7 Lies You Believe About Modern

Is there truly a top tier in Modern now? Was there ever? Do tournaments have metagames unto themselves? Ari Lax is cutting through the fabrications and simplifications to get to The Truth!

There’s so many things going on in Modern these days it is easy to lose
track of
The Truth (trademark GerryT)
. The format is prone to outbursts of nonsense, metagames so wide that even
the top decks are things you have played five matches against in a week of
Magic Online testing, and so many decks that it is near impossible to
comprehend the metagame at large.

I’m not going to pretend to have a perfect idea of how the format works,
but I spent a month testing it for Pro Tour 25th Anniversary. These are
some of the false beliefs I had leading in that were dispelled by testing,
and some of the opinions I’ve seen floating around that are just wrong.

Lie 1. Stitcher’s Supplier Is the New Busted Tool R/B Vengevine

Stitcher’s Supplier is just acceptable enough that it is a functional third
best enabler for R/B Vengevine.

Matt Severa
went into detail on R/B Vengevine last week,
and his squad with Gerry Thompson weren’t the only ones trying it for the
Pro Tour. My team put a lot of work into R/B Vengevine, with about half of
us actually playing it. One of the things we did as prep was lay out 100
random opening hands then label them as keepers or mulligans.

Stitcher’s Supplier, mana, and some doofuses often a clear mulligan.
Multiple Stitcher’s Suppliers might even be a mulligan. At best, this is a
middling opening hand.

A Stitcher’s Supplier trigger hits a Bridge from Below or Vengevine
one-third of the time. If you don’t have a Viscera Seer to retrigger it,
you are probably failing to find a relevant effect. If you do have the
sacrifice outlet, congrats, you are a slight favorite to put a Vengevine or
Bridge from below in your graveyard on turn 2. Hope you have all the other
pieces to do something awesome. A second actual Supplier doesn’t help much
either as turn 2 Seer plus Supplier means you are past the second creature
Vengevine trigger before your later mills occur. (Maybe that’s an odd
argument for Greater Gargadon as it isn’t a creature cast?)

If you are taking until turn 3 to hit something and get your engine going,
that’s just not what your deck is trying to do. Play Dredge if slow and
steady is your speed. R/B Vengevine is about crunching people with threats
on turn 1 or 2.

Yeah, Stitcher’s Supplier is a Zombie for Gravecrawler. Casting
Gravecrawler from graveyard as a 2/1 isn’t a big deal. Gravecrawler
honestly isn’t even that good unless you have Bridge from Below and Viscera
Seer, and then you will definitely have a different Zombie.

Really, Stitcher’s Supplier wishes it could be Putrid Imp. Honestly, I
would take a one mana 0/1 with the text “When this enters the battlefield,
discard a card,” which unfortunately is not part of the 1993-style
throwbacks being printed this year.

Lie 2. Militia Bugler Lets Humans Out Grind Opponents

When has a 2/3 creature out-ground people in Modern?

There’s this idea that if you “go off” with Militia Bugler and Phantasmal
Image, you somehow generate enough 2/3 creatures to beat Lightning Bolt

That’s quaint. You realize the entire point of the Lightning Bolt decks is
to blank stupid creatures like this, right? I literally spent years of my
life trimming random doofuses from my Birthing Pod decks to play enough
cards that actually mattered against a Tarmogoyf, or I guess Young
Pyromancer these days.

Where Militia Bugler is good is when you need another fractional copy of a
big hitter. Militia Bugler lets you play like you have extra Thalia’s
Lieutenant in your deck. This will push your average clock up a bit, but
not quite enough to race combo. It will make you great at breaking stalls,
which might matter in mirror matches and against Hollow One. But Militia
Bugler isn’t grinding out any true attrition deck these days.

Okay, you might grind out a Jeskai player, but the only reason “Jeskai
isn’t a playable deck” wasn’t a lie on this list is because that’s already
been established as a fact.

Lie 3. Modern is Inherently Open. Or Not Open.

Modern is probably the format where deck selection is driven by
round-by-round results filtering the still in contention metagame the most.

One of the deep puzzles of tournament Magic that has captured my attention
the most over the last couple years is the idea that the metagame of an
event changes over the rounds played. The initial case for this was
Affinity always crushing the early rounds of an event, but then ending up
losing in the last couple to litter the top 32. It crushed the metagame at
large, but by the time round thirteen rolled around it wasn’t great.

Modern at the top tables come the end of an event is fairly predictable.
Look at the metagame spreadsheet, add some percentage to the top decks,
done. There’s always an oddball or two, but things are pretty defined.

It’s the early event that gets you. People joke about how they wouldn’t
have to play against Puresteel Paladin if they just had three byes, but
there’s a kernel of truth there. The importance of playing a deck with
broad spectrum power matters a lot in the early rounds. The best four or
five decks in the format are legitimately just better than the rest of the
decks in the dark, and you get a lot of equity just bonking people over the
head with that fact.

You have to prepare for a Modern event as if it was both an open metagame
event, choosing a powerful deck, and a defined metagame event, choosing a
deck that will win at the top tables.

Since it was Todd Anderson
arguing one side and
Ross Merriam
arguing the other
, I’ll call this as them being both wrong. Also both being right, but they
were both wrong too. And for good measure, I’ll sneak in another “this is
why Jeskai is bad” reference.

