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Who Needs Probe?


2 days after this, Gitaxian Probe was banned in Modern.

I cri evrytiem.

Gitaxian Probe
It had been a while since I even had to consider what deck to play in a Modern tournament. When your bread and butter deck also happens to be the best deck in the format, there’s just no real reason to. It was to such an extent that I barely kept up with the format. If there was a Modern tournament I was just going to play Infect, so it was difficult to justify allocating testing time to Modern when I could I just start getting ready for the tournament after that. The only other decks I had played extensively were Affinity and Death's Shadow.

The format for the MOCS Playoffs was rather unique, for the new bans would be in effect, but Aether Revolt wouldn’t be legal online yet. This left me with some work to do. Refining some of the decks I actually had some experience with seemed easier than picking up a new deck, so the first decks I looked to were Infect, Death's Shadow, and Affinity.

I started my testing with Infect. I was confident the deck was still playable without Probe, but

exactly how good the deck would be without it was something I was unsure of. Building the deck without Probe proved to be more difficult than I originally anticipated. The utility Probe offers for such a small investment is irreplaceable, so rather than just trying to swap them out it seemed better to just change how the deck was built.

Become Immense
Become Immense is arguably one of the most powerful cards still legal in modern, so it’s unfortunate to go down to two, but without Probe to facilitate delve it’s likely a necessary casualty. With only two Become Immense, the move to four Groundswell is a requirement in order maintain a similar clock. I’ve noted my lukewarm feelings toward Groundswell numerous times; claiming I would never register one before playing four Become Immense, Might of Old Krosa, or Mutagenic Growth, but without Probe this is no longer the case.

The inclusion of cantrips is a change I’ve seen other players make in an attempt to fill some of the holes left by probe. Like Gitaxian Probe cantrips can smooth out your draws and fuel Become Immense, but they come at a pretty significant cost. 1 mana may seem innocuous, but I can assure you it’s not. When your deck is looking to end the game by turn four consistently, sculpting your draws rather than developing your board or leaving up protection spells can be fairly detrimental to your gameplan. Because of this, I chose to include more redundant pieces in the deck rather than adding cantrips.

My initial testing started out great. There was about a 45 minute window between Gitaxian Probe being banned and me having a 5-0 with Infect in a Modern a league. The deck was performing great and the difference in power level between the current list and its previous iteration was hardly noticeable. I started 12-3 in my first 15 matches against various decks, but the wheels started to come off from there. The consistency issues the deck suffers from without Probe became apparent. The real red flag came after losing a match to Tron. I had played the matchup at least 40 times in the past, but had never lost a single match. It’s obviously not too out of the ordinary to lose to a very good matchup. My record in the matchup was in no way an accurate representation of how favorable the matchup is, but the fact that I lost wasn’t what I found concerning; it was how I lost. My draw was perfectly functional and my opponents was above average at best, but I was still soundly defeated. A few matches later I lost to Tron again, so it was back to the drawing board for me.

Mishra's Bauble
My second attempt aimed to basically just swap Mishra's Bauble for Probe. It felt a bit lazy, but it seemed like it would solve some of the issues I had been having. Become Immense and Groundswell weren’t pulling their weight in the previous iteration, so by adding Mishra's Baubles my Become Immenses would improve significantly and allow me to move away from Groundswell. In theory Mishra's Bauble should be sufficient in smoothing out your draws as well. The ability to essentially scry with a fetchland came up countless times and shouldn’t be overlooked.

There were several notable downsides as well though; the delayed draw would often slow down your draws and pumping opposing Goyfs had a larger impact on the game than you might anticipate. Overall, the positives outweigh the negatives by enough that it should at least merit some consideration.

While the Baubles tested fine, my win percentage was nearly identical to the original list. I came to the conclusion that at least until a more optimized list is found, Infect will likely shift to more of a metagame call. The deck no longer had access to the raw power that makes it a contender in any matchup. It certainly still has its place in the metagame though and while it can’t steal bad matchups at the frequency it once did, it won’t be a rare occurrence either. I would’ve been content playing Infect in the MOCS at this point, but I still had ample time to test and I planned to use it.

The next deck on my list was Affinity. Once a powerhouse in Modern, Affinity has since been relegated to only seeing fringe play. I suspected that the Probe ban may open in a slot in the metagame for other creature based combo decks, and the Golgari Grave-Troll ban would impair a rough matchup. Affinity is the first deck I put effort into learning the ins and outs of, but I was a tad rusty with deck. I hadn’t put any thought into what the list should look like in years, so my list just was just an amalgamation of recent results:

Death's Shadow
Playing the deck again reminded me of how much I enjoy playing the archetype, but that was unfortunately the highlight of my testing with it. The deck felt only slightly better against removal spell saturated decks than the other versions of creature combo decks, but has downside of being incredibly weak to various hate cards. It’s entirely possible my list was bad, or I was just playing poorly, but the deck just felt too weak. The matches I was winning were incredibly tight and my losses were pretty much blowouts. Fortunately in my testing with Affinity a player by the username GHash77, gave me such a savage beating with a Jund Death's Shadow that I was compelled to pick up the deck myself.

As I mentioned Death's Shadow was one of the few decks I had a decent amount of experience with, but I originally dismissed it as unplayable without Probe. Unlike Infect where Probe was just powerful, it felt like an integral part of the Death's Shadow decks. But the shift toward a more midrangey version of the deck alleviated the need to power out Death's Shadow’s as fast possible because the deck was more than capable of playing a longer game. After spotting the list online the next day, I decided to put some work into the deck.

Only a couple games into testing, it would have been difficult for me to be more impressed. I was to pick apart my opponent's’ hand while deploying a fast clock with an absurd consistency. The decks goldfish speed gives you a ton of game in historically bad matchups for Jund decks, and your ability to pump out giant threats gives you an edge in B/G mirrors too. I played 15 leagues prior to the MOCS boasting a record of 60-15. The deck felt unbeatable, and I was locked in. After some tinkering this was the final list I arrived at.

Fatal Push
While I wasn’t able to take the down the tournament like I wanted to, it was apparent my testing paid off. I always believed I had the best deck in the tournament whenever I played Infect, and this felt the same way. I was able to go undefeated in the swiss losing only a single game to Antonio Del Moral Leon on a Kiki-Jiki deck. I was running well and happy with my play all day, so I felt great going into Top 8, but my run was unfortunately cut short by Craig Wescoe on White Weenie. Some clunky mulligans were punished pretty hard by Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and mediocre sequencing on my part made it even harder to get out from underneath it.

So now to address the elephant in the room; is the deck still viable with Fatal Push in the format?

I think so.

I know that’s probably not the ringing endorsement you wanted to hear, but it’s really just too difficult to tell at this point. I think the matchup against B/G/x decks is still fine as you can just strip Push with a discard spell like you would anything else, but if Grixis picks up it could be a real problem for the deck. The ability to Snapcaster Mage back an unconditional removal spell at such an efficient rate may prove too difficult to fight through. With that being said, I don’t expect it to take more than just a few tweaks for this deck to remain a contender. I plan to start my testing with something along the lines of this.

As always it’s difficult to address everything, so if you any questions about any of these deck feel free to ask me here or on twitter @TheBetterJessup.

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