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With no recent major Modern events to analyze, no exciting Kaladesh spoilers to drool over (yet), and no community controversy to argue (give it time), I’m left struggling to find a topic this week. Theory pieces are great, but I don’t like to do two back to back that often as I need a weekly dose of decklists to keep my mind securely on Magic, lest it drift off into stranger places. Recently I’ve been having this recurring dream where I’m getting whipped by an unknown assailant with a gigantic French toast stick, and while this alone isn’t cause for alarm, I know where it’s headed.
So, today seems like a good day to dive into the murky realms of MTGO Modern League results. I do this constantly, in search of new tech and to pick up on trends in the metagame, but today, I’m after one thing in particular: "Spiciness." With Kaladesh on the horizon, flexing our atrophied brewing muscles sounds like a good idea anyways, and through this framework of “fun deck search” — or spiciness — I can comment on a few finer points about the current state of Modern where they fit in. For those that skim, I’m doing you a solid today by breaking up my ramblings into “Decklist Talk” and “Metagame Remarks” sub-headings. You are welcome.
Tribal Flames Zoo
MoxZZZ’s five-color Tribal Flames aggro does away with the fragile Geist of Saint Traft, replacing it instead with Grim Flayer and just the best cards in every color. If we’re looking to play the best cards in every color, that naturally means blue has no place here, so we’re left with just a singleton Negate and Snapcaster Mage in the board.
Where the blue cards belong.
All joking aside, this is a move for the best, as these five-color decks are often too greedy for their own good and a little restraint can go a long way. With no blue requirements in the main deck (outside of just an extra point of damage on Tribal Flames) we can prioritize a “Jund splash white” land sequence and reliably cast most of our spells. With Wild Nacatl on turn 1, Stomping Ground-Godless Shrine is our best bet, as we can cast Lightning Bolt plus Path to Exile or Inquisition of Kozilek off of just two lands (and still be able to cast Grim Flayer as well). Overgrown Tomb is not a good fetch target specifically for this reason, as we’ll need to double up on one of those colors to cast Grim Flayer when we’d much rather be diversifying our mana options.
Grim Flayer does good work here, as we can turn over Lingering Souls and creatures to get back with Kolaghan's Command as well as dig deeper for more burn (or Path to Exile or anything else we need). Really though, he’s mainly another two mana creature that hits for four damage to go along with Tarmogoyf. Trample is great too, and the fact that we’re only playing four different card types means Tarmogoyf will only ever be a 4/5 unless our opponent helps, which makes me wonder if Grim Flayer is actually better than ‘Goyf in this deck. When he dies to a Lightning Bolt on Turn 2 we’re probably not happy, but anytime delirium is turned on I’d much rather have the ability to trample over x/1’s than a slightly bigger body any day.
If we’re playing five color aggro, we are basically making the statement that we either have a plan for Burn, aren’t worried about facing it or we can take some splash hate. Three Kitchen Finks and two Timely Reinforcements in the board isn’t overkill; taking so much damage from our lands puts us at a serious disadvantage in the Burn matchup. We’re helped by the fact that all of our creatures are brick walls for them, but that only stops half their deck. They can just as easy Lava Spike us to death while we take 6 damage from our own lands.
Six main deck discard spells, eight main deck removal spells and a bunch of creatures to block (plus Lingering Souls) makes the Death's Shadow Zoo matchup a breeze, given they don’t draw the nuts. Our incidental damage from our own lands doesn’t really come into play in this matchup, given the fact that most of Death's Shadow Zoo’s damage against us will be in one big burst. If we can prevent them from combo’ing, our creatures trump all of theirs, and Lingering Souls can chump block Death's Shadow until we draw a Path to Exile for it or burn them out.
Seeing this deck put up a 5-0 suggests to me that the format has polarized slightly, to the point where decks can start to just be unfair again. We have a plan against most of the top decks, which are all incidentally aggro decks or Jund, which Lingering Souls just dominates. With a third of our sideboard devoted to Burn, we can position ourselves to edge out the other various aggro decks while being fast enough to handle fast combo. But what really holds this deck together is Lingering Souls. The midrange decks that would punish this kind of strategy just fold to Lingering Souls right now, as it’s been under the radar for so long that everyone’s moved away from the format stopgaps that caused its exit in the first place. Olivia Voldaren, Thundermaw Hellkite, Electrolyze and Izzet Staticaster are nowhere to be found right now. Interesting…
Kiln Fiend Combo
Bedlam Reveler is such a strange card to me. It wants a bunch of cheap spells to power it out quickly, but you want the cards you draw to be high impact once he hits the field. The traditional “Bedlam Reveler deck” seems like it would contain a bunch of cards that put us at card disadvantage, given the fact that they are cheap, so it stands to reason they would also be underpowered.
