Guess Who’s Back: Titan and Phoenix New Looks

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Despite recent bannings, the targeted decks are rising up again, reinventing themselves in novel ways.

Axing Once Upon a Time from the format heralded an imminent paradigm shift for Amulet Titan, an enduring archetype that had redesigned itself around the free cantrip so drastically as to begin omitting its namesake artifact. Similarly, the Faithless Looting ban was thought to utterly antiquate UR Phoenix, a deck that dominated competitive Modern for months on end.

Variations of each deck are now cropping up online. Today, we’ll examine the alterations and compromises they’ve made to stay in the game.

Landing on Both Feet

All the talk about Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath shouldn’t distract us from the reality of Primeval Titan, which is very much still a Magic card post-ban. Amulet Titan had transitioned from a land-combo game-ender to a land-toolbox value engine. Now, it’s splitting into four distinct shells, with the pivotal card not Titan itself, but Dryad of the Ilysian Grove.

Value Titan, GLEICIANO (5-0)

Creatures (18)
Arboreal Grazer
Dryad of the Ilysian Grove
Oracle of Mul Daya
Primeval Titan
Sakura-Tribe Elder

Instants (4)
Summoner’s Pact

Sorceries (6)
Explore
Scapeshift

Lands (32)
Bojuka Bog
Castle Garenbrig
Cavern of Souls
Cinder Glade
Field of the Dead
Forest
Misty Rainforest
Mountain
Radiant Fountain
Snow-Covered Forest
Snow-Covered Mountain
Stomping Ground
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Vesuva
Wooded Foothills
Sideboard (15)
Anger of the Gods
Beast Within
Force of Vigor
Fry
Obstinate Baloth
Reclamation Sage
Veil of Summer
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Value Titan picks up where recent shells left off. Amulet is still absent. Instead of reinstating it, the deck makes use of Castle Garenbrig to ramp into early Titans; Dryad acts as a Pact-able Prismatic Omen and land deployer all in one.

Once Titan resolves, its triggered ability grabs a pair of Valakuts and gives the deck a turbo-charged Field of the Dead plan, in that it ignores any removal spells opponents might have on-hand for the Titan. Should Dryad also bite the dust, Field too makes an appearance here.

Amulet Titan, DIA83 (5-0)

Creatures (14)
Azusa, Lost but Seeking
Dryad of the Ilysian Grove
Primeval Titan
Sakura-Tribe Scout

Artifacts (4)
Amulet of Vigor

Instants (5)
Pact of Negation
Summoner’s Pact

Sorceries (6)
Ancient Stirrings
Explore

Lands (31)
Bojuka Bog
Breeding Pool
Castle Garenbrig
Cavern of Souls
Field of the Dead
Forest
Gemstone Mine
Ghost Quarter
Golgari Rot Farm
Gruul Turf
Hanweir Battlements
Radiant Fountain
Simic Growth Chamber
Snow-Covered Forest
Tolaria West
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Vesuva
Wooded Foothills
Sideboard (15)
Beast Within
Dismember
Engineered Explosives
Force of Vigor
Grafdigger’s Cage
Mystical Dispute
Reclamation Sage
Tireless Tracker
Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
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Now, here’s a familiar face! Amulet Titan was a competent Modern deck even before Once Upon a Time was printed, and here returns to its roots while accommodating a few proven techs. First up is Dryad, of course, but then there’s Castle and even Explore. The consistency provided by blue cantrips Sleight of Hand or Serum Visions, standbys in older builds, has been deemed unnecessary compared to the on-color utility of newer arrivals.

Simic Scapeshift, WOTC_ANDREWB (5-0

Creatures (14)
Ice-Fang Coatl
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Dryad of the Ilysian Grove
Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath

Instants (14)
Archmage’s Charm
Cryptic Command
Growth Spiral
Remand

Sorceries (3)
Scapeshift

Enchantments (1)
Prismatic Omen

Lands (28)
Breeding Pool
Field of the Dead
Flooded Grove
Flooded Strand
Misty Rainforest
Mystic Sanctuary
Polluted Delta
Prismatic Vista
Snow-Covered Forest
Snow-Covered Island
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Sideboard (15)
Aether Gust
Dismember
Grafdigger’s Cage
Mystical Dispute
Spell Snare
Tireless Tracker
Veil of Summer
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In the olden days, Scapeshift was a Temur deck packed with interaction that aimed to suppress opponents long enough to make seven land drops and cast the sorcery for lethal Valakut damage. Simic Scapeshift, which has posted two results, mirrors that plan but does away with the red splash entirely, preserving only Valakut among red-producing lands. The reason? Blue-green happens to be a competent interactive combination for the first time since ever.

Ice-Fang Coatl and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath have carved out an undeniable niche as a midrange package, but they tend to be featured alongside Arcum’s Astrolabe. Simic Scapeshift has no room for that kind of air, using its early-game to deploy tapped lands, cast Growth Spiral-style ramp effects, and interact with the stack. Uro pulls double-duty here as a ramp spell that also provides a fair Plan B, just as Tarmogoyf sometimes did for the deck’s early iterations.

