A Modern Myth

If you’re bored with playing Standard and Legacy, Valeriy Shunkov thinks that you should try Modern because of its diversity and the sheer number of interesting decks you have to choose from.

Hello! Standard PTQ season is almost over, and M13 spoilers are revealing surprises every day (Master of the Pearl Trident omnomnom), so today I decided to step away from near future predictions and draw your attention to a small but important thing: Modern Daily Events on Magic Online are still firing every day three months after the end of its PTQ season.

The Old Extended, "just" Extended, "small" Extended… Wizards had relentlessly tried to relight the fire of cards recently rotated from Standard, but all attempts failed; while being interesting, all of these formats were no more than competitive players’ toys during corresponding PTQ seasons. Simultaneously, Legacy and Vintage were always around—despite having a very little support from WotC.

That changed this summer. Okay, I’d better say, "I hope that has changed," but I doubt that Legacy’s start was faster. Modern Daily Events on Magic Online are scheduled every day in June, and there are weekly Modern tournaments at my local store. I certainly hope that it’s a start of a long, interesting career for Modern and that somedayStarCityGames.com will be able to say that it held "the very first Modern Open that gathered the same amount of people as its Legacy counterpart."

Why do I think Modern is the real deal? After inevitable series of bans (sorry, Wild Nacatl, but kitty had to go), Modern became the most healthy format I’ve ever seen. Twenty GP Trials for the recent GP Yokohama were won by thirteen different archetypes, and then a fourteenth one won the GP! The Grand Prix drew some attention to the format, so let’s use this chance to look at what’s going on and what can you play during the annual summer hiatus between the Standard and Limited PTQ seasons.

The main draw of the format is that it supports nearly any possible deck type and is not suppressed by extremely fast combos and aggressions, so you can easily play almost anything you like: nearly every big tournament has introduced a new archetype into seemingly well-understood format. GP Yokohama was the first noticeable tournament after the release of Avacyn Restored, so let’s look at the most influential cards from that set.

The leader is obvious: Restoration Angel. (Does she already see Legacy play? No? How strange.) Restoration Angel fits perfectly into a U/W core, creating two archetypes which can be described as the mish-mash between Faeries, Caw-Blade, and Delver. The difference between these decks is if they run Spellstutter Sprite or not. The bad news about this deck is that it will probably see a lot of play during the next season. The good news is that it’s nowhere near to the dominance level of any of its Standard predecessors and will unlikely hurt the format.

The second place also goes to Restoration Angel, now with a Birthing Pod + Chord of Calling combo core. These two cards lie in the heart of the powerful Melira, Sylvok Outcast midrange combo deck, but Restoration Angel surprisingly just doesn’t belong in it. Yes, I’m 146% sure that Melira deck doesn’t want even one copy of this card. The deck already has a ton of utility creatures and a good way to spend mana at instant speed, and in case it needs to sideboard into straight midrange (taking out the combo), the creatures should be cheap.

Did I just give the second place to no-show? Obviously not. RUG, another Birthing Pod midrange combo deck, was always here but never popular. That changed at Yokohama, where people suddenly realized that Restoration Angel is just an insanely better Deceiver Exarch! On Sunday evening of the event, two Naya Pod combo decks played a mirror match in the GP quarterfinals. Let’s look at the deck of PT Nagoya runner-up Toshiyuki Kadooka.

Third place goes to Vexing Devil. The little prankster didn’t receive any love from Standard or Legacy players, but it’s a staple in Modern R/B Burn (which is one of the important aggro decks in the format). Personally, I prefer having more black cards than just Bump in the Night and still dislike Devil as when it was spoiled, but let’s look at the list of well-known red master Brandon Burtom (better known as sandydogmtg).

The deck looks like a convenient R/B Burn deck from this past winter, but with Vexing Devil instead of Dark Confidant. It’s relatively popular on Magic Online and is one of the cheapest decks to acquire. The problem is that Kitchen Finks is a very good and popular card. Are you peaceful enough to avoid throwing your deck into your opponent’s face after a third Kitchen Finks in a row? If your answer is, "Yes," then Burn becomes legitimate and interesting choice, especially if you’re new to Modern and want to start playing.

One more possible home for Vexing Devil is Boros. I don’t have a decklist, but GP coverage said that Devil was used by Ken Yukuhiro alongside Steppe Lynx and Goblin Guide. The main advantages of Boros are its ability to play Path to Exile, Steppe Lynx, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben (Storm is also cheap and popular on Magic Online, as is R/G Tron Combo).

