Wizards loves touting Modern as “wide-open,” a claim bolstered by the format’s incredibly diverse pool of viable decks. With so many options available to them, deckbuilders are bound to ask broader questions about archetype superiority. Is Allies just a worse Merfolk? Goblins, a worse Zoo? Bubble Hulk, a worse Grishoalbrand? Whatever the answers to these questions, someone will play those “worse version” decks, for one of a few reasons. They might think their version has something over the more established one. Maybe they like surprising opponents with lesser-known cards. And possibly, they don’t care so much about winning percentages, and simply have their hearts set on a pet deck, no matter how bad it is. Which is fine—even for many pros, there’s more to Magic than just winning games.
My articles frequently deal in brews, and today’s is no exception. My brews try to do something unique in Modern, and I’m always wary of encroaching on design space monopolized by a strictly better deck. Today, I’ll temporarily defect from that habit for the simple reason that I really want to attack with a two-card creature.
This article explores one of brewing’s oft-ignored fundamentals: making bad cards better. But Spikes, be warned. We won’t be examining Modern’s next deck-to-beat.
Let’s be honest: Brisela, Voice of Nightmares isn’t going to break Modern anytime soon. Making her requires that we end our turn with two unplayable creatures on the battlefield. And once Brisela is formed, we haven’t even won. According to Sam Stoddard, this is by design:
“…we wanted something that was powerful and imposing, but also something that could be beaten. The meld action is the most fun when you actually get to attack with it, rather than your opponent just scooping the second it resolves.”
In a format where we can make Emrakul for even less work than Brisela, we’re already committing to working harder for our wins just by virtue of sleeving up Eldrazi-haunted heroines over the godmother Herself.
Eyes on the Prize
I messed around with a few color combinations before settling into Boros. WR meant running Nahiri, the Harbinger, and I naturally dropped an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn into my list. But then I realized I was winning most of my games with Emrakul. If we’re not melding, there’s no reason to play this deck over a more focused WR midrange deck, or over Jeskai Nahiri—we could cut Gisela, the Broken Blade and Bruna, the Fading Light and already have a superior deck on our hands. So I had to actively worsen the deck by cutting Emrakul from the list. Doing so allowed me to get meld off more consistently, which is the goal of the deck. And nothing quite trumps your opponent’s face when you -8, search up Bruna, reanimate Gisela, attack for five, and meld on your end step.
That said, Bruna is clearly the worst card in the deck. I started with one and had to move to two to make meld more consistent. But the 75 does get better without her. If you’re interested in the deck’s playstyle and don’t care so much about making Brisela, check out the more focused WR Lockdown.
Grooming Our Angels
Gisela, the Broken Blade and Bruna, the Fading Light are both unplayable on their own. We need to address their glaring weaknesses to get away with fitting them into a Modern deck. Unfortunately, they don’t share many weaknesses, so doing so pulls our deck into multiple directions and ultimately weakens it. But hey, eyes on the prize! We’re trying to make Brisela here, not spike a Pro Tour!
Our first Angel’s downfalls are fairly obvious. She dramatically fails the Bolt Test, costing (much) more than one mana and dying to the instant without providing any immediate value. Even unanswered, Gisela won’t always run away with the game. Addressing this issue was my main concern while brewing the deck. I brainstormed a few ways to get around Gisela’s softness to Lightning Bolt.
Chalice of the Void: I’ve tried Chalice as a work-around for Boltable creatures before, attempting to use it to protect Goblin Rabblemaster (which didn’t work out very well). I also tried Chalice in a Spirit of the Labyrinth/Geier Reach Sanitarium deck, where it proved equally miserable—opponents were happy to throw away one-mana spells to the Sanitarium as I dug for my Spirit, and that deck never wanted to cast Chalice on two. The artifact seems more reasonable in a Brisela deck with fewer two-drops.
- Interacts efficiently with a bevy of Tier 1 decks (Infect, Affinity, Burn) and a host of lower-tier standbys (Delver, Bogles, Storm).
- Affects the game when we don’t have a threat on the field.
- Allows us to run other Boltable threats, such as Hanweir Garrison (would you like a meld with your meld?).
- Weak in some matchups (Jund, Merfolk, Valakut).
- Prevents us from running Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile, the best removal spells in the format.
- Threatens us with slow starts unless we dip into Simian Spirit Guide, which reduces the amount of action we draw during games.
Effects on the deck: A Brisela shell with Chalice is very controlling, speeding out an early lock piece and cleaning up the board with sweepers like Anger of the Gods or Wrath of God. After that, it sits around for a while until it can muster a kill. It lacks early interaction for linear decks and struggles against decks that quickly go over the top like Tron. The deck is also especially weak to disruption, since it expends so many resources on each of its threats and its locks rely on synergy between specific pieces.
