- 1 Walking Ballista
- 1 Kami of False Hope
- 4 Martyr of Sands
- 4 Ranger of Eos
- 4 Serra Ascendant
- 4 Squadron Hawk
- 1 Sun Titan
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 1 Archangel Avacyn
This deck won a PTQ, in a format where people can play Humans, Ironworks, Storm, Tron, Affinity, U/W Control, and any number of other completely overpowered strategies, a deck with Hallowed Burial, Day of Judgment, Hex Parasite, Archangel Avacyn, and Cleansing Nova won a PTQ in Modern. This is not a drill.
It beat Amulet Titan in the finals, a high-powered deck with potential turn-3 wins and incredible consistency in finding powerful tutor targets, with nothing but a few copies of Ghost Quarter and Field of Ruin to defend itself.
It beat U/W Control in the semifinals, a powerful Planeswalker-oriented deck with countermagic and Terminus to properly defend the incredible Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. It seems on the surface like this would be an atrocious matchup for MartyrProc, but somehow Gobo2009 won.
In the quarterfinals, it beat Hardened Scales, one of the new busted decks in a long line of broken Mox Opal and/or Ancient Stirrings strategies, a deck that incidentally wins nearly half of its games via Inkmoth Nexus' poison counters. Can't Martyr your way out of that one, especially when Throne of Geth and Animation Module can both sneak death through past any number of intervening blockers.
What's the deal?
Now, before we begin, a disclaimer. I'm a Martyr of Sands aficionado from a long time ago. Back in 2007, before I had played any real competitive Magic tournaments, the Magic Scholarship Series came to town, and I decided that my best shot at success in that Standard format was to prey on the huge numbers of Rakdos and Selesnya Aggro decks with a little one-drop from Coldsnap. I wasn't much in the skill department, but my metagaming was on-point. I snuck into the MSS Nationals at the Last Chance Qualifier, and voila!
The deck was a bit on the slow side, but a 7-3-3 record still counted as a min-cash finish. It still brings a smile to my face to look back at my first competitive brew after over a decade of competitive Magic.
When I saw that someone had used the same general strategy that I had played so many years ago and found success with it here in contemporary Modern, it immediately piqued my interest. So, let's figure out how this mismatched pile of cards succeeded on MTGO and what future exists for the deck in Modern.
Metagame-wise, Martyr of Sands is highly favored against Burn and decently ahead against Humans. Two of the most common aggro decks in the format as squarely favorable matchups is an excellent place to start building an overall win percentage equity. Unfortunately, there are quite a few tougher matchups on the unfair end of the spectrum.
Tron, for example, is not a very good matchup. You need a bunch of Ghost Quarters and Fields of Ruin, but the problem is that even while disrupting their Tron lands, you can still just lose to a normal bunch of land drops into a Karn Liberated or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. It's awfully difficult to hold off the full Tron for too long, and they even run Relic of Progenitus to attack your graveyard recursion synergies. Tron simply goes over the top of your gameplan with an unanswerable suite of heavy hitters. If you expect a lot of Tron, this is not the deck to play.
U/W Control, though, is a surprisingly winnable matchup, considering how potent Squadron Hawk is against their deck. They need to grind through an awful lot of Hawks and Ranger of Eos, both of which offer a lot of diverse pressure through multiple removal spells. Granted, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria will frequently generate an emblem that ends the game, given the density of protective elements in U/W Control and the slow pace of most games, but with proper management of threats this is not an unbeatable matchup.
Jeskai Control is very similar to U/W Control, with the benefit that your Ghost Quarters and Fields of Ruin become straight land-destruction faster, as Jeskai runs out of basic lands before U/W Control does. I'd actually call Jeskai Control an even or slightly favorable matchup for this reason (and the fact that they have fewer sweepers and more weak targeted removal).
Storm is a difficult matchup, simply because when Storm is really rolling, it can generate 60 or more damage in a single spectacular turn. With a cost-reducer on the battlefield, there are eight ritual effects, four Manamorphoses, two Grapeshots, and Past in Flames to rebuy all of them for potential storm counts in the upper twenties. The one saving grace is, if you sacrifice Martyr of Sands three times before Storm gets to combo off, it can be impossible for Storm to win. With very little serious disruption from MartyrProc, this is a hard matchup, but it's fortunately still pretty rare in the Modern metagame (though I expect that to change in the coming months).
Affinity is a favorable matchup, fortunately, as the deck makes it hard to win with regular damage and packs enough ways to answer Inkmoth Nexus that it's difficult for Affinity to sneak in a win via poison counters. Hardened Scales Affinity, by the same token, is relatively easy. It can grind slightly better than Affinity, and it can present resilient battlefields with cards like Hangarback Walker that defy a single sweeper, but on average the matchup is positive for the control deck.
Hollow One is relatively easy as well, being a creature deck at its core with limited ways to break through a padded life total, plentiful sweepers, and a card like Serra Ascendant. Dredge and R/B Vengevine are slightly more difficult because of their higher power level, but should nonetheless fall behind against Martyr-Proc. The presence of sideboard graveyard hate only helps the white deck gain matchup equity.
