Category: Dom Harvey

Turbo Living End in Modern

By: Dom Harvey

Now that the Modern PTQ season is over, it’s a great time to explore some more decks that I can’t be tempted to waste a PTQ shot on for another 8 months now! Let’s set the stage first:

With the release of Alara Reborn, players quickly found ways to exploit cascade by using mechanics with wonky costs such as suspend and split cards to bypass cascade’s CMC restriction. At its most ‘fair’ this involved Shardless Agent into Ancestral Vision or Bloodbraid Elf into Boom // Bust, but this quickly moves into unfair territory once you carry this idea to its logical extreme. If you’re willing to contort your spell base so that only one card is on or below the CMC threshold, you can guarantee that a cascade spell will hit that card every time and so build your deck accordingly. In Standard, this meant the delightful Seismic Swans deck:

Lands (41)
Battlefield Forge
Cascade Bluffs
Fire-Lit Thicket
Ghitu Encampment
Graven Cairns
Mountain
Reflecting Pool
Spinerock Knoll
Treetop Village
Vivid Crag
Vivid Creek
Vivid Grove
Vivid Marsh
Vivid Meadow

Creatures (8)
Bloodbraid Elf
Swans of Bryn Argoll

Spells (11)
Ad Nauseam
Bituminous Blast
Captured Sunlight
Primal Command
Seismic Assault
Sideboard (15)
Aura of Silence
Countryside Crusher
Maelstrom Pulse
Primal Command
Vexing Shusher
Wickerbough Elder
Wrath of God

In Extended, you could live every Timmy’s fantasy:

Lands (21)
Calciform Pools
Forbidden Orchard
Fungal Reaches
Gemstone Caverns
Gemstone Mine
Reflecting Pool
Tendo Ice Bridge

Creatures (21)
Akroma, Angel of Fury
Angel of Despair
Bogardan Hellkite
Progenitus
Simian Spirit Guide
Sundering Titan

Spells (19)
Ardent Plea
Demonic Dread
Firespout
Hypergenesis
Thirst for Knowledge
Violent Outburst
Sideboard (15)
Akroma, Angel of Fury
Firespout
Fungal Reaches
Ingot Chewer
Meddling Mage
Putrefy
Venser, Shaper Savant
Vexing Shusher

And there’s always that guy who loves playing Restore Balance:

Creatures (14)
Greater Gargadon
Riftwing Cloudskate
Simian Spirit Guide
Thassa, God of the Sea
Vendilion Clique

Planeswalkers (7)
Ajani Vengeant
Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Garruk Relentless
Gideon Jura
Jace, Architect of Thought

Spells (22)
Ardent Plea
Detention Sphere
Dismember
Fieldmist Borderpost
Firewild Borderpost
Restore Balance
Violent Outburst
Wildfield Borderpost

Lands (17)
Arid Mesa
Forest
Hallowed Fountain
Island
Misty Rainforest
Mountain
Plains
Scalding Tarn
Steam Vents
Stomping Ground
Temple Garden
Sideboard (15)
Anger of the Gods
Detention Sphere
Ingot Chewer
Kor Firewalker
Krosan Grip
Leyline of Sanctity
Mistveil Plains
Ricochet Trap

Fans of 5th-pick draft commons have had it good in Modern and its predecessors since 2010, when Living End arrived on the scene. Since then it’s been the subject of occasional PTQ/GP Top 8s and frequent mockery, both of which it deserves. This year it appeared on Magic’s largest stage in the hands of Michael Hetrick, who booked a 8-0 start at Pro Tour Valencia before falling back into the pack on Day 2:

Creatures (29)
Architects of Will
Deadshot Minotaur
Fulminator Mage
Jungle Weaver
Monstrous Carabid
Pale Recluse
Shriekmaw
Simian Spirit Guide
Street Wraith

Lands (19)
Forest
Swamp
Blackcleave Cliffs
Blood Crypt
Godless Shrine
Grove of the Burnwillows
Kessig Wolf Run
Overgrown Tomb
Stomping Ground
Verdant Catacombs

Spells (12)
Violent Outburst
Demonic Dread
Living End
Sideboard (15)
Ingot Chewer
Shriekmaw
Sin Collector
Leyline of the Void
Jund Charm

Hypergenesis was much more explosive than Living End and was capable of much more busted starts, but in trading Emrakul for Deadshot Minotaur you gain a certain consistency. The conceptual beauty of Living End is that your cyclers both put themselves where they need to be for Living End and get you one card closer to a cascade spell. This helps the deck tremendously against discard and in any kind of long game. Want to match the control deck land drop for land drop? Seeing at least one extra card a turn lets you do that. Need to find a sideboard card to answer their hate? You may be drawing to two or three outs, but you have many more streets to hit them on.

(And of course, there are the games where Plan A is called off and you start hardcasting Valley Rannets, or you resolve a small or ‘desperation’ Living End and get to relive Alara Limited. The fact that Living End has a failure rate – that manifests itself in hilarious ways – is a knock against the deck from a pilot’s point of view, but speaks well to its contribution to the format).

One big problem with the deck is that, in a format of ruthless and quick combo decks, Living End usually makes a cursory effort of winning around turn 4, and doesn’t close out the game immediately. If you only bring back two creatures with Living End, a removal spell and any respectable blocker is enough to put the game back in their corner; and if you take time to power up your Living End, they have more chances to advance their own game plan. What if we traded in that staying power for racing stripes?

Creatures (24)
Monstrous Carabid
Deadshot Minotaur
Architects of Will
Glassdust Hulk
Street Wraith
Faerie Macabre

Spells (13)
Violent Outburst
Ardent Plea
Demonic Dread
Living End

Mana (3)
Simian Spirit Guide

Lands (20)
Mana Confluence
City of Brass
Gemstone Mine
Forbidden Orchard
Darkslick Shores
Seachrome Coast
Llanowar Wastes
Shivan Reef

This is a no-frills list built with the sole aim of resolving a big Living End as soon as possible. The most common way to stock your graveyard quickly outside of Street Wraith is:

T1: 1-mana Cycler
T2: 1-mana Cycler x2
T3: Living End

Hetrick’s list is better at this than most as he has Architects of Will alongside the Jund-tinted cyclers, but Glassdust Hulk gives us the full 16 ‘1-drops’ and Faerie Macabre pitches for free too. Hetrick has only 8 cascade effects, and Demonic Dread spends a lot of time complaining that it has nobody to play with. This list has 8 unconditional cascaders, rising to 10 when Dread is relevant. All this is possible thanks to Mana Confluence, which allows us to play 16 rainbow lands and only have a few gaps to fill with fastlands/painlands.

With this manabase we can take our pick of sideboard cards as long as they fit the 3 CMC constraint. Ingot Chewer and now Wispmare are additional 1-mana ‘cyclers’ and efficient answers to hate cards (though beware of tension between Ingot Chewer and Architects/Hulk) and Shriekmaw is a more heavy-duty answer to creatures, Ricochet Trap is the go-to card against counterspells (Hetrick’s Sin Collectors complement these well, but with a rainbow manabase we get to upgrade to Vendilion Clique), and Beast Within is an all-purpose answer that lets you tax their mana. Timely Reinforcements is a possible safety valve against aggro decks. The 4th Living End belongs somewhere in the 75 as you don’t want to cascade or draw into them all when the game goes long against blue decks. The 3rd Demonic Dread in the board might be right too, as using it as a 3-mana Wrath is perfectly fine in some matchups.

