What You Need to Know about Modern for GP Columbus

Feature Article from Craig Wescoe
Craig Wescoe
7/19/2012 11:02:00 AM
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These past two weeks I’ve probably spent about a hundred hours researching, testing, brewing, and thinking about Modern. Such extensive preparation does not always translate to success when we’re talking about a single tournament, but it does most certainly translate into a breadth of knowledge about the format and plenty of stuff to talk about in an article about Modern. In this article I will do my best to communicate much of what I’ve learned about the format these past two weeks so that you too can be better equipped for success at Grand Prix Columbus. And even if you’re not planning to attend, Modern is a growing format with many interesting dimensions. Hopefully what I have to say about the format in this article will at least give you a sense of how exciting and fun the format is and why I plan to continue playing it even after the Grand Prix. In the conclusion I’ve also made mention of which decks are most affordable for players on a budget because I don’t want anyone to view cost as a barrier keeping one from playing such a great new format.


Conceptualizing Modern

Perhaps the most basic and yet, oddly enough, most difficult part about testing for Columbus has been gaining a conceptual understanding of how Modern as a format operates, and similarly how best to think about the current Modern metagame. While there are undoubtedly many different ways to conceptualize each, I’ve developed a position for viewing Modern and its current metagame that I feel is both useful and fitting.

To address the first, Modern is a cross between Standard and Legacy. Like Legacy, its card pool is vast enough to offer many different archetypes and plenty of answers to whatever problems the metagame presents. It’s also a non-rotating format where the only changes to the format are bannings, unbannings, and the quarterly addition of 300 or so new cards to the format, as we’ve just seen with the introduction of M13. Like Standard, the general power level of decks (even amongst the top tier) is very beatable. Due in large part to the effectiveness of the current banned list, the most powerful combo decks are weakened enough that they are still contenders for those who prefer to play combo, yet do not make it such that a player cannot play anything other than combo decks (or heavy anti-combo disruption decks). On the contrary, creature combat tends to be the focus of most Modern matches, despite some creature decks having built-in combo kills. As a whole, Modern feels like a bunch of high-powered Standard decks battling it out without the unwieldy feeling associated with Legacy of having way too many decks in the format to possibly prepare for all of them.

To address the second, Modern’s current metagame has five primary dimensions, at least amongst the top tier of decks, which I have characterized according to how each deck aims to end the game. There are a handful of primary decks for each dimension, with various minor offshoots. It starts to get a bit more spread out when we start to include fringe decks like Merfolk, Boros, Bant, Doran, Dredgevine, Reanimator, Zoo, Hive Mind, and others, but focusing on the most successful and widely played decks is a good place to start. So let’s do that.

Dimension 1: Target you with Burn Spells
Decks: Affinity, UR Storm, and Burn, UWR Delver

Master Affinity by Hiroya Miyamota
Finished 5th - 8th Place at 2012 Grand Prix Yokohama - 6/23
Main Deck
Sideboard
2 Arcbound Ravager
3 Etched Champion
3 Master of Etherium
4 Memnite
4 Ornithopter
4 Signal Pest
4 Steel Overseer
4 Vault Skirge
Creatures [28]
4 Cranial Plating
4 Galvanic Blast
4 Mox Opal
4 Springleaf Drum
Spells [16]
3 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Darksteel Citadel
3 Glimmervoid
4 Inkmoth Nexus
1 Island (234)
1 Mountain (242)
Lands [16]
Deck Total [60]


3 Ancient Grudge
1 Etched Champion
3 Relic of Progenitus
2 Spellskite
2 Torpor Orb
2 Welding Jar
2 Whipflare
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


The most played deck in Modern over the past couple months has been Affinity, and for good reason. It starts out by emptying its hand onto the board in the form of Ornithopter, Memnite, Signal Pest, Vault Skirge, Mox Opal, and Springleaf Drum. Then it looks to power up its board with Steel Overseer, Arcbound Ravager, Cranial Plating, Etched Champion, or Master of Etherium. Finally it looks to use Galvanic Blast (and sometimes Shrapnel Blast) either to clear a path for a large robot or to inflict those last few points of damage straight to the opponent. It typically accomplishes this around turn 4 unmolested, though fortunately there are many effective means of disruption for decks looking to combat Affinity.

I have found Ancient Grudge, Creeping Corrosion, Shatterstorm, Hurkyl’s Recall, and Stony Silence each to be highly effective, though none by itself cripples Affinity. The deck has some resiliency to each. It can quickly play out all its artifacts again post-Recall, drop a sandbagged Plating or Master post- Creeping Corrosion or Shatterstorm, or it can simply activate Inkmoth Nexus and start poisoning you out (if it hasn’t already begun to do so). It usually takes at least one of the above cards plus additional forms of disruption that your deck is probably already playing, naming: Path to Exile, Qasali Pridemage, Bant Charm, Spell Pierce, Lightning Bolt, or a tutored up Harmonic Sliver. There is also the option of combo’ing them out with storm or Kiki-Jiki before they can kill you, or gaining infinite life with Melira and then only having to withstand Inkmoth Nexus.

