Innovation in Modern

Michael RappModern

Last week I spoke about how desperation breeds creativity, and as Modern adapts to the changes brought on by The Lord of the Rings, this has proven to be true. Over the last few weeks I’ve noticed some interesting new innovation in existing Modern decks, and even new decks all together put up strong tournament results. 

So much of competitive Magic is playing and learning and tuning the perceived best decks, but ideas to challenge those decks need to originate somewhere. Many of those attempts ultimately wash out for a variety of reasons, which is why I think it is important to highlight when new innovations succeed. Without further ado I’d like to introduce three new approaches that caught my eye over the week.

Dimir Control

Lórien Revealed doesn’t translate well coming off of MTGO to basically anywhere, so I had to remake the image. The original pilot of this deck is nahuel10. Full deck list here.

Nahuel10 has taken their version of Dimir Control to the top 8 of multiple MTGO challenges over the recent weeks. This doesn’t seem to be an isolated incident, either, as multiple other pilots have been putting up strong finishes with Dimir Control. 

Normally Modern is far too efficient to have a deck with this many counters to keep up (they eventually trade down on mana enough that they get run over). However, with Four Color Elementals, Cascade strategies, Yawgmoth, Tron and other slow strategies making up a large portion of the winning decks, it is safe to say the Modern has slowed down considerably from where it was a few months ago. 

As Modern slows down around The One Ring as one of the defining cards of the format, positive answers, like Counterspell, go up in value. I think as of two or three weeks ago, when Elementals decks were all playing four copies of Delighted Halfling, that I would be much more weary of a deck like Dimir Control. In an effort to beat the mirror, Elementals players have cut their Halflings for other options that are better suited for the long drawn out mirrors, which is great news for decks like Dimir Control. 

There was (and to some degree still is) kind of a The One Ring vs Orcish Bowmasters dynamic at play in Modern. Dimir Control gets the best of both worlds using The One Ring to quickly reload after trading one for one with the opponent for a while. 

Meanwhile, Orcish Bowmasters play incredibly well with counter magic because if the opponent doesn’t do anything worth countering, you can flash in Bowmasters on their end step without wasting your mana for the turn. 

Force of Negation and Subtlety also provide a unique combination to cover everything your opponent could do on a turn that you tap out for The One Ring. And if you resolve that, it will absolve most if not all of the cost of pitch-casting. Finally Sauron’s Ransom is another new addition that lets you recoup resources while also playing well alongside counter magic for the same reason as Orcish Bowmasters.


Lórien Revealed doesn’t translate well coming off of MTGO to basically anywhere, so I had to remake the image. The original pilot of this deck is GDS-in-modern. Full deck list here.

Rhinos has been seemingly absent (despite it being what I would have played in Cincinnati if my plane ever made it there) since The One Ring took over. A combination of the protected turn from The One Ring and more Living End showing up to beat the ring decks has kept Rhinos in the shadows. 

However, players went into the lab to find profitable answers to The One Ring. Commandeer, Questing Beast and Bonecrusher Giant were the original swath of answers. While they put Rhinos back on the radar, the work wasn’t done. 

Commandeer stuck because getting a ring instead of your opponent is much more profitable than trying to mitigate the damage once it has resolved. Stomp was too small ball, but not allowing damage to be prevented is on the right track. 

Insult//Injury goes from, “What is this doing here?” to Splinter Twin when you can often produce 10 power on turn three. That same 10 power also heavily incentivizes your opponent into tapping out for their next turn to gain protection with The One Ring. 

Subtlety has, for a long time, floated in and out of Rhinos deck lists, often not being removed for power level but a lack of blue cards. But this brings us to the next innovation: Lorien Revealed

Commandeer, Subtlety and Force of Negation all want you to have a lot of blue cards in your deck. However, to ensure that Rhinos produces rhinos on turn three as often as possible, the deck often ran 24-25 lands, which limits the space for additional blue cards. 

But The Lord of the Rings introduced a cycle of one cost land cyclers, Lorien Revealed being the blue one. This technology showed up originally in Living End where they cut lands to add land cyclers which act as consistency and bigger Living Ends. 

In Rhinos, they provide lands and more potent interaction by being either a land or a blue card when needed. Honestly, drawing three cards for five mana when you’re flooding isn’t a bad thing to have tacked on, either. 

Samwise Food

Full deck list here.

Some people will call this deck Samwise Food Combo, others Devoted Druid combo — and both are correct. But for simplicity, Abzan Company encompasses both. 

The Devoted Druid combo decks of old used to have an amount of tutors or utility slots that weren’t combo focused, which often split the focus of the deck and led to disjointed draws. Now those slots are just full of an additional combo. 

Devoted Druid still works the same: Devoted Druid plus Vizier of Remedies produces infinite green mana, which casts a Walking Ballista big enough to win the game. Meanwhile, the Samwise combo is Samwise Gamgee, Cauldron Familiar and Viscera Seer

This creates a loop where you sacrifice Cauldron Familiar to Viscera seer to scry 1. With Samwise Gamgee in play this also creates a Food token, meaning you can sacrifice the Food to return Cauldron Familiar, draining your opponent for one life. It is important to note that you need Samwise in play first to create the first Food from one of the other two creatures entering the battlefield.  

This may seem like a subtle change because this style of Selesnya creature combo deck often has multiple combos. But in this version, all of the combo pieces are creatures. 

This is a big deal in the Collected Company plus Chord of Calling deck, whereas old versions would play Karn, the Great Creator or Stoneforge Mystic packages. Swapping to an all creature build also makes it easier to become a beatdown deck when comboing isn’t available. 

Comboing with Cauldron Familiar also beats protection from The One Ring since it doesn’t target or deal damage, and Walking Ballista can get loaded up and win the game in your opponent’s upkeep. 

End Step

Once The One Ring burst onto the scene, there was a lot of talk about it being banned in a very short time frame. And while there’s no denying that The One Ring is strong, I think the adaptations we’ve seen so far indicate it may be worth riding it out for a bit to see how the dust settles. 

That being said, now that we’re on a once a year ban cycle for eternal formats, it may be too big of a risk to wait. Personally, I like that The One Ring makes players look at the format differently and come up with creative solutions.

As always you can find me on Twitter @RappaciousOne for questions, comments and feedback. Until next time, be well!