Modern is a complex format with a huge number of unusual interactions. Did you know, for instance, that Grafdigger’s Cage doesn’t work against Living End? Or that Arcbound Ravager’s modular trigger doesn’t happen under Rest in Peace? You wouldn’t be the first person to discover that these cards work in a different way than you expect. Even in high-level events, these errors happen all the time.
A couple of weeks ago, I described 10 Modern interactions that are useful to know. In the comment section and the corresponding Reddit thread, many of you added a vast number of additional corner cases and cool plays, along with requests for another installment.
So today I’m back with 10 more useful interactions and cool plays. Some simply didn’t make the previous list—others were based on the above-mentioned comment threads, and a few were inspired by interesting games at the Pro Tour. Let’s get to them!
10. Know Your State-Based Effects for Death’s Shadow and Tarmogoyf
Creatures that have been dealt lethal damage are destroyed as a state-based action. State-based actions only happen whenever a player would get priority—not during the resolution of a spell or ability.
This means that if your opponent controls a 3/3 Death’s Shadow and you target it with a fully-powered Searing Blaze, then the end result is a 6/6 Death’s Shadow with 3 damage marked on it. You may wish to reconsider.
In a similar vein, if your opponent attacks with a 4/4 Death’s Shadow and a Gurmag Angler and you cast Blessed Alliance, then even if you force them to gain 4 life and sacrifice a creature, they can sacrifice a 0/0 Death’s Shadow. Indeed, even though power/toughness updates are instantaneous, creatures don’t actually die due to lethal damage or 0 toughness until a spell has finished resolving.
Death’s Shadow also interacts with combat damage in a way that can be counter-intuitive for new players. Just be aware that if you attack with two Snapcaster Mages and they block with a 2/2 Death’s Shadow, then Death’s Shadow will become a 4/4 (with 2 damage marked on it) and survive as a result.
Finally, if you attack with a Reality Smasher and they block with their 2/2 Death’s Shadow, then don’t assign 3 trample damage to them! If you do that, then their Death’s Shadow will survive as a 5/5 with 2 damage marked on it. Instead, assign 4 damage to Death’s Shadow and 1 damage to your opponent—this way, Death’s Shadow will die.
Against Tarmogoyf, you don’t have to worry about life total updates during combat damage. But you do have to keep in mind that spells are put into the graveyard before state-based effects are checked. So if graveyards only contain creatures and lands, then don’t Lightning Bolt their 2/3 Tarmogoyf! It will survive as a 3/4 with 3 damage marked on it.
Then again, if you were planning to delve away that Lightning Bolt to pay for Gurmag Angler or to flash back the burn spell with Snapcaster Mage, then by all means Bolt that Tarmogoyf and have the last laugh.
9. Bounce Bedlam Reveler in Response to its Trigger
When playing against Mardu Pyromancer, it is often best to counter or discard Bedlam Reveler. But another way to disrupt them is by bouncing their card advantage creature in response to its own enters-the-battlefield trigger. They’ll still get to draw 3 cards, but they’ll have to discard their hand in the process, which at that point will contain Bedlam Reveler.
The most common way to bounce Bedlam Reveler in response to its trigger is by flashing Reflector Mage in play with Aether Vial or Cryptic Command. Two other instant-speed bounce spells in Modern are Vapor Snag and Echoing Truth.
8. Target Your Opponent with Ancestral Vision
This is particularly useful against Ensnaring Bridge. By filling up their hand, you may just liberate your creatures from being ensnared. Suddenly, you might attack for the win.
And in control mirrors, targeting your opponent may allow you to win the decking war. Control decks often have more answers than threats, which sometimes means that neither player can win by dealing 20 damage. In such cases, you’ll often see players count their libraries as they get to the late game, and targeting them with Ancestral Vision is a solid path to victory.
7. Kill Celestial Colonnade in Time
If you plan to kill an attacking Celestial Colonnade, then you should do so at the beginning of your opponent’s combat. This way, if they want to Mana Leak your Path to Exile, they may have to tap their Colonnade, saving you 4 points of damage.
Also, if they have access to Condemn, then playing your removal spell in the beginning of combat step denies them the opportunity to Condemn their own creature in response.