Past in Flames by Yann Blumer
Finished 5th - 8th Place at 2012 Grand Prix Turin - 3/31
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Desperate Ritual
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Grapeshot
4 Manamorphose
4 Past in Flames
4 Peer Through Depths
4 Pyretic Ritual
4 Seething Song
4 Serum Visions
4 Sleight of Hand
4 Thought Scour
Spells [44]
4 Island (253)
3 Misty Rainforest
1 Mountain (259)
3 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
3 Sulfur Falls
Lands [16]
Deck Total [60]


2 Dispel
3 Echoing Truth
1 Empty the Warrens
2 Gifts Ungiven
1 Pyroclasm
2 Pyromancer Ascension
1 Quicken
2 Seal of Fire
1 Vendilion Clique
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


While Affinity looks to dump a bunch of artifacts onto the table before burning you out, Storm decks look to fill their graveyard with a flurry of rituals and card draw spells before throwing a single copy of Grapeshot at you. The more streamlined version, like the one shown above, utilizes Past in Flames to get the storm count up to 20. Other versions use Faithless Looting and Pyromancer’s Ascension to get there (by copying everything instead of or in addition to flashing everything back). Still other versions rely on Empty the Warrens as a way to “go off” faster and more reliably, yet in a more fragile way (since a dozen or so Goblin Tokens on turn 2 is usually easier to beat than 25 grapeshots on the stack on turn 3 or 4). Still others, though much less common, run Pyromancer’s Swath. In some lists, there is even an ability to go infinite with the Noxious Revival + Manamorphose loop.

UR Storm variants are the most powerful “pure combo” decks in Modern. They are also not that difficult to beat if you’re willing to dedicate the necessary spots in your sideboard. Rule of Law, Ethersworn Canonist, and Mindbreak Trap are helpful against any of the variants, and other cards that are also good in non-combo matchups are great in specific storm variants. For instance, the Past in Flames versions have a tough time against Surgical Extraction and Grafdigger’s Cage. The Empty the Warrens versions are halted by Ratchet Bomb, Ghostly Prison, Pyroclasm, or Zealous Persecution. And the Pyromancer’s Ascension versions can really get slowed down by enchantment removal of any kind.

The more general solutions to Storm are things like Spell Pierce, Spellstutter Sprite, and Mana Leak. Combined with some other forms of pressure and/or backed by Snapcaster Mage, these early counters can really make it difficult for Storm to recover. Hand disruption in the form of Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, Tidehollow Sculler, and Vendilion Clique are all very good cards as well, allowing you to take whatever card from their hand is most necessary at the time. Gaddock Teeg and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben likewise buy you time while applying pressure. Most Storm decks run Echoing Truth, Wipe Away, or some other generic way to deal with these hate cards, but they have to find it in time in addition to sufficient means to go off on the following turn. If you are applying pressure, this is asking a lot.

A trick that various cunning Storm mages have employed in an attempt to sidestep specific hate is to transform into a Splinter Twin deck. They board in Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker + Splinter Twin + Deceiver Exarch + Pestermite + Lightning Bolt in an attempt to make your Grafdigger’s Cages, Surgical Extractions, and Rule of Laws not look so hot. It’s especially effective because the sorts of cards that were terrible for you Game One like Path to Exile, Galvanic Blast, and Go for the Throat are now your best cards. Once you know your opponent has the transformational sideboard, it then becomes a game of Three Card Monte to decide whether to shuffle up your Path to Exiles or your Rule of Laws for the next game. If that’s the sort of thing you’re into, this may be your deck.

Rakdos Aggro by sandydogmtg
Finished 3rd - 4th Place at MTGO Modern Premier - 7/15/12
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Goblin Guide
3 Grim Lavamancer
4 Hellspark Elemental
4 Vexing Devil
Creatures [15]
4 Bump in the Night
2 Flames of the Blood Hand
4 Lava Spike
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Rift Bolt
4 Searing Blaze
3 Shard Volley
Spells [25]
4 Arid Mesa
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
1 Blood Crypt
7 Mountain (242)
4 Scalding Tarn
Lands [20]
Deck Total [60]


3 Ensnaring Bridge
2 Relic of Progenitus
4 Smash to Smithereens
4 Torpor Orb
2 Volcanic Fallout
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


Affinity looks to aim Galvanic Blast (and sometimes Shrapnel Blast) at you while Storm wants to aim a myriad of Grapeshot copies at you in one fell swoop. Burn decks, on the other hand, want to start whittling away at your life total beginning on turn one. Most versions run some aggro creatures such as Goblin Guide, Hellspark Elemental, Spark Elemental, or Vexing Devil to put on some early pressure. Then they start aiming Lava Spike, Lightning Bolt, Rift Bolt, and even Bump in the Night at you. It’s not unheard of for them to run Searing Blaze either, so if possible try not to walk into that one. Burn is a real deck and is actually Tier 1 right now. The black splash can be for Dark Confidant and/or Bump in the Night. I prefer the latter, though both cards see play. I also prefer the black splash to mono red because it gives you an extra lava spike, but one that also threatens to spike again if the opponent’s plan is to get rid of your creatures using Path to Exile. The deck usually tries to finish off an opponent with Grim Lavamancer, Flames of the Bloodhand, and Shard Volley. Also beware of Teetering Peaks, especially on a trampling Hellspark Elemental.

In Legacy you can pretty easily beat burn if you want to by Enlightened Tutoring for Warmth, boarding in Hydroblasts, reanimating Iona, or simply killing them with a faster combo. In Modern the resources for beating burn just aren’t as abundant and you really have to go out of your way to respect red. Moreover boarding in your four Kitchen Finks and calling it a day is not nearly enough. You need to have a cohesive against burn. One strategy is to produce fast, efficient blockers. Play a Birds of Paradise, and chump their Goblin Guide. Play a Wall of Roots to block it next turn (hoping to draw the bolt to it). Then play your Kitchen Finks and hope this buys you enough time to start setting up with Birthing Pod. Even though you’re still at a high life total, you’re far from out of the water. They still have Grim Lavamancer and more burn coming, and Kiki-Jiki isn’t going to live, so you have to mount an offense quickly enough to minimize the draw steps they get to draw more burn. It’s still a challenge, but this is one of the better approaches

Another strategy is to start countering their burn spells. Spell Pierce and Spellstutter Sprite are very effective, and Vendilion Clique is surprisingly not bad as it turns their best burn spell into either a land or another burn spell (which is a great deal half the time!). Clique also trades with Goblin Guide or Vexing Devil. BW Tokens uses Auriok Champion to great effect against red decks, and Spellskite can act as a pretty strong life gain spell as well. I’ve had success pod’ing up Glen Elendra Archmage against them too, but watch out for Volcanic Fallout. You can’t counter that one!

