So you're in search of a Magic format to play that's fun, diverse, balanced and open? You want to be able to brew with a wide variety of cards? Well then, my friends…
Just Marvel at the results from Memorial Day weekend's three Modern events. So much diversity. Now, I won't go as far as some people and say that you can literally play anything you want in Modern (Eidolon Tribal is still not a thing, much to my chagrin), but there are definitely more options than we realize.
Every now and then I like to take a look at the things that aren't being played in Modern and try to understand why. If I fail in that understanding, I add it to the notebook. Today we're going to explore that notebook to give all you lovely people some ideas and fun plans to try out for the next time you get to play Modern. To take for a spin, if you will. To energize your love for the format.
There are certain cards in the format that just have "I go arbitrarily large" surreptitiously printed in the text box. Intruder Alarm is the poster child for those cards.
I can only imagine that people don't know the card was in 8th Edition, because that's about the only reason I can come up with that people aren't playing it. I mean, it has to be at least as good as Retreat to Coralhelm, doesn't it?
All we need is a way to make creatures for mana (we don't even care if the token-generating creature has to tap to activate) and a way to tap creatures for mana. There are only about 50 ways to do that in Modern. Do you want to splash blue in Elves, for example?
- 3 Coiling Oracle
- 4 Dwynen's Elite
- 4 Elvish Archdruid
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 3 Elvish Visionary
- 4 Heritage Druid
- 2 Imperious Perfect
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 2 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
- 2 Rhys the Redeemed
The deck plays like most other pointy-eared perfection-chaser decks, flooding the battlefield quickly and swarming the opponent with scarily large cousins of Legolas. Coiling Oracle is one of my favorite cards of all time and is surprisingly also an Elf. I know; I did a double-take on that type line too. We have a couple of ways to combo off in the deck, with both Imperious Perfect and Rhys the Redeemed helping us go arbitrarily large. Imperious Perfect even doubles as a lord in the deck, making us less of an all-in combo deck and more able to play the beatdown game.
Our sideboard is a bit of a mess. White has long been said to have the best sideboard cards in the format, so I wanted to have access to those. That said, we could easily go heavier on the blue cards and just cut the white, giving us more countermagic and possibly something like Cyclonic Rift, as the seven mana should not be a problem.
Those of you with an aversion to little green creatures may well be relieved to hear that we don't have to go with Elves. Cryptolith Rite says that any creature can be a mana creature if they just eat right, train hard, believe in themselves, and take their vitamins (brother). Is there a Sam Black-style deck that sacrifices things, makes tokens and Clues, untaps things, makes more things, and generally gains obscene value? Cards like Wild Cantor work really well with a sacrifice engine while also being able to sacrifice themselves, in this case for additional mana.
There's also the option to look at convoke, specifically Sprout Swarm.
That card alone is a combo waiting to happen, but when the tokens all untap each time it resolves, you can quickly reach the point where the card is self-perpetuating. Oh, and it's an instant, so you can make your eleven billion tokens at the end of the opponent's turn and then just annihilate them with vegetable-based violence. Vegan-friendly victory, go!
The last use to discuss is one that my good friend Tom "Tim David" Davis will appreciate, being as he is a devout aficionado of Splinter Twin. Although that particular enchantment is banned, Intruder Alarm does allow literally any creature to go arbitrarily large with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker … or Presence of Gond.
Although the former isn't really in need of the help (Restoration Angel and Zealous Conscripts were already good creatures on their own), Presence of Gond is at least an unusual and fun one that, once again, allows for Plant-based pugilism.
One thing to keep in mind is that Intruder Alarm is symmetrical; not only will your opponent be able to untap their creatures every time they have one enter the battlefield, but your creatures will not untap until you have one enter the battlefield. This won't often be a concern but it is something to keep in mind. As a result, you might want to consider playing some number of Dryad Arbor as a way to untap your team at instant speed without having to cast anything.
(Standard) Seasons Past
Not too long ago, Seasons Past decks made a decent splash in Standard after Pantheon brought a G/B Control deck to a Pro Tour. The deck was grindy, decision-intensive, and beautiful, but ultimately faded away under the weight of Reflector Mages, Gideons and Collected Companies.
There's no doubt that the card is very cool. It's a huge recursion engine that is itself recursive, drawing you a pile of cards every time it resolves. If you can recur a tutor effect when you cast it, you basically guarantee yourself a nonstop value engine that will eventually grind your opponent out of cards. I had no idea where to start with this list, but fortunately my good friend Mike from The Mana Pool podcast was on the same wavelength and came up with this as a framework.
I might be a combo player at heart, but I have a weak spot for grindy, value-centric attrition decks that win like Elton John: not letting you kill them and surviving instead of through any sort of aggression. I really like the framework of the deck that Mike has constructed here, but I think we can optimize it a bit better to take advantage of the Modern format and the things it allows us to do.
