Modern Decks Flying Under the Radar
My past few tournaments I have chosen one of the top decks in the format, and it hasn't worked out. Sometimes going past the top decks is a high-risk, high-reward choice. In a format as large as Modern, the decks that are under represented in the metagame aren't necessarily a lower power level than decks that are heavily played. With Grand Prix Hartford coming up I don't want to play a deck like Humans or Hollow One that will be on everyone's radar, so here are some sleeper choices.
Esper Goryo's Vengeance
Goryo's Vengeance can manufacture wins very quickly. There aren't actually that many fast combo decks in Modern that are popular right now. Storm is the one many players immediately go to, but Goryo's Vengeance certainly is a good build-around card. The Esper Goryo's Vengeance deck isn't as all-in on Goryo's Vengeance like some of the other strategies around it. This leaves room for extra card draw, spot removal and even Lingering Souls as an alternative way to win.
Having access to your own disruption is really important against a deck like Humans. Being able to kill a card like Meddling Mage or Kitesail Freebooter to unlock your hand is a gamechanger. The advantage to playing the lightning-quick black-red variants is winning the game quickly by bringing back Griselbrand and comboing. Here, though, the Goryo's Vengeance targets are creatures that are actually castable.
Obzedat, Ghost Council is the best target for Goryo's Vengeance in the deck. Many decks struggle to answer it once it hits play, and you don't actually lose it at the end of turn as a result of Goryo's Vengeance since it exiles itself anyway so it won't be permanently exiled from Goryo's Vengeance. Sorcery-speed removal can't answer Obzedat, Ghost Council because of its ability to flicker in and out of play. When looking at the removal spells that Jund brings to the table, there is virtually no way to kill an Obzedat outside of double Lightning Bolt or perhaps a Terminate.
The other primary legendary creature in the deck is Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. It's a creature that can be used for value and as a looter to help with Goryo's Vengeance. It can also be brought back itself with Goryo's Vengeance, and then you can loot to flip it into a planeswalker, another way of preventing your Goryo's Vengeance target from being permanently exiled. There are plenty of spells to choose from to flashback once you have Jace, Telepath Unbound on the battlefield. This is essentially an Esper Control deck with a Goryo's Vengeance twist. I also think the all-in Goryo's Vengeance decks are strong, but also much more vulnerable to hate and disruption.
Hardened Scales Affinity
This deck was essentially nonexistent until we saw Sam Pardee run it in the Modern Super League, and now it has started to gain some popularity. The deck is very explosive like Affinity without being quite as all-in on the artifacts. The big theme is, of course, doubling your counters. Most draws that feature Hardened Scales are going to be capable of some insane plays if left unchecked.
The creatures are all artifacts with some counter synergy. The modular ability works extremely well when you have Walking Ballista and Hangarback Walker as creatures to put counters onto. Many games involve either loading up a Walking Ballista and going for a Fireball-type swing, or creating a ton of Thopters from a Hangarback Walker. The fact that both Arcbound Ravager and Throne of Geth allow you to sacrifice artifacts at any time means your opponent must always respect the various ways counters can be distributed.
The deck is both tough to play with and against because of all the math involved. Seriously, it turns out with all the extra counters it can be hard to add everything up in your head and think about all of the various possibilities. Ancient Stirrings has once again found another home in Modern, as it creates some redundancy with the artifacts. Welding Jar is also nice as a cheap artifact that protects your creatures. Having so many artifacts also opens the door for Mox Opal to get out of the gates faster.
This deck also has the capability to have something like a turn-one Steel Overseer, but tends to have a much better lategame than Affinity. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar is in some ways a second Steel Overseer, but the fact it can churn out creatures is also important. The way midrange decks beat you is by dealing with all your creatures, and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar then becomes a huge problem. Between Throne of Geth, Steel Overseer, Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Hardened Scales, the small creatures grow at an alarming rate.
Many players simply haven't had a chance to try it yet, which is why the deck is still not that popular, but soon players will know what its capable of. It is certainly not fun to play against with any sort of fair strategy. The sideboard is limited to green cards and artifacts, but it turns out there are still plenty of options to choose from within those constraints.