One last thing. When you crack your fetchland, if at all possible, DO NOT TAKE TWO DAMAGE! Despite what Conley Woods might try to tell you, it’s better to either fetch up a basic or play the land tapped and be behind a turn. I know the temptation is strong because they’re applying so much pressure and putting you into chump block mode from turn one, but you’re only making things worse by shocking yourself with your own lands.

WUR Aggro by Shahar Shenhar
Finished 2nd Place at 2012 PTQ Barcelona - Sacramento, CA - 3/24
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Delver of Secrets
3 Geist of Saint Traft
1 Grim Lavamancer
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Steppe Lynx
Creatures [16]
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
4 Path to Exile
4 Remand
4 Serum Visions
2 Spell Snare
Spells [22]
4 Arid Mesa
2 Hallowed Fountain
1 Island (253)
3 Marsh Flats
2 Misty Rainforest
1 Mountain (259)
1 Plains (250)
2 Sacred Foundry
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
Lands [22]
Deck Total [60]


1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
3 Gifts Ungiven
1 Grim Lavamancer
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
2 Kataki, War's Wage
3 Kor Firewalker
2 Molten Rain
1 Unburial Rites
1 Vendilion Clique
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


This deck plays additional colors in order to upgrade the creature suite, though at heart it’s still a burn deck. It’s essentially the new Zoo deck of the format, not in terms of popularity but rather in terms of what the deck does. It plays out under-costed aggro creatures of different colors and then tries to burn out the opponent with minimal non-burn, non-land, -non-creature cards. It only has Remand, Path to Exile, and Serum Visions. If you enjoy playing Zoo, this is probably the best deck for you.

Combating this deck requires similar steps one would take to combat RB Burn or RDW. You want to block, kill, or in some way neutralize their creatures while staying at a healthy enough life total to not get burned out. Remand can make things tricky as it is basically a Time Walk for them that also reads “draw a card”. The deck makes really good use of Snapcaster Mage since the body is very relevant at that stage of the game, and getting to Remand, Path, or Bolt something generally means another creature is getting through in combat. If straight up burn isn’t your thing, but you want to be aggressive, this is a strong deck to play. Just remember that you can Path to Exile your own guy to pump Steppe Lynx. It comes up more often than you might think.

A great sideboard plan this deck has is Gifts Ungiven for Unburial Rites and either Iona, Shield of Emeria or Elesh-Norn, Grand Cenobite, depending on the board state. Many decks basically fold to one or the other (or both), so having access to this plan is great. Affinity can’t beat Elesh-Norn, red decks can’t beat Iona, and Kiki-Jiki certainly can’t survive if Elesh-Norn is on the battlefield. Did I mention the mirror? If not, I don’t see any creatures in this deck list that will survive Elesh-Norn. The Gifts Ungiven package is one of Modern’s best “combos”, and like Splinter Twin (which we will get to shortly), I believe the best place for it is in the sideboard – and this deck is in great position to take advantage of it.

Dimension 2: Untap Kiki-Jiki a Million Times
Decks: Naya Pod, Hybrid Pod, and UR Twin

Naya Pod by Toshiyuki Kadooka
Finished 3rd - 4th Place at 2012 Grand Prix Yokohama - 6/23
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Birds of Paradise
1 Cunning Sparkmage
1 Eternal Witness
4 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
4 Kitchen Finks
1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
1 Murderous Redcap
2 Noble Hierarch
1 Qasali Pridemage
4 Restoration Angel
1 Spellskite
1 Village Bell-Ringer
4 Wall of Roots
Creatures [29]
4 Birthing Pod
4 Chord of Calling
Spells [8]
4 Arid Mesa
1 Copperline Gorge
4 Fire-Lit Thicket
1 Gavony Township
4 Grove of the Burnwillows
1 Mountain (242)
1 Plains (230)
4 Razorverge Thicket
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
Lands [23]
Deck Total [60]


1 Avalanche Riders
2 Combust
2 Forked Bolt
2 Fulminator Mage
1 Harmonic Sliver
1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
2 Qasali Pridemage
1 Sigarda, Host of Herons
1 Stonecloaker
2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


This is the deck that has risen the most in popularity recently. Ever since GP Yokohama, it has been putting up consistently strong results online. I would not be surprised at all if it is the most played deck on Day 1 or Day 2 of GP Columbus. Birthing Pod and Chord of Calling allow the deck to assemble its Restoration Angel + Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker combo pretty consistently. Between Wall of Roots and Kitchen Finks, the deck can withstand early pressure from creature decks. And between Birds of Paradise and Wall of Roots, it can generate enough mana to get its two primary tutors online quickly (and with plenty of leftover fodder in the case of Birthing Pod). Moreover since it is at heart a toolbox tutor deck, it has ready access to bullet cards such as Cunning Sparkmage, Linvala, Keeper of Silence, and Qasali Pridemage. All these factors make it difficult to beat this deck.

While difficult, however, it is not impossible to beat Naya Pod. It doesn’t have many ways to meaningfully interact with Storm combo, especially Game 1, so one approach is to just combo off faster. Living End also takes this route. Another plan is to just keep up via countering their key spells. Despite the decks power, it contains a lot of fluff. A typical draw might only contain three cards that you need to counter (Birthing Pod, Chord of Calling, and Restoration Angel, for instance). If you’re able to accomplish this, then what are they going to do with a bunch of Wall of Roots and Birds of Paradise? Attack you to death with a Village Bell-Ringer?

