Goin’ Fishin’ in a New Modern

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Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day American Nexites, or Monday for rest of the world. It is I, your editor stepping back into the overly bright spotlight (I really need to adjust those) for your edification on this, the first weekday of the new Twinless Modern Era! Yes, we have a new banned list, and a new format and the world is once again our oyster. What new and wondrous possibilities are there for us? Let's Explore!


GAAAHH ENOUGH! (All that forced positivity was burning my soul) As you must know by now, there's been an update to the banned and restricted list. It's a little controversial. Other than saying that I think banning Splinter Twin is a mistake and that I will be stunned if Affinity doesn't dominate the Pro Tour, I'm not going to discuss its implications more today. Sheridan has done some of that already and is going into more detail tomorrow (Or at least I think he is. His response to my inquiry appears Cthuloid in origin and makes me fear for my sanity). Instead, I'm going to talk about where this leaves us and how I'm going to adapt. It makes the most sense to start with where I was when I heard the announcement.


Learning to Heed Your Master

Remember my first article about my Monastery Mentor deck? I've been working on it in the intervening months and while this list had improved its fundamental problem of actually fueling Mentor remained. Sphinx's Revelation was always too slow but there really wasn't an alternative. Esper Charm was surprisingly hard to cast and wasn't enough of a boost to really be worthwhile. Then I started testing Standard again for the StarCityGames Denver Open and noticed that Painful Truths was pretty good. Shortly thereafter a friend crushed me with a Modern Mardu list and assured me that it was, in fact, the Truth. Beaten by that pun, I tried it out. Annoyingly, he was right and I started running this list at my LGS's weekly Modern events:

Wisdom of the Ancients

Monastery Mentor CardWhat I learned since that first article was that Mentor needed to be treated like a control finisher and that meant cutting down on copies. It also meant cutting down on counterspells. Counters don't really pair well with Mentor since you want to use spells proactively to start smashing with prowess triggers and tokens. The metagame has also shifted enough to make Remand and Mana Leak less desirable. I chose Spell Snare instead since Terminate is popular and it is playable to good against most Modern decks.

The increase in Jund, Abzan, and Twin also meant that more flexible creature kill and Lingering Souls was necessary to win the grindy matchups.Lingering Souls The rise of those three decks also meant Zoo was less prevalent so I was able to cut Supreme Verdict for Kitchen Finks, which is better against both Burn and Jund. I could also run a single Sun Titan to help grind out removal. A pair of Painful Truths is all I've needed so far. You grind a lot of advantage with Finks and Souls as is, so you only need a couple of extra draws to keep you in the game. Besides, with the shocks and fetches the life loss can be important. The deck ran well, going 3-1 in both the events I took it to. It really struggled against Tron and Bx Eldrazi, but that was to be expected and since you can't be fair and strong against everything I decided that was acceptable.

Which brings me to Friday.

Judgement Day

I was finishing up the last round of the Modern FNM having ground out UR Twin with Snapcast Inquisitions and Vendilion Clique and was two swings from lethal when the store owner came up.

"Hey, the Banned List just went up."

Me: "'s not Monday."

"Yeah but apparently it's up early. Must be the holiday. Summer Bloom and Splinter Twin are banned."

Me: "What?"

From over my shoulder: "That's got to be a hoax."

"No, it's on the Wizards page. Come check it out."

I really wish the disembodied voice behind me was right, but again I'm not going into more about that here.Drown in Sorrow Suffice it to say it means that this version of Esper Mentor is probably not viable going forward. If I'm right and Affinity gains significant metagame share, then the deck needs sweepers, probably Drown in Sorrow, maindeck. Worse, it may not be viable at all since Eldrazi will continue to gain popularity and that deck is frustratingly difficult, especially now that it doesn't have to worry about losing turn four. In fact, now that everyone doesn't have to worry about losing because they tapped out, I expect many decks to get even more linear and cut their interaction entirely. This probably means Lightning Bolt will become even more important to slow down aggro decks and so for the moment I'm tabling my Esper list. We'll see how things shake out going into the Pro Tour and Regionals, but I suspect if you want to go slow and fair, you need to be red.

If You Can't Control, Beatdown

Arcbound RavagerWith this new and unprecedented metagame shift underway, the Level 0 assumption is that Affinity will gain a lot of ground. After all, one of its worse matchups is now gone and it was very strong beforehand. The Level 1 assumption would be that you should play a deck that beats Affinity and has game against the rest of the field. The usual suspects in that case would be GBx or Grixis Not-Twin. However, I would add to the Level 0 assumption that Bx Eldrazi will continue to rise in popularity. With its good to favorable matchup against midrange decks, one would expect a rise in Affinity and anti-Affinity would mean a favorable environment for Eldrazi to become a major player in Modern.

