The Pro Tour in New Mexico may have been held in the desert, but I was adrift on a sea of untimely mulligans. 16 mulligans in 16 games on Day 2, to be precise. Magic, like the sea, can be unpredictable and cruel.
Complaining that the sea was unfair won’t right your ship or return your treasure chest to the surface. Lingering on bad beats won’t bring back those lost match points. The danger and the risk are part of what makes the adventure worth undertaking.
Sometimes your boat sinks. Complaining won’t bring it back. All you can do is learn from your mistakes and set to work at building a better boat for the next adventure.
With that in mind, the next tournament on my radar is the Modern RPTQ. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to set sail once again.
The Basics of the Modern Metagame
The first thing to understand about Modern is that it is a huge format with a ton of decks. The format may contain significantly fewer cards and sets than Legacy, but there are somehow way more decks to account for. Modern doesn’t have Brainstorm and Force of Will to thin the herd and cull the weak. Modern has Cull the Weak, but nobody plays it because it isn’t good.
Modern doesn’t suffer (benefit?) from having a defined best deck or strategy through which all rivers flow to the sea. Instead, the Modern metagame is defined by a fleet of good decks that operate at relative parity with one another. There are lots of powerful, linear decks with good and bad matchups across the format, which means that in order to master the format, there is much to learn.
Since the format has too many decks to test everything, the format rewards experience. You’ll often need to take what you’ve learned in the past and apply it on the fly because there simply are not enough hours in the day to test every possible matchup and scenario.
The five decks I’ve tuned up and laid out here have the highest percentage of the winner’s metagame according to MTGTOP8. These are likely the five decks (not factoring in personal expertise with the deck) that would give a player the best chance of winning based on matchups and overall power level. These are the decks to know inside and out.
The Tier 1 Gauntlet
While the format has so many decks that I believe it is nearly impossible to account for everything, there are certain elements of predictability. These are the tier 1 strategies and the decks you’ll be most likely to face off against given a large enough sample size.
Tier 1 decks are top dog for a reason. These are the decks that simply have the highest upside in the format based upon matchups and overt power level. These are often the best choices to play and certainly the best decks to practice and plan for.
I’ve put together a composite list for each of these archetypes with a brief description to create a solid gauntlet to test against for the event. While a composite list often lacks the precision and expertise of a deck that is finely tuned by somebody who has put in hundred of reps, it is nonetheless a great place to master the basic strategy and interactions during testing.
5. U/R Storm: 5% of the Winner’s Metagame
Storm is a great deck and fits all of the qualifications of a deck that I’d be interested in playing. Storm is fast, nimble, and resilient. It also has lots of good matchups without the downside of too many horrendous ones.
More like Gifts Taken By Force.
In a pinch, no matter how poor the matchup is, there is always the possibility of “just winning anyway.”
There are three good ways to attack Storm.
- Graveyard hate – Gifts Ungiven into Past in Flames is the best way that Storm has to win the game. Storm can still hypothetically win through graveyard hate but it makes life much more difficult. At the very least, attacking their graveyard will buy you time.
- Mana Taxing – Thorns and Spheres and Thalias, oh my! Every Turbo Xerox engine is based on the premise of playing lots of cheap cantrips in order to filter through a ton of cards. If you double or triple the mana cost of every spell, these decks fall apart. A Storm deck cannot function through an unaccounted-for Sphere of Resistance effect.
- Counterspells – The weakest of the three but still an option. Counterspells backed by a clock is ideal. Permission, like graveyard hate, will buy you time, but is only a temporary solution.
One last tactical note about Storm is that it is a great racing deck because it is pure speed. There are very few decks that can realistically race Storm without interacting, which puts the deck at a great place in the metagame.
4. Valakut: 6% of the Winner’s Metagame
Valakut is almost always good. The deck is linear and powerful. It’s capable of extremely fast kills and is fairly resilient to a lot of typical combo hate—the deck has proven to be a trooper of the format.
Valakut is always part of the Modern landscape.
Valakut is so focused on “doing the thing.” BLAMO.
The main-deck Relic of Progenitus is a concession to the fact that Storm and Death’s Shadow are major players in the metagame right now.
There are three good ways to attack Valakut:
- Race them – Valakut is fast, but not that fast… there are lots of decks that can hit critical mass first but few that can hit it as consistently. One way to win is to beat Valakut to the finish line.
- Blood Moon – Valakut’s combo finish is blanked by a little red moonlight on the battlefield and Moon is a big game. Unfortunately, the Valakut player will likely be hedging against Blood Moon after sideboard. Summoner’s Pact for Reclamation Sage gives them a lot of answers and they have a lot of ways to find basic Forest to play it. Nonetheless, it will buy you time to race and if they can’t answer it they lose.
- Land Destruction – Valakut needs lots of lands in play to actually win the game and one way to stave off their endgame is to keep them from hitting six lands to cast their Titan. Attacking their lands is a way to hold Valakut back and a sustained attack plus some land destruction can buy you enough time to finish them before they can go off.
3. Affinity: 7% of the Winner’s Metagame
Affinity has always been a tier 1 deck. Few decks can match the pure synergy and speed of Battlebots in Modern.
It plays Moxen. ‘Nuff Said.
Affinity is the premier aggro deck of Modern and has a ton of flexibility and synergy. It has one of the fastest nut draws and is capable of grinding out a long game if necessary. The deck is difficult to master but has a high enough “He-Haw” factor that it is also a great deck to jump in on.
