The Quest Questions

On the Eve of the Expansion Journey to Ungoro will be the first expansion to release since I started playing Hearthstone, and although my Magic car...


Breath of the Wild: The Open World ...

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been showered in a chorus of praise since its release, and while I wasn't ready to jump on the Nintendo Sw...


The Hearthstone Ladder

Hearthstone has a strange ranking system. For the uninitiated, Hearthstone has 25 numbered ranks (25 is the worst), along with the legend rank ...


Rethinking ‘Rethinking Red...

By: Dom Harvey Three years ago, frustrated with red's lack of depth in Cube and in general, I wrote an article for Riptide Lab exploring off-the-wa...

The Quest Questions

On the Eve of the Expansion

Journey to Ungoro will be the first expansion to release since I started playing Hearthstone, and although my Magic card evaluation skills are fairly well honed, I’m not sure how well those apply here. Particularly when it comes to evaluating a new card type.

Hearthstone to me feels like a game of much slimmer margins than Magic. Mana and color screw are removed from the picture, and even the power level gap between a staple Legendary and an unplayable basic card is fairly small in absolute terms.

Image result for leeroy jenkinsImage result for reckless rocketeer hearthpwn

Given these small margins, it’s hard to say whether a given quest will be competitively viable. I do think we can critique the design though.

The design of Hearthstone’s quests borrows heavily from Magic’s quests. Each serves as a form of temporary card and tempo disadvantage, recouped later by some eventual gain.

Magic’s quests largely fell into two categories: value quests and build-around quests. The former are simple quests that can be slotted into most any deck, netting a discount in mana at the cost of time primarily.

Khalni Heart ExpeditionIor Ruin Expedition

Divination or double Rampant Growth for two mana. And obviously the power level of each depends on deck construction and sequencing.

Quest for the Holy Relic

The build-around quests placed much tighter constraints on deck construction. At the time, a “Quest deck” implicitly referred to an all-in strategy that sought to cheat a high-costed equipment like Argentum Armor into play in the early turns. The primary contents of the deck were more or less fixed, from the quests and equipments, to cheap creatures that could quickly trigger the quest’s completion.


I’m a little disappointed that Blizzard has opted to go exclusively with this build-around approach, although I can imagine they might be holding smaller “value quests” aside as future design space. None of the quests offer much counterplay, directly or otherwise. There’s currently no way to bounce or destroy them, or remove counters (ala Vampire Hexmage and friends).

What I find most egregious about the design is how prescriptive the quests are. Do X action Y times. Especially when there are very few ‘X’ actions in the cardpool.

Take the Warlock Quest…


Currently there are really only 3 playable discard outlets in the cardpool, with a fourth being printed in Ungoro. Maybe Clutchmother Zavas will edge a card like Succubus into playability, but the fact remains, there’s not much room to maneuver in terms of your discard package. Your Soulfires, Malchezaar’s Imps, Doomguards and Silverware Golems (etc.) are already locked into your deck once you choose this quest. There’s some room to maneuver with the remaining contents, but it feels a lot like Jade Druid where large swaths of the decklist are more or less “pre-built”.

Now, admittedly I’ve cherry-picked perhaps the most restrictive example, and it’s likely that Blizzard has been fairly conservative here in their introduction of a new card type to Hearthstone. I do wish the quests had been more diverse in their size and scope, but the decision to print all quests at Legendary rarity likely precluded the existence of smaller “value” quests in Ungoro.

I am very curious, however, to see which quests will prove to be playable. Board control matters far more in Hearthstone than Magic, and stabilization much more difficult. The cost of a card and tempo in the early game is far from trivial, but some of the rewards are blatantly outrageous.

Let’s find out tomorrow…

Breath of the Wild: The Open World Dilemma

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been showered in a chorus of praise since its release, and while I wasn’t ready to jump on the Nintendo Switch hype train, I did dust of my Wii U to give the game a shot.


Reviews painted a picture of a world bristling with possibilities, a massive canvas to be unlocked through cleverness and ingenuity. I was particularly captivated by discussions of how to cross through wintry terrain. The author of one review mentioned that he and his friends had each found their own solutions, like cooking a warm meal or finding more heat-resistant clothing. In my play through, I devised a third solution: carrying a torch and simply running past any monsters that stood in my way.

