While my opinion of the Modern format has been widely heralded as "irrelevant," "idiotic," or even "mindless," I like to think that I finally figured it out in regards to the format so many loved. In general, my words have been greatly misconstrued to be poised in such a way that to the ill-informed onlooker would think that I deeply despise Modern. While I do not have the nicest things to say about the format, I've never once said that I hated the format. The only thing I have claimed is that I do not enjoy having to play it at the competitive level so frequently.
With that out of the way, I think I get a moment to gloat here saying that I won the last Modern Open before all hell breaks loose with Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor being legal, and I did it with the most lame duck deck I could find!
I've long since resisted to play what was at one point considered the best deck in Modern simply for the fact that I'm a bigger fan of beating the bad guy rather than joining the dark side. Well let me tell you something about joining the dark side: it feels great! I gave in to my anger that is constantly built up from the countless people commenting on my articles saying how bad I am and that of course I can't win when I'm casting cards like Wistful Selkie. I took that anger and crushed the last Modern (as we know it now) Open.
Here's a few simple reasons for my success that I should have been able to identify earlier in the season and perhaps translated into more similar performances:
Almost all of the cards in my deck cost only a single mana, meaning every turn I get to make a relevant play for every mana I can produce having a profound effect on the game. The more options you have means that you have greater flexibility with what you can do and more control of how the game will play out. While that may sound extremely elementary to many of you, somehow it didn't quite click with me for a very long time in Modern.
Thoughtseize is a messed up Magic card and getting to have its "drawback" of losing two life be a benefit for your deck is just mindblowing if you think about it. In a format like Modern, being able to take the "Jund" approach of stripping all the cards from your opponent's hand in the early game while ending the game in very short order with your overstated, undercosted threats is a recipe for an insane deck and at this point, I only wish I could have started playing it sooner.
With all that being said, is Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf really the end of Death's Shadow in Modern as we've come to know it? Heck no! A format getting more slanted to the midrangier style of decks is exactly what Death's Shadow wants to see since it can punish those players who don't have the most efficient threats or answers with Thoughtseize and Stubborn Denial as insane tempo weapons while continuing their game plan of playing cheap threats. Sure Gurmag Angler and Tasigur, the Golden Fang look a little worse against a Jace bounce, but I'm sure that Jace will often be a tad slow in a lot of games for that to even matter.
Moving forward from here I would make little changes to the 75 I registered this past weekend, since honestly Death's Shadow can ignore a lot of the format's shifts with Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf being legal and keep on keeping on.
One sideboard card that underperformed for me the majority of the weekend was Liliana of the Veil, and I've been considering what to do with that slot and only one thing came to mind!
Cutting a copy of Ceremonious Rejection and the two Liliana of the Veil for an additional Island and two copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor seems like a great addition to the decks sideboard since in match ups like Jeskai, having a much more proactive planeswalker like Jace can make all the difference. This piece of advice came from Jeskai master Benjamin Nikolich who defeated me in the swiss and often finds Liliana of the Veil rather ineffective against Jeskai, which is a matchup I can see Grixis Death's Shadow struggling with.
While for now I'm on the Death's Shadow train in Modern and it's going to be hard to talk me out of it when SCG Dallas comes around--even with the unbannings--I've been experimenting with other decks for the format that have gotten major upgrades as of late.
For as long as Blood Moon is legal, it will be played. Too often are decks completely unprepared for Blood Moon, especially in game 1s when it's less likely. On top of being able to steal games all by itself, tag teaming it with Spreading Seas means that even if your opponent tries to play around it by playing basics, you can punish them and draw a card.
Rounding off all of the aforementioned disruption, we have Jace, the Mind Sculptor. While many have claimed that the zero ability to Brainstorm with the powerful planeswalker is the best mode you can choose, I don't recall many times I've won a game when, on a stable battlefield, my opponent has plus'd Jace and left the card on top and not won the game. Normally it's a guessing game of whether or not they need lands or spells early on in a match. That's not the case when your opponent can't cast spells because of Blood Moon and every spell is a bad draw. I could easily see a deck like this running rampant since locking up the game with Jace, the Mind Sculptor really doesn't take that much time when they're not doing anything.
I've come to realize my flaws in Modern and because of that, I chose the right tools to arm myself with this past weekend in Indianapolis and walked away the champion. While Dallas is the next time I get a chance to play Modern, we do have a unique chance to explore the Legacy format in between now and then in Worcester. I thought, what better way to figure out that format than to apply some of the same logic there that I did successfully in Modern?
While this might not be reinventing the wheel, it's basically translating the same deck I played in Modern to Legacy with some significant upgrades in card quality. Gitaxian Probe and Berserk are some insane tools for a deck like this since all we want to do is damage ourselves and kill our opponents in one quick swoop with Berserk functioning as a one-mana Temur Battle Rage and getting some cards that damage ourselves, like Force of Will, that Modern doesn't have access to. We sprinkle in some other premier threats of the format with Delver of Secrets and Deathrite Shaman. All of the sudden you have a very normal-looking deck on the surface, but with the help of Berserk, it also just happens to play a one-mana 10/10 that can just kill your opponent out of nowhere though any number of Young Pyromancer tokens or even a True-Name Nemesis.
While I'm not entirely sure this is the best version of the deck, it takes a similar role that the Grixis Delver decks as those we've seen basically dominate Legacy since the banning of Sensei's Divining Top. It adds in an even quicker kill with some added spice as well as consistency with a functionally smaller deck size since we play Street Wraith and Gitaxian Probe. Is it better than the traditional Grixis Delver? I'm not sure. Maybe it's the same voice in my head that convinced me to play Wistful Selkie when I could have been playing Thoughtseize that's driving me away from playing the most lean and mean version of a deck that others have put a lot of time and effort into. Maybe it's just the fact that I had success with Death's Shadow and I want to play it again in another format. Who knows! But what I am sure of is that I'm insanely excited for the new Modern format and the ability to cast Jace, the Mind Sculptor and use it better than my opponent will.
While my excitement may seem like I'm being hypocritical to what I previously said in last week's article, I'm sure that eventually Jace, the Mind Sculptor will have to be re-banned, but in the mean time, I'm going to cast it as often as I can. Take that how you will with my feelings for the card and format as a whole, but maybe, just maybe I've put some thought into my words here today and you can see them for how I've always intended: I want to be a pillar for good change in the Magic community. Magic is ever evolving, and it's our jobs to make sure we understand it and can adapt to it no matter what, so that we can achieve "greatness at any cost."
Thanks for all the love and hate over the past year when it comes to Modern. I look forward to embarking on a whole new journey in the coming weeks! Just remember that in the end...
I got the last laugh.