So much for needing to use Surgical Extraction on Bridge from Below…
It looks like Wizards of the Coast spotted us that one as a freebie for Modern going forward. A simple, precise ban, Bridge from Below can leave the format to power down the egregious Bridgevine deck without upsetting the delicate balance in Modern that exists between a number of entrenched archetypes.
And as much as I agree that Faithless Looting is a bit too good for Modern as it currently stands, I respect and understand the rationale behind this decision.
It's the only card to have no text on the battlefield, to work exclusively without ever paying mana for it, without casting it, and without drawing it. It's kind of cool to see that such a wild and completely unexplored space of the universe of potential cards can often coexist with "real" cards, but there is basically no room between such a card being unplayable and wildly broken. Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis and Altar of Dementia pushed Bridge from Below over the edge, and as such, it was the payoff for Bridgevine least likely to ruffle any feathers when it hit the banned list this week.
Hogaak and Altar of Dementia, of course, are new additions to Modern, and Wizards of the Coast is understandably a bit reticent to immediately ban cards they just put in Modern Horizons booster packs (the Splinter Twins from Modern Masters 2015 remain amused).
As for Faithless Looting, it has moved inexorably in the last three years from an enabler for Dredge to the centerpiece of the upstart Mardu Pyromancer archetype to the most egregious part of the incredible Arclight Phoenix shells that now stand poised to dominate this Mythic Championship. The rise from ignominy to power exceeding Ancient Stirrings and Mox Opal is, frankly, impressive. And yet it stays off the Banned List. After all, Faithless Looting is Brainstorm…
Although Modern and Legacy are different animals, it seems like WotC is content to allow format staples to remain legal once they pass a certain threshold of ubiquity. Has that happened with Faithless Looting? Not quite, but it's pretty close. This phenomenon is a stellar example of something called Technology Lock-In, which occurs when an economy (or in this case, a competitive Magic format) opts to stick with a particular technological standard (or in this case, a particular format staple) and is unable to shake it afterward because of the massive amount of sunk costs and dependence on that particular component.
Brainstorm is Magic's best-known instance of Technology Lock-In. Mishra's Workshop is definitely an instance of Magic Technology Lock-In. And it seems like Faithless Looting is quickly moving towards being locked in as a part of Modern because so many people have invested so much into playing it (and enjoy doing so), the format has adjusted to it, and it isn't quite obviously offensive enough to warrant such a high-cost ban.
So if we're stuck in here with Faithless Looting, what remains for us as the best choices going forward in Modern? Have we just replaced Bridgevine with the slightly lower-powered but still-egregious Dredge deck? Remember, War of the Spark and Modern Horizons still absolutely changed Modern in a massive way. The last Modern article I wrote had eight archetypes that I suggested for serious players, and merely replacing Hogaak Bridgevine with DredgeGaak would be a fairly low-impact choice, but there are several additional decks that I'm excited to be working on in preparation for the Mythic Championship.
The first, of course, is Jeskai Saheeli:
I'm cutting all my copies of Rest in Peace in favor of a mix of Surgical Extraction and Ashiok, Dream Render. The utility against Amulet Titan and various Scapeshift decks is high enough to be worth the switch. Amulet Titan is a bit worrisome with the new Lotus Field available to speed up potential combo kills by a turn, so a bit more hate against that archetype is quite welcome. The quantity of three-mana spells in the whole decklist is a bit concerning, though. It's possible that we might prefer more Spell Pierces, Spell Snares, Lightning Helixes, Celestial Purges, Ousts, or possibly Spreading Seas depending on how the metagame shakes out.
But I'm not convinced that, with some of the awesome upgrades other decks got with Modern Horizons such as Wrenn and Six and Magmatic Sinkhole, we can rely on Narset and Teferi quite as easily as I was preaching prior to the release of Modern Horizons. The weakness in the Izzet Phoenix gameplan against a five-loyalty Narset is essentially fixed, and Jund decks can stick a Turn 2 Wrenn and Six on the play and leverage it to keep you behind the entire game. How rude!
The second deck on my shor list, then, is Wrenn and Six Jund:
Wrenn and Six has made Dark Confidant downright embarrassing. I absolutely agree with Logan's willingness to cut the card and move all-in on Wrenn and Six, which is essentially a painless Dark Confidant that also guns down irritating creatures like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben or Noble Hierarch with ease. I expect this to be one of the more-played decks in Barcelona for Mythic Championship IV, and it's just so darn difficult to metagame against, being such a flexible midrange machine. This looks absolutely wonderful, but I suspect we can push this new planeswalker even harder!
This is a rough sketch, but Wrenn and Six combined with Life from the Loam is one heck of an engine! It's unclear what type of hate people will pack for the graveyard, so we will leave things fairly open with a bunch of Cindervines as generic anti-hate spells of sorts. We may end up wanting some number of Krosan Grip, Abrade, Shenanigans, or Ancient Grudge to fight back. The numbers on some of our lands are also fairly flexible, as both Ghost Quarter and Blast Zone fill valuable roles in particular matchups, and yet we also need some Fire-Lit Thickets to enable our triple-red requirement for Seismic Assault.
Tarmogoyf and Countryside Crusher were both in older versions of this deck, but the fact that both are essentially solely efficient bodies (and weak to Rest in Peace, at that!) means that Tireless Tracker and Scavenging Ooze get the nod in their stead. Incidental lifegain and a third card advantage engine are both absolutely worth playing in a deck like this one.
Now, at a certain point, Wrenn and Six becomes a potential centerpiece for a sideways semi-juke for Dredge in order to sideboard into a fairer, less graveyard-reliant deck. Of course, there is synergy between Wrenn and Six and cycling lands to enable multiple dredges in a single turn, but it also bleeds Dredge into Aggro Loam territory, where a massive pile of Maelstrom Pulse, Blast Zone, Ancient Grudge, Assassin's Trophy, Abrupt Decay, and Engineered Explosives can just turn the whole deck into a fair Jund pile that battles through even a large amount of graveyard disruption.
The fourth is super-speculative, but potentially amazing. Izzet Free Spells:
This list is also super-rough, but the idea is to go a bit over the top of what the various Jund decks are doing while simultaneously having some broken starts.
It's likely worse overall than what, say, Izzet Phoenix is doing, but there's definitely something there. It might be better off as a Free Spell Living End deck, to be honest, but Crashing Footfalls has some appeal as a less all-in type of card that also allows some unfair Magic.
And the fifth is Eldrazi Tron:
The four copies of Leyline of the Void are likely not necessary in the wake of the Bridge from Below banning; you can probably safely mix and match those with some alternatives to improve other matchups, or just play four copies of Relic of Progenitus instead. I'm not confident in the Humans matchup with Eldrazi Tron, but with Blast Zone and Karn, the Great Creator for Ensnaring Bridge, there's a lot to be said for picking up this high-powered deck and running with it.
Overall, Modern is extremely dynamic right now. There are over a dozen individual cards that could have remade the format by themselves, and now we're seeing all of them injected into Modern simultaneously (and with the London Mulligan on top of that!) Obviously Faithless Looting is the big consistency engine that makes a lot of the most offensively powerful decks tick, but with so many powerful flagship cards drawing us in a ton of different directions, it's not even close to necessary to shake up the format before we see something like an equilibrium develop.
It's a tuner's paradise right now. Optimize your favorite archetype, minimize your weaknesses, and exploit the ones your opponents are showing. This is going to be the most innovation-friendly Modern pro-level event since Pro Tour Philadelphia in 2011!