[Modern] Swords…Victory?

Hi everybody, and welcome back to Strictly Average MTG. I hope you all have enjoyed your end of summer activities, any big tournaments you have attended, and are looking forward to cards arriving in Throne of Eldraine. While there are cards in that upcoming Standard set that we’ll all want to try in our Modern decks many of us are still making adjustments from the banned and restricted announcement from a month ago. Several of you have wanted my thoughts on this, and honestly I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions before writing about it, or even playing this format with a few decks. So let’s take a look at what’s happened.

What was banned

Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis is gone, it’s been gone for a month, and can stay gone. I understand what was trying to be done here. Delve and Convoke are two mechanics that are often times on cards either black or green. They have a cycle of cards that merge two mechanics onto the same card in Modern Horizons, and these two were going to find their way onto a card. That’s a cool design, but this card could have had a larger cost and still would have been a problem. A slower one, but still a problem. I wonder how well it’s impact would have been if the last sentence was: “You may cast Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis only from your graveyard”? It’s rising, and thus coming back from a perceived death. It also would have required the play to place this first in the graveyard instead of also having the option to play it from their hand. Maybe adding a clause to exile it if it leave the battlefield would also have been needed.

Verdict:

Not sad to see it go. Hopefully people still enjoy playing it in Legacy, Vintage, or even Commander.

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Poor Faithless Looting. It’s not your fault. You were made available to provide red access to draw extra cards at the expense of discarding cards. As more cards were printed that made manipulating the graveyard a strong strategy a Careful Study was implemented to determine if this needed to be banned. Sadly the results of that study proved that this needed to happen. I understand though. Imagine if new cards from Standard sets were tested in Modern before seeing print. Or cards made to go directly into Modern for that matter. While I wasn’t hit hard with the ban hammer on this card I understand that this may have been their window of opportunity to ban this card. With the printings of Leyline of the Void, and Grafdigger’s Cage in Core Set 2020 I thought it would have not been banned. Sadly that’s not the case. If you’re still playing Dredge though you have options.

  • Sure adding Tome Scour may seem odd, and you will have to add more blue to your land count, but it’s not unreasonable. Dredge has been a non-white deck anyway, and you want to go as fast as you can. This might be the best option right now.
  • Gravecrawler may seem interesting here, but by changing the focus towards a zombie build with Vengevine you can go on a more aggro plan forcing your opponent to deal with your graveyard. If you adhere to the adage that “Math if for blockers” then this is the direction for you.
  • Remember Insolent Neonate? You should. This card is still good. You can activate it at instant speed in response to a Surgical Extraction, and dredge the targeted card back to your hand. This of course is assuming that your opponent is targeting a card with the Dredge keyword. Don’t discount instant speed interaction in this deck.

Verdict:

Disappointed. I thought we had enough answers, but there’s nothing that can be done now.

The impact of the cards being banned

  • Arclight Phoenix, thankfully, has disappeared. Faithless Looting did a lot for the deck by providing a single mana spell, and discard outlet onto one card. The deck could resurface, but it has to go back to the drawing board. If you still have the lands it might be best to sleeve up Storm again.
  • Dredge players were also hit hard by the loss of Faithless Looting. With Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis also banned suddenly Vengevine is missing a big piece of that deck. I feel there is room for both Dredge and Vengevine decks in the format, however Dredge will be the one to reclaim it’s crown as the best graveyard deck.
  • The format has slowed down enough that there are more room for other decks to have success. Right now decks running Thopter Foundry with Urza, Lord High Artificer are taking the top spots, but we could see the return of Titan Shift decks as well. Also don’t sleep on Jund. When formats slow down the midrange decks can utilize all of their tools to deal with multiple decks.

There was also something removed from the banned list, and this is the part that many of you have been wanting to hear my thoughts on.

What is no longer banned

Stoneforge Mystic was finally made available in Modern. As part of the original banned list when Modern was created this little ol’ squire was one of the cards many people wanted to play in their Modern decks, but until last month it continued to remain on the banned list. Why? Well there were some concerns, and for that we have to take a look at the last time we were able to play this card.

…and that was in Standard.

