Just as my last article was being finalized, an earth-shaking banned and restricted list update came down from the DCI. I was able to give my quick thoughts last time, but lets start out this week by looking at the early impact of the updates in each of the affected formats, now that we have some actual results to play with.
Blue. Is. Supreme. This is the format the high-profile paper players wanted, and so far it seems to be the format they will get. The restriction of Lodestone Golem pleased players who hated the Shops archetype, but the early results on Magic Online should lead us to wonder if the DCI has gone too far…
— Titus Chalk (@tituschalk) April 16, 2016
The tweet above is referring to the 2nd Vintage Daily Event held after the restriction of Lodestone Golem went into affect last Wednesday, and it certainly sent a strong message. Of the 8 decks that finished 3-1 or better, you had: 8 Ancestral Recall, 8 Time Walk, 32 Force of Will, 31 Mental Misstep and 11 Mana Drain. And yes, that’s perennial top online Shops player Montolio piloting… U/R control??
With everyone playing blue and expecting a blue-heavy meta, perhaps it’s no surprise to see 31 of a possible 32 Mental Missteps in these results. The card is dead against Shops, but with Shops now forming a much smaller fraction of the metagame, maindecking the set now comes at a very low cost.
It’s also worth noting the unexpected absence of storm combo — despite the flurry of spells being cast each turn, the only list in this Top 8 with access to a storm kill is ChubbyRain‘s with his solitary copy of Tendrils of Agony. In the wake of Chalice of the Void‘s restriction, there was a surge in appearances for Dark Petition Storm, and I imagined that LSG’s restriction might further that trend. So far, that seems not to be the case.
If the blue decks are all loading up on Mental Misstep and other countermagic to fight each other, this might prove to be as hostile an environment for Storm as was one with rampant Chalices. The blue decks often devoted a substantial amount of their 75 to fighting Shops. Of the lists in this Daily Event, the volume of Shops hate in the sideboard ranged from 2 to 7 cards, but with most at the low end of that range around 3 or 4. There are only 2 sideboarded Hurkyl’s Recall in these eight lists, but an amazing 17 Flusterstorms between all maindecks and sideboards.
While this large Daily Event drew a lot of attention for the utter dominance of blue decks, it is worth noting that Shops was not completely shut out of the results in this first week, though its presence is certainly much-diminished. One day after the restriction went into place, the aforementioned ChubbyRain had a 3-1 finish with this Shops list:
Vintage Forgemaster Shops by ChubbyRain
This marks a return to the Shops decks that were popular last year, and with Lodestone Golem out of the picture we now see a full set of Tangle Wire alongside the maximum of 8 Sphere effects between Sphere of Resistance and Thorn of Amethyst. Apart from Crucible of Worlds, this sideboard gives little consideration to the mirror match, perhaps recognizing that many players in the early days would be shying away from Shops.
Vintage Ravager Shops by BlueSkiesJ
This list was piloted to a 3-1 finish in a Daily Event over the past weekend. Apart from the obvious distinctions of Arcbound Ravager and Hangarback Walker, there are a few other differences worth noting. This more aggressive list plays a lower count of mana sources, 26 rather than 28, opting for the full set of Mishra’s Factory while cutting the Cavern of Souls that is primarily found in the Forgemaster lists. Opting for Leyline of Sanctity over Witchbane Orb in the side is another interesting choice, seemingly an admission that with the Chalice and LSG restrictions there may not be enough early interaction against Oath of Druids and Storm combo. It doesn’t get any earlier than Turn Zero!
Sword of Fire and Ice seems like it would have been a solid inclusion when Young Pyromancer was the primary weapon of the “Grow” decks, but with Monastery Mentor pumping out white Monks I’m not sure if it pulls its weight any longer. Jitte, however, seems great. The full playset of 4 Triskelion also seems solid in a field of creature decks, and Trike’s interaction withy Ravager’s “modular” ability lets you send a bunch of damage right at the opponent’s face if he clogs the board with tokens.
The first thing I did upon hearing the news that Ancestral Vision had been unbanned was go digging through my paper binder to see if I’d kept my Jace vs Chandra duel deck copies. Alas, I had not. Thankfully, I did keep my playset on Magic Online, as the card quickly spiked to over 20 tickets apiece before settling back down in the 12-13 range as of this weekend.
