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Snapcasting in Modern

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With a local Modern GP on the horizon, I have a lot of learning to do about the format. If I wasn't an impatient, compulsive brewer I’d wait for the PT results to try to figure out the format. Seeing as I am, I’ve been toying around with a few things.

With the recent bannings in effect, I believe that I want to be on something with Lingering Souls and/or Snapcaster Mage. Lingering Souls is possibly the more powerful card on its own, but white decks generally bore me to tears. Not to mention that I just have more experience Snapcaster-ing. There’s nothing Lingering Souls can do that will make me feel the way rebuying Thoughtseize on turn three or playing and snapcasting a Lightning Bolt at the end of my opponent’s turn does.

In the dark I’d like to see how my old Grixis deck performs in this new format. The power of Dark Confidant and Snapcaster Mage cannot be understated, and I believe that the non-Sedraxis Specter spells speak for themselves. A current build of the deck would look something like this:

The appeal of the Grixis deck is the ability to play good discard, counters and removal- to combat the opposition on all fronts. While Jund was previously this deck’s nemesis, I could also see Lingering Souls and Bitterblossom being problems. Sideboard Sulfur Elementals, Engineered Explosives and Volcanic Fallouts might be good enough, but I couldn’t say to a certainty at this point. Master of Waves being played in the Merfolk deck is also of some concern, as I wouldn’t want to play too many cards that actually kill Master in the main. The deck can beat up on Affinity, Pod, Burn and Zoo though, so there might be something here.

The other deck that I’m interested in, and that has popped in and out of my head during various stages of the Modern banned list, involves the juxtaposition of these two cards:

This isn’t Legacy, Wild Nacatl isn’t Nimble Mongoose, and this would have to be a four color deck, but I think it can work.

Lightning Bolt, Delver of Secrets and Wild Nacatl are all at peak efficiency for a quality tempo strategy. The biggest question for me is how white the deck should be. Path to Exile and Geist of Saint Traft are interesting incentives, but the former isn't going to play well with the Mana Leaks that my Delvers want to play with and the latter doesn't sound that impressive in a field of Wild Nacatls, Bitterblossoms and Lingering Souls.

From a strictly theoretical standpoint, it makes the most sense to me to make White a very minor splash for Nacatl pumps and some Lightning Helixes to help the Zoo and Burn matchups- not to mention to add a little more reach. It's also probably just wrong to eschew Path entirely.

This is all from a theory-crafting perspective, but after spending quite a bit of time thinking about it I'd like to start testing this list:

It looks a lot like I just took Zoo, RUG Delver, UW Delver and threw them in a blender. Considering that those are all strong decks, I believe this to be a good thing. So, how exactly does this deck work?

The Mana

The manabase will likely see some changes in the future, but as of now it exists as it does for good reason. With the deck having such varied color-intensive costs as it does, I don't believe that it's easy to say that having Steam Vents and Temple Garden in play is better or worse than having Hallowed Fountain and Stomping Ground.

As such, I opted to just include every relevant dual and a grip of fetchlands. I have no problem having more fetches than fetchable lands- particularly because you're just not going to win if you draw 9 lands. I've gone back and forth on whether I want a basic Forest or not, but as of now it feels superfluous. There are only 8 cards that cost green mana, and Wild Nacatl isn't the biggest fan of basic Forest.

Additionally, the deck is quite blue, and Forest-Nacatl into Sacred Foundry means our third land is going to have to shock us if it's going to give us blue mana and Lightning Helix mana. The manabase hurts, there's no question, but I believe that the deck's efficient interaction as well as access to four Lightning Helix does a good job of mitigating this. Clearly there will be a lot of sideboarding to do against Zoo, but game one is hardly unwinnable.

If through my testing or somebody pointing out something that I just overlooked to me it becomes clear that there are two duals that just make the mana work better than others than I'll change the manabase accordingly. For now, having every option available will have to do.

