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“You Can’t Spell Options without Opt”: The Long Awaited Return of Good Cantrips to Modern

Written by Zach Cramer on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern

“You Can’t Spell Options without Opt”: The Long Awaited Return of Good Cantrips to Modern

Zach Cramer

Zach is a Northeastern Magic grinder who specializes in eternal formats. When building decks, he has a strong preference to Blue cards, toolboxes and combo decks. With a recent RPTQ finish just short of an invitation, Zach hopes to take his skills to the next level and play on the Pro Tour.

Greetings all! This week, I’m particularly inspired to talk about my favorite Ixalan Spoiler to date: Opt. While seemingly innocuous, Opt is going to provide a lot to every environment of its new legality. But, as I’m sure of my readers would assume, I’ll be discussing its Modern context because that’s what I love. Today, I hope to explain the reasons why Opt is important for Modern, the decks that benefit (and don’t benefit) from having Opt around, and an example of what I plan to be doing to Opt Week 1 of Ixalan’s legality:

Why Opt is Great

While Opt itself appears to be just another unique cantrip that does thing like providing a higher density of cantrips or not forcing you to fetch before you cantrip like Serum Visions. Something else might be that you don’t have to wait for your cards to be drawn on your draw step or that with Opt, your card draw is curated while cards like Serum Visions draws you a random card. These are all valid reasons to like Opt and to respect it in Modern, but, it’s more than that. Opt is fundamentally different from any cantrip in Modern because it fills a role that hasn’t exists as cheaply as this before.

-Card Advantage v. Card Velocity

What you have to understand about Opt’s uniqueness is that it finally allows us to have the reasonably powered cantrip we’ve been hoping for. This is a blue deck’s dream. Opt allows you to pick the windows you want to cantrip, and enable real, effective, card selection. Can you remember the times when Pro players explained that casting your card manipulation spells on the first turn was wrong because you didn’t have information of what you were facing? Opt takes care of that problem without diminishing mana efficiency. This instant speed feature paired with real card velocity is an important distinction from a card like Thought Scour that doesn’t offer you much in the way of card selection and a card like Serum Visions doesn’t offer you any flexibility to maintain your defenses without sacrificing mana efficiency. And let’s not forget how much Snapcaster Mage loves this card.

-Instant Speed with Snapcaster Mage

I talked just now about the value of Opt’s Card Selection as opposed to Thought Scour’s Card Parity, but, it’s important to also recognize that we’re improving not just the value of our Cantrip slots, and the utility of our deck, but, we’re also improving the value of the cards we find. Snapcaster Mage LOVES Opt. The ability to hold up a spell like Cryptic Command and then be able to utilize 3 mana on Snapcaster Mage flashing back Opt can sustain your position of control as you maximize your mana. Think about the Splinter Twin mirrors of old. My friends and I used to keep a side count of how much mana got wasted by each player and often the player who spent the least mana in Splinter Twin mirrors was the person who lost. In a similar way, having to choose between cantripping or holding up your reactionary spells can simply be negated by your opponent by them doing nothing and making your mana waste away. Instant speed card advantage and card selection spells improve this equation because they help you recover from keeping your opponent’s at bay. Options in general are excellent, but, who wants these options?

Why Opt Improves Modern Decks

The first deck I’d suggest is impacted by the printing of Opt would be the Control decks. For years, Control has had a lackluster suite of Card Advantage Spells. Whether it was too expensive like Forbidden Alchemy or Think Twice, or non-synergistic like Serum Visions or Sleight of Hand, or even sometimes too slow like Ancestral Vision. Control decks can now cantrip at times of convenience, which not only maximizes Snapcaster Mage, but, also maximizes flash spells like Vendilion Clique and counterspells like Cryptic, Mana Leak, Spell Snare and Remand. As I said above, mana efficiency and the ability to maintain your options is what makes Instants so helpful – particularly in decks whose resources are constrained in the early game.

Secondly, Fair Blue Decks benefit from Opt because they can scry their poor draws to the bottom. What you have to understand about Fair decks is that average card quality is relatively high. If you’re playing fair in Modern, you have to come equipped with a lot of power answers that allow you to get back ahead and stay ahead. These cards rarely depend on synergy so much as raw power and answering threats. For this reason, it’s not as important to dig further into your deck, but, to fill your hand with more cards. This means that Opt allowing you to scry your weak draws to the bottom, decreasing the percentage you’ll draw them in the future is powerful. Thinking about the new(ish) mulligan rule for second, you all have helpful examples of how impactful it can be to make sure you’re drawing a spell rather than a land in your midrange decks. Decks like Death’s Shadow or Grixis Delver benefit from being able to choose the cards they’re drawing before they have to put it in their hand.

Finally, we come to Combo decks like Storm get more ways to find their general spell count because, like most fair decks, many of their cards do the same thing. These decks will benefit from a card like Opt rather than decks like Ad Nauseam. Ad Nauseam, on the other hand, wants one specific spell to win the game, so Card Velocity and seeing the most cards is important. I believe that Storm will be playing Opt moving forward, while Ad Nauseam will continue to play cards like Peer through Depths and the scrylands. Opt does carry the added benefit of letting you use your curated card immediately after casting the spell, as opposed to something like Serum Visions that makes you wait a turn or more, which might prove beneficial to decks that are under the gun, but, I’m not sure that this will give it the nod over other cards, and certainly won’t lead to replacing cards like Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand.

What am I doing with Opt

Blue Black Faeries! Duh!
Why Opt replaces Serum Visions for me:

Snapcaster Mage is a center point of my deck. With 4 copies and multiple flash spells, my deck really likes to operate at instant speed. At this point, I’ll be down to 8 Spells in my 75 that don’t get cast at instant speed. Another reason that Cantrips are in my deck is because I need them to find lands early and bottom excess ones late. Opt is great at this because it offers me the ability to scry to a land and immediately dra and play it. Letting me see my cards immediately is particularly power, given the fact I can play basically my whole deck whenever I want.

My current list that I’ll have with me at GP Providence (Release Weekend) will look like this:

There are a few reasons that I’ve made these changes. I’d like to address them in two ways:

3 Thoughtseize, 1 Flashfreeze, 1 Disdainful Stroke as opposed to 4 Thoughtseize is simply to address the growing presence of Titan Shift and Burn. Primeval Titan off the top is sometimes difficult for my Faeries list to deal with so I wanted to make sure that I had multiple ways to counter creatures off the top. Thoughtseize is great for structuring my gameplan, but, doesn’t offer me the ability to combat powerful topdecks from decks like Eldrazi Tron, Titan Shift, and GB Tron. These changes have been positive for me and have improved my matchup against big creature decks.

2 Watery Grave and 3 Darkslick Shore as opposed to the previous 4/1 split is about making sure Cryptic Command is live more often now that I’ve moved away from a manabase that requires T1 Blue for Ancestral Vision. In a similar vein, I’ve added the 3rd “Swamp” because I played against several land destruction plans that were surprisingly effective at cutting me off of Black mana because my fetchlands ran out of legal targets. On last point I’d like to make about this list is the “Punting” of the Dredge matchup. In producing a sideboard that interacts favorably with small creature decks, has answers for the big mana strategies and boasts a tremendous Combo/Shadow matchup, I have had to make some concessions, which namely includes abandoning the 3 pieces of graveyard hate that is required to beat the Dredge decks. I’m not certain that this configuration is correct, but, I’ve appreciated not having discard in my maindeck and I’ve also appreciated having ample and broad sideboard options for basically every deck in the format that isn’t Dredge. Whether this is correct or not is up for discussion.

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