10 Team Modern Unified Configurations Most Likely To Win GP Detroit

Grabbing a few of your friends to hit up team competition? This is a tricky beast, as many of the best decks have overlapped cards! So how do you get around this, Ben Friedman?

Team Unified Modern…what a polarizing format. Our own fearless leader
here at StarCityGames.com, Cedric Phillips, has let his disdain for the
format be known. His critiques are valid, of course, as the Unified
restriction means that not all decks will be played in proportions
representative of their true metagame positioning, and the nature of
Modern’s linear decks means that there are strange incentives for running
with glass cannon strategies. Signing up for a Unified Modern tournament is
asking to get into unsatisfying matches against non-interactive lineups
like Burn-Ironworks-R/B Vengevine or Storm-Tron-Dredge. The gameplay can be
a bit brief and disappointing, and it is exacerbated by this restriction.
Additionally, all post-tournament decklists from a Team Unified event have
to be lightly cross-checked and analyzed to try to spot any substitutions
or alterations that were made specifically due to the restriction, and then
reverse-engineered to find the optimal individual list.

Further, Unified Modern only appeals to Modern aficionados, while
three-format Constructed appeals to anyone who plays Constructed Magic at
all! What gives?

Well, on the other hand, Team Unified Modern is paradoxically easier for most teams from a logistical standpoint, at least
compared to the popular alternative, Standard-Modern-Legacy. By now, almost
every competitive Magic player is familiar with the Modern format, and most
have either invested in a deck for the long term or have access to a
network to borrow or share cards as needed. Compare this to Legacy, where
the Reserved List is a barrier to entry for many players (though you might
be surprised with the options in Colorless Eldrazi, Death and Taxes, and a
basics-over-duals variant of U/B Death’s Shadow!). Or compare to Standard,
where a few years of Kaladesh Block-related mishaps have left a
sizable portion of the tournament player base disenchanted and divested of
the format until the much-awaited rotation.

Modern is the most popular competitive format by a lot, and when everyone
at the local card shop has their pet deck(s) ready to battle, it makes a
lot of sense to just let everyone bash it out together with their favorite
decks. Plus, with the direction of Modern in recent months, there are
actually not a ton of overlapping or conflicting decks, as most of the best
choices fall into a few macro-categories. A few key power cards that define
large segments of Modern inform the possibilities for the best combinations
of decks, and a few of those configurations are bound to rise to the top.

First, let’s go through those influential power cards and see what
archetypes they bind as mutually exclusive, although there’s bound to be a
little bit of overlap with some decks.

  • Mono-Green Tron
  • Ironworks
  • Amulet Titan

  • Humans
  • Bant Spirits
  • Abzan Company
  • Infect

  • Hollow One
  • Burn
  • Jeskai Control
  • Jund
  • Storm
  • Mardu Pyromancer

  • G/W Hexproof
  • U/W Control
  • Jeskai Control
  • Burn
  • Bant Spirits

In addition to this list, there are some key utility or sideboard cards,
like Leyline of the Void, Dismember, Izzet Staticaster, Dispel, or Nature’s
Claim, that can cause friction between would-be compatible archetypes.

These restrictions breed a bit of acrobatics, where decks that interfere
the least with other segments of the metagame (such as Tron, Humans, or
Ironworks) increase their desirability while good-stuff piles of highly
in-demand cards (such as Jeskai Control, Grixis Death’s Shadow, and Mardu
Pyromancer) drop off a bit.

As such, bearing in mind these restrictions, there are a few lineups that
are head and shoulders above the rest, and savvy metagamers should take an
extra close look at these patterns to inform their own deck selections.

1. Ironworks, Humans, U/W Control

This is the gold standard. There is no denying that. The recipe is
straightforward: Take the best combo, aggro, and control decks and chuckle
as they fit together perfectly with almost no conflict at all. I say almost
because Ben Stark’s Ironworks list from the Pro Tour contains sideboard
Negates in addition to Sai, Master Thopterist, but one can replace those
with Guttural Responses with little to no backlash.

I suspect that this will be the overall most popular configuration,
provided that there are enough people willing and able to pilot Ironworks
through the heavy waves of hate cards that appear to be swelling in Modern
these days.

