For the last few months Izzet Murktide players have more or less agreed on a centralized “stock” list. The stock list kept winning, putting copies of Izzet Murktide into the top eight of tournaments all over the place. Players were right to keep playing the list that works, but new cards have been printed and the metagame has changed. I believe it is time to deviate from the stock list, but first, let’s take a look at what it looks like.
The Stock List
Thirteen creatures, four Ragavan, Nimble Pilferers, four Dragon’s Rage Channeler, four Murktide Regents, and one Brazen Borrower has been the standard issue threat package for months on end. Ragavan and Dragon’s Rage Channeler are two of the best—if not the best—tempo creatures that have ever been made Modern legal. They put pressure on your opponent’s life total early on, but the value doesn’t stop there. Both Ragavan and Dragon’s Rage Channeler provide value beyond hitting the opponent. Ragavan acts as a mana accelerator: given how cheap most of the spells in Izzet Murktide are, a treasure token means casting a removal spell for free or being able to hold up Counterspell.
Dragon’s Rage Channeler is also a household name for Modern players by now. There are few cards that can swing tough matchups like a pair of Dragon’s Rage Channelers flying over the battlefield to put a lot of pressure on the opponent. Oh—and they’re filtering your draws along the way. Murktide Regent, the namesake of Izzet Murktide has proven to end games quickly, an 8/8 flier for just two mana demands an answer from the opponent and in short order. Brazen Borrower often shows up as a one-off, largely due to its flexibility to remove any troublesome permanent and then turns into a clock.
There was a period of several months where players actively wanted Ragavan banned, so cutting it makes no sense to me. I can see an argument for trimming one because it is legendary, but the best turn one play is Ragavan, so you want to draw one in your opening hand as often as possible. The games where I untap with Ragavan and have a Counterspell to protect it feel almost un-losable. I am going to let Ragavan continue to steal games by snowballing an advantage as early as turn two, and I’ll keep playing four.
Lightning Bolt and Unholy Heat make up the removal suite for Izzet Murktide. Four copies of Unholy Heat is standard as it is the best red removal spell in Modern. Izzet Murktide enables Delirium easily thanks to Dragon’s Rage Channeler and Ledger Shredder tearing through your library.
Izzet Murktide tends to play either three or four copies of Lightning Bolt. Adept at handling most creatures that show up in Modern, and simply just burning out the opponent, gives Lightning Bolt a lot of flexibility. In a tempo shell such as Izzet Murktide, the ability to end the game with a Lightning Bolt or two is much more important than it would be in a deck like Jund. I’m happy to have three copies now.
Counterspell, Archmage’s Charm, and Spell Pierce gives Izzet Murktide a wide variety of countermagic that can either be used offensively to protect a threat, or defensively to disrupt the opposing game plan. Murktide often wants to play a proactive game and use Counterspell to back up a turn one creature, or pair it with a Murktide Regent once you hit four mana to try and end the game over the course of two turns.
Archmage’s Charm has a lot more depth than Counterspell, but it is one more mana. Historically players can play around Counterspell by doing things like activating Urza’s Saga, or playing instants on your turn to make sure they have access to all of their mana going into their own turn. This means Counterspell can get stranded in your hand, especially if you end up with multiple copies. Archmage’s Charm solves this problem nicely. There are plenty of good zero and one mana permanents in Modern to steal should you want to go that route, or you could simply draw two cards in search of cards more useful for the situation.
Spell Pierce is more restrictive than both Counterspell and Archmage’s Charm, but in the early turns of the game is still incredibly powerful, given that it is just one mana. Having the flexibility of a one mana counter lets you use more of your mana in the early turns to develop your board, instead of having to hold up two or three mana for Counterspell or Archmage’s Charm. However, because Spell Pierce can only counter noncreature spells, it will miss against some decks, like Amulet Titan, so playing more than two is risky.
Expressive Iteration, Consider, and Mishra’s Bauble comprise the card draw suite. In a tempo deck like Izzet Murktide, it is important to not only keep the cards flowing, but make sure they’re the right cards. Playing 18 lands in a deck that wants to have four lands in play consistently means that there needs to be a lot of card selection in order to hit those lands while also to avoid flooding your hand as Murktide doesn’t have much to do with extra mana. Pair these cards with Dragon’s Rage Channeler and Ledger Shredder, and you’ll be able to see all the cards that you need. Expressive Iteration being a sorcery, and Mishra’s Bauble being an artifact is important for enabling Delirium.
