Ancestral Vision and Sword of the Meek Will Revolutionise Modern, And Here’s How, by Matt Gregory

2207
Ancestral Vision and Sword of the Meek Will Revolutionise Modern, And Here's How by Matt Gregory

Ancestral Vision and Sword of the Meek Will Revolutionise Modern, And Here’s How

Back in January, immediately after Splinter Twin was banned from Modern, I wrote an article explaining my fears that Modern would rapidly degenerate into a tedious format where only highly linear strategies were truly viable. That ended up being broadly what happened, albeit for a very different reason than I had anticipated. Like most people before the Pro Tour, I was not yet aware of just how broken the Eldrazi deck would turn out to be.

In the weeks leading up to the latest Banned and Restricted List announcement, we all knew that one of either Eye of Ugin or Eldrazi Temple was going to get the axe, and it was a moment of relief that many players, who had temporarily (and not unreasonably) fled from Modern, were looking forward to. I, however, was feeling less optimistic. Even though the Eldrazi menace would be relegated from being essentially the only Tier One deck going to an also-ran, I still felt that my prediction of a format full of fast, low-variance combo and aggro strategies with no viable control decks to hold them in check would hold true.

And now we’ll never know, because Wizards threw us all a huge bone. Ancestral Vision, one of the highest-impact draw spells of the Modern era, was unbanned alongside Sword of the Meek, ready to team up once again with its old partner in crime Thopter Foundry. Personally I love these changes. Not simply because rational unbans are something I generally believe are a good thing for deck diversity, but because I believe these cards open the door to multiple non-linear decks which have the potential to keep the format’s various lightning-speed combo decks in line. Both of these cards, in their own unique way, promote longer and more interactive games, and as far as I’m concerned that’s great news for Modern.

Today I’m going to discuss how I expect these newly unbanned cards to impact the format and provide some starting points for those of you looking to build around them, complete with a few first drafts of decks I’m looking forward to testing out. Enjoy!

 

A VISION OF THE FUTURE

One of the reasons I love the Ancestral Vision unban is that it’s a card that forces a player using it to try and create longer games. Longer games mean more interaction points, and more interaction points generally mean more interesting matches. The power level of this card is, obviously, huge. One mana for three cards is an incredible deal, and of course has to come at a price – you have to wait four full turn cycles to get your hands on those three cards (whilst remembering to remove a time counter upon your upkeep of course).

That means that a lot of decks that initially look like good homes for Ancestral Vision aren’t necessarily as interested in the card as you might think. The old Twin decks, for instance, would not have been as excited as you might expect to get a two card boost the turn after they wanted to go off, and the same may end up holding true in decks like Scapeshift which have broadly similar play patterns. In a deck like that a Vision suspended on the first turn is likely great, but any drawn thereafter are effectively dead cards as they neither draw you into the combo on time, nor help you to stay alive long enough to reach the combo. In a format like Modern, where card efficiency is absolutely crucial, you can’t afford to risk too many dead draws or often you simply won’t end up with enough answers to your opponents’ game plan, nor will you assemble enough pieces of your own plan to make it function.

So what shells should we be looking at for Ancestral Vision? The first place to look is traditional “hard” control:

Matt Gregory’s Modern Jeskai Control

[Deck]4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Flooded Strand
1 Arid Mesa
2 Hallowed Fountain
2 Steam Vents
1 Sacred Foundry
2 Tectonic Edge
2 Island
1 Plains
1 Mountain
4 Ancestral Vision
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Path to Exile
3 Lightning Helix
2 Remand
3 Mana Leak
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Electrolyze
3 Supreme Verdict
4 Cryptic Command
2 Goblin Dark-Dwellers
1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
1 Sphinx’s Revelation[/Deck]

Sideboard:

[Deck]2 Wear // Tear
1 Izzet Staticaster
1 Spellskite
3 Stony Silence
2 Timely Reinforcements
1 Pyroclasm
2 Dispel
1 Keranos, God of Storms
1 Threads of Disloyalty
1 Counterflux[/Deck]

Cards like Cryptic Command and Supreme Verdict work beautifully with Ancestral Vision, not only by virtue of helping you to extend the game to the point where you get to cash in the Vision, but also because they’re great redundant cards to draw multiples of as the game goes on. I.e. The third or fourth Cryptic Command is usually just as strong as the first.

By comparison, if you play a card like Vision in a combo deck (like Thopter/Sword), you open up an increased risk of drawing multiple cards you don’t need during the late game. Drawing extra Commands is great. Drawing extra Sword of the Meeks isn’t. In general I expect Vision to be much better in decks which have a low number of cards they don’t want to draw multiple copies of, and Jeskai Control is a great example of a deck where almost all of the cards have the same value in the late game as they do in the first five turns.

