Since my last update War of the Spark has become legal in modern and has shaped things quite a bit for a single standard set release. With it we now have a massive influx of big mana decks (Tron continuing its rise as well as Amulet and Valakut) which is in large part a response to all of these decks now getting to add in, at the low cost of some main deck and sideboard slots, a prison package with Karn, the Great Creator. This has also led to huge reemergence of Humans in the meta and the now more heavily planeswalker based UW Control. This has also led to a waning in the popularity of Phoenix and Dredge to currently just role players and a small reduction in main deck graveyard hate.
To respond to this I have made a few changes to the main deck and sideboard but overall the main leanings of my list from the last update are the same. The only change to the main deck is the addition of the 4th Electromancer over the 2nd Peer Through Depths. This its mainly a response to the meta shifting to have a higher percentage of matchups where we are looking to jam a bear on turn 2 every game against limited removal (big mana, humans, UW for example) and with drawing multiple bears to “power through” is much more appealing. The second Peer was still great but here we just need to be able to have a reducer in play to combo off more often and early.
The other changes in the Sideboard are also minor. The larger of the two is the removal of Shatterstorm. This was mostly in part due to the drop off of Whir Prison and decline in Hardened Scales, where the card truly shined over other options. With the new Karn everywhere at the moment though, and replacing all the other “prison” strategies, I have landed on running a Negate in this slot as it still answers Karn in those big mana matchups while also being something for the control matchup, which has also been on the rise and is much tougher now due to their inclusion of new Teferi and Narset. The final change to the board was also just the change of the Flame Slash to the 3rd Lightning Bolt. This was mainly due to a reduction in Phoenix decks and not really having any other matchups that are popular currently where we need the extra damage. (note: we still have a gifts package to answer Eidolon of Rhetoric from creature decks with in the 3 bounce spells.)
Below I will outline the Hate Cards, Sideboarding, and general game plans for the most popular matchups currently and any matchups that have stayed the same will be the same as was presented in the last blog post,
Hate: Surgical, Ravenous Trap, Dispel, Spell Pierce
In: 1 Grapeshot, 1 Echoing Truth, 1 Negate, 2 Empty the Warrens, 3 Pieces of the Puzzle
Out: 3 Gifts Ungiven, 1 Past in Flames, 1 Sleight of Hand, 2 Goblin Electromancer, 1 Remand
Preboard: Here their main plan is to execute which ever of their plans that gives them the fastest start against us is while holding up minimal reaction for that window turn. This is commonly either a bolt or or Surgical so we should be playing a reactive game until this point where we try to set up either a huge turn to be able to brute force through a surgical (usually via gifts with enough floating we can then flashback PiF right after before priority is given to the opponent) or to have a nice Grapeshot + Remand kill. I would like to note here though that the remands should be valued quite highly and not just used for tempo as they are vert good for combo turns by not just remanding Grapeshot for the kill but to also protect our bears since they commonly tap low as mentioned on said window turn. Another thing I would also like to note in the matchup currently is that the main decking of Surgical is no longer almost guaranteed. There is not a large portion the has replaced them with Gut Shot in response to the rise of Humans and reduction in graveyard decks. Thus if you see Gut Shot before going off you have a high likelyhood that there is no main deck graveyard hate.
Postboard: Here not much changes on their side except they have more copies of graveyard hate cards (Surgical and Ravenous Trap) and they gain a few 1 mana counterspells. For us meanwhile we gain a more resilient main engine in Pieces over gifts and now that we have Empty we can produce another angle of attack only it just requires making sure there is no Thing in the Ice to stop it in time. Due to the removal of Flame Slash I leave in the repeal now to still have 2 answers to Thing but also this helps us against their Ascension draws as well which are becoming more common due to their lower number of graveyard hate cards and trying to “flip the script” on our current plan of the responsive role in the matchup. Note here though that we are still “the control” so that there is no clear plan A to force before we even start playing postboard, it is still quite dependent on the direction the opponent takes most of the time.
