DOING YOUR MODERN HOMEWORK

Posted in NEWS on March 9, 2014

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

What is the Modern format?

The run up and through Pro Tour Born of the Gods two weeks ago provided a rich repository of Modern information to digest. The pillars of the format – card combos and interactions, typical decks, and unexpected diversity – are all requisite reading for a player fighting or following Grand Prix Richmond.

A Completely Incomplete Guide to Modern Madness

At Pro Tour Born of the Gods, several key interactions were highlighted by coverage thanks to the folks in R&D (featured in this Arcana). How key cards play a role in the decks at large is something you at home might want to keep handy throughout the weekend as it's exactly what the best at Modern know forwards and backwards.

Blood Moon made a splash in Blue Moon deck featured by team MTG Mint Card at the Pro Tour, and the mana-stifling power of the three mana enchantment has to be on the minds of players this weekend. Most Modern decks rely on powerful nonbasic lands, such as Steam Vents and Overgrown Tomb as well as others like Misty Rainforest that can search them out, to consistently cast whatever spell they want.

Blood Moon puts a damper on others by "fixing" their lands as Mountains. While decks with enough basic lands, such as the new Blue Moon deck itself, can continue with their plan anyone aiming for three or more colors quickly finds the token basic land or two (typically included for Path to Exiles) is now a liability: One or two copies is very tough to draw when they're your only hope, and it's part of why the expected resurgence of Zoo decks (featuring the newly unleashed Wild Nacatl) fell flat throughout the Pro Tour.

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker lays claim to two of the top decks of Modern: Splinter Twin (and all its blue-red, white-red, and white-blue-red flavors) and Kiki Pod, the amalgam of Birthing Pod with the combo tools of Splinter Twin decks. The legendary Goblin is feared for his talents at copying Pestermite, Deceiver Exarch, Restoration Angel, and the occasional Village Bell-Ringer, and provides a haste-based way to achieve what Splinter Twin might need an extra turn for. He might not be the biggest component, but it's valuable redundancy for one of the most consistent combos in the format.

Joining Kiki-Jiki with Birthing Pod creates new possibilities:

All of that is in addition to the "End of turn, Pestermite? Untap, draw, Kiki-Jiki?" play that ends so many other matches.




 

Without Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, Birthing Pod is a more than a formidable foe in its own right thanks to Melira, Sylvok Outcast and a coterie of creatures with persist, such as Murderous Redcap and Kitchen Finks. With a sacrifice outlet handy alongside Melira, Birthing Pod gets to play both sides of the coin: Pressure opponents with interchangable combo pieces or pull out the precise disruption required to stop an opponent cold.

Like Splinter Twin, the deck can threaten its combos from numerous positions. Unlike Splinter Twin, Melira Pod can also hit its combo naturally, without Birthing Pod to pull out the right pieces, and simply beat an opponent down with harder-to-kill creatures. Opponents have to choose carefully between fighting the onslaught on the ground and waiting to prevent a combo from occurring.

Michael Hetrick went undefeated on the first day of Pro Tour Born of the Gods playing a Living End deck, a surprise for many that overlooked the power of cards like Monstrous Carabid and Violent Outburst. The combo nature of Living End may lead one to believe that cards such as Rest in Peace are enough to short circuit the deck, but popular removal spells like Lightning Bolt and Anger of the Gods look awful small when facing down 4 toughness – something Hetrick and others demonstrated throughout the weekend.




 

How much mana do you want to use to stop your opponent? It's not a trick question: The answer is universally "as little as possible." Lightning Bolt is on-color for Splinter Twin, Jund, and Blue-White-Red decks, and its versatility keeps it in those lists event after event. You can stop small creatures of all sizes, interrupt some combos, and even burn your opponents to death if needed. And while it won't strike down an opponent, Path to Exile can rid the battlefield of anything with 4 or more toughness. Combined with a control backbone in Cryptic Command, Remand, Mana Leak, and Snapcaster Mage to double up whatever spells you need, it's easy to see how a control deck falls into place.

Thoughtseize doesn't kill opponents or creatures, per se, but it's another one mana way to stymie the enemy. Jund may not have made a spectacular run in Valencia, but the power of ripping a key card out of an opponent's hand is still a threat. To assume the pinpoint disruption won't be seen amid the sea of players in Richmond would be folly, particularly when the Jund menace always seems to return with Inquisition of Kozileks and Fulminator Mages to back it up.




 

While Living End managed a strong start at Pro Tour Born of the Gods, another cadre of players showed off the power of storm – putting Chris Fennell into the Top 8 as well as the likes of Kai Budde and Gaudenis Vidugiris into the Top 16. Using cheap spells to suddenly "turn on" Pyromancer Ascension, a flurry of Manamorphoses, Desperate Rituals, and Pyretic Rituals rack up the mana count for a lethal sequence of Lightning Bolts and Grapeshots, all backed up by Past in Flames. Two card combos might be the face of Modern, but storm is a highlight its potential.




 

Here's a question that came up in coverage from the Pro Tour: If a piece of equipment gave +4/+0, +5/+0, or more, how much mana should it cost? Cranial Plating's cheap costs to play and equip helps fuel the speed and power of Affinity. With Arcbound Ravager ready to turn every artifact in play into opponent-killing power, the premier aggressive deck in the format puts a clock on all but the best prepared decks.




 

One of the newest decks to emerge for Modern from Pro Tour Born of the Gods was the Tarmo-Twin hybrid, mixing the pressure and utility of Termogoyf and Scavenging Ooze with a Splinter Twin shell gave Patrick Dickmann flexibility to both threaten the beatdown on the battlefield at the same time as threatening the typical Splinter Twin win.

The toolbox sideboard is also typical for Modern, filled with flexibile options for stopping and anwering opponents of almost any type of deck.




 

Anyone who watched the 2013 World Championships knows just how close Reid Duke came to becoming the winner over Shahar Shenhar. The might of hexproof creatures, typically immune to the removal opponents are playing, empowered with Aura after Aura is to the battlefield what the Storm deck is to the stack.

The World is Not Enough

Are those enough cards for you? If not never fear: There will be dozens more on display all weekend at Grand Prix Richmond. As long as you keep all of these cards and decks in mind you'll be mostly prepared for Modern.

At least everyone at home gets to keep this cheat sheet handy!

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