Affinity is a great game 1 deck because it is so focused and linear that it doesn’t tend to have many bad or unwinnable matchups out of the gate. But things get worse after sideboard because there are great sideboard options against it.
There is one good way to attack Affinity:
- Sideboard cards – People always ask me, “What beats Affinity?” My snap response is always, “Stony Silence.” Sideboard cards are the key to defeating the deck consistently because there are so many efficient and completely devastating options available. There is no card any deck can play that is so devastating as a Stony Silence against Affinity. The artifact deck can bring in answers to these brutal sideboard cards (Thoughtseize or Spell Pierce) but the key to defeating the deck is to have great cards to bring in like Stony Silence, Kataki, War’s Wage, Shattering Spree, Vandalblast, and Ancient Grudge.
Affinity is an all around great deck and if you can avoid running into those sideboard cards for a few rounds, chances are that you will make Top 8.
2. Death’s Shadow: 7% of the Winner’s Metagame
Death’s Shadow has lost a little steam over the past month but don’t underestimate or count it out!
Pretty sure Stranger Things 2‘s villain is based on this card.
The deck is dangerously consistent and packs a ton of raw power. Fatal Push takes the strategy into the top echelon of the format. Death’s Shadow is the deck I’ve played the least out of the five listed and so I decided it would be better to just show a winning list rather than one I’ve tuned:
Brucaliffau, 1st place in an MTGO Competitive Modern League
Brucaliffa’s list is gas. I love the 4 Opts. I wouldn’t change a thing in the 75.
There are four ways to beat Death’s Shadow:
- Race – Death’s Shadow is different from the other four “top decks” in Modern because it is built to interact rather than “go off.” Unfortunately, Shadow is good at making life difficult for the opponent with its swath of removal and disruption. Nonetheless, the deck does a fair amount of damage to itself, which makes closing easier provided you don’t lose to the Shadows in the meantime.
- Go Wide – Death’s Shadow is focused on trading 1-for-1 and simply having the best threat on the board in the form of a shadow or a delve creature. The deck struggles with grindy cards like Lingering Souls and Liliana of the Veil. If you can go a little bigger and grindier it is possible to gain the upper hand.
- Cards they can’t deal with – Granted, Death’s Shadow can Thoughtseize anything… yet, the deck has a tough time with protection from black or hexproof creatures that dodge Fatal Push and Terminate. Mirran Crusader, Chameleon Colossus, and even Bogles can give the deck fits.
- Take them to Mono-Browntown – Death’s Shadow also has a very difficult time with the Eldrazi and Tron strategies. Chalice of the Void and/or going over the top with Wurmcoil or Karn can leave the deck drawing dead in a hurry. The rise of Eldrazi Tron (and resurgence of regular Tron) is a direct consequence of the success of Death’s Shadow.
Death’s Shadow is always a great selection for a tournament because it’s flexible and difficult to hate out. While the deck has the most “ways to beat it” according to this article, it is also worth noting that it is more difficult to pull these modes off. Death’s Shadow’s interaction (permission and hand disruption) can rip those sideboard cards right out of your hand before you ever get to play them, which makes the deck more resilient to hate than the other more linear decks.
1. Eldrazi Tron: 9% of the Winner’s Metagame
Eldrazi Tron is one of my favorite decks to play in Modern. I really enjoy the gameplay from the Tron side and it is full of cards that I like to play with. I’m biased.
With that being said, the numbers don’t lie.
The metagame has seen a surge of Eldrazi Tron as a reaction to the success of Death’s Shadow. Here’s my list:
Eldrazi Tron has a bunch of good matchups and a bunch of bad matchups. In particular, it is insanely good against creature decks because it goes way over the top and can easily grind them out. It also has a good matchup against “fair decks” like Jund or Death’s Shadow because it can simply out-mana and out-muscle them in the mid-to-late game.
The bad matchups are fast combo decks that require interaction on the stack. Storm, Ad Nauseam, Dredge, and Valakut all fight on an axis where Eldrazi has limited interaction without colored spells.
Affinity is also a difficult matchup because they are much faster and more nimble than Tron.
There are two ways to beat Eldrazi Tron:
- Don’t interact with them – Eldrazi Tron has a few “good” ways to interact with combo decks in the form of TKS and Chalice. Outside of those two cards, the deck is clunky and has little interaction. The best way to defeat Eldrazi is to play a deck that is good against it like Affinity or a fast combo.
- Attack their mana – Eldrazi Tron is mana greedy. I made room for Mind Stone and extra copies of Wastes in my deck in order to hedge against people who want to attack my mana. Even with these hedges it is difficult to beat a Molten Rain or Mwonvuli Acid-Moss. The deck has a few ways to tutor for Wastes but Blood Moon turns off Tron and Temple, and can lock the deck out of colorless mana.
As I stated in the introduction, Modern is a big format and five decks hardly scratch the surface. But if you approach the format from a “work smart and not hard” mindset, I think that the decks covered here do cover a tremendous amount of ground. 44% of the winner’s metagame (according to MTGTOP8), to be precise.
Whatever you choose to play, understanding how that deck matches up against these five decks is a must.
I wish you all the best of luck in the upcoming RPTQ and Last Chance PPTQs. Now, let’s go get those blue envelopes!