I’ve been jamming a lot of Modern lately in preparation for both the upcoming Pro Tour and Grand Prix Santa Clara where I’ll (most likely) be the Modern third of my team. This has led me to try a ton of different decks to get back up to speed, and I’ve come to a few conclusions. Without further ado, here are the top 5 mistakes Ipeople make when it comes to deck selection and construction with Modern.
5. Worrying About Individual Decks at the Grand Prix Level
Certainly this is one I hear a lot when it comes to deck selection in Modern. People are worried that the deck they like can’t ever beat some other deck. I’m here to tell you that that is not a problem! One of the great things about Modern is that the format is incredibly diverse—at GP Oklahoma City, I played against 11 different decks in 12 rounds, spanning the whole gamut from big mana decks to small creature decks to fast combo decks.
According to MTGGoldfish, there is no single deck that makes up more than 7 percent of the paper Modern metagame, so my experience at the GP doesn’t sound like it was out of the ordinary. If you have a bad matchup or two, they’re unlikely to be a particularly large part of the metagame anyway, so you’re only expected to play against each a few times at the very most. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be mindful of your matchups when constructing your deck though. You still need to take care and make sure that your sideboard is cohesive and that you have a plan for every matchup you might play if you want to succeed. Just realize that sometimes the best you can do is improve from 25 percent to 30 percent post-board and don’t try to derail your entire sideboard in pursuit of winning a single matchup.
4. Not Having a Plan for Individual Cards
Modern may be a format with incredible deck diversity, but there are still a handful of individual cards that see a ton of play. Fatal Push, Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, Snapcaster Mage, and Thoughtseize all appear in over 25% of Modern decks and you should have a plan for beating decks that mix and match them. It’s not super important that you have a good matchup against Grixis Death’s Shadow in particular, but if you end up playing a deck that has a hard time with a combination of Snapcaster Mage and efficient removal spells, you could end up with an early exit at your event.
Even pro players sometimes fall into traps like this. Take for example the deck that Matt Nass played at GP Oklahoma City: R/B Vengevine/Death’s Shadow
R/B Vengevine/Death’s Shadow
Looks like a pretty powerful deck, right? While it is capable of some explosive starts, this deck has a huge problem with Tarmogoyf. It has no removal to speak of and can often have an army of 4- and 5-power creatures stuck unable to attack through the powerful 2-mana creature when it gets up to 6 toughness. Tarmogoyf may not be the same ubiquitous creature it used to be—there are still an awful lot of them being played at any given Modern tournament and I would want to at least have a plan for how to get through them (to be fair to poor Matt, this deck does have a decent swarm plan, but Tarmogoyf is still a big problem).
3. Playing Worse Versions of Other Decks
This is a pretty common deckbuilding error that people make in all formats, but because of the individual power level of cards in Modern specifically, it comes up more frequently. The root cause of people doing this is misidentifying what is actually powerful about the deck they’re playing. Take for example Black-White Tokens (I know this list is pretty old, but I think it illustrates my point perfectly).
The deck technically wins with hard-to-interact with threats, but I would argue that the real strength of the deck comes from the cheap interaction in the form of Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, and Path to Exile. There happens to be another deck that can play all of these cards and puts a much more effective set of finishers around them: classic Abzan.
Now there are clearly some advantages to playing B/W Tokens over a traditional Abzan deck, but I don’t think many people would disagree that Abzan is the more powerful deck. The step that people might miss if they trick themselves into playing B/W Tokens is that the kind of expected field where B/W Tokens is likely to thrive is also one where Abzan is well positioned, and in that kind of field you probably want to just play whichever Thoughtseize deck is abstractly more powerful.
2. Not Trying New Cards
This is a classic mistake in nonrotating formats. Whenever new cards are released, there’s a chance that they interact in very powerful ways with older formats, but it can be difficult to buckle down and adopt the new cards into your existing decks, let alone do the tough legwork of creating a whole new deck.
I can promise you that doing that legwork is well worth it. My biggest Modern successes have all come after the release of new sets with cards that turned out to be quite strong in Modern. First was GP Portland where Matt Nass and I added the newly-released Voice of Resurgence to our Birthing Pod deck and were each rewarded with a Top 8 (and I was lucky enough to win from there!). I think that we were some of the only people in the room playing with that card that weekend and it was absolutely nuts how good it was when people hadn’t yet adapted their lists and play styles to it. There are a ton of other great examples of this kind of innovation paying off—Burn adding Eidolon of the Great Revel at Pro Tour Fate Reforged, Eldrazi at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, and Traverse the Ulvenwald in Death’s Shadow at GP Vancouver.
The thing to takeaway here isn’t that there’s always going to be some new card that’s busted in Modern, but that there are real percentage points to be gained by figuring out how cards from the newer sets fit into existing archetypes (or create new ones!).
1. Putting Too Much Interaction Into Your Combo Decks
This is a lesson that people seem to need to relearn with each different combo deck that picks up in popularity in Modern. Clearly adding interactive cards like Fatal Push and Lightning Bolt to your combo deck costs you some amount of speed because you have to both spend time drawing those cards instead of combo pieces, and mana casting them. Theoretically you should gain some of that time back because your interaction slows the opponent down by at least that much, hopefully more.
Where you get into trouble is that in a format as diverse as Modern, you’re likely to run into such a wide variety of decks that sometimes the interaction you add to your deck doesn’t line up well and you end up costing yourself the capability to combo off. The prime example of this lately is adding Lightning Bolt to the main deck of Valakut. Valakut really wants to hit its land drops every turn because that’s the primary win condition, and every card you add to the deck that’s not a land, a “fatty” (Scapeshift, Primeval Titan, or Hour of Promise), or a card that searches for a land should have a really high barrier for entry in the deck.
When you’re building a deck like that, one that values hitting a critical mass of key pieces, remember that the cost of adding cards other than those pieces is high and that you need to be careful not to dilute your deck too much.
All right that’s all I’ve got for now. Hopefully these tips help you level up your Modern game. Did I miss anything you think is a super important Modern mistake that people make? Let me know in the comments!