January 3, 2016

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Going Rogue: Top 10 Modern Brew Cards from 2015

Hello and welcome back to Going Rogue, where winning isn't the goal but it often happens anyway.

As we just recently bid farewell to 2015, we now look forward to what the new year brings. Thanks to some controversial early spoilers, it looks like 2016 is already shaping up to be strong for Magic, but could it possible top 2015?

2015 was a stellar year for Modern. Not only did we gain Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Kolaghan's Command, Atarka's Command, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, Collected Company, Anticipate, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, and a new developing-competitive combo archetype via Retreat to Coralhelm - but even better, we lost Birthing Pod! *applause*

The last 12 months brought a ton of powerful cards into the format that are already seeing significant play. In addition to the above, these include Gurmag Angler, Abbot of Keral Keep, Ally Encampment, Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit, Dromoka's Command, Harbinger of the Tides, Monastery Mentor, and then some other just-straight-forward utility cards like Shambling Vent and Lumbering Falls, Roast, the new dual lands, Hangarback Walker, Pia and Kiran Nalaar, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and a few more with obvious homes such as Vryn Wingmare, Ally Encampment, and Dwynen's Elite and Shaman of the Pack.

Those are all great cards, which means I am totally not interested by any of them. No sir, I want the weirder cards that might look terrible from one angle and terrific from another. The cards that take a little work to make them shine. It's what this column is really about, after all.

So today, I present to you my picks for the Top 10 Modern Brew Cards from 2015. Some have already showed up in a list or two, while others remain a gleam in some crazy brewer's eye. In all cases though, I think it's safe to say that some of these are going to start showing up in competitive ways in the not-so-distant future.

We'll start at #10 with Retreat to Coralhelm. The Knight of the Reliquary bit is already old news, so I'm not letting that factor into the rating here. Nevertheless, this card is a combo machine just waiting to be unlocked in various ways. "Untap" might just be the most dangerous word in Magic development.

Cards not-currently-exploited with high ceiling for synergy with retreat include Ruin Ghost, Sakura-Tribe Scout/Walking Atlas, Oboro, Palace in the Clouds, and heck, even Summer Bloom. Ruin Ghost is probably the best of them, as it quickly goes infinite with something like Lotus Cobra or Tunneling Geopede.

The downside here is that we just got a swell of new landfall creatures, and are unlikely to see the mechanic return before the decade is out.

Although currently unplayed, it doesn't take too much creativity to imagine Flamewake Phoenix wreaking havoc in Modern. On one disappointing hand, it's a rule-text technicality away from breaking Vengevine decks wide open. (If it was cast from the graveyard, Rest in Peace would be a very important card right now.)

But on the other, there are a lot of decks that trigger this easily and can benefit from pecking in for two on demand - decks that play Liliana of the Veil, Faithless Looting and Thought Scour especially.

Build a deck around it or just drop it into Jund - the choice is yours, but I truly believe that Flamewake Phoenix is worth brewing with.

Ah, the $50 Planeswalker that never was. Blinded by six loyalty and an empty promise of card advantage, far too many people - myself included - thought Narset Transcendent was absolutely broken. Turns out she needs a little more work than that.

Although her +1 looks great, even a creatureless deck is still going to whiff a third of the time or more, meanwhile her -2 is typically just going to copy a two-mana removal spell (that she could have just been another copy of, instead) - and any hopes of breaking that ability open were quashed with the banning of both Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time. With a ultimate that does nothing against too many decks, it's clear why Narset doesn't have an easy home.

Still, she's a central piece to any future competitive Superfriends deck, and can be oppressive in decks with primarily non-land mana bases, such as Restore Balance decks which use Mistvein Borderpost and its ilk in large numbers instead.

Only time will tell if she ever lives up to her original expectations.

Another card that suffered from some initial over-hype, Evolutionary Leap comes in at number seven. Although it should be obvious that this is a far cry from Survival of the Fittest, it's also too hasty to assume this belongs in the trash.

There are two useful angles I see on this card. One is just straight value - using it to dodge removal or recycle creatures with ETB effects can add up to a significant advantage over the course of the game. The other is to use a token approach to help reliably tutor up your 1-of creature finisher (the challenge then, of course, is to cast it, but I'm leaving that problem for someone else to solve.)

While probably only a 3-out-of-10 on the could-become-a-real-card scale, if it ever did, I suspect it would do so in grand fashion.

