Treasure Cruise in Modern feels less to me like a Magic card and more like a bizarre thought experiment. Something roughly analogous to "What would happen if players started with a ten card hand?"
Step one is obvious: play more cheap spells, as spending two mana to play two one-mana spells is usually more effective than spending two mana on a two-mana spell. The next step is to use those spells to get them dead as fast as possible, because even with extra cards, more expensive spells will eventually overpower cheaper spells if given enough time.
The conclusion? Burn.
Playing Treasure Cruise isn't exactly like starting with ten cards. For one thing, you have to actually do something to power it. This means spells are better than permanents, which is another point for playing Burn, but blue cantrips are even better at powering it. The problem is that blue cantrips get worse the more cards you have in your hand, as you're wasting mana to accomplish nothing, while burn spells get better. Either way, the clear starting point if you're on level one and just trying to make Treasure Cruise as good as possible is to play U/R with Lightning Bolt, and then the question is simply whether you want to have more cheap blue spells or more cheap red spells. It's easy to find examples of this in any MTGO DE, or at the last StarCityGames.com Premier IQ in Minneapolis . Five of the top 8 (and three of the top 4) played Burn or U/R Delver.
Previously, when discussing Modern, I predicted the threat of Jeskai Ascendancy combo, a threat that really hasn't played out. The reason is that the deck is horrible against a deck that just casts Lightning Bolt and Spell Pierce as many times as possible. Moreover, killing on turn 3, surprisingly, just isn't that good.
While Jeskai Ascendancy is theoretically the best card in Khans of Tarkir to allow turn 2 kills, it probably isn't the best card at enabling turn 3 kills. That honor, surprisingly, goes to Monastery Swiftspear. I've already lost a lot of games to burn on turn 3.
Turn one, Goblin Guide, attack (18)
That kills works if Goblin Guide is replaced by another Monastery Swiftspear, if Monastery Swiftspear is replaced by Goblin Guide and your opponent cracked a fetch, if you don't have a third land, but have another three damage spell, if they have a blocker, but you have Searing Blaze, etc--the point is, it's really not that unusual for Burn to kill a goldfish on turn 3 now.
Well, sure, Burn's good at dealing twenty, but what if you gain life or counter a couple burn spells? Well, Skullcrack and Flames of the Blood Hand fight the lifegain strategy pretty well, and trying to counter a burn spell just takes us back to Treasure Cruise. Burn will almost always be able to cast Treasure Cruise on turn 4 if you're still alive.
I should note that only one of the Burn decks in Minneapolis played Treasure Cruise, which lines up with my experience playing on MTGO, that only about half the Burn players have it--it's great at going long, but if you can get the draw that kills on turn 3, you really don't want to be slowing yourself down with stuff like that. Monastery Swiftspear may simply make Ancestral Recall unnecessary in those decks.
Now, for me, just killing people on turn 3-4 with burn spells over and over isn't actually my idea of a good time. If I'm going to work on a format, I want to feel like I'm doing actual work and making progress--trying things, researching, learning from my mistakes. I'm looking for a creative scientific process. So I set out to beat these decks.
Now, let's get to where that's taken me.
I knew I wanted to use Treasure Cruise and/or Dig Through Time, but I'm not looking to kill people as fast as possible (why reinvent the wheel? I'm comfortable concluding that we already know what that is). This means I'm trying to use Treasure Cruise to stay alive and win the lategame.
This means all of my brews have featured an unreasonably high number of cards that gain life. So I'm probably crushing Burn, right? Ehh… kinda.
Here's an example of the kind of thing I was looking at:
- 3 Kitchen Finks
- 3 Restoration Angel
- 4 Satyr Wayfinder
- 2 Scavenging Ooze
- 2 Snapcaster Mage
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 4 Wild Nacatl
- 2 Courser of Kruphix
Eleven lifegain cards with Snapcaster Mage and Restoration Angel to reuse them. I'm not really sure how to classify this deck. Naya Midrange maybe? It plays a lot of cards that one thinks of in Zoo, but it knows that Zoo isn't the beatdown deck in this format, so it's primarily concerned with staying alive. Overall, something feels a little off about it--I think the issue is that Satyr Wafinder+Couser of Kruphix+Restoration Angel gets a lot of lands, eventually, but it isn't doing anything in particular to take advantage of them.
