Drawing Blood in Modern
Modern’s in a bit of a peculiar spot right now. Many will sing its praises—citing the diversity of the format and the viability of a wide range of archetypes and playstyles. Others, myself included, prefer to lament the absence of nuanced and marginal, yet impactful deckbuilding and gameplay decisions present in the majority of the format’s matchups. Yes, you get to play all kinds of cards, but there’s not much play to be found in playing a series of ramp spells to cast a lethal Through the Breach before your opponent kills you. That said, many people enjoy games like this, and I’m finally at peace with Modern being the home for non-interactive linear Magic.
But how have I come to terms with this, being the degenerate who still regularly mourns the departure from Standard of Thoughtseize and Courser of Kruphix? Simple. Instead of giving up after I 0-3’d the last FacetoFaceGames.com Modern Open+, I’ve decided to take it as a challenge. Magic is at its best when there’s a puzzle to be solved in deckbuilding and gameplay, and this is nothing more than another twist in the game. Here’s our question: given that the majority of the format is people trying to race to win with linear fast-mana decks, how do we gain an advantage over them?
I think there are two reasonable answers, assuming we define fast-mana as meaning Valakut and Tron decks. The first is to go under them and play a faster linear strategy. To that end, I like Storm and Affinity a lot. That’s not how I prefer to play, however. Despite years of intense therapy, I’m still a Twin guy at heart. My love of Remand and Snapcaster Mage knows no bounds, and at long last, I think the format is in a place where one of my favourite strategies is once again viable. It’s time to go back to Blue Moon. Be warned, as this list is spicy.
Blue Moon, Daniel Fournier
There’s a lot to talk about here, so bear with me. Let’s start with the mana, which is pretty typical as far as an old Twin or Blue Moon manabase goes. The light green splash is as close to free as it gets, and it significantly empowers the essential Engineered Explosives as well as allowing us to play the versatile Ancient Grudge over the other atrocious options available to us. We play Sulfur Falls over Spirebluff Canal because we’re a control deck, and it’s essential for our fourth and sixth lands to come into play untapped. The green splash is off of Stomping Grounds instead of Breeding Pool because despite us being a blue-based deck, we need as many basic Islands around as possible thanks to Blood Moon.
As for creatures, we have a bunch of reasonable options available to complement our essential base of four Snapcaster Mages. Pia and Kiran Nalaar, Batterskull, or even planeswalkers like Jace, Architect of Thought or Chandra, Torch of Defiance are reasonable inclusions. I like my maindecks to be tight and versatile, however, so I went with a pair of Vendilion Cliques and a fifth copy of Snapcaster Mage that happens to be a 5/6. Aside from being the best card in history, Vendilion Clique is especially good in this deck. In many linear matchups, it can be very dangerous to tap out on early turns. Clique lets us both apply pressure and do some minor disruption while never letting our guard down. We’re also a Blood Moon deck, and in a pinch, Clique can either recycle an extra Blood Moon or get rid of the first, irrelevant copy. Torrential Gearhulk is just an immensely powerful card in a deck that features the full set of Cryptic Commands.
Let’s move to some individual spell breakdowns:
4 Opt, 0 Serum Visions: I’ve always been pretty vocal of my hatred for Serum Visions. It’s a sorcery that clogs your mana in an instant speed reactive deck, it draws you a card that’s probably bad or redundant, and all the art for it is ugly. Opt, on the other hand, is an instant, which is big game in a deck with Vendilion Clique, Snapcaster Mage, Electrolyze and counterspells. It’s better at finding you a reactive card in a reactive situation, and most importantly has a beautiful old border version from Invasion. What’s not to love?
4 Blood Moon: When you’re playing a deck like this, you’re playing it because you’ve decided that Blood Moon is so good that you’re probably going to win the game when you cast it. With that in mind, I think it would be smart to play the maximum legal number of that card. Yeah, it sucks to draw multiples, but the contents of your hand don’t matter when you’ve already won the game.
4 Remand: I think Remand isn’t great right now in this world of discounted and cheap threats, but the value of the card goes up significantly when you’re under a Blood Moon. In those situations, it’s common for an opponent to only have a single basic land and be restricted on the number of spells they can play each turn. Remand is basically Time Walk in that context, and that to me is enough of an upgrade to return to one of my favourite cards.
1 Spell Snare: Modern’s darling counterspell has fallen out of favour as of late thanks to its weakness in the Death’s Shadow matchup, but a resurgence in Sakura Tribe Elders and Goblin Electromancers justifies its inclusion to me.
4 Cryptic Command: This is the best card in the deck, so we should probably play 4. Cryptic Command is probably the most versatile card that a control mage has access to in Modern. As the local god of countermagic, Andrew van Leeuwen, likes to say, you’re never dead as long as you have a Cryptic in hand.
2 Engineered Explosives: One of U/R’s constant weaknesses throughout the history of Modern has been its weakness to resolved threats, specifically creatures. In a deck like this that wants to take the game exceptionally long, inefficient but versatile answers like Engineered Explosives can find a home, even in the maindeck.
1 Roast, 1 Dismember: I would love to play both Dismembers due to its positive interaction with Torrential Gearhulk, but the life loss issue when playing a second or third Dismember off of Snapcaster Mage keeps me from overloading this slow deck with too many spells that cost us life to play.
3 Relic of Progenitus: Every time you think a deck like Dredge goes away, it rears its stinky head and crushes you. I don’t get caught with my pants down, and neither should you. We pick Relic of Progenitus as our graveyard hate of choice in this deck over alternatives due to its potency in fair matchups like Jund, Death’s Shadow variants and Snapcaster Mage mirrors. In addition, it can disrupt the opponent’s graveyard without necessarily turning off our own.
2 Kozilek’s Return: I prefer this as our sideboard mass removal of choice over something like Anger of the Gods because of its ability to beat a resolved Etched Champion—otherwise that card is insurmountably powerful against us. The only place where Anger is infinitely better is when facing down Wild Nacatls, which are simply not popular at the moment.
2 Ceremonious Rejection: While ostensibly a hate card for Eldrazi decks, this card manages to do a lot of splash damage against Lantern, Affinity, and more, like Ad Nauseam. I think it’s a sin to play a blue reactive deck in this format without this card in your sideboard.
2 Thundermaw Hellkite, 2 Pia and Kiran Nalaar: Especially if the first game goes extremely long as they tend to, Blue Moon decks need some powerful threats in the sideboard. This helps shore-up poor matchups by giving you a more aggressive plan B as well as upping the amount of gas the deck has against Thoughtseizes. Thundermaw is chosen because of not only its status as the fastest available way to kill an opponent, but also because of the clinic it puts on against Lingering Souls. Pia and Kiran Nalaar fit in perfectly due to the fact that they are straight up a nightmare to take off the table. You’re always getting leftovers off of this card, and that’s frequently all that Blue Moon is looking for.
Please take this beautiful list for a spin at a local Modern event and let me know how it goes!
Want to relive you Twin days with Fournier’s list at a competitive Modern event near you? Join us for our Nationals weekend Modern FacetoFaceGames.com Open+ on the Sunday (Oct.15) and cast Snapcaster Mages and Electroylzes until your heart’s content.