Modern is in a period of tremendous change. War of the Spark and Modern Horizons are probably the two most impactful set releases in the entire history of the format. Bridge from Below was recently added to the banned list. And on top of everything, we have the new London Mulligan rule to shake things up.
It’s certain that Modern in August will look different than Modern in July, which looked different than Modern in June. That said, it can be worthwhile to slow things down and take a magnifying glass to the format in any snapshot of time. In doing so, you learn more about the forces that drive Modern. You keep your head above water when it comes to the veritable flood of changes, rather than getting completely overwhelmed and lost in them.
For this article, I’ve looked at three significant Modern tournaments from the weekend of July 6th. The first was the Magic Online Modern Challenge, which happens weekly and always brings a high level of competition. The next two were the Red Bull Untapped Qualifier tournaments in Florence and Brussels. This is an exciting new tournament series that will culminate in a Finals event on August 4th. You can read about the series here. (Note that the qualifier events were split-format and featured three rounds of Sealed Deck in addition to Modern Constructed).
Here’s the breakdown of the twenty-four decks from the top eights of these events:
- 5 Hogaak Bridgevine
- 4 Eldrazi Tron
- 3 Izzet Phoenix
- 3 Jund
- 3 UW Control
- 2 Devoted Druid Decks
- 1 Humans
- 1 Mono-Red Phoenix
- 1 Infect
- 1 Amulet Titan
The winning decks were Izzet Phoenix, Jund, and Humans.
The following Monday, the ban hammer dropped on Bridge from Below, so we need not concern ourselves with the Hogaak Bridgevine decks. Outside of that, these results offer a remarkably good cross-section of the Modern format. This is especially true if you pencil in Dredge as a replacement for the Bridgevine decks (although hopefully Dredge’s metagame share will be smaller than Bridgevine’s was).
The Future of Modern
Eldrazi Tron is the fashionable way to play with Urzalands right now, but don’t sleep on the traditional green-based Tron decks. The boogieman of Modern is still out there, and with a couple of powerful new weapons at its disposal. Don’t be surprised to see Traditional Urzatron make a comeback at any time.
Beyond that, the most notable absence is that of Mox Opal. I’m not sure if the best way to play with Mox Opal is Affinity, Hardened Scales, Lantern, Thopter/Sword, Cheerios, or something completely different. But I do know that Mox Opal is an amazing card, and the best Modern players will be continuing to look for ways to abuse it.
Now that we’ve covered what’s missing, let’s take a closer look at what actually showed up.
Davide Longhi’s Eldrazi Tron (Top 8 Red Bull Untapped in Florence)
1 Blast Zone 1 Cavern of Souls 3 Ghost Quarter 2 Adarkar Wastes 1 Sea Gate Wreckage 4 Eldrazi Temple 4 Urza's Tower 4 Urza's Mine 4 Urza's Power Plant 4 Matter Reshaper 4 Thought-Knot Seer 4 Reality Smasher 2 Endbringer 3 Walking Ballista 4 Karn, the Great Creator 4 Expedition Map 2 Mind Stone 3 Dismember 2 All Is Dust 4 Chalice of the Void Sideboard 1 Tormod's Crypt 1 Basilisk Collar 1 Grafdigger's Cage 1 Torpor Orb 1 Walking Ballista 1 Liquimetal Coating 1 Crucible of Worlds 1 Ensnaring Bridge 1 Mycosynth Lattice 2 Spatial Contortion 4 Leyline of the Void
Eldrazi Tron represents raw power. Its cards are individually more powerful than those of basically any other deck in the format, and it has multiple routes to playing them ahead of schedule. The Urzalands plus Eldrazi Temple mana base makes for volatile draws and difficult mulligan decisions, but it also makes it difficult for your opponent to know what to expect from you.
The biggest new addition to Eldrazi Tron is Karn, the Great Creator. Karn fetching Mycosynth Lattice is essentially a one-card instant-win combo assuming you have enough mana (generally no problem for a Tron deck). Alternatively, Karn can grab your key hate cards like Tormod’s Crypt or Ensnaring Bridge. Having this built into your main deck gives you game against extreme strategies, which means a fighting chance to win game one against virtually anything.
The typical weakness of a “Wish Sideboard” like this is that you have fewer slots for cards that you can bring into your deck after game one. However, a purely colorless deck has limited options anyway, and the result is that Eldrazi Tron is one of the best ways to play The Great Creator, which is undeniably one of the most powerful printings that Modern has seen in years.
