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Khans of Tarkir 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

Khans of Tarkir in Modern

The Khans of Tarkir full spoiler has been released on Monday and today, I’m going to talk about some of the cards from this new set that I think are going to show up in Modern. Just like before M15 was released, I have a Standard Pro Tour ahead of me and our team has already started preparing (at least in theory, not with actual cards), so I can’t talk about how to use the cards from this new set for Standard purposes, since it would collide with the effort of my team to keep what we find secret. However, I definitely can talk about Modern, which is actually very relevant for Khans of Tarkir. The set is focused on enemy three-color combinations – the wedges –, which means that many of the cards are going to be much harder to cast, but their power level is also going to be higher. Modern has traditionally had abundant ways to fix manabases (now even better with allied-color fetchlands), so playing three-color cards should not be a problem there. Standard cards don’t often make a big splash in Modern, because the power level of Standard is generally a lot lower than that of Modern and it is much more difficult for cards to shine when the card pool is so much bigger. But I think that many of the wedge cards have a higher power level with the colored mana acting as a counterweight, so the set should have an above-average impact on Modern. Let’s have a look at some of the most promising cards.

Butcher of the Horde

I think that this is a very fine example of the power level being much higher on cards with problematic mana-costs. This card could never be printed if it was only single color – a 5/4 flyer for four with a handful of very relevant abilities is simply way too good. However, three different colors in its manacost mean that we can actually have this Demigod-sized creature at a discount cost. In Standard, it doesn’t take much thinking to figure out that this is a prime candidate for the cornerstone of a black-white-red (Mardu) archetype, as this is a build-around-me caliber of a card. But what about Modern? Right now, there’s not really any deck with these colors. In Legacy, Sam Black made waves with a RBW Zombie deck, based around sacrifice outlets such as Goblin Bombardment, Cabal Therapy or Carrion Feeder and lots of cheap fodder like Gravecrawler, Bloodghast and Lingering Souls. In Modern, we have access to a big part of this shell. All the sacrifice fodder, as well as Thoughtseize and Tidehollow Sculler (a zombie to bring the Crawler back) to clear the path and Liliana for some more discard shenanigans. Butcher of the Horde could be exactly the finisher / sacrifice outlet the deck needs to become playable, possibly with some other goodies from the RWB wedge, such as Mardu Ascendancy. If you liked the Legacy version of this deck (I know I did) or are just a fan of these types of decks in general, I recommend giving it a try.

Another possible home for Butcher of the Horde is the four-colored Jund deck splashing white for Lingering Souls and Ajani Vengeant. It’s a bit short in the fodder department, but Lingering Souls are just as good here as they are in the strictly RWB deck and sometimes, it can also come in handy to sac your own Dark Confidant when your life is low and you’re in danger of dying. And – interestingly enough – the lifelink ability of Butcher of the Horde also works well with Confidant, since sometimes gaining a bunch of life plus continuing to dig through your library is going to be better than just culling Bob himself.

All in all, I believe that Butcher of the Horde has what it takes to compete in Modern. It passes the Lightning Bolt test, the Abrupt Decay test and even the Shriekmaw test – there are not all that many spells that kill it that see a lot of play in Modern.

Siege Rhino

This is what happens when you go from one color to two and then from two to three. Ravenous Baloth wasn’t bad, but Loxodon Hierarch single-handedly beat it in almost all ways in which we could compare these two cards (unless you were playing a beast tribal deck). And now, Siege Rhino pretty much strictly overtrumps the Hierarch. It lost the regenerating ability, but that was rarely relevant anyway. Instead, it gained trample (a pretty strong ability on a 4-power creature), has a slightly bigger bottom and packs a six-point life swing instead of a four-point one. Loxodon Hierarch doesn’t see much play, mostly because of the presence of Kitchen Finks, but since Siege Rhino is a lot more offensive (and simply better in general), I can see him being a maindeckable card much easier than the rapping Elephant. What’s more, there are already decks with these colors that could easily accommodate the Rhino. Birthing Pod seems ideal, as you’re going to benefit from the Rhino’s ability even if it’s going to be just a step on the pod-chain. Also, it works very well with Restoration Angel. But even decks without Pod, like the Junk deck Robin Dolar used to win GP Boston in July, might be interested in the Rhino. The amount of power it offers is well above the standard that we’re used to. Again, few of the most commonly played removal spells in Modern can actually touch the Rhino (Bolt, Decay, Shriekmaw...), which also helps a great deal.