One possible way to fix this problem would be to replace Wild Nacatl with Noble Hierarch, Treetop Village with Academy Ruins, and trim a few cards to make room for some powerful artifacts, so that you can eventually Satyr Wayfinder into Academy Ruins to get the artifacts back to use mana productively in a long game:
- 3 Kitchen Finks
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 3 Restoration Angel
- 3 Satyr Wayfinder
- 2 Scavenging Ooze
- 2 Snapcaster Mage
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 2 Courser of Kruphix
At the very least, now we have some artifacts to make Tarmogoyf even bigger.
I think that this deck was previously leaning too heavily on Treasure Cruise, but just drawing more Satyr Wayfinders and Lightning Bolts didn't accomplish enough, I think a couple pieces of recurring equipment go a long way toward shoring up this deck's issues with inevitability.
Speaking of inevitability, let me get to the deck I've spent the most time on lately: Mesmeric Orb Control.
I have a long history with Mesmeric Orb--namely, it was my "pet card" in Mirrodin Limited. (By "pet card," I mean it's a rare that no one else ever drafted that I would always take when I saw it no matter what deck I was, and it would almost always win the game because it really was secretly a bomb in Limited.) The card has an incredibly dramatic effect on the game. It hasn't really had a chance to shine in Constructed, because those twenty extra cards combined with the fact that every individual card is more effective means that it doesn't usually outrace killing through damage the way that it does in Limited, but with Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time, I thought one of my favorite cards might be able to pull its weight.
See, the problem with Treasure Cruise is that you sometimes don't draw it, or sometimes you draw more than you can use. With Mesmeric Orb, you always have a full graveyard, so you can't draw too many, and if you play Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time, it's hard not to have them.
Okay, let's get to the list:
This is a weird deck. Remember a few paragraphs ago when I was talking about how easy it is to kill on turn 3? That might cause you to wonder what in the world I'm doing with a deck like this, and that would be a fair question. What is going on here?
Well, the basic plan is to use cheap white removal and a few counterspells to deal with early threats. If you've drawn Mesmeric Orb, go crazy with Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time, but if not, your cheap answers, Thought Scours, and Thirst for Knowledge should give you enough fuel to cast one to keep going through your deck. With all this card draw, you're definitely going to get through your deck faster than your opponent, which clearly makes decking them a risky proposition, which of course brings us to another one of my favorite cards:
You're basically just digging for Elixir, which helps you stay ahead of burn spells and avoid decking yourself, but as you mill cards with Mesmeric Orb, then remove lands and cards you don't need, you're actually using a supercharged Gaea's Blessing to build a library that's nothing but card draw and perfect spells, generating a loop that allows you to easily answer anything your opponent can do.
Now, the fear, of course, is that you might mill your elixirs with Mesmeric Orb and kill yourself. Don't worry, Buried Ruin can pick up Elixirs that you've run over, and Crucible of Worlds can let you play Buried Ruins from the graveyard--this is the endgame you're trying to set up. Every turn, you sac Buried Ruin to return Elixir of Immortality, play it again from your graveyard with Crucible of Worlds, and then shuffle your graveyard back with Elixir, and mill yourself to do it again with Mesmeric Orb. You can Path to Exile, Negate, and Supreme Verdict all of your opponent's threats and deck them easily from here.
Alternatively, you can set up a library that potentially allows you to Time Warp every turn, and maybe eventually kill them with Celestial Colonnade. Time Warp is a recent addition to the deck, and getting to the point where you could actually do all that on MTGO would almost certainly time you out, so I'm not really sure how well that particular endgame works.
I started with more Negates and other permission in the sideboard, but the decks I was playing against just didn't justify it. Even against other blue decks, I had such inevitability that I didn't care about their spells, I just needed to kill their creatures and stay alive and Mesmeric Orb would easily finish them off. This deck is definitely always the control deck.
