Between the impactful War of the Spark, the approaching Modern Horizons, the looming Core Set 2020, and the approved London Mulligan, now is quite a time to be a Modern player. But that's not all—Modern's continued period of adjustment to War is yielding more novel decks weekly than I can shake a stick at. It's nonetheless my job to try, so grab the nearest branch and let's get poking!
Existing combo decks received some impressive boosts with War of the Spark. While we covered some of these in a tech review last month, more have slipped through the cracks or made themselves known in full through the May dumps.
The stock, Jeskai build of Copy-Cat actually seems to have done well in May, with multiple copies popping up in the dumps. But that deck is nothing new for Modern, if historically a bit fringe. This 4-Color Copy-Cat doubles-down on its primary strategy, splashing green for additional enablers at the expense of a classically Jeskai Plan B.
From green, the deck cribs eight mana dorks and a set of Oath of Nissa to find its combo pieces. Oath is practically Ponder in this list, whiffing only on itself, Lightning Bolt, and Remand. Nissa, Steward of Elements is also hired as a creature-finder (I saw a lot of this walker in creature-based combo decks from May's published lists). Creature dorks get the nod over the more resilient Utopia Sprawl for their interaction with Oath and Steward, and push the combo to be a turn faster.
The strength of Splinter Twin was its ability to play at instant speed: if opponents tapped out at all, pilots could win from an empty board, slamming end-step Deceiver Exarch into the namesake enchantment. In other words, they needed instant-speed removal to survive.
Teferi, Time Raveler also limits the window in which opponents can interact with the combo, forcing opponents to remove Felidar Guardian during their own turns, and in a main phase. But the four-mana 1/4 is not very easy to remove gracefully. A revolted Fatal Push is the cleanest available answer; Path to Exile ramps Copy-Cat into its bigger plays, like cantripping into and resolving planeswalkers. After those, spells begin to get expensive (and subsequently unplayable).
All-In Goryo's represents a fundamental shift for Goryo's Vengeance decks, and one I think is here to stay. Gone are the clunky combo pieces of the old reanimator strategy, such as Nourishing Shoal; cheesing Griselbrand into play on turn two or three is good enough without the extra combat steps.
Replacing the chaff is a loaded acceleration package. Pentad Prism and Generator Servant join Simian Spirit Guide to give the deck plenty of ways to reach five mana a turn early. As permanents, these cards are more versatile than the Desperate Rituals of old, if also more disruptable via removal. On the plus side, they don't care so much about Damping Sphere and its ilk, which could previously shut down the Griselbrand decks.
Ilharg, the Raze-Boar makes all these adjustments possible. Generator Servant can pump out the God, increasing the deck's acceleration options. And especially with haste from Servant, Boar functions as extra copies of Through the Breach, granting Grisholabrand an unprecedented level of consistency. It now has 12 payoff cards so long as it can fix them up with the right threat, and stands to become only more consistent under the accepted London Mulligan.
In keeping with the theme of putting all eggs into a single basket, All-In Vizier forsakes additional colors and goes mono-green even adapting a snow-land engine, with the introduction of new enablers and payoffs. The former set includes Finale of Destination, an expert tool at finding the right creature at the right time. Its graveyard-searching clause lets All-In Vizier run just a single copy of its namesake threat, instead packing more bullets and raw power.
Speaking of power, Walking Ballista appears here in maximum quantity, with a functional sixteen copies in the main—once this deck does achieve infinite mana via Vizier and Druid, which it's tailor-made to do as fast as possible, any of those cards ends the game on the spot. Besides, Ballista is just good in general for a ramping strategy, especially against the disruptive aggro decks that can otherwise pose hurdles for combo (i.e. Humans).
The same goes for Karn, the Great Creator, who here digs Ballista out of the sideboard when going off. The rest of the time, Modern's fastest-rising planeswalker locates surgical hate cards and answers to an opponent's: Sylvok Replica, welcome to Modern! In lieu of the combo, but given an abundance of mana, Karn offers the Mycosynth Lattice lock, a functional win in most game states for the low price of ten mana split over two turns.
All-In Vizier features bullets in the main, too, as Primal Command and Finale help find them fast in the right matchup. Revoker, Ooze, Thrun, Tracker, and Slime all have their applications in different pairings, while the miser's Trinisphere offers free wins when it works against the likes of Phoenix.
Perhaps Modern's most beloved super-archetype, midrange has existed here since the format was inaugurated. Many, including myself, have prematurely forecasted the "end" of this archetype-wheel staple more times than I care to recount. But while midrange is evidently not going anywhere, it's also not content to sit still; the May dumps indicate plenty of movement even within the strategy's known quantities.
Esper Blink gets its name from Restoration Angel, a standby of blink strategies. But its most critical synergy occurs between Spell Queller and Teferi, Time Raveler. The walker prevents opponents from casting the spell, which would be put onto the stack at instant speed should they kill Queller, making the Spirit something of an undercosted, 2/3 counterspell.
I expect this package to gain traction in different archetypes, as it's made up of otherwise playable cards in the same color anyway. So far, the May decklists show it cropping up in Spirits as well as UW Control. It makes sense for a midrange deck to toss in Restoration Angel, further going over the top of other fair decks; blinking Queller with Teferi out permanently exiles the first spell, even should opponents manage to remove Teferi down the road, and nabs a new one. Adding more credibility to the principle, ZXROGUE isn't even the only player who succeeded on Esper Blink last month.
Mardu Tokens gets a promising upgrade in Saheeli, Sublime Artificer, a much-tougher Young Pyromancer that also turns tokens into Reveler clones for extra prowess points. Bedlam Reveler's role here is to gas players back up after a series of one-for-one trades, just as in the old Mardu Pyromancer decks. And Mishra's Bauble triggers both Saheeli and Reveler, as well as "hiding" cards from the Devil's "discard your hand" clause. The most suspicious card is Runechanter's Pike, which I suppose can help generate fast wins against linear combo while tossing damage over gross battlefields with some help from a 1/1 Spirit token.
Broodlord Rock is a BG Rock deck built around Sorin, Vengeful Broodlord. Its creature selection has been warped around the walker, aiming to maximize the value gained from reanimating dudes as vampires. Fortunately, the creatures seem mostly reasonable, with Fulminator Mage leading the charge.
GR Dragons is a stompy deck that accelerates into Blood Moon, then bashes face with huge dragons. It's lower to the ground than Ponza, bringing it closer in application to my own GR Moon builds. The dragons are less efficient than Goyf or Rabblemaster or Hazoret, though, requiring a re-tool and giving me the impression this deck could be improved.
Focusing on what's here, though, Sarkhan Fireblood makes a requisite cameo. Without Looting, I'd think the card selection Sarkhan provides would prove of utmost importance, not to mention the walker's +1 ramping into dragons. But Fireblood takes the backseat to Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner, another walker tailor-made for this sort of deck. Not only does she generate raw card advantage via cantripping dragons, Kiora also functionally ramps into the deck's fatties by untapping lands—hopefully, ones enchanted by Utopia Sprawl.
By this time next month, Modern Horizons will be Modern-legal, and we should have plenty of new tech to unearth. Until then, take solace in the apparent fact that Phoenix's iron-fisted reign has ended, and Modern is as bursting with innovation as ever!