The beginning of the game was a work of art. You learn various survival skills, from strategically chopping down trees to bridge a chasm, to raiding a camp full of sleeping mobs to steal their roasted meat. While restricted to the tutorial section, the game felt like the perfect mix of classic Zelda and modern game design. None of the extended tutorial of Twilight Princess. Off the bat the game felt right. And exciting. And fresh.

That magic carried me through the opening ours of the game, joyfully discovering landmarks around the map, sneaking through areas that seemed to exceed my character’s power level.


Eventually I worked my way to one of the game’s four major dungeons, where I found myself stuck, momentarily. As you enter the dungeon, the game pans to a treasure chest containing a map. The chest itself is blocked behind jail-cell bars. The same bars that had, in a previous shrine (mini-dungeons that pepper the map), opened upon completion of a puzzle. I made the assumption that it would (again) open once a later objective had been met. Unfortunately, without the map (which holds controls for interacting with the dungeon itself), progress became impossible. I spoke with a friend who made the exact same “mistake”, so this may be an issue of poor communication on the game’s behalf.

Regardless, once I found the map, the dungeon became quite breathtaking. The mechanic for manipulating the dungeon via the map was novel, and the process of solving the total puzzle felt adventurous.

After completing my first major dungeon, I wandered through the map, gaining hearts en route to my second. This dungeon was almost insultingly easy. Boss included, the whole thing took a brisk 15 minutes. Even by the second time novelty of manipulating the dungeon via the map had worn off. This is where the game started to lose me.

The game incentivizes exploration by awarding items that strengthen your character, and this process implicitly links exploration to the primary goal of defeating Ganon. But what if your character is already strong enough? The connection to the main goals is severed. And without that connection, the act of exploring the map and completing shrines felt not only pointless, but actively counterproductive. My friend echoed this sentiment, claiming that over time the game felt more and more “chore-like”.


Over time I found myself passing shrines without entering them, merely running to my destination. I never had to chop down a second tree, and eventually didn’t feel the need to engage enemies at all.

After finishing three of the four major dungeons, I took on the game’s final boss, and beat it rather easily.

Fundamentally, Breath of the Wild is a fairly challenging game, but once I had mastered the challenge, the game’s magic was lost. The game’s core mechanics were delightful, but I found myself wishing they were tied to a game that preserved its difficulty and early-game charm better. A Zelda roguelike perhaps?

The Hearthstone Ladder

Hearthstone has a strange ranking system.


For the uninitiated, Hearthstone has 25 numbered ranks (25 is the worst), along with the legend rank for top players. The system is fairly transparent. To advance in rank, a player must earn a given number of stars. Players earn a star with each win, and lose a star with each loss. A zero sum system. Almost. Almost….

A second star is awarded for a win during a “winning streak” (three or more consecutive wins), and players cannot lose stars for lost games below Rank 20 or at Legend rank.

The steady influx of these extra stars gradually inflates ranking over time. Basically, the rank distribution over time looks like this elaborately crafted MS Paint graph:


This is clearly a ridiculous dynamic. Over time the entire population climbs the ladder, so a Rank 14 game played on January 2nd is significantly harder than a Rank 14 game played on January 28th.

This dynamic interacts unfavorably with the Hearthstone’s in-game reward system. Players earn end-of-month rewards based on their highest rank achieved during the month. If you set yourself a given goal, the most efficient way to achieve it is to play at the end of the month, when your climb will be filled with lesser-skilled opposition. Likewise, ranked games at the start of the month feel mostly irrelevant.

Setting aside the absurdity of a ranked system that cares about what time of the month you play during, we see that this system undermine ones of the core principles of matchmaking by increasing the likelihood of pairing players of disparate skill levels.

Personally, my issues with the ranking system are likely compounded by Hearthstone’s free-to-play trappings. With other games, I only play them when I’m in the mood to enjoy them, but with Hearthstone my motivations aren’t always so pure. Am I playing to enjoy the experience, or to add more cards to my collection?

