June 12, 2015

A Blood Moon Rises

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I like checking back on Modern every few months, especially when there have been big shifts in the metagame. It's also no coincidence that I'm doing so right before a Modern Grand Prix, as Charlotte is this weekend, and I expect to see these changes in action there. These changes are partially a result of a few new cards being released, but also reflect the natural metagame shift that happens over time. Modern is a huge format, with 12 years of sets legal, and to think that the metagame has been "solved" and won't change is folly at best, and disastrous at worst. Given enough time, maybe it would settle into a holding pattern, but even with the number of people playing Magic these days, discovering what is best and seeing the resulting shifts is a process that's going to keep happening, especially as new sets get released. So, what is good in Modern these days?


Combo has Landed

And by that I mean that the two main combo decks right now are land-based. Combo in Modern is a many-headed beast, but it just so happens that two of the biggest non-interactive decks rely on playing sweet lands and tapping them for lots of mana. The finals of the Starcitygames.com Invitational in Columbus was a battle between these two decks, so that's a good place to start as any.

Ali Aintrazi's Green-Red Tron

Ever since Pro Tour Hollywood champion Charles Gindy won a PTQ a few years ago with Red-Green Tron, it has hovered somewhere in the ranks of playable decks in Modern. It's one of the strangest decks you will ever see. It's got a ton of cards that no other deck plays, all of which support the single-minded goal of assembling Tron (one each of Urza's lands) and casting absurd cards as early as possible.

To my great chagrin, this deck has mostly blanked the White-Blue Tron deck I love so much, as it is just a more efficient way of playing Tron lands. If you are going to open yourself up to the weaknesses of playing fifteen colorless lands and a lot of expensive spells, this is how you should go about it.

All this deck cares about in its opening hand is having access to Tron as soon as possible. Chromatic Sphere and Star let it cast Ancient Stirrings and Sylvan Scrying while still playing Tron lands the first few turns, and Expedition Map is essentially another Tron piece. It plays a huge threat on turn three a surprisingly large amount of the time (and if you've ever played against Tron, it feels like every single time), and turn four is a fairly safe bet.

Strengths: Turn-three Karn/Wurmcoil Engine. Goes over the top of just about every deck in the format with ease. Beats every deck I've ever played in my life.

Weaknesses: Loses to itself more than opposing cards when it doesn't find Tron or can't produce colored mana. Not very strong at interacting.

The deck that Ali's Tron deck defeated in the finals is a deck I've covered before in this column, but its rise to popularity demands I go over it again. That deck is the incredibly strange Amulet Bloom deck, which in this case was piloted by Chris VanMeter.

Chris VanMeter's Amulet Bloom

I'm actually just going to go ahead and quote myself from when I talked about this deck after Pro Tour Fate Reforged, because the base strategy of the deck hasn't changed, and I did an excellent job last time (or so I'd like to think).

From my article in February:

For those who haven't seen this deck in action, it is trying to do the following:

  1. Cast Amulet of Vigor.
  2. Cast Summer Bloom or Azusa, Lost but Seeking.
  3. Play a bounce land (Simic Growth Chamber or the like).
  4. Amulet untaps the bounce land, it taps for two mana, then it returns itself so it can be replayed due to extra land drops.
  5. Cast Primeval Titan or Hive Mind.

There, that isn't too complicated, right? Oh, did I not explain what happens after you cast the six-drop?

Well, that gets a little tricky.

If it's Hive Mind, it's not too tough. You just cast a Summoner's Pact or Slaughter Pact (or spell + Pact of Negation), making your opponent do the same, and ideally be unable to pay on his or her turn.

If it's Primeval Titan, a common line is to get Slayers' Stronghold plus Boros Garrison, which untap and give Titan haste, letting you get Tolaria West + a bounce land. The land returns Tolaria West, which transmutes into Summoner's Pact, which gets another Titan. If your opponent is low enough, Vesuva copying Boros Garrison and Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion deal an additional 6 damage.

All of that is still the main game plan of the deck, summarized, but I must again issue the same warning. This deck is hard. It's got a ton of very strange lines of play, and to get the maximum (legal) win percentage of this deck, you need to be aware of all the strange ways games can play out. Between Tolaria West, various Pacts, and a ton of different ways to generate mana and do special things with your lands, you often have access to lots and lots of options, and you need to know how to use that to your advantage. I recommend practicing with any deck before playing it, but this deck more than most. The good thing is you can goldfish this deck (as in, play it by yourself, as if your opponent was a goldfish) and have that be great practice. You don't need to find an opponent, as most games you'd play in a tournament you are playing solo anyway. Knowing how to deal with interaction is definitely necessary, but I'd start by mastering the deck and its different paths to victory before worrying about tossing in the Remands or Thoughtseizes or artifact removal spells that opponents will try and bring.

One pretty sweet addition to this list is Dragonlord Dromoka, as she is an un-counterable threat that also protects your other threats, and gives you even more inevitability against counterspells. Getting to eight mana and going Dromoka, Summer Bloom, Primeval Titan (assuming Amulet is in play) is a very hard sequence for a control deck to beat, and even just running out Dromoka on turn three or four is a huge threat.

Blood Moon is still public enemy number one for this deck, and sideboard cards like Seal of Primordium and Chromatic Lantern can help try and fight it, though a resolved Blood Moon still spells disaster in most cases.

