Modern is a new format. Not only has its total lifespan not yet reached six months, but there have been three separate sets of bannings. Each time Wizards bans a card, the format inevitably changes. If it didn't, there wouldn't be much point in banning those cards. The latest set of bannings saw Wild Nacatl and Punishing Fire removed. I'm not going to get into whether or not this or any of the previous bannings were a good idea. As a passionate deckbuilder, I relish the opportunity to build new decks, especially for new formats. For this reason I was able to put aside my feelings about Wizards' decision and jump straight into building new decks.
Without the constant suppression that is Punishing Fire, I felt that it was a perfect time to play small, vulnerable creatures. Punishing Fire was very good at invalidating cards like Dark Confidant, Lord of Atlantis, and many others. One of the first steps for me as a deckbuilder is to discover or acknowledge powerful cards and find the best way to utilize them. The first cards that I wanted to try were Dark Confidant (Bob), Delver of Secrets, Vendilion Clique, and Creeping Tar Pit.
This deck is built along the same lines as Faeries. It's U/B with a lot of disruption and the ability to have very aggressive draws. Cryptic Command is excellent at regaining tempo, and manlands help you transition from disruption to aggression with ease. With Bitterblossom banned, I didn't feel confident playing Mistbind Clique and Spellstutter Sprite. Both are fine cards, but Bitterblossom made them insane. I've instead opted for Dark Confidant and Delver of Secrets, which feel a lot more powerful than an unaided Misty or Sprite. I'm also playing Serum Visions to help take advantage of both Delver and Bob. Faeries really didn't want this type of card.
For the most part, the deck plays very similarly to Faeries. If you have Delver or Dark Confidant you play like you did when you had a Bitterblossom in play. You use your disruption to stay ahead and ride your early threat to victory. If you don't draw one of your early threats, you have to play more like a control deck until you are able to switch into aggro mode. Knowing when to start swinging with Creeping Tar Pit instead of sitting on the Cryptic in your hand is definitely a challenge. This deck doesn't have the late-game inevitability of a normal control deck, so you have to turn aggro earlier then will often feel comfortable.
This deck doesn't have the ability that Faeries did to recover from an early loss of tempo. Faeries played four Mistbind Clique and four Cryptic Command, and it could chain these together to get back in games where it was a way behind. U/B Fish doesn't have this. It has a much lower curve and is a lot better than Faeries at not falling behind. If you do fall behind, it's pretty hard to catch up.
Most of the card choices are just like in Faeries. Mana Leak, Spell Snare, and Inquisition are great, cheap disruptive cards that help you to control the speed of your opponent's draw. Doom Blade and Disfigure are efficient removal, and I want to ensure my threats can connect. I'm not sure that they are better than Smother, Agony Warp, Repeal, or Go for the Throat.
The three-one split between Cryptic Command and Snapcaster Mage is something that I have changed a lot during testing. I started with four of each but realized quickly that they were too clunky for most draws. I went down to two and two at one point, and at another I cut all the Snapcasters. I'm still not sure what the right split is. At the moment it is three—one because I think Cryptic is generally better, but I wanted more than just eleven creatures main.
Modern is still mostly undiscovered. For this reason I can't cover every matchup. I will however go over a bunch of the decks that see online play and detail my strategy and sideboard plan for them.
If you had spoken to me a fortnight ago about Modern, I would have told you that Storm was the deck to play. Actually it might still be. This deck is nowhere near as quick as the Storm deck that Jeremy Neeman and I played in Philly. This deck is instead very powerful and consistent.
Pyromancer Ascension and Past in Flames make the deck very resilient to countermagic and discard respectively while the rest of the deck is capable of a very quick ten Goblins or double Grapeshot. You have to be the beatdown in this matchup, as they will eventually be able to construct a hand that can go off through any amount of disruption. With your discard you are usually looking to take their rituals. Past in Flames is excellent against discard provided they have enough mana to cast it with at least two mana floating. The exception to this rule is Pyromancer Ascension. This card is the best weapon they have against you. If they resolve one early, you are very unlikely to win. Do everything you can to stop this from happening. If you have the option of casting a Delver, an Inquisition, or holding up Spell Snare turn one on the draw, I would definitely not cast the Delver. If they cast turn-one Serum Visions and do not put both on the bottom, I will choose to leave up Spell Snare.
Vendilion Clique is a card that plays very differently in this matchup. Usually you are looking to play it in their draw or end step. Against Storm you can actually get a lot more out of it. If you hold it and respond to the ritual that would get them to six mana, you can take their Past in Flames and leave them with a bunch of mana and nothing to use it on. I will usually flash it in their end step if they didn't go for it though. Use the information you have gathered from your discard to work out how to get the most value out of your Cliques. I almost never draw step it in this matchup.
If you avoid a resolved Ascension, you are a big favorite. Your early pressure combined with relevant disruption is usually far too much for their average draws to overcome.
Post-board, this matchup gets even better. You have fantastic answers to all their possible threats and no dead cards. Nihil Spellbomb blanks their Past in Flames and can steal some value off their Desperate Ravings, although I would only make this play if I wasn't scared of them having Past in Flames and a bunch of rituals in hand. Nihil is actually pretty bad at controlling Ascension. They have priority after they resolve a spell, and this lets them play a second copy before you can remove the first. If they have a bunch of cantrips in their yard and have just played an Ascension, I will definitely choose to crack my Spellbomb.
