Drawn and Quartered: Ghost Quarter at the Charlotte Open

And they said Wasteland wasn’t Modern legal! Ghost Quarter has been a poor man’s Wasteland replacement for years, but with the recent rise of RG Tron, Bx Eldrazi, and other big-mana strategies, the Dissension uncommon is quickly emerging as a major police card in a format notoriously lacking the generic hate of Legacy. Nowhere was this more apparent than at the StarCityGames Open in Charlotte over the weekend. En route to his undefeated Day 1 performance, along with his Top 8 run, Josh Cho packed four of the lands into his BW Tokens maindeck. We also saw a Quarter as a singleton in the winning Jund list, as a pair in Cody Minnix’s 6th place Abzan build, and as a one-of bullet in Todd Stevens’ Naya Company 60. Quarter is no Wasteland, but it’s doing everything in its power to make a good imitation of the Legacy staple.

Ghost Quarter Art

We have a major pair of banlist pieces publishing tomorrow and Wednesday, leading with the Amulet Bloom piece I’ve been promising for weeks and following with a general prediction article. Our plan is still to roll out some more entertaining and fun Modern-themed content next Monday (not that Ghost Quarter isn’t a deserted wagon full of laughs), so today’s piece is going to be on the shorter side. We’ll look at Ghost Quarter‘s general utility in Modern, how to best use it, and some representative lists that successfully wielded the land. For some of you, Ghost Quarter‘s profile will come as no surprise. For others, you’ve been looking for a big-mana-buster for weeks and Quarter might be the card for you. Either way, Modern is moving towards these decks and cards that hate them out, and Quarter is an important piece of that narrative.

Lining Up Targets

Although it’s tempting to frame Ghost Quarter‘s relevance solely as a newfound development in response to big-mana decks, this undersells much of the card’s utility. Quarter explodes key targets in a surprising array of matchups, whether it’s ramp engines in RG Tron, midrange finishers in BGx, or aggro clocks in Affinity and Infect. Take our December metagame update as an example. Looking at Tier 1 decks alone, Quarter hits relevant lands in every matchup except Burn. That’s the kind of multi-matchup relevance normally reserved for Spellskite and Inquisition of Kozilek, which should already pique our interest.

Ghost QuarterHere’s a quick rundown of key Tier 1 targets Quarter can mow down:

Now let’s add to that some Tier 2 victims:

These specific targets are on top of the random mana screw Ghost Quarter can wreak on a fragile land setup. Timely Quarters can cut off the major three-colored decks from one of their colors, which is something we saw a few times (notably in Cho’s BW Tokens matches) throughout the weekend in Charlotte.

This combination of general utility and matchup-specific relevance make Quarter one of Modern’s strongest bullets. Lands tend to be unusually resilient in this format. It’s no coincidence that BGx grindfests are often decided on manland immunity to Lightning Bolt and Abrupt Decay. Remember how many times we saw Raging RavineRaging Ravine put in work all weekend? Or how many times Twitch chat erupted into a chorus of “ATTACK WITH RAVINE”? Manlands win games, and the Charlotte Open was a testament both to their strength and the importance of answering them. These durable clocks were also a major contributor to Jeskai Twin’s success at Grand Prix Pittsburgh, where Colonnade dramatically improved the BGx contest. By a similar token, many decks struggle against the Nexus fliers in Affinity and Infect, which lie dormant until the coast is clear before ending the game in a single hit. Or chiseling away with Signal Pest to close a match over a few turns. Either way, Ghost Quarter gives you an out that other decks might not normally have access to.