I know it’s not wholly rational. In terms of actual currency, the hourly value of Hearthstone play is abysmally low. And if it at any level it feels like work, then grievances like this one are bound to annoy.

For me, it’s difficult to fully ignore and disconnect from Hearthstone’s reward system. And I can feel it affecting my behavior in tangible ways. In other games, I climbed to the equivalent of Hearthstone’s “Legend” rank simply for the sense of accomplishment. There were no in-game incentives. The value of obtaining, say, Master rank in Starcraft 2 was simply the pride of your achievement.

Yet in Hearthstone, the in-game reward for reaching Legend is only marginally better than the reward for reaching Rank 5. So that’s where I’ve stopped my climb. I didn’t feel properly incentivized to climb higher, yet in other games I continued to climb with no tangible incentive at all. Achievement can feel priceless, but what about when you give it a price?

It’s getting better though. I’m forcing myself not to grind, and to only play when I’m actually excited to play. I still think the ranking system has some fundamental flaws, but at a certain level I think the onus is on me to not let myself get annoyed and burnt out on my own hobbies.

Rethinking ‘Rethinking Red’

By: Dom Harvey

Three years ago, frustrated with red’s lack of depth in Cube and in general, I wrote an article for Riptide Lab exploring off-the-wall themes that could give our red sections a few more options than burn and beatdown (with the occasional Wildfire). My solution – turn red into a pure combo colour – was an admission of defeat. Storm Entity and Blazing Shoal didn’t stay in my Cube for long.

Thankfully, the last few years have been kind to red. We now have the tools to make red aggro more fun and engaging, help red offer more to control, and give it some new and interesting material that integrates well with not just the rest of red but also the other colours and strategies in the Cube. These ideas aren’t suitable for every Cube, but hopefully there’s food for thought here no matter what your design philosophy is.

Red aggro in Cube is defined by its brutal, ruthless, single-minded efficiency. It’s very easy for it to be the best deck in a Cube by accident, and it gleefully performs its role as the fun police. I get the sense that it’s a Cube staple not because everyone enjoys it but because red needs to have something and this is the easiest way to fill in the gaps. There are enough directions to take red now that you could drop red aggro entirely; there’s a good case for trying that. What if we tried ‘fixing’ it instead?


Prowess has gone from newcomer to evergreen mechanic in only a year, and it’s sure to become more appealing as time goes by. Combat is often a boring affair in Cube: most combat tricks aren’t good enough to justify including, and instant-speed removal tends to be used pre-combat to stop its target from blocking. You usually know what the outcome, or narrow range of outcomes, will be for any combat step. Prowess lets you change that without explicitly trying to: all you have to do is play spells, which your low-curve aggro deck wants to do anyway. Red is an especially good colour for this as there’s no shortage of instant-speed burn and, as one of the designated ‘spells matter’ colours, red gets a lot of support here. Prowess also forces you to think carefully about sequencing: you can’t just dump your hand on the table and throw burn at them unless your draw is perfect, as you have to manage your resources well.

Previously this theme had to go hard on instants and sorceries because that’s where the payoffs were – Kiln Fiend, Young PyromancerGuttersnipe – and you needed a lot of them to make it work. With prowess, the equipment or planeswalkers that are often the more powerful cards in your deck can also work towards this goal.

Key cards: Monastery Swiftspear, Abbot of Keral Keep, Kiln Fiend, Young Pyromancer, Guttersnipe, Chandra, Fire of KaladeshShrine of Burning Rage (perhaps the best one of all); in other colours, you have Seeker of the Way and Stormchaser Mage/Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest

Support: anything that lets you get multiple triggers from one card – Firebolt, Staggershock, Blast from the Past, Faithless Looting, Reckless Charge

Intersection: part of Prowess’ appeal is how neatly it ties into other strategies, namely the following:


What if, instead of playing a few dopey creatures and hoping they get there, you build a large creature and force it through? This strategy has been around since the BerserkBlood Lust days but recently gained prominence again in Constructed with Brave Naya, Heroic, and Landfall/Atarka Red in successive Standard formats. Your goal is to apply early pressure and force your opponent to commit to a defensive measure so that you can safely move in for the kill. As with prowess, I think this presents both players with more interesting decisions than the typical ‘Zurgo up to Hellrider‘ deck: you constantly have to weigh up whether you can afford to go for it and how to bait your opponent into taking their shields down (or, from the other side, into moving in at the wrong time). The deck does have nut draws that end the game very quickly but I find it more satisfying to lose to a flurry of combo pieces coming together than the usual perfect curve from a red deck.

