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August 11, 2016

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Rogue Tech Report: August 2016 Edition

Hello and welcome back to Rogue Tech Report, where we take a look at some of the stranger plays going on in established Modern decks that might just actually be good.

First up this week, we have a pair of cards from Eldritch Moon making a big splash in Kiki-Chord decks: Eldritch Evolution and Selfless Spirit.

Protect the Combo, Execute the Combo

                   

When Eldritch Evolution was first spoiled, both the hype and the skepticism were through the roof. Is it a mini-Natural Order, a one-shot Birthing Pod, or a clunky card-losing Chord of Calling? One thing is for certain – it’s an effect that Modern didn’t really have before it, and it’s a complex card that a lot of thinking needs to go into to explain.

As I detailed in a recent article on brewing with the card, there are a lot of angles to take with it, and assembling a combo is certainly a great approach. With only four Chords, Kiki-Chord decks are limited to about six (real and virtual) copies of their combo cards, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Restoration Angel. Sure, Eternal Witness helps with this, but it’s actually not overwhelmingly likely to assemble to combo quickly.

With the introduction of Eldritch Evolution, this number can increase by up to another four, which substantially improves the situation. Meanwhile, overcoming the downside of trading two cards for one is actually fairly easy in this deck, since it is saturated with disposable two-drops in Voice of Resurgence and Wall of Omens, and more of the same at three with Kitchen Finks and Eternal Witness.

This makes the combo easier to assemble, but also has some other vicious synergies. Sacrifice a Voice of Resurgence into a Pia and Kiran Nalaar and you’ve just made a 4/4 that ramps your Chords. Evolve a Finks into a Kiki-Jiki for an oppressive defensive tandem. Don’t even get me started about Reveillark into Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite.

On the other hand, countermagic is an absolute blowout against it, but this is again mitigated to an extent by Voice of Resurgence popping its bothersome head up everywhere you look.

Meanwhile Selfless Spirit addresses two of the deck’s critical drawbacks: It can be devastated by Wrath of God effects, and its combo can be stopped by a measly Lightning Bolt. Having this as an option with a Chord with X=2 offers a Spellskite-type effect with different flexibility, including the option to peck away with it as an efficiently-costed flier.

It’s also seeing play in Hatebears decks all the way back to Legacy for the same reason.

Depending on which pros you listed to, these two new additions to Kiki-Chord might have what it takes to catapult the deck into the top tiers of the format.

Teaching a Robot to Love

Next up we have an interesting one, with some brewers testing out Lupine Prototype in Affinity.

Having had a brief flirtation period with Ensoul Artifact, Affinity is no stranger to experimenting with the early 5/5 beatdown plan.

Unlike an ensouled Ornithopter or Darksteel Citadel, RoboWolf lacks the benefit of evasion or protection, but being able to be cast without coloured mana and not requiring two cards for one creature offers a very meaningful upside.

That upside is compounded by 5/5 being a bit of a magic number in Modern, since it will perfectly eke out Modern’s most common beaters like Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Siege Rhino, and Tarmogoyf‘s most common stature.

In that sense, it’s basically a higher-floor, lower-ceiling version of Master of Etherium, whose lower cost will be essential to ensuring its cardless-hand requirement is as easy to overcome as it should naturally be in Affinity. There’s a very real chance of this thing attacking on turn two, which makes Wild Nacatl and Lightning Bolt look less like Modern and more like Pokemon Go.

Beating Control with Midrange

Finally, a very interesting version of Abzan Midrange top 8’d at the SCG Columbus’s Modern classic. It looks like I’m not the only one getting tired of losing to Jeskai Nahiri lists, because this Abzan list comes pre-loaded with anti-control measures dripping from the gills.

Abzan Charm does a ton of work either killing Celestial Colonnades or grinding out some ever-important card advantage. Its +1/+1 counter mode isn’t dead either, helping a Kitchen Finks invalidate yet another Lightning Bolt, or pushing Lingering Souls tokens through for a quicker clock.

Speaking of simultaneously generating card advantage and applying pressure, Sorin, Solemn Visitor is an underestimated powerhouse in Abzan decks, especially ones that seek to exploit maximum low-cost pressure through extra copies of efficient threats like Treetop Village.

The life gained through an aggressive Sorin-fueled gameplan isn’t insignificant either – even though the plan is to win before Emrakul, the Aeons Torn shows up, six-plus spirit tokens and 35 life is a way to make Magic’s Flying Spaghetti Monster start to look awfully irrelevant.

Finally, Thrun, the Last Troll is a control eater that hasn’t gotten much attention in the past year, but a maindeck inclusion here completes the statement that Abzan is on a hunt, and its cross-hairs are focused on Modern’s new boogeyman.

Wrapping Up

The Modern meta has spent some time slowing down, and it’s time to wonder if we’re at a tipping point or not. Improvements to Affinity could spell disaster for big mana decks that can’t compete with its early thrust, meanwhile improvements to value/combo engines could widen the aggro-control divide, which is a lovely place to be if you’re a muscle-bound midrange monster on a Nahiri mission.

Frankly, the above paragraph should make your head spin when you think about what the “right meta call” is, because truthfully Modern is a complete mess right now, which I’m beginning to admit is a good thing.

I hope you enjoyed this month’s Rogue Tech Report. I’m off to SCG Syracuse this weekend with a brew that I’ve been cultivating for a long time, so next week you’ll get to hear about a deck that is extremely near and dear to my heart, and who knows, maybe I even win a match with it.

Until then, have fun, and may the force be with brew.