Modern Weapon of Choice: Assault Loam

 

 

I know it is not the greatest Magic card ever, but it serves a role from time to time. Standard Burn plays a few, but should always have slightly better options than playing the full set. That being said, if I asked if you wanted to play 28 of them in Modern you would probably look at me like I was crazy. After all, the Burn deck in that format plays about that many Lightning Bolts. Why would you ever want Shock instead? Well, what if I told you you could play them for free and that every turn you could spend two mana to draw three of them? Intrigued yet? Here is the combination that lets you do just that:

Not much has been heard from these two since Bronson Magnon won the first Modern GP with it (http://archive.wizards.com/Magic/magazine/article.aspx?x=mtg/daily/eventcoverage/gplin12/welcome). They did well in the PTQ season that ensued, but failed to repeat on the GP stage. Last year the deck was basically non-existent. That was due to the omnipresence of arguably the best one-drop creature ever: Deathrite Shaman. I personally tried to get it to work, but with the various Pod decks as well as Jund (the most prominent deck in any given field at the time) all playing the Elf Shaman, getting the engine online was nearly impossible. With the 1/2 that could do everything now gone, Assault Loam has a chance to shine once again. Here is the list I played in two PTQs this past weekend with a combined record of 13-3-2 including a Top 4 berth in the second one:

Assault Loam

Lands (28)
Blackcleave Cliffs
Blood Crypt
Bojuka Bog
Fire-lit Thicket
Forest
Ghost Quarter
Graven Cairns
Lavaclaw Reaches
Misty Rainforest
Mountain
Overgrown Tomb
Stomping Ground
Swamp
Twilight Mire
Verdant Catacomb

 Creatures (8)
Dark Confidant
Tarmogoyf

Spells (24)
Abrupt Decay
Faithless Looting
Flame Jab
Inquisition of Kozilek
Life from the Loam
Liliana of the Veil
Raven's Crime
Seismic Assault
Thoughtseize
Sideboard: (15)
Anger of the Gods
Batterskull
Darkblast
Golgari Charm
Kitchen Finks
Raven's Crime
Thoughtseize
Thrun, the Last Troll
Ancient Grudge
Obstinate Baloth
Slaughter Games

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For those familiar with Magnon’s GP winning list there are a few changes to the deck. I will take some time to go through some of the more recent additions and changes.

Faithless Looting was the first addition to the deck, one that I utilized in the PTQ season two years ago. Looting adds consistency to the deck, which is desperately needed in a 28 land deck. Though some may scoff at the comparison, the role Looting plays in this deck is similar to Brainstorm in Legacy. You get to dig deeper into your library while getting rid of extraneous lands or otherwise less useful cards. Since Looting only draws two, it is card disadvantage when cast from your hand as opposed to card neutral as Brainstorm and a flashbacked Looting are. For that reason, I prefer 3 instead of the full 4. Still, the card selection it offers is great, especially considering the utility of dredging into it. Its addition to the deck allows you to play the full 4 Seismic Assaults instead of the 3 that Magnon played as extra copies can be pitched for more useful cards. Like more lands! The change is not trivial as some matchups demand that you have Assault early. Not playing the fourth once Looting was released was a mistake I made two years ago. One that I do not intend to repeat.

More recently we received Abrupt Decay. The card helps solve a number of soft spots the deck had previously where multiple cards had competed to handle. One problem with older versions of the deck is that unless you had Seismic Assault in play, you could not interact at instant speed. Against decks like Splinter Twin that is quite a problem. I liked my Twin matchup still, but it feels incredibly unfair now.

In addition to providing an excellent answer to Splinter Twin’s game plan, Abrupt Decay handles two cards that can give the deck fits: opposing Tarmogoyfs and Cranial Plating. Before there wasn’t a single card that could deal with both. Magnon’s deck hoped to overpower other Tarmogoyf decks with Countryside Crusher but utilized a larger amount of sideboard slots to battle the robot menace.  Decay cleans up the number of cards you need to deal with both while also answering Scavenging Ooze, the latest threat to the deck.

Anger of the Gods is the latest card to enter the 75. I’ve played Jund Charm in the past, but the unbanning of Wild Nacatl and the addition of Voice of Resurgence demands the combination of three damage and exile that Anger provides. I experimented with Anger of the Gods in the main, but the Modern format is too open to warrant having the effect in the main, even with the filtering ability of Faithless Looting. If you expect a very large Pod presence in a given event, it is might be worth finding room for the Red sweeper.

