If You Want to Make An Omelet…

Posted in Top Decks on March 21, 2013

By Mike Flores

... you might have to crack a format.

Grand Prix San Diego showcased eight different decks in its star-studded Top 8! The Modern format showed us at least four different looks at green midrange, the all-out aggression of Red Robots, two radically different combo decks (the winner being an echo of the most recent Modern Pro Tour winner)... and a bona fide control deck!

Here they are in all their glorious diversity:


Nathan Holiday’s Eggs

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Nathan Holiday took down Grand Prix San Diego with an updated Eggs list, because “...two-mana Tinker for Black Lotus is a legal play.”

Holiday, of course, was referencing a Reshape for (Lotus Bloom being effectively zero here) to put Lotus Bloom directly in play. When you consider that Tinker and Black Lotus are restricted in Vintage (Magic‘s largest and most busted combo format), it is probably saying something about the strategy’s relative power level that Holiday could play four of both cards! (While other mages were “attacking for 2.”)

So How Does Eggs Work?

The original Eggs deck used actual “Egg” cards like Darkwater Egg and Skycloud Egg to draw cards and make/filter mana. Today, the deck replaces the Egg cycle with a variety of stand-ins like Chromatic Star, Chromatic Sphere, and (especially) Conjurer’s Bauble.

Essentially, Eggs plays (and sacrifices) many of these Egg-like artifacts to draw cards while staying more-or-less even on mana. Then Second Sunrise or Faith’s Reward can return many permanents to the battlefield to do it all over again!

Over the course of going off with the Eggs deck, a player might destroy some of his or her own lands with Ghost Quarter (putting both into the graveyard); get another land (of course), only to get both originals back the same turn; and, like Holiday said, start off with a mana explosion from a Lotus Bloom... which would (of course) return to play ready to produce another , , or even .

Eventually, an Eggs player can rip through his or her deck, to the point where he or she has no library. Then the Eggs player can just put back a Second Sunrise with Conjurer’s Bauble and just cast the same Second Sunrise over and over again. Once you have jumped through sufficient hoops to get to this point, you can do unlimited damage with a Pyrite Spellbomb. Easy game, right?

How is This Eggs Different?

One important innovation in Holiday’s deck is Twincast. He mentioned in his Top 8 profile that Twincast allowed him to go off through multiple copies of Faerie Macabre. Holiday could respond to a hate card with Twincast (likely on his Second Sunrise or Faith’s Reward) giving him a two-mana workaround and general piece of redundancy.

Blind Obedience out of the sideboard—a nice piece of Gatecrash technology—could allow Holiday a non-targeting route to victory, especially when an opponent had him locked down with Leyline of Sanctity or Pithing Needle on Pyrite Spellbomb.


Bryan De La Torre’s Robots

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Bryan De La Torre played Robots to his San Diego Top 8.

Affinity is an offense machine that can drop its hand in the first few turns and transform a lowly Memnite into a two-shot robot via Cranial Plating... or can build an inevitable wave of damage over time via Steel Overseer. In this deck, Galvanic Blast basically always does 4 damage for one mana; and Thoughtcast does—for generally one mana—what other decks are willing to spend three or more mana to accomplish. And what if an opponent does something super annoying with Martyr of Sands or otherwise gains infinite life? No problem! You might just kill him or her in one shot anyway by attaching Cranial Plating to Inkmoth Nexus!

As offensively capable as Robots might be, it is also one of the most flexible strategies in Modern. Glimmervoid and Mox Opal allow the deck to produce any color of mana, and because of that, it can play a wide variety of sideboard cards. Interestingly, Robots is equally at home with a Wurmcoil Engine-trumping Deglamer or (despite being a deck with only one basic land—and an Island at that) the deck is capable of stealing free games with a Blood Moon.