This approach flips some of red’s most common matchups: green decks can no longer stave off your aggression with a big dumb animal as easily, while removal-heavy black decks can relax in the knowledge that they don’t face as much implied pressure from burn.

There are enough good creature enhancements now that you don’t have to be embarrassed about playing them: Madcap Skills, Hammerhand, and Call of the Full Moon are some of the best, but you can pick whichever fills in a gap. Auras always were and will be risky against cheap removal, but connecting once with any of them is equivalent in damage output to a good burn spell and if it sticks around for longer it’s more than paid for itself.

Berserkers often branches into green, which has a lot to offer in all areas: large creatures, pump, and the OG Berserk.

Key cards: Reckless Charge (much scarier than it looks on paper), prowess creatures, Prophetic Flamespeaker, Flamewake Phoenix (a resilient, evasive threat that can combine with pump to win out of nowhere), Temur Battle Rage

Support: creatures that naturally become large (Countryside Crusher, Plated GeopedeKargan Dragonlord), equipment (O-Naginata)

Intersection: Prowess, as mentioned

Prowess also works well with:


While Berserkers is about going tall, Tokens is about going wide. If your opponent is trying to blunt your offense with cheap blockers and removal, a token-heavy start lets you push through damage and maintain a board presence anyway. Token spam can lead to stalled boards and repetitive gameplay but, when all goes well, tokens become another in-game resource that a skilled player can manage and exploit.

Some of the best token-makers and payoff cards are noncreatures, which ties in nicely to prowess: in Theros/Khans Standard, the Atarka Red decks used Dragon Fodder and Hordeling Outburst to curve out effectively while having enough spells to trigger Monastery Swiftspear (and later Abbot of Keral Keep).

There is more than enough token support in red, but other colours like to join the fun: tokens help the sacrifice theme common in Rakdos and are a core part of Selesnya’s identity.

Key cards: Young Pyromancer, Mogg War Marshal, Hordeling Outburst, Purphoros, Goblin Bombardment, Stoke the Flames, Tempt with Vengeance

Support: anthems (Hall of Triumph), Goblin Bushwhacker/Reckless Bushwhacker, other mass pump effects (Rites of Initiation/Haze of Rage if you want to go deep)

Intersection: Prowess, equipment (can turn a disposable body into a real threat)

Here’s a sample deck from my Cube that shows some of these ideas working together:


On the midrange and control side of things, we have:

Red ‘Engine’

Previously, red’s contribution to slower decks was very limited: it would burn things, burn some more things, and sometimes provide a finisher. Card draw and selection was left to whatever the other colour was, and – with the exception of white – all of them did it better than red.

That can change. You have to work for it – red’s filtering/rummaging spells aren’t universally playable the way something like Compulsive Research or Night’s Whisper is – but the rewards are worth it. Red no longer has to be one-dimensional and can become the backbone of grindy non-decks, which opens up a lot of design space.

The first step is to minimize the downside of these effects. To make ‘discard X + draw X’ better, you want discarding cards to be acceptable or, if possible, actively useful. The madness burn spells – Fiery Temper, Violent Eruption, and underrated all-star Blast from the Past – are a good place to look, and I’d consider Squee, Goblin NabobDrownyard Temple/Crucible of Worlds, and red’s various Phoenixes. On a macro-level, you want to encourage strategies that make full use of the graveyard: for instance, Reanimator is often thought of as a UB-centric deck but you can substitute blue’s Looting effects with red replacements. If you go deep on the artifact ‘Welding’ theme described below, you can even have a mono-red Reanimator deck! Feldon of the Third Path and Mizzix’s Mastery/Goblin Dark-Dwellers let you push that angle for creatures and spells too. Maybe you pair Faithless Looting and Magmatic Insight with Land Tax or Life from the Loam, or use blue card draw to fuel a massive Firestorm.

