Looking Ahead: Rising Strategies

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I’ve been playing a ton of MTGO recently (mostly with Esper Control) and have come across some…strange decks. Seeing a rogue list 5-0 a League event here and there can be a fun distraction from “business as usual,” but most of these lists tend to be “flash in the pan” rather than “harbinger of the future.” While nowhere near as sexy, the lists that don’t make the winner’s circle, yet nevertheless struggle just outside the spotlight, can give us valuable information regarding the future of the format. If we’re looking to get ahead, this is the best place to start.

Today we’ll be taking a look at some lists that have been seeing a fair amount of play online, but have yet to translate that activity into solid results in high-level events. Close students of Modern will notice lots of Tier 2 and Tier 3 decks make an appearance. Some of these archetypes are traps, some a little rough, and others are the real deal. Welcome to the front lines.

Gifts Storm

UR Gifts Storm is first on this list because, as of this writing, it’s steadily working its way out of the fringe and into the mainstream. Prior to last week, Storm was averaging a 5-0 roughly every four days on MTGO, but it appears that a reliable list has been found, as those numbers have climbed to a steady 5-0 a day.

Several months after the release of Aether Revolt, Pyromancer Ascension is long gone. It's been replaced with Gifts Ungiven and an extra four copies of Goblin Electromancer in the form of Baral, Chief of Compliance. The rest of the list is relatively “business as usual,” but moving from Ascension to Baral results in some cascading effects that influence how matches play out. With eight Electromancer effects, we’re not as “all-in” on our first copy as we used to be. If he dies, he dies. By moving away from Pyromancer Ascension we lose out on some velocity for sure, but we more than make up for it in terms of consistency with Gifts Ungiven and Merchant Scroll. No longer are we beaten by a lowly Fatal Push or Lightning Bolt. This Storm list is more than ready to take the fight past the midgame and go late with any opponent.

Discard is still an enemy we would rather not face, but Gifts Ungiven can work wonders at digging us back from any hand position. We still are looking to dodge Jund at all costs, and Death’s Shadow at the top of the metagame is definitely bad news, but for the most part we face a field that at least allows us to remain competitive. We’re still Storm, and can still kill quickly if allowed to do our thing.

What I like the most about this list is a strong, consistent, proactive Plan A in pre-board games with the opportunity and flexibility to shift against whatever matchup we’re facing. Dispel, Anger of the Gods, and Blood Moon are in the running for top card versus their respective matchups of choice (control, aggro, and combo), and all of our card selection makes it a guarantee we’ll find them when we need them. For a linear combo deck, this UR Storm list is able to transition against specific opponents better than most decks in recent memory. If you haven’t run across it by now, prepare yourself. A Storm is most definitely coming.

Remember what I said about Anger of the Gods and Blood Moon out of the board in Storm? RW Prison is still floating around, and it gets to play them in the maindeck. In my opinion, RW Prison is still the same deck it’s always been (a collection of bad cards propped up by a few incidental bombs), but it’s hard to argue with how good some of those bombs are against the field right now. Chalice of the Void on one is always going to be good in Modern, and Blood Moon is great against a large portion of the field. Death’s Shadow, Eldrazi Tron, normal Tron, Abzan, control—Blood Moon shuts down a significant portion of the field, and the ability to rush it out a turn earlier with Simian Spirit Guide is scary-good, especially against Death’s Shadow.

With Leyline of Sanctity to cover our bases against discard (our natural enemy), and do double duty against the top two decks in the field (Death’s Shadow Aggro and Burn), RW Prison is strongly positioned to carve out a significant portion of the field if left unchecked. Bant Eldrazi can give it a run for its money, but if RW plays enough removal (and Gideon Jura) and doesn’t get too cute, even that matchup is beatable.

Every time I face Elves, I tend to be playing some sort of removal-heavy reactive strategy, and as such crush it into oblivion easily. Still, I’ve noticed the number of competitors playing Elves picking up in the last week, and for good reason. Lead the Stampede is one of the best ways to fight discard that I can think of, and most of the other aggressive decks in the field are going big, rather than wide.

While Death’s Shadow and Eldrazi are discouraging people from playing Anger of the Gods, a bunch of other archetypes are capitalizing on it. Affinity, Dredge, and Elves are just a few of the reasons why Anger is good right now, but until the format wises up, going all-in against a field looking to fight Death’s Shadow’s value is a good spot to be.

One thing you have to remember, of course, is that by sleeving up Elves you are putting yourself slightly below Affinity and Burn in the “life in your opponent’s hands” category. Each of these archetypes has a ton of play to it, of course, but if you run into the Prison deck, or the Grixis deck, or the Esper deck, it can be tough to win. Still, most of those decks are fringe themselves, so as long as you have a plan for the top decks you shouldn’t be discouraged by the bad matchups. Elves looks to line up well against the field right now, so you could definitely do worse.

By itself, a third of a share of 1st place at a Team Grand Prix is interesting, to say the least. On the one hand, it made it through a huge field and played a part in taking home the trophy. On the other hand, deckbuilding restrictions can play a huge part in why we see this list in the first place, and the whole “center seat” positioning to beat up on aggro and midrange decks can sway results slightly. Still, its difficult to evaluate how much of the finish is owed to deck merit, and how much is owed to extra factors. It’s best to default to the baseline, which is: “This deck won a Grand Prix, so pay attention.”

Luckily, in the few days since San Antonio, I’ve had a chance to try out the list myself, and some 5-0 results from other players have already begun to trickle in. When we’re not interested in winning by inches, Angel of Condemnation is just as good if not better than Fatal Push, so why play black? Sure, we don’t get Esper Charm, but once we’re not playing that, we can ditch Think Twice for Ancestral Vision and just try and brute-force opponents.

Really, though, the draw to UW over Esper is the ability for us to play Spreading Seas and Ghost Quarter. Tron is not an easy matchup, even for control, as Esper is not built well to stop them from assembling Tron. A year ago this was fine, but with Ulamog, Ceaseless Hunger, Sanctum of Ugin, and Worldbreaker in the mix, they can grind us out pretty regularly. Esper can’t afford to play Ghost Quarter (at least not alongside a playset of Esper Charm and Cryptic Command) and definitely doesn’t have room for Spreading Seas in the maindeck. Against the field, I’d rather have Esper. But right now, with Tron putting up the numbers that it is, UW is the more streamlined, focused option.


Storm, Prison, Elves, UW…whatever your fancy, there appears to be a fringe option for you. A few weeks from now, one or more of these might be in the conversation for top deck(s) in Modern. A few might drop off the radar entirely, only to re-emerge weeks later. Some might not have what it takes, and some might just need a brave champion to pick them up and get to tuning. As for me, I’m working on UW currently, and intend on testing out Storm and RW Prison in the coming days. Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Thanks for reading,
Trevor Holmes
The_Architect on MTGO

One thought on “Looking Ahead: Rising Strategies

  1. I’ve been putting in some pretty serious seat time with RW Prison lately as its struck me as a very good meta deck, and has been putting up the results to go with it. I’ve moved to maindeck Leylines and it’s been just stellar.

    The new Gideon may also push it up a notch as it fills a gap that the deck has in the 3CMC slot right now. Barring major meta shifts (e.g. banning of Death’s Shadow or something else huge) I’ll be taking RW Prison to the Baltimore SCG Open in May.

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