I woke up with a headache this morning. A goddamned headache, no doubt the result of shallow, short sleep, heaps of heavy food for dinner, followed by hours of playing Diablo 3. But I feel slow and tired too, the whole sloggy mess akin to a hangover. I haven’t been drinking. In fact, aside from a few nights this month, i’ve committed January to focus on resetting my health. December has always been one long holiday party.

I can’t help but think my hangover has something to do with the mothership announcement yesterday. The updated banned and restricted list of which, by now, you are all hopefully aware. Treasure Cruise, Dig Through Time, and Birthing Pod are each banned in Modern. Since 11 am yesterday my mind has been churning intensely over the changes to my favorite constructed format. I probably built ten decks in my phone yesterday, annoyed all my friends via text at work, and found it hard to focus on my actual day job. The party we were all having in modern, well… the lights finally came on, glaring over our heads. What it shone on was debauchery and ugliness.

For a time it seemed the whole of the Magic world was on a cruise. Popping bottles of champagne streaming across ship decks under the moonlight, we posed arm-in-arm with dewey models and high society types, with a million starry lights festooned and dream-like over our heads. Because it was a dream. We all felt it pretty much right away, and while it took time before the harsh lights came on, many of us Magic players were satisfied living in pure, exquisite denial.

There’s a slice of Philip Larkin’s poem Annus Mirabilis that sums up Treasure Cruise quite well.

Up til then there’d only been

a sort of bargaining,

a wrangle for a ring,

a shame that started at sixteen

and spread to everything.

Then all at once the quarrel sank:

Everyone felt the same,

And every life became

A brilliant breaking of the bank,

A quite unlosable game.

The concept of an evolution to ‘a quite unlosable game’ as a new reality is absurd and impossible. The fantasies stimulated by a sudden, explosive cultural change distort the reality of Philip Larkins poem. Treasure Cruise was that explosive change in Magic last fall. We could all cast Ancestral Recall four times — or more! — in a single game! A brilliant breaking of the bank, indeed.

For me, playing decks that abused cruise ranged from the hilarious to the utterly boring. Grand Prix New Jersey had to have been the proverbial boat in my painted scenario. The first time I resolved Treasure Cruise on turn 3 at the Grand Prix I began to laugh out loud. I was on the boat, in my dreamy paradise.

To anyone who believed Treasure Cruise wouldn’t get banned, that Wizards wouldn’t see the need to turn the house lights back on, they were not only deluding themselves, they were deluding those around them. Treasure Cruise defies the very nature of the game, and I am very relieved to see that sparkling ship depart to the nebula from whence it came.

Dig Through Time took collateral damage from cruise getting banned. I believe the card interesting and powerful, but ultimately the card selection and cost efficiency are too powerful for modern. If Dig stayed, the world would play Scapeshift, Splinter Twin, and control decks. Delver would probably just run Digs. Not much would change. People would be playing blue or Birthing Pod at the top tables of the Pro Tour. And that’s not exactly shaking up the premier eternal format supported by Wizards.

So now we go down the line of dominant cards to a place that hurts deep down. Yes, Birthing Pod is very powerful. Yes, it dominated almost every modern Grand Prix this year. It is also extremely difficult to play, thereby rewarding experience and commitment to the strategy. Pod also has horrible matchups. Regardless of what people think of the deck, you pretty much straight up lose to a mediocre Tron player. But something very special was printed in Khans that changed the nature of Birthing Pod. Siege Rhinos contribution to the deck was two-fold: he was a great way to combat delve spells, and we got to eschew combo pieces for straight up beatdown. So, when all the pod player has to do is slam Siege Rhinos, the deck miraculously becomes easier to pilot. That guy who won Grand Prix Omaha with it? He hadn’t played the deck before the tournament. I don’t care what kind of player you are. Prior to playing value pod, the deck took experience to run well. Now you could just jam giant, angry, uncounterable threats.

Should Birthing Pod have been banned? Abso-fucking-lutely.

