With #SCGBALT this weekend and Modern RPTQs happening all over, now seems like the perfect time to cover all the formats. Modern and Legacy are things I don't cover often, but that doesn't mean I haven't been thinking about them.
In fact, it's quite the opposite.
Standard is still basically Temur Energy and Ramunap Red against the field, but the field is evolving and growing stronger. This past weekend we had three Standard Grand Prix and, although Energy won two of them, the other was taken down by Esper Approach.
There were also several interesting decks in and around the Tops 8s of the other tournaments, such as Ben Stark's Desert Red, Mardu Vehicles, Grixis Midrange, Grixis Thopters, G/U Pummeler, and various God-Pharaoh's Gift decks. Sultai Energy is still poking around there too.
It was fun while it lasted.
The big things that have changed since Pro Tour Ixalan are that people have mostly gone back to Temur Energy instead of Four-Color. It has a much better matchup against Sultai Energy with its Glorybringers, and with the correct aggressive slant, your matchup against Ramunap Red is much better as well. I also believe the correct mirror match plan is to be aggressive with Glorybringers.
A highly literal card name.
On the other side of things, Ramunap Red continues the arms race by adopting maindeck Rampaging Ferocidons en masse, and some are even playing a bunch of Harsh Mentors. Whatever it takes to defeat Temur Energy is going to happen. Thankfully, Ramunap Red isn't sacrificing much in other matchups to make those changes.
I thought about playing Ramunap Red for about a minute, but then realized I would basically never be able to control whether my opponents drew their Chandra's Defeats and Confiscation Coups or not.
So, back to Temur, then? I suppose. I'm not unhappy to have the chance at redemption from Pro Tour Ixalan, and Temur doesn't seem like it's getting any worse.
This is the week I feel like cutting some Disenchants, so that could be an indicator that everyone else will do the same. Mardu or B/R Vehicles aren't the best way to punish that necessarily, but it does make them slightly better-positioned. U/W Gift was already trying to dodge Disenchants post-sideboard, so it's less of a concern anyway.
- 3 Bristling Hydra
- 4 Glorybringer
- 4 Longtusk Cub
- 4 Rogue Refiner
- 4 Servant of the Conduit
- 4 Whirler Virtuoso
I'm still not convinced that Chandra, Torch of Defiance is actually good due to the variance involved. However, I tend to underestimate planeswalkers to some degree. They are obviously powerful cards and tend to play better than I give them credit for. If I could ensure I would be on the play every game, I'd be super-happy with Chandra. As is, I think I have to settle for using Chandra's +2 into a removal spell more often in order to protect her, which isn't the worst place to be.
Other than that, I've streamlined the deck. This also seems like the weekend where the metagame might fully stabilize and I won't play against too many random things. Maybe control sees an uptick due to Esper Approach winning a Grand Prix, but I imagine that will go mostly unnoticed. Rather than overload on counterspells, I'm fine with having Chandras to fight them and very little else. They typically expect a pile of Negates anyway and transition into a bunch of creatures, and you shouldn't have a difficult time beating that version of their deck.
I'm still not playing any Sheltered Thickets, but I could see going up to 23 lands and playing two. Having the extra red sources for Chandra would be nice. Being able to keep a wider range of hands would be nice, as would having the cycling duals in the mid- or late-game if it ever came to it. That said, I like all the spells in the deck, and adding more lands that enter the battlefield tapped is not ideal when playing a bunch of five-drops.
Another option is playing Grixis Midrange, as created by Rob Lombardi and played to a ninth-place finish at Grand Prix Atlanta by Sergio Ferry.
This is my take on it:
- 2 Champion of Wits
- 2 Gifted Aetherborn
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 4 Glorybringer
- 2 Hostage Taker
- 3 Whirler Virtuoso
- 1 The Scarab God
Bryan Gottlieb described this deck as "Temur without the bad topdecks," and I mostly agree. Certainly cards like Fatal Push and Gifted Aetherborn can be medium draws in the mid-game, but it's mostly action compared to Temur's Attune with Aethers and Servant of the Conduits.
While that's clearly a boon, it's not exactly the most relevant trait to doing well in Standard at the moment.
If I have time, I'll jam a League or two with it before Grand Prix Portland and see if it strikes me as better than Temur. It would have to be much better in order for me to consider playing it, but that's not outside the realm of possibilities.
The answer is always Death's Shadow.
(I mean, the answer is still probably U/R Storm, but for me, it will always be Death's Shadow.)
You can customize Death's Shadow to fit your needs between all five colors. Counterspells, discard, and a fast clock will be great against most combo decks. Obviously the Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle decks can topdeck a Primeval Titan (and Eldrazi Tron presents a similar problem), but Disdainful Stroke covers those bases.
