My last event was the culmination of the SCG Tour®'s Season One, the Invitational in Roanoke. I did fine in Standard, but I mopped up in Modern, going 8-0 in the Swiss with Lantern. There were many reasons that I chose the deck, but one of the big ones was simple: it's hard to play against, and I knew the deck better than I knew any other alternatives.
On my trip to Roanoke, I had several phone calls with my friend Ian DeGraff, and he kept bringing up speculative ideas about Hour of Devastation or revisiting deck concepts we'd talked about in the past. "No," I said, "I need to talk about the decks I would play in the Invitational!"
That isn't to say that there weren't intriguing ideas that were floating on the back burner, just that there hadn't been time to develop them to a point of sleeving them up for an event, and I wanted to bring the decks I had the most confidence in rather than experiments I was still working with. Hour of Devastation wasn't even fully released, and it would mostly be impacting Standard, and I'd settled on Burn or Lantern for the event, so talking about other decks didn't seem helpful.
Similarly, I'd had other talks with another longtime collaborator, my friend Ronny Serio, about one Amonkhet card in particular, but then wasn't the time.
After the event, though, now it's the time.
I wanted a deck that couldn't lose.
The one critical part: "you can't lose the game."
That is the kind of card text that is just inspiring. Talking about the card with Ronnie, he asked if Final Fortune was legal. "Nope," I replied. Sadly, it wasn't in the mix to make things go a bit crazy.
One of the first things that I thought of after realizing that Final Fortune wasn't in the mix was to think of the other cards that might make sense to exploit. "Can't lose" is like having a Platinum Angel on your team, or having cast an Angel's Grace at all moments. It's a pretty intense ability, even if it is on a fragile little three-loyalty planeswalker. If we couldn't employ Final Fortune, were there other cards that perhaps made sense to use?
My short list was pretty simple:
This card is a pet card for me, to be sure, but it is still a powerful one. However, as a four-mana card in Modern, this feels too fringe for me to be used unless you are also making a full "Cat Pact" deck out of it. Still, perhaps that is worth exploring at some point.
A strange Time Stop / Final Fortune mix, this card will also lose you the game, but like Demonic Pact, it just feels a bit underpowerful at the cost to make it reasonable for Modern without the upside of being able to be handed off to the opponent to make them lose.
Here, we have a bevy of the Pact cards that have all proven themselves worthy in decks that are Modern staples. I feel like Summoner's Pact suffers in a Gideon of the Trials deck because a Summoner's Pact deck is likely going to be doing something else entirely where a Gideon of the Trials would detract from the deck. Slaughter Pact seems like a fine card, but perhaps not at its best in this particular moment. It is a card that performs well, but doesn't really get a huge boost for having a Gideon of the Trials in the mix; if we imagine the B/W(/X) deck that might be made, using Gideon of the Trials to get an emblem to kill a creature and not pay for the pact is fine, but not inspiring.
Pact of Negation, on the other hand, felt a little exciting. It was easy to imagine a turn 3 Gideon of the Trials making an emblem and then Pact of Negation being used to stop whatever potent play the opponent had to make, not to mention being able to make the same kind of play on turn 4 with a buffer in loyalty that meant that Lightning Bolt (already on the downswing as a card seeing play) wouldn't ruin your day.
It turns out there is.
There isn't much room in a powerful deck like this for another card, but there is a little room. Many versions of Ad Nauseam in Modern run one less of this or one less of that; Nicholas Byrd's Modern Open-winning version gives us an idea for what might be cut, with only three Pentad Prism (among other cuts, like Laboratory Maniac in the sideboard).
Adding in Gideon of the Trials is akin to running extra copies of Phyrexian Unlife. It isn't an exact analog, but it actually does accomplish much the same purpose. If you ran enough of them, it may even be able to change the tenor of the deck slightly, like running more Pact of Negation or other choices. That said, I think making a gentle change is sufficient, by simply adding in the "extra" "Phyrexian Unlife."
