Last week, I wrote about the potential banning of [casthaven]Summer Bloom[/casthaven] in Modern next month with the impending B&R Announcement. This week, I want to take on a card I think can be safely unbanned, [casthaven]Sword of the Meek[/casthaven] (SotM). SotM has been on the banned list since the inception of Modern due to its synergy with [casthaven]Thopter Foundry[/casthaven] and the combo’s ubiquity in Extended.

The Combo

For those unfamiliar with the [casthaven]Sword of the Meek[/casthaven]/[casthaven]Thopter Foundry[/casthaven] interaction, here it is—

  1. Have [casthaven]Thopter Foundry[/casthaven] and SotM in play.
  2. Sacrifice SotM to [casthaven]Thopter Foundry[/casthaven]. Gain one life and put a 1/1 flier into play.
  3. When the 1/1 comes into play, Sword will return to play from the graveyard equipping the creature.
  4. Repeat steps two and three. For each mana you have, you gain one life and put a flier into play.

It’s worth noting that Sword itself can be in the graveyard at the start of this combo as long as you have another artifact to sacrifice. The combo is best disrupted by destroying or making an opponent discard Thopter Foundry, not Sword since it can come back to play.

The Old Extended Deck

Thopter Combo - William Cavaglieri - Worlds 2009

Lands (20)
Academy Ruins
Ancient Den
Hallowed Fountain
Scalding Tarn
Seat of the Synod

Spells (40)
Path to Exile
Spell Snare
Mana Leak
Muddle the Mixture
Wrath of God
Tezzeret the Seeker
Thirst for Knowledge
Sword of the Meek
Thopter Foundry
Engineered Explosives
Chrome Mox
Talisman of Progress
Sideboard (15)
Meddling Mage
Vendilion Clique
Wrath of God
Chalice of the Void
Relic of Progenitus
Tormod’s Crypt
Academy Ruins

Thopter Depths - Gerry Thompson - Grand Prix Oakland 2010

Lands (24)
River of Tears
Dark Depths
Sunken Ruins
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Tolaria West
Academy Ruins

Creatures (8)
Dark Confidant
Vampire Hexmage

Spells (28)
Muddle the Mixture
Thirst for Knowledge
Compulsive Research
Slaughter Pact
Chrome Mox
Thopter Foundry
Sword of the Meek
Engineered Explosives
Sideboard (15)
Leyline of the Voide
Sphinx of Jwar Isle
Threads of Disloyalty
Gatekeeper of Malakir
Eyeblight’s Ending
Gifts Ungiven
Exile into Darkness
Dimir Aqueduct

Cavaglieri’s list used an artifact based control shell with Tezzeret and Thopter-Sword as the win conditions. The deck could tutor for combo pieces with [casthaven]Muddle the Mixture[/casthaven] and Tezzeret or draw into it via [casthaven]Thirst for Knowledge[/casthaven]. The list is rife with counter magic ([casthaven]Spell Snare[/casthaven], [casthaven]Mana Leak[/casthaven], and Muddle) and Sweepers ([casthaven]Wrath of God[/casthaven] and [casthaven]Engineered Explosives[/casthaven]). This list also has some additional explosiveness from three [casthaven]Chrome Mox[/casthaven]—banned in Modern—and some additional consistency in playing the artifact lands—also banned in Modern. While this deck was certainly sweet, the second list included, Thompson’s list, is a goddamn work of art.

The second list eschews much of the artifacts-matter theme and jams the Thopter Sword Combo with the [casthaven]Dark Depths[/casthaven]/[casthaven]Vampire Hexmage[/casthaven] combo. With all the card selection in the world, you could chose to assemble whichever two card combo was easier. Also it made it really difficult for opponents to hate out each combo. [casthaven]Path to Exile[/casthaven] was a more than reasonable answer to a giant Marit Lage token but was downright embarrassing against Thopter Sword. Siding in artifact hate was a losing proposition when they just sacrificed [casthaven]Dark Depths[/casthaven], and honestly, was a little suspect against a deck with access to multiple [casthaven]Academy Ruins[/casthaven] thanks to [casthaven]Tolaria West[/casthaven].

What would a Modern Version Look Like?

Last year, Caleb Durward had a weekly column called the Banned Series on Channelfireball where he took a bunch of cards banned in Modern, built a deck around them, and ran it through a bunch of matches on MTGO. His video series with SotM and two decklists are featured here.

