Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan starts in less than 24 hours and with it comes a spectacle: the return of Modern on the Pro Tour. Most of the pros have been a closed trap when it comes to "technology" or what deck they're going to play. My guess is that they'll be playing mostly the same stuff that we've seen in Modern over the last six or so months. There hasn't been a Modern Pro Tour since Eldrazi dominated the format with the help of Eye of Ugin, so I'm very much looking forward to what they bring to battle.
There hasn't been a whole lot of development in the format for quite some time, except for a few little blips on the radar here and there. One of those blips came just this past weekend at #SCGPHILLY, where Tom Medvec came in second with an odd take on a fringe strategy: As Foretold. In the past, we've seen control decks use cycling creatures to fuel Living End, which can be cast on the third turn "for free" with As Foretold. Those creatures, coupled with the sweeper effect of Living End, made for some knockout blows that many fair decks couldn't handle.
But Medvec went in a different direction.
- 4 Deceiver Exarch
- 2 Simian Spirit Guide
- 4 Griselbrand
- 2 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
- 3 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
What we have here is a full-blown double-sided combo deck. On paper, this deck looks terrifying. Not only can you assemble a Griselbrand on the back of Living End, but you also have the Deceiver Exarch plus Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker combo sprinkled in. If your opponent has the ability to beat either side of the combo, you can just focus on the other. And I feel like we've seen this before...
While these decks aren't exactly similar in what they're trying to accomplish, the makeup of both decks is very much alike. Each has two different combos to assemble, with a few cards thrown into the mix that work well with either side. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is certainly a fine card to return with Goryo's Vengeance because you can flip the Jace immediately and start gaining some card advantage. Faithless Looting works well to put the combo creatures into the graveyard so that you can use either As Foretold plus Living End or Goryo's Vengeance to gain a significant advantage.
What we're seeing here is a hybridization of two decks, and it looks like the halves should work seamlessly together.
Most of you know what Splinter Twin is, and how it works, so I'm not going to go over it with a fine-toothed comb. And while being one mana more expensive is certainly a downside, let me say that this combo can surprise you out of nowhere. Goryo's Vengeance targeting Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker in the graveyard is crazy undercosted, and you can even assemble the combo for a paltry four mana thanks to Deceiver Exarch untapping your land. And since Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker has haste, you get to kill them the turn you go for the combo, as opposed to waiting a turn for your creatures to lose summoning sickness, which was one of the major downsides to using the Splinter Twin combo in the first place.
Will this deck kill you on the third or fourth turn consistently? Absolutely not. But in the meantime, we have ways to fight through discard with Ancestral Vision. We have ways to clear the battlefield of creatures with Living End and As Foretold. And above all else, we have Goryo's Vengeance and Griselbrand to block, draw a ton of cards, and eventually assemble the combo.
Decks like this one make great use out of stuff like Izzet Charm, since it can triple up as a removal spell, protection spell, or just a discard outlet for your excess creatures to make your Living End or Goryo's Vengeance a little better. Izzet Charm is a dream card for a deck like this because it will regularly use all three modes. In the entire time I've played Magic, I've never seen a deck that wanted four copies of Izzet Charm more than this one. Much like Muddle the Mixture in Thopter Depths, we use it for anything and everything.
Lightning Axe, while a fine card to help assemble the Goryo's Vengeance side of things, might not be the card this deck actually wants. It seems actively bad with As Foretold and Living End, causes you to two-for-one yourself to kill a creature on the first turn, and is pretty terrible in multiples. But it does play an important role. There aren't a lot of cheap discard outlets in Modern, and we're already playing four copies of Faithless Looting. As you assemble the As Foretold and Living End combo side of things, having cards like Lightning Axe to discard Griselbrand or one of your two combo pieces isn't a big deal. Plus, if you're drawing a ton of cards with Ancestral Vision, discarding an extra land doesn't really hurt that much either.
One card I'd like to see more copies of is Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. Not only does Jace, Vryn's Prodigy give this deck some legs in the early turns, it also acts as a lightning rod for removal. And we all know how good a lightning rod for removal can be in a Splinter Twin deck.
One of the main reasons I played Temur Twin for so long was so that my opponent's hand would be forced to kill Tarmogoyf, usually leaving them dead to the Exarch / Twin combo on the following turn. When your opponent spends their early turns interacting with an "irrelevant" creature, it can give you a window of opportunity to just kill them outright. And since Jace, Vryn's Prodigy doesn't have a long window for your opponent to kill it with a normal removal spell, you can bet your bottom dollar that it's hitting the broad side of a Lightning Bolt ASAP.
