“Simple deck for a simple player.” This has been my catchphrase for a long time when I talk about RG Valakut in Modern. I find it funny to underplay the deck and myself, but I’ll let you in on a secret: This is an elaborate ruse.
In my opinion, too many people ignore the difficulty of piloting any Modern deck. Yes, even Burn. I think Modern is so intrinsic and complicated that there is no such thing as an easy deck. If people think this, they most likely miss half the spots where they have a decision to make. Most of these are micro-decisions that might only matter 5 % of the time, but those add up over the course of a game and eventually one of these mistakes will cost you. Even and especially if you don’t realize you had a possibility for a mistake at all.
And this is also exactly what I think about RG Valakut. But I like to lead the general public to underrate the deck (and the player).
This article will be the exact opposite of that, as I bring you several what’s-the-play scenarios, only with my favorite Modern deck. They are all real situations that I encountered, two of them from the same match even! This will hopefully teach you some things about how to pilot the deck and maybe even open your eyes to the difficulty level of Modern. Or maybe they’ll just be fun puzzles for you to think about, because some of them are also anomalies that won’t come up in most games.
Assume that I run this maindeck. It should cover all the situations but is not the deck I would recommend for now. For a look at my recent decklist developments, check out my article on tuning the deck!
RG Valakut, sample deck
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
1 Wood Elves
4 Primeval Titan
4 Search for Tomorrow
1 Prismatic Omen
2 Summoner’s Pact
3 Lightning Bolt
1 Flame Slash
2 Relic of Progenitus
2 Anger of the Gods
4 Stomping Ground
3 Windswept Heath
4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
4 Wooded Foothills
3 Cinder Glade
1 Sheltered Thicket
An average opening hand
What I consider when I see my opening seven
For the first puzzle, I just want to teach you about some Valakut basics before we get into the more corner-case riddle type stuff. Consider this opening hand:
This is a snap keep, that is not the question. But on turn 1, we have a seemingly trivial decision to make. Turn 1 in an unknown matchup, we likely want to suspend Search for Tomorrow, and in order to do that, we have to fetch. But do we get Forest or Stomping Ground?
A real gameplay scenario
Is it possible to beat double Hardened Scales and Arcbound Ravager?
This scenario is from a real match I played on Magic Online not that long ago. It is game one, and our opponent had a great start with not one, but two Hardened Scales as well as an Arcbound Ravager. This situation should be impossible, but not for us even with our lackluster draw:
It’s our turn 4, we have yet to play a land and can only Scapeshift for a measly 18 damage, which is clearly not enough. I prayed for a 4th ramp spell in my draw step, but instead I drew the useless 2nd Scapeshift.
So how do we get out of this mess?
Remember this tip that I pride to keep in mind when I’m up against Affinity decks: ALWAYS do the math. There is no shortcut, you must count all the damage and counters, every turn, every time. Also, keep an eye out for your Mountain count in your deck. You have to do everything right to get out of this one.
Bonus points if you can figure out why I played the wrong land last turn (I drew Scapeshift so I didn’t get punished).
Game 2 of the same match
This isn’t over yet
So you thought that game was hard to pilot? Well game 2 of the same match was even harder! Yet again, our opponent has Hardened Scales and Arcbound Ravager. They also have a Walking Ballista in hand, revealed by Ancient Stirrings.
luckily our hand is full of removal, but how do we deploy it so that we don’t get got?
Again, remember that you have to count everything and run through the numbers for all possible scenarios. Also remember that the opponent does not know which cards we hold, so it might be possible to trick them.
We can take a less complicated line where we hope they don’t have a land to play both Walking Ballista and attack with Inkmoth Nexus, but I found a line that doesn’t lose even if they have a land.
It took me a while to figure this one out, so make sure that you think it all through and make sure that your line doesn’t lose to something you missed.
So what did we learn?
I actually had more scenarios planned, but I’m running out of space. I will post them to Twitter though, so keep an eye out for @MrChecklistcard and @magemarket in the coming week.
As I wrote these thoughts down, I realized just how complicated and long-winded they really were. I hope you could follow along, and you should feel proud if you got all these scenarios right – I know I felt very proud at least.
I’ll end on an anecdote where I helped my friend decide what to play for GP Liverpool at the end of last year. He considered Valakut, so I watched him play some matches on Magic Online while I commented with all the things I’d be thinking about. After only two matches he exclaimed: “This deck is too hard! I’m just going with KCI, it seems easier.”