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January ’21 Brew Report, Pt. 1: Drink Challenge

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It's a new year for Modern, and brewers haven't wasted a moment's time. Early January's biggest novel developments were among attacking decks, ranging from basement-low Swiftspear decks to grindier Uro piles while featuring a rare twist that's been murmured about since the format's creation!

Sligh Fox

Let's start from the bottom. Mono-Red Prowess and its offshoots are old news by now, but some newcomers to the Modern card pool and the metagame shifts they bring along seem to be shaking up the hit-'em-fast hierarchy quite a bit.

First up is Mono-Red Pest, a deck that dilutes the Prowess core with more creatures, among them Modern's latest Goblin Guide: Wayward Guide-Beast. But I do mean "dilute," and not "refute"—pure aggro aspirants would still be silly not to include reigning poke champ Monastery Swiftspear, even if it's unlikely to be a hasty Tarmogoyf from turn to turn. Between Swift, Guide, and Guide-Beast, the deck has boasts of hasty pressure just begging for a pump effect.

Here, that role is entrusted to Signal Pest, which grows all attacking creatures on the turn it swings. (Yes, with Mox Opal banned, I really feel like I need to explain what Signal Pest does.) Pest has its own drawbacks, of course; the artifact lacks haste itself, and is extremely frail. But at just a single mana investment for a pump effect that provides around 2-4 extra damage per turn and stacks, it does seem like a bargain, even if XORIAN found themselves running the less-than-optimal Legion Loyalist as an extra pump-able body. Then again, who knows? With Lingering Souls on the rise (don't touch that dial), perhaps token evasion is at last valuable enough to justify this pick by itself!

Gruul Sligh ditches the disruptive power of Blood Moon and extends into green, gaining a higher-impact creature suite finely tuned to take full advantage of Atarka's Command. Rather than focus on pump effects like the Pest deck, this strategy combines recurring damage sources such as Klothys and Eidolon with bursts of damage from the instant and sorcery suite.

The shift to Klothys and Bloodbraid Elf specifically signal readiness for a metagame raising its count of one-mana removal spells, as one might expect it to with glass-cannon, Infect-style decks such as Hammer Time performing well for the first time ever. Path, Bolt, and Push are great against that deck, but also happen to be great against 4/5 Swiftspears. Dipping into value creatures punishes opponents for leaning too hard on removal spells in their crusade against aggro.

Between the Pest deck, this new Gruul construction, and Burn decks now trying out 2 Roiling Vortex in the mainboard, it seems red-based aggro is again getting a significant this month!

Stuck in the Middle with You

Midrange has always been Modern's calling card as much as aggro, although it rarely takes the heat—indeed, when Splinter Twin was banned, you'd have thought the Library of Alexandria itself had been burned down. Here are some new spins on Mardu and, yes, Temur for the new year.

Jund never really goes away, even though we've heard about the tried-and-true Rock strategy recently converting to Rakdos. But there are proving to be even more viable ways to run Rock this month, including Mardu Stoneblade. Seasoned Pyromancer, Bonecrusher Giant // Stomp, and Lingering Souls all provide bursts of value as well as prime bodies to hold equipment. But the flashiest tech here is Embercleave.

When it was spoiled, I remember the six-mana equipment being mostly assessed in terms of how easy it would be to reduce its cost with its own ability, and then more or less abandoned. But Stoneforge cheats it out by itself, not to mention tutors it up to begin with. And it turns out double strike and trample is pretty sick on a 4-power creature that already killed an opposing critter with its front half! Even better: attaching Embercleave to Rankle, Master of Pranks. Double strike lets the Faerie draw blood twice, which means stacking its effects for some real fun.

It wouldn't be a brew report without some new way to wield the terrifying Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath. This week, that honor goes to  Nightpack Uro, a typical Temur pile with an unconventional alternate win condition. Nightpack Ambusher is M20's answer to Huntmaster of the Fells // Ravager of the Fells, a four-mana Wolf with plenty of applications in reactive blue decks. Among them:

  • Deploying at instant speed so players can keep up mana for countermagic
  • Rewarding players for playing reactively by pumping out tokens, as would Bitterblossom or a planeswalker
  • Providing a sizeable body for both attacking and blocking
  • Flashing in during combat to eat a creature on defense

At its best, Ambusher goes where many Restoration Angels have gone before, "ambushing" an attacker and then providing value. 4/4 are pretty impressive stats to have on a flash creature, and getting the Wolf token every turn on top of that actually gives this creature what it might need to beat out the planeswalkers it competes with.

In metagames where 4/4 isn't likely to feast on much, it's surely worse, just as Huntmaster would be better if players needed to gun down armies of utility creatures that weren't doing much crashing in. In fact, I did notice a similar Temur Uro list running a pair of Huntmasters to fulfil such a modified role. But right now, them swinging Swiftspears sure is looking like a snack!

Like Liquid Gold

Way back when, before Modern was even announced, I was just dabbling in Magic and aimlessly picking up cards I thought looked cool. Among them was a brand-new playset of Liquimetal Coating. There are tons of efficient artifact removal cards, after all, and what a trip it would be to gun down enemy lands with them!

I did try the deck in Modern, as others have, and to decidedly middling results. The card itself did leave a small imprint when Karn, the Great Creator was released and Mycosynth Lattice banned, as Karn's +1 combo'd with Coating to destroy one land per turn. But now, suddenly, Liquimetal Ponza the deck is putting up finishes. And it owes this newfound success to Thieving Skydiver.

Temur Liquimetal is a turn-two Moon deck with a twist: it turns your permanents into artifacts and then blows them up. Among said permanents are your basic lands, which Thieving Skydiver will happily swipe for a single mana. Destroying a land is nice, but ramping at the same time can quickly spiral out of control, especially with high-impact mana sinks in the picture. With Liquimetal present, this creature can steal any permanent. And even without the Coating, Skydiver can come down and take Colossus Hammer all for itself, equipping it for free to boot.

As for mana sinks, Uro's one, sure, but there's also Karn, the Great Creator, which adds redundancy to Liquimetal Coating... and even tutors it, giving this deck a whopping seven pseudo-copies! This deck isn't even necessarily a fluke, as beyond league finishes, it placed in a Preliminary.

Now, I did say Liquimetal Ponza owed its success to Skydiver. But I wouldn't fault the skeptical for taking one look and attributing its high finishes to the presence of Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath. That's why we've got one more deck to check out:

Look, Ma! No Uro! And no Ancient Grudge, either. Grixis Liquimetal instead maxes out both the flexible Abrade and the now-gamebreaking Kolaghan's Command, also running Lurrus of the Dream-Den to recur lost Liquimetals or whatever else, including Skydivers. Then Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound sifts through the deck to de-clunk triple-Command hands, while targeted discard buys time for the engines to come online.

Drink Up

It would seem Modern's staying hydrated. Are you? Keep healthy readers, and we'll see you soon for the January wrap-up... and some final thoughts on the new expansion!

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