CoCo Aristocrats in Modern
By Neil T Stacey
Technically speaking, Modern isn’t an Eternal format. Instead, WoTC define it as a “non-rotating Constructed Format.” The distinction used to be significant; when the DCI used Elo ratings for players, “Eternal” and “Constructed” were separate categories and had separate ratings.
Modern was officially codified as a format in August 2011 and Elo ratings were scrapped in November 2011. The distinction didn’t matter for very long,as it happens. But wait a second, MTGO player ratings still use Elo rating. That’s true, but it only uses two categories – Limited and Constructed. For all intents and purposes, there is only an arbitrary difference between an Eternal format and a Non-Rotating Constructed format.
WoTC might as well stop being weird about it and just admit that Modern is an Eternal format.
That being said, it hasn’t felt like much of an Eternal format lately. First, Khans of Tarkir tipped it on its head with Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise along with the more subtle revolution of allied-colour fetch lands and a certain odd-toed ungulant that drains 3 life on etb.
Then Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time were condemned to the ban-list, taking Birthing Pod with them, and it was a brand new format all over again.
Before we even really figured out that format, Dragons of Tarkir arrived and changed everything for a third time. Kolaghan’s Command has quickly become a format staple, but the biggest change has come from a 4-mana instant that spits out creatures.
Collected Company has enabled entire new archetypes and brought them to the forefront of the format. Abzan Company has gotten a lot of press but isn’t quite getting the results to match, suggesting that no-one has come up with the right build just yet. For reference, last weekend’s SCG Invitational saw only one Abzan Company deck make the top 8, with just two copies of the deck amongst the twenty-one decks to manage records of 7-1 or better. The Modern Open taking place in parallel only saw one copy of Abzan Company in its top 32. The Grand Prix that just took place in Charlotte saw Abzan company making up a paltry 2.9% of the day 2 metagame.
Not a terrible performance but also not quite the metagame percentage you’d expect from the hot new deck on the block. Another Collected Company deck has started to appear on the radar, however. With 3 decks in the top 32 of the Open, Elves is showing signs of becoming a real presence in the format. Since I started writing this, Collected Company Elves won a GP in the hands of Michael Malone.
Collected Company allows the Elves deck to play at instant speed, dodging the traditional kryptonite of all-in creature decks: sorcery-speed sweepers. It remains a synergy-based deck creature deck and as such is vulnerable to spot removal. However, Collected Company helps with that too, giving it a tool to rapidly rebuild its board while getting value at the same time.
The strength of Company Elves is its resilience against interaction. If you knock out a key piece, it’s easy for the deck to find a replacement and if you try to attrition it out it can overwhelm you with incremental value. Its weaknesses are that it goldfishes a slower kill than the fastest decks in the format and lacks interaction, making it vulnerable to combo decks and faster aggro decks. Here’s a top-performing G/W Elves decklist from the Open for reference: http://sales.starcitygames.com//deckdatabase/displaydeck.php?DeckID=85737. There is no outright combo here, but there are plenty of synergies. Elvish Archdruid and Elvish Champion are straightforward lords that pump your whole board while Ezuri and Mirror Entity each do the same thing on a grander scale at the cost of a bit of mana input. The key to this deck is that Collected Company can set something up for you, almost regardless of your board state before you cast it.
Abzan Company, conversely, gets access to a modest number of removal spells along with a diverse toolbox of creatures that can arrive at instant speed. Consequently, it is far better at disrupting its opponent’s game plan. However, it’s a little too reliant on assembling a three-card combo out of cards that aren’t individually strong and lack powerful synergies outside of that combo. Here’s a top 8 decklist from the Invitational for reference: http://sales.starcitygames.com/deckdatabase/displaydeck.php?DeckID=85644. This deck has posted some solid results so it’s clear that it’s a legitimate deck. However, there are evident weaknesses which could explain the overall under-performance of the archetype. The first is that twenty-five creatures is a little bit light on Collected Company targets and will average at around 1.8 creatures per casting. That’s not terrible, in fact you could justifiably feel hard-done-by if you don’t get two creatures with the majority of your CoCo castings. I personally like the extra reliability you get from going slightly higher, but it’s not a big deal.
The bigger issue is that a third of those are creatures that you don’t really care about hitting with CoCo. With CoCo being (sort of) the most expensive spell in your deck, you aren’t that interested in getting a bunch of mana dorks off of it, and seven of those twenty-five creatures are mana-dorks. Then there are boatloads of creatures that are only conditionally good. Spellskite, for instance, does very little beside protecting a combo and is therefore not something you’re interested in if you don’t manage to combo off. Orzhov Pontiff and Qasali Pridemage are only good against certain decks, Fiend Hunter is only good in certain situations and Flickerwisp is very conditional. So in any given situation you’re looking at around 15-16 creatures you care about that CoCo can hit.
Consequently, CoCo just doesn’t hold up as a Birthing Pod replacement when it comes to grinding out value, and this deck just can’t play the same sort of attrition game that was Pod’s plan A. The deck often finds itself using its interactive elements to tread water until it can put together its combo, rather than managing to win through pure value. It can get some number of wins through Gavony Township activations but that style of game is very much its plan B.
