One of the joys of poring through PTQ results is seeing what your fellow players have brought to the table. In general, we’re looking to harvest little tweaks and adjustments on known archetypes, or to see the ebb and flow of familiar designs. However, in all but the most stifled formats there will be a continuous trickle of odd deck lists, comprising everything from wacky custom brews through resurrected designs of years past and that deck from a month ago that everyone just forgot.
This week, I’m going to present an even dozen of these outliers, decks that have just one or two appearances in the forty-odd PTQs for which we’ve had reported results so far. They represent an intriguing challenge to you as you make your deck choice – are they diamonds in the rough that people aren’t thinking to play, or were their top eight appearances flukes?
I’ve peppered the entries with some of my own opinions about each archetype, but I’ll leave it to each of you to figure out which of these really, really for real make the cut.
The two archetypes contributing to your aggro wing of the outlier group represent clear opposite ends of the aggro spectrum. Would you rather be swinging with Goyfs and tossing burn spells or coming over the top with a Conscripted Knight?
Our example R/G Aggro list comes from the February 19 PTQ in Milan. Notably, its pilot, Marco Ellena, is responsible for both appearances by R/G Aggro in reported PTQs so far, as he also top eighted the Turin PTQ with almost the exact same list.
R/G Aggro (as played by Marco Ellena)
This is essentially Red Deck Wins splashing green for [card tarmogoyf]Goyf [/card]and the flashback on Ancient Grudge, with a side helping of Seal of Primordium. It has the advantage of being relatively straightforward and of having few to no situations where you’re going to be unable to cast your spells.
The corollary, of course, is that “straightforward” is not “easy.” You will spend a lot of your time with this style of deck having to do some very exacting burn deck math. You may also get stuck facing serial copies of Timely Reinforcements, which can ruin your day past your ability to win the game.
I was surprised to see that neither of Ellena’s decks featured copies of Shrine of Burning Rage. As Phil Yam showed at the last Bay Area PTQ, you can win a game with a very (very) large Shrine activation.
So far, the most successful aggro strategies in the Modern PTQ season have focused on simply being as fast as possible. This has relegated most “big creature” strategies to decks that embrace their midrangey nature, like Jund or Bant. Mythic, however, sticks to the big critters and the aggro approach.
Mythic (as played by Jake Miller)
Jake’s deck is a very pure expression of the Mythic game plan. It features eight one-drop mana dorks and four copies of Lotus Cobra, as well as a nine-pack of three drops…and then very little else other than point removal, the ever-versatile Bant Charm, and the big finish package of Eldrazi Conscription and Sovereigns of Lost Alara.
I’m a little skeptical of Mythic as a general contender, especially if you expect to be facing down an abundance of Affinity and Jund. Back when both were Standard legal, Zaiem described the Jund versus Mythic matchup as being “like punching a baby” (in that lovely bit of imagery, Mythic is the baby and Jund is the guest of the week on Law and Order: SVU). The Mythic deck has the dual problem against Affinity that it is slower and Affinity has those Galvanic Blasts ready to kill the mana dorks before the deck can really pick up speed.
I do really like the choice of four Path and four Bant Charm in the main deck. Again, pure expression of the plan. If you are going to try the Mythic plan, I think your best bet is to follow Jake’s league and go all-in.
The current Modern metagame has been a pretty good place for midrange decks, at least in terms of acquiring top eight appearances. That peculiar midrange combination of disruption and attrition is well placed in a format where, at least in the first few weeks, about half of your opposition consisted of aggro and combo decks.
We might want to class Naya in with aggro based on the name alone, but the Naya we’re seeing in Modern is much more of a midrange deck than its Standard forebears.
Naya (as played by Bjorn Lampinen)
The first question I’d want to ask if you’re considering running Naya is “Why am I not just playing Jund?” Whereas the Bant versus Jund choice kind of comes down to whether you prefer countering spells or using discard effects, the choice in the “Why Naya?” question comes down to having access to white rather than black.
The upshot is that Naya decks in general don’t have nearly the ability to generically disrupt an opponent’s game plan that Jund decks have. Instead of having access to Inquisition of Kozilek and Liliana, you’re forced to rely on Gaddock Teeg, Ethersworn Canonist, and Torpor Orb – decent choices, but not as generally applicable as “you discard that card right there.”
On the other hand, you have access to a mountain of aggressively oriented card advantage, especially if you run a version featuring Huntmaster of the Fells, as Lampinen did. This may be a solid choice if you expect to have to fight your way through a horde of Jund and Bant decks.
Traditional B/G Rock
It may seem curious in this Modern metagame to run a “traditional” black/green midrange deck instead of going for full-on Jund or Loam. This contender from February 25th Magic Online PTQ highlights why you might stick with oldschool B/G midrange:
”Rock” (as played by Jun.I)
This build eschews the red – and thus Bloodbraid Elf – of Jund, opening up the design space for those Profane Commands, which can recur your persistent and undying beaters after they’ve already died twice. Profane also gives the deck a possible “instant win” that normal Jund decks lack.
