Modern: Thoughts on Dark Depths

Yes, I realize that this has sat on the modern banned list since the inception of the format. I’m not sure I really agree with that decision, and here are the reasons why:

Here’s the snippet from the original modern announcement where they announced that Dark Depths would be banned:

“Dark Depths and Vampire Hexmage combine to give you a 20/20 creature for only two mana. In the Mirrodin-forward Extended format, those two cards were the core of one of the most dominant combination decks in recent memory.

Extended Thopter Depths (Adam Yurchick) (36)
Dark Confidant
Vampire Hexmage
Boomerang
Chrome Mox
Compulsive Research
Engineered Explosives
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Muddle the Mixture
Rite of Consumption
Slaughter Pact
Smother
Sword of the Meek
Thirst for Knowledge
Thopter Foundry
Thoughtseize
Lands (24)
Academy Ruins
Dark Depths
Island
River of Tears
Sunken Ruins
Swamp
Tolaria West
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Sideboard (15)
Chalice of the Void
Damnation
Darkblast
Deathmark
Duress
Extirpate
Gatekeeper of Malakir
Ghost Quarter
Jace, the Mind Sculptor

We believe that this deck would have been one of the best decks in Modern if we left it alone. Also, two mana for a 20/20 indestructible flying creature is just kind of stupid. Vampire Hexmage has fair applications, but Dark Depths has almost none. We chose to ban the more offensive of the two.”

The very first thing that jumps out at me is that, not counting Dark depths AND Sword of the Meek, this deck boasts a total of 6 other banned cards (plus one in the sideboard) which are generally accepted as never coming off the list. Without Chrome Mox you lose a lot of the ability to power out the combo quickly, and it is very luck dependent that you can get the token super fast.

If you decide to go all in on the combo your best bet is to play Dark Depths on turn one, followed by Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Vampire Hexmage on turn two. This allows you to “combo off” at the end of your opponent’s turn and swing for the win. This is a 3 card combo that must be played in exactly that order, and leaves you with no extra mana to use for consistency tools. The combo is also very interactive, in that a number of popular modern cards can stop it even as early as turn 2. Path to Exile, Vapor Snag, or even Ghost Quarter simply destroy an all in version of the deck early. Lingering Souls or Bitterblossom buy you a lot of time until you can find a permanent answer to the token, such as Cryptic Command if the game drags a bit.

Even looking at your best case scenario, the deck is likely less consistent at early combos than either Amulet Bloom or Grishoalbrand, which both suffer from consistency issues as is despite being able to use consistency tools to help set things up. Not to mention both of those decks are capable of turn 2 kills, while Dark Depths really can’t do any better than turn 3.

So what happens if we don’t bother with the all in combo aspect of the deck? Do we slide Dark Depths and Thespian’s Stage into Naya, to be fetched up by Knight of the Reliquary? This seems slow and grindy, and gives the opponent plenty of time to find an answer. Do we try to play those two lands in a control shell? The meta currently is very unfriendly to reactive control decks, especially when you sink a ton of mana into your land just to have it blown up with 1 or 2 counters left on it.

The last consideration is what happens if both Dark Depths AND Sword of the Meek both end up unbanned at some point. Would this herald a return to the old extended days of Thopter Depths being the best deck in the format? I think not, at least not without the easy acceleration of Chrome Mox to fuel the deck.

Like many of the originally banned cards, I feel like Dark Depths is a very safe unban. The decks it would fit into do not seem as powerful as the decks already in modern, and the change would likely be similar to Bitterblossom and Golgari Grave-Troll in that it would have very little impact on the format. However, it would open up more options and that is, in my opinion, always a good thing so long as they’re not detrimental to the format.

Chris Wendelboe

Chris is a level 2 judge from Ashland, New Hampshire. He enjoys Scapeshift, modern, and putting on the best events possible.