Sometimes I like to imagine Magic cards like I'd imagine sports stars. Every year, a bunch of new cards come into Magic, and the kind of splash they make says a lot about their power profile.
Making it into Standard is no easy feat. There are already a bunch of superstars who have struggled hard against all of the other talent to make it into the spotlight. Even being a minor player in Standard - say, a sideboard card - is a feat most cards couldn't dream of, if they had dreams.
Modern has an even more difficult bar to cross. The best cards in Modern are a pretty incredible bunch. In some ways, Magic decks are about real estate and ecology: if you're going to get into a pre-existing deck, you have to shove another incredible card out of the space, and if you're going to help spawn a new deck (or promote a deck into the limelight), you're going to have to be able to survive in a ruthless world of competitive decks.
This is why it's pretty incredible to see Ravnica Allegiance is already making a decent splash in Modern. It may take a bit to impress some people after the world-shattering debut of Arclight Phoenix, but with only a short time on the books, you can definitely say that I've seen some impressive things happen already.
So, let's dim the lights and see which cards deserve that spotlight.
Light Up the Stage
The Magic Online Modern Challenge surprised me as I was glancing through lists because I couldn't help but notice 4 Shard Volley in a Burn deck - typically Shard Volley is a card I like at exactly a single copy. It didn't take long to understand why.
Red-Black Burn | Modern | AndreasP, Modern Challenge 1st Place
This deck is a great example of streamlining. Everything in the deck that isn't a Searing Blaze or flashbacked Bump in the Night costs only a single mana. This makes for an incredibly lean and mean Red deck that is absolutely able to minimize flooding and take advantage of a Light Up the Stage with ease. This lean plan also makes Skewer the Critics an easy fit.
Is Light Up the Stage the "two-thirds Ancestral Recall" that Burn afficionado Seth Burn (no relation) called it on Twitter? Maybe, maybe not, but AndreasP is not the only one with a Red deck that took advantage of Light Up the Stage; here is another deck, also a bit off of the beaten path that did the same:
Arclight Red | Modern | BoshNRoll, 5-0 Modern Competitive League
- Enchantments (1)
- 1 Blood Moon
- Lands (18)
- 18 Mountain
One could say that (almost) everything in this deck costs one mana or less - Arclight Phoenix isn't intended to be cast, and there are plenty of other cards that have an effective casting cost of zero. The solitary Blood Moon in the main deck is the only card that bothers to cost a little more. The sideboard includes a few more such cards, but for the most part, this is a deck that is planning on absolutely being able to make a near maximum use of Light Up the Stage - though clogging on a Phoenix is certainly a potential here that doesn't have an analog in the more pure, low-to-the-ground Burn deck.
One of the real powers of a deck like this is just how impressively it can take swathes of life out of an opponent. While it only has five cards that function to dump the Arclight Phoenix in the yard, a Prowess-fueled attack is nothing to shake a stick at, and it is not at all unusual to have the deck turn a turn one Soul-Scar Mage into four or more spells on the next turn. Whether or not Skewer the Critics can be cast before combat is an important consideration for decks like this, but there are a great many ways to make that happen, with Gut Shot as the most exciting of these, in my opinion.
Skewer card to make it in this more traditional Burn deck, but it still feels pretty impressive to me that the card is making that kind of impact.
Burn | Modern | Moctzal, 5-0 Modern Competitive League
- Lands (19)
- 3 Mountain
- 2 Arid Mesa
- 2 Sacred Foundry
- 4 Bloodstained Mire
- 4 Inspiring Vantage
- 4 Wooded Foothills
Lest you think I'm only concerned about Red cards, let's move on to another Ravnica Allegiance card.
