Hello Modern Nexus! I'm Peter Niemeier and I'm here to talk about the aggressive, red prison deck I designed and piloted to a 15th place finish in the StarCityGames Modern Classic event in Las Vegas on December 13th. I had never played Modern before and the first game of Round 1 during SCG Las Vegas ended up being the first time I had ever experienced the format. I hadn't even been aware of similar red prison lists until after the event (like Ryan Hipp's 11th place build at my same event).
Today's tournament report is going to feature the deck's background, card choices, and a rundown of my performance at SCG Las Vegas. Bloody Humans is a strong deck for Modern and I hope you enjoy the report and try out the strategy!
Revised was in print when I started playing Magic, so goofy combos and sadistic control decks really spoke to me. If you asked me in 1994 what my favorite cards were, I'd probably rattle off Winter Orb, Icy Manipulator, and Stasis. Yeah, I'm that guy. I eventually started playing Legacy and began focusing on competitive Magic in the days when Mystic Enforcer and Exalted Angel were amazing creatures. I'm still doing the Legacy thing, playing both Dragon Stompy and Sylvan Plug. Obviously, I enjoy prison elements and mana-denial strategies. Because meta decks are also my cup of tea, I wondered if a Dragon Stompy type of deck could be effective in Modern. Although Blood Moon has a clear presence in Modern, from what I understood it wasn't typically expected in game one, let alone on the first or second turn. I set out to create a deck that could do this as reliably as possible without holding dead cards once the Moon effect had been powered out.
Deckstats.net is an incredible tool for creating and fine-tuning a deck, and was how I finalized my list for the SCG Classic. After popping in the pieces that seemed like they would belong in a Modern-legal version of Dragon Stompy, I studied the probabilities of both having the necessary cards in an opening hand and the frequency with which the deck can cast a Moon effect on turn one or two. A solid opening hand also has a couple of lands, as well as threats or protection in the form of cards like Chalice of the Void. Sometimes the extra pressure you're looking for is a Sword of War and Peace for your Magus of the Moon, a Prophetic Flamespeaker to dig through the deck for added threats and land drops, or a Kargan Dragonlord which can easily be leveled up and close out the game.
Blood in Your Hands
Since you're really looking to resolve a Moon effect before turn three, let's take a gander at openers which enable these lines of play:
On the play or draw:
- You play a land, get red from a Simian Spirit Guide, and then cast a ritual.
- You play a land and a Wild Cantor. Next turn you sacrifice it for mana and play your second land.
- You play a land and then cast a ritual on your following turn after your next land drop.
- You play a land and then get red from a Simian Spirit Guide on your following turn after your next land drop.
On the Draw:
- Begin the game with Gemstone Caverns in play, put a second land into play and then cast a ritual.
- Begin the game with Gemstone Caverns in play, make a land drop on turn one, get red from a Spirit Guide.
Caverns requires you to exile a card so always choose a second ritual first. You shouldn't need more than one. That second ritual will usually only be fuel for Kargan Dragonlord or an early Koth of the Hammer, and Caverns should do that job for you. Redundant Swords, Gemstones, Moons, Chalices, threats, and excessive lands are also fair exile bait.
I strongly suggest you mulligan for either a Blood Moon or a Magus of the Moon if they are not in your starting hand. Being comfortable mulliganing down to six or even five will come with practice; have faith that the list was constructed to provide consistent hands even if you have had to mulligan. The new scry rule helps tremendously here and we do not run fetchlands. If you don't want to risk mulling to four, consider the strength of your threats and if you can protect them with Chalice of the Void. I kept a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet open which I used to track what cards were in randomly generated sample hands. Sometimes there were too many mana sources and not much to do after casting Moon. Other times, there were too many threats, which felt too slow and unimpressive. I needed to find a balance where the deck was reliable enough to execute its primary strategy while also being able to follow up with a good clock.
Hundreds of hands later, I settled on this:
The deck is fairly linear. Lock pieces come out and then threats beat up the opponent before they can stabilize. We want to punish players for not fetching properly and to make them aware of how dangerous it is to play with greedy manabases full of nonbasics.