Post-board, there are a number of effective cards depending on the rest of the contents of your deck. Grafdigger’s Cage is very good at buying you time since it turns off both their tutors and also makes it such that their Kitchen Finks will not return when it dies. So they have to either naturally play out the combo (which is not completely unrealistic since they play so many copies of each), or blow up the Cage, a proposition made much more difficult since they can’t use their tutors to find said answer to Cage. Other worthwhile cards are Suppression Field, Aven Mindcensor, Zealous Persecution (killing their mana creatures), Twisted Image (kills walls, birds, and Spellskite), and also Combust since you can kill their angel in response to them targeting it with Kiki-Jiki. In a similar vein, Dismember has been good. Also any sort of artifact removal can be serviceable for killing Birthing Pod. One activation isn’t always enough to win.

Melira Pod by Masaki Ushijima
Finished 5th - 8th Place at 2012 Grand Prix Yokohama - 6/23
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Birds of Paradise
1 Body Double
1 Eternal Witness
1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
4 Kitchen Finks
2 Melira, Sylvok Outcast
1 Murderous Redcap
2 Phantasmal Image
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
1 Qasali Pridemage
2 Restoration Angel
1 Reveillark
1 Spellskite
1 Viscera Seer
4 Wall of Roots
Creatures [27]
4 Birthing Pod
2 Blasting Station
4 Chord of Calling
Spells [10]
2 Arid Mesa
1 Breeding Pool
1 Copperline Gorge
1 Fire-Lit Thicket
2 Forest (246)
1 Gavony Township
2 Grove of the Burnwillows
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Murmuring Bosk
1 Plains (230)
1 Razorverge Thicket
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Scalding Tarn
1 Steam Vents
2 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
Lands [23]
Deck Total [60]


2 Ancient Grudge
1 Aven Mindcensor
2 Bonfire of the Damned
2 Creeping Corrosion
1 Harmonic Sliver
1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
1 Realm Razer
3 Sowing Salt
1 Spellskite
1 Stonecloaker
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


This deck does just about everything short of casting Battle of Wits. Prior to Yokohama, Melira Pod was the predominant Birthing Pod deck. This version adopts the Kiki + Angel combo that Naya Pod focuses on, but also contains many other options, including the Melira combo as well as the Body Double + Reveillark combo. It’s harder to fight this deck with removal than it is to fight Naya Pod, but this one is also much more vulnerable to specific hate such as Grafdigger’s Cage since naturally drawing your combo becomes much more difficult when you only have 1 Kiki-Jiki and 2 Angels. Of course your percentages go up slightly since there are so many other 3-card combos you could find instead, but they are each mostly one-of’s.

Most of the ways of combating Naya Pod hold true against Hybrid Pod, as well as against the more dedicated Melira Pod variants.

Splinter Twin by Alessandro Lippi
Finished 3rd - 4th Place at 2012 Grand Prix Turin - 3/31
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Deceiver Exarch
2 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
3 Pestermite
Creatures [9]
2 Dispel
2 Electrostatic Bolt
2 Faithless Looting
2 Flame Slash
3 Inquisition of Kozilek
3 Remand
4 Serum Visions
4 Sleight of Hand
4 Splinter Twin
2 Thoughtseize
Spells [28]
1 Breeding Pool
2 Cascade Bluffs
3 Island (253)
3 Misty Rainforest
2 Mountain (259)
4 Scalding Tarn
3 Steam Vents
3 Sulfur Falls
2 Watery Grave
Lands [23]
Deck Total [60]


2 Ancient Grudge
3 Blood Moon
2 Combust
2 Echoing Truth
4 Leyline of Sanctity
2 Relic of Progenitus
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


Alessandro Lippi and Alessandro Portaro each made top 8 of GP Turin with similar Splinter Twin builds. While Twin hasn’t enjoyed nearly the success on MTGO that Naya Pod has, you will lose to it if you’re not prepared to beat it. Like the original list from PT Philadelphia, the goal is to make infinity faeries. Since Ponder and Preordained have since been banned from Modern, the deck is less consistent and less able to find the combo again to go off a second time. As a result, the deck has adopted black for hand disruption as a way to make sure the first combo attempt succeeds.

Strong ways to disrupt Twin include Suppression Field, Ghostly Prison, Path to Exile, Dismember, a pair of Auriok Champions, or counter-magic. Lightning Bolt can also stop Kiki-Jiki or Pestermite, but not Splinter Twin on Deceiver Exarch. Similarly, Spellskite can stop Pestermite, but not Exarch, despite what Love Janse might have you think.

Strategies in general that perform well against Twin are those involving counter-magic and /or its own disruption, whether in the form of discard or removal. It’s also reasonable to simply burn them out before they can assemble their combo, or assemble your own combo. Unless you reside in Italy, this might not be the deck for you. Probably the best home for this combo is in the sideboard of Storm. Nevertheless people will play this deck , so you must be prepared to beat it.

Dimension 3: Counter your Spell
Decks: RUG Delver, Esper Blade, Faeries

RUG Aggro by Antonino De Rosa
Finished 1st Place at 2012 Grand Prix Turin - 3/31
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Delver of Secrets
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Tarmogoyf
2 Vendilion Clique
Creatures [15]
1 Garruk Relentless
Planeswalkers [1]
2 Burst Lightning
2 Cryptic Command
2 Deprive
1 Electrolyze
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Mana Leak
4 Serum Visions
2 Spell Pierce
1 Spell Snare
2 Vedalken Shackles
Spells [23]
2 Breeding Pool
1 Forest (262)
6 Island (253)
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Mountain (259)
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
1 Stomping Ground
Lands [21]
Deck Total [60]


2 Ancient Grudge
3 Blood Moon
1 Combust
3 Huntmaster of the Fells
1 Negate
2 Relic of Progenitus
1 Spell Pierce
2 Threads of Disloyalty
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


This is, in my estimation, going to be the most played counterspell deck in Columbus. I would put it about on par power-wise with the Esper list I’m about to discuss, but the RUG list is more established and has proven itself a contender.