Unless they are, you know, just free. Gitaxian Probe and Manamorphose power up Bedlam Reveler without costing us cards or mana, and also are not horrible to draw off of a Reveler trigger since they can just cycle us into something else. Cheap/free instants and sorceries play well alongside Monastery Swiftspear, and incidentally make Thing in the Ice threatening as well! When it’s impossible to tell how many spells we can cast on our turn thanks to an abundance of cantrips and free/cheap tricks, Thing in the Ice suddenly becomes a must-answer threat as soon as it hits the field.
Why aren’t we playing Delver of Secrets? I get that Kiln Fiend can add up to a lot of damage, but we’re playing a full twenty-nine instants and sorceries. That’s half our deck! If Kiln Fiend does seven we’re happy (two triggers giving it +3/+0) but Delver of Secrets flipping and hitting twice does the same thing, except we got to do a lot more with our mana and didn’t have to question our life choice when our opponent cast Lightning Bolt on our two-mana threat. They both draw out removal and “clear the way” for Thing in the Ice and Bedlam Reveler to do damage, so really it comes down to how often we’re expecting to “go big” with Apostle's Blessing as protection. Maybe the Blood Moon and one of the Temur Battle Rage should be a couple more threats, but I have to play with the deck first before making any immediate judgments.
Another deck that either doesn’t care about Burn or has a plan for it. We can definitely threaten a lot of damage quickly, but only three Lightning Bolt as interaction means Eidolon of the Great Revel is killing us a lot of the time. There aren’t many good answers to Burn in blue-red outside of Dispel, so it’s possible h0lydiver is just looking to dodge. Still, a Spellskite would help a bit, and fits into our plan…
I’m blown away at this point at how many linear, non-interactive ways there are to kill our opponent with creatures in Modern. Infect, Death's Shadow Zoo, Burn, Affinity, Blue-Red, Dredge… The list goes on and on. None of these decks (besides Infect) can beat a Worship! It’s not like players in Modern have some trepidation regarding casting a four mana enchantment to win the game. I think the time has finally come to find some list to plays creatures with white mana and jam four Worship into the sideboard.
If we’re looking for a deck that could use a fastland, it’s this one. Sulfur Falls and three Steam Vents is already begging to be tweaked to fit in Spirebluff Canal, and I see no reason why the deck wouldn’t want the playset.
Five-Color Big Zoo
This one is awesome, just because it gets to play Mantis Rider alongside Lightning Angel. Ancient Ziggurat, Pillar of the Paruns and Mana Confluence mean we get to cast whatever we want, given it’s a creature and hard to cast in the first place. When looking at the deck, it’s hard to find a lynchpin to help understand what the deck really wants to be doing. Is it a Spell Queller deck? A Mantis Rider deck? A Siege Rhino deck?
If I had to pick, I would say that it’s just a Noble Hierarch deck, looking to play the best creatures in every color as fast as possible. Mantis Rider and Kitchen Finks might seem at odds with each other, but if we’re flying through the air with Mantis Rider and Lightning Angel our opponent is pretty much forced to race, which plays right into our Kitchen Finks, Voice of Resurgence and Siege Rhino. Midrange decks will never be able to answer all of these threats, and combo decks will have to contend with Spell Queller, Tidehollow Sculler and a quick clock if they want to execute.
Naturally, I imagine most people would look at the list and want to add Collected Company or Aether Vial, but to do so would dilute what this deck is really trying to do. It’s not that our four-drops are integral to the plan and we don’t want to lose them in exchange for Company, it’s that we really just want to cast the most powerful thing we can turn after turn. Collected Company decks suffer from awkward draws where they get lands, a mana elf or two, a threat and Collected Company. One discard spell to take away the threat, or replace the threat with a Path to Exile and we’ve lost the game before it even started. Sure, we might lose out on some of the power plays of two three drops for four mana at instant speed, but in return, we just get a fast, fluid stream of powerful creatures. Lower ceiling, higher floor. The fact that eight of our lands can’t contribute to Collected Company just seals the deal.
Another flavor of linear creature aggro, but this one goes bigger. What does it gain over the other two, besides the awesome factor? A better matchup against Burn, for sure, but in return we’ve gotten weaker against Affinity, Infect and Death's Shadow Zoo. Six ways to kill a huge Death's Shadow is definitely great, but we’re looking to the sideboard for help in many of the pseudo linear creature “mirrors” we can expect to face out of the top tier. As long as we’re not playing against other aggro, our threat density and disruption for combo decks should be more than fine. If I’m sleeving this up, it’s because I expect a fairly concentrated, stable field of a few decks that I can load up on sideboard spells to hate on. This archetype does not want to see a very diverse field.