Let’s talk about the new hotness—Ledger Shredder—for a minute. If you’ve been keeping up with Modern, you’ve noticed Ledger Shredder showing up all over the place by now. Izzet Murktide is possibly the best home for our new bird-lawyer friend. Ledger Shredder does everything Izzet Murktide wants. Shredder is cheap at just two mana, scales throughout the game, pays us for playing two spells in a turn, and provides a ton of good card selection. Shredder is also an underrated blocker, something Izzet Murktide struggles with. A couple weeks ago, I likened Ledger Shredder to Tarmogoyf, and that becomes more true the more I play with it. Ledger Shredder is going to be a staple in blue tempo decks for the foreseeable future.
How many Ledger Shredders is Izzet Murktide supposed to play? I believe the answer is either three or four, and I’m closer to four than three. Okay, we know that the stock Izzet Murktide lists don’t have much in the way of flex slots, so what gets cut? Most lists I’ve seen agree on cutting the second copy of Fiery Islet, and the fourth Lightning Bolt, but beyond that there is a lot of contention. The most common cuts I’ve seen are Dragon’s Rage Channeler, Ragavan, Brazen Borrower, Murktide Regent, and Archmage’s Charm. Pictured below are my thoughts.
I believe Murktide Regent is the only clearly correct cut, which opens up space for a third Ledger Shredder. For the fourth Shredder, I believe the cut is between another Murktide Regent, and Brazen Borrower. This cut is much closer.
Dragon’s Rage Channeler, and Ragavan are hands down two of the best tempo creatures ever printed, and in my eyes are uncuttable. Channeler can shoulder the load all on its own, and only gets better in multiples.
I repeat, please do not cut any of the best tempo creatures of all time in favor of Ledger Shredder.
Brazen Borrower still makes the cut because as Ledger Shredder grows in popularity, the value of Petty Theft goes up right along with it. Izzet decks can struggle to kill Ledger Shredder once it gains that fourth toughness, only Unholy Heat gets the job done cleanly, so having an Unsummon effect to reset the counters is quite useful. Additionally, having a catchall answer to something that slips under a counterspell that can also start attacking is nice. Brazen Borrower being face up puts opponents in a squeeze, where if you pass with open mana they have to decide if you have a counterspell or are just planning to flash in Borrower.
I’ve been happy with three copies of Archmage’s Charm. Given the play patterns of current Modern, it is important to be able to hold up a counterspell to eat your opponent’s turn, but should they choose not to cast anything then you’re wasting your own mana. Archmage’s Charm gives us the advantage of still being able to use our mana if our opponent opts not to cast anything. Archmage’s Charm is safe for now.
Finally, we have arrived at Murktide Regent. The more I’ve played with Murktide over the last few weeks, the more I feel that it is too often one of the worst cards in the deck. By no means am I calling Murktide Regent bad, but it continues to be awkward with four copies. Modern has a lot of ancillary Unsummon-style effects, all of which are very powerful against Murktide Regent. Options like Petty Theft, Teferi, Time Raveler, Otawara, Soaring City, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Colossal Skyturtle are a few popular ones.
This isn’t even counting clean answers to Murktide Regent such as Solitude. Playing a Murktide early in the game costs a lot of resources, namely cards in the graveyard, which are important in a deck with eight Delirium cards. This means getting your Murktide Regent bounced has a huge cost associated with replaying it, and chances are that your opponent even has something left over afterward. Endurance is also one of the most played cards in Modern, which can easily strand a Murktide Regent in your hand. Drawing multiple copies of Murktide early in the game will often result in any copies beyond the first being dead cards.
Simply put, players are ready for Murktide Regent, packing numerous clean answers or cards that make it hard to cast, and minimizing the risk of having dead cards in your hand is important. Cutting two copies of Murktide from the Izzet Murktide deck may seem weird, and well that is because it is. But I believe that Ledger Shredder plays well with the rest of the deck. I do still want access to Murktide Regent to end games quickly, but Izzet Murktide sees enough cards that by the time you can cast a large Murktide Regent and protect it, you’ve likely been able to find one. Let’s put all this together and take a peek at the deck as I continue tuning it over the coming weeks.
In short, Modern has enough incidental value that if you’re playing a creature that is only good in combat, you’re likely to face a situation where it gets answered by something that benefits your opponent and leaves you in a vulnerable position. Ledger Shredder seems to be the real deal in Modern, and I think it won’t be long before it overtakes Murktide Regent as the star of the Izzet decks.
As always you can find me on Twitter at @RappaciousOne for questions, comments, or feedback. I’ll catch everyone here next week!
Michael Rapp is a Modern specialist who favors Thoughtseize decks. Magic sates his desire for competition and constant improvement.