Sheridan’s Eldrazi checkup article from Wednesday linked to a reddit post about Modern’s “canaries in a coalmine:” cards and strategies whose presence in a format should set off red flags of obvious metagame issues. I also find the idea “fascinating,” but could not believe the inanity of the post’s replies, which suggested Spell Snare, Ensnaring Bridge, and Burn decks in general as “canaries.” The top-rated response considers Blood Moon the ultimate canary, claiming that “Blood Moon is good, but not for every deck.”
Blood Moon has always been great in Modern, and is hardly a canary. If Moon’s presence indicates a problem with the metagame, we should all just stop playing Modern, since the format characteristically features greedy manabases. Sea’s Claim in Merfolk is more of a canary, since that deck rarely plays more than the set of Spreading Seas. Today’s update to GRx Moon features a much more obvious canary: Crack the Earth. I’m the first to admit that if anyone packs this card, something is wrong.
All Signs Point to Broken
I consider myself pretty conservative when it comes to ban talk. One of my favorite things about Modern is its ability to self-regulate, in which I staunchly believe. Many other players don’t.
An example: we can probably agree Affinity is one of the best decks in the format, and without checks like Stony Silence, it would dominate. Some argue Affinity doesn’t eat Modern because so many players pack Stony Silence, bring it in, and luckily see it during their games against Affinity. That means many Modern games come down to luck, and not skill; if players draw Stony Silence, they beat Affinity. If they don’t, they lose. For certain players, this state of affairs makes Modern too luck-based, and subsequently, uninteresting.
As a deckbuilder, the need to jump through sideboarding hoops stimulates me. I like that we need to respect Affinity and pack checks to it. It’s fun for me to weigh the deckbuilding costs of running specific sideboard hate versus tuning the mainboard to deal with an artifact onslaught. So long as the numbers don’t indicate oppression, I’m fine with decks like Affinity existing, and even support their presence.
Eldrazi operates on an unprecedented level of oppression, which the numbers we have so far speak to directly. Trevor’s last article cites a couple of URx interactive strategies (Grixis and Jeskai) that have performed well in this Eldrazi metagame. But his examples seem, to me, insufficient; these decks are hardly putting up any other results in Modern, presumably because they can’t reliably address Eldrazi, or they give up too many points elsewhere in doing so to boast viability. I doubt the issue is players not being aware of these decks, which have existed in Modern for years, and sometimes kept sky-high profiles. Last year, Patrick Chapin championed Grixis Control. Back in 2014, Kiki-Control enjoyed success in the hands of Sean McLaren before more recently being universally considered as a Splinter Twin replacement. Rather, I believe these finishes represent exceptions to Modern’s new, colorless state.
Introducing Crack Moon
For all that doomsaying, I don’t think interaction is completely dead in Modern. Trevor might be right and we may very well see URx decks rise to overcome Eldrazi in the next month, but we don’t yet have enough data to indicate that Modern can be saved. In the meantime, GRx Moon appears very well poised in this linear meta. We just need to speed it up. Here’s my first draft of Crack Moon:
Crack Moon, by Jordan Boisvert
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
2 Magus of the Moon
4 Simian Spirit Guide
4 Chromatic Star
4 Blood Moon
4 Oath of Nissa
4 Desperate Ritual
2 Faithless Looting
3 Crack the Earth
4 Boom // Bust
4 Darksteel Citadel
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Windswept Heath
2 Stomping Ground
3 Huntmaster of the Fells
2 Forked Bolt
2 Ancient Grudge
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Crack the Earth
2 Stormbreath Dragon
2 Anger of the Gods
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Gut Shot, Speed, and the Fall of the Mana Dork
This deck plays differently from my last GRx Moon build, Cobra Moon. That deck used dorks and Lotus Cobra to power out Stormbreath Dragon and Goblin Dark-Dwellers, or to set up high-velocity looting chains with its eight cantrips. Crack Moon sacrifices that top-end goldmine for early land interaction, something Modern doesn’t excel at. We become much faster and more early-game oriented as a result, but can tangle with the format boogeyman.
Crack Moon more closely resembles one of my older GRx Moon build. MutaMoon used Guides and Rituals to power out Goblin Rabblemaster or Huntmaster of the Fells, and protected those threats with Mutagenic Growth. With Twin gone, Growth loses value. We’re seeing fewer and fewer Lightning Bolts daily. On Valentine’s Day, osmanozguney’s Jund deck went 6-2 in a PPTQ packing zero copies of the iconic instant, maxing out instead on Seal of Fire, Goyf Food that plays nice with Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Jund with no Bolts: how’s that for a canary!