I’m actually surprised that Jun.I didn’t run one or two copies of Eternal Witness in this deck. The Witness is a natural fit with Profane Command, since you can recur Command with Witness and, if Witness dies in combat in the meantime, recur that Witness with your next casting of Profane Command…when then lets you recur the Profane Command that you just used to bring back your Witness.
We should pay special attention to the other thing that you gain from going traditional B/G instead of Jund – the ability to run four copies of Tectonic Edge. If you imagine this deck running head-to-head against an opposing Jund build, you can see attrition elements trading all day long…and the B/G deck pulling ahead based on its ability to assassinate the Jund deck’s lands.
This category, also quite reasonably called “Aggro-Control,” is the stomping ground many different variations on decks that start with four copies of Delver of Secrets. Outside of those Delver decks, there’s been one lone entrant in the tempo category….
Early in the season, this list graced the top eight of of a PTQ in Moscow (notably, a PTQ won by a Delver list, and featuring one of the few Zoo appearances in a PTQ top eight so far…):
Merfolk (as played by Sergei Bulatov)
It’s hard to say what Merfolk’s “business case” is Modern. A traditional Merfolk deck in Legacy does the best in taking on combo and control decks that are amenable to being disrupted and which can be beaten down by the little fish people in the meantime.
In Modern, it’s not clear whether a Merfolk deck can successfully stave off an Affinity opponent long enough to get the synergistic Merfolk army up and running. Similarly, the wall of attrition and card advantage from a typical Jund deck also seems like a big issue for Merfolk.
Or, in other words, I’m suspicious that Bulatov’s top eight performance will be the only appearance of Merfolk in a PTQ top eight this season. Bulatov certainly came wielding a solid example of a Merfolk deck, but I think you’d want to avoid going for the fish unless you have good reason to think that your local metagame will not have an abundance of Affinity.
Being dominated by Faeries, Cawblade, and Tron, the Control category also has two major “also rans” that both tend to qualify as pet decks for a subset of players. I know the second one has a special warm spot in my heart.
Like silver bullets? Like searching your library?
Here you go:
Teachings (as played by Gijs de Goeijen)
Although my heart clearly belongs to the other control outlier, I generally approve of any control deck that runs the full four copies of Snapcaster Mage.
de Goeijen’s take on Teachings is reasonably well equipped to deal with the default Affinity clock, and probably reflects what you have to do if you want to run a relatively reactive control deck like this one. Specifically, there are six point removal Instants coming in at the one- or two-mana mark, which should keep you around long enough go for your endgame.
That endgame might be a little on the weak side, however, since it follows the very traditional control approach of going for the win with the bits and pieces you have lying around after you’ve expended most of your effort on stuffing your opponent’s game plan. That means you’re hoping to achieve the full measure of control that lets you go for a somewhat gradual win via Snapcasters and Creeping Tar Pits, with the occasional game where you stick a Teferi at end of turn and then Teachings up that one Grave Titan and flash it in as well.
My personal favorite control deck, or just “Modern deck generally,” Gifts remedies the issue of the “grinding control win” by stapling a big, combo-style finish onto a control start. There are, naturally, a lot of directions one can take the Gifts deck. Here’s one that popped up in the same Dutch top eight as the Teachings list we just saw:
Gifts (as played by Bas Melis)
Although my own preference has been to pack both [card iona, shield of emeria]Iona [/card]and [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card] in the main deck so that I have maximum game against the full range of opponents in game one, it’s perfectly reasonable to take Melis’ approach here and just run the Grand Cenobite. Most decks in Modern have their game plans either significantly or completely locked out by a resolved Elesh Norn, making it your go-to game-ending option.
Melis’ intriguing customization in this build is the inclusion of four copies of Serum Visions. I can understand the impulse, as it’s something I’ve considered before. A deck like Gifts really likes having the kind of card selection that the banned duo of Ponder and Preordain used to bring to the table. Although it’s not as good as its more recent cousins, Serum Visions nonetheless lets you filter through your cards so that you hit your anti-aggro or disruptive cards when you need them, and it’s another way to dig for a game-winning copy of Gifts.
The most abundant and varied collection of PTQ outliers appears in the combo category. This probably isn’t a real surprise, as we have yet to settle on an “optimal” combo deck for Modern – the case is not nearly as clear as that for Affinity as the default best aggro deck, for example. And with so many combo options in the broad Modern format, it’s highly likely that your pet combo deck might actually be good enough to win, but too unfamiliar to have wide uptake by your fellow players.
Ad Nauseam decks feel the most “combo” of the five archetypes that round out today’s article. After all, the deck is about mana acceleration, card selection, and having essentially no plan B. That’s not to say that it’s not resilient, of course – just that you don’t get to change your mind about that whole combo finish and just beat down with Tarmogoyfs instead.
