During my two weeks of testing prior to Pro Tour Fate Reforged, myself and Team Pantheon went through a boatload of Modern brews before it was determined that a tuned list of Infect was the way to go. While two weeks may sound like a lot, when you have a format as diverse as Modern that has such a deep cardpool, it's very difficult to try out every idea to its fullest. Every time a brew was tested, there had to be a stock deck on the other side of the table. To get a real feel for the matchup, approximately ten games needed to be played between pre and post-sideboard which would take anywhere from an hour to three hours. That, compounded with the need to split time between Constructed and Limited, left some decks less explored that they deserved.
Today I'll be talking about four lists that all had merits but didn't quite get there in terms of being what the team felt was the best deck. Some didn't like the feel of the decks and others didn't like having weaknesses to certain cards or matchups. With infinite time to tune and a very defined metagame, I could see any of the following decks being real contenders in Modern.
Let's get to it.
This version of 8-Rack was developed by Reid Duke and put up surprising results across the field. When this deck won, it looked like it was getting lucky topdecks or the opponent was getting mana screwed. When it lost, it looked like a pathetic pile of cards that didn't do anything. With that said, it was winning more than it was losing.
The goal of 8-Rack is to trade resources with your opponent and disrupt their gameplan enough where their deck doesn't function properly. Wrench Mind, Liliana of the Veil, and a timely Smallpox all work towards you incrementally getting ahead in card advantage. Once the opponent is at zero cards or close to it, the namesake cards in The Rack and Shrieking Affliction work to close out the game quickly.
Smallpox is a card that doesn't appear in many 8-Rack decks. Instead they run Ensnaring Bridge as a way to control the game by disabling attacking while your racks finish the job. Smallpox aggressively trades your resources for theirs, which I like more than having a hardlock card like Ensnaring Bridge. Often the games come down to them landing a creature threat and you winning the race with a couple racks. I liked the fact that the deck played a tighter and more interactive game.
The sideboarded copies of Waste Not are good against slower decks and when you're on the play. When played on turn 2, the value Waste Not creates is enormous, but is, of course, very weak when drawn late or when you're behind. The Night of Souls' Betrayals are good against Lingering Souls or other decks that play a lot of one-toughness creatures. Infect, for example, simply can't beat it without a Nature's Claim once it's resolved. The Bloodghasts and Tasigur's Cruelty are there for when your removal spells need to come out, and the Deathmarks are great for anything from Zoo to Abzan.
8-Rack had an extremely difficult time playing against Lingering Souls... to the point where the build had to be drastically altered to play white with its own Lingering Souls and Flagstones of Trokair. Flagstones of Trokair + Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth + Smallpox netted you a free Godless Shrine and Liliana of the Veil discarding Lingering Souls was also sweet. You may have witnessed Shaheen Soorani playing a similar B/W deck on camera of the StarCityGames Modern Open in Baltimore this past weekend.
I personally didn't like the addition of white. Lingering Souls is a very popular card, and likely one of the top five best cards in Modern and does indeed give 8-Rack fits, but there will always exist a card in the format that is good against your deck no matter what you're playing. The draws with Flagstones of Trokair but without Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth were rather awkward. Going forward, I'd stick to Mono-Black and let the chips fall as they may.
This is a brew from myself with some turning from Kai Budde suggesting Ideas Unbound. Before the bannings of Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time, I was playing a lot with the Jeskai Ascendancy + Fatestitcher combo and had the full deck ready to test with. It's always much easier and more pleasant to everyone when playtesting is done with real cards instead of Sharpied-on proxies.
Instead of a transitional sideboard that included Unburial Rites and reanimate targets like Iona, Shield of Emeria and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, I preferred to transition into a "good stuff" Jeskai control deck that had the option to sideboard out the combo. This was particularly effective in game 2 when my opponents would show up with graveyard or enchantment hate like Grafdigger's Cage and Wear // Tear.
Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time were huge losses for the deck that had to be replaced with weaker versions in Ideas Unbound and Visions of Beyond. Without as much reliability in the main combo, some Young Pyromancers and a Vendilion Clique made their way into the maindeck to have more win conditions, since the Fatestitcher and Jeskai Ascendancy combo required more setup to make happen.
