Pro Tour Barcelona will be bittersweet for me. My poor record in Regional Championship Athens meant I failed to requalify, marking the first Pro Tour level event I will be skipping in six years. I always especially enjoyed and looked forward to playing Modern at the highest level, as especially throughout the MPL era occasions to do so were sparse.
Nonetheless, it will be exciting to follow the tournament and the metagame unraveling from the sidelines.
The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth is the new, straight-to-Modern set that we get to play with. Despite some lukewarm initial receptions, the set seems to be taking Modern by storm, and it’s all mostly a fault of a single key card.
It’s hard to imagine a card better suited to be the set’s most powerful addition to Modern. What is slightly less flavourful is how the card ends up actually playing in games.
The life loss of 《The One Ring》 is not necessarily something to ignore, but crucially, in Ring’s favor, it’s delayed. You get the cards immediately, but the life loss only happens on your next upkeep – meaning you effectively only needed to pay one life to get to use three new cards, and three life to see six new cards!
Often enough, you’ll prevent more incoming damage thanks to Protection compared to however much burden the Ring caused to you. Not only that, but the best way to make sure that you do not get punished too hard by the burden counters you amassed is by playing extra copies of the Ring, using the Legend Rule to reset the old one, and gaining yet another turn of Protection from Everything! In that sense, the Legendary supertype on the Ring gets turned into an upside.
《The One Ring》 defies the traditional play patterns accompanying draw spells. Typically, the turn where you deploy your relatively expensive card advantage engine would be when the player is the most vulnerable. Enters the battlefield Protection trigger means that you’ll virtually always get the time to utilize your newly drawn cards and try to defend yourself. The mere existence of that trigger does a lot to hurt decks like specifically Hammer Time, who tries to use mana advantage to find a narrow window to win the game and has little to no stack interaction.
Decks Tempted by Rings
《The One Ring》 being colorless, we are in a phase where Modern players seemingly try to stick the card in every possible archetype. I’ve seen 《The One Ring》 Merfolk, Rhinos, or even Mono-Red Prowess, but one home seems to be the most natural and fitting.
Despite my reservations about hyper-reactive midrange decks in general, variants of four-color Omnath won three out of four Modern Challenges held past weekend. This domination is also dimmed down by card availability, as currently, Magic Online is experiencing huge shortages of the One Ring, making the card unreasonably expensive to buy. With the All-Access tokens returning to MTGO this week, I believe we are going to see even more four-color in the near future.
The banning of 《Yorion, Sky Nomad》 left a gap in the Four-Color decks. Without the ever-present card advantage source, decks got much more prone to flooding out, which can be a deadly combination with looking to play a longer game. 《The One Ring》 is finally a card advantage engine that makes sure you’ll win the game once it sticks, just thanks to the raw amount of material it gives to you. Ring pairs beautifully with 《Omnath, Locus of Creation》‘s mana production and lifegain, it helps you pitch cards to 《Solitude》 and (less often) 《Fury》 aggressively, and all around is a perfect fit for the deck.
In this decklist, Harry13 has chosen to mostly stick to the main plan of being a midrange deck. All of the Combo, Cascade, and Tron hate remains in the sideboard.
Nonetheless, he still has access to the newly available one-two punch of 《Delighted Halfling》 into 《Teferi, Time Raveler》 – a play that’s utterly devastating against Living End and Rhinos, as it can’t even be handled by 《Force of Negation》. In the same vein, 《Delighted Halfling》 demands to be removed immediately by any deck that’s interested in passing with 《Counterspell》 open, or to risk uncounterable threats to ruin their day.
We see many variations of four-color in those recent results, and one new constant I see is that they all seem to be using the small black Triome (《Zagoth Triome》) splash to be 《Leyline Binding》 decks. It makes sense, as Binding is one of the few available removal spells that answer the indestructible Ring cleanly. With this new threat, it seems irresponsible to use a traditional combination of 《Lightning Bolt》 and 《Prismatic Ending》.
Important rules quirk to keep in mind is that 《The One Ring》‘s tap ability adds a Burden Counter on it, then draws a card per every Burden Counter on it! If 《Leyline Binding》 exiles the Ring with that ability on the stack, no new Burden Counters will ever be added, so it’s possible to trade for the Ring at a 1-for-1 rate if you are patient and unwilling to cast Binding first.
Tron decks also enjoy a little bit more spotlight than they did in the past few years. 《The One Ring》 is, after all, a big, colorless card, and 《Karn Liberated》 is not exactly what he used to be with the format progressing. While in my experience the Ring isn’t often the best thing to play with your Tron assembled, it’s threatening enough, and costing only four means it’s perfectly castable when your lands get disrupted by 《Boseiju, Who Endures》. The Ring subsequently will draw you cards and help you assemble your Tron again.
《Karn, the Great Creator》 matches up well against the metagame, stopping combo decks, locking down opposing One Rings, while occasionally also turning your own Ring into an indestructible 4/4!
Another nice thing about Tron is that metagame-wise, it’s positioned nicely against four-color decks. They need a solid amount of hate – countermagic and 《Boseiju, Who Endures》 – to stand a chance against Tron’s threats, especially 《Sundering Titan》 that’s eventually accessed via Karn.
Last, but not least, of the major decks receiving changes from the new set is Living End. Typically Living End is viewed as extremely powerful, while also being very hateable, and while that hasn’t changed the new landcyclers – 《Generous Ent》 and 《Oliphaunt》 – are a pretty big upgrade to the deck’s consistency.
It’s possible to replace lands with land cyclers one for one while going down to as few as 14 or 15 real lands, which in order makes the fail state of flooding and having unimpressive Living Ends much less common. And the creatures are huge! 《Oliphaunt》 sports an impressive 8 points of trampling power, while 《Generous Ent》‘s reach and lifegain can easily impact races.
While you can still hate Living End out, it’s just more consistent and enacting its plan A than it ever was. It’s also a deck that naturally matches up well against the type of game that 《The One Ring》 decks want to play and can make that card a liability. An overwhelming enough board won’t care about one turn of Protection.
One build that interests me, which I haven’t seen done much in the challenges, is spending the new deckspace given to us by the land cyclers on more interaction! As mentioned earlier, 《Delighted Halfling》 and 《Teferi, Time Raveler》 can pose a problem for Living End, so this list I’ve been toying around with forgoes 《Striped Riverwinder》 entirely to play maindeck 《Subtlety》 to fight that aspect.
Sideboard 《Leyline Binding》 + 《Indatha Triome》 package is something I’m less confident in. With 4 《Misty Rainforest》 and 4 《Generous Ent》, finding the Triome is relatively easy. While it’s a broad answer to hate, and I’ve managed to win a few games with a post-board pseudo-flash plan hardcasting 《Curator of Mysteries》《Leyline Binding》《Brazen Borrower》《Endurance》 and 《Subtlety》, it’s not something I can wholeheartedly recommend yet.
It’s going to be exciting to see how Lord of the Rings: Tales of the Middle-earth continues to impact the format, and I’m eagerly waiting to see new developments from Pro Tour Barcelona competitors!