The Faithless: Modern Looting Archetypes
- Rodrigo Martin
After dodging the last B&R announcement, Faithless Looting is free to keep conquering Modern within a plethora of decks that use and abuse the graveyard interaction it offers. In this article, Rodrigo ranks several Looting archetypes while discussing concerns over a possible banning.
Modern Metagame and Banning Recap
Hi everyone, we are still recovering from Krark-Clan Ironworks prohibition from last month while waiting for the next "Modern deck to beat." Ancient Stirrings and Mox Opal are safe for now although they are still on Wizards radar moving forward.
Their reasoning for keeping Ancient Stirrings and Mox Opal under review like has made some wonder whether Faithless Looting is also in Wizard's eye for a potential banning. The short answer is no. However, the card has been dominating Modern in recent months and some players have started complaining about its negative impact on the meta.
With KCI gone forever and the release of Ravnica Allegiance, a shift in the metagame is definitely to be expected, though that shift seems small for the time being. As you know by now, Modern is an adaptive format. It constantly changes and adapts to whatever deck is the "tier deck," leaving no deck in the top spot for a significant period of time.
In 2018, I played Faithless Looting decks almost exclusively. This spell is the glue that holds a wide range of strategies together. It transforms its cards disadvantage into something profitable by adding recurring creatures and flashback spells.
In today's article, I will be ranking the five best looting archetypes and the pairings between them as well some future speculation. Let's get started!
5. Mardu Pyromancer
Mardu Pyromancer by Selfeisek, Competitive Modern League 2019-02-01, (5-0)
|20Lands||11Other Permanents||29Instants and Sorceries|
|2Arid Mesa||4Bedlam Reveler||1Dreadbore|
|4Blackcleave Cliffs||4Young Pyromancer||4Faithless Looting|
|1Blood Crypt||2Blood Moon||1Forked Bolt|
|4Bloodstained Mire||1Nahiri, the Harbinger||4Inquisition of Kozilek|
|2Marsh Flats||4Lingering Souls|
|2Sacred Foundry||3Kolaghan's Command|
|1Blood Moon||2Kambal, Consul of Allocation||4Leyline of the Void|
|3Molten Rain||1Nahiri, the Harbinger||2Pithing Needle|
|1Thoughtseize||1Wear // Tear|
Present situation: the deck's first big appearance was a year ago at the Bilbao GP, piloted by Gerry Thompson and has been achieving good results since then. However, in recent months, it has lost many followers since it did not receive any addition from the latest sets. Actually, some versions have tried to include Arclight Phoenix but without positive results. To be honest, the format is too fast to play a reactive deck like this.
What beats what? Against the rest of the looting strategies, it has a favorable match against Grixis Shadow, as they play few threats while Mardu packs plenty of spot removal. The most difficult part of the matchup is finding a way through the bigger delve creatures such as Gurmag Angler.
It's also advantaged against Hollow One, which improves post-side thanks to the graveyard hate they bring. Izzet Phoenix and especially Dredge are unfavorable, due to their creature recursion and their ability to play the long game through opposing removal. Dredge, in particular, doesn't really care at all about the creature removal and discard Mardu packs.
4. Hollow One
Hollow One by Chinesecommy, Competitive Modern League 2019-02-01, (5-0)
|18Lands||24Creatures||18Instants and Sorceries|
|1Arid Mesa||4Bloodghast||4Burning Inquiry|
|3Blackcleave Cliffs||4Flameblade Adept||4Faithless Looting|
|2Blood Crypt||4Flamewake Phoenix||4Goblin Lore|
|4Bloodstained Mire||2Gurmag Angler||3Fatal Push|
|3Mountain||4Hollow One||3Lightning Bolt|
|1Stomping Ground||4Street Wraith|
|1Swamp||2Tasigur, the Golden Fang|
|2Ancient Grudge||1Assassin's Trophy||1Collective Brutality|
|1Engineered Explosives||1Fatal Push||4Leyline of the Void|
|2Liliana of the Veil||3Thoughtseize|
Present situation: This was my favorite strategy from last year, but it seems like it has stalled somewhat in the current meta. It is capable of very fast starts by discarding Bloodghast and Flamewake Phoenix while cheating into play big threats like the namesake of the deck or delve threats. Here, the Innistrad red spell is the deck's MVP since it allows you to discard cards at will, not so for the rest of random discard spells.
