Having spent this past weekend watching Modern, I am really excited about where the format is right now and how open it still seems to be to new decks and brews. We have recently seen new G/W Company decks built around Ramunap Excavator, Ghost Quarter, and the entirely unfair Azusa, Lost but Seeking. We also got to see the evolution of a rogue Hollow One deck in Modern with the addition of everyone's favorite forgotten hasty Plant, Vengevine.
- 4 Hollow One
- 3 Goblin Guide
- 2 Hooting Mandrills
- 4 Insolent Neonate
- 4 Monastery Swiftspear
- 4 Street Wraith
- 4 Vengevine
What always strikes me when looking at Modern is how I get inspired for a brew from the most random things. Sure, some of the more fun (and popular) decks I have made come from established ideas that I twisted (probably for the worse) to suit my own preferences and style. That is always going to happen, especially in a non-rotating format like Modern. New ideas are basically only possible with new cards, and you sometimes stumble on something that someone else has already tried. What makes the deck a brew, and what makes it yours, is the process you went through to build it and the reason you went there in the first place.
For example, I am almost possible someone has tried this particular idea before, as it seems to build itself, but I would bet nobody else got to it the way I did: watching Cedric Phillips talk about Death's Shadow and how nobody plays Lightning Bolt any more. Really, Cedric? I'll show you!
I'll be honest: "Let's bring back Lightning Bolt" is a pretty awful reason to play a deck. Scratch that; it's completely awful. Not the card itself, which is iconic for a reason, but the thought that a one-mana burn spell could inspire an entire deck that isn't, you know...Burn.
The two best removal spells in the format are Fatal Push and Path to Exile. Terminate also has a case to make for one of those slots. Mardu Control decks have been starting to see some success, mostly trying to win the long game with Nahiri, the Harbinger and other value-accumulating planeswalkers. It's solid, but prone to taking too long to set up and thereby getting run over. We won't be having that problem. We are going to do the running over.
Our three one-mana removal spells put us in Mardu. We would be crazy to not also pack the one-two discard punch of Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize. Playing black and white loudly suggests that we at least consider Lingering Souls, and I think we have a good case to include it here too. All we need now is a way to, you know, win.
One thing I have not understood about Modern is that Monastery Mentor and Young Pyromancer have yet to really take hold of the format. Both cards see a lot of play in Legacy and even Vintage, and their power level is not in question. Keeping them alive is a challenge in a format defined by its cheap removal (the same removal we are playing, of course), but we are not lacking in ways to get our threats back again. Kolaghan's Command is a Modern staple, and the new card Claim can at least get back Young Pyromancer. With the Lingering Souls and the burn spells we can run, creature-based damage is not going to need to do as much work.
Okay, we have a framework. How might we fill out the rest of the deck? Here's what I started with for my Magic Online testing:
Boros Charm has been surprisingly good. We're not really a burn deck (though we can win fast and we sometimes do need the reach), but the main reason I wanted this card was the ability to blank a Terminate or Fatal Push while possibly developing our battlefield more. It won't help against a Path to Exile, but not much does.
Playing eight cards that actively want us to cast spells makes it less worrying to leave up two mana in an aggressive deck, and it can double as a combat trick with Monastery Mentor in the mix. We are probably never giving anything double strike (barring a whole lot of prowess triggers), but the other two modes are more than enough for me.
Lightning Helix is an interesting one. I love the card and wanted to try it in my starting list, especially because I wanted additional ways to get those last few points of damage through against Death's Shadow decks. The lifegain is not trivial, and anything that can get around Chalice of the Void on one is appealing to me as well.
I can get pretty paranoid when building aggressive decks that I will run out of cards too soon. Painful Truths is my answer to that dilemma, and those extra three cards have very often been enough. It's not the perfect choice for this slot, but Dark Confidant felt risky and vulnerable and I was not confident that I could reliably cast Sign in Blood, even if the latter does have the upside of being able to dome the opponent.