As for possible resistance, you will face down countermagic at some point. Traditional Living End tries to pick fights with cards like Fulminator Mage or Beast Within that threaten to mess up the opponent’s mana. We can’t mimic that approach – we could sideboard Fulminator Mage, but most of the blue decks can also switch plans quickly with Snapcaster and Lightning Bolt, which happens to be great against our City of Brass/Mana Confluence deck; drawing out the game just plays into their hands. Instead, we have attack when their shields are down. They have to live in constant fear of Violent Outburst: you often get more time than you ‘should’ because they can’t afford to tap out as long as you have 3 mana open. You can exploit this with the help of Simian Spirit Guide: if you cycle mainphase when you have two land and play the land that you ‘topdecked’, most opponents will assume they have a turn of safety. Even if they know the premise of your deck, they often won’t be watching out for Simian Spirit Guide; and if they are, they may assume that it’s unlikely you have Outburst *and* Guide right here. In any case, EOT Outburst into a second cascader on your turn is the best way to fight through countermagic. The sideboard gives us Ricochet Trap, an efficient way to force through a spell that has random but useful applications against Snapcaster Mage.

Discard is much less of a concern than it is for most combo decks. Old favourites like Hive Mind and Enduring Ideal get written off, whatever their other strengths, because it’s so hard for them to beat a naked Thoughtseize. By contrast, this deck is as homogeneous as it gets for a combo deck – you have only have cyclers and cascaders. They’re gunning for your cascaders, but they have maybe 6 discard spells that they have to draw naturally while you have ten cascaders and can tear through your deck to find them. Discard is a worry when it’s stripping away your answer to a hate card, but beyond that it’s refreshingly easy to fight through.

Graveyard hate is in short supply at the moment – there’s no established ‘graveyard deck’, and there are so many bases to cover in Modern that you can’t waste sideboard slots on fringe decks. That means you rarely see full-on hate like Rest in Peace, which requires an answer; instead, the most you’ll face is Scavenging Ooze and Relic of Progenitus (and formerly Deathrite Shaman though, as Hetrick pointed out, the presence of DRS wasn’t all that bad as it forced graveyard-based decks out of the format and so reduced the need for dedicated hate). Most decks running Ooze either will often have non-green lands in play when they cast it, so you’re looking at two or maybe three activations on one turn. Rather than cycle every turn and let them use Ooze to full effect, it’s best to sandbag cyclers and fill your graveyard in one turn – you may only get to Living End for a few creatures, but that’s often enough. Alternatively, you can burn a cascade spell as a Wrath of God, and then cycle to your heart’s content. If you’re on the play, you can also just resolve a Living End before they get to untap with Ooze.

Relic of Progenitus is a little harder. If possible, bait a Relic activation with a ‘small’ Living End, and then with Living End still on the stack you can bin cyclers (typically the free cyclers in Street Wraith and Faerie Macabre) and proceed as normal; and, as above, you can sometimes just power through it with back-to-back cascade spells. If you want other cards in your graveyard to feed to the tap ability, deliberately ticking down Gemstone Mine can do the trick.

The deck is a blast to play – ‘drawing’ tons of cards, a splashy combo finish, and the occasional bizarre game that degenerates into primitive combat. It has a lot of raw power – you get to cast a thermonuclear Martial Coup on the third turn in most games – and can easily steal games even in ‘bad’ matchups. I highly recommend giving it a try.

UW Tron in Modern

By: Dom Harvey

Blue-based Urzatron decks have been fan favourites in Standard and Extended for years now, putting up many pilots into GP and PT Top 8s. They also made their voices heard in Modern, where UW’s most high-profile finish came in the hands of LSV and Gerry Thompson at Grand Prix Lincoln eons ago:

Lands (25)
Celestial Colonnade
Eye of Ugin
Hallowed Fountain
Island
Seachrome Coast
Tolaria West
Urza’s Mine
Urza’s Power Plant
Urza’s Tower

Creatures (4)
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
Iona, Shield of Emeria
Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre

Spells (31)
Azorius Signet
Condescend
Day of Judgment
Expedition Map
Gifts Ungiven
Oblivion Ring
Path to Exile
Remand
Repeal
Talisman of Progress
Thirst for Knowledge
Timely Reinforcements
Unburial Rites
Wrath of God
Sideboard (15)
Celestial Purge
Disenchant
Dispel
Ethersworn Canonist
Ghostly Prison
Grafdigger’s Cage
Negate
Pact of Negation
Rule of Law
Timely Reinforcements
Wurmcoil Engine

As Jund became dominant and decks like Robots and RG Tron rose up as answers, UW Tron was regretfully edged out of the format. However, with Modern shaken up by the bannings, things have changed in a way that’s favourable to UW Tron; and interest in the deck was rekindled when Reid Duke sleeved it up at GP Richmond:

Spells (32)
Azorius Signet
Batterskull
Expedition Map
Talisman of Progress
Detention Sphere
Oblivion Ring
Condescend
Gifts Ungiven
Path to Exile
Remand
Sphinx’s Revelation
Thirst For Knowledge
Day of Judgment
Supreme Verdict
Timely Reinforcements
Unburial Rites
Wrath of God

Creatures (3)
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
Iona, Shield of Emeria

Lands (25)
Island
Plains
Snow-Covered Island
Celestial Colonnade
Hallowed Fountain
Seachrome Coast
Urza’s Mine
Urza’s Power Plant
Urza’s Tower
Sideboard (15)
Grafdigger’s Cage
Torpor Orb
Spellskite
Ghostly Prison
Celestial Purge
Disenchant
Dispel
Mindbreak Trap
Negate
Pact of Negation
Remand

Why play UW Tron?

  • It’s powerful. In a format as varied and unforgiving as Modern, you need to have a strong, proactive plan; UWR Control is a good deck, but you don’t want to be grinding out small edges all day unless you’re much more skilled than your opponents. I’d much rather force my opponents to be scared, and UW Tron does that well – you ‘earn’ a ton of free wins with T3 Gifts Ungiven or early Tron.
  • It’s fun! You get rewarded for tight play if that’s your thing – between lands that enter tapped, Tron pieces, X-spells, cards that vary in strength throughout the game, and tutors, the deck forces a lot of important decisions on you – but you also have insane Tron-fueled turns that satisfy a more primal urge.
  • Many people aren’t used to playing against it, so they sequence their cards poorly and value them incorrectly. With Unburial Rites in the mix, Gifts Ungiven rarely gives them a choice anymore, but when it does you see a lot of questionable splits.
  • It’s as well-positioned as it’s ever been (‘not very’, I hear you cry). Jund was always a dicey matchup, and that was before they sideboarded Fulminator Mage; the Wrapter-style BG lists with DRS, Scavenging Ooze and quad Tectonic Edge were basically impossible to beat. Zoo is a much easier litmus test to pass, and UW Tron is one of the few decks that can claim a good Pod matchup.
  • It’s cheap! In a world of $80+ fetchlands, many players are priced out of Modern; and when it comes to budget decks, people grimace at the thought of Burn or Soul Sisters (which both need fetchland-powered splashes to be optimized anyway). UW Tron is that rare animal: a blue control deck that doesn’t need fetchlands! The deck clocks in at a very reasonable price for any format, and is one of the cheapest decks in Modern.

