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Team Modern in a Post-Ban World


Fatal Push
We talked a lot about Modern last week, and I continually receive some amount of messages regarding the best way to attack the format with Bant Eldrazi, so I figured for this week I’d talk a little bit about the other Modern format. That’s right, even though we’ve talked about the changes and effects of the banning on regular Modern ad nauseam (pun intended), there is still a significant amount of meta-metagaming to discuss when the additional restriction of the Team Unified format is applied.

So, when we last left off, Dredge and Infect were among the easy top decks for any three-deck lineup in Modern, as they were both extremely powerful and demanded that the opponent play the game on their terms. There could only ever be one opponent with Rest in Peace, and one opponent with Ravenous Trap. In general, many skilled Modern players revel in putting the heat on the opponents to figure out which tolerable pieces of graveyard hate (or artifact hate, or cheap removal and interactive spells) they have room for in their sideboards. The team mechanic only multiplies this task, and it behooves any competitive team to take advantage of the power of these types of linears. Until the ban, that is. Things changed dramatically with the ban announcement, and even more so with the printing of Fatal Push. Now, Dredge has been relegated to low-power mode, and Infect and Death's Shadow Zoo both got a hefty hit with the banning of Gitaxian Probe. Last week, we discussed the big winners in solo Modern play. This week, we’ll put together the most compatible of the winners and form bulletproof three-deck teams.

Noble Hierarch
Let’s start with some obvious pillars. Bant Eldrazi remains a solid choice, and matches up flawlessly with Grixis Delver or Grixis Control. The issue here is that these two box out a large swath of the format with their individual card requirements. Tron? Not without Ancient Stirrings. Burn? Grixis has those Bolts, my friend. Lantern? Stirrings again. Ad Nauseam? Those Serum Visions from Delver say no. Infect? Noble Hierarch is too busy casting turn-two Thought-Knot Seers to help!

The best options are R/G Valakut (without Lightning Bolts) and good old Affinity. Now, Affinity has a ton of raw power, but can be a little bit vulnerable to heavy removal suites like those in Grixis Delver. Additionally, Engineered Explosives and Stony Silence put the hurt on our mechanical friends. Taking that into consideration, alongside the printing of Spire of Industry, it seems like it might finally be time to attempt a version of Affinity that incorporates Tempered Steel. With so many five-color sources in Mox Opal, Glimmervoid, Spire, and Springleaf Drum, casting a turn-two Steel might be just what the doctor ordered to take away those Stony Silence blues. It doesn’t hurt that Steel turns every mopey Ornithopter into an un-Bolt-able, must-kill threat. When Steel Overseer seems to be the target of every Fatal Push from here to Japan, it might be time to consider something different.

It’s got a lot more 3-drops than the average Affinity list, so I’m not sure how this will play out. It seems sweet, though! If you don’t want to get creative with Tempered Affinity, of course, you can probably do worse than putting a bunch of Mountains into play and dumping damage on your opponent’s head. If you can make Valakut work without Bolts, be my guest. This would be a tremendous deck to use for the least experienced Modern player on your team, because it’s a fairly brainless deck. Don’t die, then put in a (sometimes hasty) Titan and mash their face in. Logan Hoberty’s 10th place deck from the recent SCG Classic is a perfect example of this type of degenerate, non-interactive Magic:

Tireless Tracker? Destructive Revelry? Interesting choices from the Valakut player, but the deck makes sense and doesn’t have too much room to get fancy. I like it, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more than a few teams run the “HULK SMASH” strategy for one of their players at the upcoming Grand Prix in San Antonio.

“But, Ben! What should our Bant and Grixis lists look like? C’mon, don’t leave us hanging!”

Okay, fine, I’ll point you to last week’s article for a Bant Eldrazi list that you can use as a starting point for your own testing, and as for Grixis, we’ll take a look at the SCG Classic lists for our inspiration . . . 

Levi Basham’s deck list looks solid, although I think I’d be happier without those Young Pyromancers in the deck. Sure, they look like they do something, but potentially making two or three Elemental tokens just isn’t worth opening yourself up to the mana disadvantage of getting your Pyromancer insta-Bolted or insta-Pushed. I’d rather have a second big fish and a 20th land, to be honest. I do generally like the list beyond that, though. Of course, you could be more interested in grinding away at your opponent until they helplessly and hopelessly concede. Corey Burkhart did just that to win the most recent MOCS event, made all the more impressive by the fact that Fatal Push (and all of Aether Revolt, but mostly Fatal Push) wasn’t out online yet! Here’s Corey’s list, which stands to snag a couple of fancy one-mana upgrades now that Aether Revolt has come to MTGO.