This might make you want to Next Level by playing anti-Eldrazi decks that also beats Affinity, which Burn and Bogles, sometimes? What I'm getting at here is that if you go down the rabbit hole of trying to turn the edge of the metagame you're likely to trip over your own feet and be crushed under a pile of poorly mixed metaphors. My advice? Take what you're playing right now and adapt it for a metagame full of Affinity and Eldrazi which for most of you means to increase your board interaction and/or speed up. For me, that means that my usual UW Merfolk deck currently looks like this:

Yes, I'm finally running Harbinger of the Tides. A faster, Affinity-heavy Modern means Unified Will is much worse than it was in August when I first cut Harbinger.Harbinger of the Tides Bloom is also gone so I don't need to worry about must-counter-threats nearly as much. I've always said Harbinger was intended for a tempo and aggro metagame and since I'm betting that's where we're going I'd better start playing them. Master is not very good in a faster format where I have less time to find lands or tick up Aether Vial, so I shave one for a Harbinger. For the same reason, I've cut Tectonic Edge. It's just too slow against aggro and only sometimes useful against Eldrazi. This makes  my mana is more reliable and lets me bring an extra Hurkyl's Recall for Affinity and Hibernation for Infect, Elves, and Zoo. I'm also running Kor Firewalker to help against Zoo and beat Burn.

Note: Echoing Truth is and has always been insane against tokens. Blight Heder frequently makes a lot of tokens. So does Lingering Souls. More decks should be playing this card.

How viable Merfolk actually is will depend on just how aggro-heavy the metagame becomes since it's not favored against most aggro decks. It does benefit from Rending Volley disappearing from sideboards, but that was never too big a deal anyway. The sideboard Geist of Saint Trafthelps but I definitely don't want to go fishing in a world full of burn and naturally big creatures. That said, Merfolk does have a very good Eldrazi matchup and is extremely resilient against that deck's current answers, not to mention the incoming additions. The fish clock is very fast and Spreading Seas is surprisingly effective at slowing Eldrazi down. Merfolk has also traditionally had very good matchups against various midrange decks and Scapeshift, though I've made mine worse by taking out the Tectonic Edges. If, as the banlist announcement claims, the non-Twin URx decks rise again now that Twin is gone then those can be very good matchups as well, although Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration and Geist of Saint Traft are very threatening clocks and can tempo you out when coupled with a lot of removal.

As annoyed as I am, it is interesting to consider what will happen now that a pillar has been removed from Modern and how I will adapt. I just hope that pillar wasn't structurally integral to the whole house.

It's a New Day

Regardless of your feelings about it, the fact is we will have to live in this new Modern at least until April 4th. The changes don't take effect until Friday so spend this week getting your Twin on as much as possible. After that, adapt. Remember the Level 0 assumptions I mentioned are just that: assumptions. Get out and test. Who knows, maybe Wizards is right and without Twin URx is still viable as Delver or control lists. If your decks was unaffected then figure out what, if anything, needs changing.

We can't change Wizards' mind (though I've got a speech ready just in case I ever meet Aaron Forsythe) so for now all we can do is brew. Let me know how you'll adapt to this new reality and I'll see you in the comments.

David Ernenwein

David has been playing Magic since Odyssey block. A dedicated Spike, he's been grinding tournaments for over a decade, including a Pro Tour appearance. A Modern specialist who dabbles in Legacy, his writing is focused on metagame analysis and deck evolution.

View More By David Ernenwein

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29 thoughts on “Goin’ Fishin’ in a New Modern

  1. 8 white sources is ridiculous. Please see Frank Karsten.
    60 cards 1 source by turn 2 is 13 colored sources.
    Stony silence needs to come down on turn 2.
    For firewalker:
    60 cards 2 sources by turn 2, 20 sources.

    1. I’d tend to agree 8 white sources feels a little light. When I play UW Merfolk, I usually run 4 wanderwine hub, 4-5 fetch lands, 2 Seachrome Coast, and 1 Hallowed Fountain. With 4 Mutavaults, that leaves 4-5 Islands. Obviously, this makes you vulnerable to Blood Moon, but with 9 ways to get Islands, you’re not totally hosed. Also can cause some pain versus burn, but still not too nasty all things considered.

      Curious about the decision to include 2 Kira main and 1 side. Do you think they will be particularly strong in the new meta? Tron, Eldrazi, Affinity, and Infect, all of which seem poised to do well post-twin, don’t run a ton of removal, right?

