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Delving into Modern

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The letter I!'ve got a busy couple weeks coming up. First of all, Journey into Nyx is officially out, which makes it fair game in every format, impacting some more than others. The formats that I have to worry about in particular are Modern for Grand Prix Minneapolis and Block for Pro Tour Journey into Nyx. Because I have thirteen teammates who would be very displeased with me if I started speculating about Block, however wildly, Modern seems like a better format to take a look at. Part of the reason I want to talk about Modern over Standard is that I've actually been playing a lot of Modern lately, and with a deck that's incredibly fun to pilot. Plus, even though Modern's vast card pool is resistant to outsiders, there are some Journey into Nyx cards that will make an impact, and discussing them seems fruitful.

The Secrets of Modern

First, my current favorite deck in Modern: Blue-Red Delver of Secrets. My obsession with this deck started over a month ago, when I decided I wanted to record some Modern videos with a deck I hadn't played before. I picked UR Delver because it looked awesome, and it did not disappoint.

Here is the list I started with, the base of which I got from a Daily Event:


You can see this deck in action, here.

The idea behind this deck is simple, and is one of a long line of decks using Delver of Secrets and cheap spells to out-tempo the opponent. This deck in particular has an engine made up of the following core:


The whole deck is built around these three cards, which is convenient because all of these cards give you incentive to do the same thing: cast cheap spells early and often. By playing a ton of cheap spells, your Delvers flip, your Pyromancers make armies of tokens, and your Snapcasters are always on. The spells you play often feed into each other, and the deck has a ton of inherent synergy as a result. Card-draw spells find more spells; Lightning Bolts, Remands, and Mana Leaks all get more powerful in multiples; and Vapor Snag sums up the deck very nicely.

I would say that the core spells of the deck are these:


No iteration of the deck has had less than four of any of these cards, and I can't imagine ever changing that. Gitaxian Probe makes Snapcaster a two-mana play, lets you run out Pyromancer on turn two and get a token immediately, and even lets you plan out how you want your game to progress. Serum Visions is cheap, draws cards, and sets up Delver flips, all of which are more than worth the one mana it costs. Lastly, Lightning Bolt is just too efficient to go anywhere, and is a four-of in pretty much all the decks that want any at all.

There are a lot of ways to go with this deck (as we will soon see), but I'd strongly advise against tinkering with the twenty-four cards I just mentioned. They are the engine and its most efficient fuel, and to mess with that is to start going down a path of madness.

Of course, that doesn't mean there aren't other cards that I'd be shocked if they weren't included, but the next category are cards that I don't think have to be (or should be) locked in as four-ofs.


I like all these cards, and all of the versions of the deck I've played has had some number of each, but those numbers often change. All of these cards serve to disrupt the opponent or remove his or her threats, which presumably should give your Delvers, 2/1s, and 1/1s enough time to finish the job. This deck has a lot of fast threats, but not very many of them can get past a 3/3 or survive combat with even a Dark Confidant, and this suite of cards aims to avoid having to worry about that.

Grim Lavamancer is a powerful recurring source of damage, and makes further use of all the cards you tend to churn through. It's a bit at odds with Snapcaster Mage, but I've rarely run out of fuel for either, and the games where it comes up are often games you are already losing. I like two Grims, and haven't really wanted to move from that number.

The numbers on Leak, Remand, Snag, and Snare have changed as I've played the deck, and I don't have a particular configuration I'm locked into. Remand is a more powerful card overall than Mana Leak, and both punish three+-mana spells, but Mana Leak is much stronger against one- and two-mana spells. Snare and Snag are both efficient answers, but what decks they are good against varies, and their value fluctuates more than most cards.

Lastly, you have the flex slots. These are where the sweet cards live, and I'm a fan of tinkering with these almost every time I play.


That's quite the wide range of cards, and I'm still not sure on the right configuration of them. I started with Pillar of Flames, Izzet Charms, and an Electrolyze, and ended with one Pillar, one Spell Pierce, and a Sword of Fire and Ice. The Sword was mainly because I wanted one absurd card to be able to play late game and just win with, as this deck suffers the problem tempo decks always do: when it gets behind, a lot of its cards become pretty bad. Sword gets around that on raw power level, although you can't afford to play many cards that are as expensive.

The Adventures of Delver and Friends

Part of the way I know that this is the deck I've enjoyed playing most is how much I've played it. I find myself pretty busy these days (almost all playing games of one sort or another), and as a result, the vast majority of my time spent on Magic Online is time spent recording videos. It's just more efficient, a two-for-one of sorts, and I do love my two-for-ones. This Delver deck broke that rule, and I've played it in many more events past the few I recorded, just because of how fun it is. As I played more, I kept tuning it, and after some intermediary steps, I arrived at my current list:


To see a video of one of the intermediate steps, take a look, here.