Of course, no Ghost Quarter discussion would be complete without mentioning the main reasons for running Modern Strip Mine: big-mana ramp. Interacting with RG Tron and Bx Eldrazi spells is often a losing proposition. Blight Herder still resolves Eye of Ugina Hordeling Outburst if countered or killed. Turn four Ugin, the Spirit Dragon seals the game even cast turn four after a mulligan to five, something we experienced at least twice over the Charlotte weekend. Interacting with those kinds of cards after they hit the battlefield is generally unprofitable. Blowing up their enabling lands, however, is a much more effective attack angle. Just be sure to pair your disruption with pressure! Both Tron and Eldrazi have ample ways to draw or search into more lands: the latter can even cast their spells naturally as early as the mid-game. Add in a clock, however, and Ghost Quarter becomes an effective Strip Mine that should dash an opponent’s chances on the spot.

Finding Quarter a Home

Modern has plenty of decks which can fit Ghost Quarter, and plenty more under-explored synergies which might find new relevance in 2016 (who doesn’t want to live the Crucible of Worlds dream?). Ignoring the defensive uses of this card, notably Tron’s self-Quartering to dodge Crumble to Dust, there are generally three ways you’ll see Quarter in Modern. You can certainly innovate outside these lines, but most Ghost Quarter decks will fit into these categories.

Quarter’s most common application is as a 1-2 copy inclusion in a 24+ land deck that doesn’t have intentional Quarter synergies. Jund and Abzan are the most obvious representatives here, although we’ve also seen Kiki Chord, Naya Company (more intentional with Knight of the Reliquary), Grixis, and other decks leverage this strategy. Here’s the highest-finishing Abzan list from Charlotte to show this setup.

Abzan, by Cody Minnix (6th, SCG Open Charlotte, 1/9/2016)

Creatures (13)
Siege Rhino
Kitchen Finks
Scavenging Ooze
Tarmogoyf
Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Instants (8)
Abrupt Decay
Path to Exile

Planeswalkers (4)
Liliana of the Veil

Sorceries (11)
Inquisition of Kozilek
Lingering Souls
Maelstrom Pulse
Thoughtseize

Lands (24)
Forest
Plains
Swamp
Ghost Quarter
Godless Shrine
Horizon Canopy
Marsh Flats
Overgrown Tomb
Shambling Vent
Stirring Wildwood
Temple Garden
Twilight Mire
Verdant Catacombs
Windswept Heath
Sideboard (15)
Engineered Explosives
Fulminator Mage
Kitchen Finks
Stony Silence
Surgical Extraction
Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Damnation
Duress
Buy deck on Cardhoarder (MTGO)Buy deck on TCGPlayer (Paper)

In Minnix’s setup, Quarter is just a metagame call dropped into a utility land slot. In another tournament, we might see those Quarters become Gavony Township, Vault of the Archangel, and/or additional manlands. Given the environment Minnix likely expected at Charlotte, however, Quarter was the more appropriate choice. You can follow this example in your own decks, ditching the more common manabase inclusions for a more contextual Quarter singleton or pair.

The second place we tend to see Quarter is alongside synergies that make it better. Death and Taxes, along with Hatebears, are the two major representatives in this category. Word for the wise: the main difference between these two decks is Flickerwisp, along with the presence or dearth of “When ___ enters the battlefield” effects. Both lists pair Quarter with haters like Leonin Arbiter and Aven Mindcensor to turn a virtual Strip Mine into an actual one. Here’s Craig Wescoe’s GW Hatebears build from his exciting Top 4 finish at Grand Prix Pittsburgh.

GW Hatebears, by Craig Wescoe (Top 4, Grand Prix Pittsburgh 11/21/2015)

Creatures (30)
Aven Mindcensor
Brimaz, King of Oreskos
Leonin Arbiter
Linvala, Keeper of Silence
Loxodon Smiter
Noble Hierarch
Qasali Pridemage
Scavenging Ooze
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Voice of Resurgence
Wilt-Leaf Liege

Artifacts (4)
Aether Vial

Instants (4)
Path to Exile

Lands (22)
Forest
Ghost Quarter
Horizon Canopy
Plains
Razorverge Thicket
Stirring Wildwood
Tectonic Edge
Temple Garden
Sideboard (15)
Burrenton Forge-Tender
Choke
Dismember
Gaddock Teeg
Kor Firewalker
Sigarda, Host of Herons
Spellskite
Stony Silence
Buy deck on Cardhoarder (MTGO)Buy deck on TCGPlayer (Paper)