Gavony Township
After cutting a Terminate, maybe a Countersquall or a Spell Snare, and possibly an Engineered Explosives or a Lightning Bolt for a few Fatal Pushes, I’m sure Corey will have his Grixis deck humming for the GP. In all honesty, I’m jealous of whomever he chooses to team with; they’re getting one of the best control pilots in all of Modern with his newly upgraded, faithful weapon at his side. “Dangerous opponent” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

But let’s talk about some alternative configurations. If you don’t want to play Bant, Grixis, or the like, what are some off-the-beaten-path alternatives you might want to explore? Well, I’m looking at unlikely pairings like Ad Nauseam, Melira Company, and Lantern Control, for starters. None of these decks plays Lightning Bolt, but all of them benefit from some aspect of the banning. You could swap out Lantern for Tron and I wouldn’t bat an eye; Lantern is mind-numbingly tedious for some pilots. I could easily imagine Tron having a favorable matchup against all the midrange decks you’re likely to find, and Melira benefits from a drop-off in Dredge hate as well as the backup plan of “fair creatures and Gavony Township” that gives control decks fits. Ad Nauseam, well, it conflicts with any other Serum Visions deck, but other than that, it has very little overlap with the rest of the format. It, more than any other deck in Modern (except possibly Grishoalbrand), benefits from Infect’s loss, and I would not be surprised to see a dumb stack-based combo deck in the winner’s circle when the dust settles.

If you’re looking for Melira Company tidbits, though, look no further than Jermol Jupiter’s list from the recent SCG.

(That should be Burrenton Forge-Tender, I’m sure!)

Incidentally, Renegade Rallier gets me all tingly when I think about the possibilities between that and Saffi Eriksdotter. You start to get some really crazy backdoor combos that pop up in this world, where it doesn’t really matter how many Snapcaster Mages and Fatal Pushes your opponents are packing, because you can just get any combo piece back from the dead with ease! Eternal Witness, Renegade Rallier, the grindy value just goes on and on and on.

Big ups to Jupiter for his performance, stopped only at the end by (what did you expect?) a dumb combo deck with a silly two-card finish in Ad Nauseam. Look. When you ban the predators of a non-interactive deck, don’t be surprised when it rises to the top. I hope everyone’s got their fast clocks and countermagic at the ready, because you’re going to need it!

Let’s recap some of the best options for Team Modern, as well as some underappreciated gems that don’t overlap with too much else in the format.

Bant Eldrazi-Grixis Delver/Control-Valakut

Bant Eldrazi-Grixis Delver/Control-Affinity

Melira Company-Ad Nauseam-Lantern

Melira Company-Ad Nauseam-Tron

Melira Company-Ad Nauseam-Valakut

Valakut-Affinity-Ad Nauseam

Bant Eldrazi-Ad Nauseam-Valakut

Silvergill Adept
I would advise against playing Jund, as it is positioned similarly to Grixis Delver relative to the rest of the format while being a dog to Grixis decks due to the printing of Fatal Push. Burn is fine, but unspectacular if opponents are going to be on decks like Ad Nauseam or Bant Eldrazi. Fatal Push is also decent against Burn, giving more decks more access to cheap removal for the turn-one Goblin Guide or Monastery Swiftspear. I’d steer clear of that, as I would steer clear of any White Weenie/Hate Bears type strategy. (I’m no Craig Wescoe, though, so I fully expect him to crush the GP while playing cards no one else respects!)

One somewhat underappreciated deck for Team Modern is Merfolk, actually. The nice thing about Merfolk is that it plays so few cards that overlap with the rest of the format, so you can safely pair it with just about anything. Merfolk is pretty resilient to many of the midrange or control decks, actually, as it hits hard while having Silvergill Adepts and Kira, Great Glass-spinners to dampen the impact of Fatal Push. I don’t believe that I’m likely to pair with a Merfolk aficionado for the GP, but I don’t doubt that some fishmongers will be at the tournament, and I wouldn’t take the matchup for granted.

Speaking of not taking things for granted, the last thing that I want to impress on you all is that Infect and Dredge are both still viable decks in their weakened forms. Both of those decks Top 16’d the Classic this past weekend, both are eminently capable of winning, and (especially in the case of Dredge), if you don’t have the proper methods of interaction, you’ll still lose to their powerful, fast kills. Don’t fall victim to Golgari Thug or Slip Through Space just because you don’t have to deal with the more advanced Golgari Grave-Troll or Gitaxian Probe. Infect-Dredge-Burn can getcha almost as well as they could before the bannings, and if you lose to those decks because you didn’t respect them, then I have very little sympathy.

Like most of Modern, expect it, respect it, and win. Fail to do those things, and you’ll be out of the tournament faster than you can say “Cathartic Reunion, discarding two Stinkweed Imps”. Good luck, and we’ll be back next week with more hard-hitting Standard analysis in the run up to Pro Tour: Aether Revolt.

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