Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, you’re aware that [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] has been banned in Modern and [card]Wild Nacatl[/card] and [card]Bitterblossom[/card] have been unbanned.
This article doesn’t care whether the changes were good or not. They already happened, and now is the time to dive in and test the repercussions, to find the right place to gain an edge.
Griselbrand, Living End, Dredgevine, Unburial Rites
Graveyard shenanigans rejoice, the witch is dead.
Without Deathrite in the format, Dredgevine should improve dramatically, though whether this buff is enough to make the deck viable is yet to be seen. I wouldn’t blame someone for testing the deck, though that’s not where I’d focus my energies.
While Deathrite was kind of good against Living End, it wasn’t holding the deck back. With a few lands in play, Living End could flood the graveyard all at once, and I’ve never seen Living End lose to Deathrite.
Single target reanimation decks were the most dramatically hindered by maindeck, spot-graveyard hate, and the most positively impacted by the ban. Before, decks had to make sure they had enough removal to reliably deal with it. Now, they can get away with a more streamlined, focused build. It’s time to brush off your [card]Griselbrand[/card]s and [card]Unburial Rites[/card], folks.
Also, if you weren’t sideboarding graveyard hate because Shaman was in the format, now is a good time to start.
I have a lot of experience with Zoo, and have designed a variety of successful lists for different formats over the years. I’m ecstatic to see [card]Wild Nacatl[/card]’s return.
On the other hand, losing [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] hurts. Not only did it increase consistency by serving as a mana source, it also provided a [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card]-style clock and almost incidental graveyard hate. The graveyard hate was important, as it turned every [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] that the opponent played into a reasonable creature to deal with (exiling it with the persist on the stack).
One of the best game plans against Zoo is to kill whatever large creatures they play before playing a [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] to brick a board of [card]Wild Nacatl[/card]s, [card]Kird Ape[/card]s, and [card]Loam Lion[/card]s. Because Kitchen Finks comes down so early, it crushes Zoo’s tempo while grinding it out at the same time. It won’t win the game by itself, but decks that play Finks pair it with piles of removal and/or other wall-like creatures.
The last time Zoo was a tier one deck, [card]Punishing Fire[/card] was also legal, and that wasn’t a coincidence. Any time your opponent is casting two-mana shocks, one-mana 3/3s are pretty strong. Without [card]Punishing Fire[/card] impacting the meta, and with the presence of [card]Lightning Helix[/card] and [card]Kitchen Finks[/card], I don’t think Zoo will be tier one this next season, though it will be a fine aggro deck.
3 Scalding Tarn
3 Misty Rainforest
2 Marsh Flats
4 Arid Mesa
2 Sacred Foundry
1 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
2 Horizon Canopy
2 Aven Mindcensor
4 Wild Nacatl
4 Kird Ape
4 Loam Lion
3 Grim Lavamancer
3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
3 Ghor-Clan Rampager
4 Lightning Helix
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Path to Exile
1 Aven Mindcensor
3 Pillar of Flame
1 Thrun, the Last Troll
3 Ancient Grudge
4 Voice of Resurgence
Longtime readers will remember a similar list from back before Deathrite. Most of the cards are fairly self explanatory, but [card]Aven Mindcensor[/card] is a little unique. Basically, I was testing a list where they were boarded and wanted more sideboard space (a classic Modern problem). Since everyone runs shuffle effects, the Avens were a natural switch to the main over [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card]. Knight’s a great card, but it plays into sweepers (where you could hold up Aven). Meanwhile, Aven can hold off entire decks by itself, and it flies over for those last few points of damage. No one expects it out of the Kird Ape deck, and they let you untap to crack their fetches at your end of turn.
Perhaps Knight improves enough with [card]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/card] to be worth running again. Ghor-Clan is a new addition, and as of yet I’m not sure what the right number is. Brian Kowel pointed out that it’s a great tool for beating through Kitchen Finks, and I’m guessing it’ll see more or less play based on that interaction. One concern is that it’ll have to be hardcast against decks with a high density of removal.
[card]Steppe Lynx[/card] is another card that seemed cuttable. While it’s the best threat for racing combo, it’s the worst as far as consistency goes. Like Knight, Lynx improves with Ghor-Clan. Having another one-drop to curve out with has value too.
