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February 4, 2016

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Rogue Tech Report: February 2016 Edition

Hello and welcome back to Rogue Tech Report, where quality decks meet creative tomfoolery!

Don’t look now, but Modern is changing. On one side, we have two top tier decks recently cut out of the format with the Summer Bloom and Splinter Twin bans, and on the other, we have a very interesting set in Oath of the Gatewatch recently hitting the shelves.

I’m using the word “interesting” deliberately, because while we’ve almost certainly gained a few new Modern-worthy cards, the ways in which they will improve Modern decks is much more nuanced than in the recent past. This is not Khans of Tarkir-era fetches, Siege Rhinos, and about-to-be-banned blue cards for all. In fact, aside from Thought-Knot Seer in Eldrazi decks, I’d argue that there isn’t a single slam dunk in the set – yet the set will be very interesting for Modern indeed.

Things Change Fast

So fast, in fact, that it’s hard to keep up. As prerelease spoilers were trickling out, the entire internet seemed to fall immediately in love with this so-called “Eldrazi Charm”.

In traditional charm fashion, it boasts three slightly over-costed effects that don’t look like much on their own, but when put into context of the Modern meta-game, start to make a lot of sense.

However, as you read on, you’ll see this is a card I’ve lost interest in already. Its best mode was definitely the first, effectively reading “Exile target Splinter Twin target”, and its second best was “Counter target Pyroclasm.”

Funny how quickly a ban and a Kozilek’s Return can change things.

So Warping Wail is probably out for the time being, but there are plenty of other cards to get excited about in this set. Let’s take a look at some of the best new Oath of the Gatewatch Modern tech experiments I’ve encountered in the past few weeks. Some of these might be here to stay.

           

Okay, so a 12/12 might not seem as nuanced as I had promised, but I maintain that Kozilek, the Great Distortion fits the category because it’s not just another big Eldrazi in the way that Modern plays big Eldrazi. It’s not indestructible, it doesn’t blow stuff up, and it might not even end the game all that fast. But when I ran into it being played in a seldom-seen Blue-White Tron deck, I was impressed with both its power level and its fit.

In many senses, a finisher is a finisher is a finisher, so who cares what it is. But this argument is falsely applied to Kozilek. I’ve heard people ask why anyone would play this over Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, completely overlooking its differences and the fact that its mana cost is discounted by a third.

Although Kozilek may not necessarily end the game in short order (although it equally might), it comes down much earlier than its bigger brother and provides a different form of inevitability and self-protection by refilling your hand. With seven new cards from your control-heavy deck, each of them doubling as a self-contained Disrupting Shoal, this 12/12 has more staying power than it might look like at first blush. But the most important difference is that even if the odds defy you and Kozilek falls, you still have seven cards and ten mana to cast them with. Go have some fun.

           

I suspect a lot of people aren’t going to truly appreciate it at first, but Oath of Nissa is absurd. Like the rest of the cycle, the combination of enters-the-battlefield effect and static effect render its Legendary supertype irrelevant, basically making the Oath into a Green Sleight of Hand.

Well, that’s not entirely fair. Blue card selection is good because it digs you to answers and combo pieces, which don’t often come in the form of Lands, Creatures, or Planeswalkers. But selection like this gets you places in midrange decks too.

I’ve been very impressed by Oath of Nissa in Jund and Abzan decks, and I would not be surprised to see this become the norm, and here’s why:

  • These decks tend to run 24-25 lands. Replacing one or two of these with Oaths shores up your topdeck game while also helping you access early game mana if necessary at a fair cost.
  • Sick of your Tarmogoyf maxing out at 5/6? Play a second Oath of Nissa, or even just discard it to Liliana of the Veil to get that elusive enchantment bonus. In a pinch, this even turns your Abrupt Decays into an instant-speed pump effect.
  • Casting Liliana on turn three is easier said than done. Oath makes that easier, and reduces the need to play an other-wise not great Twilight Mire in the deck.
  • Revealing Oath to a Dark Confidant is a one-damage cheat to access higher-curve threats. This becomes very relevant if you opt to play cards like Tasigur, the Golden Fang.

Add to these the fact that digging helps these decks access their 1-of sideboard bullets such as Olivia Voldaren or Ajani Vengeant, and you have yourself a serious winner.

It’s important to mention, however, that finding room in these decks is definitely a bit of a challenge. One is too few, and at four you might start chaining them together, which ups your odds of whiffing, so two or three seems reasonable. I’d start by cutting a land, a Liliana of the Veil, and maybe pushing a Scavenging Ooze into the side. This effectively maintains your permanent count, which you’d definitely rather be doing than displacing important instants and sorceries.

Speaking of displacing…

           

Third, we have the latest flicker rage in Eldrazi Displacer.

While many brewers initially hoped for this card in a Bant Collected Company shell, exploiting powerful ETB effects like Vendilion Clique and Eternal Witness, it seems the consensus is that as good as the Modern mana base is, its fetch-shock dependancy isn’t friendly to colourless mana costs in decks with three-or-more classic colours.

But moving down to two-colours changes things entirely, and “Flickerdrazi” looks very good in Black-White Death & Taxes. Mana-simple decks are very welcoming of cards like Caves of Koilos to cover its bases, and D&T’s natural synergy with Ghost Quarter allows it to pack a very reliable amount of colourless mana.

Meanwhile, the fit in the deck is an absolute natural. While it doesn’t hit as hard as Flickerwisp, the repeatable use of its ability gives the deck a strong capacity to lock down the late game to protect against everything but sweepers.

Honourable Mentions

In the interest of brevity, I’m limiting detailed discussion to the three cards above, but I would be remiss to say nothing about Matter Reshaper, Goblin Dark-Dwellers, and even Crumbling Vestige, which may also creep into competitive play.

Matter Reshaper is borderline-unfair value, and fits into any Collected Company strategy so well it’s nauseating – provided the mana issue can be solved. I would not be surprised to see this alongside friends like Kitchen Finks or Leatherback Baloth sometime soon.

Goblin Dark-Dwellers can go two different directions. Despite pundit claims of what mana costs Modern decks can and can’t tolerate, we’ve seen high-value five-drops before, and we will see them again. At the top of the curve in Jund, there is a lot of value like Kolaghan’s Command to be had alongside a good semi-evasive body. And on the other hand, there are a lot of Cheatyface approaches to take as well, potentially exploiting cards like Boom|Bust (which has a CMC of both two and six, so yes, Goblin Dark-Dwellers can cast Bust from your graveyard), or even some creative use of Restore Balance or Living End. A bit of a guessing game that might go nowhere, but just like everything else in the set, it is interesting at the very least.

And the last one might be a bit of a long-shot, but for those still hanging on to hope for Amulet of Vigor decks to survive without Summer Bloom, Crumbling Vestige has potential to add back in some explosiveness. I, for one, am glad that Bloom went out as it came in.

Clever ideas. Competitive potential?

With a Modern Pro Tour starting tomorrow, we aren’t going to have to wait very long to see if and how some of these new ideas get put into practice. If you’ve opened some of the cards we’ve discussed here and you’re not yet sure what to do with them, keep your attention tuned-in over the weekend and see if the world’s best have something powerful in mind.

Well, that’s all for today. I hope you enjoyed this edition of Rogue Tech Report. If you have some bizarre tech choices of your own, please share them in the comments. Thanks for reading, and until next time, have fun, and may the force be with brew!