August seems like the Month of Stoneforge, with recent format adjustments suddenly favoring the once-banned underdog. At the same time, blue mages lacking a taste for steel are finding their way in this shuffled metagame. Read on to explore the more exciting developments in Modern this month!
Blade Runner 2020
As David noted last week, Stoneblade is performing very strongly online, with the forerunner being UW. Up next is Bant, a deck he posits may have some distinct advantages over the two-color build. But something I've been observing is that if players are winning more with UW, that's not necessarily because they're afraid to try anything else; indeed, a plethora of Stoneforge Mystic options seem viable. Here, we'll consider some of the most promising.
Flashblade revives an age-old Modern archetype in UWx Flash, slotting in Stoneforge to supplement its primary plan of deploying creatures at instant speed should opponnents offer little in the way of juicy counterspell targets on their own turn. While Mystic itself lacks flash, the equipments it can dig up tend to be stellar in this kind of shell, which often leans on mid-game evasive clocks to apply pressure.
Stoneforge also gives a juicy turn two option, and a proactive one at that, for a deck that's historically lacked such options; in the past, UW Flash has slammed creatures as unappealing as Wall of Omens (provides card draw down the road with Restoration Angel, maybe) or otherwise hoped opponents give them something to Mana Leak or Goremand. Since neither of those counterspells are particularly alluring in a deck that likes going long, Stoneforge lets Flash decks totally omit them in favor of a question rather than an answer---many decks, still, will lose to Batterskull if they can't immediately take out the Kor. Wielding that threat allows the deck to attack from a novel angle.
Not all Flash decks are on board, and yes, I said Flash decks! UW Flash has shown up multiple times in the dumps this month, and the deck often chooses not to run Stoneforge. In the creature's place is... well, Wall of Omens! Given the aggression we've seen in Modern over the past few months, wanting to hedge more reliably against Monastery Swiftspear & co. doesn't seem like the worst possible idea. As these builds trend more controlling, they also omit Brineborn Cutthroat.
Puresteel Hammer is an update to the Cheeri0s deck that generated a wave of interest back in 2017. With Mox Opal gone, its turn-two combo potential has shrunken significantly, but the strategy is still capable of explosive plays.
Slamming Puresteel Palladin and then a series of 0-cost equipment not only refills a pilot's hand, but allows them to suit up Palladin to survive Lightning Bolt and the like. Alternatively, equipment can go to the evasive Ornithopter, itself especially fond of Cranial Plating. Still, the star of the artifact show is Colossus Hammer, a cheap weapon that benefits greatly from Palladin's cost reduction; while the trinket generally costs a whopping 8 mana to attach, in this deck doing so often costs 0, letting players toss it around freely between their 0-drop creatures until opponents run out of Fatal Pushes. Even though it energized Cheeri0s the first time around, Sram, Senior Edificer dodges inclusion here, as it doesn't synergize well with Hammer; instead, Sigarda's Edge is employed to add consistency to the Hammer plan via more cost reduction.
In this deck, Stoneforge Mystic serves as a piece of glue, digging up Hammer or Cranial Plating to facilitate big attacks. Naturally, it can also get Batterskull, giving the deck an elegant plan in the face of faster aggro decks.
Boros Hammer x is much more tunnel-visioned around the Hammer plan, aiming to give the equipment to double-strike creatures and close out games very quickly. Giver of Runes and Spellskite are both maxed to make going all-in more palatable, and the deck lacks quite options to tutor with Stoneforge or Gift, going so far as to exclude Batterskull.
Space is so tight because of the combo components in play; Aid makes a return, but Palladin is replaced by Magnetic Theft. As an instant, Theft can save creatures from toughness-based removal, but its juiciest application is to end the game as early as turn two: Kor Duelist into Hammer and Theft yields a cool 20 damage. Blinkmoth Nexus also threatens instant death when it hits with a Hammer, if not before turn three.
Of course, these plans won't come together every game, explaining Kor Outfitter; this creature usually serves as the deck's Tarmogoyf, or mess-cleaner, coming down and immediately picking up the Hammer to threaten massive damage (specially with the protection granted by Giver and Skite). Alternatively, Outfitter can equip a creature that isn't still sick from summoning.
A couple more techs here merit discussion, chief among them Mardu Shadowspear. Without Batterskull in the picture, lifelink on an equipment is at a premium, and fortunately for Boros Hammer, this unassuming legend slots in nicley with its game plans. Lifelink on a 12/12 is eyebrow-raising enough, but it's the trample that makes it actually good; with Spear, pilots need not worry about chump blockers sticking sticks in their spokes. Still, given the deck's eight search effects, I would much prefer to see the reliable Batterskull replace the second Spear and increase Mystic's stock in the list.
Then there's Lurrus, which continues to see play in Modern despite the companion nerf. Some of its proponents run it in the mainboard, but Boros actually uses Lurrus as a companion; while three is a steep price to pay in some games, in grindier ones the lands can add up, and reviving a stripped Hammer or gunned-down Giver each turn can put massive pressure on opponents.
Most Stoneforge decks are blue, but as we've seen, not all! By that same token, not all blue decks are Stoneforge decks. While they don't especially fit the narrative of this article, I'd like to briefly discuss a couple interesting blue decks emerging in the leagues.
What's better than four great three-power fliers? Why, eight, of course! And this time, I'm not talking about Delver of Secrets // Delver of Secrets. Stormwing Phoenix combines the best blue and red have to offer the skies, and given both the proven strength of Stormwing and the card's palpable synergy with the once-feared Arclight plan, there may be something to the fusion.
Both creatures roughly ask the same thing of pilots: that they cast instants and sorceries during their turns. And while Phoenix is robust in that it comes back from the graveyard each turn, Stormwing is by virtue of resisting Lightning Bolt (with an instant), Fatal Push, and Inquisition of Kozilek. It helps, too, that the graveyard hate frequently employed to deal with Arclight, such as Grafdiggers' Cage and Surgical Extraction, does absolutely nothing to Entity, a feature the Elemental shares with Thing in the Ice---that said, conditionally disrupting opponents with Thing and still dying to Push seems a lot worse than just getting them dead with Stormwing while staying strong against more disruption.
Without Looting, Merchant of the Vale // Haggle, Izzet Charm, and Dream Twist are selected to enable Phoenix, but only the latter demands a full four copies. Milling Phoenix is draw-a-card plus, and it helps that Twist can be recast from the grave as the second spell for the red bird. Ox of Agonas and Bedlam Reveler are also tapped to make full use of the milling and let the underwhelming-on-paper Twist be worth its cost.
Devotion to Blue, AKA Thassa Tribal, wears its names well, smacking like something out of a lost Standard. Thassa's Oracle specifically has made quite a a splash in Modern, where it enables decks like Ad Nauseam and Dimir Inverter. The card's playability is the main reason for this deck to take form, as previously, anyone looking to play Devotion to Blue in Modern lacked a compelling enabler.
Other surprising hold-togethers include Omen of the Sea, a devotion-pumping Preordain; Spreading Seas, some incidental land hate; and Witching Well, which quickly pays for itself thanks to Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and lets players gas back up in the mid-game.
Body and Mind
That's what we're seeing in Modern---as COVID-19 rages on (admittedly, more in certain parts of the world than others), Modern playes are staying strong and putting their brains to the brew. What's next to come from the quarantined Hive Mind in August?