Post Pro Tour Changes to Modern
Craig Wescoe

Leading up to the Pro Tour I analyzed the Modern metagame and described what I saw as the 10 strongest things you can do in the format. As it turns out, all eight of the Top 8 decks were doing at least one of the top seven strongest plays described in the article, and of the seven strongest plays, six were represented in the Top 8. The only one missing was “Assembling Tron,” which finished in ninth place on tiebreakers in the hands of Jon Finkel; the analysis was pretty spot-on, although some things didn't quite play out as expected.

I correctly anticipated every archetype in the Top 8 except Pascal Vieren's Blue-Red Pyromancer deck, which is a slightly different take on midrange blue that incorporates what I took to be the strongest (Snapcaster Mage) and third strongest (Remand) plays in one deck. As strange as this sounds, it is essentially a Blue Moon variant without Blood Moons.

As far as painting an accurate and useful picture of the metagame, the article is still very relevant post-PT. I would, however, like to make some updates considering the results at the Pro Tour. Instead of giving a thorough synopsis of the entire format again, consider this article an amendment and supplement to the previous article, focusing on a handful of unanticipated trends that will reshape the landscape of Modern moving forward.

Young Pyromancer's Instant Success

I anticipated the Mardu Pyromancer deck making a big splash at the Pro Tour, as it did in the hands of Gerry Thompson, but what I did not expect was for Young Pyromancer to play a prominent role in two other strategies at the event. Pascal Vieren used it alongside Thing in the Ice in their Blue/Red Pyromancer deck while Paul Rietzl used it as the basis of his transformational sideboard plan with Madcap Experiment Blue Moon.

The real power of this deck lies in the versatility of Snapcaster Mage. While I did not anticipate this being the best Snapcaster Mage deck, it makes sense in hindsight why it outperformed the others. Instead of giving your opponent an extra land from Path to Exile like white-blue or Jeskai does, it uses Roast to clear out opposing early threats.

It also uses Thing in the Ice to block Goblin Guides and Monastery Swiftspears, but unlike Wall of Omens, it turns into a giant threat. It can also clear a board of Humans when it transforms as long as Reflector Mage doesn't get to it first. Being able to survive Anger of the Gods is also not trivial as that is a popular answer to Young Pyromancer. It is in fact so not trivial that Pascal ran two copies of Anger in his own sideboard.

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With this unexpected wrinkle in the metagame, I expect Jeskai decks to decline in popularity and instead branch into two directions. The control version of Jeskai will gradually be replaced by White-Blue Control while the tempo version of Jeskai will gradually be replaced by Blue-Red Pyromamcer, at least until Vidianto Wijaya or Kevin Jones wins another Modern tournament with Jeskai.

As long as Humans remain a top strategy, I also expect Storm decks to be kept in check. This means a lot of Storm players might also switch over to Blue-Red Pyromancer for the time being.

Tarmogoyf is Back!

Our hero Reid Duke pulled through, sticking to his Abzan Midrange guns and making the Top 8 of the tournament. While I stated that midrange Tarmogoyf decks are on the decline, I mentioned Reid by name as the archetype's last hope for rising back to prominence. And he delivered!

Reid made a few clever innovations to adapt to the metagame, including main deck Nihil Spellbomb to go alongside Scavenging Ooze as graveyard hate in this graveyard-heavy metagame.

His sideboard is also well-tuned for the metagame that showed up. He has Fulminator Mages for Tron and Valakut, Stony Silence for Tron, Affinity, and Lantern, Damnation for Humans and Affinity, Collective Brutality for Burn, more graveyard hate, including a Grafdigger's Cage as a hedge against Collected Company decks, another Liliana for creature decks and perhaps to recur Fulminator Mages, and a Duress likely to round out his sideboard plans against a wide disparity of strategies such as control decks, combo decks, burn decks, and maybe even big mana decks.

The other Tarmogoyf deck to make the Top 8 involved Death's Shadow and Traverse the Ulvenwald.

This Tarmogoyf deck is weaker than Abzan against the control and midrange fair decks of the format but is better in matchups where a faster clock is your best friend. Unless you are a proficient BG/x Midrange pilot, this may be the better Tarmogoyf option for you. I expect it to be the more popular Tarmogoyf deck moving forward, bans and unbans notwithstanding.

The gist of the deck is to attack with giant undercosted monsters as quickly as possible. It relies on the graveyard to grow Tarmogoyf and to attain delirium for Grim Flayer and for Traverse the Ulvenwald to go find Death's Shadows. The deck thus essentially plays 12 giant monsters that can be played for two or less mana. It can then cast Temur Battle Rage to trample over with double strike for the win. Traverse can also find Snapcaster Mage, which can flashback Traverse to find Death's Shadow if you have the extra mana.

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This may not only be the best Tarmogoyf deck in Modern but also the best toolbox deck (better than any Collected Company deck) and perhaps even the best Death's Shadow deck. Grixis Shadow is still good, but each has their own merits. Given the intentionally painful mana base, it is rather easy to splash extra colors. Before long we may be living in a world where Death's Shadow decks are all five colors by default, much like the Humans archetype.

Faithless Looting is Too Good

I said filling up your graveyard with Faithless Looting was the fourth-strongest thing you can do in Modern. I even named Mardu Pyromancer as the best deck for the job. What I did not expect was for Hollow One to also make the Top 8, and even the Top 4 where it faced off against the other Faithless Looting deck in the hands of Gerry Thompson playing Mardu Pyromancer.

