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New (Seismic) Sheriff in Town

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The letter T!his past weekend's Grand Prix in Lincoln, Nebraska, brings Top Decks to the current PTQ format: Modern.

And in the process, Lincoln does so with the resurrection of a new old deck in first position—an update to Aggro Loam!


Focus on The CAL


Bronson Magnan won Lincoln with Aggro Loam, an exciting development for any players who are interested in:

  • Interactive Magic
  • Powerful Cards
  • Drawing [Powerful] Cards
  • Making Land Drops
  • Attacking with Gigantic Creatures

...so, basically, everything anyone likes to do in Magic (at least other than tapping Islands, to be fair).

Aggro Loam really does quite a few things well. Modern is a format with some very fast and powerful combo decks, so for a mid-range deck like this one to be competitive, it needs to be able to preempt the opponent's win with relevant disruption. Magnan played seven discard spells main (three copies of Inquisition of Kozilek and four copies of Raven's Crime), as well as Liliana of the Veil on top of those.

The 3–4 split on Inquisition of Kozilek versus Raven's Crime might seem odd, but Magnan's deck really wants to find a Raven's Crime (if even by the dredge on a Life from the Loam) because Life from the Loam is such a powerful engine, turning lands—often free or bonus lands—into cards (namely the opponent's cards). It is kind of a backwards runaround, but Life from the Loam makes a massive amount of pure card advantage. But those cards are "just" lands; the lands fuel an ostensibly "eh" Raven's Crime, but in bulk, you have a situation where Raven's Crime is essentially always trading up, and going long enough with both Raven's Crime and Liliana of the Veil, the opponent can be completely locked down.

Liliana of the Veil has tremendous synergy with Life from the Loam, as discarding Life from the Loam is basically long-run irrelevant. It can trade one-for-three every turn in essentially inexorable fashion; there is no amount of "fair" card trading that can ever stop a Life from the Loam, and Liliana putting it in the graveyard is actually one of the best places it can be (for instance, there are decks in this Top 8 with the card Vendilion Clique). In addition, discarding Life from the Loam is great because then you can dredge it to set up some lands-in-graveyard card advantage.

A card that is very much like Raven's Crime (but weirder looking) is Flame Jab. I wouldn't have thought of Flame Jab as a particularly playable card in Modern, but I would have certainly been down with Darkblast (another card that Magnan played, albeit in the sideboard), and Flame Jab can hit opponents in the face.


So what is the value of these reusable but superficially one-mana-for-one-ding/ping/point-of-toughness removal spells? Essentially, they are reusable! There is not a single non-Mistbind Clique Faerie that can realistically live through a Darkblast or Flame Jab. Spellstutter Sprite: Dead. Vendilion Clique: Dead. Scion of Oona: Dead... dead Dead DEAD. Even Sower of Temptation out of the sideboard can fall victim to "upkeep, Darkblast that, dredge back Darkblast, Darkblast that."

And again: Flame Jab can go to the face.

Magnan played all kinds of powerful cards that have varying levels of synergy with Life from the Loam, but Seismic Assault is the kind of card combo decks have been built around in the past. Basically, while Bronson is dredging up some of those twenty-eight lands, three-for-one every turn, rather than discarding he can just discard a land to deal 2 points. That 2 can be to the face (and can be a huge end-game flurry) or can be to a creature. The important thing: most of those cards being discarded are basically free, and Seismic Assault asks for no operating mana (big wow). You might have to bend your base a little to hit Red ManaRed ManaRed Mana, but it really isn't a huge amount to ask given the options and the returns in a Loam deck.


On top of this, Aggro Loam is one of the most card-advantageous decks in the format. Not only does it have Life from the Loam—which is essentially an Ancestral Recall every turn, provided you can do something with lands—it has Dark Confidant. Bronson played twenty-eight lands, ten one-drops, twelve two-drops, and nothing over three mana (save Obstinate Baloth in the sideboard, which gains life)... so Maher has little downside here.

In terms of creatures, that is where the "Aggro" part comes in. Tarmogoyf is a known quantity. In a Dredge deck, filling your graveyard isn't really hard to fulfill. What is more interesting is Countryside Crusher.

If you've never played Countryside Crusher, here's how it works: You never draw land. Not only do you never draw land, the creature gets bigger every turn you were supposed to draw land. Here's how the card is really spectacular with Life from the Loam: Countryside Crusher gets +1/+1 when lands hit the graveyard... which is subtly different from just counting how many lands are in the graveyard. What does this mean for a deck that is good at digging lands back out of the graveyard as well as milling them and dredging them in? Your Countryside Crusher stays huge even when you use Life from the Loam to take lands out. More than that, if you pitch such lands to Seismic Assault, you get even more +1/+1 counters... for the same lands!

Life from the Loam | Art by Terese Nielsen

Magnan's deck certainly seems exciting, but it is important to note that the Lincoln Top 8 had all of two copies of Jund Charm—total—in sideboards (one was in this deck's), and Luis Scott-Vargas's Grafdigger's Cages text that doesn't stop you from dredging Life from the Loam to recoup against Countryside Crusher, fuel Seismic Assault, or just make land drops. Hate is the big limiting factor on this deck. Because, unchecked? Like I said before, it provides the opportunity to do everything almost every player likes to do in Magic.

... well, other than tapping Islands.

Samuel Karls took care of that for this Top 8, though.

Samuel Karls's Mono-Blue Faeries
Modern – Top 8, Grand Prix Lincoln 2012


Pretty straightforward Mono-Blue Faeries here. There are pretty robust control capabilities to this deck (permission for their spells and Vedalken Shackles as the big trump) but long-term counterspell control is kind of an illusion in Modern, with the powerful draw engines and the presence of the storm mechanic. Faeries doesn't just counter a target spell, but uses flash creatures (one of which is pretty big) to close out the game before the opponent can draw out of the Mana Leaks and Remands.


