Some exciting stuff has happened lately in Modern. In case you have not heard about it: 《Simian Spirit Guide》, 《Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath》, 《Tibalt’s Trickery》, 《Mystic Sanctuary》 and 《Field of the Dead》 have been banned, additionally the cascade ability was reworded in a way so that you could no longer cast spells that are more expensive than the cascade spell itself.
I could go over Modern in general after bans, but Matti Kuisma did a pretty great job on this topic.
Is the Control Over?
If you look at the list of newly banned cards you can see the trio of 《Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath》, 《Field of the Dead》 and 《Mystic Sanctuary》. Those were mostly played together and in a control shell. This shell was so dominant, that you either played this shell in any kind of control deck you liked, or a deck that you thought could beat this, but did not in the end.
This shell is now gone and Modern is control free, finally. Is it tough? You can definitely play a wild variety of decks now, but control is still a part of Modern and did not die with the bannings.
Control decks are at their best when there is a defined metagame. The reason for this is that your usual control deck is built in a way, to answer this defined metagame, but cannot do much about the rest. As an exaggerated example, imagine the metagame you want to beat is as follows: 25% Tron, 25% tap out control, 25% Dredge, and 25% Jund.
Is 《Path to Exile》 a card that you really want to play as 4 of the mainboard here? Would you main deck 《Rest in Peace》 here and consider moving to a more tap out approach or do you just jam a few 《Rest in Peace》, splash 《Blood Moon》 and play a million counter?
In my example, I only used four different decks and we already had to go quite deep in deck building, now imagine a format with over 20 different decks. That is Modern now.
Just a few lines above I said that control decks are at their best, if there is a defined metagame, from which we are far away from currently, but is it possible to build such a deck while covering so many angles? My answer to this would be maybe.
Let us directly dive into one of my current builds and see why my answer to the aforementioned question is not a yes or no:
As you can see this is a blue white control deck, splashing red for even more removal and 《Blood Moon》 in the sideboard. 《Heliod, Sun-Crowned》 decks, Jund and 《Stoneforge Mystic》 have one in common, they can be handled by removal. Pathing your opponents one or two drop feels quite bad tough and against those decks, you want more point removal anyways, which is why I decided to splash for good old 《Lightning Bolt》. I could have gone for a black splash with 《Fatal Push》, but 《Lightning Bolt》 is more versatile, as I can also use it to shrink/kill Planeswalkers and/or to burn the face and go a bit more aggressive with 《Snapcaster Mage》.
At least that was how I painted it in theory. I tried 《Behold the Multiverse》 as a new way to get some sort of card advantage, but in the end, it is just worse than 《Archmage’s Charm》. I ended up cutting 《Behold the Multiverse》 for the 4th 《Lightning Bolt》 and an additional 《Archmage’s Charm》 and played some more. I took the deck for a few walks through a Modern Preliminary and a few Modern Leagues and sadly it is mostly theory.
A New Approach to Control
The problem with my approach is, that you cannot win against solitaire decks. Even if you have access to cards like 《Blood Moon》 and 《Rest in Peace》, Tron decks and Dredge would still eat you alive. Against the creature decks, you are slightly ahead, but a single misplay is very costly and there are cards, like 《Wrenn and Six》, and combinations that are just too fast to catch up.
No problem for me, I am still here wielding my love for control decks and so I decided that a new approach was needed. To beat decks like Tron or Dredge, you need something to win fast, as giving them time will usually lead to defeat. Can you think of a control deck, that can suddenly win out of nowhere?
Oh yes, there are cards in Modern, that win on the spot when cast. You just need some time until you can cast those game ending spells. I looked through the format and found 《Scapeshift》 very appealing as a build around for a control deck. For those who do not know how the combo works, here a short explanation: if your opponent is on 18 or less life, you need 7 lands in play.
You cast 《Scapeshift》 and find 1 《Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle》 and 6 lands that have Mountain as a land type. 《Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle》 sees all 6 Mountains enter the battlefield at the same time, so it triggers 6 times. If your opponent is at more than 18 life, you will need 8 lands at least, but can do the same with two 《Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle》 or more Mountains.
Said and done, here is an early version of my Scapeshift list:
This list replaces 《Mana Leak》 with 《Remand》, as you just need to time to find your combo or any other blue counter, that once again buys you time. 《Wrenn and Six》 is here to occasionally win by itself. First, it provides you with more lands, second it can return 《Ketria Triome》 to draw more cards. That is just its first ability, the second one can help against creature decks and the last one, the so called ultimate, will usually win on the spot, as it provides you with an endless stream of spells.
《Brazen Borrower》 is here to fight random stuff, buy time or act as an alternative win condition. From time to time you will win by just 《Lightning Bolt》 face, 《Snapcaster Mage》, 《Lightning Bolt》 Face, 《Brazen Borrower》 and attack with creatures. 《Cryptic Command》 is perfect here, as it supports the combo plan as well as attacking. Also do not fear to play your Mountains, as you might win by just playing your lands.
I played some more with the deck and concluded, that more point removal was needed and drawing some more cards would also help sometimes (who does not like drawing more cards, seriously?).
Here my most up to date version of Scapeshift:
Sadly, the best one mana point removal I could come up with in those colors, after 《Lightning Bolt》, is 《Burst Lightning》. I thought about 《Dismember》, but the life cost is too heavy, and all the one mana shock effects are very close to each other. This deck is certainly fun to play and still in a building process, so if you have any ideas, just hit me up! I am going to work some more on this, as my 《Cryptic Command》 have not had enough playtime yet.
Modern feels like a completely new format with endless options and that is thanks to the newest bannings. I am sure there are still plenty of options to explore on how to build a nice control deck, which I have not even touched yet. We just need to keep trying out new stuff.
That is it for me, until next time,
Immanuel Gerschenson (Twitter)