As is often the case in Modern, cards have a pretty tough time breaking into the format. But the perfect time to try out something new is after a ban or unban, and since we actually got both of those things this time around, #SCGDFW was prime brewing space. One person took full advantage of that space, innovating a "dead" archetype after Faithless Looting got the axe.
Look familiar? You might have seen something similar running around Modern over the last few years. Gerry Thompson took this style of deck to a second-place finish at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, and plenty of pilots have found themselves in the winner's circle with Mardu Pyromancer, a primarily Rakdos-based deck featuring a bunch of removal, discard, and a few creatures that pair nicely with that type of strategy.
So what's changed?
First of all, Faithless Looting getting banned means Lingering Souls is significantly worse. And since Lingering Souls was the only white card in most Mardu Pyromancer maindecks, it seems pretty easy to cut the color entirely. With the printing of Seasoned Pyromancer to go wide instead, we get to stick to two colors.
Young Pyromancer is also absent from this list, and the reason is mostly the same. The planeswalkers don't trigger it and lacking Faithless Looting and Lingering Souls means you have fewer instants and sorceries to make those Elemental tokens. The deck just doesn't have the same velocity when it comes to casting a bunch of cheap spells virtually every turn, and most of those spells are no longer entirely desirable.
Faithless Looting always led to one or two turns a match that showcased just how busted it could be. Not only does it develop your weaker hands in the early turns, all while turning on some of your graveyard-related synergy, but it also prevented flooding in the late-game. That helped ensure Young Pyromancer always had food to eat. Now we have to approach from a different angle.
This card just keeps showing up in weird places, and honestly just keeps impressing me. I keep wanting to do more busted stuff with it, but the banning of Faithless Looting made many of those dreams untenable. Regardless, it still plays a fine fair game, recasting Thoughtseize and removal spells to punish people for extending onto the battlefield or keeping it close to the vest.
I think it makes a bit of sense to play Dreadhorde Arcanist over Young Pyromancer, if only because it is arguably more effective at stifling your opponent's development. In Modern, you can't just "cantrip" forever like you can in Legacy, or even how you used to be able to do it with Faithless Looting. Instead, we want to punish our opponent for allowing us to untap with our creature, and we do that by hitting them with another removal or discard spell.
My gut says there's a version of this archetype that goes a bit harder on the graveyard stuff to play Ancestral Vision and Crashing Footfalls. It's not all that hard to discard those via Lightning Axe, Seasoned Pyromancer, or even Cathartic Reunion. However, that will lead to draws featuring a higher ceiling but a much lower floor. That "combo" doesn't exactly end the game, which is usually what you want/need when you're jumping through a bunch of hoops in Modern. Losing Faithless Looting made assembling this "combo" a lot more difficult.
Upping the Power Level
Increasing the power level of a deck can mean a lot of different things to different people, but for me it means having a lot more cards that stand on their own two feet, not needing a lot of help from other cards in your deck to reach its full potential. For example, cards like Seasoned Pyromancer stand alone, and don't really need a lot of help to reach their full potential. Either you cast it early and discard some of your weaker spells to create more pressure, or you cast it empty-handed and draw two cards. It's just a great addition to this type of strategy.
You also have cards that hit harder as the games go longer. The more times you get to activate Liliana of the Veil, the better it becomes. The smaller your hand gets, the more likely it is to turn on Hazoret the Fervent at just the right time. Overall, I think increasing the power level of your cards in a deck like Rakdos Midrange is important when you lose your best potential filter, but you need to make sure you don't overdo it. Cards with a higher impact often require a larger mana investment, which leads to some really awkward draws against opposing Modern decks that try to play as few turns as possible.
This is one of the more interesting additions to the deck, but watching Lim play a bunch of matches this weekend led me to believe that it just wasn't worth the inclusion. While it costs three mana at face value, it's very difficult to get value out of it for just that three-mana investment. And with both Bedlam Reveler and Dreadhorde Arcanist in the deck, you might end up taxing your graveyard a little too much.
I like the idea of Chandra, Acolyte of Flame, but the "Snapcaster Mage" ability is the only one I think has any merit in Modern. And because it's a full mana more expensive, I don't think it's worth the inclusion. At the very least, you should probably move it to the sideboard. I think it could be phenomenal in matchups that give you enough time to cast it, but those aren't exactly running rampant in Modern at the moment.
Similarly, Hazoret the Fervent seems like a great finisher against an opposing control or midrange deck, but I doubt you need it to actually close games. I think you're best suited trying to maximize the potential of Bedlam Reveler and Seasoned Pyromancer, allowing those to do most of the heavy lifting while the rest of your deck disrupts.
As I said before, increasing your overall power level comes at the cost of both consistency and speed, and I just don't know how much you need to rely on something like Hazoret to get the job done.
There are a lot of ways we can move with this deck, but my gut says we should max out on Bedlam Reveler and swing for the fences. Without Faithless Looting, it's a bit harder to turn on, but why don't we try focusing on a card that gained a lot of stock over the last week?
This could be the perfect card to play four of in the maindeck, acting as both a disruptive tool as well as an enabler for getting full value out of Bedlam Reveler and Dreadhorde Arcanist. In fact, emptying your hand quickly just doesn't seem so bad when you're playing four copies of Bedlam Reveler and Seasoned Pyromancer!
