It's been half a month since War of the Spark went live on Magic Online, and we're already seeing the myriad effects it's having on Modern—heck, on all non-rotating formats. But of course, being Modern Nexus, we'll focus on just the one!
While I enjoy the Friday writing slot, it occasionally has its detriments. In this case, other content creators have gotten to the Online decklists first, and mostly covered the breakout decks. They've understandably omitted some of the finer details, or smaller tech updates to existing strategies. We'll cover those and a few under-the-radar brews in today's piece.
Standout War Decks
For those of you not up on their reading, yesterday's article from Adam Yurchick does a great job of reviewing the new strategies that have Modern buzzing. They are, in list form:
- Coretapper Control
- Mono-Red Prison
- Mono-White Legends
- Niv-Mizzet Reborn
- Finale Vizier*
- Finale Phoenix*
- Immense Arcanist
- UW Narset*
- Pitch Blue
- Time Raveler Tempo*
- Vivian Pod*
The decks marked with an asterisk denote strategies that have not quite proven themselves yet, or aren't so different from existing decks in Modern. I've still included them in the list so as not to omit anything from Yurchick's piece.
Pitch Blue strikes me as the most exciting deck in the collection, wielding both Disrupting Shoal and Day's Undoing alongside Narset, Parter of Veils to refill on cards while stripping opponents of their resources. You're welcome, Modern Nexus readers!
Finally, two higher-profile strategies from War are Neoform Griselbrand and a new spin on UW Control featuring the Teferi-Knowledge Pool combo. I don't think the former is close to as format-warping as early pundits always seem to claim when a new combo deck rolls around, and the latter seems to me like a worse version of straight UW Control, although 1-2 Pool could become a solid tech option should the deck, for some reason, decide it wants 4 A-Teferi, Time Raveler at some point in the future.
While less flashy, the subtle tech upgrades received by many existing Modern decks are just as critical to the metagame's new shape. Blast Zone stands out as the most splashable War card, finding its way into Mono-Red Prison, Dredge, GR Eldrazi, and UW Control among the less obvious homes. And Izzet Phoenix continues its apparent cooldown, putting a single copy in the most recent Modern event's high placings and occupying a mere 4 slots in the last Challenge's Top 32. Innovation hasn't totally escaped that deck, either, with some lists adopting Finale of Promise and others running Dovin, Hand of Control in the sideboard.
Ashiok, Dream Render as Multi-Purpose Role Player
I slammed the new walkers as being pulled in too many strategic directions to see much competitive play, and continue to eat my foot as case-in-point example Ashiok, Dream Render continuously pops up in blue decks. Its two abilities are apparently relevant enough in Modern that combining them makes it a potent tool for many matchups.
A repeatable Tormod's Crypt is nothing to sneeze at against graveyard decks, and Ashiok even boasts self-mill capabilities, as the exile clause only affects opponents. But the real winner is its static ability, which affects most Modern decks by virtue of everyone utilizing searching; the decks without fetchlands tend to be digging up critical components like Urza's Mine anyway.
Neoform, but Not for Griselbrand
While Neoform's loudest applications thus far have been with the 7/7, the card is starting to pop up in different shells.
Eldritch Evolution and Postmortem Lunge are no strangers to Vizier combo, as they both put combo pieces into play. But generally, they are run in smaller numbers alongside sets of Chord of Calling or Collected Company. Neoform Vizier maxes out on each sorcery and supplements them with Neoform, an Eldritch Evolution that's one critical mana cheaper.
That mana's a game-changer when it comes to casting multiple spells in a turn. Neoformcan tribute a creature to search up a combo piece, then pilots can cast Lunge their tributed creature with the spare mana to go off early. This play is also possible with Eldritch, and even works with multiple creatures of the same mana cost in that case. But as it costs more, it's slower to execute. In any case, the Postmortem plan becomes hyper-reliable with so many functional evolutions in the deck, so maxing out on each piece makes sense at this stage in the deckbuilding process.
