I've taken a hiatus from Modern during the pandemic because I made the plunge into Arena instead of Magic Online. Paper Magic is still my favorite and the recent Modern bans had me excited to explore Modern again.
Just five cards were banned from a format with sets as old as 2003 and it will cause one of the largest shake ups in history. It's pretty crazy to consider when new sets are released on a quarterly basis with hundreds of new cards.
There was also a rules change for the Cascade mechanic:
That's a lot of words to say that Cascade works in a more intuitive, and less abusable, way. No more stopping at a 2-drop only to cast a 7-drop. This is a win for the format because having eight cards that cheat out a seven-mana planeswalker is not healthy for the format.
These bans as well as the Cascade rules change is a huge win for Magic. I've been playing tournaments since 2001 so I've had plenty of friends quit over two decades. It's always awesome to see some of them return after a huge announcement.
It's no secret that Spell Queller, Stoneforge Mystic, and Cryptic Command are some of my favorite cards in Magic, but they have been outclassed by some of the recent additions to the format. Four-Color Omnath was a good matchup, but every other Uro Pile generated more value than Stoneblade. There were better things to be doing than casting Stoneforge Mystic. Now that Uro has gotten the axe I can return to my good friend, Azorius Stoneblade.
I can't simply port old versions of Azorius Stoneblade to 2021 because I also lost a broken Modern staple - Mystic Sanctuary. The level one thinking of adding two Celestial Colonnades won't be enough. Stoneblade is missing a critical late game element, but other Blue decks do as well. The entire dynamic of Blue mirrors will change. Early weeks of this new Modern format will be spent figuring out the right mix of late game for Blue control to replace looping Cryptic Commands.
Before diving into the list, let's talk about the level one metagame. It has certainly opened up.
Monastery Swiftspear decks emerged from the ban announcement unscathed. Rakdos Shadow, Izzet Prowess, and Burn can play the exact same list. It's never bad to play a proactive deck- especially in an unsolved metagame. These decks were popular before the banning and I don't expect that to change.
White creature decks such as Humans and Heliod Company also avoided bans and can keep Red Prowess in check. It's a good time to be playing Auriok Champion. Heliod Company may be an early frontrunner.
Primeval Titan decks took a huge hit with the loss of Field of the Dead, but they will still be played. Titanshift has the opportunity to make a return as well as Amulet Titan. Field of the Dead allowed Primeval Titan decks to be more consistent at the expense of being able to end the game when Titan enters the battlefield. In the future I expect more games to end on the same turn as Primeval Titan resolving.
Tron and Eldrazi Tron were popular choices prior to ridiculous cards being printed in 2019 and 2020 so I expect a resurgence.
A second branch of nimble creature decks include Hammer Time and Infect, which will also have a place in the metagame. They can go under the various big mana strategies.
Spell-based combo decks such as Storm will return, but face opposition from Force of Negation. Storm is very redundant so it was able to succeed in the past despite nearly every piece of sideboard interaction lining up against it.
Uro Piles no longer exist, but Omnath combined with fetching Triomes allows for four-color good stuff decks. Early iterations of Omnath piles include Bring to Light fetching Valki and then casting Tibalt. It's more fair to get a seven-mana planeswalker for five mana instead of three. I expect these decks to be tuned further as it's largely reactive.
In addition to Stoneblade there will also be more controlling Blue decks that don't play too many colors. This is a popular archetype as many Modern streamers make their living playing sweet Blue decks each day.
Fair decks such as Jund and Rakdos Midrange were historically close matchups for Blue decks and I expect them to return because Uro and Mystic Sanctuary are no longer available to tip the scales.
Dredge has been powered down by previous bans, but is still powerful in a diverse metagame. It comes out of the gates at a slower rate without Faithless Looting, but plays well against removal decks. Conflagrate and Creeping Chill help with creature matchups.
This is all to say the Modern metagame will be vast in the coming weeks before the most optimized representatives of each pillar emerge dominant.