Bring to Light Scapeshift, SUNGJIN (4-1, Modern Preliminary #12106076)

Creatures (8)
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Dryad of the Ilysian Grove
Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath

Planeswalkers (3)
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Teferi, Time Raveler

Instants (11)
Cryptic Command
Path to Exile
Remand

Sorceries (11)
Bring to Light
Scapeshift
Search for Tomorrow
Supreme Verdict

Lands (27)
Breeding Pool
Hallowed Fountain
Misty Rainforest
Mystic Sanctuary
Snow-Covered Forest
Snow-Covered Island
Snow-Covered Mountain
Snow-Covered Plains
Steam Vents
Stomping Ground
Temple Garden
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Sideboard (15)
Aether Gust
Anger of the Gods
Exhaustion
Force of Negation
Force of Vigor
Grafdigger’s Cage
Mwonvuli Acid-Moss
Mystical Dispute
Timely Reinforcements
Veil of Summer
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Bring to Light Scapeshift is another archetype we’ve had in Modern for a fair bit—specifically, since Bring was first released. But who are we to deny it the latest goodies for land and ramp decks? In go Uro and Dryad, as well as Mystic Sanctuary; the land can be fetched to put Scapeshift back on top of the deck for another combo attempt.

Passing With Flying Colors

Titan didn’t have much time since the ban, but it’s already bouncing back in a few ways. The same can’t really be said of Arclight Phoenix, which went AWOL after losing Looting. Until now, that is; players are figuring out how to leverage their Looting replacements in a world unhindered by off-theme, off-color cantrips.

UR Phoenix, DRACONIC1 (3-2, Modern Preliminary #12110946

Creatures (13)
Thing in the Ice
Arclight Phoenix
Merchant of the Vale
Ox of Agonas

Enchantments (1)
Aria of Flame

Instants (24)
Gut Shot
Izzet Charm
Lightning Axe
Lightning Bolt
Manamorphose
Opt
Thought Scour

Sorceries (4)
Serum Visions

Lands (18)
Fiery Islet
Flooded Strand
Island
Mountain
Scalding Tarn
Spirebluff Canal
Steam Vents
Sideboard (15)
Aria of Flame
Abrade
Aether Gust
Ashiok, Dream Render
Blood Moon
Dismember
Mystical Dispute
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We’ll kick things off with the classic UR Phoenix. This deck has made some serious adjustments, adding Merchant of the Veil to support Izzet Charm in cheaply getting Phoenix from the deck to the hand to the graveyard.

Ox of Agonas also joins the deck’s payoffs, equally serving as an enabler; players with enough mana can chain together a few cantrips and then escape Ox to discard any drawn Phoenixes and set up a big combat step. Because Ox is a threat in its own rite, Aria of Flame finds itself with just one copy in the main, although it remains an alluring sideboard plan for when opponents bring in Rest in Peace or Grafdigger’s Cage.

Hollow Phoenix, CORONTHEMORON (5-0

Creatures (22)
Flameblade Adept
Flamewake Phoenix
Hollow One
Ox of Agonas
Runaway Steam-Kin
Street Wraith

Enchantments (3)
Underworld Breach

Instants (7)
Lightning Bolt
Manamorphose
Pyretic Ritual

Sorceries (9)
Burning Inquiry
Goblin Lore
Cathartic Reunion

Lands (19)
Bloodstained Mire
Fiery Islet
Forgotten Cave
13 Mountain
Sideboard (15)
Blood Moon
Boil
Dragon’s Claw
Kozilek’s Return
Leyline of the Void
Shadowspear
Shenanigans
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Yet another blast from the past, Hollow Phoenix combines the Arclight package with the Hollow One package to generate tons of board pressure as quickly as possible. Faithless Looting once fueled both plans at once, making it the deck’s de facto engine grease. Without it, some new packages have been implemented.

There’s Ox of Agonas again, doing also for Hollow what it does for Arclight. Reason being it can be cast from the graveyard given an active Underworld Breach. In other words, ending a looting chain with Breach gives the deck Dredge-like levels of recursion, making it difficult for attrition decks to keep up without heavy-duty grave hate.

Hollow Hearld, PSBARO (5-0

Creatures (23)
Storm Herald
Flameblade Adept
Flamewake Phoenix
Hollow One
Ox of Agonas
Street Wraith

Enchantments (4)
Eldrazi Conscription

Instants (3)
Lightning Axe
Lightning Bolt

Sorceries (11)
Burning Inquiry
Cathartic Reunion
Goblin Lore

Lands (19)
Forgotten Cave
11 Mountain
Scalding Tarn
Wooded Foothills
Sideboard (15)
Lightning Bolt
Blood Moon
Dragon’s Claw
Shenanigans
Shrine of Burning Rage
Tormod’s Crypt
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Adding another twist to the strategy, Hollow Herald employs Storm Herald to slap a looted-away Eldrazi Conscription onto an attacking creature. The plan is just as grave-reliant and far tougher to pull off (a timely removal spell ends the interaction decisively), but it’s probably quite wild to witness!

As the World Turns

It appears that despite the craziness going on in the world around us, Modern’s brewers are not a bunch to be outdone. Tune in next week for a closer look at some of the month’s more under-the-radar strategies.

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