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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Apr 11 2014 11:00am
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I love this game. I love writing about it. Compiling lists about it. Evaluating it. Sometimes, I even play it. I'm an Accidental Player.

 Welcome back to a deckbuilding feature of Accidental Player!
 One month ago, I sketched five different Modern monocolored decks, one for each color of the mana wheel, all based on the concept of "permanents matter" ramp. Three of them, the green, black and white one, were centered on (Nykthos, Shrine of Nyx); the red and blue one used a different approach. Since then, I entered the weekly Modern Ascension League with some of them (I'll do all eventually), and that kind of competitive test immediately put the decks through hell and high water, showing clearly what worked and what spectacularly failed. So now it's time to reevaluate those lists, card by card, and to come up with improved versions of each. In this installment, I'll start discussing the green and red builds.


MIDRANGE GREEN: PREDATOR NYKTHOS REDUX

 This is the list I originally played:

 

 And I've to say, probably thanks to my longtime experience with all things green, this list mostly did as well as expected: I ended up with a 3rd place and a 2nd place in consecutive league weeks. And with the certainty that Nylea, God of the Hunt is absolutely key in this deck. In fact, I came to think she's the most underrated monocolored God, and if it weren't for Purphoros' combo power in Commander, I'd rank her right behind Thassa and a long way above all the others. You can look at this game and see how confidently Nylea exploits all her three abilities: being a big indestructible beater, giving trample to her team, and turning excess mana into pumping. She even gets to use her last ability to KILL A WURMCOIL ENGINE! (Well, of course it was an illusory Wurmcoil Engine, but still).

 What's also evident from this game is that the deck is able to build up the board very fast in order to get Nykthos online, thanks to the Elves and Strangleroot Geist. A turn-3 active Nylea presents an issue to many opponents. At the higher ramp stages, Predator Ooze and Leatherback Baloth also didn't disappoint. The option of replacing the latter with Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers is still present, but I like the big butt of the Baloth, and with this level of early presence I rarely need to worry about defense. I want to show you some other games to properly appreciate the deck in action (warning: it was during the unfortunate time when the replays were unavailable, so I had to record the games live, which is why some of them start abruptly in medias res). This is an early Nylea win vs. UB Control (spoiling the addition of a card I'll discuss below, but that wasn't relevant in this case). As you can see, Nykthos isn't even needed once our GGG creatures show up to enable Nylea, which in turn makes them stronger.

 This is Predator Ooze shining against Pod, no less.

 And finally a couple of games opposite a Red Battle Cry deck.

 Even if the bulk of the deck performed nicely, I still wanted to experiment a little at the fringes of the list. For instance, as much as I liked the thematic flavor of Garruk, Primal Hunter in a deck helmed by Nylea, God of the Hunt (with her bow doing a lot of work as well, as you could see from the games above), I soon noticed I always ended up sideboarding him out in game 2. Which is not a terrible thing per se (come sideboard time, something has to leave room for specific countermeasures), but left me underwhelmed in general. So I tried different things in his place, including Witchstalker and even Khalni Hydra (of course the Hydra is born to be part of a devotion deck, but it's also definitely overkill). Then, as I had also started playing with my own version of Travis Woo's Aura Ramp deck (more on this in a future installment), it occurred to me that Primal Command was potentially a great card in this list, too. I typically tend to go overboard with a theme or mechanic in my builds, and it always comes the moment when I have to rein the concept in and smooth the edges a little.

