[Modern] In Testing: Pre-Worlds Updates to Flash Delirium

If you haven’t read my last post regarding the genesis of this deck, check it out here).

Here’s my most recent list:

4 Mana Leak
3 Path to Exile
3 Spell Snare
1 Familiar’s Ruse
3 Cryptic Command
3 Punishing Fire
3 Thirst for Knowledge
20 Instants

3 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Tarmogoyf
2 Vendilion Clique
13 Creatures

1 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Vedalken Shackles
1 Engineered Explosives
3 Artifacts

3 Island
2 Hallowed Fountain
2 Breeding Pool
2 Steam Vents
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Misty Rainforest
3 Grove of the Burnwillows
3 Mutavault
1 Academy Ruins
24 Lands

In anticipation of a more aggro-heavy format, I went back to the Punishing/Grove combo, and also added Tarmogoyf back into the deck. While it doesn’t fit the instant-speed theme, it seems necessary for both early defense and added pressure. One of the things I found was that the deck wasn’t enough of a draw-go control deck to sit back and pick away at an opponent’s life total with a 1- or 2-power dude. Tarmogoyf fills the role nicely.

Another massive hole in the previous version was the lack of card draw. The Ninjas and their curiosity were great when they worked, but they weren’t reliable enough to provide the card advantage/selection that I found myself craving in many of my games. In a word: Cute. Thirst for Knowledge is making a noticeable impact in the games where I’ve seen it. While I’m discarding 2 cards far more often than I’m dumping an artifact, it hasn’t really been a problem (due in part to Snapcaster Mage, who can get use out of any instants or sorceries you decide to dump). One of my favorite “tricks” is to use Thirst mid-combat as a pseudo-pump spell for Tarmogoyf. They rarely see that one coming.

Obviously, these changes demanded some casualties from the previous version. I’m still loving the miser’s Familiar’s Ruse, so for the moment it’s staying. The 2 Ninjas, Venser, and a Vendilion Clique all bowed out to make room for 4 Tarmogoyf. The artifact count has been reduced to just one of each (although I’m likely including more in the sideboard), and a land was cut to make room for 6 more instants (3 each of both Punishing Fire and Thirst for Knowledge). I noticed I kept getting flooded, and since the deck can run reasonably well off just 4 lands, I felt safe doing this. With that in mind, however, I shaved the 4th Cryptic Command, which made room for the aforementioned miser’s Familiar’s Ruse.

The addition of both Tarmogoyf and Punishing Fire required a reworking of the manabase. The new color requirements meant that the 4th Mutavault was the first to go. I considered cutting the Academy Ruins, but having cut down to just one of each artifact, in addition to newcomer Thirst for Knowledge, I’ve kept it in for now. Watery Grave seemed unnecessary (I don’t think I ever needed black mana, not even once).

The Modern format is fairly difficult to grasp at the moment, especially post-bannings. It hasn’t had much of a chance to get any momentum, but I’m hoping Worlds and the upcoming PTQ season will help cement this format in the hearts of players, like Legacy before it. I’ll be keeping a close eye on the Modern decks coming out of Worlds this week, as this is most likely to have the biggest influence on the upcoming PTQ season. If I had to guess, I’d say the format will initially revolve around Punishing Fire and Grove of the Burnwillows. The best decks will be those that can use the combo most effectively, and those that can best neutralize its effects. (Honorable Mention goes to Spell Snare.)

  

Further updates to come. In the meantime, keep an eye on my Twitter account (@AffinityForBlue), as I’ll be tweeting from Worlds this week. You can also expect some content on Episode 87 of Yo! MTG Taps! (coming up after Thanksgiving).

[Modern] In Testing: Flash Delirium

When Snapcaster Mage was previewed at Pro Tour Philadelphia earlier this month, it was the talk of the tournament floor. Personally, I was excited to fit it into as many decks as possible. I already had Modern on the mind (it being the format of the Pro Tour), so the wheels were immediately turning in that direction.