Lie 4. Mardu Pyromancer Is A Fair Deck

Calling a Modern deck “fair” these decks might just be a euphemism for

The Jund-y decks of Modern have been heralded as fair for a long time. I’m
unsure that still applies, especially with Mardu Pyromancer.

Many games don’t end in the true attrition way where you exchange cardboard
and end up plus a card. A lot of games end due to Mardu spewing out
something the other player just can’t beat, whether it’s answer or threat.

Part of this is just how Modern is these days. Ironworks and Tron aren’t
decks you beat by trading cards. Even Humans is moving in that direction
due to Militia Bugler.

More so, Mardu is just full of cards that are more conditionally unbeatable
with Faithless Looting tying it together. More Blood Moon, less Dark

Lingering Souls is not an inherently interactive card. Your opponent can
either ignore it, or they literally can’t do anything that interacts
profitably with it. It is never a two-for-one as if you ever have to trade
cards, for Spirits you die.

When categorizing the best Modern decks I lumped Mardu Pyromancer with U/W
Control as fair decks, but given my statements on U/W Control shifting to
be less of a raw fair deck it might be time to do away with the notion all
together. It’s unfair threats and unfair answers all around.

Lie 5. My Non-KCI Combo Deck Beats Humans With…

It doesn’t.

I’ve tried it all. Storm with removal? Yeah, hope they don’t just have more
things and a clock. Oh wait, they usually do. Ad Nauseam with Bontu’s Last
Reckoning? Phantasmal Image my Kitesail Freebooter.

Humans just has so many disruptive cards. The only reason Ironworks has
things on lock is that Engineered Explosives is so darn good knocking out
all of the things interacting with you. Also Ironworks has a bunch of
backup answers to reopen lines and save time. Maybe I’m underestimating
Grim Lavamancer as a tool out of Storm, but you can’t take game 1 with it
so I might be justified by default.

But what about…

No, G/R Scapeshift is also too slow. Yes, even when you draw Anger of the
Gods because that isn’t a combo piece like Engineered Explosives is. Amulet
Titan might be the only thing close as yet another Engineered Explosives
deck that has a slightly more deterministic, immediate kill. Even then, I’m
skeptical when statements like “You need a Territorial Allosaurus in your
deck” are involved.

Lie 6. U/W Control is a Favorite Against Humans

It’s dead even at best.

There’s this ingrained idea that control decks with sweepers just beat
tribal decks. The vast majority of the time this is right.

But Humans? That’s a completely different case.
I skipped percentages talking about U/W Control last week
, but I wouldn’t consider Humans any better than “extremely close.”

Since Jeskai is fairly favored against Humans, it is probably good to look
at this as a study of differences.

U/W Control does have a ton of sweepers compared to Jeskai, but they are in
a bit of a bind. Terminus is so much better than Supreme Verdict or Wrath
of God, but that makes you want to condense down on card names in the face
of Meddling Mage. Terminus also has a critical weakness to Aether Vial on
two charge counters, letting Humans instantly drop a Meddling Mage or
Kitesail Freebooter in response to the miracle trigger and stop the

The bigger difference is probably just the raw density of spot removal. U/W
Control gets to play a lot of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and other insane
cards, but it trims down to five spot removal and two Snapcaster Mage to do
so. One of the huge edges Jeskai has is that Kitesail Freebooter and
Meddling Mage just die to whatever other answer they have. If they draw a
sweeper, it is just going to happen. U/W Control can’t assure that. It
loses games to Meddling Mage Terminus, Phantasmal Image copy and name Path
to Exile, and keep those out of combat until the lethal attack.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t things U/W Control can do to fight back, but
you look really dumb in the games you lose. Like, literally do nothing and
die dumb. And there’s a fair number of those. It’s the price you pay for
winning against the metagame at large. Half the time you draw Terminus on
time or Flashback Path to Exile and easily win, half the time you die on
turn 4 with two Logic Knots to their Cavern of Souls.

Maybe half is an overstatement. A number crunch of the team Pro Tour showed
U/W Control teams won less than 40% of their matches against Humans teams.
There’s a lot of confounding factors here, and I’m sure people did stupid
stuff with their lists to make it worse. But this should be a wakeup call
to anyone playing U/W Control: You need to make concessions to the Humans
matchup or you will lose to the default best deck in the format.

Lie 7. Anything Can Win in Modern

Modern is brutal, and successful rogue decks are usually exploits of
specific metagames.

Good Modern decks are really good. You don’t just doof your way to a win
against Humans or Ironworks or Tron.

Yeah, it’s cool that Hardened Scales Affinity or Bant Spirits are playable
decks, but when it comes down to it the people with perfect selection and
high Pro Tour stakes on the line chose the known best decks.

You aren’t required to sleeve up one of the six best decks, but you need a
very good reason to not do that and expect to win. Just doing Modern power
level things is not a reason, at best its a prerequisite. Have you found a
gap in sideboards with a strategy that wins against opponents lacking a
specific hate card? Did a removal spell disappear from the metagame that
suddenly makes a specific permanent a huge issue? Do you actually out
compete Humans or Hollow One head to head?

If your goal is leaving with a trophy don’t lie to yourself and play
Saheeli Rai because it sounds cool. Play a deck that stacks up to the best
of the best.