It annoys me greatly when I hear people derisively discuss the size of the Modern cardpool. The typical conversation revolves around deriding some odd card choice in someone’s deck because it isn’t “good enough” to see play in Modern or dismissing someone’s brew because it “has no staying power.” Part of me is always angered by the arrogance of this sentiment and the rest is upset by their short-sightedness. Experimental results always trump theory. Just because you don’t think it’s powerful enough to see long-term play means nothing. If it works well enough to be noticed, it’s good enough to see play.
Look, I get it. The power cards of Modern are the power cards for a reason. Path to Exile, Inquisition of Kozilek, Lightning Bolt, Snapcaster Mage, and Tarmogoyf are highly played for a reason and if you could be playing them and are not you need a really good reason. Staples exist, no question, and they do limit what cards can see play, as Jordan pointed out a few weeks ago.
The problem is that far too many Modern players allow the power of the format-defining staples to limit their thinking and the power of known decks to scare them off of exploration. Modern’s cardpool is huge, with plenty of old forgotten staples languishing in the dark corner of trade binders and collection boxes. There is plenty of room for new cards and strategies to enter the format if you’re willing to spend the time in Gatherer to find them. Today I’ll highlight a few that I think could prove to be valuable additions to the “real” cardpool of Modern. These may not be powerhouses or even great innovations, but they may just be the thing you need to pull out a surprise win at your next PPTQ or IQ.
Go ahead and take some time to process this card. The last time it saw serious play was alongside Oath of Druids and Enlightened Tutor, and its only success was in Bob Maher’s PT Chicago winning deck in 1999. As a one-of. Some Legacy Enchantress decks have tried it since but it never stuck. I don’t even think this was a Limited card, either in 1999 or 2009. So why do I think that this card is Modern-playable? Simple: RUG Scapeshift mirror matches.
In my own experience and according to after-action reports from Scapeshift pilots (seriously, someone come up with a better name for that deck) the RUG mirror is either one player blitzing out the combo or a prolonged grindfest that frequently involves winning with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle the way it was intended. Some players still try and resolve Scapeshift for lethal damage but in a long game that gets very risky since they’re increasingly likely to draw their Mountains normally. The matchup normally comes down to whoever gets better usage of their cantrips and the typical control vs. control battle of mana advantage and card efficiency, with the added problem of drawing Valakut at the wrong time. I’m told that it can be a very skill-intensive matchup, but it can also be frustratingly luck-based, which leaves players cursing their lack of Ponder or Sensei’s Divining Top.
Since neither card should be unbanned, I think that Abundance is a solution to this problem. Yes, it’s a four-mana enchantment that does nothing when you resolve it and yes that usually means that it is unplayable. However if you untap with it the incremental advantage Abundance produces will spiral out of control. Have a hand full of spells, then never miss a land drop. If you’re well ahead on mana, then find spells. Card filtering is powerful and persistent card filtering is rare. This could be exactly what you need to break the Scapeshift mirror.
There are also some fringe benefits to consider. It is theoretically possible to stack your deck with Abundance. How or why you would do this I have no idea but the possibility is there. Also, this is a replacement effect. As such you can never lose to decking with Abundance in play. Is this a serious consideration? Probably not, but if you need that effect it is there.
If Sinkhole were Modern-legal it would see play. Probably a lot of play. Land destruction is very powerful and cheap land destruction is insane. Boomerang is Sinkhole with benefits. Yes, they can replay the land but in a typical Modern game this setback is just as good as actually destroying it. Tempo is important.
This card should see at least some play but it never does outside Pauper. Part of the problem is that very few decks want bounce spells and those that do usually want Vapor Snag. At two mana, it is competing with the easier-to-cast and arguably more powerful Echoing Truth. It is usually seen as a middle-of-the-road bounce spell, and that’s not good enough.
However, if you look at it as Sinkhole with benefits then the card is much better. GR Land Destruction has been doing well online recently, so we know that Stone Rain on turn two is good. Boomerang does that without a mana elf. It’s also not a dead topdeck lategame, since it does target any permanent. You’d think that a Blue Moon style LD deck would have picked this up by now, but it hasn’t happened.
