Old Dogs, New Tricks: January Tech Report, Pt. 1

Krark-Clan Ironworks is now banned in Modern. Despite its dominance on the tournament scene, though, the deck failed to stamp out the format’s trademark diversity and innovation. Plenty of decks and deckbuilders brought exciting new tech to the tables this month, and we’ll ring in the new year right by unearthing some of it today.

Tempo: Back in Blue

Modern’s spell-based tempo decks now tend to trend largely red thanks to the versatility and power of looting effects and the on-color payoffs available. Nonetheless, January continued an inspiring trend we observed late last year of traditional (read: blue) tempo pieces being repurposed effectively.

4-Color Delver, by SCREENWRITERNY (5-0)

Creatures (12)
Delver of Secrets
Snapcaster Mage
Geist of Saint Traft
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Gurmag Angler

Planeswalkers (4)
Liliana of the Veil
Liliana, the Last Hope

Instants (13)
Thought Scour
Lightning Bolt
Fatal Push
Kolaghan’s Command
Mana Leak

Sorceries (11)
Serum Visions
Inquisition of Kozilek
Thoughtseize
Collective Brutality

Lands (20)
Polluted Delta
Bloodstained Mire
Blackcleave Cliffs
Scalding Tarn
Hallowed Fountain
Watery Grave
Blood Crypt
Darkslick Shores
Drowned Catacomb
Creeping Tar Pit
Island
Mountain
Swamp
Sideboard (15)
Fatal Push
By Force
Damping Sphere
Kozilek’s Return
Leyline of the Void
Spell Pierce
Terminate
Buy deck on Cardhoarder (MTGO)Buy deck on TCGPlayer (Paper)

I’m no stranger to greedy manabases and Human Insects, but SCREENWRITERNY’s 4-Color Delver strikes me more as a midrange deck than a tempo one. It’s got targeted discard, delving recovery threats, and even planeswalkers. But it’s also got Mana Leak, a card hard to spot outside of blue tempo strategies unless it’s rounding out a control deck’s permission suite.

The key creature here, and reason for splashing white at all, is Geist of Saint Traft. Modern significantly diversified its removal last year, but Geist blanks almost all of the available options. Add to that the fact that cheaper raw-stats creatures like Tarmogoyf and especially Wild Nacatl are much less common than they used to be and Geist starts looking like a plausible damage out-putter. In the olden days, the Spirit had trouble breaking through boards of larger creatures as well as surviving red board wipes like Pyroclasm, putting it in a precarious tightrope position.

UW Tallowisp, by SYUSEKI (5-0)

Creatures (16)
Tallowisp
Rattlechains
Geist of Saint Traft
Spell Queller

Enchantments (4)
Curious Obsession
Steel of the Godhead
Angelic Destiny

Instants (17)
Path to Exile
Fatal Push
Shining Shoal
Disrupting Shoal
Remand
Cryptic Command

Sorceries (1)
Lingering Souls

Lands (22)
Flooded Strand
Polluted Delta
Marsh Flats
Misty Rainforest
Hallowed Fountain
Watery Grave
Seachrome Coast
Celestial Colonnade
Ghost Quarter
Island
Plains
Sideboard (15)
Fatal Push
Lingering Souls
Damping Sphere
Dispel
Grafdigger’s Cage
Rest in Peace
Stony Silence
Buy deck on Cardhoarder (MTGO)Buy deck on TCGPlayer (Paper)

Further adding to Geist’s street cred is this build of UW Tallowisp, another brew I’ve dipped into before. What’s changed since then? Critically, the deck’s received a powerful new aura in the form of Curious Obsession. Obsession buffs Tallowisp to 2/4, making it immune to most red removal and larger than a lot of what opponents put on the ground. Between the Spirit’s bigger body, the deck’s ample stack interaction (including Rattlechains), and the flow of cards promised by Obsession, it shouldn’t be so hard for pilots to protect Tallowisp long enough for it to dig more value out of the deck. Of course, Steel of the Godhead is less val-ue and more kill-u, combining with Geist of Saint Traft to quickly bury the aggro mirror—including, of course, the more successful UW Spirits deck we got to know so well last year. It can also be pitched to either Shoal.

Aggro-Combo Standbys: Novel Takes

Burn and Infect have been around in Modern since the format’s aughts, where they once imposed strict parameters on other strategies to succeed. Nowadays, there are more explosive and resilient options available within the hybrid archetype. But these decks continue to perform in some capacity, and January saw them each present with a twist.