However, for those teams that don’t wish to deal with Ironworks headaches,
the next best option is…

2. Mono-Green Tron, Humans, U/W Control

Tron has the high raw power of a linear Ancient Stirrings deck, while being
a heck of a lot easier on the ol’ brain cells. There’s a tiny conflict
between Tron and U/W Control in the card Ghost Quarter (but one could
easily forgo this card in U/W) as well as Dismember between Humans and Tron
(likewise, one could drop the card from either deck with little to no
suffering). This (or a variant including Jeskai Control rather than U/W
Control) is likely going to be the most popular three-deck combination at
the whole tournament. It would not surprise me one bit to learn that the
Peach Garden Oath (assuming that they’ll be in attendance) will be packing
this deck. Of course, we all know that
Owen Turtenwald thinks that Humans is a weak choice for strong Modern

, so he might just convince his teammates to replace it and run…

3. Mono-Green Tron, Hollow One, U/W Control

Owen seems to love his Tron and Hollow One, that’s for sure! Hollow One
exploits one of the other most busted cards in Modern in Faithless Looting.
Ancient Stirrings and Faithless Looting are undoubtedly the best card
selection in the format, and as such, their natural deckbuilding
restrictions breed some high-powered linear strategies designed to exploit
their efficiency.

Mixing and matching any non-conflicting combination of the above five decks
(Hollow One, Humans, U/W Control, Tron, and Ironworks) is likely a safe and
potent strategy. However, there are some next-level opportunities if one is
willing to ditch the control deck and try some things a little out of the

4. Storm, Bant Spirits, Tron/Ironworks

At this point, I’m going to shorthand the Ancient Stirrings deck slot,
which should be either Tron or Ironworks, and just combine the two. There
are enough different combinations of decks not to keep rehashing the same
swaps. Regardless, Storm was good enough for two World Champions in Seth
Manfield and William Jensen at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, so it makes sense
to try and slot in a deck that conflicts with U/W Control (because of Opt
or Serum Visions) and all the Lightning Bolt decks. If you can get away
from U/W Control and play Storm in its stead, you open up the white
sideboard cards for Bant Spirits rather than Humans as your Noble Hierarch
deck of choice. This combination is my dark horse pick for the slightly
advanced selection that could slide past the teams playing older, more
established decks.

On the other hand, let’s say that you absolutely hate Tron and Ironworks.
This is understandable, as some teams simply don’t have a confident
Ironworks player and many people refuse to play Tron out of (irrational?)
hatred for the deck. I’m not personally thrilled with Tron’s metagame
position in current Modern, but would be willing to play it if necessary.
I’m also not very experienced with Ironworks and don’t foresee myself
succeeding with it barring a lot of intense practice.

In that case, I might suggest…

5. U/W Control, Humans, Hollow One/R/B Vengevine

A Faithless Looting deck to go with the now-classic PB&J-style pairing
of Humans and U/W Control is the next best thing and depending on how much
variance one wants to introduce into their Looting deck, one might play the
more explosive R/B Vengevine deck or stick with classic Hollow One.

An interesting pattern that emerges when one looks at the configurations
long enough is that two opposing two-deck pairings seem to exist as
powerful anchors for a team. Storm and Bant Spirits, and U/W Control and

Bant Spirits can’t coexist with U/W Control because of the Path to Exile,
Stony Silence, and Rest in Peace conflicts. U/W Control can’t coexist with
Storm because of Opt (and if you prefer Jeskai, then Lightning Bolt as
well). Spirits and Humans obviously can’t coexist. Thus, if one prefers
Bant Spirits to Humans as the Noble Hierarch deck of choice, one is priced
into playing Storm over U/W Control as the Opt deck of choice. This is
interesting, and the face that a large number of teams will have U/W
Control and Humans as their decks in these slots may incentivize players to
jump ahead by playing Storm and Spirits as higher win-percentage
alternatives against both U/W and Humans. Theoretically, Spirits has been
touted as favored against Humans, and Storm is supposed to have this
sideboard plan to drag it across the 50%-mark there, so it may be wise to
abandon the conventional one-two punch of the most popular decks in Modern
and gain an edge here.

Of course, then one might choose R/B Vengevine, Ironworks, or Tron as their
third deck of choice (keeping in mind that Lightning Bolt precludes a
Storm-Hollow One pairing).

Let’s see some configurations with a little more pizzazz, though. The new
kid on the block is Hardened Scales Affinity, and it has a ton of desirable
cards: Mox Opal, Ancient Stirrings, and Inkmoth Nexus headline the list.

Combining Hardened Scales Affinity with Humans or Spirits is a little
annoying, as Horizon Canopy is an unfortunate conflict, but it can be done.
I recognize that a slightly neutered pairing of Humans and Hardened Scales
Affinity would be a perfectly acceptable selection. Control decks, however,
can mix with an aggro-combo deck just fine, leaving us with…

6. Hardened Scales Affinity, Hollow One, U/W Control

Erstwhile meme decks unite! At some point in recent-ish Modern history, all
these decks were considered somewhere between “vastly inferior to a current
Tier 1 deck” and “a joke deck.” These three decks started from the bottom,
and now they comprise some of the most fearsome strategies in the format!
If you’re a fan of aggro-combo, you’ll want to look long and hard at this
configuration, featuring two different intricate proactive decks. As a side
benefit, your proactive decks will finish matches quickly, leading to
exciting Three-Headed Giant team action in the U/W Control match.

