Today I’m going to interview a close friend of mine who’s constantly in the top finishes in our local Magic scene and loves this game in all its different shapes.
Talk about you and your Magic-related life.
Hello, my name is Biagio Cantone, though for my opponents in Magic Online, I go by Rudokant.
I’ve been playing (or rather, replaying) Magic since 2012. I started playing when I was 10-years-old, and I’d play the 72-card decks with whatever you could find in booster packs, modifying them as I went along. I stopped about five or six years later and resumed in 2012.
I played all over Italy but mostly in Siena and Perugia, located in the Tuscany and Umbria regions respectively, until 2019. I now play permanently in Catania, which is in Sicily, with some sporadic trips on the peninsula.
I have always loved Limited formats, but the first eternal format that fascinated me, and continues to fascinate me, is Modern. I have been playing the format since it was born and have experienced, for better or worse, all its various changes.
Despite my love of blue, as a player I have the advantage of being a lover of deckbuilding and variety. I have played virtually all formats and strategies that exist, including pure aggro decks (Zoo, Affinity, Spirits, Humans, Hammer, etc.), midrange (Like Jund and BGx in general, Elementals, and Yorion decks), control strategies (UW, UR Control/Breach, U Tron, and even finisher-less control decks), and combos (Ad Nauseam, Storm, Infect, KCI, Crabvine, Mill, etc.).
I have always spent time studying many formats and game approaches. In doing so, I have perfected my way of playing, although I obviously still have a lot, probably too much, to learn.
I like to call myself a supple player, however if I don’t have a land that taps for blue mana, then I’d prefer not to leave the house.
What is your current favorite Modern deck? And why?
Among the various strategies I have played, my preferred are the reactive ones, meaning control and midrange.
I don’t like to lose without doing anything or without having a chance to get in the way of my opponents. I like to have choices and be the architect of the situations I find myself in as much as possible.
Therefore, in the current Modern my favorite deck is undoubtedly the four-colors Elementals deck with Kaheera as companion. The deck is a true midrange and high draw machine.
It exploits the interactions that cards like Risen Reef and Ephemerate have with the evoke mechanic of Modern Horizons 2 new elementals, specifically Solitude, Endurance, Subtlety, and Fury, by turning the resulting disadvantage of discarding cards into a massive card advantage ready to face every adversity.
Specifically, the deck has a great match-up against all creature-based decks and decks with slow strategies that don’t put important pressure.
As much as this may sound ideal, the deck also has flaws that it doesn’t always overcome even though a four-color sideboard can offer multiple alternatives.
It’s difficult to deal with decks that don’t go through the combat phase, such as Valakut, Tron, Ad Nauseam, Belcher, Storm etc., or that chip away at the mana base with cards like Blood Moon or Magus of the Moon, but these are frequent problems for decks with three or more colors.
The four-colors elemental deck is a good option for tournaments for many reasons. Its redundancy and versatility provides access to a huge pool of cards to pull from for the sideboard. There also are few bad match-ups in the current metagame, like Storm and Belcher, for example. However, these decks aren’t currently popular in the metagame, but this may change as the format evolves.
Phyrexia: All Will Be One will be released soon. Do you think it might change the format? Is there an interesting card that you can’t wait to play with or against?
Modern has reached a fairly high power level cap. You can say that it’s a “weak Legacy.”
Cards that come from a Standard-legal set are unlikely to have a significant impact in Modern, except for mistakes like Oko, Uro or the companion mechanics. However, I have identified some cards that may find room in Modern decks.
Minor Misstep stands out. This almost-Mental Misstep has high potential given that Modern is teeming with annoying one-drops, like Ragavan, or Cascade-decks. I’m sure we’ll often see it in lists!
Do you think Modern is currently balanced as a format? Is there anything you would ban or unban?
Current Modern is, arguably, the healthiest and most balanced format of all. There are tier decks, but the decks are more solid than they are strong. A tier 2.5 could be a nemesis for some tier 1. You often see rogue or non-tier decks in the various top positions because they are well set-up to beat the various tiers. You can expect anything to happen!
