New Contenders: Pre-Capenna Deck Evaluation

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As is typical right after the Prerelease, Modern is in a lull. The new cards aren't really available yet and so testing ability is limited. Theorycrafting and goldfishing just aren't the same. As a result, it feels like everyone is just holding their breath until Friday. Especially since there may or may not be new decks entering Modern.

However, that gives me the perfect opportunity to close up business from pre-Streets of New Capenna. While everyone has been looking ahead to the new set bringing in new cards and new decks, that's not something unique to the set release. Modern has actually received two new decks in the past few months that I haven't covered. I had intended to do so as part of the metagame update, but (unless there's a significant change in the data this week) neither deck will appear in April's update. So, now's the time.

New-Old Business

Technically, I have talked about this deck previously. However, it was as a concept rather than something that actually exists. Yes, Tameshi, Reality Architect is indeed a deck! And, surprisingly, the list seems to be landing not too far off of where I was at when I stopped workshopping it.

Where I was trying to go the Amulet Titan route and win via Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, everyone else has opted for Finale of Devastation, which is the right call. In a sense, the specific win condition is irrelevant once the combo gets going, but Finale also helps assemble that combo while ensuring that City of Solitude doesn't fizzle it. A big Tameshi kills just as easily as Colossus.

Metagame Advantages

Nassif has gone for a midrange-combo hybrid with this specific list. Besides offering further proof that Omnath goes with anything, his deck enjoys the advantage of an actual backup plan for when the combo fails to assemble. And while the video of Nassif playing the deck doesn't show it, the combo does fail to come together. A lot. It's vulnerable to creature removal, persistent graveyard hate, Stony Silence, and Pithing Needle.

Fortunately, those are relatively insignificant concerns. A-Teferi, Time Raveler protects against removal midcombo and can remove both Needle and Stony. Graveyard hate can be quite hard to beat since the combo is sorcery speed. However, most hate that sees play is one-shot one-ofs that can be found with Urza's Saga. Force the opponent to blow their Soul-Guide Lantern before actually trying to combo or build in some redundancy with two Lotus Blooms and combo in peace. With both Rest in Peace and Dauthi Voidwalker on a downward trend, Tameshi combo is fairly insulated from hate.

Futhermore, Wargate provides a level of flexibility no other deck can match. Its primary job is just to find Bloom for three mana, but in a pinch, it will find any bullet for any situation. I've seen some lists simply transition to a full-on value tutoring deck post-board and forget the combo to dodge hate.

Metagame Disadvantages

Of course, that does mean that a prepared opponent will demolish Tameshi pretty easily. For combo's sake it can't fully lean into the Omnath midrange plan even after a fully transformative sideboard. Consequently, this deck is really a hybrid of many strategies. It's similar to Amulet Titan in that it's a land-based combo deck, but significantly slower. It can play an Omnath midrange game, but not as well. It snags pieces from many other decks and adds them to the central combo for protection. The stitches can be quite hard to notice when everything is going well. But if the right pressure is applied, it all starts to fray.

Which is ultimately the double-edged blade keeping this deck out of the metagame. There are a lot of ways to disrupt the combo. The best disruption see very little play because it isn't relevant in the wider metagame. This allows Tameshi to skate by. In a Modern where combo is more common and more sideboard slots are dedicated to anti-artifact combo, Tameshi in its current form will flounder.

Tameshi's Place in Modern

This is an odd duck of a deck. On the one hand, the combo is very hard to disrupt once it gets going and is largely self-sustaining. While not a fully deterministic combo, as there are ways to prevent the kill after its assembling, it occupies an underutilized niche in the metagame and has a proven ability to force its way through the fair decks.

The problem is that a lot of decks are not equipped to fight this combo, but they could be should the metagame shift. And when that happens, suddenly Tameshi is in a very awkward place. It can play similarly to both Amulet Titan and 4-Color Omnath, but can't do what either do as quickly or as well. Thus, Tameshi feels like a metagamed deck rather than an actual player.

However, that is just the current iteration which is responding to current metagame conditions. In another Modern it could look very different and prove more resilient than expected. I believe that the tuning process for this deck has only just begun.

