Carrie On – Modern Day Problems

Pro Tour Return to Ravnica happened this weekend. I want offer my congratulations to the winner Stanislav Cifka—I for one enjoyed watching his story, but boy has it given the internet a lot to talk about.

Unfortunately, the winning deck was Second Sunrise Combo, aka Eggs, aka Second Breakfast, which is far from the most glamorous deck to watch. It’s a mostly non-interactive combo deck that takes a long time to go off while not falling foul of the rule that bans 4-Horseman from being played in Legacy.

I have a number of points to cover about Eggs, but first I want to explain the combo for anyone who doesn’t understand how it works. I can imagine the coverage was kinda weird for you as I don’t think the actual kill-condition was fully explained other than “[card]Pyrite Spellbomb[/card].”

Your engine is as follows: you play cheap artifacts that cantrip (these are your eggs) and this allows you to draw through your deck.

[card]Lotus Bloom[/card] is the main mana source, and is crucial to any attempt to combo out. You acquire an active Bloom by either suspending it on turn one or [card reshape]Reshaping[/card] one of the many cantripping Eggs into it.

Once you have a couple of Blooms and some Eggs you can sacrifice them all to draw cards and make mana, and then cast [card]Second Sunrise[/card] or [card]Faith’s Reward[/card] which returns them all to play.

You need to keep making mana, either from multiple blooms or from [card]Ghost Quarter[/card]s. Since [card]Second Sunrise[/card] also returns lands you can purge tapped lands with [card]Ghost Quarter[/card] and then return them untapped. This has the added bonus of filtering all the basics out of your deck, making it more likely that you draw useful spells.

[card]Sleight of Hand[/card] and [card]Serum Visions[/card] provide additional card selection and draw.

Once you have your engine going you can now win. How? With [card]Pyrite Spellbomb[/card].

[card]Pyrite Spellbomb[/card] only does 2 damage and requires red mana. In order to use it in enough time to kill the opponent you need to make around 10 red mana and reuse it 9 times. The trick here is [card]Conjurer’s Bauble[/card]. This Egg cantrips and has the option to put one card on the bottom of your library (which happens before the draw). So, once you have used your engine to draw through your entire deck (be careful not to go too far!) you use a Bauble to put [card]Second Sunrise[/card] into your library and then immediately into your hand. Sacrifice the Blooms for red mana and use the Spellbomb, then return them again with the Sunrise. Loop for damage.

Baubles should be used during the process of emptying your library to also return any used Sunrises and Faith’s Rewards into the library, as continually hitting them is the secret to not fizzling.

That is the combo. Essentially, you empty your library and then loop a kill condition. Cifka was just running the one win condition in the main but he had an alternative [card]Grapeshot[/card] in the board. Returning stuff with [card]Second Sunrise[/card] doesn’t increase storm but you do cast enough Eggs during the process to make it good. If you get as far as an empty library, then looping [card]Second Sunrise[/card] can generate any amount of storm. Diversifying after board is a good plan against various sideboard plans such as [card]Pithing Needle[/card] or [card]Extirpate[/card].

There are several different options Cifka could have gone for which I have seen. [card]Banefire[/card] is a nice uncounterable one as you do accidentally make rather a lot of mana while going off, although [card]Grapeshot[/card] is almost uncounterable and doesn’t sink all of your mana if you miscount like Cifka did in the final game. My favorite alternate win condition, which is rather cute, but probably the most fragile, is [card]Laboratory Maniac[/card]. You empty your library and then draw. Simple.

The other parts of Cifka’s sideboard are all anti-anti-Eggs pieces. That’s rather clunky, but in essence Cifka was prepared post-board for whatever you might be doing to stop him. He had no interest in what your were doing apart from that. So, what is good against Eggs?

They need the graveyard, so effects like [card]Leyline of the Void[/card] and [card]Rest in Peace[/card] are good. They can be answered by finding an [card]Echoing Truth[/card], but crucially, they have to find it without just going off. Many “hate” pieces they can work around until they use the draw engine to find their way to remove it, such as an opposing [card]Leyline of Sanctity[/card], but with graveyard hate this isn’t a possibility.

