These days it is rather difficult playing Modern. Between Jeskai Ascendancy’s new-found rise to power and the extraordinary power of the older, established archetypes, Khans of Tarkir has become tricky to brew for the format. With no Force of Wills in sight to keep combo decks in check, Modern has become a no man’s land of backbreaking combos coming out of the woodwork. Thankfully, with a brand new set of Bloodstained Mires, I’ve steeled my resolve and updated my Goryo’s Vengeance deck for this brand new world of Modern. This is a deck also capable of combo killing on turn 2 like Jeskai Ascendancy, with all the fun of playing a Legacy Tin Fins deck. The Old Gods are angry, ladies and gentlemen, and they’re back with a vengeance.
With this list, the goal is to either dump a monster into the graveyard and reanimate it with Goryo’s Vengeance, or just put it into play with Through the Breach. If the creature is Emrakul, you simply annihilate their board while dealing an often lethal 15 damage in the air. Thanks to the fetch-shock manabases that plague Modern, the opponent is usually within Emrakul range as early as turn 2. However, if Griselbrand is the creature you bring back, that’s where the real fun begins. Once you’ve connected with Griselbrand, you can activate him until you draw a Fury of the Horde and two Red cards. You can then cast Fury of the Horde for free giving Griselbrand a second opportunity to attack. You then draw even more cards until you hit a second Fury of the Horde, letting you attack again for a total of 21 damage.
The deck runs 12 methods of discarding a creature, from Faithless Looting to Lightning Axe to the rarely-seen Thoughtseize on yourself. These are fantastic for setting up a second turn Goryo’s Vengeance, but sometimes 12 methods just isn’t enough. This is where Through the Breach comes in, as you can put whichever Old God is stranded in your hand directly into play. With only 16 lands in the deck, getting to five mana can be tricky, but with Simian Spirit Guide and Pentad Prism, you can fire off a Through the Breach as early as turn 3.
But just how fast can this deck combo off? The average kill is turn 3, and the odds of a turn 2 kill are 45%, with a 5% chance of going off on turn 1. “How on Earth do you manage that?” you may be wondering. With an opening hand of Griselbrand, Goryo’s Vengeance, Faithless Looting, two Simian Spirit Guides, and a Black-producing land, you play your land, and cast Looting off of a Spirit Guide. You discard the Griselbrand and another card you draw, then reanimate it with Goryo’s Vengeance pitching the second Spirit Guide. From there you proceed to draw your deck! With the ability to play both proactively and reactively, the deck has exceptional game against the majority of the established archetypes in Modern. Simply put, unless they can counter or discard away your methods of cheating a creature into play on the first turn, you win on the spot.
SO HOW ARE MY MATCHUPS?
Simply put, against anything without Thoughtseize, you’re favoured pretty heavily. Decks that can Thoughtseize and rip apart your hand prey on this deck, much like they do with any other combo deck in Modern. However, even this can be mended on the play with your own Thoughtseizes. Taking away their discard cards are necessary for preserving your combo pieces, but even if you lose a Goryo’s Vengeance or a Through the Breach, you can always discard an Emrakul to shuffle them back into your deck.
Burn decks also pose an issue when you try to combo off with Griselbrand, as they can either cast Skullcrack to keep your ability to draw cards in check, or even wait until you go so low in your life total that they can fire off two Lightning Bolts for lethal. Another issue is that with Khans of Tarkir, some Burn decks have adopted Deflecting Palm into their 75. Deflecting Palm can shut off one of your attacks with Griselbrand, forcing you to cast three Fury of the Hordes in one turn, which is difficult with Palm hitting you for a deflected 7 damage. Heaven forbid they cast Deflecting Palm when you attack with Emrakul. Sure, they’ll lose their board, but you’ve effectively spent 2-3 cards to deal 15 damage to yourself. At that point point they just need to pop off another Lightning Bolt and you’re pretty much dead.
Finally, in the early days of testing this archetype, Splinter Twin was particularly troublesome. You see, you could cheat whatever creature you wanted into play, but they could cast a Pestermite, tap your creature, and Time Walk you while setting themselves up to combo off on their turn. In the olden times, this matchup was a death knell, but thanks to some sideboard cleverness in the form of Not of This World and Defense Grid, the match has become far easier in the postboard games.
Goryo’s Vengeance excels at demolishing non-interactive decks like Birthing Pod, Affinity, and Merfolk. If they can’t interact with you, you essentially have a free pass to run a monster out there and kill them. At best, Pod and Affinity can block with a flier, but with Lightning Axe and Lightning Bolt, you can clear the path with ease. Affinity and Merfolk excel at flooding the board with threats, but you can pick apart their defenses and go over their heads. Moreover, Goryo’s possesses the tools necessary for keeping the dreaded Jeskai Ascendancy deck in check. Between shooting down their non-Sylvan Caryatid mana dorks and discarding their Ascendancies and Glittering Wishes, this buys you a fair amount of time to swing through and obliterate their boards.
WHAT DO I WANT IN MY SIDEBOARD?
One thing worth noting about our sideboard is that our sideboard is tuned in such a way that our normally bad matchups become incredibly one-sided in our favour. Defense Grid is the perfect card for keeping countermagic and Pestermites off your back by forcing them to play almost exclusively on their own turn. Modern is a surprisingly mana-light format, so adding a 3 mana tax to their countermagic is often enough to make them dead cards. This means the threats posed by UWR Geist and RUG Scapeshift are largely negligible in games 2 and 3. Typically, Duress also comes in for these matchups to help disrupt their disruption. Duress is also great for attacking other combo decks like Jeskai Ascendancy and Living End by stripping away their key cards they need to go off. These matches are pretty much races, and Duress puts a pretty big speed bump in their way.
Pyroclasm is my go-to for sweeping away pesky blockers in the air like Birds of Paradise, Vault Skirge, and Lingering Souls tokens. The added bonus against Birthing Pod decks and Geist of Saint Traft is that you can use Pyroclasm to diminish their clocks on you and buy you the time to assemble your combo. Wear // Tear is one of the few ways a Black-Red deck can fight enchantments like Rest in Peace and Ghostly Prison, and it’s the sole reason I’m splashing the Godless Shrine. The flexibility of shutting off problem Rest in Peaces while also killing Grafdigger’s Cage is a massive boon, as most opponents will mull pretty aggressively to their graveyard hate lest they get blown out before they can do anything. Wear // Tear takes these scenarios and twists them to your benefit as they are left with very little afterwards.
Last, but certainly not least, is Not of This World. Only the biggest Eldrazi fanatics (re: me) remember this is actually a card, and it’s absolutely perfect for what we need it to do. Some of the easiest ways to blank our combos is by tapping down our creature with Pestermite or by using a removal spell like Path to Exile or Vapor Snag on a Griselbrand. Not of This World allows us to counter these spells and abilities for free and guaranteeing that we get to push through our game-ending monsters.
FINAL VERDICT: WHY BUILD GORYO’S?
You build Goryo’s Vengeance when you want to play Legacy in Modern. It’s as simple as that. This is the closest to a Legacy Tin Fins deck as you can get in this format, and it attacks on an axis early enough that the majority of people just aren’t prepared for. Modern players just pack graveyard hate these days, and even fewer are able to handle getting smacked in the face with Cthulhu-esque monstrosities before their third and drop. There’s a higher level of enjoyment and satisfaction with killing your opponent before they can fight back that should bring a smile to any combo player’s face, so if that’s your cup of tea, sleeve up Goryo’s Vengeance and bring the pain!
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