I have been playing a ton of Underworld Breach in Modern where it combos with Grinding Station and Thassa's Oracle However, I’ve found that this card is a wildly good card advantage spell which is almost Yawgmoth's Will – and that is a high bar. With that in mind, can we make a deck that’s philosophically similar in that it has a combo and can play a fair Breach? Absolutely!
This Birgi Storm deck can go off without Breach, which means that technically, the combo is graveyard-hate-proof. If the opponent trades with your spells a lot though, you can at some point just topdeck Breach and replay the combo from the grave. This particular version is very interaction-dense, much to my personal liking, as it fits the fair Breach approach much better. On top of that, the combo isn’t particularly fast so you need a way to disrupt the opponent. The combo’s strength is much more resilience than speed. I have had multiple games where the opponent couldn’t have known I was a combo deck until pretty late in the game. I basically played Izzet Control for most of the game.
Let’s start off with the combo itself. There are three main pieces.
The first piece is Birgi, God of Storytelling and its ability to give you mana for each spell you play. It essentially means that one mana spells are free, as you get your mana back immediately. This synergy is going to be crucial when we delve deeper into the combo, but it’s still very useful outside the combo as you can play removal spell virtually for free and your two-mana card selection spells as if they cost a single mana.
When playing against removal-heavy decks, I tend to play the back half of Birgi to ensure a constant stream of cards. Sooner or later, you will find another copy and play it. With so much card draw in the deck, the back half is very difficult to contend with.
Alchemy cards introduce interesting digital-only designs and Spellchain Scatter is one of those. What it does in a nutshell is give you a copy of a spell that you will play after Scatter – a physical card that’s added to hand. You can for instance play Spellchain Scatter on turn three, then play Fiery Impulse on a creature, you get another copy thanks to Scatter and can kill another threat. If you don’t pay the kicker, the copy that you’ve got will get discarded at the end of the turn.
The reason why it’s a digital design is that you’re getting an actual card to hand which can get exiled, discarded, played. The reason it’s so good for the deck is that those copies land in the grave, fueling your future Underworld Breaches.
If you’re playing a draw-go game, you can kick Scatter, play Seek New Knowledge, and get another copy for later. It’s imperative to realise when Scatter can be converted into important cards when you’re not comboing.
Let’s discuss its combo usage now. As we’ve established, one-mana spells are free with Birgi. If you have two Spellchain Scatters the loop looks as follows:
- Cast Spellchain Scatter
- Get one Red mana from Birgi
- Cast another Scatter using the Red
- Get another Red
- The first Scatter’s effects makes a copy of the second Scatter
- You play the newly created copy of Scatter with Birgi mana
- You get another Red and another copy
- Rinse repeat
In essence, Birgi and two Scatters allow you to play as many spells as you want. It’s not a kill yet. In order to actually win you need one more piece. Enter – Grapeshot.
This is our storm payoff. After you’ve looped Scatters, you can cast Grapeshot and kill the opponent.
Don’t get tunnel visioned into sandbagging Grapeshot for the combo only. You can still use it early game as a removal spell, especially in conjunction with other spells to boost the storm count.
A generic cantrip that helps you sculpt your draw. It can filter the top of the deck to ensure your getting the combo pieces or interaction. The fact that it surveils is key as it fuels Underworld Breach.
Another piece of digital design in the deck. It’s particularly good in helping mitigate the wrong-half problem. You may encounter situations when you don’t need redundant combo pieces or dead interaction. Seek will improve your hand every time. With Birgi, it costs one mana which makes it very strong.
Enough has been said about the best card draw printed in the modern era of Magic. Iteration is just generically powerful. The main trick is to play it on turn three pre-land drop so you can take a spell to hand and exile a land to immediately play it. However, I try to hold it off until later so that I can get two spells off of it.
The only card that I am kind of on the fence about. It’s Reach Through Mists with the option to give you an extra turn after it’s been cast three times. It has come up but most of the time, admittedly, it’s been a simple cantrip. I think it could be switched to a split between, say, 2 Faithless Looting and 2 Opt. Still, the option to take an extra turn is of course very high ceiling for the card that other cantrips don’t have.
We can’t only play combo pieces and cantrips as we’d be run over. I play six copies of main deck removal to stop all those aggro decks running around – and there are plenty of those between Elves, Affinity, Wizards, Stompy, etc. I have found that Unholy Heat isn’t good for two reasons. First, it’s difficult to get delirium in the midgame when you want to play value Underworld Breach. Second, I really value dealing three damage early which Heat does not do. Enter – Strangle. It kills most early creatures, crucially including Ledger Shredder, Symmetry Sage, Dreadhorde Arcanist and other 3-toughness threats.
Instant speed variant of Strangle. The vast majority of the time you will have spell mastery, so I play four copies of Impulse and two of Strangle as instant speed is very valuable.
