Is Modern solved? Is Modern stale? Any amount of time spent on a Magic forum or subreddit these days seems to offer countless arguments from both sides of the debate. Indeed, this Phoenix/Dredge/Stirrings (in that order) metagame has proven the most divisive I can remember since Siege Rhino briefly served as hyper-acting format manager in a void left by the Treasure Cruise and Birthing Pod ban. But no matter your position, I'd imagine it difficult to deny the sheer scope of innovation on display among Modern players eager to attack the top decks. David just brought us a breakdown of how high-level paper finishes adjust for this metagame; today, we'll look at some of the standout tech from this month's Magic Online dumps.
They're Trying to Build a Prison
Between Phoenix spearheading Blood Moon's comeback and Phoenix struggling against Chalice of the Void, I've heard many cries for prison strategies to ascend in Modern's ranks. It seems that prophecy is being fulfilled.
Boros Prison is by no means a new deck, but I've never seen a build so heavy on heavy-duty hate in the mainboard. Not that I'm criticizing—the list reads like a Greatest Hits of beating Phoenix, Dredge, and Tron. I wondered about this kind of deck, which is known to run Lightning Helix thanks to Chalice eliminating Lightning Bolt as an option, after reading David's piece that covered a Jeskai list heavier on Helix than Bolt, and was happy to discover it out in full force.
Also of note here are the many copies of Anger of the Gods, a potent hoser versus Dredge, and whopping 4 copies of Rest in Peace in the main. This deck is not losing to Stinkweed Imp, ever! Goblin Rabblemaster rounds out the sideboard as a way to quickly pressure decks that can go over the top, such as Gruul ramp strategies (which are also excelling in this metagame, some even with Tooth & Nail).
Rakdos Stompy follows stompy's credo to a T: slam lock piece; slam threats; close out the game. The lock pieces are less impactful here than in Boros Prison, but more widely applicable: Liliana of the Veil affects more decks than Rest in Peace, for instance. Ensnaring Bridge represents a more fundamental difference between this deck and Boros: the latter is happy answering creatures as the show up, but Rakdos wants to eliminate that angle of attack altogether. In doing so, it becomes softer to artifact hate, but demands more specific answers from the opponent. FLUFFYWOLF2 may well be onto something there, as he's now 5-0'd with the deck multiple times.
Rabblemaster returns in the sideboard to fulfill its fast-clock role in prison decks, and Leyline of the Void makes an appearance to neuter Dredge. Slaughter Games and Crumble to Dust also show up as hedges against combo strategies. Stormbreath and Kolaghan's grant an edge in the fair matchups.
Ghostly Martyr updates an ages-old deck with, well, Ghostly Prison. A card that's never been quite good enough for Modern, Ghostly indeed shuts down many of the format's premier aggro decks, especially Dredge. It also prevents Phoenix from chaining cantrips and attacking within the same turn, effectively removing haste from the bird and slowing the deck to a crawl. Lifelink, too, proves potent against both of these decks, especially on a large body. And Martyr naturally checks both Burn and Tron: the former by gaining life as a primary gameplan, and the latter by seamlessly integrating eight land destruction effects.
The cards featured in smaller numbers are my favorites. Cataclysmic Gearhulk randomly hoses artifact-heavy decks like Whir Prison, and Devout Lightcaster seems great against all those Lilianas. Consulate Crackdown is a read-and-weep sweeper that one-ups Shatterstorm via exile clause against the artifact decks. The deck now has multiple 5-0s to its name, one of which even makes room for Emrakul, the Promised End!
Some players have been hard at work this month un-tarnishing their choice color's name. Not every blue mage needs Arclight Phoenix to win, and the 3/2's high standing has opened the door for some exquisitely fair strategies to break through.
UW Blink compensates for UW Control's lack of game against über-fast aggro by running plenty of blockers. In a metagame full of recurring 3/3s and hasty 2/2s, Wall of Omens looks especially appealing. Kitchen Finks, too, punishes players for playing red spells, while Restoration Angel creates further value in attrition-focused games. And counterspells interact with combo decks.
All these factors allow such a sluggish, clunky deck to 5-0 in today's Modern, even though it looks like something straight out of 2012. The constant threat of a blowout from Settle the Wreckage, a card that didn't exist all those years ago, ties everything together. Looking for something similar, but with fewer unexciting spells? Try UNWESTROUND's Jeskai Flash, which operates at instant speed and splashes Lightning Helix while maintaining a three-drop-heavy gameplan.
