Playing Modern With “An Edge”


Often times, I find myself struggling to explain Magic to someone who’s never played before.  The easiest comparison I can draw that truly does it justice (though still miles away) is chess.

I feel this way especially in Standard, but occasionally in high level Modern play as well.  With decent accuracy, you can often guess the names of 60 cards in your opponent’s maindeck – exceptions typically being in the numbers of copies of a card that a deck may run.  With slight variation, an average Modern burn maindeck circa June 2017 is likely to look something like this…

Goblin Guide
Monastery Swiftspear
Eidolon of the Great Revel
Arid Mesa
Bloodstained Mire
Inspiring Vantage
Sacred Foundry
Scalding Tarn
Stomping Ground
Wooded Foothills
Boros Charm
Lightning Bolt
Lightning Helix
Searing Blaze
Lava Spike
Rift Bolt

This is roughly the most common 60 for this archetype so you’ve likely prepared to beat it.  If everything goes according to plan, you should be able to follow your script to point removal spells at any opposing Goblin Guide and Wild Nacatl and eventually outlast an onslaught of Lightning Bolt and Skullcrack.

Burn is a relatively easy deck to play against…don’t get me wrong, I didn’t say it was an easy deck to beat, in fact, for many decks it’s quite difficult to beat…as far as planning goes, most of the cards do nearly the same thing, 3 damage to your face.  Once your opposing burn player finds himself or herself in top deck mode, there are often few surprises off the top of the deck.

This brings me to my point…

I made sure to mention “high level Modern play” previously, as this is not always the case in more casual environments like FNM or Gameday.  Think back to all of the times that your opponent is playing some Burn…ish deck and instead of drawing a Lightning Bolt off the top of his deck, draws Glorybringer, attacks and kills your Spellskite.  You thought you were OK…

When the variables aren’t as absolute as 16 chess pieces per player, it is more difficult to plan for the “wild card”.

One of my favorite examples of this concept (which is much less good now that Stubborn Denial is seeing play) was a singleton Spell Pierce in the maindeck of my Grixis Delver deck.  I found myself frequently bringing this card out of the sideboard enough to merit a maindeck slot for it and loved it there even more when I realized how often I could catch my opponent not expecting a one-mana negate.  Like I said, this is admittedly less impactful now that Grixis Death’s Shadow is predictably running 4 copies of Stubborn Denial in their 75, but at the time, this worked beautifully.  My opponent felt almost certain that I would be using my extra fetch land for an end of turn Thought Scour and NOT to save the life of an unsuspecting Delver of Secrets.

Delver (or similarly Grixis Shadow) is a deck that can take particular advantage of small changes like a singleton “wild card” thrown into the mix because when the card was not particularly useful, a single copy was easy to ignore.  When it’s great, you’ve got virtually 4 more copies of it at your disposal in Snapcaster Mage and 4 ways to dig for it in Thought Scour.

Another type of deck that can take great advantage of a small maindeck edge is a toolbox deck.

I find myself frequently working my busiest sideboard all-stars into the maindecks of my Chord and Company decks to gain an edge in game 1.  What’s most appealing is when a sideboard piece can bring utility to the table.  Qasali Pridemage, for example, presents a fantastic option for dealing with artifacts or enchantments which exist as centerpieces to many decks in the format (Affinity, Lantern, 8 Rack) but in match-ups where it has nothing to ‘disenchant’, is either a great attacker or a great way to make an attacking Birds of Paradise just that much bigger.  

Another frequent maindeck inclusion here is Spellskite.  Spellskite provides plenty of excellent “catch-them-with-their-pants-down” moments via Chord of Calling and is generally just a great hoser for a lot of decks that play Lightning Bolt as their primary source of removal.  On the topic of utility, Skite is a fine blocker and…total corner case…a horror.  Still wondering why that’s relevant?  It’s hardly relevant but this is kinda funny so I thought I’d share…

So, while I’m not suggesting you go “full hog” and attempt to win the game because your opponent is too busy scratching their head to block, I would definitely recommend attempting to gain an edge by including some maindeck piece that is atypical.  Play a game of chess with 7 pawns and a checker piece and see what your opponent does when you move diagonally.