The Modern metagame wheel is always rotating. Four main archetypes make up
this wheel: disruptive aggro, fair decks, big mana decks, and linear combo
decks. The disruptive aggro decks beat up on the linear combo decks, the
linear combo decks beat up on the big mana decks, the big mana decks beat
up on the fair decks, and the fair decks beat up on the disruptive aggro
These macro archetypes take turns being “on top” of the metagame wheel, by
either being well positioned in the metagame or just simply the most
popular at the time. Currently, aggro decks have taken over Modern.
Specifically Humans, Hollow One, and Affinity have consistently been the
most represented archetypes in recent Modern events.
Humans, in particular, seems to be in an excellent spot right now. Humans
has a lot of things going for it right now from a metagame standpoint. The
natural predator of Humans has always been the removal spell-heavy fair
decks. Decks like Jeskai Control and U/W Control were always difficult,
because they had a lot of removal spells and access to sweeper effects. But
currently the most popular fair deck in Modern is Jund, and I would say
that Humans is favored against Jund.
After Bloodbraid Elf was unbanned and everyone jumped on Jund as the go-to
fair deck, everyone assumed that it would be well-positioned against Humans
at the time. The deck had a lot of removal spells and usually these fair
decks prey on the aggro decks of the format. But after playing out the
matchup from both sides, I figured out that Jund was just a bit too clunky
to keep up with Humans’ good draws. The printing of Bloodbraid Elf
incentivized Jund players to put a lot more three mana spells in their
deck, and that’s definitely not where you want to be against a deck like
I would even go so far as to say that Jund, in its current form, is just bad. Sorry folks. The power level of the format has been pushed
past the point where Thoughtseize into Tarmogoyf is going to cut it.
Everyone was all excited to be able to play with Bloodbraid Elf again, but
we just don’t live in that world anymore. Everyone remembers the glory days
of Jund back in the day, but we had Deathrite Shaman back then. Now that’s
a good Magic card. It allowed Jund to break the mold on mana development,
and that’s something that Jund doesn’t have access to anymore. Playing a
one-mana spell into a two-mana spell into a three-mana spell feels so bad
when the other decks in the format have access to things that can break
What do all of these cards have in common? The break the traditional mold
of Magic where you only get one land drop a turn and are restricted to that
structure of mana development. Aether Vial lets you dump your hand very
quickly onto the battlefield, and any hand in Humans that has either an
Aether Vial or a Noble Hierarch is going to be much better than Champion of
the Parish into two mana creature into three mana creature. Hollow One and
Bloodghast both let you put bodies onto the battlefield for free, which is
a very strong mechanic and has catapulted the Hollow One decks to the front
of the format. Everyone knows that Mox Opal is busted simply because it
gives you access to another mana before you should have it.
Accelerating your mana isn’t the only way to have success in Modern. But if
you aren’t trying to break your mana development in any way, you need to
make sure you are utilizing the mana that you do have access to in the best
ways possible. Death’s Shadow does this very well, and I believe that’s why
it used to have so much success in Modern.
Almost all the cards in the deck effectively only cost one mana. So instead
of the traditional one, two, three curves that we expect out of Magic, we
can cast up to a whopping six spells by our third turn. That itself is
breaking the mana development mold in a way. We see similar concepts in
play with other fair decks, such as Jeskai Control. All their removal is so
efficient that they able to keep up with other decks with these efficient
removal spells and the occasional sweeper effect.
So Jund wasn’t quite cutting it as a natural predator for Humans, which I
believe is a big part of why Humans is so dominant in the format right now.
Not only is Humans well set up to beat Jund, but Humans is also favored
against the second most popular deck in the format right now: Hollow One.
Due to all these factors, Humans is really running away with things right
But if there is one thing that I know about Modern, it’s that Modern will
always adapt. The Modern metagame wheel is always rotating. So what are
some good options for defeating Humans right now?
One approach would be to bring back the fair decks that were actually good
Jeskai Control is still alive and well in Modern, and players like Kazu
Negri and Benjamin Nikolich want the world to know. Jeskai was one of the
initial natural predators of Humans, and I also think that this deck has a
good matchup against both Hollow One and Affinity, the second and third
most popular decks in Modern right now. Cards like Path to Exile are very
important when competing against the large creatures that Hollow One can
present and Electrolyze is a house against Affinity.
Plus you get to play with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria in Modern!
It feels strange, but I do believe that Teferi is a stronger option in
Modern than Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Both play a similar role, but the
ability to untap two lands during your end step makes Teferi really only a
three-mana investment instead of a four-mana investment, and that
difference can be huge in a format like Modern.
While Brainstorming is better than just drawing a card, the repeated effect
on a planeswalker of drawing a card every turn will give you similar
inevitability to Brainstorming every turn, and both of these planeswalker’s
ultimates will effectively end the game, so I’m not terribly surprised to
see Teferi slot in well here.
Another deck that has always preyed upon Humans is Mardu Pyromancer. This
deck is like Jund except it’s actually good. It isn’t nearly as clunky as
the current Jund builds and has a much lower mana curve. Young Pyromancer
and Lingering Souls do an excellent job at slowing down the aggression of
the Humans player and gives the Pyromancer player enough time to develop
their mana and remove enough threats to take over the game.
If fair decks aren’t really your thing, there are definitely other ways to
tackle Humans. The Titan Shift versus Humans matchup has always been close,
but Becky Adlman seems to have figured out a way to skew things in Titan
Shift’s favor. The addition of white gives Titan Shift access to a ton of
new tools that appear to be very strong.
Sakura-Tribe Elder has frequently been the best ramp spell in Titan Shift
because it gives you access to both ramp and a way to save life by getting
to block before you sacrificed it. Renegade Rallier takes this concept to
the next level. It can ramp you by either bringing back a fetchland or even
a Sakura-Tribe Elder! And you get to keep the body around after you’ve
ramped. This is huge against any deck that is trying to attack on the
ground because all the Titan Shift player is really looking for is to buy
time until they can start triggering Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle.
Renegade Rallier is also an excellent hit off Bloodbraid Elf, another
incidental creature in the deck that ends up ramping you more often than
not. This Naya Titan Shift deck has a ton of ways to clog up the ground,
which makes it much better at buying time against all the aggro decks that
are so popular right now.
The other thing that this deck really has going for it against Humans is
that it’s able to diversify the removal spells it has access to. Against
traditional Titan Shift, the Humans player would feel pretty safe naming
either Lightning Bolt or Anger of the Gods with Meddling Mage, but against
the Naya version there are so many more cards that need to be worried
If the Titan Shift player can get to the point where they can use their
lands as removal spells, it becomes very difficult for the Humans player to
win. Humans doesn’t have any good ways of interacting with lands, so one or
two active Valakuts can be game over. I think that Naya Titan Shift could
be a very strong option moving forward.
Whatever your approach, I think there are going to be a ton of good ways to
tackle the metagame for SCG Louisville. I’m definitely going to try and
think outside the box this weekend and see what I can come up with.
Hopefully I’ll see you there!