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The Brews I’m too Afraid to Play at SCG Cincinnati

Written by Bob Culp on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern

The Brews I’m too Afraid to Play at SCG Cincinnati

Bob Culp

Bob Culp is a grinder who lives in Indianapolis. He’s most interested in constant improvement and consistent results. Three years ago, he had 1 SCG day 2 to his resume. Now, he’s at least Top 64’d his last 5 SCG Opens. His highest finish is 12th at Grand Prix Indianapolis in 2015. He’s been playing competitive magic since 2004 in between school, career advancement, and life.

The number of successful strategies in Modern constantly surprises me and keeps one thought in the front of my mind: Since, there are more than 11,500 legal cards in Modern, the Best Deck In The Format may not have been found yet.

Deckbuilding is what got me interested in Magic – and it’s what keeps me refreshed between large events. My computers have folders of txt files with deck lists of misaligned ideas of various degrees of playability. These lists are sourced by Reddit threads, forum posts, Magic Online results, and my own thoughts.

I have two rules when brewing in Modern:

1. It must do something broken – or protect well against the format’s broken strategies.
2. It must not be a worse version of an already proven idea.

Playing these brews at FNM is innocent. Sleeving them up for large events is frightening.

I’m playing some Death’s Shadow deck for my team in SCG Cincinnati because I’m too afraid to play something more risky 75. My teammates are counting on me to win, after all. The gamble on playing something unproven is too great.

But, that thought is still in the back of my head. It’s festering. A few more games could be all it takes to see the missing piece, find the forgotten tech.

The Brews

I’m working on three deck lists based around the same card.

This card allows for explosive free wins and grindy late-games, which is everything I want.

These Vengevine builds all have the same core:

You use Faithless Looting and Neonate to discard an early Vengevine and use your 0-drops like Hangerback Walker and Walking Ballista to trigger Vengevine the same turn. I wanted to see how far it could be pushed, so I started testing. The result was three viable brews which are close to being good enough to play at events higher than FNM. With a little more tuning, they could be very competitive.

Of the three decks, this is the most powerful and the most fragile.

I found the starting of this strategy on MTGSalvation Forums and tweaked it. You get free wins through generating eight to sixteen power on turn 1, 2 or 3. Or, you draw your entire deck on turn 4 and generate 60-ish power in the process.

Using the normal discard outlets of Faithless Looting and Insolate Neonate, or self-mill cards like Satyr Wayfinder and Tracker’s Instincts, you generate a board where you can play turn 1, 2, or 3 Vengevines or Hollowed Ones. You also end up with Vengevines and Bridge from Below in the graveyard.

Then, using your 12 zero-drop creatures (4x Hangerback Walker, Walking Ballista, and Endless One), you reanimate Vengevine(s) and get 2/2 Zombie tokens from the Bridge from Below in the graveyard.

That’s the basic formula for generating a lot of early power in the first few turns.

Here are the steps to draw your deck:

1. You need three mana, a Beck in hand, and a Bridge From Below in the graveyard. Pay two mana for Beck, keeping a red producing land available.

2. Proceed to play the zero drops you have in your hand. This process will draw 2 cards per zero drop (one from the zero drop entering the battlefield, another from the Zombie token entering the battlefield from the zero drop dying). Eventually, you’ll draw another Bridge From Below.

3. Use a Faithless Looting or Insolate Neonate in hand (with the red mana you have available) to discard it. With 2 Bridges in your graveyard and 2 zero drops in hand, you can usually draw your entire deck since each of your 12 zero drops draws 3 cards. As you combo, you’ll eventually draw into Street Wraiths and free Hollowed Ones to further add to your board presence and draw cards.

A few tips:

1. Vengevine coming into play from your graveyard draws you a card after playing Beck.

2. Insolate Neonate can discard a Bridge From Below and create a zombie, since the Bridge will be in the graveyard when Neonate is sacrificed to his own ability. After a Beck is played, Neonate is often a draw 3 (Playing Neonate draws a card, the zombie Neonate creates draws a card, and you draw a card in resolving Neonate’s ability).

However, there were a few problems with this deck:

1. Graveyard hate was good against it. You can still get under it with turn 1 or 2 Vengevine/Hollowed One draws, but it’s still highly effective.
2. Some of your hands were unplayable. Sometimes you draw the wrong parts of the deck together.
3. The deck needs all of its parts to work correctly – that means sideboarding is very hard. For instance, boarding out Street Wraiths against burn may seem great, but your Hollowed Ones become much worse – which make your Vengevines and Becks worse, too. All of the cards need each other.
4. You don’t have removal. Good luck beating a Scavenging Ooze.

The sideboard plans aren’t flushed out yet, but they’re close. You can’t sideboard many cards out in any matchup.

Cards to note in the sideboard: Sidisi’s Faithful for creature matchups. It’s a cheap creature that works well with Bridge and Vengevine. Bouncing their creature maintains your Bridges. Reckless Bushwhacker is for decks attacking your graveyard. Ideally you make a lot of power before they establish too much graveyard disruption, then you play a zero drop to surge them out of the game.

While the above list was powerful, I wasn’t sure it could stand its ground in a non-linear format. It was fine against Tron and similar linear decks, but Jund was very hard because of Ooze and cheap disruption. I looked at reworking it to grind more effectively.

This version cuts Endless One since it doesn’t work as well with Varolz. Gather The Pack and Grisly Salvage dig five cards deep, instead of 4 like the old version. This gives additional consistency. You lose the explosiveness of Hollowed One for a better late game.

Death’s Shadow acts as a nice plan B, since it is a one-drop to reoccur Vengevine, can die early to trigger Bridge due to a high life total, or just provide good beats on its own.
This is also the best Traverse deck I’ve played. It’s very easy to get Delirium.

Varolz, the Scar-Striped was a huge innovation. Being able to scavenge Shadows onto Hangerback Walkers and Walking Ballista (or just random creatures) give the deck a ton of reach. Varolz’s sacrifice ability also keeps your Bridges alive if your creature is going to trade in combat. It actually allows your usually bad zero drops to grind and have a role as the game progresses. Instead of drawing your deck on turn 4, you can give a Walking Ballista or Hangerback Walker 13 additional counters (then sacrifice it to Varolz ability. This is usually enough to finish the game.
This version was more stable, but I would lose just as many games to Bridges being stuck in my hand as I would from them being in the graveyard. Without an engine like Beck, Bridge was a minor value play. Sometimes you were all in hoping 8 power of zombies was good enough on turn 2. That’s not always the best spot to be in.

If Bridge From Below is cut from the list, we can run real removal spells. That’s what lead me to this version, which I’ll likely play in the Modern Classic if our team doesn’t day 2 the Open.

This version adds Tarmogoyf as a huge creature to scavenge onto a zero drop in addition to Death’s Shadow. You also get a few more removal spells and Lingering Souls as another card to pitch for value.

Nissa, Voice of Zendikar plays a few roles. It’s another threat to help the games grind long. The -2 ability works well with Hangerback Walker, Walking Ballista, and Lingering Souls. And, the +1 is a lot of tokens to keep Varolz regenerating.

This version allows us to minimally use the graveyard as we build a board presence – or have Vengevines attacking turn 1 or 2. This flexibility should put us in a good position against the linear and grindy decks of the format.

Ultimately, though, I didn’t feel these decks were quite ready for a Team Open, so I’m playing a strategy I know well and trusting my very good teammates to win in less diverse formats. These decks, like many others in Modern, are very close to being very good.

Keep building, keep learning, and never be afraid of trying something new.

Follow me on Facebook at Bob MTG

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