Okay, so the card is Red; the decks that are being supported by it aren't. Check this sweet one out:
Living End Foretold | Modern | bobthedog, 4th Place Modern Challenge
- Creatures (16)
- 1 Faerie Macabre
- 1 Nimble Obstructionist
- 2 Architects of Will
- 4 Curator of Mysteries
- 4 Desert Cerodon
- 4 Striped Riverwinder
- Enchantments (4)
- 4 As Foretold
- Lands (20)
- 2 Mountain
- 4 Island
- 2 Cascade Bluffs
- 2 Steam Vents
- 2 Tolaria West
- 4 Scalding Tarn
- 4 Spirebluff Canal
Even as a one-shot analog to As Foretold, Electrodominance makes itself noteworthy because of the built-in "Quicken" effect that it has. Being able to cast Living End on an end step in a competitive deck is a new phenomena; as a kind of frightening pseudo-haste, it is powerful enough on its own, but also it is a massive jump in power simply being able to double up on your threats versus a counterspell by casting one at end of turn and then untapping to cast either another Electrodominance or an As Foretold.
Ancestral Vision is a better payoff via a repeatable source like As Foretold, but even if you are able to kill a single creature with Electrodominance, the bonus of a potential Ancestral Vision is quite shocking; there is a reason that Ancestral Recall is only a card we allow play in the most powerful of formats.
Another Foretold-Dominance deck also made a top finish, with many of the same principles, but a different suspend payoff spell.
Balance Foretold | Modern | Kavothe, 5-0 Modern Competitive League
- Creatures (4)
- 4 Greater Gargadon
- Planeswalkers (1)
- 1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
- Artifacts (1)
- 1 Tormod's Crypt
- Lands (21)
- 2 Island
- 2 Mountain
- 1 Cascade Bluffs
- 4 Scalding Tarn
- 4 Spirebluff Canal
- 4 Steam Vents
- 4 Tolaria West
A Restore Balance can be utterly crippling in these decks that can manage to cast the spell, but when you are potentially able to cast it as an instant, things get even more frightening. Typically, in an older build, you'd sacrifice a next-to-last permanent to Greater Gargadon, then trigger the casting of Restore Balance, and then after sacrifice one last permanent or wait one turn for the Greater Gargadon to punish the opponent. This deck can actually cast the Restore Balance with Greater Gargadon still on the stack, for maximum punishment.
A number of other decks also played cards from Ravnica Allegiance, with Growth Spiral taking an unsurprising role in a number of control decks that enjoy a better version of Explore where they don't have to put their shield down, but the most surprising card to see included in Modern from Ravnica Allegiance was from an unassuming little Merfolk.
Check out MHayashi's update to Merfolk that hit 5-0 on the Competitive Modern League:
Merfolk | Modern | MHayashi, 5-0 Competitive Modern League
- Creatures (20)
- 4 Benthic Biomancer
- 4 Lord of Atlantis
- 4 Master of the Pearl Trident
- 4 Merfolk Trickster
- 4 Silvergill Adept
- Enchantments (4)
- 4 Spreading Seas
- Artifacts (4)
- 4 Aether Vial
In my opinion, one of the major things that has been holding back Merfolk in Modern is that it has had to make do with very anemic countermagic like Spell Pierce, and so, as a result, it has to settle in on being a tribal aggro deck instead of the aggro-control deck that made it a force to be reckoned with. Deprive has existed as an option for a long time, but that stunting on the mana of the deck has mattered. Benthic Biomancer does something pretty phenomenal by letting a deck turn that extra land into a new card entirely, not to mention the possibility of just smoothing out any old draw.
You'll notice that this deck has put a lot of cards into potential creature removal, another element that is helped by Benthic Biomancer's ability to just toss these cards to the side if they aren't relevant. It often won't matter if the choices made to include all of these cards cut the Lord count down to a level that makes the clock a full turn slower, because there is a great chance that the entirety of that turn will be shut down by Deprive.
I love this deck, and it feels like the most innovative update to an existing deck I've seen in Modern with the advent of Ravnica Allegiance.
I'm still running around NYC after my post-Grand Prix/Magic Fest weekend in New Jersey, so I haven't streamed this week, but you should expect to see me getting back on camera late next week! I'll see you online as I gear up to play in the first Mythic Championship!
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