Bolt’s recent vacation might suggest Noble Hierarch and Lotus Cobra still have a place in GRx Moon. Unfortunately, we’re also seeing plenty of Gut Shot in Modern. Relying on dorks to speed us up against decks packing Gut Shot is just asking for a beating from Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher. In this case, Simian Spirit Guide provides a more stable source of early mana.
The main draw to Guide – its speed – is also hugely relevant here. To effectively disrupt blazing-fast decks like Eldrazi, sometimes we need to threaten land destruction as early as turn one. Simian combined with Darksteel Citadel and Boom // Bust, or just with Crack the Earth on the draw, gives us this angle of attack.
Naturally, swapping out constant mana sources for temporary ones lowers our curve. We certainly can’t play mainboard Stormbreath Dragon anymore. The best threat for the deck is Goblin Rabblemaster, which resists Gut Shot and comes down early (sometimes on the first turn) to go wide around Eldrazi players, who either Dismember the Goblin on the spot or lose. The second best is Tarmogoyf, which gets enormous here thanks to the enablers we need for Crack the Earth – Chromatic Star and Oath of Nissa. Goyf often out-grows Dismember in this deck. As for third and fourth best, I think Huntmaster of the Fells and Stormbreath Dragon belong in the sideboard. With Modern as linear as it is, we rarely encounter removal from the other side of the table – Terminates and Abrupt Decays are in short supply. I’d rather focus on disrupting opponents on the universally damaging axis of mana than on casting more threats than I need to swiftly take them to zero.
Less Intuitive Card Choices
There’s little reason to go over includes like Tarmogoyf and Goblin Rabblemaster at this point, since I’ve explained them in great detail in my other GRx Moon articles. Instead, here’s my defense for the deck’s rarer cards. I also cover some cards we’ve explored for GRx Moon decks before, but only in their specific relation to this build.
Crack the Earth: Modern is a format full of good cards. Crack the Earth is not a good card. But bad cards sometimes have their place, and Crack seems very good right now. It’s the only land destruction spell capable of interacting with Eldrazi meaningfully before we land a Blood Moon.
Pre-Eldrazi, we’ve almost never seen Crack in Modern, barring a Gerry Thompson feature on StarCityGames of Kanaoka Yoshihiko’s Mardu Pox deck. Yoshihiko put me on to the Crack-Chromatic interaction, which Oath of Nissa brings to more reasonable levels of consistency. So does Simian Spirit Guide. On the draw, we can exile Guide for Crack with zero permanents on the battlefield, then play a land and take our turn. Crack also interacts favorably with Goblin Rabblemaster tokens.
If Crack the Earth plays so badly with Blood Moon, why pair them at all? After all, Yoshihiko didn’t include Moons in his Mardu deck. The reason to play Moon here is that no other card interacts as efficiently with the Eldrazi manabase. A Moon coming down usually ends the game for Eldrazi, barring a couple of factors. The most obvious is the deck’s speed; turn three Blood Moon means nothing if it necessitates tapping down into an established enemy field of Eldrazi Mimic, Endless One, and Reality Smasher. On its own, Blood Moon is way too slow to stop that deck. Crack the Earth buys us the crucial turn or two we need to land Moon in a reasonable time frame, without allowing Eldrazi to first develop its beat squad beyond the defensive scope of a muscly Tarmogoyf.
Crack synergies aside, I don’t think we can afford to run four copies main. Crack the Earth is absolutely abysmal in the mid- to late-game, by which times opponents have ample lands (or something) to throw away. Under Blood Moon, players will happily sacrifice a Mountain. My first take on Crack Moon didn’t include Faithless Looting, but Crack the Earth is so awful on turn six that I had to make space for a couple.
Boom // Bust: We play Boom // Bust over Stone Rain or Molten Rain for the same reason Todd Anderson packed Spreading Seas over Blood Moon in his Temur Delver sideboard: it’s just faster. Running only two colors makes the set of Citadels a painless include, and we can dig for the indestructible land with Oath of Nissa to set up a turn two Boom. In a pinch, losing one of our “real lands” is worth the possibility of locking out Eldrazi with a Moon without allowing them to grow a colorless army.
Tarfire: The tribal Shock kills the small creatures actually played in Modern while generally growing Tarmogoyf two stages. Sheridan pointed to Gruul Zoo’s presence as a Modern canary, and I agree wholeheartedly with his analysis. If that deck breaches Tier 2, and Mana Leak decks don’t, Modern might be due for a visit to the nurse’s office. But hey, there’s Gruul Zoo in Tier 2. And Merfolk, and Naya Company. For its part, Tier 1 brings Burn, Infect, and Abzan Company to the aggro roster. All of these decks hate Tarfire (or Seal of Fire) about as much as they hate Lightning Bolt. Tarfire even kills Eldrazi Mimic!
