Riley's Modern Life: Blood on the Ice

8 min read
Riley's Modern Life: Blood on the Ice

A deck can’t hold me for long in Modern—I’ve gone from UW Control to Enchantress to Jeskai Tempo, and this last deck gave me a bit of a taste for clocking people with Lightning Bolt and Electrolyze. As a result, I unearthed an old deck I experimented with when Thing in the Ice was printed in Shadows over Innistrad—Blood on the Ice (alternatively, Thing in the Moon, although that name is considerably less metal).

This deck spawned from the Blue Moon list that players like the Kiwi battler Jason Chung had brought to tournaments such as PT Oath of the Gatewatch. Its plan A is to leverage the often game-ending power of one of my favourite Modern cards – Blood Moon, backed up with the best (at the time) interaction in the format, both battlefield—and stack-based—Blue Moon was a classic and super-fun Bolt-Snap-Bolt deck.

Thing in the Ice served a dual purpose. It was both an early blocker against everything from Goblin Guide to Kitchen Finks, and then a powerful sweeper that could clear the board at instant speed. I had a blast playing with this list, as it gave me the unlikely opportunity to concurrently make two of my absolute favourite plays – flashing back Cryptic Command to counter a spell and bounce my Snapcaster Mage after his brief appearance, and of course the good old turn-three Blood Moon.

Blood on the Ice never snapped the Modern format in two, but it was a great deal of fun to play. Unfortunately, it suffered immensely from the banning of Gitaxian Probe, which was able to flip a Thing for zero mana. The reason I became interested in exploring this deck again, however, is because Opt has joined the Modern format (to much rejoicing) and I was itching to try it out in a Snapcaster Mage deck.

On Blood Moon

Before we pull apart the deck itself, I want to have a quick chat about the card Blood Moon. I’ll start by saying I’m a huge proponent of this card, and despite having lost more games to it than I’ve won with it, I think it’s a necessary and very positive thing for the format. There has to be a fun police, and Blood Moon is the squad car that the cops can pile out of like clowns at a circus.

While cards like Path to Exile and Ghost Quarter encourage players to include a number of basic lands in their lists, no card punishes greedy mana bases more strongly than Blood Moon. The card itself has a lot in common with something like Force of Will, as odd as it sounds – in Legacy, Force of Will single-handedly keeps absurd glass cannon combo decks in check, and Blood Moon serves a similar purpose in Modern.

Without cards like Blood Moon, there would be no reason not to go all-out with balls-to-the-wall mana bases, splashing multiple colours for the very best cards in the format. The mana in Modern, at a stretch, could support a deck that beats down with Tarmogoyf, while flashing back Kolaghan’s Command with Snapcaster Mage, and packing the best in white sideboard hate just for good measure. Blood Moon is one of the reasons this sort of thing doesn’t happen – because if it did, red decks with a lot of basics would slap these ambitious half-court shots back into the crowd. Denied!

While Blood Moon has its opponents and detractors – most of whom could doubtless put the salt mines of the world out of business – the card plays an incredibly important role in the format. If you’re sick of losing to Blood Moon, there are two options available to you: adjust your mana base to better accommodate the fact that the card exists, or—even better—come to the dark side, and instead have a great time Mooning your opponents. I firmly believe that the enjoyment that Blood Moon generates is a zero-sum game—the terrible time you have while losing to the card is directly and inversely proportional to the terrific time your opponent has while winning with it.

Anyway! Let’s have a look at the list itself, and have a chat about what it’s trying to do.

[d title=”Blood on the Ice by Riley Knight”]
2 Wandering Fumarole
2 Spirebluff Canal
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
8 Island
3 Flooded Strand
1 Mountain
1 Desolate Lighthouse

4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Thing in the Ice

4 Serum Visions

4 Opt
3 Remand
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Electrolyze
3 Cryptic Command
2 Burst Lightning
2 Logic Knot

4 Blood Moon

2 Negate
2 Anger of the Gods
2 Ceremonious Rejection
3 Relic of Progenitus
1 Vandalblast
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Keranos, God of Storms
1 Counterflux
1 Flashfreeze
1 Vendilion Clique

At its core, this is a control deck that trades away the power of cards across three colours to instead take advantage of the game-ending power of Blood Moon. Blood Moon makes some pretty severe demands of the deck built around it, and the eight basic Islands are the concession this list has to make in ensuring the Moon doesn’t rise on the wrong horizon. This also effectively rules out a third colour. As nice as it would be to have something like [mtg_card]Kolaghan’s Command[/mtg_card] in a deck like this, it’s just not feasible when so much of the time you’re hunting for a turn-three Moon to end things on the spot – Watery Graves and Blood Crypts become too much of a liability.

