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A Modern Defense

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern

When this PTQ season was announced as Modern some time ago, I was fairly ecstatic. Storm gained many tools with Return to Ravnica and everyone was content trying to win with two-mana 4/5s and Bloodbraid Elf; I tested various decks and determined I would play Storm. Then the unthinkable happened. Seething Song was banned. (Bloodbraid Elf was also banned, but that does not really change anything because it was the fourth- or fifth-best card in the deck. We see that Jund has not gone anywhere.) Of all people, I should have been mad at the Seething Song ban. I had even shelled out for foreign Gift Ungivens. But was I mad? Not really.

It may come as a surprise, but casting Seething Song enough let me know it would not last. The deck was exceptionally powerful at beating everything and sideboarding into Splinter Twin easily avoided most hate. It could occasionally get blown out by combo decks like Infect and Storm, but that could be combated with more Spell Pierces in the sideboard. Casting Seething Song was stupidly powerful and the card deserved to be banned; if it wasn’t that powerful, I would not have been playing it. But the ban did not upset me too much because there are a lot of other Turn 3 decks to play. They may not be as good, but you can’t have everything. Here is a deck I recently played at my local FNM:

My original list ran green for Autochthon Wurm, Nourishing Shoal and Time of Need, winning a local event without dropping a game. I had Turn 2 Griselbrand twice, Turn 3 Griselbrand twice, Turn 4 Griselbrand once and Turn 4 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn into Turn 6 Griselbrand. I beat Relic of Progenitus once, Rakdos Charm once and was Thoughtseized twice. It”s yet to be seen whether this deck is consistent, but its ability to put games away as easily as Storm previously did is undeniable.

Shortly after, I watched a similar deck running Spoils of the Vault and Fury of the Hoard place fourth at a PTQ in Tennessee. The manabase is solid and mostly pain free. I decided to run Inquisition of Kozilek because if you are socking yourself in a deck with Spoils of the Vault, you are going to have bad times. One major improvement over Storm is Boseiju, Who Shelters All — or as I call it, “Broseiju, who resolves my spells” — because I hate counter spells; this deck only needs one to resolve in a format without Wasteland, so it’s probably my favorite card in the sideboard. This is the only Modern deck I”m aware of that can win on Turn 1. I actually pulled this off the other day.

Turn 1

This deck is part of the reason why the banning of Seething Song didn”t matter.

A Healthy Format

Many people in the community have expressed disgust for Modern, and the argument seems to be twofold: that the format has a terrible ban list and that control is absent. (I don’t think Wild Nacatl needs to be there, but I have never been too afraid of a one-mana 3/3.)

Cards are banned in Modern because they either are a part of a degenerate combo deck (Chrome Mox, Dark Depths), contribute to a draw-go permission deck (Ancestral Vision, Bitterblossom) or are just over the top better than everything else in the format (Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Stoneforge Mystic, Green Sun”s Zenith).

People who complain about the first two categories are fighting the wrong fight. If you want to play crazy combo decks or boring prison control, go play Legacy. Those decks are alive and well there. I can sympathize with people who dislike the third category. There will always be a set of cards that are the best cards, in some abstract sense. We have variety in Legacy because the best cards cannot really be played in the same deck. Lion”s Eye Diamond and Force of Will are incompatible by their very nature; Force of Will must be discarded to make Lion”s Eye Diamond useful. This isn”t the case in Modern.

So the question is this: What do we want the best strategy to be? We already have two formats where Jace, the Mind Sculptor is one of the best cards. We already have a format where Stoneforge Mystic is one of the best cards. We already have a format where Umezawa’s Jitte is one the best cards. If Modern included all of these cards, would Modern be played more? I think the answer is ubiquitously no. The type of players who want to be playing those cards already play Legacy, and in general this argument comes from them. I can’t think of a single Standard player who wants to see Jace, the Mind Sculptor again.

People ask why Jace, the Mind Sculptor cannot be legal when we can make over 10,000 faeries in the same turn with Splinter Twin, but that is a shortsighted view. It is easy to hate a combo deck. The deck does not do anything besides it. Hating Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Stoneforge Mystic is different. Play Pithing Needle against Jace, the Mind Sculptor and you barely make the deck flinch. It just wins with the cards Jace, the Mind Sculptor was going to draw. The strategy tends to dominate regardless of the level of hate, simply because the deck does not need it.

The other argument seems to come from a lack of control decks. I thought it interesting that a blue deck running counterspells won the last Modern Grand Prix. I mentioned on Twitter that people couldn’t complain about a lack of control deck any longer. Then I was informed that the particular blue deck with counterspells was not control; it was a tempo deck.

