Wise Cracks: Anti-Eldrazi Canaries in GRx Blood Moon

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.”

Crack-and-Moon-Banner

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.

Stony SilenceAn 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.

Kiki JikiEldrazi 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

Creatures (14)
Tarmogoyf
Goblin Rabblemaster
Magus of the Moon
Simian Spirit Guide

Artifacts (4)
Chromatic Star

Enchantments (8)
Blood Moon
Oath of Nissa

Instants (7)
Tarfire
Desperate Ritual

Sorceries (9)
Faithless Looting
Crack the Earth
Boom // Bust

Lands (18)
Darksteel Citadel
Wooded Foothills
Windswept Heath
Stomping Ground
Mountain
Forest
Sideboard (15)
Huntmaster of the Fells
Forked Bolt
Ancient Grudge
Shatterstorm
Grafdigger’s Cage
Crack the Earth
Stormbreath Dragon
Anger of the Gods
Buy deck on Cardhoarder (MTGO)Buy deck on TCGPlayer (Paper)

Gut Shot, Speed, and the Fall of the Mana Dork

Lotus CobraThis 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!

Gut ShotBolt’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 certainlyGoblin Rabblemaster 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 EarthChromatic 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 earthCrack 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.

Blood MoonIf 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.

TarfireTarfire: 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 NissaOath 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.

Thought-Knot SeerEldrazi: 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.

Sideboarding:
-3 Tarfire

+1 Crack the Earth
+2 Huntmaster of the Fells

Arcbound RavagerAffinity: 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.

Sideboarding:
-4 Chromatic Star
-4 Blood Moon
-3 Crack the Earth

+3 Huntmaster of the Fells
+2 Ancient Grudge
+2 Anger of the Gods
+2 Forked Bolt
+2 Shatterstorm

Lightning BoltBurn: 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.

Sideboarding:
-4 Blood Moon
-4 Boom // Bust

+3 Huntmaster of the Fells
+2 Stormbreath Dragon
+1 Crack the Earth
+2 Forked Bolt

Blighted AgentInfect: 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.

Sideboarding:
-2 Chromatic Star
-3 Crack the Earth
-4 Boom // Bust

+3 Huntmaster of the Fells
+2 Ancient Grudge
+2 Anger of the Gods
+2 Forked Bolt

ThoughtseizeJund: 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.

Sideboarding:
-4 Desperate Ritual

+3 Huntmaster of the Fells
+1 Crack the Earth

Kitchen FinksAbzan 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 Companyand persist creatures.

Sideboarding:
-4 Chromatic Star
-3 Desperate Ritual
-3 Crack the Earth

+1 Grafdigger’s Cage
+3 Huntmaster of the Fells
+2 Stormbreath Dragon
+2 Anger of the Gods
+2 Forked Bolt

Cracking Up

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!

Jordan is the copy editor at Modern Nexus. He has played Magic since 2003, and Modern since its inception. A devoted theorist, he always brings tuned brews to events. Jordan favors card efficiency over raw power and specializes in disruptive aggro strategies.

26 thoughts on “Wise Cracks: Anti-Eldrazi Canaries in GRx Blood Moon

  1. I think people meant that if every red deck is trying to jam blood moon, or if decks are built around moon because it is super powerful in a given meta, then it is a canary. That being said, I like your other option: sea’s claim in merfolk.

    Oath of Nissa is a sweeeet card. I like the interactions you are running here.

    1. Maybe, but I don’t see any decks doing this. Moon has always been a consideration for Modern’s red decks; even Jund played some last year around the time of Bloom’s breakout success. That doesn’t mean the metagame was broken. Jund quickly moved away from Moon following GP Charlotte, and Wizards went on record saying Bloom was banned because it violated the turn four rule, and not because it oppressed Modern.

      1. Thanks for your response.

        I am thinking that what people meant is less that the metagame was unhealthy, and more that a deck is doing some crazier things. I mean, for Jund, a deck that some people board blood moon in for, to be using it against a deck because they are willing to take the mana hit if it means they can stop something they are having a hard time stopping with their usual bag of versatile tricks, then something out there in the meta game is doing something crazy.

        But you are right, I don’t think blood moon is the best example of a canary card. There are way better examples and many decks just run it because of how good it is against the files in general

  2. I really enjoy the concept behind this deck, and I like the idea of combining Blood Moon with ways to ensure its relevance, but wouldn’t Boom // Bust be another way to hit the targets you want to hit pre-Moon? I know it’s not as mana-efficient, but it’s also not as miserable in the midgame or easy to dodge with “bait” cards. You could also potentially combine it with Darksteel Citadel (which is already in your deck) to great effect, as it would then be a 1-for-1 on your end. Might not be what you were going for, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on that as a possibility.

    I’d also like to know whether you’ve had mana consistency issues of your own. I know that you’re used to decks with aggressive land curves and that you have Chromatic Star and Faithless Looting to ameliorate some of these issues, but you’re still only running 18 lands in a deck that really, really wants to cast its 3 mana haymaker on curve. Have you considered 20?

