It may well be January, but we're not out of the woods yet—2020 and I have some unfinished bidness to attend to, or specifically, the final brew report of the year! That players are still brewing novel decks bodes well for the new year, as such trends will probably continue.
Modern's always been a format defined first and foremost by its creatures, unlike the older formats better known for powerful spells. So of course new brews are going to tap that reservoir!
Death's Domain Zoo follows a blueprint now well-known: backing up a couple massive threats with a highly efficient Stage 1 combat creature. But a few things are different. For one, there's no Monastery Swiftspear, that role filled by the splash-intensive Wild Nacatl. I'm reminded of my experiments with Counter-Cat, which had me looking to Nacatl after finding Swiftspear decidedly lackluster in a shell more interested in sticking stand-alone threats. Next, there's the extreme density of large creatures; while Death's Shadow Jund traditionally employed just Goyf and Shadow as beaters, and Scourge Shadow hires Scourge and Shadow, DDZ runs all three to keep the pressure on no matter the number of removal spells it walks into. This is not a deck that wants to hit the mid-game!
Playing to that plan is the additional payoff for splashing so much: Tribal Flames. In Counter-Cat, I neglected to run black after realizing that Boros Charm, with its versatility in being able to protect our creatures, was generally better than Flames. Here, both are ran at max, and the extra burn saves pilots from even wanting countermagic. Go ahead and resolve that Ugin; I'll just dome you 9! Tying everything together is Wrenn and Six, a superb enabler in this kind of shell as it lets players fix their mana at their leisure.
If you thought 12 big threats was a lot, wait until you've seen Yorion Taxes! Like most Yorion decks, it's chock-full of guys, although these are less about beating down than applying disruption. Here, the fish-style taxing strategy of Death and Taxes is mashed with a creature suite more about generating value. Since these decks can flounder in the face of removal spells, and such midrange decks are on the rise as Jund Rock converts to Mardu, employing both value creatures and Yorion as a failsafe is a strategy that aims to stick it to the Fatal Pusher while nonetheless boasting game against combo.
To me, the deck seems a bit unfocused; I can see it drawing the wrong half against the wrong deck, and finding itself randomly soft to something like Storm or Belcher. Still, the red splash has got to dig up some points, as Magus of the Moon is no joke this format.
A second Yorion deck, and the one that's been performing the best this month, is Yorion Incarnation. It looks at first glance like any old 5-0 deck, but as it's placed multiple times, the pile may merit a closer look.
It's Enigmatic Incarnation itself that makes this deck so unique, turning its many ramping enchantments (including the eyebrow-raising Lithoform Blight) into whatever utility creature happens to be the most useful at the time. Since players have already cashed in on their enchantment, which cantrips, throwing it away for a valuable creature is great advantage, especially since the creature in question can be chosen from an impressive roster. Incarnation isn't totally dead in multiples, either, since now it can search up a five-drop like Yorion or Niv-Mizzet.
We've talked at length about how Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath has come to define the present format, whether or not its numbers place it at the top of the heap. But there are other ways to generate value in Modern, and even other ways to play Simic.
Here's a snowballing-value deck in the same vein as the regular Uro piles, but conspicuously lacking Omnath. Temur Time Warp instead makes use of Tamiyo, Collector of Tales to copy its own Time Warps, setting itself up to generate massive value over the course of multiple free turns wherein it's free to cast and activate different planeswalkers to its heart's content.
But at this deck's own heart is the assumption that in a midrange deck with Wrenn and Six to help hit them land drops, Time Warp might just be a reasonable card to cast for five mana some portion of the time.
Underworld Paradox takes the word "combo" beyond merely copying a sorcery, and also proves players don't need Uro to be in UGx. This deck looks a lot like the Oko Urza decks from late 2019, but minus the emphasis on playing a fair game with the Artificer. Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy replaces Urza, jump-starting the mana engine so players can resolve Karn, the Great Creator to dig for a combo piece or otherwise go off with what they have.
There are even new variations of this deck in Sultai that do run Urza, as well as Uro, and rely on Thopter-Sword to out-grind players that manage to disrupt it. Based on these developments, will be interesting to see the different directions artifact-based combo-control piles elect to take in 2021 with Mox Opal gone for good.
Combo-control, eh? Who needs Islands and Forests at all? Certainly not Rakdos Waste Not, an update to a fan favorite featuring welcome additions like Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger and the Dark Confidant upgrade Dreadhorde Arcanist. Drawing an extra card for life is a lot worse than flashing back your best one every turn, in this case Burning Inquiry or even a Thoughtseize.
Even if this deck shreds everyone's hand without the enchantment in play, it doesn't have to wait for a topdeck to take a lead; Lurrus of the Dream-Den, the sideboard companion, waits in the wings to retrieve whatever Burning Inquiry decides to discard. Alternatively, there's just Kroxa.
Cheers to That
New year, new decks, new fun. Or is it old fun? Modern's always had ample room for brewing and innovation. "The more things change," they say... let's all hope the saying only applies to some aspects of the new year!