    Domri Naya

Brian Kibler’s Domri Naya

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It probably surprises long time fans not at all to see Pro Tour Hall of Famer Brian Kibler battling at the top table with his favorite card, Knight of the Reliquary, in front of him. With only one Treetop Village, one Kessig Wolf Run, and one Horizon Canopy (okay, and I suppose one Blood Crypt for the Deathrite Shamans) as flashy targets, Knight of the Reliquary here is mostly a “Terravore” rather than limited Demonic Tutor with legs. Mostly, it’s just big and powerful, bolstered by an excess of Arid Mesas, Misty Rainforests, and Verdant Catacombs.

This particular deck is a Naya good-stuff deck focused on tough creatures. Most of Kibler’s big threats—from two-drop Tarmogoyf to three-drop Loxodon Smiter and beyond—are too big to swat with a Lightning Bolt or Lightning Helix; it should go without saying that they also fight small creatures well when combined with Domri Rade’s -2 ability.

Clearly set up to fight smaller creatures in fair decks, Kibler’s Domri Naya does not exactly lie down for “broken” angles of attack. His Noble Hierarchs and Deathrite Shamans can potentially set up a second-turn Blood Moon to cripple opposing mana bases while leaving him just enough mana flexibility to get his beat going thanks to a couple of basic Forests and one Plains. And hey, Thundermaw Hellkite is big, fast, and doesn’t care where you get its red from.


Matt Ferrando’s Junk Midrange

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Matt Ferrando went with a similar Knight of the Reliquary–centric midrange attack deck as Kibler, but his Knights did a lot more sensational work as well as being big. In addition to Stirring Wildwood and Vault of the Archangel, Ferrando’s deck packed multiple copies of Tectonic Edge—very suitable for banging up Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle or other specialty lands.

Here we have a midrange deck that essentially focuses on high-quality cards in its three colors. Where it differs from Kibler (and I suppose later Jund variants) is that Ferrando eschewed red completely for black removal (Abrupt Decay), disruption (Inquisition of Kozilek), or both (Liliana of the Veil).

This deck has some interesting graveyard and recurring advantage combinations. Of course Liliana of the Veil and Lingering Souls get along well. We have seen this in numerous places, including Modern Jund decks that simply splashed for the hyper-efficient Souls. Here, Darkblast and Life from the Loam do much the same thing: allowing Ferrando to continually get creature removal (or a powerful card-advantage engine that can especially recur his Tectonic Edges) while setting up Lingering Souls over and over again to great advantage.


Eric Froehlich’s AjaniMaw

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From its inception, Modern has been a curious animal and work in progress as a format. Start off with no Stoneforge Mystic or Bitterblossom, counter the initial success of combo by banning Ponder and Preordain. Despite the prior success of combo decks like Eggs, I think it would be fair to say that the most prevalent strategy for many months was Jund. The format is expansive and many of the overpowered cards started off unavailable... so why not play for maximum per-card efficacy? Jund saw unparalleled efficiency at each mana point: Lightning Bolt, Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant, Liliana of the Veil. All played bigger than their top-rights but none so much as Bloodbraid Elf.

Part Ancestral Recall, part Dark Ritual, and even a little bit Lightning Bolt striking for 3 the turn it appeared, Bloodbraid Elf was the Jund flag bearer, the card it really wanted to draw into, the ace justifying a four-mana price tag. Card advantage and initiative in one, Bloodbraid Elf would sometimes cascade out Liliana of the Dark Realms and often flip a Lightning Bolt or the equivalent to clear the way.

And then it went away.

It is interesting to see how various capable players have reacted to the loss of the Jund ace. Matt Ferrando played highly efficient individual cards sans red, while Brian Kibler kept some of the powerful—if fringe—explosive Jund elements like Lotus Cobra and Thundermaw Hellkite (even Lotus Cobra INTO Thundermaw Hellkite)... if not in “Jund” colors exactly.

Eric Froehlich continued a dip into white that started with Lingering Souls (onetime minority splash and paragon of single-card efficiency at three, great solution to Liliana of the Veil, and card capable of trading with Bloodbraid Elf with no loss of card advantage), replacing Bloodbraid Elf at four with Ajani Vengeant!