This deck also utilises a recent card which has fantastic synergy with Ancestral Vision: Goblin Dark-Dwellers. Dark-Dwellers comes into play on the exact turn that your first turn Vision came off suspend, meaning you can instantly cash it in for an extra three cards, as well as 4/4 body with pseudo-evasion. That’s incredible value and a play I expect to make quite a lot over the coming months.

 

WE INTERRUPT THIS BROADCAST TO BRING YOU A PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT

This seems like a great time to briefly pause and tell the less rules-savvy among you how Vision interacts with Snapcaster Mage and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. In short? It doesn’t.

Whilst you can indeed legally target an Ancestral Vision in the graveyard with either card’s ability, you may not actually cast (or suspend) the Vision because a “null” mana cost can’t be paid. The reason it’s especially important to be aware of this is because if you call a judge over to your table and ask them if you can target Vision with a Snapcaster, they are obliged by their own rules to say “yes”. They will then stand next to you for a few moments with a sad look upon their face as they prepare to give you a game rule violation penalty when you actually try to cast it.

Goblin Dark-Dwellers, on the other hand, specifies that you can cast the card without paying its mana cost – an important distinction which means that the rules simply don’t care that Vision doesn’t actually have one in the first place.

The TLDR is: Goblins good, little Blue Wizards bad.

 

WE NOW RETURN TO OUR SCHEDULED PROGRAMME

Draw-go control is, of course, far from the only style of control that can benefit from the unbanning of Vision: Grixis Control was a popular archetype before Twin (a great match-up) disappeared and Eldrazi (a hilariously bad match-up) showed up in its place. The Vision/Dark-Dwellers interaction is as good a reason as any to reinvestigate the deck:

Raymond Griffith’s Grixis Control, 11th at SCG Modern Classic Baltimore

1 Island
Mountain
Swamp
Blackcleave Cliffs
Blood Crypt
Bloodstained Mire
Creeping Tar Pit
Darkslick Shores
Ghost Quarter
Polluted Delta
Scalding Tarn
Steam Vents
Sulfur Falls
1 Watery Grave
Goblin Dark-Dwellers
Snapcaster Mage
Young Pyromancer
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Vendilion Clique
Electrolyze
Izzet Charm
Kolaghan’s Command
Lightning Bolt
Mana Leak
Remand
Terminate
Tribute to Hunger
Ancestral Vision
Serum Visions

Sideboard:

Leyline of the Void
Dispel
Negate
Spell Pierce
Terminate
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Crumble to Dust
Damnation
Molten Rain

Raymond Griffith’s list from the recent Modern Classic highlights just how flexible you can be in a deck like this. I also like the fact the he presumably recognised the issue of having Ancestral Vision draw you into bad late-game cards by excising hand disruption from the list entirely in favour of additional removal. A Cryptic Command may still be great on turn ten, but an Inquisition of Kozilek most certainly isn’t. It may well be the case this it still ends up being correct to include some discard spells to help fight combo decks but it’s worth recognising that they don’t naturally synergise with Vision at all.

Looking through the successful decks from the Classic (the only significant Modern event that’s occurred post-ban at the time of writing) it’s interesting to note that the blue combo-control decks (specifically Thopter/Sword and RUG Scapeshift) weren’t running Visions. That brings it back to the point that the card is substantially weaker in a combo shell, where suspending it on turn five or six is a weak play and where you run the risk of drawing excess copies of cards you only want one of.

There was a Jeskai Control deck running the Restoration Angel/Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker combo but that is essentially the exception that proves the rule: Aside from the two Kiki-Jikis, every card is fine to draw multiples of and the deck also isn’t focused on killing via the combo. Instead, it will often aim to simply win through Celestial Colonnade attacks and, in that regard, it more closely resembles a “hard” control deck and can run the Visions without the potential drawbacks.

So what strategies benefit or lose from a format with Ancestral Vision? For me, the biggest loser is likely to be Jund. Jund’s strategy has always revolved around casting as many efficient one-for-one cards as possible to strip the opponent of resources before they can answer a Tarmogoyf. Running an opponent out of answers becomes substantially harder in the face of a draw three effect, and Liliana of the Veil in particular may find its impact blunted. On the other hand, RUG Scapeshift likely gets substantially better than it has been for some time. An uptick in control decks is great news for Scapeshift as they play essentially the same plan, but with far more mana to win counter wars. A Scapeshift build winning the SCG Modern Classic is no coincidence.