Previously…in Standard

Creature (10)
Squadron Hawk
Stoneforge Mystic
Emeria Angel

Artifact (2)
Batterskull
Sword of Feast and Famine

Instant (8)
Mana Leak
Into the Roil
Spell Pierce

Planeswalker (6)
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Gideon Jura

Sorcery (8)
Day of Judgement
Preordain

Land (26)
Celestial Colonnade
Glacial Fortress
Island
Plains
Seachrome Coast
Arid Mesa
Scalding Tarn
Tectonic Edge
Sideboard (15)
Flashfreeze
Divine Offering
Journey to Nowhere
Negate
Oust
Sun Titan
Dispel

Did you know the only card in this deck that is banned in Modern is Preordain? That just seems odd to me.

When Scars of Mirrodin was released one very important card, and one archetype, left Standard. Losing both Oblivion Ring, along with the entire Jund archetype (which had Bloodbraid Elf, Blightning, and Maelstrom Pulse) really gave a chance for planeswalker focused control decks to take root. Prior to this change in Standard there was am Azorius colored Superfriends deck popular with many players, and that deck would be the foundation of the entire next year.

Caw-Blade, the deck above, didn’t take over Standard right away. It actually started as a deck called Caw-Go. This deck revolved around the interaction between Squadron Hawk, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. You play one Hawk, search for a second one, shuffle your deck, then use Jace’s second ability to draw three card putting back two (with Squadron Hawk being on top). You do that again the next turn, and the turn after that, and so on. Eventually you take control of the game as you have your hand filled with answers as well as threats, and win the game. This was a solid deck, but with the release of Mirrodin Besiged things changed.

When that set was released we were given Sword of Feast and Famine, and the deck took off. Using Stoneforge Mystic to find the single copies of your equipment, along with Squadron Hawk tutoring for other copies of itself, provided the deck a lot of tutors. Sword of Feast and Famine attached to a Squadron Hawk was quite common, and allowed for you to use all of your mana before combat then have it untapped after combat to use on your opponent’s turn. This not only caused many archetypes a lot of problems, but led to a lot of mirror matches. A lot.

During this era of Standard the game became, more or less, poker. Your buy-in was the cost of the deck, and your prize was at minimum $1,000 for some tournaments, and higher for many others. While the exposure was great the problem was presented before us.

…and then in New Phyrexia everything I mentioned above became amplified multiple times due to the printing of Batterskull. What this also did was provide players a skeleton of a deck to play in Legacy where it was more of a fair deck unlike it was in Standard.

Eventually Jace, the Mind Sculptor, along with Stoneforge Mystic, were banned in Standard. They were also banned in Extended before that format was replaced with Modern, and were also placed on the first Modern banned list. I truly feel if Sword of Feast and Famine was banned instead that the deck would have been fine going through it’s last few months of legal play in Standard.

However all of that is in the past.

The Impact on Modern

The biggest impact on this change is the interest in the best equipment the format has to offer. Remember when we received two new swords in Modern Horizons? A lot of us thought Stoneforge Mystic would have been available with the release of that set (and should have been, more on that in a moment). However don’t sleep on those as they are also among all of the swords available. Now I didn’t highlight all of the equipment. Sure you can use Loxodon Warhammer, Runechanter’s Pike, or even Moonsilver Spear, but none of those compare to the swords nor to Batterskull.

Having “the Stoneforge package” in a deck usually requires four to seven cards. This could be anywhere from three to four Stoneforge Mystics, and two to three pieces of equipment. Optimal choices would be a Batterskull (with maybe one in the sideboard), and a pair of swords based on what matchups you’ll face more often than others. The swords all have some level of protection to allow your creature through unblocked, and then have an effect when combat damage happens.

This has opened up some deck building possibilities with this package, and as of this writing I still don’t think we have a definitive Stoneforge Mystic deck. Yet.

However one question has been on my mind since this news last month.

Why now?

For me it seemed like removing Stoneforge Mystic was a matter of when not if. There have been many times where it felt like hints were being dropped that we would have the Kor Artificer available in Modern. One key hint was from an article released almost four years ago. Click on the link of the picture below to get a better view of it.

Read that last sentence in that picture again. Then read it again. Doesn’t that sound like this card coming to Modern was a possibility? Think about this for a moment.

