To Be Continued: Post-Ban Snapshot

It’s been just over a week since Once Upon a Time got the boot in Modern, so we don’t have a lot of information with which to decisively answer the question on everyone’s mind: where does the format go from here? We do, however, have some data points. Today, we’ll look at a few decks from Modern Preliminary #12102042, the very first Wizards-published online event since the ban. While the info therein is unlikely to accurately shape our understanding of the coming months, it does offer us:

  • a window into strategies being picked up early to accommodate the new metagame
  • an idea of the changing landscape
  • reassembled builds of decks directly affected by the ban
  • some lighthearted reading in this surreal time of social distancing

Modern Preliminary #12102042

I know very little about this tournament other than its name and its decklists. But it seems like some things have definitely changed in Modern since the Once Upon a Time ban. The following four decks exemplify some of these changes.

Bant Snow

Last week, we heralded the dominant UGx Midrange super-archetype: a collection of splashy effects floated by a core of Arcum’s Astrolabe, Ice-Fang Coatl, and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. We also focused on nonwhite decks, as most Bant decks were electing to run Stoneforge Mystic over the Uro package. Since the Once Upon a Time ban, that trend has been bucked.

Bant Snow, ZYURYO (5-0, Modern Preliminary #12102042)

Creatures (9)
Ice-Fang Coatl
Snapcaster Mage
Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath

Planeswalkers (6)
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
Teferi, Time Raveler

Instants (14)
Archmage’s Charm
Cryptic Command
Dovin’s Veto
Force of Negation
Mana Leak
Path to Exile

Sorceries (3)
Supreme Verdict
Winds of Abandon

Artifacts (4)
Arcum’s Astrolabe

Lands (24)
Breeding Pool
Field of Ruin
Flooded Strand
Hallowed Fountain
Misty Rainforest
Mystic Sanctuary
Snow-Covered Forest
Snow-Covered Island
Snow-Covered Plains
Temple Garden
Sideboard (15)
Dovin’s Veto
Aether Gust
Ashiok, Dream Render
Celestial Purge
Crucible of Worlds
Engineered Explosives
Mystical Dispute
Pithing Needle
Questing Beast
Surgical Extraction
Veil of Summer
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Bant Snow was the only deck to 5-0 this preliminary; a similar build also achieved the same result. But the deck was immensely popular by any metric. Of the 14 UGx decks present in the preliminary, a whopping 12 were Bant, with two of those running Stoneforge Mystic and three packing Urza, Lord High Artificer. The non-Urza decks played Supreme Verdict, pegging that card as the shard’s apparent draw.

Another benefit of white, though, is the unmatched effectiveness of Path to Exile as an answer to opposing Uros. In the UGx mirror, having the option to not only remove the 6/6 from the battlefield, but prevent it from ever re-escaping, is surely game-winning. Path can even be cast in response to escape’s sacrifice trigger, gaining a small edge in the value war—opponents subsequently lose the option to escape Uro for the extra cantrip down the road.

Traverse Shadow

Traverse Shadow rarely ran Once at the full four copies, but nonetheless adored the instant. In this shell, Once was like a zero-mana, zero-setup Traverse the Ulvenwald, and casting it even turbo-charged delirium for actual copies of Traverse down the road.

Traverse Shadow, JLED (4-1, Modern Preliminary #12102042)

Creatures (14)
Death’s Shadow
Grim Flayer
Street Wraith
Windcaller Aven

Planeswalkers (1)
The Royal Scions

Artifacts (4)
Mishra’s Bauble

Instants (12)
Assassin’s Trophy
Fatal Push
Stubborn Denial
Temur Battle Rage

Sorceries (11)
Inquisition of Kozilek
Traverse the Ulvenwald

Lands (18)
Blood Crypt
Bloodstained Mire
Breeding Pool
Nurturing Peatland
Overgrown Tomb
Polluted Delta
Stomping Ground
Verdant Catacombs
Watery Grave
Sideboard (15)
Assassin’s Trophy
Fatal Push
Stubborn Denial
Collective Brutality
Disdainful Stroke
Grafdigger’s Cage
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
Kolaghan’s Command
Liliana, the Last Hope
Mystical Dispute
Nihil Spellbomb
Pithing Needle
Plague Engineer
Veil of Summer
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The slots leftover from removing Once are filled with more interaction, including the elusive Delay; since Shadow decks enjoy an aggro-combo dimension with Temur Battle Rage, giving enemy spells suspend is often the same as countering them, as opponents won’t ever get a chance to resolve that critical spell. Overall, though, the deck’s composition remains unchanged.

