Modern Sultai Swings

Posted in Reconstructed on February 3, 2015

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.

Modern. America's capitol. A few hundred of the best players in Magic. This weekend.

We're sitting in the wake of a completely changed-up format. Treasure Cruise, Dig Through Time, and Birthing Pod are all gone. An entirely new set—Fate Reforged—and a card that's never existed unbanned banned in Modern—Golgari Grave-Troll—have been thrown into the mix.

Pro Tour Fate Reforged is going to be a Pro Tour to remember.

As competitors around the world keep on trying to crack the Rubik's Cube-esque nut of Modern in preparation for this weekend, I want to take a look at what some of the new cards add into the format. While Modern is a deeper card pool than Standard, that certainly doesn't mean Fate Reforged will be exempt from the decks there. And since it's Sultai Week, all the cards I'll talk about are going to be Sultai!

"A bunch of new decks in a format as deep as Modern that feature new cards AND are all Sultai? Gavin, you're crazy!" Well, first, thanks for the compliment—crazy is one of the highest praises a deck builder can receive. But, that aside, you might be surprised by how much innovation there is even within this narrow band of Modern.

But enough chatter: it's time for some decks!

Ready? Let's go!

A Different Kind of 'Morph

There are many cards poised in Fate Reforged to potentially make an impact in Modern. Monastery Mentor. Alesha, Who Smiles at Death. Maybe even Shamanic Revelation. All potential powerhouses in their own way.

But no doubt as you were combing through set reviews, you settled in on one card as the most powerful, defining, and world-changing card in Fate Reforged.

I don't know that I need to really need to go on much further, as I'm sure you rushed out and traded for your play set already. So I'll just cut to the chase.

We all know which card I'm talking about:

Yes, that's right—Cloudform, of course!

Okay, so I might have been a tad hyperbolic before. And you're probably wondering what in the world this Limited-playable uncommon has to do with Modern at all.

Well, it has to do with a kind of morph. But perhaps not the kind of morph you're thinking of.

It's this kind of 'morph that's on my mind:

You see, Cloudform is something very, very unique in the entire Magic Multiverse: a functional creature with hexproof that isn't actually a creature.

Normally, with Polymorph decks, you aim to create a token and then Polymorph it into Emrakul. (Or whichever other absurd creature you choose.) The problem, of course, is that your opponent can kill the token in response to the Polymorph, which crumples your entire plan. As a result, you have to play ways to clear the way for your token.

Cloudform changes all that.

Now you can just Polymorph your Cloudformed creature and know it's pretty safe, save for something like Abrupt Decay plus Lightning Bolt. You can even just naturally curve turn-three Cloudform into turn-four Polymorph!

Couple this core with a bunch of card digging, some disruptive discard, and removal, and you have a pretty consistent turn-four or five Emrakul poised to annihilate your opponent.

Let's take a look:

Gavin Verhey's Sultai Polymorph

Download Arena Decklist

You'll notice that the other engine this deck has in addition to Cloudform is Dryad Arbor. While it is a bit of a risk—if you, say, have turn-three Cloudform into turn four Polymorph and can't fetch up your Dryad Arbor you'll either need to wait or hope you don't hit your Dryad Arbor—it also lets you Polymorph out of absolutely nowhere. If your opponent isn't expecting it, you can just crack a fetch land at the end of your opponent's turn for Dryad Arbor and then untap and slip that Arbor some polyjuice potion. Perfect!

Note that if you draw both of your Emrakuls, you can always Thoughtseize yourself to shuffle one of them back in. (Which means you don't need to play a card like See Beyond or Thirst for Knowledge.)

There are certainly other ways to build this deck—for example, you could try a red build with Through the Breach or a version that also has Goryo's Vengeance to pair with Thoughtseizeing yourself and some other discard. This is just the shell—but in this brand-new format, there very well may be something here.

Dredge, Value Edition

You only really need one word to strike fear into the hearts of experienced players everywhere: dredge.

Dredge has, for the most part, remained dormant in Modern since the format's inception. Save for a Dredgevine deck here and there, you don't really see a lot of Stinkweed Imps running around the Modern tables.

That may be about to change.

With both Golgari Grave-Troll around and some new delve entries onto the scene, you can make a pretty compelling Dredgevine deck. I'd start with something like this:

Gavin Verhey's The Hungry Earth

Download Arena Decklist

Okay, so it's not really all that blue. But since it has Tasigur in it, I'll give it a pass as a Sultai deck.

The way this kind of deck works is more as a creature-centric strategy, where your creatures continually come back and are hard to deal with. Dealing with Bloodghast or Vengevine permanently is pretty difficult, and the Grave-Troll doesn't just dredge 6 here—it packs a punch as a creature, too!

