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Owen’s a Win – A Starting Point for the New Modern

[card]Wild Nacatl[/card] is banned.

[card]Punishing Fire[/card] is banned.

Well then. If that isn’t enough news to completely turn a format on its head then I don’t know what is! Personally, I am sad to see [card]Wild Nacatl[/card] go, since he was the old trusty standby. Whenever you were unsure what to play or didn’t break a format you could always play [card]Wild Nacatl[/card] and it was basically always a solid choice. It meant you were playing a deck that was proven to be powerful, it meant you were doing something proactive and consistent, and it meant you were playing a bunch of colors so you always had really sick sideboard options as long as you had even a decent read on the expected field.

I’m sure all of you are wondering “hey Owen, do you believe Wild Nacatl was overpowered and deserved to be banned?” My short answer is no, but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand why they banned it. If you read Erik Lauers statement regarding the bannings here, his entire justification for [card]Wild Nacatl[/card]’s banning, in my opinion, can be summed up with what he says at the end: “This creature is so efficient that it is keeping too many other creature decks from being competitive. So, in the interest of diversity, the DCI is banning Wild [card]Nacatl[/card]”. I sincerely agree with that statement. Many times in our playtesting for Worlds, Conley would brew up decks and the only constructive criticism I could give was “is this really better than Zoo?” You lose [card]Wild Nacatl[/card], which is basically the stones and you gain so little. I appreciate that he was trying to make different decks work and experimenting but the fact of the matter is when you play an aggressive strategy in Modern if you aren’t starting with 4 Wild Nacatl you are flat out making a mistake. Not anymore.

I can only assume that [card]Punishing Fire[/card] was banned for many of the same reasons. Thinking back to our playtesting for PT Amsterdam where [card]Punishing Fire[/card] was at its peak popularity, many of our deckbuilding decisions were heavily influenced by [card]Punishing Fire[/card], like going all-in on [card]Treefolk Harbinger[/card] and chosing to play something as weak as [card]Loam Lion[/card] over something as powerful as [card]Noble Hierarch[/card]. This banning seems to be for the same reason: they hope that getting rid of Punishing Fire and Wild Nacatl will open the door for different and interesting aggressive strategies to be played. I don’t fully understand it but im not sad to see Punishing Fire go since it’s a card I never played and was never oppressive to any decks I played.

The State of Zoo

I believe that while Zoo was hurt by this the most it will still be one of the better decks in the format, and if people decide to start going overboard trying to make Merfolk/Elves work, Zoo will still dominate those decks. [card]Kird Ape[/card] and [card]Loam Lion[/card] are still bigger than [card]Lord of Atlantis[/card] and [card]Imperious Perfect[/card] and Zoo still has access to [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], [card]Path to Exile[/card], [card]Lightning Helix[/card], and [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card]. Also, [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] is still the best card in the world. If I were to join a Modern tournament tomorrow I would probably run something close to this:

[deck]4 Kird Ape
4 Loam Lion
4 Steppe Lynx
4 Path to Exile
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Spell Pierce
4 Tribal Flames
3 Lightning Helix
4 Tarmogoyf
3 Snapcaster Mage
3 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Arid Mesa
1 Marsh Flats
1 Forest
1 Plains
1 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
1 Steam Vents
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Blood Crypt[/deck]

This is very similar to the decklist [card civilized scholar]LSV[/card], [card little girl]Paulo[/card], [card umara raptor]Wrapter[/card], and I played at Worlds. If you were updating it for a Zoo-heavy metagame the first thing I would do is cut the 2 [card]Spell Pierce[/card] for a [card]Lightning Helix[/card] and a [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card]. As I said in the opening, this deck has amazing sideboard options, so whatever you expect there is sure to be a nice effective cheap card in the wide open Modern format to answer it, and with all the colors in the rainbow you can accommodate just about anything. If you want more protection against Zoo you can run [card]Kitchen Finks[/card], [card]Deathmark[/card], and [card]Ranger of Eos[/card] (my personal favorite). The best anti Combo cards are [card]Spell Pierce[/card], [card]Negate[/card], and [card]Mindbreak Trap[/card] unless that combo happens to be [card]Splinter Twin[/card] in which case you may want to run [card]Combust[/card] or [card]Torpor Orb[/card]. For Affinity you can run the old standby of [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] or get really frisky with [card]Stony Silence[/card].

With the new bannings my expected modern metagame would be something like:

Fast Zoo (Tribal Flames)
Big Zoo (Noble Hierarch)
Splinter Twin
Past in Flames storm-combo
Affinity
Jund
Mystical Teachings

Of the decks listed I believe Jund should be the most surprising. It was on everyone’s radar before but it was never really considered tier 1 and personally I would not have wanted to play Jund against any of the other decks on this list without some fine tuning. That should change now; before, I think traditionally Zoo was a favorite against Jund though the matchup was very close. Now I can’t imagine the matchup is ever worse than 50/50 and if anything, Jund should be a favorite. With that said it would not be hard to make a Jund deck that has decent game against Zoo and can compete with combo. You have access to Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek on top of a serviceable clock.

