Instead of just giving you a rundown on the best decks in the format or dividing them into the tradition categories of Combo-Aggro-Control, today I'm going to walk you through Modern by showing you the strongest things you can do in the format right now. The Modern metagame has changed quite a bit over the past few months, and with these changes a few subtle trends have emerged. The best individual cards in the format are still mostly the same cheap generic disruptive cards (Lightning Bolt, Thoughtseize, Fatal Push, Path to Exile, Dismember, etc), but these spells do not define the format; rather, they merely keep opposing strategies in check. The 10 power plays I will focus on today are what the best strategies in Modern are built around. If you haven't played Modern in a while, or you are new to the format, consider this your primer for how the format presently looks.
If winning the game with a single card interests you, might I suggest…
The deck that does this the best is Red-Green Valakut, while Amulet (Bloomless Titan) has been quietly emerging as a fringe player in the metagame.
The deck kills the opponent with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, either by resolving Scapeshift with at least seven or eight lands on the battlefield or by resolving Primeval Titan. Some versions run Hour of Promise and/or Through the Breach instead of Scapeshift and/or Explore, but most do not. Some also run Anger of the Gods main over Sweltering Suns, but the ability to cycle your wraths in matchups where it is not good has proven more useful than the exile ability on Anger of the Gods. Some also run Prismatic Omen to accelerate this kill while others play addition Khalni Heart Expeditions and the full set of Lightning Bolts.
This deck aims to play Amulet of Vigor and then have all your bounce lands untap so that you can resolving Primeval Titan, finding Slayers' Stronghold and Boros Garrison to give it haste, and then finding Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion and Vesuva (copying Boros Garrison) to give the trampling Titan double strike. Two players have been rocking Magic Online leagues with slightly different builds of this deck. Jsnyder207's version has four Sakura-Tribe Scout and two Explores to accelerate as well as two Dismember for disruption while PuntThenWhine prefers four Lotus Bloom for acceleration and a Slaughter Pact and an extra Pact of Negation as disruption, and instead of the Explores they have one Hornet Queen and one Walking Ballista as additional kill cards.
If casting a big green giant isn't your thing but you still want to burn the opponent out three damage at a time, might I suggest…
The best Goblin Guide deck right now is Burn.
The goal of this deck is to burn the opponent out as quickly as possible, using burn spells on opposing creatures only when absolutely necessary, outside of Searing Blaze. Some versions splash green for sideboard Destructive Revelry and sometimes Atarka's Command. Others stick to straight Boros, opting to sideboard Smash to Smithereens instead. Some players cut the fourth Skullcrack for a second Grim Lavamancer main, but everything else is pretty standard.
There are also various Wild Nacatl zoo decks floating around the fringes of the metagame, running Reckless Bushwacker and Burning-Tree Emissary to get explosive creature starts backed by burn rather than the typical Burn decks that play a few creatures backed by a lot of burn spells.
If Burn decks don't run enough creatures for your fancy, might I suggest…
The best Collected Company deck right now is the Abzan Toolbox Combo.
The goal is to assemble one of two creature combos. The first is with Devoted Druid and Vizier of Remedies, which together produces infinite green mana, which can then be used to activate Duskwatch Recruiter until you find Walking Ballista to kill the opponent. The other combo is to use Viscera Seer and Kitchen Finks alongside Vizier of Remedies to gain infinite life. Collected Company and Chord of Calling are the ways to find the various combo pieces.
Since it is a toolbox deck, there is no shortage of ways to customize the list. I've seen all sorts of singleton copies of creatures that assist in various scenarios: Selfless Spirit to protect from board sweepers, Ethersworn Canonist vs Storm, Fiend Hunter as removal, Magus of the Moon against Tron, Qasali Pridemage to answer artifacts and enchantments, Spellskite for protection, Scavenging Ooze as graveyard hate, etc.
Some other Collected Company decks on the rise are Todd Stevens' Green-White Value deck and Bant Knightfall while Elves and Hatebears are (sadly) getting outshined by the other CoCo lists. One neat innovation that has happened to Elves is the addition of Devoted Druid (an Elf) and a singleton Vizier of Remedies to search up with Chord of Calling.
