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Budget Brewing: Cheap Answers to Cruise and Dig in Modern


Everyone should be familiar with the saying "If you can't beat them, join them".

Dash Hopes [PLC]

In his recent Quick Hits article, Mark Nestico espouses himself to this sentiment. This idea is not new and it's perfectly reasonable. As long as a deck is performing well, people should be happy to play it. Unfortunately, as we've previously discussed, many players find that the cost of building top tier decks to be much greater then they can personally afford. So perhaps the budget brewers out there who cringe at the bandwagon's price tag should adopt the saying "If you can't join them, learn to beat them".

Mark Nestico is not alone in his sentiments. Over the past few weeks there's been a lot of discussion about some of the new cards printed in Khans of Tarkir. People seem particularly frustrated by how a few of the new Khans of Tarkir cards are affecting the eternal formats. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is talking about the two blue cards that are shaking the structure of Modern, Legacy, and Vintage.

Treasure Cruise [KTK] Dig Through Time [KTK]

It seems most players feel that these two cards are just too powerful to be allowed a continued appearance in the eternal formats. The opponents of these cards claim that a prompt banning is necessary. Assertions like this leave the remaining players scrambling to justify the existence of these cards in the eternal formats. Around and around the discussion goes, and it seems to me like there is no escaping it. I think players should step away from their conflicting opinions about these cards and realize that for the time being there is very little to be done. Wizards of the Coast only updates the banned list in conjunction with a set release, and Fate Reforged will not be released until January 23. That means that there are two and a half months between now and the first chance Wizards has to enact a ban, and that's only if they choose to. So, for the time being, it seems that the only options are to start using these powerful cards or to find ways to punish the people who are playing them.

Looking at modern, Treasure Cruise and Dig Trough Time are everywhere. Nearly 46% of the Modern meta is running one or the other, with 29% running Treasure Cruise, and 17% running Dig Through Time. This bandwagon approach to Modern leaves the players who have adopted these decks vulnerable to cards that specifically target their strategies. Cards which would typically stay in players' sideboards, or see no play at all, may better serve us in the main deck. When there's nearly a 50% chance of encountering a Treasure Cruise or Dig Through Time strategy in every new match, it's best to go into game one locked and loaded.

For those of us who are less familiar with the rapidly changing Modern landscape, let's look at how these two new cards are used and what to expect from decks that capitalize on them. The most popular home for Treasure Cruise in modern is currently UR Delver. Delver of Secrets decks make use of cheap efficient creatures, removal, and control spells to quickly take over their games. Any deck looking to take advantage of the delve mechanic is going to try to get as many cards into their graveyard as possible. This is accomplished by favoring instants and sorceries over permanents. We see a lot of removal and control spells to protect the small number of efficient creatures. On top of the four copies of Treasure Cruise, Delver decks typically run about 13 cantrips. We also see a skewing of the land count in delve decks towards fetch lands such as Scalding Tarn. These trends are not entirely unique to the Delver decks: Cheap efficient threats and spells are a cornerstone in Modern deck building. 

A couple of cards immediately jump out at as effective against Delver in Modern:

$ 0.00 $ 0.00   $ 0.00 $ 0.00

Both of these cards seem exceptional right now and are showing up in sideboards everywhere. But it's possible they serve players better in their opening sixty cards.

A well timed Volcanic Fallout has the potential to stop most Modern decks in their tracks. Eight out of the ten most commonly played Modern Creatures should die when Fallout is cast. The control package that many of the Delver decks are playing can't stop it. 

Just around 65% of the decks currently in Modern are using blue mana right now. Admittedly, some of these "Blue" decks are just splashing blue to cast Treasure Cruise. Most of the decks running any amount of blue rely on the Modern staple shock lands and fetches to consistently find the colors they need. Using these shock lands means that nearly every blue source is going to be an island. Of the twenty one lands in a typical Delver deck only nine of them actually produce mana, and six of the nine non-fetches are Islands. In the previously mentioned burn deck splashing blue, there are only two islands and six non-fetch lands. In most cases choke denies blue players' access to at least a third of their mana production, and it's typically a lot more than that. If you aren't convinced about how powerful choke is, just watch Gerry Thompson try to win with Delver after his opponent casts choke in game two of this video.

I cannot stress enough how powerful both of these cards are going to be over the next few months. The effectiveness of these two cards alone in a meta swimming with blue players makes me think a Gruul deck could be viable. Let's see what we can make.

A brief disclaimer: I don't think that the deck I'm about to list here is the perfect machine. It probably won't redefine the modern meta. But it will highlight some cards which I think are being overlooked by the majority of Modern players out there, as well as present some (hopefully) interesting ideas.

