April ’20 Brew Report, Pt. 1: Mag-Safe

“I don’t know what this world is coming to,” once hollered The Soul Children. Indeed, society as we once knew it is becoming increasingly unrecognizable. Is the solution to succumb to our basest animal instincts, or to put mind over matter in a true triumph of human spirit?

Today’s brew report encapsulates that struggle, as many Modern players have happily lumbered back into the jungle while others see this time as a moment to reflect on what sets them apart from other species. Either way, all seem united under the looming Moon of an existential threat.

Living in a Zoo

Fast aggro is no stranger to Modern, and we’ve been seeing plenty of Crash Through decks over the last few months. Now, the blitz tide is turning to favor creatures over spells.

Bushwhacker, TW33TY (5-0, MODERN PRELIMINARY #12117293)

Creatures (32)
Reckless Bushwhacker
Narnam Renegade
Wild Nacatl
Goblin Guide
Burning-Tree Emissary
Hidden Herbalists
Gallia of the Endless Dance
Tarmogoyf
Ghor-Clan Rampager
Klothys, God of Destiny

Instants (9)
Atarka’s Command
Lightning Bolt
Tarfire

Lands (19)
Arid Mesa
Dryad Arbor
Forest
Mountain
Sacred Foundry
Stomping Ground
Temple Garden
Verdant Catacombs
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
Sideboard (15)
Dragon’s Claw
Magus of the Moon
Path to Exile
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Tormod’s Crypt
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Bushwhacker has exploded onto the Modern scene, seating three copies at the top tables of this Modern Preliminary alone and winning plenty more tournaments over the course of the month. It provides a more creature-centric alternative to the extremely popular (and successful) spell-based Mono-Red Prowess, recruiting instants only for the most efficient sources of damage: Atarka’s Command and Lightning Bolt.

The pivot has two major strategic advantages. For one, it challenges the metagame to react with different kinds of hate; Chalice of the Void on one and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben won’t be putting many dents in this shell (other than physically, via first strike, but even then the method only works against a handful of creatures and is blown out by Atarka’s Command). Second, it seeks to overload the removal equilibrium reached by interactive decks that lets them effectively weather Mono-Red Prowess’s creature assault. Since Prowess only plays around 12 creatures, flooding on removal can be a death sentence; Bushwhacker, however, rewards opponents for keeping full grips of it.

Almost every Bushwhacker build plays 1 Tarfire, an all-but-guaranteed way to grow Tarmogoyf an extra point. Almost no opponents will have tribal cards in their decks, after all! But I’m still surprised the tech is so universally accepted; there are just two Goyfs in the mainboard, and some builds seem to omit the other two even from the sideboard.

Tarmogoyf sitting at just two copies is emblematic of the shift in role the creature has undergone post-Fatal Push, when it became less of a plan splashed by literally everyone and more of a role-player in specific shells. Here, Goyf’s role is to follow a shot-down one-drop, effectively doubling the removed power to make up for a lost turn of attacks. It’s far less impressive against opponents that don’t interact, which is when the shell plays as aggressively as possible; Tarfire helps breathe life into the creature for those games.

While significantly less relevant, the Goblin-centric 8-Whack still exists in some capacity and posted one result this month.

Zoo, QBTURTLE15 (4-1, Modern Preliminary #12124703)

Creatures (21)
Wild Nacatl
Kird Ape
Goblin Guide
Tarmogoyf
Eidolon of the Great Revel
Ghor-Clan Rampager

Instants (13)
Lightning Bolt
Atarka’s Command
Lightning Helix
Char
Tarfire

Sorceries (6)
Rift Bolt
Skewer the Critics

Lands (20)
Arid Mesa
Forest
Mountain
Sacred Foundry
Stomping Ground
Sunbaked Canyon
Temple Garden
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
Sideboard (15)
Choke
Destructive Revelry
Flame Slash
Grafdigger’s Cage
Kor Firewalker
Molten Rain
Tormod’s Crypt
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On the more interactive side of things, Zoo also seeks to ramp up aggression with creatures. The difference is that much of Bushwhacker’s lightning-fast synergy is traded in for stand-alone beaters that operate just fine against removal-heavy opponents. Adopting Lightning Helix, Rift Bolt, Skewer the Critics, and even Char makes the deck heavily favored against Bushwhacker and gives it extra reach should opponents find a way to take over the board, either through removal or with their own Goyfs.

We haven’t seen Zoo in Modern for quite some time, but the addition of Skewer certainly helps its case. The deck has long wanted additional Lightning Bolt analogues, as much of its strength is derived from the classic Bolt-Goyf paring that gives it so much flexibility in a range of matchups. Additionally, running both Goyf and Eidolon provides Zoo with ample options given an opponent’s reaction time. Creature dies? Slam Goyf. Creature lives? Slam Eidolon, and lock in even more damage.

We’re Only Human

Creature-based aggro? What about Humans, the format’s premier creature-based aggro strategy? That deck is still alive and well, and new tweaks on the strategy are starting to rear their heads to deal with the crazy critters cropping up.

Boros Humans, WORDY333 (3-2, Modern Preliminary #12124684)

Creatures (32)
Avalanche Riders
Champion of the Parish
Charming Prince
Magus of the Moon
Ranger-Captain of Eos
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Thalia’s Lieutenant
Thraben Inspector

Artifacts (4)
Aether Vial

Instants (4)
Ephemerate

Lands (20)
Arid Mesa
Cavern of Souls
Flooded Strand
Marsh Flats
Mountain
Plains
Sacred Foundry
Sunbaked Canyon
Windswept Heath
Sideboard (15)
Auriok Champion
Blood Moon
Burrenton Forge-Tender
Giant Killer
Path to Exile
Rest in Peace
Stony Silence
Winds of Abandon
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Boros Humans differs from the classical rainbow build in its employment of Ephemerate, which serves a few purposes here. For one, the creature suite warps itself around the card, featuring more enters-the-battlefield effects than ever.

