The new Modern ban list threatens to radically change the balance of the format. For a long time, blue decks were simply not good in Modern—they were too slow, too reactive, and if you wanted to play blue, you mostly had to rely on a combo finish like Splinter Twin for it to work. The new announcement removes one of the biggest threats blue decks had to face (Eye of Ugin) while simultaneously adding 2 cards that were historically excellent in blue decks. This means that blue goes from being the worst color in the format to potentially the best color.
It’s still too early to understand the full impact of the changes (no doubt right now there will be a lot more blue as people are experimenting with the new cards, but it should normalize soon), but that doesn’t mean you can’t try building decks with the new cards. In this article, I’ll talk about 4 decks with Visions and Sword that I’d want to try if I were playing a Modern tournament tomorrow.
Faeries benefits doubly from the Ancestral Vision unban. First of all, it gets to run Ancestral Vision itself, which is very good because Faeries doesn’t have many turn-1 plays (so there isn’t much cost to playing it), and it’s also a synergistic deck that often relies on card quantity to make plays. Secondly, it gets to play 4 Spellstutter Sprites, which is an excellent answer to Ancestral Visions.
Is it enough to bring Faeries back? Perhaps. The main problem with Faeries has always been that the synergy generated by your cards was not worth the power you were giving up. Spellstutter Sprite, for example, is a fantastic card when it works, but a weak card when it doesn’t work. Instead of Spellstutter Sprite, you can play Snapcaster Mage, which fills a similar role and is a fantastic card a much higher percentage of the time. Mistbind Clique is good, but sometimes it does nothing—instead you can play Restoration Angel, which has a slightly lower ceiling but a much higher floor.
Those problems still exist, but they’re mitigated a bit because some of your synergy cards got more powerful (Spellstutter Sprite doesn’t need any help to counter Visions) and because you’re drawing extra cards, which should make it more likely to find the synergy pieces you need (you’re now less likely to have Mistbind Clique and no Faerie).
Another problem is that the Thopter/Sword combo is very hard for Faeries to beat. I’d go as far as to say that if they resolve both pieces and have 3 or more lands in play, you just can’t win—there is nothing in your deck that lets you deal with either piece or trample over. You can set up some Cryptic Command alpha-attacks, but it’s unlikely you’ll kill them since they’ve been gaining life all this time.
I don’t have a good solution for this other than to discard/counter Foundry (Sword just comes back). You could play Engineered Explosives, but that kills your Bitterblossoms and Spellstutters.
You could play Sword of Body and Mind to get through the tokens consistently and mill them out, or you could play some sort of Relic of Progenitus effect, but none of this seems great to me. Other alternatives include sideboarding Pithing Needle or splashing another color, such as green for Abrupt Decay.
Right now I’m going to assume that the combo is going to be present but not overwhelmingly popular, and you’ll find ways to stop it from resolving—if everyone is playing it in great amounts, then I think the green splash might be your best alternative.
Another shell for Ancestral Visions is Grixis Control, where it’s especially good with Goblin Dark-Dwellers, which is a card that I’ve wanted to play already since it’s so much value. If you suspend Visions and then Dark-Dwellers it, you’re up 5 cards, which is insanely good considering the rest of your deck is a bunch of cheap answers. Even if you don’t have Visions, Dark-Dwellers can be a Shriekmaw or a discard spell and that’s already quite good.
The goal of a Grixis deck is to just trade answers for threats and eventually overwhelm your opponent with 2-for-1 effects like Snapcaster Mage and Kolaghan’s Command. Ancestral Visions and Goblin Dark Dweller make this “overwhelming” effect much easier to achieve since you now have yet another 2-for-1 (at least) and a 3-for-1. Having Goblin Dark-Dwellers in a deck with Kolaghan’s Command should also ensure that you win basically all late-games against fair decks, and Kolaghan’s Command is great versus Thopter/Sword decks.
Other options include a heavier Goblin Dark-Dwellers component and a Boom // Bust or 2 (you can use it with fetchlands early and then Armageddon later with Dark-Dweller). You can also play a heavier blue version with more counterspells such as Mana Leak and Cryptic, and less discard, or Tasigurs instead of Thing in the Ice.