I was already testing a Previous Level Blue style deck with the Punishing Fire + Grove of the Burnwillows combo, but was somewhat unimpressed. The manabase felt clunky, and the Punishing/Grove combo was not as strong as I’d expected. Not to mention the fact that the deck was clearly too slow for the then-current environment, which was saturated with blazingly fast combo decks that made it difficult for a control deck to thrive.

The bannings announced on September 20 changed all that. The loss of a key accelerant (Rite of Flame) plus the two best one-mana cantrips in the format (Preordain, Ponder) should significantly slow things down, providing an opportunity for control to get a grip on the format.

I decided to dismantle the deck I was testing and start from scratch, using various Previous Level Blue decks and Mystical Teachings decks as inspiration. Here’s what I ended up with.

Flash Delirium:

4 Mana Leak
3 Path to Exile
3 Spell Snare
4 Cryptic Command
14 Instants

3 Vendilion Clique
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Ninja of the Deep Hours
3 Spellstutter Sprite
1 Venser, Shaper Savant
13 Creatures

3 Sword of Feast and Famine
3 Engineered Explosives
2 Vedalken Shackles
8 Artifacts

4 Hallowed Fountain
1 Watery Grave
1 Steam Vents
1 Breeding Pool
4 Mutavault
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Academy Ruins
5 Island
25 Lands

The result leans towards Aggro-Control, something like a pre-Bitterblossom Faeries deck (did those even exist? Sure they did. Just ask Zvi). The amount of synergy in this deck is somewhat staggering. Not only are the individual cards powerful on their own, they work together to provide quite a bit of versatility. This is my kind of deck.

Of the 35 non-lands in the deck, 27 of them can be cast at instant speed (or pseudo-instant speed in the case of Ninja of the Deep Hours‘ mid-combat ninjutsu ability); hence the name, “Flash Delirium” (the name of one of my favorite MGMT songs).

Speaking of Ninja of the Deep Hours, its inclusion may seem questionable, but it fuels one of the trickiest (and, frankly, coolest) interactions in the deck. With so many flash creatures with enter-the-battlefield abilities, Ninja acts as a one-use Riptide Laboratory that draws you a card (sometimes more than one) and allows you to return and reuse any of the other 11 creatures. Value! For the moment I’m going with the Ninja, but another idea I had (which doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive) is to play a copy or two of Familiar’s Ruse, which gives you a similar effect without the need to attack.

Moving on to the sorcery speed portion of the deck, Sword of Feast and Famine should be no surprise to anyone. With this many instant speed options, the deck is able to fully capitalize on the Sword’s untap trigger, while the protection the Sword offers can facilitate ninjutsu in a pinch, or help a Ninja slip by and draw you a card.

  

The manabase is built to take full advantage of both Vedalken Shackles and Engineered Explosives. Nearly every land is an island (or can fetch one), ensuring that the Shackles fit any creature you might encounter. The inclusion of all four blue Ravnica-block dual lands allows you to go to the full 5 Sunburst counters if necessary. Mutavault, while not an island, is a faerie, which can be relevant alongside Spellstutter Sprite (as anyone who plays Legacy or who played Standard when Lorwyn was legal will tell you). Lastly, Academy Ruins is there to pick up any broken Swords, Shackles, or dead Explosives that might have found their way into the graveyard.

This is still a rough and somewhat untested list, but it’s what I’m currently working with. I haven’t yet come up with a sideboard (it sort of depends on how the format shapes up), but I’ve got my eye on the usual players: Thoughtseize; Krosan Grip; Pithing Needle (and possibly Trinket Mage to fetch it; can also grab Explosives); Wrath of God; Lightning Bolt (or possibly Helix, but it might be a stretch). I’m also considering an Elspeth, Knight-Errant or two.

Thoughts? Ideas? I’d love to hear ’em.

Follow me on Twitter @affinityforblue.

UPDATE: A lot of people have been asking about the list, and while it is my intention to write up a full post after some more testing, I figured I’d throw out a few updates. After discussing the idea with Mike Flores, we both determined that the deck is likely lacking two things: more power/pressure, and probably more card draw as well. I’ve shaved some numbers, cut the Ninjas from the deck entirely, and added Tarmogoyf and the Punishing/Grove combo back into the deck (as Shaheen Soorani pointed out in his recent article on SCG, the format is looking fairly aggro-heavy). I’m currently playing with 2 copies of Familiar’s Ruse as well, which has been stellar. Next on my agenda is to get a few copies of Thirst for Knowledge into the deck. Theoretically, Snapcaster Mage will mitigate the downside of discarding spells off of a Thirst. I’m considering shaving a land, because it feels like the deck gets a little flooded more often than I’d like. More details to come.

Why I’m excited for Venser (and you should be too).

I mean, first of all, it’s freaking Venser.

Remember how good the original Venser was a few years back? Of course, the new Venser has little to do with his previous Legendary incarnation, aside from representing the same character. However, this version may have even more of an impact on Standard than the Shaper Savant.

Venser, the Sojourner was the first major card spoiled from Scars of Mirrodin. Being a huge fan of the first Venser (shocking, I know), I was super excited to see what his planeswalker self would be capable of. However, to be honest, I was sort of let down at first.

A Sorcery-speed Momentary Blink? Hm, okay, what else?

Make my creatures unblockable? What creatures? Baneslayer? Celestial Colonnade? They don’t really need it, being that they have Flying.

What’s his ultimate? Exile stuff. Seems spicy, but so does every other planeswalker’s ultimate ability. To be playable, his non-ultimate abilities need to have an impact in case he never reaches his ultimate.

So, with my initial impression out of the way (“he’s okay, but really needs to be built around to be any good”), I moved on to other Scars of Mirrodin spoilers, which were pouring forth at an alarming rate. Elspeth Tirel, Koth (KOTH!), Mox Opalman, Elspeth seems so good!Geez, how am I gonna deal with this Koth guy? Should I just play red?

But when I stopped for a little while, for whatever reason, Venser kept scratching around on the inside of my skull.

So I took a (figurative) page out of Patrick Chapin’s book (Next Level Magic, which you can buy here!) and took another look at Venser from a different perspective: What would make this card good?

I sketched out a list based on an amalgamation of Next Level Bant and U/W Sun Titan Control, trying to get the most possible advantage out of Venser while not relying too much on him. (Looking back, I was definitely overcompensating for Memoricide and therefore wanted to diversify my threats.)

2 Preordain
2 Condemn
4 Mana Leak
1 Journey to Nowhere
4 Wall Omens
4 Sea Gate Oracle
3 Jace Beleren
2 Tumble Magnet
3 Day of Judgment
1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2 Sphinx of Lost Truths
3 Venser, the Sojourner
1 Elspeth Tirel
1 Baneslayer Angel
2 Sun Titan

4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Glacial Fortress
6 Island
5 Plains
1 Arid Mesa
1 Scalding Tarn
4 Tectonic Edge

Here is the (entirely unedited) e-mail I sent to Bigheadjoe (my co-host on my podcast, Yo! MTG Taps!—but you knew that already, right?) in the wee hours of the morning on September 10:


○ Condemn, Mana Leak, DoJ, Journey, Tumble Magnet – disruption
○ Preordain – card quality + cantrip
○ Wall, Oracle, Beleren – cantrips, blink targets
○ Sun Titan – gets back all the cantrip permanents, also gets back Journey and Tumble Magnet (if destroyed or discarded to SoLT or something). Sick blink target.
○ Sphinx of Lost Truths – can throw just about any of that stuff into the ‘yard & then I can just get it back w/ Sun Titan. Another blink target.
○ Venser – can blink almost everything to good effect (Wall, Oracle, Sphinx); resets Beleren and Magnet too.
○ Elspeth T. & JTMS – to assist & be alternate win conditions (considering how many cards I’m drawing, I’ll see them fairly often, but don’t need them to win)
○ BSA – because the only relevant ability she lacks is vigilance, and with Venser in play, she has it 🙂 Another win condition.