Old-New Business

The second deck is an anachronism. At a time when Psychatog and Wild Mongrel dominated Odessey Block Standard, there was Mono-Black Control (MBC). Cabal Coffers was a Standard superstar providing absurd levels of mana to power a board-dominating deck. For a few months. Until 'Tog adjusted how it used its counterspells and tweaked its combo kill. And then Judgement gave everyone all of the mana via Mirari's Wake. Still, it was a happy run for MBC while it lasted.

Coffers never really saw any play after its Standard run. When it was reprinted in Modern Horizons 2, everyone knew that its interaction with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth could be powerful. However, I didn't see any serious attempt to make it happen. Mono-Black Control in Modern; don't be absurd! And then aspiringspike went and did it.

I'm sure that other players have been working on this deck. The only one I've actually seen putting out content and updates on it is aspiringspike. In classic MBC fashion, the deck is almost entirely sorcery speed. Who cares when the opponent's hand has been wrecked and all their creatures are dead?

Metagame Advantages

This is the best Karn, the Great Creator deck in Modern. Seriously, this deck is built around Karn in a way that only Tron can match. Half the win conditions need to be wished for, unless beating down with Golos, Tireless Pilgrim counts. MBC features a dedicated wishboard filled with every relevant prison piece in the format. Which is appropriate, as MBC has always played more like a classic creature prison deck than true control.

That positioning is well-suited for the current Modern. There's a ton of early game creature kill plus all the prison pieces. The discard package is great against everything else. And MBC features a land toolbox thanks to Expedition Map. In theory, this deck can tutor for whatever it needs whenever it needs it... or two turns after suspending Profane Tutor.

Coffers is odd as an accelerant. It's slower than the Urza lands, but has a much higher ceiling. With Urborg out, Coffers breaks even on mana by turn 3. After turn 4 (or with multiple Coffers), it gets absurd. I mean, MBC counts on casting Archon and Griselbrand for full price rather than reanimating them.

Metagame Disadvantages

Live by the Karn, die by the Karn. This version of MBC struggles when it doesn't see the planeswalker. Missing on Coffers is tough too, but mitigated by Expedition Map. The only way to dig for Karn is to resolve Profane Tutor, and in a format filled with Time Raveler and other cascade hate, that's far from certain. The critical prison pieces that underpin the whole deck are all in the sideboard, and more importantly, without Karn the only card advantage is Invoke Despair. Consequently, the deck can fall behind very quickly and may never recover without the four-drop.

Furthermore, there is no redundancy beyond the interaction package. All the win conditions (again, except Golos if it counts) are singletons. And there's no unlocking Karn if he's Pithing Needled. Consequently, it is perfectly possible for this deck to end up in control of the game but unable to win if Archon and Griselbrand get removed. The prison pieces are in the same boat, though that's forgivable since it's a wish package. That said, in a format where March of Otherworldly Light, Prismatic Ending, Force of Vigor and Counterspell see tons of play, going all-in on singletons seems quite risky.

MBC's Place in Modern

The deck does well enough in League play, but I don't see it in the Challenges or Preliminaries very much and very rarely in paper. And it's not surprising. This version of MBC is trying to be both Tron and artifact prison. And it's worse than either at their own games. While Coffers and Urborg have a much higher ceiling for mana production than the Urzatron, Tron comes together on turn 3 very reliably. The deck is built to make that happen every game with tons of land search and cantrips. Prison decks are very redundant and look to drop multiple pieces quickly. MBC can't start locking anything until turn 4.

MBC tries to balance these shortcomings with the interaction. The hope is to slow opponents down enough that the slower engine can come online and still be relevant. However, there's no way to keep up a stream of interaction should the engine throw a gear. There's no hiding behind Bridge until all the pieces drop into place because the critical piece is needed to get the Bridge! This is deck of compromises to make on interaction work and ends up being a very middling deck. Playing Burn against this deck feels exactly the same as against Tron, and I'm told the other matchups are similar.

Consequently, I don't see this deck being more than an also-ran curiosity long-term. It's too like existing decks without there being enough uniquely good about it to justify playing it instead. I do believe that a more consistent and unique MBC deck exists in Modern. It hasn't been found yet, but it's out there.

Don't Give Up

This is not to say that either deck doesn't belong in Modern nor is unplayable. The fact that players do win with both decks disproves the notion. However, these are not completed decks and need more time in the brewing cauldron before becoming real contenders. Keep that in mind as SNC arrives and new decks get brewed.

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