#GPVegas is coming up, and with it, a wide range of formats to prepare for (though, sadly, not the exciting, new, Marvelous Standard). This GP will be a huge event, and I expect a lot more players than usual going and focusing on side events, both due to the magnitude of the event giving it even more of a convention feel and because not everyone will want to play in each of the formats offered for each GP. As a result, I'd like to take a bit of a "something for everyone" type of approach today.
The first GP will be Legacy, and I'm going to be honest, I haven't played a game of Legacy since Sensei's Divining Top was banned. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I got mad and quit the format. I'm really glad that card isn't legal and pushed for its banning for a long time; there just aren't that many occasions to play Legacy, and I've been busy with other things.
Looking at the format, it's interesting to me that Grixis Delver is the most played deck, since Grixis Death's Shadow seems to be becoming the most played Modern deck, largely because Death's Shadow is so much better than Delver of Secrets. I really wonder if these Delver decks in Legacy should just be Death's Shadow decks.
The best argument for Delver over Death's Shadow being correct in Legacy while it's wrong in Modern is the existence of the original dual lands. Basically, in Modern, you have to take around four more damage per game from your lands in that kind of deck, which means that, if you want to throw away that much life, you're giving up about four extra starting life in opportunity cost that you'd have if you played Delver and didn't need a low life total. If you were going to start at fifteen anyway, playing a deck that wants to put itself to ten means you're only five life below other people, but if you can start at eighteen instead, taking only a couple points from your fetchlands, maybe you get more value by holding on to that life.
On the other hand, there are so many Legacy decks that don't really care about your life total--by my estimation, a lot more than there are in Modern, so I think it's generally safer to go to a low life total than it is in Modern. Moreover, Gitaxian Probe is legal, and if you really want to go deep and fine-tune your life total, you can play Lim-Dul's Vault.
Outside of life total considerations, the presence of Brainstorm and Ponder definitely increase the value of Delver of Secrets, so it's possible that Delver is more improved by moving to Legacy than Death's Shadow is as a card. Also, given that Grixis decks generally play Young Pyromancer and/or True-Name Nemesis, it's likely that flying is just a lot more valuable and that getting through with Death's Shadow is too hard.
That said, I'm curious about Esper Death's Shadow--something along these lines:
The idea is that because Death's Shadow hits in larger chunks, you don't need the reach from Lightning Bolt as much as you do if you're attacking with Delver of Secrets. Instead, you can play Swords to Plowshares, which allows you to easily answer opposing Gurmag Anglers, and it can also save you from burn spells if your Death's Shadow gets too big by immediately setting your life total to thirteen.
Street Wraith also means that you're functionally playing a little bit more mana than the Grixis Delver decks, which I think supports playing some three-mana spells in Monastery Mentor and Lingering Souls, which also let you take full advantage of Deathrite Shaman.
Personally, I'll be playing Legacy, but I'm hoping to play Sealed as well, so my master plan involves picking up my Storm deck without playing any games and hoping I don't do well in the tournament. The incentive structures in this event are weird.
I generally try not to write about Limited too much, but I've really been enjoying Amonkhet. I think the draft format is, correctly, widely understood to be very aggressive. Exert creatures are great and they making blocking very difficult. They also incentivize playing with combat tricks, especially Djeru's Resolve, Spidery Grasp, Supernatural Stamina, and, should you be so lucky, Prepare, each of which can let your exert creature attack more often. Those tricks further punish people who are trying to block. Furthermore, the fact that the Cartouches are all quite good and that Trials encourage people to play them even more means that blocking is harder because creatures will often be larger than you expect, and the additional text on each of them makes blocking harder in one way or another.
At the Pro Tour, a lot of people were taken by surprise by hyper low curve aggressive decks that tried to go under everyone else by piling Cartouches and Honed Kopesh onto one-mana creatures like Slither Blade.
It's important to remember that Sealed is an entirely different format than Booster Draft, and what you should be looking to do is entirely different. While all of those things are still present in the format, far fewer pools with have the depth and synergy of aggressive cards available to people who push the strategies in Draft. Additionally, because most removal spells and most bombs get played in Sealed and more packs are opened, there's a higher concentration of bombs and removal in Sealed.
The fact that there are more bombs forces people to prioritize playing their removal, and then the fact that more removal is played tends to slow games down. Games slowing down naturally rewards playing slightly more expensive spells, and the result is that higher curve midrange decks are generally better in Sealed than in Draft across essentially all Limited formats, and this set isn't exceptional enough to deviate from that.
This change has a huge impact on the power level of various commons, and by extension, the power level of various colors. Red and white are the best colors in Booster Draft because they have a lot of exert creatures and generally have a large number of powerful cheap spells that play well in aggressive decks.
