CoCos, Pyromancers, and Robots, Oh My!

Howdy!

I’ve been in the tank all week trying to come up with more decks to explore for Pro Tour: Rivals of Ixalan. It’s fun to think about Modern because there are so many viable decks. There are plenty of tier 1 decks that aren’t too powerful and brewing can take a tournament by storm.

I gave you a break from Bant Company because I didn’t have any new spice. Sometimes I try to forget a deck on purpose so I can go back to building with a fresh new perspective. Tunnel vision can be a real problem in the creative process- especially for me.

Bant Company

I stumbled on a cool looking Abzan Company list piloted to a 5-0 finish in a Magic Online league by none other than my Grand Prix Indianapolis finals opponent, Andrew Cuneo. The Cunedoggle you might say.

Here’s what he was working on:


Fatal Push
There’s nothing groundbreaking in this list, but I forgot it was possible to maindeck removal that doesn’t come stapled to a creature. Fatal Push provides additional early plays that aren’t mana dorks. This is appealing to me because I felt my last couple iterations of Bant Company were flooding out too much.

Three Devoted Druid felt like a sin to me. Even when the game is wrapped up by gaining millions of life with the Kitchen Finks combo copies of Devoted Druid can serve as a distraction to the opponent. Is it reasonable to kill Viscera Seer when Devoted Druid is in play threatening to win the game on turn three?

What was the cut for the fourth Devoted Druid? The deck was pretty tight already, but I settled on the seventh mana dork, Noble Hierarch. I felt justified doing this because there were other one mana plays in Fatal Push and Viscera Seer. I don’t need a mana dork on turn one if I play Devoted Druid on turn two anyway. Could it be this deck has too much mana?

Andrew found room for a Courser of Kruphix despite only playing 21 land. The information of knowing the top card of your deck is still powerful with Viscera Seer and Collected Company.

Eternal Witness was lackluster for me lately so I cut down to two copies in Bant Company. The Fatal Push gives me another useful spell to return in the mid game. I was a fan of Eternal Witness against Death’s Shadow because she returned Path to Exile for the heavy hitters.

The biggest draw to this deck is Vizier of Remedies. Bant Company only has one combo to use her, but Abzan Company has the Kitchen Finks combo, too. The Vizier is a legitimate threat so I don’t mind casting her on turn two. My Bant Company decks don’t even bother running out the 2/1 because it’s only helpful when generating millions on mana. I don’t want to give my opponent the information that I’ve drawn the Vizier until it’s time to win.

There’s a lot to learn about a single deck even when it isn’t the same archetype. Here’s my latest Bant Company list:


Meddling Mage
This is the 75 I used to split the finals of a Modern 1K at BC Comix with Ray Perez. Stu Parnes played 74 of the 75 and also made the Top 8. We tried Kitchen Finks in the sideboard to improve the Burn matchup. Also a strong option versus Death’s Shadow as it performs a similar function to Reflector Mage. The Burn matchup is still not great and I will investigate finding room for a Kor Firewalker in the sideboard as it is coming to drastic measures.

I trimmed down to two Birds of Paradise and 21 land to make room for two Path to Exile in the main. These are early plays that stop the opponent from going wild while I transition into the mid-game with Spell Quellers and company. The third Eternal Witness and second Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy get much stronger with a cheap instant to get from the graveyard. It’s a huge win to make Jace’s flipside more potent as powerful Planeswalkers are difficult to deal with in Modern.

Bant Company had a great showing at SCG Regionals last month. This was great to see as I have been working on the deck for months at this point. I also get to see different takes on the archetype to learn how to improve. One Maindeck Meddling Mage addresses a lot of problems I have with the deck. I’m not sure I would register this deck again without it.

Ad Nauseam can be a tricky matchup as it forces you to combo off on turn three or four. If I simply prevent their namesake card from being cast, things get much easier. Gifts Storm can also be a challenging matchup, but not when I just Chord of Calling on turn three to shut off their Grapeshot!

Gifts Storm can still win by casting Gifts Ungiven to get Lightning Bolt or Empty the Warrens. Even if you don’t put them in hand it can be flashed back with Past in Flames. This is important to remember because you always need to focus on winning early.

