Choose Your Own Fate

Posted in Top Decks on March 8, 2012

By Mike Flores

Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."

For Fate Week, I decided to highlight some (more) of the various—and widely varied—ways players have earned themselves Blue Envelopes over this mighty Modern meta.

Coming up:

The Bump Deck
Esper-Everything Affinity
White-Black Tokens
Blue-Red Faeries
Red-White-Blue Aggro

So... lots and lots of different kinds of decks. Some seen before. Many different takes and some really unusual takes. New ideas and resurrections of classic ones.

... All capable of earning the coveted invitation to the Pro Tour.

Choose your fate!

The Bump Deck

Andy Burden's Bump Deck

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Andy Burden took down a Louisville, KY, PTQ last month with this super-efficient burn deck.

Lava Spike
Bump in the Night

Reminiscent of the Lava Spike deck, Burden did, in fact, play ye ole Lava Spike. He played Lightning Bolt (the Cadillac of burn, of course), Lava Spike, and (sort of Lightning Bolt, given the tenor of the deck) Bump in the Night. The baseline strategy of this deck is that there are tons and tons of cards that do 2–3 damage, typically for one mana, so it doesn't take a whole lot of them to count to 20.

Heck, he even had Shard Volley as a one-mana-for-3-damage spell!

Shard Volley

The Bump deck has avenues to card advantage in Dark Confidant (very low risk here, as the vast majority of the cards are so cheap), and a kind of red look at card advantage in Searing Blaze (advances the goal of the deck while actually trading with a card). Burst Lightning isn't much worse than Lightning Bolt (which is, again, the Cadillac), and sometimes it hits 4 damage rather than just 2.

Dark Confidant
Searing Blaze

The picture of efficiency, the Bump deck can win quickly for a non-combo deck and is particularly punishing in a format full of both Zendikar Block and Ravnica Block dual lands so often working in the same decks.

That said, it is probably fair to say that Bump is not a powerhouse. Dark Confidant is powerful (in-context), but it's not like the deck can attack for infinite on turn four or annihilate all the opponent's permanents with a Through the Breach...

... but it has some tools to deal with decks throwing those kinds of haymakers.

Esper-Everything Affinity

susbus's Esper-Everything Affinity

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So... what's different?

We've seen Arcbound Ravager decks—and Ravager decks claiming invitations—all over this format. But most of those were either straight red or red-based with Shrapnel Blast and Galvanic Blast as finishers, Blood Moon in the sideboard as a spoiler.

The deck susbus played is blue-black. Black gives it Dark Confidant (lots of 0–2 mana cards make the downside slim) and blue gives it Master of Etherium (top of the curve at a whopping three mana). Master of Etherium makes all the tiny 0/1 and 1/1 monsters into real threats, and they, in turn make the Master monstrous.

Master of Etherium

The blue-black deck Espers up a bit with Ethersworn Canonist in the sideboard (a foil for decks like Storm), and Glimmervoid and Welding Jar help set up red (and green!) for Whipflare (essentially no downside) and Ancient Grudge (so much upside).

Ethersworn Canonist
Ancient Grudge

Ancient Grudge... now that is a card. When it shows up, the opponent can really see his or her fate.


Nick Gold's RUG Aggro

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RUG is a collection of the cross-format All-Stars of like every available format. It has the best offensive creatures—Delver of Secrets and Tarmogoyf—as well as the powerful and flexible Snapcaster Mage, Grim Lavamancer, and Vendilion Clique.

Delver of Secrets

RUG can put the opponent on a fast clock (obviously) and protect that clock with a surprising amount of permission. Gold played sixteen counterspells, including ten two-mana counters and a pair of Cryptic Commands.

Spell Pierce
Cryptic Command

Gold rounded out his main deck instants with (again) the super-efficient Lightning Bolt and that pretty comparable Burst Lightning.

After boards, his deck provides more of the same efficiency and quality. Ancient Grudge is like the definition of Best of the Best... but what about the other cards? Sulfur Elemental might seem like a weird red-aggro addition, but remember, it also locks down both Martyr of Sands and any unenhanced white tech. Threads of Disloyalty is maybe best turned onto an opposing Tarmogoyf.