Javier Dominguez’s Izzet Phoenix (1st Place Red Bull Untapped in Florence)
2 Mountain (343) 3 Island (335) 2 Steam Vents 1 Fiery Islet 4 Spirebluff Canal 4 Scalding Tarn 1 Polluted Delta 1 Flooded Strand 4 Arclight Phoenix 4 Thing in the Ice/Awoken Horror 2 Aria of Flame 4 Lightning Bolt 3 Surgical Extraction 1 Lava Dart 1 Flame Slash 4 Serum Visions 4 Thought Scour 2 Sleight of Hand 2 Panoptic Mirror 4 Faithless Looting 4 Manamorphose 2 Finale of Promise 1 Magmatic Sinkhole Sideboard 2 Ravenous Trap 2 Leyline of the Void 2 Spell Pierce 2 Force of Negation 1 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer 1 Narset, Parter of Veils 1 Alpine Moon 1 Blood Moon 1 Flame Slash 1 Abrade 1 Anger of the Gods
Izzet Phoenix is a prime example of the dominant blue midrange deck. It has creatures, removal, card advantage, and a virtually unbeatable nut-draw. Two, actually! My big complaint about the Standard Arclight Phoenix decks has always been that their power scales so dramatically with the number of Arclight Phoenix that happen to be shuffled into the top 20 cards at the start of the game. However, the Modern version also gets access to Thing in the Ice, which is an astoundingly powerful card that’s virtually impossible to overcome if you’re a creature deck that can’t remove it.
But the best thing about Izzet Phoenix is that, on top of everything, it has incredible card selection and access to potent sideboard cards, which means that it’ll have the tools to beat virtually anything you try to throw at it. Izzet Phoenix was one of the best decks three months ago. It took home a Red Bull Untapped trophy while Hogaak Bridgevine was at the peak of its power. And now a card from its most serious competitor has been banned!
Look at some of the new tools the winning decklist employed. Finale of Promise represents a general notch up in power level; Magmatic Sinkhole is a clean answer to previously problematic cards and Aria of Flame is a win condition that circumvents both creature removal and graveyard hate. In the sideboard, Force of Negation rounds out the disruption package while Saheeli, Sublime Artificer and Narset, Parter of Veils provide two additional action cards.
It’s safe to say that Izzet Phoenix isn’t slowing down. If it does dip in popularity, it will be because Mono-Red Phoenix (which is also a good deck) eats up part of its metagame share. It won’t be because Modern players suddenly learn how to beat it. And trust me that beating a player like Javier Dominguez piloting this deck is no mean feat.
Anton de Smet’s Jund
1 Ghost Quarter 1 Wooded Foothills 1 Blooming Marsh 1 Raging Ravine 4 Verdant Catacombs 1 Forest (347) 2 Overgrown Tomb 3 Bloodstained Mire 1 Stomping Ground 1 Mountain (343) 2 Swamp (339) 1 Blood Crypt 3 Blackcleave Cliffs 1 Nurturing Peatland 3 Dark Confidant 2 Hexdrinker 2 Seasoned Pyromancer 4 Tarmogoyf 2 Scavenging Ooze 2 Bloodbraid Elf 1 Plague Engineer 3 Inquisition of Kozilek 3 Thoughtseize 3 Wrenn and Six 3 Lightning Bolt 1 Abrupt Decay 3 Liliana of the Veil 2 Assassin's Trophy 1 Nihil Spellbomb 2 Fatal Push Sideboard 1 Ashiok, Dream Render 2 Fulminator Mage 1 Plague Engineer 3 Leyline of the Void 1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance 1 Weather the Storm 2 Collector Ouphe 1 Surgical Extraction 1 Anger of the Gods 1 Ancient Grudge 1 Damnation
Jund might just be the best it’s been since the banning of Deathrite Shaman. I’ve been playing the deck myself and loving the new additions of Wrenn and Six and Plague Engineer. You can expect a full write-up sometime later in the month, but until then let’s appreciate the victory of Anton de Smet and see what he did to achieve it.
Our champion seems to be using Wrenn and Six as a value card rather than an engine or a driving force in his list. With no cycling lands and only one Nurturing Peatland, the new planeswalker will mostly be allowing him to hit his land drops and shoot down one-toughness creatures. But that’s more than enough to make this card great! De Smet also played a singleton copy of Ghost Quarter, which has great appeal in a world where you have Wrenn and Six and many of your opponents have Urzalands. Still, I’ve always been a hater on this particular land, and I believe that Jund needs its colored mana badly enough that Ghost Quarter for a second copy of Nurturing Peatland would be an easy swap for me.
Two copies of Hexdrinker is intriguing and is something that most other Jund players have not adopted up to this point. I absolutely love that De Smet isn’t shackled to the less-than-rational “four or zero” school of deckbuilding. I’d much rather draw one Hexdrinker, one Dark Confidant, and one Scavenging Ooze than draw multiples of any one of them.
