Somewhere at the top of Nivix Aerie of the Firemind.
- Master Nivix Guildmage Valeriy Shunkov is waiting for audience.
- Let him come.
- Master the Volcano has finally awakened.
- Great to hear. How did you achieve that?
- Some bloody rituals some R&D members' tortures a little bit of alchemy... That dried Korozda Guildmage's hell powder was very useful.
- Please stop; I'm bored! What are you planning to do?
- Burn the Modern world!
- Dracogenius is pleased with you.
Modern: Valakut the Molten Pinnacle is unbanned.
Setting emotions aside (Valakut is my favorite Magic card ever) this fact will probably be more influential for Pro Tour Return to Ravnica than Return to Ravnica itself. Valakut is a non-interactive combo kill as early as turn 4 (Prismatic Omen plus Scapeshift). On the other hand Valakut's goldfish is a turn slower than R/G Tron's (turn 3 Karn Liberated) even though it wins immediately while Karn gives the opponent some chances (honestly the chances are very low). Moreover Valakut and R/G Tron are vulnerable to same hate so the chances of encountering for example Sowing Salt drastically increase. Tron has its own healthy place in the metagame right now so I don't expect Valakut to be significant problem for the format—at least when players are ready for it.
Valakut can go off relatively early and has a ton of removal (in contrast to Storm) so it will be troublesome for non-blue aggressive decks (the most notable of them is Affinity). Other combo decks however are problematic decks for Valakut (especially R/G Tron and U/R Splinter Twin). So if Valakut is a significant player I expect the format to switch from creatures to spells (like its initial state around Pro Tour Philadelphia where Cloudpost played the role of Valakut). This also gives us hope to see some kind of proper control deck in the near future which the only thing keeping Modern from being the best format ever.
The most important Return to Ravnica card for Modern is probably Abrupt Decay. This card deals with many powerful cards including Prismatic Omen. The only deck which is almost invulnerable to Abrupt Decay is Naya Pod. Nevertheless Abrupt Decay will be one of the most important removal cards of the format and will see wider play than only in Jund. From Valakut's point of view Abrupt Decay is a problem because it makes Prismatic Omen and Khalni Heart Expedition very risky and leads to the necessity of blue or black for some disruption. However it's possible to build a straight R/G deck with Primeval Titan as the only permanent. Honorable mentions also go to Deathrite Shaman and Supreme Verdict but they don't exactly connect to my topic so let's set them aside.
There are many possible versions of Valakut so I'm going to overview and classify them leaving you with a choice. Moreover it's hard to determine the best version with very limited testing so it's good to keep all options in mind and to look at the format's progress.
The most crucial point is if Prismatic Omen is mandatory to win important to have but not mandatory or not necessary at all. The necessity of Prismatic Omen determines the deck's game plan influences the deck's colors and goes into many other factors to consider during deckbuilding.
The first option (mandatory Omen) belongs to blue-based control decks without Mountains Primeval Titan and Scapeshift. Such a deck will be naturally slow and will rely on Vendilion Clique and Into the Roil to protect Prismatic Omen but it will be the best against Naya Pod and other combo decks. The possible third color is nothing for a more stable deck; red for Lightning Bolt and Izzet Charm; or White for Wargate Path to Exile and Supreme Verdict.
The second option is the deck with enough Mountains to win via Scapeshift without Prismatic Omen. In older formats two Valakuts and ten (or even nine) Mountains were enough but that was before Prismatic Omen was discovered. Valakuts were more aggressive and fully relied on Scapeshift and were worse suited for long games. I'd play ten or eleven Mountains and three or four Valakuts now which still leaves room for a complicated multicolored mana base. Blue and black either provide some disruption to protect the combo (with Slaughter Games as a notable RTR card) while white has no such an advantage. However white has some interesting cards to build the very special aggressive deck (which falls into the last category). The stupid R/G deck with four Primeval Titan four Scapeshift and four Prismatic Omen also falls into this category.