Hate: Relic of Progenitus, Surgical Extraction, Karn, the Great Creator, Thought-Knot Seer
In: 3 Pieces of the Puzzle, 1 Echoing Truth, 1 Negate
Out: 2 Gifts Ungiven, 1 Past in Flames, 1 Repeal, 1 Sleight of Hand
Preboard: Here usually it is just a big race where we will slam a bear on turn 2 almost any chance we can (with few exceptions) and we just try to combo off on turn 3. Note that this will entail a lot of “hope you don’t have the Karn/natural Tron” type plays that we just have to jam into. While usually the traditional scenario above is how we play this matchup out new Karn has changed it a bit, as casting him with tron on turn 3-4 is similar to how it would play out with old Karn only now the path to winning is a significantly lower percent due to prison elements being very hard for us to beat game one, especially when we only really have one turn to answer it before the Lattice combo comes online. So this doesn’t change our play much since it still is the same basically the same effect as when they cast a planeswalker before but does significantly affect our ability to remand it with 8+ mana on their side due to them being able to “wish” for Tormod’s Crypt. Beware that the opponent does also have many Relics main that can come down any turn so it is still important to always keep the Remand + Grapeshot line in mind when sculpting and casting Remands.
Postboard: With New Karn, they have severely limited boarding options so it will typically be limited to about 2-3 cards in the form of Thought-Knot Seer and/or Surgical Extraction, as opposed to the previous 4-5 pieces at least. They also now typically have basically no removal so our bears are even safer but our main plan is still the same as before, we just lean a little harder on Remand + Grapeshot.
Hate: Counterspells, Surgical Extraction, Rest in Peace, Damping Sphere, Relic of Progentinus, Teferi, Time Raveler
In: 3 Pieces of the Puzzle, 3 Empty the Warrens, 1 Wipe Away, 1 Grapeshot, 1 Negate
Out: 3 Gifts Ungiven, 1 Past in Flames, 1 Pyretic Ritual, 1 Desperate Ritual, 2 Goblin Electromancer, 1 Repeal
Preboard: Here our main plan is to make land drops and not fall behind there as we have inevitability in the matchup. Also we are almost always looking to jam a bear early as they have little removal outside of Path to Exile (which also ramps us and plays into our make land drops strategy). We are here just looking for the right window which the opponent will most of the time have to give us (usually by tapping low for a Jace/ Old Teferi) and then just capitalize on our mana advantage to kill them. Here we also sometimes will cast Gifts end of their turn to also produce a counter fight we intend to lose to produce the same effect. While our traditional strategy above is the plan we’d really like to still happen with the addition of new Teferi they can hamper our try to tap them down its gifts, remand plans, and our usual ritual a few times in response to removal that we lean on later for bears. To combat this we should still be jamming bears early but also but them playing these walkers they give us more opportunities that they will tap lower themselves (similar to Jace and Old Teferi) so we should be looking out for these as well. Note that they also play Narset, Parter of Veils which while cary doesn’t actually interact with us much outside our cantrips (Serum Visions and Manamorphose in particular as opt can be cast on their turn and Sleight doesn’t technically draw a card), as combing off we don’t actually need to draw cards.
Postboard: Here we have Empty as another angle of attack against them that isn’t commonly use for a go big and hope it wins line but instead as small waves of attacks (ie empty for 4-6 goblins) that force the opponent into sub games they need to solve with expensive answers such as Supreme Verdict or Detention Sphere. Thus then forcing a window for us to then go off with grapeshot. Also important to note is that these mini waves while probably not lethal by the time they are handled do make the double grapeshot/grapeshot+remand lines much easier to accomplish as the opponent will likely be at 13 or less life. Again here while the above is still what we want to do we should currently put a higher priority on mini Empty lines as with more planes walkers and additional permanent based hate, such as Damping Sphere and Rest in Peace, as well as removal of terminus they are even more ill equipped to deal with the waves. Also note that here they are stronger against our grapeshot remand lines due to Teferi so we should also be willing to “cycle” them for tempo a bit more often than in the past.
Hate: Leyline of the Void, Damping Sphere
In: 3 Pieces of the Puzzle, 2 Empty the Warrens, 1 Echoing Truth
Out: 3 Gifts Ungiven, 1 Past in Flames, 1 Repeal, 1 Remand
Preboard: Here it is a pure race where we really just hope they don’t have the crazy present 8+ power on turn 2 draw or to play around Conflagrate. Other than that though they have no instant speed interaction so we just hope to either stick a turn 2 bear or turn 3 bear plus remand to buy time/combo off.