Strengths: Very fast and hard to interact with, fighting back against counterspells and hand disruption better than most combo decks.

Weaknesses: Still Blood Moon, and still the level of difficulty. Do not play this deck if you haven't practiced with it extensively!

Of course, the fact that two of the most-played combo decks right now rely on lands leads to the next set of recent winners…


There Will Be Blood

The format is bathed in red, or if you are to believe the flavor text of the card, a deep crimson. Blood Moon is a card that's always been a player in Modern, but it may never have been as good as it is now. Amulet can't win with it in play, it slows Tron down significantly, and it punishes the various three-color midrange decks that are always popular in Modern. Blood Moon also fits into some decks that are already very good, so it isn't like you are paying significant deck building costs to include it, though there always is a cost when you put this into your deck or sideboard.

The most exciting Blood Moon deck is one that Matt Costa piloted to 7-1 in the Modern portion of the Invitational.

Matt Costa's Grixis Control

Now that is a trio of cards. Cryptic Command, Tasigur, and Blood Moon, all fighting side by side, with Vedalken Shackles also waiting in the wings. It may seem crazy to play three colors and play triple-blue cards in a deck with Blood Moon, but Scalding Tarn and Polluted Delta go a long way. This deck is often able to fetch enough basic Islands to operate under a Blood Moon, and the decks that Blood Moon is good against almost stop playing cards once the Moon rises.

This is a control deck in the fashion of true control, where it's just trying to gain card advantage before closing out the game with a solid threat. It's filled with removal, counterspells, and card draw, and has various ways to pick up virtual card advantage along with actual card advantage. Cards like Shackles, Spellskite, and Blood Moon blank enough of the opponent's cards that you end up being virtually up a ton of cards, even if those cards are still in the opponent's hand (or even in play).

Another reason this deck is successful is a new card to the format: Kolaghan's Command. Like Cryptic Command, this gives the deck a ton of options, and those options cover a lot of bases. Killing artifacts (like Amulet of Vigor or Oblivion Stone or Cranial Plating) is a great ability to have on a card you can play main deck, and the ability to deal 2 or bring back a Snapcaster Mage makes this a very good card to run. You can pick up a very easy two-for-one by making the opponent discard while killing one of their cards, and if it's early enough in the game that you don't have a creature to bring back, that's often what happens.

Thought Scour is also key in making sure the deck has delve fodder for Tasigur, targets for Snapcaster, and creatures to bring back with Command. Don't forget that you can bring back Keranos with Command if you mill him, as he is a creature in the graveyard.

I like that this deck plays enough powerful answer cards that it's good even in a somewhat open field, and that it's playing cards that are just insane in some matchups (like Blood Moon or Shackles).

Strengths: Plays a ton of strong two-for-ones, can lock opponents out with Blood Moon or Shackles.

Weaknesses: Doesn't kill the opponent all that quickly, and as such is vulnerable to fast decks that it doesn't have the right tools to interact with (like Burn, for example).

The other Blood Moon deck I want to talk about is the deck that's probably been the best deck in Modern for the longest amount of time, total, even if it isn't always the best deck at any given point. That deck, of course, is Splinter Twin.

Sam Pardee's Blue-Red Twin

Splinter Twin has been tier 1 for as long as there's been a Modern, and won both the first Modern Pro Tour and the last Modern Pro Tour. It comes as no surprise that it's still good, and part of that strength right now is the ability to play Blood Moon in the sideboard (though it's very plausible to main deck it as well).

The longer Twin goes, the more it becomes a value deck, which I find awesome. The default win condition is still Splinter Twin + Exarch or Pestermite, which makes infinite attackers, but more and more value cards keep creeping in. Vendilion Clique, Grim Lavamancer, Electrolyze and other good card advantage cards make Twin willing and able to play a long game, which really takes advantage of how most opponents are forced to play against Twin.

When Twin has three or four mana up, it's very hard to tap out if you have a removal spell, as they can just go end-of-turn Exarch, untap, and cast Twin. As such, decks often have to hamper their game plan to keep mana available against Twin, which gives Twin time to get maximum value from its control elements. Having a bunch of value cards lines up very well against removal, and even opponents who are aware of that can't do a ton about it. If you try and play a normal game against Twin and ignore the combo, they can just kill you, as the Twin combo is fast enough to do that. That puts Twin in a funny spot, and one that it takes advantage of very well.

Look at Sam's sideboard: Blood Moon, Keranos, Teferi, Negate, and Jace. These are awesome cards for a long-game battle, and his deck does very well when such battles take place.

That, plus Twin's natural strength against other combo deck (being fast and having all instants + counterspells) makes it a great choice right now. Blood Moon being awesome is just icing on the cake, and I'm definitely looking at Twin come the Grand Prix this weekend.

Strengths: Very good against combo, and can sideboard into control to take advantage of opponents who fear the Twin combo

Weaknesses: Still doesn't like facing Abrupt Decay + Thoughtseize. Rending Volley is also a new card that's quite good against Twin.


GR Tron and Amulet are two of the biggest threats right now, and Grixis and Twin (which sometimes get combined, by the way) being two of the biggest answers. Regardless of which side you favor, there are good options in Modern, and I recommend you pick the one that speaks to you.

LSV



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