Chromatic Star: Fixes mana in a pinch, grows Tarmogoyf like a charm, and pitches delightedly to Crack to Earth. More enabler than anything, but sometimes you can’t run horrible cards without running other horrible cards.
Oath of Nissa: It turns out this all-star cantrip needs even less build-around than I thought. Oath only has 32 targets in this deck, but rarely whiffs. It often does what it should: in the early game, it nabs a mana source, and later on, it helps find Tarmogoyf. Oath also joins Chromatic Star as low-maintenance Crack the Earth food.
Faithless Looting: I’ve usually advocated a full set of Lootings in GRx Moon, since they give us enormous consistency and grow Tarmogoyf efficiently. Unfortunately, Modern is a bit too fast for them at the moment. One primary draw to Looting was its ability to give us a long game despite our high density of “dead draws.” Since we can’t count on many long games in this field, I’ve shaved the number to two.
Tier 1 Matchups
Besides Burn, none of Modern’s current Tier 1 decks enjoy playing against Blood Moon. (Even Burn loses Boros Charm and Atarka’s Command to the enchantment.) This predicament allows us to heavily skew our sideboard to combat aggressive strategies, and to lean on Blood Moon to take down the rest.
As always, I tune my brews to beat Modern’s most represented decks. The longer I work on a deck, the better it ends up faring against outlier strategies. Given Crack Moon’s very recent induction to the GRx Moon canon, I haven’t yet tested it against the Tier 3 bracket. But considering how homogenized Modern has recently become, I wouldn’t sweat the X factor too much.
Eldrazi: Favorable. The deck Crack Moon was designed to beat. I primarily tested against the Colorless version, but also got in some games against UR. We may struggle against the Bolt-packing GR Eldrazi, but I didn’t have time to play against it. We’re basically pre-boarded against these decks, although I like to cut Tarfires for the fourth Crack and some Huntmasters post-board. Grudge can also come in for Looting if we expect Chalice of the Void.
It should be noted this matchup goes from “favorable” to “decent” if opponents know what we’re on, since they can play around Crack by baiting the spell with Blinkmoth Nexus or Ghost Quarter, and board in permanents like Relic to sacrifice. But hey, Eldrazi’s the boogeyman for a reason.
Affinity: Decent. Game 1 is unfortunately a massacre unless we manage to race with Tarmogoyf and Rabblemaster. Assuming we hit a Shatterstorm, Game 2 is a breeze. Otherwise, controlling the Affinity player with Forked Bolt, Anger of the Gods, and Ancient Grudge until we land a Huntmaster can work out.
Burn: Favorable. We take little to no damage from lands, and Tarmogoyf has always been a nightmare for Burn decks. Huntmaster and more removal from the side make this matchup very easy. Stormbreath Dragon comes in since it’s simply better than our other options.
Infect: Favorable. Mana denial really hurts this deck combined with a clock, and Infect lacks the tools to remove Tarmogoyf or even Goblin Rabblemaster. Postboard, we bring in too much removal for them to handle, eliminating the Crack the Earth package for more relevant interaction. Ancient Grudge is a concession to Spellskite.
Jund: Decent. Thoughtseize decks have always posed some issues for GRx Moon, which recovers poorly from early hand disruption. Moon happens to crush these decks if we resolve one, but having it Seized away really hurts. Jund also packs enough Bolts to reliably diffuse Goblin Rabblemaster. Postboard, we double down on attacking the deck’s stretched manabase by maxing out on Crack the Earth. Rituals become additional threats to help us in the topdeck war.
-4 Desperate Ritual
Abzan Company: Favorable. As against Affinity, we bring in ample removal options for this matchup. In fact, Anger of the Gods mostly owes its spots to the Kitchen Finks factor. Stormbreath Dragon is close to impossible for Abzan Company to remove (watch out for Big Game Hunter builds), making it the perfect finisher once we run out of Forked Bolts. Grafdigger’s Cage shuts off Chord of Calling, Collected Company, and persist creatures.
Modern is in trouble right now, but it’s not in a state of ruin. I consider the few URx we’ve seen inconclusive, but more non-linear players may peek their heads out of the Wastes in the coming weeks, scanning the desolation for a viable way to interact in Modern. Between its potential for early land destruction, efficient clocks, and ability to pack the most disruptive anti-Eldrazi card in Modern, GRx Moon feels like a great place to start looking. In any case, whether or not Eye of Ugin is totally broken, Modern won’t give up the fight just yet!