, it also opens up the possibility of playing an additional combo in your deck, whether you previously had zero, one, or more, and having a good chance to make it happen. Sometimes, that's a good option to have. At other times, it might dilute your deck.
Combo-Control hybrids are a funny thing. The more people get used to playing against them, the less effective the combo aspect of the deck seems. After a few games of seeing a semi-useless combo piece in your hand, you'll be tempted to cut out that combo element completely. They always seem ready for it.
Don't do it.
You may remember this deck:
This deck was beautiful, and even looking back, there are very few things I would have done differently. In fact, I think my maindeck is close to perfect, which is something I will almost never say after finishing a tournament. That's pretty impressive for it only being the second tournament I played it in. The secret was that I didn't over-think things.
I won a Magic Online PTQ with Thopter Depths and it exploded in popularity. For months, it won PTQs and a Grand Prix (maybe more than one, I don't remember) and was typically the end boss of Extended, yet after that initial PTQ win, I was rarely successful in the format.
Why? Because I got bored. I didn't want to play the same deck, but I also didn't think it was necessarily correct to continue playing it when a lot of people had answers like Damping Matrix. Instead, I constantly brewed new version and new hybrids, but none of them were as good as the original. In fact, I would have done much better had I continued playing the original version rather than my "updates."
That said, it always felt like one side of the combo was hated out in certain weeks. Why not remove the risky Dark Depths aspect and focus on the Thopter aspect then? As it turns out, you lose out on quite a few things.
Sometimes, the only option you have is "go for it." They don't always have it, especially when you're forcing them to spread their thin in order to answer two combos. The second big loss is the fact that once they figure it out, their sideboarding becomes much easier. Often times, having two angles of attack will force your opponents to dilute their deck much further than if you only had a single, robust game plan.
The last thing I want to mention is that you lose the ability to win games that you couldn't have won any other way. When you decide that you are going to kill people with Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek, you are sacrificing the ability to kill people on turn two with Vampire Hexmage and Dark Depths. Unless you need to remove that part of your deck for a very specific reason, you are usually at a disadvantage when you do so.
I learned a valuable lesson that season, and I'm careful not to repeat my mistakes, especially when they are of that magnitude. Modern feels like a format where you can be successful with hybrids and I'm very interested in trying to do that. Patrick Dickmann and Shaun McLaren have shown me the way.
In Grand Prix Minneapolis, Luis Scott-Vargas removed the Melira aspect from his "Melira" Pod deck, and he liked it. Initially, I was very skeptical considering how often the Melira combo was the only out in matches that I watched. Granted, Luis left the Archangel of Thune / Spike Feeder combo intact, so he still had a way to close the game quickly if necessary. It just goes to show that there is an incredibly fine line to walk when we're talking about hybrids.
Before we get to the decklists, I'd like to state that Splinter Twin with a backup plan feels like the best deck in Modern. Whether that backup plan is Tarmogoyf, Young Pyromancer, Blood Moon, or Inferno Titan, I have no idea. The right answer might vary week to week. However, the three decks I'm writing about today are all decks I'm interested in playing, and since I haven't actually played much Modern recently, they are currently all tied for my favorite, although they also tied with Splinter Twin.
Shaun's version of this deck for Grand Prix Minneapolis blew me away. It seemed like he was destined to succeed because given how things had lined up. He had just won a Pro Tour with a similar deck, except his PT deck wasn't particularly threatening -- It didn't have a combo kill. I can't imagine how many people probably played carelessly against him, assuming they were safe.
Now that people know what's up and will expect the combo (especially if they see Wall of Omens), the amount of free wins you get will decrease. That's not necessarily a bad thing considering they know what's in your deck, and will side in ways (or even keep in ways) to break up the Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker / Restoration Angel combo, despite the fact that Kiki-Jiki often gets trimmed in sideboarding.
My changes to Shaun's list were cosmetic, and as will be the theme with these decks, will likely continue changing in the future. Some things, like the mana base and sideboard, are things I'm currently working on.
The big change is Mana Leak vs Remand. In these decks, it feels like you aren't looking to trade for one-for-one. If that were the case, I'd want things like Sphinx's Revelation to pull me ahead in the late game or Think Twice for the cheap two-for-one. Instead, I just want to keep them off balance long enough to assemble my combo or nickel and dime them out with fliers.
Y'all might remember this deck:
I had a hand in building that deck although it was Matthias Hunt who streamlined it, cutting the Wargates and focusing on the combo. I preferred a slow grind with Prismatic Omen and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, with a couple Scapeshifts to dig for if necessary, but I didn't like relying on it. Just like the Kiki Control deck above, I wanted it to be a control deck first and combo when convenient.
However, going heavier on the combo started to be more appealing due to some format shifts. I made the switch to Matthias' version, gave it to Jason, and even though he didn't listen to me on a number of things, the rest is history. Being able to recognize how prominent a role a combo should have in your deck is pretty important when you're playing a hybrid. If things aren't working out, maybe it's time for a change.
Based on my preferences, I might be a little biased when I say I hate the deck that won Grand Prix Minneapolis.
