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June ’20 Brew Report, Pt. 2: Cheater’s Paradise

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Earlier this month, we saw the early effects of the companion nerf, especially as they affected Yorion decks. Players have since transitioned away from companions for the most part, with some exceptions, as we'll get to. Today, we'll look at ten more spicy strategies to emerge from Modern's rebuilding.

Deck-to-Table

Grassroots as brewing can be, it’s always been but a matter of time until grown-local die-hards tried their hand at the process. Hence the following couple decks, which skirt over the sort of mass-production arguably responsible for this year’s pandemic and dump their fresh meat all over the playmat.

RG Company is a fresh take on Collected Company, moving away from combo in favor of an all-out assault fueled by Legion Warboss and Goblin Rabblemaster. Ahn-Crop Crasher joins the Rabblers in the red zone, exerting to prevent opponents from simply trading with such fragile beaters. In a metagame light on creatures, opponents are unlikely to have many blockers held back, and just the one looks pretty silly when Ahn-Crop comes off a lucky company to shut it down for the turn. That one big-damage hit may be all RG Company needs to put the game away beyond hope.

Eldritch Winota takes advantage of Winota, Joiner of Forces, an overlooked mythic rare from Ikoria. Winota has already proven itself in other formats, and has found surprising symbiotes in Modern’s Seasoned Pyromancer and Birds of Paradise. The former loots through clunkier combo pieces to create 1/1 Elementals, which swing under Winota and cheat in more Pyromancers, Magus of the Moon, or even Angrath's Marauders, the deck’s primary payoff.

Magus can also be tutored by Eldritch Evolution, a card that likewise grabs Winota straight from the deck. If it’s tributing Strangelroot Geist, the undying Spirit gets to swing right away with haste and trigger Winota on the same turn! And Birds both ramps into Eldritch/Winota and attacks to trigger it.

This deck can create an insurmountable board quickly if Winota sticks, and being immune to Abrupt Decay and Lightning Bolt makes the creature relatively sturdy. But a timely counterspell on Eldritch or Winota itself can cripple the strategy, which otherwise is a sub-par beatdown deck. I expect it to either adopt some sustainable Plan B’s in the coming months or to fall by the wayside as Modern regains its composure after the shake-ups.

Power Trip

In case there was any doubt, 2020 brought home the fact that great power lies in cantripping. This month, two older cantrip decks hinted at potential comebacks.

Thing Ascension is a whopping four years old, and indeed, we haven't heard much from this deck in the interim. It's quite the pile, featuring the best Jeskai has to offer in cantrips and burn, backed up by the greatest available payoffs. Those are apparently the same as they were close to half a decade ago: Pyromancer Ascension and Thing in the Ice // Awoken Horror.

The enchantment skirts creature removal, but relies on the graveyard, while the creature bites the dust to Fatal Push but ignores Rest in Peace. As such, these two threats reward pilots for chaining together draw and burn in ways that compliment each other without tension when faced with enemy hate.

In a Push-heavy metagame light on sweepers, Young Pyromancer could maybe get the nod over Thing. But more compelling still is a creature that makes the sideboard this time around: Sprite Dragon. Sprite can lock in damage the turn it comes down thanks to Haste, giving the deck's critical turn more immediacy.

Lurrus of the Dream-Den is another interesting sideboard card; since the deck often plays reactively, reaching companion mana isn't particularly hard in many matchups, and re-buying a stripped-away Ascension or Thing can spell doom for opponents. Realistically, though, I doubt Lurrus makes an appearance in more games, and is mostly a free-roll since the deck has no use for high-costed permanents anyway.

I know you remember this one! Izzet Phoenix dominated the Modern conversation last year, only dying down once Faithless Looting met the banlist.

Replacing the star sorcery is Merchant of the Veil, a significant downgrade that loots less but nonetheless dumps Phoenix from the hand into the graveyard while counting towards its revival condition. Vale also provides card advantage in a pinch, something that comes in handy should opponents manage to Surgical Extraction an Arclight Phoenix.

Lurrus Losing Out

That's a steep drop from "U Laugh, U Lurrus," but here we are. The card is still quite powerful, acting as a Snapcaster Mage for permanents, but it's far from overpowered post-nerf. Players need to get creative to keep running Lurrus of the Dream-Den, and that's exactly what some are doing.