Engineered Explosives is your safety net against both Empty the Warrens and Pyromancer Ascension. It's clunky, doesn't flip your Delvers, and isn't proactive, but the matchup is good enough that you can afford to have this in your deck even if you don't want to draw it every game. Spell Pierce is obviously great against them no matter what their plan is. If you think they have a lot of lands and will eventually be able to play through it, feel free to Pierce a cantrip early; otherwise just hold it till they try and go for it.
This matchup is miserable. If you have a relevant threat, they can burn it. If you don't, you don't have enough pressure or inevitability to outlast their burn. Try and keep your life total as high as possible, but don't be too afraid to play Bob, as they will usually burn it. If they don't, your curve is low enough that you are usually pretty happy to have it in play.
Post-board things get a little bit better. Kira protects your threats so you can actually kill them while Spellskite is the stone-cold nuts. Spell Pierce isn't amazing but will almost always counter something efficiently. Don't hesitate to throw it at the first thing you can.
This matchup is pretty interesting. They have a bunch of cards that are very good against you. They also have a bunch of draws where they have too much removal or not enough; same is true for threats, discard, and lands. Generally you need to try and be aggressive. Kitchen Finks and Bloodbraid Elf are both insane against you, so if you have a line of play that minimizes their effectiveness then you should pursue it, provided that it is not too much of a detriment to your own plan. The games they win are the ones where they kill your early threats and resolve one of the previously mentioned creatures.
This matchup gets a lot better now. Cryptic Command is pretty bad, and you're glad to take them all out. Cryptic is good when you have a good board position, and this isn't often the case against Jund. Mana Leak is fine but definitely not amazing. You want it against Kitchen Finks, Liliana of the Veil, and their two-drops, but you don't want to have not played Bob or Spellskite in order to hold Leak up. Threads is high variance but on the whole a lot better than Disfigure. Both Spellskite and Kira are excellent against their plan. Spellskite blanks Lightning Bolt and protects your better threats but is also very good at blocking Bloodbraid, Finks, and Treetop Village. Kira is definitely at her best here; a lot of their plan revolves around spot removing your threats, and she stops all those shenanigans. I will often hold my Bob until after Kira is in play if I think the cards he provides are what I need to win the game.
Affinity: This matchup is even worse than Mono Red, and I don't know how to fix it. Blue and black just don't have many cards that are good against artifacts; so much of your disruption is ineffective. They have a bunch of flyers, making Clique and Delver worse; Sword of Feast and Famine is rarely relevant; and they have as many lands that are spells as you do. Hope they mulligan to five or that you can take a pivotal piece with Inquisition. These are pretty much the only ways you win.
Post-board things don't get much better. The cards you take out are all really bad, but the ones you are bringing in aren't much better. Both Explosives and Threads do help you get blowouts, and this is pretty much your only hope of winning. I have cast Threads on an untapped Ornithopter that was just made into a 5/5 with Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. I was then able to attack and kill Tezz with a Delver while the Thopter held off his team. A lot of the time, Threads will be a removal spell for their Ravager, allow you to chump block their Etched Champion, or steal an irrelevant Vault Skirge. The best plan for this matchup is to not get paired against it.
This is a deck that has been quickly rising in popularity. These sorts of matchups are where U/B Fish really shines. Your early disruption can keep them from doing anything too powerful. Most of their removal is Path to Exile, and this just ramps you into enough mana to activate multiple manlands. The games they are able to win are the ones where they ramp early and resolve a Wurmcoil Engine or Baneslayer Angel.
Not much changes post-board, and this is a good thing. They will bring in more removal and Timely Reinforcements, but it's usually nowhere near enough.
Unburial Rights into Empyrial Archangel or Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is actually very good against you. That being said, they need to draw a Gifts Ungiven, have it resolve, and then resolve Unburial Rights. This only happens if your draw is not great or they were able to slow you down or discard your permission.
After sideboarding, their plan becomes a lot less effective. They will bring in a lot of removal and cards that interact early, and this is how they will be able to beat you. Standard Control vs. Fish matchup here, and Fish is favored. You can play it fairly conservatively. Protect your Bobs, and don't be afraid to get damage in with your lands.
This matchup is pretty even. You have a lot of dead cards game one. Your spot removal and Spell Snares are essentially blank. Inquisition is good, but they have a lot of cantrips and a lot of copies of cards that cast Living End. The games you win are the ones where you have an early threat and are able to spot the first couple of Living Ends.
Nihil Spellbomb is your massive trump; Spell Pierce is fine; and Kira is bad but better then the cards you take out. They will usually bring in Beast Within and Refraction Trap. These cards aren't great against you, but you need to not get blown out by them. If they resolve a reasonably sized Living End, you lose, so play it safe.
U/B Fish is a great deck that is a lot of fun to play. The card quality is through the roof, and this is a good place to be in a new format. The deck does have some terrible matchups, but it has a lot of really good ones. If you loved playing Faeries, you should love this too. Similarly, if you play blue in Legacy, this deck will play very similarly to ones you are used to. I hope you enjoy playing U/B Fish, and I look forward to answering your feedback.
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