Last week we checked in on Kentaro Yamamoto's finish with Goryo's Vengeance in GP Guangzhou. Today I have another less established deck from the same Top 8 for you. This is a deck I've been meaning to feature here at Deck of the Week since I first ran across it while going through the MTGO League results a few months ago. At first I misevaluated the nature of the deck, likening it to a new build of Storm---in reality this is a brand-new archetype that wouldn't be possible without the printing of Thing in the Ice.
Pyromancer Thing looks super cool to me, but also viable. It appeared a few months ago in the hands of several people grinding away in the online queues. Off the back of those performances it barely cracked Tier 3 in July. The GP triple-header last weekend saw the deck earn its first Top 8 in a prominent event, piloted by Ryoichi Tamada. Tamada clearly believes the deck has legs, as he ran it back one week later in the World Championship with only a minor change to the sideboard.
Until recently, Pyromancer Ascension's main job in Modern was to fuel broken Storm turns and provide that deck insurance against grindy decks that could counter or discard its combo pieces. Ascension was certainly one of the centerpieces of Storm, but was really more of a means-to-an-end than anything else. Back in the stone ages I remember winning a PTQ with a build running Pyromancer's Swath and Seething Song. At different times, the likes of Goblin Electromancer, Epic Experiment, or simply a stream of now-banned cantrips, have formed the main avenue to generating that critical spell count. To Modern Storm, Ascension has never been more than a workhorse, a tool to leverage towards other purposes.
Pyromancer Thing has much more in common with the old Standard deck built around the crazy enchantment. That deck was truly a Pyromancer Ascension deck, notorious for struggling to win without its namesake card. The plan was sometimes to assemble a bizarre non-infinite combo involving Call to Mind to generate heaps of value, but more often to just string together the requisite number of Lightning Bolts and Burst Lightnings for a clean kill.
In Standard, Pyromancer Combo fluctuated between excellent and middling, depending on the surrounding metagame and how prepared opponents were for it. Trying to migrate a fiddly deck like this that's so reliant on one card to a format as explosive and crazy as Modern is unlikely to yield success. It's no surprise that deck didn't get ported over to the eternal format in its burn-heavy variants---it's hard to justify your one-card combo when you don't even win every time it resolves.
Thing Continues to Thaw
Enter Thing in the Ice // Awoken Horror. When Thing was first spoiled Modern and Standard enthusiasts alike began brewing with ferocity. We've seen the card be instrumental in Standard decks alongside both Pyromancer's Goggles and Thermo-Alchemist. In Modern people first gravitated towards Delver shells, but it turned out to be much more viable in a controlling shell like Blue Moon. It's apparent that Thing in the Ice // Awoken Horror is a powerful build-around but it's also a tough nut to crack---finding a place for such an odd niche card like this doesn't happen overnight.
Pyromancer Thing points to Thing in the Ice // Awoken Horror's potential when you just buckle down and build a deck from scratch dedicated to it. In this case Pyromancer Ascension is the perfect companion, because both cards pair with the same supporting suite to win the game singlehandedly. If you imagine this deck as a glorified burn deck, where instead of drawing extra copies of Lava Spike we endeavor to make copies on the stack, Thing in the Ice // Awoken Horror is a sort of weird double or triple burn spell. In addition to smacking the opponent around for 7 points (I'm assuming we're timing our spells intelligently to counter their disruption, or when they're tapped out), it also buys time to draw more burn by resetting the board.
Most crucially, Thing in the Ice // Awoken Horror plus Pyromancer Ascension gives us access to eight win conditions, enabling an archetype that was nowhere near doable before. It's also nice that they fold to different kinds of answers. Rest in Peace or Nature's Claim will do bupkis against Thing in the Ice, and leaving in creature removal may prove embarrassing against an Ascension draw. Of course the name of the game in Modern to beat combo is disruption plus a clock. Pyromancer Thing is set up well against anyone trying to accomplish that using creatures, with its 8 Lightning Helix/Bolts. Against more controlling strategies this deck seems to have tons of inevitability, and sticking an Ascension or resolving a Visions of Beyond will be hard to overcome for an attrition-based deck.
(Not) The Second Coming
Before you break out the pitchforks and decry my naive and foolish belief that Pyro-Thing is The One True Deck that will inherit the crown and rule them all, I'll remind you that this deck is merely Tier 3 at the moment. In many ways it looks like a bad Burn deck, a bad Jeskai Control deck, and a bad Storm deck all rolled into one.
What I find interesting isn't necessarily the build itself, but more so the process through which the Modern community has approached Thing in the Ice // Awoken Horror. It's been a slow and halting gestation period, but the card seems to reveal more of its secrets every day. Even the great and feared Birthing Pod underwent a period of wild experimentation before everyone figured out the optimal Melira Pod build. If that card had a more proven track record (and certainly offers more payoffs than Thing in the Ice), it nonetheless took time for the community to learn how best to use it.
The strength of Pod also changed dramatically as more cards were introduced to the format. Granted, a tutor effect benefits from new printings in a way few cards can, but my point here is that the value of cards in Modern shifts and mutates as new tools become available. In less diverse eternal formats like Legacy and Vintage this effect can be steamrolled by the sheer brutal efficiency of cards like Brainstorm or Mishra's Workshop that crush whatever new, cute strategy people are attempting. In Modern, however, the presence of a pantheon of Tier 3 and lower decks provides fertile ground for new adoptions and printings to push something truly novel up the tiers.
In the case of Pyro-Thing, my intuition tells me it's still lacking a critical piece or two to start really crushing tournaments. If we get another build-around card that pairs as well with spells as the deck's two current headliners, I consider it something to watch. That, and a great choice for some FNM malarkey.