Shards of Tarkir

Posted in ARCHIVES - ARTICLES on September 19, 2014

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

It takes a lot to change Modern, as any new set is competing with what is now eleven years of Magic cards. Some sets add as little as one card, and some don't even get quite that far. Khans of Tarkir may be poised to add more than that, although it has a somewhat fetching advantage to begin with.


While I'm not surprised that we didn't get the fetch lands back while the Ravnica shock lands were in Standard, you may be wondering exactly how much it changes things to have the full ten fetch lands available in Modern, given that the five from Zendikar were already present. I actually think it's pretty relevant, and could definitely lead to new decks as a result.

Mana Bases Are Now Less Painful and More Efficient

Even if we start just by looking at current decks, we can see an impact on what their mana bases end up looking like. Now, the allied colors can fetch up more basics and fewer shock lands, which leads to fewer points of life lost and a much greater resistance to Blood Moon. Take an existing Melira Pod mana base:

3 Forest
3 Gavony Township
1 Godless Shrine
2 Marsh Flats
3 Misty Rainforest
2 Overgrown Tomb
3 Razorverge Thicket
1 Swamp
1 Temple Garden
4 Verdant Catacombs

Instead of playing Misty Rainforest, the deck can now play Windswept Heath, which not only lets it fetch Godless Shrine, but facilitates the addition of a Plains. Marsh Flats could easily become more Windswept Heaths, given how much more likely you are to want to get basic Forest than basic Swamp, especially because the main reason they were in before was to get Godless Shrine and Overgrown Tomb.

3 Forest
3 Gavony Township
1 Godless Shrine
2 Overgrown Tomb
1 Plains
3 Razorverge Thicket
1 Swamp
1 Temple Garden
4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Windswept Heath

This mana base takes a lot less damage and gets to play more basic Forests and Plains, and that's the sort of upgrade you can expect from adding fetch lands to already-established decks. Jund has a similar mana base, but gets even more out of the fetch lands because it's a double-allied combination (like all the shards), and I'd expect that mana base to change even more.

The net result of all this is that two members of the fun police might have to turn in their badges, or at least get demoted:

Both the card Blood Moon and the burn deck are greatly aided by the state of Modern mana, and given that mana is taking a turn for the better, they can't help but get weaker. Blood Moon especially takes a pretty solid hit, and I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes a significant amount less popular as a result of Khans of Tarkir. It still gets some decks that can't avoid it, like Tron, but once many of the three-color decks get to add two to four basic lands to their deck for free, it seems hard to justify relying too much on Blood Moon. I don't have much of a problem with that, because like I said before, Blood Moon is the fun police, and I like being able to cast my spells.

Burn doesn't take nearly as big of a hit, especially because fetch lands still require a life payment. Some decks will be increasing their numbers of lands that deal damage, although I do think that the overall trend is for decks to take less damage. Jund can now use Wooded Foothills to get Mountain and cast Lightning Bolt rather than having to sacrifice Misty Rainforest to get Stomping Ground, and Pod will be able to crack Windswept Heath to get the white mana it needs instead of being forced into grabbing Temple Garden. We are only talking about a couple points of damage per game, but when your deck is based on casting Lava Spikes until you win, a couple points of damage is almost like taking a mulligan. Again, no tears will be shed by me, even if I understand why people enjoy playing Burn.

New Arrivals Have Landed

So far, I've just looked at how fetch lands change some of the existing three-color decks, but it's also worth considering how they might enable a deck to exist that previously wasn't quite there. The main contender for that spot seems like it could be Grixis, as the addition of Polluted Delta and Bloodstained Mire could help it compete with Jeskai Control, at least on a mana-base level.

It seems like a small change, and one could argue that other three-color shards existed before fetch lands (like Jund), but when so many of the cards are similar, a change in mana base might be all it needed to be competitive. Cruel Ultimatum is not an easy card to cast, but one I always want to at least try.

Grixis Control

This isn't significantly different from Grixis decks of months past, but the upgraded mana helps a lot. Whether it helps enough, that I don't know, but I think this is an example of what kind of decks open up once you have all the fetch lands at your disposal.

More Charming Additions

Lands aren't the only thing Khans is bringing to the table, and the card I'm most excited about actually casting is one of the more versatile cards in the set.

This is already heralded as likely the best Charm in Standard, and I think that may extend to Modern as well. It does a couple things pretty well, and does them while being the colors of multiple good decks.

The removal mode is what makes this plausible, as killing Tarmogoyf, Kitchen Finks, anything with Cranial Plating, and large Scavenging Oozes is solid. The fact that it doesn't protect you from the Splinter Twin combo is a big drawback, and if anything kills this card's chances, it's that. Still, I think the prospect of a removal spell that also has the mode of drawing two cards is pretty enticing, and not just because I will use any excuse to play Divination. Abzan Charm is just tailor-made for Tarmogoyf mirrors, and if you look at the third ability, that becomes even more clear. Making your Goyf murder your opponent's in a fight is insane, and being able to cash in your removal spell to draw a couple cards is huge when both players have drawn all removal and no threats.

In fact, being able to play a removal spell that isn't dead against creature-light (or -less) decks is a much bigger advantage than it may initially seem. Part of the problem with these midrange decks is that they play a ton of removal, and that can get them into trouble when they face decks that are resistant to that. Having a slot that still deals with at least some of the problematic creatures in the format that can also help you get through your deck and find a threat is a big edge.

Abzan Midrange

Abzan Charm certainly doesn't change how the deck fundamentally plays, but it can make it less susceptible to flood (mana flood or removal flood both), and it still kills the ever-present Tarmogoyfs you find in any Modern tournament.

In a perfect world, Siege Rhino also finds a way to horn in on this Modern action, but I'm a little less sure about that one. I've always had a soft spot for Loxodon Hierarchs, and Siege Rhino is the best Hierarch we've seen in a while, but when Tarmogoyf is as big as your four-drop, it's a little unfortunate. Still, Obstinate Baloth sees play, and whether the resistance to discard (which really means Liliana of the Veil) is better than more toughness, trample, and 3 to the opponent is yet to be seen. If your deck cares a lot about dealing 3 damage and attacking, Siege Rhino might make the cut, but that pretty much rules out Pod (and Pod doesn't even always play Obstinate Baloth to begin with).

It's been a while since I've seen Pyromancer Ascension see play in Modern, but Jeskai Ascendancy actually could be insane in the deck. The name is even a clue, and the effect does play into what Ascension wants to do. Making all of your spells come with a free loot attached lets you burn through your deck incredibly quickly and makes Ascension active almost instantly. Playing a three-mana spell that costs an awkward amount of mana is a stretch, I know, and it's possible that this deck would have to be completely rebuilt to take advantage of what Jeskai Ascendancy offers. Still, here's a look at what a standard Ascension deck looks like with just two Ascendancies, which are in fact playable off Manamorphose.

Jeskai Ascension

Playing a card that gives you five to ten cycling triggers in a turn seems powerful enough to at least try, even if this isn't the right shell for it. Wanting to fill your graveyard makes it seem like a natural fit to me, and I don't think it's implausible that a card with as much potential as Jeskai Ascendancy doesn't see play somewhere.

My first experience with actual Khans of Tarkir cards is going to be this Saturday at the Prerelease, and I'd encourage anyone who loves playing Magic to go. Prereleases are awesome, and this set looks incredibly fun!

LSV

We use cookies on this site to personalize content and ads, provide social media features and analyze web traffic. By clicking YES, you are consenting for us to set cookies. (Learn more about cookies)

No, I want to find out more