Lantern suffers from some splash hate from Thopter/Sword being played in other decks, but it can also incorporate the Thopter/Sword combo itself. It’s particularly good in Lantern because you can just mill the Sword, and you have plenty of artifacts to sacrifice to Thopter Foundry—sometimes you just want to sacrifice your board and attack them 5 times. On top of that, you have Ancient Stirrings to find the Sword (but not the Foundry!) and Academy Ruins to bring the Foundry back if they deal with it.
With the combo, you now stand a higher chance of beating disruption as you can recover almost instantly if you’d ever hit a Sword before that point and then draw a Thopter Foundry. It also works well with Ensnaring Bridge because you’ll always draw a card on your turn, so the tokens will always be able to attack, and the tokens are good at blocking creatures that get through Bridge, such as Signal Pest and Noble Hierarch. In your best games, you’re not going to need Sword or Foundry to win, but they will help you win games you otherwise wouldn’t. Given that in your best games you can just mill those cards before you draw them, there’s not much harm in having a conditional combo like this—it will help you when you need help and it won’t hurt when you don’t need it.
There are 2 main concerns with Thopter Foundry that we have to address: the mana and the clunkiness. The mana right now doesn’t support playing early blue spells in most games, so it has to be changed a little bit, but that’s not a big deal—worst-case scenario, you just cut red. The clunkiness is a bigger problem because you run Ensnaring Bridge, so you have to make sure your hand is not filled with 2-mana cards that you can’t cast. To solve that, you have to cut some of the more expensive cards, like Infernal Tutor and Ghirapur Aether Grid. You can also cut Abrupt Decay and minimize the amount of green mana you have in the deck. This is what I’d try:
Thopter/Sword has historically been a good finisher for control decks, from the control-combo of Dark Depths to the slow UW Tezzeret. It’s not a combo that you need, but it’s a combo that helps you win a lot of games you would otherwise lose, as most decks just can’t beat 4 life and 4 tokens every turn. The combo gets worse in a deck like this because there aren’t many artifacts to sacrifice to Thopter Foundry if you don’t draw the Sword, but it also gets a bit better because artifact hate is not as effective—if they side in Stony Silence, for example, they don’t get to neuter your whole deck.
The fact that you’re playing Swords and Foundries also makes Thirst for Knowledge better, and Thirst for Knowledge is a very good card if you can afford it (particularly since discarding Sword of the Meek is free). I think Thirst is better in this deck than Ancestral Visions since you want the cards immediately and between Sword, Foundry, some random 1-ofs, and Visions, there are too many potentially dead draws in the late game.
I think there are 2 directions you can take: a dedicated combo deck with some control elements (4 Thopters/3 Swords), or a control deck that happens to have that combo in it. I’m partial to the second option myself. I would start with something like this, which is based off the UW deck I played at Worlds in Rome:
UW Thopter Control
It’s hard to build a deck like this without knowing what the format is going to look like, but this version has a lot of things that I like, particularly the Gifts package. Between Gifts, Trinket Mage and Tezzeret, you have access to any sort of bullet, and with 4 Thirst for Knowledges and 2 Thopter Foundries, you have no problem disposing of them if they are bad. I currently have a Nihil Spellbomb in there (since I want a third color for Explosives regardless), but if graveyard decks are popular you might want to go up to 2 Trinket Mages, play a Tolaria West, and replace the Spellbomb with Tormod’s Crypt. I also have a Chalice, which is good against Burn, Infect, and Ancestral Vision decks. You can also sideboard 1-ofs like Needle and you’ll have a high chance of finding them. Basically, you can customize this deck as much as you want for the metagame you’re expecting—this is just a sketch.
With this version, you can Gifts for anything if you have Ruins, or you can Gifts for Sword, Foundry, and 2 of Ruins/Muddle/Tezzeret and guarantee the combo if you have the time. Muddle is a card that I’ve played in a lot of different decks and no one seems to like, but I think it’s quite good when you have a combo that is two 2-casting cost pieces, so it can search for either one. With Snapcaster, you can also Gifts for a Wrath (though you might want to play a Day of Judgment to guarantee one immediately, but I don’t think you need it).
Another option is to dabble into green for Life from the Loam, which doesn’t seem bad either—maybe include a third Gifts at this point.
[Editor’s Note: The Grixis list has been updated to 60 cards.]