The most important thing to understand about UW Tron is that it’s not a dedicated ‘Tron deck’. The Urza lands certainly inform your card choices – bread-and-butter UW Control decks aren’t casting Mindslaver – but assembling Tron isn’t always your first priority. The question that’s always asked (“Why play this over RG Tron?”) displays a fundamental misunderstanding of both decks. RG Tron wants to Tron up as fast as possible every game and must do so to win; UW Tron is a control deck that abruptly changes its gameplan if and when it gets Tron online. The deck is configured with Tron in mind – note Remand and Condescend to dig for missing pieces over the more conventional Mana Leak, or the sacrifices made to accommodate all these colourless lands – but this isn’t its singular focus.

It’s worth looking at how individual card choices further that strategy.

Card Choices

Celestial Colonnade: The deck isn’t busy on the first turn and needs good UW dual lands, so Colonnade is basically free. In Jund’s heyday its primary function was shooting down Liliana, but that’s less of a concern now; and the deck doesn’t rely on it to win as UWR does. As such, I don’t think it’s an automatic part of the deck any more, not least since we have:

Temple of Enlightenment: People are looking for excuses to play Temples in Modern, and this deck is a good home for them. Colonnade is better in the late game and in many board states, but the deck already has the best late game in the format; Temple gives some much-needed help early. One-land hands with Colonnade are auto-mulls, but replace it with Temple and you have a serious decision. In a deck with many matchup-dependent cards and that’s often looking for something specific, Temple is a natural fit.

Tolaria West: Largely a relic of the past given the other options, this card shows up as a 1-of for Gifts piles and the 5th Expedition Map. Having virtual copies of Tormod’s Crypt, Chalice of the Void, Engineered Explosives, or Pact of Negation is useful if you run them (Map -> West -> Pact can be a common line against control or combo).

Seachrome Coast: You want at least one as a pain-free untapped dual to Map for; beyond that, I find it worse than Hallowed Fountain most of the time. Having your second coloured source enter tapped is the difference between winning and losing far too often.

Fetchlands: Despite what I said above, fetchlands can perform a useful role here. They let you fetch a basic to play around Blood Moon, and in conjunction with Hallowed Fountain you can regulate your life total to turn on Timely Reinforcements.

Expedition Map: At first glance this is an easy 4-of, but there are real concerns about space. Signets are mandatory, you need enough actual lands that you’re not relying on Maps to make your land drops, and you need enough coloured sources that you’re not forced to mulligan or put all your hopes on a Signet resolving; and yet you increase the risk of flooding with every Map or land you add. You can address this by giving your Maps a secondary function as spells as described below; but, as the lists above show, this is enough of an issue to make the Map count an open question. Reid played two, opting for 25 actual lands; Luis played 3; Gerry Thompson argued vigorously for 4.
Personally, I’d rather err on the side of having too many Maps; it’s possible that playing fewer than 4 is just a mistake.

Talisman of Progress: The 4 Azorius Signets are untouchable, and it’s tempting to have a 5th – turn 3 Gifts is the deck’s best start, and maximizing the chance of that is a good use of a slot.

Gifts Ungiven + Unburial Rites: This interaction pushes the deck from fringe FNM choice to serious contender. It racks up a shocking number of free wins, and offers an angle of attack that shrugs off nonbasic land hate and most other tactics used against Tron decks. Elesh Norn is a mandatory target, and Iona is both your best target against many decks and your catch-all answer to random things. Terastodon was necessary in the days of RG Tron, but now Sundering Titan subs in as the ideal target against Zoo/Scapeshift/UWR.

Remand/Condescend: Your first line of defence against combo and valuable ways of seeing cards early. Remand is better when you want to play another spell in the same turn, but Condescend is a permanent answer to the most troubling cards for the deck – Liliana, Geist of Saint Traft, Deceiver Exarch, Vendilion Clique, Birthing Pod, and many more – and seeing the extra card with Scry tips the balance in its favour. Reid made the interesting move of sideboarding 2 Remand, noting that the card was much better on the play; in many matchups you either want the counterspells or you don’t, but against decks like Jund their usefulness is largely determined by the die roll.

Repeal/Oblivion Ring/Detention Sphere: You need some number of versatile answers to handle things like Liliana, Birthing Pod, Stony Silence, and other things that can’t simply be swatted away with a Path.

Day of Judgment/Wrath of God(/Supreme Verdict): I never liked MD Wrath effects, but their stock has risen in a format defined by Pod, Affinity, and Zoo. That said, against Zoo I would generally prefer cheaper removal and Pod has a lot of cards that survive through or frustrate Wraths, so I only really want them against Affinity. That matchup is shaky enough that it might be worth it, but I’d rather have a sleeker maindeck and overcompensate in the sideboard. Supreme Verdict is not a realistic card if you actually want to cast it on turn 4, so if you want to Gifts for three Wraths I’d play Noxious Revival or Hallowed Burial. Consider Oblivion Stone as an all-purpose colourless sweeper that’s fine against Twin and is a lock with Academy Ruins.

Timely Reinforcements: Another card with a broader remit than you might think. Everyone knows how strong this card is against Zoo (though less so with Ghor-Clan Rampager in the picture), but it sounds bizarre to say it’s good against UWR Control; yet, although it’s on the cutting block when you sideboard, it has a unique duty in game 1. Your deck is well set up against UWR if the game goes long, so their best hope is to be very aggressive with burn and Snapcasters and use their countermagic offensively; Timely stamps on that plan. Likewise, the easiest way for Pod to win if they don’t draw Pod is to flood the board and get you dead as soon as possible; Timely buys you a lot of time against those starts. UW Tron makes the best use of Timely of any deck I’ve seen, and that fact is key to understanding the deck: you’re not a control deck that needs permanent answers to everything, you’re a combo-control deck that wants to keep pace until your lategame cards can take over. The 2W mana cost fits neatly into the deck’s starts – something like T3 Map + Remand with a dual + 2 Tron pieces in play, T4 crack Map for the third Tron piece + play Timely to buy time is common.

Snapcaster Mage/Noxious Revival: These make your non-Unburial Rites Gifts piles much more potent – you can Gifts for SCM/Revival/Tron piece/X to set up Tron, SCM/Revival/Path/Timely against aggro, and so on. If you run Ruins/Mindslaver, SCM/Revival/Ruins/Slaver gets you there immediately. The downside is that both of them can be awkward to draw naturally, but I think that’s overstated. Snapcaster may not be at its best here given the pressure on your coloured mana and the lack of cheap spells, but it’s still solid; and, if you look at UW’s common SB cards, most of them are exactly what you want to replay with Snapcaster – Disenchant, Celestial Purge, Negate. The card is also filthy with Timely Reinforcements, and lets you be more fearless with Gifts against decks with countermagic.

Noxious Revival is not something you put in your deck for any fair purpose, but it does decent work. The card disadvantage doesn’t matter if it furthers your game plan, and I’m happy ‘losing’ a card to rebuy Timely Reinforcements against aggro or a Gifts against discard. It also has some cute but relevant corner-case uses versus Snapcaster, Eternal Witness, Past in Flames, etc.

