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Dragons 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:

  • 14th at Pro Tour Portland 2014
  • 9th at Worlds 2009
  • 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • 64 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Three times Czech Nationals Top 8

Dragons of Tarkir in Modern

Hey everyone!

The full spoiler of Modern Masters 2 has been revealed and we’re heading for a season of increased Modern play – the next batch of PPTQs is going to be either in Modern or Sealed (no Standard) and there are several Modern GPs following the trio of Modern Masters super-GPs. Today, I’m going to have a look at two things: first, what impact Dragons of Tarkir has had on the Modern metagame and second, how Modern Masters 2 has lived up to the expectations in terms of what cards it contains.

Dragons of Tarkir is a large set, but since Modern is such a big format, there are usually only several cards in each set that make an appearance in Modern (unless you add a crazy delve mechanic to them). Also, Dragons of Tarkir’s prime focus is... well, Dragons. And big, expensive Timmy creatures typically don’t make waves in Modern (unless they’re so big that it actually starts getting interesting to cheat them into play in some other way than casting them). Considering this, it’s fairly surprising how many Dragons of Tarkir cards made it into winning Modern decks recently (I’ve mostly checked decks from the four recent Modern SCG IQs). Let’s have a look at some of these cards and what implications they have for the Modern format.

Dragonlord Ojutai

Let’s start with my personal favourite – a card that’s all over Standard right now, but which could be surprisingly good in Modern as well. I’ve been playing U/W(b) Control for a long time in Modern, changing my win conditions from month to month based on what works in the current metagame. At certain points, I tried Kitchen Finks, Restoration Angel, Gideon Jura, Sun Titan, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Wurmcoil Engine... even Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir. Celestial Colonnade is always there, but mostly because it’s a land, so having it as a win condition is basically „free“. Every win condition has some advantages and disadvantages, but basically, the point is to navigate your way through a field of different removal spells (Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, Abrupt Decay, Terminate) so that you dodge the most of what’s played and also weighing how much of a good idea it is to tap out on your own turn (against Twin, for example, it tends to lead to ugly ends). Dragonlord Ojutai is not flat out the best win condition possible (it still costs five and you need to play it on your own turn), but it’s interesting, to say the least. Hexproof dodges all kinds of removal and in Modern, we even have some pretty cool cards to combine Ojutai with. The best one by far (mostly because it’s also „free“) is Minamo, School at Water's Edge. Being able to untap Ojutai at will, and thus give it hexproof, is amazing and having one of your lands do this is just so much value. Minamo, of course, is legendary, which can be problematic, but if you really want to rely on Ojutai as your win condition, I can easily see running two Minamos in the U/W deck.

A good example of what this deck could look like is the version that Paul Pagatpatan played to a 12th place at the SCG IQ in Portland on 3rd May. Here’s his list:

There are several things I love about this particular version of the list. I’ve already mentioned Ojutai + Minamo, but when we start playing the big hexproof dragon as our finisher of choice, we might as well incorporate some other Dragons of Tarkir cards. Counterspell is not legal in Modern, but Silumgar's Scorn is. Two dragons are obviously not enough to support the dragon Counterspell, even with a trio of Anticipates to fetch it, but when you add a playset of Mutavaults to the mix (yes, Mutavault counts as a dragon as well, when it’s in play and animated), it becomes a hard counter more often than not. Now that we have Mutavaults, we can play Spellstutter Sprites and when we have the Sprites, it makes sense to add some Vendilion Cliques and also a Sword of Light and Shadow (we don’t want our fragile sprites to charge into battle unarmed). It all clicks together in one perfectly designed package of synergy. Is it better than the traditional toolbox U/W has access to? Is Spellstutter Sprite really better on turn two than Mana Leak? That’s hard to say and I’ll need to test it a bunch. But what I know for sure is that I’ll add Dragonlord Ojutai to the possible list of finishers for U/W – and that he’s going to be pretty high on that list.

The U/W shell is, of course, not the only one to accommodate cards that use the „dragon theme“. Thundermaw Hellkite is a Modern staple and I can easily see a Jeskai control deck with both Ojutai and the Hellkite, making Silumgar's Scorn even better and possibly even adding Draconic Roar – an upgraded Searing Blaze. If the deck is aggressive enough (probably having Geist of Saint Traft and a lot of burn), Draconic Roar will fit in perfectly, in addition to Lightning Bolt and Lightning Helix.

Kolaghan’s Command

A card that hasn’t received a lot of attention when it was first spoiled, but which is slowly working its way up through all sorts of lists of Modern staples, is Kolaghan's Command. Mostly, you’ll find it as a one-of or two-of in grindy decks like Jund, Grixis Control and Grixis Twin. It’s role is a bit similar to Electrolyze – it kills a small dork and gives you card advantage, either returning a dead creature to your hand or knocking a card out of the opponent's hand. The „discard mode“ is especially valuable in decks that play Liliana of the Veil, because „discard your last card“ tends to be a lot better than „discard a land that you don’t need anyway“. You’re also much more likely to have some creature to bring back from the dead when you’ve been working with Lili for a few turns and on top of that, killing a small creature means that they’ll have to sacrifice to Liliana the one you really want to kill. Synergies all around.