If you are looking for more of a midrange deck that can take players by surprise, this could be exactly what you are looking for. Archangel Avacyn hasn't really seen much Modern play up to this point, but it works really well with Eldrazi Spawns. Nest Invader is a card that has been around in Modern for quite some time, yet players just now seem to be realizing everything it can do for green decks trying to ramp. The Eldrazi Spawn allows you to both ramp into Archangel Avacyn and flip it when you want to.
This isn't a combo deck; it is all solid creature-based threats. It is going to prey upon other midrange and control decks with cards like Voice of Resurgence and Restoration Angel. Flickering out a creature with a comes-into-play trigger is one of the best ways to get ahead. The combo matchups are a bit more difficult, though after sideboard there is an Eldritch Evolution package. While the deck doesn't have Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker to go alongside Restoration Angel, it can bring in high-impact cards like Eidolon of the Rhetoric and Kataki, War's Wage in order to beat up on the tougher game one matchups.
The mana base is clean, and with four copies of Kitchen Finks the Burn matchup is pretty good. This does fall into the realm of Chord of Calling and Collected Company-style decks, but with Archangel Avacyn as the top end alongside Restoration Angel. This puts the deck in a much better spot against Thalia, Guardian of Thraben coming out of Humans and Hatebear decks.
This is a traditional Taking Turns deck that has a small white splash for sideboard cards. Taking Turns is a deck we've seen put up some results, but many players still don't respect its competitiveness. This deck can do some pretty scary stuff and shouldn't be underestimated. Jund is one of the tougher matchups because of both discard and cards like Abrupt Decay that can deal with Howling Mine and Dictate of Kruphix. This deck really needs to get a way to draw additional card into play before trying to go off with Time Walks.
Once having a Dictate of Kruphix in play, the additional turns become much more relevant as you are netting cards while taking extra turns. With Jund and combo decks on the decline in favor of fairer creature decks, Taking Turns is pretty well positioned because there are fewer main deck ways to deal with artifacts and enchantments running around. The Exhaustion and Gigadrowse plan means that it isn't actually necessary to take infinite turns, you can afford to give the opponent a turn late in the game, and still make sure all their important permanents are tapped.
The white splash makes a lot of sense and helps shore up some of the more difficult matchups. We see cards for decks like Affinity and Burn that can win before you have a chance to set up the. Leyline of Sanctity can also be hardcast which does come up as the deck draws a lot of cards so there is a decent chance you find one over the course of the game.
There are a variety of different Eldrazi decks, so it can be easy to forget about the existence of Eldrazi Taxes. This deck is extremely annoying to play against because of all the angles it can attack from. The deck has yet to surge in popularity though it always seems to quietly do well in its various iterations. This version opts not to play Wasteland Strangler and Tidehollow Sculler, two cards we have seen in this type of deck before. There is your typical Hatebear package, which makes up the taxes half of the deck.
With Aether Vial plus Path to Exile, this deck will always have a high density of creatures. Leonin Arbiter plus Ghost Quarter or Path to Exile works really well. As a Tron player, Leonin Arbiter is one of the scariest cards I can see played in game one. Blade Splicer works really well because this deck can also easily bring its creatures in and out of play. Not only are there Restoration Angels, but there is also a full complement of Eldrazi Displacers.
Thought-Knot Seer is another Eldrazi threat that is a generically strong, and picking the opponents hand apart is nice. Thraben Inspector is making its way more and more in this style of deck, and is a way of making sure you don't run out of gas. With a card like Aether Vial in your deck, having a way to recoup cards is extremely important, and like Blade Splicer, Thraben Inspector can come in and out of play and generate an advantage.
The deck also has some of the strongest sideboard cards in the format. There are a wide variety of removal spells to choose from in the sideboard. It's important to have ways to beat hexproof creatures, and Blessed Alliance plus mass removal allows you to do that. Disenchant is also a very flexible way of having a card that can hit specific artifacts or beat up on Bogles. However, this does mean there are not any Stony Silences, the best possible card against Affinity.
Thanks for reading,