Breaking Through with UR Breach
Modern is a crazy place. At Modern tournaments, I hear “but whatever, it’s Modern” as the concluding thought of a lot of people’s stories about how badly they got run over in their last match, and while I’m not positive that type of thinking is going to help anyone learn or improve, I get it. In a format where most people are trying to win by executing some explosive, hard-to-stop game plan as fast as possible, losing the die roll or hitting a bad matchup can feel like a death sentence if your plan is to race the field to the finish line. Fortunately, if you’re like me and you’re not willing to take anyone’s advice about anything (like “you should just play Storm or Affinity and hope to hit good matchups and dodge hate”, or “Magic strategy articles aren’t the place for layered irony”), there are still options for basically any play style. If you’re willing to devote the time to learning what’s important in common matchups for your deck and developing a set of plans that is effective enough against enough of the format, you can probably succeed in it.
For a while I was having a really hard time finding a Modern deck I liked enough to bring to a real tournament, and with the Rivals of Ixalan Modern RPTQ coming up, I was feeling a little bit of pressure to make a decision so I could start practicing and tuning a deck. I used to play a lot of Twin, so I wanted a deck with cantrips and Snapcaster+Lightning Bolt. I tried Jeskai but it felt medium, like it lacked real “oomph”. Then I noticed a trend of U/R Through the Breach decks doing well on MTGO and started toying around with the shell until I found a configuration I liked:
The deck is, well... decent. I know that is not very high praise for a deck that carried me to the Pro Tour, but Splinter Twin this is not. It has a similar combo-control feel, but there are seemingly fewer opportunities to mindgame your opponent and capitalize on them buying a bluff when playing this deck in comparison to the old Twin decks. The Twin combo had the advantage of being half-composed of creatures you could play proactively and attack with, making your opponent consider whether or not they should play around the possibility of you just slamming a 4-mana aura on one of them and winning while you whittled away at their life total with no intention of ever casting a Splinter Twin unless you had to. The Breach/Emrakul strategy is not strictly worse per se, since there is a lot less most decks can do about it once it’s assembled, but it doesn’t automatically win the game either (I’ve lost exactly one game after successfully triggering Annihilator 6 with this deck, which isn’t a lot, but it’s more than I’ve lost after making 1,000,000 copies of Deceiver Exarch), and the combo pieces doing basically nothing without each other comes up as a problem about as often as you would think. This deck also leans much harder on Blood Moon, but that might just be because of how weak the current Modern format is to the card. Much of the time, resolving Through the Breach to kill your opponent is just a formality you need to go through to actually end the game when your opponent is locked out by Blood Moon with no chance of winning anyway.
Unfair comparisons to decks that don’t exist anymore aside, I think U/R Breach is a really solid resurrection of combo-control in Modern. I like combo-control decks in general because they reward you for figuring out what can be ignored from your opponent’s side of the table vs. what needs to be answered given what you’ve deduced about your opponent’s plan and the texture of your hand (i.e. variables like how many of your opponent’s plays in a row you can answer, how soon you think you can combo, etc). Traditional control decks usually just have to answer everything or die, and full-on linear combo decks are usually too vulnerable and inflexible for my liking. Decks like U/R Breach however have the explosive potential of combo to hedge against control’s potential inability to effectively answer an opponent’s plan, and the fortitude of control to hedge against an opponent who is ready to pick apart your combo synergies so you can go toe to toe in a longer game, or to just buy enough time to find your combo pieces and go off. It’s a nice middle ground that I’m very comfortable in. It feels good to be back in the driver’s seat of a deck so sweet!
I don’t usually like the card-by-card breakdowns people do in Magic articles, but this is something of a breakout deck and I think the cards all fit together nicely in a way that probably isn’t immediately obvious to people who never played Splinter Twin or similar decks, so here we go:
4 Through the Breach/3 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
Combo pieces. The reason for 3 Emrakul is that sometimes you will have to cast multiple Breaches against an opponent with counterspells, or you may want to just throw a Breach out there even if you don’t have an Emrakul just to make your opponent do something. So, there are situations where you want 2+ Breaches but only one Emrakul, but realistically no situations where the opposite is true. Also, if you need to discard combo pieces to find interaction when looting with Desolate Lighthouse or Izzet Charm, you would rather discard Breaches because Emrakul makes you shuffle your graveyard back into your deck, which makes any Snapcasters you draw worse. Despite this, there is an argument for just playing the full 4 of each to maximize your outs for turn 5 combo-kills, but I think my logic for 3 Emrakul is pretty sound and it has worked out fine for me.
3 Blood Moon
The deck’s unsung main win condition. I punked a lot of people out with this card at the RPTQ - it’s usually only slightly worse than “lands your opponents control can’t tap for mana”, which seems OK for 3 mana. 5-Color Humans, 3/4/5-Color Shadow, Jeskai Tempo and Eldrazi Tron/other Tron variants seem to be among the top decks of the format, and cheap interaction+Blood Moon is a solid Plan A against these decks. Once you have Blood Moon in play against them, unless your hand is very bad or your opponent had a fast start you can’t come back from, the games are pretty easy since your opponent is on 0-1 spells per turn against your Remand/Snapcaster Mage deck, which is obviously not a happy place for them to be. There are matchups where it’s medium to bad, but you can board it out for more meaningful interaction in those cases and still have a solid game plan.