As for the sideboard, I will admit that it still needs some work. The single Darkblast is the card that pulled the least weight last weekend, but I also did not play against Affinity, the prime target for the card, throughout the weekend. The part I leaned on the most was the additional threats of Obstinate Baloth, Kitchen Finks, Thrun, and Batterskull. They offer additional means to interact and hold off aggressive decks while also serving as threats that do not rely on the graveyard. This allows me to apply pressure even if my opponent starts messing with my ‘yard.

Game Play

Some people like to call this deck Aggro Loam after the former Extended deck that played Terravore alongside Devastating Dreams. That is a misnomer. This deck is not very aggressive. While related to Aggro Loam it is more through a common ancestor, CAL, than as a direct descendant. For those unfamiliar, CAL is an acronym for Confinement Assault Loam. Obviously the later two are involved here, but the first term comes from Solitary Confinement, which is not legal in Modern. Confinement allowed CAL to hide behind the White enchantment until it was ready to win. Its Modern offspring does not have that luxury, but Tarmogoyf often serves a similar roll of limiting or outright stopping the bleeding until the game ends in a flurry of lands to the opponent’s face. Here’s a sample CAL list for comparison:

CAL – Olivier Ruel – GP Bilboa 2005 – 1st

Main deck (60)
Birds of Paradise
Dark Confidant
Eternal Witness
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Burning Wish
Cabal Therapy
Duress
Life from the Loam
Seismic Assault
Sensei’s Divining Top
Solitary Confinement
Barren Moor
Bloodstained Mire
Forest
Forgotten Cave
Mountain
Overgrown Tomb
Plains
Sacred Foundry
Swamp
Tranquil Thicket
Wooded Foothills
Sideboard (15)
Cabal Therapy
Chainer’s Edict
Cranial Extraction
Duress
Hull Breach
Life from the Loam
Loxodon Hierarch
Overgrown Estate
Putrefy
Pyroclasm

Once you understand that deck plays out more like a control deck than an aggro deck, the next important thing to figure out is how many lands you should put in play. Generally you want to play as few as possible as they fuel not only Seismic Assault, but also Flame Jab and Raven’s Crime. The minimum is three that can produce RRR, though there are reasons to play more than that. In order to determine if you should play a land on a given turn you need to have a plan in mind for the turns that follow. Ask yourself the following questions to formulate that plan:

Will I be casting more than one spell in a turn?

Will I need to activate Lavaclaw Reaches?

Can Ghost Quarter disrupt my opponent?

Is this a Post-Board game where I brought in a four or five drop?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you should probably play the additional land. A yes answer to the first question typically comes from using one of the retrace spells. You will often attack with Reaches if you have access to it. Ghost Quarter is important against Tron and utility lands, particularly Gavony Township and manlands. And as for the question concerning higher costing cards, that obviously depends on the matchup and whether you want any of those cards. I will discuss when you want them when going over some of the matchups and sideboarding.

One other thing to know when playing the deck is how to use Ghost Quarter. It may seem odd, but Ghost Quarter is actually the second best fetchland in the deck. Verdant Catacombs is obviously the best. The problem lies with Misty Rainforest. The deck is heavy on Red and Black. Understandably so when it wants to play a triple Red enchantment or cast a one mana Black spell over and over again. However, the strength of these plays relies on Green for Life from the Loam to continue the assault. Not counting fetchlands, there are only five green sources in the deck. As such you really need the additional fetchlands beyond Verdant Catacombs to get Forests so you have a reasonable chance of finding Green, especially in Games Two and Three when you may need GG. At the same time Misty Rainforest only gets one Black source, Overgrown Tomb, and one Red source, Stomping Ground. This makes drawing multiple Mistys miserable. Luckily, Ghost Quarter is there to help out. At least once per match I end up targeting my own land to find a basic Mountain as my third Red or a Forest to cast one of my Green spells. It is very important that you do not overlook this play. It is also important that you think through the play for what your mana requirements will be afterward. I try and leave myself with a Green and Black source to be able to cast any of the two drops in the deck on the following turn.

Knowing you have this option, it may be possible to blow out an opponent who does not realize what you are capable of casting. For instance you may leave open Stomping Ground and Ghost Quarter against a Twin player when they try and go for it. It seems safe to them, but Ghost Quarter can find a Swamp so you can Abrupt Decay the target of their Splinter Twin.

