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How to Surprise People In Modern

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Adam Koska
Adam Koska

About Adam Koska

Adam is an experienced player from the Czech Republic who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:

  • 9th at Worlds 2009
  • 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • 45 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Top 32 GP Vienna 2008
  • Top 64 GP Krakow 2007
  • Three times Czech Nationals Top 8

How to Surprise People In Modern

Hey folks! Today, we’re going to take a look at Modern again. Last week, I talked about how I fared at the first PTQ for Hawaii that took place in Prague, but the truth is, the field was full of interesting decks. This is one thing that I really like about the format – if you have a ton of experience with a particular deck and can tune it against the rest of the field, you can do really well with it even if it’s not exactly considered „tier 1“. There are numerous examples of players who have been playing the same Modern deck to great results over and over again, despite being probably the only ones on that boat. Good examples of such a phenomenon – in the Prague area – can be Petr Sochurek with Merfolk or Petr Tejnsky with Amulet of Vigor.

The first deck that I’d like to share was piloted by Jan Kotrla, one of the elite Czech players who has around 35 lifetime pro points and a lot of experience both from grinding Magic Online and from live international events as well. He went 6-2 in the PTQ and his deck of choice was turning heads all day long. Here’s the updated decklist:

Modern Possibility Storm

Colors
Artifact1
Blue20
Colorless2
Gold2
Land27
Red8
Converted Mana Cost
01
115
26
31
44
54
152
Type
Artifact Creature1
Basic Land6
Creature2
Enchantment4
Instant18
Land21
Sorcery8

by Jan Kotrla

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Possibility Storm
Versions:
Dragon's Maze (Foil)

What you are looking at is a „Storm combo deck“ – except this time around, it’s a different kind of Storm than you might expect in Modern – it’s a Possibility Storm! The way it works is that you play a Possibility Storm, which says that whenever you cast a spell, you exile it and instead flip cards from the top of your deck until you reveal a card that shares a card type and you cast it. Since the creature suite you’re running is two Emrakuls and a single Ornithopter, whenever you cast the ‘Thopter, it gets exiled and instead you get an Emrakul, which you cast, so you even get the Time Walk effect. Four Tolaria West and a single Fabricate help you find that pesky 0/2 flyer and stuff like Serum Visions, Sleight of Hand, Izzet Charm and Desolate Lighthouse dig for both of the combo pieces.

While this deck might look a bit similar to a Twin combo deck, mostly because of its colors and the fact that it needs to assemble two specific cards to go off, it’s actually a lot more similar to a different combo deck – Scapeshift. The reason for that is that it dodges most of the hate that shuts down Twin (creature removal, Spellskite, Suppression Field, etc.), but needs to resolve its one big spell (or actually one big spell and one small spell). The same hate that hurts Scapeshift also tends to be good against Possibility Storm: Shadow od Doubt and Aven Mindcensor mean that it gets a lot harder to tutor up Ornithopter with Tolaria West or Fabricate, but neither of these cards is actually the „end of the world“, meaning you couldn’t go off (like they are against Scapeshift), since you can still draw your Ornithopter the natural way, which is not that unlikely with all the digging you play. Discard is also problematic, especially if you draw the 0/2 creature and they nab it with Inquisition or Thoughtseize. The only way how to get it back is to discard an Emrakul at some point and shuffle the Thopter back into your deck. Academy Ruins are an option here, especially if you decide to include Engineered Explosives into the Fabricate package, but Desolate Lighthouse fills a much more important role in the lategame and you can only play so many colorless lands.

The deck certainly has some weaknesses. One of the biggest is that you have no „plan B“. Scapeshift can at least beat down with Primeval Titan, Twin can easily kill the opponent with Pestermite / Snapcaster aggro backed up by burn. This deck can’t really do that – hardcasting Emrakul is almost impossible even if you flood out. I mean, fifteen is a really high number. People tend to start complaining about manaflood when they have 8-9 lands in play. Some even sooner. Beating someone to death with Ornithopter is also rather difficult to do. You have some control elements in the deck (Cryptic Command, Lightning Bolt), but there are still no backup win conditions.

As for good / bad matchups, the best ones are obviously decks with not much disruption or without disruption + fast clock. Against some decks, resolving a Possibility Storm can actually hurt them quite a lot even without you drawing the other half of the combo – for example against Scapeshift, it means that resolving one won’t be all that easy, since every time you want to cast one, it gets exiled and you get another random sorcery (even though you can try firing random sorceries to flip into a Scapeshift). Twin is not the best matchup, since they can tap your Emrakul with a Pestermite / Exarch (unless they flip a Snapcaster from the top of their deck) and kill you on the swing back. Aggro decks tend to be good matchups, since you have tools to hold their creatures at bay and then win with Emrakul on turn five. Various Pod decks are also pretty good matchups – they don’t have many ways how to disrupt you and once you resolve an Emrakul, untap and swing with annihilator six, it should be fairly academic to keep their Shriekmaws at bay with Cryptics or to just kill them outright with a Lightning Bolt or two.

