I know it's been a long time now, and it's probably hard to remember, but there was a time when these three were the Iconic cards in Modern. Before Death's Shadow began its reign of terror on the format, Dark Confidant, Tarmogoyf, and Liliana of the Veil were staples found in almost every midrange deck. These days it's more common to find them in a dusty deckbox sitting on the edge of a desk, longing for the day to see the battlefield again.
Well It's 2018, we're about to have a Modern Pro Tour for the first time in two years, and I think now is the time to find that old Abzan or Jund deck you haven't touched in months and adjust it into a new weapon designed to fight the top of the Modern metagame:
You may think you've seen this song and dance before and you've been let down by Tarmogoyf and crew too much since the printing of Fatal Push, but I'm here today to let you know why I think B/G Midrange is a fantastic choice for SCG Philadelphia and Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. I think it has plenty of good matchups with the current most popular Modern decks and that the perceived bad matchups aren't actually that bad with a good sideboard plan. I'll get to the matchups later though, let's start with the choices in the deck from the mana base to the sideboard.
The biggest reason to play B/G instead of Jund or Abzan is the ability to play four copies of Field of Ruin to disrupt your opponent's mana base. B/G decks have traditionally struggled against big mana strategies and Field of Ruin helps out in those matchups, but that's not all. It also allows you to have clean answers to creature-lands without using a removal spell, can fix your color of mana in a pinch, or even get you an extra Clue with Tireless Tracker. Traditionally, Ghost Quarter and Tectonic edge have set you back on mana when using its activated ability, but Field of Ruin doesn't do that, allowing you to continue to cast all your spells and crack all your Clues.
The entire mana base in general takes a lot less damage than Jund or Abzan where you need to fetch for an untapped shockland much more. Plus you're better at beating a Blood Moon and have more basics in your deck to find from opposing Ghost Quarters or Path to Exiles. While both red and white provide appealing options to increase the power of the deck, I prefer the much more powerful mana base with more basic lands and Field of Ruin.
I know eight turn 1 discard spells look like a lot, especially for a deck that doesn't always have a fast clock like us, but I've been really happy with having all eight. I know they're a terrible draw in the late game, and this deck goes to the late game, but the games where you have a turn 1 discard spell are drastically different from the games where you don't have them. They are your primary way of protecting your vital two-drops, Dark Confidant and Tarmogoyf, as well as your best disruption for your opponents.
Having the abundance of discard spells also lowers your curve which helps when trying not to die to your own Dark Confidant in the late game, and if you are flooding on discard spells, you can use them to escalate Collective Brutality
Collective Brutality is an incredibly strong card and the biggest reason why I'm excited about B/G Midrange right now. Most people play it as a sideboard card, but I've loved the reach and versatility in the main deck as it does a little bit of everything. All our discard spells help protect Dark Confidant and Tireless Tracker, which in turns provide extra cards to use with Collective Brutality. Besides being a generally good card in almost every matchup it helps make both your Burn and U/R Gifts Storm matchups incredibly good by having it in the main deck. Plus, in game 1 you can grow your Tarmogoyf early to develop a fast clock while freeing up some sideboard slots!
I know I'm playing a lot of Surgical Extractions, and they aren't for many matchups honestly, but the matchups that you do want them are usually the ones the deck struggles to beat in the first place. Keeping Tron from ever assembling their powerful lands together after a land destruction spell is vital, which is the main reason for the inclusion of Surgical Extraction, but they also pair especially well with all the discard spells against combo decks.
There was a time where Fulminator Mage fell out of favor, but I've been incredibly impressed with the card against the tough matchups for B/G Midrange. Obviously it's exactly what you want against Tron decks, but there has been a large uptick in the amount of Jeskai Control being played recently, and Fulminator Mage is a standout card for the matchup. I'm very happy to pair the four Field or Ruin with four Fulminator Mage in the sideboard.
Enough about the cards, let's get to the seven most popular Modern matchups and how to attack them!
The Very Good Matchups
Affinity has plenty of individually powerful cards to worry about, but we have good answers for all of them except Etched Champion. I don't like Liliana of the Veil in this matchup, but I leave one in after sideboard as a concession to the annoying 2/2. Dark Confidant stays in to help you acquire enough removal spells in order to leave Etched Champion vulnerable to Liliana of the Veil. You don't have to worry too much to dying to your own Dark Confidant with Liliana, the Last Hope, Golgari Charm, Engineered Explosives, and Damnation all coming in that can get rid of your own Confidant if need be while providing more value. Collective Brutality is simply another removal spell for Signal Pest or Steel Overseer in the early game and can turn a discard spell into a drain effect if your opponent has emptied their hand. Affinity is a nice metagame choice that has traditionally over performed at Pro Tours, so having a deck that is very good against it is a nice start.