 Admittedly, Primal Command brought the efficiency of the deck to a whole other level. My ramp puts me in the condition of casting Command very early, and delaying the opponent's battleplan while fetching one of my key finishers is invaluable. Not to mention what Primal Command does against burn strategies. At the same time, I realized that my curve-toppers, Wurmcoil Engine and Steel Hellkite, while always welcome, weren't always needed to win, as Chameleon Colossus and (Nylea) were enough of an endgame already. So I decided to cut on the colorless big boys, leaving just a metallic dragon as a fetchable countermeasure against Mirran Crusader and as a generic removal in case of extreme necessity. This, and the slots left empty by Garruk, gave me the room for a full set of Primal Commands and one main deck Acidic Slime as a silver bullet. I also consequently tweaked the sideboard a little now that the Commands allowed me to take a toolbox approach, with Vexing Shusher in particular as an improved, more Nykthos-friendly solution against counter magic than those cumbersome Leylines of Lifeforce (which I actually never tested, always fearing – with good reason – that they would end up wreaking the deck's balance). I also chose to take a mass removal route for enchantments and artifacts, with Back to Nature against Bogle and Fracturing Gust against Robots. This is the list I'm currently playing, to my great satisfaction:


MIDRANGE RED: BRAID OF FAIL

 This is the list I originally played:

Hammertime
A midrange Modern deck by Kumagoro
Creatures
4 Figure of Destiny
3 Akroma, Angel of Fury
3 Bogardan Hellkite
10 cards

Other Spells
4 Braid of Fire
4 Koth of the Hammer
4 Magma Jet
4 Slagstorm
4 Comet Storm
2 Obliterate
4 Faithless Looting
26 cards
Lands
24 Mountain
24 cards

Sideboard
4 Blood Moon
3 Ghostfire
3 Sowing Salt
3 Ricochet Trap
2 Shunt
15 cards
 
Koth of the Hammer

 

 And oh boy, was this list a disaster! It looked nice, didn't it? Yeah, too bad the math behind it was monstrously wrong. The idea was using Braid of Fire to ramp into flash creatures (Bogardan Hellkite), fast effects (Figure of Destiny, Akroma, Angel of Fury), and big damage-dealing instants (Comet Storm), with Koth as a secondary way to ramp. Sounds great, doesn't it?

 Real life math kicked in: say you play a turn-2 Braid of Fire, as you should. Then come the turn 3 upkeep, you just untapped 2 lands and you generated 1 free mana. Instant-speed effects that cost 3 in the deck? Zero. But it's still early, okay? Turn 4: 3 lands untapped, 2 free mana. Anything at 5, then? Nope, not a chance, unless you want to turn a Comet Storm into a Lightning Bolt (hint: you don't). But at this point, you can play a face-down Akroma for 3 (man, this sounds wrong), and morph her into her full glory next turn using your 3 Braid mana. Sure, that's a plan, but it all hinges on a 2/2 Akroma surviving. Which, I found out, she tends not to. Plus, that's a turn 3 or 4 play that only bears fruit on turn 5 (provided you actually played that Braid of Fire in turn 2). It's not exactly fast and furious.

 Let's talk Bogardan Hellkite, then. What's better than flashing a Hellkite on the board for free, right? Except, when would you get to do that, exactly? Let's see, 1 mana, 2 mana, 3 mana... that's turn 10! All right, we can help it with our lands, after all. And that makes... turn 6, best case scenario. You see, the original version of this deck, back when Seething Song was still legal in Modern, used to drop a Demigod of Revenge swinging for 5 in turn freaking 3. The clumsy pachyderm I was playing now couldn't compare in the least. Even Figure of Destiny, ostensibly the only fast play I had left, would just be the only target for the opponent's removals; once gone, I would be mostly at my enemy's mercy.

 So a few humiliating tests later (in a league week where I ended up with a whopping 0 wins under my belt), what I did was keeping Koth and the Braid, and change everything else.

 First of all, I wanted something to exploit an early Braid of Fire. Being in red, that would mean a damage-dealing instant at CMC 3 or less. Well, of course there's Lightning Bolt, and I for sure decided I needed some of them to stop early threats, but you don't really need a mana boost to cast Lightning Bolt, do you? After some researches (which incidentally led to the Outstanding Burn edition of the Topdeck Awards), I reconnected to a card I had liked a lot back in Zendikar block, i.e. the time I first came to MTGO. That card was Staggershock.