Boros Burn, by SANDYDOGMTG (12th, Modern Challenge #11774980)

Creatures (13)
Goblin Guide
Monastery Swiftspear
Eidolon of the Great Revel
Grim Lavamancer

Instants (16)
Lightning Bolt
Searing Blaze
Boros Charm
Skullcrack
Lightning Helix

Sorceries (12)
Lava Spike
Rift Bolt
Skewer the Critics

Lands (19)
Scalding Tarn
Wooded Foothills
Bloodstained Mire
Sacred Foundry
Inspiring Vantage
Mountain
Sideboard (15)
Lightning Helix
Skullcrack
Path to Exile
Rest in Peace
Searing Blood
Smash to Smithereens
Buy deck on Cardhoarder (MTGO)Buy deck on TCGPlayer (Paper)

SANDYDOGMTG’s take on Boros Burn seems to be the new norm, with a like-minded list also placing in the same event. These decks add Skewer the Critics to the deck’s core, cutting 2 Skullcrack and 2 Lightning Helix—two of the deck’s most situational and expensive cards—to make room. Crack has limited utility in game 1, when opponents are less likely to have lifegain effects in their decks; Helix, for its part, only matters against other aggro decks. On the other hand, spectacle is practically always active in this deck. Its floor is also acceptable: when players find themselves in topdeck mode, Skewer can simply be hardcast with the three lands sure to be in play by that point in the game.

The card proves more desirable in Burn than Light up the Stage, which I messed around with alongside Arclight Phoenix as many wondered about its inclusion in Burn. Hard-casting Stage in the mid-game blocks players from casting exiled spells right away, as they are unlikely to have more mana available. Additionally, Burn wants to get its opponents to 0, so odds are decent that Stage rips something like a Lava Spike and a land anyway (or worse, two lands!). With that outcome, Skewer is higher-impact anyway, as it still deals 3 but has the added benefit of always being able to hit creatures. I wouldn’t be surprised if the card’s reliability made it a mainstay in Burn.

Infect, by BLIND-TYRANT (7th, Modern Challenge #11774980)

Creatures (13)
Blighted Agent
Glistener Elf
Noble Hierarch
Spellskite

Artifacts (4)
Mishra’s Bauble

Instants (21)
Mutagenic Growth
Might of Old Krosa
Vines of Vastwood
Blossoming Defense
Groundswell
Become Immense

Sorceries (3)
Distortion Strike

Lands (19)
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
Breeding Pool
Inkmoth Nexus
Pendelhaven
Forest
Sideboard (15)
Spellskite
Carrion Call
Ceremonious Rejection
Dismember
Dissenter’s Deliverance
Dryad Arbor
Grafdigger’s Cage
Nature’s Claim
Shapers’ Sanctuary
Spell Pierce
Buy deck on Cardhoarder (MTGO)Buy deck on TCGPlayer (Paper)

BLIND-TYRANT’s Infect list fills the slots long left absent by Gitaxian Probe with another 0-mana cantrip: Mishra’s Bauble. Bauble only provides a fragment of the information Probe did, but it still chews through the deck for no mana and turbo-charges Become Immense. If the Probe banning taught us anything, it’s the value of information, and some other Infect pilots have also adjusted accordingly: earlier this month, a list with 3 Telepathy 5-0’d a constructed league. Not all Infect players have sought to include information-granting cards, though, with more standard builds still generating results.

Slumbering Giants: #BallinWhileBanned

In keeping with this week’s apparent theme of bannings and unbannings, 2019 is already seeing “banned” decks bounce back with some new tools.

Amulet Titan, by WATCHWOLF92 (25th, Modern Challenge #11774980)

Creatures (13)
Azusa, Lost but Seeking
Wayward Swordtooth
Primeval Titan
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

Artifacts (6)
Amulet of Vigor
Coalition Relic
Engineered Explosives

Instants (9)
Through the Breach
Summoner’s Pact
Pact of Negation

Sorceries (4)
Ancient Stirrings

Lands (28)
Gemstone Mine
Gruul Turf
Simic Growth Chamber
Boros Garrison
Tolaria West
Crumbling Vestige
Bojuka Bog
Cavern of Souls
Ghost Quarter
Khalni Garden
Radiant Fountain
Slayers’ Stronghold
Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion
Teetering Peaks
Vesuva
Forest
Sideboard (15)
Abrade
Chameleon Colossus
Courser of Kruphix
Dismember
Hornet Queen
Negate
Relic of Progenitus
Ruric Thar, the Unbowed
Spell Pierce
Walking Ballista
Worldspine Wurm
Buy deck on Cardhoarder (MTGO)Buy deck on TCGPlayer (Paper)

