Innovations in the Current Modern Environment

Modern breaks from time to time, and there was significant concern in recent months that the format had become dominated by linear aggressive decks. If you weren’t beating down, you weren’t trying. More and more articles and tweets have been popping up calling for bans, unbans, and even overhauls, though recent Modern results have demonstrated that there is plenty of space to explore in the format.

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My writing as of late has focused on the warping power of Infect and Dredge, as well as the less immediately apparent impact of Bant Eldrazi on the format. That said, these decks are merely powerful, and not completely dominant. Even though I respect their power, I continue to endorse Delver strategies and win matches with them. Kevin Jones put up another great premier event finish this weekend with Grixis Delver, though beyond that there is plenty of room for innovation in the format. Take a look at Tom Ross’s winning list from the Star City Games Columbus Open:

GW Tron, by Tom Ross (1st, SCG Columbus Open, 11/13/2016)

Creatures (7)
Wurmcoil Engine
World Breaker
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Spellskite

Artifacts (17)
Chromatic Sphere
Chromatic Star
Expedition Map
Oblivion Stone
Relic of Progenitus

Instants (3)
Path to Exile

Planeswalkers (6)
Karn Liberated
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

Sorceries (8)
Ancient Stirrings
Sylvan Scrying

Lands (19)
Forest
Brushland
Ghost Quarter
Razorverge Thicket
Sanctum of Ugin
Urza’s Mine
Urza’s Power Plant
Urza’s Tower
Sideboard (15)
Thragtusk
Rest in Peace
Blessed Alliance
Nature’s Claim
Ravenous Trap
Warping Wail
Ghost Quarter
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Path to Exile is extremely well-positioned in Modern currently, given the relative power level of Infect and Dredge, and also the likelihood of running into a creature with four or more toughness. Path to ExileThis was one of the big reasons that I believe we’re in a good window for Jeskai Delver.

Tron’s worst matchups tend to be hyper-aggressive decks, so moving towards the best-positioned interactive spell in addition to some graveyard hate to beat up on the boom in Dredge decks is a brilliant deck-building decision. Playing Rest in Peace over Grafdigger’s Cage in an Ancient Stirrings deck is odd at a glance, though this is a nod to the enchantment being more difficult to remove than artifacts are.

The sideboard Blessed Alliances are also a great new innovation, as they both allow a non-targeted catchall removal spell for decks like Infect and Death’s Shadow Zoo, but also some lifegain to buy time against Burn. Modern as a format rewards taking a powerful shell and tweaking it for the current week, and Tom Ross has been a shining example of how valuable general knowledge of the format and skill at tuning decks are in the Modern format.

A deck that attacks the format on much the same angle, and one that surprised me until I actually looked at the list, is Kevin Mackie’s Skred Red from Grand Prix Dallas.

Skred Red, by Kevin Mackie (1st, GP Dallas, 11/6/2016)

Creatures (8)
Pia and Kiran Nalaar
Stormbreath Dragon
Eternal Scourge

Artifacts (10)
Pyrite Spellbomb
Relic of Progenitus
Mind Stone
Batterskull

Enchantments (3)
Blood Moon

Instants (9)
Lightning Bolt
Skred
Magma Jet

Planeswalkers (5)
Koth of the Hammer
Chandra, Torch of Defiance

Sorceries (3)
Anger of the Gods

Lands (22)
20 Snow-Covered Mountain
Scrying Sheets
Sideboard (15)
Shattering Spree
Grafdigger’s Cage
Dragon’s Claw
Goblin Rabblemaster
Molten Rain
Ricochet Trap
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This deck also puts a specific focus on beating Dredge with the four maindeck Relic of Progenitus, which also do a good job of keeping Tarmogoyfs in Lightning Bolt range. I’m one of the bigger detractors when it comes to assessing the drawback of Path to Exile, and given that bias I am extremely jealous of decks that feature Skred while I’m playing Path. SkredIf you could just ignore the snow restriction, it’s at least on par with Path on power level, and will very often be better.

This deck doesn’t have the free win factor of Tron when it comes to matchups like Tron vs. Jund, though the power of Blood Moon to steal games is to be respected. The deck might look like a bunch of nonsense, but the efficient removal spells and handful of elements that provide interaction advantage against various decks across the format are really impressive. Pia and Kiran Nalaar are excellent against decks like Infect and Affinity, and the Eternal Scourge technology looks amazing against any deck that is going to take its time killing you. This is one of, if not the, most underrated decks in Modern right now, and a great example of how dedication to the format can reward you. Skred Red was a known, if fringe, quantity, but this list is extremely polished relative to anything along these lines that I’ve seen. Mackie was clearly rewarded for taking the time to hone it.

A deck a bit further off the radar is Kyle Boggemes’s 11th place list from the Columbus Open. Jeskai Flash isn’t an unheard-of deck in Modern, though there hasn’t really been a consensus list to this point. Boggemes is a Pro Tour finalist who has been putting a lot of work into this archetype, and I have every reason to believe that his build is great:

Jeskai Flash, by Kyle Boggemes (11th, SCG Columbus Open, 11/13/2016)

Creatures (15)
Blade Splicer
Restoration Angel
Snapcaster Mage
Spell Queller
Vendilion Clique

Instants (17)
Cryptic Command
Lightning Bolt
Lightning Helix
Negate
Path to Exile
Spell Snare

Sorceries (4)
Serum Visions

Lands (24)
Island
Mountain
Plains
Celestial Colonnade
Flooded Strand
Ghost Quarter
Glacial Fortress
Hallowed Fountain
Sacred Foundry
Scalding Tarn
Steam Vents
Sideboard (15)
Grafdigger’s Cage
Blade Splicer
Izzet Staticaster
Rest in Peace
Runed Halo
Dispel
Negate
Spell Pierce
Ancestral Vision
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Boggemes’s list once again takes advantage of the power of Path to Exile in the current metagame. It also employs Spell Queller, a card that has been making waves in the format and that I have been extremely impressed with against the non-interactive decks. Boggemes’s Restoration Angels offer another level of disruption, as they allow him to save his Quellers from spot removal.

