After seeing the leaked Dominaria spoilers for the first time, one of my first orders of business was to try out Mox Amber in Modern. I brainstormed a couple of possible shells before settling on something radically different from what David ended up choosing: a UBx midrange deck. In this article, we'll take a look at the builds I came up with and my impressions of Mox Amber for Modern. My conclusions also differ from David's, as I expect Mox Amber to find a home in Modern.
Why UBx? In a sentence, I wanted to use Mox Amber to ramp into Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Being a four-drop, Jace doesn't punish us for drawing Mox a turn or two after the game begins; since the walker draws us cards, it also gives us something to do with excess mana, as well as tucks our spare moxen.
Black just offered the most mana-efficient interaction, as well as a particularly juicy legend in Liliana of the Veil, making it a natural supporting color. I had to survive long enough to actually win with my Jace deck, after all.
Here's the first list I tried.
This list is ultra-rough, and just as bad—in fact, it's literally just a pile of cards to test in a Ux Mox Amber midrange shell. In subsequent builds, I ended up tweaking the numbers significantly in favor of what I liked and hated. I'll unveil my second draft of the deck after we get through my picks for the first.
If it's just a pile, then why go in detail about card choices? The idea for this section is to give a sense of why I wanted to try each of the cards above, as well as whether they did or didn't work out in practice and why.
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
The cheapest playable legend in this sort of shell. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben immediately slotted into the sideboard, but it creates too much tension for such a spell-based deck—and I don't really like it alongside Mox Amber to begin with.
Ideally, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound comes down on turn two, and then Mox can be played immediately to cast a cantrip. Next turn, we're up to four mana, letting us get some mileage out of Snapcaster Mage or properly commit into a mana-intensive play like Lingering Souls or Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
Jace is also a legend we don't mind having plenty of. It incentivizes opponents to keep small removal against us after siding, which is incidentally terrible against everything else we're packing. And should they spend a turn dealing with Jace, we can follow it up with a second legendary copy.
As far as issues go, there weren't many. Chiefly, though, Jace usually plays out like a worse Search for Azcanta // Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin: it's easier to interact with and provides a smaller payoff. It's also no Snapcaster Mage, a card I sorely missed in this version. Of course, one additional payoff of running Jace is turning on Mox Amber. Overall, I was very pleased with the flip-walker's performance.
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Another "cheap" legend, Tasigur usually comes down for one mana, making it a good fit with Mox Amber. Of course, enabling fast Tasigurs means maxing out on Thought Scours, but I didn't see that as much of a drawback; Scour synergizes with Lingering Souls and Vryn's Prodigy, as well as being a one-mana cantrip to spend Amber mana on.
The 4/5 has multiple roles in this shell. It comes down on defense to block attackers, turns sideways to pressure linear decks, out-grinds pseudo-mirrors with its ability, and of course turns on Mox Amber to ramp us into expensive plays early. Delve threats really are the new Tarmogoyfs in Modern, as their resilience to Fatal Push makes them the quick, sticky board-definers Goyf always has been; they're a little tougher to cast, but miles more reliable against black decks.
Tasigur's ability is really icing on the cupcake, and that's not a compliment. 4/5 is significantly smaller than 5/5 in a world of Death's Shadow, Tarmogoyf, and Reality Smasher. If not for the card's legendary supertype, Gurmag Angler would do us way more favors.
Geist of Saint Traft
Geist gives us a reach-like plan of attack and increases our clock. But it's the creature I was least impressed with overall. For one, Geist occupies an awkward slot on the curve: it's a mana too cheap to drop early thanks to Mox Amber, and a mana too expensive to turn the artifact on in time for any worthwhile shenanigans. Secondly, the card is just horrendous against decks with blockers, while the rest of our strategy kind of ignores blockers. Rather than attacking from a unique angle, I found Geist too often opened us up to getting hosed from a unique angle.