The general idea is to play out some quick threats, usually in the form of Delver of Secrets and Tarmogoyf, and to leave open counter-magic mana to keep the opponent from doing whatever they need to do to get back into the game or two assemble what their deck tries to do. It works in much the same way that its Legacy counterpart works, but with weaker spells (though in a format that likewise scales in power level). Given that it won GP Turin and its Legacy counterpart won GP Atlanta, I’m expecting a lot of people to be on this deck. It’s the deck to play for everyone wanting to run counterspells. And counterspells are generally very attractive to players with byes.

You can disrupt this deck in a number of ways, though most of them involve getting into a slugfest with it, which unfortunately is exactly the type of fight this deck is designed to engage in. So much like with Jund, the games go long and are decided by who is able to land the last threat. With graveyards a mile high and the board bloodied with Insectile and lhurgoyfian entrails, it is not uncommon for a lone Snapcaster mage to finish the job as the last man standing.

Burning the deck out is not an unreasonable proposition since RUG has to always keep counter mana open once it gets below a certain life total, for threat of dying to a couple of well-timed burn spells. So this plan gives RB Burn, UWR Delver, and Affinity a fighting chance against RUG. On the other end of the spectrum, Kiki-Jiki decks can often pick a spot to go for it, and if you are able to stop their Delver and their Goyf, this will buy you a lot of time to draw into your win conditions. This deck has a lot of close games, so if that’s your thing and you like nothing better than to win a game by targeting Cryptic Command with Snapcaster Mage, this deck may be for you. It also gets its fair share of free wins when Delver flips and you simply counter or burn out everything the opponent does the entire game.

Esper Blade by xMiMx (4-0)
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Dark Confidant
4 Delver of Secrets
2 Geist of Saint Traft
3 Snapcaster Mage
Creatures [13]
2 Cryptic Command
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Lingering Souls
4 Mana Leak
4 Path to Exile
1 Spell Pierce
2 Spell Snare
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
Spells [23]
4 Creeping Tar Pit
2 Darkslick Shores
2 Ghost Quarter
1 Godless Shrine
1 Hallowed Fountain
2 Island (233)
4 Marsh Flats
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Plains (230)
1 Scalding Tarn
3 Seachrome Coast
1 Swamp (236)
1 Watery Grave
Lands [24]
Deck Total [60]


1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
3 Gifts Ungiven
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
2 Spellskite
1 Sphinx of the Steel Wind
2 Surgical Extraction
2 Timely Reinforcements
1 Unburial Rites
2 Zealous Persecution
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


There are various Delver decks floating around. The UWR burn-oriented version is more aggressive while the RUG version is more controlling. Esper Blade is much like RUG Delver in its controlling capacities, though has not gained nearly the attention that RUG Delver has thus far. I’ve also seen various UB Delver decks, and various UW Blade decks, some running Delver and some not. Each of these UW and UB decks, in my opinion, are worse versions of xMiMx’s Esper Blade list. His list is pretty highly refined, as evidenced by him going 4-0 with it in four consecutive Daily Events.

The deck looks to apply early pressure in the form of Delver of Secrets and Geist of Saint Traft while maintaining lasting pressure via Swords, Lingering Souls, and the cards drawn off Dark Confidant. Moreover it also has counter-magic, hand disruption, and Path to Exile (and Snapcaster Mage to flash each back) to keep the opponent from both dealing with its board and from doing whatever it’s trying to do to win the game.

Post-board it has ways to fight one of its tougher game 1 matchups (burn decks) in the form of Timely Reinforcements and Spellskite. It also has the Gifts Ungiven package to dig up Iona, Shield of Emeria against red decks or Elesh-Norn, Grand Cenobite against Affinity or UWR Delver. While this deck has not quite caught on as much as some of the higher profile decks, I fully expect it to be a major player in Modern come PT Seattle.

Monoblue Faeries by Kei Umehara
Finished 2nd Place at 2012 Grand Prix Yokohama - 6/23
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Mistbind Clique
4 Scion of Oona
2 Spellskite
4 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Vendilion Clique
Creatures [18]
4 Cryptic Command
2 Mana Leak
4 Remand
4 Spell Snare
3 Vedalken Shackles
Spells [17]
2 Faerie Conclave
18 Island (234)
4 Mutavault
1 Pendelhaven
Lands [25]
Deck Total [60]


1 Annul
2 Disrupting Shoal
3 Engineered Explosives
1 Jace Beleren
1 Relic of Progenitus
1 Sower of Temptation
1 Steel Sabotage
3 Threads of Disloyalty
1 Trickbind
1 Wurmcoil Engine
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


Despite Bitterblossom getting the early axe in Modern, faeries has survived in a form more similar to the version popularized by Gabriel Nassif in Extended around the time of Worlds in Memphis several years ago, except without Ancestral Visions. Mono Blue means you essentially start out with an extra card against burn decks since you’re not taking those first three points of damage from your lands that most other decks in the format are taking. It also means you’re able to play Mutavault without significantly hindering your ability to cast your (non-cryptic command) spells. In conjunction with Spellstutter Sprite, this is a great card to have in your deck.

The general idea of the deck is to play an Island and say go. Then whenever the opponent does something relevant, you counter it, oftentimes leaving you with a residual 1/1 flyer. Then you get to turn the corner with Vendilion Clique and Mistbind Clique, putting pressure on the opponent to now deal with your threats. The deck is very flexible in how it can operate. It is perfectly suited to sit there and do nothing since everything it wants to do can happen during the opponent’s end step. It’s also perfectly adapted to tapping out each turn to stop whatever the opponent is doing. It also has ways to generate card advantage from nearly every angle, whether via Vedalken Shackles, Spellstutter Sprite, Cryptic Command, or even a timely Scion of Oona.

