It has been a while since my last update and in that time multiple bannings have occurred. First was Bridge from Below which made the meta even more based around the graveyard so we just had to lean even harder into the same strategies we were already employing for maindeck hate of that kind. Next though were Hogaak and Looting (along with the Stoneforge Mystic unban) so now the format has become much more fair and non-graveyard driven. While Hogaak was a decent matchup, Phoenix leaving as well means we no longer need to fear maindeck Surgical Extraction. Also, we now can just be a more streamlined machine game 1 (similar to how we were post BBE/Jace unban). There is a downside though, and that is the Stoneforge unbanning which many fair and control decks will play, does blank our smaller Empty the Warrens lines. Overall I think that the meta is settling to a point centered mainly around Urza decks, Tron/Valakut decks, Thoughtseize decks, Noble Hierarch decks, and Burn.
Given this magnitude of a shake up the format has been through, surprisingly the maindeck changes are extremely minimal. The only change in the maindeck is taking out the Empty the Warrens for a Sleight of Hand. Now that there is no maindeck Surgical Extraction and Stoneforge with making smaller Empty the Warrens much worse, we no longer need it and are reverting back to the old “well oiled machine” approach of just being as efficient and powerful as possible game 1. Also the format having slowed down is still not that slow and that is why there are still 8 bears in the list. Plus drawing ~2 is great against a lot of opponents game 1 currently (even when not a race) and the single Peer Through Depths synergies well with them too.
The real surprise though is the sideboard which is exactly the same. This of course wasn’t the case over these months and testing but this is when I landed on my favorite configuration. There have been a lot of changes though on our roles in matchups and what we need to bring in post board though.
Aslo since it has been a while I will give a basic rundown of each of the sideboard cards reasons to be boarded in would be (vaguely in general) so then in addition to a refresher they can also be used to help guide in side boarding for matchups not listed below.
Pieces of the Puzzle: This if for when the graveyard is not safe at all and we can’t just brute force with Gifts.
Empty the Warrens: This is when we want an alternate win condition, typically in slower matchups. It is now much worse though in many matchups, which is why I have only 2.
Aria of Flame: This is mainly for matchups where they just can’t deal with it at all or it has lots of upsides (Eldrazi Tron and GDS).
But due to the decline in Empty being reliable we do board in a single copy in many other matchups, typically slower ones.
Lighting Bolt: This comes in whenever we need to kill creatures, Planeswalkers, or even just sometimes Lava Spike. Given the new Planeswalker focus of many slower decks post board though these come in sometimes over abrade.
Abrade: This is our creature and artifact slot that does most of the duty of covering Damping Sphere for us when we see it.
Dismember: This is for creatures when our life total isn’t too relevant early.
Echoing Truth: This is our catchall answer that comes in anytime there’s a non creature permanant we need to take care of. It goes well with repeal and dismember or rebuild at times to have “gifts piles” postboard to answer a hate piece.
Rebuild: This is our new Shatterstorm and its been much better than Hurkyl’s by not being hit by chalice for 2 and cycling if unneeded.
Hate: Eidolon of the Great Revel, Rest in Peace
In: 3 Lightning Bolt, 2 Abrade 2 Empty the Warrens
Out: 3 Opt, 2 Remand, 1 Gifts Ungiven, 1 Repeal
Game 1: This is a pure race. We mostly have to hope they don’t have Eidolon (especially on the draw). Otherwise we can utilize excess bears to soak up damage or try to hope they stumble a little bit and we can set up a window to go off.
Postboard: This is still mainly a race but our removal now gives us a chance against an Eidolon draw. When looking at an opening hand one should have a way to deal with an Eidolon or way to win quickly to keep. We also now gain another angle in Empty the Warrens. While they now have Rest in Peace to board in I usually just ignore it as the matchup is still quite unfavorable. We also will want to make sure to note when we need to abandon removal spells to kill an early creature, and just die to an Eidolon, if that is our hands best route to victory (this is usually turns 3+ or if we are evaluating winning with empty over a couple turns).
Hate: Leyline of the Void
In: 3 Pieces of the Puzzle, 2 Empty the Warrens, 1 Echoing Truth
Out: 2 Gifts Ungiven, 2 Sleight of Hand, 1 Past in Flames, 1 Repeal
Game 1: This here is a pure race as they only have one way to interact with us in the form of Conflagrate. I just always try to jam as fast as possible in this matchup and for slightly slower draws that we get remand is still quite effective here.
