hile we here at DailyMTG.com took the last couple of weeks "off" to start bringing out peeks and teasers toward the awesomeness that is—that will be—Dark Ascension, the competitive Magic world beyond the walls of Renton, WA, got Pro Tour Avacyn Restored qualifiers into full swing.
This season is Modern, the still-relatively-new, bigger-than-Extended home of old favorites and new combinations both. Modern resembles Standard in some ways (one of the top decks, for instance, is essentially a Standard transplant), Legacy in others (you can do anything you want, super cool, within the bounds of your mana base), but is ultimately an animal unto itself. Its size—the sheer number of cards available—gives Modern speed. The coexistence of Zendikar (and its Arid Mesas) and Ravnica block (and its Breeding Pools) plow for Modern mana bases a wide road, ranging from single-color control decks to five-color decks touching hither and thither for all manner of flashbacks and splashes.
Here are five things I have learned playing Modern on Magic Online, talking to aficionados of the format (or at least PTQ participants), and perusing dozens and dozens of deck lists:
1. Modern's Large Card Pool Allows You to Play a Critical Mass of Cheap, Synergistic Threats
Steven J Birklid's Affinity
Modern – Winner, PTQ Avacyn Restored, Seattle, WA
Spanning sets from Scars of Mirrodin back to regular-old Mirrodin, the Modern Affinity deck is a testament to speed, setting a benchmark for large-scale competitive formats. I mean, check out the average mana cost of this deck! With only fifteen lands—forty-five spells, therefore, in its main-deck sixty—Affinity tops out at a mere 56 total mana, with an average mana cost of 1.24! Essentially, if Affinity draws two lands, that is going to be enough to cast almost everything.
This is a deck that can set a pace offensively. First turn, you can lay out a couple of Memnites and a Signal Pest, maybe fortify with a Steel Overseer on the second turn, and then end it all in short order with Galvanic and Shrapnel Blasts. The deck actually commands a fair amount of big burn (at decidedly not-big mana costs) that pack a ton of damage (4 and 5, respectively).
This PTQ-winning version of the Affinity deck spreads out of red for Steelshaper's Gift, which is obviously there to set up the still-mighty Cranial Plating. You know what's better than Cranial Plating? Cranial Plating on an Inkmoth Nexus. Nothing like getting all your guys killed, shrugging, and killing the opponent from 0 poison in one turn. I mean, mise.
No, I don't think R&D was thinking about that, either, when they made Cranial Plating all those years ago.
Just for diversity's sake, check out this very different interpretation of Affinity (also a PTQ winner):
Jared Carrier's Master Tezzeret Affinity
Modern – Winner, PTQ Avacyn Restored, Denver, CO
The biggest difference with Carrier's deck is the decision to, you know, actually cast stuff. Carrier's deck relies less on explosiveness and more on the power of cards like Master of Etherium (three mana) and Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas (at four). In a deck that is almost all artifacts, Tezzeret's third ability will often win the game by itself.
2. Even Without Ponder, Preordain, or (ahem) Blazing Shoal, the Format is Fast
Dan Lanthier's Splinter Twin
Modern – Winner, PTQ Avacyn Restored, Montreal, QC
Splinter Twin has been a superb performer since Modern's debut. That said, it is only one of many blue-red combo decks in the format (Storm, other Storm, Hive Mind, and so on); however, to date, Splinter Twin seems to be the most successful.
While the strategy will never yield one of the "oops I won on the second turn" draws, Splinter Twin is awesome in its multi-faceted, redundant, infinite-ness.
- When I say infinite, I don't mean that as an exaggeration, like when you have six cards in hand and your opponent asks you how many and you say, "I dunno, infinite I guess." I mean literally an unending amount of damage if you want. You get a Splinter Twin on a Deceiver Exarch and you can keep tapping and untapping until you are tired of it.
- And the redundancy? You have not only Deceiver Exarch and Splinter Twin but Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Pestermite (or Splinter Twin and Pestermite, or Kiki-Jiki and the 1/4, whatever you want). That makes it much more resilient when paired against stuff like Memoricide, Surgical Extraction, or even simple removal spells and disruption.
- All that said, you still must attack. That is a little less sexy than some other combos that can't be stopped by, say, a Ghostly Prison.
3. Modern's Pool is So Big and So Varied You Can "Infinity" Your Opponent Out, Without Having to Hit the Red Zone!
Gainsay's Melira Pod
Modern – PTQ Avacyn Restored, Magic Online
The mighty, decorated, and overall well-respected Gainsay has been tearing up Magic Online tournaments various with his Melira Pod deck.
This is a deck with many dimensions and many ways to crush an opponent.
First and foremost, it is just a Kitchen Finks deck. Some decks really don't like the opening of Birds of Paradise into Kitchen Finks. "Block that... and that," is a perfectly good way to gain value and trade up.
Secondly, this is a bullet-ridden Birthing Pod deck. You can scale up Birds of Paradise, Wall of Roots, Kitchen Finks, and into Ranger of Eos (and further to the Reveillark-into-Sun-Titan zone, if need be). You can also just go and get a pair of Viscera Seers (and trade one up to Melira, Sylvok Outcast) or... whatever. There are loads of ways to win when you are essentially drawing a card (or more) extra while netting mana.
