I am not going to be able to attend Pro Tour: Philadelphia this year as either a Planeswalker or a professional railbird. As you read this I am going to be in (presumably) sunny California attending a six-day Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) certification seminar. I have been interested in the technology — I hesitate to use the word “science” — of NLP since first reading about it in The Game by Neil Strauss and I have taken every opportunity to train in it since. I attended my first NLP seminar under millionaire copywriter Harlan Kilstein in 2008 and utilized the hypnotic pattern of the presuppositions to great success in the MySpace advertising that helped establish my reputation at Google. Numerous master Magic players have studied this technology to better both their games and themselves from Mike Long to Patrick Chapin to Zvi Mowshowitz and I am super eager to see what approximately seventy-two immersed hours of training is going to teach me.
Anyway I am burning lots of Wife Equity (tm) with this trip (especially coming off of a three-day gaming disappearance into the expansive and windy pizzeria that is Chicago last weekend). So between the choices of 1) Pro Tour - Philadelphia and 2) being murdered in my sleep by the person I love the most I elected to skip.
That isn't to say that I haven't been exploring the Modern format.
There isn't really a setting for “Modern” on Magic Online yet but you can get a game set to Legacy or Freeform quite easily.
So far I have faced what seem like 100% “real decks” and what I am reporting at this point comes from that place in that spirit.
The first deck I tried was based on Paul Rietzl's Pro Tour: Amsterdam-winning White Weenie deck but with the wider card pool of Modern powering it up:
- 4 Ethersworn Canonist
- 4 Figure of Destiny
- 4 Knight of the White Orchid
- 4 Ranger of Eos
- 4 Steppe Lynx
- 4 Student of Warfare
The deck plays out slightly differently than Paul's deck did originally.
The presence of Aether Vial gives you a very different line than was originally available. So instead of always playing out an aggressive one-mana creature you can slow play on Aether Vial and run a progressive game.
The opponent makes a two-mana play (say a Tarmogoyf or Sakura-Tribe Elder) and you play a Mana Tithe demolishing him. Now you play a Steppe Lynx at the end of his turn and add a counter to your Aether Vial on your upkeep. Next you play Knight of the White Orchid (for free) getting a Plains and powering up your Steppe Lynx; Steppe Lynx is now 2/3.
You tap your now-available mana for... whatever... before playing another Flagstones of Trokair out of your hand (Steppe Lynx is 4/5) and search up two more Plains (Steppe Lynx is now 8/9). You crack for half your opponent's life total with a first striker back on defense.
I didn't realize that playing with white cards could be so exciting but apparently there's a reason this strategy did well last time around!
The first couple of games I played the deck I always left Aether Vial at one counter but there are a couple of times you might want to break that rule.
2. You have a strategic reason to go to two counters or you just have lots of two mana creatures in your hand.
The fancy Knight of the White Orchid play (above) would be an example of wanting to go to two counters but another one is just a typical game against Jund-type decks. There are lots of times where you can destroy your opponent by responding to a Bloodbraid Elf by tapping Aether Vial to play Ethersworn Canonist.
3. You intend to go all the way to four counters.
I had this come up in a game against a Smallpox deck earlier today. Actually the matchup seemed atrocious for him. I played Aether Vial but didn't have any one mana dudes and just sat back on Mana Tithe mana. My first play was Spectral Procession which he elected to answer with Smallpox (not a great position to be in I think you can agree). As bad as things already were one of my lands was Flagstones of Trokair. That said I discarded an Arid Mesa to the Smallpox and wasn't really ever going to get to four lands so I decided to just play my Ranger of Eos with Aether Vial which ended up fine.
One of the things I was worried about initially with this deck was being out-classed on the ground. When Paul won in Amsterdam there was little to no incentive to play Wild Nacatl so the white creatures had a bit more breathing room. But so far about two-thirds of my opponents have had unambiguously better creatures that I have (Dark Confidant Kitchen Finks etc.) and it hasn't really hindered the White Weenie deck's ability to win. The deck is deceptively card-advantageous with Ranger of Eos Spectral Procession and conditional countermagic and can often put the opponent into a precarious position on the attack. For instance against Jund I had multiple occasions where I answered a pre-combat Maelstrom Pulse with Brave the Elements forcing the opponent to skip an attack. Then I could use Aether Vial to play Figure of Destiny at instant speed and get some of his proto-Level Up mana utilization out of the way on the opponent's turn. Then on my turn I could set up Honor of the Pure and make for an unattractive attack step.
I was pretty surprised at how successful my initial forays with White Weenie were but then again my opponents played mostly active decks like Jund Red Deck Wins (which is probably your best possible matchup) and so forth.
One of the things PV often says about White Weenie came up as I tried to tune the deck: There isn't really anything spectacular you can set up to sideboard or if there are powerful cards they are very narrow. For instance I considered playing Fracturing Gust against Affinity / Tempered Steel but then I realized that if I wasn't going to play Windbrisk Heights it probably wouldn't be realistic.
Here is a deck that I brewed up from concepts discussed with AJ Sacher and Brian David-Marshall. AJ was interested in if I could work up a second coming of the Aggro-Ideal deck and Brian actually suggested part of the combo to me in another context. This is where I am so far:
- 2 Solemn Simulacrum
- 2 Baneslayer Angel
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Kitchen Finks
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Primeval Titan
- 1 Sheoldred, Whispering One
- 1 Yosei, the Morning Star
This deck has two fathers: Aggro-Ideal and Zvi's G/W Summoning Trap deck from last year's Extended.
The Summoning Trap half should be relatively obvious to anyone paying attention. You play a dude they Counterspell it and you Trap into a Primeval Titan or some other awesome sauce. It is entirely possible that Counterspells (on creatures) are not going to be a huge factor at Pro Tour: Philadelphia in which case more fatties or more board presence (or including Tarmogoyf say) might be reasonable.
