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Expressive Iteration is Awesome in Modern

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Hey everyone!

It's no secret that Red is the best color in Modern. Not only does Red have the best early threats in Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and Dragon's Rage Channeler (Darcy), but also the top removal in Unholy Heat and Lightning Bolt. The battle for second place is less clear cut between Blue and Black as they both pair quite well with Red.

Due to the high power-level of both Blue and Red, Expressive Iteration has been given numerous chances to shine. Today I want to discuss some of the ways to build around this powerful draw spell.

I will discuss three decks with Expressive Iteration: Jeskai Monkeyblade, Grixis Control, and Grixis Death's Shadow. Let's get started!


Expressive Iteration
The overall shell is similar to what I have been championing for the last month. Now that the power of Expressive Iteration is known, I wanted to add a couple copies. Due to the reactive nature of the deck and lower velocity compared to Lurrus shells, I don't want to play four. Think of Expressive Iteration in this deck as a supplement to Archmage's Charm.

I'm still playing a maindeck Path to Exile despite the waning popularity of Murktide Regent. This is because I want to play nine cheap removal spells and delirium is too unreliable to achieve for Unholy Heat.

One of the cuts I made for Expressive Iteration is a Force of Negation. Many of the top decks care more about generating cheap card advantage instead of winning the game with a single powerful spell. The card disadvantage from Force of Negation can be very punishing.

The second cut for Expressive Iteration is the third Snapcaster Mage. Both Iteration and Snapcaster are similar effects and this swap is about being less reliant on the graveyard.

Historically, I've been a fan of playing a single Snow-Covered Plains to make Flooded Strand less painful and increase my chances of interacting with a resolved Blood Moon. The downside of Plains in this deck is it does not cast Archmage's Charm. Now that I also play two Expressive Iterations the Plains was replaced with a second Seachrome Coast.

Jeskai Stoneblade matches up poorly against other Red Lurrus decks Game 1, but is able to compete with Rest in Peace and Sanctifier en-Vec. Grixis Lurrus is better at generating card advantage compared to any other Ragavan deck which grants a huge edge in mirrors. This is not a free upgrade because enchantments must be destroyed by Engineered Explosives which is a clunky but necessary play.

Jeskai has been very good for me in local tournaments because not everyone has access to Ragavan due to price. Most Modern players want to jam their favorite archetype and win some store credit every once in a while. It pays to play flexible removal. I'm trading efficiency for versatility.


I played Grixis Lurrus at FNM last week and went 3-1 losing to Mono Red (Obosh). As expected, the decks I was ready for were good matchups while the outlier was a challenge. Bonecrusher Giant and Blood Moon are scary.

Rakdos-based Lurrus decks look at the top of the opponent's deck and hand very often. I have been using a Boogie Board over pen and paper which has been a huge help reducing waste. If you don't have one, I would highly recommend it.

I tried to come up with different decks that take advantage of Expressive Iteration, but this is the best home. Gerry Thompson pioneered this archetype and did a great job. It's great to see him in his element once again.

The overall shell is hard to reinvent, but there are some disputed slots:

Drown in the Loch - This removal spell is great in the late game, but is lacking on turn two to ensure Ragavan connects. It also doesn't play well with Nihil Spellbomb in the sideboard or opposing Rest in Peace. I played three and it felt like one too many.

Snapcaster Mage - Gerry began by playing four, but I was happy with three. There are plenty of three-mana plays and I didn't always have a card I wanted to flash back. It's a great card to pair with Kolaghan's Command and did perform very well for me.

Expressive Iteration - Gerry played four and is absolutely correct. This card doesn't suffer from diminishing returns because the deck does such a good job of taking advantage of the effect.

Terminate - Since Grixis is a slower deck, I need to answer every threat. Two mana wasn't a detriment as there are so many ways to interact for one mana.

Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer - Most Ragavan decks play four, but three is correct in this deck. The first Ragavan can be returned with Kolaghan's Command making the redundant copies less effective.

Seal of Removal - I'm not playing Seal, but I think it's a good card. An enchantment helps enable delirium and interacts with Sanctifier en-Vec and Murktide Regent. This innocuous permanent can also help protect Lurrus. I don't want this card in my opening hand because it's not a 1-for-1. Simply bouncing a Sanctifier en-Vec isn't enough so be ready with a discard spell.

Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger - I want at least one Kroxa in every Rakdos-based Dragon's Rage Channeler deck. It's such a powerful card to surveil to the graveyard. Kroxa shines in Rakdos mirrors, but doesn't affect the board when it's not escaped. For this reason, I have the second copy in the sideboard. I effectively cut the fourth Snapcaster Mage for the first Kroxa.