The last option is a deck with a strong alternative win condition allowing us not to care about Valakut at all. Possible variations include straight aggression based on good creatures (Bloodbraid Elf I'm looking at you) or other combos especially ones synergistic with a high land count (for example Tooth and Nail). These aggressive decks are preferable in case of a high amount of dedicated Valakut hate in the metagame. More conventional Valakut decks however could also fit additional win conditions like Vendilion Clique plus Kitchen Finks beatdown or Rude Awakening.
All the decks I've described obviously have many common points like mana acceleration vulnerability to similar hate etc. Let's look at them before getting to actual decklists because it will give us better understanding of possible options and card choices.
The Modern card pool contains nearly a million acceleration spells of very different quality and purpose from one mana (suspended Search for Tomorrow) to seven and even eight (Boundless Realms and entwined Reap and Sow). Target land counts are six seven or eight so decks naturally fit into a 2-4-6 mana curve which makes two-mana spells better than three-mana ones. This also refers to utility spells so Magma Jet or Izzet Charm would be better than Lightning Bolt or Volcanic Fallout.
Due to the 2-4-6 mana curve there are a very limited number of possible turn 1 plays: tapped land to save some life Search for Tomorrow and Serum Visions. Ponder and Preordain were important parts of old Scapeshift decks so I'm a little bit skeptical about non-red Omen variants. Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand are significantly worse while Peer Through Depths can't hit Prismatic Omen. So I'd probably prefer some utility spells in these slots (likely Snapcaster Mage).
Farseek Rampant Growth Explore Sakura-Tribe Elder Coiling Oracle and even Edge of Autumn are possible additions to Search for Tomorrow. As one can see we have much more acceleration than needed so the questions are "How many spells do we need?" and "Which ones do we prefer?" I'd play twelve cheap accelerators in a non-blue deck and ten in a blue one. The best spell is probably Sakura-Tribe Elder (if the mana base allows enough basic lands for Elder and Search for Tomorrow) due to its ability to deal some damage (remember Scapeshift at seven lands is eighteen damage) and prevent some damage from aggressive decks. The next best card is probably Farseek but Coiling Oracle and Explore could fit into some U/G variants where card drawing is superior to acceleration.
Khalni Heart Expedition is a little bit different from other two-mana cards. It's not immediate mana acceleration but it gives some flexibility and may act as instant speed removal. Unfortunately it's unstable and any deck against which we may need instant speed removal has effective tools to nullify Expedition. So I'd rather avoid it and play more reliable spells.
Three-mana acceleration has much less significance in Modern due to the enormous amount of cheaper spells. Cards with potential are Harrow Cultivate (or Kodama's Reach if you somehow have Peer Through Depths in your deck) Wood Elves and Yavimaya Dryad. The latter two would fit into aggressive builds with Bloodbraid Elf and be good bearers for Sword of Feast and Famine. Wood Elves seems to be better in terms of mana utilization but Forestwalk and the ability to attack for two give Dryad a chance. Harrow is interesting due to its ability to work as instant speed removal but a countered Harrow is so much pain that I'd rather avoid it.
Actual four-mana accelerators are Solemn Simulacrum and Oracle of Mul Daya. The problems is that Oracle of Mul Daya is only good in Turboland-esque decks (which may not even exist) and the sad robot presumably loses the fight for last slots to for example Snapcaster Mage. In fact tapping four mana for a non-winning spell is a bad idea in a format filled with combo decks so the only expensive card for actual consideration is Primeval Titan (who is obviously counted as "game-winning"). And even for Titan I recommend you avoid the fatty if you have a choice to do so. I expect to see four Primeval Titans in straight R/G and 1-2 copies in Jund variants.
That's all about mana acceleration so let's go to actually winning the game. Valakut the Molten Pinnacle says "Whenever a Mountain enters the battlefield under your control if you control at least five other Mountains you may have Valakut the Molten Pinnacle deal 3 damage to target creature or player." This leads many interesting things and game interactions.