There’s too much to summarize it all here, but this thread goes into these ideas in more detail.

Key cards/Support/Intersection: These all depend on what you want to do and how far you want to take it, but there are some examples above.



Plenty of good artifacts have been printed throughout the years (and with Kaladesh coming soon, Pia and Kiran are sure to find lots of new trinkets to play with), and red is one of the best colours at exploiting them. The Welder deck headlined by Goblin Welder and Daretti (along with Trash for Treasure and Scrap Mastery if you want to fully commit) promises to give red more character and add to the variety of midrange and control decks on offer.

A major selling point of this theme is that artifacts are, by nature, more broadly playable, so you can afford to include more ‘narrow’ artifacts in your Cube knowing they will find their way into decks somehow. This does mean that you can’t rely on them making it to you in the draft, as anyone who doesn’t find something nice in their colours will gladly snap up your Palladium Myr or Masticore, but with a high enough density of playable artifacts this shouldn’t be a problem.

You can take a more optimistic view of this: any build-around artifacts you decide to include will be more readily available. The Welder effects mean that you have faster and more consistent access to these in-game: for instance, you can Weld out a Thopter token to bring in Conjurer’s Closet and start blinking Pia and Kiran, bring in Alhammarret’s Archive to super-charge the Faithless Looting you played earlier, or go nuts with Pyromancer’s Goggles. If you just want to make a Myr Battlesphere and bash them to bits, you can do that too.

Blue has the most ‘artifacts matter’ cards but other colours have random things to offer. White has some incidental contributions in cards like Thraben Inspector and Blade Splicer and many of the better artifact creatures want to be flickered, while green recently gained Tireless Tracker and can use Ancient Stirrings or the ‘Impulse for creatures’ cards to increase consistency.

Support: Pia and Kiran Nalaar, Solemn Simulacrum, Epochrasite, Perilous Myr, Hangarback Walker, mana rocks (which suggest a crossover with the Wildfire strategy that has hovered on the fringes of Cube design for a while now)


This only scratches the surface – there are viable themes that aren’t explored here, and plenty of stand-alone cards that add fun new elements to red – but I’ve been impressed by the strategies laid out above and would advise giving some or all of them a try in some capacity.

Deckbuilding and Play Patterns with Ancestral Vision

By Dom Harvey


We all saw the Eye of Ugin ban coming; most of us were dancing on its grave long before the announcement came. Almost nobody expected what came with it: the introduction of Ancestral Vision and Sword of the Meek into Modern. Both were fixtures of the Extended format that most resembled Modern and were banned from the start to stop them defining the new format in the same way. As so many cards came on and off the ban list their continued exile became hard to justify, but even those of us who thought they were safe didn’t expect this to happen now. These are exciting times!

One reason these unbans are so promising is that Vision and Sword both demand careful deck construction. You can’t just throw them into an existing deck and expect them to perform well. Additionally, their presence in the format is likely to have far-reaching implications that should inform your deck and card choices. I want to talk about what those might be and highlight some of the common pitfalls that people are already walking into.

Blue decks in Modern have waited so long for a strong, reliable draw engine; between Ancestral Vision and the boost Thopter Foundry gives to Thirst for Knowledge, two may have arrived at once. In particular, Ancestral Vision gives hope to traditional control decks like Jeskai and Grixis that are very popular with a large segment of the player base. This is the best gift they have received in quite some time.

It’s not all good news. All the reasons people cited for Vision being safe to unban still apply. It’s the ideal poster-child for the ‘Turn 4 format’ in a sea of decks that do their best to shun that label. Vision mocks you from exile as Burn or Affinity bash your brains in or Storm and Goryo’s Vengeance sit there pleasuring themselves. In a lot of matchups and situations, Vision is a $50 blank card.

It’s also not the panacea for what ails blue decks in Modern. Your Esper Mentor deck or ‘Sultai Control brew’ was bad before and it’s bad now no matter how many copies of Ancestral Vision you ‘jam’ in there. Vision is likely to exacerbate any consistency issues your deck already has.

