A Modern Nightmare

Posted in Reconstructed on October 15, 2013

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

Today's deck is a nightmare. Or rather, it can make plenty of nightmares. Or rather... well, we'll get there in a second. You'll see.

Taking a week off of Standard thanks to the Pro Tour providing plenty of innovations of its own, this week's submissions were for Modern—and, more specifically, Modern with a featured card from Theros! Several interesting decks were sent in: an Elemental tribal deck featuring Master of Waves, Ordeals with graft creatures, Enchantress, and plenty more. (Don't miss the honorable mentions at the end of this article to see several of them!)

But out of them all, the deck we're going to feature today comes from Travis McFarlane. It features many cards that are near and dear to my heart in Modern, and a new favorite from Theros that's already winning people over. Let's take a look!

Travis McFarlane's Nightmare

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The Battle Plan

This deck takes advantage of several of the strongest cards in the format to dismantle its opponent's game plan. With strong pinpoint discard spells at its disposal, some countermagic, and the Invitational card pairing of Dark Confidant and Snapcaster Mage providing plenty of card advantage, this deck has a lot of powerful low-mana plays that make a big impact on the game... and in Modern, many have called mana efficiency the key to the format!

On top of all that, let's take a moment to talk about Ashiok here. What makes Ashiok a good fit for this deck? Well, speaking of mana efficiency, a lot of the creatures people play in this format cost only a few mana: Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, Deathrite Shaman, Vendilion Clique, and so on. And, of course, the rate on these creatures tends to be very good, meaning that casting one still has a tremendous impact on the game.

Deathrite Shaman
Vendilion Clique

What does this all add up to? Well, if you catch a creature with Ashiok's +2 ability you can almost certainly put it into play next turn—and it will likely be pretty strong. If you hit two creatures, there's actually a pretty good chance you'll be able to spend the next two turns putting both of them onto the battlefield if you want thanks to their cheap mana costs.

While Ashiok does take some time to get rolling, what makes Ashiok a good fit for this deck is that this strategy tends to attrition its opponent—meaning that you both have the time to use Ashiok and want a card that can produce multiple threats on its own. You don't want to play a ton of Ashioks, but the Planeswalker is a nice addition worth trying.

But enough about Ashiok for now. Let's go to the deck breakdown and check out this deck piece by piece.

Deck Breakdown

What should stay and what's just too much of a nightmare to keep around? Let's go through the deck card by card and see!

Snapcaster Mage

This deck has numerous inexpensive high-impact spells that are fantastic to reuse. Whether a discard spell, countermagic, or piece of removal (while there aren't any Snapcasterable pieces of removal in the deck right now, there will be by the end of this) Snapcaster Mage gives you the versatility you need to stay ready for any number of angles your opponent might try and fight you from. On top of all that, it's also a 2/1 that can block or even serve as a win condition in some games. I want to keep all four.

Speaking of win conditions, something that's important in Modern is being able to close the game. Even in a deck like this, once you've attritioned your opponent a bit you need to be able to finish the game. Additionally, you can always use more early game defense. So, while it is perhaps a bit obvious, the right card for this deck is Tarmogoyf.


If you don't want to go down this route or want to keep the deck easier to acquire you don't have to, but to make the deck as competitive as possible I would expect to see Tarmogoyf in here. It has plenty of ways to build it up fast with discard spells and makes for a good draw at any stage of the game. With some fetch lands, it's a pretty easy to find the green mana you need to cast it reliably.

And while we're talking about a fetch-land mana base, another noticeably absent card is Deathrite Shaman. Being able to power out three-drops like Ashiok a turn earlier is pretty strong, and even just setting yourself up to unload your hand quicker in the early game is plenty potent. Plus, both of the Shaman's other abilities are quite relevant here as well—the green one to recoup a bit from Confidant and Thoughtseize, and the black one to help close out the game. Once again, perhaps it's not the most exciting or original development, but if I'm trying to optimize this deck, four copies of Tarmogoyf and Deathrite Shaman are the path I would walk down here.

Dark Confidant

Dark Confidant is one of my favorite cards to cast of all time, and I probably don't have to sell you on why it is usually awesome. (And especially so in this deck, which has a low curve and wants to keep up on cards as much as possible so it can attrition its opponent further.) So instead of saying why Dark Confidant is good, here's a picture of cute ducklings instead:

Photo Courtesy of Brad Singley

Inquisition of Kozilek

These discard spells make up a huge core of the deck. There are so many powerful things you can do in Modern that being able to deny them for a single mana early on (and then again with Snapcaster Mage) is incredibly strong.

The upside of running a ton of these kinds of card is you will usually have one (and often multiples) to slow down your opponent in the early game. The downside is then several of your later draws are dead since they're discard spells and your opponent has no hand.

On the whole, these cards are just so integral that I still want plenty of them. The number I'd like to play is seven total. Out of the two, I'd lean toward four Inquisition of Kozileks since it's similar, and also to slightly reduce the life loss this deck is dealing itself.

In addition, I'd like to add some copies of Liliana of the Veil. She's too strong in Modern to not play in a deck like this, and she ironically gives your excess discard spells a second use as fodder to discard to her in case you were going to be discarding another card. Modern is a format with plenty of single threats, and Liliana both picks off those creatures and fights your opponent's hand. Sign me up for three.

Mana Leak

Continuing the theme of cards Gavin loves to play in tournaments, Remand and Mana Leak are two fantastic counterspells that fit well into Modern decks. Cheap to cast and highly effective, these are both two great options.

