In preparation for Grand Prix Columbus next weekend, I’ve been playing quite a bit of Modern lately. Since I haven’t had a reason to play Modern since the last PTQ season about four months ago, I haven’t really been keeping up with the format at all. After re-acquainting myself with Modern this past week, I’m excited to play the format again and I’m very much looking forward to GP Columbus.
Modern is a uniquely healthy format right now, and is a ton of fun to play—especially in comparison to Standard these past few months. With Standard dominated by one extremely powerful deck for so long, it is a huge relief to play a format where there are literally dozens of potentially competitive decks to choose from. In this article I will lay out my initial thoughts on the format, and the conclusions that I’ve come to during my testing this past week. I’ll briefly discuss some of the decks I’ve been playing with and working on specifically. For those of you who, like me, haven’t been keeping up with Modern lately at all, I hope this article will help to prepare you for this awesome format when you do start playing it. If, however, you actually play a lot of Modern, I hope you can still get some value from my insights—and I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts in the comments section.
Whatever style of deck you want to play, you can probably play it in Modern. There are so many viable choices in this format that there is bound to be something for everyone. Since we had no idea what we wanted to play at the beginning of our testing, we built thirteen different decks to get a good feel for the format. Thirteen! And that number definitely doesn’t cover all the decks that are capable of doing well. Here was our initial gauntlet:
Mono Blue Fairies
In most formats I strongly dislike playing the “best” deck. The great thing about Modern is that there is not a “best” deck, currently. If you pick a deck that you like and learn how to play it, you can do well.
Birthing Pod is one of the most resilient and consistent combo decks available. For reference, here is Toshiyuki Kadooka’s Naya Pod deck from the Top 4 of GP Yokohama:
Since the printing of Restoration Angel, Birthing Pod has quickly risen to tier one in Modern. Not only has Restoration Angel given Birthing Pod a game-winning combo in tandem with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker (some versions run Melira combo as well), but Restoration Angel gives the deck ridiculously powerful synergies that allow it to win easily, even if the combo is disrupted. While I do consider Birthing Pod a combo deck, it’s very different from the other combo decks in the format—it doesn’t have to rely on its combo to win.
Birthing Pod and Chord of Calling give the deck the consistency that many of the blue combo decks lack since the bannings of Preordain and Ponder. Despite its consistency, there are still many ways to disrupt the deck. Torpor Orb shuts down the combo completely, and Grafdigger’s Cage keeps Birthing Pod and Chord of Calling in check. However, when people are spending precious cards and turns to play these necessary answers, Birthing Pod is still able to win through the traditional route of attacking with creatures. That resiliency is what makes this deck the top combo deck in the format.
There’s a wide variety of combo decks to choose from, and Storm has undoubtedly been around the longest. In my experience, Storm is the deck best suited to winning game one of any given match in Modern. Just like Birthing Pod, it is extremely consistent. Unlike Birthing Pod, it is not very resilient to combo hate. Since Storm only has one plan of attack, sideboard cards like Ethersworn Canonist, Grafdigger’s Cage, Nevermore, and Surgical Extraction make life very difficult. Of course these cards are not unbeatable by any means, but if there is any sort of pressure, it often takes much more time to fight through the hate than the Storm player has.
I’ve found the best Storm decks in Modern to be the ones that have a transformational sideboard of some kind. The most common transformational sideboard is the Splinter Twin combo. With a set of Splinter Twins and Deceiver Exarchs, along with some number of Pestermites and [card kiki-jiki, mirror breaker]Kiki-Jikis[/card], the Storm deck can dodge the hate by switching game plans completely. Here’s a classic example of this by SFlaren, from a recent Magic Online Daily Event:
When Punishing Fire was banned last year, there was considerable speculation that it would allow to Merfolk be a competitive deck. Aether Vial is easily one of the most powerful cards in Modern, and Merfolk has been waiting for its time to shine. Although Merfolk has been popping up on occasion in Magic Online Daily Events for a while now, it never really had the power to consistently do well. With the printing of Master of the Pearl Trident in M13, Merfolk seems to have gotten the boost it needed to become a truly competitive deck.
Although I didn’t believe it at first, testing games with and against Merfolk have shown that it is definitely a viable option. There are of course many different directions the deck can go, whether it be mono-blue, UW, or some other color combination. Caleb Durward wrote an article last week in which he highlighted an interesting UR version of Merfolk, which can be found here. I don’t yet know what I’m playing at GP Columbus yet, but Merfolk is definitely on my short list.
