Field of the Dead in Modern
- Filip Skórnicki
Field of the Dead has been terrorizing a bunch of different formats in Magic over the past year, and it got itself banned from several. Recently, to the surprise of many, it has also had an increasingly meaningful impact on Modern. Let's explore the various Field shells that currently populate the format.
Ever since it was printed in M20, Field of the Dead has shown its power in many formats — Standard, Pioneer, Historic, and now Modern. Its apparent downside has turned out not to be such a big downside after all, while the upside has proven more than anyone would want. The strategies running the card have varied across formats and have crossed the boundaries of several archetypes. Today, I wish to look at the ways Modern players have taken full advantage of this strong card and provide my point of view on why it's good in the first place.
Why Is the Field So Strong?
Let's first take inventory of what the card does and analyze its advantages and disadvantages.
It only provides colorless mana — always problematic, especially in older formats with more powerful and color-intensive spells.
It enters tapped — the faster the format, the bigger the downside of it. On the flipside, the slower the format is, the less noticeable this factor becomes.
It requires seven lands — basically can't be played in any fast deck as most strategies don't aim to draw seven lands at all. Mostly big mana and control strategies might be interested in meeting this requirement.
These lands have to have different names — it seems to be a bit of a headache to construct a well-working mana base with differently named lands. Maybe you really want to run the full set of a shock land like Hallowed Fountain, but now you sort of can't.
For every land that's seventh or subsequent, if you control seven lands total with different names, put a 2/2 Zombie into play — finally, the payoff for all the work. How good is that upside? Apparently good enough to go through all the hassle described above.
We've already determined that this card should only be played in big mana and control strategies, and if that's the case then the land being tapped is not that big of a deal as it would in a combo or aggro deck. Different names and producing colorless mana remain minor annoyances, but the bigger the card pool is, the easier it gets to adapt to the requirement. What has really helped push it across formats are Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath and Growth Spiral, as they allow you to make the additional land drop be the Field and at this point it's irrelevant that it's tapped. They also allow the Field to go online earlier than turn seven, which makes it even better.
Now, the payoff itself is a way to control or even dominate the battlefield while not having to spend cards to do so. You just need to make your land drops, which you want to do in a control/big mana deck anyway. It's a cost-less card-free way to generate card advantage and how you can actually win the game. Additionally, against other "go long" strategies you're super advantaged if you have the Field and your opponent does not. The longer the game goes, the less you actually need to do as land drops will get the job done on their own. Basically, your only job is to mitigate its downsides by finding a shell that can support a tapped, colorless source and wants to make land drops.
How Modern Adopted Field
Modern has always been a fast and brutal format that did not really reward your deck being able to go long. Other decks have always had a lot of angles of attack and it was difficult to match your answers to their threats. In line with that thought, a lot of noncontrol decks started to adopt Field of the Dead to their arsenal to beat up other go-long strategies that relied on conventional removal and counterspells.
Primeval Titan Big Mana Shells
With the printing of Dryad of the Ilysian Grove all the big mana ramp decks got a nice boost. Titan Shift, which already relied heavily on putting lands into play and finishing the game with Primeval Titan or Scapeshift, basically got a free additional engine, which made its matchup against blue decks so much better. At this point, not only are the Titans and Scapeshifts must-answer threats. Control players can just as well die simply to their opponent making land drops that not only deal 3 damage thanks to Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle but also create 2/2 Zombies. All these different angles make the onslaught difficult to contain; the ramp player has inevitability on their side.
Another Titan shell that exploits the Field is Amulet Titan. This deck is set up to turbo out a Titan and make Field go online very fast. In conjunction with bounce lands such as Simic Growth Chamber that one can put into play at instant speed thanks to Sakura-Tribe Scout, Field is nigh-unkillable. On top of the neverending wave of Zombies, there still is the Dryad-Valakut interaction as well.
