Modern Standards

Posted in From the Lab on March 19, 2014

By Mike Cannon

Mike Cannon started writing From the Lab at the end of 2012 after two years with GatheringMagic. He is an ardent casual player and loves finding uses for bad cards.

Hello, and welcome back to From the Lab! Today, I'll be doing something a bit different from my standard fare. Although this column is focused on casual play, I get lots of emails about decks for formats like Standard and Modern. Today, I'll be looking at a deck for each of those formats, sticking with my usual theme of crazy shenanigans.

The Not-So-Standard Deck

At a local Standard tournament last week, the conversation turned to how many formerly mono-blue decks were adopting Ephara, God of the Polis. It's certainly a pretty neat draw engine, but the deck doesn't have anything with flash to truly take advantage of Ephara's ability.

That's when the idea came to me. How awesome would it be to have Ephara and Prophet of Kruphix on the battlefield at the same time? Every turn, you untap all your stuff, cast a creature, and draw a card. With enough creatures in the deck, you could keep this going for a long time.

So, what creatures should be in the deck? The pieces of this combo require four and five mana, so Elvish Mystic and Sylvan Caryatid are in for sure. There's also another combo I've been wanting to try out that happens to fit quite well in this deck. Courser of Kruphix is a card I'd likely include anyway. Its high toughness helps hold back smaller creatures, and the ability to play lands from the top of your library can give you some major card advantage.

The ability I'm most interested, however, is the one that lets you gain 1 life every time you play a land. When combined with Archangel of Thune, another card that's pretty solid on its own, every land you play puts a +1/+1 counter on all your creatures.

Using two different combos with a total of four different cards may seem like a bad idea for Standard, but all four of those cards happen to be creatures that are pretty sweet on their own. If you don't go crazy with creatures and counters, you're still playing a fairly reasonable midrange deck.

Polukranos has proven to be one of the best creatures in the format right now, and fills our four-drop slot quite nicely. It also happens to work well with Prophet of Kruphix. You can cast it, then untap all your lands and immediately activate monstrosity.

Prime Speaker Zegana was a key player in the creature-based Bant decks we saw last year. As long as you have a creature on the board, Zegana is a big threat that also gives you a nice helping of extra cards. That will make sure you don't run out of creatures to cast with the Prophet.

Also keeping the creatures flowing is Garruk, Caller of Beasts. Although his -3 ability can be used to slam a big creature down in a pinch, his primary purpose is digging for more threats. With exactly thirty creatures in the deck, Garruk's +1 should grab you two or three every time, all while building you toward a game-winning emblem.

Finally, Detention Sphere is a great removal spell that can eliminate just about any threat you might run into, from a swarm of Pack Rats to either version of Xenagos. It deals with Gods, Planeswalkers, and everything in between, all for the low price of three mana.

Prophet of Ephara

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The Art of Modern

Modern seems to already be a combo-based format right now, with decks like Splinter Twin, Storm, and various Birthing Pod combo decks taking over the top tables. Although comboing to infinity and beyond is more than possible in such a large format, not every combo deck needs to make an arbitrarily large amount of something.

A friend recently brought up an idea for a white-blue deck abusing the interaction between Mangara of Corondor and Crystal Shard. You can activate Mangara with just a tap, then return it to your hand with Crystal Shard before the ability resolves. The permanent you targeted will be exiled, but Mangara is already long gone.

A similar trick works with Fiend Hunter. When it enters the battlefield, you can put its ability onto the stack, targeting a creature, then return it to your hand with Crystal Shard. Then the leaves-the-battlefield ability will trigger, returning the exiled creature. Nothing has been exiled yet, so the ability will do nothing. Then the original trigger will resolve, exiling the creature forever.

Since you can't count on drawing Crystal Shard every game, I've included Saving Grasp to let you pull off the trick a couple times without it. Although it only works twice, it also doesn't require the initial three-mana investment, so it can help out if you don't have time to cast the Shard.

Snapcaster Mage is another great creature to return to your hand. It already gives you multiple uses of your spells, but now you can get multiple uses of multiple spells. You can also block a creature before returning it to your hand, preventing any damage from getting through so long as the creatures doesn't have trample.