Eye of Ugin/Emrakul, the Aeons Torn vs. Academy Ruins/Mindslaver: The attraction of Eye is that it adds inevitability and lets Expedition Map do something when you already have Tron; my problem is that Emrakul is a blank card before you have the game locked up, whereas Mindslaver is faster against combo decks and is more likely to do something game 1 against aggro; Ruins also works with possible SB cards like Wurmcoil Engine, Sundering Titan, Spellskite, or Torpor Orb. You could run Eye and Ruins, but then you’ve burnt your open slots; or you could sideboard Emrakul, but even control decks are trying to be more aggressive against you post-board. I prefer making Academy Ruins into a game-ender by having more relevant artifacts to recur (Mindslaver, Sundering Titan, Oblivion Stone), but this also demands quite a few slots. Note that Eye is a spell in disguise, and shouldn’t be counted as a land.

Wurmcoil Engine: When Jund was the deck to beat, you wanted as many copies of this card as possible; now, the aggro decks have Path or are full of fliers. It’s still nice to have against Jund or as a way to increase your range of possible nut draws, but it’s not the auto-include it is in RG Tron.

Karn Liberated: This card is much less brutal here than in the RG Tron deck, where it can come down on turn 3 or 4 with a scary frequency. For us it’s an overpriced Vindicate most of the time, and you should be winning the games where you have fast Tron anyway.

Sphinx’s Revelation: I understand the temptation to play this card – I really do – but when am I supposed to want it? The deck doesn’t need more cheap card draw, and if it did you wouldn’t turn to Revelation given how inefficiently it converts mana to cards. It’s only usable when you have Tron, but then it’s competing with Mindslaver, Eldrazi, Wurmcoil Engine, Sundering Titan, Karn… all of which have a more immediate impact, and none of which demand WUU in a deck with 12+ colourless lands. I can imagine a Tron deck that plays towards Revelation, but it would lean far more heavily on Signets and Talismans than the Urza lands.

Sideboarding

Sideboarding usually involves tinkering with the finishers so you have a suitable Rites target and don’t draw irrelevant and expensive cards, but your priority is ensuring you have enough cheap interaction – hence Dismember against creature decks, Celestial Purge against Storm/Jund, countermagic against control/combo, and so on. Your sideboard plans should also anticipate theirs. Most white decks will have Stony Silence, so you could swap out the Mindslaver kill and shave a Map. Torpor Orb is great against Twin but they’re already bringing in Ancient Grudge, so maybe you look at Suppression Field or Ghostly Prison instead. UWR might get more aggressive with Vendilion Cliques, so you don’t want all countermagic and no removal…

Gifts Ungiven makes crafting your sideboard that much trickier – instead of doubling down on your strongest card for the matchup, you have to consider deliberately opting for ‘weaker’ cards to diversify your Gifts piles. Sometimes the loss is negligible – Day of Judgment/Wrath of God – but occasionally the best option is so much better that there’s a real downside. Suppose you want a Gifts pile for Robots. Most of the time Unburial Rites on Elesh Norn will be good enough, so you first have to decide if the failure rate is high enough to warrant another plan. If it is, you look at the likes of Wrath of God and Hurkyl’s Recall; but Recall is so good that playing more copies of it and hoping to draw it naturally might be better.

General Tips

As for playing the deck, I can’t overstate the importance of careful sequencing. Mapping out the game’s opening turns is a crucial skill for any deck, but especially so for UW Tron. Take an opening hand of Temple of Enlightenment, Urza’s Mine, Urza’s Tower, Expedition Map, Condescend, Gifts Ungiven, Path to Exile. Your instinct might be to lead with Temple, but when are you playing Map? Turn 2 Map means that you can’t Condescend that turn, but you can crack it on 3 and have full Tron on 4; however, if you Condescend on 3 you can’t complete Tron and play Gifts next turn.

Alternatively you can hold up Condescend for their 2-drop and then play Map with 2 mana up on turn 3; but then if they force your Condescend on turn 3 you’re in the same predicament. Starting with Temple also leaves you in the dark for scry; you’re definitely keeping a Power Plant or a Signet, but what about Timely Reinforcements? Future draws can change the flow of the hand – if you pick up a coloured source or an expensive colourless card, you would rather have led with a Tron piece.

Making good Gifts piles is about understanding what your opponent’s scared of. People want to stop you completing Tron, so throwing in the missing Tron piece is a good way of narrowing their options; if that Tron piece is what you’re after, you usually have to put at least 2 ‘copies’ of it in – against Zoo, for instance, Gifts for Path, Timely, [Tron piece], Map generally forces them to give you the latter two and hope you have nothing to ramp into. You can apply the same principle with any card that happens to be good at the time – if you seem to need a Path but already have it in hand, searching for one will secure you access to whatever you actually want. One nice tactic if you know you’ll have Tron is to Gifts for the third Tron piece, an expensive card (such as Elesh Norn or Mindslaver), and two decent spells; they will often try to strand the expensive card by giving it to you and binning the Tron piece, playing right into your hands.

When it comes to breaking up Tron, people automatically gun for Urza’s Tower unless given a reason not to. This is the right play, but one that’s easily exploitable if you have time and mana to spare. If you can assemble Tron already and have a redundant Map, you can Map for the ‘last’ Tron piece and draw out their land destruction with it, letting you recomplete Tron from hand next turn; or if they have something like Spreading Seas that they want to use proactively, you can play a redundant copy of the land as bait (this is especially nice if it’s a Tower).

If you’re setting up Timely Reinforcements, be aware of how the opponent’s life total might change in the window before you play it; a Zoo player cognizant of how good the card is will be using fetchlands and shocklands very aggressively to whittle down their own life total and can use burn spells on themselves in response to Reinforcements; likewise, a Pod player might have Spellskite or Redcap. The same goes for their creature count. Timely Reinforcements was one of the few ways to protect a Rites target from an on-board Liliana against Jund unless they were willing and able to kill their creature at the right (Rites?) time; and if you were relying on the Soldiers to block a Raging Ravine, a Dark Confidant might take one for the team and ruin your day.

One way for decks to beat you is to overload your coloured mana; if they force you to cast multiple spells in a turn and you time them poorly or don’t have enough sources, a close game can easily be lost. This worry is very acute against Twin, where Exarch can put pressure on your Signets or force your hand on a Map, or against any deck with Tectonic Edge. If you’re relying on having Condescend up for their spell, take time to confirm that it’s actually safe to use your other blue source on a Thirst for Knowledge.

To address a common concern, Blood Moon is much less scary than you might think. Between Signets and basics/Map, you can either ignore it or find a spot to remove it; it’s tougher if they’re attacking your Signets, but in general Moon only delays the inevitable or wins games that they were going to win anyway. That said, you want to have access to answers so that you’re not always living in fear.

