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Taking All the Turns – A Modern Extra Turns Primer

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If you ask a typical Magic player what their favorite thing is in the game, one of the common answers you’ll hear is “drawing cards.” It’s why cards like Howling Mine have been in the game since it was created, and why that effect has stuck around since.

Ask a typical Magic player what the most powerful thing you can do in the game, and one of the common answers you’ll hear is “making mana.” After all, you have to make mana to play your spells, and this is why effects like Turnabout or Sword of Feast and Famine have always been so strong. Those two cards have been, at different times, key parts of the most powerful deck in their respective format.

But ask the typical Magic player how to combine both of those things into a competitive deck, and you’ll probably not get much more than a shrug or head scratch.

Well, we have the technology to do just that, and do it very well. As a sample, I’ve gone 12-3 in my last 15 Magic Online two-man queues with this deck. While these are by no means the defining measure of a deck, it’s assuredly a good sign for the deck’s competitiveness.

I present, Mono-Blue Turns.

(Remember you can subscribe to my YouTube channel for more Modern videos).

 

The Deck

As you saw in the videos, Turns (seems like the easiest way to refer to it), has a very consistent and surprisingly resilient game plan: survive until Turn 5 and then begin taking all the turns available in the game. With a Howling Mine effect in play (Dictate of Kruphix is preferred), every turn nets you one card or more and allows you to chain turns until you eventually win with an awakened Part the Waterveil land.

I’m a big fan of Modern, and I’ve always followed the fringes of the format for new decks. For a long time, that’s where Turns existed. It ran downright weird cards like Savor the Moment to try and piece together extra turns. While the deck would often string together a lot of turns, it would mostly fail to string together a lot of wins. Sometimes it would draw the engine, sometimes it would draw the extra turns, sometimes it would draw the win conditions, but it had a very hard time consistently doing them together.

Part the Waterveil changes all that.

partthewaterveil

No longer does the deck have to split slots between ways to win and ways to take extra turns. Part the Waterveil isn’t a four-of in the deck, but it is vital in combining win condition and extra turn all into one, allowing the deck to cut more situational cards and function more smoothly.

It’s a formula that has carried players to some success. Joshua Bova navigated to third place at a StarCityGames Premier IQ, and Eli Kassis and friends found Day 2 success with the deck at Grand Prix Pittsburgh. When I found out that Zac Elsik (of Lantern Control fame/infamy) had also put work into the Turns deck, I knew there had to be something here, and that led to a fevered run with the deck on Magic Online.

And I’ve learned quite a bit about the deck in that time. For starters, the good and bad matchups, as well as the cards that over and underperform. In general, two types of decks give Turns trouble: extremely aggressive decks, and slower-but-still-aggressive decks that also pack disruption. In practical terms, that means Burn and Zoo and Affinity are hard matchups, and tempo decks like Merfolk or Bant-flavored aggro builds are nearly impossible to beat. While the pure aggro decks can be sideboarded against and raced, the other decks that represent a solid clock plus counterspells are a nightmare for the deck.

Luckily, those are only a part of the metagame. The rest is full of decks I consider good matchups for the deck: “fair decks.” Splinter Twin, Abzan, Grixis, Scapeshift, “big” Zoo are all favorable. Tron feels like a bye. Other combo decks are beatable, and even Jund must combine their hand disruption with a fast clock to defeat you. Basically, any deck trying to play “fair” midrange Magic has a tough time preventing you from completing your plan.

The Game Plan

Let’s talk about what makes the deck “work.” It’s no surprise that in a deck full of Time Walk effects, taking turns is the basis of its success. But what that means in practice may surprise you: it’s not all about taking extra turns yourself, it’s about denying your opponent a turn. From Spreading Seas to to Gigadrowse to Cryptic Command, the deck is full of virtual Time Walk effects long before it ever takes an extra turn. Seas can take your opponent off a key spell, buying you another turn. Cryptic Command is obviously great, oftentimes denying an attack step or countering a key spell.

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Gigadrowse is the best of the bunch, and probably the best card in the deck. It’s just so flexible, I’m honestly surprised it doesn’t see more play in Modern. It steals attack steps. It taps down opponents on their end step to set you up to go off. It taps down combo or Tron decks in their upkeep to steal a turn away from them. Better yet, due to how Replicate works (the copies go on the stack individually and resolve individually), counterspells are useless against it. A blue player can be sitting on all the counters in the world, but they’ll never get to use them when you Gigadrowse their mana before starting your turn. I even won a game against a Twin player by casting two of my three copies of Gigadrowse on their Deceiver Exarch when they cast Splinter Twin with counterspell backup. I tapped down the Exarch as well as one of their lands, used Cryptic Command to bounce the creature on my main phase, and went on to win the game. No other card does so much in that spot.

The deck is pretty straightforward in theory. Use the cantrips to set up your early turns (and occasionally plan out a timely Miracle Temporal Mastery), Spreading Seas to slow them down, hopefully flash in Dictate of Kruphix on their end step, untap and hold up Cryptic Command or Gigadrowse, and then cast Time Warp on Turn 5 and never pass the turn back to them.