 

BLESSED ARE THE SWORD OF THE MEEKS, FOR THEY SHALL INHERIT THE FORMAT

I’m pretty excited to start testing Ancestral Vision decks in this format, but not half as excited as I am to finally start putting Sword of the Meek and Thopter Foundry together.

I’ve wanted Sword to be unbanned ever since I started playing Modern. It may be part of a combo that is inherently linear, but much like Splinter Twin before it, it encourages the deck builder to find a non-linear shell to put it in. Combo-control is my favourite archetype in Magic, and having some new toys to play with is hugely exciting for me.

So where do we begin with deck building? There are a few different approaches we can take. One is to mimic the UR Twin decks of yore to an extent and slot the combo into a control or tempo shell that is capable of winning the game without necessarily assembling the winning combo:

Matt Gregory’s Blue-White Thopter Control

[Deck]4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Flooded Strand
2 Scalding Tarn
2 Mystic Gate
3 Hallowed Fountain
4 Island
2 Plains
2 Ghost Quarter
1 Tectonic Edge
4 Serum Visions
4 Path to Exile
3 Mana Leak
4 Remand
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Wall of Omens
3 Sword of the Meek
4 Thopter Foundry
1 Vendilion Clique
2 Supreme Verdict
4 Cryptic Command
1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/Deck]

Sideboard:

[Deck]1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
1 Baneslayer Angel
1 Gideon Jura
2 Condemn
3 Timely Reinforcements
2 Dispel
1 Pithing Needle
2 Disenchant
2 Spellskite[/Deck]

Twin proved this type of strategy to be strong in Modern. In game one you act largely as a combo deck, but with the option of attacking from a different axis if the game state demands it. Post sideboard, you can board out some or all of the combo and promote the “Plan B to Plan A”, getting around sideboard hate cards in good match-ups and building on your strengths in bad ones. In the example deck above, you can easily win the game by churning out 1/1 flyers but can also win through Celestial Colonnade and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. That sort of strategic flexibility was huge for Twin and I don’t see why the same shouldn’t apply to Thopter/Sword as well.

An alternative option is to push further into combo territory: Gifts Ungiven provides a potential combo engine for the deck which can find Sword of the Meek, Thopter Foundry, Academy Ruins and any reasonable regrowth effect at the same time to allow you to begin assembling Thopters the following turn. The great thing about using Gifts is that it again provides a form of strategic flexibility as you can run an Unburial Rites package as well. So when you’re playing against a deck where beating down with small flyers doesn’t cut the mustard (Pyromancer Storm, for instance), you can instead search up Rites and a crippling Iona, Shield of Emeria or Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and put that into play the following turn. Take this deck as an example:

Matt Gregory’s Blue-White Gifts

[Deck]4 Flooded Strand
4 Polluted Delta
3 Hallowed Fountain
1 Watery Grave
1 Glacial Fortress
4 Darksteel Citadel
3 Island
2 Plains
1 Academy Ruins
4 Serum Visions
3 Path to Exile
1 Spell Snare
1 Noxious Revival
4 Remand
2 Mana Leak
4 Talisman of Progress
1 Thopter Foundry
1 Sword of the Meek
4 Thirst for Knowledge
4 Gifts Ungiven
2 Cryptic Command
1 Wrath of God
1 Day of Judgment
1 Supreme Verdict
1 Unburial Rites
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria[/Deck]

Sideboard:

[Deck]2 Disenchant
2 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
2 Spellskite
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Negate
2 Dispel
1 Celestial Purge
3 Timely Reinforcements
1 Path to Exile[/Deck]

A card that works beautifully with both combos in this deck is Thirst for Knowledge, a powerful draw spell that’s been lacking a home for some time. Here we can discard excess artifacts or Unburial Rites targets whilst gaining card advantage and sculpting our hand, maximising our chance of getting to cast a turn four Gifts Ungiven (or even turn three with Talisman of Progress). Every card in the deck is designed to keep us alive that little bit longer whilst we draw into a Gifts and combo off, and a deck with this level of focus is definitely something that I think has potential.

I’ve gone with Noxious Revival as the Regrowth effect of choice here as we can cast it on the same end of turn as we Gifts for it, giving us maximum mana efficiency. It does have the disadvantage of being a rather terrible card to naturally draw (although it can combine with Serum Visions to get back a critical spell), so the alternative of Ritual of Restoration could be better. In the above list there are, however, very few good artifacts outside of the combo to return to your hand, so it may be better to push the artifact synergies further by main decking cards like Spellskite and Relic of Progenitus to get better value from naturally drawing it. On the other hand, when either card is bad, they can simply be discarded to a Thirst for Knowledge instead.