Magma Spray is the best common in Draft because curve and tempo are so important, so everyone is playing a lot of cheap creatures, and few people are playing expensive creatures; so Magma Spray kills almost anything and gains tempo while doing it. In Sealed Deck, the tempo is less important and there are more big things that are important to kill, so it's even possible that Final Reward, a surprisingly mediocre card in Draft, might be better than Magma Spray in Sealed.
My best advice for Sealed at GP Vegas is to be very cautious when considering a R/W deck in Sealed. Both colors have a lot of playable cards, and a lot of pools can build something that looks like a solid R/W draft deck. It's easy to think, "Sealed is less powerful than Draft, and people won't be prepared for a deck this aggressive, so I'll run them over." This is an acceptable line of thought if your pool doesn't let you do anything more powerful, but in general, I've seen very good looking R/W decks seriously underperform in this Sealed format, and I think it's very easy for biases from Draft to lead you to a trap if you've drafted a lot more than you've played Sealed.
Grixis Death's Shadow is the current hot deck among the pros, and I'm pretty sure it's a great deck, but I personally haven't had great results with it, though I haven't given it much of a chance. Personally, I'm currently drawn to and impressed by Todd Stevens' run with Eldrazi Tron. Credit to him, he plays the deck constantly and knows it extremely well, which is massively important in Modern, but you can't put up the results he is unless your deck's great on top of it, and his success on the SCG Tour® is matched by success on Magic Online.
This deck is the real deal, and even if you don't play it, I suggest getting on board the trend of sideboarding Ceremonious Rejection wherever you can.
Relatedly, another great deck to give a serious look is Affinity. Ceremonious Rejection is likely pushing other artifact hate out of sideboards to make room, since it does double duty there, but while it's serviceable against Affinity, it's nothing compared to a dedicated hate card like By Force. The prominence of graveyard decks at the moment further cuts into the sideboard space available to people, and the result is a relatively hospitable environment for Affinity, which I'd expect to be a relatively good deck against Eldrazi Tron. Affinity has historically been competitive with Eldrazi and solidly favored against Tron. Walking Ballista is a serious problem, but I think you're probably fine as long as they don't draw that and a quick Tron. I'd look at bringing some Pithing Needles in in that matchup to name Walking Ballista or catch an Expedition Map.
It's hard for a brand new deck to compete with the established forces in Modern that have had months (or years, in some cases) of play by hundreds of players to tune them to perfection, so if you're looking to make a good run in the main event, I'd suggest playing a proven deck you know well. On the other hand, if you're going for side events or Modern isn't your focus, it's actually a fantastic format to brew and play fun decks in.
Toward that end, I wanted to share some ideas I've been kicking around that aren't quite at the stage where I'd play them in a serious tournament but are great starting points if you're looking for a "casual competitive" Modern deck.
These ideas are both inspired by the current Standard format, which is really where most new things in Modern come from, since that's where new cards live.
The first is a Modern update of the most fun deck in Standard: my Abzan Tokens deck.
- 4 Anointer Priest
- 2 Auriok Champion
- 4 Blisterpod
- 1 Cartel Aristocrat
- 2 Doomed Traveler
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 2 Viscera Seer
- 2 Voice of Resurgence
This is very similar to my Standard deck--it has a ton of cards in common, however, it gains another fantastic enchantment in Abzan Ascendancy. Abzan Ascendency encourages you to play more cheap creatures to take full advantage of it, and it lets you get away with playing more by making them more impactful.
Lowering the curve and playing more cheap creatures allows you to cut lands and play the fourth Cryptolith Rites, and the better mana available in Modern allows you to cut lands without interfering with getting the colored mana to cast your spells.
Fetchlands make Hidden Stockpile a lot better, since you can routinely trigger revolt on turn 2, and Viscera Seer and Cartel Aristocrat make it much easier to sacrifice creatures as needed, which is important for Ulvenwald Mysteries and Abzan Ascendancy.
Auriok Champion functions as additional Anointer Priests, durable good blockers because of their protection, to start gaining life right away because they give you life for the front half of your creatures (the part that isn't a token) as well as your opponent's creatures. This buys you the necessary time to set up against opposing creature decks.
Voice of Resurgence is another big pickup from the transition to Modern, as the tokens it makes can be absolutely huge, especially if you have Anointed Procession going, when you'll get even more of them, and it's a much better card when you have the ability to sacrifice it as needed, which this deck excels at.
The other huge pickup is the unassuming singleton, Sprout Swarm.
If you have three Anointed Processions, this card goes infinite, but with two, you can essentially tap every creature you control to make four tapped creatures, which should easily be enough to win from almost any position; and even with only one or zero, if you have Anointer Priest or Auriok Champion, this will do a great job of buying time to find Anointed Procession. Of course, with Viscera Seer or Hidden Stockpile, it can help dig for that or other cards you need.