If you've never played a deck like this before, it's generally good form to cast a Blood Moon prior to a Magus if you're holding both because the Wizard is much more vulnerable. For example, a player who is able to fetch for white in response can float the white mana and cast Path to Exile after Magus resolves. Ideally, your opponent doesn't see your Moon effect coming and they've already made a poor choice regarding their land drop. Catching your opponent with their pants down can often set you so many turns ahead that they are unlikely to recover. Factor in poor draws, and the Moon effects are sometimes a one card win condition. The Human Wizard version even provides a clock on his own!
It should be noted that every Creature card is a Human. Naming the creature type for Cavern of Souls is self-explanatory.
Magus of the Moon has a little body, as does his friend Prophetic Flamespeaker. Regardless, these threats can win after a few turns of connecting, and they are themselves easily cast under a Moon. Flamespeaker will quickly cause the game to snowball in your favor. His card advantage cannot be understated and, simply put, the Prophet is bonkers. Sword of War and Peace is often overlooked and for good reason: its payoff is dependent on cards staying in both players' hands which is unlikely in Modern. That said, consider this deck's game plan. Since your opponent will generally have a grip full of cards, the Sword trigger, combined with the larger body of the attacker, will usually end the game in one or two turns. It's not uncommon to cast and equip it on the same turn by going all-in and chaining rituals. An unmolested Flamespeaker wielding the Sword will generally win the game immediately. As an added bonus, Sword also grants protection from two of the most important creature removal colors in Magic.
Kargan Dragonlord becomes an 8/8 fire-breathing monster surprisingly quickly when you feed it rituals and Simian Spirit Guides. He puts our mana to use when there is nothing else to do and is a fantastic clock on his own, even if he only grows up to be a 4/4. Oh, he can carry the Sword too. Koth of the Hammer tops out the curve, and you're only happy to see two if you can exile one to make your Gemstone Caverns lucky. The planeswalker pushes through that last bit of damage, levels up Kargan Dragonlord randomly, and, if for some reason there is a late game, he can allow your Mountains to ping for the kill. Don't forget that, when the situation calls for it, you can even beat with Wild Cantors and Simian Spirit Guides.
Moons are your most crippling lock pieces, but sometimes it's the Chalice of the Void that saves the day. It protects your threats from Path and Lightning Bolt, but we all know it does so much more. It hurts auras (Bogles), combo (Infect, Storm), and can flat-out blank many cards in your opponents deck. With the acceleration package, it's extremely easy and advisable to set this to one counter as soon as possible. If you're missing the Moon, it's often wise to resolve this prior to sticking a Magus. After boarding, it's possible to bring in Trinisphere to slow the game down further.
...And a Smoking Sideboard
Twin should fear the Damping Matrix. We need an answer for Twin and Rending Volley is far too narrow for my taste. Matrix is also very easy to cast in time, must be dealt with before they can go off, and comes down preemptively. Incidentally, it also shuts down Arcbound Ravager, Steel Overseer, sometimes prevents pumping by Affinity's manlands, and deactivates other randomness like Tasigur, the Golden Fang's card advantage. The anti-synergy with Kargan Dragonlord and Sword is a shame but a necessary evil, although I might reconsider this in the future.
Trinisphere, as stated, slows the game down further and is particularly painful for Burn, combo decks, and Zoo when compounded with Chalice and Moons.
Shattering Spree is, without question, one of the best weapons there is against Affinity. Shatterstorm was a consideration but it was discarded as being too slow as sometimes there is no acceleration and a ritual only bumps us up one mana. With Spree, we hit the targets that matter cheaply. Bonus points for replicate copies being put directly on the stack which means only the original is countered if Chalice is on one!
Ratchet Bomb is used to wipe the board of annoying one drops and zero-cost permanents. Affinity, Infect, Bogles, and Burn come to mind.
Round 1: A.E. Marling's Slivers (2-1)
He resolves a Manaweft Sliver early. I am able to power out a Magus and a Sword. Surprisingly, he's still having issues casting his cards and concedes to conceal information before he has to discard down to seven.
I figure Pyroclasms might be good and swap out the Koths and a ritual for them.