The signs were there to release it from the banned list, and yet it did not happen. Those of us have played Azorius based decks have received a lot of toys the last few years. Cards such as Search for Azcanta, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Field of Ruin, Absorb, Dovin’s Veto, Narset, Parter of Veils, Teferi, Time Raveler, AND Jace, the Mind Sculptor was no longer banned.

So if Azorius Control was already “strong enough”, according to the January 2019 Banned & Restricted announcement, as well as a tweet by Aaron Forsythe, then why now? It’s clear that there have been thoughts about this prior to now, and I wonder how close it became to being reality. I also feel that this was done now to save a little face with the community as they don’t like to ban cards that make multiple decks hard to play if not unplayable completely.

If they have plans to remove a card from the banned list in the future they should just do it. There is no testing involved with Modern cards to begin with (see Hollow One, Hoggak, Arisen Necropolis, and Arclight Phoenix as clear examples) so why be on the fence about such issues. To me this feels like a Hall of Fame vote in Major League Baseball. A lot of players who are clearly great players have not entered on their first time on the ballot, and many of those who did get in the first time did not receive a unanimous vote. Most of the time those who don’t vote for a player come from someone who simply does not like the team that player was one due to being a division or league rival, or the team they cover losing in the post-season to that player’s team. I really hope this is not the case, but we may never know.

With all of that said there is a question many Magic: the Gathering Modern players have asked.

Where to begin?

As I mentioned above there have been two formats where Stoneforge Mystic has received a lot of play. That’s Standard (when it was legal), and Legacy. While we don’t have all of the cards that are available in Legacy there are quite a few parallels, and the line is blurred more than it was before the release of Modern HorizonsSo let’s take a look at a current Stoneblade deck in Legacy to see where we can begin.

Stoneblade in Legacy

Creature (10)
Stoneforge Mystic
Snapcaster Mage
True-Name Nemesis

Artifact (2)
Batterskull
Umezawa’s Jitte

Instant (16)
Force of Will
Swords to Plowshares
Brainstorm
Spell Pierce
Force of Negation
Spell Snare

Planeswalker (6)
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Narset, Parter of Veils
Teferi, Time Raveler

Sorcery (6)
Ponder
Council’s Judgment

Land (20)
Island
Flooded Strand
Prismatic Vista
Plains
Scalding Tarn
Tundra
Arid Mesa
Sideboard (15)
Supreme Verdict
Back to Basics
Surgical Extraction
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Palace Jailer
Vendilion Clique
Teferi, Time Raveler
Celestial Purge
Containment Priest
Disenchant
Blue Elemental Blast
Flusterstorm

As we look at this deck there is a lot going on. From True-Name Nemesis being the primary threat, to Planeswalkers providing you additional resources, there are multiple angles of attack in the deck. Boasting eleven creatures (counting the germ token from Batterskull) this deck is far more a midrange deck than a control deck.

Yes. That’s right. This is not a control deck.

Nor is that a control card.

Sure having Force of Will (and Force of Negation in Modern) allows you to tap out for this card on turn two, but you aren’t countering anything the opponent has played with Stoneforge Mystic, and playing it also does not remove a threat the opponent played on their turn. At the least you will force them to use a removal spell they were going to use anyway, and at the most you get to untap with it to put a Batterskull into play at the of the opponent’s turn. That’s not control. That’s more midrange with a heavy lean on tempo plays to make sure you don’t fall behind.

There’s nothing wrong with not being a Control deck, but in order to understand the role this card can play we need to understand where best to use it. We want Stoneforge Mystic to be the Epicenter of our deck so let’s take a look at an example.

Stoneblade in Modern

Creature (9)
Stoneforge Mystic
Snapcaster Mage
Vendilion Clique

Artifact (2)
Batterskull
Sword of Feast and Famine

Enchantment (1)
Detention Sphere

Instant (19)
Path to Exile
Opt
Cryptic Command
Force of Negation
Spell Snare
Mana Leak
Logic Knot

Planeswalker (5)
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Teferi, Time Raveler

Land (24)
Island
Field of Ruin
Flooded Strand
Celestial Colonnade
Glacial Fortress
Hallowed Fountain
Plains
Scalding Tarn
Sideboard (15)
Supreme Verdict
Timely Reinforcements
Celestial Purge
Disdainful Stroke
Surgical Extraction
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
Batterskull
Disenchant
Ceremonious Rejection
Spell Snare

This version of Modern Stoneblade has Stoneforge Mystic producing the proactive plan while still playing somewhat of a draw-go strategy.

