With the banning of Wild Nacatl and Punishing Fire, we have a whole new Modern format on our hands! I'm sure the first thing many of us thought about when aggro's star forward got put in the penalty box is what would be the hot new control deck. However, the recent bannings can be a good thing for beatdown players as well.
Wild Nacatl put even more constraints on aggro decks themselves than it did on their opponents. While some talented players boldly decided to pilot Bant, Jund, and even R/U/G at the World Championships, it's my opinion that anyone playing a creature deck that didn't contain Wild Nacatl in old Modern was making a big mistake. Zoo was simply so much stronger than every other creature-based option. In a way, though, the deck's raw power was its weakness.
Over the Christmas weekend, I played Risk, the game of world domination, with my family. My father amassed a respectable army in Asia and had only to attack the last unconquered territory—Japan—in order to instantly become the most powerful player in the game. When he ended his turn without doing so, the rest of us laughed at him, thinking that he had simply overlooked the play. However, our smugness turned to confusion and then to frustration, as turn after turn he placed his soldiers and declined to consolidate his continent. The rest of the family focused on breaking my hold on North America and stopping my brother from taking over Europe. Finally, when the time was right, old Mr. Duke decided to make his move, using the armies he had quietly and unassumingly amassed in Asia to crush the rest of us, who were weakened from fighting one another. Sometimes the person in second place is the one who's really winning.
While beating Nacatl Zoo was no easy task, it was at least straightforward. You knew that you needed to keep creatures off the board and keep your life total high, and that was about all there was to it. Now that Zoo is out of the picture, beatdown players are free to splinter off into a variety of strategies that attack from different angles, and it will be impossible for anyone to prepare for them all. Think about Merfolk, Mono Red, and Mythic and the different ways you need to fight each of these decks. And of course, there's still the option to play Zoo itself! I wouldn't be surprised if some PTQ players find it well worthwhile to trade in Wild Nacatl in exchange for four fewer Zoo hate cards on everyone's sideboards. Nobody goes after the second strongest player in Risk, and nobody guns for the second best deck in a format.
I'm certain that Urzatron, Cruel Ultimatum Control, and wacky Gifts Ungiven decks will be playable in the new Modern. However, I'm happy to leave those topics to my craftier colleagues on StarCityGames.com. Today I'd like to discuss a few creature strategies that have become viable because of the recent bannings. If you're like me, then attacking is exactly what you want to be doing in a fresh, undefined format, and maybe you'll find inspiration for a tournament deck. If control or combo is your thing, then the first step in exploring the new format should still be to think about the options available to beatdown players and what you can do to fight them.
- 2 Angelic Overseer
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 2 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 3 Mirran Crusader
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Snapcaster Mage
- 3 Geist of Saint Traft
Stoneforge Bant is an old favorite of mine. The fact that the deck's namesake is missing in action is no reason to give up! It simply means we need to take things in a different direction. Craig Wescoe had success with a Modern Bant deck at the World Championships. While his decklist didn't look much like this one, I've taken a lesson from him in maximizing the interaction between Geist of Saint Traft (and his partners in crime) and Elspeth, Knight-Errant.
This deck is built for the nut draw of turn 1 mana creature, turn 2 Geist or Mirran Crusader, turn 3 Elspeth, and attack for nine or more. However, the deck has a lot going for it even in games where that doesn't happen. It's the type of deck that can often win on the back of only a single threat, and the mix of hexproof, protection, indestructible, and noncreature threats makes it quite likely that the opponent will lack the proper answers. The ability to play with permission and removal also makes the deck resilient and customizable depending on the metagame.
The equipment fills the important role of turning mana creatures into late-game threats and also plays nicely with both Mirran Crusader and Geist of Saint Traft. I'm sure that extensive testing will prove one Sword to be better than all the others. However, in light of my uncertainty, I opted for a split between Fire and Ice and Feast and Famine. After all, if you happen to draw both, you have protection from basically the whole format!
Angelic Overseer is also experimental. Of course it could turn out to be a flop, but I see quite a lot of potential in it. Avacyn's Pilgrim, Noble Hierarch, Mirran Crusader, and Knight of the Reliquary are all Human creatures that fit the deck perfectly anyway. Snapcaster Mage can flash in to protect her at a moment's notice. I envision a giant hexproof flier being a nightmare for so many decks, particularly when equipment and exalted get involved. I'll be trying out the card in Modern, and I'll report back as soon as I can!
In the banning of Punishing Fire, the single most annoying burn spell is gone. In the banning of Wild Nacatl, the single greatest appeal of the color red in general is gone. If one thing is for sure, it's that we'll be seeing significantly fewer cheap red instants flying around. A definite consequence of this, and a potential weakness of Bant because of its shortage of removal, is that weenie creatures with powerful, noncombat abilities will drastically increase in value. Two such “glass cannon” creatures that come to mind as all-stars in the new Modern are Grim Lavamancer and Lotus Cobra.