We don't have a good sideboard plan for this matchup, but that's okay as it's already a very good matchup game 1. Collective Brutality is downright brutal for Burn, so having three in the maindeck greatly improves our matchup. Tarmogoyf is the main threat we want against Burn giving us a large creature who is difficult to kill and provides a fast clock. Besides those two cards, our manabase doesn't hurt us too much, we have Fatal Push and Inquisition of Kozilek as wonderful interaction, and even Scavenging Ooze can gain life in the mid game.
I like taking out Dark Confidant because of the variable life loss each turn, and Maelstrom Pulse is pretty slow at interacting so it's gone as well, even though we don't have big upgrades to replace them with. Destroying a land is deceptively good against Burn as they don't have many to begin with, which is why I like Fulminator Mage coming in, and Engineered Explosives can save us from their heavy creature draws as well as the enchantments that may be in their sideboard. Remember - you can pay more mana with Engineered Explosives to get it out of Eidolon of the Great Revel range if need be! Finally Thrun, the Last Troll is a threat that doesn't trigger Eidolon and can't be Searing Blazed or Path to Exiled. Even though I'd take it out if we had something better, I keep in Thoughtseize as it often times trades up on life with a burn spell or can take a creature out of the hand turn 1.
It's probably pretty obvious why this is a favorable matchup for us; they're a creature deck and our deck is filled with removal. The Dark Confidants refill our hands with more removal while Scavenging Ooze eats up all the killed creatures to keep our life total high. Collective Brutality, again, is very good in the main deck as a different removal spell that can clear out a Meddling Mage or Kitesail Freebooter that's annoying us. I like Liliana, the Last Hope much more than Liliana of the Veil post sideboard because they flood the battlefield and have weaker creatures they can choose to sacrifice. Liliana, the Last Hope can not only pick off Noble Hiearch and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben efficiently, but also Phantasmal Images as well.
VS U/R Gifts Storm
You can lose any match of Magic. There's enough variance in the game where nothing is a sure thing. U/R Gifts Storm in particular is the kind of deck that will also have some draws that are unbeatable and ends the game as soon as it begins. However, I really like our chances here, especially post-sideboard as we're even sideboarding out a Dark Confidant and a Liliana of the Veil, which are both good cards for the matchup. The eight main deck discard spells as well as Collective Brutality really do a number against U/R Gifts Storm, and Liliana of the Veil helps keep their resources low. They still have Past in Flames, though, and can win a game with it if it goes long enough, so try to get a clock going with Tarmogoyf or Tireless Tracker.
After sideboard is where the matchup really gets good as Surgical Extraction is perfect against a deck that relies on the graveyard and has few win conditions. With all the disruption in our deck their number one plan after sideboard will be to play a few spells and cast an Empty the Warrens, which is why I'm bringing in every sweeper for the Goblin tokens available. It's the one card I'm scared of as they usually won't have enough resources to finish the game with Grapeshot.
The Not So Bad Matchups
VS Grixis Death's Shadow
You aren't favored against Grixis Death's Shadow, as it's still the best midrange deck around, but I think the matchup is very close. Usually the games play out with both players trading resources back and forth into the late game, like a typical midrange matchup, except they are playing eighteen or nineteen lands and we have twenty-three, making us more likely to flood out. Now that doesn't always happen and B/G Midrange has some good things going for it in the matchup. First off with so few lands and so many cantrips in Grixis Death's Shadow, they have a much larger fail rate than our deck, meaning games they will either have too few lands to operate effectively or can't find a threat if the first one or two are dealt with. Also, Dark Confidant, Tireless Tracker, and Liliana of the Veil can allow us to gain tons of card advantage if left unchecked, meaning a timely topdeck can run away with the game.
As far as sideboarding goes, this is the matchup for Liliana's Defeat in our sideboard. Both Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Gurmag Angler can be problematic with most all our removal spells not being able to deal with them, so I wanted another answer in the sideboard for them and the Lilianas that they will bring in. Liliana, the Last Hope can remove extra Snapcaster Mages and Lingering Souls or Young Pyromancer tokens if they are playing those, as well as simply return our creatures to gain traction. Finally, Damnation is just another answer to the big delve threats and can be our only out to get back in the game at times.