To some extent, this entire deck is a metagame call much like the 1-2 Ghost Quarters are themselves metagame calls in Jund or Abzan. That said, Hatebears and Death and Taxes are much better decks than they are often given credit, with plenty of context-specific power in cards like Quarter, Wilt-Leaf Liege, and Voice of Resurgence, as well as blanket hate in Path to Exile, Leonin Arbiter (fetchlands are just so ubiquitous), and Scavenging Ooze. These kinds of decks get much better when you play them to target subsets of the metagame, as Craig did at Pittsburgh, and Quarters are a huge part of that advantage.

Ghost Quarter‘s final home, and one we see less frequently, is in a mono or two-colored decks that can afford to jam in a Legacy-style, Wasteland-homage playset because the colorless mana doesn’t affect their gameplan. Josh Cho’s neat BW Tokens list is a perfect example of this, going all-in on Quarters because he has the curve and mana symbols to support them, and because they are sweet metagame calls in a Tron-packed format.

BW Tokens, by Josh Cho (5th, SCG Open Charlotte 1/9/2016)

Creatures (3)
Auriok Champion

Enchantments (8)
Intangible Virtue
Bitterblossom

Instants (6)
Murderous Cut
Path to Exile
Slaughter Pact

Sorceries (14)
Inquisition of Kozilek
Lingering Souls
Spectral Procession
Thoughtseize
Timely Reinforcements

Lands (26)
Plains
Swamp
Arid Mesa
Fetid Heath
Ghost Quarter
Godless Shrine
Marsh Flats
Shambling Vent
Vault of the Archangel
Windbrisk Heights
Flagstones of Trokair
Sideboard (15)
Fulminator Mage
Rest in Peace
Stony Silence
Worship
Disenchant
Surgical Extraction
Kataki, War’s Wage
Duress
Buy deck on Cardhoarder (MTGO)Buy deck on TCGPlayer (Paper)

Cho’s list highlights a few important prerequisites before you jam Ghost Quarter playsets into everything you build. For one, Cho is also playing the 24+ land manabase, just as we saw in the Jund and Abzan representatives rocking the Quarters. This ensure you can play one-drops like Thoughtseize, Inquisition, and Path while not worrying about missing a turn one play due to a bad draw. Second, BW Tokens has plenty of ways to capitalize on Quartered lands with all its flying clocks. Many are also ghosts, so bonus Vorthos points to Cho! Durdling after a Quarter often backfires as most opponents can still benefit from the fetched basic land to do something else. Finally, Cho doesn’t assume Quarter alone will get the job done. He adds three Fulminator Mages out of the board, ensuring land destruction effects come online in those first three turns in matchups where it matters most.

Flagstones of TrokairThese three lists are great starting points as you figure out more ways to incorporate Quarters into your own decks. And if you can find tricky ways to Quarter, like nuking your own Flagstones of Trokair to get access to black mana for Duress at a critical moment, shoot me an email and I’ll give you a shoutout in the next article on this awesome land.

Overall, I want to see more Ghost Quarters in Modern. This card deserves to enter the police-card annals along with Decay, Thoughtseize, Bolt, and others as a primary format regulator, and I expect more players to abuse its strengths in the new year. How else do you want to see Quarter used? Where else is the card at its best? What are some dangers in using it? I’ll be responding in the comments and I’ll see you all tomorrow when we dive into bans, the 18th announcement, and the cards likely to get the axe.

Sheridan is the former Editor in Chief of Modern Nexus and a current Staff Author. He comes from a background in social science data analysis, database administration, and academia. He has been playing Magic since 1998 and Modern since 2011.

28 thoughts on “Drawn and Quartered: Ghost Quarter at the Charlotte Open

    1. I know you weren’t asking me, but I feel that it is just great in the meta or not. It isn’t a contender like Jund who can tweak a lot and it’s gameplan isn’t as focused as something like Tron. Some weeks you’ll show up and everyone has fetches and you run house. Other weeks it is Affinity and Tron who mostly laugh it off and . Definitely not a bad deck by any means.

    2. Tanner is correct, DnT/Hatebears is very hit-or-miss. It struggles against Modern’s fair decks in general and against any deck where its mana denial and taxing is ineffective like Zoo. Craig’s GW Hatebears are better about this problem than typical mono-white Death and Taxes but at the cost of playing fewer taxing effects for a worse combo matchup. As I’ve said previously, Modern DnT is better the more broken and degenerate the format gets (it was very reasonable when Treasure Cruise was legal) and right now it just cannot softlock enough decks to really compete, which is a shame because it has a very good Bloom matchup.

    3. The problem is that if you want to winn it can not just be good, it has to be the best. But yeah, it is pretty good. I play aumelt bloom and a friend of mine build modern death and taxes. Nothing is as anoying was when I play a pact and his responce is to ghost quarter my land and can not pay for it… 🙁

    4. It’s a great interactive deck but suffers from some low-power draws and random losses to strong openers by an opponent. We’ve seen more of it on MTGO recently, specifically the BW version with Confidant, I think we’ll keep seeing it throughout Modern but it lacks the buzz of newer decks like Grixis and the strength of “better” decks like Twin. A lot of that is perception and not reality, but it still affects the decks’ shares.

      1. Someone(Brian Demars, I think) wrote about how d&t outlies in a way similar to how it did in legacy, which is an astute point.

        Over the last while, I’ve been toying with the more or less typical wb build and it has a very similar feel to when I played it in legacy. I hope that its popularity doesn’t pick up or I’ll have to move on to something else. Bob is a huge card to be getting away with running. The worst games that I’ve played with the deck in Moderb have been with tweaks that move away from attacking mana with mindcensors AND arbiters. The deck gets its potence almost entirely from mana-denial.

        Many, many players haven’t experienced actual mana denial strategies, which I think explains why it tends to be an anscilary strategy in the Modern. If people had any clue how powerful it was, there’d probably be an established mana disruption deck by now.

    1. It’s a bit narrow, and you generally don’t want to play narrow sideboard answers to other bullets. Pithing Needle would be a much better example of a card that improves in a Quarter meta. I also love Needle and wish it saw more play generally!.

    1. Ghost Quarter is often bad against Scapeshift. Suppose I cast it and fetch up 6 mountains plus a Valakut. All the triggers are on the stack pointing at you. Quartering Valakut at this point does nothing due to the triggers being on the stack. Quartering a mountain at this point does 3 MORE damage to you so long as I’ve left a basic mountain in my deck (which I would into an open Ghost Quarter).

      The reason? The triggers remain on the stack and when they each try to resolve they still see 5 other mountains. Yes, even the one you blew up. Yes, even the new one you just gave me.

      Now, if I don’t have another basic mountain in my deck you’ve changed it from 18 damage to 3….

    2. I don’t think Quarter is particularly good against Scapeshift. It’s just not irrelevant when you use it early to take away a third color or a tapped Valakut they had to drop. Not a great example of Quarter at its finest, but still a relevant matchup.

  1. I think the important point here is how nobody plays Tectonic Edge anymore – that’s the card Ghost Quarter has largely displaced in modern. Hitting tron before turn 3 is a big deal, being able to kill affinity manlands when they don’t play a 4th land is a big deal. But perhaps most importantly, not having to pay an extra 1 is a big deal.

    GQ is amazing vs manlands as you just have to leave it untapped and you effectively lock down manlands until the opponent is willing to accept the (probable) time walk by activating just to have it quartered. I’ve been defeated by tron with esper control in otherwise winnable games because I simply couldn’t afford to spend two full turns letting them quarter my two colonades just to maybe put a 3rd one online.

    Much like the drawback on path to exile is no big deal, so too the drawback of GQ getting them a basic land is also no big deal.

