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Grief Loves Ephemerate



This article will cover four midrange decklists featuring Grief and Ephemerate: one that's vanilla, one flavored with Stoneforge Mystic, a Yorion one, and a more bitter one with Death's Shadow. The strategy is more fun than you might believe, less oppressive than you may fear, and no mere meme. Grieve if you must, but the incarnations are here to change Modern for good.


I, for one, welcome our new incarnations. In my early testing, not only is Ephemerate a reasonable strategy in Modern, it's also midrange. Once you and your foe exchange resources quickly with these free spells, you're left perhaps with a 3/2 on the battlefield, but you're both playing off the top of your deck. That was the dream scenario of Jund, a strategy that has long been laughed out of Modern. Now, it works.

A format with a viable Midrange deck is healthier. You can punish fragile linear strategies, including the current dominant one of Izzet Prowess. Your presence also leads to viable decks that go over the top of you, such as Tron, which is even better at top-decking. You also give new life to resilient tribal strategies, such as Slivers, which is my pet deck. So, yes, I am biased; but, you know what? I also enjoyed the games that began with Grief into Ephemerate. The sequence punishes abusers of the London mulligan, and it's exciting from both sides of the table to see a linear deck try to recover. Plus, there's nothing sweeter than flickering your incarnation.

For full disclosure, I wrote names and flavor text for the first Modern Horizons, the set that introduced Ephemerate. I was all too eager to try it, but I think it will also delight you.

Malakir Rebirth // Malakir Mire

The first thing you should notice is that I'm doubling and tripling down on the flicker strategy. By playing a full ten cards that interact with Grief on turn one, I'm maximizing my chance of our most potent opening line. The inclusion of Malakir Rebirth // Malakir Mire was the good idea of Dom Harvey. It's great to have synergistic cards that double as lands, and you want double-faced lands that you have the option of pitching to incarnations. I added Cloudshift because even a weaker Ephemerate is strong enough in this deck.

The second notable element of this decklist is that there are no Aether Vials. I did reach for them at first, as they combine well with Tidehollow Sculler, which we're playing, and Charming Prince and Flickerwisp, which we're not. We want our flickering available on turn one. For our two and three-drop slots I wanted better top decks. Aether Vial is a miserable top deck, and the card is bad in a deck hoping to go down to three cards in hand on turn one.

The third detail that may raise eyebrows is that I'm playing less good removal than you might expect and more medium creatures. I began with full playsets of Fatal Push and Vanishing Verse. With the addition of Solitude, I found I had more than enough interaction and needed more threats to close games. Though Fatal Push is a great card, it isn't good for it to waste away in my hand while the board is clear, and I could be pushing an advantage.

Knight of the Ebon Legion
Carrion Feeder

Knight of the Ebon Legion was a recommendation from Turn One Thoughtseize. It attacks well alongside a three-power incarnation. Carrion Feeder was another suggestion from Dom Harvey. I cut it down to one copy, as it can be a bad topdeck and not good in multiples, but it does have some cute interactions. If you're not planning to flicker an incarnation, you can sacrifice it. Also, you can eat your Grief if the opponent tries to exile it, so it's safe in your graveyard to be returned later with Priest of Fell Rites. Cannibalizing Tidehollow Sculler with its discard trigger on the stack will turn it into a better Thoughtseize, as the card will be exiled forever. You can combine this with Malakir Rebirth // Malakir Mire for even more fun.

The last item you may notice from this first decklist is that I included lots of one-and-two-of's. You may well wonder if a singleton Jotun Grunt is the correct card. Well, I wonder that too. It's early in an unknown format. Time will tell the best choices, but I wanted to present you some interesting options. I will say that I like Thraben Inspector as a fallback card to flicker, though you don't need the fourth copy. Priest of Fell Rites is a great card, and you'll want at least two. Silverquill Silencer has been decent, considering how many times you look at your opponent's hand, and the deck wants as many Orzhov-multicolored cards as it can reasonably play. The fourth copy of Solitude seemed excessive, and I would likely reach for the second Shriekmaw before playing it, especially since the Black card is two orders of magnitude cheaper.

Since the latter two decklists are more self-explanatory, I want to take the time to talk about timing. Your ideal sequence on turn one is land, pitch a Black card to Grief, place the incarnation's death trigger on the stack, place its discard trigger above it so it resolves first, and remove your opponent's interaction if any so the way is clear for you to target your incarnation with Ephemerate. From your opponent's side, a single Lightning Bolt will not save you from this. I've found the only escape is Leyline of Sanctity, or to go first and to cast Veil of Summer (or Nix) in response to your opponent casting Grief. With that in mind, I've been testing against decks that sideboard multiple copies of Veil of Summer. Even so, my results have still been strong.

Now, to the other decklists. Some gamers may delight in a return to Stoneforge Mystic, with the traditional Squadron Hawk, which has additional upside when you're playing a full four Solitude.

You may question Undying Evil. It's less strong than Cloudshift, but I needed Black cards in this slot to have twenty spells of that color to pitch to Grief. You could replace it with Fatal Push if you wish, but I am fine with it as an inclusion and like it for the lols.

Maul of the Skyclaves is great in the deck as a colored artifact. Colorless ones put pressures on our build. For that reason, I didn't include a third search target. If you want maindeck Batterskull or Kaldra Compleat, you can cut one of the White cards but none of the Black ones. They all have to stay to enable Grief.

You may pine for Yorion, Sky Nomad. I would hate to dilute the potency of my opening draws, but the companion will give you the advantage in the late game in the mirror.

Yorion, Sky Nomad

Before moving on to the Death's Shadow variant, let's take a moment to appreciate the design of Sword of Hearth and Home.

Sword of Hearth and Home

Death's Shadow may seem a natural fit for a deck looking to close quickly after devastating the opponent's hand. I struggled to make an early version of the deck work with Scourge of the Skyclaves and ended up cutting the 2-drop in favor of Priest of Fell Rites and Ranger-Captain of Eos. I also showed restraint in this list, playing neither Cloudshift nor Undying Evil.

Traditional mainstays of Death's Shadow aren't as desirable in a deck that wants to maximize the White and Black cards in its hand. For that reason, splashing a third color isn't as free. I felt playing more double-faced lands like Agadeem's Awakening // Agadeem, the Undercrypt was more important. Also, I eschewed Mishra's Bauble. You may come to different conclusions, and if you do, I hope you'll share them with me in a comment or a tweet.

Before we close, I feel that not only will the incarnations make Modern healthier but also the format will be able to embrace strategies that previously dominated. I fully expect Wizards of the Coast to unban Splinter Twin, at minimum. If Mox Opal stays banned it is only because we have a new potent payoff in Urza's Saga, a card I hope to feature in an upcoming article.

Splinter Twin

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