First there are two moments when you should have these Mountains: when a Mountain enters the battlefield (so Valakut's ability triggers or not) and when the ability resolves. Note that these Mountains may be different ones (for example if you've found four Flagstones of Trokair with Prismatic Omen in play). Another important point: Valakut reads "if you control five other Mountains" not "if you control six Mountains" so there are three cases of what will happen if your opponent casts land destruction before the trigger's resolution:
- Destruction of Valakut the Molten Pinnacle doesn't affect these triggers at all (if Valakut was not one of these "five other Mountains").
- Destruction of the freshly came into play Mountain (which triggered Valakut) doesn't affect the trigger because you still control five other Mountains.
- Destruction of another Mountain means that the resolution check fails (if you have not enough Mountains) and no damage will be dealt.
- If you control seven Mountains there is no way to destroy any one land and prevent damage from being dealt (however destruction of Prismatic Omen is a way).
So when the opponent casts land destruction during your triggers (most likely Tectonic Edge or Chord of Calling for Avalanche Riders) be sure that their choice is made (and maybe you'll gain some advantage from better rules understanding).
The basics of Scapeshifting:
- Lands are sacrificed as a part of Scapeshift's resolution not as an additional cost! So there is no way to turn a counterspell into a one-sided Armageddon.
- If your opponent is fine with Scapeshift's resolution it's too late to tap lands for mana. Be sure that you've tapped all the lands you're planning to sacrifice (for example to counter mid-trigger Chord of Calling).
- Always remember how many Mountains and Valakuts are in your deck! Don't forget to count lands in your hand!
- Prismatic Omen in play makes any land count starting from six lethal. If you have no Prismatic Omen Scapeshift at seven lands means eighteen damage (6 x 3) at eight lands it's either 36 (6 x 3 x 2) or 21 (7 x 3) damage. The second case may be better because it's invulnerable to single land destruction into a Mountain.
- It's often possible to sacrifice only part of your lands. If you have two non-Mountains a Valakut and five Mountains in play it's enough to sacrifice five lands to deal 24 damage (find the last four Mountains in a nine-Mountain deck and the second Valakut).
- If you're casting Scapeshift with Prismatic Omen in play and have the ability to choose lands some way allowing you to win even without Prismatic Omen just do that.
- If you've started with Search for Tomorrow and Sakura-Tribe Elder turn 3 Scapeshift substituting three or four basic lands for shocklands is a good idea (especially if you have the second Scapeshift or Snapcaster Mage).
- The sum of digits in any number divisible by three is also divisible by three. This may be useful if you're going to deal an unusual amount of damage and are bad at math (but honestly don't play this deck if you're bad at math).
An addition to the last statement: the deck actually requires a ton of math and careful planning. Every land drop every land found from a fetchland and every decision matters and the typical range of decision-making is two or three turns ahead. So familiarize yourself with the deck before tournament (even if you spent a lot of time playing Valakut in Standard). That's probably all the basic things so let's go to look at the hate we'll encounter.
The most common dedicated hate is various forms of land destruction. U/W/R Russian Delver and RUG Delver will have Molten Rain Blood Moon or even Sowing Salt; Naya Pod could play Avalanche Riders (who is very nasty in combination with Restoration Angel); Jund could have Fulminator Mage or Stone Rain; and U/W decks and decks with Knight of the Reliquary have Tectonic Edge or Ghost Quarter. Luckily only a few decks have access to instant speed land destruction but Sowing Salt is the hardest problem anyway. This card doesn't see a lot of play now but I expect it to rise in popularity during the first weeks of the updated format.
Another form of hate is Cranial Extraction like cards especially the new Slaughter Games. These cards can't hit Valakut itself but hitting Scapeshift is often enough. And don't forget about Bitter Ordeal's existence! This card is very specific but if you have less than a playset of Valakut every opponent's fetchland would be troublesome.
Hate bears are the last dedicated option. Thalia Guardian of Thraben Aven Mindcensor and Leonin Arbiter are annoying especially when combined with Spellskite (typical for a Chord of Calling deck). You'll surely have a ton of instant speed removal against them but don't count out the opponent's options when trying to combo off!