      What do you think about including a couple copies of phantasmal image now that twin is out of the way? It was REALLY bad vs Twin, but seems pretty well poised if things shake out the way most people are predicting.

      What’s your opinion of Sea’s Claim in the main or side? With Tron, Eldrazi, and Burn likely seeing an uptick, it seems like it could be a good way to disrupt their mana-bases while ensuring your creatures can sneak through.

      1. The problem with running fetchs and shocks is that you give up quite a bit against Burn and Scapeshift to do so. Merfolk’s greatest advantage in both matchups is that you don’t give them any cards by Bolting yourself which usually buys you an extra turn to force through lethal. Your cantrips make finding a white source easy enough that I wouldn’t worry about adding more sources in.

        Grixis and GBx are still going to be prevalent and I expect that most Twin players will turn their decks into some form of tempo or control so while the Level 0 tier one expectation is for non-interactive decks, I’d hedge against the Level 1 response and simply being wrong. And having a flier to block Inkmoth Nexus is no small thing.

        Having playing Image in Legacy, I still don’t think it’s very good. It’s still terrible in an attrition fight and as a topdeck after a sweeper, which were always my main problems with it. I’d still leave it at home.

        If I knew that the tournament would be 50% or more Eldrazi and Tron then I’d absolutely pack Sea’s Claim as a 3-4 of main. Otherwise just leave it. Attacking Burn’s lands rarely works out and is too tempo negative even for Spreading Seas so unless I’m knocking my opponent off significant amounts of mana it isn’t worth it.

        1. Here’s a link to the Carston article in case you want to check it out:

          He does make allowances for cantrips; as a rule of thumb, you divide by 4 to count as “virtual land”. So you could treat Merfolk as having two additional white sources, which has you getting a white source reliably (90% of the time) on turn 5 on the play with 8 actual white sources.

          I’ll note that having played a lot of mono-blue Merfolk, keeping in spreading seas versus Burn post-board has almost always felt very powerful. It absolutely wrecks what should be really good hands (2 lands with lots of gas). Sometimes it just cuts them off a color, which is still pretty solid. Other times, it lets you sweep through their blockers (who sometimes are not in a position to attack due to your merfolk) and win a turn faster. Of course, path does open up their manabase a little bit more, so may be a better fit for mono blue than UW.

          1. I knew exactly which article you were referencing. I assure you that I have considered it, but experience has shown me that 8 sources is perfectly fine, mostly because the white isn’t THAT critical to the deck so that even when I never see a white source it doesn’t always affect the outcome. You need to get a little lucky against Affinity anyway so missing a turn 2 Stony might not win you the game.

            As for Burn, in my experience what I lose to either my opponent dropping early creatures or me failing to put together a reasonable clock. In either of those cases restricting Burn’s mana isn’t going to save me. My burn opponents also frequently play 3+ lands without help from Path so it’s rare that I can actually shut them off of mana. I’d rather advance my board state or answer their creatures than try to shut off their hand.

    2. * edit after morning coffee

      Awesome article!
      I like the white splash for merfolk post ban. I was a little surprised about your lack of white sources, since your sideboard cards are so important. I think some changes might be necessary. Frank Kartsen’s article on lands would be useful for this.
      Keep on fishin!

    3. I’m well aware of Frank’s land math, but what I have that Frank doesn’t is almost 2 years of constantly playing this deck to know that thanks to your cantrips and Aether Vial 8 sources is usually enough. Stony can be a sticking point and if Tron weren’t on the rise I’d cut them for Kataki. Firewalker is frankly more of a hedge than a necessity against Burn and can be Vialed in. Merfolk’s clock in Burn is fast enough that (barring multiple Searing Blazes) you can race them without the Kor’s help. Adding fetches and Hallowed Fountain is a bad move (as I address in response to Rory’s comment) and Glacial Fortress is too risky so for me, 8 white sources is correct.

      1. The bigger question is – is that you appear to be relying on Vial to cast Kor Firewalker – hmm.. You also don’t seem to understand that Stony Silence has to hit early – but again – you have a solution – ill just cantrip to it.. hmm. ‘Ive been playing the deck for years’ – poorly it seems..

        1. Relying? No. Benefiting from? Yes. I refuse to rely on any single card to win me a game and while Kor Firewalker helps a lot against Burn it does not win the game. Merfolk vs. Burn is a question of Burn’s speed vs. Merfolk’s board presence. Merfolk needs to overwhelm Burn’s speed with an insurmountable offense. An early Firewalker buys time to develop that presence but if you fail to assemble a decent amount of fish in play you will lose. I run Firewalker because it is a good speedbump but I do not need him to win, so I don’t see any reason to lose percentage points adding fetchlands just to be certain that I can cast it turn two when it isn’t necessarily required.

