If you’ve been reading my weekly articles for the past few months or so, you’ve undoubtedly noticed a reoccurring trend.
Standard is the name of the game when it comes to me with Magic, and that’s definitely reflected in my thoughts, theories, and opinions of the game. Standard is the format Wizards of the Coast pushes the most, so it is often the format that presents itself with the most amount of opportunities to make it onto the Pro Tour. And since making it back to the Pro Tour again is my “be all end all goal” in Magic, it would make sense that I focus, test, prepare, and play mostly Standard. But was this always the case? Was I always such a singularly format focused individual?
I actually love to draft and play limited in general, but I have a very low opinion of my ability to play and understand limited formats. I never would have guessed that I’d earn my first Pro Tour invite from a Sealed RPTQ and despite the qualification, I definitely don’t think I have a firm grasp on limited by any means. I generally seem to do better when I’m practiced and confident with a specific allotment of cards within the specific confines of an expected metagame. (Queue me referencing my 0-3 draft record, 5-0 standard record day 1 at Pro Tour Eldritch Moon)
When you throw in the bevy of small interactions and nuances of limited, that’s when I start to feel overwhelmed or unprepared. The same exact reasons that make limited such a malleable way to play Magic never exactly the same way, is also my biggest barrier to success in the 40 card format. My fear of failing and avoiding limited as a competitive format is one of the main flaws in my game, and I need to make a conscious effort to work on my limited game. Limited strengthens and rewards a lot of the core principals and fundamentals of Magic. Understanding and developing a coherent curve, assessing your role in a matchup, and making proper attacks and blocks are all skills that can be refined from limited play.
So what about the other format that can carry you to the Pro Tour? Modern might be on the downswing as a premiere format that Wizards pushes, but it still has its advocates. And though you might not believe it, I was once one of its strongest proponents. I loved Modern when it first hit the scene, and have many found memories of the burgeoning metagame. As I mentioned in my article last week detailing my dalliance with Jeskai Copycat, Splinter Twin was my jam for many tournaments. But, when they took my sweet 2RR enchantment from me, they also took my love of Modern.
It’s not that I think the format went from great to terrible in one fell swoop. No, the same problems Modern has always had were present both pre and post Twin ban. I wasn’t burned on having to pick up a whole deck or anything like that either. It’s simply that I didn’t know what to play next. In the wide world of Modern, experience and familiarity with your deck was (and is) the name of the game, and I had none sans Splinter Twin. So Modern took a bit of a back seat for me. There was no shortage of standard PPTQs or GPs to play in, so I resigned myself to being a one-format man for the most part.
But alas, Modern has come calling. The great city of San Antonio is calling, and its time to dip back into the Wild West of 8th edition and beyond. A team event Grand Prix is simply too magical to ignore or pass by. So where to we begin?
Oh I don’t know, maybe the deck that absolutely dumped all over everyone this past weekend?
The demise of Death’s Shadow in a Gitaxian Probe free format was greatly exaggerated as evident by the deck’s sudden dominance this past weekend. Jonah did a brief write up on the deck in our Daily Deck feature here.
Forgoing the cheap aggressive creatures of previous builds, you’ll find no copies of Monastery Swiftspear or Steppe Lynx here. We’ve also seen a scaling back on the combo element of the deck, with zero copies of Become Immense in the 75, and only 1 to 2 copies of Temur Battle Rage in most lists. No, this current iteration resembles something more in line with a traditional B/G Rock deck. A whole lot of targeted discard, a full set of Tarmogoyf, and Liliana of the Veil to boot. But while classic Modern Jund is packed with removal and some card advantage-generating creature like Dark Confident so they might be able to grind you into dust, Death’s Shadow is simply interested in getting you dead.
In some ways the emergence of this deck seems like a direct contradiction to the printing of Fatal Push. The much hyped-up removal spell was bound to make waves in Modern, and many thought its inclusion in the format would help push out creature-based combo decks like Death’s Shadow Zoo and Infect. In reality, the reliance on a destruction spell, versus something that exiles like Path to Exile, might be part of why this version of Death’s Shadow was able to dominate.
Renegade Rallier, Kolaghan’s Command, and Liliana, the Last Hope, are all powerful tools Sam Black and friends packed this weekend, and I’m sure their never-ending swarm of 1 mana 10/10’s and giant ‘Goyfs overwhelmed many opponents. I would fully expect an uptick in exile-based removal if Death’s Shadow Jund starts to become the premiere deck of the format.
But, even if you are packing plenty of Paths, Traverse the Ulvenwald and the sideboarded Ranger of Eos also offers plenty of ways to fight through 1-for-1 removal. The sheer redundancy of this deck with its reoccurring threats, cantrips, and ways to tutor up creatures has to be one of its greatest strengths.
I may not be a born again Modern player yet, but I know what deck I’ll be starting with. As for any changes going forward with the archetype, I’ll be looking to the Vancouver Champ himself, Josh Utter-Layton.