When a new set releases, it’s like an infinite puzzle. There are not infinite pieces—only about 250 of them—however, each piece can be used in different combinations with other pieces, much like there are 10,000 possible combinations of numbers of a 4-digit pin to your bank account with 10 different numbers to choose from. Magic has a 60-digit code—the number of the cards in your deck—with 15,000 different numbers to choose from, ever increasing. Perhaps there aren’t exactly infinite possibilities… but it’s pretty close!
I love solving puzzles, and building decks is one of the puzzles I like the most. Different people compare the new cards with different cards, because they are in invested in Magic for different reasons. Some will find the synergy between a new card and maybe a card in Vintage, another spiky person may find it in Standard, or Frontier, or Modern, or Commander, or whatever format. Personally, I like deck building enough to go all over the place, even formats I rarely get to play or ones that don’t help me prepare to win the Pro Tour. But reinventing cards over and over again is what keeps it fresh for me, and finding something special is extraordinary.
Most findings come from experience and knowledge of the game to know how a card might play out in a match. But understanding that takes context—context of a format and a metagame. You need to know how the early turns play out it in a format, and what’s important at different points of the game, both early and late.
Before Felidar Guardian was banned in Standard, it was a huge liability to tap out for a sorcery-speed card that cost 4 or more that didn’t win the game quickly. That means that you couldn’t just tap out for a Ishkanah, Grafwidow and similar haymakers because you might just lose on the spot. The pace of that format was too constraining, so Felidar Guardian was eventually banned. Once you know the pace of the metagame and how it interacts, it’s easier to see what you need and what you are looking for. Truly innovative brewing may even create a new metagame with its own pace, forcing everyone else to walk along to your own tempo.
Another way to use your experience is to remember old ways of constructing decks, brought back to life by new cards. Sometimes they bring back flashback in Call of the Herd, but Call of the Herd might not be the $30 rare it once was because because the environment has changed. But remembering that flashback works well with effects that fill your graveyard makes the card better. A good example of building from experience is Frank Karsten’s article about New Perspectives and its combo potential. With Fluctuator in his range of experience, he was quickly able to recognize its potential and how to build that particular deck.
I recognized that Vizier of Remedies has potential because I’ve played a lot of Abzan Melira decks, and therefore I also knew how I would build the deck, knowing its weaknesses and strengths with how the format has changed—Lightning Bolt now being played less than Fatal Push, for example. Similar to that, I thought about the new cycling cards and realized that there’s another old puzzle that might want some new pieces: Living End!
And oh, have we got some goodies:
With so many new cyclers to choose from, this is what I ended up with. At some point I thought about adding blue to play River Serpent and Curator of Mysteries, but I chose not to because sometimes your match will be very fast, and you won’t have a lot of cards in your graveyard after you cast Living End, and Curator of Mysteries dies to Fatal Push. Also, the mana would make you take more damage as well as being worse overall.Archfiend of IfnirViscera SeerArcbound RavagerStreet Wraith, Signal PestsInkmoth NexusesNoble HierarchViscera SeersVault SkirgesKitchen FinksJungle Weaver Archfiend of IfnirHorror of the Broken LandsLiving End, and iDesert CerodonMonstrous CarabidHorror of the Broken Lands
All right, so with the new cards being good and all, why aren’t there any Shriekmaws, Simian Spirit Guides, Avalanche Riders, or more Beast Withins in the main deck? Modern has changed. With Death’s Shadow Jund at the top and Abzan and Jund close behind, Modern revolves around discard spells. What’s good against discard spells? Redundancy, and lots of it.
If your opponent plays a turn-1 Thoughtseize seeing 3 cyclers, 2 lands, and 2 cascade spells, what do they take? Regardless of what they take, there will be a backup of the same version of that card. Say that you only have 1 cascade spell, which they take. With you jamming a bunch more cyclers in your deck instead of playing the flex cards I mentioned, you will cycle through your deck and at some point, because of the number of cyclers in your deck, find another cascade spell. It’s similar to how Death’s Shadow gets away with only 8 threats and 4 Traverse the Ulvenwald—they cycle and optimize their draw so much that they get to draw those cards much more often than they normally would.
With that being said, I moved a lot of those cards to the sideboard, the most important one being Simian Spirit Guide. In some matchups, especially non-interactive ones, it can be really hard to control your opponent since you can’t include cards that cost less than 3, and your game plan is just slower. Being able to Fulminator Mage one turn earlier to then play another, or return it with Living End the next turn, is huge for buying time against those decks.
Another sideboard card you rarely see in the sideboard of Living End is Leyline of Sanctity, for two reasons. First, Living End can’t cast it, and second, the deck usually has a good matchup versus decks with discard spells. The difference now is that Death’s Shadow is a completely different animal, and because of its existence, you see a lot of more Nihil Spellbombs—which is actually included in the same decks that pack all that discard, meaning Leyline of Sanctity will render both of these threats worthless! Playing Leylines in your sideboard has another problem because it takes up so much sideboard space, but it’s less of a problem here because Burn isn’t a good matchup, against which you’d want Brindle Boar, but at least Leyline of Sanctity can pull double-duty.
Blood Moon is pretty self-explanatory, here for the rise of Tron, whether they be Eldrazi, G/R, or W/G. Important to note is that I wouldn’t bring it in against Death’s Shadow. It’s certainly good in the matchup, but with Leyline of Sanctity coming in, diluting your game plan becomes a real problem.
Faerie Macabre is there for graveyard strategies such as Dredge or Goryo’s Vengeance, of course. But it’s also here for decks that can get creatures in the graveyard in response to Living End such as Vizier Abzan and Affinity. After your opponent has sacrificed their creatures in response, use Macabre before Living End resolves, removing two of their threats and then returning Faerie Macabre. Because of its multiple uses, I included 2 in the main deck, also giving me more space in the sideboard.
Last but not least, Shriekmaw and Dismember are mostly here for decks that run Scavenging Ooze. Leyline of Sanctity doesn’t help with this fella, so you need to bring some extra answers to that. It also gives you some leeway if someone shows up with Infect, or on the draw against a creature-based deck that is as fast as you are.
Once more, it seems like R&D succeeded in creating a set that makes a splash across several formats. Who knows? Maybe we’ll find even more cards to impact older formats!