The surging Infect strategy, of course, is a difficult matchup for obvious reasons, as a single protected Blighted Agent is basically game over. Like Storm, Infect has fallen out of favor in past months, but it should be coming back in the next swing of the metagame and provide a nice incidental counter to MartyrProc, if such a thing ever somehow becomes necessary.
Mardu Pyromancer is...unclear. Both decks grind in very non-traditional ways, but I'd hazard a guess that MartyrProc is ahead due to Ranger of Eos and Squadron Hawk out-distancing Young Pyromancer and company. I could be mistaken, though, as the heavy discard component is incredibly potent against a deck as reliant on a full hand as this one!
SImilarly, Jund and Abzan Midrange are favorable matchups for MartyrProc due to the futility of casting Liliana of the Veil against Squadron Hawk and Ranger of Eos. Like Tron, MartyrProc goes over the top of the midrange Thoughtseize decks.
And yes, MartyrProc is likely ahead against my beloved Grixis Shadow deck, although Grixis Shadow maintains enough of an unfair component to be able to sneak through a win against anything. Once a Martyr or two gets sacrificed, though, it's all over.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Modern metagame discussion without the current combo scourge, Ironworks. Of course, Ironworks is not very easy for this deck to beat. Game 1 should be a complete and total rout in favor of the Ironworks player, and games 2 and 3 both hinge on you drawing your few copies of Stony Silence, Damping Sphere, and/or Rest in Peace, both of which can be cleanly answered by the Nature's Claims that are sure to be hopping out of opposing sideboards.
But what's this? Ironworks is nigh-unplayable on MTGO in its optimal configuration, due to the high number of game actions required to execute the full combo? A metagame with an artificially depressed number of Ironworks decks does sound pretty attractive for Martyr of Sands...
It's clear that without the online restrictions that make infinite combo decks like Ironworks and Abzan Company unplayable, Martyr of Sands decks would be almost completely laughable as serious choices. I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this deck to any serious Grand Prix or SCG Tour® player for paper play, and I don't think it will be tearing up the local IQ or PPTQ scenes any time soon. For someone who wants to play on MTGO, though, it's a different story, and here's why.
I have come to learn the dark secret behind what would ordinarily seem like a wholesome Wescoe-approved mono-white deck. It turns out that Gobo2009 got the PTQ victory by timing out opponents in both the semifinals and the finals, leveraging the same feature of Magic Online that renders infinite combo decks unplayable: the chess clock.
That's right, this deck won the PTQ by gaining a ton of life, so much life that an opponent could not win in a reasonable time frame and letting them choke to death on their own round clocks. By very carefully managing stops and playing ultra-fast Magic early in the round, it's possible to gain a time bank advantage and then just remove all but one stop to just loop and sacrifice Martyr of Sands each turn for a win that requires opponents to go through too many steps.
Against U/W Control (which was the semifinal matchup for this deck), that means they must land a Teferi, emblem the Teferi, exile your Mistveil Plains, and eventually run you out of cards in your library (or ultimate Jace, the Mind Sculptor). This is easier said than done, and with only 25 minutes per round to do this twice, the matchup on MTGO goes from close but unfavorable to highly favorable. Is this a travesty? I don't think so, but there is a gray area surrounding a win that comes from manipulating the structures and restrictions inherent in the online client.
In the finals, the same thing happened. By gaining enough life with Martyr of Sands each turn and by destroying the powerful Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion and Slayers' Stronghold with Field of Ruin and/or Ghost Quarter, Martyr of Sands can outpace Primeval Titan and eventually just lock the opponent out. Gaining enough life quickly is ironically a death sentence for the opponent, and a slow timeout is the eventual outcome.
It's odd, seeing how many extreme strategies can pop up in the corners of the Modern metagame by abusing certain unforeseen quirks of Magic. Lantern Control started the trend when it abused its lopsided control of a resource that had never before been seen in the upper echelon of competitive Magic, locking out the top of an opponent's library with some very unfamiliar artifacts.
Ironworks uses a strange aspect of Magic's cost payment rules to abuse loops with an unbeatable mana and recursion engine, establishing a full infinite combo by overpaying for the cost on Chromatic Star and its ilk. Abusing the Comprehensive Rules? It takes a real mad genius to find that one.
And now, MartyrProc abuses the limitations not in the rules engine, but in the code that makes MTGO tick, by turning the clock itself into a resource that can be used to defeat an opponent. This quirk, more than Lantern or Ironworks' particular tricks, is a bit more overtly irksome because it doesn't feel like it should be allowed. Losing to timing out on MTGO is more frustrating than even the most hopeless Lantern lock or the most snobbish opponent explaining the Ironworks loops.
Be prepared to manage your clock as precisely as possible in the rare event you get paired up against MartyrProc on MTGO, and heaven forbid you end up playing the mirror match. I'm confident that it would get to a point where the best thing to do is just remove all stops and try to run the opponent out of clock as quickly as possible.
That, or just play Infect. The fun police have been off-duty for far too long.