This may sound like a hatchet job. I’ll state upfront that Ancestral Vision is a strong card that will probably have a lasting impact on Modern, but focusing on its flaws is a good way to show how and why it works when it does.

Ancestral Vision makes you a promise: “I’ll worry about card advantage, you just buy me time to do what I need to do”. It gives you enough strength in the mid- to late-game that you can and should play more cheap one-for-one answers that prolong the game; you can even afford to trade cards at a disadvantage knowing that Vision will bring you back to parity. This strategy is only sound if the payoff is real: drawing three cards must reliably translate into a tighter hold on the game. This is less likely if your deck is full of situational cards that don’t maintain their value at each stage of the game. It’s no use setting your deck up to survive until a Vision if you draw a redundant land, a Spell Snare with no targets, and a removal spell that’s poorly suited for the matchup. The same principle applies to Vision itself: unless the game goes very long, each extra copy that you draw off the first Vision is dead. The card is self-defeating in that regard.

Think back to the card draw spells that defined Constructed formats. A crucial aspect most of them shared is that you could compound the advantage they generated by chaining them into further copies of themselves. Fact or Fiction revealing another Fact or Fiction was always a nightmare, a small Sphinx’s Revelation gave you enough life and cards to set up a larger Revelation, and it was disturbingly easy to cast back-to-back Treasure Cruises. Interestingly, Dig Through Time was reasonable in Standard despite being completely busted because the cardpool didn’t let it conform to that model; you could put the UB Control decks of THS-KTK Standard in an awkward position by just not letting them use their Hero’s Downfalls and Dissolves so that they couldn’t cast their first Dig, and if they did resolve one Dig it was now that much harder to cast the second. The nature of the card makes it hard to chain copies of Ancestral Vision; there will be games where you suspend it on Turn 1 and Turn 2 and bury the opponent in card advantage, but more often you’ll draw the second one on Turn 4 and wish it was anything else.

Vision also places heavy demands on your manabase. You need enough untapped blue sources to suspend it on Turn 1, so it clashes with control mainstays like Celestial Colonnade or Creeping Tar Pit. If you run too many lands it’s easy for Vision to hit a pocket of land and accomplish nothing, but Vision can’t help you hit your land drops early so you can’t afford to shave lands. A common scenario in the Mono-U Faeries days was that a player would suspend Ancestral Vision, miss an early land drop and fumble, and then make poor use of the extra cards from Vision because they didn’t have enough mana or time. You can rely on other cards like Serum Visions (PSA: Serum Visions, Ancestral Vision) to smooth out your draws, but your deck quickly becomes full of air. It’s unwise to rely on just Ancestral Vision as your draw engine, but it doesn’t leave you room to play much else.

This is a big part of why Vision doesn’t work nicely with the other incentives to play blue in Modern. Snapcaster and Jace both want you to play lots of cheap cards. On the surface that’s fine because you want to unload your hand quickly after Vision resolves, but if the cheap cards you draw are more Serum Visions and Thought Scours you’re just spinning your wheels. Cards like Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile are close to universal answers in Modern, which is what makes them so good, but Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize are highly time-sensitive. Snapcaster and Jace are so much better when they can rebuy your card draw spells, for the reasons given above – think how great they would be with Fact or Fiction! The lack of synergy with Ancestral Vision is a big deal. Vision also doesn’t contribute towards Delve or Prowess immediately, and isn’t great with Thirst for Knowledge either. This is good for the format – rather than having every blue deck start with 4 Ancestral Vision, it’s great if there’s a Snapcaster-Jace deck based on cheap cantrips, a Thirst for Knowledge deck, a Vision deck, and so on – but bad for Ancestral Vision’s chances.