Postboard: Here they now gain meaningful interaction for bears in Lightning Axe while also making our graveyard very unreliable due to Leyline. Thus we do switch over to Pieces and Empty here. One thing to note though is that due to Creeping Chill Empty the Warrens have to be for large quantities here a lot (12+ Goblins) most of the time to clock the opponent in time.
Hate: Hate bears, Damping Sphere, Grafdigger’s Cage
In: 3 Lighting Bolt, 2 Abrade, 1 Grapeshot, 1 Echoing Truth
Out: 3 Remand, 2 Sleight of Hand, 1 Pyretic Ritual, 1 Desperate Ritual
Preboard: Here it is all about how interactive the opponents draw is and whether or not we can jam a bear on turn 2. Besides Grapeshot we have no good interaction main deck to go against them so we typically just try to execute our combo or mow down their whole board with Grapeshot. We are a bit weak to them with this build game 1 due to the many remands, no Unsubstantiate and no empty. So if you have any opportunity to use a remand for any value its almost always correct to take it.
Postboard: Now we board in a lot of removal so we take on the control role and just try to kill everything interactive as well as keep their clock in check. By siding out the rituals we make sure we are less likely to flood out with nothing to do as we are trying to extend the game. We are still all about jamming bears on turn 2 as it gives us our best weapon vs Thalia and maximizes our ability to dig for removal if needed. Note here that they now commonly bring in lots of artifact based hate so the abrades are extra valuable. Also this generally slows them down as they have a less consistent deck and thus we still can maintain the plan of answer creatures then just deal with sphere later. Note here that while humans hasn’t really changed strategically much after War of the Spark for us we should expect our first bear to be answered much more often due to the uptick in number of Dismember being run in their Sideboard, as well as Deputy of Detentions.
Grixis Death’s Shadow
Hate: Discard, Stubborn Denial, Surgical Extraction, Nihil Spellbomb
In: 3 Pieces of the Puzzle, 3 Empty the Warrens, 1 Echoing Truth, 1 Grapeshot
Out: 3 Gifts Ungiven, 1 Past in Flames, 3 Remand, 1 Repeal
Preboard: Here they will be attacking us on many axis starting on turn 1 so we will have to hope to survive a while. The biggest part of the matchup preboard is determined by their draw and how fast they get out a 4+ power threat to turn on Stubborn Denial. One thing to note here though is due to their life total being <11 much of the time we can piece together lots of low resource and/or bearless kills against.
Postboard: Here they now mostly just gain graveyard interaction but we gain Empty as just 4-6 goblins is commonly enough to threaten death to them quite quickly. Also Pieces is a bigger upgrade to Gifts then usual are we not only dodge graveyard hate but we dodge non ferocious Stubborn Denials easier and Disdainful Stroke. Again here the most common way we will lose is due to a threat by turn 3 from them with backup. Note though that here we are leaving in the bears unlike in many previous board strategies, this is due to them boarding down to 4 removal commonly, them being unable to counter bears with their current choices in counter magic, ease with which sticking one lets us “mini” go off from heavy discard starts from the opponent, and the chip damage from attacking not being irrelevant.
Hate: Discard, Scavenging Ooze, Surgical Extraction, Nihil Spellbomb, Grafdigger’s Cage
In: 3 Pieces of the Puzzle, 3 Empty the Warrens, 2 Lightning Bolt, 2 Abrade
Out: 2 Gifts Ungiven, 4 Goblin Electromancer, 2 Baral, Chief of Compliance, 1 Remand, 1 Sleight of Hand
Preboard: Here we will have a medium amount of graveyard hate to fight though game 1 in the form of Ooze but also have to always be aware of Nihil Spellbomb as it is seeing lots of play in the main deck. We typically here are just looking for windows to go off as the opponent is just trying to 1 for 1 us into the ground until a Goyf or Ooze kills us. The main plan is to tyr and set up a time we can EOT Gifts withe no graveyard hate on board and then just win the next turn as they don’t have any non on board ways to graveyard interact in the main typically. Also to note though is that being willing to use a grapeshot to kill early creatures is totally fine as even though it will likely get exiled it wont be surgicalled so we still have a way to win and the ooze/bob early will usually invalidate most of what we do later.