Again, the snow lands enable On Thin Ice and Ice-Fang Coatl flipped off Ragavan. These two cards aren't popular at the moment, so the risk is lower of playing normal basics if you strongly prefer the art.

The sideboard also has plenty of customization:

I have liked a single Alpine Moon against decks with Urza's Saga. The second can be lackluster as the opponent may not even draw a Saga and Grixis has plenty of ways to deal with creatures and artifacts. It can also get in the way of Engineered Explosives.

Two Engineered Explosives, Pyrite Spellbomb, and Kozilek's Return are my answers to Sanctifier en-Vec. Explosives costs four mana to kill the Sanctifiers, which is too expensive to warrant three copies. The most popular Sanctifier deck is currently Hammertime, so I already have plenty of expensive spells: Kolaghan's Command and Snapcaster Mage.

Pyrite Spellbomb is a colorless source of damage that helps enable delirium. If Murktide Regent picks up in popularity this can be swapped with a Seal of Removal. Damnation is also a consideration, but costs 4 mana.

The final way to interact with Sanctifier en-Vec is Kozilek's Return. Unlike Spellbomb and EE, Return can be flashed back with Snapcaster Mage. If you play Hammertime, be aware that most of the answers to Sanctifier kill multiple copies. There's a tension between keeping extra copies in hand that can be hit by discard.

I came across a Grixis list on MODO playing Unmoored Ego in the sideboard. This is an unexplored answer to Living End, Crashing Footfalls, Glimpse of Tomorrow, Primeval Titan, Tasha's Hideous Laughter, and Urza lands. Ragavan can ramp an Ego on the second turn.

Necromentia is also a consideration because it doesn't get countered at a discount by Mystical Dispute out of Cascade decks, but there are plenty of lands that don't add Black. The 2/2 Zombie tokens are less impactful than giving the opponent a card for each card exiled from their hand, but both of these effects should be lights out if they resolve.

Aether Gust has fallen out of favor with the downgrade of Amulet Titan. I don't play Aether Gust in every Blue deck, but it's a way to interact with a resolved Blood Moon or other problematic Red and Green permanents. This is an important effect because Grixis doesn't have access to Prismatic Ending.

Flusterstorm and Thoughtseize in the sideboard serve as generic interaction against decks without creatures. In that case I would need to board out Terminate and Unholy Heat, but I don't want to increase my curve.

Nihil Spellbomb is another card that is likely strong in a matchup where creature removal is less effective. It's also the most impactful card to bring in against Rakdos Lurrus where Kroxa is their primary way to keep up with your card advantage. It's hard to overstate the importance of exiling the graveyard of Rakdos Lurrus. It's the reason Sanctifier en-Vec is so strong against Rakdos-based Lurrus decks.

Grixis Shadow

The final Expressive Iteration deck I want to discuss today is Grixis Shadow created by Aspiringspike.


Mishra's Bauble, Ragavan, and Dragon's Rage Channeler are some of the strongest things to be doing in Modern, but the core is small enough that you can customize the rest of the deck. This means there is a second tier of cards that are significantly weaker in the deck, but you can also be rewarded for metagame reads.

In this case, Aspiringspike paired Bauble, Ragavan, and DRC with Death's Shadow. Temur Battle Rage is so 2019, so it's cut for Dress Down. This card is already popular in Legacy so it's not too surprising it is seeing some play in Modern. Here are some cool features of Dress Down:

  • Death's Shadow becomes a 13/13 at instant-speed.
  • Hardcasting Kroxa won't make the opponent discard a card, but you also don't have to sacrifice it.
  • Enchantment for delirium and can be cast with Lurrus from the graveyard.
  • Draws a card when it enters the battlefield.
  • Sanctifier en-Vec loses protection from Red and Black and can even negate the graveyard-exiling ability.
  • Turns Urza's Saga tokens and Scourge of the Skyclaves into 0/0s.

This is only the tip of the iceberg in a format as deep as Modern. If you use your imagination, you can get some great blowouts that are worthy of a Twitter screenshot.

Grixis Shadow plays four Ragavan because there aren't any Kolaghan's Command to return it in the mid game. There's also an abundance of mid game plays because Death's Shadow is not a turn one threat.

I'm not going to do a deep dive on this deck as many of my comments are similar to Grixis Lurrus, but mainly wanted to highlight that innovation is not dead in this format despite it looking homogenized on the surface.

Conclusion

There are plenty of ways to build around Ragavan. Grixis is the best at generating card advantage and attacking known metagames thanks to Expressive Iteration. If you expect a more diverse field, I like pairing Red with White. It's hard to go wrong either way.

Thanks for reading!

-Kyle

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