6. Remember That You Can’t Respond to Mana Abilities
A mana ability is an activated or triggered ability that creates mana and that doesn’t have a target. (There are some exceptions, like loyalty abilities and triggered abilities that don’t trigger off of mana creation.) Mana abilities don’t use the stack, they dodge Pithing Needle, and they resolve immediately.
So if your opponent controls a 1/1 Death’s Shadow, then they can not respond to your Grove of the Burnwillows by sacrificing Polluted Delta. Given that Grzegorz Kowalski’s winning R/G Eldrazi from Grand Prix Lyon contains 4 copies of the land, this is a relevant interaction to keep in mind.
Chromatic Sphere is a nightmare for Lantern Control. Since the card draw is part of the mana ability, the Lantern player cannot activate Codex Shredder in response, making it difficult to deny cards to the Tron player. If you’re the Tron player, then you should save your Chromatic Spheres and only sacrifice them when Lantern of Insight shows you have a key card on top.
5. Target Yourself with Lightning Bolt or Your Own Creature with Fatal Push
Although you don’t put Lightning Bolt in your deck with the goal of targeting yourself, it can still sometimes be the correct play.
Another possibility arises when your opponent controls Witchbane Orb or Leyline of the Void. If you want to boost Monastery Swiftspear or trigger Young Pyromancer when there are no other creatures in play, then Bolting yourself is sometimes the only reasonable way to go.
If your opponent doesn’t control any creatures, then Fatal Pushing your own creature can be beneficial. For instance, Pushing your own Bedlam Reveler. Since Fatal Push reads “destroy target creature if it has a certain converted mana cost,” every creature is a legal target, including Bedlam Reveler. When Fatal Push resolves, it doesn’t do anything because the converted mana cost is too high. But you still got to trigger prowess, turning Fatal Push into an unusual way of getting +1/+1.
Another possibility is to Fatal Push your own Tarmogoyf. This could grow another Tarmogoyf by as much as +2/+2, which can make all the difference in certain combat situations. It’s also a useful line in response to an opposing Big Game Hunter. Since its enters-the-battlefield ability is mandatory, you might force your opponent to kill their own Gurmag Angler.
4. Be Smart in Timing Your Shuffle Effects Against Goblin Guide
Suppose your opponent attacks you with a Goblin Guide while you have Flooded Strand in play. One way or another, you are planning to sacrifice it for a tapped Steam Vents. But should you crack it before or after the Goblin Guide trigger?
Well, it depends.
If you need spells, then you should crack before the Goblin Guide trigger resolves. If you need lands, then you should wait until end of turn.
To understand why, imagine an infinitely large deck with 60% spells. If you would shuffle at the end of your opponent’s turn, then on your next turn you will draw a spell with probability 60%. But if you shuffled before the Goblin Guide trigger, then you may still draw a spell even if the top of your deck was a land after the shuffle. Seeing a land followed by a spell happens with probability 24%, so by shuffling before, you increase your probability of drawing a spell from 60% to 84%. This change is much more impactful than any deck thinning considerations.
If you want to maximize your probability of hitting your next land drop, then things are different. If you shuffle first, then you will see a land on top with probability 40%, with no way to control your next draw. If you shuffle after, then you may turn the top of your deck from a spell into a land. Indeed, your probability of hitting a land would move from 40% to 64%.
So remember: If you need a land, don’t crack that Flooded Strand. At least, not right away.
You can also apply this knowledge as a Burn player yourself, since you can sometimes force a shuffle with Path to Exile. If your opponent already has Tron and you want to reduce the probability of them drawing Wurmcoil Engine or another big card on the next turn, then you should attack with Goblin Guide first and Path their Wurmcoil after the trigger has resolved—not the other way round.
3. Go Under Ensnaring Bridge
Ensnaring Bridge is a key lock piece in the Lantern deck that won Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, and it can be tough to beat. But some tricks are useful.
If your opponent’s hand is not fully empty yet, then you may be able to sneak in for some damage by shrinking your own creatures with Liliana, the Last Hope, Collective Brutality, and sometimes even Dismember. For instance, if your opponent has one card in hand and sits at 1 life while you control Liliana, the Last Hope and Bloodbraid Elf, shrinking your own creature becomes a game-winning play.
