Make It Happen: Modern’s New Enablers

2019 may well go down in the books as the Year of Enablers. Between the Faithless Looting-fueled Phoenix decks and the Stitcher’s Supplier-abusing Hogaak menace, Modern was defined this year by pushed cards locating, buffing, and ultimately breaking engines and payoffs. Of course, both Phoenix and Hogaak have left us by now. Without Looting in the picture, players have turned to new strategies—and new enablers. Today we’ll look at the three biggest players powering the format’s new school of competitive decks.

Arcum’s Astrolabe

This unassuming artifact is first on our list, and has already popped up in decks ranging from totally fair to completely crazy.

Taste the Rainbow

On paper, Astrolabe serves one main purpose: filtering mana. It replaces itself in terms of card economy, only charging pilots a single mana for game-long access to colors of their preference. And boy, does the extra filtering go a long way! We’ve already seen four- and five-colored control decks rear their heads, as well as this behemoth, which continues to put up results against all odds:

Niv-Mizzet Reborn, by Dan Schriever (3rd, SCG IQ Danbury)

Creatures (6)
Niv-Mizzet Reborn
Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves
Huntmaster of the Fells
Ice-Fang Coatl

Planeswalkers (5)
Teferi, Time Raveler
Kaya, Orzhov Usurper
Wrenn and Six

Artifacts (4)
Arcum’s Astrolabe

Enchantments (4)
Utopia Sprawl

Instants (12)
Assassin’s Trophy
Drown in the Loch
Izzet Charm
Kaya’s Guile
Kolaghan’s Command
Lightning Helix

Sorceries (6)
Bring to Light
Dreadbore
Supreme Verdict
Unmoored Ego

Lands (23)
Breeding Pool
Misty Rainforest
Overgrown Tomb
Pillar of the Paruns
Prismatic Vista
Snow-Covered Forest
Snow-Covered Island
Snow-Covered Mountain
Snow-Covered Plains
Snow-Covered Swamp
Stomping Ground
Temple Garden
Verdant Catacombs
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
Sideboard (15)
Abrupt Decay
Ashiok, Dream Render
Crumble to Dust
Dovin’s Veto
Fulminator Mage
Izzet Staticaster
Kambal, Consul of Allocation
Kess, Dissident Mage
Knight of Autumn
Lavinia, Azorius Renegade
Rest in Peace
Unmoored Ego
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Niv-Mizzet Reborn proves that even full of clunky-looking spells, drawing that many cards is as good a combo turn as any. The spells in question actually play much smoother than first appears thanks to Astrolabe, which lets the deck curve Assassin’s Trophy into Teferi, Time Raveler into Huntmaster of the Fells quite smoothly. Indeed, it feels as though Astrolabe’s filtering capabilities are unmatched in Modern.

Filtering, though, is less of a story right now than Astrolabe’s other function: super-charging artifact decks. The best-performing of these strategies is Whirza, an aggro-control-combo hybrid that attacks opponents from a myriad of angles and has proven quite difficult to disrupt for all but the most disruption-heavy decks (AKA Jund).

Whirza, by Mason Grode (3rd, SCG Classic)

Creatures (10)
Emry, Lurker of the Loch
Sai, Master Thopterist
Urza, Lord High Artificer

Planeswalkers (2)
Saheeli, Sublime Artificer

Enchantments (4)
Jeskai Ascendancy
Search for Azcanta

Instants (4)
Paradoxical Outcome

Sorceries (1)
Nexus of Fate

Lands (18)
Snow-Covered Island
Snow-Covered Mountain
Snow-Covered Plains
Flooded Strand
Hallowed Fountain
Prismatic Vista
Scalding Tarn
Steam Vents

Artifacts (21)
Engineered Explosives
Everflowing Chalice
Mishra’s Bauble
Mox Amber
Mox Opal
Arcum’s Astrolabe
Sideboard (19)
Chalice of the Void
Engineered Explosives
Ceremonious Rejection
Galvanic Blast
Generous Gift
Path to Exile
Teferi, Time Raveler
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Jeskai Ascendency is a recent addition to these decks, and comes alongside the freshly-printed Emry, Lurker of the Loch. Between Mox Opal and Astrolabe, how to accommodate the enchantment’s supposedly steep color requirement was never much of a concern.

Once Upon a Time

Next up is Throne of Eldraine wave-maker Once Upon a Time. The unique cantrip seems to be redefining the way green-based Modern decks are built. Its success in big-mana strategies like Tron, Valakut, Eldrazi, and Amulet is old news now. But Time continues to impress in less-likely archetypes.

