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Pushing Narset in Modern


It seems like Narset is everywhere.

Narset, Parter of Veils has just changed the face of basically all the formats, and for a good reason: people like to draw cards. Stopping your opponent from doing what they like has always been a good plan. My friend Ian DeGraff quipped, "Do you know what this card is, Adrian? Dig Through Time. Dig through frickin' Time! With an enchantment attached!"

He might not have used such polite language.

It doesn't seem like much of a surprise that the recent Magic Online Modern Challenge was taken down by a deck employing a great many Narset.

Here is the winner's deck:

This is a wildly powerful deck, made all the more powerful by Modern Horizons. Narset, Parter of Veils is a scary card, but when you get to potentially protect it with a sort of Force of Will in Force of Negation? That is more than a bit impressive, especially when you consider that this deck is able to employ a Negate-style effect so well, it runs three of them: two Force of Negation, one Dovin's Veto.

Force of Negation and Narset, Parter of Veils seem like two peas in a pod.

Both cards are clearly powerful, but together, they just feel like they complement each other wonderfully. It felt inevitable to think about another deck I'd seen recently that was doing something similar to protect its Narsets, but it didn't even have Force of Negation yet - it was making do with Commandeer and Disrupting Shoal.

Here is the deck that I had been excited with those cards:

Another go by SoulStrong - though this time, they didn't win the event, they only had a winning record.

However, the list itself is wildly intriguing. This is a list that was pushing Narset hard, running four pitch-spells to protect the Narset, Thing in the Ice to do the same, and finish the game, and Day's Undoing - of all the cards! - to utterly wreck an opponent unlucky enough to fall prey to it!

I had to play it.

Of course, as I noted last week, tweaking a deck isn't something you do without some kind of context with the deck. Some choices might simply not be apparent in glancing at a deck on paper until you actually play it out. This deck didn't really surprise me after playing it, though I did find myself aching for that fourth Thing in the Ice and I did wonder if I wasn't glutted on Day's Undoing at times.

I found myself reminded of another deck, a Day's Undoing deck I first saw piloted by Chicago's Davis Merced, back in 2016.

The similarities were intriguing to me, and the older deck had a few lessons in it that I knew I wanted to incorporate, like the cutting of a Day's Undoing, for example. The Time Walk effect in Part the Waterveil was intriguing, but that concept felt like it was too expensive (from a mana persepective) for what this deck was doing in Modern.

The Modern deck basically felt like a combination of some of my favorite concepts all in one: powerful countermagic, powerful card draw, the demoralizing power of being a Thing in the Ice deck (giving it a feel of Hybrid Control as well), and a combo in Narset/Day's Undoing that felt alarming in its power level.

It lacked the safe consistency of the uw Control deck SoulStrong would use the next week, but I still felt that their Mono-Blue deck had great ideas but could be improved upon.

Here were my first thoughts:

1) The fourth Thing in the Ice seemed critical

Thing in the Ice is a wildly powerful card. As a finisher, it is shocking in its speed, and the triggered return of creatures to hand is absurd in stymieing all manner of decks. But, one critical element of the card was quite simple: it is good at helping protect Narset.

The trio of Thing in the Ice, Narset, Parter of Veils, and pitched countermagic all come together in an almost obscene way. Each piece helps each other piece, and just the threat of turning that Thing in the Ice over when you're out of mana can be disgusting.

This also meant that while I'm typically not a huge fan of Remand, there was good reason to consider going up to three or four.

2) Make it cheap and the Power of One

Narset, Parter of Veils is incredibly good at finding cards you're looking for. When you add onto it the power of Day's Undoing, you will end up looking at a lot of cards, and those cards being cheap is going to be highly effective. This meant that I wasn't excited about a card like Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Cryptic Command, though I obviously still wanted access to bounce. Cryptic Command felt reasonable, here, as a one-of, because it could bounce anything, and Jace felt like maybe it could go.

By this same token, a few other one-ofs made more sense to me. In the realm of effects, this deck is uniquely suited to Commandeer, but it is a painful card to cast, even considering Day's Undoing. Casting a second one is hard, and almost impossible in a single game. Force of Negation meant that the card Commandeer could stay in rotation, and yet not overwhelm the rest of the deck. A singleton Logic Knot could be used to clear the deck of some of the garbage that accumulated before a "spin" of Day's Undoing. A singleton Geier Reach Sanitarium could be added for some library manipulation.

This last card would also add a fun extra element with Narset: activating the Geier Reach Sanitarium during the opponent's turn could potentially lock out an opponent from their draw of anything that wasn't an instant. This last idea definitely made me consider adding in a Teferi's Puzzle Box, but, for now, I've refrained.

3) Pumping up Day's Undoing

Day's Undoing is an odd card in the deck. It is fabulous to knock out a bunch of creatures with Thing in the Ice, then follow up after with a Day's Undoing, but without that element, it can sometimes feel a little underwhelming. Engulf the Shore wasn't really doing it for me.

I wanted to add a little more power to Day's Undoing.

It occurred to me one fantastic way to do that was Teferi, Time Raveler.

Teferi, Time Raveler

When you have this card in play, activating Teferi's +1 can mean that, until the end of your current turn, Day's Undoing is actually basically a Stifle. Your opponent already won't be able to cast spells on your turn, but you can effectively counter their activated abilities too, by casting Day's Undoing as an instant, but on your own turn, ending the turn before their ability resolves, "erasing" it.

There is also the fantastic ability to cast Day's Undoing on your opponent's turn. This won't exile the Day's Undoing, so it won't diminish your ability to do the effect more, later, so you won't need to ration it as much. In addition, playing the spell during your opponent's draw step after they've drawn can be an ideal time to play the spell, especially as they aren't able to play in response because of Teferi, Time Raveler.

I also just liked that Teferi, Time Raveler could make it more likely that the opponent had more cards in their hand, and it was a reasonable semi-replacement for Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

The cost, of course, is in more painful mana.

Here's where I'm currently at with the deck, including White for Teferi, Time Raveler.

I'm still not sure that the White mana is worth the cost in pain, but it does feel pretty good so far. Simply running a pair of Quicken might do much of the trick, though Teferi, Time Raveler does a lot more than simply give a sorcery flash. The sideboarding is another payoff, but the instability in mana for two colors is not insignificant. I'm still not certain that the mana mix is correct, but it felt acceptable, though I recognize it is very preliminary. The lack of a Plains seems fine given no Path to Exile and a desire for access to a single Blue mana often.

Ultimately, this deck did feel like it was pushing Narset, Parter of Veils more than both SoulStrong's uw Control list or their Mono-Blue Pitch Narset list. Modern is such an incredible bounty of powerful decks right now, and this feels like it can hang with them based on the power of the three major pieces together that I mentioned earlier: Narset, pitch-counters, and Thing in the Ice.

All told, Modern feels like a very difficult format to crack right now, and I'm sure we're still in a place of upheaval. This is definitely a deck that I'm going to be exploring moving forward (along with about seven others).

Give it a spin. I think you'll be impressed at how punishing it can be.

- Adrian Sullivan

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