The last two are more honorable mentions than real appearances. Sigarda, Host of Herons is a solid one-of in Melira Combo’s sideboard as a perfect weapon in otherwise tight matchup against Jund. The W/G Angel is totally immune to anything Jund can do (except for a post-combat sweeper) and is hard to outrace. Griselbrand is an interesting addition to otherwise weak Reanimator based on Goryo’s Vengeance and Through the Breach. It’s impossible to draw mana for a second Vengeance even in fourteen cards, so the Demon is very fair in this format. Let’s look at a GPT-winning decklist from Yokohama.

Zombie Infestation plus Squee, Goblin Nabob is an interesting engine, but I’m almost sure I want to have the sideboarded Emrakul-Breach package in the maindeck; speed is the most important thing preboard when nobody has graveyard hate.

The last card from Avacyn Restored that will probably see play in Modern is Wild Defiance, especially with Rancor being reprinted in M13. Rancor is nowhere near Blazing Shoal, but its power level is still threatening. I anticipate many Infect decks in Standard this summer, and it could easily be enough good in Modern, at least for some daredevils. The following list is mostly based on Thomas Holzinger’s deck from the Top 64 of GP Turin. Wild Defiance is just insane with any of your pump spells and Assault Strobe, so Spirit Guided turn 3 kills are very possible. Are you ready for some craziness?

The last M13 card I should mention is Faith’s Reward—a superior substitute to Open the Vaults for Second Sunrise combo deck. I have no idea of good decklist, but I saw some Second Sunrise decks on Magic Online during PTQ season and they were a little bit too slow to be good. Will this card make them good enough? We’ll see.

The last part of my article is a quick wrap-up of possible options. All the listed decks are somehow established and actually playable. (I mean, they are more than "come to FNM, have fun" decks; it’s actually possible to win a PTQ with them.). I chose to skip the "publish one thousand decklists" part of the article to save its readability. Lists are relatively easy to find in the coverage of all three Modern GPs or in Modern Daily Events on Magic Online. Also, don’t hesitate to ask about certain deck in the comments; I’ll try to provide a timely decklist and a quick commentary.

  1. Aggro decks. This category consists of R/B Burn (with or without Dark Confidant), Boros (at least two highly different versions), Affinity (two versions: red and blue), 45% Zoo, etc. The common problem for all these decks is Kitchen Finks, but some ways to circumvent it definitely exist: by being faster, by having Pillar of Flame, Flames of the Blood Hand, or by being Infect.
  2. Tempo. Mostly different versions of Delver of Secrets: U/W/R, U/B, RUG, with various splashes to support the fearsome duo of Insectile Aberration and Snapcaster Mage. I highly recommend this group of decks as one if the most interesting possible choices.
  3. Aggro-Control. U/W Restoration Angel, U/W Faeries, Mono-Blue Faeries, etc. There is no Bitterblossom or Stoneforge Mystic in this format, but their houses are still strong enough for tournament play.
  4. Midrange. Jund and B/W Tokens, the most popular deck of the format and the one fresh off a GP win. Both are relatively simple, and both are relatively easy to acquire—solid choices, no more, no less.
  5. Midrange Combo. Naya Pod Combo has made Birthing Pod and Chord of Calling the strongest combo engine in this format. Both Naya and G/W/B Melira are competitive in Modern, but there is also Living End, Life from the Loam, and the Martyr of Sands / Soul Sisters deck which, despite not having a true game winning combo, have powerful advantage engines that able to grind opponents out of the game.
  6. Combo Control. This category includes U/W and U/R Tron decks armed with Gifts Ungiven / Unburial Rites or with Through the Breach and Emrakul, the Aeons Thorn. Both decks are powerful, but they are weak if don’t draw their fast answers in the few starting turns. Anyway, if you want to play control in this format, these two are the best choices. There are some attempts to build classic control, but I still haven’t seen satisfying lists of Mystical Teachings or Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas decks.
  7. Combo. This category includes Storm, dedicated U/R Splinter Twin, R/G Tron, Hive Mind, Pyromancer Ascension (while its namesake is used by Storm, there is still also a dedicated Pyro deck), and a lot of strange and weird decks from the past: Heartbeat of Spring, Second Sunrise, Time Sieve, etc. The popularity of combo in this format and high saturation of combo-winning pieces in other types of decks is due to the format’s extremely high diversity. It’s very satisfying to be able to instantly punish your opponents out of nowhere for an accidental mistake or for their ignorance.

The best thing about this format is that I’ve just listed more than twenty archetypes, and each of them is interesting and able to compete in the field. Seriously! If anybody had said to me that a Martyr of Sands deck would make the Top 8 of GP Turin the Friday before event, I would’ve laughed in their face. The same is true about B/W Tokens winning a GP.

Now I believe that Modern is a format where anything is possible, so if you have some free time this summer and want to spend it playing interesting and fun Magic—try Modern.

Best wishes,

Valeriy Shunkov