While this is a strong deck, it has not performed as well online since the GP as some other decks that operate along similar axes. We already discussed Esper Blade, but there is also a UW Faeries deck that uses Snapcaster Mage in place of Scion of Oona, Path to Exile over Vedalken Shackles, and Restoration Angel over Mistbind Clique, with some versions running Kitchen Finks either main or in the sideboard. Angel gives the deck an added dimension by blinking Spellstutter Sprite or Vendilion Clique, or even Snapcaster Mage or Kitchen Finks. I would expect the UW version to outperform the Mono Blue version, but in terms of past results, the Mono Blue version is the one on more people’s radars right now, so it will probably see more overall play. You also gain access to Celestial Colonnade.

Dimension 4: Reload
Decks: Jund, BW Tokens, Soul Sisters

Jund by Satoshi Yamaguchi
Finished 3rd - 4th Place at 2012 Grand Prix Yokohama - 6/23
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Bloodbraid Elf
4 Dark Confidant
4 Kitchen Finks
1 Olivia Voldaren
4 Tarmogoyf
Creatures [17]
3 Liliana of the Veil
Planeswalkers [3]
1 Go for the Throat
3 Inquisition of Kozilek
1 Jund Charm
4 Lightning Bolt
1 Sword of Light and Shadow
2 Terminate
3 Thoughtseize
Spells [15]
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
2 Blood Crypt
1 Copperline Gorge
2 Fire-Lit Thicket
1 Forest (246)
1 Graven Cairns
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Overgrown Tomb
2 Raging Ravine
1 Stomping Ground
2 Swamp (238)
3 Treetop Village
4 Verdant Catacombs
Lands [25]
Deck Total [60]


2 Ancient Grudge
1 Darkblast
2 Grafdigger's Cage
2 Molten Rain
1 Olivia Voldaren
2 Seal of Primordium
1 Shatterstorm
2 Sowing Salt
2 Thrun, the Last Troll
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


Jund is among the most popular decks in the format, rivaled only by Affinity and Naya Pod. Sure, Jund’s conversion rate from Day 1 to Day 2 in Japan was not stellar, but it did manage to take one of the top four slots in the tournament, a feat even Affinity could not manage. Its numbers have slightly declined online as of late, but it is still a very powerful attrition deck with the capacity to keep reloading.

The main objective of the deck is to kill everything the opponent plays, strip their key cards from hand, and use Bloodbraid Elf and Dark Confidant to reload on these disruptive elements. Pretty straightforward and the same thing Jund has been doing ever since Alara Block first became a thing. Jund doesn’t have a whole lot of great matchups, but not very many unwinnable ones either. It’s the sort of deck that puts up a fair fight against everyone, and is one of the few decks that can lock horns with the blue decks and potentially come out the victor, even in the long games.

Soul Sisters by Michael Thiel
Finished 2nd Place at 2012 Grand Prix Turin - 3/31
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Ajani's Pridemate
3 Martyr of Sands
1 Mikaeus, the Lunarch
4 Ranger of Eos
4 Serra Ascendant
4 Soul Warden
3 Soul's Attendant
4 Squadron Hawk
Creatures [27]
3 Honor of the Pure
3 Path to Exile
2 Proclamation of Rebirth
4 Spectral Procession
Spells [12]
2 Flagstones of Trokair
14 Plains (250)
2 Tectonic Edge
3 Windbrisk Heights
Lands [21]
Deck Total [60]


4 Disenchant
2 Ghostly Prison
3 Grafdigger's Cage
1 Path to Exile
1 Ratchet Bomb
4 Surgical Extraction
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


Soul Sisters is a real deck in Modern. Sure, it has trouble beating combo decks, but after the waves of bannings, such decks are much less powerful than they were, and comprise a much smaller portion of the metagame than they used to. Now that Modern is much more creature-centric, a deck like Soul Sisters really has an opportunity to shine. With that said, even the creature decks often have combo-kills built into them, so gaining fifty or a hundred life is not enough. Even Melira Pod can gain infinite life. So the deck has to use its life gain as a temporary tool for the purpose of turning the corner. It accomplishes this in a few different ways.

First and foremost, life gain buys the deck time against aggro decks. If given time, it can set up its card advantage engines such as Squadron Hawk, Spectral Procession, Ranger of Eos, and Proclamation of Rebirth. Additionally, life gain, especially that caused by Soul Warden and Soul’s Attendant, grows Ajani’s Pridemate to monstrous size very quickly. It can also turn Serra Ascendant into Baneslayer Angel, though that is more often the job of Martyr of Sands. And it’s resilient to removal because it can keep reloading in much the same way Standard Kithkin was able to keep reloading. It’s the same “Army in a Can” philosophy that drove that deck to success, though with an added upside of making very large monsters early in the form of Serra Ascendant and Ajani’s Pridemate.

The deck has a lot of play to it and it’s one of my personal favorites (I know, you’re shocked I’m sure). It can hang with the attrition decks, whether Jund, Tokens, or any of the blue decks. And it has great game against all the burn decks, except Storm. The Kiki-Jiki matchups, combo matchups, and Storm matchups can be rather difficult, and this sort of deck does not appeal to very many people (approximately 3% on mtgo, about half of which is probably me playing it in the DEs). Nevertheless it’s a deck, and if you ever played it when it was in Standard or you’re a diehard White Weenie mage, this is a solid choice. Thiel’s list is also surprisingly well-tuned. Just do not cut Squadron Hawk as some have tried to do. He belongs in the deck.

