Insider: My Last Sideboard Slot for the Last Troll

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After posting my GP Minneapolis report, a couple commentators inquired about seeing some video of the deck in action. Unfortunately I haven't had access to the proper recording software quite yet, but I did take the deck for a spin on stream on Thursday and I'll try to stream more often in the future. There were a couple sweet games on stream, although I did end up playing a match that exhibited the deck's Achilles Heel:

How do you beat Thrun with an Izzet Tempo deck? For reference:

I've decided that I'm probably fine removing either the Hurkyl's Recall or Steel Sabotage from the sideboard in favor of something to beat Thrun. The Rock is easily a more difficult matchup than Affinity.

The last time Thrun was a problem for me, Phantasmal Image still traded one-for-one with it. Image can still stand off against an opposing Thrun, but is otherwise pretty lackluster against GBx decks. I've been trying to think of a card to solve the matchup against Rock decks, but I haven't come up with anything that seems particularly amazing. The idea is to find something that either goes bigger than Thrun or is just good against Abrupt Decay/Liliana of the Veil decks.

This is the short list of on-color options I've come up with:

Looking at this list, I feel like somewhat of a mad scientist. Decisions like these are what keeps me somewhat interested in Modern. Look at all these wonky options! Even if some seem easily dismissed, let's break down the merits of each.


I tested a Batterskull in the sideboard for a short while before deciding against it. Batterskull can win a grind against both Abrupt Decay and Liliana of the Veil and also hold a Thrun at bay, but it can't really beat a Thrun without another creature surviving to pick it up.

The major drawback to Batterskull is that it can just get Maelstrom Pulsed the turn it comes down, or, worse yet, Ancient Grudged--seeing as the maindeck Vedalken Shackles provide incentive for opponents to bring in Grudges. Ultimately, the weakness to artifact hate counts as a substantial strike.

Wurmcoil Engine

Wurmcoil Engine is better against Thrun, Liliana and Abrupt Decay than Batterskull, though it's comparably weak against Ancient Grudge. Six mana is also a tall order from our 20 land deck, though one six drop in the 75 isn't completely outrageous.

While Wurmcoil is pretty good against removal, I believe it ultimately ends up just being a very expensive way to trade for a card or two. I would easily be more interested in a non-artifact equivalent, but, even then, I'm wary of this option.

Keranos, God of Storms

Somebody joked about Keranos while I was streaming on Thursday, and I've been wondering about the card ever since. Outside of the odd Oblivion Ring or Detention Sphere, I haven't seen anybody actually playing answers to Gods in Modern. Keranos itself won't beat a Thrun, particularly out of a deck that won't ever reasonably turn him into a creature, but it is a source of damage and card advantage that, short of a timely Thoughtseize, can't be interacted with. Notably, Keranos has a way of getting the better of Liliana--either by just shooting her down or by replacing the cards that she had you discard.

Five mana is a lot, and I can't say with certainty that the ability is good enough, but I'm intrigued. And, all told, I'm a little excited to try it.

Koth of the Hammer

Koth doesn't exactly beat Thrun, but he sure kicks the crap out of Liliana. Koth's ultimate isn't at its best in a six Goblin Mountaineer deck, though, and getting a Steam Vents Exterminate!d or Dismembered sounds like a nightmare. He's pretty weak against Tarmogoyf, too. Koth is probably too cute, but man does playing him in Modern sound cool.

Giant Solifuge

They can block it with literally anything, and a Liliana edict doesn't care about Shroud as much as the Vapor Snag that you'll want to save it with does, but four power of haste is great at combating an active Liliana and keeping Thrun at bay.

Solifuge beats Maelstrom Pulse where Koth can't, but notably loses to Anger of the Gods/Pyroclasm.

Calcite Snapper

Generally, Calcite Snapper is going to do about the same thing that Giant Solifuge does, save for being one mana cheaper, blue, and immune to a singular Anger of the Gods/Pyroclasm.