Dig Through Time

This card is not exactly a three-colored one, but it still feels that some Modern decks would benefit from it a lot. Modern is a format where many cheap spells are played and together with fetchlands and the omnipresent discard that you’re going to face, it means that in most games, your graveyard is going to get filled rather quickly. The casting cost that’s written on Dig Through Time is rather deceptive – it doesn’t take a lot of effort to turn that eight into a four or three, or even two. And taking two out of the top seven cards is insane, very close to tutoring for what you actually need.

Which decks could be interested in this card? Splinter Twin seems like an obvious choice. With Dig Through Time, you can go from having nothing but a full graveyard to completing your whole combo at the end of your opponent's turn and winning on your next turn. Granted, you need to be a bit lucky for that, but seven cards really means digging very deep, especially when you thin your deck with fetchlands and scry useless stuff to the bottom with Serum Visions. The only substantial drawback of this card is that you can’t easily play too many, since it can get rather difficult to play the second one right after you play the first one. I see Dig Through Time as a two-of, maybe a one-of, but certainly a spell with a lot of possible uses.

Another deck that might want this card is Storm, but it gets a bit complicated here, since the graveyard is really important for Storm as a resource. I’m not sure if abandoning Pyromancer Ascension and Past in Flames is worth being able to run what’s essentially a two-mana instant Vampiric Tutor times two (I might be exaggerating, but just a little bit), but I definitely wouldn’t rule this possibility out. Even with Ascension and Past in Flames, it might still be right to run a single copy of this spell.

Jeskai Charm

This charm might not be good enough, simply because there’s no good deck for it in Modern, but there’s one thing that keeps telling me otherwise: putting creatures on top of their owners‘ libraries at instant speed is extremely powerful in formats where a substantial part of every manabase consists of fetchlands. To some extent, this is going to be true in Standard as well, but with the Ravnica duals, Modern manabases often consist of almost nothing else than fetches and shocklands. Submerge is a great card in Legacy and this is essentially a „Terminate // burn spell // make any race impossible for your opponent“ split card. Putting the last ability to good use might turn out to be a difficult puzzle to solve, but Geist of Saint Traft is a good start, I think. Hitting for 3 + 5 lifelink damage seems sweet. Young Pyromancer might also be useful (and good with the +1/+1 ability of the Charm) in something like U/W/R Delver.

Ghostfire Blade

This innocent-looking piece of equipment might actually be a big boon for Modern affinity. It’s not quite a Cranial Plating, but it’s cheap and does a lot of extra damage. Also, increasing your creatures‘ power leads to a lot of benefits in this deck – you get more life from Vault Skirge’s lifelink, poisoning the opponent to death becomes much easier with Inkmoth Nexus, the clock with Etched Champion can turn from something like six turns into three... Not sure if there’s still room in the deck, but if I was planning to play Affinity anytime soon, I would make sure to test this card beforehand.

Mantis Rider

I’ve always liked Lightning Angel – it’s the perfect midrange creature that can be very useful on both offense and defense. It doesn’t do anything broken, but it provides you with quite a lot of value. Mantis Rider is basically a better version of Lightning Angel and since the Angel saw some sporadic play in Extended, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mantis Rider as well – probably again in something like a U/W/R Delver deck. However, there’s one pretty strong argument against this card: Lightning Bolt is still the most common removal spell in the format and having a 3-drop that is pretty much an ideal target for the Bolt (or Helix) is obviously not ideal. I wouldn’t rule Mantis Rider out, though. Even though he doesn’t pass the Bolt test, he might still be useful enough to see some play.

Fetchlands

I have left the allied fetchlands as the last item that I want to talk about – and for a reason. This five-card cycle is going to see a lot of play in Modern over the following years (decades?), so if you play Modern, you’d better get used to seeing these pictures all the time. However, I don’t think that the actual impact of the Onslaught fetches is going to be that huge. They’re not going to spawn any new decks, they’re not going to make any archetype significantly better or worse. Shard color combinations like Naya or Jund are going to get a bigger boost from this cycle (say goodbye to Marsh Flats in Jund) than the enemy tricolors, the wedges, which is a bit strange, since the wedges are actually what Khans of Tarkir promote. But still – apart from slightly better (and affordable) manabases, not much is going to happen.

Well, that’s all from me for today. I won’t be able to talk about Standard or Khans of Tarkir Limited till the Pro Tour is over, so chances are that I’ll get back to Modern again or delve into some theory article. If there’s a topic that you’d like to read about, be sure to let me know in the comments! And then obviously I’ll be happy to share my whole Pro Tour experience after the PT.

Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Adam

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