Mulling over Modern

Posted in Top Decks on July 10, 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).

There were two big Modern tournaments last weekend, the Magic Online Championship Series and the Modern Festival, so I played a ton of Modern in preparation. It was a lot of fun, no small part of which was due to the fact that I got to evoke Mulldrifter for the first time in ages. Today I wanted to write about the different iterations of the deck that I tested, in the hopes that I can share the joy of casting Mulldrifter with as many people as possible. If you haven't cast Kolaghan's Command to get Mulldrifter back, you haven't truly lived.

The list that I started from is what Patrick Chapin played to a ninth-place finish at Grand Prix Charlotte.

Patrick Chapin's Grixis Control

Download Arena Decklist

This is a versatile deck, both in strategy and in card choice. It is fully capable of being the control deck, with card advantage engines like Snapcaster Mage, Cryptic Command, and Kolaghan's Command letting it win the resource war while its disruption stops the opponent from accomplishing whatever their goal is. Alternately, it can play the aggro-control role, and just play a giant delve creature on turn two and use its counterspells and removal to clear a path for the four turns needed to finish the game.

Three new cards are why this deck exists:

The two delve creatures are what let you play a low land count and give you the tools needed to close out the game. One of the problems that control decks traditionally face in Modern is that the format is so open that it's impossible to be equipped to deal with every threat. As such, you can't claim to have the long game locked down, and actually killing the opponent becomes more important. This isn't like last year's Standard, where white-blue Sphinx's Revelation decks could rest easy once they drew enough cards; they knew that nothing could beat them in the long game. Here, you can always run up against a Tron deck that will eventually Eye of Ugin into Emrakul, or Amulet decks that will find Cavern of Souls plus Primeval Titan. Against those decks, you just have to get them dead, and the delve creatures do that (while providing a one-drop threat that lets you leave all your mana up).

Kolaghan's Command is the most surprising card, especially given how much Standard play it sees. There are a couple reasons it's so incredible in Modern. The first is that there are awesome cheap creatures to bring back, with Snapcaster at the very top of the list. The synergy between Snapcaster and Command is unbelievably good. Snapcaster, target Command, block, then cast Command to get back Snapcaster is a common line of play, and leads to a ton of card advantage. Late in the game, a topdecked Command or Snapcaster will often lead to a flood of cards, a flood your opponent is unlikely to be able to stop.

Past that, the modes of dealing 2 damage or killing an artifact are also more valuable in Modern. More small creatures are running around, and way more artifacts. Having incidental artifact kill against Tron, Affinity, and Amulet is crucial, and gives decks that play Command a lot of extra flexibility when it comes to answers.

So, where did I go from here?

After playtesting I identified these cards as the base, and built around them:

2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang

2 Gurmag Angler

4 Snapcaster Mage

4 Lightning Bolt

3 Kolaghan's Command

4 Serum Visions

4 Thought Scour

2 Cryptic Command

4 Terminate

2 Spell Snare

That's 31, and with 22 lands (I think the original 21 was a bit light), that left seven slots to tinker with. I didn't immediately know that these 31 cards weren't what I wanted to change, but got there after playing the deck a bunch. I highly recommend playing a new deck for a while before making any major changes, as often there were decisions made in deck composition that you may not initially understand. If you tinker with a deck before really understanding it, you sometimes miss a crucial part.

A few cards soon stood out to me:

This is a control deck at its heart, and more disruption was definitely necessary. It may look odd, but the original two Mana Leak / one Remand split played very well. A deck full of Thought Scours, Snapcasters, and Serum Visions gets more value out of one- and two-ofs than a normal deck, so playing small numbers of cards can have a disproportionate impact. I also love Vendilion Clique, because it just does everything. It poses a threat, it creates disruption, and it gives you more instant-speed interaction. Plus, cheap creatures are great with Kolaghan's Command, and I wanted more ways to enable that.

