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Deck Strategy

Meet the Head Judges of the Khans of Tarkir Prerelease

posted on 09/14/14

Midnight – David Poon


David is a perfect example of a judge that went from 0 to 60 in under five seconds. He started off as an inconspicuous judge at a PTQ, and quickly rose to prominence. He's since then, head judged a PTQ and was called “the best judge of the event” at a Starcitygames Open by one of Washington's premiere judges.


His calm and collected approach is exactly what you want when slinging spells at 3:00 am.


Saturday – Niko Skartvedt



BC's first level 3, Niko has always been one step ahead of everyone else. The first time he judged, the Shadowmoor Prerelease, the senior judges there said he was too soft. Years later, the powers that be made a decree of that we need to be more laid back at casual events. In a judge program of thousands of judges, Niko was the first one to do it right.


From Friday Night Magic, to Magic Worlds, Niko has a vast level of experience at every level of play. He'll use this experience to lead an excellent judging staff.


Two-Headed Giant – Max Knowlan


Max's background in Magic is very diverse. He started playing at five years old, and in the nearly twenty years since then, he's played in hundreds of tournaments, judged for over seven years, written for multiple websites, and serves as the judge manager for Magic Stronghold. It goes without saying that he loves the game.

In addition to a depth of event experience, Max helps write the document that governs how Prereleases are run world wide.


Sunday – Warren Yung


A picture is worth a thousand words, and its pretty clear that Warren is here to have fun. Years of playing Magic allowed Warren to transition into a judge that knows what a tournament should be like. A classic judge expression is “keep it fair; keep it fun” and Warren excels at securing both.


After years of Prerelease, Pro Tour Qualifier, and Grand Prix experience, topped off with a trip to the Pro Tour, Warren is an excellent leader at any event.


This is just the top of the chain of command. In addition to these leaders, Magic Stronghold has assembled an excelent team of judges to ensure a smooth, fun, and engaging weekend.


Living End and Splinter Twin Together at Last

posted on 09/10/14

Check out the deck in action


Deck building is an evolutionary process. We started in 1993 as single cell organisms, throwing whatever cards we could find into a pile, and calling it a deck. There was no aggro, no control, and no combo outside of Channel and Fireball, and even that was just those two cards and a mish mash of other stuff.

My knowledge of the history of evolution isn't diverse enough to know the perfect metaphor, but if I had to guess, I would say this was the first mammal

Brain Weissman's The Deck – 1995

City of Brass

4 Island

1 Library of Alexandria

3 Plains

1 Plateau

2 Strip Mine

4 Tundra

1 Underground Sea

2 Volcanic Island


2 Serra Angel


1 Ancestral Recall

1 Black Lotus

1 Braingyser

2 Counterspell

1 Demonic Tutor

4 Disenchant

2 Disrupting Scepter

1 Ivory Tower
1 Jayemdae Tomb

4 Mana Drain

1 Mind Twist

2 Moat

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Peral

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Saphire

1 Recall

2 Red Elemental Blast

1 Regrowth

1 Sol Ring

4 Swords to Plowshares
1 Time Walk

1 Timetwister


This was the original control deck. Creature removal, life gain, card advantage, and a small number of big finishers. All control decks, all the way up to the Sphinx's Revelation decks of today, have evolved from The Deck. A lot of people playing current control decks have probably never heard of this deck, and may not know that half of these cards even exist, but they are playing this deck in spirit.


When Standard, known as Type 2 back then, was created, decks continued to evolve, but with rotations, the decks had to change completely as cards left the format. The interesting thing about formats like Vintage, Legacy, and Modern, where cards never leave the format, is that the evolutionary process is much less dramatic. Compare two Legacy decks with mostly identical strategies:

Nicolas Labarre's Gro Rogue
Grand Prix Lillle 2006 - 3
rd place


4 Flooded Strand

2 Island

4 Polluted Delta

4 Tropical Island

4 Volcanic Island


4 Nimble Mongoose

2 Quirion Dryad

4 Wearbear


4 Brainstorm

3 Counterspell

2 Daze

4 Fire//Ice

4 Force of Will

2 Isochron Scepter

3 Lightning Bolt

3 Mental Note

3 Predict

4 Serum Visions


Jacob Wilson's RUG Delver

Starcitygames Legacy Open Seattle 2013 - 1st place


4 Misty Rainforest

4 Scalding Tarn

3 Tropical Island

3 Volcanic Island

4 Wasteland


4 Delver of Secrets

4 Nimble Mongoose

1 Snapcaster Mage

4 Tarmogoyf


4 Brainstorm

4 Daze

4 Force of Will

4 Lightning Bolt

2 Spell Pierce

4 Stilfle

3 Gitaxian Probe

4 Ponder


Very similar strategies, and a lot of the same cards, despite being seven years apart. This is a very slow evolution.