If you enjoy going wide with cheap creatures, but digging into your toolbox to assemble an infinite combo isn't quite your thing, might I suggest…
Like Burn, there isn't a ton of variation between Affinity lists. Some lists play a singleton Glint-Nest Crane, Spellskite or Hope of Ghirapur, one list plays a pair of Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, and one list runs four Bomat Couriers, but most lists are nearly identical and it just comes down to fine-tuning the flex slot numbers. The numbers of Etched Champions compared to Master of Etherium are the most variable slot. Also some lists run one Welding Jar over the fourth Galvanic Blast or the second Memnite. And some lists run a Glimmervoid or an Island over Sea Gate Wreckage or the fourth Spire of Industry.
If you're down to go wide and to start the game off by casting an artifact, but you're not all about your deck getting shut down by Stony Silence or wiped away by Shatterstorm, might I suggest…
It pains me to say it (though perhaps not as much as it pains Corbin), but Humans are by far the most successful Aether Vial deck in Modern at the moment, followed not so closely behind by Merfolk, Hatebears, White-Black Eldrazi Taxes, and Mono White Death and Taxes.
Mayor of Avabruck is a thing of the past. Players are instead opting to play Phantasmal Image. There is still some amount of variation between lists, especially concerning whether to include Thalia, Heretic Cathar, Kessig Malcontents, and/or Dark Confidant into the deck, but the lists are becoming more streamlined. The other difference is whether to play the second Seachrome Coast or the first Mana Confluence. No one is trying Dire Fleet Daredevil yet, but it could end up finding its way in.
If you're not all about that tribal life, but you're down to attack with cheap creatures while disrupting the opponent, might I suggest…
Unless one of our heroes Reid Duke or Willy Edel can prove otherwise at the Pro Tour next weekend, the slower midrange Tarmogoyf decks look to continue their steady decline into obscurity. The new flashier way to jam Lhurgoyfs is to do so alongside Death's Shadow.
The basic idea of this deck is to whittle down your own life total small enough to make Death's Shadow huge. You do this by fetching, shocking, paying life to Thoughtseize and cycling Street Wraith. Doing all this also fills the graveyard, which grows Tarmogoyf and turns on Traverse the Ulvenwald to find more Death's Shadows and Tarmogoyfs. Temur Battle Rage is the way to make sure the opponent dies immediately, without being able to chump block to stay alive. Targeting yourself with Mishra's Bauble before fetching gives the deck a touch more consistency with its draws and makes delirium easier to attain. All these things taken together make the Death's Shadow version the best Tarmogoyf deck in Modern.
If you're all about doing broken things by filling up the graveyard, but you're not comfortable whittling down your own life total, might I suggest…
Dredge and Mardu Pyromancer are close in power level, but Mardu is more resilient to graveyard hate and more interactive, so I would put it slightly ahead of Dredge as the best Faithless Looting deck in Modern right now.
The idea is to play a Young Pyromancer and then cast a bunch of cheap spells, filling up the graveyard while producing Elemental tokens. Then you cast Bedlam Reveler to reload. You also have Faithless Looting and Lingering Souls to flashback as reloads. The deck used to play Burst Lightning, but that has since been replaced by Collective Brutality. Some versions run Lightning Helix while others prefer Fatal Push. Some lists also run two copies of Monastery Swiftspear while others do not run any. I expect this deck to be one of the best decks at the Pro Tour.
Dredge hasn't changed much, nor has the Grishoalbrand deck, but there are two new decks based around Hollow One. One is a red-green version with Vengevine and Hooting Mandrills and the other is a black-red version with Bloodghast and Gurmag Angler.
If you're down to fill up the graveyard and draw cards, but you'd rather win the game with a single spell rather some large creatures, might I suggest…
Storm is currently the best Remand deck in Modern. It's a fast and consistent combo deck with lots of interchangeable pieces, making it quite resilient to hand disruption. Remand as a built-in combo piece also gives the deck a bit of defensive flexibility while Grapeshot being the finisher also gives the deck a way to disrupt opposing creatures.