In general, I don’t like bears in the main deck, but I included [ccProd]Thalia[/ccProd] because she has first strike, making it more relevant in combat, and also because it cares about spells in general as opposed to a specific type of spell. While it doesn’t lock the opponent out like a [card]Meddling Mage[/card] or [card]Gaddock Teeg[/card], the deck doesn’t need to shut someone down so much as buy a turn or two to attack and force through damage. My problem with most hate bears is that they’re narrow and provide unimpressive clocks. [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card] needs an artifact or enchantment to turn it on, Gaddock Teeg cares about spells over 4, and [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] cares about attrition and countermagic.
The sideboard is geared towards consistently high-impact cards. Since I’m running Thalia, a card like [card]Molten Rain[/card], while situationally excellent, isn’t going to be cast on time often enough to be considered.
[card]Ancient Grudge[/card] turns a reasonable Affinity matchup (2/3s are inherently strong against 2/2s and 1/1s) into a great one.
[card]Pillar of Flame[/card] excels at exiling Kitchen Finks and Voice of Resurgence, but it’s too inneficient for the main.
[card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] and [ccProd]Thrun[/ccProd] are for the grindy countermagic/removal decks that want to flashback [card]Lightning Helix[/card] and wreck your dreams. The last time I played Naya Zoo in Modern, I had a lot of success choosing to draw in those matchups. Lightning Helix is a hard card to race, so adapting into a more grindy strategy has merit.
I prefer [card]Combust[/card] to more universal cards like [card]Torpor Orb[/card] or [card]Spellskite[/card] because [card]Combust[/card] forces the Twin player to commit resources. When you cast a permanent hate card against Twin, that informs their cantripping and they’re more likely to find an answer. Since you need to play it before they combo, they have a good chance of having countermagic open. Not only is Combust uncounterable (useful against random [card]Kira, Great Glass-Spinner[/card]s), it also doesn’t give away information. It has some use against random [card]Restoration Angel[/card]/[card]Celestial Colonnade[/card] decks as well.
I saw people speculating that BW Tokens gains a lot from the [card]Bitterblossom[/card] unbanning, but that’s not necessarily true. The last time I played BW Tokens with Bitterblossom was in PT Amsterdam. As the sole pilot, I gave the deck a 100% Day Two percentage. Not bad, eh?
Point being, Bitterblossom was the worst card in my deck, and [card]Spectral Procession[/card] was the best. The difference was that Bitterblossom takes several turns to turn on [card]Windbrisk Heights[/card], while Procession, and now [card]Lingering Souls[/card], do it much faster.
If you want further proof, compare the levels of play between Lingering Souls and Bitterblossom in Legacy.
In Faeries, [card]Bitterblossom[/card] is more than an enchantment that makes dudes, it’s an engine that brings the whole deck together. With Bitterblossom in play, [ccProd]Mistbind[/ccProd] always has something to champion, [card]Spellstutter Sprite[/card] counters relevant things, and [card]Scion of Oona[/card] has enough creatures to be worth it.
In the big picture, Faeries will be playable, just like it was in old Extended, though it has the same problem of being weak to aggro.
As for building the deck, there are a few questions to consider:
1) [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card] or [card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card]? Liliana has proven itself a powerhouse in eternal formats, and it’s an efficient way to take control of a game. Bitterblossom tokens are excellent at chumping for planeswalkers.
Sword of Feast and Famine shines in the mirror. While clunky, it gains tempo if it hits, and has a lot of synergy with the manlands. It also prevents your dinky 1/1s from getting ground down by giant green creatures. Remember that Scion of Oona doesn’t mesh with equipment.
2) What type of disruption to emphasize? There’s only so much room, and the Faerie package takes up a lot of space. Filling the main with counters and discard and leaving the removal in the board is the intuitive approach since those cards do stuff against creatures but removal is dead against spells. The problem with that is that much of the combo in Modern is creature-based, and you really want your removal against Pod and Twin.
[card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] isn’t a Faerie, but it adds depth to your disruption package and makes for a vicious chain with [card]Cryptic Command[/card]. There isn’t going to be room for four, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it pop up as a one- or two-of.
3) Do I want a third color?
Historically, Faeries has been better off sticking to a two-color mana base for consistency reasons, but Modern has more versatile mana options than usual. If a splash solves a legitimate problem for Faeries, it might be worth it.
Red gives [card]Pillar of Flame[/card], which is a great answer to persist creatures and [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card], which are otherwise hard to deal with. [card]Electrolyze[/card] fights [card]Lingering Souls[/card].
Going white opens up [card]Path to Exile[/card] as another answer to Voice that also hits [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]. However, it reduces the effectiveness of [card]Spell Pierce[/card] and [card]Mana Leak[/card]. Post-board, cards like [card]Zealous Persecution[/card], [card]Circle of Protection: Red[/card], and [card]Stony Silence[/card] become options.