          As for Stony Silence it is only necessary against Affinity when they are on the Arcbound Ravager/Steel Overseer plan. This is happens to be their easiest to disrupt plan with Path and Echoing Truth. Yes, Silence is very good at slowing them down in general, but my loses usually come from a very explosive turn 1-2 involving Cranial Plating or a very hard to disrupt Signal Pest rush (which incidentally Echoing Truth is very good against) both of which ignore Stony. If Silence wasn’t also good against Tron I’d prefer to run Hurkyl’s Recall for Affinity since it gains you so much time and tempo. Does turn two Stony help me? Yes. Is it enough to save me? No. I don’t gain enough from ensuring that I have white turn two every game (when I’m also fairly unlikely to actually need it most of the time) to justify the life loss that would entail.

          I’ve tried many different combinations of lands and colors in Merfolk and tested them extensively. If I’m telling you that my experience tells me that my numbers are fine it is because I’ve put the time in to be certain that they work.

  2. My chips are on Bx Eldrazi midrange and Tron being the biggest winners from the ban. There will also be a rush to find the next most unfair combo.

    Modern’s fairly predictable, but that’s because magic players are.

  3. Sorry to point this out, but echoing truth is in fact very, very bad against blight herder. Bx eldrazi player can just sac the targeted token. Even if they couldn’t, would you really want to be spending a card just to deal with the etb effect?

    1. You’d be amazed how often players forget that and even then you’re delaying when Ulamog comes down. Sometimes you just need to delay them a little to finish them off and sometimes they’ve mentally f6’d and you get them all. Not the best sure but it’s better than letting them ramp.

        1. It’s not the reason to play it, merely an occasional bonus. It’s surprisingly strong against most aggro decks since they, much like Merfolk, rely on redundancy and building large board presences so it is very possible to steal a lot of tempo and damage from both Affinity and Zoo. On its own Echoing Truth defeats tokens decks and cleanly answers Lingering Souls. It’s also one of the only maindeckable ways that Merfolk can beat Ensnaring Bridge or Ghostly Prison. As a powerful, versatile card I’ve always been surprised that blue decks never ran it.

  4. Pre-Twin ban, I still don’t like what you’re doing with Mentor.

    Painful Truths is a good way to lose to aggro, even with Kitchen Finks (aggro decks are powerful enough to punch through Finks and other types of lifegain, you’re seriously underestimating their raw power).

    Zoo decks usually have ways to punch through lingering souls (If Zoo couldn’t beat souls, it would be unplayable), so all souls does is gum up the ground against midrange decks like Jund. Its also a good way to get blown out by graveyard hate against Eldrazi.

    In order to reliably activate collonade, you need more than 24 lands. You need 6 lands in order to activate and swing with him, so its not happening until the lategame. I would have cut Collonade from this list honestly, it doesn’t want him.

    What makes Mentor powerful are free or cheap spells that have a huge impact on the board. You’re not playing those cards, you’re playing clunky, expensive stuff that loses to very aggressive decks so you’re never going to have Mentor shine because you’re already dead. What this means is you don’t want expensive sorceries, you want extremely powerful, 1 mana instants that give you a lot of flexibility. For the most part, those don’t exist in modern except for Lightning Bolt, so playing Mentor without Bolt just seems really bad to me. This leads me to believe if Mentor is going to shine in modern, its going to be on the back of some Mardu shell, since that wedge has a lot of really powerful 1 mana cards to back mentor up.

    tl;dr the Mentor deck just seems like it has no idea what it wants to do.

    But with Twin banned, I think its just best to be as linear as you can possibly be and just ignore what your opponent is doing and race them.

    1. Truths vs Zoo is actually very good. The way the matches have played out for me is that I trade Path, Cut, and Inquisition for creatures until either the opponent is out or I’m dead. After that you drop a win condition, reload with Truths and hope to hit Sorin to seal the game. Trading a Bolt for 3 cards is still very good, and Zoo doesn’t run that much burn so I’m willing to go very low against them (Burn is obviously a different matter).

      I’ve been getting to 6 quite often, actually and even when you don’t Colonnade is still very good since it fixes your mana and is unaffected by Choke or Boil.

      I think your objection is rooted in you thinking that this list is about Monastery Mentor like my previous lists were. It isn’t. This is a midrange deck that’s about grinding with the Lingering Souls and removal package. Monastery Mentor is really just a win condition that you drop once you’ve cleared the way with discard and Vendilion Clique. Frankly, if you want to pair Mentor with 1 mana instants then you’re looking at Delver, and as I mentioned last time I talked about Mentor, that means you actually want Young Pyromancer. Mentor is intended for slower decks that clear the way for him and have proactive spells after the fact, not for decks that are trying to get under the opponent.