And normally, Lightning Bolt wouldn't be much of a problem for Splinter Twin. After all, it doesn't kill Deceiver Exarch. But now that Splinter Twin proper is no longer legal in Modern, we have to rely on the measly body of Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker to get the job done, so having a creature that will attract copies of Lightning Bolt is a no-brainer.
My gut tells me that this deck might be legitimately nuts right now. Not only are Death's Shadow numbers down significantly (not exactly sure why), but fair B/G/x decks with discard spells are also seeing very little play. Big mana decks like Scapeshift and Tron are pushing them out of the format.
And because of that, linear strategies are at an all-time high. Sure, some of those linear decks, like Humans, can have a little disruption, which could be annoying when backed by a fast clock, but our deck has a pretty high win-rate through one or two pieces of interaction. Plus, the deck hits from a lot of different angles.
We aren't really a graveyard-based deck. If they come at us with Grafdigger's Cage, it doesn't change much of anything due to Living End ignoring that card completely. If they hit us with Relic of Progenitus or the like, we can just combo them with Deceiver Exarch and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. And if their creatures rush us in the early turns, we can clear the battlefield and buy ourselves some time by just casting Living End off As Foretold.
So what parts of this deck need to change? How can we make it more consistent? What do we need to do in order to make this strategy into a Tier 1 contender?
You could argue that it is already at that level thanks to Medvec's performance at the #SCGPHILLY Modern Classic. I've heard rumors that he's been piloting that archetype for quite some time, tuning it along the way. Every single card in the deck makes sense, from the two copies of Simian Spirit Guide (ramping into a Turn 2 As Foretold, Turn 4 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker) all the way to the sideboard Liliana's Defeat. There's probably a very good reason for everything.
I'm going to be playing with this list for a few Leagues on Magic Online before I make any concrete changes, but here's the short list of cards I think can go, and what I'd like to substitute for them.
Seven fetchlands seems like either one short or one too many. One way for this deck to lose is to deal itself too much damage in the early turns trying to set up a combo that never comes together. Because of that, I think I'd like to trim a Scalding Tarn for another copy of Blackcleave Cliffs or Spirebluff Canal. By cutting a fetchland and adding in a different land, we'd be trimming a source of whatever color we leave out, so we need to be careful. As of right now, there are only eleven total sources of black mana, so my gut says to lean toward Blackcleave Cliffs.
I don't know if we need all three of our basic land colors. If we're cutting a fetchland, that's already one reason to trim one of them. And since we don't have any black spells to cast on the first turn, the only reason we'd want a Swamp is to play around Blood Moon. I can respect that, but it also feels a little bit cowardly. You might also want the full three basic lands because of cards like Ghost Quarter, Path to Exile, and Field of Ruin seeing a lot more play, so I'm not exactly sure where I stand on this one. One of each is probably fine, but I might find myself trimming one of them in the very near future.
I really want to add another Tolaria West to the deck, but I don't know if we can do that without just adding a land, and that means cutting a spell. If I had to cut anything right off the bat, I'd probably trim a Lightning Axe in favor of another land, which would leave us with two copies each of Blackcleave Cliffs, Lightning Axe, and Tolaria West.
Lands like Tolaria West serve a great purpose. We don't have a ton of stuff to do in the early turns, and making sure we can find our Living End in the right matchup is important. Plus, that might give us a reason to sideboard one copy of Pact of Negation to protect our Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker combo against opponents who bring a lot of hate cards.
My gut says that four copies of Griselbrand is one too many, but I could be very wrong on this. I know that you want a lot of Griselbrands so you can consistently "combo off" on the second turn with Goryo's Vengeance, but that's not what this deck is entirely about. There's a reason that in Thopter Depths we didn't play the full four copies of Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek. And honestly, I spent a lot of sideboard games with that deck having only two copies of Thopter Foundry and one copy of Sword of the Meek. When you have a lot of help digging through your deck or tutor effects to find missing pieces, you don't necessarily need the maximum amount. And drawing an extra copy of Griselbrand is essentially useless.
With that said, I'll know more about how many copies of Griselbrand I want after playing the deck a little bit. Since we're not combo-killing our opponent with Griselbrand on the turn where we cast Goryo's Vengeance, I think we can get away with only playing three copies.
I do want, as I've stated before, more copies of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. I want more filtering. I want more lightning rods for removal. And I want a target for Goryo's Vengeance that I actively want to draw in my opening hand. Cutting one Griselbrand allows us to get up to three, but I'm trying to fit the full four. After all, if you draw multiples, you can just discard them.