Another direction you could take either deck above is to push the combo into UW Tron. Blue Tron decks have traditionally been also-rans in Modern but Thopter/Sword could easily push them into the limelight, partly because they naturally run a high artifact count to improve Thirst for Knowledge, and partly because having Tron active alongside Thopter/Sword provides a huge edge in the mirror. When both players have the end game of swarming the board with Thopter tokens, the player who can produce vast amounts of mana each turn will inevitably win.

However if you choose to build your Thopter/Sword deck, I’d strongly advise being aware that the combo is extremely vulnerable to a broad range of commonly-played hate cards: Stony Silence and Pithing Needle both nip the combo in the bud, as does graveyard hate such as Rest in Peace. Make sure you either have an alternative win condition or plenty of Disenchant effects to handle these scenarios. Because I expect a fair amount of sideboard hate to be aimed squarely at Sword of the Meek decks, I’d also say that pilots of artifact or graveyard decks like Affinity and Living End should be wary of splash damage. Both decks have ways to beat hate, of course, but it’s worth being aware that if every deck has an extra Ancient Grudge or Scavenging Ooze in the 75, then decks which are soft to those kinds of cards will lose percentage points as an incidental consequence.

Aside from combo-control decks, the other direction you can naturally take the Thopter/Sword combo is to find it a home alongside Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. Tezzeret provides both a good way to dig for combo pieces and a natural way for an artifact-heavy deck to win through disruption. Generally, Sword of the Meek is distinctly unimpressive when drawn without Thopter Foundry, but when it can become a 5/5 beating stick, that’s less true. Tezzeret hasn’t been a substantial presence in Modern before but Hall-of-Famer and all-round control genius Shouta Yasooka placed well at a Grand Prix not long ago with a deck that went down that track:

Shouta Yasooka’s Blue-Black Tezzeret

Darksteel Citadel
Blinkmoth Nexus
Creeping Tar Pit
Darkslick Shores
Mutavault
River of Tears
Spellskite
Wurmcoil Engine
Liliana of the Veil
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
Batterskull
Dimir Signet
Pithing Needle
Relic of Progenitus
Talisman of Dominance
Torpor Orb
Doom Blade
Go for the Throat
Slaughter Pact
Smother
Thirst For Knowledge
Mox Opal
Damnation
Inquisition of Kozilek

Sideboard:

Glen Elendra Archmage
Sower of Temptation
Consume the Meek
Flashfreeze
Negate
Slaughter Pact
Meloku the Clouded Mirror
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
Duress

I’m not sure how closely an up-to-date Tezzeret deck would resemble this but it’s hard to see how having access to a game-ending combo doesn’t make it substantially stronger. Previously, the deck suffered from games where the opponent either answered Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas or it simply didn’t get drawn, as the control element of the deck simply wasn’t as powerful as its Blue-White rivals, and it played a number of cards that were somewhat embarrassing to draw under the wrong circumstances. With a very strong alternative plan of simply creating a bunch of Flying Men and turning them sideways, the deck should have far more consistency and be positioned to enjoy at least some sort of resurgence.

The final deck which may benefit from the Sword of the Meek unban is the deck everyone loves to hate – Lantern Control. I’ll be honest enough to admit that I have no direct experience with the deck so it’s far from clear to me if the deck actually wants Thopter/Sword at all, but it seems like it’s worth considering at the very least. The question is whether adding a combo that doesn’t interact with the various lock pieces that the deck usually employs waters the deck down too much, or whether providing a means to win via combat damage is even necessary. On the upside, at least it can finally give Lantern the means to close out a match in timely fashion!

 

A WHOLE NEW MODERN WORLD

That’s all I’ve got time for this week but I hope that this has given you a good insight into how the new Modern format will shape up, and I hope it’s given you a bit of deck building inspiration as well. I firmly expect both Ancestral Vision and Sword of the Meek to have a profound and positive impact on the metagame, and I’m excited to see what sort of decks they end up in – and even more excited to sleeve them up and get to work myself! Before I get the chance to delve too deeply into Modern, however, I have the small matter of a Grand Prix in Barcelona to worry about.

Adios amigos and, as ever, thank you for reading!

Matt Gregory

Ancestral Vision and Sword of the Meek Will Revolutionise Modern, And Here's How by Matt Gregory
Today I’m going to discuss how I expect these newly unbanned cards to impact the format and provide some starting points for those of you looking to build around them, complete with a few first drafts of decks I’m looking forward to testing out. Enjoy!

Please let us know what you think below...

Visit our Manaleak online store for the latest Magic: the Gathering singles, spoilers, exclusive reader offers, sales, freebies and more!

Magic The Gatherig Freebies Giveaways