Meddling Mage is clearly great against combo, but what about other decks? Modern lists are very streamlined in Game 1 so there won’t be too many different removal spells to name before your combo is safe.

Here are some common cards to name with Meddling Mage:

Death’s Shadow: Fatal Push. Lightning Bolt is a singleton at most and people are unhappy with more than one Kolaghan’s Command. Sometimes they have two Terminate, but can trim one for a Dismember. Fatal Push prevents you from needing to guess.

Affinity: Galvanic Blast. It’s hard to control Game 1 so you need to combo quickly. Galvanic Blast is their only interaction Game 1. It’s not amazing after sideboard because they may have Dismember, Galvanic Blast, Whipflare, Ghirapur Aether Grid, or Dispatch.

5 Color Humans: Reflector Mage. This is challenging as they play Aether Vial, but you gotta name something.

Titanshift: Primeval Titan. Don’t bother getting into the guessing game of Sweltering Suns vs. Anger of the Gods because the answer may be that Anger of the Gods is in their sideboard. Sweltering Suns is typically only played in the maindeck because it can cycle against non-creature decks. Once the Valakut player knows they want a sweeper after board they may as well play Anger of the Gods. Some versions of the deck have Lightning Bolt in the main.

Burn: Searing Blaze unless a Rift Bolt is suspended.

Eldrazi Tron: All is Dust or Dismember. They play two copies of each so it will depend on how fast you can win.

Remember that you also cannot play these cards either so naming Walking Ballista against Eldrazi Tron or Collected Company in the mirror can be awkward. Spell Queller also combos with Meddling Mage. If you can’t think of a good card to name just pick the spell underneath your queller.

Scavenging Ooze
Rounding out the non-combo 2-drops is Scavenging Ooze. I made the move from 3-drop utility creatures to 2-drops because I’m playing two less mana sources. This gives me more games where holding up 3 mana for Spell Queller is the right play.

The sideboard has some new cards for me. Selfless Spirit is the fourth anti-sweeper that functions differently than Burrenton Forge-Tender. Kozilek’s Return and Supreme Verdict gets around the Forge-Tender and I do have a desire to prevent those spells from getting out of hand. It plays well with my Geist of Saint Traft transformational sideboard plan, too. It’s a surprising all-star against Affinity as the flying blocker is relevant and the ability stops Whipflare and Galvanic Blast from blowing me out. And yes, Burrenton Forge-Tender is not bad against Affinity for the same reasons.

Aven Mindcensor is a creature I’m trying out. It’s good in the mirror and can stop Gifts Ungiven from winning out of Storm.

My final change in the sideboard is swapping Unified Wills for Negates. It’s a minor change that reduces the risk of wanting to counter a spell without having enough creatures on the battlefield. This is only loss against Eldrazi Tron, but a win against Burn. The only creature I want to counter out of combo decks is Primeval Titan.

Teammate, Stu Parnes, made the Top 4 of the RPTQ in Pennsylvania with a nearly identical list as well. He was very impressed by the second Jace and Path to Exiles. Neither of us felt like we were short on mana which is a huge win.

At the end of the day you should play what you know in Modern. This is currently the deck I would register at Pro Tour: Rivals of Ixalan. I will say the floor on Bant Company is high, but the ceiling is also very high because every game I feel a mistake was made. There are so many options each turn so practice pays off.

Grixis Pyromancer

I have been experimenting with Grixis as it is low to the ground with interaction and has some powerful delve creatures. Grixis Death’s Shadow is a deck I don’t understand. Don’t get me wrong, the deck is great, but I am not comfortable managing my life total when i don’t always draw the namesake card.

My journey all started when my friend, Noam Zimet, began crushing local Modern events with Grixis Delver. In a format as diverse as Modern I take note when someone is consistently performing well. I wasn’t surprised when he showed up to Monday Modern with an SCG Regionals Top 8 playmat.

Here’s what Noam played to a top 8 finish at SCG Regionals in Chicago:


Young Pyromancer
This strategy has what it takes to compete. Young Pyromancer has crushed me multiple times when playing this matchup on the Bant Company side. There is plenty of cheap removal which means getting land screwed isn’t the end of the world. Serum Visions can also bail you out of troubling situations.