The different Time Walk effects all have a purpose. Time Warp is the best for its mana cost, Temporal Mastery makes your early game more explosive and is fine late, Walk the Aeons allows you to chain together multiple turns off one card when you need it, Temporal Trespass can be absolutely clutch when you need to both Time Walk and play another Howling Mine effect, and Part the Waterveil is your win condition. Each one is good in its own way, and understanding how to sequence them will increase your win percentage with the deck.

The Cards

While many of the cards in the list are locked in, there are some flex spots. For instance, many lists run Thassa, God of the Sea. While it certainly has its advantages, I found that after a dozen or so matches with the deck I never once won with Thassa. While Scrying every turn is nice, the card serves to make your good matchups better, and does nothing in the difficult aggro matches that give you trouble. I went to Repeal to try and add a flexible spell that was good against both aggro and control, I’ve come around to Elixir of Immortality since it buys you a turn against aggro while also serving to prevent you from decking yourself, which is sometimes a concern.

There is a cost to cutting Thassa, and that is the fact that you have to be very careful with your Part the Waterveil. While you can freely cast the first, the second must be saved to win the game since the card exiles itself as part of its resolution. While in theory this can cause you to lose the game (as you saw in my match against Merfolk), the truth is it can almost always be played around, unless you run into the very rare situation where you have only the second Part the Waterveil left in hand and nothing to buy another turn, whether real or virtual. This hasn’t yet come up for me, and I suspect it’s a corner case that is more than offset by replacing Thassa with a card that helps in other places. And, in the match against Merfolk, I punted that game by forgetting about Harbinger and not Gigadrowsing his lands before I began to attack.

Because your deck has to get to nine mana to make a creature, you almost always have complete control of the game by the time you even present a creature for them to target. Whether it’s with Gigadrowse or Cryptic, by the time you’re ready to Awaken a land you’re ready to protect it as well.

Jace Beleren is something I’m not currently running but could find a home. It can buy you life against the aggro decks if they go for it, and it can theoretically present an alternate win condition. If you’re going to put a secondary win condition in the deck, this is the one I’d go with.

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The Lands

This is another subject I want to touch on. I’ve seen several lists that run colorless sources like Dreadship Reef, Ghost Quarter or Mikokoro, Center of the Sea. While there is some merit to the effect each of those offers, I’m not sold. The deck has heavy need of blue

For starters, storage lands seem to hurt you more than they help. Yes, if you charge it twice it can speed you up by a turn, but if you’re playing a deck that allows you to charge it up twice you’re not going to need that extra mana as often as you’re going to need colored mana in the first few turns of the game. Testing with storage lands and Mikokoro, I’ve lost games to not being able to fully Replicate a Gigadrowse or cast Cryptic Command on the fourth turn. The deck can afford only a few colorless sources, and I prefer the straight lifegain of Radiant Fountain to those. I’ve even considered Skyline Cascade as another hedge against aggro, though I suspect it’s too risky to be worth it.

Oboro, Palace in the Clouds and Minamo, School at Water’s Edge weren’t in my list when I made the videos but there’s not much reason to not run them as small insurance against Choke.

The List

I’ve made you wait for the updated list because I know how these articles go. You find the list, cut a few cards you don’t like, and go to town. Feel free to do that, but at least this way you’ve hopefully read the reasons why the deck looks like it does.

The Sideboard

There are several directions to go with the sideboard, and I’ll caution that mine is currently very experimental.

Basically, you have to decide how you want to handle the aggro decks. The Dragon’s Claw/Sun Droplet give a chance against Burn, but they also eat up a ton of sideboard slots while not always even being that great, not to mention mediocre against creature-based aggro. While I did go 2-0 against Zoo in that 12-3 Magic Online run, it’s entirely possible you’re supposed to cut these cards and free up spots.

One of the things I’m testing in those spots is a few Traps. Whiplash Trap and Lethargy Trap accomplish some of the same things you’re looking for from the Claws and Droplets, while also being better mid-game topdecks. There’s a ton of room for experimentation here (Exhaustion and Aetherize come to mind), and I don’t want to presume to tell you what is best for your local metgame.

If you’re only running the Part the Waterveils to win in the main deck, I suggest Laboratory Maniac for the sideboard. It gives you a win condition that beats infinite life or Ensnaring Bridge, and can be protected late, even if it’s a bad draw early. Whether it’s Lab Maniac or Thassa or Jace Beleren, a secondary win condition is key to be able to beat Surgical Extraction.

Everything else is fairly generic, and should be localized to your expected metagame. Dispel and additional Gigadrowse are clutch against blue-based control or combo decks, while Hurkyl’s Recall or Hibernation give you additional game against the green decks.

When it comes to what to board out, I typically cut the Spreading Seas first. After that goes one of the Howling Mines, as well as the Elixir if I’m against a deck I’m bringing in Laboratory Maniac against. You can also cut a Walk the Aeons if need be.

