After Pro Tour Born of the Gods, many people had questions for me. Most of them were centered around my role on a new team, which makes sense of course. But some people looked at my choice of deck for the Pro Tour and felt that meant I had failed at my stated goal. At the Pro Tour, I was looking for the ability and support to brew. And yet, if you look at what I ended up playing, I came back with the rather unexciting answer of Melira Pod. So what happened?
There was brewing—plenty of it in fact. If you managed to catch my stream a few weekends ago, you were able to see me battle all kinds of random decks that were birthed during Born of the Gods testing. I simply didn’t pull the trigger on any of those decks—and that is something I am proud of.
Brewing does not inherently mean playing a deck at the tournament you are brewing for. Brewing is an exploration of possibilities, not a commitment to any particular one. Four years ago, you certainly would have seen me play a pure brew at Pro Tour Born of the Gods. Back then, I could not justify doing all of that deckbuilding and brewing if I didn’t end up registering one of them for the tournament. These days, I understand that attitude is more of a burden than anything else.
I would have loved to play a brew at the Pro Tour, but it is important to take a step back and not force anything that isn’t ready. That is actually one of the huge benefits of working with a team. You get to have your work peer reviewed so that yours is not the only opinion fueling your progress. Other people, regardless of how good at deckbuilding they are, bring different perspectives to the table.
That leads us to today’s brew. The original concept was a prison deck not too different from some of the lists that you might have seen on various forums, or piloted by Travis Woo. White has the best sideboard cards in Modern due to how badly they shut down specific decks. If you could create a list that plays these powerful effects in the main deck without stumbling over itself every game, that would theoretically be pretty sweet.
I began my search by looking for the available lock pieces. It turns out that there are a ton. Cards like Stony Silence and Rest in Peace might be the most powerful of these, but plenty of other lock-out effects, such as Suppression Field, Runed Halo, and Ghostly Prison, all cover more of your bases.
One of the problems with prison in Modern, however, is that unless you establish a true hard lock, which none of these options do on their own, eventually the opponent is going to break through the cell bars and seek their revenge. Oh, and you have given them a lot of time to do nothing but plot against you, so the backlash is often swift and harsh. Combo players use their new freedom to flat out kill you, for example.
This stems, in large part, from the closing speed of the deck and what it is capable of in the meantime. A mono-white prison deck like the one that Travis Woo showcased doesn’t win until it gets Sigil of the Empty Throne online and then plays enough enchantments, or attacks enough times, to win with 4/4 Angels. If your lock was strong enough, that isn’t a problem, but it is very difficult to establish a hard lock by assembling enchantments through just drawing and casting them.
Let’s say I am playing against Storm. In play I have a Leyline of Sanctity and an Aura of Silence out. Technically, I am protected from their Grapeshot and can shut down Pyromancer Ascension, if it even managed to hit play. But, in this world they can still win with a bunch of Empty the Warrens tokens.
So, to solve for this, I add another lock piece to the mix in Ensnaring Bridge—say our hand is empty. That seems like a reasonable lock against them until you begin to factor in ways in which they can interact. Let’s say they brought in a card like Echoing Truth. Simply by bouncing your Leyline of Sanctity, they open the door for Grapeshot to kill you and put a card into your hand to allow the Goblins to rumble.
We have not truly locked anyone out of the game. Perhaps we have locked them out enough to give us a window to win the game, but if we can’t take advantage of that window, what are we accomplishing?
So again, to summarize: We want to generate an infinitely open window by locking the opponent out altogether, or we need to execute a game plan that wins while the window is open for a finite amount of time.
I went with this second option initially because it seemed like the more reasonable choice in a format as powerful as Modern. Before the Pro Tour, I took the mono-white prison idea and added a combo finish that I thought would work well within the same framework. That idea ended up looking something like this:
The idea here was simple. We would slow down the game enough to assemble a 2-card combo that would instantly win the game. In one way, it is almost like we replaced all of our tutors and cantrips that would dig for our combo into ways to prevent our opponent from enacting their game plan. Both methods have a central goal of getting to the opponent to do as few relevant things as possible before winning. Even though a combo within a prison shell might look odd, it is just another way to put the pieces together.
The problem, however, was that it did not do its jobs well enough. The lock pieces were often good enough to buy you 3-4 turns against aggressive decks and left you with a crapshoot against combo. Some games you could draw all the best anti-combo cards and just crush them, while the next had you drawing Suppression Fields and Ghostly Prisons until you lost. All of that could have been worked around if the combo were more robust, but the fact is that drawing a two-card combo when there are only 4 of each and you don’t have much filtering is still pretty tough. Ensuring you didn’t get blown out by Abrupt Decay was even tougher.
I messed with the list quite a bit after that. Some number of Angel’s Grace were added as well as Brainspoil to tutor for your Ad Nauseam. We were trying to improve the closing speed of the deck and to help eliminate the games in which the deck just did nothing. Ultimately, before the Pro Tour arrived, I was not able to figure out a configuration that made any of that work, so I let it be.