Sometimes its not as cut and dry and Tarmogoyf and Ponder being strictly better than Wearbear and Serum Visions. I know I'm getting away from the scientific metaphor when I say this, but sometimes you evolve sideways. What your deck becomes isn't better beyond doubt; it's just different, and that leads me to today's list.

Joe Hemmann's Living End

Grand Prix Kansas City - 2nd place


2 Blackcleave Cliffs

2 Blood Crypt

4 Copperline Gorge

1 Forest

1 Kessig Wolf Run

2 Overgrown Tomb

1 Stomping Ground

4 Verdant Catacombs


3 Avalanche Riders

4 Deadshot Minotaur

4 Fulminator Mage

3 Jungle Weaver

4 Monstrous Carabid

3 Simian Spirit Guide

3 Spike Feeder

4 Street Wraith

2 Twisted Abomination


2 Beast Within

3 Demonic Dread

3 Living End

4 Violent Outburst



2 Dismember

3 Faerie Macabre

2 Gnaw to the Bone

4 Ingot Chewer

4 Ricochet Trap


and then we've got my idea


Max Knowlan's Living Twin
Future Pro Tour X – Top 16
(I like to keep things realistic, of course)


4 Blackcleave Cliffs

4 Copperline Gorge

1 Island

1 Overgrown Tomb

1 Snow-Covered Forest

1 Steam Vents

2 Stomping Ground

1 Swamp

4 Verdant Catacombs

1 Watery Grave


4 Deceiver Exarch

4 Street Wraith

4 Jungle Weaver

2 Jhessian Zombies

4 Monstrous Crarabid

4 Deadshot Minotaur

2 Shriekmaw


3 Living End

4 Splinter Twin

4 Demonic Dread

4 Violent Outburst



1 Pestermite

3 Slaughter Games

1 Shriekmaw

1 Jhessian Zombie

1 Sudden Death

3 Ingot Chewer

2 Sowing Salt

2 Anger of the Gods

1 Ricochet Trap


If you play Modern, you know about Splinter Twin, and you know about Living End; now you know about the two of them put together, and it is a strategy I've found to work for me.


The major differences is I've dropped the life gain and land destruction plan in favour of the combo package. I find that overall, it makes the deck weaker to Tron, Burn, and control decks, but stronger against combo and aggro. In short, its a metagame call.


I talk a lot about results based thinking, and how bad it is, and this is the perfect opportunity to not use it. Just because I win some matches with this strategy, does not mean it is worth using. You need to win a lot of matches.


As of writing this, I've played 40 matches with the deck, and here is my loosely kept data.


Total record: 26-14 (win rate of 65 %).

Games won using Living End or casting creatures: 35

Games won with the Splinter Twin combo: 17

Games I feel I would have won if I had drawn both halves of the Twin combo: 12
Games I feel I would have won if I had the land destruction plan in the deck: 6

Games where it didn't seem to matter: 11


I've put three of those statistics in bold because they're actually horrible statistics. I can't be sure I would have won those games, and even games I won with one half of the deck were helped by having the other half, which you can see an example of in the videos.


If you've studied statistics, or are familiar with baseball statistics, you know the countless variables there can be. Two 60 card decks with 15 card sideboards, different matchups, different plays, and even luck create a seemingly infinite number of variables. The best thing you can do is keep as much data as you can, but at the end of the day, and it pains me to say this, you have to go a little bit on instinct. You can feel how good a deck is and testing just helps ensure that feeling is accurate.


My gut tells me Living Twin is a good deck, and I feel like the more I play with it, the stronger that positive feeling gets; for that reason, I'm saying its the real deal, but I know I could never be more than 99% sure, no matter what happens.