24 land is pretty low, even with all the cantrips. Personally, I'd rather be able to make my land drops naturally and be able to dig for relevant spells rather than be stuck on lands and be forced to dig for them.
Basically, I like the amount of velocity in Park's deck, but I don't like how one-sided the deck is. In order to win, you need to find and resolve Scapeshift, and basically, nothing else will do. That's a fine plan, but we can do better. From playing with Prismatic Omen-based Scapeshift decks, I've learned to love Omen and the fact that you can control the board without relying on cards that accomplish the same task and nothing else, such as Anger of the Gods. That gives you a little more freedom to use those slots for something else.
This is more my style.
I have no idea how many times I've written this, but everyone seems to forget that Prismatic Omen is a card. Perhaps you remember this deck.
Mihara probably deserves a Hall of Fame berth for that deck alone.
He took the shells of several Scapeshift decks at the time, such as the version I played at Worlds, which was effectively a U/R Control deck splashing Scapeshift off Manamorphose and Flooded Grove, and JWay's, which was a 65-card monstrosity. Mihara himself played 64 cards. Why?
If a normal Scapeshift deck wants to play 25 land and 7 of those have to be Mountains--and 2 of them Valakuts--the deck ends up with only 14 real mana sources. In order to fit the Mountains necessary (remember, we didn't have Ravnica shocklands), the deck either needed to have 30-ish lands or needed to be bigger.
Sometimes we need to think outside the box.
It's incredibly telling that Mihara went to great lengths in order to play Scapeshift and Prismatic Omen. I'm willing to do the same. Fully powered Caw-Blade was a deck at the time and was considered one of the worst matchups, yet Mihara skillfully dispatched it in the finals. In current Modern, the closest thing to a nightmare matchup is Jund or any three-turn combo deck.
We can beat those decks if we try hard enough.
Why would we bother? Can't we just play a different deck? Well, sure, but Scapeshift covered the rest of the format pretty handily, so I think it's worth it to take some drastic measures in order to get there, just like Mihara did.
Abrupt Decay can be a scary card, but I'm not relying on Prismatic Omen entirely -- Scapeshift with seven lands still deals them 18 damage. Also, with the card filtering provided from Halimar Depths, Courser of Kruphix, and Oracle of Mul Daya plus fetchlands plus cantrips, it's not that difficult to find a backup copy of Prismatic Omen if necessary.
Maindeck Relic of Progenitus is my starting point for solving some problems. Storm, while not super popular, is a pretty bad matchup since Scapeshift has very few ways to defend itself. Relic also allows you to take out a Tarmogoyf with a Lightning Bolt or Valakut activation, which is one of the harder threats to deal with. Almost everything else you can Bolt, Anger, or Valakut away pretty easily.
Other than that, I want cantrips, interaction, and ways to put lands into play. This deck definitely wants to make its land drops every turn, so I'm playing 26, but 27 isn't out of the question. If you have Prismatic Omen and Valakut, even the lands you draw function as spells in the midgame, so you rarely feel flooded.
I'm sure that by the time I'm happy with my decklist for Scapeshift, it will look completely different, but the tools are there. On top of that, I think the format is cooperating as well. Jund is slower than it used to be; threat-light due to the lack of Bloodbraid Elf, and Liliana of the Veil is the only really scary card. Birthing Pod is manageable if they're not playing Fulminator Mage or Avalanche Riders, and even then I think it's fine. There are some very fast decks, but very few people play them because they are inconsistent or easily hated out.
At the end of the day, Scapeshift is one of the most consistent decks in the format, and once a format is figured out, a consistent combo deck is often one of the best choices.
This deck is sweet, or rather, Prophetic Flamespeaker backed up with discard and removal is sweet. If unchecked for even a turn or two, it can allow you to run away with the game even quicker than Dark Confidant can. Some decks play Courser of Kruphix in this slot, but I think that's a mistake. Courser of Kruphix can provide you with extra cards but is limited only to lands (and a little bit of selection combined with fetchlands), whereas Prophetic Flamespeaker is potentially drawing you lands and spells. A fourth isn't out of the question.
Osman Ozguney, the person I first saw playing with Prophetic Flamespeaker in Jund, even has Sword of Feast and Famine to maximize it, both by increasing the damage output, but also letting you cast the stuff you find with it thanks to untapping all your lands. That might be win-more, but I'll try it at some point.
There's not much to say about Jund -- It's consistent, it kills things, and it kills people with cheap threats. There's not much velocity here, but there also doesn't need to be.
For the sideboard, you could go in any number of directions. Modern is a format with powerful decks but has no lack of hate cards for those archetypes. You just need to find what works best for your metagame.
This weekend I'll be gunslinging at the Fort Wayne, Indiana Modern PTQ on Sunday, June 8th, hosted by Power Nine Gaming. Feel free to say hi and test your luck against me and my decks! After that, I'm off to Columbus, Ohio for the StarCityGames Open Series featuring the Invitational. It's been a while since I've had a new token made in my likeness, and I wouldn't mind another one.