What does this mean for the modern metagame? My first place to start looking is into what decks were suppressed by Birthing Pod. Zoo was the fist that came to mind. I ran this list, tuned by friend of Hipsters Li Xu, at a tuesday night modern tournament recently.

Xu Zoo

Creatures (23)
Wild Nacatl
Noble Hierarch
Birds of Paradise
Qasali Pridemage
Geist of Saint Traft
Siege Rhino

Spells (15)
Lightning Bolt
Path to Exile
Abrupt Decay
Tribal Flames
Bant Charm
Lands (22)
Arid Mesa
Windswept Heath
Misty Rainforest
Wooded Foothills
Steam Vents
Temple Garden
Stomping Ground
Overgrown Tomb
Hallowed Fountain
Godless Shrine
Sacred Foundry

Sideboard (15)
Unified Will
Swan Song
Crackling Doom
Fracturing Gust
Creeping Corrosion
Stony Silence
Kor Firewalker
Engineered Explosives
Timely Reenforcements
Golgari Charm

Craig Wescoe had a recent strong finish with a similar list at GP Omaha. As it turns out, Siege Rhino is exactly what tribal zoo needed. It mitigates damage, adds massive pressure to the board, and is a great follow up to Geist of Saint Traft, who is looking pretty damn good right now too. If I was going to DC, I would be testing a similar list against the rest of the predicted field… which looks something like this:


Splinter Twin

BGx Rock


UWR Control

Blue Moon

with some fringe strategies…

Bloom Titan

Ad Nauseum

Living End






I don’t believe Golgari Grave-Troll will do much of anything, but people can put together Dredgevine if they want to try out a dredge deck.

Overall, my initial and raw impression views this as the perceived/predicted metagame to be mindful of, but I believe Twin, Rock, and Affinity are the strongest deck choices to bring to the testing table.

Am I excited by this? In a way, sure. I like Zoo. it suits my playstyle, as I enjoy pressuring my opponent. ‘No wrong threats, only wrong answers’ is my thing. But I want to keep myself excited by the format, so I’ll bring a few ideas to the table aside from Tribal Flames. Now is a good time to flex the mind and play around. After all, the cruise is over, and in my current state, crazy ideas start to seem reasonable in a vacuum.

The combos I want to try? Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Restoration Angel in a big Boros deck. It look something like this:

Bloody Angels

Creatures (20)
Wall of Omens
Simian Spirit Guide
Brimaz, King of Oreskos
Hero of Bladehold
Restoration Angel
Baneslayer Angel
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

Spells (16)
 Lightning Helix
Path to Exile
Blood Moon
Lands (24)
Temple of Triumph
Arid Mesa
Sacred Foundry
Rugged Prairie
Marsh Flats

This deck originally ran 4 Chalice of the Void as a metagame against Delver decks, but I think the one-two punch of Blood Moon and an ‘oops I win’ infinite combo is worth looking into. Having an answer to Splinter Twin is important, as well has having protection against aggressive decks. This deck has both, as well as strong board presence and resilient threats.

Another combo is a titan ramp strategy with Summoning Trap and Through the Breach.

Titanic Breach

Creatures (17)
Sakura Tribe-Elder
Courser of Kruphix
Primeval Titan
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
Obstinate Baloth
 Inferno Titan

Spells (17)
Search for Tomorrow
Anger of the Gods
Through the Breach
Summoning Trap
Lands (26)
Wooded Foothills
Arid Mesa
Stomping Ground
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle

Putting Emrakul into play for free is fun! Honestly, though, I never got to play with the titans, so decks like this make me salivate.

What are you thinking of testing for the new modern metagame? Are we back to Thoughtseize, Bob, Liliana? Are we Snapcaster Bolting? Tell me what you guys think in the comments section. I’m ready to move on now that the hangover is dissipating. While it doesn’t feel like a brewer’s paradise, it certainly allows us some room to spread our wings a bit and try to combat existing top tier strategies. Watching the cruise ship sail away never felt so right.

Derek Gallen lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York.

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