The Matchups

Pod Decks

The PTQ I attended this past Saturday in Alabama had four Pod decks in the top 8. This is an indicator of both how popular the deck is likely to be this season as well as how good it is. The prevalence of Pod is a good reason to play Assault Loam as I believe the matchup to be favorable. Unlike other decks, you can actually kill every creature they play as Magnon did in game 3 of the GP Lincoln finals against Andrew Cuneo. Anger of the Gods makes this plan easier, especially now that they have Voice of Resurgence to go along with Kitchen Finks and Murderous Redcap. Outside of comboing off, Pod’s best threat against you is Scavenging Ooze. It is a must kill. The good news is they may have to choose between hitting your important cards and eating creatures to grow it, which makes it easier to kill if you have to do so through damage. If they do grow it, you still have Abrupt Decay as an answer.

Sideboarding against Pod involves taking out most of the discard, including Liliana but leaving Raven’s Crime, and adding the Angers as well as the life gaining threats. The resiliency of Pod’s creatures makes Liliana a poor card against them. If you know your opponent has a Thrun somewhere, I would leave one of the Planeswalkers as an out, though. Raven’s Crime may seem odd against such a creature heavy deck, but you need to prevent your opponent from sandbagging combo pieces in his or hand then deploying them when you are least prepared.

For those who read Chris Vanmeter’s article this week, I was the one who handed him his eliminating loss. The games were very lopsided in my favor, though this may have partly been a product of variance. The deck definitely has the tools to handle Pod as long as you draw them.

Twin Decks

There has been a decent amount of talking since the banning of Deathrite Shaman about the resurgence of Twin. Such talk has typically suggested Jund’s dominance the previous year was largely responsible for the near absence of Twin. The combination of discard, pressure, and removal that Jund has available to it is just too much for a deck like Twin to handle. This was particularly true with the acceleration Deathrite made available to the deck.

Assault Loam has most of those same tools available to it and more. You should be able to place Twin in top deck mode fairly easily and quickly. At that point it should be very difficult for them to win. Put a clock on them and end it.

Sideboarding is fairly minimal. I take out the two Flame Jabs even though many of their creatures die to one damage. The sorcery is not going to get the job done against creatures with flash. I bring in the additional discard and Golgari Charm. If you anticipate Relic of Progenitus, you should also bring in some number of non-graveyard based threats.

Tron

Tron rises and falls within the format in accordance with the amount of midrange decks as opposed to fast combo decks and Affinity. Assault Loam looks like Jund, so you would expect it to be weak to Tron as well. This is actually not the case. I have yet to lose to Tron with the deck and it’s for two reasons.

The first is Ghost Quarter. Unlike Fulminator Mage, Ghost Quarter can prevent Tron from being assembled when on the draw. This is very important as Tron gains its advantage by playing spells way ahead of curve. A turn seven Karn Liberated is annoying. A turn three Karn is terrifying. If you can strand Tron’s big plays in its pilot’s hand for long enough, Raven’s Crime can remove the threat before it can come down. The fact that we also get play Life from the Loam to recur Ghost Quarter makes it near impossible for Tron to operate as it should.

The second advantage Assault Loam has that Jund does not is Loam can engage in plays that are card disadvantageous but still come out ahead a few turns later. This is thanks to the Green sorcery once again. Jund might be able to answer a Wurmcoil Engine only to lose to the tokens left behind. Needing three cards to completely deal with one threat is too much for Jund to deal with, especially if Tron is able to keep Dark Confidant off the table. Assault Loam on the other hand can trade three lands for the front half of the colorless titan and be in fine shape to handle the back half.

Relic of Progenitus is the card Tron has that can be scary. Having our Loam engine gutted or Tarmogoyf neutered can be problematic. Luckily, Relic is not nearly as tough to play through as Rest In Peace, a card that is seeing very little if any Sideboard play currently. The trick is to give the Tron player enough of an incentive to pop the Relic while you have already set up to get the engine going afterward. One way to do this is to present them with a threat that they need to answer and are thus resigned to use the Relic as a means to dig rather than an answer to our plan. This plan is much easier to execute in games two and three.