Crackbane is a unique take on Pox that plays Lurrus as intended: from the sideboard. Chevill, Bane of Monsters rewards the sacrifice synergies, serving as a draw engine and damage outlet as opponents gradually lose their board. For its part, Crack the Earth bolsters the Smallpox plan by serving up one-mana land destruction alongside cantripping permanents like Arcum's Astrolabe.

With Wrenn and Six keeping the drops coming, sacrificing an actual land here and there isn’t the end of the world, either. Then there’s Kroxa, which loves being fed to Smallpox from the player’s hand, and Seal of Fire, which will do as a Crack offering in a pinch.

BW Return throws its creatures around left and right, turbo-stocking the graveyard with Stitcher's Supplier, as it builds towards a huge Return to the Ranks. With sacrifice outlets like Viscera Seer, the deck can turn its Blood Artists into instant win conditions should opponents find themselves light on grave hate. Priest of Forgotten Gods turns up the synergy while adding disruptive and ramping elements should it live long enough to tap.

This deck, too, runs Lurrus in the sideboard. Once retrived, the card can get the ball rolling again with Stitcher's Supplier (two more triggers!) or just help play a fair game by recurring some token-generating bodies for more value.

Unlike the last two decks, Grixis Lurrus is in fact totally built around Lurrus! Well, not totally, since there isn’t one in the sideboard; running Lurrus main prevents players from achieving its companion condition. Here, Lurrus can be cheated out with Unearth after getting flipped by Thought Scour, providing flashes of the mana-efficient tide-swinging Lurrus once gave Modern players. Once in play, it recurs Mishra's Bauble, Snapcaster Mage, or main win condition Sprite Dragon over and over. Post-board, players gain access to tools like Tormod's Crypt and Nihil Spellbomb, giving Lurrus a disruptive angle.

Control Freaks

Slow down, you're moving too fast! That's a criticism some may well have with the new Modern, and one a certain style of player was all but bound to take literally.

Kinnan Yourorza, MANACYMBAL (32nd, Challenge #12171462)

Perhaps the wildest deck we'll cover today is Kinnan Yourorza, an unholy fusion of plans and packages not terribly unlike the Yorion Snow decks we were seeing in companion's heyday. Except there's no snow package here; just Arcum's Astrolabe, one of Modern's best available cantrips, alongside Veil of Summer, another.

Among the included packages are:

The Kinnan-Springleaf interaction is particularly exciting: tapping Kinnan to Springleaf provides two mana, fully paying for the creature while locking in a colored Sol Ring for future turns. Add in Gilded Goose and Mox Amber (the latter of which is turned on by Kinnan as well) and the ramp potential becomes even more eyebrow-raising, rendering plans like Karn, Urza, and Uro eminently affordable.

In the midst of companion panic, one might’ve thought it would take a miracle to restore Modern to its former playability. Well, how about a couple? In Miracles, Omen of the Sea does enough of a Sensei's Divining Top impersonation to justify Counterbalance, hitting nostalgia notes even for Legacy aficionados that grieve their trinket. Mystic Sanctuary helps, too, letting players “fetch” a one-drop (or other CMC card) to the top in response to an enemy spell. Whether or not this shell holds, I’d keep an eye on Counterbalance this year.

There was a time when building an entire Modern deck around Notion Thief was nuts. But Narset, Parter of Veils gave the card some redundancy, and combined with the format-breaking Day's Undoing, a new deck was born in Pitch Blue. Of course, the original versions from last year stayed in one color; my testing with those shells left me craving both a more realized Plan B and more consist outlets to realize the full power of Day's Undoing, as the deck’s main draw engine floundered without Narset in play. So when I tried rebuilding it, I dipped into white and green for the snow package and Teferi, whose instant-speed plus effect gave Undoing added utility.

Here, Pitch Blue splashes black instead, which allows Notion Thief to enter the arena and double up on ways to turn casting Undoing into a patently broken move. Black also affords the deck Unmoored Ego to hose other single-card-focused combo decks.

No Cheating!

Okay, so players are still cheating creatures into play, cheating on draw spell restrictions, and cheating on symmetrical effects. But isn't cheating what Magic is about? I guess not when it came to companions, which even Wizards agreed were a little busted! Modern does feel less "cheaty" with the rule change in place, and it'll be interesting to see where the format lands once players have had a few more months of tuning their "good-cheating" decks into streamlined machines. I'll see you then!

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