Although I recognize that there are many players who have been playing Soul Sisters for some time now, I never really thought the deck was very good until now. The typical Soul Sisters deck has changed quite a bit from the linear control deck it was during the last PTQ season. Instead of drawing the game out with sweepers and other control cards while using Proclamation of Rebirth, Emeria, the Sky Ruin, and Mistveil Plains for inevitability, the deck has become an aggressive white weenie deck that can use lifegain to win any race. In my opinion, this adaptation made the deck much better than it ever was in the past. Here’s a sample list by BxSci from another recent Magic Online Daily Event:
This shift to an aggressive, creature-based strategy really gives the deck a lot more versatility. Since the deck can play the role of an aggro deck with some very powerful starts, it has a very real ability to just win in the first few turns without having to depend on lifegain to win the long game.
There are two especially strong starts this deck is capable of: Serra Ascendant followed by Martyr of Sands can allow you to attack with a 6/6 with flying and lifelink on turn two! The other involves Ajani’s Pridemate in combination with 3-4 Soul Warden/Soul’s Attendant. This start often allows you to attack for 7+ damage on turn three, while still gaining a tremendous amount of life.
An added advantage of playing Soul Warden and Soul’s Attendant is the inherent resiliency against Splinter Twin and Pod decks. Even one of these creatures will keep you from losing to a Deceiver Exarch combo, and three of them will keep you from losing to Restoration Angel + Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Of course since these 1/1s are easily dealt with, this isn’t a permanent answer—but the fact that a card already integral to the deck is able to hinder two very popular combo decks should not be overlooked. In addition, white has some of the best hate cards in the format, including Ethersworn Canonist, Stony Silence, Suppression Field, and Nevermore. The multiple angles of attack available make Soul Sisters another one of the decks that I might actually play at the Grand Prix.
Although Birthing Pod and Storm are both very powerful decks, their respective combos are still quite vulnerable to many hate cards. I built and tried the new Sunny Side Up deck that I wrote about last week, and it turned out to be very consistent and a ton of fun to play. However, after playing some sideboarded games with the deck, I realized that it just didn’t have much of a chance against many of the hate cards people were playing. Relic of Progenitus, Nevermore, Suppression Field, and Stony Silence are just some of the hosers that many decks run. Even though there are many available answers to each of these problem cards, the Sunny Side Up deck isn’t consistent enough when diluted with cards like Echoing Truth and Ancient Grudge.
While trying to come up with a consistent new combo deck that could just do its thing and not worry about the hate that is in everyone’s sideboard, I decided to build Hive Mind and try it out. Here is my current build that I’ve been working on:
For those of you who are not familiar with this deck, it is based around a two-card combo of Hive Mind and any pact (Pact of Negation, Pact of the Titan, Slaughter Pact, or Intervention Pact). The deck uses Simian Spirit Guide, Seething Song, and Pentad Prism to quickly land a Hive Mind. Once Hive Mind is in play, the deck plays a Pact to force the opponent to copy it. When the opponent can’t pay for the Pact during their upkeep, they lose the game. Intervention Pact and Slaughter Pact will sometimes do the job, but Pact of the Titan is the best one to use for this purpose. Pact of Negation can work, but since it requires a spell as a target, it takes some maneuvering (such as countering your own spell).
The biggest advantage this deck has over the other combo decks is its resiliency to hate. Most decks have very few cards, if any, to sideboard in against Hive Mind. Having access to four maindeck Pact of Negation helps the deck force the combo through, with the added benefit of stopping opposing combo decks. Pact of Negation is one of the best cards you can have against Storm, and Slaughter Pact is especially good against Birthing Pod‘s combo. Although I have yet to commit to this deck, it is currently my favorite deck in Modern, and I’ll be working on it more this week in preparation for Grand Prix Columbus.
Testing Modern for the GP this past week has been a lot of fun, and Modern is quickly becoming one of my favorite formats ever to play. The abundance of decks that are tournament playable makes it a much harder format to figure out, and the sheer volume of legal cards means the power-level is also very high. I’m very much looking forward to playing more of this awesome format in Columbus, and in the future!
Thanks for reading,
greyknight7 on MTGO