If I were to build a deck with SotM and [casthaven]Thopter Foundry[/casthaven], I would most likely start with a UW Tron core and shave a couple of spots for the combo. While that’s all well and good, the more exciting decklist would be updating Shouta Yasooka’s Tezzeret Control list that finished in the top 16 of GP Kobe in 2014. This is my spitballed list using Yasooka’s for inspiration:

ThopterDepths Concept for Modern

Lands (23)
Blinkmoth Nexus
Creeping Tar Pit
Darkslick Shores
Darksteel Citadel
Polluted Delta
Watery Grave

Creatures (2)
Wurmcoil Engine

Spells (35)
Go for the Throat
Inquisition of Kozilek
Slaughter Pact
Thirst for Knowledge
Dimir Signet
Liliana of the Veil
Mox Opal
Relic of Progenitus
Sword of the Meek
Talisman of Dominance
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
Thopter Foundry
Sideboard (15)
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
Glen Elendra Archmage
Slaughter Pact
Sower of Temptation
Torpor Orb

The deck could probably adopt a third color to help with the removal suite but I think this is a decent enough starting point for the archetype.

What would it be good against?

Thopter Sword is obviously excellent against creature based strategies. Zoo, Burn, and Affinity may all have some difficulty dealing with the artifact shenanigans in game one. An endless supply of chump blockers that also gain life is surely nothing to sneeze at and one-for-one removal by and large does nothing against Thopter Sword and the army of 1/1s. While each of these decks have ways to combat Sword in their 75, and Affinity can still smash in with [casthaven]Etched Champion[/casthaven] without fear of being blocked, it would make game ones pretty difficult. If they assemble the combo, you’re basically toast.

Having said that, there are a lot of really good answers these decks have access to in the board especially with many decks devoting multiple spots to beating Affinity. Aside from incidental artifact hate, SotM relies on using the graveyard as well, so it could be fought via graveyard hate. Here are some common sideboard cards in creature-based strategies that potentially wreck ThopterSword.

Kataki, War's Wage Engineered Explosives Destructive Revelry Ancient Grudge Stony Silence Rest in Peace Leyline of the Void


Does it need to be banned?

In short, no, I don’t think so. SotM is part of a mana intensive two card combo that does not win the game outright. While the combo would be at its best against aggro-creature based strategies, these decks already have applicable sideboard hate for the combo. In comparison to other combos in the format, ThopterSword in and of itself doesn’t do anything against [casthaven]Deceiver Exarch[/casthaven]/[casthaven]Splinter Twin[/casthaven], can only slow down [casthaven]Scapeshift[/casthaven], is serviceable but not enough against Infect, and not great against Bloom Titan. Against midrange-control decks in the format, most lists have several maindeck answers to the pieces of the combo. Maindeck Jund has these:

Kolaghan's Command Scavenging OozeAbrupt Decay

All of these cards disrupt SotM and weren’t available in 2010 in Extended to fight against ThopterSword. Aside from these answers, [casthaven]Thoughtseize[/casthaven]/Inquisition can discard [casthaven]Thopter Foundry[/casthaven] and countermagic such as [casthaven]Spell Snare[/casthaven], [casthaven]Spell Pierce[/casthaven], and [casthaven]Mana Leak[/casthaven] can stop Thopter Foundry on the way down.

In addition to most decks having answers to ThopterSword, the potential unbanning could help to create new archetypes in Modern or help rejuvenate struggling ones. While Affinity has the monopoly on “Artifacts Matter” in Modern, SotM could be what a Tezzeret control list was missing. Maybe with a better win condition/answer for creatures, Esper Control could come out of the shadows of Grixis and Jeskai lists. Maybe UW Tron would go from being a format outlier to the premier Tron list in the format with its ability to assemble ThopterSword or use [casthaven]Gifts Ungiven[/casthaven] to bin [casthaven]Unburial Rites[/casthaven] and Elesh Norn.

Unbanning Sword would not warp the format or put a nail in the coffin of creature based strategies. It’s certainly good but not in a way that abuses Wizards “no consistent turn three kills” policy, stifles innovation, or is particularly hard to combat.

In terms of Magic, Shawn Massak is a Modern enthusiast, with a penchant for tier two decks, counterspells, and pre Eighth Edition frames. In terms of life, Shawn lives in Brighton, MA where he works as an employment coordinator for people with disabilities, plays guitar in an indie-pop band, and spends his free time reading comics, complaining about pro-wrestling, and wishing his apartment allowed dogs as pets.

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