The One-Dimensional Nature of Modern
Although people often criticize the one-dimensional nature of gameplay, I have always been a big advocate of the format. I enjoy the wide variety of decks that exist, which is precisely possible only because the format doesn’t have the universal, well-rounded answers that Legacy has, like Daze, Wasteland and Force of Will, which keeps many archetypes in check.
Within this large spectrum of archetypes, everyone can find a deck that fits their personality, and I have always loved talking to Modern players who are passionate about their pet deck and feel that it closely resembles their identity as a Magic player.
While the games may sometimes feel like two ships passing in the night, the gameplay pattern of consistently being able to execute your deck’s gameplan is one that people with beloved pet decks very much appreciate.
The Chord of Calling Archetype
In that vein, one of my favorite archetypes in Modern has always been the Chord of Calling decks. I simply just love the card – I think it’s one of my favorite designs in Magic.
The flavor of convoke is incredible in the context of a creature deck, and it’s the right way to “cheat” mana as there’s a big upfront cost to casting multiple creatures, and creatures are generally easy to handle with removal spells.
While I love convoke in general, Chord of Calling specifically fits it so well as a creature tutor effect allows you to play different kinds of creatures and create distinct gameplay patterns that are otherwise unreplicable in your average constructed deck.
While cheap tutor effects usually incentivize maximizing consistency and making your deck more narrow-focused, expensive tutors like Chord of Calling have an opposite effect where they encourage you to play situational, yet highly impactful one-offs, aka “silver bullets”.
Angel Chord at the Pro Tour
In fact, one of my proudest deck building accomplishments was when my teammate and I brewed together Angel Chord, which over half of our team ended up playing at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch.
I worked a ton on the deck with my teammate as we played league after league on Magic Online, while also meeting up on a regular basis to test specific matchups. This was my second Pro Tour, and the first time I worked on an established team, and I was so proud when the brew I co-created was played by pro players I looked up to like Tomoharu Saito and Hao-Shan Huang.
Although the headlines from the weekend were all about the breakout Eldrazi decks, my teammate did go 9-1 with the deck in the Modern portion of the Pro Tour, and the deck was chosen as part of the Pro Tour Showcase Challenge that featured on Magic Online a few weeks after the event.
The list was as follows:
Chord Combo by Matthew Rogers
Chord of Calling in Modern today
Chord of Calling decks have unfortunately largely fallen out of favor in today’s Modern metagame. Although Abzan Company had some success a few years back, in recent years the card hasn’t really had its time in the spotlight as Kiki-Chord failed to ever properly establish itself.
However, a few weeks ago, I was looking through Magic Online decklists and came across Golgari Yawgmoth for the first time. The deck had just won a Modern Challenge, and I instantly fell in love with the deck upon seeing the list.
The list was as follows:
BGx Sacrifice by hoody66
My current list
After seeing the deck, I immediately joined a league with it on Magic Online and grinded through five matches. Although I went 2-3, I had a ton of fun, and I’ve since been playing the deck online. I have made a few changes to the Modern Challenge winning list based on my own experiences and seeing other decklists.
My list currently is as follows:
Chord Combo by Zen Takahashi
How the deck works
Throughout Modern’s history, we have seen many toolbox-creature decks with combos embedded in them.
How combo-focused they are lies on a wide spectrum, from the old Birthing Pod decks that played mostly fair but with the ability to assemble a combo via Melira, Sylvok Outcast and Viscera Seer, to Devoted Druid decks that seldom win without the combo.
Combo or Beatdown?
Golgari Yawgmoth lies somewhere between the middle and the combo end of the spectrum – it wins mostly via the combo, especially in pre-board games, but against certain matchups (those with a lot of disruption) and/or in post-board games, it may opt to go down the fair, beatdown route.
If I had to compare it to other decks, I think it’s slightly more combo-focused than Kiki-Chord, but slightly less combo-focused than Green-White Heliod.
Similar to Splinter Twin, the threat of the combo allows you to execute your fair game plan better. Since the deck can immediately win the turn you get a Yawgmoth into play, and often can assemble it out of nowhere with Chord of Calling, your opponent is forced to respect it and hold disruption up.
This allows you to beatdown with your subpar creatures, as your opponent cannot deploy all their cards in a timely manner out of respect for the combo.
The Importance of Timing with Yawgmoth
In most games, the timing of when you cast Yawgmoth will be the most important decision. The factors behind it are contextual game-to-game, but generally, against fair decks, you want to take your time and play it after you have baited out their removal or play it in a position where you can get value out of it by drawing a couple of cards from him.