Until next time, keep it fair, keep it fun


Check out the video in action

Modern Trash for Treasure Reanimator

posted on 08/27/14

Check out the deck in action 

The idea of a reanimation strategy in Modern was inconcievable while Deathrite Shaman was dominating the format. When the graveyard hating all star was banned, a lot of things changed, but no one seemed to catch up with the the idea that we could focus on our graveyards that weren't based on Living End or persist.

I don't want to use my graveyard to bring back a bunch of 4/4's or some bizzare synergy; I want to get fat creatures onto the battlefield.

Here is what I started with:

Grixis Reanimator

4 Steam Vents
3 Blood Crypt
3 Watery Grave
4 Scalding Tarn
3 Island
4 Darksteel Citidel
2 Misty Rainforest

2 Sphinx of the Steel Wind
3 Inkwell Leviathan
1 Sundering Titan

4 Thirst for Knowledge
3 Faithless Looting
4 Trash for Treasure
3 Zombify
2 Lightning Bolt
3 Thoughtseize
2 Doom Blade
1 Anger of the Gods
1 Engineered Explosives
2 Pithing Needle
2 Talisman of Indulgence
2 Talisman of Dominance
2 Izzet Signet

I wanted to go a Trash for Treasure route so I would have a three-mana reanimation spell, plus I've always loved Trash for Treasure.

It didn't take long for me to realize that if I were building a deck entirely around bringing creatures back from the graveyard, the benefits of playing a cheap sorcery did, in no way, make up for the fact that I couldn't get Elesh Norn, or Blazing Archon among others.

This left me with the option to go full on reanimator deck using Zombify, Breath of Life, and Resurrection, but that idea felt way too vulnerable and the pieces were high on the curve to justify it. What if I could come up with something that could bring out scary creatures quickly, but also have some sort of a long game.

Then I had an idea, and I realized my idea could be fairly budget.

Trash for Treasure Reanimator

4 Darksteel Citadel
7 Island
5 Mountain
4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls

2 Inkwell Leviathan
1 Sundering Titan
3 Myr Battlesphere
4 Master Transmuter

4 Lightning Bolt
3 Pithing Needle
4 Izzet Signet
1 Talisman of Dominance
1 Talisman of Indulgence
3 Compulsive Rsearch
4 Thirst for Knowledge
3 Trash for Treasure
3 Anger of the Gods



2 Vandalblast
3 Negate
2 Combust
3 Sun Droplet
3 Blood Moon
1 Anger of the Gods
1 Sphinx of the Steel Wind




This deck has the pieces it needs to beat a lot of different decks in the current Modern meta, so lets breakdown the choices.

The combo:

Master Transmuter does paint me to look like a fraud since the last place she wants our creatures is in our graveyard, but she still does exactly what we want; if we try and use her as a piece of the puzzle and fail, we still have the creatures in our hand to cast them, so she's actually the best person for the job.


Trash for Treasure is what started it all. Getting back creatures of immense size all for three mana feels great. The only problems it provides is that sacrificing the artifact is part of casting it, so if Trash gets countered, we still lose our artifact.


Bare in mind that both these cards need artifacts to function, although Transmuter is an artifact albeit one we'd rather not have to bounce. Our deck needs to run additional artifacts to function properly.


Big creatures:



Inkwell Leviathan is a classic reanimation target. Untouchable, unblockable and kills in three swings or less.



Sundering Titan destroys a lot of decks. Knocking out three lands feels great, and I know sacrificing three more lands to kill this guy feels lousy for the opponent. When killing our creatures feels bad we're doing something right.



Surprisingly, saving the best for last. Myr Battlesphere was intended to be a budget replacement for Wurmcoil Engine, which would have been, by far, the most expensive card in the deck. Although I feel there is room for the lifelinker, I don't think replacing Battlesphere is the right way to go.


This thing is almost guaranteed value. Unlike Wurmcoil Engine, if Battlesphere gets hit with a Path to Exile, you still get something out of the deal. Its synergy with Master Transmuter is also absurd.



Dig, dig, dig

Thirst for Knowledge is the best card in the deck, and I can't believe it doesn't get played more in Modern. Keep hands with Thirst in them; that's all I have to say about that.