With the ability to give spells flashback and exile creatures, a WU Control shell seems perfect for this combo. Serum Visions is the standard draw spell in Modern, and Sphinx's Revelation has proven to be a powerful tool for control decks in this format as well.

Spell Snare is a great way to eliminate many of the common threats in the format, countering a two-mana spell for just one blue. Tarmogoyf is a particularly enticing target, but it also hits Pyromancer Ascension, Lightning Helix, and many more.

Mana Leak is an easy-to-cast counterspell that can hit just about anything early in the game. Although it loses value as the game goes on, Mangara can usually take care of everything once you get the engine up and running.

Crystal Corondor

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Pick on Someone your Own Size

Pitting a Standard deck against a Modern one doesn't seem very fair. Instead, I'll be playing each deck separately in a game against one of the pillars of its respective format. Let's start off with Standard, where the Prophet of Ephara will challenge a horde of monsters.

Prophet of Ephara vs. RG Monsters

I led with an Elvish Mystic, and my opponent played a tapped Stomping Ground. I cast Sylvan Caryatid before passing the turn, and he played an Elvish Mystic of his own. I threw down Polukranos, World Eater, then ended my turn. My opponent cast Courser of Kruphix. He played a Temple from his library, then scryed a land to the bottom and passed the turn.

I attacked for 5, and my opponent took the damage. I cast Archangel of Thune before ending my turn. My opponent killed the Archangel with Mizzium Mortars, then cast Domri Rade, using his +1 to no effect. He passed the turn. I attacked Domri with Polukranos, and my opponent chose not to block. I cast an Elvish Mystic and passed the turn.

My opponent cast Stormbreath Dragon and hit me for 4. He then ended his turn. I played a land and activated Polukranos's monstrosity ability for four, killing the Dragon. I attacked for 9, and my opponent blocked with Elvish Mystic. I passed the turn.

My opponent cast Domri Rade and used his +1 ability, getting a Polukranos of his own. He ended his turn. I attacked my opponent with Polukranos, and he took the damage, dropping to 10. I cast Prophet of Kruphix and passed the turn.

My opponent cast Polukranos, played a land from the top, and passed back. I attacked with Polukranos, and my opponent blocked with Courser of Kruphix. I ended my turn. My opponent cast Xenagos, the Reveler, making a Satyr. He used Domri's +1 to find a Sylvan Caryatid, then cast it along with Elvish Mystic.

I flashed in another Polukranos during his end step, killing the monstrous one. I activated monstrosity, killing the Satyr and Elvish Mystic. I attacked Xenagos, and Sylvan Caryatid took one for the team.

Domri found Courser of Kruphix, which was then cast, and Xenagos made another token. My opponent passed the turn, and I cast Polukranos during his end step again. I activated the ability for five this time, killing the other Polukranos. I attacked Domri, and my opponent blocked with a Satyr. I passed the turn.

My opponent made another Satyr with Xenagos and cast Stormbreath Dragon, attacking for 8. He ended his turn. I attacked with Polukranos, which was blocked by the token. I then cast another Prophet of Kruphix and ended my turn, dying to the Stormbreath Dragon.

Too Many Monsters

Well, that didn't go according to plan. Drawing all three copies of the legendary Polukranos is definitely not what I want, and with only one significant threat on the board, my opponent was able to keep enough creature flowing to block it every turn. Let's see if the Modern deck fares any better.

Crystal Corondor vs. Melira Pod

I started out with a Plains, and my opponent used Verdant Catacombs to find a Temple Garden, putting it in untapped to cast Bids of Paradise. I cast Serum Visions and passed the turn. My opponent paid 2 more life for an untapped Overgrown Tomb, then gained it back with Kitchen Finks. He ended his turn.

I cast Mangara of Corondor and ended my turn. My opponent attacked me for 3 with Kitchen Finks, then cast Ranger of Eos, finding Viscera Seer and Noble Hierarch. I played a Celestial Colonnade and passed the turn.