As a result, this somewhat powered-down control strategy instead trades on “free win” equity, as especially in game one it won’t be uncommon for an unsuspecting opponent to fetch out a couple of shocks, only to be locked out of the game with an unplayable hand after you’ve deployed your Blood Moon. Outside of those games, however, this deck seeks to be highly interactive, with red removal and blue counterspells – and while Wandering Fumarole is a poor substitute for [mtg_card]Celestial Colonnade[/mtg_card], you can still crack them for four a turn once the game is all locked up (assuming you weren’t on the Blood Moon plan).

The immediate issue many might see with the deck is its removal suite, and after weeks of talking about how poorly-positioned Lightning Bolt currently is, it may seem odd to be championing a deck that eschews Paths and Pushes altogether. Lightning Bolt is still the very best at what it does, but the inclusion of Burst Lightning should indicate to you that there’s a little more going on with this list. Except for the times that you’re being beaten down by the smaller go-wide decks, these Bolts and Bursts will often go upstairs so as to be flashed back by Tiago – despite being a controlling deck, the power of the classic Bolt-Snap-Bolt play is no less pronounced with Blood on the Ice.

What’s the answer to creatures? Thing in the Ice. Flipping this guy is not all that difficult, and it can block respectably in the meantime. An Awoken Horror shines against big Eldrazi idiots (especially after you’ve turned their Tron lands and Temples into Mountains), and bouncing a board of Delve creatures is filthy enough to warrant many a snap-concession.

With no less than 14 one-mana spells—including eight cantrips —chaining spells to awake the horrific 7/8 is not hard. Up the curve, Remand, Electrolyze, and Cryptic Command all replace themselves. Don’t forget about the corner-case secret mode on Remand: if you really, really need to flip your three-counter Thing, you can Remand your own one-mana spell so as to play it again.

Bouncing an opponent’s board and getting in for an immediate seven power offers the potential for bigger swings than a giant’s playground – and given that Modern is flush with higher-costed creatures (Death’s Shadow excepted) due to Fatal Push, your opponent may have an issue redeploying their board in a timely manner. It doesn’t end there, however – Thing in the Ice also returns your Snapcasters to your hand.

This means that after burning or countering your opponent’s nonsense, you’ll pick up a 2/1 (or two) and be able to do it all again. The dearth of one-mana spells means your graveyard should more or less always be well-stocked, and so picking up Snapcaster Mage to defend your new Awoken Horror is made all the easier as a result.

An important thing to remember, however, is the way the stack works with Thing in the Ice triggers – if your Thing has a single counter on it and you try to Bolt your opponent’s creature, it will return to their hand before the Bolt resolves. No worries, though – just be sure to chuck the Bolt at the dome, exactly as Richard Garfield intended.

Between Blood Moon, Thing in the Ice, and a strong suite of countermagic, this deck can cover most of the angles that Modern decks seek to attack on. Having said that, however – Blood on the Ice has a pronounced need for things to go right. Sure, the odd turn-three Blood Moon will be enough against a fair proportion of decks, and sometimes players play fast and loose with their life totals to the point that a flipped Thing plus a couple of burn spells will get the job done.

Blood Moon overperforms against Eldrazi’s mana base and neuters the plan A of Scapeshift – but this deck doesn’t have the most effective plan against Death’s Shadow (essentially, it’s to hope they put themselves within burn range). That aside, this deck is a ton of fun and provides you with more than your daily requirement of sodium as opponents frothily rage while you Moon them out of the game.

When approaching the sideboard for this deck, I looked over what I put together while discussing the sideboard of Jeskai Tempo. Obviously we lose access to powerful white sideboard options given that we’re only playing two colours, but the same philosophy that put together our 15 a few weeks ago can be applied here. Notably, the counterspell suite still includes Negate, Ceremonious Rejection, and Flashfreeze; and the post-board artifact hosers still include [mtg_card]Relic of Progenitus[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Engineered Explosives[/mtg_card].

[mtg_card]Keranos, God of Storms[/mtg_card] is a great finisher against control decks, and the lack of Path in the Affinity matchup means [mtg_card]Vandalblast[/mtg_card] gets the nod. [mtg_card]Counterflux[/mtg_card] is incredibly potent against decks going all-in on one card, and of course can be an overloaded stone-cold killer against Storm. And —of course—[mtg_card]Vendilion Clique[/mtg_card] continues to be the sideboard all-star, brought in for more or less every matchup.

This deck is a ton of fun to play, and not just because it offers you the free wins associated with Blood Moon. It opens up opportunities for incredibly complex interactions, with a diverse set of tools available to those who love to fight on the stack as well as on the battlefield. I wonder if more work can be done to propel this deck towards further success—in particular, finding a way to better contest Death’s Shadow outside of the “Bolt-Snap-Bolt plan” would, I think, shore up a weak point in this deck’s makeup.

Do you have any ideas? I’d love to hear them! Let me know on Twitter – @rileyquarytower – and keep to date with everything from by following @mtgdotone!

Be sure to tune in and watch the World championship on Twitch and you can see our man Riley doing what he does best!

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