Liliana of the Veil also costs three mana, but is less awkward than Geist. First of all, she doesn't care about blockers. She just comes down and casts a removal spell. Second, being black mitigates the downside of resolving on turn three, as our subsequent Mox Amber then taps for black mana. That means we can protect Liliana with Fatal Push or a Tasigur on the same turn. Finally, Lili provides a way to ditch extra Ambers should we happen to draw too many.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor also impressed. Despite it being a not-at-all-my-kind-of card, since Modern is such a my-kind-of format, I naturally tested the planeswalker in many shells after its unbanning. I was surprised to find that Jace shines brightest not in control decks, but in midrange and combo shells; those UR Breach decks with Jace seemed awful to me on paper, but excelled in practice. The idea is to leverage Jace as a tempo play, and pull ahead with Brainstorms after opponents are forced to interact with other proactive dimensions of a given gameplan. For this deck, that means Vryn's Prodigy, Tasigur, and Lingering Souls backed up by removal spells and targeted discard.
At four mana, Jace is also a great card to curve into with Mox Amber. So great, in fact, that I even sleeved up Cryptic Commands at one point to have more four-drops. That idea floundered pretty fast, but the point that an early Jace is backbreaking held weight. I began to understand why Collected Company decks featuring the planeswalker have been doing well lately, despite Jace not being a creature.
Fatal Push and Inquisition of Kozilek both proved integral to keeping up in the early turns, and I didn't end up cutting any. Serum Visions was also fine, and importantly blue—I could cast it off Amber after running out Vryn's Prodigy. This color issue is the one thing I didn't like about Push and Inquisition.
Brutality was also okay as a role-player. I can see cutting them for something else as the deck evolves to want something else, but I'm not there yet.
Lingering Souls is a win condition on its own, and one of the most flexible cards in Modern. Since I was already in white for Geist, I opted to play some copies. While the card was fine, I don't think it merits a splash on its own, so I cut them from the deck's next version.
Upgrading the Deck
After some reps with the first draft of UBx Legends, I had a more solid idea of where I wanted the deck to go. Here were my primary takeaways:
- Geist of Saint Traft had to go, and with it, Lingering Souls.
- We had to integrate Snapcaster Mage somehow.
- We had to keep a critical mass of one-drops for Mox Amber to cast.
- The planeswalkers were the heart of the deck and required larger numbers.
- Besides those, Tasigur and Snapcsaster would form a decent enough payoff for ramping late into the game with Mox; we didn't need mana sinks like Chart a Course or Lingering Souls. Creeping Tar Pit was also an option.
I landed here.
This version focuses heavily on the plays that made the deck's first draft feel so good sometimes: ramping into turn three Jace, disrupting heavily on turn three with Liliana and a black spell, and sticking two planeswalkers on the same board. There are also a couple newcomers to the shell I want to discuss in more detail.
I found the double scry from Serum to work less well with Tasigur, Jace, and Thought Scour than the single scry from Opt. Instant selection is nice in a pinch, and I like holding mana open in this deck. An untapped Mox Amber on turn two doesn't tell opponents if we actually have a cantrip or not. I like the idea of running Dispel or Spell Pierce in the side to capitalize on this ambiguity.
Field of Ruin
A big draw to dropping down to two colors is this sleek piece of Tron insurance. Unfortunately, we can't play a ton of these; many of our spells cost one mana, making colorless lands a liability early in the game.
And that's about as much testing as I'll probably do with UBx Legends. I don't think the deck is particularly bad (the manabase does need a major overhaul), but it does so little of what I actually enjoy in Magic that it's hard for me to stay motivated long enough to tweak it into something real. I do encourage players piqued by this kind of shell to tune it themselves, though.
If there's one thing this project has taught me, it's that Mox Amber is better than people are giving it credit for. I think David was being too strict with its applications; moxen don't require one-drops to be good, just as Eldrazi Temple doesn't require one-drops to be good.
Fast mana just needs something worth ramping into, such as Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Consider Simian Spirit Guide in decks like Ad Nauseam. Also consider the implications of such a strategy: it stands to mostly buff combo decks. Finally, although I expect we're farther away from this aspect being relevant, it can't hurt that Amber helps turn on Modern's other Mox, Mox Opal.
In my eyes, the next step is to take a look at the cards Modern likes to ramp into and decide if any legends fit into those shells. Through the Breach is one card that strikes me as particularly interesting alongside Mox Amber. Can you think of any?