So perhaps we have an answer as to why Collected Company decks haven’t yet taken over the metagame just yet. Company Elves can be out-raced and Company Abzan doesn’t do enough when it doesn’t get its combo online. Both decks are solid choices, but it’s safe to say that there’s a lot of improvement still to be made.
I’ve been working on a version of Abzan Company that approaches things from a slightly different angle.
CoCo Aristocrats by Neil T Stacey (Modern)
3x Viscera Seer
3x Doomed Traveller
4x Blood Artist
3x Skirsdag High Priest
2x Melira, Sylvok Outcast
2x Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit
2x Tidehollow Sculler
1x Cartel Aristocrat
4x Kitchen Finks
2x Fiend Hunter
1x Varolz, the Scar-Striped
2x Murderous Redcap
4x Collected Company
3x Abrupt Decay
1x Slaughter Pact
4x Verdant Catacombs
4x Windswept Heath
4x Marsh Flats
1x Godless Shrine
1x Temple Garden
1x Overgrown Tomb
2x Isolated Chapel
1x Gavony Township
1x Dryad Arbor
3x Kor Firewalker
2x Burrenton Forge-Tender
2x Lingering Souls
2x Kataki, War’s Wage
2x Aven Mindcensor
1x Reclamation Sage
1x Qasali Pridemage
1x Abrupt Decay
1x Path to Exile
This deck comes with a primary game plan harking back to the Junk Aristocrats deck from Standard a few years ago; sacrifice outlets and sacrifice fodder to fuel Blood Artist and Skirsdag High Priest. That’s a viable game plan that won plenty of matches in Standard and it’s only better in Modern with the addition of Viscera Seer as a superior sacrifice outlet. Aristocrats decks as an archetype have always depended on assembling a critical mass of cheap creatures and there is no card better at doing that than Collected Company, which is capable of finding whatever component you happen to be missing.
Anafenza and Melira (I will use the term Anafira for describing situations where the two are interchangeable) both slot in nicely alongside the payoff cards; with Kitchen Finks and Murderous Redcap already playing the role of sacrifice fodder for the suite of sacrifice outlets, the infinite combo slots in as a complement to the deck’s basic game plan.
Anafira + Sac Outlet + Finks = Infinite life. Anafira + Sac Outlet + Redcap = Infinite damage. Anafira + Redcap + Blood Artist = Infinite drain. Anafira + Sac Outlet + Finks + Blood Artist = Infinite drain. Anafenza + Melira + Redcap = Infinite Bolster triggers. That’s a lot of infinite combos. However, without Chord of Calling in the build, the combo is very much plan B, with plan A being a grindy Aristocrats game.
For a more combo-centric version, Chord is a must. Unfortunately, you can’t just jam Chord into this deck as is; the deck is too hungry for black and white mana and has very few green creatures to tap for convoke. Consequently, there are a few tweaks to be made to make this deck Chord-friendly. The mana-base doesn’t need much changing, except that one or both of the Isolated Chapels should be switched to Woodland Cemeteries. Besides that, which lands you choose to fetch tends to determine how your mana base plays out, so stabilising the mana is more about tinkering with the creature base to make it possible to fetch green mana sources more aggressively and to support Chord’s convoke a little better.
Effectively, that means switching Doomed Traveller for Young Wolf in the one-drop slot and swapping out Tidehollow Scullers for any of a selection of green creatures. These are perfectly reasonable changes to make; Young Wolf is better against certain decks anyway, and Sculler is there as a bit of a crutch against other combo decks, which becomes less necessary if you’re more focused on your own combo. Skirsdag High Priest can also be trimmed in that case, so for a more combo-centric build I would suggest the following: -3 Doomed Traveler, -2 Skirsdag High Priest, -2 Tidehollow Sculler, -1 Blood Artist, -1 Fiend Hunter, -1 Cartel Aristocrat; +4 Chord of Calling, +3 Young Wolf, +3 Green two-drop of choice. Playing Chord also lets you tinker with the sideboard, toolbox style, since you can find key singletons when you need them.
Which green two-drop you opt for is dependent on metagame and personal preference. Voice of Resurgence serves as excellent sacrifice fodder in an Aristocrats deck, while Wall of Roots speeds up your mana and is exceptional for casting Chords. Those are the two front-runners but there’s a less popular option which provides two bodies for sacrifice fodder and convoke while ramping you into a turn 3 Collected Company. One of those bodies even comes with a built-in sacrifice ability, handy in a pinch.
So if you aren’t too embarrassed to run Nest Invader in Modern, it’s the option that I actually like the most here.
Whether you decide to go with a build that emphasises the combo or one that emphasises the Aristocrats game-plan, I consider this deck a solid choice right now. With Blood Artist and Kitchen Finks in the mainboard along with excellent sideboard options it has a good matchup against Burn. The Aristocrats style of deck just has a natural advantage against decks that rely on combat for their wins, such as Affinity and Merfolk. The deck can play a solid attrition game and has an array of infinite combos that your opponent has to respect, giving you an edge in fair matchups. What I like most about it is that it can play a solid game without getting a combo, making it tougher to disrupt. While the combo remains the most powerful thing the deck can do, its other synergies are still reasonably powerful and take less to bring online.
The deck’s biggest weaknesses are faster combos and graveyard hate. With both of those on a bit of a downturn at the moment, the deck has pretty good prospects against a typical Modern field right now.