So how about that Modern huh? Seeing as the Pro Tour is in a matter of days I figured I should write an article on the deck that I'm heavily considering. (Yes somehow I managed to qualify. Play enough PTQs with the same deck and eventually you can win with it.)
So how does this deck work? The deck works by utilizing its namesake enchantment to copy ritual effects (Rite of Flames and Manamorphose with an active Pyromancer Ascension) and card draw effects (the rest of the deck) to draw through the entire deck until you hit one of the two kill cards Banefire or Grapeshot. After you hit one of these two cards you simply cast them and shuffle up for game two. Banefires for fifty-plus damage alongside Grapeshots for thirty with Remand back-up (allowing you to double up on Grapeshot in case they are at a high life thanks to Glimmerpost) are not uncommon in this deck.
After all that hype here's the decklist:
What's Up With Stuff?
Now that you've seen the decklist I'm sure there are some questions. The first question is probably about the lack of Cascade Bluffs. For a time I had been running three Cascade Bluffs in lieu of Misty Rainforests. However with the addition of Watery Grave and Dark Confidant out of the sideboard there needed to be more fetchlands to get Watery Graves. With the addition of fetchlands you want more lands that tap for actual mana — and unfortunately for Cascade Bluffs that means other lands. Too many times I've opened up a perfect hand and then realized the only land was Cascade Bluffs.
Another question is about the win conditions. The reason Grapeshot and Banefire were chosen instead of Time Warp and Ignite Memories is because of the ease of use and the mana requirements of each. Grapeshot is easily cast in a pinch. If you're short on mana for some reason Grapeshot can serve as a miniature Wrath of God wiping your opponent's board and shooting him for some damage. Banefire is just in case you happen to draw all Ritual effects and can't build up enough of a storm count to successfully Grapeshot someone.
The lack of Time Warp is because it's a five-mana sorcery in a world where the average win comes between turn 3 and turn 5. When people are casting Emrakul on turn 4 or throwing Tribal Flames around for five damage apiece Time Warping on turn 5 is not where you want to be. Likewise Ignite Memories is a serious liability with Gaddock Teeg in the format. (Plus sometimes people don't even have a hand!)
Muddle the Mixture is used to transmute for Pyromancer Ascension on the occasions when you can't draw one with Ponder or Preordain. It's also very useful if the game goes long and a hard counter is needed for Cryptic Command Living End or Restore Balance. Mid-combo it can also be transmuted for Manamorphose or Peer Through Depths. It can also be used to end a chain with Grapeshot or Remand for the Grapeshot.
The maindecked Lightning Bolts are a concession to the aggressive strategies that exist in the format. Without Lightning Bolt to hold back Wild Nacatl and Steppe Lynx some very angry cats would end the game very quickly. Lightning Bolt can also sometimes be used to win the game. Doubling up on Lightning Bolt brings an opponent from twenty to zero very quickly. Bolt will also stop various problem cards like Ethersworn Canonist Gaddock Teeg and Qasali Pridemage.
Gitaxian Probe is a card that lets you Peek for two life. It also activates Pyromancer Ascension very quickly for little to no cost. Sometimes you also need to see if an opponent has a Spell Snare Qasali Pridemage or Mindbreak Trap.
Given that the rest of the deck is just card drawing spells or ways to generate mana there were some cards that didn't make the cut due to space concerns.
So what cards didn't quite make the cut? Well I'm glad you asked.
First on the bench is Punishing Fire. I tested out Punishing Fire a lot and found out a few things: first of all you're never going to win the game with Punishing Fire. Second every time you drew Punishing Fire you wanted to jump off a bridge. Yes Punishing Fire can be good. Sometimes. But the majority of the time it's a terrible card to have in a sleek combo deck.
Punishing Fire could consistently trigger Pyromancer Ascensions if there were multiple Fires involved but this was often time consuming and expensive. Costing 1R was also a knock against it. Not only does it cost 1R but it also does not deal with almost every creature in a typical Zoo deck. Does the card wreck Merfolk Elves and White Weenie? Most definitely. Is it a blank against the most popular aggressive deck in the format? Most assuredly.
Not only was Punishing Fire slow and cumbersome but the other half of the miniature combo Grove of the Burnwillows made the mana base awkward and inconsistent. All of these knocks against Punishing Fire (and subsequently Grove of the Burnwillows) make these cards not worth running in a sleek combo deck.