The format is balanced because the cards’ power levels have risen, so there is no overpowering some strategies. We could say that it has risen to the point that some cards that were banned because they were unmanageable could now be safely unbanned without causing negative effects to the format. Cards like Splinter Twin, Golgari Grave Troll, Bridge from Below, and Umezawa’s Jitte could be safely unbanned without causing disasters in the format.
One of the most terrifying sentences I’ve read in my life was from Wizard of the Coast on January 18, 2016: “In the interest of competitive diversity, Splinter Twin is now banned.” It was one of the funniest and most skilled decks I’ve ever played. It was the classic control with the little button to win in a turn against low-interactive or particularly clueless opponents. It was a harsh ban but fair at the time.
Splinter Twin polarized the format so much because it was still a blue-based combo, so it was particularly solid, with an equally solid plan outside of the combo. It was a Lightning Bolt–Snapcaster Mage–Lightning Bolt control deck. Many decks in that meta couldn’t exist or were forced to play 10 dedicated side cards because they would be overwhelmed by a billion Deceiver Exarch with Haste. Few decks could face it on equal terms.
What about Splinter Twin today? In my opinion, it’s perfectly manageable. Compared to 2016, the format has evolved quite a bit and Mother Wizard has given us a thousand answers, especially when it comes to a spell that enchants a creature that has to activate an ability. In today’s Modern, between Solitude, Force of Negation, Force of Vigor, Unholy Heat, Fatal Push, and Urza’s Saga that searches for Pithing Needle and many more, Splinter Twin would be a good choice for tournaments but definitely not oppressive.
The bans of Golgari Grave Troll and Bridge from Below were dictated by the format’s historical moment. The first arrived disruptively in a format in which a variety of cards synergistic with the Dredge strategy were gradually being added, such as Cathartic Reunion and Creeping Chill. The deck immediately began to catch on disruptively, and its aggressive starts often proved unmanageable and oppressive.
What’s the status of Dredge in 2023? The deck has almost disappeared from the radar. It’s a 2.5/3 tier. Old Troll might bring it back a bit higher, but I doubt it would be as unmanageable as in the past.
Bridge From Below, was the sacrificial victim that was immolated at the ban hammer to stop Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis, which was conceptually wrong. Wizards tried to balance the unbalanceable by banning an innocent card. The deck absorbed the blow smoothly and came back as solid as before.
From the Wizard of the Coast on October 30, 2019: “Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis and Faithless Lootingare now banned.” And thank goodness, I should add! The ban was more than deserved for reasons that, to anyone who played the format at the time, are quite glaring. Only during the so-called Eldrazi Winter was there a worse format.
Faithless Looting needed to go because it gave exponential potential to all graveyard-based decks, and Hogaak because it was a real misconception. But Bridge from Below? Poor enchantment? What did it do? Oppresses? Really? With all the various new creatures that sacrifice themselves automatically? My belief is it was punished for someone else’s faults and forgotten.
With Umezawa’s Jitte, only Hammer Time would currently benefit from it, but it’s not needed. It already has cards like The Reality Chip, Kaldra’s Compleat and the various swords for attrition. Jitte would confer different attrition and allow it to face other creature-based decks more easily, but it probably doesn’t need the card.
The fear for these kinds of cards is that they may have a polarizing effect and prevent the emergence of new decks because players may think, “Since I have Jitte in the format, if my creatures have 1 constitution I can’t play them lightly.” Remember it’s still the usual artifact that implies that the equipped creature deals damage in order to connect.
For Jitte, I would ask, would it really be played? Let me know in the comments.
Let’s close with an evergreen question. What’s your favorite card?
To answer this question, I’ll use simple reasoning. Manipulating the deck helps me find answers. If I brainstorm, I can manipulate enough to find an answer. If I brainstorm once per turn for two turns, I’ll be mostly safe coming back from any difficult spot. What if I brainstorm once per turn to stop when I’m full-covered and mill your deck?
Thus, without any doubt and without explaining too much, I’ll go with Jace, The Mind Sculptor.
Thank you for reading this interview, and I’ll see you next week when Phyrexia: All Will Be One is released!