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By: Procrastination, Christopher Giovannagelo
Nov 03 2014 12:00pm
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Welcome back to The Modern Perspective! One of the most enjoyable aspects about Magic is that the game is always changing. Every new set has the potential to invigorate the formats we know and love. One of the most daunting aspects of Magic is that the game is always changing. Every new set can render time, energy or money spent useless. This mixture of 'exciting' and 'disappointing' is probably what keeps a lot of us interested in the game.

Still, there are times it can be frustrating. For example:

July, 2014: Burger with a Side of Deck Idea
Dinner with friends after our local Modern PTQ. I mentioned I would be writing again soon and was looking for some cards to write about. One card that came up often was this one:

Shadow of Doubt

When you hear about Shadow of Doubt, the context is usually an amazing blow-out story. It's always the "nail in the coffin" that ends somebody's game and banishes all hope forever and always. It is always unexpected and potent.

I could see where some of the praise was coming from. The card has a somewhat unique effect; there are very few cards in Modern, let alone the entire game, that negate library searching. It replaces itself with a card draw and the hybrid mana cost gives it various deck possibilities.

Back in July, the Modern Meta was full of Fetch Lands, Birthing Pod, Scapeshift and Tron decks. Shadow of Doubt was poised to strike at such a meta. 

Shadow of Doubt was interesting enough to deserve an article. I put the idea on the back burner to simmer for a bit.

August, 2014: Building, Testing and the Big News
I finally got around to drafting the first build a few weeks later. As the article title implies, I started with this freebie:

4x Shadow of Doubt

I wanted to make those Shadows stretch as far as possible, so Snapcaster Mage seemed like the next easy inclusion:

4x Shadow of Doubt
4x Snapcaster Mage

Those eight cards needed a frame work to exist in. I decided that against most decks, SoD was going to be a Stone Rain on a Fetch Land. If so, then I wanted to make a Tempo based deck to take advantage of the situation. Also, U/B wasn't (and still isn't) a very popular color combination in Modern, but I wanted to be able to cast SoD off Blue or Black mana. With those criteria in mind, I decided to revisit an idea I brought up last September: U/B Delver.

My original take on 'Dimir Delver' was a semi-budget experiment. Since I'd written that article, I'd acquired several other format staples, including Dark Confidant, Creeping Tar Pit and Thoughtseize. Since I owned more powerful cards, I saw no reason to hold back this time.


This version was a mix of strong discard, counters and cheap threats that demand an immediate answer. (Ok, not Nightveil Specter, I really wanted another 3 cost threat and didn't own Vendilion Clique.) Dropping a Turn 1 Delver followed by a Turn 2 Remand or Shadow of Doubt was ideal. The low casting cost of most of the cards in the decks was great for Dark Confidant, especially the 0 Cost on the tempo champ that is Slaughter Pact.

The sideboard had a nice variety of hate. There were cards for Pod and Bogle, cards for Storm or Scapeshift, cards to shift into a Control Role and a teensy bit of graveyard hate. I felt confident that it could handle anything that was thrown at me.

It was time to take it out for a test run.

  • Match 1 - Burn: I lose two games straight. It's not even close. I "almost" stabilize in Game 1, but once you dip below 4 life, any top deck will kill you. Game 2 featured a duo of Goblin Guides beating me into submission before I can do much of anything.
  • Match 2 - U/B Control: This matchup goes much better; my Tempo plan works perfectly. In Game 1 they have to use board sweeps to keep my lone, yet scary, threats off the board. Eventually a Tar Pit finishes them off. Game 2 a T1 Delver with counter back up goes all the way.
  • Match 3 - Nykthos Green: This list splashed White, which meant Fetches, which meant I was in a great position. Game 1 I landed a few threats, than cast a Shadow before Ghost Quartering a Utopia Sprawl enchanted land. The setback was huge and I won shortly after. Game 2 I didn't get in enough disruption and my opponent eventually had Garruk untapping lands and a Primal Command/Eternal Witness soft lock on me. Game 3 went much like Game 1; I wiped out an enchanted land with some strong Doubt in place and the opponent conceded.