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Tips and tricks

  • Prioritize hands with early game over hands with late game. Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand are more important than Dictates, and both are more important than Time Walks.
  • Learn all your uses of Gigadrowse. Against the blue decks you generally want to save it for their end step, against the aggro decks you want to combat step it, while against the midrange decks it’s often best used in the upkeep just to tap down lands (Tron literally can’t interact at anything other than Sorcery speed). Don’t be scared to burn it to just tap down two of their lands on Turn 2 or 3 if the rest of your game plan is in place.
  • Always be aware of how many turns you have. If you can stack up turns with a miracle Temporal Mastery or cheap Temporal Trespass, make sure to keep a die to remind yourself.
  • Similarly, know how many turns it will take you to kill. Decking yourself is a real concern with the deck, and don’t be afraid to use your Cryptic Command to bounce your own Howling Mines once you’re in control.
  • Remember that Dictate of Kruphix has Flash. Obviously you want to end-step it against opponents, but sometimes when you’re going off you can flash it in during your upkeep to net an extra card before casting a Time Walk effect.
  • Don’t be afraid to Explore. There are definitely times when it’s okay to just cast a fifth-turn Time Warp to get an extra land into play before passing.
  • Once you start taking turns, don’t drain yourself to keep doing. There are plenty of times I take even a few turns before just passing back to the opponent with Cryptic Command up. It’s often better to pass with seven mana for Cryptic Command and Dictate of Kruphix up than it is to burn a Time Walk for marginal value.
  • Generally, this is a deck where you’ll want to wait until the last minute to go off. I’d rather play around as many things as possible than start going off too early — with Gigadrowse in the deck you are always live to give yourself an opportunity to off risk-free rather than take a chance. In practice, this means passing with mana open rather than tapping out to cast a Time Warp against an opponent who could possibly prevent it.

Have all the turns

I think that covers everything you’ll need to know. I strongly urge you to give this deck a shot, because it’s legitimately very competitive in the current Modern meta. It has play against almost all the field, and many opponents won’t know how to interact with your deck. While my absurd rate in two-mans is obviously a good run against average competition, this deck is proven to have play at any level of competition.

Let me know if you have any questions. I feel like this deck is very much a work in progress, and there are a lot of changes — large and small — worth testing. From tweaking cards in the mono-blue version to maybe going crazy and playing Green for Explore and Rites of Flourishing, Turns has a bright future in Modern.

 

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter/Twitch/Youtube

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Corbin Hosler

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88     -     Email     -     Articles
Corbin is a sports reporter at the Norman Transcript and MTG enthusiast from the Magic hotbed that is Oklahoma. He writes a weekly finance column for Quiet Speculation. When asked for an expanded bio, Corbin responded, “Yeah, I’ll do it later.”
Corbin Hosler

About the author

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88     -     Email     -     Articles
Corbin is a sports reporter at the Norman Transcript and MTG enthusiast from the Magic hotbed that is Oklahoma. He writes a weekly finance column for Quiet Speculation. When asked for an expanded bio, Corbin responded, “Yeah, I’ll do it later.”

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  1. josh

    You absolutely could have gigadrowsed before awakening against merfolk, you had an extra turn staked up. use the one turn to just completely gigadrowse to safety and then continue the chain.

  2. Russ

    I play this deck a FNM and have done extremely well with it. I agree that Thassa could be cut, but I only run a single Pat the Waterveil and a single Jace and felt this deck needed a third win condition. I never thought to run radient fountain, but now that I’m looking at it, there’s no reason not to run it.

    My sideboard is 3 spellskite, 3 hurkell’s recall, 1 gigadrowse, 2 spell snare, 2 spell pierce, 2 hibernation 1 dispel, and 1 aetherize.

  3. travis

    have a decklist?

  4. Wes

    Would snap casters and JVP be good in this deck?

    1. Corbin

      I don’t believe so. JVP just turns on their removal without cycling through your deck, while Snap isn’t really good until turns 4-7, at which point your per-turn actions are pretty much already spoken for.

      1. Georg

        Hay. My local Meta has some Big Portion of infect Running Around. I would believe this isn’t a good matchup for us.

        Any idea how to fix it?
        I was thinking of Fog in the Sideboard. (Replcing Islands for 4 Hinterland Harbor, 1 breeding Pool and 2 Tango Lands? )
        Is there a better Option ? Or are we Fine by just gigadrowseing in upkeep and channeling exhautions?

        Nice write up btw :)
        (I would Slam AV into this Deck)

  5. Anonymous

    Ancestral visions could find home here?

  1. Selling the Massive Collection | Blog.MTGPrice.com

    […] content, it turns out I do a little bit of that from time to time as well. This week I wrote a detailed primer, complete with videos, on the Mono-Blue Extra Turns deck in Modern over at Brainstor…. Feel free to check it out and subscribe to the YouTube channel if you enjoy the […]

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