There are a few cards that are great against this deck. Specifically, Stony Silence, Rest in Peace, and any card that can exile Elixir of Immortality. Celestial Colonnade can theoretically win a game if your engine is turned off, but Mesmeric Orb will kill you first if it's in play. If you suspect that this might be an issue, you might need to be careful with your Mesmeric Orbs or sideboard them out. The preferred solution is just to bring in Disenchant against anyone playing white to keep your engine intact. As for people exiling your Elixir of Immortality, you could sideboard Pull from Eternity, but that's not enough of a thing that I've had to worry about it yet.
The sideboard is currently very focused on beating red cards because that's most of what I've faced on Magic Online. Burrenton Forge-Tender is a recent addition. It was Kor Firewalker, which is a lot more effective, but I was finding that I couldn't get WW reliably enough on turn 2, so I wanted to see if this would be effective. If it isn't, I might have to rework the mana and go back to Kor Firewalker. Rest for the Weary is great against burn spells as long as you can keep their creatures off the board.
My original build of this deck had Trading Post, because I hadn't thought of Crucible of Worlds+Buried Ruin, and Trading Post would also let me always get back an Elixir of Immortality (I also had more Snapcaster Mages, which made sacrificing a creature easier). Trading Post still might be good, as I won a lot of games by discarding cards to gain four life, but I want to see if Time Warp is any good.
Another recent realization was Shelldock Isle, a card that's always been insane in Cube, but which few Constructed decks can actually use. I've recently added one, and I'll see if it's something I want more of. Another option that this literally just reminded me of is Visions of Beyond. For the most part, this is a worse draw three than Treasure Cruise, but I can cycle it early, and when I get to the endgame state where I don't have any other cards I want to exile, Treasure Cruise isn't great, where this is just an Ancestral Recall that I get to shuffle in, so I think it's worth trying one of those over a Thought Scour.
Condemn vs Oust is another close call--I'd been playing Oust, which I like against things like mana creatures and Snapcaster Mage, but I'd forgotten about Condemn, which is better against man lands and haste creatures, so I'm trying a mix now.
A final deck I'm working on doesn't use Treasure Cruise. This is a continuation of a project I've worked on before but updated to use some great new cards from Khans of Tarkir:
- 4 Ajani's Pridemate
- 3 Blood Artist
- 4 Burrenton Forge-Tender
- 3 Cartel Aristocrat
- 4 Grim Haruspex
- 2 Qasali Pridemage
- 4 Soul Warden
- 3 Soul's Attendant
- 4 Voice of Resurgence
This deck is less good at kill its own creatures than I'd like (a sentence any of my readers could easily guess I'd written, out of context), but instead it hopes my opponent will be forced to do that for me. Abzan Ascendancy and Grim Haruspex give this deck some great new ways to grind value, or simply to threaten my opponent with the anthem side of Abzan Ascendancy. Burrenton Forge Tender doubles as an excellent maindeck hate card against red that can protect other key creatures while also serving as a creature that can kill itself at any time to trigger Abzan Ascendancy, Blood Artist, Grim Haruspex, and come right back to do it all again with Return to the Ranks--far from a vanilla 1/1 even when they're not red.
This deck has the advantageous positioning of Soul Sisters against burn, while potentially having a better plan against removal (though Ranger of Eos is also quite good), but it does have additional vulnerabilities in its mana and reliance on the graveyard.
While I'm not there yet, I hope to have something awesome brewed up in time for the World Championships in December, and I'm excited to play this weird version of Modern that feels like it has to be available "for a limited time only"--allowing Treasure Cruise, Dig Through Time, Jeskai Ascendancy, and even Monastery Swiftspear to remain legal flies in the face of the stated "turn 4" goal of the format and the current banned list (I'm looking at you, Ancestral Vision). I'm not sure what kind of change this will lead to, and I almost hope it's just unbanning several of the more powerful but fundamentally fair(ish) cards, but I anticipate some kind of major change to Modern in January.