Ad Nauseam (as played by Larry Wellington)
In case you’re unfamiliar with how this deck works, the general plan is to resolve an Ad Nauseam, draw your deck, and then kill your opponent via some mechanism that benefits from having all your cards in your hand. Some decks pick just one of those kill conditions, but Wellington built some redundancy into his by having both Conflagrate and Lightning Storm.
If you’re of a mind to run an Ad Nauseam deck, the real question to ask is why you want to run Ad Nauseam rather than Storm or Splinter Twin. My impression has been that Ad Nauseam is not a resilient strategy, unlike a Storm deck which can, for example, fail to kill its opponent but nonetheless kill every creature on the battlefield and buy enough time to try again.
On the other hand, “Ad Nauseam….draw my deck…kill you” is its own special kind of joy.
Traditional Dredge already lacks many of the tools that made it a terror in older Extended (and current Legacy) – Cabal Therapy, Ichorid, and others. The Modern banned list also carved off Golgari Grave-Troll and Dread Return…but Dredge card remain, and as we’ve seen in Standard lately, Unburial Rites is a decent Dread Return alternative.
Dredge (as played by Lucas Faley)
That said, this archetype has a fair amount of clunk, and neither of the versions appearing in top eights exactly get rid of that. The deck has two basic paths to victory, involving either reanimating a fatty or cranking out a bunch of Vengevines. The tricky part is that Rites is still kind of mana intensive (at least for a deck that wants to spend a lot of time dredging cards away rather than drawing them) and getting those Vengevines to recur requires actually casting creatures. In practice, there weren’t as many opportunities to cast Gravecrawlers out of the graveyard as I would have liked.
Overall, the Dredge deck in its current incarnation might best be described as inconsistent…which may make it a good PTQ deck, since you’ll either go big or go home.
Like the Legacy version, except you actually have to cast Hive Mind.
Hive Mind (as played by Emanuele Giusti)
Hive Mind is the outlier in today’s group that I have the least to say about. The Modern take on Hive Mind ends up feeling like it’s just worse than Ad Nauseam or Splinter Twin, as you need to find multiple cards and you have to cast a six-mana spell, which is a pretty clunky win condition when an Affinity deck might kill you in a few short turns.
At the PTQ in San Jose last month, Josh Silvestri sat down between rounds and said that he’d just played against a deck that he’d had trouble identifying…until it cast Polymorph. My intelligent reply to that was, “What now?”
Polymorph (as played by Gabe Guenley)
Although there are some curious individual card choices in Gabe’s deck, there are actually a lot of cool things going on here as well that could form the basis of a tuned-up, more durable Polymorph deck.
Most importantly, this is not so much a dedicated Polymorph deck as it is a hybrid Polymorph-Tokens build. Much as Legacy Dredge includes both “Dread Return for [card iona, shield of emeria]Iona[/card]” and “lots of zombies and Ichorids” as paths to victory, the Polymorph deck can swing in like traditional Tokens and then, once the opponent has (over)committed to killing off that strategy, go for a Polymorph. Conveniently, you can also slide an [card emrakul, the aeons torn]Emrakul [/card]under one of those Windbrisk Heights, giving you yet another path to transitioning from “little dudes” to “Chthulhu” as your path to victory.
I’d be inclined to up the Windbrisk Heights tally to the full four, and to toss in a few shocklands to solidy the mana base. Shrine of Loyal Legions and Elspeth, Knight-Errant might also both be fine additions, possibly pushing out cards like Promise of Bunrei, which is kind of clunky, and Flayer Husk, which I can attest is an abysmal topdeck.
I’ve been trying to get a Summoning Trap deck to work in Modern for a while now. I’d had trouble balancing “having an alternate game plan” with “get giant monsters into play,” and hadn’t been willing to try the archetype in a real tournament. As it happens, the actual problem was that I didn’t push hard enough on the whole “getting giant monsters into play” thing.
Trap (as played by Nichola Montaquila)
Like other Trap decks before it, this take on the Trap archetype is a sort of ramp/aggro frame that is heavily oriented toward getting giant monsters onto t he battlefield. I really like the addition of Through the Breach. Breaching an [card emrakul, the aeons torn]Emrakul [/card]is obviously a tremendously bad day for your opponent…but it turns out that Breaching a Primeval Titan is also pretty solid, as you can then search up some more Bridges or Heights…and it gives you a decent backup plan for those games when your Jund opponent keeps killing off all your early critters.
The one change I’d probably still make for a build like this is to fit in, if it works in playtesting, the pairing of Kessig Wolf Run and Inkmoth Nexus. This adds an extra dimension of threat to that Breached Titan, since you can get not just a potential win condition (say, Heights or Bridge), but a straight up “I will win in one or two swings” win condition.
So what are you playing?
The PTQ results so far tell us that the majority of you will be playing one of the better known archetypes and not something out of this pool of rare appearances. That said, I’d be happy to go into battle with at least some of the archetypes I talked about today…and the lists that work for you may cover a completely different part of that selection.
So what are you taking to your next PTQ?
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