Although I get a Moon out fast, he is able to run me over extremely quickly with Sedge Sliver doing the lion's share of the damage.
There's no way for me to cast Blood Moon on turn one but figure I'll be okay dropping it on turn two. Naturally, he Thoughtsiezes and takes the Moon away. Naturally again, I topdeck a Magus of the Moon and the game ends shortly afterwards.
In hindsight, I should have brought in Ratchet Bombs. Aether Vials are a major concern since they ignore Moon effects and many of the Slivers share low casting costs so it may net you an X for 1. These will come in for future matches. Molten Rain might also find its way into the board to deal with key lands.
Round 2: Daniel Hendrickson's Affinity (0-2)
I'm not thrilled to already be facing Affinity in round two as I think this is a terrible match up for me. It's not a good feeling to just hope you dodge certain matchups but I feel pretty confident about the rest of the meta.
I think I'm smart by dropping a Chalice of the Void for zero to shut off the Mox Opals and similar cards. I also get an early win by resolving a Magus, making his Inkmoth sad. A few turns later, I think I'm going to get the win when I get the Sword of War and Peace on the Magus after connecting for a couple of turns with Prophetic Flamespeaker.
Then out comes Etched Champion to block all day every day.
Daniel ends up with a board state consisting of the Inkmoth Nexus, two Etched Champions, Arcbound Ravager and Steel Overseer. I have a Ratchet Bomb on three, Kargan Dragonlord who is 2/2 due to Damping Matrix (which is saving me from his Ravager and Overseer), the Magus with the Sword, and my Flamespeaker. I'm also holding Pyroclasm.
Instead of thinking up better plays, I pop the Bomb. Everything disintegrates after that and I know a) I probably made a bad misplay and b) the game is over. I feel like I could have played it better with the Pyroclasm and Sword of War and Peace being moved over to the Kargan Dragonlord. But I can't actually move the Sword because of Matrix, so maybe this one wast just over anyway.
All in all, Moons are pretty bad against Affinity, so this is a matchup that will be challenging. Mulligan hard for Shattering Spree and dropping Chalice of the Void for zero as soon as possible. Going second often means Chalice is too late. Try to deploy a Damping Matrix to keep Ravager and Overseer small, and to shut down Platings, before nuking the board with Pyroclasm.
Round 3: Jimmy Brady's Ad Nauseam (2-0)
I resolve a Magus of the Moon and lay down the sweet two-power beats. Chalice of the Void keeps him locked.
For Game 2, I swap Koths for Trinisphere.
Trinisphere is really all that is needed out of the board. With Ad Nauseam's greedy manabase, just stick to the gameplan of Mooning them out. You'll also want to make things difficult with the Trinisphere. Consider you will likely be targeted by discard effects too, so i also advise you to keep doubles of Chalices or Moons.
Round 4: Justin Parente's Abzan (2-0)
I play many early Moons and he concedes in short order.
The maindeck is built to attack decks like this so I just stick to the initial plan and pretend to sideboard. Pyroclasm is too weak to deal with anything outside of the largely irrelevant Lingering Souls.
He fetches for a Plains with plans to Path a Magus, but I resolve a Chalice on one prior to resolving the Wizard. The game doesn't go much longer than that.
I will bring in Ratchet Bomb in the future to hit two-drops, blow up Spirit tokens, or perhaps even tick them up to explode Siege Rhinos. Again, be wary of discard and look for Moons. You'll be trying to race Tarmogoyf so become the aggro deck and get Dragonlord in the air as soon as possible.
Round 5: Zachary Sommer's Valakut (2-0)
I get Sword of War and Peace on a Magus that was himself resolved very early. Zach never had a chance.
I sideboard in copes of Relic of Progenitus to address Snapcaster. Koth comes out.
The game goes long and we end up with him holding two cards, a Tasigur, the Golden Fang in play, and a life total at 3. He's facing down Prophetic Flamespeaker holding the Sword. Tasigur's butt isn't big enough. When Zach blocks the Flamespeaker, one damage tramples over the 4/5 and triggers the Sword for the win.
