What's Going On in Modern?

Feature Article from Adam Yurchick
Adam Yurchick
11/30/2017 11:01:00 AM
submit to reddit » Print «

The Modern Regional Pro Tour Qualifier season is now wrapped up, but there are some big Modern events on the horizon. This weekend the SCG Invitational will include Modern, and the following weekend brings Grand Prix Oklahoma City and Grand Prix Madrid, which are Modern and Team Unified Modern, respectively. Looking further ahead, 2018 will be a big year for Modern with a ton of Team Constructed on the horizon, including Team Unified Modern Grand Prix and mixed-format events like the Team Constructed Pro Tour.

Ixalan had a significant impact on Modern with the printing of Opt, Unexplored Territory, and various other cards. Now that we have had a few months to digest the set, we can gauge the impact it has had. Today I'll explore what is going on in the format by taking stock of the major players in the metagame and identifying some of the new or surprising strategies that have had success. There are also some decks that seemed dead in the metagame that have been resurrected, so I'll explain what metagame changes have led to their comebacks. I'll also explore where I see the metagame headed in the future.

The biggest factor in Modern is Storm, which offers the most powerful and consistent combo strategy in the format.

Baral, Chief of Compliance was a huge addition to the deck and was directly responsible for the new version of the deck, which uses Gifts Ungiven to find Past in Flames and rituals, which in conjunction with the cost-reducers leads to a win almost every time. Storm had been exploding since Aether Revolt, but was taken to the next level with the printing of Opt, which slots right into the deck and increases consistency.

Storm's success has forced slower and uninteractive decks from the top of the metagame, especially land decks like Tron and Red-Green Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, and the void has been filled by decks capable of realistically racing or sufficiently disrupting Storm. The best decks against Storm do both, which explains the rise of Five-Color Human decks enabled by Unexplored Territory that apply a fast clock backed up by disruption like Meddling Mage Kitesail Freebooter that can beat the stock Storm deck in game one singlehandedly.

The success of Humans has led players to re-examine some other strategies that are capable of disrupting Storm while applying pressure of their own, and it has led to the revival of decks that many have left for dead.

Infect was, at one point, the best deck in Modern, but metagame changes against it along with the banning of Gitaxian Probe proved too much for the deck to remain competitive. Now the metagame has evolved to the point where it again is competitive despite losing a key card.

Infect is capable of applying one of the fastest clocks in Modern and is consistently able to win a race against Storm, and it can back this up with countermagic. Because it's so good at racing, it plays well against creature decks light on creature removal, like the Human deck, making it an ideal way to attack a metagame defined by Storm and Human players trying to beat it. Infect has had big finishes paper and online, with a top 8 in the last SCG Modern Open, and winning a Pro Tour slot in an online RPTQ in the hands Jacob Wilson.

The strength of aggressive and disruptive decks has brought back one of Modern's forgotten decks from the dead, Splinter Twin. Even after it was banned, the infinite combo with Pestermite and Deceiver Exarch has remained in the format with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Now decks using the combo have returned, and they are putting up outsized results relative to their numbers.

Throughout Modern's history, Splinter Twin combo decks would traditionally include Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker or two as a backup to ensure consistent access to the combo, but now the deck doesn't have the luxury of playing more than four copies of its combo card. Instead, the deck has pushed the combo to a supporting role in the deck, which adopts a more controlling stance capable of winning the game the fair way without the combo. The deck takes a trick out of the book of Blue Moon, which this deck closely resembles except for some control elements removed for the combo, by including maindeck Blood Moon, which is a one-card combo in its own right against many decks, and thus gives the deck another angle from which to pressure opponents.

Using Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker to combo will rarely if ever race Storm combo on its own, but its ability to win the game instantly has its own value. Combined with its wealth of disruption, that makes it a good option for attacking Storm. In the early game, the deck can focus all of its effort, cards, and mana on disrupting Storm, and can win immediately with minimal prior investment. The blue combo creatures can be flashed in safely at end of turn when the threat of being Storm combo has passed, or can be disruptive on the upkeep. This is opposed to a traditional deck that needs to deploy threats to race Storm, and will often be forced to decide between playing a threat or leaving its guard up and failing to apply pressure, which gives Storm more time to recover from disruption or to race threats. Beyond Counterspells and removal, the deck also includes Vendilion Clique as quasi-discard, and access to more Counterspells from the board, so even though the deck doesn't race Storm, it's capable of extending the game long enough to combo off and win. I imagine that the deck plays very well against Humans with minimal disruption for the combo, and Splinter Twin has always been known to be strong against Affinity, so it's poised to succeed in a metagame where highly disruptive decks like Death's Shadow decks have seen a decline, making Jeskai its biggest enemy.