However, while there are certainly decks where I'd be interested in playing both, this isn't one of them. This deck has plenty of discard to pluck away their threats, and Liliana makes having a gripful of counterspells far less enticing. Additionally, between Liliana and Ashiok, this deck is going to be tapping out when it has three mana a fair bit. The question is: which would this deck rather have?

Remand works well with some of the discard spells and Liliana, sending your opponent's card back and allowing a discard effect to strip it away. On the other hand, a lot of Modern plays are low mana, meaning that, often, your opponent will be able to recast whatever you Remand without much trouble—and often on the same turn. Mana Leak, on the other hand, is reliable. It will usually counter what you need it to hit without a huge other benefit or a downside.

Because this deck has Snapcaster Mage, I'm actually a fan of mixing and matching on some spells. I'd rather draw one copy of each and then have Snapcaster flexibility than draw two of a single counterspell. I'm going to split them here two-and-two, leaving me with four two-mana counterspells but retaining some variety.

Serum Visions

An important lesson to remember is that every card we play comes at the cost of excluding another card. While if I could just snap my fingers and have Serum Visions materialize in my hand at a random point in the game I'd certainly do that, putting it in our deck over another card means we are drawing this instead of our other card.

And while Serum Visions does find us a new card, which make that less of an issue, if I don't have the mana to spend early on I'd rather know what I'm getting and plan around it—and with plenty of one-mana discard spells, two-mana creatures and counterspells, and three-mana Planeswalkers in my deck, there isn't a lot of room for Visions to slot in on the curve.

Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver

The new card on the block, Ashiok is pretty interesting to me in a deck like this for the reasons I mentioned in the beginning: good Modern creatures are cheap to cast and Ashiok is superb in attrition wars. And with the addition of Deathrite Shaman, Ashiok can come down on turn two and start up the engine very quickly!

In the right situation, Ashiok really is your opponent's worst nightmare and your... well, more like a really-good-mare. Ashiok might be more of a two-of card than a three-of, but I'd rather start with three, see how that works, and then consider moving down to two. If Ashiok ends up not performing well at all, then the card I would consider for that slot instead is Vendilion Clique.

Black Sun's Zenith

In a format where the board is so often dominated by one creature, board sweepers aren't as sought after as pinpoint removal is. (Which is why Liliana of the Veil is so powerful.) While there are decks that can spit out a ton of creatures, like Affinity/Robots or Birthing Pod, more often than not it seems like you're staring across from a 5-power Tarmogoyf that's threatening to end the game in two swings.

Black Sun's Zenith is not only weak at killing threats like Tarmogoyf, but it also has some unfortunate anti-synergy with playing cards like Dark Confidant, where you might end up killing off your own creatures. And now with the addition of more creatures, Zenith looks even less exciting.

I wanted some pinpoint removal in this deck from the moment I saw it, and fortunately there is plenty of good pinpoint removal to choose from. I'd like four pieces total. (In addition to Liliana.) And, similarly to how I split Remand and Mana Leak to give Snapcaster Mage some flexibility, I'd like to do the same thing here: split similar removal spells to have Snapcaster flexibility. (Not to mention so I'm less likely to draw two copies of the same dead removal spell.)

The first card I want to add is Abrupt Decay. It kills off a lot of the cheap, early threats you want to remove in a deck like this while also serving as a game-changing answer to cards like Cranial Plating. I'd like two of these.

To sit alongside that, I'd like two copies of Go for the Throat. It's another great targeted piece of removal that hits a little different spectrum than Decay.

What does that bring the deck to? Well, with all of those changes made, we end up like this:

Gavin Verhey's Modern Nightmares

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If you're looking for other avenues to take this deck down, you could certainly consider a more controlling version. Cryptic Command is a card I considered pretty heavily for this deck, but it just barely didn't make the cut to keep the converted mana cost down for Dark Confidant and to help keep the curve low in general. However, there are certainly versions that could have it.

I could also see a version made to be more aggressive, that sported Vendilion Clique. Or, if you wanted to cut the Planeswalkers and some of the creatures, you could even look into a BUG Delver of Secrets-style deck with a shell like this.

Cryptic Command

Regardless, however you choose to play it, I hope you enjoy. Have fun in Modern!

Honorable Mentions

What were some of the more exciting Modern decks that were sent in this week? Let's take a look!

Qoarl's Elementation

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Matt Johnson's Devotion to Death

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Darcy Kellock's Boros Humans

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Tony Youssef's Modern Mogis's Marauder

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Juan Molinares's Hate Lions

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Eddie Taylor's Enchantress

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Nik's Bant Ordeals

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Ants's "Mono"-Green Beats

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Cave's Bazaar Affairs

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Gabe Wildon's (Mostly) Mono-Black Midrange

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Simon Harris's Life from the Swans

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Greg Markowitz's Mono-White Control

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Waking Up From a Nightmare

I hope you enjoyed this take on Modern! You might be wondering what the next challenge is. Well, it's a doozy! Several people have asked me to do another Commander article, and Commander Week is coming up. So, that means it is time: send me your Commander decks!

Format: Commander
Restrictions: None!
Deadline: Monday, October 21, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time
Submit all decklists by clicking on "respond via email" below. Please submit decklists using the following template. (The specific numbers below are arbitrary, so please don't feel a need to use them—it's just how an example of how a decklist should look when laid out.)

Yourname's Deckname

20 Land
20 Land
1 Creature
1 Creature
1 Other Spell
1 Other Spell
1 Planeswalker

It's always interesting to see what crazy Commander stuff you are all up to! I'm excited to take a look at what you send me this time around.

In the meantime, if you have any comments on this article at all feel free to send me your thoughts via the forums or Twitter. I'd love to hear what you think.

I'll be back next week with a take on heroic for Heroic Week! Talk to you then!


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