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The Modern Shake Up


The Modern changes announced on August 26th, 2019 might be some of the most impactful changes to the format since its inception. Not only did WOTC give us a powerful new toy to play with in the form of Stoneforge Mystic, but they also kicked the legs out from underneath a variety of unfair decks in the format with the banning of Faithless Looting.

On the surface I like both of these changes to Modern. They address two of my primary issues with the previous format:

  • Fair decks lacked power
  • Graveyard decks were too consistent

Fair decks gain a direct power boost by gaining a great new threat if they are in White. Even non-White fair decks gain in the format though by virtue of freeing up sideboard slots they previously needed to dedicate to graveyard hate.

I think banning Faithless Looting is a net positive for the format. As formats get more and more cards in them, combo decks naturally just get more powerful and consistent unless they are managed via a ban list. Faithless Looting is a powerful enabler that is frequently going to happen into making things too consistent and explosive. This time it was Hogaak, last time it was Golgari Grave-Troll, if Looting remained legal it would be something else in the future.

While Modern has some "safety valve" style cards for fighting the graveyard like Leyline of the Void and Rest in Peace - I think these cards should be just that - safety valves. When these cards become mainstays of the format, games tend to be very polarizing and uninteresting. Having sideboard games revolve entirely around did player A draw their sideboard card and did player B draw their anti-sideboard card are tedious and frustrating.

The most important thing about this Faithless Looting ban is the precedent it sets though. There are no sacred cows in Modern. Nothing is safe. Hide your Ancient Stirrings. Hide your Mox Opals.

Where do these changes leave the format though? I would bet ramp decks like rg Valakut and Tron are likely the new "level zero". This is because these decks tend to prey on slower decks that people are likely to want to experiment with. Another thing to consider is that graveyard decks are not completely dead. While they will be slower and slightly less consistent, the fact that people will have less respect for them in most sideboards means they can afford to be both of these things. I would not be surprised to see Dredge or even something like Grishoalbrand put up results still.

Enough with talking about old decks that are likely still good though - let's dive into some new goodies shall we? There are endless shells we can shove Stoneforge Mystic and her favorite toys into so today I am just going to highlight a few of my favorites that have come to mind since the unbannings:

This is an updated variation of the Jeskai Tempo deck I wrote a primer about earlier this month. This archetype always had a fairly aggressive slant and Stoneforge Mystic allowing us to deploy equipment at instant speed for cheap plays exactly into our flashy game style. Stoneforge being another "must answer" threat in our deck also helps ensure that our Spell Quellers live more often.

You'll note that the sideboard has less graveyard than before, but there is still a pair of Ashiok, Dream Render present. I think Ashiok's stock in a format where graveyard decks are a touch slower and Valakut is present is actually quite high. Denying Primeval Titan's ability to search for lands means that Path to Exiling it after it resolves feels a lot less bad.

Up next we have a variation of bg Rock with a White splash:

Traditionally, one of the problems with these Rock style decks is that your draws without Tarmogoyf tend to lack closing power against combo decks. With four additional efficient threats in our deck this is far less likely to be an issue. Kaya's Guile is a card that felt close to playable and if graveyard decks slow down a hair it gets even better. The fact that it can generate an instant speed, evasive body to carry a sword is also nothing to scoff at.

Finally - would it be a Hoogland article exploring a new creature in Modern if we did not include a creature combo deck?

For those not familiar with this fringe archetype it contains the infinite combo of Restoration Angel / Deceiver Exarch + Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker.

Prime Speaker Vannifar is especially deadly because it can generate a combo kill from just a single one-mana creature and two forests. We do this as follows:

Historically speaking this archetype has raced unfair decks well, but struggled a bit against the heavily interactive decks in the format. Stoneforge Mystic helps with this issue by stretching our opponent's removal thin by including more "must answer" threats. Curving Giver of Runes into Stoneforge Mystic is a fantastic 1, 2 curve that demands not just one, but two pieces of removal for most fair decks. Past this because Stoneforge Mystic costs two mana, after it drops a Batterskull into play, we can Eldritch Evolution it into Prime Speaker Vannifar.

Wrapping Up

Regardless of how you feel about the changes introduced to Modern this week - they are here for the foreseeable future and they have created a wild west in their wake. Personally I could not be more excited. Before these changes my hype for Modern was at an all time low and now I can't help but churning out deck list idea after deck list idea.

One of the important things to remember when trying to get your legs under you with these changes is that all the good non-Faithless Looting decks before this change are still good. Heck - even some of the Faithless Looting decks are still good. Don't spend all your maximizing your win percentage in Stoneforge Mystic mirror matches when Karn Liberated and Primeval Titan are coming for you at your next Modern tournament as well.


-Jeff Hoogland

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