elcome to Modern Week here on MagicTheGathering.com! Modern is a Constructed format wherein all core sets from Eighth Edition forward and all blocks from Mirrodin (the original Mirrodin) forward are legal. Pro Tour Philadelphia offered us our first glimpse of the new Modern format. The Pro Tour was dominated by blisteringly fast combo decks that intended to win on the second, third, or fourth turns of the game. The combo-centric nature of the format was quickly remedied by a big set of bannings.
Wizards wants to make Modern less of a combo-oriented format. This allows creature-based strategies to race combo decks and supports a more play-friendly environment.
I'm a Johnny/Spike, though. I want to dome my opponent for huge amounts of damage on the third turn. It's gotten pretty difficult to do so with the new set of bannings. Today, I'm going to offer up another round of Pyromancer strategies. This time, we'll be arming ourselves with an often overlooked enchantment from Future Sight, Pyromancer's Swath.
Pyromancer's Swath | Art by Hideaki Takamura
Just for reference, here's an updated list of all the banned cards in the Modern format.
Today, we're going to try to build a Swathstorm deck. Swathstorm is an archetype that came about with the original printing of Pyromancer's Swath. The deck intends to cast a lot of spells on a single turn, cast Pyromancer's Swath, and then follow it up with a Grapeshot with enough storm to finish off the opponent.
The deck is normally going to go off on the fourth turn, but it's often able to finish the game as early as the third turn. Modern players have very painful mana bases, especially in the earlier turns of the game. Cracking a Zendikar fetch land and grabbing a Ravnica dual land untapped is 3 damage worth of fixing. These small amounts of damage may not seem like a huge deal, but it becomes significantly easier to storm for the win each time your opponent's life total reaches a lower denomination of 3.
Not having access to Ponder or Preordain gives us a pretty big hurdle to jump, but cards like Sleight of Hand, Gitaxian Probe, and Serum Visions will help pick up the slack. We want to dig through our library and sculpt our hand to perfection.
Manamorphose is perfect for this type of strategy. It helps fix our mana when we're going off and it generates storm in the interim. There are many games where you might be forced to attempt your combo without all the necessary pieces in hand. Cards like Manamorphose and the other cantrips will greatly increase our chances of "getting there" on a key turn.
Peer Through Depths is perfect here. It's exactly the type of card manipulation we're looking for. It can be used to find necessary rituals, storm builders, Grapeshots, or, post sideboarding, Empty the Warrens.
Sleight of Hand and Serum Visions are lackluster replacements for Ponder and Preordain. Still, these cards do a lot of work setting up our hands for the big turn.
Gitaxian Probe is similar to Manamorphose in many ways. It essentially draws you a card for free, generating storm and digging us deeper through our library. Gitaxian Probe is especially good because it helps us decide whether or not it's safe to go for our big turn. I like to lead with Gitaxian Probe when able on my key turn. A free look at my opponent's hand will give me all the information I need to decide whether or not it's safe to go off.
Remand is often enough of a speed bump for your opponent that you're able to make it to your key turn and combo them out. Remand gains a lot of additional value when you consider its ability to return a Grapeshot to your hand with the storm trigger on the stack. Sometimes you'll fire off a Grapeshot with five storm copies and have an opponent at 13. In that situation, you can cast Remand targeting your Grapeshot, the storm trigger will still resolve and you'll be able to fire off that same Grapeshot with seven copies for exact damage.
Magma Jet is a solid removal spell that gives us outs to problematic cards like Ethersworn Canonist. Magma Jet also puts our opponent to 18 from 20. This makes a huge difference when we have a Pyromancer's Swath. The difference between six spells (including the Grapeshot) and seven spells is pretty huge. Magma Jet also cracks people down to 15 from 17 (the actual starting life total in most Modern decks thanks to fetch lands and Ravnica duals). Lightning Bolt may be better in this slot, but I'm wary of missing out on card manipulation when we've just lost Ponder and Preordain.
Pyretic Ritual, Desperate Ritual, and Seething Song are the fuel for our fire. On our key turn, we're going to produce a lot of mana with these "ritual" effects. These spells generate the mana necessary to combo off and generate enough storm to create a nice buffer for the Grapeshot / Pyromancer's Swath combo.
The deck, excluding lands, should be very easy to acquire. Pyromancer's Swath is the only rare in the deck, and it's not hard to get. The lands may be a bit harder to track down, but they're necessary to the deck's ability to function. I'd include another Steam Vents and at least one more Island-based fetch land if I had no budget requirement here. The mana base I used here shouldn't be too prohibitive even for the most frugal deck builders.
Quick Aside: This deck's immunity to Gaddock Teeg is quite deadly against a lot of opponents. Players will probably realize that we're a storm combo deck when we have red and blue mana available and we're casting Serum Visions, Peer Through Depths, and Sleight of Hand. Most combo decks have a lot of trouble dealing with Gaddock Teeg, and an opponent will probably go out of the way to find the legendary Kithkin.
Here's the final list:
I played a few matches with the deck on Magic Online to see how it fared against players' latest Modern creations.
I lost the roll and kept Shivan Reef, Serum Visions, Peer Through Depths, Pyretic Ritual, Seething Song, Pyromancer's Swath, and Manamorphose. My opponent cracked a fetch land, grabbed an Overgrown Tomb untapped, cast a Noble Hierarch, and passed the turn at 17 life. I drew a Breeding Pool, played it untapped, cast Serum Visions, drew a Pyretic Ritual, and used scry to leave a Grapeshot on the top of my library. My opponent cast a Dark Confidant, played Misty Rainforest, and passed the turn.