From the man who brought us the Niv-Mizzet Reborn deck mentioned above comes UG Evolve, a strategy format newcomers have wanted to work for as long as I can remember. The only War creature here is Evolution Sage, which increases the counter count on controlled creatures. Evolve's other buggers either come down cheap and grow larger as the board develops, or create large bodies to enable the evolving threats. Undying creatures work especially well for this, including honorary Undying creature Voice of Resurgence, and especially alongside Pongify to blow them up at will and net a beefy 3/3 in the process. Following Raptor with Young Wolf and hitting Wolf with Pongify, for instance, grows Raptor to 3 power for its first attack.
The new set primarily contributes to Evolve via Neoform, which unlike similar cards such as Eldritch Evolution, is cheap enough at two mana to wield aggressively. Instead of trading creatures for a 3/3, as Pongify does, Neoform chains them into in-deck creatures, giving the deck a toolbox aspect and helping it access Evolution Sage. This new piece of tech may be what the deck needed to at last become a solid Tier 3 contender in Modern.
We're also seeing some decks that take advantage of the direction Modern's metagame has been heading lately by employing surgical plans of attack.
Just Two Goyfs for Me, Thanks
Zoo is far from a new strategy in Modern, but it doesn't have close to the pedigree it used to. JUANPABLOALCALDE had something to say about Zoo's fall from grace, fleshing out a suite of Wild Nacatls with some of Modern's most potent hosers, tension with Tarmogoyf be damned.
Two Goyfs in a Zoo deck? What cruel brew is this? Anitmeta Zoo prefers to disrupt opponents with hosers than rely extensively on the sheer bulk of Tarmogoyf. It still includes the beater in some capacity; there are few better ways to chase a deceased Wild Nacatl, after all, and Antimeta Zoo runs plenty of card types to keep the Lhurgoyf nice and large. But it's got different priorities, its two-drop slot occupied by other beasts.
In today's metagame, that beast is Eidolon of the Great Revel. Hosing myriad combo decks as well as the established top dog, Izzet Phoenix, Eidolon puts the hurt on anyone chaining cantrips. Grim Lavamancer is also run at 4 here, providing free wins against small creature decks. Magus of the Moon rounds out the disruptive creature suite by punishing greedy manabases and Tron. Should these creatures prove ineffective in a given matchup, they can be looted away to Smuggler's Copter, or else used to crew the vehicle.
Besides Tribal Flames making an appearance as a closer and removal spell, Antimeta Zoo packs Declaration in Stone, a good indication that its pilot knew what he wanted to beat. Kitchen Finks, Prized Amalgam, and Arclight Phoenix are all great targets for the instant, and Declaration makes sense over Path given the deck's many Moon effects.
...And Keep Your Fetchlands, Too
As Modern's cardpool increases, players discover new color combinations that can work. Fatal Push, for example, enabled midrange and control decks outside of red or white, the other colors housing cheap removal options. This next deck takes that principle to the extreme, making the case that blue already has all the tools it could need.
BENNYHILLZ is known as one of UW Control's earliest proponents, and here he re-invents the wheel again with Mono-Blue Thing. His is a control deck ditching traditional sweepers for the creature that single-handedly allows Izzet Phoenix to tangle with other creature decks, and swapping out fancy manlands for a full set of Blast Zone. The above list marks BENNYHILLZ's second published 5-0 on this list.
The biggest drawback to mono-blue has always been its lack of removal options; we've seen URx, URx, and UWx succeed in Modern for this reason. But between Thing in the Ice // Awoken Horror and Blast Zone, Mono-Blue Thing has plenty of ways to answer even swarms of ground units. Out of the sideboard, Vedalken Shackles becomes another reliable option to turn the creature matchup on its head and reward players for investing so thoroughly in basic Island. Before all those engines come online, Set Adrift and the decidedly unexciting Command of Unsummoning (chosen over Vapor Snag for its applications with one's own Snapcasters) do in a pinch.
New Harvests in Modern
The format had congealed around Phoenix and Dredge before War dropped, but all that seems to be changing now. Not only have new brews and tech choices surfaced, the metagame as a whole seems to be shaking out differently. Here's hoping it never stops surprising us!