The Creatures

Delver and Nacatl are obviously the core of the deck, and Tarmogoyf is the most natural fit in the two slot due to raw efficiency. This deck definitely generates a love/hate relationship with Snapcaster Mage. The body often just isn't worth a card against creature decks, so it relies on drawing relevant spells and mana. That said, the upside of rebuying Lightning Bolts/Helixes is just too good to overlook. The body will usually just be gravy, but against non-creature decks it can be a difference maker, and I can see a surprise attack or chump block matter in certain board states against creature decks, too.

Spells

The first thing that I imagine a lot of people will notice is my choice to play Gitaxian Probe over Serum Visions. Probe is going to be dramatically worse against aggressive decks due to the additional life-loss, but Serum Visions is just too inefficient for a deck like this.

It's true that it's only one mana, but it forces you to wait a turn before it offers any actual draw manipulation in addition to being sorcery speed in a deck that really wants to leave its blue mana untapped for bother players' turns. Probe is going to make the deck faster in matchups where life totals don't matter- particularly when you just want to use Snapcaster Mage to cantrip.

Obviously this means that quite a bit of sideboard space is going to need to be good against aggressive decks, but this doesn't strike me as a terrible drawback. The other upside is that it tells you when you need to leave up Spell Pierce and/or Mana Leak, which sounds pretty good to me. I fully expect other players to be inclined to play Serum Visions, but I see it as having the more significant downside.

Only having two Path to Exile in the main is also a bit strange, but it's where I want to start. This is in part a concession to Mana Leak and Spell Pierce, but mostly this deck doesn't really want removal spells that don't offer reach. Part of me wants to play Vapor Snag over Path, but then it feels like the deck is just giving up too much against Zoo. Additionally, Vapor Snag is just going to be poor against value creatures like Kitchen Finks, which I expect to be quite popular.

The rest of the spells look pretty self-explanatory to me. They're just the most efficient ways to interact and generate reach. Outside of Spell Pierce, I believe everything else is pretty standard in decks of the cards' respective colors. Spell Pierce is of course in the deck for its ability to combat removal, discard and Planeswalkers- most notably Liliana of the Veil.

Why Play This?

The big question about this deck is whether it's better than just playing the existing Delver decks or Zoo. What it has over the other Delver decks is an additional three-power one-drop which adds to the decks consistency. What it has over Zoo is the ability to play more interactive spells instead of only creatures and removal. The creature suite is also better suited to combating Engineered Explosives for whatever that's worth. As I've said, it's as of yet untested, but it fits my playstyle and looks abstractly powerful. I'll be sure to report more as more is learned.

Moving Forward

With the bans in effect on MTGO, I should be able to start testing these decks both online and in live events this week. I'll keep an eye out for published lists from around the globe to see what other people have thought of that I haven't- not to mention what new decks come from the Pro Tour.

Next week I'll be reporting on some Standard updates, but expect more Modern content in the near future. I'm pretty stoked to see if Wild Nacatl and Delver of Secrets can co-exist in a competitive shell. I'm not exaggerated when I say that this concept leaves me the most excited I've every been about Modern, so I'm hoping so.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan Overturf

6 thoughts on “Snapcasting in Modern

    1. I have some thoughts, yes, but I’d need to start battling to see what the deck actually needs. Spellskite, the third and fourth Path, Kitchen Finks, some counterspells and some Ancient Grudges are all very likely to be there.

  1. I hadn’t thought about the grudges, and I’d slotted in stony silences. I also tried both finks and timely reinforcements, and like the timelys better, because they still flip delvers.

    1. I honestly forgot about Timely. It might just be worse against Zoo, but I like it against Burn. Definitely worth testing.

      And yeah, Grudge is a nice one- better against affinity than Stony and, like you said about Timely, flips Delver. Worse against Tron, but I’m hearing that Nacatl Zoo is aggressively pushing that deck out of the format.

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