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Flash Forward

After my last article on UWR in Modern, I received a ton of feedback and questions both in the comments here on ChannelFireball and on Twitter. I didn’t necessarily get a chance to respond to everyone on each topic, but I’m hoping today to cover the most controversial and frequently asked questions.

Here’s a copy of the list I posted last week, for reference. Keep in mind that this list is very dynamic based on the metagame and is not a definitive 75—but it should point you in the right direction.

While I spent the last two weeks playing (and losing) Standard at the Invitational and Grand Prix Chicago, many of my friends back at home waded into the rough waters of the Northeast PTQ scene. From them, I’ve definitely gained some more insight into what the Modern PTQ metagame actually looks like—and the strengths and weaknesses of Flash.

Before I get into a couple more radical departures and opinions, I wanted to cover two of the most popular questions I received about Flash:

Splinter Twin

There was a good deal of ambivalence surrounding UWR’s matchup against Splinter Twin combo, a matchup I said was very favorable.

A brief disclaimer is that I don’t particularly love Splinter Twin as a deck. I find most of the blue-based combo decks in Modern to be too inconsistent simply because all of the best cantrips are banned, which can make it hard to dig for both your combo pieces and interaction. However, the biggest issue for Splinter Twin is that Modern is a format based on creatures. People simply don’t show up to a Modern tournament thinking that they can get by for 10 rounds without having to kill a creature.

As a result, Splinter Twin is in this awkward position of being a combo deck that is weak to interaction people play for other matchups. It incurs a ton of splash damage. Cards that are traditionally good against combo—like spot discard and counterspells—are great against Twin, but so are cards that aren’t, like Path to Exile and Dismember. Like all combo decks, there are commonly played cards such as Torpor Orb or Spellskite that throw an additional wrench into the equation.

That said, one of the big problems with UWR from the Twin side is that fully half of your combo pieces are horribly ineffective. Pestermite and Kiki-Jiki are simply too weak to Lightning Bolt, Lightning Helix, and Electrolyze to be reliable when going off. A wise UWR player is able to save his or her Paths and counterspells for the exact combo of Deceiver Exarch and Splinter Twin. Forcing the Twin player to dig for both the “right” half of the combo and for meaningful interaction gives you the ability to put on significant pressure.

I place a huge priority on resolving Restoration Angel early in this matchup, because your other clocks are too vulnerable to red removal spells (Vendilion Clique) or require an untenable mana commitment (Celestial Colonnade). Once a Restoration Angel is down, it rarely goes away and the onus is on the Twin player to hurry up and assemble both a reasonable combo and a way to deal with Path, Cryptic, Mana Leak, or a flurry of burn spells. In my experience, this is usually too much to ask.

After sideboard, Twin also faces the problem of receiving splash damage. Celestial Purge, Counterflux, and Wear // Tear are all situational but highly valuable answers that make Exarch and Twin less threatening.

Lightning Helix

Lightning Helix is an old standby of this archetype, but like many of my astute readers, I’m coming to believe that its time is coming to an end. Modern is currently plagued (or honored by) a lack of traditional aggro decks in the metagame. This is probably the result of how oppressive Pod is on linearly aggressive strategies. The default beatdown deck in Modern right now is Affinity, a deck that tends to do damage in big chunks or not at all—and therefore doesn’t really care much about life gain. In short: Lightning Helix is great at fighting Wild Nacatl and Goblin Guide but not nearly as good at dealing with Birds of Paradise or Inkmoth Nexus.

Lightning Helix is probably too inefficient to see heavy play in this world, unless you predict a significant rise of Zoo or Burn at your next Modern event. For the last round of PTQs, I suggested my friends cut at least one Helix for the 4th Path to Exile, but I would go as far as removing the remaining copies for an additional Spell Snare and maybe a Magma Spray.

Kiki-Jiki

Recently, some UWR control decks have been branching out into a combo-control version featuring Kiki-Jiki. This deck started off as a UWR Splinter Twin combo deck, but now plays the bare minimum of combo pieces and functions mostly like a normal control deck.

The disadvantages to playing Kiki-Jiki in your UWR deck are fairly obvious—RRR is hard to achieve and puts significant strain on your mana, and Kiki-Jiki is a useless, dead card if you aren’t able to set up the combo with Restoration Angel. This definitely leads to the deck being less consistent overall.

Nevertheless, Kiki-Jiki/Restoration Angel is a very powerful endgame that is able to uniquely win games that no other card can win, and therefore warrants serious consideration.

One thing that UWR is particularly good at doing is making opposing Lighting Bolts (and other similar spells) relatively ineffective. Sure, they kill Snapcaster Mage and Vendilion Clique—but that is usually a losing battle for the Lighting Bolt player. Playing Kiki-Jiki gives these spells additional value. However, I’m not sure this is a bad thing for UWR. One lesson I’ve learned in Legacy is that when control decks have a small number of threats or board them in (like Vendilion Clique and Stoneforge Mystic), you aren’t really unhappy when your opponent has access to removal spells.

Using removal against an aggressive or linear strategy is so powerful not just because it trades even or up on mana, but because it starts to shift the game to a later stage where the control deck has inevitability. As a control player, I’m typically happy if my opponent is forced to dilute their threat density to deal with mine—and Kiki-Jiki seems like it would do that job particularly well.

I would say that in general, Kiki-Jiki is good in UWR against opponents who aren’t able to interact, but in those matchups you also have enough threats that it isn’t necessary. Kiki-Jiki is also good against opponents who have inevitability—since we need to kill them out of nowhere and not rely on a grindy, card-advantage based game.

Kiki-Jiki is probably at its best in UWR against Birthing Pod, and at its worst against any hyper aggressive deck like Zoo or Affinity. From all reports of the Modern metagame, this seems like as good a time as any to head in that direction.

Keep in mind that adding Kiki-Jiki to UWR shouldn’t really change the core of your deck nor should it be a “main” game plan. For the same reasons I don’t like Splinter Twin, playing a control deck that leans too heavily on a combo like this could be disastrous. However, there are definitely matchups and board states where having access to an end game this powerful would be really valuable. The reality of Modern is that in some weeks, UWR control will have enough inevitability on its own, and in some weeks it might need an extra push. When that is the case—look to the Mirror Breaker.

I don’t have an exact deck list to post of a Kiki-Jiki version of the deck, since I haven’t fleshed it out entirely, but I would recommend Shaun McLaren’s deck from GP Minneapolis as a start.

Hopefully this helps clear up some of the common questions about UWR Flash, and maybe inspires you to move your deck in a different direction. The PTQ season is long, and as a control deck, we have to evolve.

Thanks for reading,

Matt Costa
@mattccosta

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