Here's one of my first lists:

LSV's Grixis Control

Download Arena Decklist

I tried out a couple things in this list:

  • 23 lands—I wanted to play an extra land, both for a third four-drop in the main deck (Gifts Ungiven) and because I had a number of expensive cards in the sideboard. I played Desolate Lighthouse as the 23rd land, and it was pretty good. I ultimately went back to 22 lands, but I could see playing either 22 or 23, depending on the configuration of the rest of the deck.
  • Gifts Ungiven—This came about in discussions with Magic streamer extraordinaire Michael Jacob, who I was talking to about the deck throughout the entire process. He really wanted a draw 2, a card that could draw you cards during the midgame, and Gifts sounded interesting. In a deck with Snapcaster and Kolaghan's Command, Gifts has a lot of utility, and I liked it.
  • Vendilion Clique and Thoughtseize in the main deck—I wanted more disruption, and these cards provided that. The format is leaning toward having lots of combo and Grixis, and both these cards are great in those matchups.
  • Grave Titan and Mulldrifter in the sideboard—Having good cards for grindy games is important post-board, as the mirror and Jund both are extremely resource-based. It may seem silly to play Mulldrifter, but it was very good, and I would recommend it highly. I do think the sideboard is a good place for it to live, but it's remained in my Grixis sideboard ever since I first added it. Titan was good too, but there may be better threats for the mirror.
  • Go for the Throat over the fourth Terminate—This allows you to play around Spellskite, as it can't redirect it. It's a minor change, but I like the 3 / 1 split.

After more playtesting and discussion, here is the final list that MJ and I played in the Modern Festival:

LSV's Modern Festival Grixis Control Deck

Download Arena Decklist

Of note, we went back to 22 lands, and swapped out Gifts Ungiven for Glen Elendra Archmage. Archmage was consistently good, and I'm sold on playing it. It's a good value card, and one that causes a lot of problems for a wide swath of decks. It even plays well with Kolaghan's Command, and having access to one was very powerful.

The sideboard is constructed to have small numbers of highly impactful cards for a bunch of different matchups, with a couple flex slots that are more versatile.

Credit for this one goes to Caleb Durward, who sold me on it in his article. It's the anti-burn slot, and works in two ways. The first is to play it on Angler or Tasigur and attack, which is very effective. The second, and funniest, is to put it on the opponent's Eidolon of the Great Revel. Because it isn't actual lifelink, every time the Eidolon triggers, you gain the life. All of a sudden, the opponent can't burn you out without you gaining two, and the Eidolon essentially doesn't affect your spells. They either have to waste a burn spell on the Eidolon, in which case you two-for-one'ed them and gained 2, or they just lose.

Blood Moon + Magus of the Moon

Against Tron and Amulet Bloom, I like these more than Fulminator. First, they use one fewer slot; and second, they actually win you the game. Fulminator just doesn't, in my experience, so I'd rather play the more high-impact version

These are value cards for the grindy matchups. Going forward, I would actually cut the Titan for a second Bitterblossom. If you can open on Bitterblossom, it's just game, even if it is weaker in the late game.

These aren't specifically targeted but are very flexible. Both are good against control, burn, and combo (though Dispel sometimes doesn't come in). I like having some of these slots against unanticipated decks.

Having various answer cards is also good, and these are aimed at specific problems. Explosives and Spellskite are good against Boggles primarily, with Skite also being relevant against Burn and Twin (though against Grixis Twin, I don't like it because it dies to Kolaghan's Command too easily). Staticaster is to gun down Lingering Souls tokens and Birds of Paradise, so it should come in against most Abzan decks and White-Black tokens.

Lastly, we have our anti-Affinity card. Etched Champion is the most annoying card in their deck, so whatever card you want in this slot should be able to kill it. I like Vandalblast because you can play it early and it's a cheap spell for Snapcaster, but Shatterstorm is a defensible choice too.

I've been having more fun playing this deck than any in recent memory, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I don't think it's taking Modern by storm, but I do like that it doesn't have many truly bad matchups. You get to play good Magic in all your matches, and with good play and practice, you have a shot every time you sit down.

Plus, did I mention the Mulldrifter?


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