I’m not just speculating on this. I’ve tried Boomerang in Merfolk before and it was really, really close to being excellent. It was an amazing piece of tech against Amulet Bloom. The defining moment was when on the draw my opponent was going for the turn-two win with two Amulet of Vigors and Gruul Turf. In response to the untap triggers I Boomerang the Turf. The following turn he tries again and I do it again. Coupled with Aether Vial this bought me enough time to win a game I would have lost otherwise. Yes, if it had a been a counterspell or Path to Exile it would have worked too, but Boomeranging karoos in response to the return trigger proved to be unbelievably powerful.
The problem was that my version really wanted more counters than board control spells and it wasn’t good enough against the aggro decks that started swamping events, so I ended up cutting them. Now that things have slowed down I’m trying them again. On average it feels a little weak, but sometimes you get to play Aether Vial into Boomerang followed by Spreading Seas and you opponent gets locked out of the game. If Merfolk can do that, imagine what a more dedicated mana denial deck could do. Tempo is powerful in Modern, and this could be an amazing tempo card in the right shell.
Chord of Calling players, why don’t you run more tutoring bullets? I know that you’ve got your combos, your backup plans, and the enablers to cram into your decks, but there has got to be a way for you to play at least a few more bullets in your 75.
Case in point, Dauntless Escort. Remember how great this card was back in Alara block Standard against the control decks? Modern Chord decks are fairly vulnerable to sweepers, with Abzan Company being particularly weak to Anger of the Gods. Why not maindeck a tutorable answer? Frequently you only need to survive one to be able to go off and/or win, and this serves as a Time Walk against the best cards against the Chord strategies. It seems obvious.
Assuming that it hasn’t just been forgotten about, I think that most players look at its CMC, compare its average impact to Eternal Witness, and run the more powerful-on-average card. However, when you’re facing a backbreaking Anger with Chord in hand, which will be better, the fourth Witness or the first Dauntless Escort? Why grind when you can win?
Full disclosure, I have direct experience against this card that might color my thinking. Last summer I was playing Jeskai Control and lost a finals round against Abzan Company when he Chorded for Escort in response to my stabilizing Anger. I knew that he had a Chord for three available, but he wasn’t showing the combo at the time so I decided not to play around it. I could not conceive of a card that could possibly help him in that situation so despite being able to Dispel I let the Chord resolve. Most of the answers to sweepers that Chord decks play are proactive like Thoughtseize or Sin Collector, so I didn’t think there was anything I needed to worry about. I never expected Escort and lost as a result.
The benefit to the card is that most control players won’t answer Chord for less than five in response to a sweeper because whatever you tutor for will get caught in the blast. With Escort, if they don’t answer the Chord there is no way to save themselves other than a preemptive and probably speculative Pithing Needle. For this reason I always leave up Dispel for Chord when I play a sweeper these days. I think the card is underplayed, and I’ve noticed it slipping back into Chord lists locally the past week so I’m not the only one.
Ah Infect. I hate you as a mechanic deeply and profoundly. So inherently overpowered and unfun. I’m glad that Wizards has come around to my way of thinking on this, but since Modern is stuck with you we might as well try to make use of you.
I am not advocating for the Infect deck, mind you. It’s an effective deck, but very much a glass cannon and a decent metagame call when Lightning Bolt isn’t prevalent. It’s doing well now, but I suspect that’s because Splinter Twin is gone and the format is still adjusting. What I’m suggesting is that more decks should make use of the Infect mechanic. Now most Infect cards are pretty bad (probably for a reason if murmurs from Development are anything to go by) but Inkmoth Nexus is good and can be played in any deck. In fact, it was played in a number of non-Infect decks during its run in Standard, so the history is there for this to see greater adoption.