Storm has had many incarnations since the beginning of Modern, and this is the current top performing build. It takes advantage of a pair of two-drop creatures that reduce the cost of your spells, along with Gifts Ungiven to set up a hand of rituals to go off with Past in Flames and eventually Grapeshot the opponent out. Remand plays a key role in the deck by protecting from disruption while going off or Time Walking the opponent on the turn before going off, but also by targeting Grapeshot mid-combo in order to re-cast the same Grapeshot and essentially double the storm count. This allows the deck to go off much more consistently than it otherwise would be able to. I expect Storm to be a major player at the Pro Tour.
Blue Tron still exists, and a few other interesting decks have emerged in large part due to the Time Walk effect Remand provides. One is a Mono-Blue Living End deck that casts Living End off As Foretold (another version splashes white for Path to Exile and some sideboard cards).
There are various versions of Blue Moon, including this version using Madcap Experiment finding Platinum Emperion, this version using Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker to making infinite copies of Deceiver Exarch or Pestermite, and this version using Through the Breach to attack with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.
For years the Urzatron has been about 5-6% of the Modern metagame, but in the past year this number has basically doubled! Green-based Tron decks remain about as popular as always, but Colorless Eldrazi Tron has matched it in popularity. I can't remember a time throughout the entire history of Modern where Tron decks have enjoyed as much success as they currently enjoy. I expect that to continue into the Pro Tour unless people start packing an appropriate amount of Fulminator Mages and such.
The basic idea of all Tron decks is to assembly all three of the Urza lands. This more than doubles the amount of mana your lands can produce. The Green-based Tron decks also use Ancient Stirrings and Sylvan Scrying to find the Tron pieces while the Colorless Eldrazi version instead uses Eldrazi Temple to cast Matter Reshaper, Thought-Knot Seer, Reality Smasher and Endbringer. Once Tron is assembled, it can use that mana to cast Karn Liberated, All Is Dust, Wurmcoil Engine, a very large Walking Ballista, or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. The green versions also have Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Oblivion Stone. Another key component to the Eldrazi build is Chalice of the Void. Some versions of the Eldrazi build also run a single copy of Basilisk Collar to machine gun down all the opponent's creatures when placed on Walking Ballista or Endbringer.
Eldrazi Tron is maybe slightly better than the green Tron decks, but it is close. Both are quite good right now in Modern.
And finally, if you like nothing more than to be the fun police that keeps everything else in check, might I suggest…
Snapcaster Mage decks presently comprise nearly a quarter of the Modern metagame. They have traditionally kept the format's most degenerate decks in check – with the exception of Eldrazi Winter – and yet again stand atop the field as the most powerful line of play. It's nothing flashy, but the versatility afforded by Snapcaster Mage allows you to not only customize your deck for the metagame but also your deck post-board in each match. Serum Visions and Thought Scour allow draws to be super smooth, and they also allow you to find bullet cards, especially if you start flashing them back with Snapcaster Mages. Once you find the card you need, you get to double up on it by flashing it back with Snapcaster Mage. And then you can use cards like Cryptic Command or Kolaghan's Command to return Snapcaster Mage to your hand, which you can then use to flash back the Command to pull far ahead. So Snapcaster Mage smooths your draw, gets you to the key cards you need, lets you rebuy those key cards and then allows you to bury the opponent in card advantage in the late game.
Snapcaster Mage is used in the Blue Moon decks already mentioned in the Remand section, as well as in Grixis Control and White-Blue Control, but the two decks that are keeping everything in the format in check the most right now are Grixis Shadow and Jeskai Midrange.
Grixis Shadow combines all the aforementioned strengths of Snapcaster Mage with the speed and power of the Death's Shadow deck described in the Tarmogoyf section. It's been the deck to beat in Modern for about the past year, and until someone can come along to dethrone it, it will retain that honor. It's certainly beatable, but it's explosive and controlling all at once, able to race combo decks while also winning attrition battles, which makes it the most versatile deck in the format.
A fairly close second for best Snapcaster Mage deck is Jeskai.
Some versions are more controlling and omit Geist of Saint Traft and/or Spell Queller, but much like the pressure Death's Shadow adds to Grixis, the Spirits add to Jeskai, allowing the deck to play either the tempo game or the attrition game, depending on what the matchup and board state dictate.
These are the ten most powerful things to do in Modern right now (and the decks that do them best):
While you can certainly do whatever you want in Modern, some decks do what you want to do better than others. Hopefully this analysis of Modern helps you to find a competitive deck that you will enjoy piloting.
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