It took a long time, but we finally have a Modern-playable white-blue planeswalker. Everyone from Venser to Dovin Baan has failed to pass muster, but all that has changed now that Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is on the scene.
At first blush, it doesn’t seem to add up—Teferi costs 5 mana and doesn’t do anything that wins the game on the spot. There is such a high bar to clear for any card to have a meaningful impact in Modern, and generally, any 5-drop that isn’t being cheated out is automatically excluded from consideration.
Why is this different with Teferi? It doesn’t take too much to figure it out. Teferi isn’t actually a 5-drop—he’s a 3-drop that you can’t play until turn 5. Various Lilianas have shown us that powerful 3-drop ‘walkers can indeed walk the walk in Modern, and Teferi is here to demonstrate exactly that once again.
It may seem like the height of blue mage blasphemy, but there are those who claim this card is better than Jace, the Mind Sculptor. While JTMS has entrenched himself into various blue control strategies in Modern, he didn’t break the format in half as some anticipated, and indeed, his influence has been so limited as to be immediately challenged by the next blue planeswalker to join our ranks.
As a rusted-on white-blue player, I’ve been experimenting with various control archetypes in Modern to put this old kid on the block through his paces, and the results have been very promising.
Lightning Bolt is an excellent card to be playing in Modern. It’s a clean, 1-mana answer to more or less everything in decks like Humans and Affinity, Bolt is rarely truly dead as it can always go upstairs. Add Lightning Helix to buffer your life total and Electrolyze for devastating blowout potential, and Jeskai Control starts to look like an excellent shell for Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.
Being able to protect Teferi after he ticks up to draw a card is critical, so including ways to utilize the two lands he untaps is the most important factor in seeking to make the most of his deployment. By including cheap, reactive disruption, you give yourself the best chance to play Teferi for maximum impact. Either he comes down and tucks away their single threat, or just go upstairs and hold off their board with cheap removal.
Ideally, however, Teferi will come down on an empty board (or behind a Wall of Omens) and the two untapped lands can power out a counterspell to protect him. Whichever way you choose to configure the many flex slots in this deck, be sure to prioritize cheap instants to make the most of Teferi’s +1 ability.
Serum Visions is undoubtedly the better card in a vacuum, but I prefer Opt in any list attempting to play a full-on instant-speed game. Being able to hold up a counterspell or removal and then still put spare mana to good use at the end of turn is very strong. I’m not claiming you don’t lose anything by playing Opt over Serum Visions, but in my view it fits better into what this deck is trying to achieve.
Similarly, trimming copies of Search for Azcanta fits this instant-speed game plan. As you never really want to draw the redundant second copy (although a second-rate scry engine can be useful, I suppose), and you naturally see a lot of cards with cantrips and Teferi, I’m happy to go down to a single copy.
What if you remove the red entirely? Bolt and Helix are excellent cards, but come at a real deckbuilding cost. More shocklands and fewer basics prevent you from playing one of Modern’s most fashionable disruptive strategies: Field of Ruin.
Gabriel Nassif recently shared his take on White-Blue Control in Modern, and makes it very clear just how important Field of Ruin is against the current format. Almost every deck in Modern has powerful nonbasic lands they rely upon, and playing nine basics will ultimately break the symmetry of Field of Ruin’s effect. Most notably, Field of Ruin completely changes the matchup against Tron, one of White-Blue’s traditional weaknesses.
Where this strategy differs from Nassif’s, however, is in the thrust of its disruptive elements. Both strategies are slow and lumbering, and while Nassif looks to contest the board with Wall of Omens and removal, this deck relies upon an early Terminus to keep itself in the game before cleaning up with one of its various value engines—including, of course, Teferi.
Playing the full four copies of Terminus should indicate just how critical it is to the strategy. Further, this deck features has a strong supporting cast to ensure Terminus has the impact you’re seeking. Between the eight cantrips and three copies of Jace, this deck has plenty of ways to make the most of the Miracle mechanic—being able to cast a planned Terminus as early as turn 2 can be backbreaking, with Opt enables the sweeper at instant speed!
Anyone who has ever seen Legacy Miracles in action will understand the interaction between Jace and Terminus: Brainstorm, put a Terminus back on top, and clear the board next turn. While Teferi isn’t necessarily here to bolster that specific plan, he’s still an excellent turn-5 play for all the reasons I’ve mentioned (especially if you’ve got a Terminus waiting on top with an Opt in hand). Here, we’re less concerned about the Teferi-into-instants plan and more concerned with exploiting the miracle mechanic.
I was initially surprised to discover that Teferi had a role to play in Modern, but after getting across tournament results and seeing his power for myself, I’ve changing my mind. What ultimately convinced me was to realize that Teferi is a 3-drop rather than a 5-drop, and that building a deck with that in mind will pay dividends. In any case, any new card that helps the fortunes of white-blue decks has my full support. It’s good to have a new face on the team!