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Nobles, Nacatls, and How I Learned to Love Loxodon Smiter

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Just like everyone else, I have been busy trying to craft a Modern deck reflecting the DCI Banned & Restricted List changes that you are all likely aware of by now. Previously,  I had been playing with a Naya-plus-Deathrite Shaman build (a la Brian Kibler) that I liked very much, but with this update I decided it was time to build a deck on my own.

I decided that I needed to either get on the Wild Nacatl train, or stick with my guns and run a Noble Hierarch deck similar to what I was running before the B&R update. I felt that the one-drop I chose here defined the style of deck I would end up with. After hours of deckbuilding, theorycrafting, and playtesting, it became clear that my hypothesis of 4/4 creatures being brick walls against Nacatl and company held true. I felt that a lot of the field would try to employ the big cat (not to be confused with Brimaz, King of Oreskos), making the midrange route even better.  I had a GPT to play in, so this deck came about between the time of the (un)bannings and the Saturday that followed. The deck performed better than expected, and helped me to what should have been a 5-1 finish, but ended up being a 4-2 finish for 14th place. This list takes full advantage of diverse threats that the current metagame just isn’t prepared to deal with efficiently, and the deck is also proactive as possible. I’ll walk through the significant card choices and how they performed. Although nothing here is revolutionary, I feel it is well positioned for your next Modern tournament!

Overperformers

Stomping Ground, Voice of Resurgence, Loxodon Smiter

It may seem odd to put Stomping Ground in this category, but it really does a lot for you. When you fetch on turn one, you almost always want it because of your turn-one green requirement on top of Lightning Bolt. You are likely to have a Noble Hierarch if you have a one-drop, so we don’t need to worry about Path to Exile mana since Hierarch produces white (but not red). This may also be a sign we need more copies of Birds of Paradise and potentially fewer Noble Hierarchs.

Voice of Resurgence lived up to its $30 price tag all day. I played against a fair assortment of the expected metagame in the tournament, with the exception of Tron (which isn’t that good anymore, anyway). Against my blue opponents, Voice caused their counterspells and instant speed interaction to be extremely inefficient, especially Remand. I did play against one UWR opponent, but he wasn’t packing any Pillar of Flame. This was fortunate for me, since I feel it is the best answer to Voice would run some sideboard copies myself if the card were more popular.

And now I come to what ended up being the most powerful card in the deck: Loxodon Smiter. Each and every time I cast this monster, he evoked a long, drawn-out sigh from my opponents. Perfect. In each matchup, the card performed beyond expectations. My control opponents who commonly held up counterspell mana for my follow up to a Bird or Hierarch were sorely disappointed when Mr. Cannot-Be-Countered came down. He requires a Path to Exile, getting you a two-for-one. The rate on Smiter is incredible because blue decks rely on card advantage to win. Not to mention that this is all a huge tempo swing, which is also very important element against blue decks. When matched against Jund, Smiter shined when Liliana of the Veil came down, or when fighting early Tarmogoyfs, Dark Confidants, and Wild Nacatls (Yes, I played against Nacatl Jund).

It seems obvious that having the largest creature on the board is favorable, but it remains a relatively unpopular strategy. The combo matchup is much more reliant on your opponent’s draw, but Elephant Man still does his job, which is serving as a five-turn clock that comes down on turn two or three. Really, it’s more like a four-turn clock if left unchecked, since we often Bolt ourselves with our lands in Modern. It also helps that you have the rest of your hand putting pressure on them. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we absolutely trounced any form of Zoo that let us untap with Loxodon Smiter. Being able to play another formidable blocker or a removal spell lets you take over the board, and with it, the game. It turns out a 4/4 for three is very good right now. I was proud of myself for predicting this as a deck builder and as a player. Small victories, right?

smiter

Underperformers

Domri Rade, Tarmogoyf, Kessig Wolf Run

It’s kind of surprising that in a deck with nearly 30 creatures, Domri Rade just did not shine. I have some theories on why. If my board is developed enough to use Domri’s -2 ability, then I already have my opponent in “The Abyss” anyway. These unexpected results could also be a product of well…my results. Domri often got countered or immediately Abrupt Decayed. I don’t really think he is a bad card in this deck, but I would like to try him again to be sure.

Tarmogoyf underperforming has a mostly straightforward explanation. What am I putting in my graveyard besides lands and the occasional instant? Tarmogoyf was often only a 1/2 or a 2/3. While not bad, we can surely do better in Naya colors. There are two main reasons Tarmogoyf is so dominant in Jund. The big reason is that it is an attrition deck, so it is trading cards one for one, and this means lots of cards in the graveyard. Often overlooked but still important is that Jund has sorcery spells that it wants to cast proactively. This Naya deck does neither of those things. It is possible that there is another card we want instead of this particular lhurgoyf.

Kessig Wolf Run was in the deck to take advantage of Knight of the Reliquary. Knight had new life breathed into it with the banning of Deathrite Shaman, so I figured he was worthy of the role I gave him in the deck as a four-of. Wolf Run never ended up making an appearance. The fact is that you are usually dumping more than enough lands in the graveyard through fetches and activating the Knight’s ability is often a tempo loss you cannot afford. While it is possible Wolf Run is necessary to win board stalls or mirror matches, it is definitely a possibility that we want another utility land or one that produces colors. If we did go with more mana dorks, we could easily play a Gavony Township or two.

Next time, I’ll go over the changes I am considering making to the deck, as well as a discussion of sideboard strategy and possible changes. Suggestions and questions are always welcome, so feel free to comment below, or you can contact me on Facebook or Twitter @InkwellLevitan. Hope I could help!

JL

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Jordan Levitan

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