To be fair, some people just can’t abide by what others recommend. Let’s
say you don’t want to play any of this crap. You’re sick of Horizon Canopy,
sick of Ancient Stirrings, and you don’t want to deal with Path to Exile.

You want…

7. Infect, Ad Nauseam, Burn

Yeeeeeeaaaaah baby! Finish quickly so you can get back to eating your
second lunch of the day or gossiping about the latest Hall of Fame news
bite or doing team push-ups. (Whatever best builds your team cohesion!)
This team has the possibility of winning the whole match in under ten
turns. Now that’s efficiency!

Ad Nauseam has been discussed recently by Bryan Gottlieb
as a potential Scissors choice in a metagame defined by the Rock that is
Humans. You beat up on a lot of decks just by ignoring their nonsense. You
don’t want to play against Humans or Spirits, though…like ever. If you
can dodge for a few rounds, you will rack up wins against decks like Tron,
Ironworks, and most control strategies.

By the same token, Infect is a Noble Hierarch/Inkmoth Nexus strategy that
sports decent matchups against a lot of the field by virtue of mana
efficiency and false tempo against U/W Control as well as a faster clock
than stuff like Storm and Ironworks. Izzet Staticaster out of Humans is a
real kick in the teeth, but the matchup is likely still very close. Infect
is a secret heavy hitter for this weekend, and if you want to replace your
Humans/Spirits seat with Infect, you may find it very rewarding to do so.

Burn is love, Burn is life. Just scoop up your neighborhood pyromaniac if
you need a third and sic ’em on some unsuspecting Tron opponents.

Now, don’t think I haven’t forgotten my Grixis Death’s Shadow aficionados.
Shadow is a great choice for experienced pilots who’re ready to navigate
the expected metagame of Stirrings decks, U/W Control, Looting-based
graveyard decks, and Noble Hierarch aggro. It conflicts with Hollow One and
U/W Control, but pair it with a Noble Hierarch deck and an Ancient
Stirrings deck and you’ll be ready to go…

8. Grixis Death’s Shadow, Humans/Bant Spirits, Ironworks/Tron

I may try to convince my team to play Tron and Bant Spirits in order to
bless me with the opportunity to play some more undercosted monsters, but I
do try to stay a happy and generous team player for the most part. If
you’re a dedicated member of the Shadow Realm, though, this is the set up
for you.

Certainly, it wouldn’t be right or proper to ignore classic Affinity just
because the new kid on the block showed up with some cool toys. Affinity
has a surprising number of conflicts for a deck of all narrow artifacts
(think Rest in Peace, Damping Sphere, or Thoughtseize in the sideboard),
but combining it with a few proactive and powerful strategies sounds like a
recipe for success (or at least, a more conventional attempt to run
something like the Burn-Infect-Ad Nauseam pairing)…

9. Affinity, Humans, R/B Vengevine

Get in there, make the opponent do something to react to you, and sometimes
just win anyway with surprises like double Mantis Rider, instant-speed
Greater Gargadon, or heavily-boosted Inkmoth Nexus. I respect this pairing
immensely, and if my team had the pilots to properly use these archetypes,
I’d recommend it for us in a heartbeat, though I do sense a slight weakness
to Terminus out of U/W Control.

For the final configuration of the day, I thought I’d select three
previously-unmentioned decks that both fit together and are deliberately
chosen to have good matchups against Humans. Modern has such a flat power
curve that these three decks are mere inches behind the leading players in
the metagame, and together they offer a ton of equity when going up against
Thalia and her ilk…

10. Elves, TitanShift, Lantern

Drop an Ezuri on ’em and knock out those pesky Humans. Or just drop a
couple of Mountains on their precious creatures and/or life total. Or just
drop an Ensnaring Bridge and laugh at them behind your wall of lock pieces.
These decks have no stock lists, as they simply aren’t popular enough to
have been optimized perfectly, but if you want to absolutely pummel an
enemy Humans player, this is the setup for you. Hope you don’t face U/W

Love it or hate it, though, Unified Modern is going to be the format of
choice for at least a handful of Grand Prix events this year, and it
behooves you to get familiar with the major players as well as potential
techy choices for a bold metagame call.

Now, I get to look forward to being endlessly surprised this weekend by
crazy decks like Grishoalbrand, Grixis Control, Bant Eldrazi, or Naya
Chord. That’s Modern for you!