We're two weeks past the April 4 banlist update and two weeks into the whole new world of Modern. It's very early into the post-Eldrazi era, but the preliminary metagame results will make an optimist out of even the most cynical Moderner. Early top-tier decks showcase color, archetype, and deck diversity we haven't seen since Grand Prix Charlotte of 2015, and in many regards it's much better---neither the Twin nor the Amulet Bloom specter hangs over us today.
We'll need more major paper events to really show us how the format is shaping up, but as far as early indicators and preliminary data goes, Modern couldn't be better. Bonus points for the unbanned cards staying relevant but not warping the format, and for Eldrazi's plummet to Tier 3!
Ancestral Vision has stolen the Modern stage by powering up lackluster blue-based strategies. Although Thopter Foundry/Sword combos are still struggling to find solid ground in Modern, this is sure to change as we get more tournaments and players figure out its best shells.
Between new decks, novel technology in familiar strategies, and the usual top-tier suspects, it's an exciting time to play Modern.
In all the post-ban and post-unbanning excitement, however, many players have forgotten about the recently released Shadows over Innistrad. Standard players sure haven't, with many Shadows staples rapidly slotting into existing decks or enabling new ones entirely. Metagame and price charts have reflected their arrival. Shadows has also had more modest, but still noteworthy, appearances in Modern, and that's what we are here to revisit today.
To kick off the week, we'll look at six Shadows cards which have already cropped up in Modern decks. In each case, we'll check out tournament results from the last two weeks to identify which strategies wielded Shadows cards. We'll also give projections about their long-term prospects.
Whether you're looking to outfit your deck with new Shadows tech in this new Modern or get ahead of Modern-related Shadows finance trends, you'll need to know how these six cards are performing.
The mighty Avacyn 2.0 is a fitting start, due to her breakout Standard power, her Modern potential, and because we're tackling the entire overview alphabetically. I guess the last one isn't as exciting as the first two but hey, at least we're starting off with one of Shadows' biggest question marks.
Before Shadows even hit tournament tables, I optimistically and favorably evaluated both Archangel Avacyn's and Thing in the Ice's Modern playability. We'll get to Thing later, but for now, we'll start with the Archangel. We already know she's a defining force in Standard. How does she compare in Modern?
Avacyn's Modern playability is critical because she's already commanding a $50 price tag on Standard alone. If she could make Modern waves, her value would only ascend from there (assuming, of course, that current Standard value holds).
Good news for Avacyn owners and bad news for the Archangel have-nots: the legend has already seen play in two Modern lists, one of them a Tier 2-3 regular and the other a Tier 1-2 contender.
- Abzan Company, by Andrew Maine: Top 4, Star City Games Invitational (April 17, 2016)
- Kiki Chord, by Bas van Heugten: 6th, Dutch Open Series (April 10, 2016)
In both cases, Archangel Avacyn serves as a tutored bullet in Chord of Calling decks. Maine liked the card so much he even added a second to his sideboard! That's a strong endorsement from a Top 4 Invitational competitor, especially in a mainstream deck like Abzan Company.
That said, two other Abzan Company decks joined Maine in the Top 8, neither of which had Avacyns of their own. This suggests the tech is good but not yet widely-adopted.
I like Avacyn as a removal trump in longer matches or a stall-breaker on clogged boards. She's particularly powerful in Abzan Company, which can use Viscera Seer to willfully flip her to clear a board. Sure, the Company player will incur some collateral damage depending on the board-state (careful for those dorks!), but this is often worth it in certain matchups, especially if the angry 6/5 can finish the game in short order. Gavony Township and/or Orzhov Pontiff can also mitigate your losses.
All told, I expect we'll see more Archangel Avacyn in Chord of Calling decks. I also think she's going to eventually make her Jeskai debut (if she already did and I missed it, please tell me in the comments!), which will further improve her Modern stock. Either way, this is definitely going to be Avacyn's year and her price tag is unlikely to fall soon as a result.
Modern has not been historically kind to "fixed" Dark Confidants. Phyrexian Arena (actually a Confidant predecessor, courtesy of Apocalypse) is the closest to playable, having seen the light of day in Death Cloud and straight B/G Rock decks in the past. Everything has has fallen flat, despite insane pre-sale spikes around garbage like Pain Seer.
Not many Shadows reviewers were favorable to Visitor, and with good reason. Although the creepy Vampire looks much better than many of her forerunners, Modern has been so inhospitable to these effects that it's smart to be skeptical. That said, some black mages were keen on madness's synergy with Liliana of the Veil and in hand disruption strategies, something Bob Levdansky leveraged in his Jund deck.
- Jund, by Bob Levdansky: Four Horsemen 2016 Event 3 (April 9, 2016)
I'm not going to lie. A second-place Jund finish in a 15-player event isn't the most auspicious start to Visitor's Modern prospects. Being only a singleton doesn't help either. That said, Levdansky's finish is worth noting because a) it shows the theory worked in practice to some extent, and b) Asylum Visitor is so cheap right now it can't hurt to pick up a playset.