In any case, this deck can present some huge threats very quickly and clog the board. Since you aren't playing any mana Elves and can run well on low resources, Smallpox makes for an excellent way to completely stop the tempo blasts of some decks so you can grind them out with your array of cheap, recursive creatures.

Dredge, You're Dead Edition

But Dredgevine isn't the reason people are terrified of dredge. If being hit by a couple Vengevines on turn three is what scares you about dredge, then you haven't ever stared down the ferocity of a truly dredge-focused deck.

Those are the kinds of decks that we here at Wizards work hard to make sure don't exist—and players, just as hard, try to create. They've been absent from Modern, but now that Grave-Troll is back, it's finally time to build one.

You see, not only does Golgari Grave-Troll add a dredge 6 into the dredge deck, but it also builds up a critical mass of cards that dredge for high numbers. Between Stinkweed Imp and Golgari Grave-Troll, you can flip your entire deck pretty quickly.

So let's do something crazy.

As somebody who has started working on Dredge the moment I heard about Narcomoeba and Bridge from Below, I've gone through a lot of iterations and ideas of the craziest format. I've played it in Standard. I've played it in Extended. I've played it in Legacy. And now I'm going to try and make it something to play in Modern.

The way the traditional deck played out is that you'd use a way to discard and then start dredging right away, trying to dredge as fast as possible using big card-draw spells like Breakthrough. Narcomoeba made for a free creature, and then once you flipped three Narcomoebas you could flashback Dread Return, reanimating something huge—or just a Flame-Kin Zealot to give all of your Zombies from Bridge from Below haste and kill your opponent!

The tricky part, of course, is that Dread Return is banned. That means it's not only hard to reanimate something but (often just as importantly) sacrifice creatures to trigger your Bridge From Belows. But that won't stop me.

There are a couple cards in addition to just Grave-Troll that can help us out quite a bit.

The first is the brand-new card from Fate Reforged, Dark Deal.

Dark Deal pitches your hand, then lets you draw a bunch of cards…and if you discarded cards with dredge, you can end up dredging a ton of times as each dredge flips into more dredgers. And, unlike Shattered Perception, it also has the benefit of messing with your opponent's hand—which, if powered out quickly, can take away his or her disruption in the process!

On the other side of the spectrum, another not-even-close-to-new but pretty wild card engine card for Dredge is this classic:

In past versions of Dredge I worked on for tournaments, I looked into Greater Good as an engine to get the deck rolling. After all, you basically can just flip your entire deck with a single Greater Good pretty easily. Sacrifice a creature, get some number of Zombie tokens with Bridge From Below, dredge something back, then discard the dredgers in your hand. Although the Zombie tokens don't spawn more Zombie tokens, you should hit enough Narcomoebas to continue this chain and end up with extra Zombies.

With Dread Return, you never needed it. But without Dread Return, Greater Good is a sacrifice and draw engine all in one! That's exactly what you need!

So, once you flip your entire deck over, how do you win?

Well, there are a few routes you can go down.

On one hand, you can just assume that a legion of Bloodghasts, Zombies, and Narcomoebas left over will be enough. On the other hand, you can play a white source and try and flash back an Unburial Rites.

If you go the Unburial Rites direction, there are a few viable options. Craterhoof Behemoth or Flame-Kin Zealot are two. (If you wanted to go really far, you could even try to reanimate a Thermopod and then sacrifice everything to try and fuel a Devil's Play!)

Here's what I came up with:

Gavin Verhey's Greater Dredge

Download Arena Decklist

This is an early attempt of a deck like this, but if I was qualified for the Pro Tour, I would spend at least some time iterating on a decklist like this one. I built it on Magic Online and gave it a whirl, and it definitely felt powerful when it got working. The key is just figuring out what the right package is!

It's very possible that a version that's a hybrid of both dredge decks that uses a Vengevine grinding engine and can also just kill with Greater Good might be the best of both worlds. Give it a try and see what you can do with it!

Capitol Awesome

Have fun trying out some of these concepts for yourself! There's still plenty of newness poised to show up at the Pro Tour—will Ugin land in Urzatron decks? Will anybody try Shamanic Revelation Elves? Who will be the first person to power out a Temporal Trespass off a Golgari Grave-Troll?

I don't know if any of that will happen this weekend—but I'm definitely going to stay tuned as closely as I can to find out.

There's no deck-building mission this week, but if you're feeling at a loss for building new decks, feel free to send me what you'd build and play with for the Pro Tour weekend on my Twitter or Tumblr! I'd love to hear about what you're expecting.

And, of course, if you have any thoughts or questions on this article at all please send them my way on Twitter or Tumblr as well! It's always great to hear from you.

Next week, we'll be taking another look at Sultai—but Standard this time! With the Pro Tour this weekend, I wanted to be sure to cover Modern so I moved looking at all of the Standard decks you sent in two weeks ago to next week—so join me next time as I go through those!

Have a great week everybody—and enjoy the Pro Tour!




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