Scapeshift is very weak to an early Blood Moon. Stay on-plan and resolve them as early as possible. Not all Scapeshift lists sneak in Tasigur for Games 2-3, but you might encounter something like Thragtusk instead. Whatever the creature, fly over blockers and punish hard with counterattacks. If the Scapeshift player does get basics, beware of Izzet Charm when trying to cast Moon. Resolve multiple Moons so they're still locked down if they try to bounce or remove one.
Round 6: Eddie Davenport's One Drop Zoo (2-0)
I go second and get a first turn Moon, not realizing how good this opening is in the matchup.
He gets me dangerously low with a first turn Monastery Swiftspear followed by a Grim Lavamancer and a lot of burn. Eventually he tries to close by adding a Goblin Guide to the team. It's all for naught as I ignore his blockers with a massive swing off the red-protected, Sword-bearing Flamespeaker. The equipment probably won the game on its own, as it is very likely I was dead the following turn.
He drops a Wild Nacatl and I power out a Chalice at one on my first turn. He joins his opening Forest with a followup Plains and starts beating me for two (then three) every turn with the Cat. It's a very close game and I'm afraid I'm within range of some kind of burn spell like Rift Bolt. Thankfully, Dragonlord is there to close. I chump his Nacatl before swinging in with an 8/8 Kargan equipped with Sword of War and Peace, hitting for lethal. I had just topdecked a Guide and had exactly enough mana to level him to eight for the win.
This is a tighter matchup than Eddie made it out to be. Without Chalice of the Void, I was within burn range. Chalices in your opening hand should almost never be mulled away. Sadly, Wild Nacatl can control the early game so try to keep it weak with Moon and start racing.
Round 7: Reginald Kimmich's Affinity (0-2)
I go with the same sideboard plan as Round 2.
I stop his Inkmoth with a Moon and, without thinking, set a Chalice to one instead of zero. Too much Legacy! Within moments, it turns out not to matter as he's beating me with an Ensoul Artifact on Vault Skirge. Next comes an Overseer and a Master of Etherium. Since I have a chalice on one counter, I can only replicate Shattering Spree twice. I take out the Overseer and the Skirge, but Reginald still has lethal next turn with the Master, Signal Pest, and some Nexus pumps.
Reginald is a very tight player and I commend him on his 2nd place finish. If you find yourself up against Affinity, it's critical to blow things up with Ratchet Bombs and land Chalices on zero. Sandbag removal so that you can deal with the aftermath of Ravager distributing counters. Etched Champion is a huge problem, and Bombing for three doesn't really solve it, as it wipes our board as well.
Round 8: Rob Pisano's Amulet Bloom (2-0)
He's very upset that I want to play the match. It's moments like this where you must keep a cool head and focus on playing the game, which can be hard when opponents choose to make things uncomfortable.
Game 1 starts and I land a Magus of the Moon right away. He concedes a turn or two laer.
I don't really know what to expect, but I know this is a great matchup for me. I end up not sideboarding at all, although in the future, Ratchet Bomb and/or Shattering Spree will come in to quickly take out Amulet of Vigor.
Again, this is a good matchup and is exactly the kind of deck I designed Bloody Humans to prey upon. Mulligan for Moon effects. Save duplicates in the event the Bloom player is able to remove any with Seal of Primordium. With that said, it can be safe to resolve multiples so that they do not regain access to their colored mana after casting their removal.
Next Steps for All In Red strategies
I could only do so much research. Late in the rounds I saw a few copies of Worship which made me wonder if I need to consider developing an answer for permanents of this caliber or if I just proceed with the gameplan of mana denial and ending the game before they can resolve it. I also made some play mistakes which I'd hope to iron out in a later tournament run.
In terms of the maindeck, I only cast Koth once. This is disappointing, because I really like the card a lot for how aggressive it is. That said, it clearly wasn't needed. I don't want to deviate from the deck's gameplan, but a couple of removal spells or another lock piece might be better than the cool planeswalker. Maybe I can use those slots to improve my Affinity matchup or to strengthen my game against the rest of the field even more. Perhaps stick in Molten Rain. There's a lot of room for improvement and I'm excited to see where the deck goes.
Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed the deck and I look forward to seeing more Moon abuse in Modern!