At its core, the suspend mechanic rests on the idea of trading time for mana. Vision directly introduces cards as another variable in that equation. When Vision is good, it’s because other tools exist to convert one of these resources into another. In Extended, Chrome Mox let you cash in a useless Spell Snare – or a second copy of Vision – for the mana to drop your relevant cards quickly enough. From another perspective, Vision gave you the cards that let you justify running Chrome Mox, which was important in keeping pace with the rest of the format. A good way to beat control decks relying on Vision is to choke off their access to one of those resources: sequence your spells wisely to stop them using their mana efficiently, find a way to make the extra cards not matter by playing threats that their interaction doesn’t line up well against, or put them under enough pressure that they can’t afford to spend their time poorly.

When you suspend Ancestral Vision, you’re announcing that a major event will take place in four turns and daring your opponent to be ready. This public information gives a strong incentive for the opponent to finish the game – or at least establish a winning position – before Vision can resolve and give you more options. As a result, sweepers work very well with Vision as you punish them for committing too much to the board. A brutally effective tactic in control decks is to force your opponent to choose which powerful mid-game cards to play around when the right approach for dealing with one is bad against the other. In Standard and RTR Block, aggro decks were pinned between Jace, Architect of Thought and Supreme Verdict: if you held back creatures in fear of Verdict, Jace would come down and halt your offence; if you played out enough creatures to pressure Jace, you might be walking into Verdict. Vision lets you recreate that, although the knowledge that Vision is coming changes the dynamic a little.

Vision warps the pacing of control mirrors in the same way. Unless one player stumbles and their opponent senses weakness, control mirrors often see both players doing nothing for a long time until someone decides they are ready to pick a fight. Vision changes that by scheduling that fight in advance: a showdown will take place in my upkeep four turns from now, whether you like it or not – and whether I like it or not! I’ll use the Mono-U Faeries deck as an example again, since mirrors were often decided one way or the other by Ancestral Vision. The main effect Vision had was to force plays to ‘cluster’ around a specific turn. If I have Ancestral Vision coming off suspend in a few turns, I don’t want to run my Vendilion Clique into Mana Leak now; I want to do it when my Vision is about to be cast, tying up their mana or taking away one of their answers. Ancestral Vision forces this fight to happen during your turn, and before you can make your land drop, forcing you to defend it when you’re least willing and able to. With the Faeries deck linked above, the mirror often come down to expensive sorcery-speed sideboard cards; for anyone familiar with the concept of Faeries, this sounds like the worst plan you could have! It worked in part because Vision forced a commitment on their upkeep: you could harass their Vision with Remand/Mana Leak or Spellstutter Sprite and make them tap low to fight over it, opening a window to resolve a threat on your turn. Additionally, Faeries didn’t have much cheap countermagic that could hit everything, so if you couldn’t cast Cryptic Command the opponent could eventually force something through; blue decks in Modern have the same profile, relying on Cryptic Command as a universal answer or eschewing it altogether. In Faeries, this threat changed over time – Vedalken ShacklesGlen Elendra Archmage, and eventually Future Sight – and we could see Keranos or a similar card fill this role in Modern.

This dynamic is mainly in play in blue mirrors, but it informs how you want to build your deck with Vision in mind. Most of the objections to Vision that I’ve outlined above rest on the opponent’s ability to wrest control of the pacing of the game away from you. If you can get out in front and force your opponent to react to you while Vision is ticking down, you will close the game with a threat a decent amount of the time without losing mid-game superiority thanks to Vision. This is what made the card so strong in Standard Faeries: the whole deck was designed to force the opponent to play on its terms, and the looming threat of Vision removed their ability to adjust properly. I’m not convinced that Faeries improves enough with Vision to be playable in Modern, but the principle is sound. Delver of SecretsYoung PyromancerThing in the Ice, and other cards that require setup are poorly suited to this because you don’t want to draw them off Vision, but Tarmogoyf is perfect; Geist of Saint Traft might see a resurgence for the same reason.

If Vision does end up defining blue decks and Thopter Foundry becomes a Modern staple, what are the implications for the format at large? Remand is already somewhat popular in Modern and a good way to trump Vision and win counter wars in general, so decks that naturally want to run Remand are happy. If Remand becomes important in mirrors, Spell Snare starts to look a lot better; it’s also handy against specific problem cards in most matchups – Eidolon of the Great RevelArcbound Ravager/Cranial PlatingVoice of Resurgence – and crucial against Thopter Foundry. It’s unfortunate that both Snare and Remand are awkward draws mid-game, so if your blue decks become inbred to win Vision fights your overall deck quality becomes worse, but these are the sacrifices you make.