Visitor could yet excel in a grindy, BGx metagame. As long as Liliana of the Veil is the right metagame call, Visitor might be a decent card to pair alongside her. Besides, as I said above, the risk on this cheap investment is so low right now that it's hard to lose.
Declaration in Stone
Like Archangel Avacyn, Declaration in Stone is shaping out to be a defining force in the new Standard. It has already shot up from a pre-sale price in the $6-$7 range to staple-removal status at $15 and rising. Can it make the transition to Modern like Avacyn? Or is it automatically outclassed by Maelstrom Pulse in BGx and/or Path to Exile in white?
For most decks, the answer to the second question will be a resounding "Yes." At instant-speed and at minus one mana, Path typically wins out. Abzan decks can just use Abrupt Decay and/or Maelstrom Pulse to round out the rest. Most other white decks that are already capped on Path aren't suddenly going up to six to play sorcery removal with a drawback.
Although this has mostly played out in practice, Eli Kassis challenged our Declaration assumptions in his Knightfall/Bant Company list at last weekend's Invitational.
- Bant Knightfall, by Eli Kassis: 9th, Star City Games Invitational (April 17, 2016)
Abzan Midrange, Abzan Company, Death and Taxes, Hatebears, UWx Control and many other decks have stayed away from Declaration in the admittedly short time since its legalization. Not Kassis's Knightfall list! In addition to reminding the Modern world about the underrated Knight of the Reliquary/Retreat to Coralhelm combo, Kassis showed Declaration could be part of a winning Modern strategy.
It's interesting that Kassis opted for a 2-2 split on Path and Declaration, instead of a 4-2 split (or, more likely, the 4-0 split). This suggests to me Kassis viewed the mid- or late-game Clue payoff as less valuable than Path's acceleration.
One reason for this could be the Infect contest. Knightfall can easily close or lock down a late-game such that a random draw doesn't matter. A bonus land, however, makes Path a poor answer to early Noble Hierarch and the turn one Glistener Elf; allowing the Infect pilot to untap into Blighted Agent with Vines of Vastwood backup is often lethal.
Declaration of Stone is not likely to redefine Modern removal the same way it is making Standard waves, but I do see the card making its way into decks. It's surprisingly decent against aggressive decks which can capitalize on mana acceleration to make huge early plays, but can't do much with a turn six bonus draw.
That said, I think $15 is generally overvalued for this removal, especially for a rare.
Epiphany at the Drownyard
When Patrick Chapin and Top Level Podcast previewed Epiphany, I got a strong "over-selling" vibe. Steam Augury wasn't even close to the legendary Fact or Fiction, and Epiphany had the same stipulations which doomed both Augury and its lesser-known predecessor, Truth or Tale to the bulk bins.
In theory, Epiphany was flexible enough with different X values to compensate for Augury's deficiencies. It also played better in Modern than Standard, where binned cards still retained value courtesy of Snapcaster Mage and Kolaghan's Command. Even so, the card had all the hallmarks of a Modern bust for me, even in Grixis decks where it could theoretically shine.
I doubt we see much of Epiphany in Modern, even as Grixis decks keep picking up steam with Ancestral Vision. But looking at the admittedly early decklists from the new format, we did get a surprise Epiphany showing in a Delver list from a recent Level Up Games qualifier. Who said only Grixis mages could have Epiphanies anyway?
- U/R Delver, by Ryan Chimzar: 7th, Level Up Magic Qualifier (April 10, 2016)
As with the Asylum Visitor case, we need to view this Epiphany appearance with plenty of healthy skepticism. For one, this is an unconventional U/R Delver list, running Logic Knot, Izzet Charm and Send to Sleep in the maindeck.
That's not a knock against these decks or Chimzar's performance, but it is to highlight a deck difference which could be due to the local metagame. If the metagame was suited to these cards and Epiphany, maybe those aren't relevant takeaways for Modern more broadly.
Disclaimers aside, I see where Epiphany puts in work in this list. Snapcaster, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, and a singleton Noxious Revival (yep; it's a weird list) all maximize Epiphany and minimize its drawbacks. We'd probably want to up the Snapcaster and even Jace counts if we were optimizing Chimzar's list, but it's still interesting to see him invest a full three slots on the instant.
Despite Epiphany's apparent power in this oddball U/R Delver list, I don't think we'll see it do much more over the coming months. Grixis and other blue-red strategies could use it, but I dislike its anti-synergy with the much more powerful Ancestral Vision (it's a card you don't want to be given and can't use if it's milled), and think there are better options overall.
Epiphany is cheap enough that it won't hurt to buy some, but I think its potential is just too limited to justify even that investment.
More Dark Confidant imitators! Like Visitor, Sin Prodder provides a new take on Confidant with some decent stats: a bigger body, a relevant ability for exerting pressure, and no life loss. Unlike Visitor, Prodder has been derided by many Modern commenters as another weak "punisher" effect (see Browbeat and Vexing Devil). At three mana, Prodder also fails Modern's critical Lightning Bolt test.
