Everything we talk about today will be controversial. No, we’re not discussing if Donald Trump’s political appointees will kill us all, or whether more credit is owed to chocolate or peanut butter, or whether the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be destroying or getting destroyed by the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday Night under the lights. I know the answers to all of those questions, but I get paid to talk about Magic. So you all dodged that bullet.
Instead, I’ll be giving my personal opinions on some cards that I feel are flying under the radar in Modern right now. These could be sideboard all-stars, situational trumps (see what I did there?) or build-around-me metagame calls. For some reason or another, these singles are shining above all the others (and they only live five miles away!) and it’s about time you started paying attention. After all, thousands of them are looking for you. Let’s get started!
*No, Aether Theorist is not an under-appreciated card you should be playing. Or is it? Guess you'll have to find out...
For a card to fit the role of "Cards You Should Be Playing," it naturally has to pass some sort of bar that all the other fish in the sea only aspire to. So what exactly is that bar? What makes the cards we’re talking about today different from all the rest? We’ve talked at length about the identity of this current Modern format: hostile to midrange, defined by hyper-aggressive linear strategies, and by fast combo decks streamlined to compete at a rapid, yet consistent pace. Infect and Dredge are the best performers week in/week out, while behind them Affinity, Tron, Eldrazi, Burn, Death’s Shadow and Ad Nauseam wait in the wings. A month ago, Jund was unmistakably absent from the top tables, but that narrative has changed, Robert Ford style. To succeed in this current iteration of Modern, you must be fast, powerful, consistent, and resilient. Good luck.
Anger of the Gods
We talked a bit about this card last week, and it should be no surprise that it’s headlining my list today. Anger of the Gods has, in my opinion, singlehandedly reassured Jund’s position as a top-tier competitor in Modern, as the card has gone from strong to downright devastating against a significant percentage of the field. Just ask Marshall Sutcliffe. Infect, in their shift from Apostle's Blessing towards Blossoming Defense, have opened up a weakness to Anger of the Gods in exchange for more resiliency against direct targeted removal. While they are busy trying to protect from Jund’s Lightning Bolt and Terminate onslaught, Jund players have been patiently waiting for turn three to sweep the board completely while Infect can only watch in horror.
Against Dredge, all the Bloodghast and Prized Amalgam they can muster wither away under the burning fire from the heavens. Anger of the Gods is so strong against Dredge that they really have no easy answer for it, as we surely would have seen it by now. Instead Dredge’s numbers have dwindled in recent days, while Jund has climbed back into the top three most represented archetypes (according to MTGGoldfish).
In Jund lists, 67% are playing some number of Anger of the Gods in their 75, and we’re even starting to see "alternative" Jund-like archetypes such as RW Control see limited success, largely thanks to Anger of the Gods. A Blood Moon format this is not, and Nahiri, the Harbinger is not quite the finisher we’re looking for against a swarm of cheap threats. No, the real power in RW Control and Prison lies in their removal, and the latent strength of Anger of the Gods against the field. Play this card or plan for playing against it.
Chalice of the Void/Seal of Primordium
This curious artifact has seen a wide range of play in 2016, going from an almost universal playset in the busted Eldrazi decks of old to almost no play after their deserved banning. Chalice of the Void is back, however, in the hands of Bant Eldrazi 2.0, Tron, and a few other archetypes. Chalice of the Void, especially on the play with access to Simian Spirit Guide, is one of the best strategies currently available in Modern to fight Infect, one of the major contenders for "best deck." With Nature's Claim/Natural State as the artifact/enchantment hate of choice for almost every Infect deck in the wild, Chalice of the Void on one is essentially lights out.
Infect players have moved to Seal of Primordium to fight back, which in turn is creating small ripples of its own. With the most-played deck in the format shifting away from the most efficient artifact hate available, Affinity is slowly, day by day, gaining points on the rest of the field. With an archetype like Affinity that arguably enjoys an 80% game-one win rate against the field, every percentage point matters—sub-optimal sideboard shifts, even small ones like Nature's Claim to Seal of Primordium, can have significant effects. You’ve been warned.
Based on the field, archetype of choice, and opposing sideboard strategies, this card can range from unplayable to literally the only thing that can save us in our entire list. Traditionally, Engineered Explosives is at its best form in a diverse field that's characteristically midrange, such that the inefficient mana cost isn’t too much of a drawback. This current state of Modern is incredibly diverse, but instead of a midrange field we have a fast, hyper-aggressive landscape. Still, Engineered Explosives is seeing an increase in play, as reactive decks look to options that can help them solve a diverse set of problems.
Lantern Control is starting to pick up in popularity again, and while holding Engineered Explosives for the Ensnaring Bridge is a popular play, popping it to grab a couple mill pieces is just as solid (and sometimes even better). Cranial Plating, Glistener Elf/Noble Hierarch, Blood Moon, Tarmogoyf, Liliana of the Veil, Thing in the Ice // Awoken Horror—the ability to kill something, whatever it is, without targeting it is much appreciated in this field. Everyone is coming prepared to kill things and prevent things from being killed. I get it, casting Engineered Explosives isn’t sexy. Neither is the mangled corpse of your dreams and aspirations lying burnt to a crisp on a barren wasteland. Play the card.
What do all these cards have in common? They are all non-creature spells, designed to stop us from doing our fun things as fast as possible. Instead of fighting them, we could always just join them, and keep on keeping on for one blue mana. Spell Pierce protecting a one-drop is and always has been insanely powerful and unfair, which is part of the reason why UR Prowess is seeing play over Death's Shadow Zoo. Infect could play Dispel, but given their aversion to those of the planeswalker persuasion, Spell Pierce is the clear preference.
The format is fast, and most archetypes don’t have time to wait. This works to our advantage, but just keep in mind that our opponents are usually intelligent, and know themselves that the format is fast. This means the methods they will be employing against us are often cheap, making Spell Pierce’s window of effectiveness narrower than normal. Still, if we’re casting this card, it’s often doing good work.
This section really isn’t a singing endorsement of Collective Brutality, but rather the escalate mechanic in general. Nobody will argue that spending two mana for any of Brutality’s three options is enticing. The best part of waking up is surely not getting a two-mana discount on an Exsanguinate for two. No, the true power in Collective Brutality lies in its ability to just do stuff for the mana beyond its printed cost.
Kill a Goblin Guide and discard a card? We didn’t need that second Terminate in hand anyway. Don’t look at it as card disadvantage, instead see that your trading unused resources (cards in hand) for unused resources (cards in opponent’s hand) while affecting the board at the same time. If Collective Brutality read, “1B, discard your worst card: take their best card, kill their one-drop” everyone’s heads would explode. Turns out it does say that, it’s just that everyone else is still learning the language.
I’ll close with this, a card that I’ve historically sworn up and down is terrible and should never be played. So naturally, anyone paying attention should have caught on to this one months ago. Still, I can no longer deny that if there’s ever a time to be Surgically Extracting, that time is now. Dredge is doing the work for us, Infect showed up to play with only starters, and discard is as strong now as it’s been in weeks.
There’s still the inherent disadvantage that comes from spending our first turn attacking a hand instead of the board, but I’ve felt that argument was pretty suspect to begin with. Besides Lightning Bolt, we’re normally spending our first turn casting a cantrip or playing a land tapped, saving a little life. In those scenarios, disrupting our opponent’s turn sequence is much preferred, as preventing them from curving out will save us much more life than not shocking a land would have. Add in the fact that literally everyone is trying to do something unfair, and discard starts to look pretty enticing. I don’t always play Surgical Extraction alongside discard, but when I do, something something Dos Equis.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next week!
The_Architect on MTGO