The deck can be quite demanding on its mana in the early stages of the cycle so [card]Thalia, Guardian of Thraben[/card], [card]Thorn of Amethyst[/card], [card]Trinisphere[/card], and even [card]Ethersworn Canonist[/card] (as they need multiple non-artifact spells) can put a serious dent in their plan. Whilst I’m assured they can combo around these effects (my boyfriend has actually done this) it is very hard work and happens many turns later. If backed up with an aggressive clock this can mean they can’t win soon enough.

The cards I have mentioned so far are good against a host of other combo decks and so are strong sideboard options for that reason. If you really want to hate Eggs then you can go with [card]Stony Silence[/card] which is just vicious for them and it even has some utility against Affinity.

I’m sure there are plenty more options you can come up with, but I have two favorites I want to mention. [card]Disciple of the Vault[/card] does trigger from any artifact, so perhaps we will see Affinity go back to this option. While Affinity can make most use of it in a normal game there is nothing to stop any deck running black from playing it. My other spicy favorite (which is terrible unless you can ramp to it) is [card]Magnetic Mine[/card]. Yes, I have finally found a use for this reject rare! It has the same goal as Disciple but can be played in any deck. The biggest drawback is that it costs 4, and as they tend to combo by turn three or four it isn’t going to get into play on time on the draw. Still, it made me laugh.

There are lots of sideboard options against Eggs, but Cifka realized that no one was running them. That is how you win at Magic. Yes, you need to play well and maybe get a little lucky, but identifying a weakness in the meta is the truest way to victory. It was glorious and I for one enjoyed watching his success.

I was disappointed by many of the reactions I saw on Twitter during the Top 8 coverage. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the internet continually disappoints me.

Many people complained the deck was boring to watch. This is pretty true and it’s even worse for the opponent, but that doesn’t make it an invalid deck. I think the situation could have been helped by drafting in someone who could really talk about the deck as it did its thing. I do not consider myself an expert on the deck, but I was well aware of the interesting point in the game where Cifka had to find a [card]Second Sunrise[/card] in the three remaining draws available to him or had to find a [card]Reshape[/card] etc. These points were interesting, tense and completely lost in the coverage.

It looked like the deck couldn’t fail and the commentating seemed to imply as much as they did not point out the awkward moments. I was so glad to see it stumble in that one game in the finals (4?) as it showed people it’s not perfect. Also, it is a little intense to play and, because Cifka was so practiced at it, that was also lost. Yes, you go through motions, but making sure you have enough mana and smooth your draws involves complicated thought processes that we obviously weren’t privy to. All-in-all I think more could have been done to give the audience an appreciation of the deck and how well it was being played.

The other point that I seriously disagreed with on Twitter was a ban. Admittedly there weren’t that many calls for it, but the murmurs were there. Why is it that as soon as a combo deck does well we want to ban it? The same thing happened when [card]Griselbrand[/card] hit Legacy. As I pointed out above, there are many strong sideboard options against it but no one was running them.

In many way this is like Dredge in Legacy. Dredge is ridiculously strong but easy to prey upon. If you turn up with it and everyone is prepared, you will not win a match. However, if no one has played Dredge recently and people make room in their sideboards for other matchups by cutting graveyard hate, then a copy of it tends to win the tournament and the whole cycle begins again. No one calls for Dredge to be hit with a ban, they all berate themselves for not running their hate pieces. If Eggs could not be hated I would support some action against it—but it can be, so we should certainly wait for another couple of tournaments to check that the hate works before applying the hammer.

Which brings me neatly on to the other topic I want to discuss today. I HATE JUND! Jund is like my archnemesis in Magic. It’s a weird situation because Jund embodies everything I want to do in Magic: gain incremental advantages against my opponent until I have everything and they have nothing. And yet I have only ever played the deck once, why? Because it is expected. If you go to a Modern Tournament you have to expect to face Jund. I was shocked when Brad Nelson and Gerry T. played a deck this weekend that they confessed couldn’t beat Jund when I expected it to make up 25% of the meta (I was short on that estimate). Note: I know they were expecting some Jund, just not as much as I was (I think they said 15%).

If a deck is expected then people should be prepared against it, so it should be a bad choice.