Not an instant, discarding lands is tougher than artifacts, but Compulsive Research still provides us with a perfectly reasonable spell to accomplish what we're trying to do.

Not dying



Lightning Bolt is the best red removal spell in the format, so playing four of these is easy.


Anger of the Gods is my other control card of choice. It is absolutely insane against Pod, and still does a lot of work against every other aggro deck out there.


The artifacts


Just like I said above, this deck needs some number of artifacts to function, and rather than load up on a million signets or talisman, I wanted at least one card that gave me value. My first thought was Engineered Explosives, but that killed too much of my own stuff, and I already had Anger of the Gods. My next idea was Sun Droplet, which you all know I love, but it felt too narrow. Eventually I decided on Pithing Needle. It seems to have something to name against everything, and I've loved it.



Wrapping it up, we've got some mana producing artifacts just to smooth out the deck.



The sideboard is a fairly reasonable list of general hate cards with the exception of Sphinx of the Steel Wind. I put that card in there as a special exemption to the rule of being able to cast my creatures. It is just such a powerful card against decks like Burn and Jund that I wanted to give it a try.

Having played with a deck for a while, I think its vulnerability to combo prevents it from being tier one, but it has game against the non-combo decks, as well as Pod, so I wouldn't write it off as a dud, especially if Burn, Scapeshift, and Storm aren't popular where you are. For a budget deck, I think it has some real power, and if you're looking to get out fatties on the cheap, a list like this is something I would strongly recommend.

Until next time, keep it fair; keep it fun.

Check out the deck in action 

Modern Burn the Burn (Red/White Life Gain/Burn)

posted on 08/11/14

Check out a video demonstrating the deck:



It has almost become a vulgar word in competitive Magic. It is a combo deck (it is, trust me), and when a combo deck wins, the amount of frustration the victim has is often based on how much they feel like their opponent earned it. On the one end, we have Birthing Pod decks; when your opponent goes on some wild Birthing Pod chain where they did 63 different things, you think, “Wow, my opponent worked hard for that win. Good for them.”


Burn is on the other end of the spectrum. It almost feels disrespectful how little work your opponent looks like they’re putting into killing you.. I’m not here to make any political statements about burn decks, or burn players. I simply want to bring light to the perception of a burn deck opponent so I can explain where this list originated.


Burn the Burn aka Canada Deck Wins

4 Arc-Slogger
3 Spark Trooper

4 Path to Exile
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
4 Warleader’s Helix
4 Anger of the Gods

3 Boros Signet
2 Blood Moon
4 Sun Droplet

4 Arid Mesa
4 Mountain
5 Plains
4 Sacred Foundry
1 Scalding Tarn
1 Temple of Abandon
1 Temple of Malice
4 Temple of Triumph

1 Wear//Tear
3 Torpor Orb
3 Combust
3 Stony Silence
3 Rest in Peace
2 Blood Moon

I have no problems with burn existing, but it does get tiring playing against it and feeling like I’m playing Magic the Variance. With burn being popular online, where I do a lot of my testing, I play against it a lot, and one bright and sunny day, I lost to my opponent getting trip Goblin Guide two games in a row.


That was the last straw.


While I built Burn the Burn, I felt like Batman, Rocky, and Liam Neilson’s character in Taken combined into one amazing and unstoppable vengeance based movie hero. There was nothing left in life but revenge against the bad guys.


The cards

Path to Exile, Lightning Bolt & Lightning Helix 

I’m playing red and white, so I’m playing these really powerful spells.


Warleader’s Helix:

This Helix hasn’t earned respect in Modern, but I’ve found it a job. This card is the poster child of the deck. It’s a burn spell, it’s a control card, and it’s life gain. It produces a lot of victories, on top of being able to kill Deceiver Exarch, some Tarmogoyfs, Restoration Angel, and any other X/4 that red often struggles against.


Anger of the Gods:

We don’t want to be wasting all our burn on creatures, so we would just like to kill them all with a single spell. Playing four of these makes all the difference against Pod along with any other deck that plays lots of guys early. Obviously it is bad in some matchups, but the upside is amazing.


