Valuable Lessons – Modern Death and Taxes (Part 2)

Welcome back to Valuable Lessons. Last week, we began exploring white Aether Vial strategies in Modern. Since then, I’ve continued battling with these types of decks on Magic Online. Today, we’ll take a look at some new versions of the deck I’ve tried over the last week.

To start, let’s take a look at the deck list we settled on at the end of last week’s column:

Modern Death and Taxes
by Jacob Van Lunen

Thragtusk was working out well for last week. Since then, I’ve been playing against a lot less Delver, control, and Jund. Splinter Twin has become more popular than ever, and Affinity is experiencing a resurgence. In this environment, Thragtusk may not be the best card to be playing in Modern. I liked giving the deck a bit more top-end, but I felt like we could do better than Thragtusk.

Qasali Pridemage was underperforming for me. Sure, there were some games where it got to kill a Cranial Plating or Pyromancer Ascension, but the Affinity matchup was still terrible and I couldn’t seem to find a way to swing it in our favor.

Stony Silence is a fine card against Affinity and Tron, but turning off our Aether Vials is a huge problem. I suppose we could sideboard out the best card in our deck, but that seems bad. A lot of people seem to think that casting Stony Silence is just game against the right decks, but that’s not remotely true, especially on the draw.

Creeping Corrosion is the game-ending blow that we were looking for, unfortunately it’s very difficult to cast it. I’m not going to play a double-green, four-mana spell in my deck unless I have at least 14 green sources of mana. Bending the mana to make Creeping Corrosion work seems like too many hoops to jump through for two or three sideboard slots.

Kataki, War’s Wage is quite good, but winning the Affinity matchup is going to take more than a 2/1. Affinity’s lands aren’t all artifacts as they once were, meaning that Kataki has less of a blowout impact upon the game than we might remember.

Gut Shot has actually proven to be one of the best cards against Affinity. I’ve been very impressed with the card against Young Pyromancer Delver, Melira Pod, Affinity, Faeries, and Infect.

I felt like I was playing Green to beat artifacts, but the green wasn’t actually good against the artifacts. I decided that it might be worthwhile to try a different color. I wanted to be objective about the reasons I was losing games with previous versions of the deck before I chose a new color. I went back to a mono-white version of the deck and started keeping notes of the games I lost.

Here’s what I played:

This version of the deck performed very well against most opponents.

Brimaz, King of Oreskos is absolutely busted. 4 toughness is a big game in Modern. Having Brimaz alongside Restoration Angel gives the deck a lot of power against opponents that are leaning hard on cards like Lightning Bolt and Lightning Helix. Brimaz takes over a lot of games by himself.

I’ve been very impressed with the Swords. I’ve tried Sword of Fire and Ice too, and I feel like it’s very good. I think I like Light and Shadow/War and Peace better at this point in time, though.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben deserves to be a 4-of here and it’s pretty ridiculous to imagine playing any less. The card punishes just about everyone and it’s almost always the case that the opponent spends at least two mana, often three, to get her off the table. When Thalia just sits around and gets to keep attacking we’re usually winning very hard.

Judge’s Familiar gets reasonably strong when we have four Thalia in our deck. I wanted to try a maindeck 1-drop and this card makes for some very nice Aether Vial blowouts. Think about it. Turn one we play Vial, turn two we play Thalia or Leonin Arbiter, we can now flash in a counterspell and protect our hate creature on the second turn, often leading to complete runaway games.

Burn decks were extremely easy to beat with this version of the deck. It may seem like overkill to be playing Burrenton Forge-Tender and Kor Firewalker, but the Burn deck is super popular and I like Burrenton Forge-Tender against decks with Anger of the Gods too.

I found myself mostly losing to Cryptic Commands and Affinity. I wanted a cheap way to put Affinity on defense and some way to punish my opponent for sculpting their whole game plan around chaining Cryptic Commands. I decided that I should try a blue/white version of the deck. Here’s what I put together:

Hurkyl’s Recall provided the perfect tool for beating the Affinity decks. I could develop a bit, then send their whole board back to their hand once I had a bit of time to build Vial counters or establish a board. Suddenly, I found myself occasionally beating Affinity. The matchup is still pretty bad, but I think a fourth copy of Hurkyl’s Recall and another Kataki, War’s Wage in the board could probably sway games two and three in our favor.

Glen Elendra Archmage is incredible here. We can vial it into play to counter Cryptic Command or other important spells, then we can reset it with Restoration Angel or Flickerwisp and continually lock our opponent out of playing non-creature spells. The third copy in the board comes in against Cryptic Command decks.

Geist of Saint Traft has the potential to take over a game by itself. Restoration Angel and Flickerwisp are pretty good at protecting it. Geist is the kind of card that will force opponents to start blocking. Our deck is very good in a stalled out boardstate, but it’s hard to justify attacking when the opponent has a Geist of Saint Traft in play.

Post-board we have Mulldrifter against the decks that want to grind us out of a long game. We can get a lot of value out of blinking Mulldrifter. Evoking then Vialing in Flickerwisp is pretty much the best feeling in the world.

I’ve won a few 8-mans with this version of the deck and I’m very confident in its competitive ability. We still have a few weeks for the metagame to settle before the PTQ season starts, but we should be playing as much Modern as possible up until that point to maximize our chances of victory. The blue/white Death and Taxes deck is currently on my short list of decks that I’ll be PTQ’ing with.

Next week, we’ll be taking a look at Deathcloud Jund, a Modern strategy that I’ve been working on for the last few days.


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