The latest lists seem to have adopted Martin Juza's tendency to include two copies of Fatal Push in the main board instead of Collective Brutality. Even more so now that KCI is no longer a top contender. As in the previous case, there are no notable additions, although the sideboard has been adapted as well, including Liliana of the Veil for grindy matchups and some lists run a single Assassin's Trophy.
What beats what? On one hand, Hollow One puts Grixis Shadow in serious trouble due to its fast starts and recursive creatures. On the other hand, it has a terrible matchup against Dredge, where Burning Inquiry helps their strategy and we never want to play that card against them.
Mardu Pyromancer is hard to fight and even post-side gets much worse since they bring graveyard hate. Finally, Izzet Phoenix could be even except for the fact that Thing in the Ice / Awoken Horror completely ruins our early aggressive plan, that's why we have to run Fatal Push in the main, to deal with icebergs hiding horrors.
3. Grixis Shadow
Grixis Death's Shadow by Joseph Sprouse, SCG Modern Classic Indianapolis, 15th Place
|2Blood Crypt||4Death's Shadow||1Faithless Looting|
|4Bloodstained Mire||4Gurmag Angler||2Inquisition of Kozilek|
|1Island||3Snapcaster Mage||2Serum Visions|
|4Polluted Delta||4Street Wraith||4Thoughtseize|
|1Steam Vents||3Fatal Push|
|2Watery Grave||3Stubborn Denial|
|2Temur Battle Rage|
|2Anger of the Gods||2Collective Brutality||2Disdainful Stroke|
|2Kolaghan's Command||1Lightning Bolt||1Liliana, the Last Hope|
|3Nihil Spellbomb||1Snapcaster Mage||1Stubborn Denial|
Present situation: Against all odds, Grixis Death's Shadow is still a strategy to consider nowadays in Modern, especially as long as it's not paired against Burn. It is possible that it will get a bit worse now that KCI is gone as it had a favorable matchup there.
Grixis Shadow isn't completely a Looting deck. Before GP Las Vegas 2018, no one even tried it and even today, not all versions run it. Its function is more situational but it is really useful to be able to cycle useless cards during the mid-late game to recover some "gas" and, at the same time, it minimizes mana flood, from which the deck sometimes suffers.
Personally, I like to play two copies since it is a great mill off of Thought Scour. Currently the main problem with the deck's configuration is sideboard choice where there are almost endless possibilities, especially for graveyard hate where you need to choose between Leyline of the Void, Nihil Spellbomb and Surgical Extraction.
What beats what? The deck seems to be disadvantaged against almost all other looting decks, since Hollow One is faster, Dredge kills quicker and now benefits from life gain, Mardu has tons of spot removal, and Izzet Phoenix attacks in the air and has Thing in the Ice.
However, Grixis Shadow is able to win out of nowhere thanks to the combination of Temur Battle Rage and Death's Shadow. It also, in post sideboard games, has access to many silver bullets which can turn the pairing around, so let's say it can lose against everything and win against everything too, depending largely on the pilot and the deck's card choices.
Dredge by Kyle Peters, SCG Modern Classic Indianapolis, 1st Place
|2Blood Crypt||4Bloodghast||4Cathartic Reunion|
|3Bloodstained Mire||2Golgari Thug||2Conflagrate|
|1City of Brass||4Narcomoeba||4Creeping Chill|
|4Copperline Gorge||4Prized Amalgam||4Faithless Looting|
|1Gemstone Mine||4Stinkweed Imp||1Darkblast|
|3Ancient Grudge||1Darkblast||1Engineered Explosives|
|3Lightning Axe||4Nature's Claim||3Stain the Mind|
Present situation: Dredge went from being completely forgotten to one the most popular decks of the format once Creeping Chill was printed. But that was a whole set ago which means that by now the rest of the format has prepared for the deck with four or more sideboard dedicated slots to beat it including some graveyard hate in main decks, especially if they have cantrip effects like Nihil Spellbomb or Relic of Progenitus. There are no new hot changes to the stock list, except in that Stain the Mind has seen some play lately as a Cranial Extraction effect with Convoke.
