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November ’20 Brew Report, Pt. 2: But First, Apéro

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Last month, we took a look at some of the more interesting decks the online dumps provided in November, focusing on the many applications of Scourge of the Skyclaves. It is indeed December now, but what better time to check out the candidates from the last two weeks? With our comprehensive metagame update published and Modern's current bigger players established, let's scrape the barrel for the never-before-done—or, if we're lucky, the next big thing!

As the Sky Keeps Claving

Scourge of the Skyclaves made for a fun exposé, but it seems players have had their fun. In November's second half, they gravitated to its buddy in lore, or so I assume: Skyclave Apparition. When we ran Uro's Spell Spotlight, only Apparition stood between the ubiquitous Titan and Modern's #1 most-played creature slot. But Death and Taxes certainly ain't the only deck packing the little guy. Sure, it's been showing up in the likes of Counters Company (great at finding utility creatures) and UW Spirits (which has betrayed its tribe before with Reflector Mage and Militia Bugler), but also in decks potentially better-poised to take advantage of its versatile disruptive effect.

Skyclave Apparition seems to have become a staple in PrimeTime, which I've been calling all mish-mashes of land-oriented cards that revolve around Primeval Titan and Dryad of the Ilysian Grove. Here, the card serves multiple functions, helping win a tight race when playing fair while removing troublesome permanents such as Blood Moon (a card we've been seeing more and more of lately).

PrimeTime doesn't always assemble its Field of the Dead or Valakut late-game; sometimes, opponents have just the right answers, or find ways to cripple the engine. In those cases, Apparition helps the deck's namesake 6/6 crash through for lethal. To increase access to both Primeval Titan and Apparition, Eladamri's Call has become an attractive option, letting the deck run a creature toolbox without committing to the combo plan associated with Summoner's Pact.

We've covered Ephemerate decks before, back when they ran Yorion (remember those days?). Behold, the instant's new face: a tighter, sleeker Bant Ephemerate deck that heavily incorporates Skyclave Apparition as a high-value blink target. Like with the old Oblivion Ring-style creatures, blinking Apparition in response to the trigger leaves opponents without one payoff for the kill, or pilots with a "free" exile effect for their trouble. And since opponents never get those cards back with Apparition, but just lousy tokens in their place, the combination can threaten to decimate boards.

The rest of the gang's all here: Ice-Fang Coatl, a great card in Ephemerate even if it's hard to splash in most decks without Arcum's Astrolabe hanging around anymore; Eternal Witness to buy back the right cards, including Ephemerate; and, of course, Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath. Gotta use that graveyard! Gotta draw those cards! Gotta gain that life! In decks like this one, Uro is just too good not to play.

"What if we took the deck we just saw... and made it... weird?" Well, SESBEN1111, I would love that! Neoform Ephemerate trades most of its Apparitions for a full-blown toolbox and Watcher for Tomorrow, a staple Ephemerate target. This deck's creatures can be tributed to Neoform to pull more menacing beasts out of the deck, yielding rank-ups reminiscent of the Birthing Pod days: that measly Watcher might as well be Venser or Apparition, but the real magic happens when the three-drops become Reveillark!

Dark Confidant? Never heard of him! Deadguy Ale is an age-old Legacy strategy that gained a little traction in Modern when Stoneforge Mystic came off the banlist. This build trims the fat in the creature suite, axing Confidant, Giver of Runes and more in favor of staples Tidehollow and Stoneforge as well as—who else—Skyclave Apparition! Bitterblossom also constitutes a threat, especially alongside all that equipment. The rest of the deck is full of disruption; this is BW Tokens with a vengeance.

Head Out the Clouds

Skyclave Apparition seems like Modern's latest sauce, but is likely to have a lot more staying power than something like Reflector Mage, which now sees play limited to Humans. Its no-questions-asked "that's just gone" effect is one the format has been clamoring for. But just as there's more to Modern than Uro, there's more to November than Apparition. Here are a couple quick hits from this extremely diverse month.

Mox Opal may be banned, but Mox Amber's fate was much kinder, and so players get to keep messing around with Erayo, Soratami Ascendant. That's the case with Esper Unearth, the latest deck to try its hand at breaking the upside-down enchantment. Powering out a flipped Erayo means running lots of cheap artifacts, something Emry, Lurker of the Loch and Monastery Mentor can also appreciate. Behold, a blueprint! Cantrips and light disruption fill out the rest of the shell, with a full set of Teferi, Time Raveler included to put the hurt on the Faerie menace. Or whoever runs instants nowadays.

Don't worry combo fans, I didn't forget you! It's true, attacking is lame. But so are those cookie-cutter Gruul Belcher decks, not to mention the Ballustrade builds. Blue Belcher to the rescue! With all those snazzy land-spells, it was a matter of time before someone tried their hand at a more unorthodox Belcher concoction. And if anything, I'd say this deck speaks to the power of Goblin Charbelcher the card; the land-spells don't seem particularly exciting in this color. Rather, the draw to UW seems to be threefold:

Resolving Selective Memory lets players empty their entire deck of cards, causing Thassa's Oracle to trigger a win upon resolution. As such, the deck boasts an alternate combo dimension similar to that of Inverter Oracle in that it's very difficult to stop if its pieces resolve. Memory-Oracle is also harder to hate out with permanents such as Pithing Needle, which otherwise stop the Belcher combo.

As is always the case with new brews, we'll see if these hang on or just prove flashes in the pan. But either way, it's great to see more nuance in established decks, especially in Belcher (which got old fast) and among Modern's pool of ever-morphing disruptive creature strategies.

Day Dreaming

Many of my buddies have expressed a reduction in Modern interest of late, something I don't doubt has something to do with paper Magic being more or less on hold in most of the world. But don't sleep on this format! It's as diverse as ever, and never stops giving when it comes to new tech.

6 thoughts on “November ’20 Brew Report, Pt. 2: But First, Apéro

  1. I’ve been reading your articles for a while and it might interest you to know that the bw stoneforge deck started as a weird smallpox midrange thing, but came to be what you see there.

    I think the kids have been calling it wb stoneforge. It’s a pretty sweet deck though.

    1. Yes it does! I think I might remember those BW Pox builds…. If memory serves, they were even played a bit before Stoneforge came off the list, but with Goyf instead! I like how switching out a few playsets can radically change how a deck functions.

      1. Yeah! It was a thing before SFM got unbanned. It was like a clunky missing-link between 8-rack and the beauty we see before us now.

        I think cling to dust, though inconspicuous, does a lot of work in these decks.

  2. Jordan,
    You mentioned that there may be some waning interest in the format among your friends, my experience has been similar. I’ve noticed a marked drop off in discussions (and obviously play) in the circles in which I run. I was wondering if any of the data you’ve seen has shown this to be the trend in anything more than an anecdotal way. Have you seen anything official that shows numbers are up/down? I wouldn’t really know where to look for that sort of thing.

    1. Unfortunately I don’t have access to anything non-anecdotal, but I have a few theories about why that’s happening, to be posted soon! Spoiler: COVID is especially bad for Modern.

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