A green splash for [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] looks good against Delver and the Faeries mirror (just watch out for Scion of Oona). I’ve seen Faeries play ‘Goyf before, though I’m lukewarm to that idea. Discard into ‘Goyf is always good, and it gives the deck a strong non-Bitterblossom opener. The problem is that consistently having green mana on turn two requires a lot of sources, and ‘Goyf doesn’t play well with the main Faeries plan of playing flash creatures and making removal look bad.
Here’s my take:
2 Sunken Ruins
4 River of Tears
2 Tectonic Edge
4 Secluded Glen
4 Darkslick Shores
3 Creeping Tar Pit
3 Vendilion Clique
3 Mistbind Clique
4 Spellstutter Sprite
3 Go for the Throat
4 Cryptic Command
2 Liliana of the Veil
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
3 Mana Leak
1 Inquisition of Kozilek[/deck]
[card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card] and [card]Creeping Tar Pit[/card] require a lot of mana. Since so much of the mana base is gas, this build happily runs 26 lands. With only two colors, a painful fetchland manabase isn’t necessary.
A potential sideboard could look something like this:
[deck]4 Leyline of Sanctity
1 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Relic of Progenitus[/deck]
The Leylines look strange at first, but I like how they can auto-crush Burn while shutting off a lot of the power of the [card]Tribal Flames[/card] decks. Aggro red decks have always been strong against Faeries, but taking away their reach also takes away their inevitability.
This build is cold to Affinity, but you can’t beat everything.
Jund was one of the best decks against Twin. Not only did they have a pile of discard, efficient threats, and uncounterable removal, they also had a savage Liliana draw.
Without Deathrite, Jund is still playable, though it won’t be overpowered and people will abandon it in droves. Those that do keep at it will have to wait until turn three to drop their Lilianas, which is much more reasonable. All of this is good for Twin.
Nacatl’s unbanning means that [card]Wall of Omens[/card] should be a real card again. When Wall of Omens is a real card, UWR Twin is one of the strongest decks in the format.
The Faeries matchup isn’t necessarily bad, though you can’t come at it from a pure combo perspective. Instead, you need to use [card]Volcanic Fallout[/card] to buy time, bait correctly, and know when to switch to a burn plan with a pile of Bolts and Snapcasters. At a certain point, Bitterblossom becomes your win condition.
One concern is that we don’t know the exact build that Faeries are going to settle on. For example, I always liked the Faeries matchup from the side of UWR Twin, mostly due to the ability to play the control role until I could randomly burn them out or turn on the Colonnades for the win. However, when the Faerie decks evolved to start playing [card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card] the matchup got worse. Now they weren’t just a pile of discard, removal, counters, and instant-speed threats, but had an engine to grind out the long game as well.
Even if Sword of Feast and Famine isn’t adopted, Liliana fills the same role of inevitability, which is one of the main reasons that Twin had a rough time with Jund. I’m no Faeries expert, but Liliana seems too strong not to run, which is bad news for all the Twin players out there.
A Brew for Good Luck
1 Sacred Foundry
3 Blackcleave Cliffs
1 Blood Crypt
4 Marsh Flats
4 Arid Mesa
2 Godless Shrine
4 Greater Gargadon
4 Mogg War Marshal
3 Lightning Helix
3 Intangible Virtue
4 Liliana of the Veil
4 Lingering Souls
2 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Path to Exile
1 Wear Tear
3 Sowing Salt
3 Aven Mindcensor
2 Rest in Peace
1 Rakdos Charm
2 Zealous Persecution[/deck]
Something about this appeals to me: maybe it’s having [card]Mogg War Marshal[/card] and [card]Intangible Virtue[/card] together, or maybe it reminds me of an old Standard brew. Is it good? No, not really, but it’s the first thing I thought of when I saw [card]Bitterblossom[/card] was unbanned, and I could see bringing it to an LGS event.
Like I said earlier, Bitterblossom fails at quickly turning on Windbrisk Heights, but this is a different type of token deck. Here, it contributes to a grindy game plan that cares more about winning eventually, once the opponent has been made hellbent from Liliana. If they don’t have cards in hand they’re going to have a rough time dealing with a 9/7 hasty [card]Greater Gargadon[/card].
Bitterblossom combos with Gargadon in a most excellent fashion. Instead of chumping away every turn, slowly losing life without any real gain in value, now you can turn those 1/1 tokens into 1/10th of a Gargadon! You can thank me later.
If you have any ideas or brews for the new format, feel free to share them in the forums!