If you like wacky combo decks, I recommend giving this one a try. It’s a lot better than what it looks like on paper, can catch many players by surprise and still has a lot of room for changes (running Through the Breach + more Emrakuls in the main, accelerate your mana with Pentad Prism, etc.).

The second Modern deck that I’d like to talk about today is another list that did very well recently. Justin Hamilton Salem made it into the elimination rounds at the aforementioned PTQ and then also at a PTQ in Leipzig the week after that, posting two top8s within two weekends. The blue-white-red combination typically tends to be represented by control or Twin lists at Modern tournaments, but this one is actually fairly aggressive. If you read my report, maybe you remember that I played against this deck in the quarter-finals and that basically, we played two non-games, with my opponent – Justin – being stuck on mana in both games and having to discard for countless turns. Had he drawn reasonably, I think that he would have had a pretty good shot at defeating me, since an early flipped Delver backed up by countermagic can be fairly strong. Since Delver is not a common sight in Modern these days and the deck looks quite promising, I would like to briefly talk about it as well. Here’s Justin’s list:

Geist of Saint Traft
Versions:
Innistrad (Foil)

I like how straightforward this list is. It really wants to do one thing and one thing only: attack with undercosted threats like Delver or Geist, back it up with removal and countermagic and run away with the game before the opponent realizes what hit them. The best thing is that if the opponent doesn’t know what’s up, they’ll often play against slower cards that are not even in your deck – like Cryptic Command, Mana Leak or sweepers – and that can be a fatal mistake against a deck with as much velocity as this one.

There are some interesting cards that could be in the list but currently aren’t for one reason or the other. It really depends on which direction you want to take this deck. Boros Charm, for example, could be great if you wanted the deck to be more „Burn-like“ (or if Liliana of the Veil starts seeing more play). But the space for tricks is limited and you need some way how to protect your threats, so Spell Pierce, Remand and Spell Snare win in the non-creature, non-removal slot right now.

The last deck that I want to mention today might not be as competitive as the two previous lists, but an unnamed Czech player with former Pro Tour experience has been seen playing it and I’ve also seen the archetype put up some solid finishes on Magic Online. Like most non-mainstream decks, even this one has some serious weaknesses that prevent it from being tier 1, but in the right metagame where things go your way and people are not prepared for the threats you’re bringing to the table, it could take people by surprise and win. This is what the deck looks like:

Modern Monoblue TwelveWalk

Colors
Artifact4
Blue34
Land22
Converted Mana Cost
17
28
38
43
54
64
74
Type
Artifact4
Basic Land20
Enchantment5
Instant8
Land2
Planeswalker3
Sorcery18
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5
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Just like the Possibility Storm deck, even this list only has one game-plan – to take over the game, casting Time Walk after Time Walk, drawing obscene amounts of cards every turn and never giving the opponent any chance to untap and have their turn ever again. Thanks to Dictate of Kruphix, we now have enough solid Howling Mine-type cards so that the deck can get the „snowball“ effect rolling. With all the card-draw and card selection, you should often be able to go off on turn five, which is relatively fast for a Modern combo deck that also has mild disruption in the form of Remand and Cryptic Command.

The win condition the deck uses is not really that important, since the plan is just to go infinite, but I like Thassa in this slot quite a bit. First of all, it’s not all that hard to turn her into a creature – all you need is to have two of the Jace / Dictate of Kruphix on the table. Second, she beats down pretty hard and should win the game in four turns – which might be actually useful, because it makes sure the game doesn’t go long and you don’t hit a really big glut of lands when going off and just lose. The scry effect is also great here, for the same reason – it’s very close to a Howling Mine type of effect when you’re taking extra turns, since all you’re digging for at that point is extra Time Walks.

I think that the fact that rogue decks like these keep doing well in the format just shows how much of a wide open format Modern is. Despite the tier 1 decks being very powerful, Modern has a lot of tools for rogue decks to attack the established ones with. Unlike Standard, where all the best cards are played in the top few decks, Modern offers a much greater pool of powerful cards which can compete with the rest, so even a deck with unorthodox card choices can have a really powerful game-plan going on. Cards like Thundermaw Hellkite or Delver of Secrets used to define whole formats before, but see very few play in Modern nowadays. And these examples are by far not the only ones. I think that finding cards like that and decks that can accomodate them can go a long way towards finding a great, underplayed deck in Modern.

Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Adam

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