Welcome to a new edition of State of the Meta! PT 25th Anniversary is right around the corner, which will feature Team Constructed only (no draft) with each team member playing a separate format (Standard/Modern/Legacy).
Things have been shifting a bit as of late in the world of eternal formats: from the dominance of Matt Nass and his KCI build in Modern, to the recent Banned & Restricted announcement removing Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe out of the Legacy landscape. So I figured I would have a look at recent results from the past two weeks (MTGO and paper tournaments) and what the new hot techs are. Today's column will focus on Modern, with Legacy coming later on this week.
Modern – Known Quantities
Let’s start right away with the elephant in the room: Humans has been sitting atop the Modern metagame for a while, and in yet another case of the rich getting richer, was awarded a shiny new toy with M19 - Militia Bugler.
This uncommon flew under the radar of many during preorder season, but foils are now sitting pretty at around $10 on TCGplayer. While some pros have downplayed its potential in Humans, I will let Pro Tour Champion Gerry Thompson do the talking here:
Militia Bugler allows you to grind, find your hate, and give you more bodies to pump with Thalia's Lieutenant. It's the perfect card for Humans and is a significant upgrade to the deck. Considering Humans was already among the top decks in the format, it should make quite an impact.
That’s quite the ringing endorsement if you ask me. Militia Bugler is played in a variety of maindeck/sideboard splits, but never with fewer than two copies in the maindeck. Its inclusion has significantly shifted the Humans build towards Aether Vial rather than Collected Company. I would keep an eye on Vial prices and snap copies if you see an uptick and intend to play them.
The rising star of the format, Krark-Clan Ironworks Combo, often relies on Pyrite Spellbomb as their win condition. However lately there were a few builds online using Aetherflux Reservoir instead, as a one-of so far. Currently, due to the emergence of the Blue Storm archetype, prices of Reservoir are actually trending up – up to $3 from the $1 tag back before Dominaria release, and could keep going up if the deck keeps seeing play (some pros have been running it at Nationals) and if it starts showing up consistently in KCI.
As a side note, I have to mention that Reservoir has been replacing or complementing Grapeshot Catapult in recent Cheerios builds. Nevertheless, I am still expecting prices to drop after rotation, once Blue Storm players have to move out of the archetype.
Another card worth mentioning out of the KCI build is Defense Grid: a sideboard card almost exclusively, its non-foil stock is clearly dwindling at every major online seller. 8th Edition and 9th Edition copies have been creeping up, and Urza’s Legacy ones have doubled in price over the past six months ($6 to $12). It also has a Masterpiece printing, which went up just about 10 percent in the past month and sits around $65 now. With only one non-foil, black-border printing, these are the copies I would grab, looking to sell out right away if it spikes.
Some quick notes:
- The traditional Dredge build (see below for the reason for disambiguation) is now playing Shriekhorn in the maindeck, either three or four copies. It essentially serves as three extra discard outlets for a single mana, and helps enabling Dredge on the draw step of the second turn. NM foil stocks are very low, and just like in Militia Bugler’s case, it would just take a little exposure to make the price jump;
- Obvious lord is obvious: Elvish Clancaller is now a four-of in most if not all Elves lists, which have shifted decidedly towards the BG build, allowing for Abrupt Decay, Thoughtseize and Maelstrom Pulse to be included. Other less spoken cards to benefit from that shift: Lead the Stampede (suffers from an IMA reprint though) and Gilt-Leaf Palace – I was shocked at how much the Palace still buylists for, so look for those in your Lorwyn shoeboxes;
- A new inclusion in Taxes deck of either Death or Eldrazi variety: Tocatli Honor Guard is showing up with two or three copies in the sideboard, replacing Hushwing Gryff as the Torpor Orb on a stick for the Humans matchup (and Snapcaster Mage and Primeval Titan to some extent);
- I would be remiss if I did not mention the comeback of the UB Mill archetype, highlighted by a second-place finish at this weekend’s Modern Challenge on MTGO. This time around, the centerpieces are Manic Scribe (supported by Search of Azcanta) and Mesmeric Orb. The latter has been printed only once in Mirrodin, and you would be hardpressed to find sub-$20 NM copies. Mill decks have always had a strong following, and the strategy is a favorite alt-win condition among casual players: will the recent string of relevant performances be enough to push the Orb even higher?
