Some of you may know me, and some of you may not. My name is Reid Duke; I'm a long-time Pro Tour player and a longer-time lover of Magic. My breakthrough in the tournament scene was becoming the Magic Online Champion in 2011. Since that time, I've been a member of what is now Team CFB: The Pantheon.
I'd like to thank both those in charge of ChannelFireball.com and—even more importantly—you, the readers, for bringing me to the website. The writing team here is comprised of my friends, rivals, and role models, and I'm thrilled by the opportunity to be a part of it all!
But if you're like me, then the real reason you clicked this link was to hear about the exciting post-banning Modern format.
The bad news is that there is no clear best deck in Modern. The good news is that this means you can pick up the deck that best suits you, and if you put in the work to learn the cards, the sideboarding, and the matchups, you have an excellent chance of success! Here's the deck that I decided would best suit me for Pro Tour Born of the Gods.
Reid Duke's “Obliterator Rock” (42nd place)
2xUrborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
4xInquisition of Kozilek
1xVictim of Night
4xLiliana of the Veil
1xThrun, the Last Troll
1xSword of Light and Shadow
Get This Deck
As is frequently the case, The Pantheon did not agree on a single deck to play for this event. (Again, I believe this had more to do with the Modern format and less to do with our particular team). It was only Matt Costa and myself who chose Obliterator Rock, but the deck performed well for both of us. Matt put up a stellar 8-2 Constructed record while I went 7-2 and intentionally drew the final round.
For me, the appeal of this deck is in the healthy suite of discard spells, and the ability to answer any troublesome permanent Modern might throw at you. In a world of powerful creatures and even-more-powerful combos, these qualities are very valuable.
The exact deck list that I played was geared toward beating Zoo. Kitchen Finks serves as one of the best ways to ensure your survival against a fast Zoo deck, but is not one of the more potent threats against a deck like Birthing Pod. Similarly, I very much valued Inquisition of Kozilek as a maindeck card in matchups like Zoo, Affinity, and Burn. At times, though, the ability of Thoughtseize to strip a Birthing Pod, Scapeshift, or Cryptic Command can mean life or death.
Since Zoo did not perform especially well at the Pro Tour, it's not far-fetched to expect a small dip in its popularity. Therefore the Kitchen Finks and Inquisitions of Kozileks could become flexible slots for someone who wants to improve other matchups at the cost of being slightly weaker against Zoo.
That said, Zoo is a powerful and popular strategy that will never completely die out, so long as Wild Nacatl remains legal. I recommend trying my suggested deck list as a starting point, but be open to making some small changes as you get more experience with the deck and the format.
Let's go over the matches one at a time. In my descriptions, you may begin to see a trend: creature matchups tend to be quite favorable, while most everything else is very close to 50/50.
Shaun McLaren won the tournament with a particularly controlling build of UWR. W/U/(x) controlling decks versus B/G/(x) midrange decks has been a defining rivalry in Modern for years. The matchup hovers very close to 50/50 depending on the builds of each deck.
In the particular case of Obliterator Rock, the more reliant on creatures and burn the UWR deck is, the more the matchup will favor B/G. On the other hand, the more focused on control elements and card drawing, the more the matchup will favor UWR. The most difficult matchup would be a pure UW deck with Think Twice, Sphinx's Revelation, and Supreme Verdict. I'd expect Obliterator Rock to be a small favorite over Shaun McLaren's deck, mostly because of how heavily it leans on burn to control opposing creatures.
Modern is always full of surprises. Even within a single archetype, there can be half a dozen distinct ways to build a deck, and within those there can be any number of flexible card slots. You never know exactly what your opponent is going to throw at you! This is why it's important to be willing to adjust your sideboarding based on all the information you've gathered over the course of the match. For example, Abrupt Decay is a generally poor card against UWR, but I've recommended leaving in one copy in order to hedge your bets against a surprise Threads of Disloyalty or Sword of Feast and Famine. However, once you've seen one of these cards, you'll likely want to bring your Abrupt Decays back in for game three. If your opponent has multiple copies of Baneslayer Angel, perhaps you'll want Deathmark. If their removal all comes in the form of Supreme Verdicts and Wrath of Gods, maybe Kitchen Finks turns into one of your more effective creatures. It's important to be flexible in your sideboarding.
Thoughtseize is more or less a no-brainer against a blue control deck. Thrun, the Last Troll and Sword of Light and Shadow allow you to diversify your threats and put on more effective pressure in the mid- and late game.
The card that requires most explanation is Fulminator Mage. While it's fair to view Fulminator Mage as a hate card against Urzatron and Scapeshift decks, the real reason that it earns its slot is its flexibility. Fulminator Mage can come in off the bench any time you have unspectacular cards for the matchup in your main deck. I personally use Fulminator Mage in matchups ranging from U/W Control to Faeries to Affinity! One thing to remember is that Abrupt Decay and Maelstrom Pulse cannot protect you against manlands like Celestial Colonnade, so Fulminator Mage can wind up playing a rather important role in this matchup.
I recommend sideboarding out one land against UW decks for two reasons. The first is that the matches go long and come down to topdecks. You have time to draw out of an early mana stall, but a late-game flood will be deadly. The second reason is that you have potent threats that demand early Path to Exiles, so your opponent will wind up smoothing out your mana draws for you.
