You can read the comprehensive guide to Humans in part 1 here.
Having the right list is obviously a big part of any event. But your in-game decisions are a bigger, if not the biggest, part of your tournament. With any deck, it can be difficult to figure out what kind of opening hands are good and when to mulligan. Learning how to sequence, the order in which to play your spells, and when should you break from your usual plan is also crucial. It’s difficult to master any of these things in a format as complex and wide as Modern except by trial and error. Hopefully this guide can save you a little bit of that time.
Sequencing and Mulligans
Mulligan decisions with Humans follow a few rules. You should probably send back a seven-card hand without one of your twelve 1-drops. Modern is a fast format and you need to get on board to keep up. You should be a lot less picky with your six-card hands. You can function with few lands, but you’re still a deck with Champion of the Parish and Thalia’s Lieutenant, so you need enough actual cards that say “Human” on them in order to power up the Champs and Lieutenants.
One-landers with Aether Vial or Noble Hierarch are usually keeps if they can also deploy something on the 2nd turn. For example, the hand of Cavern, Vial, two Images, and 3-drops looks like it’s only a little risky, but it actually doesn’t do anything until turn 4 and you should mulligan. A hand of Cavern, Vial, Champion of the Parish, and four 2-drops needs a lot less to go right. In post-board games where you know your 1-drop mana accelerant might be vulnerable, you should be more conservative with your one land Vial/Noble hands.
Just like with mulligans, there are some rules you follow when sequencing with Humans, but there are some exceptions to be aware of as well. Given the option, you lead with Aether Vial 99% of the time. You should ignore this heuristic if your hand wants to go Noble into 3-drop, but those are very rare. You will only do this if your opponent has threats that must be Reflector Mage’d, such as Thing in the Ice, or if your hand has multiple threes and no 2s. The hand of Vial, Cavern, Cavern, Noble, Mantis, Mantis, and Image, is one of the few hands where I would forgo the turn-1 Vial. It’s often card disadvantage to wait on your Aether Vial, so when in doubt, you should play Vial first.
Between Champion of the Parish and Noble you’ll want to play Noble first most of the time. A common opening is Noble into Champion and a 2-drop. If you have three 1-drops you can open a 1-drop into two 1-drops. It’s usually correct to take this line if it is afforded to you, but sometimes on the draw against combo you might have to disrupt them on turn 2. If your opponent has just cast Baral, you have to play Thalia on your second turn. You don’t have a choice.
There are some tricks with Aether Vial and the stack that are useful to know. The most common is to respond to the enters-the-battlefield trigger of Thalia’s Lieutenant to get an extra counter. This comes up a lot when you draw Vial and Lieutenant. Note that if you curve Vial into Champion of the Parish and a Lieutenant, you don’t actually get this “extra counter.” You’ll end up with either a pair of 2/2s or a 3/3 and a 1/1. It’s usually best to evenly divide the counters in this scenario unless you think they have a specific card like Pyroclasm.
Modern’s Most Popular Matchups
Sideboarding guides are infamously popular. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard someone ask to see a deck list, then follow it up with, “How do you sideboard?” I think most players want the easy way out. It is nice to go in with a sideboarding plan and stick to it, but it’s way more important to have a plan for the whole match. What cards are important in game 1? What cards are bad? What is your opponent’s sideboard plan and how should you adjust? What if your opponent plays an unexpected card? It’s important to know how to sideboard, but it’s even more important to know what your sideboard decisions are trying to accomplish.
The mirror is all about power and toughness. Things come down to Lieutenant, Mantis Rider, and Champion of the Parish, often in that order. Being on the play with an Aether Vial is usually not beatable, unless you draw more of the three relevant creatures than they do. You want to make sure to maximize the Lieutenant triggers, and save your Phantasmal Images to copy Lieutenants. Don’t offer trades with Champions or Lieutenants even if you’re getting a 2-for-1 out of your potential attack. Your 4/4 Champion of the Parish is worth more than their Thalia and Meddling Mage, so wait to pump it further.
Keep in mind that Reflector Mage is often not as effective as it looks due to Aether Vial circumventing its “no cast” clause. Meddling Mage also suffers from an Aether Vial problem, but it’s poor in the matchup in general due to both players having the same cards. Although, I’ve heard horror stories of twenty-turn games where neither player can cast anything because they both have Meddling Mage’d all of the relevant threats in each other’s decks. So keep in mind that some pre-board games play out that way. Usually I would name the impactful cards that are not in your hand and hope they are in your opponent’s hand. Deciding what to cut is easy. Take out all the Meddling Mages and Thalias. What to bring in depends on your list. Staticaster, Whirler Rogue, Deputy of Detention, Militia Bugler, Dismember, and sometimes Auriok Champion can all come in depending on your exact configuration.