Here’s the list I’m playing at the moment:

Lands (24)
Celestial Colonnade
Temple of Enlightenment
Hallowed Fountain
Seachrome Coast
Scalding Tarn
Island
Plains
Tolaria West
Urza's Tower
Urza's Mine
Urza's Power Plant
Academy Ruins

Artifacts (9)
Expedition Map
Azorius Signet
Talisman of Progress

Gifts Package (9)
Gifts Ungiven
Unburial Rites
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Iona, Shield of Emeria
Sundering Titan
Mindslaver

Spells (18)
Thirst for Knowledge
Condescend
Remand
Path to Exile
Dismember
Repeal
Timely Reinforcements
Sideboard (15)
Wurmcoil Engine
Snapcaster Mage
Wrath of God
Day of Judgment
Dismember
Engineered Explosives
Negate
Mana Leak
Pact of Negation
Venarian Glimmer
Hurkyl's Recall
Disenchant
Celestial Purge
Ghost Quarter

Some of these cards weren’t mentioned in detail above, so a few remarks:

  • Sundering Titan occupies the Wurmcoil Engine slot; you want a colourless haymaker that rewards you for assembling Tron, and Titan is better against Twin/Pod as well as UWR Control and various other decks (while being a little worse against Jund and bad against Robots). It’s possible that it should be another Mindslaver, but Titan is the best Rites target a lot of the time and you would want it somewhere in the 75 anyway.
  • Mana Leak is there as an all-purpose answer to add to Gifts packages when you need a counterspell, but its efficiency means that you can bring it in even when Condescend and Remand are lacklustre.
  • Venarian Glimmer is a rare blue discard effect; I had Vendilion Clique for a while, but Glimmer does the same thing much of the time while not replacing the card and is also easier on the mana (and nice in conjunction with Snapcaster).
  • Ghost Quarter is an important Map target against manlands and gets brought in whenever your Signets/Talisman are under attack as a 25th land (of sorts)

This only scratches the surface of what can be said about the deck; Reid Duke sums it up nicely in his article:

For further insight, Gerry Thompson’s archives contain a number of good pieces:

http://www.starcitygames.com/article/25861_Chasing-Platinum-Grand-Prix-San-Diego.html
http://www.starcitygames.com/magic/standard/23734_Tron_Primer.html
http://www.starcitygames.com/magic/modern/23651_Ninth_At_Hoth.html

Thanks for reading, and I’d love to read any feedback on the forums.

[Standard] Preview Spotlight – Disciple of Deceit

By: Dom Harvey

Disciple of Deceit is one of the most interesting and potentially dangerous cards in the new set. It doesn’t do good work in every deck the way something like Banishing Light does, but it’s a strong centerpiece to a certain archetype.

Its most natural home is the UB Heroic deck unveiled by Ken Yukuhiro at GP Beijing:

Lands (20)
Temple of Deceit
Watery Grave
Island
Swamp
Mutavault

Creatures (21)
Agent of the Fates
Xathrid Necromancer
Artisan of Forms
Pain Seer
Nivmagus Elemental
Tormented Hero

Spells (19)
Mizzium Skin
Hidden Strings
Springleaf Drum
Boon of Erebos
Triton Tactics
Ultimate Price
Retraction Helix
Sideboard (15)
Thoughtseize
Duress
Dispel
Negate
Doom Blade
Bile Blight
Desecration Demon

Disciple hits every right note in this deck. It’s another excellent 2-drop in a deck that desperately wants to draw Pain Seer, it smoothes out the inconsistencies in your draws that occur often when you need certain types of ingredients every game (heroic/inspired creatures + tricks), and it’s even a Human for Xathrid Necromancer!

With all your cards clustered around a few spots on the mana curve, you’re likely to have the ideal casting cost in your hand to tutor up whatever you need. You would much rather have a Pain Seer and a Hidden Strings than 2 Pain Seers or 2 Hidden Strings, and Disciple lets that happen. Your threats vary widely in utility between matchups – Xathrid Necromancer is fearsome against Esper but useless against Mono-Blue whereas Agent of the Fates is a Trained Armodon against control and a wrecking ball against creature decks, and with Disciple you can transmute one for the other.

The Inspired ability means you can trigger this card off of things you want to be doing already – Triton Tactics, Hidden Strings, Boon of Erebos (where the tapping part of regeneration is actually an upside), and Springleaf Drum. In particular, you can ‘go off’ with Hidden Strings, searching up further Hidden Strings/Triton Tactics and turning Springleaf Drum into Dark Ritual or Retraction Helix into Turbulent Dreams.

Previously, it was hard to justify maindecking the likes of Thoughtseize or Ultimate Price because drawing them would mess up your already flimsy draws. Now, there’s merit to having even single copies of various ‘answers’ to tutor up at will. Against Esper, you can convert a useless Triton Tactics into Thoughtseize for the Jace or Verdict they’re relying on; against an otherwise unbeatable Master of Waves, you can find removal to save the day. This effect is augmented in post-SB games, where your deck is configured to have all the answers you might want; Disciple can feed you a steady stream of Thoughtseizes or Negates against control, or Ultimate Prices against aggro.

So, how do we tweak the deck to make use of Disciple? Immediately we’ll want 4 Springleaf Drum, which was the key to your best starts before and is even more crucial now. We get to cut Tormented Hero, which was often by far the worst card in the deck, and possibly play other 1-drops like the remaining Nivmagus Elementals or Judge’s Familiar (a good safeguard against removal and an ideal cipher enabler for Hidden Strings); then again, with consistent access to Hidden Strings, draining them out with Hero is more realistic. We can play a Trait Doctoring as a 1-mana Hidden Strings analogue (see its use in Greg Hatch’s UWR Heroic deck), and shave an Artisan or two.

The deck doesn’t gain too much else from the set – there might be a Heroic deck with Battlefield Thaumaturge, though it would look quite different – but Mana Confluence is a very welcome addition.

A rough post-JtN list might look like this:

Creatures (20)
Judge's Familiar
Nivmagus Elemental
Pain Seer
Disciple of Deceit
Artisan of Forms
Agent of the Fates
Xathrid Necromancer

Spells (16)
Triton Tactics
Trait Doctoring
Thoughtseize
Boon of Erebos
Mizzium Skin
Hidden Strings

Artifacts (4)
Springleaf Drum

Lands (20)
Temple of Deceit
Watery Grave
Mana Confluence
Island
Swamp
Mutavault

Another less obvious use for Disciple is as a SB threat in Esper for the mirror. Whereas a card like Nightveil Specter gives you scattershot card advantage attached to damage, Disciple offers a more surgical selection of tools. If you can untap with Disciple once you can search for whatever you need to answer their next play, allowing you to attack again, untap again, and repeat the process. If they don’t have anything in play, you can turn Detention Spheres into Dissolves or redundant Disciples into Gainsays (and Jace into Scatter Arc if you want to go really deep). If you’re under more pressure you can find Detention Sphere (and now, Banishing Light) or Hero’s Downfall; and if you want to put pressure on them, you can find another threat (say, Ashiok or Brimaz) and force them to have multiple answers. If you want to cement your hold on the lategame, you can turn Detention Spheres and Dissolves alike into Sphinx’s Revelations! Disciple also lets you hedge against their sideboard plan – before, a player who loaded up on countermagic could be blindsided by creatures; now, a useless Gainsay can become the one Devour Flesh that you left in for that situation.

Lastly, the 1/3 body is surprisingly relevant now that Mono-Black Aggro has twelve 2-power 1-drops and the format will be infested by Confluence-powered aggro decks – Disciple blocks Ash Zealot or Voice of Resurgence all day long.