All other hate is just regular hand disruption and countermagic so I will not describe it in detail instead concentrating on our own sideboard options.
Boseiju Who Shelters All is an auto-include in almost any Scapeshift deck's sideboard (and maybe maindeck depending on the metagame). Note that you can't tap Boseiju for mana without pain but you can actually spend this mana on creatures (in contrast to for example Ancient Ziggurat). Additional hate against blue decks could include Gigadrowse Dispel Negate and Reverberate. The latter is also extremely useful in any sort of mirror match. Aggressive variants also prefer Vexing Shusher Guttural Response or Autumn's Veil.
Alternative win conditions are very desirable. The simplest is to have a playset of Kitchen Finks or Obstinate Baloths in the sideboard because they also cover a necessary slot against aggressive decks. Mandatory Affinity hate and combo hate slots would be occupied by Ancient Grudge or Shattering Spree (or by Rakdos Charm in a Jund-colored deck) and by Combust (mostly for U/R Splinter Twin because this matchup is far worse than Naya Pod). Cards to fight Blood Moon hate include Nature's Claim Krosan Grip and bounce spells (Echoing Truth Into the Roil or Cyclonic Rift).
Now I'm going to stop theorizing and show you some decklists. They are mostly rough because I've had a very limited amount of time to build and test them (and spent most of my time on the RUG version) but my task right now is to show opportunities.
This is the most conventional version of the stupid green deck. Leave your shields at home learn how to multiply and fight! Some players will surely choose this option but I recommend you avoid it; this list has too many problems to be successful. It has awful matchups against nearly all other combo decks and is vulnerable to countermagic.
Let's look at some three-colored creations instead.
This list is my favorite right now. It's relatively fast very flexible and interesting to play. I'm not exactly sure about the utility spell package and some sideboard details but I see potential. Possible maindeck options are Magma Jet Peer Through Depths and Into the Roil and the sideboard could contain additional Vendilion Clique Negate Reverberate and Dispel. And yes I'm sure I don't want Serum Visions in this deck due to its futility.
The list is a home for two new cards Izzet Charm and Cyclonic Rift. The former is great at any stage of the game (all three modes are good) while the latter is debatable. Seven mana for overload is relatively easy to achieve (and this option is useful) but good ol' Into the Roil could just be superior due to its ability to draw (and to bounce our own Prismatic Omen). Cryptic Command is probably too greedy for the deck especially as bounce is our primary weapon against Blood Moon. I can justify one or two copies but definitely not more. It's funny that casting Cryptic Command was easier in "small Extended" due to Cascade Bluffs.
Speaking of Cryptic Command decks I can imagine both U/G and Wargate control lists. The main difference between them is their speed; Wargate is likely to be a tap-out deck while U/G works at instant speed. Playing tap-out is dangerous in such an interactive format as Modern where having no mana on the opponent's turn could easily mean death on the spot. Nevertheless let's look on both options because Wargate could still be good in a creature-filled format (which Modern is not now but could become in future).
Finally a deck where Alchemist's Refuge is playable! Instant speed Scapeshift without that ugly Quicken! As you can see there are only two Scapeshifts in the list because the primary game plan is to drop Valakut the Molten Pinnacle the Prismatic Omen and then just drop fetchlands for some turns. This line of play is surprisingly less vulnerable to hate (just because the opponent can't destroy us in response to Scapeshift) but is more risky because you have to keep Prismatic Omen on the battlefield for some turns in a world where Abrupt Decay will be popular. Nevertheless some Vendilion Cliques before Omen's installation would help and bounce into Prismatic Omen will be good too because it will not fail your combo just slow it for one turn. Everyone loves Unsummon to save a bomb from removal in Limited and Prismatic Omen is just a Nefarox Overlord of Modern.
We can't play Ponder and Preordain so we have Explore Coiling Oracle and Serum Visions over Sakura-Tribe Elder Farseek and Search for Tomorrow. The deck wants to draw more than to search for lands and as you will draw your lands anyway why not draw something else? The goal is to counter and bounce the opponent's threats until you draw Prismatic Omen and Scapeshift. Note that the Mana Leaks are the only nonland cards that can't cycle themselves when needed.