2-1 on my first attempt seemed alright. Back then, a loss to Burn wasn't worth getting worked up about. Burn was just one of those matches you occasionally ran into. Besides, an important event was about to happen.

The announcement was made: Onslaught Fetches were coming to Modern.

This changed everything. Not only was Dimir Delver going to have a more consistent mana base (thanks to Polluted Delta), but more Fetches meant even more decks that could be wrecked by Shadow of Doubt. This was great! The set wasn't going to be released online for several more weeks, but that was ok. I'd focus on other articles and come back to this deck once the dust had settled.

October, 2014: The World Has Moved On...
Khans was available online and the prices had started to stabilize. I purchased my Deltas and considered some other changes. The buzz was still mostly about Jeskai Ascendancy combo, so it was one of the decks I wanted to be ready for.


There were very few changes. I'd finished writing my article on the Charms and wanted to give Piracy Charm a try. It could kill off mana dorks from Jeskai Combo or Pod, as well as pick off any of the other x/1's in the format. I added Batterskull to the sideboard because Burn was also getting some mention. I loaded up the deck and went into the Tournament Practice room.

My first matchup was against U/R Delver.

I lost horribly. It was hardly a contest.

Well, I lost my first match last time, no big deal, I tried another.

This time I faced Burn.

Once again, I lost horribly.

Not a problem. These weren't the decks I was aiming for anyways, so I had to keep testing.

My next six matches were against either U/R Delver or Burn.

Overall I finished 0-16 in games. I didn't even win a single game.

Why such a dismal record? It's not that hard to explain.

U/R Delver was attempting roughly the same game plan, but doing everything better. Their more versatile removal could also go to the face to win games. Young Pyromancer tokens remained even if I could remove the Pyromancer. Their counters, Spell Snare and Spell Pierce, cost less mana but could trump mine in a fight. Swiftspear often did between 2-4 damage the turn it was cast, making removal after a losing cause.

Most importantly they had Treasure Cruise.

If you haven't seen it in action yet, let me assure you, Treasure Cruise is amazing; especially in this deck. My Dark Confidant had to stay alive a whole turn to get me a card at the cost of random life. Cruise just needed a U+(7-X number of cards in the graveyard) of mana to grant the caster 3 new cards. On the chance that I had managed to fight them down to a top deck war, a single Cruise would invalidate most of my hard work. Heck, sometimes my "hard work" of discarding cards was just setting them up for a Cruise.

The entire Burn plan comes down on me harder than I'm prepared to handle. First they hardly use Fetches. Sure there are some versions that splash for White or Black, but even the ones that did usually fetched out the appropriate Shock Land on T1. Shadow wasn't touching them after that. Also, how could I out tempo a deck that tossed out redundant low mana/3 damage spells? 2 Mana counters were proving powerless, especially Remand.

Another problem was Eidolon of the Great Revel. Unless I could immediately answer it, Eidolon would shred through my life points. It turned Snapcaster Mage + Flashback into a 4 damage burn spell. Not good. Most of my blockers would get picked off by Searing Blood for more damage.

Then there was Dark Confidant. Boy, was he horrible in this match up. It didn't matter what stage of the game it was: early, late, whenever. All that mattered was that life was too precious to spare. Greatness at any cost? Does 'losing the game' count? I sided it out every Game 2.

The few cards I had in my sideboard for this match were futile as well. At 22 Lands, I usually didn't get close to dropping down that Batterskull in time.

Present Day, Present Time: Lessons Learned
The poor results of the testing taught me a few things:

The meta has shifted to a focus on Tempo over Attrition: Currently, the speed-to-damage ratio of a deck is all that seems to matter. Gone are the days where the player who could produce the most value per play ekes out the win. Consistently hitting the 20 life mark seems easier than in previous seasons. Between the high damage production of Prowess and the ability to reload with Cruise, things have changed.