Amulet Titan has already made a name for itself without Summer Bloom, often incorperating Sakura-Tribe Scout to dump extra lands into play. This build, also replicated in the same event, ditches the dorks for Wayward Swordtooth, a 5/5-in-training that’s far more resilient but also clunkier. On the upside, Swordtooth has pseudo-haste, allowing pilots to drop lands into play right after it comes down. The city’s blessing is also attainable in this deck thanks to its wealth of lands, making Swordtooth an alternate win condition in its own right.

Landing Swordtooth on turn three and dropping an extra land helps ensure five mana a turn early, meaning even if the Dinosaur eats a removal spell on-sight, Through the Breach can resolve and wrap things up with Primeval Titan (Amulet of Vigor required) or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn (Amulet optional). The set of Breaches make Summoner’s Pact all the more deadly, as granting Titan haste really does act like Time Walk in a deck whose interactions snowball so much during the combat step.

In other news, the Tooth-less, Breach-less builds of Amulet Titan are still alive and well, though they seem to have agreed upon adopting Trinket Mage going forward. Mage searches the deck’s namesake artifact as well as disruptive utility cards like Engineered Explosives.

Grixis Twin, by TSPJENDREK (6th, Modern Premier #11761203)

Creatures (13)
Deceiver Exarch
Snapcaster Mage
Vendilion Clique
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

Planeswalkers (2)
Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Instants (18)
Opt
Lightning Bolt
Fatal Push
Cast Down
Dismember
Kolaghan’s Command
Murderous Cut
Spell Snare
Remand
Cryptic Command

Sorceries (4)
Serum Visions

Lands (23)
Scalding Tarn
Polluted Delta
Steam Vents
Blood Crypt
Watery Grave
Sulfur Falls
Field of Ruin
Island
Mountain
Swamp
Sideboard (15)
Cast Down
Kolaghan’s Command
Anger of the Gods
Ceremonious Rejection
Dispel
Engineered Explosives
Negate
Relic of Progenitus
Surgical Extraction
Buy deck on Cardhoarder (MTGO)Buy deck on TCGPlayer (Paper)

After recently writing explicitly (and in depth) about Splinter Twin‘s banlist status, I was tickled to see the card’s old shell happily kicking around in decklists from this young year. Grixis Twin appears to be leading the charge, although UR also has legs. The black splash already has a few 5-0s to its name and netted NUCLEARRABBIT 28th in a Modern Challenge.

Strategically, the deck plays like Twin used to: it creates a game of attrition and value all while leveraging the tempo gained from opponents respecting its combo finish. What’s changed are the manabase, which stretches itself quite thin to support Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, and the critical turn, now pushed back by one. These changes give opponents a little more information and time to work with before they need to start limiting their actions for fear of dying out of nowhere.

In the context of my stance on Splinter Twin‘s oppressiveness, that Kiki-Exarch has revitalized Grixis Control even to this degree (and in this midrange-hostile climate) reaffirms my belief that the card should stay out of Modern for the diversity reasons Wizards cited in their groundbreaking announcement.

A Fruitful Year

With so many Modern developments so early, I’m optimistic about the format in the coming year. Join me next week for a hearty serving of even more 2019 tech, and let me know in the comments of any developments you may have noticed!

4 thoughts on “Old Dogs, New Tricks: January Tech Report, Pt. 1

  1. My 28th place Kiki list was ripped straight from tspjendreks twitter account. So all credit for that goes to him. I started out 4-0 in the challenge then lost to sandydog on burn in a close match. After that I got demolished by Gernardi’s Blue Moon list and in the final round I cant remember what I played against but I cant recall the match being to interesting. After being in top 5 at the start of round 5 barely cashing was dissapointing but the deck is great. I like the list not playing the swamp a lot more, the swamp is just a colorless land in this deck basically. I would like some anti burn cards in the side but I would play the main again in a heartbeat

        1. It should stay on the banlist. I really don’t get the whole unban deal the deck was just too good. If you look up my old results you can see I cashed some more stuff with the kiki version. I’ts good enough to play in modern. people just don’t know how to properly play an oldskool combo/control deck anymore if it doesn’t have any broken draws. And winning with kiki beats is sweet so thats a pkus as well for me

Leave a Reply