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Amonkhet in Modern


As Foretold
We are truly living in Modern’s Golden Age. Like Legacy circa mid-2011 to mid-2012, many games are skill-intensive, metagaming is of paramount importance, and the best players succeed because they have a plan for every matchup in the 40+ possible options they might face in a tournament. If it weren’t for the Modern Masters releases, the prices of all the best Modern staples would be through the roof, but fortunately the Reserved List boogeyman isn’t pressuring Modern the way it pressured Legacy out of the limelight. In addition, the last few sets and the last round of bannings have provided us with a significantly more balanced format that allows for all sorts of amazing decks to compete on par with the best of the bunch. The power gap between the clear best decks and the second tier is surmountable, and the feared dominance of Death's Shadow hasn’t quite come to pass. Slivers? Grishoalbrand? wu Control? All options are on the table, and as long as you know your gameplan for the powerful linears that circumscribe the format, you can bring anything to your local Modern events with a reasonable expectation to do well.

That being said, there are always risks with new cards that stand to upset the established order. For Legacy, it was Terminus (and to a lesser extent, Entreat the Angels, Deathrite Shaman, and Abrupt Decay) upending the format in 2012 and leading us toward the current Miracles-dominated metagame. Blame Terminus, the Reserved List, the rise of Modern, the decline in support from SCG, but the confluence of factors have pushed Legacy off its perch as the secondary Constructed format after Standard. It is a constant worry, then, that a similar fate might befall Modern. Not that I foresee a problem with card availability or a newer format usurping Modern’s role, but new printings always pose a risk to destroy a still-exciting metagame before we can plumb its depths to the fullest. One of the most disappointing feelings in Magic is when you finally figure out your perfect list to crush the metagame with, but the format rotates before you have a chance to show off your creation to the world. This is my worry with current Modern, which is a true delight to play. Modern has had its share of monsters, for sure, and with each new set there are a number of risky cards that stand to upend the proverbial apple cart of the format. Of course, part of the excitement of the new set is the possibility that we might break it with some new unforeseen engine or combo, winning a big tournament and making a name for ourselves. After all, just as it’s Wizards’ goal to police the format, it’s ours to win with all the tools at our disposal. And in Amonkhet, we’ve got a few spicy new tools that will certainly shake things up. Let’s take a look.

As Foretold, as I mentioned last week, is the card with the highest “break me” ceiling in the format. A sort of double-use Aether Vial for all spells (since you can use it on yours and your opponent’s turn) that also lets you freeroll your Ancestral Visions or Restore Balances, As Foretold has a number of possible break-points in Modern. The most obvious route that I’d like to explore today is in wu Control, as a way to turbocharge a nominally fair deck and let it gain a massive mana advantage as the game progresses. Let’s take a look at a possible list:

Archfiend of Ifnir
I’m not gonna lie. I took Greg Orange’s list from GP San Antonio and fudged some of the numbers around to account for the presence of As Foretold. I also added more copies of the best hate cards in the format, Rest in Peace and Stony Silence. Rest in Peace has anti-synergy with Snapcaster Mage and Crucible of Worlds, of course, but you can either cut those or accept that Rest in Peace is so powerful in the matchups where it’s good that it’s okay to turn your Snapcaster Mages into flash 2/1s. You can cut two lands because As Foretold functions like an Aether Vial a lot of the time, giving you a ton of virtual mana to use as you please. Hell, you have so many cheap spells that this deck functions like a weird Modern version of a Miracles deck, which also only plays 20 lands in a notoriously mana-hungry deck. Instead of the lands, I added another one-mana piece of interaction in a third Spell Snare, though you might be safer with a more conservative 22 lands. You’re also so resilient to Blood Moon that you can cut some of your basic lands, and if we do go back to 22, it’s possible that we want even more utility lands, including a Tectonic Edge or two. The line between consistency and power is a thin one to navigate, although I’ve been having a ton of success recently by cutting a land or two from my Constructed decks. Might as well stick with the formula that’s brought me success, right?

Now, As Foretold isn’t the only newcomer to Modern that threatens to shake things up. A little old Demon named Archfiend of Ifnir seems poised to make Living End great again, which means that we’ll have about four Jund-ish colored graveyard-based decks in Modern to prepare for. Grishoalbrand, Dredge, Living End, some varieties of Death's Shadow, and possibly a Seismic Assault/Life from the Loam concoction too. Get your Rest in Peaces ready, folks!

Living End is quite customizable, and it plays a better fair game than most graveyard decks when its main game plan gets shut off. Archfiend of Ifnir plays into that fair gameplan amazingly well, as it’s immune to Fatal Push and Abrupt Decay while singlehandedly shutting down huge swaths of the format with its cycling trigger ability. Though Living End doesn’t get to play the White sideboard hate cards, it does get the Red and Black ones, which are often almost as good. Let’s take a look at a sample list, my own updates on some Travis Woo and Jody Keith technology.