The sideboard is what's changed the most, as I figured out how much I liked (or didn't like) certain cards. One of the things I liked least about the deck to begin with was how bad the GW Hexproof matchup was, and I got crushed by it multiple times on video. The Delver deck just isn't fast enough and its disruption can't really interact, as Hexproof just is all cheap spells that get around Mana Leak/Remand/Spell Snare and untargetable guys that don't care about Vapor Snag or Lightning Bolt. As a solution, and a way to also cover bases against Splinter Twin and Burn, I added Spellskites to the sideboard. The power of Spellskite can be summed up in this awesome picture:


I ended up naturally decking Hexproof by locking it out with Spellskite (already enchanted so it could redirect Daybreak Coronet) and near-infinite Young Pyromancer tokens to chump block a MASSIVE Gladecover Scout. All I had to do was make sure Rancor never resolved, and my opponent had no other way to win. It was extremely satisfying.

With Grand Prix Minneapolis coming up, I have to decide what to play in one of the few Grand Prix I have left this year. While I deeply want to play Delver, I suspect I still may end up on Melira Pod, although I have a week and a half to figure it out (and other candidates may emerge in the meantime, as well). I would recommend Delver, and the only reasons I may Pod instead is that I've played Pod a ton, way more than Delver, and Pod is much more powerful against an unknown field. To play Delver, I'd have to be more certain about what I'd be facing, because the configuration of Mana Leak, Remand, Vapor Snag, Spell Snare, and Spell Pierce heavily depends on it. With a new set out and no big Modern events recently, figuring out the metagame is much harder than it would normally be.

A Modern Look at Journey into Nyx

A few cards from Journey into Nyx have caught my eye with how they pertain to Modern, specifically. Many of them are the more powerful cards in the set, but some have more potential in Modern than Standard, which is always interesting.


Modern is the format for this master philosopher, as he fits perfectly into any sort of Birthing Pod deck. Unlike Ethersworn Canonist, he's immune to Lightning Bolt and Anger of the Gods, both cards that Storm plays, and unlike Rule of Law, Birthing Pod and Chord of Calling can go fetch him. That may seem like a narrow role, but it's more of a role than most cards get to play in Modern.


I'm still convinced this is a very powerful card, and it has to have a home somewhere. Part of the reason I like its potential in Modern is how cheap and efficient cards are in Modern. When you are flipping Remands and Vapor Snags, you can give your opponent expensive cards, assuming he or she will never have time to cast all of them. The games are shorter, and that plays right into Mystic's hands. In fact, this might be a possibility in the Delver deck itself, but any deck that can break the symmetry could be interested. Remand seems like an important part of the deal, due to how cheap it is and how well it combines with Mystic's ability. This seems like one of the gems of the set, a pearl in the rough if you will (and I will).


Given that there already is a Howling Mine-Time Warp deck, consideration has to be given to Dictate of Kruphix. That deck has access to a ton of Howling Mines already, but another can't hurt, and Dictate being an instant and harder to kill could push it above Jace Beleren or Temple Bell.


The power level of this card is very high, and it fits into what Burn wants to do so well that I expect it to be one of the cards in Journey with more enduring impact. While it is unfortunate that it gives opponents a card to use their removal on, which Burn mostly doesn't have, it still Shocks them if they kill it. That alone is almost worth it, and one attack or one other spell cast and this more than pays for itself.


Athreos in Modern seems like more of a sideboard card than a main-deck offering, but that's still a powerful option to have. If there's a white-black deck that has actual creatures (not just tokens), Athreos could be a way to punish control decks. It is unfortunate that Path to Exile neatly sidesteps death's domain, but for three mana this is still a powerful threat.


This will have way less of an impact in Modern than Standard, because City of Brass is still legal, but it's worth mentioning that combo decks could now play five. Actually, the real reason I mention it is to make sure people play City of Brass over Mana Confluence if you only want one. There are two big incentives to do that. The first is that you can tap City of Brass and cast a game-winning spell in response to the damage trigger, which is a relevant game-play reason. More importantly, have you seen a City of Brass from Arabian Nights? How can you turn down the opportunity to play such an awesome-looking card? Before anyone asks, I do make decisions for such reasons, as my teammates can attest to.

There are other cards that may see play in Modern, but these are the ones that really caught my eye. I can't wait to try Dakra Mystic in my Delver deck, and even if it isn't the best card for the slot, it seems like it has awesome potential (the promise of drawing all those extra cards is a juicy one).

Next week, I'll be back to focusing on Standard, with an eye to any new decks that may have popped up in the meantime. Happy Delving!

LSV


 
Luis Scott-Vargas
Luis Scott-Vargas
@lsv
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Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

 
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