The card isn’t so great in a Cube setting, which is unfortunate given the purpose of this fine website, but as a Constructed card this has me very excited.

Discuss this post in our forums.

Haze of Rage in Modern

By: Dom Harvey

Welcome to the second of my series of articles about unexplored cards in Modern! Today we’ll be looking at this beauty:

Haze of Rage

Haze is a card with a ton of latent potential. The most natural reference is its more popular Storm cousin, Grapeshot; Haze’s damage output compares favourably. With only one creature connecting, Haze deals just as much, and when you add more creatures Haze’s damage output rises exponentially fast. Multiple Hazes make it easy to deal lethal, and one copy of the card can become ‘multiple’ Hazes thanks to buyback. Grapeshot can deal with creatures sometimes, but for anything more impressive than just torching a Birds of Paradise you’re using enough of your resources that the opponent usually has time to rebuild.

However, there are good reasons Haze hasn’t put up results. Not only does it demand you play creatures, it demands you play creatures well-placed to be pumped by Haze. Those creatures tend not to be conducive to building Storm (other than by being cheap, which isn’t enough), so you have to find separate ways of upping your Storm count. The result is a confused deck, split between low-cost and low-quality creatures and Storm enablers, prone to very inconsistent draws. Solving that problem is key to making a competitive Haze deck.

Given that, it’s not surprising that we don’t have many well-performing Haze decks to look at. The only example comes from Time Spiral Block Constructed:

Marco Camilluzzi, GP Florence Top 8

Lands (25)
Mountain
Forest
Pendelhaven
Terramorphic Expanse
Grove of the Burnwillows
Llanowar Reborn
Kher Keep
Horizon Canopy

Spells (35)
Tarmogoyf
Mogg War Marshal
Thornweald Archer
Kavu Predator
Uktabi Drake
Gaea’s Anthem
Summoner’s Pact
Dead // Gone
Haze of Rage
Sideboard (15)
Greater Gargadon
Fatal Frenzy
Dead // Gone
Stormbind
Heartwood Storyteller

This deck isn’t a perfect case study, because it’s not a dedicated ‘Haze deck’. That’s part of why it succeeded, though; it was a serviceable R/G Aggro deck within the relatively low power level of Block Constructed, with the ability to randomly ‘go off’. Even the nonstandard cards could be deployed to further a ‘normal’ game plan: Summoner’s Pact could find Tarmogoyf against other green decks, and Uktabi Drake could break through ground stalemates and be a hasty threat against control. The deck could also shift plans: in sideboarded games control decks would be buried under Gargadon, Stormbind, and Storyteller, while Gargadon and Fatal Frenzy ensured the deck always had the biggest creature on board to punch through board stalls.

This highlights a requirement for Haze decks, a recurring theme in this series and in discussions of combo in general: either the deck has to have safe and regular access to its key card, or it has to survive without it. In Modern there aren’t any good tutors for Haze (I like Muddle the Mixture, but not that much) and all the good filtering is banned, so we need good substitutes for Haze to add redundancy.

We should also choose our creatures to best exploit Haze:

  • Creatures/spells that produce tokens: if we can rely on one card for enough creatures to make Haze dangerous, we free up space and need fewer pieces.
  • Creatures that produce mana: in order to build a high enough storm count we have to chain cards together, so ‘free’ creatures are important.
  • Creatures with haste: if we’re just looking for warm bodies for Haze, we want them to have haste if possible. Without haste, they’re more exposed to removal and create an awkward tension with storm; with haste, they contribute to storm and can kill out of nowhere with Haze.

Empty the WarrensGoblin Bushwhacker

These two have had a long and happy marriage, and Haze gets on just fine with both of them. Empty feeds off the storm enablers in the deck, and Haze converts even a small Empty into lethal damage. Bushwhacker is even better than Haze, offering a rare and vital effect stapled to a Haze-able body. In the lists that run Bushwhacker, it’s often the best card.

Goblin Electromancer

Used to great effect in regular Storm decks, Electromancer is excellent with Haze alone (letting you Haze for R, or Haze + buyback + Haze again for 2RR), and even more so in Ritual-heavy versions starring Manamorphose. It happens to be a Goblin (‘Noggle Electromancer’ doesn’t have the same ring to it) which, as we’ll see below, is more relevant than you might think.

Young PyromancerNivmagus ElementalKiln Fiend

The Electromancer-Pyromancer-Rituals deck builds itself, but the youngest of pyromancers is a boon to more obscure Modern archetypes as well. The major weakness of the Nivmagus deck was that it committed all your resources to one creature, making removal a serious nuisance. Young Pyromancer lets you distribute the benefit of playing spells between multiple sources, giving you a more resilient board presence. This does mean that cards like Assault Strobe or Tainted Strike won’t let you OHKO, but that might be worth the tradeoff. Haze of Rage takes the place of Ground Rift as an eatable storm spell for Nivmagus that makes your Pyromancer tokens go berserk; it’s trivial to get a large Haze in this version, as you have the 12-pack of free Phyrexian mana spells (Gut Shot, Gitaxian Probe, Mutagenic Growth) to which you can add Slaughter Pact.

Akroan Crusader

When I saw Akroan Crusader, I wondered if someone in R&D was a closet Haze fan. The card is perfect: you can play it on T1 to set up a T2/T3 Haze, and the tokens have haste so you can unload freely. The problem is that there aren’t that many good, cheap spells that target – only Gut Shot, Mutagenic Growth, and Slaughter Pact as free spells, though Wojek Siren is a nice mini-Haze that triggers Heroic.

Burning-Tree EmissaryPriest of UrabraskWild CantorSatyr Hedonist

Under the wide umbrella of ‘mana guys’, we find these. There’s not much to say about Emissary and Priest beyond the obvious (‘in case you couldn’t tell, they make mana and attack!’); they’re solid role-players here. Wild Cantor and Hedonist are a little different, accelerating you in a way that the others can’t; Hedonist in particular can act as a Seal of Seething Song, setting up explosive turns. I’ll mention Genesis Chamber here without further comment.

Goblin GuideGoblin WardriverGoblin Chieftain

If you’re after red creatures with haste that can form a cohesive strategy between them without Haze’s help, you’ll run into Goblins sooner or later. So many of them have some incidental synergy with Empty and/or Haze: Legion Loyalist hastily helps your X/1s past blockers, Foundry Street Denizen becomes very large with Empty, Warren Instigator tacks another multiplier onto Haze, Wardriver pumps Empty tokens…

Mogg War Marshal has been good for me in almost any Haze deck against grindy decks in post-SB games, but it’s especially nice when you can make its tribal status relevant.