BW Tokens by Jun’ichi Miyajima
Finished 1st Place at 2012 Grand Prix Yokohama - 6/23
Main Deck
Sideboard
2 Auriok Champion
2 Cloudgoat Ranger
2 Hero of Bladehold
4 Tidehollow Sculler
Creatures [10]
2 Honor of the Pure
2 Intangible Virtue
4 Lingering Souls
4 Path to Exile
4 Raise the Alarm
4 Spectral Procession
3 Thoughtseize
3 Zealous Persecution
Spells [26]
2 Fetid Heath
2 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Marsh Flats
1 Mutavault
6 Plains (230)
1 Swamp (238)
4 Windbrisk Heights
Lands [24]
Deck Total [60]


2 Auriok Champion
2 Aven Mindcensor
2 Dismember
2 Grafdigger's Cage
2 Kataki, War's Wage
1 Nevermore
2 Stony Silence
1 Timely Reinforcements
1 Zealous Persecution
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


BW Tokens operates along similar lines to Soul Sisters, but with added disruption in the form of Tidehollow Sculler, Thoughtseize, and Zealous Persecution in place of life gain. These are some pretty powerful cards, especially in matchups where Soul Sisters are weak. I’m assuming that most people who would ordinarily be attracted to Soul Sisters would instead play this since it looks better on paper and has just won the most recent Modern GP. BW Tokens was also a big favorite when it was in Standard, and although this deck does not have access to Bitterblossom (banned in Modern), it does have Lingering Souls, which is not very far off in power level.

Wrath effects are reasonable ways to combat BW Tokens, and so are counterspells. As long as you can fight through a couple hand disruption spells and a Path to Exile, combo’ing off is a reasonable avenue to victory. It’s also not impossible to win a long attrition game against Tokens. A deck like Jund, Soul Sisters, or RUG Delver is fully capable of going toe-to-toe and outlasting all its token makers, especially if the anthem effects get countered or destroyed.

Dimension 5: Blow Up all your Permanents
Decks: RG Tron, Living End, Aggro Loam

Monogreen Tron by thekid
Finished 1st Place at MTGO Modern PTQ - 3/17/12
Main Deck
Sideboard
1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
1 Wurmcoil Engine
Creatures [2]
4 Karn Liberated
Planeswalkers [4]
1 All Is Dust
4 Ancient Stirrings
4 Chromatic Sphere
4 Chromatic Star
4 Expedition Map
3 Explore
4 Mindslaver
4 Prophetic Prism
4 Sylvan Scrying
4 Talisman of Impulse
Spells [36]
1 Academy Ruins
1 Eye of Ugin
4 Grove of the Burnwillows
4 Urza's Mine
4 Urza's Power Plant
4 Urza's Tower
Lands [18]
Deck Total [60]


2 Ancient Grudge
2 Combust
3 Pyroclasm
2 Relic of Progenitus
2 Seal of Primordium
2 Spellskite
2 Wurmcoil Engine
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


Pro Tour Hollywood Champion Charles “TheKid” Gindy earned an invitation to PT Barcelona with this deck back in March, and while the deck has changed a bit since then, it is still essentially the same deck. It no longer runs All is Dust, Mindslaver, or Talisman. Instead it typically runs maindeck Pyroclasm, Relic of Progenitus and a fourth Explore, thus increasing the amount of times where it can play two explores in a single turn.

TheKid just beat me in a Daily Event last night to finish 4-0, so his opinion of the deck has evidently not changed, nor has the deck’s ability to adequately serve him diminished. If blowing up all your opponent’s permanents with Emrakul, the Eons Torn is your idea of a good time, this deck is the deck for you. If playing turn 3 Karn Liberated and starting to blow up your opponent’s permanents with it makes you happy inside, this is the deck for you. If getting Stony Silenced on turn 2 is the sort of thing that would make you want to flip a table, then either don’t play this deck or board in Seal of Primordium. Between Oblivion Stone and Karn Liberated, you can even fight through things like Spreading Seas. And if you wait to play your Eye of Ugin until you are able to activate it that same turn, then even Tectonic Edge cannot keep you from casting Emrakul, the Eons Torn.

This really feels like the RG Wolf Run deck of the format. The only time I feel like I cannot lose against this deck is when I’m piloting a blue deck. Counterspells are very difficult for this deck to beat since it’s so threat-light. Just as Caw-Blade was able to beat up on pre-Cavern Wolf Run with a few counterspells and some pressure, so too can the blue decks usually beat up on Tron. Most other decks are going to have some difficulty with it though, and depending on how the hands play out, it’s not unwinnable for Tron against the blue decks either.

Living End by Celldweller
Finished 9th - 16th Place at MTGO Modern PTQ - 3/24/12
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Deadshot Minotaur
4 Fulminator Mage
4 Ingot Chewer
3 Jungle Weaver
4 Monstrous Carabid
4 Street Wraith
4 Valley Rannet
Creatures [27]
3 Beast Within
4 Demonic Dread
3 Living End
4 Violent Outburst
Spells [14]
2 Blackcleave Cliffs
1 Blood Crypt
2 Copperline Gorge
1 Dryad Arbor
2 Forest (262)
1 Kessig Wolf Run
1 Misty Rainforest
2 Mountain (259)
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Stomping Ground
2 Swamp (256)
3 Verdant Catacombs
Lands [19]
Deck Total [60]


3 Avalanche Riders
3 Faerie Macabre
3 Jund Charm
3 Kitchen Finks
3 Shriekmaw
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


Cedric “Celldweller” Philips is still confident that Living End is a strong deck for Modern. 1 Misty Rainforest and 3 Verdant Catacombs was either a typo or a card availability issue because clearly Verdant is the right card for that slot in the deck. The only other change he has recommended was to replace Jund Charm in the sideboard with Thorn of Amethyst so you can cascade into it against Storm decks. The list is tight and well-tuned, and perhaps the only thing I would consider is to replace one or two of the basics with more Scars of Mirrodin duals. The question is how often you have the wrong basics early versus how often you need the lands untapped later or in your library to search out via Verdant Catacombs and Valley Rannet. I’m not sure which is more relevant, but unless you are, I would default to the way Cedric has it.