Postboard: They will possibly now have Leyline of the Void so this is why we have the Pieces and Empty package coming in. Note her though that due to Creeping Chill we need our Empty Lines to be quite large much of the time (usually presenting lethal the following turn). They also now have more removal in Lighting Axe so our bears aren’t always safe. Note: if they get to “go off in game 2 and there is a 3rd to be played we get to see if there is any grave yard hate in their list. If there is none we can put the gifts and Past in Flames Back over 2 Pieces of the Puzzle and and an Empty the Warrens
Hate: Damping Sphere, Relic of Progenitus, Veil of Summer
In: 1 Rebuild, 1 Echoing Truth, 2 Pieces of the Puzzle
Out: 3 Sleight of Hand, 1 Gifts Ungiven
Game 1: This is a race where we are heavily favored as we are a turn faster on average. Here the key is to not expose a bear if we don’t have an extra and just set up a remand then untap win scenario or gifts then untap win scenario.
Postboard: Now they have access to hate artifacts and Veil of Summer so we have to just respect that by having 3 bounce spells to have a Gifts Package to untap and win and also to respect Veil we have some Pieces of the Puzzle. These are also useful for racing which we still might have to do as they are priced into keeping just speed based hands in the matchup. A key new thing to note though is to make sure to keep exact count of lands for remand as 7 is now way more dangerous due to Veil protecting their payoffs now.
Hate: Relic of Progenitus, Veil of Summer
In: 3 Pieces of the Puzzle, 1 Echoing Truth
Out: 2 Sleight of Hand, 1 Gifts Ungiven, 1 Repeal
Game 1: They don’t usually run maindeck hate anymore but here this is just a race where we jam a turn 2 bear and hope most of the time. They do now have some “hate” in that Karn, the Great Creator is in their deck which can get tormods Crypt (pre tron assembled) or Trinisphere (post tron assembled). this is similar to them casting normal Karn against us just a bit more effective.
Postboard: Now they have some Interaction in removal for our creatures and possibly a Relic of Progenitus or Grafdigger’s cage. Thus the plan is still the same we just now are better equipped to deal with graveyard hate and are just a bit faster overall.
Hate: Chalice of the Void, Leyline of the Void, Ravenous Trap, Warping Wail
In: 3 Pieces of the Puzzle, 2 Empty the Warrens, 1 Rebuild, (play 2 Aria of Flame)
Out: 3 Sleight of Hand, 2 Gifts Ungiven, 1 Past in Flames, (play 1 Baral, 1 Goblin Electromancer)
Game 1: Here this is a race similar to normal tron only now they have lock pieces and hand disruption. We are favored as they are less efficient at assembling tron on turn 3 but the games are usually a huge blow out either way. Here we just want to jam bears on turn 2 and hope to get under Chalice, Remand it, or get lucky and naturally draw Repeal. Note: they also have Karn the Great Creator so those lines from above apply here as well.
Postboard: Now they have graveyard hate in either Leyline or Ravenous Trap and possible Warping Wail. Thus the plan is the same as before where we jam a bear and hope our draw lines up well. We do also here want to lean less on Empty if possible though as they do have more outs than before in Karn (due to wishing for Ensnaring Bridge). Also here I board in the Aria of Flames on the Play as they line up well against E Tron’s limited answer and just casting it on turn 3 is ok a lot more due to their on average slower mana production. I don’t like it on the draw though as its too slow on turn 3 and we just will need to race to hope to keep up.
Hate: Discard, Scavenging Ooze, Damping Sphere, Nihil Spellbomb
In: 3 Pieces of the Puzzle, 2 Empty the Warrens, 2 Lightning Bolt, 2 Abrade, 1 Dismember
Out: 4 Goblin Electomancer, 2 Remand, 2 Baral, 2 Gifts Ungiven
Game 1: This game is usually a bit grindy as our main goal is to cast gifts and untap to win usually using a bear as a lighting rod (cast multiple rituals in response to removal) or just a completely bearless line. Sometimes we are presented an early windows though for us to just go off, based on their draw, but this isn’t usually the case. While they do have a lot of discard we aren’t too afraid of it since we are on the go long inevitability plan of just flashing back a Past in Flames and going off. Their best card (and one we want to always kill with Grapeshot if possible) is Scavenging Ooze, preboard as its their only graveyard interaction. Also another common thing to come up is timing a bearless line to line up right before a Liliana of the Veil ultimate.