Fundamentally, this strategy might be too slow for Modern, or it might line up too badly against decks that aren't attacking or concerned with its life total, but it has a very respectable game plan, does incredibly sweet things, and can definitely trounce a decent range of Modern strategies.
The other consideration is the newly Standard-banned Aetherworks Marvel.
I think it's generally assumed that you just have to play too many Standard cards for this to be a serious consideration in Modern, since you don't pick up any energy producers, but Standard has proven that the payoff for activating Aetherworks Marvel is incredibly high. While Modern may not make it any easier to produce energy, it does offer a wide range of cards that support the strategy in other ways.
Before I get to decklists, let me discuss a few of the cards that make me most optimistic about Aetherworks Marvel in Modern.
First, and most importantly, Ancient Stirrings.
This fantastic library manipulation spell that's inexplicably escaped banning through years of enabling absurd decks around any number of colorless cards is a great fit for Marvel, where your most important cards are often Aetherworks Marvel, Aether Hub, and potentially, in a world where you don't want to play too many weak energy cards, Woodweaver's Puzzleknot. Additionally, of course, it can find a variety of finishers you might play alongside Aetherworks Marvel.
Next up, Primeval Titan.
There are people who play Nissa's Renewal or Oblivion Sower in Standard to bridge their way to casting their spells in case they draw them naturally and can't hit them with Marvel, or if they can't find or resolve a Marvel. I don't think I need to tell you how much better Primeval Titan is than these cards, but just trust me that it's an entirely different world, power level and impact-wise. Primeval Titan is the perfect secondary Marvel hit to bridge between your fair and unfair game plans.
Honestly, I think Marvel decks in Standard got a lot better when this card was banned, and it's not entirely clear they ever should have been played together, but it's possible that the shift to Modern makes delirium enough easier that it's worth playing Emrakul as a castable finisher. The biggest cost to doing this, beyond deckbuilding restrictions, is that it creates potential vulnerability to your graveyard being attacked, which might not be worth it.
Anyway, here are a few different takes on using Aetherworks Marvel in Modern:
- 4 Primeval Titan
- 4 Rogue Refiner
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 1 Whirler Virtuoso
- 3 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
This is a very straightforward approach. Play the key energy cards, Marvel, some library manipulation, and some finishers. It really couldn't be more direct. The big question is whether the weaker energy cards like Harnessed Lightning and Servant of the Conduit are worth it/necessary. It's reasonably likely that we can use Serum Visions and Ancient Stirrings to find energy as needed, and we might be better off with better cards like Lightning Bolt, or possibly even playing Glimmer of Genius, though I worry that that's too slow for Modern.
Grove of the Burnwillows is obviously chosen specifically as a countermeasure for Death's Shadow, since we don't really care about the opponent's life total, but it also happens to be great for casting our own spells. The purpose of the pair of Eldrazi Temples is that if you have six mana, you can cast Primeval Titan and fetch both of them, and then you have enough mana to cast Ulamog. It'd be nice to have more, but this felt like a safe number to play while keeping my mana very consistent.
Another option is to work harder to be able to cast our finishers:
I don't really think this deck works. The basic problem is that I think Attune with Aether is required to realistically get enough energy, but it competes with playing cards like Chromatic Sphere in other Tron decks that look like this, which results in playing fewer Tron lands to have enough room for a borderline sufficient number of green sources. On top of that, the other green energy cards are fairly weak and out of place. In exchange, we get a Marvel strategy that can cast Karn on turn 3, so it seemed worth offering as a suggestion, but I think it's trying to do too much.
- 3 Primeval Titan
- 4 Rogue Refiner
- 1 Thragtusk
- 3 Emrakul, the Promised End
- 1 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
- 1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
It feels a little weird to build around delirium and only play two Traverse the Ulvenwald, but I want to minimize my exposure to graveyard hate. This deck also doesn't include Ancient Stirrings; instead, it uses Utopia Sprawl to accelerate into Garruk Wildspeaker as a backup plan to cast Primeval Titan and Emrakul, the Promised End while adding planeswalkers and enchantments to the deck to allow for larger discounts on Emrakul.
Again, I fear the simplest approach might be be the best, and this might be trying to do too many things.
Regardless, those are my ideas for new Modern decks if you're looking to show off something spicy this weekend and have some fun surprising your opponents.
Regardless of what you're playing, I expect the weekend to be awesome!
Bonus Standard Update!
I've seen a few people ask about my updated Abzan Token list, given Aetherworks Marvel's ban from Standard. I'm really not sure how the format will look, but I do think there's a good chance this deck will be a good choice. And while I wouldn't change a lot from where I was before banning, I would tweak a couple things. Here's the Abzan Tokens deck I would play now:
- 1 Angel of Sanctions
- 4 Anointer Priest
- 4 Blisterpod
- 4 Catacomb Sifter
- 1 Dread Wanderer
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 1 Oketra the True