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Deck Primer: The Bitterblossom Deck No One’s Playing

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Editor's Note: Paul Nemeth (Zwischenzug on MTGO) is the 2013 MTGO Constructed Player of the Year and can boasts the highest overall win percentage on MTGO ( as tracked by mtgstats.com). He started grinding about 3 years ago with 75 tix and, thanks to a ton of grinding, winning and a few good investments, his collection is now worth several hundred times that. He recently won a MOCS event to secure his POTY trophy.

I have a Modern brew for you guys today. I wanted to find a home for Bitterblossom that was neither Faeries nor B/x Tokens. I view the card as a powerful 2 mana Planeswalker although it's slow and costs a lot of life over the duration of a game. It's also difficult to answer, attacks, blocks, provides card advantage, and can take over a game all by itself. Many of the decks that have attempted to use this Tribal Enchantment have drawn on the popular and proven Lorwyn-Alara Block strategies, but there are other ways to win games with Bitterblossom.

Although it had elements of control, Faeries was an aggressive (though reactive) deck and B/W Tokens was undeniably aggressive. In contrast, a control deck can slow the game down to allow Bitterblossom sufficient time to generate a huge quantity of tokens. Control decks like to blank opposing removal, and often skimp on creatures to achieve this. Unfortunately, they still need a way to win the game. Aside from the bit about losing life, Bitterblossom is exactly the kind of threat I want to play in a control shell. Since the tokens can also block attacking creatures, it can function as a kind of Forcefield effect, potentially creating a net gain of life.

Grixis Bitterblossom Control

Note that between Bitterblossom, Lightning Bolt, Electrolyze, Snapcaster Mage, Creeping Tar Pit, and Cryptic Command (to tap down blockers) you can actually close out a game pretty quickly. For instance, on your opponent's end step, cast Lightning Bolt, then Snapcaster Mage and Bolt their face again. On your turn, untap and activate Creeping Tar Pit. Attack with it and Snapcaster for a total of 11 damage. Now imagine you've been sitting behind a Bitterblossom, accruing tokens all along. Now imagine that your opponent is probably playing a healthy amount of Fetch and Shock lands. Most control decks don't care about the opposing life total until they have the game locked down, but this build can come out of nowhere with a huge burst of damage. Keep a close eye on your opponent's health and make sure you know when to switch into aggressive mode.

I wanted to make the mana base relatively painless to support Bitterblossom, but due to Anger of the Gods, Cryptic Command, and Terminate that didn't really seem possible. Desolate Lighthouse is key in draw-go matchups such as UWR Control and Splinter Twin, as it allows the deck to loot through the matchup's dead cards (such as Anger of the Gods. 4 copies may be 1 too many in the main deck, but the card is disgustingly good against Zoo and Pod, which I expect to be frontrunners in the post Ban/Unban Modern format. It exiles Voice of Resurgence, Kitchen Finks, and maybe even Wurmcoil Engine with a little help. Pyroclasm and Drown in Sorrow don't make the cut because the presence of Wild Nacatl requires main deck sweepers to do at least 3 damage these days. Batterskull provides lifegain to survive Bitterblossom, but it mostly exists to be the ultimate endgame against decks that play fair in Modern. Think Twice is in the sideboard because I really don't want it against most decks, but it is great against Liliana of the Veil and the slower matchups. The deck looks weak to Blood Moon. If your opponent is likely to have it, try to draw Mana Leak, fetch basic Islands early, and pray to your deity of choice.

Sideboarding Against The Field

This not a bible so you should always be looking to improve on it.

Fast Zoo
IN: +1 Volcanic Fallout
OUT: -1 Bitterblossom
(or no changes depending on their creatures.)

Melira Pod
IN: +2 Grafdigger's Cage, +4 Nihil Spellbomb, +1 Volcanic Fallout, +1 Shadow of Doubt
OUT: -1 Batterskull, -1 Devour Flesh, -3 Terminate, -1 Desolate Lighthouse, -1 Cryptic Command, -1 Bitterblossom

UWR Control
IN: +4 Fulminator Mage, +1 Think Twice, +1 Dispel, +2 Nihil Spellbomb
OUT: -4 Anger of the Gods, -3 Terminate, -1 Devour Flesh
Note that Fulminator Mage is not meant to be used as a Stone Rain. It's usually best to attack with him until they use removal or activate a Celestial Colonnade.

Affinity
IN: +1 Shatterstorm, +1 Volcanic Fallout
OUT: -1 Devour Flesh, -1 Cryptic Command
Watch out for Blood Moon and Etched Champion.