The sideboard is not exactly where I want it to be, but Bedlam Reveler has done solid work so far. It has often come down for four mana and drawn me three cards without having to discard while also providing a threat that laughs off Fatal Push. It might not help me go wide, but that isn't always the best plan. I have considered trying this in the maindeck, but I am a little concerned about overloading on creatures.
Soulfire Grand Master and Magma Spray (which maybe should be Pillar of Flame, still not sure there) are my hedge against Burn. The matchup is still not great but having that extra life gain does gives us a fighting chance. If I do end up adding Claim to this deck, this is another potential target to reanimate.
Dark Betrayal is great. Just trust me on that. You might wonder why it isn't Terminate, and you would have a point, but I think Terminate should be in another slot...namely, that of Rakdos Charm. I have an unhealthy affection for that card that needs to be broken, but I keep coming back to it because it won me some games against Twin. Yes, I know it blows up an artifact. Still no. Bad Chris. Stop it.
I actually prefer Dark Betrayal against Grixis Death's Shadow, mainly because it does not care about Dispel and it costs one less, leaving us able to multi-spell the turn. This deck really needs to get to multiple spells per turn to start humming, which is why we have 21 lands in a low-curve deck.
Shattering Spree is another mistake. We are rarely going to have enough red mana to matter against Affinity, and it does nothing to help us out of a Chalice on one. By Force is a solid replacement here, and I also like Smash to Smithereens, if only for the flavor text on the FNM promo. The damage is fine too. I guess.
The omission of Zealous Persecution from this list is a crime I am struggling to explain. My only thought here is that this shows why it's a good idea to keep revisiting your brews with an eye to tweaking, because this thought literally just came to me. It's built for decks that want to go wide, and has the added bonus of shrinking the opposing team. I don't think we want four in the maindeck, but some number is definitely correct.
As it stands, this deck almost never wants to jam a Young Pyromancer on turn 2 or a Monastery Mentor on turn 3. You want to destroy the opponent's early-game first with removal and discard and then cast a creature when they are out of answers and you can follow up with a spell or two. Spot removal is good against these cards only when they haven't started to propagate themselves, at which point you win the game very quickly. We could change that by playing some number of Gut Shot and Mishra's Bauble in the deck, but I think that's a bit too all-in and/or a different deck that we can talk about later.
The lack of Snapcaster Mage is a negative for the deck concept. Goblin Dark-Dwellers would be worth a look as a 3/3 for 2RR, but as it stands, it might be a bridge too far. Raven's Crime is an interesting consideration as a spell we can repeatedly cast, but the impact is a little low. There's an old saying that card advantage doesn't matter when you're dead, and so far the combination of extra value from our spells and burn to the face has been enough to carry this deck to good success.
I really, really want to find a home for Crackling Doom in here. I have thought that card was underrated as a Modern staple for a while, and with the current metagame being full of so many beefy creatures for small investments I cannot imagine it is worse now. The question is what to cut for it, given that we currently do not even have Terminate.
Can We Just Play Death's Shadow?
It would not take much effort to turn this into a Mardu Shadow deck (which is something I have yet to see) while keeping the Mentor/Pyromancer plan. I could see something like this:
I love Orzhov Charm in Death's Shadow decks, as every mode on it can be relevant. Sadly, it can only resurrect a Death's Shadow in this deck (I cannot justify Dragonmaster Outcast in this format), which is why I only want two copies, but the removal mode is particularly relevant. Similarly the addition of another eligible target tips the scales in favor of Claim.
Gut Shot is either the worst card to draw or a huge bonus when you need it, and there is no way to tell which it will be until you draw it. The singleton might be wrong, but it's a good start for testing. I have also squeezed in a one-of Crackling Doom on the off-chance that it is what this style of deck needs, but the rest are in the sideboard for matchups like TitanShift.
All told, this might be the stronger way to go with the deck. We don't have the permission spells of Grixis or the beefiness of Jund, but we do have two diverse strategies that, in this case, play well together.
That's all we have for this week, folks. I will be battling in a PPTQ this weekend, possibly with one of these decks, so fingers are firmly crossed. As always, thanks for stopping by, and until next time...Brew On!