      As I mentioned, I agree that right now you don’t want to be fair. Go for unfair or linear until a clearer picture of the metagame emerges.

      1. When I say Mentor needs to be paired with 1 mana spells, its because Mentor’s success in vintage/legacy has been done with free spells like Gush and Force of Will. You don’t have those in modern, so the closest analogue are 1 mana spells like Bolt.

        The inherent issue is that you have no way of interacting with the top of your opponent’s library, and Mentor lines up very poorly against Goyf without a mass of cheap spells that allow you to go wide.

        Cutting removal vs. Zoo is a good way to get beaten down into the ground, since you can’t interact with their dudes and they’re just way too fast for Mentor to really matter against.

        Also, the thing about Bolt. You have no reach. You can’t close games out without having access to burn to finish off an opponent, which is the main reason Jund sees play over junk (though both decks are pretty bad now).

        1. I understood what you meant. My point is that if you’re looking for a dedicated token producing beatdown machine you should be looking at Young Pyromancer because in Modern it’s at a better place in the curve and in a better color. The Legacy and Vintage Mentor decks tend to be slower than the Pyromancer decks and I’ve come to believe that is also true of Modern. If I’m going wide it’s not to get around creatures it’s to spread out topdecked removal after a longer attrition fight. Again, it’s a slower midrange/control list. If you need reach, you should be playing a faster deck with Young Pyromancer.

  5. Echoing Truths does nothing against eldrazi tokens -.-

    But that aside, why thinking about Merfolk if you expect Affinity to be the go-to deck?
    Even with the whitesplash the matchup barely gets equal.

    Here is my real beef with your article though. I think your assumption is completely wrong.
    I don’t believe Affinity will rule the world. Actually i think it will get stomped to death!
    All the sideboardslots that were spend on Twin will directly convert into Affinityhate in Addition to what decks already ran. Affinity is on everyones radar. There is no way, that white, red or green colored decks will overlook the affinitymatchup. Even more so that Tron and Lantern profit from Twinban as well.

  6. The UW merfolk list looks like you’ve never played modern merfolk before and you had to write an article with a deadline of 30 mins. It’s terrible – how and more importantly why would you want to cast Kor Firewalker? Merfolk has a great matchup already – so you burn two slots on a firewalker that is WW in a predominantly U deck with fug all W sources. You innovator you!

    What’s more hilarious is that you are running Hurkyl’s recall in a UW list – isn’t Stony Silence the only reason to run white (by the 4x paths are incredibly questionable with spreading seas).

    This is the worst list to ever be printed in a place like modern nexus – pls go back to mtg salvation with your list – im not sure its even worthy of that..

  7. Thanks for the article, and I am in agreement with your thoughts regarding Unified Will, though I would say that Chalice of the Void is similarly well-positioned, as it stymies the linear decks. I am curious regarding one point, though – doesn’t 3 Kira in the 75 feel a tad clunky? Most decklists that I see nowadays only run 1-2.

    1. In the matchups where Kira really shines (Grixis, formerly Twin, and control) you’re pretty locked into playing a longer game and for those you want 3 Kira’s. She is an easy card to board out against many other decks because against many linear decks she is pretty cluncky especially since you’re likely to get less time to play Master of Waves these days.

      1. I agree totally here – 3 Kira’s me seem clunky – but you will lose matches against spot removal.dec without her – I expect may spot remval dense decks to come into the format moving forward..

  8. What do you think about Ad Nauseam? It’s got a good match up against Tron (don’t know about Eldrazi, but it doesn’t seem too bad) and burn and the like. Infect is decent postboard, due to 3 Darkness in the sideboard. Affinity I don’t know for sure (haven’t tested against it yet), but now that Twin is gone there is room in the sideboard for 3 Stony Silence.

    1. Ad Nauseam is a weird deck. On the one hand it can win surprisingly quickly and at instant speed. On the other if it never finds or resolves it’s namesake card it can’t win. For that reason I don’t think it has good or bad matchups so much as it has good and bad matches. On that note if you didn’t think that it was playable before then nothing has really changed, you still need to find and resolve Ad Nauseam before the opponent kills you. If the format moves increasingly linear then yes, by all means play the deck, it is reasonably fast enough to hang with aggro and more difficult to disrupt than you may think. However, Stony Silence can put a serious hurt on your acceleration and that card is likely to see a lot more play now that Affinity has been unleashed. Guess what I’m saying is that Ad Nauseam is definitely viable, but you have to know and accept the risks involved.

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