The last thing you want to do is jam it on turn four and have it die to an Unholy Heat straight away. Against combo and big mana decks, you’re generally looking to combo as quickly as possible as you need to race them. This often means casting him in the first opportunity you get.
How the combo works
The combo involves two creatures with undying (one must have no counters on it), and Yawgmoth. This lets you create a pseudo-Yawgmoth’s Bargain, as you can now pay one life to draw a card.
This works by initially sacrificing the undying creature with no counters, and either remove the +1+1 counter from the other undying creature or just don’t put a -1-1 counter on any creature as Yawgmoth says “up to”, which will draw you a card and the creature you sacrificed will come back with a +1+1 counter on it.
After that, sacrifice the other undying creature (which should now have no counters on it), and it will again draw you a card and come back with a +1+1 counter on it while removing the +1+1 counter from the first undying creature you sacrificed (putting a -1-1 counter on a creature with a +1+1 counter on it removes the +1+1 counter from the creature). You’ve now created a loop that you can repeat.
The next steps
Once you have this loop going, you can keep drawing cards until you find a Zulaport Cutthroat or a Chord of Calling/Eldritch Evolution to find it. Having a Zulaport Cutthroat in play means you’ll gain back the life you pay every time you sacrifice a creature, while also draining your opponent out.
One way to win
However, to win this way, you’ll need to have at least two life (you don’t gain back the life until you first pay a life as part of Yawgmoth’s cost), and your opponent’s life total must be less than the number of cards in your deck or else you will deck out before you can drain them out.
Another way to win
The other way to win is if one of the undying creatures you control is a Geralf’s Messenger. This way, every time it is sacrificed, your opponent will lose two life. Therefore, if your opponent’s life total is lower than yours, then they will die before you do once you start looping the creatures as they lose two life for every two life you pay (sacrificing Geralf’s Messenger and the other undying creature once each).
If you have two copies of Geralf’s Messenger, they will be losing four life for every two life you pay, so you can win as long as your life total is greater than half their life total.
Is the combo reliable?
It is worth noting that the combo is also quite a lot more resilient than it initially looks. If you have three undying creatures, they will not be able to break the undying loop even with a removal spell, as you can then use the third undying creature to recreate the loop with their removal spell on the stack
If you don’t have a third undying creature, you can still cast Yawgmoth and just leave the combo in play. This will leave your opponent in a bind as they won’t be able to kill your Yawgmoth since you can just combo off in response, which may buy you enough time to find a third undying creature.
You can also combo off at instant speed, as you can start looping at any time and Chord of Calling is an instant. In one game recently, I went off on my opponent’s upkeep, as I had used Wall of Roots’ mana ability on my own turn so I needed to pass the turn so I could use it again to have enough green sources to fetch a Zulaport Cutthroat.
What happens if you brick?
Finally, sometimes you may just brick while you try to go off. You either do not have a Geralf’s Messenger in play or cannot find a Zulaport Cutthroat/Chord of Calling/Eldritch Evolution.
It’s important to be aware of when you should stop digging, as often you can just draw enough cards that you can just win via overwhelming them on card advantage (this happens especially against fair decks), and it’s not worth the risk of putting yourself in Lightning Bolt range just to try to find the final combo piece.
My list compared to the stock list
My current list is fairly close to the stock versions, though the card choices in the deck are mostly set in stone due to the need to maximize consistency for the combo. Changes between lists mostly come in the form of silver-bullet targets and sideboard choices. Below, I have outlined the changes between my list and the more stock versions.
- Since the printing of Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, people have favored Prosperous Innkeeper over Essence Warden. This makes sense as the former lets you ramp and can fetch Yawgmoth with Eldritch Evolution. However, I still favor the one-drop as I believe when you’re going off, it’s crucial that you have a Chord target for one, as at two you will almost always fetch Zulaport Cutthroat instead. Essence Warden lets you draw as many cards as you want without paying life, and it’s often difficult to have in play enough creatures to convoke for two, especially with Geralf’s Messenger coming back into play tapped.
- People are now starting to cut down to three Geralf’s Messenger, which is reasonable as the card can be clunky and it gets boarded out in many matchups (against creature decks and Blood Moon decks for example). That being said, I still like having the full playset in the main deck as in pre-board games you’re generally more focused on the combo, but I am happy to sideboard out multiple copies in post-board games. Since I am playing the full playset of Messengers, I am also still playing four Twilight Mires. This is not ideal but it’s necessary.