This is a matchup where Collective Brutality doesn't shine, as we don't want to get their life total too low, but sometimes you'll draw it to finish the game off game 1 if they go too low. I like our discard spells in the matchup to hit delve creatures, Snapcaster Mage, Kolaghan's Command, or a Liliana, but we need to trim one to fit in our sideboard cards. I like taking out Inquisition of Kozilek over Thoughtseize because of how problematic the delve creatures can be. Again, you aren't necessarily a favorite against Grixis Death's Shadow, but the games are usually very close one way or the other, so hopefully you topdeck a little better than your opponent!
VS Jeskai Control
This is my sideboard for the hard control versions of Jeskai Control a la Benjamin Nikolich , not the Geist of Saint Traft versions. Against Geist of Saint Traft you'd need to keep in a few Liliana of the Veil, but I expect the more controlling version of Jeskai Control to be more popular moving forward as I believe it's a better deck. This is another matchup where Fulminator Mage shines, as it's a threat they need to answer eventually, and when they do you can use its ability to take out a Celestial Colonnade or Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin. It's not our best sideboard card, though; that would be Thrun, the Last Troll for mostly obvious reasons. The card I don't love but still bring in over the other options is one copy of Surgical Extraction, whose main target is Cryptic Command. You can also hit whatever card they try to flashback with Snapcaster Mage and Torrential Gearhulk as well to trade card for card, or you can take a card they have multiples of in hand (you'll see from a discard spell). If they have more creatures, I like keeping in a Fatal Push over the Surgical Extraction, but if the main target is Celestial Colonnade we have enough removal for it between Field of Ruin and Fulminator Mage.
Liliana of the Veil is a controversial card that I believe is quite poor in the matchup but many people believe is strong. Her minus ability basically doesn't do anything, so you're paying three mana to start having both players discard a card. I understand how this could be attractive, especially if you're empty handed, but in practice she is frequently a liability, and I'd rather have a more impactful card, like Fulminator Mage. Your opponent often times has either extra lands or situational cards that are easy to discard, where our deck post sideboard doesn't have any cards we want to discard. You don't want to get rid of your Maelstrom Pulse, for example, because you'll need it for Nahiri, the Harbinger later. Even the lands in your hand are more clues for Tireless Tracker. You often spend three mana and a card to give your opponent favorable discard parity, and it's also very easy to deal with from a Cryptic Command bounce.
You don't want to cut the front of your curve and can't completely overload on three-drops. Liliana of the Veil is simply a less impactful card against Jeskai and U/W Control than Fulminator Mage, and I'm always happy to make the swap. I understand taking out Liliana of the Veil in a B/G/x Midrange deck against a blue control deck looks like heresy to some, but I've been doing it every match for the last couple years to a lot of success and have no plans on changing that any time soon.
This is the matchup that most people think is unwinnable, but I don't think it's actually that bad for B/G Midrange. I'm much more scared of Eldrazi Tron personally, but thankfully that deck has been on a decline since the release of Ixalan. Not only does Tron have a significant fail rate based on the low number of vital cards in their deck (the Urza lands), but both Field of Ruin and Fulminator Mage provide solid disruption to their manabase as well. Both of them can't be used before your turn 3 so you can't really stop a turn 3 Karn Liberated on the play, but that's what all the discard is for! Tarmogoyf is the best turn 2 play because of the clock it provides, but Dark Confidant can still ensure you hit your land drops and find more Fulminator Mages and Field of Ruins. Liliana of the Veil also cleans up their hand after your other discard spells strip it to slow them down. Over in the sideboard, this matchup is the reason why we have so many Surgical Extractions as you really want your first land destruction ability to cripple their mana base forever.
It's been a long time since B/G Midrange looked to be one of the top decks of the format, but I've been having a lot of success with my current build here and believe it's a solid option for someone wanting to beat the top seven decks in Modern. There are plenty of really good matchups, and the ones where you aren't favored aren't as bad as many people believe. The matchups I fear the most with B/G Midrange are Eldrazi Tron and TitanShift, but those two decks haven't been as popular recently. Even against TitanShift, the abundance of Surgical Extractions can help you take their namesake cards or Valakut, the Molten Pinnacles out of their deck. Even with the success I've had recently with the deck, I won't be piloting it in the Modern seat this weekend at #SCGPHILLY. I have already decided on another deck I like a lot for that event, but don't be surprised to see me battling with this soon depending on what happens after Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan.