This weekend, MagicFest Las Vegas will play host to Modern Madness. Over the past few weeks, people have voted on a 64-deck bracket to determine which decks will battle it out for supremacy; now that we have our Top 8, we’re going to find out which of them is the Absolute Best Modern Deck.

To help us do this, and as part of the weekend’s MagicFest coverage, eight heroes will assemble, pick up one of these decks, and fight to the bitter end. Five of those heroes have already been determined–Seth “probably better known as SaffronOlive” Waterman, Cedric Phillips, Andrea Mengucci, James Turner, and Gavin Verhey. The other three positions are up for grabs–qualifiers for them will be run throughout the weekend at MagicFest Vegas itself!

Even if we don’t have our eight players confirmed, we do have our eight decks. Today, we’re going to look at four of the archetypes that will be represented at Modern Madness!

The First Four Modern Madness Decks

(look for part 2 later this week)

Jund

Good Old Jund. Perhaps more than any other deck, Jund is a mainstay of the Modern format and represents a lot of what the format is about: powerful cards from throughout Magic’s history. Reid Duke recently wrote an exhaustive Jund primer, which is essential reading for anyone interested in Modern.

Jund by Reid Duke

1 Forest (347)
1 Mountain (343)
2 Swamp (339)
2 Raging Ravine
2 Nurturing Peatland
1 Stomping Ground
3 Blackcleave Cliffs
2 Overgrown Tomb
4 Verdant Catacombs
1 Blood Crypt
2 Wooded Foothills
3 Bloodstained Mire
4 Tarmogoyf
3 Scavenging Ooze
2 Seasoned Pyromancer
4 Bloodbraid Elf
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Thoughtseize
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Fatal Push
3 Wrenn and Six
4 Liliana of the Veil
2 Assassin’s Trophy
1 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Kolaghan’s Command

Sideboard
4 Leyline of the Void
2 Nihil Spellbomb
2 Ancient Grudge
3 Plague Engineer
3 Fulminator Mage
1 Collective Brutality

In all honesty, this looks like a pretty good field for Jund. The deck preys on creature-based strategies, and will be able to pick apart Merfolk, Elves, and Hardened Scales very effectively. Death and Taxes has disruption of its own, but its creatures still die real nice to Jund’s removal. A healthy discard suite is excellent against Storm, and Jund can grind just as well as Mardu Pyromancer. Izzet Phoenix might be a bit trickier, given their diverse and recurring threats. Overall, Jund looks to be quite well-positioned.

Merfolk

Given that Corbin Hosler has recently come on board as the content manager and editor here at Channel Fireball, is it any surprise that he’s immediately rigging CFB Twitter polls to get his beloved fish into the Top 8 of Modern Madness? In any case, Merfolk is ready to run with the big dogs at Modern Madness, and with a few key new inclusions, is a better deck than ever before (not that that was a high bar to clear).

Merfolk by Zachary Broderick

12 Island
1 Fiery Islet
4 Mutavault
3 Waterlogged Grove
4 Benthic Biomancer
4 Harbinger of the Tides
4 Lord of Atlantis
4 Master of the Pearl Trident
4 Merfolk Trickster
4 Merrow Reejerey
4 Silvergill Adept
4 AEther Vial
4 Force of Negation
4 Spreading Seas

Benthic Biomancer replaces Cursecatcher as the one-drop of choice, while Modern Horizons brought Force of Negation and blue Canopy lands–these are serious upgrades! It’s tricky to estimate Merfolk’s chances, however. Jund and Mardu have so much removal to fight through, while Izzet Phoenix will be tough given how little disruption Merfolk itself has. On the other hand, Merfolk should be able to race Elves and maybe Hardened Scales, largely ignores the disruption of Death and Taxes, and has critical interaction against Storm. It will be tough, but don’t count the fish out.

Izzet Phoenix

Aside from Hogaak (conspicuously absent from this Top 8–the deck hasn’t made itself many friends recently), Izzet Phoenix is probably the “best” deck in Modern at the moment when it comes to raw numbers. Consistent top finishes in the hands of superstars like Javier Dominguez have shown what this deck is capable of–it’s fast, resilient, and extremely consistent.

Izzet Phoenix by Javier Dominguez

1 Fiery Islet
1 Flooded Strand
3 Island (335)
2 Mountain (343)
1 Polluted Delta
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Spirebluff Canal
2 Steam Vents
4 Arclight Phoenix
4 Thing in the Ice/Awoken Horror
1 Aria of Flame
4 Faithless Looting
1 Finale of Promise
1 Flame Slash
1 Lava Dart
4 Lightning Bolt
1 Magmatic Sinkhole
4 Manamorphose
2 Pyromancer Ascension
4 Serum Visions
4 Sleight of Hand
3 Surgical Extraction
4 Thought Scour

Sideboard
1 Abrade
1 Anger of the Gods
1 Aria of Flame
1 Blood Moon
1 Force of Negation
1 Fry
4 Leyline of the Void
1 Narset, Parter of Veils
2 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
2 Spell Pierce

Another deck that has benefitted from Modern Horizons, Izzet Phoenix is a deck that is very difficult to effectively attack. With varied, resilient threats, the deck is never dead in the water. Uninteractive decks such as Merfolk and Elves will struggle against it, while Jund and Mardu will have to draw the right kind of interaction at the right time to fight it off. Death and Taxes could be very tricky, however, especially with cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and Storm and Hardened Scales can beat anything with a fast draw–especially decks that are a little light on disruption. Overall, however Izzet Phoenix has a decent chance to take down the tournament.

Hardened Scales

Losing in the finals of the last Mythic Championship, Hardened Scales has taken over as the premier artifact-based strategy in Modern. An extremely complex deck to play, this archetype demands a lot of its pilots, but can deliver the most ridiculous and busted starts you can imagine thanks to its namesake card, Hardened Scales.

Hardened Scales by Alvaro Fernandez Torres

1 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Darksteel Citadel
7 Forest (347)
4 Inkmoth Nexus
2 Llanowar Reborn
1 Pendelhaven
1 Phyrexia's Core
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Arcbound Worker
4 Hangarback Walker
2 Metallic Mimic
4 Walking Ballista
4 Ancient Stirrings
3 Animation Module
1 Evolutionary Leap
4 Hardened Scales
4 Mox Opal
2 Throne of Geth
4 Welding Jar

Sideboard
3 Damping Sphere
3 Dismember
4 Grafdigger's Cage
4 Nature's Claim
1 Torpor Orb

Hardened Scales is faster than both Elves and Merfolk, and relishes matchups with minimal interaction. Death and Taxes should also be a positive matchup, as D&T’s interaction is a little mismatched against Hardened Scales, while against Storm it very much depends on who can “go off” faster. However, Jund and Mardu will be tricky to beat, with all their creature removal, and Izzet Phoenix sometimes doesn’t have the speed to contest a good Hardened Scales draw. With a little luck and plenty of turn-one Hardened Scales, this deck is a reasonably strong contender.

We still don’t know the bracket for Modern Madness, so these matchups involve a lot of speculation. Of these four, I think Jund has the best chance of all eight decks–although the raw power of Izzet Phoenix could very easily propel it past all challengers. Merfolk is going to have a tough time, and the fate of Hardened Scales is difficult to predict given the volatility of its gameplan. I’ll be back next time to talk about the remaining four!