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

I don’t have much faith in this as the mana engine of a Haze deck, but it’s a virtually free way to light a fire under your good draws. Consider:

T1 Legion Loyalist
T2 Warren Instigator
T3 BTE, Nykthos -> 5 mana, Goblin Chieftain, Haze of Rage

or
T1 1-drop
T2 2-drop
T3 BTE, Nykthos -> 4 mana, Goblin Bushwhacker, Haze of Rage

Faithless LootingVengevine

They make us work for our free hasty 4/3s, but thankfully the condition for returning it coincides with what we want to be doing. MTGO grinder Victor Jenny (SN: grapplingfarang), who has received some attention for his outlandish brews, posted this early last year:

[IMG]

There are obvious similarities to the Block deck above, and drawing on ideas from both might help us crack the code: Camilluzzi’s Summoner’s Pacts get much better when they get to plumb the depths of the Modern cardpool, fetching both Burning-Tree Emissary and Vengevine. Consider a start like this:

T2 Satyr Hedonist
T3 Summoner’s Pact for Vengevine, Faithless Looting discarding Vengevine, Burning-Tree Emissary, Goblin Bushwacker returning Vengevine, Haze of Rage

or

T1 Goblin Guide
T2 Faithless Looting discarding Vengevine
T3 Summoner’s Pact for Uktabi’s Drake, Summoner’s Pact for Burning-Tree Emissary, BTE, Drake returning Vengevine, Haze of Rage

Note the many angles of attack available to Jenny: Empty the Warrens can outflank an opponent relying on spot removal, and Blood Moon gives him a ton of free wins. Later iterations of the deck sported Myr Superion as a backup beater alongside Tarmogoyf to compete in ‘fair’ games. It’s unfortunate that Vengevine is no longer a definitive answer to attrition matchups thanks to Deathrite Shaman and Scavenging Ooze, but it’s still a fantastic card.

I’ll repost the graphic from my last article as a reference point:

[IMG]

I’ve tried a lot of different shells, and many of them seem one card short of everything clicking into place. Perhaps that card is one that already exists; either way, I hope this has given you interesting food for thought. If you have ideas or feedback, contact me in the forums or on Twitter (@mc_usher).

Nykthos in Modern

By: Dom Harvey

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Nykthos quickly proved its worth in Standard, and Modern offers a wider variety of enablers and cards to ramp into. It’s a subtly well-designed card – there’s an inherent tension between playing the cards that maximize its effectiveness, which have heavy colour requirements, and playing colourless lands like Nykthos that don’t help you cast them. This tension is particularly acute in Modern, where it competes with the likes of Tectonic Edge/Ghost Quarter and Mutavault for space. Nykthos also draws you away from some of Modern’s hallmark cards (Dark Confidant, Tarmogoyf, Snapcaster Mage, and so on), which define the format in part because they’re easy to cast with conventional manabases – Confidant at BB or Goyf at GG would still be strong, but not the all-stars they are today. Still, Nykthos offers a peculiar form of acceleration to colours that don’t typically have access to it, giving rise to previously unexplored ‘ramp’ strategies in white, blue, or black, and is therefore one of the more interesting cards in a long time.

If we’re going to make Nykthos work, we need a few things:

  • It has to vault us up the curve; just using it to gain an extra mana or two on turn 4 or whatever isn’t going to cut it, given the sacrifices the card demands. If we’re using it as an ersatz City of Traitors rather than a centre piece, the deck’s main strategy must be competitive.
  • The deck can’t fall apart if it doesn’t draw Nykthos. There is good land tutoring available in Modern – Tron favourite Expedition Map comes to mind – but taking a turn out to find a Nykthos stops you filling the board and adding to your devotion count. If we’re going far enough to Sylvan Scrying for Nykthos, the payoff had better be incredible; and if we’re just hoping to draw it.
  • Ways to ‘cheat’ the devotion count or add to it quickly and naturally. Burning-Tree Emissary is one of the few good examples of this.

With that in mind, let’s dive in.

White has solid 1-drops that also double as mana sinks for Nykthos in the form of Figure of Destiny and Student of Warfare, alongside the usual crew of Steppe Lynx and friends. There is a wide selection of WW hate-bears that are good at hosing various decks: Auriok Champion, Grand Abolisher, Leonin Relic-Warder, Samurai of the Pale Curtain, and so on. Mirran Crusader is a solid curve-topper against the B/G/x menace and generally wins games by itself. Eight-and-a-Half-Tails is a wannabe Thassa with Nykthos, but is painfully clunky otherwise and doesn’t actually work well with Nykthos on defense. Knight of the White Orchid is WW and helps you keep pace on the draw. With Figure and Student, Ranger of Eos is perfect for grinding out U/W/R Control and B/G/x. If we’re willing to touch other colours, Knight of the Reliquary fills the 3 CMC spot on the curve while finding Nykthos (and Flagstones, Horizon Canopy, Sejiri Steppe etc.) and powering up Steppe Lynx. While a tricked-out White Weenie deck may seem unimpressive in Modern, white has access to the format’s best hate cards – Thalia, Aven Mindcensor, Stony Silence, Rest in Peace, Linvala, Suppression Field – and its most efficient removal in Path to Exile. In short, the best hope for a white Nykthos deck would look like an update of Paul Rietzl’s list from PT Amsterdam, though it’s unclear that Nykthos adds something the deck wants or needs.

A first pass might look like this:

Creatures (30)
Figure of Destiny
Student of Warfare
Steppe Lynx
Knight of the White Orchid
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
[WW 2-drop?]
Mirran Crusader
Ranger of Eos

Spells (4)
Spectral Procession

X Brave the Elements/Path to Exile/Honor of the Pure (0)

I saw a streamer try an interesting W/b Tokens variant based around Leyline of the Meek and Auriok Champion, using Nykthos to power out Lingering Souls and other token producers. The idea was self-defeating, since tokens don’t help Nykthos and so it’s very hard for everything to come together properly, but using Leylines to kick-start devotion sounded appealing. Sadly, most of them are awful. Leyline of Sanctity is decent at what it does, but it’s hard to imagine a white devotion deck wanting it; Leyline of the Void is only good as a sideboard card, and even then there’s not a popular graveyard-centric deck in Modern. The only one that piques my curiosity is Leyline of Anticipation, which isn’t a *good* card but serves a unique purpose. On its own it isn’t an incentive to play blue, but the rest of the blue devotion shell is so good that it’s an attractive prospect anyway.

Minamo, School at Water's EdgeNykthos, Shrine to NyxTolaria West

Conveniently we have two blue-producing lands that work very well with Nykthos. Minamo nets mana with Nykthos when your devotion is 5 or more and can give ‘vigilance’ to Thassa or Vendilion Clique; Tolaria West can fetch Nykthos but also Ghost Quarter against Tron, Pact of Negation, and various other useful tools. Crucially, they take up land slots and thus avoid the Sylvan Scrying/Expedition Map problem.

Blue also has some of the best devotion cards. As Mark Rosewater has remarked, the lack of focus on devotion in blue was undermined by its two devotion cards vastly outperforming the rest, and that’s just as true in Modern. Master of Waves has received attention as a solid high-end card in blue tempo decks that dodges Lightning Bolt and Abrupt Decay alike; Thassa is easy to disable in a format where Path and Dismember are common, and the removal it does evade can snipe the cards that turn her on, but that might be a risk you have to take in this deck. When you’re playing ‘weak’ cards for their devotion contribution, you need your threats to be high-impact and able to end games by themselves, and Thassa fits the bill. The scrying is also very nice for shifting dead Leylines and the like from the top of your deck in the midgame.