At that stage in Modern's metagame development, I recall wanting to abandon control altogether, since there was no point in trying to prolong the game in the face of decks whose late game is unbeatable. However, Aether Gust came to the rescue. With four copies in the sideboard, my control decks did not need to fear any of the green payoffs, even when Cavern of Souls was trying to cheat one into play. Of course, some Titan players adapted to this seemingly innocuous yet plan-destroying two-mana counter again …
This is a lower-to-the-ground take on Titan ramp. Players are much less all-in here, but still use the Dryad-Valakut-Field engine. They combined being able to play the early game with its still powerful inevitability — albeit at the cost of potential explosiveness. Arguably the best thing about the shell is its mitigated vulnerability to the aforementioned Aether Gust which runs rampant in blue sideboards nowadays. There are also variants without Aether Vial, so something between the big Amulet Titan and this smaller Titan Vial. What makes Vial-less versions and Vial versions similar is the adoption of Elvish Reclaimer and Flagstones of Trokair, which allows you to have a strong turn one play that can also provide ramp through Flagstones.
Field in Control Strategies
My favorite part of any Magic-related topic remains control. While Modern control could have access to Field even before, one card has made it really feasible: Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath. I went into great length on Uro in my previous article. I still love that deck dearly, but it had one major flaw: it lost to go-bigger control decks. You might wonder what other control players could possibly do to go over the top of such an Uro strategy. The answer, predictably, is Field of the Dead. Changing the cantrip slot into Growth Spiral and diversifying the mana base turned out to be way easier and smoother than anybody had predicted. Add Hour of Promise, maybe even a copy or two of Primeval Titan, and sometimes Fact or Fiction, which can both find your Fields fast and fuel Uro — and you get a shell that goes way over the top of anything, harder than ever before.
It all began with Bant lists that are basically White-Blue Control with green for Uro/Spiral/Veil …
Another idea was to look at other green-blue-x color combinations. After Bant, players explored Temur, or RUG. Red provided Wrenn and Six, who ensured land drops every single turn but also made it very difficult for opponents to deal with Field permanently, as you could always pick it up using Wrenn's +1 ability. Additionally, Wilderness Reclamation and Nexus of Fate made this deck go even bigger.
|RUG Field Reclamation|
After a while of these U/G/x Field decks dominating proceedings on that end of the spectrum, plenty of control players, myself included, have decided to adapt BUG to this meta … by playing Field ourselves. I began the search for the best BUG Field shell by taking my BUG from the article linked above, changing Thought Scour into Spiral, tweaking the mana base, and then called it a day. It worked perfectly fine and I have been happy with the Field angle as it proved way easier to enable than I'd expected and being BUG made my removal excellent. I also had access to Assassin's Trophy, which was great against opposing Fields. Then there is the Triome, which is one of the best additions to three-colored control decks nowadays.
However, with the clear dominance of red prowess strategies on the aggro end of the spectrum, people had to notice that Growth Spiral is terribly lackluster at two mana. And so, one of the best players in Poland, Jędrzej Szmyd alias TSPJendrek, changed the axiomatic Spiral slot and created a build with which he's had a lot of success online:
|BUG Field by TSPJendrek, 7-1 at Modern Challenge #12203374|
We've reached a point in the metagame where all the best blue decks play Field, as they push out non-Field control decks. Now, the real conundrum is to have the best late game in order not to lose to other blue Field decks but also be low-to-the-ground enough so that one does not lose to omnipresent prowess decks. I personally believe BUG is the best version as it has super-efficient and catch-all removal and the Triome. I wouldn't want to have to use Path to Exile on turn one against all the Soul-Scar Mage and Arbor Elf strategies. The biggest BUG problems are creatures such as Bedlam Reveler or Stormwing Entity that can't be killed with Abrupt Decay or Fatal Push. Potentially, Blood Moon strategies could also try to punish these builds and push Field control decks away. For now, however, they seem to remain on top.
That's all from me today. I am excited to continue to explore all the blue Cryptic/Uro/Field shells myself. Until next time, as always — hold my hand and let's pass the turn together. Cheers!
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