Inner Workings: Hardened Modular
In each installment of the Inner Workings series, we'll examine a different Modern archetype to find out what makes it tick. This time, it's the turn of a deck that runs like clockwork, expanding and multiplying like a well-oiled machine… possibly because it's entirely made of those.
We can arguably say Hardened Modular is the Modern surprise of the year, the fruit of a eureka moment that brought together a bunch of disparate techs exploiting +1/+1 counters, then made them work as a wondrous synergistic unity. But enough with the poetics, let's look at the list.
|4Darksteel Citadel||4Arcbound Ravager||4Hardened Scales|
|4Inkmoth Nexus||4Arcbound Worker||4Ancient Stirrings|
|1Blinkmoth Nexus||4Hangarback Walker||4Mox Opal|
|2Horizon Canopy||4Steel Overseer||3Welding Jar|
|1Pendelhaven||4Walking Ballista||2Animation Module|
|1Phyrexia's Core||2Throne of Geth|
|1Ruins of Oran-Rief||1Evolutionary Leap|
|4Damping Sphere||4Nature's Claim||2Dismember|
|2Karn, Scion of Urza||2Surgical Extraction||1Grafdigger's Cage|
|Hardened Modular by Lauri Pispa – Grand Prix Prague Winner, August 2018|
The gameplan here is straightforward, but the list has several different pathways to get where it wants to go. An aggro deck at the core, in the time-honored tradition of Robots, Hardened Modular aims to build a lethal board through three distinct lines of attack: going big by accumulating +1/+1 counters on Arcbound Ravager then on whatever will inherit them; going wide via Hangarback Walker's Thopters; or burning the opponent's face with Walking Ballista's damage.
Essentially, the deck's creatures can be divided into counter factories, the Walker and the Ballista, and ways to improve their efficiency, which are the Ravager and classic Robots' little helper Steel Overseer, crucial both before and after sacrificing a Walker. Arcbound Worker rounds out the list by adding further redundancy to the modular routine, since the Worker is an early collector of counters that later becomes food for the Ravager.
But the creatures aren't left to their own devices as the rest of the deck are all synergies, all the time.
We've seen the modular creatures, but the deck's name refers directly to one card: Hardened Scales. The very Spike-friendly, miniature Doubling Season is cheap and doubles every +1/+1 counter proliferation the deck actively pursues, free of charge. Along with the Overseer, of which it improves the effectiveness twice over, this little green enchantment allows the deck to be explosive sooner than its otherwise expensive double X costs or four-mana activations would imply.
Animation Module is similarly triggered. But instead of adding more counters, it gives the pilot a chance to extend their board position via Servo tokens. More crucially, it can later multiply by two the counters on a given permanent, which may spell doom for the opponent when that permanent happens to be a Ballista, a Walker, or just something that amassed a whole lot of modular leftovers, most likely a Nexus land.
Another way to increment counters on permanents is Scars of Mirrodin's proliferation engine Throne of Geth, last seen spreading infection to the opponent. Not only does it get the chance to apply its expertise to many allied cards here instead, but it also works as a free sacrifice outlet to bring out Hangarback's Thopters or just move modular residues around.
When the deck wishes to dig for parts, Ancient Stirrings does the same job it does in Tron decks, except it does it even better here because it can find many more cards, all of which are crucial. It's arguably the main reason the deck shifted to green, even outclassing the deck's titular Hardened Scales. Green also opens the doors to the overlooked Evolutionary Leap, another way to sacrifice Hangarback Walker for value, let alone any creature being targeted by removal. Arcbound Worker in particular is perfect fuel for the Leap, since you're sure to reveal something equal or, most likely, better. "The essence of nature is change," recites Evolutionary Leap's flavor text, but there's nothing natural in this process; it's all about demolishing a machine to get your hands on another machine.
Last but not least, Mox Opal is there to speed up early mana development affinity-style, while Welding Jar helps the Opal to attain metalcraft from the get-go. Then, you can either use it to save one of your precious mechanisms or feed it to another.
But let me take a moment to acknowledge Welding Jar's presence. Some of the older players might remember it as the protagonist of one of Mark Rosewater's most inspired articles, a Mirrodin development diary narrated from the point of view of a card from design to release. Well, Welding Jar is turning 18 next year. It hasn't had a super exciting life so far, mostly being exploited for that zero in its cost with no regard for its actual ability, so I think Hardened Modular could be the deck that finally makes it proud.
The Mana Base
The list contains a few green cards, but it's mostly a colorless affair. It also has a curve that essentially tops at two (considering Ballista and Walker almost always get played for X=1), so it's comfortable playing only twenty lands, of which the majority provide colorless mana.
It's a dynamic mana base though because for starters, it prominently features Inkmoth Nexus and Blinkmoth Nexus. Both are well-set to becoming a secondary win-con, to say the least, by receiving modular counters via Ravager, as they were already used to in long-established Affinity/Robots builds. From such builds, the deck also borrows Darksteel Citadel, here mostly reduced to Mox Opal's enabler and occasionally Ravager's fuel.
Phyrexia's Core is a further means to sacrifice your artifacts when it's time to assemble a Thopter army or a gigantic counter-filled contraption.
The green-based deck naturally suggests the use of good old Pendelhaven, which is bound to come across some 1/1 to enhance, as well as Horizon Canopy as a self-replacing green source. Ruins of Oran-Rief, the colorless take on Oran-Rief, the Vastwood, is not found in every build being a tapland. It is, however, an additional way to boost the team, although unlike the original land, it only works on a single target.
Nothing surprising in the Hardened sideboard. Damping Sphere is an artifact, so it already suits the deck and is used to fight both Tron and Storm builds. Nature's Claim is the cheapest way to remove artifacts and enchantments, and it doubles as lifegain against Burn. Dismember and Surgical Extraction are the most powerful, color-independent sideboard cards. Against graveyard strategies, there's either Grafdigger's Cage, Relic of Progenitus, or both.
Karn, Scion of Urza is the most interesting card we can side because the silver golem will find himself in an environment where his tokens really shine. His casting cost is too high for the general game plan though, so it's only sided against slower builds.
Hardened Modular is as up-and-coming as they get. This summer, the deck took first place at Grand Prix Prague, then kept showing up on the Top 8 of major tournaments and PTQs (at both the open and classic division of SCG Syracuse last month, for instance). Considering its quickly reactive nature, extremely low curve, and profitable relationship with the graveyard, it's damaged (yet not entirely wrecked) by conventional anti-artifact techs like Creeping Corrosion and Hurkyl's Recall, although the latter at least stops the Thopter plan in its mechanical tracks, as does the always reliable Kataki, War's Wage. But considering the Ravager/Ballista accumulator plan doesn't need much artifact presence to work, and the Ballista can unleash its pointy hell before being recalled to hand, the deck's only true nemesis seems… unlikely to ever cross path with it – unless the metagame really changes.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.
INNER WORKINGS ARCHIVES