That means maxing on Charming Prince, Thalia’s Lieutenant, and Ranger-Captain of Eos, as well as for the first time hiring Avalanche Riders to give the deck a more solid mana-denial plan. The plan is bolstered by Magus of the Moon, who makes the cut at four copies.

It’s not all synergy, though. Ephemerate has a far more obvious use in blanking enemy removal spells, which should make Magus particularly troublesome for those decks that do value their nonbasics, as well as keep the hits comin’. The same goes for velocity-dependent decks like Storm, which only feature so many ways to get Thalia, Guardian of Thraben off the table.

Death & Taxes, MUCKMUCK_DC5 (5-0)

Creatures (27)
Hanged Executioner
Aven Mindcensor
Charming Prince
Flickerwisp
Giver of Runes
Leonin Arbiter
Serra Avenger
Stoneforge Mystic
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

Artifacts (4)
Aether Vial

Instants (7)
Path to Exile
Batterskull
Sword of Feast and Famine
Sword of Fire and Ice

Lands (22)
Field of Ruin
Ghost Quarter
Horizon Canopy
Silent Clearing
10 Snow-Covered Plains
Sideboard (15)
Auriok Champion
Burrenton Forge-Tender
Eidolon of Rhetoric
Hushbringer
Leonin Relic-Warder
On Thin Ice
Phyrexian Revoker
Rest in Peace
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Death & Taxes also gets a significant update this month, not only with its universal adoption of Stoneforge Mystic, but its recent discovering of Hanged Executioner.

The Spirit acts as a Lingering Souls of sorts, providing a pair of flying bodies right away for 2W and some added utility down the road. For Lingering, that means two more bodies at a discount; for Executioner, it means tributing one of the fliers for an instant-speed exile effect. In a world full of 6/6 Titans, and especially given that this is an aggro deck with plenty of grounded attackers, I can see the latter being preferable.

As Red as Blood

The month’s biggest story, though, is the rise of Magus of the Moon, exemplified by the resounding success of mana-denial strategies anchored by the Arbor ElfUtopia Sprawl interaction.

Magus Ponza, BERSERKER_BOB (4-1, Modern Preliminary #12124703)

Creatures (27)
Magus of the Moon
Arbor Elf
Bloodbraid Elf
Bonecrusher Giant
Glorybringer
Klothys, God of Destiny
Scavenging Ooze
Seasoned Pyromancer

Planeswalkers (2)
Chandra, Torch of Defiance

Enchantments (4)
Utopia Sprawl

Instants (4)
Lightning Bolt

Sorceries (3)
Pillage

Lands (80)
Forest
Mountain
Stomping Ground
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
60 Cards
Sideboard (15)
Anger of the Gods
Choke
Cindervines
Collector Ouphe
Grafdigger’s Cage
Obstinate Baloth
Relic of Progenitus
Weather the Storm
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Remember when Ponza was about sticking Blood Moon and casting Stone RainMagus Ponza lets us know those days are far behind us, with Magus of the Moon antiquating the enchantment and the versatile Pillage doing the same for Rain. Okay, so some builds still sport Moon mainboard, but never at more copies than Magus, which edges it out of the 75 entirely in most cases.

Why the sudden switch? Magus has long been thought of as less resilient than Moon on account of its dying to Lightning Bolt. But Bolts are finding themselves in shorter and shorter supply these days as midrange transitions to UGx configurations such as Bant and Sultai. And with fair decks overwhelmingly riding Arcum’s Astrolabe, Moon effects exist primarily to nail the still-kicking Dryad of the Ilysian Grove decks. You know, the decks that run 4 Pact of Negation and Reclamation Sage, and 0 Lightning Bolt.

All that makes Magus uniquely positioned to wreak havoc in Modern, which is exactly what it’s doing for many Tier 2-or-lower decks, some explored in this very article. Go ahead and search “Magus of the Moon!” Even Mono-Red Prowess has got its hands on the Wizard.

Naya Beatdown, MILKK (3-2, Modern Preliminary #12124703)

Creatures (28)
Glorybringer
Arbor Elf
Birds of Paradise
Bloodbraid Elf
Bonecrusher Giant
Klothys, God of Destiny
Magus of the Moon
Seasoned Pyromancer
Stoneforge Mystic

Planeswalkers (1)
Chandra, Torch of Defiance

Artifacts (3)
Batterskull
Embercleave
Sword of Feast and Famine

Enchantments (4)
Utopia Sprawl

Instants (4)
Lightning Bolt

Lands (20)
Arid Mesa
Sacred Foundry
Snow-Covered Forest
Snow-Covered Mountain
Snow-Covered Plains
Stomping Ground
Temple Garden
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
Sideboard (15)
Boil
Chandra, Awakened Inferno
Choke
Knight of Autumn
Obstinate Baloth
Pillage
Rest in Peace
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With less of an emphasis on land destruction, but plenty appetite for the mana generated by Arbor-Sprawl, Naya Beatdown is also making a name for itself in the metagame. Take this Preliminary, which features multiple Naya Beatdown placings and even variations: Stoneforge Mystic, Bonecrusher Giant, and Questing Beast all seem to be viable options for filling out the list. Still, Glorybringer reigns as the preferred top-end threat, while Pillage remains an attractive plan from the sideboard.

Total Eclipse of the Brew

All this harping on Magus of the Moon has cast a pale shadow over the other strokes of innovation Modern is experiencing online. Join me next week for a foray into what else April had to offer!

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