I think there is more space for interaction in the deck but more removal will make you really vulnerable game one to decks like Reanimator, Dragon Storm, and Control. Spell Pierce is great at both thwarting the opponent’s plan and protecting our combo pieces. When comboing off, Spell Pierce is free as you’re getting mana back with Birgi. It’s a weird Pact of Negation-esque card of sorts. If well-timed, Spell Pierce can be truly devastating if it counters cards like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Emergent Ultimatum, or Farewell.
As far as I’m concerned, Underworld Breach is criminally underplayed in Historic and it’s only getting traction now in Modern. The card is not needed for the combo, but can help you play the missing pieces from the graveyard. For instance, you may have Birgi, but you will replay Scatters from the grave. Breach also gives you the angle of being able to win from an empty board as you may play Breach and escape all the combo pieces from the graveyard. Remember that the card you escape still goes back to the grave.
With Birgi on the field, casting Breach will give you back one Red mana which can impact your calculations.
I tend to be very liberal with Breach and gladly cash it in for a single Consider and double removal.
This card is not in the deck, but I am strongly considering in the maindeck or sideboard. It can act as a different threat that attacks from a different angle. With Birgi on the field, you can heavily flood the field with tokens, at least in principle. I may test them a bit more because conceptually it seems like they would be pretty good in a deck like this.
It’s another threat worth considering as it filters draws, works great with the deck casting multiple spells, files the graveyard, and allows us to stay alive better.
If you want to take a more aggressive approach, DRC is also worth taking into account. It filters and puts real pressure on the opponent. The problem though is that it is vulnerable to grave hate the same way Breach is. Then again, DRC fuels Breach.
Matchups and Sideboard Guide
Between Strangle, Fiery Impulse, Grapeshot, and quad Brotherhood's End, we should be able to stay alive. I tend not to play out Birgi, God of Storytelling into open mana as a single Wizard's Lightning thwarts the plan – I either wait until they tap out or just I play the back half. I have found that eventually you will just be able to combo off thanks to Breach so you can keep trading resources early in the game.
Brotherhood's End is a real back-breaker against Affinity. I don’t trim Birgi, God of Storytelling as they don’t have removal for it once it sticks, contrary to Wizards. They may be heavy on graveyard hate in the form of Soul-Guide Lantern or Relic of Progenitus, in which case you can cut a second Underworld Breach.
The card we don’t want to see the most is Esper Sentinel as the majority of the deck is spells.
They do gain life, but we can beat even 100 life thanks to the loop being ‘infinite’. Due to this, we have to make the opponent click through their loop as we can always beat it when we untap. Spell Pierce only tags Collected Company and that’s too narrow. Birgi, God of Storytelling will survive most of the time, but they do play Skyclave Apparition some amount of the time.
Unfortunately, Red removal isn’t the best against cards like Voice of the Blessed since they can grow out of range. If you see more Heliod, Sun-Crowned, you can consider playing more bounce spells like Fading Hope which can also bounce your own Birgi to save it.
Mono Red Aggro
Here, I do trim Birgi, God of Storytelling, but I don’t trim Breach. Those minute differences between matchups come from the fact that each deck interacts differently, even if fundamentally they are aggressive. Mono Red will kill Birgi (hence the cut), but usually doesn’t have grave hate (Breach stays in).
The matchup is very much all about surviving. Eidolon of the Great Revel is a real pain and needs to be got rid of as soon as possible.
This matchup has a completely different dynamic to the previous four as here we don’t want to stay alive – we want to put pressure on the opponent. I cut all the removal and two Underworld Breach vas I fully expect them to side in Rest in Peace. Narset, Parter of Veils will hit almost every time due to the spell density in the deck. It’s going to be very difficult for them to play through quad Pierce, quad Dispute. You can play patiently, play your cantrips and wait until they tap out and you can snipe the spell with a counter.
Tips and Tricks
- You can use Harnfel, Horn of Bounty’s discard ability to fuel Underworld Breach escape.
- If you have a lot of blue mana and not enough red because you may have drawn Island and Otawara, Soaring City, you can Spell Pierce your own spell and then Spell Pierce that Spell Pierce, all with Birgi, God of Storytelling on the battlefield. Then, the second Pierce counters the first one, your initial spell resolves and you’ve converted Blue into Red.
- It’s good to remember the cards you’ve put on the bottom with Seek New Knowledge. In a long game, you may bottom Grapeshot, at which point you want to avoid putting the other one away as it’d be very tough to combo off.
- Double Grapeshot on the opponent makes the combo much faster instead of trying to power up a single Grapeshot.
- Make sure not to exile Grapeshot with Expressive Iteration if you don’t intend to cast it as you will lose access to it.
- If you expect the opponent to have removal for your Underworld Breach, you can play a second Breach from hand or graveyard immediately so that they cannot disrupt you while you’re going off.
- Your opponent’s spells also contribute to the storm count.