This week is a pleasantly quiet one. There’s a bit of a lull now that Masters 25 is out and Dominaria spoiler season is preparing to explode onto the scene. I had a surprisingly fun weekend jamming Masters 25. I think I have a good handle on the format after three phantom MODO drafts and three paper drafts: draft blue, be ready to beat aggressive decks, don’t be overly reliant on cute combo kills, recognize that flying is amazing, and combine already-good cards into combos to win the game. My most common one was Vesuvan Shapeshifter plus Fathom Seer. In other words, treat Masters 25 like an incredibly high-powered core set or chaos draft.

Today, we’re going to get a bit simpler and personal. Instead of talking about Limited theory or game design, let’s talk about Modern at the LGS level. Once upon a time, Modern was my favorite Constructed format and the only one I played regularly. I stopped playing Modern in the midst of 2016’s Eldrazi Winter. I came back recently because of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I’ve only played him once in Constructed, with a borrowed Esper Stoneblade deck back in 2012. I was not good at it. The prospect of sculpting some minds in my favorite Constructed format was too enticing, so I’ve returned and have been having a blast.

I’ve played several Modern decks regularly: Living End, WU Geist of Saint Traft, Jeskai Geist, Jeskai Ascendancy, Grixis Control, and UR Horrors (a homebrew response to Eldrazi—it was hilariously good against Bogles). Basically, I love playing with Steam Vents and prefer to play controlling decks that have the potential to kill quickly. Naturally, I suited up a Jeskai list with Jace and have been jamming it for the last month. It’s performed fine, but I’ve missed having a fast way to win the game like Geist of Saint Traft. I’m probably attending GP Hartford and I don’t believe I’ll have the proper practice to competently play Jeskai for 10+ hours without exhausting myself.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned thus far is that Search for Azcanta is incredible. It’s probably better than Jace. Jace is amazing, make no mistake, but Search is the perfect inexpensive ramp/advantage engine/semi-kill condition. I’ve noticed that Jeskai lists are playing some pretty underwhelming actual kill conditions like Secure the Wastes, just because they can be found by Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin. So I decided to find a better kill condition that can be found with spell-Impulse. Ideally such a deck would be more resilient to Liliana of the Veil, which I expect to see a lot of. So I settled on Lingering Souls, dropped red for the first time in years, did a bunch of research into Esper decks, and came up with the following:

Modern Esper, take one

Lands (25)
Flooded Strand
Polluted Delta
Hallowed Fountain
Watery Grave
Godless Shrine
Celestial Colonnade
Field of Ruin

Creatures (4)
Snapcaster Mage

Spells (31)
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Elspeth, Sun`s Champion
Search for Azcanta
Path to Exile
Fatal Push
Spell Snare
Mana Leak
Logic Knot
Esper Charm
Cryptic Command
Serum Visions
Lingering Souls
Supreme Verdict
Sideboard (15)
Collective Brutality
Engineered Explosives
Surgical Extraction
Ceremonious Rejection
Runed Huned
Detention Sphere
Timely Reinforcements

I had the good fortune of playing against four very different archetypes at my LGS last night: Five Color Humans, Scapeshift, Mardu Pyromancer, and Eldrazi and Taxes. I went 2-2, losing to Scapeshift (which felt like a bad matchup) and Mardu Pyromancer (which like it could have gone either way). Humans felt like an amazing matchup and Eldrazi and Taxes felt close. A good spread of decks (albeit no Tron or Jund, which I’d like a lot of reps against).

It’s been so long since I’ve played a completely new archetype that I struggled to play optimally. I’m very familiar with holding up mana and applying pressure via EOT Lightning Bolt + Snapcaster Mage + Bolt. Lingering Souls is a slower and riskier kill condition because it requires tapping out—though it is much better at protecting Jace, being binned with Search for Azcanta, or being discarded to Liliana of the Veil. It took me a while to find the proper window to turn the corner and switch from stabilizing to winning the game. You want to make sure to Fateseal, activate Celestial Colonnade, or deploy a bunch of spirits at the right time. I recognize that the deck was quite powerful, but there were a bunch of growing pains to playing it for the first time.

Esper was a blast to play. It probably has the same problem for GP Hartford as Jeskai does—it’s too slow, requires too much mental exertion every round, and a month isn’t enough time to get close to mastering it. Still, it left me hungry for more. Lingering Souls is an incredibly powerful card, as is Search for Azcanta. I’m probably going to try a much more black-heavy version, so I can have my own Lilianas and turbo out Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin.

After two years of playing only Limited, it’s nice to come back to Modern. I’ve been following the format since its creation, but it’s so much different appreciating a format as a player than it is as an observer. Modern is even more wide-open now than when I played it in 2012-2016 and I’m hungry for more. I’m excited to try some off-beat decks (before probably bringing Jund to GP Hartford) and delighted that I can take a break from my regular topics at Drawing Live. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this palate cleanser, and we’ll see you next week for Dominaria talk.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

—Zachary Barash

Zachary Barash is a New York City-based game designer. He works for Kingdom Death: Monster, has a Game Design MFA from the NYU Game Center, and does freelance game design. When the stars align, he streams Magic.

His favorite card of the month is Heart Warden. It’s a Mind Stone Elf that’s more fair, has more utility, and will hopefully be reprinted sometime soon, perhaps in a Masters set!

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