Collective Brutality is also your best card against the most popular deck in the format: Burn. The most-played deck on Day 2 at #SCGDFW with three copies in the Top 8, Burn is currently the frontrunner for "Best Deck in Modern," but we all know how that story ends. For this weekend, playing four copies of Collective Brutality in the maindeck could singlehandedly win you multiple matches. And against the decks you're not demolishing with it, you still get a discard or kill spell that fuels your Bedlam Reveler engine. What's not to love?
In a world where you're playing four copies of Collective Brutality, and perhaps increasing the number of discard outlets in general, it might be time to reconsider the Lingering Souls splash, if only to give you more juice for the escalate.
With Stoneforge Mystic running rampant, as well as Four-Color Whirza winning the whole event, Kolaghan's Command seems like a no-brainer. Plus, rebuying the likes of Bedlam Reveler and Seasoned Pyromancer as the game progresses seems awesome. I know Lim had two copies of them in the maindeck, but I think there's an argument to play more. I doubt four is the correct number, but I could definitely be convinced to play three.
There's also the possibility we want to go a different route entirely with the archetype. Fiery Temper seems solid with all the "free" discard outlets, and Lightning Axe seems like a great way to utilize playing a ton of copies of Fiery Temper. Plus, if you ever draw the second Bedlam Reveler, you have plenty of ways to discard it. After all, the second Bedlam Reveler doesn't actually do anything in your hand.
It's also possible that we're moving into a direction where we're just building a different deck. Check the end of the article for some bonus brewing material and theory crafting.
Putting It All Together
It's a delicate dance building a new deck or rebuilding an old one. Using all the ideas we talked about in the article, let's try to build Rakdos Midrange again. Lim went a bit hard on upping the power level, so we're going to try scaling that back a bit in favor of pushing synergy and efficiency. I'm going to continue leaving off the white splash for Lingering Souls, though I think there's a good chance it deserves to earn its spot back if we go hard on Collective Brutality.
The core principles of this deck are a bit different from Lim's, as we're focusing less on utilizing those powerful standalone threats in favor of a bit more cohesion and synergy. Unearth is a great card to play alongside Dreadhorde Arcanist, if only because it gives you a little something else to do with the ability. Using Unearth on Seasoned Pyromancer is also pretty absurd, but the true potential comes after you get to sideboard in Fulminator Mage.
Unearth is a decent card, but you also can't afford to draw too many of them. Because we're not an "Unearth" deck exactly, we're just using it for blowout turns instead of focusing our entire strategy around it. Cheap reanimation spells work really well with Seasoned Pyromancer, but that's about it. Rebuying a Dreadhorde Arcanist is okay, but that's more of a brute-force tactic to help fight through opposing spot removal.
In general, I think you want more high-impact cards that you don't mind discarding when they're mediocre in a given matchup. Seasoned Pyromancer and Collective Brutality give you a lot of "swing equity," in that you can afford to have cards that are A+ in some matchups and C- in others.
I'm not leaning on it too much, but I did want to add in some more threats since we're cutting Hazoret the Fervent and the planeswalkers. If we end up splashing white, this could easily get replaced by Lingering Souls, but I do like the idea of Young Pyromancer with Unearth in this shell. Bringing back a second Dreadhorde Arcanist can be taxing on your graveyard but bringing back a Young Pyromancer to go along with your Dreadhorde Arcanist feels like peanut butter meeting jelly for the first time.
While I think Young Pyromancer is probably at its worst in a long time, I think there's still reason enough to play a few copies alongside Unearth to give you some swingy turns. Plus, defending yourself from regular attacking creatures just got a lot easier. Young Pyromancer also helps give you a bit more bang for your buck now that we're playing a ton of Collective Brutality in the maindeck.
I want to be clear about this, because I absolutely love the ideas that Lim brought to the table: these two decks are operating on a lot of similar principles. Deckbuilding takes a lot of trial and error, and so the reason so many cards are different is because I want to see how this iteration of the deck performs. Does it run more smoothly? How much will I miss those high-powered cards? When I work on archetypes that are in their infancy, the lists I present are mostly designed to showcase ideas rather than offering a piece close to perfection. I watched a lot of Magic this past weekend, including two or three full matches that Lim played with this archetype. I would hope that, in his own words, he'd agree with a few of the points I'm making, as they're largely based on how things looked when he cast them.
It's hard to argue with success, but nearly every archetype can be improved form week to week, if only to adapt to what archetypes did better in the previous week's tournaments. For now, I want to lower the curve, make Bedlam Reveler better, and present a Game 1 deck that can roll with a plethora of different archetypes. We'll just have to do some more testing to get the numbers right. For now, the list above is what I'll be running at my local MCQ this weekend.
I got a bit of a Bedlam Reveler bug a few months ago when Modern Horizons was released. On VS Live! I built a deck featuring a ton of Ritual effects, Bedlam Reveler, and Seasoned Pyromancer. All in all, the deck had some flaws, but I think those can be fixed by just reducing the overall casting cost of the cards in your deck. Now that Faithless Looting is gone, building around Arclight Phoenix is a bit more difficult, but I doubt it's actually necessary.