Take note Noam played three Delver and four Young Pyromancers. He didn’t make that decision due to card availability; the economy isn’t bad enough where Delvers are hard to come by. Delver is not so secretly the worst card in the deck. Grixis Delver is built on the theory of having a “Game 1” deck that is broad. It’s not until the sideboard do the Delvers come out for more targeted interaction. Delver doesn’t discriminate; he attacks for three on a good day against any opponent.

Young Pyromancer is the hero we want and deserve, on the other hand. A powerful start in Modern is leading off with discard into the pyromancer. The cantrips to follow up ensure your token situation continues to get out of hand.

Spell Pierce was previously in the maindeck, but it was changed to discard because the Black interaction can be cast proactively. This is key when Young Pyromancer is in play. When there’s a dead Spell Pierce you have to do silly things like soft counter your own spells just to get a 1/1. That’s trash.

Noam is like me. He doesn’t understand Death’s Shadow in Grixis and that’s all right. The shell of the deck remains the same with the exception of Stubborn Denial, but I haven’t been too keen on that card anyway. Everyone knows the play around it by now.

Blood Moon is a very attractive sideboard option against Valakut and Tron decks. These can be tricky matchups for honest decks in Modern. The only reason I like Blood Moon in a deck like this is because the delve creatures provide pressure. Tron doesn’t care about your Blood Moon if you sit around and durdle.

I looked to innovate this Delver deck on the basis that I hate casting Delver of Secrets in Modern, but love value.

I give you Delverless Delver a.k.a. Shadowless Shadow:


Rise // Fall
Maybe I’m getting crazy with my affinity for Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Seriously I think this is one of the strongest creatures in the format. The more I played the deck the more Jace impressed me as the remainder of the shell supports him well. Looting is very powerful in a deck with cheap interaction that doesn’t scale like Inquisition of Kozilek.

I changed the mana base to only a single copy of each shock land. More decks should have a mana base like this. I rarely want to search for the fourth shock land. The second Island is to make sure I can snap back everything with Blood Moon in play.

Rise // Fall is like a Kolaghan’s Command that costs one less mana. There’s a lot of play to this card. Fall is a weak version of Hymn to Tourach with the drawback that lands stay in the hand if revealed. Since Rise // Fall is rarely played it’s not a common play to sandbag land drops. If the opponent misses a land I am quick to jump on the discard mode. It also combos with Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek because you get to see if there are lands in hand.

The Rise half is the entire reason it’s viable for Grixis to drag out the game. Once both players are in topdeck mode this is yet another Raise Dead effect for Snapcaster Mage and Jace. You can bounce your opponent’s creature to turn on a late game Thoughtseize or Inquisition.

Bouncing your own creature is also viable to recast a Tasigur to make his activations stronger. Snapcaster is the strongest creature to bounce as you can flash back an additional spell; perhaps a revolted Fatal Push. It’s narrow, but you can return opponent’s creatures from their graveyard to the hand. This is relevant against Ensnaring Bridge, Dredge, and Griselbrand being reanimated.

Kozilek’s Return and Engineered Explosives are in the sideboard primarily for Etched Champion. If that card didn’t exist I would have a second Izzet Staticaster like Noam. The Engineered Explosives also serves as the third way to blow up artifacts, namely Chalice of the Void for one. Dreadbore is my Terminate in the sideboard that kills Death’s Shadow, Gurmag Angler, and Liliana. I like Slaughter Pact, but it’s important to have another removal spell that kills Black creatures as the typically dodge Fatal Push.

If you play against this deck make sure to turn the cards in your hand upside-down if the opponent is aware of them from Thoughtseize/Inquisition. This way you know better than your opponent which cards they are playing around and play the lands revealed first. I like this method more than writing down what they see because it takes less brain power and the opponent won’t be as aware.

I think this is a powerful deck as Ryan Overturf was also able to Top 8 SCG Regionals with Grixis Control. If you enjoy control decks this has legs. At the Pro Tour I’m looking to be more proactive so I will continue searching for the perfect archetype. I’ll say this deck is great at getting value without durdling too hard and that’s a good place to be.

