Modern Love

Posted in Perilous Research on February 6, 2014

Welcome back to Perilous Research,'s exclusive Magic Online column. Since we last met, Modern's banned list saw some changes. Deathrite Shaman was banned, while Wild Nacatl and Bitterblossom were unbanned. Sure, this is a small change in terms of size, but the implications are huge. With a Modern Pro Tour just around the corner, the effects of the new changes are far-reaching. Born of the Gods Prerelease events start in less than two weeks on Magic Online. Until then, we'll take a break from Magic Online metagame speculation in favor of more relevant subject-matter. Today, we'll be exploring some of the new possibilities in Modern with the recent changes to the banned list.


Bitterblossom has been unbanned! Bitterblossom's legality has always been a hotly contested issue. The card, while powerful, isn't oppressive in a format as large as Modern. There are a few strategies, and a few cards in particular, that are sure to be very excited about the prospect of playing with Bitterblossom.

The first and most obvious deck for Bitterblossom to unlock is Faeries. Faeries is one of the greatest Standard decks of all time. The deck is tremendously good at staying ahead once it's in the lead and its ability to completely dominate control and combo with a draw-go plan makes it a strong choice for the Pro Tour. Many of you are already familiar with Faeries, but a quick refresher course never hurt anyone. The best piece ever written on Faeries is by Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa, hall of famer and greatest Faeries player of all time. I recommend reading his Faeries primer if you plan on playing Modern in a world of Bitterblossom.

Making a new Faeries list will be difficult. We know the appropriate ingredients, but the numbers and card choices will depend greatly on the landscape of the new Modern format. The biggest question deck builders face when attempting to build a Faeries deck is whether or not they should be including Scion of Oona. Bitterblossom is sure to improve many White-Black Token strategies, and Lingering Souls will remain one of the strongest cards in the format. With all the opposing 1-toughness fliers that people are already battling Vendilion Clique with, it stands to reason that Scion of Oona would be very strong in the current Modern environment.

Master of PTQs, Pascal Maynard, recently posted the following Modern Faeries list to Facebook. We can expect a lot of the initial Faeries decks to look something like this:

Pascal Maynard's Modern Faeries

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Scion of Oona is very strong, but if we start seeing cards like Volcanic Fallout in people's sideboards, then we probably want to eschew the Faerie lord in favor of more interaction and pure card power instead of synergy.

Let's take a look at a Faeries deck that doesn't play with Scion of Oona:

Jacob Van Lunen's Faeries

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Faeries is the obvious home for Bitterblossom, but White-Black Tokens is sure to be very happy about unlocking the enchantment. White-Black Tokens matches up very well in a format where the removal spells of choice are Lightning Bolt, Lightning Helix, Path to Exile, Abrupt Decay, and Doom Blade. People are happy to kill a Dark Confidant or Tarmogoyf with these spells, but things get awkward when they're forced to use a whole spell to kill one of our tokens. The White-Black Tokens deck gets to play with Zealous Persecution. Zealous Persecution is exceptional against Faeries and also gets a lot stronger now that players will be forced to play Noble Hierarch and Birds of Paradise over Deathrite Shaman.

Sword of Feast and Famine is another big winner with Bitterblossom being reintroduced to the format. It's hard to beat an active Sword of Feast and Famine and Bitterblossom provides us with an endless stream of evasive creatures ready to be equipped.

Let's take a look at a Modern White-Black Tokens list:

Jacob Van Lunen's Modern White-Black Tokens

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Wild Nacatl

Sure, Bitterblossom is a great card, but Wild Nacatl is arguably the best one-mana creature in the format now that it's been unbanned. (Much less arguably now that it doesn't have to compete with Deathrite Shaman.) Wild Nacatl's return to the format means that aggressive decks will once again have footing in the exceptionally powerful Modern format.

Since Wild Nacatl was banned, we've seen some success from aggressive artifact strategies with Cranial Plating, but the format became a haven for control and combo strategies to duke it out. Reintroducing Wild Nacatl means that "Zoo" decks of all varieties will have an opportunity to prove their worth in the Modern format.

Zoo can take on a lot of shapes and sizes. One of the best examples of this diversity can be seen in the Top 8 decklists from Pro Tour Austin. Brian Kibler, the eventual winner, played a slower and slightly bigger Zoo deck that was well suited for aggressive creature mirrors. Meanwhile, the Czech master, Martin Juza, Top 8ed the very same tournament with an extremely aggressive version of the deck.

Let's take a look at the hyper-aggressive Zoo deck that Martin Juza piloted to a Top 8 in Austin:

Martin Juza's Pro Tour Austin Zoo

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This deck is entirely Modern legal right now. You could register Juza's main deck from Pro Tour Austin and likely put yourself in a pretty good position at Pro Tour Born of the Gods. The deck comes out of the gates with brutal speed and doesn't let up until the opponent is lifeless. More recently, versions of Tribal Flames decks in Modern have been popping up with Geist of Saint Traft and Snapcaster Mage. We could see a hybrid version of that deck and this one perform well at the Pro Tour. It seems pretty exciting to flashback a full-value Tribal Flames.

Let's see what a new-school Tribal Flames deck might look like:

Jacob Van Lunen's Modern Tribal Zoo

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Zoo has a lot of angles, and it doesn't necessarily need to win the game quickly as long as it has the longevity and power to hang in the midgame. Brian Kibler's winning decklist from Pro Tour Austin is an excellent example of this. We may not have access to the Grove of the Burnwillows/Punishing Fire combo anymore, but we can still learn a lot about the varieties of the Zoo archetype by examining his list:

Brian Kibler's Pro Tour Austin "Big" Zoo

Download Arena Decklist

We can update this list for the sake of legality pretty easily. Let's take a look at a Big Zoo list for the current Modern format:

Jacob Van Lunen's Modern "Big" Zoo

Download Arena Decklist

Deathrite Shaman

We've explored the obvious, but the hidden implications of the new banned list may be the most important of all. Deathrite Shaman's banning opens up the floodgates for a slew of Goryo's Vengeance strategies, Pyromancer Ascension combos, and grindy Necrotic Ooze decks.


In the coming weeks, we'll have the opportunity to bear witness to a wealth of innovation and excitement at Pro Tour Born of the Gods. We should be sure to tune in to for live coverage of this exciting event! Also, we shouldn't forget to register for this weekend's Born of the Gods release events at our local gaming store. Most stores have limited space, and there's a huge demand to play in the release tournaments; if we can reserve our spot in these events we don't have to worry about showing up early.

Knowledge is Power!

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