The Aggro-Ideal half is less obvious (especially as there is no Enduring Ideal). That half is replaced by Birthing Pod. Essentially you chain up to Yosei the Morning Star and sacrifice Yosei to get Sheoldred Whispering One. You now have a lock where Yosei goes away via Birthing Pod every turn and Sheoldred re-buys Yosei to lock down the opponent's permanents and turn.
There is a sideways route to Yosei lock if something happens to Sheoldred — Emeria the Sky Ruin a bunch of Plains and Miren the Moaning Well. I would just caution you if you are going to go this route to be careful how much you screw around with Knight of the Reliquary because there aren't an unlimited number of Plains in this deck and you need most of them actually in play in order to execute Plan B.
I have been plenty successful in my limited game play with this version as well; the deck has proved fast enough to beat both super-quick Affinity / Tempered Steel decks and super-powerful Cloudpost-based decks (without having to draw the obviously busty sideboard cards).
This deck is a lot less a direct adaptation of an existing deck (i.e. quite a departure compared to say Paul's White Weenie deck) so it probably warrants a card rundown:
I think if you are going to play this kind of deck you have to play the full four copies of Birthing Pod. Modern seems both from the defensive deck speed of Controlling opponents and the offensive brutality of x/3 Zoo decks to be a fast format. You don't have time to screw around; ergo four copies to maximize the likelihood of the nut draw of first-turn accelerator second-turn Birthing Pod etc.
You could theoretically get away with one four-mana card — but I'm a bit afraid of either drawing it and therefore interrupting your ability to chain up to the fives sixes and so forth. Solemn Simulacrum seems like the best four because you already have Kitchen Finks for life and Jens helps you accelerate straight from four to sixes in a deck where you have nine big spells.
Basically the ideal three for both an aggressive format and a Birthing Pod deck!
An explosive good buddy to Lotus Cobra and the Mythic mana engine; also a fine attacker if you're into that kind of thing (I'm not).
A first-turn play to set up your three-mana spells (Birthing Pod in particular) on turn 2.
As with Birds of Paradise above.
The other half of the Mythic mana engine. You can theoretically use this two to chain up with Birthing Pod though there is probably almost always something better you could be doing with your life.
I elected to play four as this is the best “generic” big hit a deck like this can play in particular with...
This may or may not be the best choice for these four slots depending on the blue component of the field. Obviously powerful with the many hits in this deck where even Knight of the Reliquary or Solemn Simulacrum could be profitable recipients.
I chose this as a two-of five-mana card because of its pedigree with Knight of the Reliquary in formats about this size. This could easily be one Baneslayer Angel and one Acidic Slime though I think the hard-hitting-ness of a 5/5 with roughly a hundred abilities for five mana is pretty attractive.
Half of the lock; another version of this deck could reasonably just play four copies of Yosei. If you want to cut Summoning Traps I can see playing one Sun Titan alongside (but that is a hell of a lot of sixes).
The Mana Base:
I think you want a lot of Forests and Plains in order to maximize the synergies between the Ravnica Block and Zendikar Block duals. This means no Sunpetal Groves and no Razorverge Thickets. You can get black or red mana for your sideboard cards (or Sheoldred) with any of the Zendikar Block duals... A lot of the choices were made in order to accommodate Emeria but that doesn't mean they are 100% right. I could see some tuning. Even more I wouldn't mind going up to say twenty-seven lands with one Inkmoth Nexus and either another Arid Mesa or specialty land main (but honestly what to cut?).
No crazy plans or cheap thrills here. One thing that I have been happy with is the ability to use Phyrexian mana or the mana base itself to easily set up Timely Reinforcements. That card is of course a house.
After several rounds of playtesting I added Primal Command as a flexible way to gain life (like Timely Reinforcements) that could also help beat opponents who were outside the range of conventional kills. If you plan to recycle your deck with Primal Command after you have set up a lock make sure that you either do so while all your parts are in place (i.e. you cast Primal Command and then sacrifice Yosei the Morning Star [with Sheoldred Whispering One already in position]) or you may have a devil of a time reassembling it before the opponent recovers.
All that said the details are way not finalized on this deck. Other options might be:
One or more copies of Linvala Keeper of Silence (maybe even all four copies) if decks based on Elves or other creature-based mana acceleration are popular.
A single copy of Inkmoth Nexus (possibly out of the sideboard) which would allow you to win games where the opponent has gained essentially infinite life; the caveat here is that if the opponent gains infinite life with some combination including Melira Sylvok Outcast (i.e. via Melira Sylvok Outcast + Greater Gargadon + Kitchen Finks in G/R) Inkmoth Nexus isn't going to help you (though it can in other settings). I have beaten the Melira combination with good old Memoricide... You can deck them even if they go off and if you take away one of the key combo pieces ahead of time you can usually end up beating them on the merits just by being bigger.
Viridian Emissary (possibly out of the sideboard) as a “productive” speed bump to buy time against Zoo while setting up the expensive middle turns of the deck.
For those of you who haven't played Birthing Pod strategies very much you don't have to go straight up the chain. For instance I had a game just now where I opened on Noble Hierarch then played Lotus Cobra into a fetch land (which immediately produced a Birthing Pod). My third turn saw another land for Solemn Simulacrum straight into Baneslayer Angel (with no life loss!) + additional value. So this is the third turn and if they don't get rid of the Baneslayer Angel they are basically already done; or they can get rid of the Birthing Pod (and probably still bite it to the 6/6 Baneslayer Angel).
Like I said the details aren't perfect yet... but fun stuff!