Here is the combo-tacular way to win:
- Get Viscera Seer, Melira, and Kitchen Finks into play. Sacrifice Kitchen Finks to Viscera Seer; when Kitchen Finks comes into play, get 2 life.
- Because Melira, Sylvok Outcast doesn't get along well with the –1/–1 counters, Kitchen Finks will come back fully loaded. Sacrifice again.
- ... however much you want!
- Durdle, durdle, gain two, Gain Two, GAIN TWO.
- You can basically gain a limitless amount of life, so this is an "infinite life" deck.
- Meanwhile, Viscera Seer actually does something, which is to let you cycle through your deck, so you can find your...
Murderous Redcap! Everything you can do with the Kitchen Finks, you can do that ten times with your Murderous Redcap, in order to brain the opponent for two, For Two, FOR TWO, ten times.
No Red Zone required.
4. Modern's Intersection of Mana Flexibility and Wide Array of Options Lets You Pick From the Best of the Best
Brad Nelson's RUG Delver
For all its brutal speed (sometimes), Modern is diverse enough to support stuff other than "only" hyper-fast aggro decks or merciless combo kills. Just look at Brad's deck... it literally reads like a greatest hits album of "stuff people like to play."
All that stuff!
Also Cryptic Command!
Also Ancient Grudge!
(Some of the best, you know, "Magic cards," conditionally, in many large formats.)
Lots and lots of good/great/above-the-curve cards here. No "dirty combo feeling" required.
RUG Delver is a pretty good example of a deck that can do lots of different things well—a testament to its ability to play lots of different cards. It is a deck that can produce a fast and effective offense (Delver of Secrets is, as was winked at above, quite the flying Wild Nacatl). This is especially true in a deck—like Brad's—that insists on playing Serum Visions.
Tarmogoyf is a card that gives blue decks a bit more speed, and make no mistake: this is in many ways a blue deck. It can suffocate you with Mana Leak, hassle your hand with Vendilion Clique, re-buy the Mana Leak with Snapcaster Mage, and lock the game down with Cryptic Command. Conversely, it has not just the super-efficient Lightning Bolt, but the believe-it-or-not-sometimes-better Burst Lightning. There will be games where you can burn out your opponent from 7 or even 10.
But what I like about a deck like this?
It can get the lead (fast Insectile Aberration or fast Tarmogoyf), then hold the lead with all those blue instants.
... the game doesn't have to be particularly long.
5. Modern Still Gives You Plenty of Room for Creativity and Old Favorites
Wirecat's Burning Vengeance
Modern – 7th Place, PTQ Avacyn Restored #3314388, Magic Online
Grand Prix Champion Wirecat pretty much broke all the rules with this one, right?
This is about the mid-rangey-est thing you can imagine: ponderous Burning Vengeance engine, breaking the intent of Burning Vengeance by clearing the opponent's hand with a Life from the Loam plus Raven's Crime engine, braining him over and over... value on top of value, repetition after repetition.
At the same time, this is a deck that has another cross-block synergy: Haakon, Stromgald Scourge plus Nameless Inversion. When you have a Nameless Inversion down (Nameless Inversion is a Knight, after all!) you can go machine gun on your opponent's creatures, free removal spell after free removal spell.
This deck can crush with planeswalkers... Lily and Garruk dominate the opponent without having to spend mana (no probs, you have all kinds of stuff to do with your mana—don't worry). Liliana of the Veil forcing you to discard, yourself, is kind of a joke, as you have Life from the Loam and tons of ways to recoup. For that matter, playing a Nameless Inversion—getting a Nameless Inversion into the graveyard—is a nice bonus for your Tarmogoyf. Tribal!
Oh yeah, this is also a fine Smallpox and Death Cloud deck. If you go first, play a land (maybe make the opponent discard) and follow your opponent's land-plus-guy with a land-plus-Smallpox on your second turn. You both lose a land (your opponent now has none), your opponent loses a guy (you don't), and everybody discards... But! You are the one with Life from the Loam. Some turns later you have Garruk Wildspeaker plus Death Cloud and all kinds of simple math-defying destruction.
Isn't it a great format where you can bend the universe to your will like Wirecat did?
Or you can go simple and straightforward (and still be effective):
Modern – Winner, PTQ Avacyn Restored, Magic Online
Just a simple, hasty, straightforward Boros beatdown. Great use of landfall lets Steppe Lynx and Plated Geopede hit for tons of damage, backed up by versatile threats like Figure of Destiny and La Parka Diamond Cutters like Goblin Guide and Chandra's Phoenix.
The coolest thing of all?
Yes, my beloved readers, that is Boros Garrison in this PTQ-winning deck.
Not only is any kind of Karoo super cool (particularly this echo to the Budget Boros of Ravnica Block Standard), but in a landfall deck?
You get twice the mana, long-term, and you get to buy back your landfall.
All that, of course, results in a remarkably efficient beatdown. But again, not the oppressive or "dirty combo feeling" kind (for those of you who care about that kind of thing).
I'm thinking this is the start of something good.
And with Dark Ascension coming so soon?
Something even better.