I Am Mr. Robot

I have been playing tournaments for the last sixteen years straight so I’m no stranger to the robots. The first time I played the deck it featured Disciple of the Vault and Skullclamp at Regionals in 2004. I also played Affinity the first day Cranial Plating was legal in Standard. It was even registered by me in Legacy at GP Columbus: 2007. A storied past, but I have not played it much in this decade. The deck is very hard to play optimally, but the floor is higher than most strategies in Modern.

This may be objectively the strongest deck in the format. I borrowed Stock Affinity from teammate, Stu Parnes, for FNM and won all of the rounds. It felt very powerful despite never playing it so there’s nowhere to go but up. It’s weak to Storm, but that deck will be on the downswing with the rise of combo hate like Meddling Mage.

I will also note that Ann Arbor Teammate, Andrew Elenbogen, made the Top 8 of SCG Cincinnati and won a PPTQ with Affinity so I can discuss the nitty gritty details of the deck with someone. I rarely wind up playing a deck at a big event unless someone else is on a similar list so I don’t walk in with blinders.

Here’s the version I would play at my next event:


Spire of Industry
The maindeck is pretty stock. Don’t mess too much with perfect. The Welding Jar replaces the third Memnite. I want seven 0-drops to enable the turn one Mox Opal. Memnite isn’t an exciting card, but can enable Springleaf Drum to cast a 3-drop on turn two. I go further and add a second Welding Jar to the sideboard because Memnite typically is one of the first cards to get cut. I still want 0-drops and the jar is powerful against removal. It’s particularly strong when casting a turn one Steel Overseer because it’s vulnerable to every removal spell.

The other subtle difference in the maindeck is that I play two basic lands- Island and Mountain. I cut the third Spire of Industry from the stock version to make room. This swap is because I get hit by Path to Exile, Ghost Quarter, and Field of Ruin more than any other deck. The Inkmoth Nexus and Blinkmoth Nexus ensure the pseudo-Wastelands are activated often. Nearly every other Affinity deck plays only a single basic so it can mess with the opponent’s play if I search out a second. It also feels terrible when you draw the Mountain and blood is smelled in the water. Some aggressive Paths and Ghost Quarters come out once the basic is revealed.

Affinity gets an advantage in the sideboard given there’s so little room to mess around with the maindeck.

Rule of Law is great against Ad Nauseam and Storm. Enchantments are great as artifacts will come in with a target on their head. It’s still susceptible to Echoing Truth as combo players should be aware Affinity has at least one Rule of Law in their sideboard.

Whipflare is taking the place of the second Ghirapur Aether Grid because I don’t want to have too many 3-drops in my deck. Affinity is moving away from Whipflare, but it’s a very strong effect so having one can be powerful. I don’t want to draw two Whipflare or Aether Grid in a single game as they have high diminishing returns. Since there is only one grid for the mirror I have the second Ancient Grudge.

Bitterblossom
Bitterblossom is a 2-drop that gives me a shot to win with a Stony Silence in play. It is great against removal-heavy decks as you can equip the tokens with Cranial Plating. I don’t waste time thinking about using Thoughtseize or Spell Pierce to deal with Stony Silence. Wear is terrible compared to Ancient Grudge because it won’t hit Stony Silence often either. Keep your Affinity deck focused after sideboard. There can be times where a fused Wear // Tear can hit Aether Grid and an artifact, but killing two artifacts is more powerful.

My top two decks are currently Affinity and Bant Company because they can produce very fast wins. I found the Grixis murder everything deck to be medium against Affinity which says a lot. Etched Champion is quite the card when Master of Etherium is not.

Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan will be the first Pro Tour I compete with a team. I have joined First Strike, but will still be representing R.I.W. Hobbies. My other teammates will be Rob Anderson, Dan Fournier, Dean, McLaren, Vidianto Wijaya, and Matt Kelly. I look forward to crushing it with them.

This will be a fun sub-game at the Pro Tour as their finishes will contribute to the larger goal of putting up a solid team performance. I love anything team-related in Magic; it’s the best aspect of the game.

That’s all I have for this week. Modern is in a great spot as there are so many decks to play. I can’t wait to see the full spoiler for Rivals of Ixalan so I can start thinking about draft!

Thanks for reading,
Kyle


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