The deck could really use a delve card to make use of its huge graveyard. Visions of Beyond is like a Treasure Cruise with delve twenty instead of seven with the ability to cycle early, making it a pale comparison of what was lost. Even so, you do get twenty cards from time to time when going off, so one copy felt like a reasonable inclusion. What we didn't get around to testing was Temporal Trespass, which could end up actually being pretty good if the right shell is found. Attacking with a bunch of Young Pyromancer tokens or even acting as a free Explore might be the sudden lategame power-level jump that the deck wants to make Jeskai Ascendancy into a competitive Modern deck again.
This deck I believe was a combined brew of myself, Owen Turtenwald, and Andrew Cuneo. Burn has always had a problem dealing with or outracing big creatures like Tarmogoyf and Siege Rhino, and Crackling Doom seemed like a great answer to those cards while still doing two damage in matchups without creatures. Cards like Shard Volley have also been fairly weak and generally are only good as your last spell of the game, whereas Bump in the Night could be cast at any point in the game.
The addition of black also gives you more robust sideboard options. Deathmark further helps to fight off big green creatures, and Thoughtseize helps pick apart a synergistic plan or to put your opponent off of their mana curve. Lingering Souls is one of the most powerful cards in Modern, and having access to a few of those is always nice against the matchups where they're good, like Infect.
The change from Boros gives you more game against Abzan and more lategame with the flashback of Bump in the Night at the cost of consistency. You have better matchups against non-aggressive decks like Scapeshift and Splinter Twin while conceding some percentage against aggressive ones like Zoo, Affinity, and the mirror. Overall, Mardu Burn is a deck that felt slightly weaker than Burn with less colors in a wide-open field but still has the potential to be better in a certain metagame.
Vampires has been a personal brew of mine that I wrote about a while back. Since then, many bannings, new sets, and Modern shifts have taken place, but the core has remained the same. Vampires functions similarly to Abzan in the fact that it's a Rock-style deck with discard, removal, and solid creatures. What it loses in overall card quality from cards like Tarmogoyf, Siege Rhino, and Lingering Souls it makes up in consistency and synergy. All of your lands enter the battlefield untapped, and you'll never take excess damage from shocklands.
The Plan A for Vampires is to play a beatdown role that curves into Vampire Nocturnus. Every creature in the deck is a vampire, including the four Mutavaults. This creates a huge amount of damage and pressure out of nowhere. Although unlikely, it is possible to deal twenty damage by turn 4 with a Vampire Nocturnus when left uncontested. The scrying from Viscera Seer, the fetchlands, and casting Sign in Blood on yourself all do work to ensure that your Vampire Nocturnus is active as often as possible.
As we all know, Modern is a format full of interaction so there needs to be other plans of victory within your deck. This is where the Viscera Seer, Bloodghast, and Kalastria Highborn interaction comes into play. By sacrificing Bloodghast to Viscera Seer and triggering Kalastria Highborn you're able to drain your opponent a ton of times for two each, depending on how many fetchlands you have stored in play. With either multiple Bloodghasts or Kalastria Highborns in play, this gets out of hand very quickly. You're also scrying each time from Viscera Seer ensuring that you're able to find more gas or combo pieces when you need.
The fetchlands serve multiple roles. Now that the deck has Murderous Cut instead of Victim of Night as a catch-all to troublesome creatures (that can also hit anything from Olivia Voldaren to Gurmag Angler), fetchlands help to fuel the graveyard to make the Murderous Cuts cheap. With Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, you can leave your fetchlands in play while tapping them for black until you find a reason to crack them. This also helps stem the bleeding they cause when you're facing an aggressive deck like Burn. More importantly, however, is that the fetchlands are two lands for Bloodghast triggers, which helps you go off when you assemble Bloodghast, Kalastria Highborn, and Viscera Seer together. Lastly, the fetchlands give you extra looks at the top card when you have Vampire Nocturnus in play, greatly increasing its success rate at pumping your vampire team.
With only Pro Tour Fate Reforged, Grand Prix Vancouver, the Modern Open in Baltimore, and a smattering of Premier IQs to date, Modern is still fairly new, given the bannings of Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time and with the inclusion of Fate Reforged. With so many cards available for play, there are near infinite combinations and an endless amount of room to brew and explore. The metagame now seems be shifting on a weekly basis.
My next stop is the Open Series in Dallas on March 13th. While Standard is the format of the main event, I have quite a few Modern decks that I've been meaning to try out in a competitive environment in case I don't play Standard on the second day. While Infect is still great, a change of pace never hurts. Speaking of, here's the latest Infect build I've been playing.