7/19/2012 11:02:00 AM
These past two weeks Iâ€™ve probably spent about a hundred hours researching, testing, brewing, and thinking about Modern. Such extensive preparation does not always translate to success when weâ€™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 Iâ€™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 youâ€™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 Iâ€™ve also made mention of which decks are most affordable for players on a budget because I donâ€™t want anyone to view cost as a barrier keeping one from playing such a great new format.
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, Iâ€™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. Itâ€™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 weâ€™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, Modernâ€™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 letâ€™s do that.
Dimension 1: Target you with Burn Spells
Decks: Affinity, UR Storm, and Burn, UWR Delver
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, Hurkylâ€™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 hasnâ€™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 comboâ€™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.
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 Pyromancerâ€™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 â€śgo offâ€ť 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 Pyromancerâ€™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 â€śpure comboâ€ť decks in Modern. They are also not that difficult to beat if youâ€™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 Grafdiggerâ€™s Cage. The Empty the Warrens versions are halted by Ratchet Bomb, Ghostly Prison, Pyroclasm, or Zealous Persecution. And the Pyromancerâ€™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 Grafdiggerâ€™s Cages, Surgical Extractions, and Rule of Laws not look so hot. Itâ€™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 thatâ€™s the sort of thing youâ€™re into, this may be your deck.
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. Itâ€™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 opponentâ€™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 arenâ€™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 youâ€™re still at a high life total, youâ€™re far from out of the water. They still have Grim Lavamancer and more burn coming, and Kiki-Jiki isnâ€™t going to live, so you have to mount an offense quickly enough to minimize the draw steps they get to draw more burn. Itâ€™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. Iâ€™ve had success podâ€™ing up Glen Elendra Archmage against them too, but watch out for Volcanic Fallout. You canâ€™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, itâ€™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 theyâ€™re applying so much pressure and putting you into chump block mode from turn one, but youâ€™re only making things worse by shocking yourself with your own lands.
This deck plays additional colors in order to upgrade the creature suite, though at heart itâ€™s still a burn deck. Itâ€™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 â€śdraw a cardâ€ť. 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 isnâ€™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 canâ€™t beat Elesh-Norn, red decks canâ€™t beat Iona, and Kiki-Jiki certainly canâ€™t survive if Elesh-Norn is on the battlefield. Did I mention the mirror? If not, I donâ€™t see any creatures in this deck list that will survive Elesh-Norn. The Gifts Ungiven package is one of Modernâ€™s best â€ścombosâ€ť, and like Splinter Twin (which we will get to shortly), I believe the best place for it is in the sideboard â€“ 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
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 doesnâ€™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 youâ€™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. Grafdiggerâ€™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 canâ€™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 isnâ€™t always enough to win.
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. Itâ€™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 Grafdiggerâ€™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-ofâ€™s.
Most of the ways of combating Naya Pod hold true against Hybrid Pod, as well as against the more dedicated Melira Pod variants.
Alessandro Lippi and Alessandro Portaro each made top 8 of GP Turin with similar Splinter Twin builds. While Twin hasnâ€™t enjoyed nearly the success on MTGO that Naya Pod has, you will lose to it if youâ€™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. Itâ€™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
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 Iâ€™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, Iâ€™m expecting a lot of people to be on this deck. Itâ€™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 thatâ€™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.
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. Iâ€™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 xMiMxâ€™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 itâ€™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.
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 youâ€™re not taking those first three points of damage from your lands that most other decks in the format are taking. It also means youâ€™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 opponentâ€™s end step. Itâ€™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 peopleâ€™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 is among the most popular decks in the format, rivaled only by Affinity and Naya Pod. Sure, Jundâ€™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 doesnâ€™t have a whole lot of great matchups, but not very many unwinnable ones either. Itâ€™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 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 Soulâ€™s Attendant, grows Ajaniâ€™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 itâ€™s resilient to removal because it can keep reloading in much the same way Standard Kithkin was able to keep reloading. Itâ€™s the same â€śArmy in a Canâ€ť 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 Ajaniâ€™s Pridemate.
The deck has a lot of play to it and itâ€™s one of my personal favorites (I know, youâ€™re shocked Iâ€™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 itâ€™s a deck, and if you ever played it when it was in Standard or youâ€™re a diehard White Weenie mage, this is a solid choice. Thielâ€™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 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. Iâ€™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, comboâ€™ing off is a reasonable avenue to victory. Itâ€™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
Pro Tour Hollywood Champion Charles â€śTheKidâ€ť 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 deckâ€™s ability to adequately serve him diminished. If blowing up all your opponentâ€™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 opponentâ€™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 donâ€™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 Iâ€™m piloting a blue deck. Counterspells are very difficult for this deck to beat since itâ€™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, itâ€™s not unwinnable for Tron against the blue decks either.
Cedric â€śCelldwellerâ€ť 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. Iâ€™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 opponentâ€™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. Itâ€™s essentially â€śBlow up all your creaturesâ€ť with â€śoh by the way, I also get an army of creaturesâ€ť 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 youâ€™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, youâ€™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, itâ€™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.
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 doesnâ€™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 â€śFlawless Victoryâ€ť 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 youâ€™re looking for. Itâ€™s a bit slow, but it has the tools to compete, and itâ€™s relatively low on peopleâ€™s radar right now. So itâ€™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 â€śAggroâ€ť, â€śControlâ€™â€ť, and â€śComboâ€ť. These categories are not always the most useful, especially when weâ€™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 Iâ€™m at right now and itâ€™s the best way to conceptualize the format that Iâ€™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), Iâ€™m sticking to this scheme. Itâ€™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 youâ€™re using them to compete in tournaments.
Lastly, Modern as a format is way too fun not to play. Iâ€™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 youâ€™re planning to attend GP Columbus. Iâ€™ll see you there!
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