I bring this up because this is an excellent out against lifegain. If you see a lot of Abzan Company in your metagame and you struggle with it I would start your search for a solution here. Who cares how much life your opponent has when everyone only ever gets ten poison counters. This manland is the best alternate win condition available in Modern and Affinity shouldn’t be the only deck taking advantage. True, Affinity makes better use of Nexus than any other deck, even Infect, but most decks have room for colorless utility lands and can clear the way for Nexus to attack. It may not be the most powerful option, but sometimes it’s the option you need.
Something to consider is that Abzan Company rarely runs more than four Path to Exile and a Qasali Pridemage or two as answers to Inkmoth. Yes, if you’re going to be pedantic they can use Gavony Township and Birds of Paradise to stop it, but if that’s what they’re doing you have bigger problems and will likely lose very soon anyway. A deck like Jeskai Control can take Abzan apart in a long game, but sometimes they just win the lottery with Collected Company and leave you unable to win. Inkmoth Nexus gives you a way to win in that situation. The rest of your deck is exceptional at grinding through Company’s creatures but if you can’t actually win the game, what’s the point? Attacking ten times with Nexus will win you a few matches that you would have otherwise lost, and that makes it worthy of consideration.
A few weeks ago I discussed transformational sideboards, which are intended to reposition your deck to dodge hate or take your opponent by surprise. What I didn’t mention at the time was that you can reposition your deck in other ways. Usually this involves changing your deck’s role in a matchup, like control decks bringing in Geist of Saint Traft against combo or Jund becoming a stronger control deck with Damnation and Night of Souls’ Betrayal. Sometimes it involves changing what matters in a matchup, like Carlos Romão’s famous decision not to fight over card advantage in the Psychatog mirror at 2002 Worlds, choosing instead to fight over the cards that actually mattered: Upheaval and Psychatog. Occasionally you can choose to utilize a resource that was previously irrelevant and completely change how a matchup plays out. Mistveil Plains is one such card.
Story time. A few months ago I was on one of my control outings, trying out another iteration of Esper Mentor. I had been running decently for the previous several weekly tournaments and was expecting another good outing at FNM. In the second round I hit a regular who always plays Soul Sisters. He was pretty good with the deck, but I’d beaten him handily the previous few nights by grinding him out of creatures, and did so again in game one of our match.
In games two and three he turned the tables and ground me out of answers. He used Flagstones of Trokair to find Mistveil, used Mistveil to put creatures on the bottom of his deck, and Ranger of Eos to find those creatures and shuffle non-one-drops back into his deck. Occasionally he used Ghost Quarter or more Flagstones to shuffle his library when I countered Rangers. He looped his Rangers repeatedly until I had completely run out of answers and he could finally build up a board to overwhelm my defenses while I could never outrace his lifegain. My deck didn’t have answers to lands so I was doomed. My only solution was Relic of Progenitus, and he was playing Pithing Needle. Get wrecked.
Mistveil Plains allows white aggressive decks to make the graveyard matter. Combined with shuffle effects and tutors you can ensure that you never run out of relevant cards, and since most control decks won’t be able or willing to bring in graveyard hate against you it is possible to grind them out of answers. Not just answers in hand, answers in deck. I know it can work in Soul Sisters, though the local meta has gotten more aggro in recent months and I’m not sure he still runs Mistveil. Still, if you’re a white deck and you want to humiliate a control player, this is something to seriously consider.
The Bottomless Well of Ideas
Modern has a huge cardpool. Trying to scour Gatherer for tech can be an exercise in poor time management. However, it can also be rewarding. These are just a few cards lurking in the format. There are thousands more that I’ve forgotten about or don’t see the potential of but probably should. I am always open to hearing about weird ideas. These were just a few cards that I think can go into existing decks. Tomorrow I will dive into cards that could spawn entirely new decks.
David began playing Magic during Odyssey block, quit playing Magic when Caw Blade ruled the world, and returned to Modern shortly before Deathrite was banned. He’s made an appearance at the Pro Tour, made money at GP Denver, and is constantly grinding and brewing in Modern.