Speaking of games two and three, the sideboard plan is to become less dependent on the graveyard so that Relic is not as big of a problem. This is accomplished by siding out or at least thinning Tarmogoyfs for the other threats in the board. Additionally, you want to change your discard package slightly. Inquisition of Kozilek does not get any of the key spells. Swap those out for the third Thoughtseize and Raven’s Crime. Abrupt Decay has a similar issue, so those should become Ancient Grudges and Slaughter games. If you cast Slaughter Games, I recommend naming Wurmcoil Engine as you should be able to prevent them from casting any of the Eldrazi and Karn is more easily managed.

Jund

This is a matchup I had difficulty with two years ago. They have many of the same cards but more of them, since they are not playing nearly as many lands. Most of them are not particularly an issue, except Tarmogoyf. As I mentioned earlier the addition of Abrupt Decay helps on this front, but you still forced to deal with their discard assault.

I played this matchup in my top 8 match on Sunday and was surprised how easily it went. I won 2-0 after getting Raven’s Crime, Seismic Assault, and Life from the Loam on line in both games. While that put me in the driver’s seat, he still made a game of it by Abrupt Decaying one Seismic Assault, Jund Charming my graveyard in game two, and forcing me to use Lavaclaw Reaches to trade with an attacking Tarmofoyf. I am still skeptical on how good or bad this matchup may be, but my win gave me hope for it.

The board plan is to increase the threat density of the deck. I cut a few lands and the Thoughtseizes to bring in the Baloth, Finks, Thrun, and Batterskull. I like having at least one Flame Jab as a convenient answer to opposing Dark Confidant’s if Assault is not around.

Affinity

Affinity is another deck that was scary not too long ago. Its inability to interact with Seismic Assault makes the enchantment a major trump against them. Games without it are much more difficult and require some other means of keeping the robot horde in check. Ghost Quarter is once again a stand out card as without Assault it provides an instant speed answer to Blinkmoth and Inkmoth Nexus.

The Board provides even better means for keeping the deck in check. Anger of the Gods, Ancient Grudge, Golgari Charm, and Darkblast all come in as well the life gaining elements. Coming out are most of the discard spells (Inquisition on the play is fine) as well as the life total liability the is Dark Confidant.

Non-Affinity Aggro

It is possible for these decks to come in under you, but the board has the tools to turn the corner. Most of the cards coming in for Affinity are good here as well, except Ancient Grudge usually, and the cards coming out are going to be similar. The biggest question mark is whether or not there are enough targets with two or less toughness to still want Flame Jab after board. I find it a little too cumbersome to utilize the Red retrace spell to kill anything with larger. Thus, I tend to board it out against Zoo decks, but leave it in against Merfolk.

UWR Control

There are a wide swath of UWR decks in Modern, though many of the cards are the same. Unless these decks start playing Rest In Peace, Raven’s Crime should allow you to clear the way for you to resolve a threat. After that you want to close the game out quickly. Watch your own life total as they can try and burn you out. As the game starts to get in to the late game, prioritize finding Ghost Quarter as an answer to Celestial Colonnade unless you already have Seismic Assault online.

The Flame Jabs are at their worst here and the Abrupt Decays are not likely to have many targets. Bring in more threats to be able to go on the offensive as soon as the coast is clear. Board in more discard to expedite the process. If you want to cut a land as with the Jund matchup, that is fine, but do not remove the Bojuka Bog. Most of the time it is the worst card in the deck (shrinking the size of your own threat is not generally a good thing), but exiling the graveyard of a deck playing with Snapcaster Mage is a strong play and should not be forgotten about.

The last matchup I want to touch on is Scapeshift. I have not had the chance to play against this deck yet, as the last time I was Assaulting people with lands Valakut, the Molte Pinnacle was banned. The deck worries me as you have few if any ways to interact with them while they have various counterspells. As such the match would seem to come down to a race, and I believe they are faster. It was because of this matchup that I put Slaughter Games in the Board, though the card does have wider applications as evidenced by my using it against Tron. Still, I am not certain if that is enough, nor do I know how they would respond to us. I do not think Scapeshift will ever be a particularly large part of the metagame, so I am not that worried about it. If anyone has any thoughts on the matchup, I would love to hear them.

I will be playing this deck the rest of Modern season, unless M15 changes something drastically. I am even looking into going to Boston to have a chance to play it in a GP myself. If you have any questions or comments about the deck, feel free to sound off.

 

Thanks for reading,

 

Grant Christopher