Spellskite is there to deflect some defense, but Faeries's blue-based "take on all comers" philosophy might have some long-run problems following this Grand Prix. Darkblast was already a fringe card played in a variety of black decks, from Jund to Bump, to close out Wizards decks that could only win with Delvers, Snapcasters, and Confidants. And Faeries isn't in a much better spot... especially with Magnan's innovation of Flame Jab.

And now for something completely different (and also blue):


LSV, the de facto consensus first-pick of Pro Tour Drafts, has bounced back from an off #PTDKA with a Top 8 in Lincoln. His White-Blue UrzaTron deck is packed with power... and, in particular, powerful creatures.

Most of the White-Blue UrzaTron decks we have seen to date in Modern have finished the game with a combination of Mindslaver and Academy Ruins. Instead, the ChannelFireball superstar chose to bend his copious mana to winning on the spot (because that's pretty much what happens when you tap 15 for Emrakul, the Aeons Torn).


The repositioning on victory conditions allows for some heretofore unexplored lines of play; for example, LSV played Unburial Rites... a card that, front-side, he might have some problems playing. But toss in a well-placed Thirst for Knowledge? Fatty plus flashback can very well be up in the opponent's grill (non-Eldrazi fatty, natch).

Uncontested, the Urza's mana engine is one of the most powerful things you can exploit in the Modern format, and LSV's individual card choices are reflective of that. His permission front-line of Remand and Condescend don't just counter target spell... they dig. Expedition Map is there to not just finish an Urza's assembly... it can get Eye of Ugin, too (by the way, Eye of Ugin is quite friendly with Wurmcoil Engine).


Luis Scott-Vargas was one of two huge names in the Top 8 of Lincoln; the other is the reemerged favorite Andrew Cuneo. Cuneo is not just one of the most seminal deck designers in the history of Magic (having invented the Draw-Go archetype back in 1997), but was considered one of the good men of the Pro Tour (Andrew once gave his opponent a take-back in an elimination round of a Masters grinder because he didn't want to win if there was any confusion about the number of token creatures on the battlefield that were tapped... he won the event anyway). One of the most consistently successful Magic Online performers, Andrew got back on the Pro Tour at the World Championships and has parlayed his Top 16 finish to a reinvigorated set of appearances... including a finals in Lincoln.


We have actually talked about Cuneo (Gainsay) playing Melira-Pod previously on Top Decks!

The main combination goes like this:

  • Viscera Seer with Melira, Sylvok Outcast in play allows you to sacrifice Kitchen Finks over and over (Melira prevents the persist re-buy from putting –1/–1 on Kitchen Finks).
  • Meanwhile, the scry 1 on Viscera Seer actually lets you filter through your deck—your entire deck if you like—while gaining "infinite" life...
  • So you can find Murderous Redcap! Ditto on the repeated sacrifices, except you hit the opponent ten times instead.

You don't have-have to execute exactly this way; Birthing Pod and Ranger of Eos let you just dig and assemble while chaining up.

These days, you can chain all the way up to Mikaeus, the Unhallowed. Mikaeus can give your non-Human creatures undying... which is obviously convenient in a deck based on sacrificing creatures.

Double-ups!

Two different known quantities each put two players into the Top 8 of this GP, Affinity and Jund.

Affinity

Mary Jacobson's Affinity
Modern – Top 8, Grand Prix Lincoln 2012


Samuel Friedman's Affinity
Modern – Top 8, Grand Prix Lincoln 2012


Jacobson ran the more traditional Mono-Red Affinity... fast beatdown finishing in a flurry of Galvanic Blast and Shrapnel Blast; her use of Glimmervoid being a bit of help in playing Ethersworn Canonist and Ancient Grudge in sideboarded games.

Friedman added a City of Brass for additional mana or non-red mana. Not only does he have the Ethersworn Canonist and Ancient Grudge in his sideboard, but he also has some need for white mana in the main for Steelshaper's Gift. Blinkmoth Nexus is a perfectly fine attacker, but Inkmoth Nexus plus Cranial Plating can often kill in one poisonous punch.

Jund

Mat Mercier's Jund
Modern – Top 8, Grand Prix Lincoln 2012


Derrick Rutledge's Jund
Modern – Top 8, Grand Prix Lincoln 2012


It is a testament to the diversity of the Modern format that we can have a BRG deck like Magnan's Life from the Loam in the same Top 8 as two other Jund-colored decks... and that those decks are distinct not just from the Loam model, but from each other.

Sure, both Mercier and Rutledge have similar cores to their builds... Bloodbraid Elf, Tarmogoyf, and Dark Confidant as their four-ofs, with a shake of Kitchen Finks, but Rutledge played not just the full four Finks but even added Standard standout Olivia Voldaren. Mercier used those slots on additional functionality, like more land—and more man-lands—and Jund Charm. Jund Charm in the main deck can deal damage, save creatures from removal, annihilate the graveyard, or sweep a ton of tiny guys right under the rug. Plus, it is a medium-expensive three you can play for free off a Bloodbraid Elf. I don't know how often this will come up because of the timing on sacrifice effects (and the relatively low frequency of undying effects in Modern at present), but you can probably find a time when Jund Charm can turn off undying (and it is actually worth a card).

Diversity, it seems, is the state of the game. Players reported playing as many as twelve different archetypes! Super diverse formats with no clear leader tend to favor the most powerful decks with relentless card advantage or mana engines; in your determination of which angle you will take, you certainly have a lot of options! Good luck.



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