So what is a free win? There may be definitions floating around out there, but I consider a deck to get a number of free wins when the opponent is unable or unlikely to interact with what you are doing.
How can we get free wins?
A deck can be built to aim for the highest number of free wins by focusing on certain zones that are safe in that metagame. Before Burn received Eidolon of the Great Revel, there were many long stretches where the life total was safe. At these times, a player could pick up the Nivmagus Elemental deck and prize a few events. The deck depends on a low life total being safe, and otherwise interactions with it are difficult because it is so fast. Sometimes the life total is a safe zone. Sometimes (like now in Modern, for example), the graveyard is safe. Sometimes going wide is safe because there is no mass removal (also now in Modern).
Additionally, free wins can be achieved on the backs of certain safe types of permanents. Seasons have existed (the Jund instead of Junk era before Deathrite Shaman was banned for example) where creatures with protection from black or red were nearly indestructible, for example. Enchantments rotate in and out of safety according to how well Kor Spiritdancer is performing.
Is a free win today the same as a free win a month from now?
Certainly not. The sideboard restriction of 15 cards means that it is easy to find a window to exploit, but it is often hard to yield consistent results over the long course of time. In fact, a lot of players unfortunately pick up decks like Storm, Dredge, Bogles, and Eggs because they are cheap and have prized events. Later they find out that by the time they buy the cards, practice the deck, and enter an event, their opponents have placed the necessary 2-3 sideboard cards to crush them.
Essentially, a free win is exploiting a temporary format weakness. If you have another definition, then feel free to write about it in the comments, but for the purposes of this article series, I will be operating with this definition. Rather, henceforth I will be operating with this definition. Otherwise Eidolon of the Great Revel would be an error in the last article.
Free Wins in White
White is an insane color to use to exploit format weakness and chop decks in half at the axis where they are weakest. White can exploit the graveyard, play creatures with protection from everything, rip apart the ever-present Burn, and play a host of powerful crippling enchantments. The “honorable mentions” list here would scroll down for a long, long ways.
8) Rule of Law, Ethersworn Canonist, and Eidolon of Rhetoric
Like many cards on the “free wins” lists, these do not actively win the game in any other way than shutting the opponent down. Storm, Living End, Infect, Amulet Bloom, and Burn are severely crippled by this limitation. The time that you buy by playing one of these cards will be the time that you need to win with whatever formality you’ve placed in your deck.
7) Leyline of Sanctity
This card often wins games before they begin. It isn’t watertight, but it has a lot of sweet characteristics: it is an enchantment with a casting cost greater than 3, so it may as well read “indestructible” (yes, unfortunately except in the matches where it really matters: Burn). It is uncounterable and cannot be discarded from your hand. Finally, it has a lot more range than its primary purpose of defeating seven Lightning Bolts. Many combo decks have to bounce this before they can win, and it is unlikely that they have enough bounce spells in their sideboard to do so reliably. Decks with Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek basically get Hymn to Tourach‘d at the beginning of the game.
6) Aven Mindcensor
This card has all the vulnerabilities it can possibly have. It is a creature. It has one toughness. It costs three. Eidolon of the Great Revel punishes you for playing him. Abrupt Decay and even Gut Shot kill him. Still, this Stone Rain with flash will often set the opponent so far back in every match where the opponent has a fetchland. Furthermore, in any match against decks that need to search (Primeval Titan, Scapeshift, Tron, and Tooth and Nail for example) are shutdown outright. His evasion and power of 2 makes him the first list entry that actually can win the game himself. The best thing about his evasion and power is that it messes with your opponent’s perceived clock. Aven Mindcensor often puts him at two or four below what he thinks he is.
5) Wrath of God
I would be remiss to omit this when much inferior versions made the red list. The card advantage you can earn from this card is sometimes much greater than those that are on the banned list. Ancestral Visions draws three cards on turn 5, and this can do more a turn sooner. The anti-regenerate clause is very relevant in a time with Welding Jar, Boros Charm, and even Thrun, the last Troll coming out to play.
4) Proclamation of Rebirth
This card has every ounce of hardiness that you want in one around which you would build a deck. It exploits the graveyard, a safe zone. It is uncounterable. It isn’t a permanent. The creatures come back to play, so they won’t be countered. The creatures you are bringing back either gain you mountains of life or serve to defeat the opponent outright: Martyr of Sands and Serra Ascendant.
3) Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Entirely too much of the format is weak to this Praetor, three thousand steps up from his Ebon predecessor. When cards like Night of Souls’ Betrayal are given serious consideration to attack Infect, Twin, Affinity, and the like, this card should definitely be cheated into play as often as possible. I’ve never beaten this guy. He is a Wrath of God attached to a flying 4/7 body, which is plenty, but additionally all the Lingering Souls tokens and mana dorks that you have been playing before him also give your opponent approximately half a turn to find an answer or die.
2) Iona, Shield of Emeria
To continue our list of “huge creatures to reanimate with Unburial Rites,” Iona gets the higher nod over Elesh-Norn because she shuts down all decks, whether they are focused on creatures or not. She locks the opponent down as much as many two and three-card locks do, and what’s more is that she can usually end the game in two swings.
And now, the card you’ve been waiting for, the number one free winner in Modern White….
1) Daybreak Coronet!
This card is the quintessential free-win card in Modern. No deck gets as many free wins as Bogles gets, and what makes Daybreak Coronet better than many of the other cards on the list is its reliability in the early game. Whereas most of the other cards are relevant on turns four and after, Daybreak Coronet wins on turn three. It is pride-obliterating to lose to a Slippery Bogle, but once this card is in play, your loss is nearly assured. Rancor, Unflinching Courage, or Spirit Mantle are the last nails in the coffin.
Well that’s it for this week’s installment of Free Wins in Modern. It could also be known as “You didn’t pack Tempest of Light? GG” because White hate is focused primarily on enchantments.
I left out many of the cards (excepting Rule of Law) that get free wins only in particular match-ups like Rest in Peace or Stony Silence and tried to look at the grander metagame. I can guarantee that there are plenty of cards you believe should be on this list because that is the way white works.