Traverse Shadow, by Ole Spree (4th, MCQ Utrecht)

Creatures (14)
Death’s Shadow
Murderous Rider
Plague Engineer
Street Wraith
Tarmogoyf

Artifacts (4)
Mishra’s Bauble

Instants (13)
Assassin’s Trophy
Dismember
Fatal Push
Kolaghan’s Command
Once Upon a Time
Temur Battle Rage

Sorceries (12)
Inquisition of Kozilek
Thoughtseize
Traverse the Ulvenwald

Lands (17)
Blood Crypt
Bloodstained Mire
Forest
Nurturing Peatland
Overgrown Tomb
Stomping Ground
Swamp
Verdant Catacombs
Wooded Foothills
Sideboard (15)
Alpine Moon
Collective Brutality
Collector Ouphe
Embereth Shieldbreaker
Fulminator Mage
Kolaghan’s Command
Plague Engineer
Veil of Summer
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Traverse Shadow employs Traverse the Ulvenwald as additional copies of its precious few threats, some of the best beaters in Modern. But the sorcery doesn’t come online until delirium is set up, which can take up to a few turns. Enter Once Upon a Time, which locates Shadow or Goyf early on without fussing about graveyard requirements.

A topdecked Time won’t find anything, naturally. But previously occupying this spot was the now-banned Faithless Looting, which helped turn on delirium fast enough for Traverse to dig up threats in a timely manner. Time fills a similar purpose, sculpting early plays while boasting an instant typeline; pre-Time, players would run enablers as lackluster as Manamorphose to ensure access to the card type.

Dredge, by Julian Hecker (6th, MCQ Utrecht)

Creatures (21)
Golgari Thug
Merchant of the Vale
Bloodghast
Narcomoeba
Prized Amalgam
Stinkweed Imp

Artifacts (4)
Shriekhorn

Instants (2)
Darkblast
Once Upon a Time

Sorceries (14)
Conflagrate
Cathartic Reunion
Creeping Chill
Life from the Loam

Lands (19)
Blast Zone
Blood Crypt
City of Brass
Mountain
Bloodstained Mire
Forgotten Cave
Gemstone Mine
Stomping Ground
Copperline Gorge
Wooded Foothills
Sideboard (15)
Leyline of the Void
Ancient Grudge
Lightning Axe
Nature’s Claim
Thoughtseize
Haunted Dead
Ghost Quarter
Shenanigans
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In the same Top 8, Julian Hecker’s Dredge deck also makes use of Once Upon a Time, if just at one copy. By now, plenty of math has been issued on how to best abuse the cantrip, and one copy apparently makes sense depending on a deckbuilder’s goals. It will be interesting to see this card appear at varying numbers in a variety of lists over the coming years.

Giver of Runes

Our last feature is Giver of Runes, a card whose future seemed unsure when Modern Horizons was spoiled. Fortune has certainly smiled upon the Kor, who now co-stars in multiple creature decks. It turns out many are in the market for a one-mana Spellskite.

Mardu Shadow, by VOLOLLO (1st, Modern PTQ #11965105)

Creatures (21)
Death’s Shadow
Giver of Runes
Hex Parasite
Tidehollow Sculler
Ranger-Captain of Eos
Street Wraith

Instants (10)
Fatal Push
Kolaghan’s Command
Lightning Bolt
Temur Battle Rage

Sorceries (9)
Inquisition of Kozilek
Thoughtseize
Unearth

Lands (20)
Arid Mesa
Blood Crypt
Marsh Flats
Bloodstained Mire
Godless Shrine
Sacred Foundry
Silent Clearing
Plains
Swamp
Sideboard (15)
Ashiok, Dream Render
Celestial Purge
Collective Brutality
Fulminator Mage
Kaya’s Guile
Liliana of the Veil
Liliana, the Last Hope
Lingering Souls
Path to Exile
Pithing Needle
Plague Engineer
Wear // Tear
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Mardu Shadow is my favorite of the Giver decks, using the creature as an all-purpose utility play. Here, Giver does it all: it draws removal away from Shadow, as do targeted discard spells; it pushes damage through blockers, as does Temur Battle Rage. And it helps block, as does Death’s Shadow. That it’s searchable by Ranger-Captain of Eos is the icing on the cake.

GW Eldrazi, by Tanner Bromer

Creatures (29)
Eldrazi Displacer
Giver of Runes
Noble Hierarch
Ranger-Captain of Eos
Reality Smasher
Stoneforge Mystic
Thought-Knot Seer
Walking Ballista

Artifacts (2)
Batterskull
Sword of Light and Shadow

Instants (8)
Once Upon a Time
Path to Exile

Lands (21)
Brushland
Cavern of Souls
Eldrazi Temple
Forest
Plains
Temple Garden
Windswept Heath
Sideboard (15)
Blessed Alliance
Collector Ouphe
Damping Sphere
Hexdrinker
Nature’s Chant
Rest in Peace
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Veil of Summer
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While I haven’t tested the above build of GW Eldrazi personally, archetype aficionado Tanner Bromer stands by this build as a viable alternative to more conventional Knotblade decks we’ve been seeing. The big difference? Gone is Ancient Stirrings, once a cornerstone of the strategy, to make room for Giver of Runes. The core of Once Upon a Time, Giver, Eldrazi Temple, Hierarch, and the strongest colorless creatures does seem potent, and I’m excited to take this Stir-free build for a spin.

Custom Brews Enabled

We’ll no doubt see a new league of enablers emerge as the defining bunch of 2020, but Astrolabe, Time, and Giver are already setting the bar pretty high. Which role-player do you think is next to blow up?

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