Bringing Modern to Light

Posted in Top Decks on December 25, 2015

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).

With the end of the year nearly upon us, we're taking two weeks to revisit the best articles from DailyMTG in 2015. If you didn't catch some of these the first time around, do yourself a favor and read on. Then, join us back on December 28 as Oath of the Gatewatch previews get underway in earnest!

Happy Holidays!

One of the coolest parts of a new set's release is seeing what combos the new cards enable. Every time a set comes out, it shakes up Constructed—but I'm talking about more than that. I'm talking about specific interactions that weren't around before, because those have a very different feel than normal decks full of new cards. I'm not saying those aren't interesting too, because they are, but what really expands the borders of Magic are the unique combinations that become possible. Let's take a look at what Battle for Zendikar has to offer.

This one has a lot of people talking. When you combine these two cards, you get as many Knight of the Reliquary activations as you have Plains and Forests in your deck (with extra Retreat triggers to boot, thanks to lands like Windswept Heath), which looks a little something like this:

Step 1: Cast Knight of the Reliquary

Step 2: Cast Retreat to Coralhelm

Step 3: Activate Knight until you run out of Forests and Plains, tapping your opponent's blockers while you are at it (if you use the Knight to fetch a fetch land). Attack for 20+.

That's a pretty simple combo, and one of the cards is a great card by itself, which is always a good sign.

Here's one take on a Knight Retreat deck:

LSV's Knight Retreat

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This deck is built to take advantage of the fact that Knight of the Reliquary is just a good card, and as such is very capable of winning games where the Retreat doesn't show up. Serum Visions and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy help the deck dig, and all of the interactive spells let the deck keep opponents off their game plan.

Geist of Saint Traft and Tarmogoyf are the backup plan, and Geist in particular is good in concert with the one-drop accelerators. Playing a turn-two Geist and following it up with a counterspell or removal spell is an easy way to win the game, and Geist even plays well with Retreat to Coralhelm. Play Geist, then play Retreat and start tapping down blockers!

If you draw Knight but don't draw Retreat, you may just be able to attack the opponent to death with a 5/5. If it's the other way around, Retreat can help scry into Knight, and even combos with Jace to get multiple loots in. Jace is another card that I think isn't seeing enough play right now, and I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up making more appearances.

Knight of the Reliquary is already a card that a couple decks include, and the printing of Retreat to Coralhelm makes it a much more interesting threat. I'd like to see what that combo enables, especially given that you can make a more all-in version if you really want:

LSV's All-In Retreat

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This version essentially gives up on winning anything but a game where you assemble the combo, and uses Commune with the Gods and Dispel to facilitate that. Lotus Cobra can help pay for Communes, and Remand becomes the counterspell of choice once you are looking to end the game before your opponent can replay whatever it is you Remanded.

I'd start with the fairer version, because one of the big strengths of this combo is that Knight is a strong card in a fair deck, but I could see the all-in version offering some valid advantages.

Bring to Light is a one-card combo, a deck in and of itself, and there's no limit to what it can become. Well, technically the limit is its converted mana cost of 5, but that's still a very wide range of cards, especially in Modern. What excites me about Bring to Light is that Modern is full of powerful "silver bullets," which is a term commonly used to describe answers that slay specific decks ("silver bullets kill werewolves" being the complete analogy).

My first thought is to put Bring to Light in a deck that naturally wants one-of's and already has a mana base that can accommodate it. You really want access to four colors of mana if you are playing Bring to Light, and once you are there, getting the fifth isn't that hard. This deck is a four-color deck, but has six mana creatures and a Stomping Ground that can provide red mana, with the Stomping Ground fetchable by no fewer than eight fetchlands.

LSV's Bringing Gifts

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Make no mistake, this is still a Gifts deck, but that synergizes perfectly with Bring to Light. Here are some common Gifts piles.

