In Modern, the times of good blue cantrips have long been over. Ponder, Preordain and Gitaxian Probe rest in peace on the ban list while the real MVPs in Ancient Stirrings and Faithless Looting continue to power up one busted synergy deck after another.
Yet people still cling to their bad blue cantrips in decks that should not touch those. In Modern, your mana in the early turns is very crucial, and if you aren’t using it optimally, you’re doing it wrong.
Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t think UR Phoenix is a bad deck because it runs Serum Visions or that it should cut the card. I think Phoenix is quite a good deck, and in that one specifically Serum Visions isn’t just a cantrip that increases consistency, it’s also an enabler – a combo piece if you will – towards their strategy of chaining cantrips to power up their “spells matter”-cards.
Though I will say that even in that deck, despite the advantages of being more consistent and seeing your sideboard cards more often, you do run the risk of spinning cantrips into more cantrips and spend too much mana in the early game not developing or getting anywhere.
A switch to Bauble
The moment Grixis Shadow got it right
Mishra’s Bauble from Iconic MastersI remember a couple of years ago when Grixis Death’s Shadow started to emerge as a real contender, I always scratched my head at the inclusion of Serum Visions and the omission of Mishra’s Bauble. After all, the Baubles had served me well in other Death’s Shadow decks, and spending mana to just make your library a little smaller seemed out of character for a deck as focused on mana efficiency and optimization as Grixis Shadow.
I tried out Mishra’s Bauble and liked them a decent amount. But ultimately, the deck wasn’t really my play style, so I moved off it before testing out that idea much.
These days it makes me happy that Grixis Shadow decks look like this:
Grixis Shadow by Ben Friedman
4 Death’s Shadow
4 Gurmag Angler
2 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Street Wraith
4 Fatal Push
2 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Mishra’s Bauble
4 Stubborn Denial
2 Temur Battle Rage
4 Thought Scour
2 Blood Crypt
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Polluted Delta
2 Scalding Tarn
1 Steam Vents
2 Watery Grave
2 Collective Brutality
1 Disdainful Stroke
2 Engineered Explosives
2 Kolaghan’s Command
4 Leyline of the Void
2 Liliana, the Last Hope
This build was constructed by Ben Friedman and played by Sam Pardee to the finals of GP Calgary. As you can see, this list completely foregoes any copies of sorcery speed cantrips and instead sports the full set of Baubles, which in conjunction with fetchlands and Thought Scour can still act as card selection. However, this comes at the cost of 0 mana which is, scientifically speaking, infinitely less than 1.
Earlier, whenever I’d play against Grixis Shadow, I’d always hope and pray that they spent their turn 1 doing something insignificant, like cast a Serum Visions so that I could resolve my key spell, have my creature undisrupted and such.
Nowadays, basically nothing can happen on turn 1 that gives me relief. Either they will cast a discard spell and pick apart my great plans, or they’ll pass the turn, leaving up Stubborn Denial or Fatal Push with the option to Thought Scour if they don’t need to interact. There’s no longer a good way for me to play with their mana because they no longer waste it on sorcery speed do-nothings.
The kanister philophy
A case for Serum Visions in Amulet Titan
Recently, the waves have been going high in the Amulet community. While Edgar Magalhaes and friends have spent month after month tuning the Amulet Titan builds over on the SCG circuit, Piotr “kanister” Glogowski has had other ideas. His career basically started with Amulet Titan, and now he has returned to the deck, determined to make it more consistent than before.
Kanisters idea of reintroducing Hive Mind has stuck on both sides, as it is currently the best flex slot to up your winrates against decks like Tron that can easily handle Primeval Titan. But his addition of Serum Visions has sparked some controversy.
Kanister‘s argument is that Amulet Titan suffers from a lot of consistency issues. You only have 9 sources for turn 1 Sakura-Tribe Scout, and most of the time you’re at the mercy of how your draw pans out. Adding both Botanical Sanctum and Serum Visions fixes these issues, at the cost of some tutor options for Tolaria West and Primeval Titan.
This is a list he advocated:
Amulet Titan by kanister
In order to make room for the extra cantrips, he cut down on the ramp spells, maindeck Engineered Explosives and Walking Ballista. In order to fit the extra blue sources, he shaved a bounce land, a Forest and moved some utility lands to the sideboard.
Public Service Announcement
Do NOT splash for Serum Visions
The presence of these lands is why you can so effortlessly slide Hive Mind into your deck.
For Serum Visions, some of these blue sources might just be too slow. After all, if you don’t have Amulet of Vigor, Simic Growth Chamber won’t let you play Serum Visions before turn 3, at which point, are you really that interested in cycling and scrying 2? How about if you consider that you could’ve just had a Coalition Relic instead?
Because my main issue with the cantrip isn’t actually the mana base (you could make similar arguments for Sakura-Tribe Scout), it’s actually that you cut down on ramp spells in order to make room for it. How do you expect to be able to consistently find those crucial ramp spells in your top 3 cards when you already cut 3-4 copies of them? How about also getting to that bounce-land you shaved from the mana base? You can’t use Serum Visions to get you everything you want.
I discussed in a recent article how I consider “consistency” to be essentially equal to speed. And with occasional inability to play Serum Visions coupled with the overall reduction of ramp spells, I believe that Serum Visions actually makes you less consistent.
I do realize that this a very controversial statement. Call it a hot take if you will. After all, people add Serum Visions to make their decks more consistent. But I think that if adding the card is too much of a hurdle, draw a card and scry 2 simply doesn’t cut it. And I think this is one of those cases.
Also, any 1-of you cut will hamper the power level of the deck in certain match-ups. And Amulet Titan is a deck that can easily benefit from mulligans a lot (especially with open decklists and the London mulligan rule), but Serum Visions will essentially be a surprise card in your opening hand, making it harder to justify whether or not you should actually keep.
I also like the white splash for sideboard cards, and the mana for that does get slightly worse if you also add the Serum Visions. In this case, I will side with Edgar Magalhaes. My latest build of the deck happened to be very close to his, and I am quite content with this list.
Amulet Titan by Simon Nielsen
Ultimately I decided that Amulet is a bit too medium to make up for how hard it is to play, so I abandoned it for the Mythic Championship which is happening this very weekend.
Instead I have settled on a new, exciting deck and I am both nervous and hopeful to play with it in this tournament. And no, that deck does not contain Serum Visions!
This article was written by Simon Nielsen in a media collaboration with mtgmintcard.com