    1. If you check the decklist, I do play four Boom // Bust.

      We actually want to cast our haymakers ahead of curve, not on curve, hence the Rituals and Guides. It’s important not to look at GRx Moon decks and see only land count; this deck plays 26 mana sources, plus four Oath of Nissa, plus two Faithless Looting. It has been enough for me so far. Check out this article for more on building a GRx mana base, with dorks or with rituals:

      modernnexus.com/desperate-times-rituals-in-grx-blood-moon/

      1. Thanks for the response, Jordan. Not sure how the heck I missed Boom // Bust in there, my bad. I guess I also didn’t account for Oath of Nissa basically being a Ponder when it comes to getting you a land when you really need one.

        Some comments on the sideboard, then – is Stormbreath Dragon truly the best-positioned finisher you have access to? It seems kind of clunky in a deck that runs such a tight ship otherwise (and you’re bringing it in against Burn, which feels like it go great or terribly, with not much in between). I’ll also note the lack of graveyard hate – Living End is still around, from what I hear, and it walks right past Grafdigger’s Cage. Is the hope here to blow up enough lands to keep them from doing anything, or is it a matchup that you’d address if it becomes a problem?

        1. I like SBD because it beats up on fair decks that can stabilize past us. Jeskai flavors, Hatebears/D&T, and CoCo all have a really hard time removing it, and it closes games out in the air, where they can rarely block. It comes in against Burn because it’s better than the other options we have for that matchup. The reason we’re so under-“carded” for Burn is that we crush them anyway, so it’s not a problem IMO.

          As for Living End, seeing a deck “around” doesn’t really cut it for me. Sheridan’s most recent metagame update has that deck at 1.2%. I think even if the matchup is horrible, it’s not even worth testing at that representation level.

          1. I have to say, your transformational sideboards in delver (boarding into huntmaster) and now this deck have helped me brew a lot better. I have a playset of tarmo in my prowess brew because it is so good to have extra hard to deal with threats against those grindy midrange matchups.

            When your deck is synergistic and trying to pull something off, Jund and UWx can really make it hard for your individual pieces to do anything. Having those big, good-on-their-own threats is huge when you inevitably get to the later part of the game when you are top decking and have plenty of lands in play. Apart from all the cantrips and rituals, this is also another reason why high cmc finishers can actually work in decks with low land counts: the game will go long enough for you to get that many lands in play in the matchups you bring it in for (barring the burn example here for the reasons you outlined).

            Am I mistaken, or do you usually cut some rituals in these grinder matchups? I usually shave acceleration and combo pieces in these kinds of marchups

          2. Glad to hear it 🙂 And you’re not mistaken, see the Jund plan above. Desperate always comes out before Simian since it’s basically a strictly worse version.

    1. Honestly, there isn’t much else in Modern to talk about; it’s ALL going to involve Eldrazi because Eldrazi is defining the format. It definitely doesn’t need to be about beating Eldrazi, banning Eldrazi, or the metagame in terms of its Eldrazi population, but it’s going to talk about Eldrazi in some way. To do anything else, although maybe interesting to some readers, is disingenuous about the state of the format.

  3. Seriously, this site provides FREE modern content on a daily basis. Are some articles less interesting to me? Yes. That’s when I either a) don’t read it or b) read it anyway, because some content is better than no content, and then, and this is the important part, I DON’T COMPLAIN ABOUT IT, BECAUSE IT’S FUCKING FREE CONTENT. You know what’s a bigger pain in the ass than articles about Eldrazi or the banning of Twin? Comments, at the bottom of EACH article, moaning about said articles. If you don’t like the content, don’t read it, and spare all of us your whining.

    1. Criticism is good of it’s not offensive. For example regarding this article, I believe that pointing out that maybe the MU evaluation is too much optimistic is totally acceptable. I don’t think that beacuse something is free it should not be criticized.

      1. Saying that xyz tech might not be good is fine. I’m just sick and tired of people whining “stop talking about Eldrazi/Twin ban/etc”. If the article is about something that doesn’t interest you, don’t read it. Debate about the merits of the actual proposition is fine, so long as it’s respectful.

    1. Maybe I should have specified. Star doesn’t do anything on its own. An all-air cantrip that forces you to have a second mana available to use it, with no card selection. So on paper, it’s a horrible card for GRx Moon, which has no color issues and is generally very tight on both mana and decklist slots. But in this build, it’s a necessary evil to support Crack the Earth.

  4. What is getting increasingly annoying about Modern is that after every banning the format feels more and more watered down. We suddenly cannot play the best cards available when things like Pod, Twin, and Eldrazi (it will get banned) are on the ban list. In stead of an open format, with tons of possibilities, its a controlled format where Wizards tells us what we can play.

    Lets not forget how this format felt pre-Oath, post-Twin. Everyone was playing one drop zoo, merfolk, affinity, and infect. Boy oh boy, i cant wait to get back to that aggro fest, after the current aggro fest is banned…

Leave a Reply