The way the deck operates is to cycle creatures into the graveyard and then play a cascade spell, cascading into Living. Living End wipes the opponent’s board and puts all your cycled creatures onto the battlefield. One could see how this sort of strategy would shine against most creature decks. It’s essentially “Blow up all your creatures” with “oh by the way, I also get an army of creatures” tacked on. So it performs well against the Kiki-Jiki decks, the Reload decks (Jund, Soul Sisters, BW Tokens), and even Tron decks. It does not, however, do so well against Storm, Burn, or the blue Counterspell decks.

If you’re looking to fight it, you need to either stop them from resolving Living End or you need to combo in a way that will not get stopped by Living End, even at instant speed (via Violent Outburst). If your plan is to assemble Tron, or any other mana base consisting of non-basic lands, you’ll have to be prepared to fight through Fulminator Mage and Avalanche Riders, and then Fulminator Mage and Avalanche Riders again when the dead return to life. While it has not been putting up big numbers on MTGO, it’s a powerful deck and Cedric is a very convincing man, so who knows how many will copies will show up in the (living) end.

Aggro Loam by Bronson Magnan
Finished 1st Place at 2012 Grand Prix Lincoln - 2/18
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Countryside Crusher
4 Dark Confidant
4 Tarmogoyf
Creatures [12]
3 Liliana of the Veil
Planeswalkers [3]
3 Flame Jab
3 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Life from the Loam
4 Raven's Crime
3 Seismic Assault
Spells [17]
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
2 Blood Crypt
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Fire-Lit Thicket
1 Forest (262)
2 Ghost Quarter
4 Graven Cairns
1 Lavaclaw Reaches
2 Misty Rainforest
1 Mountain (259)
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Stomping Ground
1 Swamp (256)
1 Twilight Mire
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
4 Verdant Catacombs
Lands [28]
Deck Total [60]


3 Ancient Grudge
2 Darkblast
1 Inquisition of Kozilek
1 Jund Charm
2 Nature's Claim
3 Obstinate Baloth
1 Pyroclasm
2 Torpor Orb
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


Another deck that likes to blow up the world is Aggro Loam. Unlike the previous two, Aggro Loam takes a bit more time to get going, but once it gets its namesake engine online, it doesn’t stop until all your creatures, all your lands, and all your cards in hand are in the graveyard. It wants to see no sign of life whatsoever as it so sinisterly jabs away at your life total one point at a time.

If Mortal Combat was your favorite video game growing up and you like nothing better than to see the phrase “Flawless Victory” flash across the screen as your opponent in slow motion falls to their death, then this deck may just be able to offer you what you’re looking for. It’s a bit slow, but it has the tools to compete, and it’s relatively low on people’s radar right now. So it’s not unthinkable for it to win yet another GP. It earned a few blue envelops during the PTQ season for Barcelona, including in the hands of Osyp Lebedowicz, so it was certainly not a one-hit-wonder. The question is whether it has yet another hit left in it. Do you wonder?

Recapitulation and Concluding Remarks

So to recap, the five dimension of Modern, as I see them, are as follows:

Dimension 1: Target you with Burn Spells
Decks: Affinity, UR Storm, and Burn, UWR Delver

Dimension 2: Untap Kiki-Jiki a Million Times
Decks: Naya Pod, Hybrid Pod, and UR Twin

Dimension 3: Counter your Spell
Decks: RUG Delver, Esper Blade, Faeries

Dimension 4: Reload
Decks: Jund, BW Tokens, Soul Sisters

Dimension 5: Blow Up all your Permanents
Decks: RG Tron, Living End, Aggro Loam

As I said in the beginning, there are plenty of ways one could conceptualize the current Modern metagame. The general default for people is to call things “Aggro”, “Control’”, and “Combo”. These categories are not always the most useful, especially when we’re talking about sixteen distinct decks comprising the top decks of the format (as we are with Modern).

I also realize that UR Storm is not a perfect fit alongside Affinity, Burn, and UWR Delver, though if we consider the underlying similarities between the four decks in this category, maybe that would help to better understand what is actually going on in a Storm deck? Perhaps another way of categorizing the decks would be more useful, but this is where I’m at right now and it’s the best way to conceptualize the format that I’ve come across. So until someone is able to show me a more meaningful way of dividing these sixteen decks (or until the metagame changes, which it very likely will after Columbus), I’m sticking to this scheme. It’s been the most useful way for me to conceptually make sense of all the decks in the format and the fundamental underlying themes responsible for the success of the decks that are currently thriving in Modern.

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In any case, even if my conceptual themes are not useful to you, hopefully my rather in-depth analysis of each of the top decks has been. And I tried to introduce each of the decks in such a way that would appeal to the sort of player that would be attracted to that sort of deck the most. I not only want to educate you about the format but I also want to help you pick the deck that you will have the most fun playing that will also give you a real chance at succeeding. Any of the sixteen decks discussed are solid choice in Modern right now, and they are each quite for fun different reasons.

Lastly, I promised I would point out the budget decks. The first three are very inexpensive, and the latter five are slightly more expensive but still manageable for players willing to spend a little extra. Most of the other decks discussed will require a bit more of an investment, but with a bit of savvy trading and successful speculation, it would not take long to come up with a deck, even if it means cutting some corners in the beginning before being able to acquire some of the more expensive cards for the deck. Besides, the decks can often pay for themselves in prizes if you’re using them to compete in tournaments.

Burn
Soul Sisters
Living End

Storm
Affinity
RG Tron
Twin
BW Tokens

Lastly, Modern as a format is way too fun not to play. I’ve been having a blast playing it these past few weeks and I look forward to continuing to play it in preparation for Pro Tour Seattle, which is still months away. I really enjoy deck building, testing, and playing against a variety of decks to try and solve or break a format. Modern is great for that. Hopefully you decide to likewise give Modern a try. And good luck if you’re planning to attend GP Columbus. I’ll see you there!

Craig Wescoe
@Nacatls4Life on twitter



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