Another card consideration was Serum Visions… And then I thought why bother “Post”-ordaining when you can Preordain instead?
In all seriousness Serum Visions was a poor draw spell and ever since I replaced it with Muddle the Mixture I've been enjoying the consistency Muddle provides. There was no worse feeling than drawing a blank off of Serum Visions in mid-combo and scrying into more blanks.
The last card that almost made the cut was Desperate Ritual. After extensive testing more Ritual effects were found to be unnecessary and didn't help to chain together the combo. The number one priority in this deck is to chain together draw spells with the occasional Ritual effect for a short burst of mana. If the deck becomes too diluted with spells that just add mana then the consistency of the deck drops dramatically.
The Super Secret Sideboard
The four Dark Confidants are there to grind out control matches and to get a leg up in the combo mirror. Opponents often take out removal spells against a creatureless combo deck — and that's when Dark Confidant shines.
Likewise the three Vendilion Cliques serve a similar role. You usually never win with Clique beatdown but the disruption and the body help serve to pressure combo and control decks alike.
Finally the four Echoing Truths are for aggressive decks and to bounce enchantments like Leyline of the Void Runed Halo and Leyline of Sanctity. The Truths serve as a catch-all sideboard card bouncing whatever problem permanents there are.
Now that the board is fully explained and some cards were left on the bench there are a couple tricks that every mage should know with this deck.
By casting Manamorphose and copying it twice four mana is generated and two cards are drawn. With the original Manamorphose on the stack cast Remand using two of the mana (you must keep at least one red mana floating). Remand copies twice. The first copy will Remand the original Manamorphose. The second copy of Remand will Remand the original Remand (it sounds more confusing than it is trust me). The end result of this is drawing two cards and ending the chain with Manamorphose and Remand in your hand with two mana floating (one of it being red mana). Every cycle draws four cards essentially for free. This is a useful way to shortcut a combo kill since eventually you can just draw into Rite of Flame and Grapeshot.
Another trick is a subtle interaction between Ponder and the rest of the deck.
With an active Ascension Pondering often draws you cards you don't want. Sometimes it will also draw you cards and leave you shuffling on the second copy being forced into the luck of the draw.
To avoid these situations Manamorphose and Peer Through Depths interact very well with Ponder given some clever thinking. If the copy of Ponder shows you three cards you want but you also want to be able to see deeper with the original Ponder simply Manamorphose with the original on the stack. This allows you to draw all three cards while seeing a fresh three cards with Ponder.
Another trick is to cast Peer Through Depths with the original Ponder on the stack (after resolving the copy of course). This allows a fresh three cards to be seen with Ponder granting some more flexibility with what is seen and what can be drawn.
Lastly Remand is a card that deserves a special mention: if you absolutely need to combo off casting a Rite of Flame and then casting Remand on it can be a good way to start to draw cards. With an active Ascension Remanding a spell and then using the copy on the original Remand is equivalent to “1U: Draw a card”
Now that I've shared my tricks of the trade it's time to run through some sample hands and see what this deck is truly capable of.
Rock a Rhyme
In order to fully understand how this deck plays out and the thought process behind every key spell being played I have decided to run through a couple of hands to give some samples.
We will assume that we are on the play. This hand is a definite keeper. I realize that it is a little action-light but having a Pyromancer Ascension in your opener is key — and this hand has two. This means that any spell we draw we can try to draw into duplicates. This hand may not be the best but it's not a hand that you would mulligan.
The first play is to lead off with Gitaxian Probe paying two life. This allows you to potentially draw a one-mana spell to play or to see if you need to hold up Bolt.
Turn 1 card drawn: Gitaxian Probe.
At this point you want to play a fetchland and pass the turn. If the opponent has some one-drops (for example Wild Nacatl Steppe Lynx Goblin Guide Kird Ape or Loam Lion) Scalding Tarn may be preferable to avoid taking the damage from a Steam Vents.
Turn 2 card drawn: Preordain
On this turn you just want to play out the Ascension assuming your opponent doesn't have Spell Snare or a Qasali Pridemage on the way. However if the opponent plays out a Qasali Pridemage Lightning Bolt is a solid answer.
Turn 3 card drawn: Ponder
Here's where we can start to go for the combo or set up for a sure-fire thing next turn. If there's no pressure from the opponent (in other words you're sure you won't die next turn) I would play a second Ascension and then Probe paying two life. This way there is mana available in case comboing off is in our best interest.