Dark Confidant is really bad right now: It's sad, but true. The top decks are packing plenty of answers for DC. Even if they don't answer it, the life loss will probably cause you to lose the game before you can take advantage of the extra cards.

Life Gain is almost a requirement: Being able to outlast Burn and Delver is easier if you can pad your life total. It's not an instant win against either deck, but it helps race.

Finally, if you are going to take one bit of advice from this article:

Meta-game shifts can happen rapidly; don't sit on an idea forever: Cards that can prey on one meta could be completely useless against another. A few months back, Shadow of Doubt could have been great. Right now, it is not. 

Conclusion
So there we have it; I finally wrote the Shadow of Doubt article. It certainly didn't go the way I'd originally planned, not even close. Still, it's important to learn from our losses and our victories. Facing the meta with the wrong deck can teach you a lot if you keep your eyes, and mind, open.

This new meta is a very different landscape than the one we had back in July. The Age of Treasure Cruise Delver and Burn is at hand. Will the Modern Player Base find the answers to this meta and re-establish a more balanced one? Can innovation thrive, or even survive? Only time will tell...

For those that miss my tracking of the Modern Land Prices, tune into my next article on November 17th, to see what I have in store on the price front.

Tin Street Market

Until next time,

- Gio


The Modern Perspective Archive

You can follow me on Twitter @TehGioSays

5 Comments

Current Modern and Legacy by romellos at Mon, 11/03/2014 - 17:56
romellos's picture
5

Current Modern (and partially, Legacy) meta is heavily dominated by Delver variants (RU, RUG and BUG) and UR/x Burn decks as it was expected since Treasure Cruise spoiled. Treasure Cruise will get banned with next update, but that also means we still have 3 months to survive in this current meta.

Of course, there are options to handle current situation. But no matter what, it is not the similar meta we are used to play during last two years.

You're right about life gain, as I also started to see rise in modified Sisters decks around more often. And they seems more consistent than before.

And GW or GWB Hate decks also seems good against Delver & Burn decks in general.

Hey, Romellos, thanks for the by Procrastination at Tue, 11/04/2014 - 09:58
Procrastination's picture

Hey, Romellos, thanks for the strong rating!

I agree that this current meta is a very different one than Modern players have faced in the past. For me, that makes it sort of fun. A clearly defined top tier deck/archetype is a target. You can try to meta specifically against it. The online meta is Delver heavy, plan for it.

G/W can do well against these decks. My silly Shoal deck was beating Delver because it could produce a clock to race with, a huge chunk of life to pad my total and Shining Shoal was screwing up everything. Watching them tap out for a Cruise when I had the win next turn was a reminder that sometimes card advantage isnt always king.

I also lost a game to Burn with the Shoal deck, even after gaining 15 life, which shows how resilient Burn is right now though.

- Gio

How to cash a Modern daily by wolftree at Wed, 11/05/2014 - 09:20
wolftree's picture
3

How to cash a Modern daily event on MTGO: Step 1. Put four Kor Firewalkers in your deck.

Yeah, there are a lot of by Procrastination at Wed, 11/05/2014 - 15:59
Procrastination's picture

Yeah, there are a lot of sideboards right now that start with 4x Dragon Claw.

Kor Firewalker is good, but it's not unstoppable. Delver flys right over it and a well timed Skull Crack can turn a typical block into a bloody mess. No one card turns off either strategy. A good Burn player won't fold to a single Leyline of Sanctity...

I'm a little curious about the 3 "star" rating. Was there something more you wanted from the article, or felt was lacking?

The second piece of the by wolftree at Thu, 11/06/2014 - 05:19
wolftree's picture

The second piece of the puzzle is sufficient removal. These UR decks don't run that many creatures. I am extremely hesitant to keep hands without a Lightning Bolt or equivalent, for example. Apart from the mentioned things Vapor Snags and Snapcaster Mages also exist and need to be played around.

Three stars means 'good'. There is always room for improvement, for example looking at all the ways the meta is adjusting right now to beat the prevalence of Delver decks. There are some pretty off-the-wall looking brews cashing dailies right now.