Blood Moon:

Not everything in the deck has to be good against Burn. Blood Moon can wreck a lot of players, especially in game one where they won’t play around it. I limit myself to two in the main because there are matches where we don’t want it at all, and the matches we do, like UWR, Jund, and Tron, it doesn’t need to be in our opening hand to be effective.


Boros Signet:

It ramps us into our four’s and five’s, but more importantly, it ensures we have white mana when there is a Blood Moon out. I had four in the initial list, but I cut one for a land.


Sun Droplet:

This little guy does work! Having one out buys you time, and if you manage a second one, it can put your opponent far behind. When I think Sun Droplet, I think Burn, but it works against Zoo, Delver, Affinity, and UWR. If a deck wins by damage, it isn’t a dead card.


Spark Trooper:

If Warleader’s Helix is the poster child, Spark Trooper is the decks loud and annoying campaign manager. It can struggle in a world full of Lightning Bolts, but when it hits, it hits hard.



I have fond memories of this guy from when he was in Standard, and I didn’t want to buy four Thundermaw Hellkites for a deck I wasn’t taking seriously, and it is a good thing I didn’t.

The Slogger is serious business; sometimes he picks off two or three creatures to pave the way or buy you time; sometimes he is the extra burn needed to kill a Tarmogoyf; other times, he’s just eight damage to the face and that’s before he even attacks.


Fetch lands:

I run these because I own them. I’d still play the deck without them, and I don’t think it would suffer much for it. This deck is designed with a budget in mind, so don’t hesitate to cut them. Be careful what you cut them for though. Part of the beauty of Arid Mesa is it can get a Plains to help you function with Blood Moon out.

If you’re going to cut the Mesa’s and Tarn, I would replace them with three Plains, and two other lands of your choice. Clifftop Retreat, Battlefield Forge, and Mountains are all worthy replacements.



In a deck with no ways to generate card advantage, and the potential to draw dead cards, having the opportunity to scry is amazing. These lands are the real deal in Modern, and this is a great home for them.


Sacred Foundry:

Much cheaper than Arid Mesa, but you probably still don’t have enough in your piggy bank alone to afford a full four. That being said, Ravnica shock lands are the first thing that should be picked up for building a Modern collection, and with the lands rotating out of Standard, now is the perfect time to get them.



White and red have access to some of the format’s best hate cards, so I’ve just jammed the board with some great ones. Your mileage may vary based on personal preference, and your local meta. The numbers of what I have there can be adjusted, and there are other options like Shatterstorm, Sowing Salt, Kataki, Leyline of Sanctity, and Damping Matrix among many others. You could also splash black for Slaughter Games if Scapeshift starts getting really popular.


The deck has performed really well for me. What started out as a casual plot for revenge has turned into what I think is a competitive concept. As I’m writing this, I’ve beaten every popular deck in the format, aside from Scapeshift, in at least one match, and I’ve got a 70/30 win percentage against tier 1 decks.


Strangely enough, I’ve got about a 20/80 win percentage against other brews. This can easily be written off as an irrelevant statistic, but it shouldn’t be. Brews are everywhere, and as someone that comes up with them, I know to take them seriously.


Changes worth considering

Thundermaw Hellkite:

I do think Arc-Slogger is better, but Thundermaw is too powerful not to be considered. Stormbreath Dragon is also an interesting concept. He can’t be killed by Lightning Bolt, Anger, Abrupt Decay, or Path to Exile. He may as well have Progenitus’ trademark protection from everything.


Goblin Guide:

Travis Woo recently called this the best one drop in Modern, and he’s right. This deck isn’t an aggressive one, but it is one that would love to get six points of damage in early.


Grim Lavamancer:

You would need to be playing at least six fetch lands to make this guy work, but he is extremely powerful if he’s functional.


Bonfire of the Damned:

I’m going to experiment with one just to mise with it. It just has blowout written all over it, and I love a blowout.


That’s all I have to say about the deck. Check out the video link at the top to see it in action, or better yet, build it for yourself and put it to the test. I’d love to hear what ideas you could add to this.


Until next time, keep it fair; keep it fun.


Disclaimer: This deck can still lose to Burn. does not accept any responsibility for this deck losing to a nuts Burn draw.

The deck in action: