The Overrated and Underrated Decks of Modern

Feature Article from Brian Braun-Duin
Brian Braun-Duin
6/1/2017 11:01:00 AM
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“Hey, what's up with Modern these days?” - Jerry Seinfeld

There's an inherent difference between Standard and older formats. When you look at a format like Standard and see an oppressive deck, it feels hopeless. It feels like nothing can be done to fight it and you either join it or stop playing. In formats like Modern and Legacy, however, it's not quite the same. More tools exist to beat those decks, and it doesn't feel as bad to lose to them even if you can't beat them. When you sign up to play Modern or Legacy, you go in with the understanding that sometimes degenerate things happen in degenerate formats. There is no such agreed upon contract in Standard. Death's Shadow is arguably as dominant as Aetherworks Marvel is, but one feels fine and the other is, well...


Image via KC Green's gunshowcomic.com.

“It'll be a brisk spring day in hell when Professional Magic Players actively seek out Modern over Standard. Good news. Today is a brisk spring day in hell.” - Unknown, but probably Brian Braun-Duin

I've seen a lot of positive sentiment toward Modern from the pro community as of late. Now some of this is probably a knee-jerk reaction from Standard being not particularly fun to play lately, but I think some of it might be a genuine increase in appreciation for Modern as a format, which makes me happy. I like Modern and want to see it thrive, and I also believe that Modern is both enjoyable and also in a good place right now.

My next event is Grand Prix Omaha this weekend. It's a Standard tournament. Now, I don't hate Marvel or this Standard format nearly as much as most people do. I actually don't mind playing with or against Marvel, unlike most people I've talked to. I think our current Aetherworks Marvel-infested format is quite a lot better and more enjoyable than any format that involved Felidar Guardian. That's not to say it's good, but it's also not this sky-is-falling scenario that I hear shouted out on social media.

With that said, despite having an upcoming Standard event, I spent the last week doing two things. The first was playing the new Legacy Miracles deck that I wrote about last week on Magic Online. The deck is both fun and a real deck. There's a decent chance I play it in Grand Prix Vegas this June.

The second thing I did was play Modern. I played a lot of Modern with a variety of decks. I learned a lot of things, and today I want to talk about those things I learned. I have a platform for which to discuss those things. It all works out.

“There is nothing more overrated than the criminally underrated.” - Hubert “Hubes” Johnson

One of my biggest edges as a Magic player is using testing, practice and theory to exploit conventional knowledge. If you've ever heard the phrase “I can't believe I lost, my deck is so good against your deck,” then you know a bit about what I'm talking about. There are often general truths people believe, like “Blue-Red Control in Standard beats Aetherworks Marvel” that are simply false, and people buy into and believe these truths to their own detriment.

I'm going to pull away the veil for a variety of Modern decks and talk about how they stack up compared to how they are perceived. Which decks are overrated? Which decks are underrated? Which decks are simply rated? Let's find out.

Abzan Company

There is a Vizier of Remedies for every affliction but idleness.” - Yet Another Suq'Ata saying

When Brad Carpenter won the Modern Classic in Louisville with this deck and the Top 4 contained two more copies of the archetype, it seemed like we had a new tier one deck that could contend with Death's Shadow.

Oh, how wrong and naive we were.

Abzan Company is simply not a good deck. I played it through many leagues on Magic Online, making a number of changes every time to improve the archetype or try different versions and I am confident in saying that it is simply not a good deck. There are a number of problems with this deck that became very apparent in playing with it.

For one, Kitchen Finks and related Kitchen Finks combos are simply not good in any way. They are hard to assemble, infinite life doesn't win the game against enough decks, and none of those cards are good on their own. Kitchen Finks is simply not a playable Modern card right now.

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Beyond that, the Devoted Druid and Vizier of Remedies combo is legitimately good, but it's very hard to assemble and it has a giant flaw in that Devoted Druid has summoning sickness, meaning that quite often you have to wait an entire turn to be able to go off with the combo unless you happen to play a Devoted Druid first that doesn't die or hit both pieces off of an end step Collected Company and then get to untap, which is pretty lucky.

The deck is also vulnerable to a number of other strategies or cards that are starting to see a lot of play in Modern. For example, Walking Ballista out of Eldrazi Tron is nearly unbeatable unless you can kill them on turn three. Liliana, the Last Hope is also extremely difficult to beat out of all the Death's Shadow or Abzan decks. Storm decks are faster, Conflagrate from Dredge is backbreaking, and so on and so forth.

The popularity of Dredge along with this deck is also increasing the number of Grafdigger's Cages that people are playing, further hurting this deck. While you can just Abrupt Decay or Qasali Pridemage a Cage, it's yet another layer that you need to go through to be able to win. It's another card that you need to have to be able to combo, unless you happen to naturally draw Druid, Vizier, and Duskwatch Recruiter, a tall order.

Positives: I do think that the Devoted Druid and Vizier of Remedies combo is powerful, even if still a big fragile. As a result, I think it's possible that we can see a future with decks that look like the following:

I based this list off a deck that went 5-0 in a Magic Online League. Understanding that the Kitchen Finks combo is bad and then getting rid of it for a more robust strategy is a good thing. I like the sideboard red splash. In the original list, it was for just Harsh Mentor and Magus of the Moon, but I think Cunning Sparkmage is too good to not add.

Renegade Rallier makes Devoted Druid a lot better. If they kill it on the spot, which is the correct play if you're playing against Devoted Druid, then you can just crack a fetch land on turn three, cast Renegade Rallier, and bring it right back, threatening the combo again. In there is a future in this archetype, I think it is in decks that look like this, or perhaps archetypes like Elves.

Verdict: Overrated

Dredge

“What is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger.” - Drowned Man, A Song of Ice and Fire

Dredge made Top 8 of all three major Modern events last weekend: GP Kobe, GP Copenhagen, and SCG Baltimore. It took second place at both Kobe and Baltimore. The deck is still a very real deck, even without access to Golgari Grave-Troll.

Dredge has a naturally powerful strategy against decks like Death's Shadow and Abzan Company. Death's Shadow has a hard time quickly winning through a bunch of chump blockers like Narcomoeba and Prized Amalgam without Temur Battle Rage. The damage that Death's Shadow deals itself also adds up very quickly and can be a huge detriment in giving Bloodghast haste and making Conflagrate lethal very quickly in the game.

I've been taking Dredge very seriously for a while now, and I think it's time that others did as well. Don't skimp on your graveyard hate. Grafdigger's Cage is quite a good card right now, both for fighting Dredge and Company decks. Cage used to be weak against Dredge since they could just kill you with giant Golgari Grave-Trolls even through Cage, but that option doesn't exist anymore and Cage is now way better.

Verdict: Underrated

Death Shadow Jund

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Psalm 23:4

One of the great things about Modern is that there was a point a few months ago where we thought this deck went full Kim Kardashian and broke the internet. To Al Gore's eternal happiness, Kim Kardashian did not break the Internet, as the Internet continues to be used to this day, and similarly, Jund Death Shadow did not break Modern.

I came into testing Modern this week thinking that Jund Death Shadow was likely just the best deck and I should just play it. I no longer believe this to be true. I think the format has adequately adapted to beating this deck and I don't actually believe it is one of the best decks anymore. I think it will continue to command respect because of its name and how thoroughly it dominated Grand Prix Vancouver a few months ago, but I don't think that respect is warranted.

Verdict: Overrated

Grixis Death's Shadow

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. This time, when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I WILL FEAR EVIL.” - Me, after going 2-3 in a league, losing three times to Death's Shadow.

Grixis Death's Shadow also put at least one copy into the Top 8 of every Major tournament last weekend, and won SCG Baltimore and GP Copenhagen in the hands of Bradley J. “Never go full” Nelson and Mattia Rizzi respectively.

I went into looking at Grixis Death's Shadow with the exact opposite approach as I did with Jund. A few months ago, Grixis Death's Shadow was bad and Jund Death's Shadow was good. I expected that to still be the case, but I was completely wrong. The value of Stubborn Denial has risen, and Lingering Souls has dropped out of the format in a big way, which makes Grixis a lot better.