Due to Mr. McLaren's victory, UWR may pick up in popularity over the next month or two. BG Rock has the potential to become quite good in this matchup, especially if you're willing to make some rather drastic changes. If my top priority was to beat UW-based control decks, I would add Tectonic Edges to the main deck and replace my Phyrexian Obliterators with two copies of Thrun, the Last Troll and a maindeck Sword of Light and Shadow. Other options to consider are Wrench Mind and planeswalkers like Garruk, Primal Hunter.
Regardless of how you choose to construct your deck, this matchup will be a war, and careful gameplay will be the most important thing. Recognize that the UWR deck has the stronger lategame, and you'll need to get out to a fast start if you want your best chance of winning. Your single best card (if you can get her into play early) is Liliana of the Veil. Think ahead about what cards to discard and how to protect her from manlands and flash creatures. Take care to keep their Snapcaster Mages under wraps with Scavenging Ooze.
Though there would be some advantages to it, I recommend against cutting Phyrexian Obliterators because of their importance against Birthing Pod decks. Jacob Wilson placed 2nd in the Pro Tour with Melira Pod—the deck continues to be one of the best in Modern, and one of the most popular choices among top players.
Statistically, Obliterator Rock is a small underdog in this matchup. In practice, you'll usually lose to their best draws, but win when they stumble in some way.
My plan A is to keep their mana under wraps and try to pull ahead early with a Dark Confidant or a fast beatdown clock. This is my favorite way to play the matchup because Birthing Pod decks have far too many powerful things they can do with a lot of mana. Even when they don't have the actual card Birthing Pod, they have access to any number of powerhouse four- and five-drop creatures alongside the brutal Gavony Township.
Unfortunately, sometimes the game plays out in a way that you cannot stop their mana development, in which case you need to employ plan B, which is to go after their threats and hope to win the game before they can topdeck something—this will work sometimes, but is naturally much less reliable.
In either case, you can see the importance of closing the game fast. The challenge of this is that Birthing Pod decks play persist creatures, Wall of Roots, and lots of disposable mana dorks to block with. Sometimes it takes far too long to win a game with Tarmogoyf and Kitchen Finks, which is the reason why the essentially-unblockable Phyrexian Obliterator is so important.
Of the two most common builds of Birthing Pod, Kiki-Pod is marginally easier to beat because its mana curve is higher and it cannot easily kill a quick Dark Confidant. Liliana of the Veil is a little bit better against Kiki-Pod, which is convenient because Sword of Light and Shadow is a little worse and should probably be left in the sideboard.
Despite not putting a pilot into the Top 8, it would still be a mistake to enter your next Modern tournament without a good plan for beating Wild Nacatl decks. It's such an iconic and long-standing archetype that players who have had good experiences with it in the past, or those who simply don't have time to learn a new strategy, will gravitate toward it.
It's likely that “big” Zoo featuring Knight of the Reliquary and Noble Hierarch will be the more popular version of the deck for the foreseeable future. However, fast Domain Zoo with Tribal Flames will also be out there. Against “small” Zoo you should focus more on early defense and life gain, and against “big” Zoo you should focus more on creature mirror trump cards such as Batterskull, Swords, Phyrexian Obliterator, and the like. In this particular case, sideboarding will be the same against both versions.
In these games, you'll typically kill each others' first wave of creatures, and the game will come down to topdecks. Don't worry, this is the exact game plan of Obliterator Rock! You will be a favorite from this position because of your Treetop Villages, Liliana of the Veils, and your high concentration of no-questions-asked removal and creatures that can dominate a game on their own.
You'll be a favorite, but that doesn't mean you're guaranteed to win. It's important to squeeze every bit of value out of your cards by making sure you use the right piece of removal on the right creature, and avoiding unfavorable trades in combat. Try not to let your Tarmogoyfs and Scavenging Oozes die to burn, and try to make sure you get a good edict out of Liliana before your opponent finds a way to remove her from the board.
Splinter Twin (and Other Combo Decks)
Modern has a huge variety of combo decks and it can be difficult to prepare for each one. One of the reasons I love the black disruption shell is that you can omit overly-narrow cards like Rule of Law, Rest in Peace, and Torpor Orb in favor of the more universal Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek.
At the moment, Splinter Twin is the most popular combo deck, and Obliterator Rock is well set up to beat it between a healthy amount of discard, removal, and reliable threats.
This is another case where Fulminator Mage serves as a modest upgrade over your worst card. These combo decks frequently have trouble removing one large Tarmogoyf, so once you have a threat in play, you'd rather disrupt them in any way possible rather than add more threats to the board.
Against Splinter Twin and Scapeshift, hedge your bets by leaving in Maelstrom Pulse, because some players will try to trick you with transformative sideboards featuring cards like Batterskull. Also watch out for Blood Moon!
So that's the short primer on B/G Obliterator Rock. If you're looking for a well-rounded Modern deck to take into an open field, it might be for you.
Also I hope you've enjoyed my first article for ChannelFireball.com. I'll be starting as a weekly columnist and can cover a wide range of topics including Standard, Legacy, Sealed Deck, draft, deckbuilding, and general MTG strategy. Please feel free to get in touch through the comments section of my content, or contact me via my Twitter, @ReidDuke.