This landfall Boros deck was an ingenious invention of Petr Brozek in old Extended, two years ago. At the time, he managed to fight through a field full of Helixes, Bolts, Paths, bigger creatures, and turn 3 combo decks to make the top 8 of Grand Prix Oakland. Today, his deck is in a much better position and has even picked up a new toy—Grim Lavamancer.
For anyone who hasn't seen landfall Boros in action, the decklist may require a little extra thought. Ghost Quarter serves as a fetchland for the purposes of landfall but also combines in an unfair way with Flagstones of Trokair. Imagine this hand: turn 1 Flagstones and Steppe Lynx; turn 2 Ghost Quarter, attack for two, and play a second Steppe Lynx; turn 3 play and crack a fetch, then Ghost Quarter your Flagstones to search for a Plains and a Mountain. Each of your Steppe Lynxes are 8/9 on turn 3, and you've dealt eighteen damage with two nonland cards! There are a million other combinations that similarly yield unfair amounts of damage by the third or fourth turn.
In this Boros deck, an unanswered Steppe Lynx simply means victory. In a field where everyone is packing eight or more burn spells, Steppe Lynx can be somewhat hard to stick, but if red becomes less popular, then that's no longer the case. Don't underestimate this deck!
- 2 Angelic Overseer
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 4 Nest Invader
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Primeval Titan
- 1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
- 2 Iona, Shield of Emeria
- 1 Dryad Arbor
I played Mythic at Modern Pro Tour Philadelphia. Two things really impressed me about the deck compared to its Standard predecessor. The first was Green Sun's Zenith, which is sadly no longer legal, but the second was how great the manabase was and how powerful it made Lotus Cobra. In Standard, Lotus Cobra decks could only ever play with eight fetchlands, and the colored mana would sometimes be strained to fit even that many. With dual lands in Modern, though, you can play as many fetches as your heart desires, and each one can give you any two colors of mana! In addition to smoothing out your draws, this frees up more room to play with value lands like Windbrisk Heights.
This W/G Trap deck is all about cheating giant creatures into play fast. The beauty of it is that it has three methods of doing so, and they all complement one another. The simplest is fast mana with Lotus Cobra. Between mana creatures, Cobra, and Knight of the Reliquary, reaching five or six mana by turn 3 is a breeze. The second is hideaway lands. With Nest Invader, Dryad Arbor, and the mana dorks, W/G Trap can often attack with three creatures and activate Windbrisk Heights as early as the third turn. If you're lucky enough to play an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, the game is over on the spot. However, there are a dozen other backbreaking spells that no opponent will be able to handle so early in the game.
Finally, there's the deck's namesake: Summoning Trap. As previously mentioned, reaching six mana quickly is no strain on this deck, so casting the Trap and hitting a fatty is a perfectly easy way to win the game. Even better, though, is to force an opponent to counter one of your creatures and use the trap cost. As this is only a fringe deck at best, many opponents will be unfamiliar with it and will jump to Mana Leak a Lotus Cobra or Knight of the Reliquary; I know I've done it. Even savvy opponents, though, will be put between a rock and a hard place when you cast a Primeval Titan and they're forced to choose between letting it resolve and turning on a Summoning Trap, which could potentially yield something even worse!
Finally we come to what I consider the best deck in Modern. My testing for the World Championships demonstrated that Affinity was the most powerful deck on a raw level, and although it was vulnerable to hate, it had numerous ways to steal wins even against prepared opponents. I had so much respect for the deck that I showed up to the event with a full four Ancient Grudges on the sideboard of my Zoo deck.
Affinity was certainly played at Worlds, but not in the numbers that I would have expected if everyone else had come to my same conclusions. I can only think that Affinity was already one of the best decks before the bannings but didn't receive the respect it deserved. With Wild Nacatl and Punishing Fire now banned, the stage is set for Affinity to get its due.
Tzu-ching Kuo's undefeated record with the deck supports my theory. I especially like his decklist; he keeps his mana simple and forgoes the hit-or-miss Fling in exchange for more copies of Shrapnel Blast. The deck is brutally fast and startlingly resilient. Moreover, it's frankly too tricky for unprepared opponents to consistently beat. It took me many dozens of practice games before I stopped falling victim to surprise Fling burnouts and turn 2 Blood Moons.
Affinity is my number one recommendation for the first Modern PTQ, especially for someone who doesn't have time to fine tune a decklist of a new archetype. If you settle on something else, at least be prepared to beat Affinity. Even though Ancient Grudge is commonly seen in one or two copies, there's no rule against playing four!
These four decks are just a taste of the dozens of possibilities newly opened in Modern. I failed to even touch on the king of the “glass cannon” creatures—Dark Confidant—which is sure to be one of the most powerful cards in the new format. Next week, I'll write in detail on Jund, which is the most obvious and perhaps the best home for him.