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Combating Specific Modern Strategies


The Double Modern Grand Prix weekend is upon us! A few weeks ago I wrote an article with a pseudo-guide book for getting into Modern. After receiving a lot of exceptional feedback and positive responses, I’ve elected to revisit the topic in preparation for Grand Prix Charlotte and Grand Prix Los Angeles. Due to the information density in this particular article, we’re going to skip the fluffy intro and get right to the meat-and-potatoes information section of the piece!

Have a Plan for Decks that Play a Plethora of Small Creatures

Birds of Paradise
Vault Skirge
Goblin Bushwhacker

Lord of Atlantis
Young Pyromancer
Champion of the Parish

Many Modern archetypes live or die by being able to clog the board in the early game doing one of two things:

  • Leveraging their on-board advantage into tempo-swings via situational spells.
  • Assembling a critical mass of cards that interact well with one another or a combo.

There are several ways to combat these strategies, but the most common are having trumps for board stalls, sweepers to deal with multiple creatures at a time, and picking apart the most important pieces of the board while building toward something bigger. One of the best archetypes for combating ‘little kid’ creature decks is Jeskai Control:

Jeskai Control has been historically well-positioned against a majority of creature decks, and it isn’t hard to see why. Between Path to Exile and Lightning Bolt the deck has eight 1-drop removal spells, and even more going up the curve. Snapcaster Mage generally has even more removal tacked on to him, then Wall of Omens and Restoration Angel make sure the leftover creatures can’t attack effectively any time soon. Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker tends to find his way into the deck just to have a back-door infinite combo with Restoration Angel in case things get hairy and the deck needs an “I win” button.

Burn is an archetype on the other side of the spectrum that plans to condense the game into as few turns as possible to stymie the growth of opponents’ boards.

Burn decks, at their core, are just a bunch of cards trying to reduce the opponent to zero life as quickly as possible. Mathematically speaking, Burn needs approximately seven spells to kill the opponent (Seven spells times an average of three damage per spell is 21 life lost) and many of Burn’s better draws need even fewer. A first-turn Goblin Guide on the play can singlehandedly deal upward of six to eight points of damage. With such a fast clock it becomes nigh-impossible for decks to get the time they need in order to assemble a critical mass of creature cards.

Understand How the Infect Archetype Operates

Infect is one of the stranger archetypes in Modern because its power level is somewhat contingent on the opponent’s choices. For anyone looking to play the archetype, or pick it up for the first time, I wrote an incredibly detailed piece on subtle nuances between different builds of Infect. For people looking to beat the deck look no further.

Andrew Jessup played this list all the way to the finals of the Starcitygames.com Modern Open this past weekend in Indianapolis, so it is will I will be referencing for me points:

The point I started this series off with in my initial Modern Tips article was not being afraid to take damage. Infect is a deck where it is imperative to interact in combat as little as possible. Trying to use a removal spell on an attacking Glistener Elf may result in the Infect player using a kicked copy of Vines of Vastwood to counter the removal spell and distribute an additional four poison counters to the defending player.

The best time to try and use a removal spell against Infect is on the Infect player’s end step. If the player uses a pump spell or a protection spell to save their creature the effects of the spell will wear off as soon as the other player untaps. There are many times against Infect where it is correct to tap out on your turn and just hope you aren’t dead. Take the following example:

Both players have mulliganed, the opponent to 6 and player to 5. Opponent led with Glistener Elf and followed up with a Noble Hierarch to attack for two Infect damage. Player played a tapped Raging Ravine on turn one and has Scavenging Ooze, Abrupt Decay, Terminate, Lightning Bolt, and Overgrown Tomb in hand during their main phase of the second turn.

In this instance it is assuredly best to Lightning Bolt the Glistener Elf and play a tapped Overgrown Tomb. The Jund player is dead to a pair of Mutagenic Growth anyway, (The Infect player could save the Elf with a pair of Mutagenic Growth) and the opponent having a copy of Vines of Vastwood or a combination of Apostle's Blessing and a pump spell would be a nightmare. It is near impossible for the opponent to have enough pump spells and mana to kill with Noble Hierarch the following turn so it is just as safe to tap out against the Infect deck at this point as it would be in other instances.