While it wasn't a dead deck, White-Green Auras, or Bogles, has risen from bottom-tier status to a very competitive option. It has had two great weekends, qualifying players in both online RPTQs, and finishing second and third in last weekend's Modern Challenge.

It wasn't immediately clear to me why the deck was suddenly doing well, but it does make sense given some recent metagame trends. It's not a great deck against Storm, but it does have access to a great sideboard option against the deck in Rule of Law, and its sideboard enchantments in general are among the very best hosers in all of Modern and a big boon to the deck, which are better in this deck than any others because they count towards Ethereal Armor, which is essentially the deck's Cranial Plating. Where Bogles excels is against aggressive decks and those playing relatively fair, so it beats up on Humans, and it's strong against Affinity and Dredge, especially after it sideboards in hosers. Eldrazi Tron is essentially just an aggro deck, so it too struggles against Bogles. Lifegain can often allow it to get far ahead of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle decks, and it's of course fantastic against Burn. All that said, the real secret to Bogles success may be that midrange control decks like Jeskai and Grixis Death's Shadow rely almost entirely on targeted removal, so they are very susceptible to Hexproof creatures. That all comes together to make it look like Bogles now has great matchups across the top of the metagame, aside from the Storm deck, so it's currently capitalizing on Storm's metagame share normalizing as the field adapts. That said, it does have some matchups that are quite tough, so it has benefited from Counter Combo decks being in decline, as well as Urzatron. It's threatened by the rise of Lantern Control and has little recourse against Infect.

The deck that currently holds the largest shares of the winner's metagame, that is lists that finished high enough in a tournament to be published, and 5-0 online lists, is now Jeskai, which at around 7.5% has surpassed Storms 6.5%. One reason is that Jeskai, with plenty of countermagic for Gifts Ungiven and removal for their creatures, plus possible sideboard hosers like Rule of Law, is pretty strong against Storm, especially the stock version of Jeskai that uses Geist of Saint Traft as a clock.

The deck is also strong against the anti-Storm decks like Humans, along with Infect and Twin. It's also just generally a good Modern deck that historically has been one of the hardest opponents for Affinity and Burn, and it has benefited from the decline of Tron decks.

Some Jeskai players have began to evolve along with the ever-adjusting metagame, specifically by taking a more controlling approach and cutting Geist of Saint Traft in favor of more disruption and card selection. Geist of Saint Traft is weak against creature decks with blockers, like Humans, so it can be cut in favor of other options. This deck has went up to a full set of Opt, which adds consistency across the board, and helps to flip Search for Azcanta to take over the late game.

Another approach to midrange that has been doing very well recently is Mardu, which replaces countermagic with discard. The deck has received some attention because the player who has the most Modern trophies in online leagues has earned them playing the deck, and last weekend the deck proved itself on a bigger stage by finishing in the top 8 of the online RPTQ.

Young Pyromancer and Lingering Souls give the deck some very excellent proactive plays that are great for grinding down an opponent, and Bedlam Reveler is a power-play in Modern that combines a threat with raw card advantage. The deck also supports Blood Moon, which gives the midrange deck unique access to and immunity against a powerful tool that is often used to attack multi-color midrange decks like Jeskai.

The success of decks like Mardu, Jeskai, and Death's Shadow variants, along with a resurgence in decks like Jund and White-Blue Control that beat up Humans, has led to Dredge exploiting their attrition plan and qualifying multiple players in RPTQs, including two in the first online RPTQ, but its absence in the second week means the online metagame has already been adjusting with more sideboard hosers.

On the topic of Lantern Control, a version with Whir of Invention has become the industry standard, and seems to have elevated the deck to its most competitive and popular level yet.

Whir of Invention adds a nice consistency to the deck and effectively doubles the number of its key card, Ensnaring Bridge, but it can also look for one-mana lock pieces or dig up singleton hosers like maindeck Grafdigger's Cage or Witchbane Orb. Whir of Invention is an artifact version of Chord of Calling, a historically excellent Modern card that sees plenty of play, so it was only a matter of time before it found mainstream success.

A new deck that has been catching on is the Black-Red Flameblade Adept deck, which takes advantage of the card along with other payoffs for discarding, like Hollow One. The newest technoloy for the deck is Goblin Lore, which provides a huge source of discard to back up Burning Inquiry, and comes with the benefit of not being card disadvantage.

At least one player picked up on the fact that the Flameblade Adept deck shares some key elements with the Vengevine-Hollow One deck, which allows for an elegant mashup.

What are you playing in Modern and why?

-Adam




submit to reddit » Print «