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Limited Modern and Constructed Modern


Hello everybody!

Today, I'm going to talk about two different topics: Modern Masters 2017 Limited and some savvy pieces of innovation in Modern that have popped up recently. The reason is simple: Modern Masters 2017 has been released just last week and I've been playing a ton of drafts since then, as the format is just incredibly fun. And with MM3 limited comes also a heightened interest in Modern constructed, as people are getting their hands on more Modern staples and can brew more. The fact that Standard is at its all time low as far as diversity is concerned also helps increase interest in Modern.

Modern Masters 3 Limited

There have already been other articles about Modern Masters 2017 Limited here on this very site, so I'm going to keep this part relatively short. For what it's worth, I think that the format is great and I would definitely enjoy a whole season of drafting it, if MM3 was a regular set. But MM3 is anything but regular, also as far as the price of the product and the expected value of opened packs is concerned. The consequences of this are that at any given draft pod, you'll see about four happy players who just got $40+ worth of cards and four sad players who opened three bulk rares together with three foil commons. Simply put, this draft format is not for the faint of heart.

As for the format itself, what I like about it is that, unless you're being cut really hard, all decks get to do their thing and do it really well. Almost every color-combination has a certain identity and together with the super-abundant mana-fixing, it encourages creativity and trying to see where the overlaps between certain color pairs are. Some synergies are more obvious (U/W blink, Jund sacrifice / tokens deck, U/B control, G/W tokens), some less so. I think that initially, U/B was by far the best color combination and you could pair it with white, green or red - each of those colors had something to offer for the control mage. I managed a 3-0 record two drafts in a row with a Cruel Ultimatum deck, where it was easy to ramp with signets, kill the opposing creatures and dig for the Ultimatum with Augur of Bolas and Forbidden Alchemy. If I recall correctly, one game where I resolved the Ultimatum was close but I managed to win and every single other game where the 7-mana spell resolved was an utter blowout. Please, don't pass the card in a format where mana-fixing is everywhere (unless you're passing it to me).

Since then, I think that the format has evolved quite a bit. First of all, people have learnt about the strength of U/B and even some specific cards like Dinrova Horror or Soul Ransom that make the deck tick. It's much harder now to get the cards late because there are typically multiple people in U/B/x control at any given draft pod. Obviously, this makes other archetypes better. Second, people have realized that there are good sideboard cards against control and have started picking them higher. Spell Pierce is mediocre in U/B control, where it can often be a dead card (when you're not countering a turn 2 Call of the Conclave with it), but great if you're in something like U/W flash or U/G/R tempo playing against control. Delirium Skeins can be backbreaking against U/B if you dump your aggressive creatures on the board and then shred the control player's hand with the Skeins when you're already in hellbent mode. I think that these small pieces of technology are what makes the format more balanced. I certainly still love playing a control game with U/B, but I'm not going to force the archetype anymore, believing that the archetype would be that much better than anything else. Right now, all options are open. A friend of mine has been on an incredible winning streak in MM3 drafts online with R/B aggro decks, punishing people by mauling them with Spike Jesters and Mogg Flunkies over and over again. Have I already mentioned how much I enjoy this format?

Breaking / Entering
Dragon's Maze (Foil)

Modern Innovation

Enough about MM3 Limited, let's have a look at some of the most interesting examples of the latest development in constructed Modern now.

1) Breaking / Entering seems to have become a real card in Modern, fueling a combo deck with Brain in a Jar and Kari Zev's Expertise that allow you to cast both halves at the same time for a massive discount on mana. So far, it seems that the versions which are the most common follow the footsteps of Matt Sperling, who was one of the first proponents of a Grixis version with Goryo's Vengeance for Emrakul and Griselbrand. Grixis has a big advantage in library manipulation, thanks to Serum Visions and some additional sideboard protection of the combo with Dispel. However, there are other possible builds, for example Naya with mana dorks and Sram's Expertise. Regardless of the colors of the deck, one card that I really like in this archetype is Goblin Dark-Dwellers. Unlike Griselbrand the Goblins are not a dead card when you draw them naturally, helping you recast Expertises and card selection spells, but at the same time, they are a great hit with Breaking / Entering: when the Dwellers come into play, you can target the split card in your graveyard, mill eight more cards and keep looking for more reanimation targets. Even if you miss on Emrakul, you can often go off by chaining multiple Goblins and ending up with several hasty 4/4 menace guys.