Some very good and synergistic cards are in the sideboard to save you from trouble. Run out of lands and can't win via Valakut? Meloku the Clouded Mirror comes to the rescue! Sowing Salt is targeting your Valakut right now? Meloku the Clouded Mirror comes to rescue from his Alchemist's Refuge (and don't say that nine mana is too much to be realistic)! Okay I'm stopping the ecstatic Izzet fantasy and going to the next decklist.
There are too many options for this deck so the optimal list could easily be far away from this one—the optimal list is crucial because you should be much more confident in your decisions when playing anything during your turn. I'm worried that Wargate has no good targets aside from Valakut the Molten Pinnacle and Prismatic Omen. Maybe Wall of Omens would be good here at least as a singleton. Wall would also be necessary to prevent combat damage so Explore and Search for Tomorrow's slots are uncertain too.
Return to Ravnica grants us Supreme Verdict a nice addition against both versions of Delver (and Wrath of God is obviously good against Jund). I could also see Izzet Charm here (with a minor mana base tweak to be able to play it without Prismatic Omen in play). Izzet Charm would be necessary because it's a cheap universal tool that allows the deck to tap for Wargate and not lose to Chord of Calling or Storm. As I said playing a tap-out deck is very risky so maybe U/G and RUG with many instants are just better than this list.
If you still want to play cards during your own turns a deck with a strong aggressive game plan may be your choice. An opponent playing against aggressive Valakut is forced to consider a possible blowout and so falls victim to effective creatures. Remember that "activate Cursed Scroll naming Boil" story? This one is exactly the same.
There are two variations Jund and Naya. R/G aggression could be playable too but honestly I see no reason to avoid Thoughtseize and Slaughter Games. Black gives us disruption so the deck's speed would be relatively low while the Naya-colored deck must be two combos in one to be faster than for example Storm.
I'm not sure if this deck is actually better than conventional Jund (which is very good in the format right now) but as I'm describing all the opportunities to build with Valakut there's no way to avoid it. Compared to Jund it trades excessive disruption (Liliana of the Veil) card advantage (Dark Confidant) and some utility spells (Maelstrom Pulse) for the ability to win out of nowhere.
However "naming Boil" might actually work so I'm going to test this deck extensively. The most promising option I set aside is Dark Confidant who may actually be better than for example Sakura-Tribe Elder. Also note Vexing Shusher: he gives you a guaranteed resolve of Scapeshift at seven mana—the exact thing you want—and he is also useful when you just want to deal some damage with creatures.
Actually the deck is consistent and powerful but if it's not enough crazy for you try Landfall Naya Valakut.
This list has a double combo where Scapeshift can be easily cast at four lands to find three Flagstones of Trokair and Vesuva and it allows you to deal an unfair amount of damage with your creatures. The deck has no disruption at all so its main advantages are fantastic speed and the opponent's ignorance. The deck presumably has bad matchups against blue decks and Storm so a playset of Thalia Guardian of Thraben is mandatory. The rest of the sideboard is mostly speculative (and relies on Knight of the Reliquary which could be a mistake) and should be corrected after testing.
Whew! That's all that I can say about Valakut the Molten Pinnacle right now. Uncovered interesting ideas surely exist (because Modern is a format which can't be fully explored so easily) but they will require a lot of brainstorming and careful testing which is just impossible to do in a few days. Life from the Loam Crucible of Worlds Gifts Ungiven Treasure Hunt and many more cards could have a potential with Valakut. New ideas are always interesting so don't hesitate to share them in comments!
May six Mountains and four Valakuts be with you simultaneously!
I am Izzet. When I saw the guilds for the first time I was 146% sure that I was Izzet. My job is a research engineer so it's predicable that I associate myself with the Guild of Engineers. The Izzet in me is Curiosity. Everything I do is because of Curiosity. I just want to know everything – for my own pleasure not for my own purpose. Whenever Dracogenius needs an investigator he can count on me.