About Adrian Posoiu
I've started playing Magic when I was 18 years old, around the time when Mirrodin reared its head in Standard. The jump to semi-competitive play came shortly thereafter, as I started grinding local events on a regular basis. I attended my first Grand Prix in Athens 2006 and made my Pro Tour debut in Nagoya 2011. Recently, I won the Romanian Nationals and am currently set on participating at the World Championship. For those interested in what goes on outside my realm of Magic influence: I'm currently studying for a Master’s degree in Astrophysics, as I find it one of the most interesting and rewarding branches of science at the moment.
Modern New World
Wizards of the Coast have proven once more that they are willing to shape Modern according to their stated vision of the format even at the expense of possible outcries from the community. One year after the banning of Wild Nacatl and Green Sun's Zenith, two more offenders have joined the black list due to the presumed toxic effect they had on both deckbuilding and on how actual matches played out. Although the verdict same verdict was cast for both Bloodbraid Elf and Seething Song, each was charged with a different crime altogether.
On the one hand, the three mana ritual defied one of the main tenets behind the conception of Modern: decks should not be able to consistently win before turn four. While it can be argued that Storm was not the powerhouse archetype we remember from older formats, the fact of the matter is that combo could be put together after just three land drops a reasonable amount of time. To be fair, most Modern decks were designed with a series of disruption elements in mind, ranging from counterspells, discard and the more narrow graveyard hate, and that made games look less like a goldfish and more like a struggle. Regardless, Storm was able to prey on the unprepared or on those who stumbled on ways to interact by earning those quick kills which are frowned upon by the creators of the format.
At that point, deciding which card to ban was academic. Taking the namesake card of the deck, Past in Flames, out of the equation would eradicate the archetype entirely. Eliminating the Storm keyword would also prove problematic. The current card pool contains several such cards that can be used to deal damage to opponents - Grapeshot, Empty the Warrens and Ignite Memories. Banning an entire mechanic is a radical move and would undoubtedly send the wrong message to the community. Instead, the chosen solution was a more elegant one, a testament to the fact that WotC understands the format and only looks out for its best interest. As a control player, what is the one card you would most likely target with discard or counterspells when playing against Storm? While there are occasions where stopping a cantrip or removing the actual win condition might provide more value, it is the big, expensive ritual that usually decides the fate of the game. Seething Song was the key ingredient in making Past in Flames a powerhouse, which in turn brought an entire archetype back into the metagame spotlight. Without it the deck takes a considerable blow and is most likely relegated to the depths of the tier two strategies barrel, where only the combo aficionados will dare to sink. Turn three kills are still a possibility, by following an unanswered Goblin Electromancer with a slew of pseudo-Dark Rituals and a Past in Flames, but pulling off such a feat should be a rare occurrence rather than the norm.
Some players have expressed their discontent with this ban, under the assumption that Wizards of the Coast have targeted one of the more budget-friendly decks in the format. Indeed, Storm was a popular strategy, especially on Magic Online, where the ease with which it could be put together attracted many grinders and casuals alike. The very nature of rituals and cantrips, which are usually printed at common rarity, made it so. Nevertheless, I still believe that the price tag had nothing to do with their decision and that it was simply fueled by the desire to keep consistent turn three kills out of the format. The implications of this decision stretch out even further than this one archetype. In the near future, decks such as Infect could also find themselves under consideration if their popularity experiences a boost. We have already witnessed Glistener Elf sneaking in for more than ten poison counters in a single combat phase and that alone could present a reason for concern. Only time (and hard facts) will tell if this situations will also need to be addressed.
Oddly enough, I have less to say on the matter of Bloodbraid Elf being banned. Although I personally had started working on the format for only a few weeks, I had already identified Jund as the front-runner for competing in a vast and diverse field. Granted, local metagames could exhibit different trends and could be exploited in various other ways, but for the purpose of a large PTQ or Grand Prix event I could not think of a solid reason for not running Jund. In many ways, the banning of Bloodbraid Elf is similar to that of Wild Nacatl. It stifled the development of the format and inhibited creativity due to a consensus 'best deck' already existing. To draw a parallel, Nacatl was banned because it was the default choice for any player who desired to run aggro. Beatdown strategies not running the one mana 3/3 were quickly pushed to the wayside and the only top contenders were various flavors of Zoo. In the past months, Jund acted in a similar fashion. The deck boasted a solid 60/40 percentage against the field, which basically meant that it could never be considered an underdog regardless of the matchup. The stats were supported by good performances on the competitive circuit, with Jund having the most top 8 appearances and overall wins across a multitude of Modern events. In this context, removing Bloodbraid Elf should have the same effect on the archetype as the banning of Wild Nacatl had on Zoo.