2) Jeskai Copycat combo keeps popping up in Modern leagues, posting 5-0 records here and there. There is an interesting trend towards using creatures that protect the combo - such as Vendilion Cliques and even Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir on one occasion made the main deck. But apparently, Jeskai is not the only shell you can jam this combo into. An online user with the nickname "Serox" recently posted a 5-0 record with a list that resembles the Standard 4C Copycat deck to an incredible extent. Here it is:

I've got to say that I'm rather perplexed by some of the card choices in this list - Essence Warden? Sure, it does give you infinite life with Felidar Guardian and Restoration Angel, but is that really what the deck should go for? Only three Felidar Guardians? Nine mana dorks with Birds, Noble Hierarchs and Lotus Cobras, but then no real mana sinks and only one card that costs more than four mana? Even though I'm sure there are about a million different ways how to build this kind of deck, I really, really like the idea. It's like playing 4C Chord that kills with Kiki-Jiki, except for the fact that you kill with a different set of cards. And in a deck full of creatures with comes-into-play abilities, both Felidar Guardian and Saheeli Rai seem powerful enough on their own to make sure the deck doesn't produce any too clunky draws. Right now, I'm trying to tinker with the cards this deck runs to see if I can find a version I would be happy with, so chances are that in one of my next articles, I will talk about it more in-depth, with a tweaked deck list as well.

3) Without any doubt, Death's Shadow Zoo is one of the best decks in the format, but apart from the core (now with Traverse the Ulvenwald), there are still plenty of ways how to innovate. Varolz, the Scar-Striped is starting to see play as a one-of in some lists. With a Death's Shadow in the graveyard, you can pay a single black mana to put thirteen counters on any creature you like. But there are even other color combinations for the world's cheapest 13/13: Grixis, for example, has been posting some pretty solid results in MTGO leagues. By cutting green, we lose Tarmogoyf and Traverse the Ulvenwald, but blue offers the package of Thought Scour + Tasigur (a more than reasonable replacement for Goyf), Serum Visions to make the deck more consistent and Snapcaster Mage. Also, a really interesting card in this deck is Stubborn Denial. In a world of Fatal Pushes and Path to Exile, Death's Shadow is a fairly fragile creature and Stubborn Denial is one of the best ways how to protect it.

Another new card that seems pretty good in this archetype is Orzhov Charm. A significant number of Death's Shadow lists already play white - when the opponent boards in a ton of spot removal for our powerful beaters, they might suddenly be weak to a strategy that goes wide, which is exactly what Lingering Souls do and why they are frequently in the sideboard of these decks. Mana isn't really an issue, since we have plenty fetches and taking damage from our shocklands is kind of the point of this whole strategy. The aforementioned Orzhov Charm seems to fit into this plan really well. It's basically a split card between a removal spell that makes us lose life (yay!) and a two-mana instant-speed reanimation spell on Death's Shadow. The instant part is especially important here, because on a low life total, an end-of-turn Death's Shadow can often singlehandedly kill the opponent who doesn't expect it.

4) Torrential Gearhulk, one of the most powerful cards in Standard, also known as "Snapcaster Hulk", has started seeing some play in Modern, notably in Grixis Control. As much as I like this inclusion - probably because it shows more about what I would like Modern to be, rather than what it currently is - I'm not sure whether the Hulk is good enough. Six mana is a lot in Modern: there are games that get out of hand or just downright end long before you play land number six, but also, there are counterspells like Remand and Mana Leak that really want the opponent to play six-drops. And even "fair" decks like Jund have Kolaghan's Command to destroy artifacts as a cheap way how to get rid of the 5/6 body.

On the other hand, there are some sensible incentives why to play the Hulk. The aforementioned Kolaghan's Command can also bring the Hulk back if you happen to play it yourself, which gives you a lot of lategame power. We've been used to this trick with Snapcaster Mages, but Torrential Gearhulk adds a giant body to that as well. Another incredible target for Torrential Gearhulk is Cryptic Command. Funnily enough, recasting the Command with a Gearhulk costs exactly the same as doing it with Snapcaster Mage (except for the fact that you don't need quadruple blue mana), but if I can choose between a 2/1 body and a 5/6, I'm pretty sure I know which one I'd take. So what is the bottom line? I can't honestly say whether Torrential Gearhulk deserves a slot in Grixis Control, but what I can say, is that it's correct to consider it and that it might be right in certain metagames.

In the long term, I've had some mixed feelings about Modern. It's true what many Pros say about it and also why it stopped being a part of the PT circuit: compared to Standard, there's a lot more variance involved on all levels: starting with pairings, where every deck has some great matchups but also some terrible ones, and continuing with the actual games, where winning the dice roll can often be the difference between winning and losing the game or where there are so many must-answer cards that being short on answers frequently means that a single threat can kill you in a heartbeat. That being said, Modern is also the format where the most innovation and brewing happens right now. Legacy, with its higher power level, is a lot more stable, but in Modern, anything is possible and creativity actually gets rewarded. This, to me, is a fundamental aspect of what Magic should be about and what keeps it fun. Perhaps I've been writing about Modern a lot lately, but that's largely because of how much I enjoy trying new things in the format. For the sake of the game, I hope that things start moving in Standard as well, as the format is a lot more accessible than Modern, but until Amonkhet, I know that I'll mostly stick to Modern.

Thanks for reading and see you next time, when I will likely be discussing some Amonkhet goodies!


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
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