This past weekend was fairly quiet on the Modern front. Instead, Standard took the main stage at the Magic World Championship, where one of the best to ever play the game, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, took home first place and a massive purse in majestic Hawaii. Not a bad weekend for the Brazilian.
So in lieu of big Modern results from the past weekend, this week I am going to focus on a deck that I saw in a recent 5-0 Modern League dump that caught my eye:
Jeskai CatBlade by MentalMisstep, 5-0 Modern League
2 Arid Mesa
1 Field of Ruin
4 Flooded Strand
1 Glacial Fortress
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Mystic Sanctuary
1 Sacred Foundry
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Snow-Covered Island
1 Snow-Covered Mountain
1 Snow-Covered Plains
2 Steam Vents
1 Sulfur Falls
First, it’s important to say that I have a sweet spot for decks that combine two strategies that may not seem to mesh at first glance. The first example I ever saw of this deck building approach was in Legacy back in 2013 when Jared Boettcher piloted his Grixis Painter deck to a fourth place finish at that year’s SCG Invitational.
The deck contained the Painter’s Servant + Grindstone combo with Sensei’s Divining Top and Counterbalance in a control deck shell and it looked like a ton of fun to play. And while that deck may not have caught on in the format, the theory behind the deck remains intact. Control decks rarely have issues prolonging a match of Magic — the true deck building challenge, generally speaking, is how a control deck will close out a game, and how quickly it can close with its win condition.
Intuitively, a combo finish makes sense for a control deck. It’s fast, often hard to interact with, and a control shell often provides enough time to set up the combo as well. So when I saw this list achieve a 5-0 finish, I knew I had to give it a deep dive.
Now this is not Saheeli CatBlade’s debut. The deck has existed in a four-color shell for some time, dipping into green for cards like Once Upon a Time and Oath of Nissa for consistency. This version was very spell-light, opting for a value creature deck build with strong enter-the-battlefield effects to accrue value over the course of a game.
This version does the opposite, opting to play powerful spells and Planeswalkers over a more creature-heavy build to make the deck more interactive against a very diverse and open metagame.
Right off the bat, this deck does a great job of combining two distinct strategies in Modern, and using objectively powerful Magic cards as the glue that holds them together. The true genius here is that each of the two distinct strategies are good enough to be Plan A in any game one, making the deck (I imagine) incredibly difficult to play against.
Do you spend counter magic early on Stoneforge Mystic because once it’s down your countermagic becomes a lot worse? Or do you save it for the possible turn three Saheeli Rai which leaves you vulnerable to losing the game on the following turn?
Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian has been a proven combo in Pioneer, and it has shown up in Modern a number of times as well. It is easily set up in the absence of interaction, and the combo’s colors lend themselves to a control shell.
In this deck, Saheeli Rai does more than just combo too. An early Saheeli Rai can allow for a strong tempo game plan on the back of Lightning Bolts, Lightning Helixes, Snapcaster Mages, and Spell Quellers. It can also randomly ultimate and grab both Batterskull and Sword of Feast and Famine which seems like a very powerful fallback plan if all else fails.
Felidar Guardian is also a powerful card in its own right in this deck. Resetting a Snapcaster Mage to rebuy an extra burn spell is a good fail case for the four-drop. It can also reset an Omen of the Sea (a cool new addition from Theros Beyond Death), a Teferi, Time Raveler, or even a Stoneforge Mystic. Also of note, Felidar Guardian can flicker Mystic Sanctuary which acts as a psuedo Snapcaster Mage, yet another powerful line the deck has to offer.
Stoneforge Mystic strategies have also proven powerful in Modern. While often found in a Bant Control shell, Stoneforge Mystic is no stranger to Jeskai decks, slamming early Batterskulls behind counter magic and Lightning Bolt.
This strategy forces some sort of response or interaction from an opponent, as it is both a very potent gameplan and also very proactive.
Overall, the deck seems very complete. It has a strong early game and a strong late game, with clear win conditions that can both close out a game quickly. The deck has disruption, interaction, and a proactive game plan, and is playing objectively powerful cards in a strong color combination.
This deck seems to have good matchup against a lot of the top decks in the field as well. Against Mono-Red, the deck is packing a lot of targeted removal, Batterskull, and creatures that can often block profitably. Against Tron, the threat of a fast clock backed up with counter magic is generally a winning formula. Even against Death’s Shadow, the combination of spot removal and counter magic seems good, especially when the deck also has an abundance of burn which can make a Death’s Shadow gameplan more difficult to navigate for the pilot.
Amulet Titan is clearly a matchup that can be a toss-up preboard, and seems play-draw dependent. Post-board, however, MentalMisstep is playing 3 Blood Moon, 2 Damping Sphere, 2 Ashiok, Dream Render, and more counter magic, which makes the matchup seem favorable for the CatBlade deck.
The Modern metagame is extremely open right now as players are still experimenting with the post-ban format. In an environment such as this one, it makes sense to play a deck that is consistent, plays objectively powerful cards, and packs interaction for a number of relevant matchups in the format. I’ll be playing Modern at my local game store next week, and I will probably be trying this out there!
Thanks, and stay tuned for more sweet Modern decks in the future.