 I'm probably giving too dramatic weight to this reveal, considering that, as you'll see, I ended up taking Staggershock out. But it served me well for a while, and interacted nicely with the Braid, providing up to 4 damage for free most of the times. Rebound is an overlooked mechanic and when you rebound targeted damage, the opponents find themselves unable to commit their more fragile creatures to the board, thus delaying their gameplan to some extent. For the same reason, I also opted to use Volcanic Fallout over Slagstorm or Pyroclasm, since the Braid is able to fuel Fallout on its own while I do something else with the mana from my lands, resulting in tempo advantage (I even considered Sulfurous Blast in this regard). The uncounterability is of course a nice bonus.

 More so, I wanted a reliable instant at CMC 5, to better interact with the mentioned Braid of Fire math. I found one that I had never played before, a straightforward 5 damage for 5 with built-in, eventual recursion: Beacon of Destruction.

 However, the main issue of the previous build was the inability to drop big threats quickly enough, which is what this deck should do as a general premise. Even Koth could only give me a way to hardcast Bogardan Hellkite (or Obliterate, which didn't prove nearly as effective as I had hoped) not sooner than turn 5, and this assuming the opponent didn't kill him first: an unprotected Koth is bound to be attacked by whatever the opponent can send in his direction, and while this would divert the opponent's attention for a turn, buying me time, it also makes me lose one of my primary ramp engines. In short, I needed another engine, faster and more reliable. I needed a Seething Song replacement!

 Is there even such a thing in Modern, I wondered. Desperate Ritual and Pyretic Ritual only provide a tiny boost, and doesn't put me even close to the kind of hardcasting I needed. Infernal Plunge and Battle Hymn might, but in a totally different kind of deck (which one day I might even try and build. But not today). I was starting to despair. Then I remembered this totally underplayed card:

 Whoa, that's a +3 mana boost! It's more than Dark Ritual does! And it goes off at turn 4, only one turn later than Seething Song, but putting me in the 7 CMC range, which is huge! What to pair Geosurge with, then? Its clause says creatures or artifacts only. Unfortunately, that excluded Karn Liberated, which would have been a great play for turn 4, essentially equaling what Tron does at its best. After a brief investigation, I concluded that the only worthwhile 7-mana artifact in Modern is Spine of Ish Sah, which isn't a good fit for the deck, as it would ask for something like Phyrexia's Core to recur it, and if I used Geosurge to hardcast it in the first place, what I even recur it for? No, at that point it was clear that the creature domain was the only one to consider here. And since Geosurge generates all-red mana, my options were restricted to red and colorless creatures. Which left me with these 40 candidates. None of which were really good to me. Memnarch? Eh, I don't have blue mana. Platinum Angel? Sure, but it's not going to win me games fast enough. Some obligatory dragon? Well, Shivan Hellkite's ability does exploit Braid of Fire, after all, but it's clunky in general. (My Battlesphere)? Hmm, maybe. Triskelavus? Ah, c'mon!

  

 I wanted something that could impact the board right away, as one should. A haste creature would do, I thought, with memories of my Demigod of Revenge-enabled victories still lingering in my mind. Yet the only haste creatures in that lot were Hellkite Igniter and Stalking Vengeance, which both have an ability I couldn't really do much with; Molten Primordial, which has unimpressive stats and a situational, rarely crucial effect; and Ashen Monstrosity, which is just bad. It was more and more evident I should give up the idea of exploiting Geosurge to its fullest 7 mana. A good 6-mana creature goes a long way, I guess. And good 6-mana creatures in red and colorless? I knew some of them! So in the end, I piloted this revamped list to a 2nd place in the league.

Hammersurge
A midrange Modern deck by Kumagoro
Creatures
4 Inferno Titan
3 Stormbreath Dragon
2 Steel Hellkite
1 Hostility
10 cards

Other Spells
4 Braid of Fire
4 Geosurge
4 Koth of the Hammer
3 Lightning Bolt
4 Staggershock
4 Volcanic Fallout
4 Beacon of Destruction
27 cards
 
Lands
23 Mountain
23 cards

Geosurge

 

 You can see my choices veered towards the proven solidity of Inferno Titan, which certainly counts as a creature that leaves an indelible mark on the board from the get-go. I also added a haste creature for CMC 5 in Stormbreath Dragon. I wasn't planning to Geosurge the dragon in, of course, as 5 mana are an affordable amount in any midrange deck. What Stormbreath Dragon offers me here, while his more celebrated cousin Thundermaw Hellkite wouldn't, is the opportunity to put the Braid of Fire mana to good use via monstrosity. Plus, of course, that sweet protection from Path to Exile, Oblivion Ring and Detention Sphere, which always comes in handy. With a good deal of Titans and Dragons around, the creature suite of the deck now looked way more resilient and trustworthy.

 And speaking of haste, you'll also notice kind of an odd presence in the creature section. I'm talking of this guy:

 I can tell you that most of my opponents had to read what the hell Hostility's rule text says, because they never, ever saw it played. And you know what? After the first run with it, I upped his presence to 3 copies! Because I soon realized that what I got there were 6 haste damage and the chance of seal the deal the following turn with a well-timed Staggershock or Beacon of Destruction. Hopefully fueled by Braid of Fire, thus leaving me enough mana to hardcast a Stormbreath Dragon and attacking for up to 25 damage!

 Here, you can see a couple games where Hostility does its trick.

 There was still something I didn't like in this list, though. For one, the burn spells made for unimpressive late draws. Too often the Braid of Fire grew to gigantic amounts, a potential entirely left untapped. I knew I needed to bring Comet Storm back (too bad Banefire is sorcery-speed). And I still had the problem of dropping Koth turn 4 with nothing to protect him, thus essentially sending him to his death too many times. I searched something that Koth would be able to cast on his own the turn I would drop him. I needed a good defensive creature for 4 mana, essentially. In the end, I chose another fairly obscure guy (what can I say, I love the dark horses!): Obsidian Fireheart, a 4/4 for 4, able to come down the same turn as Koth and defend him to some extent, while at the same time comboing with the mana from Braid of Fire via a very interesting and unusual ability. It looks like a potential winning choice, but I still have to play with it enough to be sure it isn't just wishful thinking again. This build is more complex than it looks!

 This is the list I'm testing at the moment, with Anger of the Gods to fight Kitchen Finks and the likes, and main deck Blood Moon, given the current over-reliance to multicolored strategies in the meta:

Obsidian Surge
A midrange Modern deck by Kumagoro
Creatures
4 Obsidian Fireheart
4 Stormbreath Dragon
4 Inferno Titan
12 cards

Other Spells
4 Braid of Fire
4 Geosurge
4 Koth of the Hammer
4 Anger of the Gods
4 Comet Storm
4 Blood Moon
24 cards
 
Lands
24 Mountain
24 cards

Geosurge

 

 Interestingly, a Journey into Nyx spoiler seems perfect to solve the problem of a 7-mana creature able to fully exploit Geosurge. Not sure if it'll be worth it, but this dragon looks like the kind of thing you want to play in a deck like this.

 We'll see, I guess. Until the next time (when I'll tackle the many, many issues with the white and black Nykthos builds), good rogue-brewing to all!

1 Comments

Great article. Especially, I by romellos at Fri, 04/11/2014 - 11:38
romellos's picture
5

Great article.

Especially, I really liked to see new evolution steps of the Red Midrange deck. I was looking forward to see its current version after your previous comments about it.

Midrange Green deck with Primal Command is also fantastic. It's hard to stop that deck normally, when it has the right pieces there or Primal Command to tutor & Plow Under.