There are a group of players who really want to play permission-based control decks. I don’t understand them and never will. There is not anything wrong with that, but the lack of control seems to be a product of so many disparate strategies and the constant evolution of the format. It is easy to build a deck to beat Storm; it is easy to build a deck that beats Splinter Twin; and it is easy to build a deck that beats Jund. If it is possible to build a deck that consistently beat all of them with lots of permission casino online that qualifies as “control,” I have yet to see it.

If our choice for the format is diversity or control, I gladly pick diversity. It is no surprise control decks have dominated in the modern era. With R&D making the best cards obviously better, it is easy to see what you should be gunning against. Nobody foresaw a hexproof deck with Slippery Bogle as its major killer.

I”ll pause for the obvious criticism that a lack of control is a fine format for a combo player such as myself. What people might not realize is in the absence of maindeck counterspells or hand disruption, the steps people take to beat combo become drastic. Look at Affinity lists in Legacy running four Mindbreak Traps to always beat the Belcher player. You can see aggro decks with four sideboard Rest in Peaces to beat Eggs. As a combo player, I would much rather play through some counterspells or Thoughtseizes than lose on board to autowin hate spells that were designed to hose powerful Legacy strategies.

There are other reasons people hate Modern, but they are not actually arguments. They are simply statements like “I like Legacy better.” People were up in arms about a deck running hexproof creatures and enchantments. Seriously? The deck that puts fear in your heart is a deck running creatures that GET BIGGER? At this point, I am unsure if people are really just trying to hate the format to hate it.

The main point of every Magic complaint can be summarized as “I don’t like losing.” I hate counterspells because I tend to lose to them. People hate combo because they lose to it. I don’t have any problem with a deck running Slippery Bogle because I refuse to be the guy losing to mobile casino Slippery Bogle. People want bans to solve their deckbuilding issues. They want Jace, the Mind Sculptor banned because people can’t build decks to beat it that don’t include it. They don’t want Seething Song around because 20 Grapeshots is hard to beat.

If I can fault Wizards for anything, it is this: Wizards wants to promote diversity at the same time they foster a robust Organized Play in Modern. But they are incompatible. By offering financial incentives, players seeks to find the best deck. And by finding the best deck, they seek to reduce diversity. There is one reason every deck in Legacy does not run Brainstorm. There has never been a Legacy PTQ season to tell them their deck is statistically not as good as the Brainstorm deck.

Room for Fun

I enjoy Modern. It has grown on me, and I play it over Legacy at this point. You do not have to run Force of Will to avoid losing on Turn 1; you do not need to run any one card because it is simply the best thing like Brainstorm. Innovation does not mean the newest rehash of the same 20 cards people have been playing for a decade. To illustrate that, here is a deck I have been working on recently:

This deck can win two different ways. The first is to cast Angel”s Grace or Phyrexian Unlife into Ad Nauseam, drawing your deck and killing them with Lightning Storm. (Remember to hold priority when you cast Lightning Storm so you can actually put counters on it. If you pass priority, your opponent can just let it resolve and take three damage.) You can do this because Ad Nauseam specifies life loss while Pyrexian Unlife and Angel”s Grace specify damage. This can all be done at instant speed, making this a smooth play against everyone with Vendilion Clique.

It has been exceptional in beating almost every Storm hate card (which may not be an issue anymore). They play Ethersworn Canonist? Just combo at the end of turn with Pyrexian Unlife, untag and draw the last card in your deck and win. That’s a nice Leyline of Sanctity. Check out this Patrician”s Scorn. Spellskite meet Slaughter Pact.

This had been a pet deck for me. I am a steward of Ad Nauseamanship in Legacy, and this deck seemed too fun. That was an issue though, because it was fun at the cost of being good. I was running Mystical Teachings, which was either terrible or the only way I could win. the new Duskmantle Guildmage and Mindcrank combo spoiled I was eager to try it out and so far it appears to give this deck the edge I was looking for.

This combo works by activating Duskmantle Guildmage with Mindcrank in play. This will create an infinite loop that decks your opponent while making them lose life equal to the number of cards in his or her deck. A major upside for this deck is that it”s combo pieces do something in multiples. Angel”s Grace and Pact of Negation give this deck a faux Force of Will. Pact of Negation your Thoughtseize, Angel”s Grace with the Pact of Negation trigger on the stack at my upkeep. Phyrexian Unlife gains more than 10 life for three mana, which cannot be understated against fast aggro decks. It represents a three-mana Time Walk at least.

I think as a community we can do a better job at giving Wizards solid reasons for what we like and what we don’t like. I like Modern and I have reasons. Simply saying the “format sucks” is not changing anything. If you like Modern, let people know. Get on Twitter. Let Aaron Forsythe and Mark Rosewater and the rest of the Magic community know. If all they hear about Modern is that it is hated, then it might go away. And that would be much worse than Slippery Bogle could ever be.


Michael Lanier

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