- The final difference in the main deck is that I am playing two Grist, the Hunger Tide, and three Eldritch Evolution. The former is becoming more common now that people have realized how busted the card is, especially if you can play it on turn two. The deck also struggles with some creatures such as Dauthi Voidwalker and Murktide Regent, and so having more main deck answers to those cards is important. While people have generally shaved the fourth Geralf’s Messenger for it, I’ve instead cut the fourth Eldritch Evolution. I’m not sure if this is correct, especially as I like to be focused on the combo in pre-board games, but I have regularly found multiple copies of Evolution to be redundant and it lines up poorly against decks with lots of disruption.
- In the sideboard, I like playing a package of three Endurance and two Go for the Throat to fight Blue-Red Murktide and the various Black-Red Lurrus decks. Endurance is great against Ragavan/Dragon’s Rage Channeler decks, while also having utility against decks like Living End, and Go for the Throat cleanly answers two problematic cards – Dauthi Voidwalker and Murktide Regent. Most people prefer Cast Down, but I found that Lurrus of the Dream-Den can often be a problem as games go long in post-board games, and you need an answer to it. Since I play three Force of Vigor, I’m hedged better against the drawback of Go for the Throat.
- Combo decks and big mana strategies have been the matchups I have struggled with the most thus far. Necromentia is much narrower than a card like Thoughtseize, but I don’t think light disruption is enough to beat decks like Amulet Titan or Living End. Instead, I’ve opted for the narrow, yet high-potential extraction effect. Damping Sphere is also another option, but I’m worried it isn’t powerful enough against some combo decks and it also works poorly with your Twilight Mires.
Tips and Tricks
This deck has a lot of complicated and intricate lines. While I cannot cover them all, here are some that have come up in my games so far.
- Wall of Roots can contribute two mana to Chord of Calling, as it can add mana via its ability and then tap itself for convoke.
- Verdant Catacombs can be used to get Dryad Arbor, which can then be sacrificed to Eldritch Evolution/Grist/Yawgmoth. You can unexpectedly shrink a creature with Yawgmoth and eat it in combat by leaving an uncracked fetchland in play.
- You want to maintain as high of a life total as possible for Yawgmoth. Therefore, try to sequence your lands to minimize the damage you take. However, don’t fetch a Forest if you do not have a Twilight Mire or Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, as it can get in the way of casting Geralf’s Messenger.
- If you have an opportunity to deal some damage to your opponent, take it. If you are to win via Geralf’s Messenger, you need your opponent to be on a lower life total than you.
- You can Chord of Calling for zero to find Dryad Arbor. This commonly comes up when you cast a turn one Young Wolf, as you can then Chord for a Dryad Arbor on turn two and cast Yawgmoth on turn three. In a pinch, it can also just act as a three-mana, instant-speed ramp spell.
- Chord of Calling and Eldritch Evolution can fetch Grist, the Hunger Tide. This comes up quite a lot against fair decks – casting a turn one mana creature into a turn two Eldritch Evolution for Grist can be backbreaking against a deck like Blue-White Control.
- Yawgmoth can be used to kill your opponent’s creatures. If your opponent has multiple 2/2s or 3/3s, you can even distribute the -1-1 counters between them and then proliferate multiple times to kill them all. Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons is incredible against creature decks, as whenever you put a -1-1 counter on an opponent’s creature, you create a deathtouch snake. If you sacrifice the snake, you’ll then get to put another -1-1 counter on a creature and make another snake. This essentially lets you kill all your opponent’s creatures as long as you have enough life, while also drawing you many cards in the process.
- If you do not have two undying creatures, you can still try to go off assuming you have multiple other creatures in play. A single undying creature allows you to draw two cards per each non-undying creature, essentially creating a pseudo-Skullclamp. If you have three creatures in play that you don’t mind sacrificing, this would essentially let you draw six cards, and hopefully within that you either find another undying creature and/or the card advantage is enough to win the game.
The Reclamation Sage comes in against Blood Moon.
The Reclamation Sage comes in against Blood Moon.
The Reclamation Sage comes in to fight Rest in Peace.
Green Tron (Karn, the Great Creator version)
Reclamation Sage comes in to battle against Eidolon of the Great Revel and Rest in Peace.
Reclamation Sage comes in to battle against Eidolon of the Great Revel and Rest in Peace.
I hope you enjoyed this article as I covered in-depth my favorite Modern deck right now – Golgari Yawgmoth! Unfortunately, due to the recent COVID outbreak in New Zealand, I have been in lockdown again for the past month. However, I have been having a lot of fun playing leagues with this deck online, and I’m glad to see a Chord of Calling deck is once again competitive in Modern!
Till next time!
@mtgzen on Twitter