Card drawn: Preordain
Now that there are two Preordains in hand casting one to see what's up will set us up for the win on the next turn.
Now that's a sure-fire way to win the game! Keep both cards on top drawing either one of them and cast the second Preordain. Now both of the Ascensions have two counters on them and are actively doubling up spells.
As a reminder the board state looks like this:
Card drawn: Pyromancer Ascension
Mana floating: Four red and two blue
With the second copy of Manamorphose add two blue mana:
Card drawn: Remand
Mana floating: Four red and four blue
Now here's the tricky part: using the trick I mentioned with Manamorphose Remand and two active Ascensions you can potentially draw your deck. Before the original Manamorphose resolves cast Remand targeting Manamorphose. Copy the Remand twice (once with each Ascension). The first copy targets the original Remand. This returns Remand to your hand with Manamorphose and a copy of Remand on the stack. The second copy of Remand targets Manamorphose returning it to your hand.
The net result of this is drawing your deck and generating a high storm count. Each loop generates four mana which is exactly what it costs to play both spells. Each loop also draws four cards (two off of Manamorphose and two off of Remand).
Game won on turn 3.
Well! That certainly was a good demonstration of what this deck is capable of. Now it's time for another sample hand.
This hand is solid gold and exactly the kind of hand you want every game. Start off the same as last game paying two life to Probe your opponent.
Card drawn: Preordain
Put the Island on top draw it and then pass the turn.
Turn 2 card drawn: Probe
For this turn we're simply going to play the Island play Ascension and pass the turn. Next turn we can potentially combo off. The reason for not playing Probe on this turn is because the storm count may be relevant for Grapeshot (although it almost never is).
Turn 3 card drawn: Grapeshot (how ironic!)
Now is the time to decide if we are going to combo out or not. First off play the Probe paying two life. The Ascension now has one counter.
Card drawn: Scalding Tarn
Before we continue let's have a quick recap of the board and our hand.
On the stack: Manamorphose
Using the copy we will add a red and a blue mana.
Card drawn: Misty Rainforest
Not exactly what we wanted to draw here. Regardless with the original Manamorphose add two blue mana. To recap we have three blue mana floating and one red mana.
Card drawn: Muddle the Mixture
Muddle the Mixture is an interesting card here because it can be used to transmute for Manamorphose in a pinch or a Peer Through Depths. However it is not a card we want to see right now. Our next step is to cast Ponder to potentially set up for the next few draws.
Casting Ponder and copying it we see Banefire Peer Through Depths and Scalding Tarn. We want to draw Peer and not the others — although Banefire isn't the worst card to draw in the deck right now. We'll order the library as Peer on top and then the other two are irrelevant. The next cards we see are Island Scalding Tarn and Banefire. We don't want any of these so we'll elect to shuffle with our original Ponder.
Mana floating: two blue and one red
With one of the floating blue mana we can play Preordain and copy it.
Typically these cards are great cards to scry into but only if you have more mana to work with. Right now we're stalling on two mana so we're going to ship both to the bottom and draw a random card.
Card drawn: Pyromancer Ascension.
Now that we've drawn basically a blank Manamorphose is our next move. With the first one we're going to add one red and one blue mana.
Card drawn: Peer Through Depths
The second copy of Manamorphose will add two blue mana and draw into Remand. With four mana floating the third Manamorphose will be played adding blue and red at first. This draws into Rite of Flame. The original copy will add two blue mana and draw into a Misty Rainforest.
We have five blue and one red mana floating. Using the one red mana to cast Rite of Flame will end up with a total of five blue and four red floating. Using two red mana to play our second Ascension we'll up our storm count. Currently the storm count is at nine (including the Ascension). At this point (assuming the opponent is at twenty life) playing Grapeshot and then Remanding it to play again will win the game.
If we assume the opponent is at a higher life total (thanks to Martyr of Sands or Glimmerposts) we can continue to combo off with Peer Through Depths. Once the second Ascension is active drawing the deck becomes trivial with Manamorphose and Remand.
Once again that's a turn 3 kill.
Having done all those sample hands I may have just convinced myself to run this deck at the Pro Tour. Will I end up running it? I'm not so sure at this time. There are a whole slew of decks that look interesting to me and not quite enough time to test them all. Will I be playing with Locus lands and giant creatures? Or will I be playing with Wild Nacatl and his cat companions? Hopefully I'll have a better idea of what I'm playing come Thursday!
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