The craziest thing about Death's Shadow (and Modern in general) is that we went years without finding the most optimized builds of the deck. We've seen several iterations of the deck with different gameplans and different colors, and I'm not arrogant enough to believe we've built the best versions possible. Even now, nearly a year since its debut at the Grand Prix level, players continue to innovate.
Death's Shadow was originally able to capitalize on having a low land count while still being threat-dense. These days, most decks in Modern can deal with Death's Shadow and eventually go over the top of them. There needs to be a staying power mechanism.
Grixis is sweet and all, but Jund seems to fit the gameplan better. When the metagame shifted, Grixis became the answer, but really what should have happened was Jund Death's Shadow adopting some of the blue cards. Later on, they did, but people kept playing Grixis. The Snapcaster Mage / Kolaghan's Command angle helps grind in some matchups, but not against the ones that truly go over the top like Valakut decks.
We need something different.
Hmm, should we splash for Ranger of Eos to grind or just play one of the best four-drops ever printed and kill our opponents? The fact that Hazoret the Fervent is difficult for many decks to deal with is even better. It's basically the perfect card for the deck.
There will be some matchups where you sideboard out Hazoret and maybe some where you can safely sideboard down to a single copy, but I believe that two (or even more) copies are correct because of how much better it is to naturally draw it than to have to Traverse the Ulvenwald for it. Traverse, in general, is overvalued as a toolbox.
Blue continues to absolutely dominate Legacy.
If I were playing Legacy right now, I would attempt one of two things: either build a blue-based midrange deck that beat the mirrors and combo, or take a deck that is outside the norm, like Eldrazi, Four-Color Loam, or B/G Dark Depths, and attack from an angle that people don't expect.
Crushing blue mirrors is easier said than done. There are fewer copies of Delver of Secrets, so Baleful Strix isn't necessarily the right answer. The Four-Color Control / Czech Pile deck is so random with its card choices that you can't plan with any amount of consistency. Back in my day, people made it easy by all playing the same decks!
Ultimately, the blue mirrors are coming down to removal and card advantage. That points to Shardless Sultai, but I'm concerned about its weak combo matchup and higher-than-average mana curve. Chances are, any Young Pyromancer deck will get under you. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is easily answered by a bigger battlefield, Lightning Bolt, or Pyroblast.
I think the answer is somewhere in the Grixis realm. Ultimately, I would be looking at playing Chart a Course.
U/R Delver is interesting, but it does suffer against combo as well. Using Cabal Therapy to solidify the combo matchup is always a good plan.
I like this core:
There could obviously be Deathrite Shamans in this deck too, which are great for a few reasons. Deathrite Shaman gives you an early creature to attack with and gives you excess mana to use on drawing cards or deploying your new spells. The downside is that you're not really ramping to anything and Volcanic Island and Deathrite Shaman don't make a combo.
If I'm jumping through hoops to cast Divination for two mana, I don't want to be drawing weak cards like Monastery Swiftspear. This isn't Treasure Cruise, but it is an effective way to gain velocity and some card advantage. Night's Whisper already exists and only asks you to pay life and black mana, but I do think the life is more relevant in some matchups than people think. Chart a Course being a blue card for Force of Will is definitely relevant.
The other option is going hard with Snapcaster Mage and Kolaghan's Command, just like Grixis Death's Shadow did in Modern. That plan is a little better in Legacy, since you're (probably) not going to get Primeval Titaned anytime soon, and therefore grinding is a legitimate plan against most people. Kolaghan's Command lines up well against Deathrite Shaman for the most part, even if there aren't many random artifacts to blow up.
This is where I would start:
Note: This is untested!
I'm banking on Chart a Course and Snapcaster Mage to carry through blue mirrors, although that might take another Kolaghan's Command to truly be effective. Against faster matchups, those can be the cards you pitch to Force of Will.
I'm a big proponent of Wasteland in Deathrite Shaman / Young Pyromancer decks. Not only does this list eschew Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but it also has a very difficult time dealing with Dark Depths and the inevitable GerryT Marit Lage token.
At Grand Prix Columbus, I punted playing for Top 8 with a very similar deck, and it's one that certainly has legs in the format, as evident by the success of Four-Color Leovold.
Good old Stifle / Wasteland could potentially be great. Playing straight Temur Delver might not be the worst thing in the world, although I imagine it would see a resurgence if it were actively good. It probably just has to adapt to some degree. The mana denial is still as potent as ever.
What I actually want to do is learn how to play B/G Dark Depths, but I think I'm too stupid.
Well, there you have it: my picks for this weekend. Overall, they shouldn't be surprising if you know me, but the updates are relevant. Even if you don't follow my very biased view of these formats, hopefully that view can still give you something to take away.