Faeries
IN: +1 Volcanic Fallout, +1 Dispel, +1 Think Twice
OUT: -1 Devour Flesh, -2Anger of the Gods

Splinter Twin
IN: +1 Dispel, +1 Think Twice, +1 Volcanic Fallout, +1 Shadow of Doubt
OUT: -4 Anger of the Gods
Maybe keep Batterskull in since you can play it under Blood Moon and there's a good chance they cut combo pieces for a fair plan. Be very careful about actually casting Batterskull. Patience is key.

Jund
IN: +1 Think Twice, +1 Volcanic Fallout, +1 Fulminator Mage
OUT: -3 Anger of the Gods

RG Tron
IN: +4 Fulminator Mage, +1 Shadow of Doubt, +1 Think Twice, +3 Nihil Spellbomb
OUT: -4 Anger of the Gods, -1 Batterskull, -1 Devour Flesh, -3 Terminate
It's not that Nihil Spellbomb is in any way good, it's that the other cards are really bad.

With the Modern Pro Tour only a few days away, it will be interesting to see if any of the competitors decide to field a deck like this.  It is highly probable that Bitterblossom will show up in force over the weekend; precisely what role it plays and what company it keeps remains to be seen.

Feedback is important to me, so please start the discussion with a comment!
Zwischenzug on MTGO
Paulanemeth@gmail.com

32 thoughts on “Deck Primer: The Bitterblossom Deck No One’s Playing

  1. Nice deck! I think you are right about Anger of the Gods as a sweeper. Without DRS around, Kitchen Finks seems to be running rampant. The R/W/B smallpox brew I had been tinkering with seemed to get much worse post banning as it was having a hard time dealing with Finks and Voice of Resurgence.

    1. Check my Feb 7th Article if you are an Insider. If not, GP Prague had a list in the day 2 coverage which is the deck I have been tinkering with. It’s got Boom/Bust, Smallpox, Lily, Bolt, Helix, IoK, Ajani V, Chandra, Lingering Souls.

      It’s been fun to play, but seems weak against Pod decks (they are midrangey like you, but with a better end game) and is weak against U/W/R (you interact mostly with sorcery speed stuff, and they are mostly instants). I’ve been trying to incorporate Bitterblossom and Sorin, but I’m not sure if that’s the right direction.

      What’s your deck like?

  2. Very cool deck.

    What are your thoughts on Consuming Vapors, either for MD or SB? Used to see play in old Grixis shells. Provides creature control, including against Hexproof deck, and can provide life gain to counteract Bitterblossom. 4cc may be too slow, but it does work and can help catch you up.

    1. Consuming Vapors is an interesting idea. Having some life gain with Bitterblossom is great. For the main deck, I think it competes with Anger of the Gods and loses because 1) it costs more 2) not effective enough against cards such as Kitchen Finks, Voice of Resurgence, Ornithopter.

    1. Good question! I don’t like either in the main because they are typically useless as late game topdecks, and this deck is looking to play relatively long grindy games. Thoughtseize could be a real improvement to the sideboard, perhaps replacing the 4th Nihil Spellbomb.

  3. I’m not sure that Bitterblossom is better in Modern than Dark Confidant. I do think Bitterblossom is a better fit for this deck because this deck gets some value out of making opposing removal bad, Bitterblossom is better with Anger of the Gods, and Bitterblossom strikes me as the safer (less life loss) more defensive (better blocker) of the two cards.

    1. Really? Because the 75 that I cashed GP Nebraska with that I rehashed in my article this week is remarkably close.

      Being a black deck and opting for Bitterblossom and not for Confidant suggests that you believe your odds are better with one over the other. Though, to be fair, you’re picking Bitterblossom and Cryptic Command over Bob.

        1. Hahaha. I’ve been working on Modern with Dana and we’re liking the Minnesota Wild… Nacatl deck better.

          And that’s a good point, Jesse. I’m not sold on maining four Angers, but it’s definitely a good meta call against Pod and Zoo.

  4. Whoah, good catch getting Zwischenzug to write an article. I would be pumped to hear more from Paul. I remember reading a comment of yours on r/mtgfinance that you recently moved away from full time MTGO grinding to MTGO speculating, yet I still see that you manage to tear up a DE or 3 every day. Do you think that you’ll be writing more here about grinding and/or MTGO finance?

    1. Currently my plan is to write strategy articles. If you’re looking for MTGO finance articles, Matt Lewis’s are fantastic. For me, those alone were more than worth the price of a subscription.

  5. This was good. I’m not gonna lie it can be hard to swallow some of the strategy articles here. Not that they are bad builds or writers, just that spikes are spikes. This deck looks very competitive in Modern. If this has a good twin matchup it could easily be T1. I hope you stick around.

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