I mostly spend preparation time for Modern tournaments trying to find a deck I like with a good Jund matchup. It’s the first deck I test anything against and will reject out of hand if the matchup is poor.

The problem with Jund is that (unlike our friend Eggs) you cannot hate it. There aren’t effective sideboard cards. Jund just strips anything relevant from your hand and two-for-ones it’s way to victory. Spot removal is no good and sweepers barely matter as they just restock with a [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card]. If I wanted to, I could go to Modern Tournament with a deck designed to beat any given deck (even if it was at the expense of any other matchup), but this doesn’t seem to be possible for Jund.

I raised this point online on Sunday evening and I was surprised by the responses. Apparently Jund is easy to beat. Rather incredulously I queried this and was met with the response that combo beats Jund. That makes sense given I just watched Eggs kick Jund’s little butt, but only while Jund isn’t boarding hate for it. When they run one of the many pieces I mentioned instead of relying on targeted discard and [card]Slaughter Games[/card] that can both be shut down by [card]Leyline of Sanctity[/card], it will be able to win again.

More to the point, I don’t consider a meta where my choices are combo or Jund to be healthy. Ah, the internet say,s but control beats combo and is itself beaten by Jund. Wait a second, you are telling me my metagame choice is any control deck, any combo deck, and Jund? Jund is a whole deck archetype by itself? That is not healthy people! If it was control, combo or midrange that would be fine (sure, it’d be nice to have aggro as an option but maintaining a really diverse meta is hard), but this isn’t how it works. Jund beats all other midrange decks and thus your choice is “or Death”, I mean “Jund”.

Does no-one else see the problem with this?

Let us remember that [card]Wild Nacatl[/card] and [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card] both got banned because every creature deck with green looked the same. Well, now all midrange aggro decks are Jund. That is a problem.

Something needs to be done to reduce the prevalence of Jund in the meta. It has been slowly increasing in popularity in Modern Tournaments from the first event, Pro Tour Philadelphia, where a grand total of seven played the deck (including myself) culminating this weekend with a massive 119 players sleeving up the menace.

When I suggested it was a problem some people quoted the fact that it had not been that successful in the actual matches, thanks to the lovely data provided by Wizards. This data does provide some reassurance on the matter. For the archetypes where there are enough data points (about seven) Jund is one of the least successful.

Looking at these numbers, only Robots is a standout success, and possibly UW Control, with the rest being all within 4% of one another. So, Jund isn’t outperforming the field, it is just narrowing it and that is where my gripe lies.

What can be done about Jund?

In short, I don’t know. I suggested removing [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] from the format, but as someone pointed out they will just use [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card] as a replacement. For me [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] is what makes my heart sink when it is cast against me. It’s always a two-for-one and can turn your “I’m doing fine” board state into “oh, I am so dead” as it cascades into a removal spell or another [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]. Another suggestion was that [card]Dark Confidant[/card] is the true problem, but I disagree. [card]Dark Confidant[/card] can be (and normally is) killed before it can net any card advantage. This is different to Bloodbraid which immediately nets advantage. You can’t “hate” on Bloodbraid whereas spot removal is a plenty for [card]Dark Confidant[/card].

Removing the power of Jund, if deemed necessary, is not easy. You want to avoid multiple bannings, and especially banning cards that other decks could make use of. But part of its strength is it has no lynchpin. It’s flexible and resilient. In many way it is a truly amazing deck. It is possible that rather than looking to remove something from Jund we simply need to reintroduce a card to the pool. I do wonder if this was the intended effect of unbanning [card valakut, the molten pinnacle]Valakut[/card], but that seems to have made very little impression in its first outing. Luckily I don’t have to work out the intricacy of the metagame for this and can leave it to the DCI.

I hope I illustrated the point I tried to make in 150 characters on Twitter, and maybe now others will see the problems I see with Modern as it currently stands. Modern, last time I played it, was a beautiful thing and I want it to return to that state and not become Jund vs. combo. If nothing else, this will hopefully prompt some in-depth discussion about Jund and may even spawn a sweet new deck to combat the menace (if you could ship me the list, that’d be great). Feel free to give me your opinion on Twitter @onionpixie, just remember to keep it polite, we are all entitled to our opinions and I’ll respect yours if you respect mine.

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