After the Pro Tour ended, however, I was back on the hunt to try to figure out a way to get this deck to do something. The engine, the end game, and the way you get there needed to be more closely related and the two halves of the deck needed to flow together better than they did. This line of thinking led me to Enduring Ideal. Despite Ideal basically being on nobody’s radar, it has shown that it is a powerful card in the past, even being a tier 1 Extended deck on multiple occasions.
With Ideal in the deck, you could get away with all of those low-end enchantments as they would just aid the eventual lock. Ideal actually gave us a way to hard lock out the opponent altogether. Some of the various lines from the past included:
1) Fetch Solitary Confinement, keeping you alive for the rest of the lock.
2) Fetch a Dovescape to prevent any spells from getting in the way.
3) Fetch a Honden of Seeing Winds to keep paying for the upkeep on Solitary Confinement.
4) Fetch a Form of the Dragon to establish a win condition.
The order on those particular enchantments was often quite different. Against control, you likely wanted to Dovescape immediately for example. And in obscure situations or weird board states, other enchantments were available for the lock. Sterling Grove was used as a way to protect your enchantments further should the opponent have access to something along the lines of Qasali Pridemage, for example.
Well, it turns out that the infrastructure for a new Enduring Ideal list exists in Modern. Originally, I just tried to port over the Enduring Ideal package into the prison deck that was featuring Ad Nauseam. I also added some Nykthos just to make sure we had some degenerate way to power out an Enduring Ideal on turn 4 or 5. Still, the deck had the same problems it did before. While assembling a 2-card combo was no longer an issue, getting to 7 mana in a timely fashion without Nykthos was. The deck just needed something else.
That something came in the form of a sweet three-colored legend. I had looked at Zur, the Enchanter briefly before the Pro Tour, but concluded that it was just too much work to go in on that type of card. Luckily, I forgot that I thought that at one point, because this is what it led to:
It can be difficult to figure out exactly what this deck has going on in list form, so here is a Magic Online screenshot of the deck as well.
With Zur now making his way into the list, we have multiple engines that are all complementary of one another. The Enduring Ideal shell leads to some inconsistent draws naturally, due to cards that are actually uncastable in your deck, but overall, the card flow and consistency of this list has far surpassed the prison/combo decks I was messing with prior.
There are too many individual cards to discuss, but fortunately we have already gone over many of them. Most of the obscure cards in the list are intended to be tutored up by either Zur or Enduring Ideal, but being able to cast things is certainly a bonus.
Blood Moon – Clearly not a card you should be grabbing unless you have Ideal going, or it wins the game off of Zur, but it is powerful enough to present those situations sometimes. In very obscure board states, you can grab this with Zur in order to cast Form of the Dragon.
Greater Auramancy – This was Privileged Position for awhile but the ability to be tutored up by Zur and hard cast has to make up for an opponent’s ability to hit our lands or unenchanted Zur. That said, if Zur literally never grabs this, we can consider making the switch back.
Phyrexian Unlife – Even without Ad Nauseam in the deck, this still has a lot of utility. First of all, just having a gain 10 life card in the deck is nice. Additionally, this works with Phyrexian Arena so that you never die but always gets cards, which is nifty. A similar interaction works with Form of the Dragon and makes it very difficult to be killed, even while paying for a Zur’s Weirding every turn.
Steel of the Godhead – This allows Zur to go aggro and can also be put on to Chromanticore in post-board games to ensure it gets past all the Doves your opponent might have. Making sure Zur can attack multiple times is nice and the life gain can be crucial at keeping you alive against aggro.
Zur’s Weirding – An additional lock piece against control and combo. Remember that occasionally you draw your lock pieces (like Dovescape) and although we have a workaround for that, having additional similar effects that can be used in unique ways as well is really nice. Works very well with Form of the Dragon. Keep in mind that this is symmetrical, so it needs to be set up rather than just run out into play.
Sphere of Safety – This basically just stops all opposing guys from attacking you. They cannot reasonably pay 7 mana per attacking guy and even more when you have additional Ghostly Prisons in play. Where Solitary Confinement protected you before, Sphere of Safety is that card in this deck.
Mistveil Plains – As I mentioned before, we do have an out if we were to draw any or all of our combo pieces. If you are under Enduring Ideal lock and you draw something like your Form of the Dragon before fetching it out, you can get it back into your deck by getting to 8 cards in hand, discarding it to hand size, and then activating Mistveil Plains to put it on the bottom, allowing you to Ideal it up the next turn. Plains also keeps you from being decked, so in a way, it is a win condition all on its own. Keep in mind that this can be fetched up by Marsh Flats.
The deck is still very much a work in progress, so some of its tutor targets are potentially unnecessary or are in the sideboard when they should be main deck, but all of that can be hashed out over time. The goal of a prison deck that actually does things is exactly where we are though, so I am excited about continuing to explore this in the future.
What thoughts or ideas do you have for the deck? Modern is off display for a short while but Grand Prix Minneapolis is still around the corner and you never know when one might encounter an EnZuring Ideal…
Dang it, LSV…
Thanks for reading!