Here's my current list:
Azorius Stoneblade | Modern | Kyle Boggemes
- Instants (18)
- 1 Dismember
- 1 Spell Snare
- 2 Mana Leak
- 3 Cryptic Command
- 3 Force of Negation
- 4 Opt
- 4 Path to Exile
- Lands (24)
- 2 Snow-Covered Plains
- 6 Snow-Covered Island
- 1 Blast Zone
- 1 Castle Vantress
- 1 Polluted Delta
- 1 Prismatic Vista
- 1 Scalding Tarn
- 2 Celestial Colonnade
- 2 Hallowed Fountain
- 3 Field of Ruin
- 4 Flooded Strand
The overall shell is similar to what I played before the pandemic.
There are plenty of 3-drops to choose from in Modern and you can't have them all for curve considerations. Spell Queller shines against decks with a linear game plan that doesn't involve removal. I've seen many versions of Stoneblade on the internet skimping on Spell Queller due to the popularity of Red Prowess decks. Modern is a diverse format so I prefer to play all four Queller because it curves so well with Sword of Feast and Famine.
Spell Queller plays very well with Teferi, TIme Raveler as the opponent cannot cast the spells exiled when he is on the battlefield. I expect Blue control decks to be prevalent and adding a third color typically makes Blue mirrors more favorable. The way I fight back against Blue decks tailored to fight mirrors is the third Teferi. I've historically been able to break serve by finding a window to resolve him.
Snapcaster Mage is once against Modern-playable. Since early spell slots are dedicated to Stoneforge Mystic and equipment there are fewer spells to flash back. For this reason, I haven't been a fan of the full playset. I do think a maindeck Shark Typhoon is better than the fourth Snapcaster in the main, but Spell Queller and Teferi fill out the midrange spells.
Four Path to Exile is self-explanatory. Dismember is the fifth removal spell because Azorius decks struggle to find early, nimble creature removal. It can be flashed back with Snapcaster Mage if the opponent doesn't play too much direct damage. Another option in this spot is Supreme Verdict because it can be pitched to Force of Negation, but I don't want to increase the curve.
Jace and Cryptic Command are powerful against the same decks I would want Supreme Verdict. I don't play two Supreme Verdict in the board because I would be increasing the number of 4-drops. In order to have two Verdicts in my deck at any point I would need to trim on Cryptic and Jace. It's more important to board out bad counterspells for early creature interaction.
Spell Snare gets better as the format contains more midrange decks because each one has an important source of card advantage that costs two mana. Snapcaster Mage, Stoneforge Mystic, and others are key threats that require interaction. The downside is not every deck cares about Spell Snare so I play a second Mana Leak until it's clear the metagame is more defined.
Force of Negation is another safe catch all in an open metagame. Regardless of what decks emerge victorious I'm going to feel safe having three Forces. Remember to bluff having Force even when it's not in hand.
I play the fourth Force in the board despite this being an unpopular choice. The fourth Force is good against Tron, Storm, Blue mirrors, Burn, Dredge, and more. That's a lot of coverage using a single sideboard slot. You can play Dovin's Veto in this slot to skew the board more toward Blue mirrors.
The equipment package is lean - Batterskull and Sword of Feast and Famine. I've seen many versions of Stoneblade with Sword of Fire and Ice, too. Creature decks demand a Batterskull and control/combo demands Sword of Feast and Famine. The lands untapping with Feast and Famine generates such a powerful advantage it's able to be threatening against creature decks. I don't want to draw more equipment than I already do with two as they aren't very good without Stoneforge Mystic in play.
There will certainly be games where the third equipment is strong, but I don't believe it outweighs the number of times I draw an awkward creature-enhancing spell.
Cryptic Command and Jace generate enough card advantage to make it worth dragging out the game in the first place. Sanctuary getting banned significantly weakens Cryptic Command, but it's still powerful enough to play many copies when the deck operates largely at instant speed.
The mana base is where things get interesting as a cornerstone was banned. Not only does this change the two slots I had dedicated to Mystic Sanctuary, but I also don't need to focus on my Island count anymore. This will work out to my advantage as Boil is no longer a slam dunk against Blue decks.
Celestial Colonnade is a mana sink to replace the card advantage generated by Mystic Sanctuary. The color situation improves as it's a dual land. I can suit up the 4/4 flyer with Sword of Feast and Famine to increase the amount of late game action.
