With GP New Jersey and my sudden urge to write more about Standard behind us, we can safely move onto the Team Unified Modern article I promised 2 weeks ago.
My team and I were slightly nervous as Monday morning drew near. We were worried something in Modern might be banned and we’d have to scrap our preliminary work we’d already done in testing. Even potentially more troubling however, was the prospect of something being unbanned. Many on the Twittersphere have been heralding for the unbanning of Jace, The Mind Sculptor, and if Jace, or something equally powerful, was unbanned, it could completely shake up the format. A new dominant deck could appear and if we had failed to find it, we might be significantly behind the curve.
Luckily for our preparation and hard work, Modern (just like Standard) received neither a ban, nor an unban. Fellow Spellsnare scribe Roman Fusco covered the impact this lack of banning might have on the Standard format to come in this article.
With a stable Modern metagame preserved, I turned to the past to study my favorite Robin Williams/Cuba Gooding Jr. film, “What Teams May Come”. (Sweet topical reference to a 1998 film, Austin. You are the embodiment of the zeitgeist.)
Hall of Famer and Magic mathematician, Frank Karsten, did quite the bit of research on Team Unified Modern for the past years World Magic Cup, much to our benefit. In his endless pursuit of all things numbers and percentages, Frank wrote a preamble to what the Team Unified Modern metagame might look like on Channelfireball.com. A link to both halves of his prediction can be found here.
These articles along with his official WoTC coverage article detailing what Team Unified Modern actually shook up in Rotterdam, as the crux of my theorycrafting and ideas when looking to San Antonio.
Easily the two most played decks in Rotterdamn were Infect and Dredge. Both are proactive decks attempting to do something slightly busted. Many pros and notable Modern players have often remarked how important it is to be doing something proactive, rather than reactive, in the format. If you look at the longstanding champions of the format, many of the decks with the best records are straightforward proactive decks attempting to combo or win as fast as possible. Burn, Splinter Twin, Ad Nauseam, Abzan Company, Birthing Pod, Amulet Bloom, and yes also both Infect and Dredge, are all examples of this linear proactive mentality.
Infect starts with your life in half, only needing to deal 10 points of poison damage, and does so in huge chunks with powerful pump spells, especially taking advantage of the Delve mechanic in the form of the busted Become Immense.
Dredge on the other hand, is attempting to abuse its namesake, one of the biggest “mistake mechanics” of all time. Dredge 5 is often akin to drawing 5 cards in this graveyard deck, spewing free creatures in the form of Bloodghast, Narcomeba, and Prized Amalgam. Amalgam and Cathartic Reunion were huge gains for the deck, and its newly amped power level was obviously a part of its increased presence in Rotterdam.
You know what else the two decks also have in common? They share minor overlap with the rest of the format, a huge strength when forming your team with access to a maximum of 4 copies of each Modern legal card. Infect is the only deck to play the swath of poison-dealing creatures and pump spells. Inkmoth Nexus overlaps with Affinity, but other than that the manabase is very shareable. Any mixture of blue and green fetchlands will suffice. The biggest card that Infect overlaps with is perhaps Noble Hierarch. The Exatled mana dork is a key part of Abzan Company and some builds of Abzan (Rock style.) But, when choosing decks for Team Unified Modern, that’s exactly the kind of deck you’re looking for. Minor overlap of just one key creature is much more ideal than a massive overlap of shocklands and fetch lands.
Dredge is similar in that its core base overlaps with no other tier 1 strategy. No other deck is trying to register Bloodghast and Narcomeba, and it only shares some small overlap with other graveyard strategies in its reliance on Faithless Looting, but honestly all of those decks are subpar compared to Dredge in all its busted-ness. While it can make due with any red or black fetchlands, Stomping Ground is the biggest piece it demands. As I mentioned previously, the highly sought-after Forest Mountain is going to be a big part of determining what 3 decks you field.
You know what other important facts these two decks share?
Losing the powerful Dredge 6 card might have lowered Dredge’s overall strength, but the Dredge 5 card, Stinkweed Imp, is slightly weaker option as the deck’s best dredger but it gets the job done. Obviously this ban hasn’t made the largest impact, as Dredge still managed to put two copies into the top 8 of Grand Prix Brisbane, as I’ve discussed in previous articles.
And while Infect might not have been terribly reliant on Gitaxian Probe, the deck does seem to have fallen by the wayside in the past 6 weeks. The deck has had only a few notable finishes, and I presume that is more due to the printing of Fatal Push than the banning of Probe. The little removal spell that could has quickly established itself as an important card in the metagame, and its widespread adoption has put a serious damper on creature based combo decks, especially one as all-in as Infect.
So if almost every team had at least one player on Infect and Dredge at the World Magic Cup, and we’re to follow suit, which do we choose? Well, with what I just stated, I think it’s obvious that the answer isn’t Infect.
With Dredge on board, Stomping Ground is no longer up for grabs. This nixes Zoo, Naya Burn, and all forms of Jund from the table. That’s a big price to pay, and determining whether you want Dredge, or Death’s Shadow Jund on your team is probably the level 0 decision you need to make when approaching Team Unified Modern. With noted Dredge aficionado Peter Rawlings on my team, you know what were choosing.
So Dredge is on board and we’ve eliminated the hot new thing, Death’s Shadow Jund (which just won the SCG Open in Dallas) from the table. What do we choose next? Come back next weekend as I narrow down our choices and reveal the other two thirds of our team!