No, this isn’t a finance article—I leave those to the geniuses over at Quiet Spec (and Jim Casale of course). What I want to talk about today are individual cards whose “gameplay stock” is trending up or down based on recent trends in the metagame: “what’s hot and what’s not,” if you will. We’ve done a few pieces like this in the past but haven’t touched on the subject in a little while. It seems like a good frame through which we can view the small shifts in the format over the past couple of weeks. Modern is relatively settled following the recent GP weekend and TCG States, which leads us to my absolute favorite part of Magic: tuning!
If you’re looking for an edge, hopefully you’ll find it here. If not, maybe you’ll see a stale sideboard card you should have ditched a long time ago. Let’s get to it!
Random White Removal
Fatal Push is still the best removal spell in the format against everything besides Lingering Souls and Primeval Titan, but for those not blessed with the ability to add black mana to their mana pool, it’s time to get creative. Death’s Shadow has caused quite an issue for decks that rely on Lightning Bolt as supplemental removal. And the fact that we’re seeing around double the copies of Tarmogoyf we’re used to means that Spell Snare and a prayer aren’t enough for Ux decks to rely on anymore. No matter what archetype you’re playing, if you’re in the business of interaction and you’re not playing black, you’re almost assuredly playing white.
So, assuming white decks are looking to deal with Death’s Shadow and Tarmogoyf on top of everything else they normally face, and Path to Exile isn’t quite enough to get us there by itself, what’s a mage to do? Condemn, for one, is an excellent option for those troubled by Death’s Shadow and friends. Besides dodging the creature going to the graveyard (which helps when fighting against Kolaghan’s Command as well), Condemn can potentially two- or even three-for-one depending on the situation, thanks to the life gain “drawback.” You haven’t lived until you’ve Condemned an opposing attacking Tarmogoyf and kill their two attacking 3/3 or 5/5 Death’s Shadows.
Blessed Alliance, while not a new option by any sense, is getting better as well. Killing their thing and getting some life back is often worth a full extra turn, as four life lines up nicely with Tarmogoyf’s “base-state” as a 4/5. For decks playing Cryptic Command, the synergy between the two spells feels really smooth. They play a thing? Counter and draw, or tap down their board. They swing in instead? Pull ahead with Blessed Alliance and proceed from there. With Burn benefiting from Death’s Shadow Jund’s spot in the limelight, a little extra lifegain is more than welcome, and a solid path to victory alongside Snapcaster Mage.
Jace, Architect of Thought
I’ve been playing a one-of Jace in my version of Grixis Control, stolen shamelessly from a few other lists in the net, and I’ve been loving it. “Big Jace” reminds me of the old UR Twin days, where the subgame was just, “live to cast Keranos, God of Storms,” and cackle wildly at all the value.
The +1 is great against Lingering Souls and solid against most other aggro lists, though admittedly poor against Death’s Shadow and Eldrazi. That’s not to say you shouldn’t play the card in those matchups, as I’ve had great success with Jace and Ancestral Vision against Eldrazi’s grind. Eldrazi and Death’s Shadow Jund don’t have much haste or trample outside of Reality Smasher (and a couple Temur Battle Rage), which lets Jace sit and grind value with even a little bit of protection.
Speaking of which, one of my all-time favorite white cards is currently solid against a large percentage of the field. You don’t have to be a control deck to play this card, and you don’t have to be playing against an aggro deck. Three 1/1s against Jund keeps Tarmogoyf at bay for quite a while, and protection against Liliana of the Veil can keep our big guy safe from her -2. And then, of course, there’s Burn, Affinity, Death’s Shadow, and Grixis Delver. Modern is back to Aggro/Big Mana/Midrange/Fast Combo in relative order of representation, so hitting two out of the top three is not bad value for our sideboard.
I’ve long been a hater of this card, in control decks at least, as it is card disadvantage that rarely trades with a card out of our opponent’s hand. Nevertheless, there exists no better way to fight both Death’s Shadow and Tron strategies, which are both at an all-time high right now. Tron decks are the biggest challenge for Grixis specifically right now, and I went from three copies to zero, to two, and now I’m back to three again. Dredge is still floating around, and even if we’re not playing control, other people are, and removing Snapcaster Mage targets (or just taking care of Snapcaster Mage itself) is a great way to fight through their grind.
This one should be pretty well known at this point, as we’ve talked about it repeatedly in previous articles. Lightning Bolt’s inclusion in this list is definitely warranted as this is singlehandedly the reason for Abzan’s resurgence. When Lightning Bolt isn’t that great anymore, and Fatal Push is almost universally better than Terminate, and Lingering Souls is the spicy choice against grindy decks postboard, it stands to reason that just playing all these cards ourselves is right where we want to be. Were it not for Kolaghan’s Command giving points to Jund in just about every matchup, Abzan would be the clear BGx midrange deck of choice in Modern today. Think about that: Abzan, not Jund, as the midrange deck of choice in Modern. Has that happened ever? Maybe immediately after the banning of Bloodbraid Elf, but definitely not for long. We’re not there yet, but once I put down my Grixis Control testing, the next archetype I’m picking up is definitely Abzan Midrange. It’s nowhere near the best deck, but it seems to have no glaring weaknesses currently and is poised to take advantage of most of the risers on this list.
They’ve been poor for a while, and they’re just getting worse. This is due almost entirely to Death’s Shadow—it’s just too difficult to extract value from a two-mana counterspell with anything resembling regularity when your opponent can threaten to kill you in two turns with a one-drop. Say that sentence out loud and you start to wonder if Death’s Shadow is too strong for the format, but that’s outside the scope of this article. Still, Mana Leak & Co. are at an all-time low, even with Ancestral Vision on the rise. Vision in the format normally means Remand is better than ever, but in no matchup do I want to be casting that spell, unless it’s in response to flashbacked Lingering Souls. Which, of course, is another reason why counterspells are bad right now.
No, this is a sorcery-speed format if I’ve ever seen one. As another aside, this is a knock against the instant-speed-only version of Grixis Control that’s floating around. Just Ancestral Vision, kill a thing, play a Tasigur, cast some discard, and repeat. Cryptic Command gets by because it’s Cryptic Command (and the only thing keeping us in the game against big mana) but when the rest of the field is looking to diversify through trumps, we need to be making big plays as well.
Death’s Shadow Aggro multiplied the number of Thoughtseize running around, which in turn has increased the likes of Leyline of Sanctity. It stinks, because I would much rather attack their hand directly than play something cheaty like Surgical Extraction, but when Tron protects themselves with Leyline of Sanctity they leave me no choice. In other matchups, Lingering Souls still existing as a popular option assures opponents that they will still have something to do—that isn’t a knock against discard directly but rather a commentary on the fact that most people are ready for it at this point. Kolaghan’s Command also ensures that we are not getting the mileage out of discard that we once were.
Burn is on the rise, and UR Gifts Storm is putting up a few strong finishes as well. Golgari Charm is another card that has been seeing a little play in a few sideboards, so keep your eye out for spells that handle problematic enchantments, especially if Rest in Peace or Leyline of Sanctity will ruin your day. Abzan has caught my attention as an archetype strongly positioned to adapt to some of the nuanced changes in the format, and its toolbox approach seems well-suited to tinkering against your opponents of choice. Death’s Shadow is still on top, and we can’t get too crazy as Bant Eldrazi is still kicking around as well. But as long as we don’t get too cute and lose to these powerful strategies, the field is relatively forgiving to tuning to beat specific targets. Good luck!