As for the Deceiver Exarch and Kik-Jiki, Mirror Breaker counts, I think they're both on point. I've always liked having more copies of Deceiver Exarch effects than Splinter Twin effects. Drawing multiple Deceiver Exarchs is not nearly as bad as drawing extra copies of Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Tapping down their land on a crucial turn or end step is a fairly tricky (and powerful) effect. Preventing huge chunks of damage from opposing creatures swinging in, both by tapping and blocking, is also a boon for a deck trying to set up a slower path to victory.
As Foretold is obviously a great card in this deck. Being able to refuel your hand with Ancestral Vision on the third turn is sweet, and Living End is one of the biggest blowouts that a deck like this can have. Not only do you buy yourself enough time to assemble some combo, but you also get to use the back half yourself if you set it up with Faithless Looting and/or Izzet Charm.
My real concern with As Foretold is that other versions of this strategy play stuff like Cryptic Command and Remand to get extra value out of As Foretold as the game progresses. Unlike those decks, we don't really have that option. But while As Foretold isn't as good in this deck as other versions, it still plays an important role to the strategy and very much deserves the full four copies.
Ancestral Vision and Living End are another story entirely. I'm not sure if Ancestral Vision even belongs in this deck at all. Suspending it on the first turn doesn't seem like it will do much against anything other than a discard-heavy opponent. We don't have a lot of removal or interaction to get us to the fifth turn without comboing off. So why exactly is it in the deck at all? I understand that drawing three cards with it plus As Foretold is another way of giving your As Foretold real value, but why are we playing four copies of Ancestral Vision over Living End, which our deck desperately needs to cast?
That would be my first switch.
Everything else looks just fine. Four copies of Faithless Looting and Goryo's Vengeance are a must, and I've already gushed at how good I think Izzet Charm is in a deck like this. I think my biggest concern is a lack of proactive interaction. We're a combo deck that doesn't have discard effects, counterspells, or any other way to interact with our opponent aside from killing creatures. Outside of killing them quickly with Deceiver Exarch and Kik-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, we're probably a huge underdog to the likes of Storm and probably Scapeshift. And while the sideboard does offer a little bit of interaction, I think it's imperative to take it one step further.
Leyline of Sanctity is garbage. There. I just wanted to get that off my chest. It is a fine sideboard card for all-in combo decks, but we aren't an all-in combo deck. We have three different avenues of attack, and we can fight off discard spells pretty easily with the likes of Ancestral Vision. Yes, Burn decks do get hit pretty hard by Leyline of Sanctity, but at what cost? Are we going to mulligan for it? How good or bad does your hand need to be for you to want to throw it away in hopes that you find a Leyline of Sanctity?
I want more copies of Negate and Dispel. I want a few more pieces of removal to help slow down hyper-aggressive strategies. I want to make sure that we have the tools to transform our deck if one half of it is actively bad against whatever our opponent is playing. And I want that sideboard plan to be able to cut either half of our "bad" side.
In matchups where As Foretold and Living End are bad (such as Scapeshift, Storm, opposing Living End decks, etc.), I want a transformational sideboard plan to help stall them out. When Goryo's Vengeance isn't possible thanks to Scavenging Ooze, discard, and other pieces of graveyard hate, I want something with a little bit more of a kick. Here's a sideboard plan I want to try out:
If you're not really digging on the Platinum Emperion package, I think this looks a little bit more natural.
Best of the Worst
For me, decks like Goryo's As Foretold aren't about whether or not they're actually good. They're about what the success of the deck represents. For me, Goryo's As Foretold lets me know that at least one half of the deck is legitimately scary, and pairing them might make them stronger than they would be separately.
If this deck takes off, I can only assume that it won't look anything like this in a few months. After all, it took months of work and testing to make Thopter Depths into the finished product that you saw above. The original version of the deck didn't play Thopter Foundry. Instead, it was more like a turbo Dark Depths deck that used Chalice of the Void as a means of protection from the likes of Path to Exile and Spell Snare.
What I love about Goryo's As Foretold is that it represents what it could become. In the next few months, I would wager that a Snapcaster Mage version playing a little more on the fair side will be the natural evolution of the archetype. Much like Splinter Twin before it, simplifying things and interacting with the opponent is usually a good bet. Cutting stuff like Goryo's Vengeance in favor of a better manabase and more interaction is my pick for where the deck goes from here. Now, whether or not anyone figures that out before the Pro Tour is a different story.
I'm very much looking forward to watching the Pro Tour this weekend. In fact, it starts in less than 24 hours! Will Goryo's As Foretold actually make a splash on the big stage? My head says no, but my heart says "Let's Friggin' Go!"