How does the deck work?

With the amount of counterspells in the deck you need to keep the opponent off tempo until you can land, and protect, your Stoneforge Mystic as you look for either piece of equipment. It sounds simple, but your spells have to lineup just right. One thing to keep in mind is that Teferi, Time Raveler helps protect your creatures when you move to equip. This leaves your counterspells ready to use when needed. Let’s take a look at some other main deck cards.

  • Snapcaster Mage: If you are running a low creature count then four of these is a must. You also have to keep in mind what cards you are going to bring in, and some of those may make your Snapcaster more valuable in the sideboarded games. Playing Opt, and then flashing it back with him, is sometimes strong enough in the early turns.
  • Vendilion Clique: While this inclusion is more of a nod to the Legacy version of the deck it is an evasive threat. You could play this, take a card from your opponent, attack, then bounce it with Teferi, Time Raveler to play it again after your opponent draws a card. While you can’t do that every turn having extra uses of your creature’s come into play abilities is part of the strength of this deck.
  • Detention Sphere: The reason I use this over Dismember is that if the opponent plays something that I need to deal with I can bounce it with Teferi, Time Raveler, and play it on something else.

In the sideboard you have options for sweepers such as Supreme Verdict, additional counterspells, and even some spells for specific matchups. Timely Reinforcements for Burn, and Celestial Purge for black-green based decks. I am also running Surgical Extraction over Rest In Peace to get more value out of Snapcaster Mages than I otherwise would, and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion can really put a lot of pressure on some opposing decks (namely Jund).

What else could we use with this type of deck? Let’s go over a few other options to see where we can go with this.

Other options

There are plenty of possibilities when using the “Stoneforge package” in your deck. If we take a look at the base white-blue construction above we can expand on the proactive plan that Stoneforge Mystic promotes.

  • Spell Queller: This card is an excellent counterspell plus threat. With the format as slow as it is you can expect to see a lot of threats at the cost of four mana or less. There are plenty of planeswalkers, spells, and even creatures that fall in that category so keep that in mind. Along with Teferi, Time Raveler you can even prevent your opponent from playing that spell as you bounce the Queller back to your hand. If you’re going this direction you will want to focus on Teferi, Time Raveler over Jace, the Mind Sculptor in your builds, and if you can play a single copy of Restoration Angel in your main deck. The ability to blink any of your creatures at instant speed makes it feel like you are casting another copy of the card being blinked.
  • Fatal Push: If there is any color that is truly proactive it is black. With Fatal Push taking some of the pressure off of Path To Exile you can keep pace with the threats your opponent is playing. Couple this with Esper Charm to either draw additional cards, or have your opponent discard their only two cards in hand at the end of their draw step. Using these cards can help you keep the board clear of threats, and allow you to play your Stoneforge Mystic unanswered.
  • Lightning Bolt: …and then there is red. With Bolt, and Lightning Helix, and even Magmatic Sinkhole you have plenty of removal options. Clearing the way for your creatures to attack, and then finishing them off with a burn spell has been The Jeskai Way for as long as Modern has been a format. If you with to be a bit more aggro than midrange with your tempo plan then this is the direction for you.

These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to finding homes for the “Stoneforge package”. I’m sure before long we’ll see her in Affinity, non-blue decks, and perhaps even a rebuild of a Bant deck from the time she was in Standard called Mythic Conscription?

In conclusion

Stoneforge Mystic has only been a card in Magic’s history for just under a decade, and it’s presence when it was at it’s strongest in Standard was met with those who played Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. Now that the Kor Artificer is in Modern will we have white-blue Stoneblade decks face off against green-red Valakut decks again, or will something else come from this new metagame in Modern? I’m sure we’ll all find out soon enough.

Thank you all for reading. Have any of you found a home for Stoneforge Mystic yet? Do you have a foolproof plan against these decks?  Leave a comment below, and follow me on both Facebook as well as Twitter.

Next time I’m going to look at a few cards coming soon that could see play in Modern.

Until then…

TAP MORE MANA!!!

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