Modern – New/Returning Archetypes
There were a few attempts in the recent past to build around Hardened Scales, but this one looks the most legit, at least on the MTGO scene, since it is posting consistently in the 5-0 results. Outside of Hardened Scales itself, the notable inclusions are Hangarback Walker and, more interestingly, Throne of Geth. Granted, it is only played as a two-of in the majority of lists, but it is still a fairly old foil (from Scars of Mirrodin, an eight-year old set) with only seven vendors left on TCGplayer for NM foil copies (up to 11 when considering LP).
In the sideboard, the archetype has given a second life to Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, but is currently included as a one-of only. I could see it moved to the maindeck, though, instead of Animation Module for example. I will keep an eye on how the deck evolves and be ready to snag cheap Nissa copies if it takes off.
This one was easy to see coming as soon as Supreme Phantom was spoiled out of M19. I hate to go for the easy pun (shoutout to Jeremy), but it really gave a second life to the Spirits archetype by giving it a faster clock. Non-foils of Rattlechains ($0.6 to $1.3), Drogskol Captain ($0.7 to $1.8) and especially Mausoleum Wanderer ($1 to $5) are all seeing significant changes in prices, and foil copies all at least doubling up ($6, $18, and $13 respectively).
Two cards I noticed gaining steam and dropping in stock: Moorland Haunt and Nikko-Onna. The land brings in resiliency and creature redundancy, while Nikko-Onna, mostly played in the UW build (too risky in the Bant shell manabase), acts as Reclamation Sage out of the sideboard and is one of these “old foil” cards.
This innovative list is trying to abuse the interaction between cheap, efficient creatures, and Stitcher's Supplier to bring back Vengevine and have explosive one-turn attacks. Between Hangarback Walker (already pressured by Hardened Robots), Walking Ballista and Insolent Neonate, there are several ways to trigger Bridge from Below for multiple zombies to show up in your ranks.
Among graveyard fillers, Cathartic Reunion, Corpse Churn and even Macabre Waltz are being used to find additional copies of these creature (by drawing or rebuying them) all while potentially dumping even more Bridges and Vengevines in the graveyard. If the deck takes off, I would also recommend looking at Driven//Despair out of the sideboard, which can lead to complete blowouts.
Skred Dragons / Prison Red
Sarkhan, Fireblood has already found a home in no fewer than two modern archetypes: Skred Red and Prison (Free Win) Red. In the former, Sarkhan is used to power out Thunderbreak Regent and Glorybringer, with (weirdly) Stormbreath Dragon as a curve topper. The list below actually won a Modern SCG Classic on 7/22, so there must be something to it!
As for the prison deck, the card has only appeared as a two-of so far, and seems to be used primarily as a draw engine and a late-game win condition via the ultimate. Price wise, Sarkhan, Fireblood has already jumped back and maintained $20 for about a week: depending on if/how it performs at the PT (whether in Standard Five-color Dragons or in Modern Skred Red), the card could see a secondary spike.
Finally, Jeff Hoogland made headlines this past weekend at the Modern SCG Open in Indianapolis by finishing tied atop the standings at 13-1-1 with UR Wizards:
Guess who’s back? Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration! The little Insect-that-could was nearly unstoppable, with the only loss being a concession to Tron in round 14 when sitting on 13-0 – because Hoogland wanted to go grab a bite to eat!
The deck has access to eight Lightning Bolts (via four copies of Wizard's Lightning) and the closest proxy to Stifle that Modern could ask for in Nimble Obstructionist. The deck plays somewhat like a Counter/Burn build by providing support to an early Delver or can turn aggressive by flashing in Vendilion Clique or Nimble Obstructionist.
During the Swiss rounds, the ability to fly over Humans was key to this deck winning the race (which it didn’t manage to do during the top eight, however). Hoogland had been tuning the deck for a while during his Twitch stream, and there was much hype generated by his undefeated run, so it is not that surprising that both Nimble Obstructionist and Grim Lavamancer have been under a lot of pressure since Sunday, both foils and non-foils. Although the deck has also been posting multiple 5-0’s online, I would recommend selling into the hype, especially the Obstructionist which you will most likely be able to pick up again for cheaper after rotation.
That will do for the Modern portion of the article. With very few Legacy events since the latest B&R Update, I will actually be submitting part two during day two of this week’s PT to take advantage of the format’s showcase during this special event. Please let me know in the comments below if you think this type of column is useful, and if you would like to see it more frequently and at what rate – I will try my best to answer promptly!