One general note is that the nature of a Seasons Past deck makes me want to trim a lot of these four-ofs down to increase the diversity of converted mana costs in the deck. When this deck wins, it wins by going long. Modern is not a format that looks kindly at six-mana spells, so when we cast one, it needs to have the most impact possible.
Let's start with the removal package. Grasp of Darkness is among the best removal that Standard has to offer, but Modern gives us many better choices. Fatal Push, Maelstrom Pulse, Doom Blade, and even Putrefy or Go for the Throat all deserve a look. We are going to need to do a lot of creature killing and hand disruption to get to six mana, and having a variety of ways to do that is going to be important. To the Slaughter is an interesting one, and I am strongly considering leaving it in the deck, but we will need to find some ways to improve our delirium chances in order to do so. Hero's Downfall is a powerful card that is only getting better as more planeswalkers see play in Modern, but we can probably trim one.
Inquisition of Kozilek is an auto-include, but I think we want a Thoughtseize or two as well. Although we are less likely to want to recur these cards with Seasons Past, they will be essential in keeping us alive. They're also great fodder for Tasigur, the Golden Fang. Yes, I know the Banana Baron is not currently in the list, but I think he's a natural inclusion in a deck that wants to be using the graveyard so much. In a similar vein I think we have the wrong Liliana here, as both Liliana, the Last Hope and Liliana, Death's Majesty would fit our strategy better. Heck, let's try one of each for the variety.
Although I miss being able to cast Read the Bones in Standard, I don't think it quite cuts the mustard in Modern. Night's Whisper and Sign in Blood are both legal, and although we lose out on the scrying, we do save mana.
The loss of scry can be made up by adding Temple of Malady to the mix, especially in a deck that doesn't really need to make turn 1 plays. The other big addition I want to make is some form of ramp. As we mentioned above, we are going to be pressed hard to get to six mana, so anything we can cast that will help on that front will be welcome. Mwonvuli Acid-Moss is possible, but I am partial to Farseek as a cheap option and Sakura-Tribe Elder for the speed bump factor.
Finally, Dark Petition.
I love this quintessential card to combine with Seasons Past for all the recursion. The spell mastery clause makes sure that we want to keep some number in the deck, but I want to add Beseech the Queen as a cheaper tutor that gets better the later the game goes.
A second Seasons Past also would not go amiss, though that does seem an unpopular opinion. The whole deck fits together nicely, and when it springs into action everything should fall together nicely.
The deck has gone through several iterations since, but one avenue I had not thought to explore was Seasons Past. I know Elliott, who was the architect of the deck idea, had at one point added blue for Mystic Retrieval because of the frequency with which we found ourselves milling our Splendid Reclamation.
It does cost significantly more mana, but as we expect to hit our land drops every turn that should not be as much of a problem.
It also allows us to recur cycling lands (which are a natural inclusion), any of our threats that have died, and of course any Splendid Reclamation we have milled. I would like to find at least one five-drop to include in the deck just for value, but red gives us a multitude of powerful Dragons to choose from there. Green is no slouch at that slot either, with Thragtusk and two flavors of Nissa (Worldwaker and Vital Force) fitting our goals nicely. It does change the gameplan slightly to be more grindy and less explosive, but it was already heading in that direction.
Starting to Open the Door
Intruder Alarm and Seasons Past are only the beginning. One of the best things about Modern and the tendency of people to play netdecks (which apparently are killing Magic, or so I heard on the Facebook...) is that the unexplored has a much better chance of being powerful and even winning. When Skred Red won a Grand Prix, part of the reason it did so was that nobody saw it coming.
There are so many other cards in the format to which this applies that we can't possibly have found all the good decks yet. Is there a Bant aggro deck with Geist of Saint Traft and Glory-Bound Initiate? A morph-based deck with Den Protector joining the old Brine Elemental / Vesuvan Shapeshifter lock? Can we extract value from the combination of Imprisoned in the Moon and Vesuva? Is Owling Mine viable now that we have Fevered Visions and a much larger assortment of bounce spells? Are there enough white creatures with built-in Anthems and/or token generation that we can finally make a deck that includes Angel of Jubilation?
The answer to all of these questions is "Yes, but it might not be top-tier." And really, that isn't important most of the time. If you want to win often in Modern, then the roadmap is already clear. If you want to have fun, be creative, and have a shot at making something special...hopefully you got some hints from this. Part of the reason I write articles like these is to make use of the hive mind and hope that one of you has an idea of which I have not thought, and then we can all have fun. After all, that's why we're here.
That's all we have for this week, folks. As always, thanks for stopping by. Life is finally settling down on this end and I am hoping to get back to some actual testing in the weeks to come. Until then, and until next time...