I was close to sleeving up Mardu Pyromancer for the Pro Tour. It put up good results in my testing and Bedlam Reveler proved to be one heck of a card. It's like Treasure Cruise attached to a Tarmogoyf. The deck plays out less like a combo deck and more like a control deck, tearing apart the opponent's hand and killing all their creatures for the smallest amounts of mana possible. Then it starts casting and flashing back Faithless Looting until it finds Bedlam Reveler to keep going.

Young Pyromancer is actually more of a backup plan, at least in my experience. It's a way to punish an opponent for not playing into all your removal spells or for clocking a combo or control opponent before they can recover from all your discard spells.

I also like how Faithless Looting can turn your discard spells into more removal spells against creature decks or the reverse against combo decks and control decks. And Lingering Souls is incidental pressure that also keeps your removal from getting taxed when facing decks that go wide.

Overall, the deck is very good right now and the only reason I didn't play it is because I kept losing to graveyard hate in the final day of testing, most notably Rest in Peace and to a lesser extent Leyline of the Void. Wear // Tear could be the answer, or perhaps Hazoret the Fervent, Goblin Rabblemaster or some other threat that doesn't care about the graveyard. For more info about the deck, check out Riley Knight's recent articles on it.

The other Faithless Looting deck to crack the Top 8 was Ken Yukuhiro's Black-Red Hollow One deck. I cited it as the third strongest Faithless Looting deck behind Mardu Pyromancer and Dredge but ahead of the Griselbrand Reanimator decks. In reality, I think it's probably about on par with Dredge or perhaps slightly ahead since it can legitimately win through graveyard hate more reliably by casting Hollow One and Flamewake Phoenix and pumping Flameblade Adept. I underestimated the value of operating off discard without relying on the graveyard as a resource. Graveyard hate is still good against all these decks, but it's only backbreaking against Dredge.

This to me suggests that Faithless Looting may be worth looking at as a potential candidate for being removed from Modern. Perhaps let it stick around for another year or so, but I suspect it will prove itself too good for Modern if it hasn't already.

Humans are the New Robots

I named Humans as far and away the best Aether Vial deck in Modern and the Pro Tour confirmed this emphatically by placing Javier Dominguez and Andrea Mengucci in the Top 8 with nearly identical lists. What I did not expect is for multiple copies of Humans to make Top 8 and for Affinity to perform nowhere near as well.

The creatures in the Human tribe have so many varied abilities that disrupt the opponent's game plan that there isn't even a need to run any spells in the deck. And the rainbow lands in conjunction with Aether Vial allow the deck to play any Human regardless of color constraints. A card like Prophetic Flamespeaker might be slightly ambitious, given the importance of Horizon Canopy in the deck, but pretty much any other Human can fit.

In addition to all the disruption, the creatures also pump each other. Champion of the Parish and Thalia's Lieutenant get pumped by each Human while the Lieutenant pumps everyone else. Phantasmal Image can also double up on whatever the most effectively disruptive creature is in a given game or matchup, or it can double up as a backup copy of Mantis Rider or Thalia's Lieutenant. You basically get the best of Merfolk with all the pump effects combined with the best of Hatebears with the disruptive abilities. It's no surprise it's the best Aether Vial deck, but I was a bit surprised to see it take over the title of best aggro deck from Affinity.

Speaking of Affinity...

Lantern Outperformed Tron and Affinity

Tron was not the best Ancient Stirrings deck, nor was Affinity the best Mox Opal deck. Instead Lantern claimed both titles as it took down the event in the hands of Luis Salvatto.

Lantern is a very innovative prison deck that aims to lock the opponent out of the game the way Jace, the Mind Sculptor does, by only allowing them to draw irrelevant cards. It's primarily powered by two of the most powerful cards in the format – Mox Opal is the most degenerate mana accelerant while Ancient Stirrings is the most efficient tutor effect. Whir of Invention ties everything together by acting as a Chord of Calling for any card in the deck. The deck has been around for a few years now, but only recently has it reached a level of tuning that sets it firmly atop the format.

Moving Forward

A lot has changed in the wake of the Pro Tour, despite so much being anticipated. My guess is that the metagame will trend in the directions described, with Jeskai and Storm declining and all the Burn, Company and Primeval Titan decks continuing to get pushed out of the metagame in favor of the slightly more powerful things that are happening in the format right now.

The next big thing that will happen to Modern will be the announcement of bannings and unbannings next week. The most likely result is no change since the format is diverse and contains a handful of new decks. The cards I would think are most likely to get banned if any would be, in order:

  1. Faithless Looting
  2. Ancient Stirrings
  3. Mox Opal
  4. Street Wraith

I don't think anything else is or ought to be in danger of a potential axe.

As far as unbanning, Stoneforge Mystic would be pretty exciting. Putting a 4/4 Germ Token onto the battlefield on turn 3 in a field filled with efficient artifact hate sounds more than fair, but perhaps strong enough to cause a new archetype or two to emerge. Bloodbraid Elf might also help bring Jund Midrange back to life and counterbalance the trend of every Jund deck moving toward Death's Shadow. Death's Shadow is beginning to become what they were afraid Wild Nacatl would be. Letting Bloodbraid Elf and Stoneforge Mystic into the format could help diversify the way decks are built. And who knows, maybe me and Willy Edel will start winning again if they give us our favorite creatures back.

Craig Wescoe

@Brimaz4Life