Going Deep in Modern

Posted in Top Decks on June 19, 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).

Normally, I don't talk about Modern two weeks in a row, but Grand Prix Charlotte unveiled some pretty insane decks last week, and they are worth looking at. The Top 8 had not only a diverse selection of decks, but some unique ones. And the Top 16 was home to what may be the strangest deck I've ever seen do well at a Grand Prix.

Here's what the Top 8 looked like.

Elves (winner)

2 Blue-Red Twin


Ad Nauseam

Goryo's Vengeance


Abzan Company

Seven different archetypes, multiple of which are at least a few steps off the beaten path.


The winning Elves list is one that has seen a lot of tournament success lately, which is remarkable considering how small a percentage of the metagame it tends to be.

Michael Malone's Elves

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I would think that this deck would have trouble with Snapcaster Mage + Lightning Bolt decks, but it keeps crushing tournaments, so clearly it's got a good thing going. Unlike previous Elf combo decks, which I've been known to play in the past, this deck is looking to win mostly via beatdown. There are plenty of combos, but they mostly just involve generating a ton of mana with Heritage Druid and Elvish Archdruid, after which Chord of Calling or Collected Company gets Ezuri to finish the game.

Without a card like Glimpse of Nature, there's no card-draw engine, but Collected Company does provide a ton of value, making this more of a midrange toolbox deck than a pure combo deck. There are a ton of creatures here that provide value when Chorded or Collected, with cards like Spellskite, Thragtusk, Reclamation Sage, and Eternal Witness giving the deck solutions to all sorts of different board states.

Elves is not a deck I'd pick up without enough practice, but if you can pilot it, you have a steady stream of threats and answers at your disposal. This is a midrange deck at heart, but one that tends to win in overwhelming style, letting it go over the top of other decks if they take too long to kill it.


The talk of the tournament had to be the Grishoalbrand deck that put up incredible numbers for the three players running it, including a Top 8.

Grishoalbrand Combo

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This deck is trying to do one main thing, which is cast Goryo's Vengeance on Griselbrand. Once you do so, you get to draw seven to fourteen cards immediately, with the option of attacking drawing seven more. Every Nourishing Shoal you find combines with Borborygmos Enraged or Worldspine Wurm to draw more cards, and eventually you find the cards and mana (thanks to Simian Spirit Guides and Desperate Rituals) to put a Borborygmos into play. The lands you have accumulated are usually enough to kill the opponent immediately, making this a potential instant-speed kill.

Goryo's Vengeance decks have been around for a while, so what sets this one apart?

  1. Nourishing Shoal is much more effective than the previous ways the deck drew extra cards with Griselbrand, which were Fury of the Horde and Soul Spike. Shoal draws more cards and is better when you don't have Grisel, often buying you multiple extra turns.
  2. Splice onto Arcane lets this deck present multiple threats against counterspells. By casting Shoal and Splicing Goryo's Vengeance, you can pay three mana to force the opponent to counter Shoal end of turn, but Vengeance stays in your hand. That means you get to untap and cast it again, which is incredible.
  3. The deck wins at instant speed, which makes a previously tough matchup like Splinter Twin much, much easier. You pass the turn, they cast an Exarch, and you kill them.

This deck is fast enough to race any deck in the format, and surprisingly resilient. The team that created this may truly have broken Modern, at least until people adjust more, and that's always awesome to see. Modern is a hard format to really move, and building a deck that does that is impressive.

For a more in-depth look at the deck, as well as how it came about, check out a primer written by one of the pilots for ChannelFireball.

Grishoalbrand might be the best deck to come out of the GP, but I have to say that it isn't the sweetest.

Lantern Control

Zec Elsik's Lantern Control

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I think what this deck does is clear, so just bask in the glory that is this masterpiece.

This is the most incredible collection of cards I've ever seen make Top 16 at a Grand Prix, and I will actually spend some time attempting to explain what they are trying to accomplish. There's a lot going on here, but the two main goals of the deck aren't that tricky:

The first is to cast Ensnaring Bridge and empty its hand. This prevents all non-zero powered creatures from attacking, which by itself defeats a fair cross-section of Modern decks. Even when that alone isn't enough, the deck has plenty of other ways to protect Bridge, namely the combo for which the deck is named.