Results are a bit more scarce at this point. There haven’t been any Modern Daily Events with posted results, and the results posted from Leagues are bizarre and not representative of the metagame. Unlike the Vintage restriction, it appears that the Modern unbannings will take a bit longer to produce noticeable results.
Over in the paper world, the StarCity Games Invitational was held this past weekend, and featured a Modern portion on Day 1. The talented Gerry Thompson did quite well sleeving up this list featuring the Thopter-Sword combo:
Thopter Gifts by Gerry Thompson
Gerry’s list is essentially a UW Control deck with a combo kill. It certainly helps the control strategy to have a combo which, before it eventually wins you the game, also helps stabilize against aggro by providing chump blockers and life gain! Muddle the Mixture can search for either half of the combo, and both Thirst for Knowledge and Gifts Ungiven can dump the Sword into the graveyard for you to start recurring.
Compared to what I would expect from having played U/B Tezzeret decks with Thirst, the artifact count seems a little low and the number of actual combo pieces seems a little high. If I were to run this combo in Tezzeret, I would probably start with something like 2 Thopter Foundries and 2 Swords, and maybe an additional signet or two. The archetypes are obviously different, but my experience with Tezzeret in Modern where I found it too light on removal and other early interaction certainly biases me against playing so many of the combo pieces here. I’ll be interested to see whether decklists moving forward devote as much space to the combo as Gerry did here.
In this column, I have more than once featured archetypes in Modern that would benefit from access to these cards. In Eternal Warrior #16 I tried out a Faeries list immediately after the unbanning of Bitterblossom, but found the archetype was weak to fast aggro… an unfortunate handicap in a metagame that was being overrun with the simultaneously-unbanned Wild Nacatl. But the metagame may turn out differently now, and Ancestral Vision was traditionally an important part of the U/B Faeries deck in Standard and Extended.
In that article, I exhaustively summarized the common card choices for U/B Faeries that were available at the time, and thoroughly reviewed the options for the mana base. But Ancestral Visions is a major shakeup to how the mana is assembled, and significantly impacts how you build the deck. If your Turn 1 is definitely going to be a black discard spell, River of Tears is a fine land. If your turn one is sometimes a discard spell and sometimes suspending AV, you want to maximize your ability to do either. Both Darkslick Shores and Secluded Glen become much better, though this comes with the cost of less reliably hitting your 4th land untapped. The deck’s weakness to hyper-aggro also makes it important to minimize life loss from lands. There’s a delicate balance between managing life loss, the need for flexible early plays, and the desire to cast powerful 4-cmc spells on curve.
Here is my early draft of U/B Faeries that I am testing on Magic Online:
Modern U/B Faeries by RexDart
This version is slanted only a little bit toward an aggro-heavy metagame, with a reduced number of 4-cmc spells and the inclusion of two Disfigure in the maindeck. If aggro decks do prove to be dominant, I would likely swap in another Inquisition of Kozilek for a Thoughtseize. For this new version of the deck I have cut Creeping Tar Pit, which I now believe is too slow. Spell Snare could easily become maindeck material, but I’m leery of doing so because it has only limited interaction with Tron, a disproportionately popular deck in the online metagame. When it comes to shoring up the aggro matchup, there’s a limit to what you can do with the deck. Faeries naturally preys on combo and control and is weak to aggro, and no amount of tinkering will erase that.
When I played Faeries two years ago, I included the set of Scion of Oona. This was a minority position at the time, but in the end I agreed with Hall of Famer Paulo Vitor Damo de Rosa that Scions were a key part of Faeries’ ability to change roles and close out the game. Since that time, I have soured on Scions somewhat, and am going to be running the deck without them for a while. I have read some suggestions that Scion would be more powerful in a world where the opponent might be making a bunch of 1/1 Thopters, but I don’t think Scion cures that problem. If your opponent has that combo going, his life gain will easily outrace you regardless of whether your Rogues are 1/1 or 2/2. I believe Surgical Extraction is the best option U/B decks have to fight the combo, apart from the typical hand disruption and counterspells to keep Thopter Foundry off the table. As you can see, I’m also trying Faerie Macabre, which is likely a dubious choice but one that I’m willing to try since I’m packing a full set of Secluded Glen now.
Hopefully, over the next couple of weeks, we’ll see the Modern metagame start to reveal itself. With no Modern Pro Tour on the horizon, this metagame may largely be developed and defined by the online grinders, and those of us on Magic Online will be in a privileged position to learn about it firsthand.