Postboard: Now things get a bit more complicated in that they do also have some direct hate for us now in either Spellbomb and/or Damping Sphere. Unlike before modern horizons we need to be more fearful of relying on Empty the Warrens as they have Plague Engineer which is an upgraded Maelstrom Pulse in that it perpetually stops future waves when on board. Other than this though we are still just tyring to grind and 1 for 1 the opponent until we can pull ahead and “go off” or just go at them in waves (such as small Empty’s then followed up by a small Grapeshot). We board out a lot of our creatures here as we dont expect them to live often and we don’t want to put too many in our graveyard (form Pieces or playing them into removal) to accidentally let mid game Oozes grow beyond Bolt/Abrade. Lastly, one thing to also note is some builds are bringing in Ashiok, Dream Render so we should also be a bit weary there as it stops Gifts and Past in Flames.
Grixis Death’s Shadow
Hate: Discard, Counters, Nihil Spellbomb, Surgical Extraction
In: 3 Pieces of the Puzzle, 3 Lightning Bolt, 2 Empty the Warrens, 2 Aria of Flame, 1 Echoing Truth, 1 Dismember
Out: 4 Goblin Electromancer, 3 Gifts Ungiven, 2 Remand, 1 Baral, 1 Repeal, 1 Past in Flames
Game 1: Here we keep most ok 7s as we know we will have discard cast at us and we just try to figure out what they might have from what is discarded if possible. We are heavily unfavored here as they have discard, counters, creature removal, and a fast clock. Our best plans usually have us hoping they tap out to give us a window or hoping they have a slower draw and we can grind a bit against them. Also a lot of the time we want to leverage drawing multiple bears by just casting them here as they don’t have that much removal and if one sticks we can then usually beat 1 Stubborn Denial at least.
Postboard: Here they will board in more discard, graveyard hate, removal so they do also slow down a bit. We board out most of our creatures as they won’t live much and we can then be more focused on lower resource lines while blanking draws from the opponent. We also board in all out win conditions as Bolt serves the purpose of being lethal sometimes, kills early Death’s Shadows (which are the scariest draws from them for us), and kills Plague Engineer. Plague Engineer does blank Empty but we still need to bring it in as a decent shot in this bad matchup. We also receive a huge upgrade in Aria of Flame which helps us diversify as well.
Hate: Counters, Surgical Extraction, Rest in Peace
In: 3 Pieces of the Puzzle, 2 Empty the Warrens, 2 Lighting Bolt, 1 Aria of Flame
Out: 2 Gifts Ungiven, 2 Goblin Electromancer, 1 Pyretic Ritual, 1 Desperaste Ritual, 1 Opt, 1 Past in Flames
Game 1: This is no longer a battle of waiting for them to tap low or go off early as they now have a decent clock in Stoneforge and they commonly have Force of Negation to stop us form exploiting their tapping low as well. To combat this I lean heavily into just jamming bears until I can’t as they only have Path usually so rampant growth is still great. Plus I do make then have the Force a fair amount early if they tap low as it doesnt look to get better going longer (they have a clock and I can’t beat much interaction anyway).
Postboard: Now they typically bring in more counter spells and more specifically more Force of Negation so we do need to respect it more often. Also they do bring in a Surgical and possibly Rest in Peace. Now I will typically try to still go with the jam bears approach and see what they are up to. Lighting Bolt comes in here over Abrade (even though they have Stoneforge) since it can hit Planeswalkers which they lean on a lot now for advantage while also being able to change the clock on an empty or Grapeshot line. We try to kill their walkers more aggressively in the mid game and lean on grinding up through their counters to a Past in Flames (why we leave in 2). Note though that if they do board in multiple Rest in Peace we switch up to keeping a Gifts in over the 2nd Past in Flames and instead of this heavy grinding plan we lean a bit harder on empty.
In: 3 Lightning Bolt, 1 Dismember
Out: 2 Sleight of Hand, 1 Grapeshot, 1 Repeal
Game 1: This is a race pure and simple. Remand can be nice but this is all about who can stick a bear and then go off. Being on the play is heavily favored and when you are on the draw its usually correct to just slam a bear on turn 2 (even if they did as well) to just hope.
Postboard: Here we just board in removal as without a bear we are generally much slower but the 0-1 mana removal lets us break serve or break up a combo and this makes our remands even better. We still follow the same protocol as preboard but now we expect the game to go a turn or 2 longer and we want our opening plan with what we keep to either be a quick win or coherent and reasonably fast with removal.