Using the budget formula we developed last week, our current Modern budget is $136. For that price there's a surprising number of cards that can target the things that the Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time players are doing. Heres what I came up with:

The first thing Modern veterans will note is that there are zero fetch lands (e.g. no Wooded Foothills) and zero shock lands (e.g. no Stomping Ground) in this list. At first, this was because I was hesitant to spend too much of the $136 dollars on marginally better lands. In the end I found another reason to leave the crowd favorites behind. After some examination, I stumbled upon Tunnel Ignus and Zo-Zu the Punisher. Both of these cards turn the lack of fetches into an asset rather than a hindrance, especially Zo-Zu.

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

As I mentioned earlier, most decks are opting to increase their fetch land to non-fetch land ratio. Most decks are actually running more fetches than regular lands. To maximize the reach of these fetches, most of their remaining lands are the shock lands. As a result, if Zo-Zu is in play, our opponents have to take six damage just to fetch up a land that is either only one color, comes into play tapped, or hurts them even more. Ignus is not quite as effective, but it does make players have to wait a turn to crack their fetch or take four damage. On top of that, both of these cards give the Scapeshift and Amulet of Vigor decks fits.

Some magic cards never seem to get the love they deserve. Heartwood Storyteller is exactly the card advantage machine RG decks always need. Now is Storyteller's time to shine. The omnipresent Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time players are trying to cram as many cards into their graveyards as possible. Creatures don't accomplish this goal as quickly as instants and sorceries. The opponents' removal spells and counter spells just refill your hand and to top it all off, Storyteller is actually bigger than many of the creatures he's likely to square up against.

If Abrupt Decay and Lightning Bolt had a baby, it would be Sudden Shock. It's not quite as powerful, but when nearly all the creatures being played have a toughness of two or less and most blue players feel safe behind their counter spells, there are plenty of times when threats are exposed to this uncounterable card.

Speaking of false senses of security, I cannot believe how unaware of Summoning Trap people are. With all the copies of Remand, Mana Leak etc. that are lurking in the top ten deck lists, it seems like this trap should at least be making a sideboard appearance. Maybe I'm just being an Old Fogey but I can still remember when Summoning Trap was one the premier ways of cheating in Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

Once I settled on running Summoning Trap as a way to punish the control spells, I needed to find some affordable threats. Sure an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or two would be awesome here but at $36 a piece it just isn't a viable option. It that Betrays got some consideration, but I decided to go with threats the deck had a chance of actually hard casting (always important to consider). This is where Ruric Thar, the Unbowed comes in. If Ruric Thar, the Unbowed hits the battlefield, it's essentially game over for Modern decks that run such a high count of instants and sorceries.

I think Boldwyr Heavyweights is interesting. Traditionally this card has been deemed unplayable, but against many current decks the best creature an opponent can go grab is a Delver of Secrets. Even a a large Tarmagoyf (excluding a tribal card) can't kill Heavyweights in a fight. Heavyweights' eight toughness gets around any single burn spell, and in many cases even two won't be enough. At a converted mana cost of four, Heavyweights also dodges Abrupt Decay. For the record I am not claiming that Heavyweights is a premier creature for modern, but I am looking forward to testing it out. It does seem to have potential to me, especially if the current trend of playing mostly one and two drop creatures continues.

Simian Spirit Guide can be help get threats down ahead of the curve, or in some cases along with Chancellor of the Tangle, there's even a chance for a turn one Choke! Summoning Trap hits both of them also.

The sideboard has Magma Spray to try to slow down the Pod decks which are probably the deck's worst match up. Ancient Grudge and Hellkite Tyrant help against Affinity. Elderscale Wurm for the combo/burn matchups. Thoughts of Ruin and Deus of Calamity to slow down Amulet combo or Tron. Aura Barbs to curb the Boggle player's enthusiasm. And Muldaya Channelers to come in as a catch all.

Conclusion

This deck list is not perfect. I think with some heavy playtesting and fine tuning, there's plenty of potential for this deck to hold its own in the age of Treasure Cruise. I do not think this deck is the only answer or even the best one, but it is fun to play. After a couple days of testing online, I can confirm that the deck does devour unsuspecting Delver players, but I would like to keep an open mind moving forward. I'm sure I'm not the only one with ideas about how those of us who aren't playing Delver can try to beat the people who are. Please share your own ideas with the rest of us in the comments below or email me at coop@sparksgames.com, and remember to "Fight mischief with mischief".   


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