4 Lightning Bolt/1 Flame Slash/2 Electrolyze
Gotta kill stuff.
4 Serum Visions/3 Opt
I don’t like playing constructed decks without cantrips. 4 Serum Visions didn’t feel like enough on its own since this deck is largely about surviving the first few turns then finding your haymakers, so I decided Opt was probably the next best one if I wanted to play more filtering. On average it’s about as good or better than Sleight of Hand even when cast as a sorcery, and being an instant is obviously a big game in a deck with so many other instants and Snapcaster Mage. I wanted to play an 8th cantrip but couldn’t find a card I wanted to cut for the 4th Opt (to people who might be better at building decks than me, yes I am challenging you).
1 Spell Snare/4 Remand/3 Cryptic Command
The reason for Remand instead of something like Mana Leak or Logic Knot is that when you’re on the combo plan, you don’t care if your opponent has cards in their hand when you kill them, and getting a card deeper into your deck is very valuable in decks like this that have very high variability in average power level and utility of its cards. You usually are just trying to buy time while you find your power plays like Cryptic Command, Snapcaster Mage and Through the Breach. Remand has its disadvantages, especially against Burn where tapping 2 mana to make them pay 1 more mana for their spell is pretty embarrassing and you’d rather it just be Mana Leak, but overall I think Remand is the correct choice for this type of deck. Cryptic Command similarly buys you time and gets you deeper into your deck with the tap your team+draw a card modes when playing to the out of your combo kill, and if a game ever gets to a point where you can afford to use it as Dismiss, it’s pretty much over. 1 Spell Snare could be 2 if Tarmogoyf gets more popular.
4 Snapcaster Mage
One of the main cards making decks like this so appealing. Lets you cast whatever spell is good against your opponent’s deck over and over. Sometimes you kill your opponent with it. Card’s great, life’s great.
1 Izzet Charm
Flexible, albeit somewhat inefficient card. The most common mode that comes up is probably the 2 damage mode, but looting is also pretty relevant in this deck as there are some situations where you need to get deeper to hit combo pieces, or you need to ditch combo pieces to try to find interaction. I was pretty happy with how this card performed and would probably play it again.
1 Pull from Tomorrow
Alternate win condition. It’s pretty hard to imagine losing after resolving this for 4+ and untapping.
8 Fetches/7 Islands/1 Mountain/2 Steam Vents/2 Sulfur Falls
The reason to play this many fetches is to have a reasonable amount of Steam Vents // Basic Island split cards. You want to have access to red mana, but you also want to have access to Basic Islands so you aren’t hampered by your own Blood Moons, and playing a reasonably high fetch land count achieves this.
2 Desolate Lighthouse
I was less impressed with these than I thought I would be, although the opportunity cost of including them is very low. In theory it seems like a good fit for the deck and maybe I didn’t play the right matchups for these to shine (blue control mirrors).
2 Platinum Emperion/3 Madcap Experiment
Lots of players weren’t expecting this transformational plan at the RPTQ. People would sideboard out all of their removal after game 1 thinking their only target was Snapcaster, just to get demolished by Platinum Emperion. I think if this deck gets more popular and this plan becomes a more known quantity, it won’t be as good, but some decks still just die to it. I can’t overstate how important this plan was for me at the RPTQ, and I’ll be keeping it in my back pocket if i continue playing this deck.
2 Dispel/1 Negate
More cheap interaction for decks with lots of targets for these
1 Izzet Staticaster
Decent against a lot of the small creature decks (Merfolk, Humans, Company, Elves) and OK to bring in against Lingering Souls decks.
For Tasigur, Tarmogoyf, Gurmag Angler, and decks where a critical mass of removal is important
1 Pyroclasm/2 Anger of the Gods
For killing lots of things
Extra card for the Affinity and Lantern matchups (never actually boarded this in).
I haven’t revisited the deck since the RPTQ, so I don’t know exactly what changes I would make going forward. I could be convinced that some of my 1-ofs are wrong, that Spreading Seas is reasonable, or that I should just play something else, but I was really happy with the configuration I settled on and regret nothing.
But yeah, looking back on this year, it’s weird thinking about where I was mentally at the end of 2016 and where I am now. As soon as I started having more tournament success, it was like something clicked in my brain. All of the slight adjustments to my mindset I had been making over time, despite no immediate tangible evidence that any of it was helping me, started having a massive compounding positive effect on my mentality - it seemed to finally be coming together. Magic is a mental discipline. I believe that applying measured, emotionally detached, realistic thinking to not only my gameplay but also my attitude towards outcomes of games, and looking at the real reasons for my failures, has helped improve my performance and level of enjoyment in Magic.* (footnote: I wish I could cover this topic more in-depth but I think I’d better save it for now, plus there is a wealth of information on this topic inside and outside of the Magic community.) I never thought I would say this 2-3 years ago, but I’m grateful to the Magic community for everything it’s given me: my livelihood, my hobby, and opportunities to travel to places I would never go to otherwise. At the end of the day though, I just hope the Pro Tour: Rivals of Ixalan shirt has a sweet dinosaur on it.
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