After you've read all those cards, allow me to explain. With Lantern of Insight in play, both the Bell and the Shredder let you have a lot of control over the opponent's draw step. You can tap to mill their top card at will, and the only way they draw a good one is if they draw multiple relevant cards in a row. The more Bells and Shredders you have, the less likely that becomes, and it eventually becomes impossible (especially when you factor in cards like Pithing Needle and Surgical Extraction making their deck worse).

This combo also lets you mill yourself, which lets you dig through your deck rapidly in search of whatever it is you are looking for (usually Ensnaring Bridge, but after that just more copies of Bell).

Many excruciating turns later, and your opponent runs out of cards. Technically this deck can win via damage, thanks to Academy Ruins plus Pyrite Spellbomb, but that seems incredibly unlikely, and I suspect winning by decking is the only real win condition.

The rest of the deck is comprised of cards that look for the combo, like Ancient Stirrings, and ways to disrupt the opponent. Discard spells, Pithing Needle, Abrupt Decay, Pyrite Spellbomb, and Spellskite all combine to deal with whatever threats Ensnaring Bridge doesn't stop, and the deck even has Surgical Extraction to make topdecks that much less likely.

I recorded a video set with the deck, wherein I muddle through trying to pilot it, and it was awesome to play. If you like winning by inches with a pile incredibly unconventional cards, I can't recommend the deck enough. It looks crazy but actually plays quite well, and I have a ton of respect for the deck after battling with it. I'm sure that everyone who lost to this at the Grand Prix was dumbfounded, but if this doesn't prove that Magic is a game where decks can be more than the sum of their parts, I don't know what does.

I would look at replacing Surgical Extractions, since I (still) don't like that card, but otherwise the deck felt quite well tuned. Again, this deck is so many degrees away from "normal" that it's hard to tell, but that's part of the awesome thing it has going for it. If you have ever wanted to go rogue, this is the deck you should do it with. I would recommend practicing the deck a lot, as there is a lot going on, and after playing a couple matches with it I can tell you that it will take many more before I'm confident in my ability to pilot it. I even had the creator of the deck weigh in down in the comments, telling me how I sideboarded wrong (which I fully believe to be accurate).

Grixis Twin

The last thing I want to mention is the deck that Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and I played in the Grand Prix. We both made Day Two at 7-2, but I didn't fare very well on Sunday, going 2-4 to round out the tournament (with PV going 4-2).

ChannelFireball's Grixis Twin

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PV and I were deciding between Blue-Red Twin, Grixis Twin, and Grixis Control prior to the tournament, and settled on Grixis Twin because of its game against combo decks, plus its sideboard against fair decks. I feel like Twin is in an odd spot right now. Two copies of straight Blue-Red Twin made Top 8, but I really liked the black sideboard cards. It lets you side into Grixis Control, which is a very viable archetype in and of itself, though which is going to be better is wholly dependent on pairings.

Basically, every time I play against an unfair deck (Amulet Bloom, Burn, Goryo's Vengeance, Affinity, etc.) I'd rather have the Splinter Twin combo in my deck, but every time I play against a fair deck (Abzan, Jund, Grixis Control, etc.) I'd rather be Grixis Control. Our list split the difference, as we could be either, though that does make us slightly less efficient overall, and uses up a lot of sideboard slots.

The most common way I sideboarded was to cut the Twins, Pestermites, and Exarchs for the Tasigurs, Commands, Thoughtseizes, Keranos, and Dismember; though there were many variations that were quite close to that. By doing so, I just became a Grixis value deck, which is especially good, considering my opponents were bringing in anti-combo cards.

I was happy with my choice, and even though the tournament didn't go quite as well as hoped, I'd play this deck again. I'd swap the Dismembers for Terminates, and potentially add more graveyard hate to the sideboard in anticipation of the Goryo's Vengeance deck.

Next week I'll be back with some sweet Magic Origins preview cards. Until then, try one of these awesome decks!


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