Modern Magnificence

Posted in Top Decks on October 25, 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."

We certainly live in exciting times!



Seattle, Washington, near the home of Magic: The Gathering, was the site of last weekend's Pro Tour Return to Ravnica. Return to Ravnica is proving to be one of the most popular releases in recent memory, and the big event that shares a name with this epic set did not disappoint in either its storylines or its deck quality.

Here is how Pro Tour Return to Ravnica's Top 8 shook out:


Second Breakfast

If you followed the PT coverage at all last weekend, you know that eventual champion Stanislav Cifka put on a singular performance: 2–0 after 2–0... winning the first fifteen rounds of the swiss part of the tournament, and then going on to win it all.

It was no surprise to anyone, then, when, after the dust settled on Day Three, that it was the dominating Cifka left standing atop a mountain of Eggs. He did his Top 8 magic Magic with this Eggs descendent, dubbed "Second Breakfast."

Stanislav Cifka's Second Breakfast

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Second Breakfast is a direct reference to the chattering, hungry hobbits of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films. In Magic terms, combo decks often have breakfast or breakfast cereal names (like Trix; Fruity Pebbles; Wheaties; or, of course, Full English Breakfast); the ancestor to this deck used analogues like Skycloud Egg or Darkwater Egg (not Modern legal, and not so synergistic with Reshape as Chromatic Star, anyway), which led to a pretty equally breakfast-themed nickname. "Second," of course, comes from the card Second Sunrise... one of the key components of this combo deck.

Second Sunrise
Chromatic Star

Cifka's deck is fairly unique in competitive Magic history; how many other decks do you know that can put away pressure-filled PT matches without playing land on the first turn? In fact, Cifka won lots of matches while missing a land drop on turn one (or even for several consecutive turns)!

This deck can miss land drops, instead laying a Lotus Bloom or two as a future combo catalyst.

On the turn Cifka wants to "go off" (let's say turn four, having suspended a pair on turn one), he can warp in whatever Lotus Blooms are ready, and then chain small card draw after small card draw. Chromatic Sphere, Chromatic Star, Elsewhere Flask... these cards draw cards cheaply, often while fixing colors and going to the graveyard.

Lotus Bloom
Chromatic Sphere

Going to the graveyard is a big chunk of what gets Second Breakfast moving. Remember, the deck takes its name from the spell Second Sunrise. When you play Second Sunrise (or Faith's Reward) you get to bring back all the toys you sacrificed this turn: that means you get back your Chromatic This or Chromatic That, you get back Lotus Bloom, and you might even get back lands! Second Breakfast has a nasty habit of Ghost Quartering itself to search up land and then get back both the Ghost Quarter and the originally targeted land once Second Sunrise hits.

Faith's Reward
Ghost Quarter

Second Breakfast doesn't progress the same way every game, but because so many of its cards do similar things (basically artifacts that draw cards in a relatively inexpensive fashion given some setup time), we can predict where he will get to... eventually. The deck has one Pyrite Spellbomb to win with in Game 1. If you draw it early you can sacrifice it to draw a card like many of the other "Eggs" in the deck. But once you have drawn through your entire deck (generally via multiple Second Sunrises and Faith's Rewards and many, many sacrificed Lotus Blooms fueling your progression as you draw up) you will find yourself with no deck at all... and that is exactly where you want to be.

When you have no library whatsoever it is easy to create a loop of just Second Sunrise/Faith's Reward via Conjurer's Bauble. If you have two Lotus Blooms (one of which you could have accomplished via Reshape somewhere along the line to drawing your whole deck), Conjurer's Bauble makes Second Sunrise your only card—which you cast via Lotus Bloom. One Bloom makes and the other . You shoot for two using the red mana and Sunrise with the white mana. Second Sunrise returns both Blooms, your Spellbomb, and your Conjurer's Bauble to the battlefield; the Bauble puts the Second Sunrise back into your deck (which you again draw). Rinse, repeat ten or so times. Take 20, you!

Pyrite Spellbomb
Conjurer's Bauble

My recommendation if you want to gear up for the next big Modern event? Learn this deck! It can recover from a low—even no—land opening, draws tons of cards to smooth out its games, and deal massive amounts of damage with its one Pyrite Spellbomb (which, as we've said, is not "dead weight" because it can at least cycle away).

Jund

Jund was far and away the most popular deck of Pro Tour Return to Ravnica. Almost one-third of all the players in the Pro Tour brought the iconic Bloodbraid Elf deck to the battlefield, with three of them ending up in the Top 8 itself.

Bloodbraid Elf
Lightning Bolt

Jund in Modern relies on many of the same cards that made it famous in Standard a couple of years ago. Bloodbraid Elf and Lightning Bolt were hanging out together way back when... but in Modern they are joined by substantially improved creatures like Kitchen Finks, Dark Confidant, and Tarmogoyf. Jund has value written all over it; it is a midrange creature deck but chock full of two-for-ones. It commands elite removal from the aforementioned Lightning Bolt to a variety of flexible options like Return to Ravnica newcomer Abrupt Decay to longtime robots-smasher Ancient Grudge.

Kitchen Finks
Dark Confidant

And yeah, Bloodbraid Elf is rumbling in for 3 on turn four (or turn three in Watanabe's deck).

Yuuya Watanabe's Jund

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Yuuya Watanabe very nearly followed up on his Magic Players Championship win (with Jund!) by sneaking up on another dominating run... but Cifka would not be denied in Seattle.

This time, Watanabe updated his Jund main deck with Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay from Magic's most recent set. Deathrite Shaman builds some much-needed speed into the grinding, midrange Jund strategy, accelerating Bloodbraid Elf and fixing Jund's various costs across black, red, and green (and gold!)... And, of course, Deathrite Shaman is a powerful fighter of Snapcaster Mages.

