Despite a glitch in the Matrix which led to less data than usual last month, the March dumps nonetheless did betray a grip of Modern movement both among established archetypes and lesser-played brews. Today, we'll look at a few of the ways two of the format's premier strategies—Omnath and Jund Shadow—have adjusted to the recent bannings. Both were tiered last month, but not by virtue of staying still; there's been plenty of redesigning in both camps to account for Modern's new dimensions!
Out from the Shadows
Jund Shadow is proving itself to be one of the primary benefactors of the recent bannings. Rakdos Prowess and its ilk proved as successful, if not more so, than the Omnath piles which fuelled Wizards's massive ban wave; Shadow and Scourge are just insane together, especially alongside efficient Stage 1 combat creatures like the best-of-breed Monastery Swiftspear. Jund Shadow is cut out to do many of the same things, and with the same threats, but also mixes Tarmogoyf into things, giving it a huge edge in the pseudo-mirror against Prowess.
As we know of Jund Shadow, the deck is also highly reversible, boasting the tools to maneuver effectively in many different matchups. In other words, it's very well-suited to an unsure metagame, and especially to this one: Goyf helps vs. the aggro-leaning strategies generally favored after shake-ups, and both Aether Gust and grave hate are seeing a sharp decline with Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath finally removed from the format.
Virtually all of the new Jund Shadow decks are running a playset of Monastery Swiftspear in addition to the usual roster of heavy hitters Goyf, Scourge, and Shadow. (Some even dip into Bomat Courier to up the aggression further with an additional Stage 1 creature.) The above list reads to me like a Rakdos Prowess deck explicitly tuned to destroy the mirror. Many elements remain the same, but Goyf is a force to be reckoned with in this kind of mirror, and the maximized number of Bolts and Pushes all but ensures the aggro deck won't bite off an early lead while the slightly slower Jund Shadow comes together.
As far as one-drops go, Swiftspear and Bomat aren't the only ones Jund Shadow is reaching out to. I've seen builds ditching Swiftspear entirely for Hexdrinker, a way of one-upping this new mirror: Jund Shadow vs. Jund Shadow is certain to come down to a grind, making Hex the preferred creature to have. Others still are trying Grim Lavamancer, and one build even employed a 2/2/2 Hexdrinker/Lavamancer/Swiftspear split! All this to say that there are many possible options for this slot in Jund Shadow right now, and while each has its pros and cons, I'm not sure that any is much more virtuous than the others. That means players are free to run the cards they personally prefer, or else choose the best option and seize points against whichever decks they encounter the most.
Of course, not all Jund Shadow decks run Scourge of the Skyclaves. Wait... they don't? I don't know about you, but that's not a development I'd personally have predicted! Scourge's failings as the metagame develops are twofold, however:
- It's situational in a midrange shell. Scourge is a bit demanding about when players cast it if they are to get a good window—that is, one in which the creature dodges common removal spells like Lightning Bolt. The more interactive the Shadow deck leans, the less able it is to put out damage early, and therefore control its opponent's life points enough to resolve Scourge safely. And against linear combo decks like Tron, there's no guarantee that Scourge can come down to apply pressure at all.
- It's weak to Fatal Push. So everyone and their son is packing 4 Fatal Push so they can kill each other's Scourges. What do you do? Cut the Scourges, of course! Tarmogoyf gets the nod in this instance since it's far less fussy about when it can be cast for high impact. But running too many ways for opponents to nab your tempo with Push is a liability.
Here, Scourge is replaced by the Pushable, but not really, Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger—the latest warhead in the arms race towards midrange-dom. That's a nice Hexdrinker you've got there! Would be a shame if I made you... discard... your land card... so you can't grow it right away....
Om Nath Finished Yet!
Don't count out this big fat... thing! Omnath is still a tremendously pushed card, and while its supporting cast suffered significant blows at the hands of the latest bans, there's no way the Elemental is done showing its ugly... face... in Modern. While the card remains a staple in Niv-Mizzet piles, it's also still helming its own builds. Look no further than the following brews for confirmation!
Omnath Control strikes me as the Level 0 going forward. Uro is replaced by an array of planeswalkers, and the core gameplan of grinding out opponents with the help of a certain 4/4 remains intact. This deck is less reliant on the graveyard than Omnath piles were previously, but that's not necessarily a good trade to make, as it's also significantly less powerful and more dependent on the top of its deck to deliver.
Previous iterations were so successful precisely because of the consistency and resilience Uro granted any pilot fortunate enough to dodge graveyard hate. I wouldn't be surprised if this version started to fall off as other value-focused control decks prove themselves better suited for the metagame and Omnath starts to fall more decisively into another shell.
One such promising shell is Yorion Omnath, which leans on its namesake companion to fold in that missing consistency. Yorion decks are already big on redundancy, excusing their high card count with plenty of similar four-ofs. So they're also great homes for Niv-Mizzet Reborn, which here compensates for the value void left by Uro. My issue with this build is how reliant it is on resolving certain high-costed spells; a timely Mana Leak could put Yorion Omnath in the unfortunate position of drawing mana every turn and hoping to rip another bomb. Note the Valki: while the cascade interaction was fixed, using Bring to Light to "cheat out" the planeswalker for five mana does work!
Last up is Omnath Stoneblade, or Bant Stoneblade splashing Wrenn and Six and Omnath. Stoneforge Mystic and Spell Queller aren't the worst partners for Omnath, as they plug the two- and three-mana curve holes left by the Elemental. Batterskull happens to be great against aggressive decks, which are sure to show up in droves after a metagame shift. And as for value, Tireless Tracker rounds things out as a mini-Omnath. Don't sleep on the 4 Leaks! This deck is not losing to Yorion anytime soon.
Jund Shadow? Myriad Omnath piles? Modern may have changed, but it still looks an awful lot like Modern. Join me next week for a look at some of the trend benders emerging from the new format.