I’m taking a break from my Primer series this week to focus more on specific cards (as well as I’m using my testing time to zero in on a deck for the World Magic Cup Qualifier this weekend!). In my testing these last two weeks I’ve been combing through Gatherer for every card legal in Modern. In my search for underplayed and underutilized cards, I’ve stumbled onto a few that I believe should be seeing some play, but are perhaps missing a deck for them to fit into. I’m going to break down the five cards I found that are not seeing enough play and what, if any, archetype they could fit into.
A great planeswalker that costs three (the magic number), but is limited to creature heavy decks in Gruul colors which probably just want to be running Collected Company. Unfortunately for this Standard all-star, instant speed and putting creatures into play is much better than once-a-turn into hand.
Outside of delve creatures, this sweeper kills most Modern threats, and is almost a direct “counter” to Collected Company at instant speed, but is sadly hampered by its casting cost and competition from Damnation. Five mana is too much and too slow for this effect in Modern.
All three of its abilities are extremely relevant in the current meta, but it suffers from being red/black, which usually relegates it to Jund or Grixis decks that don’t need any of the modes. Its flexibility gives it value but not enough to see anything other than niche play.
A huge trump against Merfolk, BW Tokens, or any hyper-aggressive creature swarm decks. Also effective against Splinter Twin! Prison fails the Abrupt Decay test and white’s general lack of play keeps this stuck in the occasional sideboard. More white decks or a more aggressive meta are necessary to let it see play.
The Top Five
1. Boom // Bust
Boom // Bust is an unique and seemingly innocuous card. Destroying a land for two mana is breaking the rules in terms of land destruction (as Stone Rain is the line in the sand). The drawback is a big one, obviously – having to destroy one of your own lands is bad, right? Well, yes and no. What makes Boom // Bust stand out are the most played lands in Modern – fetchlands. Target your land, hold priority and fetch in response, Boom still has one legal target and resolves, leaving you up a land. So what’s the drawback? Well, without any mana acceleration, this is still a turn three play, as you need to have the open land to crack in response to make it worthwhile, making this just a slightly better Stone Rain. With how fragile some of the three color manabases are currently, plus utility lands, if you could utilize the mana you “save”, this could be a very tempo plus play. Currently it is missing a deck to go into, but the effect remains powerful in the right shell. And we didn’t even touch on the other half of the card – does any deck want a higher costed Armageddon? Currently no, but as mentioned this feels like a build around card looking for a deck.
While I will admit this is my pet card and I have already gone quite in depth into its merits, the card has only gotten better since I first discussed it. With the rise of Grixis and the addition of the Onslaught fetchlands to Modern, the casting cost has gotten much less restrictive. In the early game it can single handily crush an opponent’s land light hands, and has great splash hate against many decks in the format (Amulet’s Summoner’s Pact, Tron’s Expedition Map/Sylvan Scrying, etc). This card will merely cycle some games but others it helps you dominate turns one to three. An instant-speed Sinkhole that cantrips would be insane if printed as such, and this is as close as it is going to get. I can see this easily slotting into the Grixis decks as a one or two-of that could put them over the top in some matchups. At worst it cycles just like Remand, and at best it can put you ahead enough to win the game.
3. Steppe Lynx
With the addition of the Onslaught fetchlands to Modern we now have access all 10 fetchlands. It’s easy to run a mana base of half or more fetchlands all in color. Enter Steppe Lynx. While it does easily die to removal, in a fetchland heavy shell this card is insanely fast and powerful, demanding an answer immediately while swinging for four a turn starting on turn two just by fetching your lands. While aggressive strategies usually go the Burn or Zoo route, with the return of landfall we could see more pushed aggressive creatures in Battle for Zendikar that pair well with Lynx. Even without, I feel like a “Baby Zoo” list exists and Steppe Lynx would be the first four slots I would test.
Planeswalkers often let you do very unique things, and Tezzeret is no exception. In the right shell his +1 ability is going to at worst draw a card, and sometimes provide you the key combo piece you are missing the turn he comes down. His -1 can turn your ramp or utility artifacts into 5/5 monsters, ready to start a clock out of nowhere. His ultimate is one of the easiest to activate, and can provide the reach you need to finish the game. His problem is that he needs a very specific shell in order to maximize his real value. At home with 20+ artifacts, not many existing archetypes can accommodate Tezzeret. I’ve seen him tested in Affinity with average results, but I don’t think that is where he fits. The closest I’ve seen is Hall of Famer Shouta Yasooka’s 14th place finish at GP Kobe way back in 2014. His list seems like the closest we’ve come to a real home for him, but I feel like he deserves some further brewing!
5. Aether Vial
Now, I can already hear you saying that this card is used a fair bit between Merfolk (now a tier 1 archetype!) and Death and Taxes, but for how good this card it is still criminally underplayed. Being able to cheat on mana and cast any creature at instant speed is a broken ability that if not for Abrupt Decay and now Kolaghan’s Command could get seriously out of hand. The card was banned in two formats (Extended in 2005 and Mirrodin Block Constructed in 2006) and is now allowed to run free in Modern. Its only drawback is it needs a very creature heavy deck to go into which limits its use. I think Travis Woo was on the right track, exploring it with Faeries as well as Wizards, but with the size of the card pool in Modern, there must be more decks waiting to be built around it. Birthing Pod was banned as it limited design space for future creatures as each one printed (Siege Rhino, etc) that was pushed would find its way into the deck. Aether Vial could eventually go down that same route (albeit not as incredibly powerful without the tutor ability). Many tribes will only get better as more powerful creatures are printed, and Aether Vial will help push these strategies. Allies is a perfect example of a pushed tribe, putting up recent results in Modern (as Sheridan discussed here) and will be getting even more cards from Battle for Zendikar that could further push this tribe.
Let me know in the comments if you think I missed some underplayed cards, would love to find more I may have overlooked! I hope to resume my Primers next week after the World Magic Cup Qualifier, as I’ve gotten a ton of positive feedback on most of them, but need to focus on a few decks this week to test with as I still haven’t locked in my choice. Good luck to everyone playing!