In this deck, Faithless Looting has always been a pillar of the strategy since its creation, serving both as an enabler, discarding dredgers, and a combo piece, allowing dredgers to dredge off its draws.
What beats what? Dredge is designed to win game one against almost any archetype. Maybe Izzet Phoenix is the only one that can counteract its early start if you protect your Thing and get an Awoken Horror to reset the board.
Postboard is almost the opposite, as you will have to contend with Anger of the Gods against Mardu Pyromancer, Grixis Shadow, and Izzet Phoenix as well as varied graveyard hate which will limit the number of hands that are keepable as you will need hate cards to combat opposing hate. In short, I would say that it is favored in descending order as follows: Hollow One > Mardu Pyromancer > Death's Shadow > Izzet Phoenix.
1. Izzet Phoenix
Izzet Phoenix by Ross Merriam, SCG Modern Classic Indianapolis, 4th Place
|18Lands||12Other Permanents||30Instants and Sorceries|
|1Flooded Strand||4Arclight Phoenix||4Faithless Looting|
|3Island||2Crackling Drake||1Flame Slash|
|2Mountain||4Thing in the Ice / Awoken Horror||4Serum Visions|
|1Polluted Delta||2Pyromancer Ascension||3Gut Shot|
|4Scalding Tarn||1Izzet Charm|
|4Spirebluff Canal||1Lightning Axe|
|2Steam Vents||4Lightning Bolt|
|2Abrade||1Anger of the Gods||1Blood Moon|
|2Ceremonious Rejection||2Dispel||1Snapcaster Mage|
|1Spell Pierce||3Surgical Extraction||1Threads of Disloyalty|
Present situation: We are talking about the most successful deck in recent times and the youngest of the lot, which means some cards are still being tested. There are many variants, from more aggressive versions with Monastery Swiftspear to slower versions including Young Pyromancer and some burn heavy ones, including Pyromancer Ascension, which led Eli Kassis to a GP Oakland victory.
Right now, Izzet Phoenix is the pet-deck of many players, who (like me) enjoy the large number of cantrips that allow finding the threats, as well as the key cards in sideboard games. Here, Faithless Looting is good for everything: discarding phoenixes, charging up the Ascension, mitigating mana flood, and even pumping Crackling Drake.
Moving onto new additions, I would highlight the inclusion of Pteramander and Light Up the Stage, two cards from Ravnica Allegiance I have not been able to test while writing this article but that may have great potential, especially the Salamander Drake.
What beats what? Long story short: Hollow One is favorable, Dredge is beatable, Grixis Shadow is a 50-50 matchup, especially on game one and finally Mardu is a bit disadvantaged mostly due to the large amount of removal they play. Overall; I consider Izzet Phoenix the best Looting deck moving forward and I'll be playing it at GP Bilbao.
Below you have a short summary of every matchup between the five decks:
So that brings us to our conclusion. There is some consideration regarding both Mono Red Phoenix and Hollow Phoenix, which are two other archetypes reliant on the red sorcery and hasty bird, but they are not established yet in my opinion, although you can check out more about them in my previous article here.
Before we end, just a small recap, I strongly believe that Faithless Looting has become one of the best cards in Modern and is certainly one of the most represented cards in the meta. I also think it will continue to provide great synergy to graveyard strategies.
As mentioned earlier on the intro, the card is safe in the current meta and, at least in my humble opinion, is not in danger of banning unless Wizards want to shake up the format before the next Modern Pro Tour, something that could do more harm than good, hurting a plethora of decks that are the bread and butter of Modern.
Thank you so much for reading; as usual I really appreciate your feedback on the comments below and I will continue testing for the next GP next month with Izzet Phoenix so let me know which looting deck is your current favorite.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.