I became less interested in my own UR Delver deck lately, as I've come to realize that not having the free wins against creature decks provided by Thing in the Ice // Awoken Horror made my strategy look quite tame next to Izzet Phoenix. MILLB4KILL may have come to a similar conclusion, and has opted to just run Thing himself—he packs all four in the 75. Opt helps enable the 0/4, and Young Pyromancer also benefits from the increased cantrip count. Even without Mountain, though, I don't much understand Polluted Delta over Scalding Tarn—why not at least pretend we're Phoenix for a couple turns? Izzet opponents might top-scry their mainboard Surgical Extraction!
This Blue Moon deck's claim to greatness is adopting Lava Coil, taking the trend of integrating Magma Spray from some days earlier to a new level. While Spray permanently deals with Phoenix and Modern's many small creatures, Coil charges an extra mana to add Thing in the Ice // Awoken Horror and Crackling Drake to the roster, effectively answering every important threat in the top decks—especially now that Izzet seems to be moving away from Pteramander (see below).
Hollow One, Kalitas, and other x/4s have long posted problems for Izzet-colored decks, as have recursive threats, and Coil deals with all that and more in one neat package.
Wild Tech Grab Bag
In truth, the March dumps held too much tech to squeeze into a single article. So enjoy this scattered section of other observations and hot takes.
Eldrazi Stompy Developments
Of three recent trends among Colorless Eldrazi Stompy decklists, I feel only one is worth the time.
For starters, there's Billy Savarin's recent IQ win with just 3 Serum Powder. His list looks as if a friend dared him to jam some random Eldrazi Tron cards into his deck—he allegedly even registered a 64-card mainboard! Billy's not the first to run 3 Powder; a 5-0 list without a full playset was published some days before the IQ, and I tried building with 3 Powder a couple years ago (it didn't work). I hold that this deck wants the full set to maximize its odds of finding busted hands (and, specifically, Eldrazi Temple).
I've also seen a Stompy list splashing red for Eldrazi Obligator, as well as Alpine Moon in the sideboard. I think red can be a useful splash in theory thanks to sweeper effects, which would allow us to cut down on one-shot removal in the sideboard. But in my experiments, it's never been worth it compared with the sturdiness and utility of a colorless manabase; besides, the only red sweeper worth running these days is Anger of the Gods, which a mostly colorless deck would never be able to support.
Finally, the trend I condone. It seems White Eldrazi Stompy is rivaling posted Colorless finishes for the first time in months. If it is indeed time to metagame against Phoenix and Dredge, this development makes perfect sense. Temple into big threats is good against every deck, while the white cards are only useful in certain matchups, so the added consistency makes CES a better call in an open field. WES wins out over Colorless when cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Rest in Peace, Leonin Arbiter, and Eldrazi Displacer are in high demand, as they are now.
Return of Linear Aggro-Combo
Due to favorable matchup profiles, some of Modern's storied aggro-combo decks are viable again after long slumbers.
Bogles: Never loses to Phoenix with Path saved for Thing. Dredge and Burn also lose to the lifelink. Happy to mulligan low and packs hosers.
Mill: Has a win condition difficult for Phoenix to interact with, and that Dredge supports. Largely ignores hate aimed at the top decks.
Cheeri0s, Infect: These decks punish opponents for tapping out (i.e. for Thing in the Ice // Awoken Horror, Cathartic Reunion, cantrips) and find it very difficult to lose to interaction-light decks such as Tron and Hardened Scales.
New Homes for Snapcaster, Kalitas, and Frenzy
It looks like Snapcaster Mage is here to stay in Izzet Phoenix decks, generally cutting into shares previously occupied by Pteramander, Crackling Drake, and Pyromancer's Ascension (in fringe cases, Young Pyromancer). Mage diversify's the deck angles of attack, a must now that players are finally catching on to Izzet's gameplans and tuning accordingly. It also shines in midrange matchups, which are increasing in popularity thanks to...
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, the latest cornerstone of BGx Rock. Kalitas turns Fatal Push into a real removal spell against Phoenix and Dredge alike and has enabled something of a midrange renaissance online this month; the Vampire has even shown up in UB Faeries and Grixis Control. Kalitas is so potent right now that Anafenza the Foremost's similar effect has been earning her space in Humans.
I covered Frenzy Affinity back in February, but the deck positively blew up this month, bringing traditional Affinity to new heights despite Hardened Scales's sustained metagame presence. Experimental Frenzy gives the strategy the unfair edge it needed to keep up with Modern's steadily rising power level. Strategically, it allows Affinity to slog through removal, something all of the format's best decks already do. Instead of grinding via synergy like Scales, it does so using the enchantment's raw power.
Change at Last
One week ago, I asked whether Wizards should address Arclight Phoenix. My argument was that if the deck kept its metagame shares and Modern failed to adapt quickly enough, they might have to. But this month's Magic Online results tell the story of players digging deep and finding ways to address Phoenix on their own terms. Here's hoping players succeed in policing Modern themselves.