EFro’s post–Bloodbraid Elf Jund dips deeply into white for Path to Exile and a variety of powerhouse sideboard spells. Stony Silence helps justify the mana stretch against multiple Jund foils, and Timely Reinforcements plays like a Lingering Souls custom-built to dig you out of a beatdown hole. Aven Mindcensor does good work against all manner of Arid Mesas and Marsh Flats but in particular buys time—hopefully enough time—against a fast combo deck relying on Reshape or Scapeshift.

    Domain Zoo

Ken Yukuhiro’s Domain Zoo

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Ken Yukuhiro claimed to be playing “Multicolor Jund” but this is a Domain Zoo deck to anyone who has ever marveled at Raphael Levy’s back-to-back or, you know, just seen a Domain Zoo deck.

While from some perspectives this deck furthers the Jund philosophy of maximum efficacy at each drop (Deathrite Shaman, Noble Hierarch, and Lightning Bolt at one; Tarmogoyf and Lightning Helix at two), once you get to Geist of Saint Traft on three I think you are far enough afield of BRG to call this offense something else (especially when the Geist appears on the second turn).

The big game in this deck is jumping Geist of Saint Traft into the red zone with Elspeth, Knight-Errant on turn three (who can even count that high?) but the really big game is any time Ken could lean on his domain spells. Might of Alara makes anything in this deck bigger than a Thundermaw Hellkite and Tribal Flames is a massive 5-damage for two mana... in a Snapcaster Mage deck.

Think about it.


David Sharfman’s Scapeshift

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You probably already know how Scapeshift works: The “one-card combo” of Scapeshift with a ton of lands in play—those lands dug up by Search for Tomorrow, Farseek, and the defensive wonder-Snake Sakura-Tribe Elder (possibly the format’s foremost chump blocker). Then Mountains upon Mountains upon Mountains enter play with one or two copies of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle (depending); hilarity ensues and opponents die. Scapeshift buys time with card advantage and/or control spells a laFirespout and Cryptic Command. And hey, one-card combo.

What I would rather talk about is David’s sideboard!

When opponents try to stop your shuffling with Aven Mindcensor, force you to discard your powerful combo pieces, or attack your very land base (including, of course, the Molten Pinnacle) what’s a mage to do?


Sharfman not only packs a ton of creature power in his sideboard, they are creatures with purpose. He has tons of mana acceleration, so six-drops are no problem; Obstinate Baloth and Wurmcoil Engine buy time against beatdown (while providing suitable size-to-cost ratios); and Inferno Titan is like a Bonfire of the Damned with feet. Like Brian Kibler’s Loxodon Smiters, Obstinate Baloth in Scapeshift also provides tremendous Liliana of the Veil defense: if the opponent forces you to discard... he or she might not like what you discard.

    RWU Control

Sammy Tukeman’s RWU Control

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Rounding out the San Diego Top 8 is... a legitimate control deck!

Control has certainly had its challenges in a world of such speed and card-advantageous threat cards. Sammy Tukeman made it work by focusing on per-card value himself. Lightning Bolt and Lightning Helix are great creature killers, especially when combined with Snapcaster Mage. A thin array of permission, starting on Spell Snare and Mana Leak, can help keep an opponent honest, although Cryptic Command—itself quite ace-like—is the only hard counter.

Tukeman’s big games are Ajani Vengeant (where his bountiful removal plus permission can help buy time for the ultimate) and Standard nail-in-the-coffin Sphinx’s Revelation. Because what goes better with card advantage, great instants, and value lifegain... but an instant providing more card advantage and more lifegain?

San Diego provided Modern—and Magic—fans a truly diverse format. Tons of different strategies, ways to win, and the rebirth of an old favorite finisher or two. So... how are you liking life after Bloodbraid Elf?

Mike FloresMike Flores
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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."

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