Deathrite Shaman
Abrupt Decay

Deathrite Shaman thrives in a format like Modern, where Ravnica-era Stomping Grounds are enabled by Zendikar's Misty Rainforests. Not only does your own Marsh Flats help get the party started... but you can borrow the opponent's!

Stomping Ground
Marsh Flats

Modern boasts all manner of combo decks, and Watanabe's sideboard featured a trio of Slaughter Games—yet another Return to Ravnica enhancement—among other interactive tools.

David Ochoa's Jund

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Ochoa's Jund build featured much of the same sauce as Watanabe's (Abrupt Decay, Deathrite Shaman, Slaughter Games)... but an offense that sticks out like a sore—even putrefying—thumb: Geralf's Messenger!

Slaughter Games
Geralf's Messenger

In the "Kitchen Finks" slot, Ochoa went with offense over defense.

Willy Edel's Jund

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Of the three Jund builds to make Top 8 of Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, Edel's was the only one not to feature Deathrite Shaman (or the quartet of Liliana of the Veil that the other two did). He did, however, pack a main-deck Thrun, the Last Troll and a set of powerhouse Jund Charms.

Thrun, the Last Troll
Jund Charm

Jund Charm—like any good Charm—has all kinds of angles. You might not be putting +1/+1 counters on your creatures every game, but the Pyroclasm-like effect can get you out from under a legion of Goblins (say from Empty the Warrens), and the ability to remove the opponent's graveyard from the game can break up a recursive deck like Cifka's. Surprise!

Pyroclasm
Empty the Warrens

Affinity

Pedro Carvalho's Affinity

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Many of the "Affinity" decks we have seen in Modern Top 8s past have been of the Red Robots variety... all ending in Galvanic Blasts for 4 and Shrapnel Blasts for 5. Carvalho went with a blue build instead.

Galvanic Blast
Shrapnel Blast

This deck has Master of Etherium as a blue buff tool, offense supplementing the iconic Arcbound Ravager and the heavy-handed Cranial Plating. I have always admired the ability of an Inkmoth Nexus to win in one blow with Cranial Plating, but with cards like Favorable Winds and the aforementioned Master of Etherium, Carvalho could play it more fair with his flying lands while still getting in quickly and furiously.

Inkmoth Nexus
Favorable Winds

Etched Champion is a tough card for many decks to beat. Colored creatures can't get through it on the ground, and almost nobody can block it. Mix it up with a Cranial Plating? It doesn't take a whole lot of hits to close out a game.

Etched Champion
Cranial Plating

Scapeshift

Lee Shi Tian's Scapeshift

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Scapeshift is more or less my favorite kind of combo deck in formats like Modern.

It can play a basic midrange value game plan... it can start off with Search for Tomorrow on the first turn, plus block-and-ramp with Sakura-Tribe Elder to get going. Tian's build has two-for-one defense in Cryptic Command and Electrolyze, and can buy all kinds of time with Izzet Charm and Remand. In sum, it is "a deck" and it can "do all kinds of stuff you might want to do."

...

Or, it can blow you all to dead with one Scapeshift!

The whole point of all that ramp, that Search for Tomorrow, that extra land from Sakura-Tribe Elder, is to get sufficient lands in play to pop a Scapeshift that will put one or both copies of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle into play along with Stomping Ground, Steam Vents, or regular old Mountain to be lethal in one shot.

Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Steam Vents

Serum Visions and Telling Time can dig you into your combo position, or you can ride Repeal, Snapcaster Mage, and the rest to a fair deck win; this is especially possible when you have your Obstinate Baloths and Wurmcoil Engines in from the sideboard.

Serum Visions
Telling Time

GU Infect

Kelvin Chew's GU Infect

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In Scapeshift, we have a deck that can play like a rampy, midrange control deck... that can explode into a one-card combo via Scapeshift.

GU Infect is a different kind of deck that seems like multiple decks crammed together. Infect attacks. It has offensive one-drops like Glistener Elf, and it has evasion like Blighted Agent... but it isn't a traditional beatdown deck. Unlike your StOmPy, Suicide Black, or White Weenie, Infect can use its attack phase like a vector for a combo-kill of its own!

Glistener Elf
Blighted Agent

Without Mutagenic Growth, GU Infect can't win on turn two... but it can hit for nine poison. The deck has two different cards that can give +4/+4 for only . Once you factor in Pendelhaven (check out the Infect creatures' sizes), Noble Hierarch, Rancor, and the rest... there are all different ways to win in the first three turns.

Pendelhaven
Rancor

Here's a slow one:


WU Control

Eduardo Sajgalik's WU Control

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WU Control in Modern today isn't quite the "WU Control" of Brian Weissman and his Serra Angels from the dawn of Magic strategy. This deck is much more an enters-the-battlefield creature deck that relies on the bonuses on Kitchen Finks and Snapcaster Mage, tied with a nice bow of additional value thanks to Restoration Angel.

Snapcaster Mage
Restoration Angel

Eduardo's deck draws heavily on Tzu-Ching Kuo's winning deck from the World Magic Cup... changes (some additional creatures rather than an Elspeth, Knight-Errant; one fewer Sword) are largely cosmetic.



Well... there you have them!

Pro Tour Return to Ravnica showcased multiple strategies, new and old, beatdown and combo, some of our latest palette of brain candy absolutely drenched in new toys from the newest set. There is something like one legitimately popular deck... and more than ten viable strategies. For those of you who love diversity, Modern seems to have it. And for those of you who love a combo deck? More, and more of the same.


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