The main combo in the deck is one I'm well-acquainted with: Cast Gifts Ungiven, select only Unburial Rites and Elesh Norn (or Iona, Shield of Emeria, if you are playing against a deck with more spells than creatures), and your opponent is forced to put both into your graveyard. Flash back Unburial Rites and win the game with your expensive reanimation target.

Against opposing control decks or decks like Amulet Bloom or Red-Green Tron, you can get this disruption package. Life from the Loam lets you recur Ghost Quarter (or Tectonic Edge) against a mana base full of nonbasics, and Raven's Crime lets you discard excess lands to wipe your opponent's hand. Urbog allows you to cast Raven's Crime off of any land, even fetch lands, though you can certainly swap that one out if you have enough black. Lingering Souls also commonly goes in this pile, as the flashback lets it generate value no matter where it lands.

Sometimes you just need to kill a creature, and getting four removal spells means you are guaranteed at least two of them. Damnation and Engineered Explosives can also slot in here, as well as Inquisition of Kozilek or Thoughtseize if the opponent still has a bunch of cards in hand.

These two are the cards you get if you absolutely need something specific. By getting Snapcaster and Witness, you have access to any spell you put into the pile, or any spell you've used previously this game. Having effects like this in a Gifts deck is extremely powerful.

It turns out that Unburial Rites is a castable card, and you can just get it plus a bunch of high-quality creatures and run your opponent over. I like getting these game-ending threats, especially in the face of removal, because Rites, Thragtusk, and Archmage are extremely resilient.

Remember that in any of these piles you can swap one or two cards depending on the situation, and figuring out what you want is a huge part of this deck. Now, let's take a look at what our new addition brings.

Bring to Light | Art by Jonas De Ro

Bring to Light adds a new dimension to the deck, though funnily enough, its effect is most felt after sideboarding. It is definitely powerful in Game 1, as it functions as an extra copy of Gifts Ungiven (which the deck certainly wants), while also being able to get any of the answer cards in the deck if you are short on time. Finding and immediately casting Damnation or Sultai Charm is a great option to have, and once you hit all five colors of mana, Bring to Light can pick up Thragtusk or Baneslayer as well.

Bring to Light not only makes this deck more consistent, because it is another three copies of Gifts Ungiven, but it makes it more flexible. Having access to every card (with just a couple exceptions) makes Bring to Light the best split card ever, and this deck already wanted to play a wide range of options to be able to get.

Still, where the light really shines is during sideboarding. Modern is a format populated by linear (which is to say, very focused) decks, and sometimes it can be very hard to interact with those decks. Against a deck like Storm, if you don't have hand disruption, you can't really do much to stop them. Living End requires graveyard hate, Affinity artifact hate, and the list goes on. It's nearly impossible to cover all of your bases, so most of the time you just have to predict what you will face in a given tournament, and go from there. Bring to Light makes that less true, and gives you the power to play a ton of one-of answers without sacrificing consistency.

Take a look at this sideboard (with the decks each card is meant for listed by the card):

It's filled with these powerful cards that hose particular strategies, all of which turn into four-ofs once you factor in Bring to Light. Granted, they now cost five mana, but I'm willing to pay five mana for something like Creeping Corrosion against Affinity, or Eidolon of Rhetoric against Storm.

All the anti-linear cards are chosen for their effectiveness, with the idea being that resolving a Bring to Light does a lot of work towards winning that game. That also lets the deck focus on the fair decks with the rest of the sideboard, and that explains the multiple copies of Lingering Souls and Timely Reinforcements (plus the very midrange main deck).

There are plenty more interesting Bring to Light decks lurking in Modern, with Bring to Light in Scapeshift being the one I'm most curious about. I'm going to start with this Gifts deck, because I love the card Gifts Ungiven, and because Bring to Light may give the deck the power and consistency it needs to really compete in Modern.

I'm looking forward to trying these new cards, and think that Battle for Zendikar is going to impact Modern more than any recent set except Khans of Tarkir (but there's no need to delve into that particular bit of history).


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