Like Solifuge, Snapper won't actually trump any of their creatures and is ice cold to Liliana. Snapper has a drawback that Solifuge doesn't, in that, when you run out of lands, it does a terrible job of facing off against Thrun. Lacking haste also makes it dramatically worse against active Liliana.

Blue Sun's Zenith

Drawing a lot of extra cards seems like a good way to deal with Rock decks. Of course, my list currently only features 9 actual mana sources, which really restricts Zenith's power. This limiting factor could be addressed by changing the mana base, though I wouldn't cut more than one or two fetchlands.

The biggest incentive to this option is that Zenith would also be a good option to bring in against combo decks, and with such a diverse sideboard, such overlap is essential. The biggest downside is that the variable power level of the card means that a lot of times, even drawing and casting it will only result in a five mana Blood Divination. Zenith is actually way more enticing against the other decks than it is against Jund.

Sphinx of Jwar Isle

Sphinx is weak to Liliana and costs six, but that's the extent of its drawbacks. A 5/5 for six isn't the most exciting, though knowing the top of your deck isn't completely irrelevant in a deck with so many fetchlands--though after you have six mana, they're pretty bad anyway.

Ultimately, Jwar-Jwar Sphinx probably just ends up staring at a Thrun until your opponent topdecks something else to beat you. If only Consecrated Sphinx had shroud...

Consecrated Sphinx

Block Constructed and EDH all-star Consecrated Sphinx will ever be a favorite card of mine. There aren't a ton of ways to stop Consecrated Sphinx from being a two-for-one against Jund decks. The problem is that if it does die, even if it is a two-for-one, they tend to have more two-for-ones in their deck than you, and paying six mana for yours is a terrible rate.

Prognostic Sphinx

While it can't grant the card advantage that its consecrated cousin can, Prognostic Sphinx does come with card selection as well as an ability that can address any non-Liliana, non-double-Anger of the Gods removal. I haven't often found myself sitting on extra cards against Thoughtseize/Liliana decks, particularly when I get to five mana, but that's not to say that I would never have anything to discard to give Prognostic Sphinx shroud.

Sphinx can face off against Thrun, though notably dies after blocking Thrun and eating an Anger of the Gods. Ultimately, five and six drop creatures that just eat it against Liliana sound like too big of liabilities from all my experience with the matchup. The biggest reason for this is that the turn when you deploy your five/six drop could very well be the first time you weren't representing Mana Leak in the game, and it's not uncommon to see opponent's sandbag Liliana until just such an opportunity arises.

So What Now?

All of these considerations in mind, it's clear to me who the frontrunner in this competition is.

If a one-sided Howling Mind/Lightning Bolt factory is a powerful enough effect, then I'm confident in saying that Jund's inability to interact with Keranos solidly makes him the correct option here. Blue Sun's Zenith is my current second choice, though I do plan on going through all of these options until one clicks as something that really advantages me against Rock decks.

I'm going to try to do some more streams, with this deck and in general, so give me a follow @RyanOverdrive on Twitter to keep an eye open. I'll be hitting the Columbus Invitational in two weeks, so I'm not likely to be streaming any Modern until after then, but some Standard action isn't far from out of the question.

With Modern season looming, I can't imagine it will be long before I'm right back to grinding with Izzet Delver. Maybe even with a certain sideboard Izzet God. Be excited! I know I am.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan Overturf

6 thoughts on “Insider: My Last Sideboard Slot for the Last Troll

  1. I like the idea of going over the top of Thrun, literally, with fliers. Decks that run out Thrun typically take a lot of damage from lands, and with all of your burn it’s reasonable to race. I would jam in Vendilion Clique, it’s a way to proactively interact with Thrun as well as a way to race it in the air.

      1. I agree that fliers are excellent Against thrun, but the problem that I’ve had with clique is that it’s just as vulnerable as the other threats in the deck. I want to try something that can’t be decayed, and preferably can’t be bolted. Clique is definitely fine, but I’m looking for something with a higher power level and or less vulnerability.

        1. Then it sounds like you are not very commited to playing a Tempo Deck.

          If your deck can do one thing best or several things well, which do you pick?

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