    1. Well, there’s a pretty big difference in between PtE’s and GQ’s drawback. PtE just ramps the target’s controller, GQ doesn’t ramp, but it slows you down considerably. Even if you cut one Tron piece at turn 3, the scenario of Tron having 4 lands and I with only 2 seems very unfavorable. Sure, GQ is amazing when you don’t need more lands or do not care because you already have a somewhat good enough board presence. But when you use it to cut turn 3 Tron, unless you’re on the play and played a strong 2 drop, the drawback is considerably large. And another thing to notice, sometimes GQing to cut turn 3 Tron will give access to Green mana they otherwise would not have, which will make it easier for Tron to rebuild. This is why the author says GQ has to be paired with pressure. It is by no means a “free” play, it is a tempo play, and as so comes with a cost. In late game scenarios the difference between GQ and Tec Edge is not that big, the advantage GQ has is as a tempo play.

    2. Yep, manlands are the unsung (under-sung) reason to play Quarter, and I hope people start to see it differently after exposure like this. You are right that Edge used to take on that role, although I haven’t seen a lot of Edge since the 2013 and early 2014 season. Good to see we have a new sheriff in town!

  2. I’d say if people all around suddenly start to play Ghost Quarter, something went hurribly wrong with modern. Be it police for big mana decks, they still shouldn’t be that prevalent and if they are, format has some problems.

    1. Totally disagree. Modern should encourage a huge range of strategies with similar generic answers for all of them. It’s great that Quarter is emerging as a metagame response to a new deck, much like Bolt’s profile rises when aggro gets bigger, when IoK crop up more to stop combo and aggro, etc. Any time Modern can internally regulate with cards any deck can run, it’s great for the entire format.

  3. Definitely in agreement with this article. I just added 2 Ghost Quarters to my Merfolk maindeck, and while they are still being tested, they have been performing well. I have used them to swat away an Eldrazi Temple and delay them by a turn while my creatures continued to pressure my opponent, and I have also used them to ping away a Dryad Arbor that was messing up my combat math against Abzan Company. I think they are a potent addition to my land denial toolkit, and they can fetch me a blue source in a pinch.

    1. Merfolk is an awesome example of a Quarter deck. It’s mono colored, it has a colorless one-drop, and that colorless one-drop circumvents the need for high land counts on the battlefield. Look forward to seeing it in action elsewhere!

    2. In Merfolk I would say that Tec Edge is more potent as combined with spreading seas your opponent (ie. Tron) will have to go to 4 lands ensuring that your Tec Edge hits a Tron piece. This is important as once they get to 5 lands then can O Stone your team – so keeping them donw on lands is very important. Furthermore it keeps Spell pierce live longer. It sure is worse against Infect and Affinity (Merfolk wasnt winning that matchup anyway) but it is much preferable to Ghost Quarter against BGx – and it is often the difference between winning and losing..(also great against Scapeshift over GQ)

      1. I’m not struggling against BGx at all (it’s been remarkable – my current sideboard configuration hasn’t dropped a game to Jund or Abzan in months, let alone a match), and you don’t always draw Spreading Seas. In fact, in most of the games I’ve gotten Ghost Quarter, I haven’t gotten the Seas, and vice versa.

        Furthermore, TecEdge doesn’t fix the problem of needing UU in case of emergency that Ghost Quarter does, plus it costs mana (bad bad bad). GQ has its warts, but I definitely prefer it over the Edge.

  4. I run 3 mainboard and 1 in the side of my Loam Pox list. I haven’t faced Eldrazi yet, and there is no Tron at my local, so the deck feels better positioned for me than it is at large. It turns out people need their lands blown up, and between Smallpox and Loam / Ghost Quarter recursion, I’m happy to oblige them.

    1. Even without those decks, I’m sure you’re happy to see Quarters against manlands. Ravine, Colonnade, and Wildwood are some of its best targets, along with the Nexus fliers.

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