Once your opponent gets down to 0 cards in hand, things get more difficult. But 0-power creatures can still attack. Two notable ones are Noble Hierarch and Signal Pest. For Noble Hierarch, the exalted trigger happens after attackers are declared, so you can get in for 1 damage even under Ensnaring Bridge. Two Signal Pest also attack for 2 damage… or more, if you boost them with Cranial Plating or Arcbound Ravager mid-combat.
Finally, one of the best threats against Ensnaring Bridge is Doran, the Siege Tower. The game sees it as having 0 power, so Ensnaring Bridge won’t stop it, but it will still connect for 5 damage. Eliott Boussaud recently finished in the Top 32 of Grand Prix Lyon with Doran, and he told me that its potency against Ensnaring Bridge was one of the reasons for its inclusion.
2. Use the Best Bounce Modes Against a Planeswalker
One of my favorite ways to play Cryptic Command is to counter a spell and bounce a planeswalker that hasn’t been activated yet. For example, you could counter Wurmcoil Engine and bounce Karn Liberated. Reversing the perspective, when you’re playing against a blue deck, then it may be better to use your sorcery-speed activated abilities before casting new spells.
Against Liliana of the Veil specifically, Cryptic Command has a few interesting modes. First of all, if the Liliana player has an empty hand, then you can bounce Liliana in response to her +1 activation and she’ll be gone for good. This means that if you’re the Liliana player and your opponent has Cryptic Command mana up, you’re sometimes better off not playing a land to empty your hand.
Going back to the Cryptic Command player, if the instant is the only card in your hand when your opponent activates Liliana’s discard ability, then a nice play is to bounce one of your own lands and draw a card. You can then discard the land to Liliana and hopefully pick up a useful card for free. Who knows, it might be a Jace!
Speaking of Jace …
So you've ticked Jace up to 12 and pass the turn with Cryptic, Logic Knot, and Snapcaster up. Your opponent only has one card in hand. What's the worst that could happen? pic.twitter.com/K63PedGpN4
— Frank Karsten (@karsten_frank) February 15, 2018
1. Remember That Cascade Happens Before Bloodbraid Elf Resolves
I naturally had to end this article with one of the two recently unbanned cards. Cascade is a mechanic that we haven’t seen much in Modern lately, apart from the stray Living End, so it’s worth revisiting a number of common interactions.
First, the spell resolves before Bloodbraid Elf. This has various implications, which I’ll explain from the perspective of someone playing against Bloodbraid Elf while holding only one card in hand: a Lightning Bolt. If the cascade trigger hits Inquisition of Kozilek, you will not be able to Lightning Bolt their Bloodbraid Elf in response. You can respond to the Inquisition by Bolting your opponent, but you cannot target a creature that is still on the stack.
But if cascade yields Liliana of the Veil, then you can use Lightning Bolt before your opponent has a chance to use her +1. After all, planeswalkers can only be activated at sorcery speed, which means that they can’t be activated while Bloodbraid Elf is still on the stack. Meanwhile, you can play instants after Liliana has entered the battlefield but before Bloodbraid Elf resolves.
Beyond these stack tricks, I’d like to point out four other things regarding cascade. First, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben still demands the tax. If you can’t pay it, then you can’t cast the cascaded spell. Second, if you cascade into an X-spell, then X will be zero. So avoid putting Chord of Calling or Walking Ballista in your Bloodbraid Elf deck. Third, Ethersworn Canonist and Eidolon of Rhetoric stop the cascaded spell from being cast (assuming it’s a non-artifact spell in case of Canonist), turning Bloodbraid Elf into an unimpressive Vulshok Berserker. Finally, you can cascade into Collective Brutality and pay the escalate cost to get, for instance, both the discard and drain effects.
Bloodbraid Elf may lead to a resurgence of Jund decks, so I’ll conclude by pointing out two tricks with typical Jund cards. First, Kolaghan’s Command is particularly filthy in response to an Aether Vial activation, a Through the Breach, or during your opponent’s draw step. If you catch them with a single powerful card in hand, then the discard effect can be hugely impactful. Second, you can double activate Raging Ravine to get two +1/+1 counters upon attacking. This is super sweet in the late game.
That wraps up my list of Modern tips and tricks. What’s your favorite interaction that wasn’t included in this article? Share your insights in the comment section below!