The Modern metagame since the Pro Tour is constantly shifting and updating. While we saw a few new decks at the MOCS, the players on MTGO and the Grand Prix around the globe have painted a clearer picture of where the metagame is moving. I’ll explain how I understand this data, and show you what I’m working with for Grixis to adapt to these changes. Note, this is all being written going into Hartford. I’m not attending this tournament, but if I were, I would of course be playing the Grixis control list at the end of the article!
The Rise of the Top Two
For the first time in a while, Modern feels like it has a clear top two decks to target: Hollow One and Humans. These two decks are resilient, able to apply pressure quickly, and are disruptive to opposing strategies. They are not, however, infallible. If you want to beat Hollow One, you can play a deck to completely smash it. If you want to beat Humans, you can. Before trying to beat these decks, it’s important to understand what they’re trying to do and what has caused them to rise to prominence.
Humans is a disruptive deck disguised as an aggro deck. This deck attacks you from many angles, taking away key spells with Kitesail Freebooter and Meddling Mage, taxing your mana with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, playing a flash game with AEther Vial to keep you guessing, all the while providing beatdown thanks to Champion of the Parish and Thalia’s Lieutenant. The low land count of the deck as well as Horizon Canopys allow the deck to compete with decks with fists full of removal.
Attacking this deck is most effective through sweepers. Trying to fight them with one-for-ones isn’t a feasible strategy. If you drag the game out, they will find more answers. So you need to find a way to keep the board clear and recurring sources of card advantage. All the while, you need to be cognizant of your life total. This deck doesn’t have Lightning Bolt, but Mantis Rider and Kessig Malcontents (while the latter is becoming less popular) function as ways to close the game from difficult situations.
The Humans deck preys on the fact that the combo decks of the format tend to depend on one piece of interaction. I such, I wouldn’t consider playing Scapeshift and Storm right now unless you have a variety of spells to answer Meddling Mage/Freebooter/Thalia. All the while, playing all of these cards cuts down on the potency of your combo. Humans cropped up when Storm became the talk of the town. There were control decks like Jeskai, but they way they were built heavy on counterspells with lots of four-ofs and damage-based removal, making it so that some hands were difficult for them to catch up and answer.
If you want to beat Humans, you want a deck that does one of the following:
• Dumps your hand quickly and goes over the top of their strategy (Bogles, Lantern)
• Contains board sweepers (Damnation, Supreme Verdict, Engineered Explosives, etc)
• Can grind into the late game with spot removal (Jeskai, Grixis, Esper)
Hollow One is a somewhat disruptive deck (Most versions have Collective Brutality, some have Thoughtseize over Bolt), but mostly an explosive graveyard deck. Unlike Dredge, which cannot realistically win without its graveyard, Hollow One just needs to discard cards a lot of the time. The power cards for this deck are difficult to interact with, and allow the deck to power into the mid and late game with sizable creatures.
The key to this deck’s rise is the lack of interaction. Burning Inquiry and Faithless Looting are incredibly difficult to prevent from doing their thing. Tack on the fact that Hollow One only needs these cards to be discarded (If you Leyline of the Void, the discard game action has still taken place, and the cost is reduced). Finally, there’s Street Wraith. These are the big three cards that allow this deck to “combo off,” enabling turn-2 Gurmag Anglers (do you remember when we were complaining about this guy with Stubborn Denial from Death’s Shadow?), turn-1 Hollow Ones, and a recursion plan with Flamewake Phoenixes and Bloodghasts.
This deck really became popular after Hollow One’s printing. All the cards were there, but the deck needed a payoff. I’d argue you could build this deck without the Phoenixes, Bloodghasts and Flameblade Adepts. I don’t know what you’d replace them with, but these are not the cards that make the deck “tick.” These are the cards that allow the deck to grind against a prepared opponent with Dismember and Path to Exile at the ready. They allow the deck to recoup the time lost to casting cards like Goblin Lore, and the card disadvantage from Looting and Inquiry. This deck preys on slower decks without overwhelming late games. It has game against most of the field as a product of providing such a quick clock. So how do you fight it?
• Decks that invalidate the size and quickness of Hollow One’s creatures (Bogles, Lantern)
• Graveyard removal effects (Rest in Peace, Leyline of the Void, Nihil Spellbomb)
• Decks with many exile effects (White-based control decks)
What does that mean I think you should play this weekend? I think Lantern is actually a great choice, as is Bogles. Both decks get destroyed by the third most popular deck Tron, but I think Tron is slightly behind both Hollow One and Humans just based on their speed.
Updated Grixis Control
What would I be playing if I were in Hartford this weekend? I’d be playing Grixis Control, no shock there, but specific card choices are always interesting. I’ve been trying out plenty of different cards. Some to success, others to very little. Sadly, Jace has been on the “little success” side of it, but I’m trying out a build with him paired alongside his Legacy friend, Young Pyromancer.
Here’s what you can see me playing with later on this week!
This list is all over the place in terms of its answers, but I’m in the process of figuring it out. The game against Humans is really solid, which is no shock thanks to all of the Commands, and even a main-deck sweeper now. In talking to my friend Tannon Grace, we discussed adding a copy of Liliana, the Last Hope to the sideboard to pair with cards like Fulminator Mage and Big Game Hunter to attack specific decks, using Thought Scour as both fuel for the graveyard and to find specific bullets.
The Young Pyromancers are the biggest new addition to the deck. They’re there to help against both R/G Eldrazi and Hollow One, which I would expect to both be popular, and a part of the winner’s metagame. These decks don’t have many evasive threats (outside of Flamewake Phoenix and Reality Smasher), so if you can lock down the board state, once people take out their removal against you, you can try and leverage Pyromancer to make enough blockers to give you the time to turn the game around. This is still a work in progress, but it has felt pretty strong through the first few iterations while not costing me the entire sideboard against other matchups.
I’ll be back later on this week to show off Grixis Control one last time before Dominaria and we’re blessed with what looks like one of the best sets in a long time for crazy ideas!