Gideon of the Trials can act as a nice slowing down of damage in "traditional" ways, turning off a Eidolon of the Great Revel for a moment while you're building up to the proper turn to win, or otherwise simply slowing the clock down.
It fits nicely into what the deck is doing as its primary plan and can help as a sideboard measure against decks with few win conditions, as well as complementing a Supreme Verdict plan. While it works as an alternate kill condition is relevant, it isn't exactly how you want to be thinking of things in terms of "a plan."
Of course, that is being gentle. We're just getting started.
Playing straight-up U/W Control is always one of my favorite things to do in Magic. This deck isn't messing around with the core elements, but it also plays them up a little bit in light of Gideon of the Trials.
For example, running two Supreme Verdict and a Wrath of God becomes even more powerful when Gideon of the Trials forces an opponent to go wide in order to properly push through damage. Pact of Negation in the deck is only truly safe with an emblem from Gideon of the Trials, but if you have that Gideon of the Trials out, it becomes quite absurd. When you add Snapcaster Mage to the mix, it is easy to get games where you make an emblem from Gideon and then can cast Pact of Negation and Snapcaster Mage on Path of Negation to stop powerful plays from the opponent.
Still, though, while we're running four Gideon of the Trials, we're only running two Pacts. Perhaps we can push it even more? Let's blow it up to a ton of Pacts!
While I haven't gotten to a sideboard for this deck yet, I love the core of it. We may not have Seething Song any more, but Coalition Relic takes us from three mana to six mana in a single turn, giving eight cards that can drop a turn four Hive Mind.
Aside from turboing out a Hive Mind, though, you can also get games where you drop a Gideon of the Trials, make an emblem, and then start dropping Giants onto the battlefield for free with "Force of Will"-style counterspell backup from Pact of Negation. My favorite Hive Mind decks have always had another plan, and this one certainly does that.
Astute readers will notice that this deck has an odd manabase, running both Seachrome Coast and Glacial Fortress. This is in part because the deck needs enough white to be able to cast Gideon of the Trials, in part that it needs enough untapped blue early to cast the eight early library manipulation, and in part that it needs not so many lands that enter the battlefield tapped that it gets tripped up in the late-game casting a Hive Mind. I'm still tinkering with the mana, but overall I really like it.
Sure, we can explore Pacts, but do we have to be a deck that is consistently flirting with death? What if we just play "fair" and don't always seek to be on the verge of losing the game?
Here's one deck that runs Gideon of the Trials:
In working on the deck to make it a four Gideon of the Trials deck, I started thinking back to an old deck that Ronny Serio and I had been working on, a classic Prison list that might not have had as many Prison elements as the R/W Nahiri lists, but it did sometimes have another card:
As I thought about it, it just seemed as though Gideon of the Trials was similar to the best Scepter of Dominance ever. I put together a list and was heartily impressed by the cards, but then shifted things around a bit to include another new card I didn't expect to:
There are a lot of small interactions in the deck I really like. Killing a Gideon of the Trials can sometimes be a bit of work, but Sun Titan simply returning the card to the battlefield is quite potent. Sun Titan itself is a monster of a card, and Sun Titan into Flickerwhisp takes me back to an earlier time of glory.
This deck could easily become a R/W Prison deck or U/W Prison with only a slight shift to the manabase. I kept it as mono-white mostly to explore the basics of the deck. The best I've done with it in a League is only 4-1, but I feel pretty happy with that. I think I would have done better, but the mechanics of the deck are actually fairly slow on Magic Online (especially Wall of Shards and Sacred Mesa), so maybe I'll get a 5-0 at some point soon.
I think there is a lot more that can be done with any of these Gideon of the Trials decks. All of these decks are still in the experimental stage, but one of my favorite things about Modern is tinkering around with an idea until you get to a spot with a list and a metagame where things just feel perfect.
And I have to tell you: it sure feels great to play a game that you can't lose!