I tried playing three Colonnades, but it's going to be better if my mana sinks are diversified. There are plenty of other options.
Field of Ruin is the default colorless land, but it doesn't generate card advantage. I expect Tron lands, Inkmoth Nexus, and Cavern of Souls, but I don't need to play a full playset as it's only needed against Green Tron.
Another mana sink I have liked so far is Castle Vantress. The Blue mana helps me cast Cryptic Command on curve so I prefer it to Castle Ardenvale. The 1/1 tokens from Ardenvale will be less important if I only play a single sword. Celestial Colonnade makes me want fewer White sources because I only need one in the first game. The Vantress can scry cards to the bottom after brainstorming with Jace.
I still want two basic Plains to play around Blood Moon. It's possible I want fewer than six Islands in favor of another Vantress, but consistent mana has its perks.
The fetch land package is allowed to change now that Mystic Sanctuary is banned. Prismatic Vista is once again a contender, but do I want the option to fetch a Plains in exchange for not being able to find Hallowed Fountain? A Vista is good against aggro decks because I want an untapped White source early for Path to Exile and Stoneforge Mystic.
Glacial Floodplain is an option to fetch as it's an Island, but it always enters the battlefield tapped. It's a Celestial Colonnade that cannot turn into a creature. The advantage of the Floodplain is it can be enchanted with On Thin Ice. If I play On Thin Ice in the sideboard I'm obligated to change the mana by adding more Prismatic Vista to find Snow-Covered Plains.
Now on to the sideboard which also changes after the bans.
Aether Gust is a way to prevent Primeval Titan from entering the battlefield while evading Veil of Summer. A more narrow metagame would require three copies, but I'm playing two until new versions of Titan prove themselves to be a significant part of the metagame. Historically I've had success against Titan with Stoneblade and most Prowess decks have a second color making Gust less effective.
Celestial Purge is able to interact with Prowess and Shadow. Jund is a close matchup so I would also like some coverage against Liliana, Wrenn and Six, and Kroxa. This is a staple White sideboard card in Modern so I can only go so wrong playing two.
Graveyard hate is tricky in Stoneblade. Rest in Peace hinders my Snapcaster Mages, but it did get better without having to worry about Mystic Sanctuary. I like Rest in Peace against Jund and Dredge. This isn't a significant part of the metagame and I like my dredge matchup with Batterskull and Force of Negation for their enablers. The first RIP is very strong, but they have diminishing returns as most opponents diversify their threats after board to avoid being dismantled by graveyard hate.
Containment Priest is another form of interaction against creatures entering the battlefield. It prevents Dredge creatures from returning, but it misses Ox of Agonas as escape casts the spell. The upside of Containment Priest is it also lines up well against three obnoxious cards - Aether Vial, Pyre of Heroes, and Collected Company.
Mystical Dispute is a very efficient counterspell, but has diminishing returns. After sideboard I'm fighting with Mana Leak for a similar effect. I don't want to waste a sideboard slot for a second Dispute if it means cutting a Mana Leak.
Shark Typhoon is for Blue mirrors and other fair decks with planeswalkers. Spell Queller is weak to Lightning Bolt, but I do want flash creatures in every matchup which makes Typhoon a good replacement. An uncounterable threat I can flash in against Teferi is very important.
Ceremonious Rejection is for a potential increase in Tron decks. I don't need more than one copy because there are enough broad counters to support my defensive strategy.
Timely Reinforcements can be exchanged for counters against creature decks. I'm focusing on early plays since I want to cut as many counters as possible. Burn is a good matchup, but it does ask that I have several defensive pieces in place.
Isolate isn't common, but I prefer it to interact with fast creature decks. It's an instant which can be flashed back with Snapcaster Mage as opposed to On Thin Ice. I can exile Aether Vial, Monastery Switftspear, and other quick creatures. Isolate also doesn't ask that I change my mana base for the worst.
That's all I have today. Modern is returning to a fun format with a wide range of playable decks. It's a welcome change compared to what we had prior to the ban announcement. I'm happy Stoneblade can return to being a competitive option in Modern.
Thanks for reading!