Sulfur Elemental
Threads of Disloyalty

RUG is a flexible deck based on the quality of its individual cards... but what about those other two colors?

White-Black Tokens

Henry Romero's White-Black Tokens

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This Modern deck is reminiscent of the Standard powerhouse that LSV took to a PT finals a few years back. Again, we see powerful individual threats (Tidehollow Sculler and Hero of Bladehold can, in their ways, direct the course of a game), but the white-black has a specific agenda beyond pure efficiency: Raise the Alarm, Lingering Souls, Spectral Procession.

Lingering Souls
Raise the Alarm

With the release of Lingering Souls in Dark Ascension, we have hit a critical point for token production. There are lots of token-producing cards, and the white-black brewers now have access to tricky speed in Raise the Alarm (two mana) and the one-card tidal wave of Spectral Procession (perfect pairing with Windbrisk Heights) from the past, plus Lingering Souls and Hero of Bladehold from the present.

Spectral Procession
Hero of Bladehold

Yes, these are all "good cards" (well, maybe Raise the Alarm isn't that good), but the crossover and redundancy allows white-black to gain huge value from Intangible Virtue and onetime "best planeswalker in Standard," Ajani Goldmane.

Wait a second...

How does this...

Why do we...

What's the point of concentrating on tokens anyway?

Raise the Alarm, from some dimension, is 2 power (and 2 toughness) for two mana. When well wrought, Spectral Procession is 3 and 3 for three. However, it is quite evident these cards far outstrip Grizzly Bears and Trained Armodon in terms of efficacy. We can call (such efficient) token production "card advantage" (in that power and toughness is spread across multiple bodies). So when Ajani buffs the squad, your jump isn't from 2-to-3 or 3-to-4 but 2-to-4 and 3-to-6.

Ajani Goldmane

So that's why a player like Romero might dip a little bit in terms of card quality for a Raise the Alarm... the payback across lots of different cards over-performs in aggregate.

The kinds of cards Romero went with allow him to slow down and interact with faster or more powerful decks (Inquisition of Kozilek), including putting the opponent on a clock at the same time (Tidehollow Sculler). He has a fair number of great anti-beatdown and anti-red capabilities in the side (Kitchen Finks, Kor Firewalker), although the White-Black Tokens strategy as a whole has always been robust against conventional beatdown (you can leave some bodies back to block while attacking with others and constantly expanding your footprint on the battlefield).

Overall, an exciting list from my perspective, refreshingly different and reminiscent at the same time.

Speaking of that confusion of "different" and "reminiscent," check out Chi Hoi Yim's take on the fae:

Blue-Red Faeries

Chi Hoi Yim's Blue-Red Faeries

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At the cost of just a small handful of lands, Yim was able to graft significant additional functionality onto the already successful base-blue Faeries model. Consider:

  • It's really Arid Mesa and company that allow Yim to play red. Conveniently, Zendikar sac duals are good friends with Grim Lavamancer!
  • ... plus... all the removal.
Grim Lavamancer
Arid Mesa

Lightning Bolt is a fine measure of additional functionality but it's not like that card—especially as a three-of only—breaks all matchups. If you really want to deal with more creatures in straight blue you can do stuff like play more Vedalken Shackles or go crazy with faster response cards without dipping into more colors. Which is not to say that Lightning Bolt isn't both super flexible and super good... more that cards like Ancient Grudge (again, very little incremental cost on the green at this point) and—especially, Firespout—take the Faeries strategy into wildly different directions.


Like... what if you are in a foot race, but all your guys fly (they mostly do)? Your opponent is laying guy after guy on the ground to bowl you over, you steal a turn with a Clique, hit with the other Clique, get in a good block. Your opponent is like, "No way am I losing a race to a bunch of blue guys! I don't care if they have flash..." and just farts the whole grip onto the table.

"Firespout; no green, BTW. thx!"

What is really insane is that depending on how the games play out, you can potentially make a play like that without ever revealing red beforehand. It's possible! And it provides value!

Other plays, like the big Blood Moon (almost no skin off your back, but backbreaking to the other cat) make for great functionality on a deck like this, which has such a robust and not-too-frilly A-game.