The big loser overall from these changes is Affinity: everyone will pack heavy-duty artifact hate for Thopter/Sword, and one of your best matchups in Burn might be less popular in the short term. Meanwhile, Merfolk is already salivating at the idea of slow blue decks becoming popular, can attack through Thopter/Sword in a way that aggro decks can’t, and would love to see Affinity fall back.

For Burn and Infect, the other members of the aggro trifecta that was popular at the Pro Tour, this may well be good news. If Jeskai becomes more popular thanks to Vision, both decks are in for a rough time, but if Vision-based blue decks are edged out by Thopter/Sword, Infect will be ready to pounce. The Thopter/Sword combo is obviously good against Burn if you can get it going, but if your early game is T2 Sword T3 Foundry you might just be dead to one of their better draws. If your white deck wants to hate out Burn, it can; just don’t write off the matchup as an easy win.

Jund and Abzan have capitalized in a big way on blue’s lack of a good draw engine; it’s no coincidence that BGx all but vanished during the Treasure Cruise era. Now that this is changing, they will have to pay proper attention to those matchups. I’ve seen lots of Jund players complacent about Thopter/Sword because of Abrupt DecayKolaghan’s Command, and Scavenging Ooze, but this displays an ignorance of how the combo works in practice. As long as they have another artifact lying around, which isn’t hard if they build their deck with that in mind, they can sacrifice that to Foundry in response to your removal and continue sinking their mana into the combo. The early turns will be spent trading, as normal, and eventually they will play Foundry with a few lands open; you can kill it, but they get to effectively cast Lingering Souls – one of the best cards against Jund – on the way out. These decks run Academy Ruins, which gives them a level of late game power that you can’t compete with – Gerry Thompson’s initial list runs 2 Ruins and a Tolaria West to fetch it. It’s also worth noting that none of the obvious responses to Thopter/Sword are good against, say, Baneslayer Angel, which UW Thopter decks have ‘transformed’ into post-board with some success in the past; the same goes for Gideon Jura or Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, or Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas if that’s a thing. Again, the tools exist to beat this new breed of blue deck, but you have to play them and draw them and use them effectively. Hand-waving and reciting the text of Abrupt Decay is no substitute for good deckbuilding.

If Burn and Infect end up suffering alongside Affinity, the format stands to slow down. This might create an opening for decks like Scapeshift that are slower than dedicated combo but more resilient against blue. Ad Nauseam loves to see blue decks and hates to see Jund, but I’m not sure if the deck is structurally sound enough to be a good choice.

Abzan Company was good pre-Eldrazi, great against Eldrazi, and will still be solid post-Eldrazi. You can out-grind the midrange decks without caring about Thopter/Sword and you can still claim a good matchup against the faster decks. It doesn’t hurt that RG Tron got significantly weaker. One concern is that Jund and Grixis will start sideboarding Leyline of the Void to fight Thopter/Sword, but it will take some time for people to adjust properly.

More generally, there may be an opening for faster combo decks that were held down by Twin. I’ve seen Thopter/Sword compared to Twin as a package that blue decks can play without much commitment to add a new dimension, but the key difference is that Twin acted as a safety valve against random stuff that you couldn’t prepare for: your answers may not line up well against their threats, but you can sometimes just win on Turn 4 and that puts a floor on how bad any matchup can be. The threat of Twin forced opponents to try to win the game quickly and, in doing so, walk into Twin’s interactive cards. Thopter/Sword doesn’t end the game out of nowhere, so you can gauge how much time you have, and you can afford to play around the cards supporting it because it doesn’t put you under that much pressure.

My hope is that, when the dust settles, the metagame we see will be more balanced and interesting than it was before. There are two main approaches to deck selection in Modern – pick whichever linear deck is off the radar or well-positioned at that moment, or play what you know with adequate preparation for the linear decks you do expect to show up – and both are still worth following even as the format continues to change.

Thanks for reading!