Lightning Greaves: Turn one interaction, turn two Lightning Greaves, turn three interaction, turn four Gisela, equip, swing is a line I had the pleasure of enacting a few times online, and it’s as nasty as it sounds. Greaves turns Gisela into an A-list threat all by itself, and makes her more dangerous than any other enabler on this list. But it doesn’t do much on its own.
- Allows us to turn the corner with great conviction by threatening four points of hasty lifelink.
- Buys us tempo by forcing opponents who care about combat to hold up mana so they can interact with Gisela the turn she resolves.
- Greatly improves other possible threats.
- Does nothing on its own.
- All but dead against decks that ignore combat (Ad Nauseam, Grishoalbrand, Tron).
- Close to useless in multiples.
Effects on the deck: Greaves incentivizes us to play more threats, making us more of an aggro deck. The best candidates are Hanweir Garrison (who sadly can’t meld under Blood Moon) and the Bolt-proof Brimaz, King of Oreskos. I like having a Bolt-proof threat in the deck, since we won’t always have our work-around card handy. At three mana, both of these additional threats can come down the turn after a Greaves to wreck some havoc.
Honor of the Pure: Honor and I also have some brewing history. I once paired the enchantment with another set of Angels, Serra Avenger and Lightning Angel, and their ugly middle sibling, Mantis Rider. That project yielded little competitive success, but it did demonstrate Honor’s worth as a Bolt-beater.
- Boasts impressive synergy with lifelink, and with our non-Angel threat options, including Brimaz and Timely Reinforcements.
- Difficult to remove from the board, unlike the Kolaghan’s Command-able Chalice of the Void and Lightning Greaves.
- Does nothing on its own.
- Doesn’t solve Gisela’s weakness to heavy-duty removal spells like Path to Exile and Terminate.
- Especially slow—Chalice at least interacts with opponents directly, and Greaves promises us early swings, helping pay for the time investment of actually casting it.
Effects on the deck: Honor of the Pure slows down our early-game, but its synergy with Timely Reinforcements makes the enchantment well worth considering. A single copy Bolt-proofs Gisela and turns Timely into a three-mana Siege Rhino of sorts. In multiples, the enchantment juices even more value from our token generators. We can also fit more white x/3’s in the deck should we take this path (sorry, Hanweir Garrison!). Jamming a bunch of Serra Avengers seems sub-optimal when they all share a Lightning Greaves, but Honor boosts every creature we resolve, encouraging us to play multiples. Avenger can also be reanimated with Bruna’s effect, unlike Brimaz.
Bruna suffers from a problem most high-cost creatures in Modern know well: rotting in hand while the linear decks kill you and dying to heavy-duty removal if you survive to cast her. My article on benchmark creature playability analyzed data from MTGGoldfish about Modern’s most-played creatures, and not a single five-drop made the list. The reason: five-drops have very large shoes to fill if they want to see play in this turn-four format, since Path to Exile, Terminate, and Maelstrom Pulse kill them indiscriminately. Even value-heavy spell-casters like Goblin Dark-Dwellers and Thragtusk have a ways to go before they make it to the prestigious staple pool occupied by the more efficient Decay-defiers Restoration Angel, Thought-Knot Seer, and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet.
Enter Bruna, the Fading Light, who costs a whopping seven mana. For added context, she shares this manacost with Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite—one of Magic‘s most popular reanimation (and now, Eldritch Evolution) targets. Expecting to cast Bruna for such a handsome sum asks us either to drag games out far past Modern’s crucial turn-four mark, or to ramp like crazy.
But assuming our efficient disruption lets us survive to turn seven, Bruna has another problem. If we make seven land drops for the first seven turns of the game, we’ve spent multiple cards not directly impacting the board. Let’s say our curve stops at four, not counting Bruna. The three additional land drops we need to make to cast Bruna, then, are wasted—if we didn’t run Bruna, we could play fewer lands, and stop making drops after turn four. This disadvantage is extremely apparent in a deck with Nahiri, whose +2 ability filters through excess lands to find action. With Bruna in hand, looting away lands isn’t always an option, since we need to play them to get to seven.
We’re already slowing down games with Moon, Nahiri, and company. But we’d like a way to make land drops without spending cards. So far, I’ve come up with these admittedly unexciting options:
Crucible of Worlds: Brings back fetchlands or lands binned with Nahiri, but soft to Kolaghan’s/Decay unless we make a land drop from the grave the turn we cast it. And we almost certainly have better things to do on turn four.