The interesting thing is I built the deck around Venser, but he’s not the win condition, so the deck is inherently strong against Memoricide (a lot of diversity).

There are a whopping 14 win conditions!:
Titan x2
Sphinx x2
Venser x3
Elspeth x1
JTMS x1
BSA x1
Colonnade x4

Tumble Magnet + Walls and Oracles force over-extension into DoJ or Elspeth’s ultimate. I can DoJ on turn 4, then on 5 do any number of things: SoLT, BSA, Elspeth; with a Condemn in hand, I can play Venser, blink-untap a land, and if a haste creature tries to attack the unprotected Venser, I have mana up for Condemn. Turn 6 a Sun Titan starts bringing back whatever creatures of mine that I may have wrathed away on turn 4.

Venser can also move the Journey to more relevant creatures if I want, and can blink himself to dodge Elspeth’s ultimate. Tirel also destroys Journey and Magnet, but Titan brings them both back. With a Venser in play, on turn 6 I can play Titan, get back a Wall or an oracle, blink the Titan, get back another Wall or Oracle. Plenty of protection for Venser and meanwhile filling my hand with spells for if/when I can use his ultimate. Tectonic Edge w/ Sun Titan & Venser is just sickening. Kill 2 nonbasics a turn. Then start exiling lands with Venser’s ultimate.

I’ve got a confession to make: I have yet to actually try this list, although I still feel it may have potential (I think it’s at least worth trying). Side note: If anyone actually does give this a try, I’d really love to hear your feedback.

So, that was 3 weeks ago, and since then I’ve come to the realization that Venser doesn’t actually need to be built around. Sure, you want to have targets for his blink ability, but the great thing about Venser is how well he already fits into the synergies of U/W Control! The most recent iterations of classic U/W are already playing cards that have a natural affinity for Venser’s blink ability: Wall of Omens; Sun Titan. Give your Baneslayer (or Wurmcoil Engine) faux-Vigilance, or save it from the Day of Judgment you’re about to cast. Move your Journey to Nowhere onto a more relevant target. Untap a land to keep counter-magic or removal mana open.

It only takes three activations to put him on his ultimate. Forget about the minus ability (although it’s there if you can capitalize on it). If you can protect Venser for just three of your opponent’s turns—not such a tall order if you consider the type of cards you’re likely already playing—you’ll be exiling permanents every time you cast a spell (whether that spell resolves or not).

Here’s a rough list, which I’ll be testing a bit this weekend:

2 Condemn
4 Preordain

3 Sea Gate Oracle
4 Wall of Omens

1 Negate
4 Mana Leak
1 Deprive
1 Stoic Rebuttal
2 Journey to Nowhere

4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
3 Day of Judgment
2 Venser, the Sojourner

2 Sun Titan
1 Wurmcoil Engine

4 Tectonic Edge
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Glacial Fortress
6 Plains
8 Island

No sideboard as of yet, but I’d expect to play the usual suspects: some number of Flashfreeze and/or Celestial Purge, and possibly Oust (for Fauna Shaman and other problem creatures that don’t tend to attack and thus are not susceptible to Condemn).

Other cards to consider (main or side, probably main) are Into the Roil and Ratchet Bomb. Into the Roil seems like it would be particularly strong in an unknown metagame as a nice catch-all. Ratchet Bomb is retrievable with Sun Titan and seems like just the type of card that you might want to reuse.

Whether you like Venser or not, Scars of Mirrodin has brought with it a TON of options, in addition to pushing some huge players out of the format (remember Bloodbraid Elf?). Now is a great time to not only look at the new cards but to also take a look back at the cards that might not have been as practical in a format like AlaraM10Zendikar Standard. There may be some hidden gems amongst the cards we all passed over while trying to fight against a turn-two Putrid Leech. I know a certain Dragonmaster who’s been eyeballing a modern-day Ophidian for its new-Standard potential…