Three brews, and all of them creature decks. What does that say about the format? There was a time about a year ago where there weren't enough sideboard slots in the room to cover hate for the room full of combo decks. Now, all the combo decks are attacking with creatures, and none of them can beat a Worship. Lingering Souls and Worship seem better than ever, but nobody is playing them! The right list has to be out there. If Kaladesh brings absolutely nothing to Modern, I wouldn’t be mad. Modern is great right now, and this is a puzzle I intend to solve. Thanks for reading!
The_Architect on MTGO
10 thoughts on “Eve of Kaladesh: Interesting Brews and Metagame Musings”
With all due respect, a topic I would very much like to see addressed is the August metagame update. There were several paper events and a lot of MTGO action. I value MN’s overviews and I find myself missing the reliable updates.
This is coming soon. Sorry I’ve been less punctual with them than Sheridan.
Seems like it would be a big job. I appreciate your work, thanks.
I played worship for a while in both an Esperanto build with Crusader and Geist and a Bant build with ramp, caryatid, idyllic tutor, invisible stalker, etc., and neither deck could sustain 50% win (I played nearly 200 games and 65 matches with the experience build). It would die before worship hit the board, wouldn’t find worship, get killed by inkmoth from affinity, hit incidental enchantment removal, flickerwisped, wraths, etc. Worship is too slow I have found, and while powerful, doesn’t win the game. It really just ‘doesn’t lose the game’. That’s why it doesn’t get played.
So what I’m reading is Abzan midrange that can transform into Troll-Worship out of the sideboard?
I think more than worship, what these decks indicate is that now is the right time to be playing Blood Moon in modern. In addition to these decks (2/3 of which are essentially built to have the greediest manabases possible, for value) Moon provides an edge against the inkmoth nexi of the format, as well as the valakuts of the world. Blood Moon also helps with such decks as Abzan, Jund, and Tron which all really want their lands to be functioning correctly right on time. Even Eldrazi would rather not face down a Blood Moon with it’s thought-knot seers and mana accelerants. Modern manabases have gone unpunished for quite a while now, and I think we’re starting to see a number of decks try to capitalize on the lack of good answers to lands, and just turn their manabases from shaky to abusive, all the way to straight broken.
Agree with this sentiment. Moon has never been better. Worship, incidentally, has always been slow and terrible (outside of the two-week period during Eldrazi Winter before players just started sideboarding Endbringer).
I’ve got a very similar Kiln Fiend list to the one here; I just want to say that with Faithless Looting, Artful Dodge works really well and I chose it over Slip Through Space. Sometimes, you just want to trigger Kiln Fiend twice more and finish the game on turn 3 with double strike: Artful Dodge is the guarantee where Slip is only a maybe.
(Of note is also the fact I use assault strobe over TBR, because having 1 more mana up to cast blessing/dispel is too darn important.)
No new cards to write about? Madcap experiment man. Either emperion in already existsing decks, or controll platinum angel with pacts backup.
Hello Mr Holmes! It’s nice to see my deck featured 😀 I’m h0lydiver (on MTGO, h0lydiva on twitch), the one who brewed that UR deck and did the 5-0s. Let me clarify some points.
1- We don’t play Delver because it basically doesn’t fit our gameplan at all. And the plan is one-shotting the opponent. It’s no good to hit for 3, or 6, and then for 30. Kiln Fiend is the best creature in the deck and if we attack for 7 with it we should have never kept that hand or we are cursing our bad luck. Deck is designed under the assumption that Fiend is always going to be lethal in the next attack (which obviously doesn’t always happens, but that’s the plan).
2- Additionally, we not only have Apostle’s Blessing to protect Fiend from Bolts. Mutagenic Growth does it, and for free. If we don’t have Growth and we are playing against a Bolt deck, Thing is our preferred first threat if we can choose). We also have Gitaxian Probe to check if it’s safe to go for it, so we don’t go in blindly unless we really have to or lose.
3- You are right in Burn being a difficult matchup. Eidolons are bad for us, we can win through them and we are generally quite faster than Burn, but different things add up for a difficult matchup that I’m a bit out of ideas regarding what to do about.
4- On Worship, we actually have 2 different and really good ways of beating it. One, well, is one of the main plans of the deck anyway: Thing in the Ice 🙂 Bounce their whole board and kill them. Secondly, we have Vapor Snag in the sideboard. They have Worship, we attack for an arbitrarily high number, bring them to 1. From then on, they die to Vapor Snag.
Anyway, it’s nice to see the deck featured, keep up the good work!