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Much Abrew: Insect Tribal (Modern)

Hello, everyone! Welcome to another episode of Much Abrew About Nothing. A few days ago, I was looking through Modern lists from Magic Online hoping to find something spicy and fun to mess around with, and I noticed a deck playing a playset of new The Brothers' War card Haywire Mite. This by itself isn't all that notable, considering the uncommon is one of the best Modern cards from The Brothers' War. But after looking closer at the list, I knew we had to try it. It was Insect Tribal. Like, honest-to-goodness, straight-up Insect Tribal! While Insects aren't considered to be one of the more powerful tribes in Magic, they do have some interesting payoffs and unique synergies, like being able to make multiple Insects with Grist, the Hunger Tides +1 or pump the team with Blex, Vexing Pest. Is that enough to make a pile of seemingly underpowered bugs into a deck that can win some games in a format as powerful as Modern? Let's get to the video and find out on today's Much Abrew About Nothing!

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Much Abrew: Insect Tribal

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  • Record-wise, we ended up going 2-3 in a Modern league with Insect Tribal, which, combined with a couple of our losses being close, seems like a pretty solid performance for a very Against the Odds tribe. It would have been nice to pick up one more win to have a winning record overall, but heading into our league, I was afraid the deck would be much worse.
  • So, why fill a deck with Insects? The deck has two or three main payoffs. First is Grist, the Hunger Tide, which is probably the best Insect in Magic when it's not on the battlefield. But even while it is on the battlefield in planeswalker form, it interacts really well with Insects thanks to its +1. While this almost never comes up in other decks, if you read Grist, the Hunger Tide's +1 closely, you'll see that when you plus it to mill a card and make a 1/1 Insect token, the ability triggers again if you happen to mill an Insect. Since our deck is full of Insects, it's not that uncommon for a single +1 to make two 1/1 Insects and add two loyalty to Grist. And if we get really lucky, we could even make three or four Insects with one activation, giving us plenty of loyalty to use Grist's –2 for removal or to ultimate it to burn our opponent out of the game.
  • Outside of Grist, the Hunger Tide, we have Blex, Vexing Pest as an Insect lord, which helps our small Insects force through more damage, and Swarmyard in the mana base, which is actually surprisingly good against some creature decks by allowing an Insect token to block a massive threat turn after turn by regenerating it. 
  • The other powerful aspect of our deck is that it's a surprisingly good shell for one of the strongest cards in Modern: Urza's Saga. Thanks to Haywire Mite and Hex Parasite, we have multiple Insects that Urza's Saga can tutor up. More importantly, Hex Parasite's ability to remove counters from permanents can do some absurd things with Urza's Saga. For example, we can let Urza's Saga's third lore counter trigger to tutor a cheap artifact from our deck but, before Urza's Saga sacrifices itself, remove a counter from it with Urza's Saga so it will stay on the battlefield, and we can tutor again the next turn. This also allows us to make an ever-increasing board full of Construct tokens, which can take over some games by themselves. While it feels a bit weird that one of the best and most important cards in our Insect Tribal deck is a random Modern Horizons 2 land, it is legitimately strong and synergistic with the tribe.
  • The downside of Insect Tribal is that most Insects are pretty far below the curve. Cards like Brain Maggot and Kraul Harpooner aren't horrible, but compared to most threats in Modern, they also aren't good, which means if we don't draw our payoffs, like Grist or Urza's Saga, we have some rough games where we are mostly running out underpowered Insects that have little chance of keeping up with most Modern decks. The good draws with the deck are surprisingly strong, but the bad draws are really, really bad. 
  • Outside of the Insects, a few quirks of the deck are worth mentioning. The first is playing a playset of Chalice of the Void, considering we have a lot of one-drops we want to play, which makes playing Chalice of the Void on one (the most common number) risky. As far as I can tell, the idea is that we can either stick an Aether Vial first so we can cheat our one-drops into play under a Chalice or we hope to draw Cavern of Souls to make our Insects uncounterable, letting us resolve them through a Chalice trigger. After playing the deck, I think I'd much rather have Chalice in the sideboard, if we need it at all.
  • Speaking of the sideboard, it's weird. Orvar, the All-Form is flavorful since it is technically an Insect, and it can be good against cards like Liliana of the Veil, where we can discard it for value and make a copy of a permanent, but I'm not sure those matchups are common enough to make it worthwhile—we didn't bring it in once in our league. Stranger still is Cursed Totem. I have no idea what deck or cards shutting down activated abilities on creatures is supposed to hate on. Sure, it can stop a Stoneforge Mystic activation or Giver of Runes, but its main purpose is shutting down mana dorks, and there aren't many popular mana dork decks in Modern at the moment. It seems worth cutting for something more flexible, like removal or discard, especially considering it shuts down our own Haywire Mite, which is one of our better Insects.
  • So, should you play Insect Tribal in Modern? I think the answer is yes but for fun, not because you expect to win with it consistently. I thought the deck was funny and a blast to play, and it was more competitive than I expected, although it was super inconsistent. At this point, I think it's mostly still an Against the Odds deck (although a solid Against the Odds deck). That said, the deck felt surprisingly close to being good. If we get one or two more good Insects so we can cut some of the weaker tribe members, Insects could actually be a real tribe in Modern, as strange as that sounds.


Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at

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