Finally we come to Seasoned Pyromancer, which I haven’t yet made up my mind about. It occupies the same space as Bloodbraid Elf, which means that it’s an ideal play once you’ve already emptied out your hand. However, while Bloodbraid provides a largely random effect on the board, Pyromancer draws you into more answers, which you can use in whatever way you judge to be best. On the other hand, when Pyromancer is your turn 3 play, the forced cycle of two cards is sometimes inconvenient. And of course, the double-red mana cost is not trivial.
Martin Zimmermann’s U/W Control
6 Island (335) 2 Plains (331) 3 Celestial Colonnade 4 Field of Ruin 4 Flooded Strand 2 Glacial Fortress 2 Hallowed Fountain 1 Prismatic Vista 4 Snapcaster Mage 1 Vendilion Clique 2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor 3 Narset, Parter of Veils 1 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria 2 Teferi, Time Raveler 1 Detention Sphere 3 Cryptic Command 2 Force of Negation 1 Logic Knot 1 Spell Snare 1 Mana Leak 4 Path to Exile 2 Surgical Extraction 1 Condemn 2 Supreme Verdict 1 Timely Reinforcements 4 Opt Sideboard 1 Engineered Explosives 2 Celestial Purge 1 Ceremonious Rejection 1 Dovin's Veto 1 Stony Silence 2 Monastery Mentor 4 Rest in Peace 1 Timely Reinforcements 1 Vendilion Clique 1 Wrath of God
Much of what I said about Izzet Phoenix will also be true of U/W Control. It was good before the Hogaak era, it was good during the Hogaak era, and you’d best believe it’s going to be good after the Hogaak era.
Oh, and by the way, not shown in today’s metagame analysis is the fact that U/W placed 1st and 3rd the previous weekend at Grand Prix Dallas-Fort Worth!
U/W Control gets to round out its permission suite with the new Force of Negation. However, the biggest new additions come from the War of the Spark planeswalkers: Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils. These provide the deck with stronger proactive plays while improving the matchups against slower decks.
Marco Fabrizi’s Devoted Vizier (Top 8 Red Bull Untapped in Florence)
2 Temple Garden 2 Overgrown Tomb 1 Godless Shrine 2 Horizon Canopy 4 Verdant Catacombs 3 Forest (347) 1 Plains (331) 2 Gavony Township 4 Windswept Heath 3 Kitchen Finks 1 Shalai, Voice of Plenty 1 Walking Ballista 1 Scavenging Ooze 2 Duskwatch Recruiter/Krallenhorde Howler 1 Tireless Tracker 4 Birds of Paradise 2 Viscera Seer 4 Vizier of Remedies 2 Voice of Resurgence 2 Eternal Witness 4 Devoted Druid 2 Noble Hierarch 2 Finale of Devastation 2 Chord of Calling 2 Eladamri's Call 4 Collected Company Sideboard 2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar 2 Vivien, Champion of the Wilds 1 Sin Collector 1 Remorseful Cleric 1 Collector Ouphe 1 Plague Engineer 1 Knight of Autumn 1 Eidolon of Rhetoric 2 Path to Exile 1 Kataki, War's Wage 2 Assassin's Trophy
Collected Company decks (or any similar take on creature-based combo decks) have been huge winners from the new printings. This archetype has been less-than-dominant in the past couple of years but is an absolute titan when it comes to the history of Modern.
I’ve often thought that if I could turn the clock back, I would try to become a lifelong master of these decks. Just like my beloved Jund, they can play multiple different roles and give you a lot of control over the game, and they’re infinitely customizable. Right now is a great time to be a Devoted Druid player.
Marco Fabrizi’s take on the archetype involves four different ways to search up combo pieces and silver bullet creatures. Collected Company and Chord of Calling are no surprises, but Finale of Devastation and Eladamri’s Call are brand-new on the scene. This is not even to mention the built-in selection of Duskwatch Recruiter, Viscera Seer, and Vivien, Champion of the Wilds out of the sideboard.
The most appealing thing about this deck is that you can sit there developing your game and focusing on value. But if ever you don’t like the way that’s going, you can pull the trigger and go for your combo. Opponent threatening a Scapeshift or an Ugin, the Spirit Dragon for next turn? Sounds like it’s time to win the game now!
This is a common theme among successful Modern decks. Devoted Druid, Eldrazi Tron, and Izzet Phoenix all have the quality that they’re good at playing longer, fairer games, but are also powerful enough to close the game out of nowhere and offer you a free win once in a while when you get your best draws.
Modern is a complex and diverse format. There’s a lot to know! I hope this breakdown of the Red Bull Untapped results has helped you understand the format at this particular snapshot in time, and I hope it puts you in prime position to understand where it might go from here.