Eldrazi Tron

A major benefactor of Once Upon a Time, Eldrazi Tron used the cantrip to locate its major mana producers and beefy threats alike. But the deck’s core is apparently too legit to call it quits post-ban.

Eldrazi Tron, CHERRYXMAN (4-1, Modern Preliminary #12102042)

Creatures (17)
Matter Reshaper
Reality Smasher
Thought-Knot Seer
Walking Ballista

Planeswalkers (6)
Karn, the Great Creator
Ugin, the Ineffable

Instants (2)

Sorceries (1)
All Is Dust

Artifacts (10)
Chalice of the Void
Expedition Map
Mind Stone

Lands (24)
Blast Zone
Cavern of Souls
Eldrazi Temple
Ghost Quarter
Scavenger Grounds
Tectonic Edge
Urza’s Mine
Urza’s Power Plant
Urza’s Tower
Sideboard (15)
Walking Ballista
Ensnaring Bridge
Grafdigger’s Cage
Leyline of the Void
Liquimetal Coating
Mystic Forge
Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
Sorcerous Spyglass
Spatial Contortion
Tormod’s Crypt
Torpor Orb
Wurmcoil Engine
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Without Once, the deck can happily return to being fully colorless, although Once didn’t warp its mana terribly; indeed, the deck had been content to run a single Forest findable by Expedition Map, aiming to cast Once for free most of the time anyway. So it’s a return to business-as-usual for this old Modern stalwart, whose continued relevance will surely be met with a resurgence in Tron decks powered by the suddenly-good-again Ancient Stirrings (which, unlike Once, is still not good enough for Eldrazi Tron).

Red the Runes

Mono-Red Prowess was a sure-fire short-term winner following the ban announcement. Aggressive red decks are always decently positioned after a format shake-up, and Mono-Red Prowess had already been been enjoying high success in a metagame light on removal.

Mono-Red Prowess, RIICKITUN (3-2, Modern Preliminary #12102042)

Creatures (15)
Kiln Fiend
Bedlam Reveler
Monastery Swiftspear
Soul-Scar Mage

Instants (14)
Burst Lightning
Lava Dart
Lightning Bolt

Sorceries (13)
Crash Through
Forked Bolt
Lava Spike
Light Up the Stage

Lands (18)
Fiery Islet
13 Mountain
Sunbaked Canyon
Sideboard (15)
Blood Moon
Dragon’s Claw
Leyline of the Void
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With the format shifting towards midrange, though, Burn seemed like it might again have its day; count-to-20-style strategies such as these aren’t interested in trading resources with opponents, and Lava Spike is a lot harder to effectively one-for-one than Monastery Swiftspear.

Instead, Prowess is hanging on thanks to Bedlam Reveler, a way to refuel against disruption-heavy opponents. The midrange decks in question aren’t usually interested in running heavy-duty graveyard hate like Rest in Peace, as they they themselves tend to rely on Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. Besides, Mono-Red Prowess as an archetype boasts the perfect strategic positioning to get the most out of Reveler when it comes to sideboard battles; Rest in Peace and the like prove quite useless against the rest of the deck, pulling opponents in multiple angles by attacking them in different ways.

A newer arrival is Kiln Fiend, which heavily pressures opponents trying to string together a value engine. Once Uro gets going, it can be hard for Burn-style decks to content with; the Titan walls everything, hits like a brick, digs pilots into more interaction, and even gains life! But it’s also slow, leaving a window for Fiend to “Crash Through” and dent opponents enough that they can’t recover.

A New Chapter

It seems that for most decks in Modern, Life Goes On post-Once Upon a Time. The decks that ran it aren’t changing much but are still clocking results, at least for the time being. And the aggressive strategies that attacked the card’s largest benefactor, Simic Titan, are also chugging right along.

All that’s left is Titan itself, which may need a major redesign if it wants to stay in the format. While some players may return to the Amulet Titan deck not too distant in Simic’s heritage, I expect others still will tweak the new deck into something usable, if fringe; the two Titan decks will then coexist in Modern, living on happily ever after. Like any good story, though, there’s bound to be a sequel—where do you think Modern’s headed minus its most splashable card?

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