[deck]4 Bloodbraid Elf
4 Dark Confidant
3 Kitchen Finks
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Punishing Fire
2 Terminate
4 Liliana of the Veil
2 Blightning
3 Inquisition of Kozilek
1 Forest
2 Swamp
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
1 Blood Crypt
1 Graven Cairns
4 Grove of the Burnwillows
2 Overgrown Tomb
1 Stomping Ground
3 Treetop Village
3 Twilight Mire
4 Verdant Catacombs[/deck]

This is the list Reid Dukes MOCS winning Jund list. In interviews he admitted this was heavily metagamed against Zoo as that’s what he expected his final opponent to play. Still, even that combined with the fact that [card]Punishing Fire[/card] is gone doesn’t make the decklist useless. For me, if I was looking for cards to replace the Punishing Fires I would probably go with a couple [card]Maelstrom Pulse[/card]s, a [card]Terminate[/card], and a [card]Blightning[/card]. As the format evolves and changes in the PTQs and Magic Online it will be easier and more clear what type of cards you want to fill out your Jund deck, but for now I think a solid anti-Zoo list is perfect, since even the loss of Nacatl won’t keep the best deck available down. Plus, if people attempt to branch out and play stuff like Merfolk, then great, those types of decks traditionally get torn to shreds by Jund. All of these aggro matchups are so favorable and that’s not even counting [card]Bituminous Blast[/card], which is always an option. For his anti-combo sideboard Reid chose to run some [card]Thoughtseize[/card]s and [card]Thorn of Amethyst[/card] which I like. Thorn’s investment is pretty low and does almost exactly what you want it to do, though I would probably run a mix of 2 Thorn 1 [card]Mindbreak Trap[/card] just to keep them guessing.

It’s often overlooked in decklists but you can get a ton of value from playing various different hate cards as opposed to just slamming a 4-4-4-3 sideboard. Take for example, the Zoo list we ran at Worlds, which had 2 [card]Combust[/card] and 1 [card]Torpor Orb[/card]. You would think to yourself that one surely has to be better than the other, so why not just run 3-0? The answer is that because both are very similar in their effectiveness against Splinter Twin, playing different threats demands different answers and when your opponent has to side in [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] against Zoo because he just lost to a [card]Torpor Orb[/card] and then you draw [card]Combust[/card] in game 3 you basically owned them. So if you played a Jund sideboard with 4 [card]Thorn of Amethyst[/card], any [card]Past in Flames[/card] decks could sideboard 4 [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] in against you and make you look pretty silly, but with the setup he currently has, a mix of [card]Thorn of Amethyst[/card], [card]Thoughtseize[/card], [card inquisition of kozilek]Inquisition[/card], [card]Blightning[/card], and even [card]Mindbreak Trap[/card], he could really give the combo player fits.

Lastly, let’s look at Splinter Twin and how it is affected by the bannings.

[deck]4 Deceiver Exarch
2 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
3 Pestermite
3 Spellskite
2 Dispel
2 Gitaxian Probe
1 Pact of Negation
4 Punishing Fire
4 Remand
4 Sleight of Hand
4 Splinter Twin
3 Thirst for Knowledge
1 Breeding Pool
4 Cascade Bluffs
4 Grove of the Burnwillows
4 Island
3 Misty Rainforest
1 Mountain
4 Scalding Tarn
3 Steam Vents[/deck]

This is Makihito Mihara’s winning decklist from the team portion of worlds. It had 4 copies of [card]Punishing Fire[/card] but by no means do I believe that they are necessary for Splinter Twin moving forward; the PT-winning list from Philadelphia played zero. For this particular build losing Punishing Fire might hurt because they were probably really strong against aggressive strategies and helped fuel the [card]Thirst for Knowledge[/card]s.

To play this deck you should probably cut the Fires for 3 or 4 [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]s and also cut the 3 [card]Thirst for Knowledge[/card] for 3 [card]Shrine of Piercing Vision[/card]. Testing for Worlds, the Splinter Twin deck we had in our gauntlet had a couple copies of Shrine and it was surprisingly effective. Since [card]Ponder[/card] and [card]Preordain[/card] were so reliable at getting your combo pieces and [card]Sleight of Hand[/card] and [card]Serum Visions[/card] are so underwhelming at that it doesn’t surprise me that Mihara chose to look elsewhere for deck manipulation. [card]Thirst for Knowledge[/card] is not a card traditionally played in Splinter Twin but like I said, desperate times call for desperate measures.

If I was expecting more Jund and Zoo than normal I would certainly be prepared to have the full amount of [card]Dispel[/card] maindeck and try to sideboard in some more [card]Pact of Negation[/card]s. Another interesting idea I saw when researching the lists from Worlds came from Brian Eleyet, where he opted to run 4 [card]Village Bell-Ringer[/card] and 4 [card]Deceiver Exarch[/card] in his list. This seems pretty smart to me since it totally sidesteps [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] and the cost of splashing white is pretty low, you just run 1 [card]Hallowed Fountain[/card] and 1 [card]Sacred Foundry[/card] with 4 [card]Arid Mesa[/card] and 4 [card]Scalding Tarn[/card]. Most Lists run 2 or 3 [card]Pestermite[/card] because they want more of their combo pieces but also realize that he is quite weak on his own and it is much less reliable to try and combo off with him as opposed to the Exarch. Adding Bell-Ringer also means that after sideboard when your opponent has even more spot removal than normal you can play an attrition games and let your first couple 1/4’s just die and still have plenty of ways left to win the game, which is not something Splinter Twin can normally do well.

In summary, these new bans certainly shake things up and although I am sad to see [card]Wild Nacatl[/card] go, I have to admit that it really opens up the floodgates for all sorts of new decks to be viable. I could now reasonably expect to face a Doran or Merfolk or Elves or whatever else people might be able to think up. Moving forward I still highly recommend Zoo and believe it is a solid choice. Jund and Teachings also seem like totally reasonable options since they can be tweaked accordingly against Zoo and combo and neither deck has any auto-lose matchups really. Seeing all the new cool decks almost makes me sad that I can’t play in any PTQs this season.

Discussion

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