In some instances it is necessary to interact with an Infect player inside of combat, in these cases it is crucial to make sure and follow this step-by-step guide:

  • Block the Infect creature, if possible.
  • Allow damage to resolve if it isn’t lethal or doesn’t result in an unwinnable game state (puts the player to 9 infect with multiple 1-power infect creatures on the table, etc.)
  • Respond with pump spells still on the stack. Some Infect decks have played Stubborn Denial and it is reasonably easy to play around. There is little reason to get blown out in a generally avoidable situation.
  • Prioritize Green removal (Nature's Claim or Plummet on Inkmoth Nexus, for example) when possible. If the Infect player uses Apostle's Blessing to protect their creature, they cannot use Green pump spells on their creature for the rest of the turn. This also makes any copies of Rancor enchanting that creature fall off mid-combat.
  • Try and use “Destroy” and “Exile” removal spells (likeGo For the Throat, Abzan Charm, and Oblivion Stone) in combat rather than damage or stat-reduction removal spells (Lightning Bolt, Dismember). The Infect player can use pump spells to save their creature from the spell and it will often result in the caster of the removal spell taking more damage in the exchange.

Playing against Infect is a game of patience and understanding. The deck is scary due to its speed and resiliency, but it is important to remember the deck doesn’t have very much reach outside of combat. Any threat the deck has (outside of a tech copy of Carrion Call) will have to survive an entire turn on the Infect player’s side of the battlefield before getting to attack.

Learn the Difference Between the Two Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle Decks

Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle

One of the bigger breakout decks from last weekend’s Modern tournament was a R/G Primeval Titan combo deck playing lands until it kills the opponent:

This deck play similarly to the Standard variation of R/G Valakut Ramp from yesteryear because it just wants to play lands as quickly as possible and start gaining free Lightning Bolts every time it plays a Mountain in excess of five.

One important ruling to understand with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle is when multiple Mountains enter the battlefield simultaneously,they all ‘see eachother’. This means that if the R/G Valakut player searches for Mountains number five and six with Primeval Titan and already has a Valakut in play, both of the Mountains will trigger the Zendikar land and six points of damage will be dealt.

The scariest draw out of this deck is a turn three[if the opponent pays two life for a Shockland, Thoughtseize, pair of fetchlands, etc.) kill via Through the Breach in the following sequence:

The horrifying part of this sequence is even in the case where theValakut player’s opponent hasn’t taken any damage from lands , that player is still dead if the Valakut pilot just plays a mountain.

The best way to combat this specific Valakut strategy is with cards that invalidate Primeval Titan or make it weaker:

Shadow of Doubt
Slaughter Games
Ensnaring Bridge
Aven Mindcensor
Leonin Arbiter
Cryptic Command

The next Valakut deck actually has a few different variants, so I’ll list the decklists first and then talk a bit about the subtle differences between them.

The various Scapeshift decks take advantage of the aforementioned ruling on multiple Mountains entering that battlefield at the same time.With seven lands being sacrificed, the spell’s controller deals 18 damage if the player searches for six Mountains and a single Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. With eight lands, another Valakut is added to the mix and ups the ante to 36 points of damage in one fell swoop.

The ways to combat these decks are different and sideboarding is important, so listen up!

  • Against decks packing Primeval Titan it is incredibly important to kill the Primeval Titan as soon as it hits the battlefield. Generally speaking if the Titan gets to attack, it is going to be lights-out.
  • There still have to be six total Mountains on the battlefield when the Valakut triggers resolve. This means if Prismatic Omen is destroyed with the triggers on the stack and there aren’t enough Mountains on the battlefield anymore, the damage fizzles. This also works with instant-speed land destruction in the form of Tectonic Edge and Fulminator Mage.
  • Blood Moon gives both players extra mountains, but it also turns Valakut into a Mountain, so it is a fantastic option against these decks.
  • The Bring to Light version is the hardest deck to kill (they play the most answers to various cards) but are the most fragile combo deck. Slaughter Games or a Delirium-infused Invasive Surgery is a headshot for them a majority of the time.

Creature removal is weak against non-Primeval Titan variations of these decks. The most important thing to understand about the various Scapeshift decks is they all operate at a different pace, and you should sideboard accordingly. These are generally the best cards against Scapeshift variants:

Fulminator Mage
Crumble to Dust
Sowing Salt
Aven Mindcensor
Shadow of Doubt
Invasive Surgery
Ghost Quarter
Tectonic Edge
Blood Moon

That just about wraps up this segment on Modern tips. Was there an archetype you want some more info on that wasn’t covered? Have a conflicting take on something? Feel free to drop a comment below with any questions or feedback that you have!

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