Spell QuellerI would be concerned to play this deck against Tron, though until this week we had good reason to believe that Tron would be poorly represented in the format given how it performs against aggressive decks. If the new builds of Tron cause the deck to be a more significant force that would be a strike against this exact 75—though this deck looks amazing at interacting with almost anything else, given how generic the answer cards are and how much card advantage the deck can accrue against fair decks.

As the format became increasingly vulnerable to one-mana removal and exile effects, it rewarded interaction more and more. It’s possible that Tom Ross’s win this weekend had just as much to do with his ability to beat the interactive decks as it did with his updates to beat aggressive strategies. I’m very curious to see where the format goes from here, and could easily see GW Tron be one of the decks to beat going forward.

An interesting deck that has popped up as of late and is still trying to find its footing is Jeskai Aggro. The deck saw some success on Magic Online as soon as Kaladesh launched, and we saw Jeff Hoogland playing the deck at the Milwaukee Open. Jim Davis and Dan Jessup piloted an updated version to respective 17th and 12th place finishes in Columbus. They made a move to add Goblin Guide to the creature suite and up the threat count, which is a reasonable choice given that the deck doesn’t really rely on a high spell threshold.

Jeskai Aggro, by Dan Jessup (12th, SCG Columbus Open, 11/13/2016)

Creatures (20)
Goblin Guide
Mantis Rider
Monastery Swiftspear
Snapcaster Mage
Stormchaser Mage

Instants (17)
Lightning Bolt
Lightning Helix
Mutagenic Growth
Twisted Image
Vapor Snag

Sorceries (4)
Gitaxian Probe

Lands (19)
Island
Mountain
Arid Mesa
Hallowed Fountain
Inspiring Vantage
Sacred Foundry
Scalding Tarn
Spirebluff Canal
Steam Vents
Sideboard (15)
Gut Shot
Path to Exile
Smash to Smithereens
Spell Pierce
Surgical Extraction
Geist of Saint Traft
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I can’t help but wonder how good four Mutagenic Growth are as the format moves toward more Path to Exiles. I might be inclined to move the sideboard Geist of Saint Trafts to the main to have more edge against Path and Abrupt Decay.

I like the angle of being aggressive in a way that’s resilient to commonly played removal and doesn’t get hit by the same hate as the other aggressive decks, but I don’t believe Mutagenic Growth hits the mark anymore.

Modern is doing a great job of showcasing how important it is not only to be intimately familiar with your deck and its matchups, but also to make updates from week to week. The pressure points of the format have been pretty consistently in fluctuation as of late, which is awesome for showcasing the skill of metagaming. From a proactive perspective, I would stop skimping on Tron hate for the immediate future, and I would want to feel fine knowing that many of my opponents will be on Path to Exile. From there it’s all just a matter of determining what Delver deck to play.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan Overturf
@RyanOverdrive on Twitter

6 thoughts on “Innovations in the Current Modern Environment

  1. These Jeskai lists interest me. It seems that people are moving away from the Nahiri combo-control shell in favor of something more proactive/tempo-oriented, which includes your take on Jeskai Delver. I am a bit concerned with how the Jeskai Flash list basically has no aggression before turn 3, though, and I’m not sure the 2 Blade Splicers are all that good in the deck.

    As far as Delver and Tron hate… would you consider Fulminator Mage to be sufficient? If not, what else would you reach for? I’ve heard lots of opinions regarding the Delver v. Tron matchup and what to bring in for it, and I’d like to hear your take.

    1. Delver vs. Tron is a real crap shoot. Sometimes you just kill them on turn four with a fast Delver hand, and sometimes they just Tron you. The single most effective card in the sideboard are two Spell Pierce because they can tag Expedition Map and Sylvan Scrying to prevent them from getting off the ground. Fulminator Mage is fine, though it can be kind of a crap shoot itself over whether something that comes down on turn three matters. I try not to pay Tron excessive mind with my sideboard because it’s a deck that can collapse on itself and a matchup that you can win pre-sideboard, though I am most strongly attached to the Spell Pierces.

  2. Overturf, we all know you prefer Grixis, but what are your honest opinions on Jordan Boisvert’s Monkey Grow/Temur Delver deck in the current Modern metagame, and in general?

    (I know I might be putting you in a tough spot when I’m asking you to evaluate the favorite deck of a fellow nexite, but it would truly be valuable to hear your thoughts.)

    1. I value the ability to play from behind very highly- which is something that Grixis Delver does very well that many don’t give it credit for. Temur Delver is a deck that largely needs to get ahead early- it just doesn’t have the same tools that Grixis provides, such as Terminate to axe opposing large creatures. A primary different in running Terminate and Vapor Snag, is that if your opponent is killing all of your creatures you can Terminate their stuff and at least keep both players on nothing, whereas Vapor Snag is very poor when your opponent has a clock and removal. The deck has other strengths to be sure, though its strengths don’t line up with my play style and general Magic philosophy.

      1. What you’re writing fits well with my impression. I feel that Monkey Grow is better at assuming the beatdown role and staying ahead, and is more reliant on succeeding with that, while the strength of Grixis is that it can shift between roles and is better at getting back from behind, acting as a small control deck if needed until it can find a window to resume the beatdown role.

        I’m a big fan of Monkey Grow, obviously, and prefer it right now, but mapping the shortcomings as well as the strengths of ones own deck compared to the alternatives is always a useful excercise. People should do that more. Thanks for replying.

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