Grixis has a serious issue beating Lingering Souls, but is pretty great vs. the rest of the field. Death's Shadow, the card, has made cards like Fatal Push and Abrupt Decay mainstays in nearly every single deck in the entire format. That means that attacking from a different Angler is now a good idea. Gurmay I introduce you to a friend of mine? It's a Zombie Fish and it's quite the catch. Angler and Tasigur avoiding the commonly played removal is a huge benefit and a large part of why Grixis is now the hot coffee in Modern.

Verdict: Underrated

Storm

“This combo turn is taking longer than it would take to read the full unabridged text of (Empty the) War ‘ns Peace.” - Every opponent of Andrew Shrout that also appreciates poor wordplay over the past week on Magic Online

Storm has been a clinger-on archetype in Modern for a long time. And by clinger-on I mean that it's been bad for a very long time, but some players just can't seem to stop playing it even though it's extremely bad.

The interesting thing is that, well, it's actually good now and not enough people have picked it up again. I've guess they've been burned too many times with Storm in the past. I legitimately do believe that this Storm deck is actually quite good right now, though. Baral gives the deck a huge amount of redundancy and resiliency. It's fairly easy to find and keep a two-drop that cheapens spells in play, which allows for the deck to be built a bit differently.

The deck is now built around Gifts Ungiven, which means that between Gifts Ungiven and Past in Flames, the deck now has a ton of cards that it can draw that provide a huge amount of card advantage to fight decks like Death's Shadow that heavily attack the hand. They can strip three cards from your hand, but a timely Gifts Ungiven or Past in Flames can reverse any harm.

Verdict: Underrated

Eldrazi Tron

“Ahh, mom, really? Spaghetti for dinner again? I want pizza.” Lil' Billy Everson

Everything I thought I knew about Modern is wrong. I thought Jund was good and Grixis was bad. Wrong. I thought Storm was bad. Wrong. I thought Eldrazi Tron was unplayable. Wrong.

For what it's worth, I truly do believe that Eldrazi Tron was bad a few months ago, but that is simply not the case anymore. Eldrazi Tron is good against a number of top decks, including being very good against Abzan Company, thanks to Walking Ballista and its acrobatics. I keep losing to this deck over and over again with a bunch of the random decks I'm playing, and it put up a few great performances last weekend.

I would have a plan to beat this deck or I would just plan to play this deck in an upcoming event, if I were you. Step one: don't be weak to Walking Ballista. Step two: That's all I got.

Fin.

Verdict: Underrated

Affinity

“Machines!” - Morpheus, The Matrix Reloaded

Affinity has fallen off the map a little bit. It's not as popular and it hasn't been putting up as many results lately. Quite frankly, I think Affinity has lost its power in Modern. Not because it is uniquely being attacked or hated out but because I actually just believe it is no longer one of the most powerful things you can be doing anymore.

Previously, Affinity was always one of the most powerful things in the format but it was held in check by Stony Silence and other hate cards. Now, I simply believe that the strategy is fundamentally weaker than other things you can do, such as playing Death's Shadow. Much like how Affinity is fully legal but sees marginal play in Legacy, I think Affinity is slowly losing its hold on the Modern format as its power wanes relative to other decks. Maybe one day we'll see it return to power, but it will probably require a number of bannings first.

Verdict: Overrated

Merfolk

“What did she order? I believe it was a Fish Filet.” -Overheard at McDonalds

Finding Nemo and Finding Dory were both heartwarming family-friendly films that children and adult alike can enjoy while feeling good about the friendships and stories within. There's nothing wrong, and in-fact, quite a lot right with some wholesome, uplifting entertainment for the whole family.

Verdict: Rated G

There are many more decks in Modern that I clearly have not covered and quite frankly it's impossible to cover everything in a broad and open field like Modern. I decided to mostly focus on popular decks that I've been playing with or playing against with frequency. I feel like in the past week of playing Modern I've had a lot of opinions about the format turned upside down and I hope that I've been able to help shape what the current Modern format looks like right now and which decks are bombs and which are busts.




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