Unfortunately, this is going to be my last article until after the Pro Tour, because tomorrow I leave for California to start my preparation. I figured it would be good to give everyone some insight into my starting point for Modern, which so far has only been my prep for the Players Championship and grinding it out on Magic Online. I have a pretty good handle on the format so far, and I’m going to provide a run down on some of the top decks, and why I think they are performing as well as they are.
Red/green Tron is one of the most polarizing decks in the format, because it tries to fight the game on an axis that basically no other deck can compete with. It’s the only deck in the format with this kind of consistency (note: all 4-ofs) and reliable search. It’s not a stretch to say that it can assemble Urzatron every single game. It has access to Pyroclasm and Relic of Progenitus, which, while unassuming, do quite a bit in this metagame.
Pyroclasm is a great answer to Dark Confidant, and Relic of Progenitus can handle Tarmogoyf. So, simply by coincidence this deck is decent against Jund. Logical thinking would tell you that Blood Moon is an awesome sideboard card against this deck, but in my experience it’s actually underwhelming. You basically never get to just cast a Blood Moon and watch them flounder with no outs. Oblivion Stone gives you serious trouble, as they can cast it off all Mountains. Once it’s down you can’t really mount an offense to try to win before they can recover from the Blood Moon, and on top of that I lose a number of games to a Wurmcoil Engine.
This deck, like many others, has access to sideboard Ancient Grudge. The only truly effective sideboard card against this deck is Sowing Salt, and it costs four. Oftentimes Tron can just produce a Karn Liberated or Wurmcoil Engine before the red player has enough mana to cast Sowing Salt, rendering it useless.
Jund is public enemy #1, similar to Pro Tour Nagoya with Tempered Steel. If your deck doesn’t have reasonable game against Jund, then you need to seriously reconsider your options. I like this deck a lot because of all the 1-mana hand disruption. When I playtested Scapeshift against it I felt almost hopeless, as I could only ever play when he let me, and being able to consistently cast Inquisition of Kozilek and strip my two-drop ramp spell made many of my hands very bad very quickly. Often you look at an opener and say ‘well this sucks if he has discard, but if I mulligan I’ll be even worse against discard.’
This list is a bit different than normal Jund lists, and I chose it because it’s the list Cedric Phillips has been running in Modern Dailies while streaming. He included 4 Geralf’s Messengers over Kitchen Finks for added percentage points in the mirror match, and Messenger does this quite well. I can’t imagine Messenger is an amazing card in a field of UW Control and Birthing Pod but neither is Finks—so no big loss there.
Kitchen Finks is kind of awesome at recouping the life loss with stuff like Thoughtseize, fetchlands, and Dark Confidant, but as you can see Cedric has opted for Blightning over Thoughtseize. In a format where people are trying to eek out card advantage in long grindy games with stuff like Cryptic Command, Bloodbraid Elf, and Snapcaster Mage, cards like Blightning and Geralf’s Messenger are awesome. You make the game about having real solid threats that are tough to remove and provide two-for-ones. But my main concern is that Blightning is only as good as your opponent allows it to be. I worry that I will somehow convince myself that a deck like this is good, and show up round 1 and get paired against Storm, Splinter Twin, or anyone trying to do something unfair. In this scenario, Blightning and Geralf’s Messenger are the worst cards in your deck and you would trade anything for a Thoughtseize. Notice that this deck also has access to sideboard Ancient Grudge.
I actually like Affinity a decent amount in this format. It is a lot like Tron in that it does something so different than what everyone is expecting. My main issue with Affinity is that many of the decks in the field are sideboarding Ancient Grudge, which is such a huge pain to deal with—notice this player opting to include Welding Jar as a defensive measure against it.
I also don’t like how Affinity can be so inconsistent. Some games you just start with Memnites and Signal Pest, or Mox Opal and Cranial Plating and just attack for 6 on the second turn of the game—something no other deck can do. But often you get opening hands that do nothing—either you have a Mox Opal and can’t quite get metalcraft without a lucky draw step on the first turn, or you have too many Ornithopters and not enough Cranial Platings. I found myself being forced to mulligan a lot and hating life when I had a five-card hand just as bad as my seven.
One thing that is really sweet about this deck is it has four Inkmoth Nexus and four Blinkmoth Nexus, which basically amounts to 8 more spells than any other deck, albeit pretty weak spells. Having all those extra creatures in grindy games is hugely relevant, and one of the main reasons this deck is so heavily advantaged against Jund and Delver.
It’s pretty hard to flood out so you win long games, the problem sometimes is getting to a long game when they have drawn Ancient Grudge and your remaining cards power level is about an Ornithopter. I actually hate Arcbound Ravager—this may sound like blasphemy to some, but in my experience it has been poor. It doesn’t just win with Disciple of the Vault like it used to, and you can’t Aether Vial in Arcbound Workers and get extra value. On top of all that, every deck in the format runs a mix of at least Lightning Bolt, Spell Snare, or Path to Exile, not to mention Doom Blade. When I play with Ravager, it makes me say, “oh well I have to go for it,” and then they blow me out with removal I feel like an idiot. It either leads to making bad decisions or making good decisions and having a two-mana 1/1 that you never use—what a card!
This is an update on the Scapeshift list PV used to make Top 8 of a Grand Prix ages ago. I can’t imagine why this person opted to play Sleight of Hand over Serum Visions—I mean I know WHY, but I still think it’s incorrect. When I tested RG Valakut, I was in love with Search for Tomorrow, it does what you want it to do at such an efficient price, and it also has pretty awesome synergy with Khalni Heart Expedition, a card I am also surprised isn’t in this deck. I guess moving from RG to RUG you lose the synergy of Khalni Heart Expedition going raw with a bunch of Mountains and actual [card valakut, the molten pinnacle]Valakut[/card], but it still is a nice source of card advantage which decks like this usually don’t have.
Cryptic Command sort of fits the bill for card advantage, but this deck isn’t usually using Cryptic to play a long game and two-for-one opponents to bury them in card advantage. This deck uses Cryptic to stay alive long enough to cast Scapeshift, and can also use it as a way to protect Scapeshift from other countermagic. Remand and Peer Through Depths provide a wonderful dynamic for the control player, with a catch-22 since you can’t play around a counterspell well if they are going to get value no matter what. There is nothing more satisfying then having an opponent tap 3+ mana for a spell, hoping to not get Remanded, and seeing them sorely disappointed. I think Remand is just horrific card design and overpowered, but I guess that’s a different article altogether. I also respect the [card meloku the clouded mirror]Meloku[/card] in the sideboard, I’m a huge fan of that card and often play it when it isn’t even remotely good.
Well I would be crazy to try and say these are the only good decks in Modern. If I had more time to write about decks I would certainly include UW Control—similar to what Finkel played at the Player’s Championship—and there is a host of Delver Decks as well as Zoo to consider. These are all decks I will be considering for the Pro Tour and no doubt extensively playtesting against. I would go into detail about what cards from Return to Ravnica I except to make a big splash in and against these decks, but I feel that information it too valuable to divulge in an article—secrecy is more important than I have given it credit for in the past.
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