The equal and opposite:

Red-White-Blue Aggro

RealDizzy's Red-White-Blue Aggro

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Now this deck, on the other hand, is quite frilly.

It's straightforward and brutal, but unavoidably fancy.

RealDizzy's deck has great cards and recognizable strategies, but also defies expectations and demands us to "ooh" and "aah" with its successive plays.

Like, it is a Boros beatdown deck of the most obvious sort, sometimes.

"Steppe Lynx, clear you with a Lightning Helix (mad value), in for a ton. Clear that with a Burst Lightning, in for a ton again..."

Steppe Lynx
Lightning Helix

That is, if not its game plan in total, certainly a very possible opening sequence.

There is quite a bit of crossover with the pure combat efficacy of Delver of Secrets; you can sub Delver there and start getting in for 3 on turn two (again with the seemingly out-of-place red instants).

But the deck also has echoes of a Geist offense.

Geist of Saint Traft

And it has quite a Snapcaster suite (smashing the opponent with Lightning Helix + Snapcaster Mage is just a snowball of excitement, I think you will agree). There is so much great pure aggro here—3/2 for one, Paul Rietzl's favorite one-drop, a stack of finishing burn begging to be unleashed from the grip—but the deck can also (on that one strategic turn) play a little CounterSliver, a little Faeries, and break your back a different way.

"Remand your Day."


For goodness's sake... Snapcaster Mage + "Remand your Day" while clocking with the aforementioned one-, two-, and three-drops... with a grip full of burn?

Snapcaster Mage

RealDizzy's deck is like an entire Katy Perry album shoved into 75 cards, it has so many pulse-quickening fireworks.

So, that's it for Modern this week. It was really a pleasure from my perspective to see how some of our PTQ winners navigated the paths to their successful fates.

...and that was going to be it for this week's Top Decks, but I got a note from one Voice of the Pro Tour, Rich Hagon, who had been on hand at the Standard GP Lille; and, in particular, Rich wanted to highlight how one player specifically forged his fate.

If you haven't seen the standings, this is how Lille looked at the end of Sunday play:

So, strictly speaking, no decks we haven't looked at at some point in the recent past. There are different narratives we can draw from how the Top 8 shook out, from the perspective of decks played. How Jackie Lee is proving to be quite influential across the Magic universe. Or how, despite the success of Spirits at #PTDKA, the straight, tight, White-Blue Delver has come back—this with Costa previously, and the duo of Invisible Stalkers and the return of Swords to the winner's circle in this GP.

But Rich wanted to focus on how winner Parker played essentially the same cards as other Zombies players... but in a little bit different way.

Here is the winning blue-black list:

From Rich:

I started watching Rich Parker quite early on day one in Lille. He's super-methodical, born out of a big chess commitment. His only major finish before Lille was at PT Valencia where he finished 11th with this:

Richard Parker's Red Deck

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What really interested me was that he seemed to be playing UB Zombies the same way as the red deck in Valencia. Theoretically "aggro," he'd quickly seem to be up against solid defense on the other side, with opponents still up in the mid-teens on life. It never seemed to matter. There are some interesting comparisons:

Geralf's Messenger is the Grim Lavamancer/burn, dealing 2–4 points. Mortarpod is an ongoing Mogg Fanatic. Phyrexian Obliterator plays the role of Blistering Firecat and Tarmogoyf, radically changing the board position.

Geralf's Messenger
Phyrexian Obliterator

He would consistently see an opponent at, say, 10 life. Like red decks of old ("14 you say? Incinerate, Incinerate, double Fireblast, kill you") he would simply sac a Messenger to Mortarpod, turn on Tragic Slip, kill a potential blocker, untap with the Geralf’s Messenger, attack, cast another Messenger, copy it with Phantasmal Image, "good game."

Tragic Slip
Phantasmal Image

I talked to him about it, and he said it did feel very similar to Valencia five years ago. If he got them to anything like 12–14 early, they were rarely going to win the game. And the match? Well, of course, nobody managed that all weekend.

May you be able to seal the other person's fate from 12 or so, too!

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