Solemn Simulacrum: Cantripping ramp is exactly what we want, but Jens has quite a high price and clogs our four-drop slot. The sad robot might work with accelerants like Boros Signet, but running all those mana cards limits our ability to interact efficiently.
Life From the Loam/Faithless Looting: Pulls the deck too far into an irrelevant direction, and even forces a color splash. Green also gives us Tarmogoyf and ramp spells like Sakura-Tribe Elder, but all those cards cut into our disruption slots. This plan also complicates running Rest in Peace from the sideboard, which I think is probably too good in this metagame not to pack.
Forming Brisela involves sticking both Gisela, the Broken Blade, and Bruna, the Fading Light, cards unplayable in Modern without the above enablers helping them out. Each half of Brisela, then, is married to a two-card “combo.” For example, resolving Honor of the Pure to compensate for Gisela’s paltry three toughness makes the Angel better, but it also makes her cost six mana instead of four and two cards instead of one.
Running these “combos” is necessary to make the Angels work in Modern. But it also puts us down tempo and cards. To compensate, we need to use the rest of our deck to interact with the field extremely efficiently. Here are the best options for this role:
Since Moon often shuts players out of games, Delver more obviously represents interaction. But Blood Moon is highly interactive; turn two Blood Moon just happens to interact so efficiently with the format’s top decks that it can seem uninteractive to onlookers.
Nahiri, the Harbinger: Liliana of the Veil‘s true equal, Nahiri also interacts very efficiently. She has a ton of loyalty and can easily take control of a board if we have a creature out. Otherwise, she recycles extra Moons, picks off attackers, and can ultimate into Brisela.
One-for-one removal (Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile): When it comes to answering a single card, Bolt and Path set Modern’s hallmarks for mana efficiency. Chalice of the Void is another card that interacts efficiently with a big chunk of the field, but we can’t run it alongside Bolt/Path.
Timely Reinforcements: Interacts very efficiently with aggro decks, trading as favorably as five-for-one. Does nothing against creatureless decks.
Sweepers (Anger of the Gods, Wrath of God): The original X-for-one, Wrath of God, is still relevant in Modern. But Anger usually shines brighter these days. Given matchup variance and Nahiri’s looting ability, some combination of both in the 75 is probably ideal.
Sideboard hosers (Rest in Peace, Stony Silence, Leyline of Sanctity): These are the cards white is notorious for in Modern. Rest in Peace and Stony Silence reflect the pinnacle of efficient strategy hosers and should be considered in some number. They’re both too narrow for the maindeck.
Melding It All Together
With all that explaining out of the way, we can finally look at the decklist.
Boros Brisela, by Jordan Boisvert
4 Gisela, the Broken Blade
2 Bruna, the Fading Light
3 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
2 Lightning Greaves
1 Crucible of Worlds
4 Blood Moon
4 Honor of the Pure
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Path to Exile
4 Nahiri, the Harbinger
4 Timely Reinforcements
4 Arid Mesa
4 Flooded Strand
2 Marsh Flats
2 Temple of Epiphany
2 Ghost Quarter
3 Sacred Foundry
3 Wear // Tear
2 Anger of the Gods
2 Rest in Peace
1 Wrath of God
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Some quick notes on the deck:
- Honor of the Pure seems like the best Gisela enabler, since it also buffs Timely Reinforcements and Brimaz. But I still liked having some number of Lightning Greaves in the main.
- Crucible usually nets us a pair of lands even after Moon resolves, and allows us to never miss a land drop with Nahiri out, which simplifies finishing disrupted opponents off with an Eldrazi Angel. It can sometimes be clunky, so I don’t like more than one.
- Ghost Quarter works well with Blood Moon, which notoriously underperforms against opponents who expect it. Many three-color decks in Modern only run one of a certain kind of basic (usually Forest or Plains), and Quartering their single copy lets us resolve Moon at our leisure and still have a significant impact on the game.
- Resolving either Timely Reinforcements or Brimaz before casting Nahiri makes the planeswalker particularly difficult for many opponents to remove.
- Discarding Gisela to Nahiri’s +2 before going -8 to summon Bruna makes for a quick Brisela.
- Nevermore gives us a plan against combo decks we’d otherwise have trouble interacting with. The other sideboard cards are mostly just flexible solutions to commonly-seen Modern decks.
And there you have it: meld in Modern. If you’re looking to have some laughs at a smaller tournament, turn some heads, or just do something our strict format parameters aren’t supposed to allow, give Boros Brisela a whirl. And be sure to let me know how it goes!