As many other have stated before, the elf wasn't even the most powerful card in Jund, who still features a strong lineup of Dark Confidant, Deathrite Shaman and Tarmogoyf, along with a supporting cast of efficient discard and removal spells. Some have advocated shifting towards a different three-color combination, since the deck has lost the main reason to still play red. Both Junk and BUG variants have their merits. The former could mean a resurgence of Doran, the Siege Tower and a move towards the classic Rock strategies of old. Adding blue could push the deck more towards a tempo-oriented build. Now that counterspells no longer have antisinergy with the cascade mechanic, I can see a direct port of the Legacy BUG Delver builds directly into the Modern metagame. Nonetheless, I still believe that Deathrite Shaman & co. fit best in a pseudo-aggressive shell, where they are backed up by Lightning Bolt and Terminate. The constant influx of cards from Confidant presents an incentive to close out games in relative short order and the sheer beefiness of Tarmogoyf is best exploited in the combat zone. Even the Shaman becomes more of a threat when the two points of life it threatens to drain each turn become more important for a pressured opponent. Although further testing needs to be done, I'm willing to bet my money on Jund remaining a pillar of the Modern format in the months to come.
In the general confusion caused by the ban announcement, I found myself browsing through successful lists from the previous PTQ season in search of forgotten gems that might once again surge into the spotlight given the current turn of events. I have discussed part of the reason why Knight of the Reliquary
hasn't seen much play in recent times, but I was at a loss when I ran into Isochron Scepter
, a former mainstay of UWR decks from one year ago. As far as I can recall, the artifact disappeared once the deck it called home transitioned into a more typical aggro build featuring a full set of Steppe Lynx
and some copies of Figure of Destiny
. However, the latest addition to the Modern metagame, the UWR list that also won Grand Prix: Bilbao, might present a good fit for the Scepter given its high density of cheap instants and tendency to drag out into the midgame.
The issue of whether or not Isochron Scepter is a viable inclusion in our list has always revolved around one main question: is the artifact better than simply running more copies of the instants themselves? The answer depends on a delicate comparison between what the Scepter brings to the table and the downsides that are associated to its use. First of all, the main boon is that we get to replace an otherwise one shot spell with a repeatable effect that can be used at will. Having an endless supply of Path to Exiles or Lightning Bolts will usually overwhelm any forces an opponent can muster if we are given enough time and activations. The disadvantage here is that, at least for the first few turns after casting the Scepter, we record an overall loss of both tempo and card advantage. Let's take the Bolt example into consideration. By simply casting the spell, we pay one mana for one instance of the effect, at which point we lose the ability to use it again. By imprinting it onto the Scepter, we need to invest a total of four mana just to get the first three damage off. This investment pays off in the long run, as every extra activation basically nets us an additional card. Nonetheless, the first two Lightning Bolts cast off the Scepter are there to recoup the card advantage lost from the artifact and imprint themselves. Only after the third activation can we say that we have truly netted a bonus.
The other downside is that imprinting a card has the same vulnerabilities as enchanting a permanent with an aura. It leaves the player vulnerable to 2-for-1 trades in the event that the opponent can muster a proper removal spell. In light of the bannings, I expect less Jund to be played at least in the next few coming weeks. This means that less Abrupt Decays will be floating around the tournament tables and that running out a Scepter is a safer proposition than before. Nonetheless, there are other cards that can still threaten its existence, with most of them added as silver bullets to decks that can tutor for them effectively. Although the idea of an Isochron Scepter holding a Path to Exile might seem like the nuts against Birthing Pod strategies, having them Chord of Calling for a Qasali Pridemage or Harmonic Sliver can set us back several steps. It is for this reason that I think siding out the artifact is the correct call in most matchups. Once it has dominated and secured a win in game one, it will most likely be considered the main public enemy by the opponent, who is sure to bring in contingency plans otherwise targeted at Affinity and Pod.
At this point, I would like to present to you my current list:
|Converted Mana Cost|
It did not take long after the results of Grand Prix: Bilbao for the players to catch on to Restoration Angel as an excellent addition to the deck. In addition to the favorable interactions with all of the other creatures in the list, the Angel adds another spell to the count of instant speed effects. Aside from the Geists and Scepters, there is no other reason compelling us to tap mana on our turn, which adds great mobility and versatility to the overall strategy. You will notice that the sideboard doesn't present much synergy with the Isochron Scepter itself, aside from a few copies of Negate and Disenchant. The cause for this, as I have mentioned above, is that I tend to leave the artifact sidelined after the first game against a large portion of the field. Supreme Verdict is a concession to the creature matchups, which are otherwise somewhat soft, especially post-board. I like to bring in the two sweepers against Jund as well, since its predicted new incarnation leaves it more vulnerable than before to such effects. Lacking a 3-powered hasty attacker that could repopulate the board in one fell swoop, the deck is much softer to Verdict that it once was. Any traces of Huntmaster of the Fells can be wiped clear, along with any number of Tarmogoyfs, leaving the battlefield ripe for Geist of Saint Traft to take over. Because of this, I am seriously considering adding a third copy to the sideboard, although I am reluctant to remove any of the other cards already present without rigorous testing. The compete set of Molten Rain is there to account for two of the more difficult encounters, namely Scapeshift and Tron variants. Having a deck loaded to the brim with three point burn spells does little to shore those matchups and being able to bring in a reasonable trump can shift the percentages back into my favor.
By the time my next article rolls out, I will have attended two local Pro Tour Qualifier events for San Diego. The added hands-on experience should flesh out my perception of the format and I hope to return with stories of success around this time next month. As usual, I am eager to hear your comments and impressions and encourage you to post in the section below.
Until next time,