Early Prodder hype had the card pre-selling for over $5, but it has crashed since then with virtually no Modern play and only some Standard airtime to keep it afloat.
Between the opponent-chooses problem and the unfavorable ratio of mana cost to toughness, Prodder doesn't appear to have what it takes in Modern. I certainly wouldn't bet on it; not even Monastery Mentor saw serious Modern play, and Mentor's upsides seem significantly higher than the Devil's.
That said, Tomoki Iwasa prodded common wisdom by bringing a full playset of Prodders to an April 10 finish at one of Japan's weekly Modern events.
- Grixis Midrange, by Tomoki Iwasa: 3-0, Hararuya Weekend Modern (April 10, 2016)
The same disclaimers apply to Prodder as applied to the other Confidant mimic: small event, isolated finish, no repeat performance. That said, this deck takes full advantage of Prodder's upsides with big delve bruisers (Gurmag Angler does not play nice with Dark Confidant) and a full playset each of Snapcaster and Kolaghan's Command to recur cards that hit the graveyard.
Maybe we'll see more Grixis strategies adopt this approach, but I think the deck has better things to do with Ancestral Vision and wasn't exactly hurting for Confidant effects before Prodder came around.
If Prodder does take off and push beyond its $3-4 value, it will be in this kind of aggressive Grixis Midrange shell. I also don't think that's where Grixis is heading, so don't buy too heavily into the red Confidant.
Thing in the Ice
Hope you didn't buy Thing in the Ice at that crazy $19.99 pre-sale point. Despite Todd Anderson's U/R Control finish in Standard, and despite many authors trying to figure out a home for Thing in the Ice, the card has already dipped to the $12-13 point after just two weeks. It might sink further, especially if Standard moves away from the U/R Thing strategies which Todd endorsed.
Does that mean Thing is dead in the water or is there a future for the hyped horror? After all, if Thing isn't cutting it in Standard, it doesn't seem likely the card could swing it with the Modern big shots either.
Of all the Modern potentials in Shadows, the horror looked like it was going to be the Big Modern Thing after the new set. Although most of the other Shadows cards have only played out in isolated contexts, that has not been the case for Mr. $19.99 pre-sale Thing in the Ice.
The horror has seen not one, not two, but at least five appearances in Modern since Shadows' debut. Standard may prefer humans and angels, but Modern is still a horrifying world.
- Grixis Midrange, by Matthew Nester: 10th, Star City Games Baltimore Classic (April 10, 2016)
- Grixis Midrange, by Dylan Donegan: 20th, Star City Games Baltimore Classic (April 10, 2016)
- Grixis Midrange, by Kenta Oohasi: 2nd, Sunny Modern Cup (April 9, 2016)
- Jeskai Tempo, by Shunya Fujita: 3-0, Hareruya Weekend Modern (April 9, 2016)
- Grixis Midrange, by Fernando Nieto: 4th, Modern Valencia (April 9, 2016)
I would also not be surprised if there were at least 2-3 others I forgot to mention. The only reason I think the Modern community has missed these results is in the frenzy around Ancestral Vision, which has undoubtedly done more for Grixis and Jeskai than Thing ever could. That doesn't mean Thing doesn't have an important place in the color pairings' future.
It's notable that all of these lists are just using Thing as an added bonus to their existing gameplan. There are no inefficient combos with Vampire Hexmage, no spells like Manamorphose just for flipping the Horror, and with the exception of that strange Jeskai build, nothing too radical within the Grixis family. All of this points to Thing being a metagame-dependent inclusion in your existing Grixis shell.
Best case scenario: Thing becomes a regular in at least 50%-60% of Grixis strategies, waxing and waning depending on the other decks in the metagame. Worst case: it's a cornerstone of certain Grixis lists that are more midrange oriented, even if not every list adopts it. Either way, that bodes well for Thing's long-term prospects.
If Standard doesn't work out for the horror, expect this card to dip into the $6-8 range off its Modern demand. If it can reclaim Standard relevance and maintain its Grixis share in Modern, that $12 tag is more than reasonable and we may yet see a return to the $19.99 pre-sale days...
Shadows and Modern Going Forward
I'm sure there are other Shadows appearances I've missed, and I'd love to hear about those in the comments. These were just a few of the ones I remembered from my Modern Nexus metagame updates (now a proud and official partner of Quiet Speculation!) and we will undoubtedly come across more as the format keeps evolving.
We also need to acknowledge how early many of these metagame developments and decklists are. We won't really know how Shadows has impacted Modern until the summer Grand Prix, and even then, it's possible more diamonds are waiting to be discovered in the rough. Personally, I just want to see what Traverse the Ulvenwald can do with some more development work.
Thanks for joining me on this Shadows over Innistrad check-in, and you can be sure we'll revisit some of these cards again as Modern keeps growing into its new form. Hit me up in the comments with any format and staple questions, and I'll see you next week with some more post-April 4 Modern explorations.