However, the „destroy target artifact“ mode is what I believe pushes this card over the top. Modern is a really wide format. PV mentioned in one of his articles that it would be much more healthy and fair if players were allowed to have a 20-card sideboard. This way, it’s almost impossible to have hate cards for everything – creatures, burn, graveyard, artifacts, enchantments... That’s why cards that have a „bonus“ ability to do something niche are so great in Modern, because they help you contain everything you need to be prepared for. An odd Vedalken Shackles or Batterskull could easily take over the game against an unprepared opponent and it’s these uncommon (but possible and thus important) situations that give the Command the value it has.

Dromoka’s Command

While Kolaghan's Command is played as a one-of in decks that have access to red and black mana, the same is true for Dromoka's Command for green and white. Many Abzan decks are incorporating the G/W Command as a catch-all card that’s useful in many matchups. The fight mode is great in creature mirrors and against Twin, the mode that prevents damage against burn... and you never know when you face a random enchantment like Curse of Death's Hold you need to kill.

Collected Company

The role of this card in Modern is fairly straightforward. Since the format is too fast and combo-ish to allow playing Collected Company simply as a „value“ card, it makes sense to go for a combo finish with it – and the combo that only needs creatures with a converted mana cost of three or less to go off is obviously Melira. Some versions even go for the cute combo of „Congregation at Dawn + Collected Company“, some just run it as sort of a Peer through Depths on creatures, together with Chord of Calling for the full combo-enabling package. Another card from Dragons of Tarkir that has a solid place in this deck is Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit – a card that has the same role as Melira here, but which can generate a bigger advantage if you’re not comboing out, just adding more power to the board and attacking in an old-fashioned way.

Apart from these, other cards have also made a token appearance at the top tables of some recent Modern tournaments. Rending Volley has surpassed Combust as the sideboard card against Twin, Anticipate has found a home in some control decks and also in some combo builds like Ad Nauseam that don’t rely entirely on instants (Ad Nauseam sometimes needs to tutor up Phyrexian Unlife or Pentad Prism). The power level of Anticipate is not great, but with many of the cheap card selection spells like Preordain or Ponder banned in Modern, sometimes you need to use the tools that are at hand.

Atarka's Command has found a nice home in Burn, acting as Skullcrack no. 5-8, but also pushing the deck to play more creatures like Monastery Swiftspear and perhaps even Wild Nacatl and Tarmogoyf. Roast is a spell some Twin builds run over Flame Slash as an answer to Tarmogoyf and Tasigur. Secure the Wastes saw some play in B/W token builds and I’ve even spotted Monastery Siege in one successful Merfolk list (!) – presumably for the ability that protects (somewhat) your fish from being sniped and also acting as a double Thorn of Amethyst against Burn.

Some other cards have potential for Modern but haven’t really made it to the top tables so far. Deathmist Raptor seems like a fairly powerful card (anything that gives you free value from the graveyard would), but triggering it is a lot more difficult in Modern than it is in Standard. The combination of Gathan Riders + Deathmist Raptor is very likely too cute and not powerful enough to see any play. Risen Executioner is another card that could do some serious work in the right deck and offers „free value“ from the graveyard (welcome back, Golgari Grave-Troll!). I really like the synergy between Zombie Infestation and Risen Executioner, as it offers both a discard outlet and an engine that creates a swarm of zombies that could actually use some pump effect. There’s even a deck that could run this combination in Modern – the Jund „Smallpox-Dredge“ deck played by Raph Levy at the last Pro Tour. However, right now, there are probably too many creatures in the deck, so casting the Executioner from the graveyard wouldn’t even be that easy. Bloodghast is not an issue, since it typically doesn’t stay in the yard for too long, but there are also things like Vengeful Pharaoh, Golgari Grave-Troll, Stinkweed Imp and sometimes even Tarmogoyf. But if you decide to play a version with few creatures, the Executioner might actually be good enough. It does get exiled by Path to Exile, but so do your Bloodghasts and that's not a reason not to play them.

As I’ve already mentioned at the beginning, Modern Masters 2015 is going to be released very soon and we already have the full spoiler. I think that many people, myself included, have expected other good Modern staples to be printed and it looks like there’s a lot of chaff among the rares, especially compared to MM1. Around two thirds of all rares are close to bulk rares this time around. At least there’s not the cycle of Kamigawa dragons in the mythic slot and the award of the worst mythic in the set goes to Comet Storm this time around. Still, it feels like a number of Modern staples people were almost certain to see in MM2 are missing. Serum Visions at common would be super-sweet and Linvala not being present also seems kind of strange.

From the point of view of limited playability, it’s too soon to comment on anything. Modern Masters 1 was a great limited format, so its successor has a pretty high bar to meet, but I believe that Wizards know what they’re doing and wouldn’t miss this great opportunity to mix some of the best limited sets together to create one amazing one. Hopefully, I’ll be able to play a few drafts before GP Utrecht – playing a limited GP as a „prerelease“ of sorts is never a good thing, even though this time around, I think that’s exactly what it’s going to feel like for many people.

Either way, I’m really excited about MM2 and can’t wait to play with the set!

Thanks for reading and see you next time,

Adam

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