Life from the Loam
There are a ton of different options for a deck like Living End, including Anger of the Gods, Beast Within, Avalanche Riders, Pale Recluse, the number of Simian Spirit Guides, the split on Ingot Chewers, Shriekmaws, and even Ricochet Traps. I’ve only ever played Living End once, and it’s a difficult deck to master even as it offers so many free wins the majority of the time. I have a feeling that even though Archfiend of Ifnir generally contributes to the main game plan of the deck, it will often end up contributing to close, tricky post-board games when your main plan falls through. It’s possible that the Archfiend is so good against a deck like Dredge that you may not need normal removal, and you can focus harder on beating matchups like Burn and Affinity. Hell, you might find room for a cycling land or two in the list, which segues nicely into the third Modern archetype that Amonkhet is juicing up for us: Life from the Loam decks!

Now, Life from the Loam has never been quite as busted in Modern as it’s been in Legacy, mainly because Wasteland + Loam is just so incredibly difficult for a wide variety of Legacy decks to beat. However, if memory serves, there was once upon a time a Solitary Confinement/Life from the Loam/Seismic Assault deck in Extended circa 2005-2007. The Onslaught block Cycling lands and Life from the Loam provided the card advantage, the Solitary Confinement provided protection from a number of combo decks, and Seismic Assault locked out a ton of the fair creature-based decks. Though Barren Moor, Tranquil Thicket, and Forgotten Caves are out of the picture, we have access to fetchable dual lands with the a more expensive cycling cost, offering us an opportunity to get the band back together. Ghost Quarter is a toned-down Wasteland for Modern, and you have all the great removal you could ask for. Whether its stapled onto a Dredge shell or living on its own, Life from the Loam and Cycling lands are a combo to die for. Let’s examine a tentative Aggro Loam list, then we’ll take a look at Assault Dredge.

This list is super rough around the edges, and I suspect it’s just too low-powered to compete as-is, but the seed of power is there. In all honesty, as I tinkered with this Loam deck, I realized that the transformative Dredge sideboard is just a better place for Assault/Loam, where you can combine it with a whole mess of Abrupt Decays, Raven's Crimes, Maelstrom Pulses, and the like. Dredge is such a great Game 1 deck that you can easily attempt a sideboard juke to beat up on fair midrange decks. Conflagrate competes with Seismic Assault, to be sure, but it offers a powerful alternative engine when your opponents come packing sideboard hate. Hell, the cycling lands even provide a sort of protection for your Loams from opposing Surgical Extractions. Just cycle in response to the Surgical, Dredge the Life from the Loam into your hand, and the Extraction fails. I’ve been had by that interaction before in Legacy, and I know that it will come back around to bite someone in their next Modern tournament. So be savvy!

For future reference, here’s where I’ll be starting my Dredge explorations come Amonkhet:

Raven's Crime
The big questions here are the maindeck Darkblast over a Golgari Thug, the maindeck Raven's Crime, the quantity of sideboard Assaults, and the presence of sideboard Ravenous Trap (or Bojuka Bog, or Leyline of the Void, or whatever graveyard hate piece you prefer.) A single basic Forest somewhere in the 75, accompanied by a switch to four Wooded Foothills as the fetchlands of choice, might be nice as a way to combat Blood Moon decks, although I’m not convinced that it’s even necessary. The sideboard Maelstrom Pulses, on the other hand, have proven invaluable in testing, and I’m considering swapping the third Abrupt Decay for a third sideboard Pulse. Hitting multiples of the same creature is always sweet, as is hitting Leyline of the Void. I’ve even used it against monstrous Eldrazi and Gideon Jura.

As for the absence of Insolent Neonate, I haven’t missed it one bit. At its best, it’s a Red Tome Scour, and it’s frequently a good bit worse than that. I love the extra sideboard space afforded by the maindeck Brutalities, and I love how much I’ve improved the Burn matchup with this change. Collective Brutality is just Modern Dredge’s closest cousin to Cabal Therapy, and the Loam engine means that discarding extra cards to escalate the spell is never a big problem.

Modern may have a notorious “best deck” in Death's Shadow, but Amonkhet’s giving some tools to decks that stand ready to prey on the archetype, and I’m excited to see what develops among the gaggle of Tier 2 options. That is, if As Foretold doesn’t break something unfortunate first . . . 

Enjoy the Prereleases this weekend, and we’ll be back next week to talk shop on Amonkhet Limited! It’s been too long since I stretched out my forty card skills, and I need to live up to my Twitter handle. Talk to you then!

— Ben


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