I drew the Grapeshot and had to think about the correct play. If I attempted to combo that turn, then I risked losing to a Spell Snare. However, my opponent's deck was surely filled with cards like Thoughtseize and Snapcaster Mage, and I didn't want to leave an opportunity to rip my hand apart. I decided that I should go for it. I played Shivan Reef and cast Pyretic Ritual, then Seething Song, then another Pyretic Ritual, I used Manamorphose to create two blue mana and drew a Sleight of Hand, I cast Sleight of Hand, and drew into a Remand. I used three of the five mana left in my pool to cast Pyromancer's Swath, and used the last remaining mana to Grapeshot my opponent with six storm copies. That's 21 damage on turn two. Yep, the deck is good.
Sideboarding: -1 Remand, +2 Magma Jet, -4 Pyromancer's Swath, -4 Grapeshot, +3 Goblin Bushwhacker, +4 Empty the Warrens
Green decks are sure to have enchantment removal like Krosan Grip after sideboarding. Taking out Pyromancer's Swath and Grapeshot for Empty the Warrens and Goblin Bushwhacker ensures that our opponent will have some dead cards in post-sideboard games.
I kept Mountain, Steam Vents, 2 Manamorphose, Empty the Warrens, Seething Song, and Gitaxian Probe. My opponent played a fetch land and cracked it for a basic Swamp. Thoughtseize targeted me, and my Empty the Warrens hit the bin. I drew a Goblin Bushwhacker, played my Steam Vents tapped, and passed the turn. My opponent played a Breeding Pool untapped and cast Dark Confidant. I drew a Magma Jet and cast it targeting the Dark Confidant, putting two lands on the bottom of my library. My opponent cast another Dark Confidant and passed the turn.
I drew a Peer Through Depths, and figured I'd be hit with at least one more form of disruption the next turn. My chances of getting to six mana and finding an Empty the Warrens was extremely low here, so I decided to pass the turn again. My opponent revealed a Krosan Grip off of Dark Confidant, played a Misty Rainforest, attacked for 2, and passed the turn. I cast Peer Through Depths during the end step and put a Seething Song in my hand. After the Peer Through Depths resolved, my opponent cast a Vendilion Clique and put my Goblin Bushwhacker on the bottom of my library. I drew another Goblin Bushwhacker.
I drew a Pyretic Ritual and decided that I needed to go for my combo. I cast Pyretic Ritual, then Seething Song, then Manamorphose to make . I drew into Sleight of Hand, cast it, and found an Empty the Warrens. Another Manamorphose made more red mana, and a Gitaxian Probe revealed a hand with a Snapcaster Mage, two Krosan Grips, and lands. Another Seething Song put me back to six mana. I cast Empty the Warrens and made sixteen Goblins, then cast Goblin Bushwhacker and attacked for 34 damage.
I won the roll and kept Island, Scalding Tarn, Halimar Depths, Pyretic Ritual, Seething Song, Desperate Ritual, and Sleight of Hand. I played my Halimar Depths and left a Grapeshot on top of two lands. My opponent cast a Goblin Guide and attacked. I revealed a Grapeshot, so my opponent knew it was vital to kill me as fast as possible. I drew the Grapeshot, played Scalding Tarn, sacrificed it for a basic Mountain to shuffle away the lackluster top of my library, and cast Sleight of Hand, finding another Grapeshot.
My opponent attacked for another 2; I revealed a Steam Vents, which went to my hand. After that my opponent cast Figure of Destiny, made it a 2/2, and passed the turn. I drew a Serum Visions and cast it, drew a Manamorphose, and used scry to leave a third Grapeshot on top of my library. After some quick math I realized that my opponent was dead. I played my land, cast Desperate Ritual, then Seething Song, then Pyretic Ritual, then Manamorphose, making more red mana. I drew the third Grapeshot off of Manamorphose and cast three Grapeshots targeting my opponent—the first for 6, the second for 7, and the third for 8.
Sideboarding: -2 Remand, +2 Magma Jet
I mulliganed and kept Island, Shivan Reef, 2 Seething Song, Grapeshot, Serum Visions. My opponent led things off with a Stromkirk Noble, a card I was surprised to see in Modern. I drew a Shivan Reef, played my Island, cast Serum Visions, drew Serum Visions, and scryed a Magma Jet to the top of my deck. My opponent attacked for 1 and cast Keldon Marauders. On my turn, I drew Magma Jet, cast it targeting the Stromkirk Noble, and left a Manamorphose on the top of my library. My opponent cast a Boggart Ram-Gang and attacked me for 6.
I drew the Manamorphose and figured I had a decent shot of finding the Pyromancer's Swath. I cast Seething Song, then Seething Song, then Manamorphose for two blue mana. I drew Sleight of Hand, I cast Serum Visions, drew a Pyretic Ritual, and put two cards on the bottom of my library. I cast Sleight of Hand, found the Pyromancer's Swath, and cast Pyretic Ritual, then Pyromancer's Swath, then Grapeshot.
My draws went pretty well here, but the deck is pretty consistent and turn two to four wins are the norm. Once the Modern Pro Tour Qualifier season rolls around a lot of players may have decks that are well equipped to fight Grapeshots with cards like Leyline of Sanctity in their sideboards.
In short, I feel like the deck is probably the premier combo deck of the format even without the Ponders or Preordains. The bannings made combo less consistent and probably made the format more player-friendly. Combo certainly isn't dead, and I'm interested to see where this deck could go. Perhaps Past in Flames could find a home here?
Shoot me an email or hit the forums with any questions or comments on the deck.