Hate: Bojuka Bog, Counters
In: 2 Abrade, 2 Lightning Bolt
Out: 3 Sleight of Hand, 1 Repeal
Game 1: This is a combo matchup so it is basically a race. Here the only real interaction is Bojuka Bog, Engineered Explosives and a Pact of Negation, otherwise we just goldfish.
Postboard: Now they have a couple counter spells and some removal in Path and/or Abrade usually. We now have some tools to stop their creature ramp but we are still racing and I try to go with the plan of jam a bear and go from that point still. Some builds are running Karn the Great Creator again so the graveyard will be offline more due to them only needing 4 mana to cast and get Crypt. Also against such builds we don’t have as much ability to go long as Karn locks us out on the spot after a certain point.
Hate: have access to any 3 cmc or lower hate bears but mainly Scavenging Ooze, Eidolon of Rhetoric, and Shalai are what will be the big ones that will pop up.
In: 3 Lightning Bolt, 2 Abrade, 1 Dismember, 1 Echoing Truth
Out: 3 Sleight of Hand, 2 Remand, 1 Pyretic Ritual, 1 Desperate Ritual
Game 1: Here we are in a pure race scenario again as they can also combo on turn 3. We also don’t have much in the way of interaction so we just try to goldfish as fast as possible. One thing to note though is now with Eladamri’s Call most builds don’t run Chord of Calling anymore so if they didn’t have a druid on their turn we can safely assume we can pass the turn back without dying.
Postboard: Now things get a bit tougher as they board in hate bears that they can tutor for but we do now gain a sizable assortment of removal spells. We now assume a slightly more controlling roll of killing any problem hate creature such as Ooze, Eidolon, and Giver of Runes (as she protects any creature after her) as well as parts of their combo (Druid or Vizir). We do ignore their mana creatures otherwise typically (unless in a “mow the lawn” with grapeshot on all their stuff line) as they don’t do much to hurt us and we are basically just racing still. It is also important to note Shalai is a problem when going for slightly longer games so we need to be weary of holding onto/extra copies of Gifts.
Hate: Thalia, Meddling Mage, Freebooter, Gaddok Teeg, Damping Sphere, Kambal
In: 3 Lightning Bolt, 2 Abrade, 1 Dismember, 1 Echoing Truth
Out: 3 Sleight of Hand, 2 Remand, 1 Pyretic Ritual, 1 Desperate Ritual
Game 1: Here this is a race where we are just trying to always have a bear on turn 2 and just hope that they don’t have enough disruptive creatures to stop us. This is due to a similar reason as with Druid in that we just don’t have enough interaction to try and compete on being “the control”. Here an exception is if we do have to “mow the lawn” and essentially plague wind them to buy time. This is a bit more effective here though as they don’t have a combo to just win right back at us. Also another helpful thing to remember is that we can essentially “blank” Thalia by having two bears in play.
Postboard: Now we have our removal spells so we assume a controlling roll. We still are all about getting a bear into play on turn 2 as this is the best way to combat Thalia and their minimal amount of removal spells but now we can have removal for any creature that is actually stopping us from going off or significantly reduces their clock. One thing they do have though after board that is different is Damping Sphere, so then we should prioritize saving abrades when possible. Also, note to be sure to have Meddling Mage in mind when cantripping/Giftsing as to hedge when possible to not get blown out there as well.
Hate: Grafdigger’s Cage, Nihil spellbomb, Damping Sphere, Discard
In; 3 Pieces of the Puzzle, 2 Abrade, 1 Aria of Flame, 1 Lighting Bolt, 1 Echoing Truth, 1 Rebuild
Out: 3 Gifts Ungiven, 1 Past in Flames, 3 Goblin Electromancer, 1 Pyretic Ritual, 1 Sleight of Hand
Game 1: We are the faster deck and we they have little removal so we can jam our bears early. We do need to be aware of their hate artifacts (listed above) and Whir of Invention. We try to just go off here as usual (prioritizing Grapeshot Remand lines as they have main deck hate) but we must always be aware of them having whir mana up as they can just grab Sphere in response to something effectively silencing us. Sometimes we must play into this though as they are a combo deck too so we have to check our odds or trying vs going longer are. Note here that remand is also extremely important as they only can usually cast 1 bigger spell a turn.
Postboard: Now they gain lots more removal for our creatures and some discard but not much else. We have diversified our win conditions though and removed much of our graveyard reliance. Now we try to grind a bit with them and just destroy the problem artifact and untap to win. Prioritze Baral over Electromancer due to Spellbomb and Brutality. Also, important to note that if you see Teferi and Path in their build you should not board in Aria and keep in an Electromancer.