Here's a bit of a curveball. Display of Dominance doesn't quite fit the build-around-me quality that is common to most of this list, but it has different rogue appeal in that it can be an unexpected addition to a proven deck that turns heads and occasionally wins games.
If the text on it looks bad, let me rephrase it for you.

Choose one:

A surprisingly strong sideboard card against Jund, Grixis, and Abzan, Display of Dominance is our number 6.

This is one I'm really excited about.

Creature efficiency is the name of the game in Green, and depending on the board state you can generate, Avatar of the Resolute is a card that can rival Tarmogoyf and has a very high ceiling. Played alongside cards like Young Wolf, Scavenging Ooze, Strangleroot Geist, and Experiment One, getting this card to obscene, tramply proportions is not a challenging feat to accomplish.

If that's not good enough, we also got Inspiring Call in the same set, which provides an immense reward to the same set of cards. Looking for a new take on mono-green stompy? I think Avatar of the Resolute has got you covered. And if you're looking to get more creative, there is no shortage of other mechanics that supports the +1/+1 counters theme.

In the same camp as Display of Dominance (albeit at a much higher impact level), Dragonlord Dromoka is a ridiculously strong card that produces a "what the - oh $%^#" response from across the table. Unless you're getting Splinter Twined in response, Dromoka single handedly shuts down any UR deck, and is especially powerful as a sideboard card if you can tiptoe around the threat of removal.

She's huge, she's evasive, she gains you life, and her spell-shield is just wonderful. For a 10/10 good time, sideboard into Ad Nauseam and watch your opponent go limp when you resolve her on turn four.

Frustrated about that pesky middle ground between Unburial Rites and Séance? Don't fret, Rally the Ancestors has got you covered. Fate Reforged brought us this gem to stash alongside our Ghostway collection in the "Abuse Triggers" folder.

While it hasn't had any successful tournament showings before, this column and others have shown ways in which Rally the Ancestors can produce a blowout, Aristocrats-style win out of nowhere. Or, if lessons can be cleaned from Standard, it might also be a powerful way to generate value from your graveyard, flip some Liliana, Heretical Healers, and go off with Devour-style effects. Pretty good for a card that are first blush looks like it does nothing at all.

As various frustrated brewers have discovered, no, Wizards did not reprint a Power-9 card into Modern with the release of Day's Undoing. Still, several others have shown that drawing seven is worth ending your turn for, such as refilling your hand in Affinity after dumping it all out in the first two turns, and it also brings some much appreciated, albeit odd, graveyard hate into Blue.

The root of this card's struggle is two key safeguards built into it. Ending your turn puts a stop to any Storm or Prowess/Kiln Fiend insanity that this could have been part of, and not ending your opponents turn severely limits how fun it is to play alongside Quicken. Unfortunately, it is a well-developed card.

I'm still hopeful though. It seems like a powerful enough effect that it could someday be worked into an unfair strategy, and I will certainly do my part brainstorming towards this end.

And finally, we arrive at the most exciting brew-worthy card of 2015: Bring to Light.
While many speculated that a five-mana sorcery had no place in Modern, others have been working hard to prove them wrong, showing that the card is a valuable addition to existing decks with ramp strategies such as Scapeshift and Ad Nauseam.

The real excitement about a card like this is its flexibility. In combo decks like the ones mentioned above, it can simply replace copies of your flagship win condition, while also letting you more reliably hit 1-ofs in either the main or the sideboard, such as Anger of the Gods, Timely Reinforcements, or something spicy like Sigarda, Host of Herons. Meanwhile it can function perfectly well as a best buddy to Gifts Ungiven in toolbox decks, and I'm sure it's only a matter of time before someone finds a really outside-the-box use for it.

2015 was an excellent year for the Modern brewers. We got a ton of great new weapons in our arsenal. Cutting this list down to ten was no easy task, and I would be remiss to fail to give honorable mentions to some of my other favourites which include Dark Deal, Collateral Damage, Blisterpod, Humble Defector, Zada, Hedron Grinder, and Exploit as a mechanic, with its best creatures being Sidisi, Undead Vizier, Sidisi's Faithful, and Minister of Pain.

It is my deep, sincere hope that each of these cards get their day in the sun, and I would consider it an honour to any one of them if someone managed to get them banned.

Well, that's all for this article, and heck, for this year. It's been a great one and thanks for joining me in this article series. Do you have any new year's resolutions in mind? I sure do, and to no one's surprise, they come in the form of janky cards. Tune in next week to see what I'm talking about.

Until next time, Happy New Year, and may the force be with brew!

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