Against Tron, you’re basically trying to aggro them out because your disruption is not that impactful. Traditionally, Tron is slightly weak to aggro, so do your best impression of a burn deck. If you do draw Freebooters and Meddling Mages, it’s usually better to try to stop their haymakers rather than their Tron setup cards, so in the dark, name Oblivion Stone and not Sylvan Scrying. There are occasionally situations where you can cut their mana, so use your best judgement. For sideboarding, Thalia is okay on the play, but too slow on the draw. Generally they will side in creatures and their best draws ignore Thalia. Deputy of Detention is better than Reflector Mage because you can sometimes stop Oblivion Stone and it handles Wurmcoil Engine about the same. This is where you want Damping Spheres.
Izzet Phoenix is basically all about Thing in the Ice. Your matchup against U/R Control is really good. You slow down their spells with Thalia and Freebooter, and your creatures can grow out of Lightning Bolt range. What your deck is not good against is a 7/8 that bounced all your creatures. Because of this, the matchup is really swingy. Can they play a Thing and flip it? Do you have Reflector Mage? The only card that comes close to to Thing in the Ice is Pyromancer Ascension. That card is easier to beat because you do a good job of cutting specific spells. Thing in the Ice only needs four of any card, but Ascension needs two pairs, which is easier to stop with Meddling Mages and Kitesails. This is one of the few matchups where I consider cutting Mantis Riders. Arclight has a lot of ways to deal 3 damage to a flyer and you want to bring in your other 3-drops, so your curve is a consideration.
Dredge is an interesting matchup. It has a lot of problem cards for the Humans matchup, but if you set up your battlefield properly the Dredge deck has no outs. Conflagrate is Dredge’s best tool against you, so step one is to Meddling Mage it. It’s very difficult to win game 1 without stopping this card. Thankfully, a lot of your sideboard cards randomly have applications versus Dredge. Izzet Staticaster takes care of their X/1s indefinitely, Deputy of Detention can lock down swathes of their creatures, and Auriok Champion slows them down to an absurd degree if you get two copies into play. In fact, Auriok Champion is so powerful against Dredge that your plan after board against them should be to try to deck them by locking them out of combat and staying above burn range with Auriok Champions. Dredge recently moved to Engineered Explosives and I bet this was part of the reason why.
U/W Control seems like a bad matchup on the surface. They are a deck based around sweepers and you are a creature deck. Surprisingly, you have a lot of game against mass removal. Your disruption suite is pretty good at stopping expensive sorceries like Supreme Verdict. Your plan is similar to the plan against combo decks: slow them down with Thalia, Meddler, and Kitesails, and kill them with Champion, Lieutenant, and Mantises. Aether Vial is at its absolute best in this matchup. The flash aspect gives you way more strategic options and U/W Control is one of the few matchups where the uncounterable aspect of the card comes into play. One specific interaction to know is between miracles triggers and Aether Vial. You can respond to the trigger with a Freebooter or Meddling Mage to stop your opponent from casting Terminus. It makes Aether Vial even more insane.
One lesson I learned in this matchup is not to attack with your hatebears sometimes. It can be a disaster to lose a Meddling Mage or Gaddock Teeg to a flash threat like Vendilion Clique that would otherwise lock them out from casting spells.
Sideboarding is somewhat straightforward, but there is one quirk to know. Your worst card is obviously Reflector Mage, which is awkward versus Snapcaster Mage and Celestial Colonnade. It lacks targets. I side my Dismembers in against U/W Control because they usually bring in two Baneslayer Angels, which are otherwise huge headaches. I would describe U/W Control as a good matchup, but only once you know the ins and outs. It’s very easy for one mistake to cost you the game. Trust me. I’ve made them.
Humans emerged as a way to attack a Modern metagame of Eldrazi and Grixis Death’s Shadow, but it turns out that the deck has a lot of staying power. Unlike other Modern decks, it’s difficult to hate out. You can steal any matchup with a fast aggro draw, which means you’re never a huge underdog. A flexible sideboard lets you tune your list from week to week. Overall, Humans is the type of deck that rewards playing it for a long time.