As detailed here, blue also has strong ‘devotion helpers’. Tidebinder Mage is very well-positioned in a format of Deathrite Shamans, Tarmogoyfs, and Birthing Pods, and Vendilion Clique/Kira, Great Glass-Spinner chain into Master of Waves well. Blue finds nice sideboard cards in this category too, from Threads of Disloyalty against aggro to Jace Beleren against control. The missing piece is a high-quality one-drop – Cloudfin Raptor is the best we have, and nobody’s excited to play that in Modern. You’d have to be… ambitious to play Judge’s Familiar (‘that’s two-time Pro Tour winner Judge’s Familiar to you!’) in any kind of Eternal format. Martyr of Frost or Vedalken Certarch could work given a high enough density of blue cards or artifacts, but even then…

A rough draft:

Creatures (26)
Cloudfin Raptor
[Judge's Familiar?]
Tidebinder Mage
Coralhelm Commander
Thassa, God of the Sea
Vendilion Clique
Master of Waves

Spells (10)
Pact of Negation
Cryptic Command
Cyclonic Rift
Dismember
Leyline of Anticipation

Lands (24)
Minamo, School at Water's Edge
Tolaria West
Nykthos
16 Island

Alternatively, we can push Grand Architect. Nykthos gives you a backup way to cast whatever you’re ramping into with Architect, and both cards allow for explosive starts. Architect requires Phyrexian Metamorph, at which point you have too many 3-drops to keep both Clique and Thassa, but if you have enough creatures in play to turn on Thassa then Architect isn’t much less powerful in that role anyway.

Creatures (32)
Cloudfin Raptor
Tidebinder Mage
[Coralhelm Commander?]
Spellskite
Grand Architect
Phyrexian Metamorph
Vendilion Clique
Master of Waves
Wurmcoil Engine

Spells (4)
Leyline of Anticipation

Lands (24)
Minamo
Tolaria West
Nykthos
18 Island

A more stable and less devotion-centric build:

Creatures (33)
Cloudfin Raptor
Tidebinder Mage
Meddling Mage
Spellskite
Grand Architect
Phyrexian Metamorph
Vendilion Clique
Master of Waves
Wurmcoil Engine

Spells (3)
Path to Exile

This list is reminiscent of the UW Baneslayer deck from Standard a few years ago; the deck is designed to ‘protect the queen’, with Master of Waves on the throne. Meddling Mage, Spellskite, and Vendilion Clique each do their part to keep Master alive, and with Metamorph it’s very easy to double up on any of the 2-drops to lock out certain opponents: double Spellskite against Splinter Twin or removal-heavy decks, double Tidebinder Mage against a green deck, or double Meddling Mage against combo. As before, the deck is capable of some absurd openings, and can draw on the deep pool of sideboard cards mentioned earlier.

Meanwhile, we still have three more colours to get through! People are already experimenting with green devotion – Michael Jacob has been streaming with this:

[IMG]

I’d be tempted to try Knight of the Reliquary over Wistful Selkie, as it’s a much better card when you don’t have Nykthos (and ensures that you will have it in due course) while not being much worse when you do have it (especially since it can fetch a second copy, which gets out of control if your devotion count is 4+ or so). I’ve seen a few lists splashing Kessig Wolf Run off a Stomping Ground, which is virtually free and adds a lot of upside to Primeval Titan.

Some creative minds have started working on black devotion as well. Sam Black took this to 3-1 in a Daily Event (those of you with SCG Premium can read more about it in his article this week):

Maindeck (60)
Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Dark Prophecy
Deathrite Shaman
Blood Artist
Falkenrath Aristocrat
Liliana of the Veil
Blackcleave Cliffs
Viscera Seer
Kalastria Highborn
Marsh Flats
Bloodghast
Verdant Catacombs
Mutavault
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Greater Gargadon
Blood Crypt
Overgrown Tomb
Swamp
Sideboard (15)
Dark Prophecy
Liliana of the Veil
Go for the Throat
Inquisition of Kozilek
Thoughtseize
Ancient Grudge
Lightning Bolt

Seeing this made me think about a black-heavy Birthing Pod deck I tried about 18 months ago, based on the Zombie Pod decks that were in Standard at the time. I wrote it off as casual fodder but since then the deck has gained Deathrite Shaman and Gray Merchant, among other things. Here’s what it might look like now:

Creatures (30)
Gravecrawler
Deathrite Shaman
Blood Artist
Bloodthrone Vampire
Bloodghast
Kalastria Highborn
Geralf's Messenger
Orzhov Pontiff
Fulminator Mage
Phyrexian Metamorph
Murderous Redcap
Restoration Angel
Gray Merchant of Asphodel

Spells (6)
Abrupt Decay
Birthing Pod

Lands (25)
Verdant Catacombs
Marsh Flats
Nykthos
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Overgrown Tomb
Godless Shrine
Swamp

This list overlaps a reasonable amount with Black’s, but Birthing Pod imposes some structural constraints on the deck. As he notes in his article, Geralf’s Messenger is perfect for a strategy like this, and this deck gets to make full use of it. Highborn isn’t nearly as effective in this deck; it’s possible something like Gatekeeper of Malakir or Nether Traitor is better (or Withered Wretch if we need a BB Zombie). I’ve chosen white in this deck for Orzhov Pontiff (mainly as a Poddable answer to Affinity, which is unwinnable otherwise) and Restoration Angel, which is an excellent card in general and a wonderful thing to Pod a Messenger into or combine with Gray Merchant, but you could go red for Aristocrat or blue for Image/Exarch. One of the draws of black Pod is the ability to chain Fulminator Mages with Pod by recurring Bloodghast, and the only reason there aren’t more Mages is that the 3-drop spot on the curve is already bloated. The MD Abrupt Decays are removal spells for Deathrite Shaman that happen to kill Cranial Plating and such. It’s possible that, following Black, you just want to cut them for cards that further your plan pre-SB, and his Viscera Seers and Blood Artists look good in that role.

Adam Koska offers a more conventional take in his article:

Creatures (24)
 Deathrite Shaman
 Nantuko Shade
 Gatekeeper of Malakir
 Geralf’s Messenger
 Phyrexian Obliterator
 Demigod of Revenge

Spells (9)
 Thoughtseize
 Inquisition of Kozilek
 Expedition Map
 Dismember
 Phyrexian Arena

Lands (27)
 Profane Command
 Marsh Flats
 Verdant Catacombs
 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
 Swamp

Nantuko Shade and Nykthos were made for each other, though pairing them together is a pipe dream in Modern. Then again, it’s possible that you can overload an opponent’s removal with enough singularly powerful threats – Messenger, Obliterator, ‘even’ Deathrite Shaman – that one of them will stay around unmolested.

Lastly, we have red. Red’s a tricky colour to build around Nykthos with: there aren’t many ‘good’ enablers, and nothing appealing to ramp into. If my reward is Kargan Dragonlord I’d rather just play some aggressive red deck, which wouldn’t be good either. Burning-Tree Emissary is excellent, but after that the quality drops off dramatically.

[IMG]

Somewhere in here there’s the base for a solid red devotion deck, but getting it right has proven difficult. The Goblins package has been most promising, but I see little reason to play it over the Shared Animosity Goblins deck that pops up from time to time.

If you have any comments about these lists or suggestions of your own, let me know in the forums. Nykthos is a card with tremendous potential, and I’ve only scratched the surface here.