My opponent attacked with Ranger of Eos and Kitchen Finks. I blocked the Ranger with Magara, then tapped it to exile the Finks and returning Magara to hand with Saving Grasp. My opponent paid 2 life to cast Birthing Pod. I countered it with Mana Leak, and he passed the turn. I cast Mangara, drew a card with Serum Visions, and passed back.

My opponent used a Misty Rainforest to find a Forest, then cast Shriekmaw, targeting Mangara. I flashed back Saving Grace to return it to my hand, and he attacked for 3 before passing the turn.

I cast Fiend Hunter, exiling Shriekmaw, then ended my turn. My opponent attacked with Ranger of Eos. I flashed in Snapcaster Mage and blocked with both creatures. He activated Gavony Township, and all three creatures died, bringing back Shriekmaw. With no other creatures on the battlefield, Shriekmaw was forced to destroy Birds of Paradise. My opponent ended his turn.

I cast Mangara of Corondor and Crystal Shard, then passed the turn. My opponent cast Abrupt Decay on the Shard, then cast Noble Hierarch and attacked for 4. He passed the turn, and I played a Colonnade and passed back. My opponent cast Voice of Resurgence, and in response I activated Mangara, targeting Shriekmaw, returning Mangara to hand with another Saving Grasp. My opponent attacked for 1 with Noble Hierarch and passed the turn.

I cast Serum Visions to draw a card. I then cast Fiend Hunter, targeting Voice of Resurgence, and paid the flashback for Saving Grasp to return it to my hand. I ended my turn. My opponent attacked for 1 with Noble Hierarch, then cast Kitchen Finks and passed.

I cast Fiend Hunter again, bouncing it with another Saving Grasp to exile Kitchen Finks. I then played Minamo, School at Water's Edge and cast Mangara. I ended my turn. My opponent attacked for 1 with the Hierarch again, then cast Scavenging Ooze and passed the turn.

I tapped Mangara, targeting Scavenging Ooze, untapped it with Minamo, tapped it again targeting Noble Hierarch, and returned it to hand with the flashback on Saving Grasp. I cast Mangara again and ended my turn.

My opponent cast Qasali Pridemage and Birds of Paradise, then passed the turn. I cast Fiend Hunter to exile the Pridemage, leaving the Hunter on the battlefield, then destroyed his Gavony Township with Tectonic Edge. I passed the turn, and my opponent passed back with no play.

I ended my turn without casting anything, and my opponent cast Chord of Calling for three, getting Eternal Witness and returning Birthing Pod to his hand. On his turn, he cast the Pod and used it on Eternal Witness, getting Murderous Redcap. The Redcap targeted Mangara, and I activated my creature twice in response, thanks to Minamo. Birthing Pod, Murderous Redcap, and Mangara were all exiled, and my opponent passed the turn.

I played a land and passed, and my opponent played Gavony Township before passing back. I cast Sphinx's Revelation for six during his end step. I activated a Celestial Colonnade and attacked for 4, then ended my turn. My opponent activated the Township during his end step.

He cast Kitchen Finks to gain 2 life, then cast another Birds of Paradise and passed the turn. I exiled the Finks with a Fiend Hunter and attacked for 4 again. My opponent took the damage, dropping to 7. I ended my turn.

My opponent passed the turn with no play. I activated both Colonnades and attacked. My opponent blocked each of them with a Bird, then used the Birds to cast Chord of Calling for four, getting Linvala, Keeper of Silence. I passed the turn, and my opponent played a land and passed back.

I cast another Fiend Hunter to exile Linvala, then attacked with a Colonnade, dropping him to 3. I ended my turn, and my opponent drew his card and conceded.

Oh My

The control deck managed to pull out that game, thanks to a bevy of card advantage from Mangara and Fiend Hunter. The fact that Mangara can exile any permanent is awesome, and the deck really thrives against strategies like this that play little removal.

I hope you enjoyed this week's venture into some of Magic's more competitive format. Join me next week, when I'll be heading back to casual land with some decks featuring Theros's mightiest beings. See ya!

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