Postboard: Now the matchup gets a bit better for us as we now have Empty to either create a subgame to solve (6-8 goblins) or just make a big one and hoe they don’t have the answer. This is a better strategy here than against Control due to them not having cantrips to dig for or incidentally see along the way during the game. They do now have surgical but unless my hand is quite well set up to use it soon I would still expose Grapeshot early to kill a Bob or Ooze. We do minimize this need though by boarding in Bolt and Abrade. Also note that since we are more Empty heavy and their usual answer is Pulse holding back a bolt or abrade on combo turn instead of getting more goblins is correct a fair amount of the time.
Hate: Bojuka Bog, Negate, Pact of Negation, Karn, the Great Creator
In: 1 Negate, 2 Abrade, 1 Echoing Truth
Out: 2 Sleight of Hand, 1 Peer Through Depths, 1 Repeal
Preboard: This is a pure race where they do have main deck interaction with one way being Bojuka bog, but without a Tribe Scout it is only sorcery speed so can still be played around, and now the addition of Karn which can easily fetch a Tormod’s Crypt to hold off our graveyard a turn then they Lattice us out . Basically this plays out similar to a faster Tron matchup from our perspective, only now its much closer than before new Karn. So the whole game should center around landing a turn 2 bear, but one small difference from this to the tron matchup when considering whether to jam or hold up remand it is here much more often we hold up remand if they have the ability to cast a titan or Karn (with replaying it) the next turn with amulet in play. Also would like to note that now if they assemble 10 mana it is basically game over with just a Karn, while before most threatening Titan turns would need an Amulet in the first 4-5 turns.
Postboard: Now they gain ways to interact with our bears in Path to Exile but we are still on the racing plan. Also some builds might not run white anymore but will still have removal in either the form of Dismember or Assassin’s Trophy. We also gain ways to kill or bounce scout and Azuza so if we can do that and we are getting pathed (or dismembered) we have hopefully slowed them down enough to then be on the same speed as us thus giving us and edge due to Remand. Also even though we are still racing we must give consideration to any untapped blue and if they have 5+ mana with 2 or more of it being blue due to Negate and Pact. Also note that we have boarded in the Negate as we are still very afraid of Karn. This is the matchup most affected by the new addition of Karn though as they not only can lock us but still have their normal game plan to race us, epscially when we are on the draw.
Hate: Grafdigger’s Cage, Damping Sphere, Surgical Extraction
In: 2 Pieces of the Puzzle, 2 Abrade, 1 Echoing Truth, 1 Wipe Away, 2 Lightning Bolt
Out: 3 Remand, 1 Gifts Ungiven, 1 Past in Flames, 1 Pyretic Ritual, 1 Desperate Ritual, 1 Goblin Electromancer
Preboard: Here they have no real way to interact with us outside of Walking Ballista so we are on the jam bears and hope to not die on turn 3 plan a lot. Also since their deck is slower than normal affinity and has a lot of 2 drops sometimes it is correct to hold up remand instead since they are typically quite bad in the faster matchups we can still find a way to time walk them more often that we’d expect
Postboard: Now instead of fearing basically nothing we are expecting to always see a fair amount of hate so we turtle up a bit and side out some rituals to function similarly to hoe we do against humans post board. The major difference being that they have welding jar so bounce goes up in value but we no longer have a”reset” button in Shatterstorm so we have to be a bit more careful.
Hate: Eidolon of the Great Revel, Rest in Peace
In: 3 Empty the Warrens, 3 Lighting Bolt, 1 Echoing Truth
Out: 1 Sleight of Hand, 3 Remand, 1 Gifts Ungiven, 1 Repeal, 1 Peer through Depths
Preboard: Here the strategy is mostly to hope for no Eidolon or have the answer to it ready all while in a racing scenario. Barring that though we will just want to set up a fast kill and if we have drawn multiple bears to hope they don’t have searing blaze and to use them as “healing salves” to extend the game as burn has a harder time dealing 23+ damage
Postboard: Now we again gain the extra plan of Empty and a quick one for 10 + goblins is usually enough. We are weaker to their pure burn based draws now but are much stronger against Eidolon or Rest in Peace due to Empty. We are also more able to handle the Eidolon draws similar to game 1 due to the extra removal, but this matchup is still quite unfavorable to we just have to hope these small edges can get us there.