Being Tuned Towards In Modern

SCG Tour star Collins Mullen knows firsthand the value of curveballing your opponents in Modern! He studies that phenomenon here by taking a look at a deck that took him by surprise last week!

The metagame of Modern is always changing and adapting. But that change and
adaptation doesn’t always come in the form of people changing decks. Often
this change happens because everyone tunes their deck towards the popular
archetypes that exist at the moment in Modern.

Humans is currently extraordinarily tuned towards. If someone is going to
play in a Modern event, no matter what deck they plan on playing, they’re
going to have some kind of plan in their sideboard for their Humans
matchup. Let’s look at a few lists from recent events.

Michael Hamilton is running a whopping ten cards in his sideboard for his
Humans matchup: 2 Engineered Explosives, 2 Big Game Hunters, 3(!) Grim
Lavamancers, and 3 Fatal Pushes. That’s a lot of cards that a Humans player
is going to need to slog through after sideboard in the matchup. Even just
a turn one Grim Lavamancer can be game-breaking.

Even Caleb Scherer’s recent Storm lists have been stocked for their Humans
matchup. I remember when Storm would just pick up their cards against a
Meddling Mage on Grapeshot, but those days are long over. Meddling Mage
feels like it does close to nothing after sideboard against Storm, because
they have access to a whopping seven different cards that can get
it off of the battlefield. I know that Caleb Scherer and Paul Muller
believe that their Humans matchup is actually favorable for Storm these
days, and I think they’re right. What a crazy world we live in.

Aaron Barich wrote
an excellent article
last week about how we’re living in the information age of Magic and how
expectation is everything. I think he’s right, and I certainly believe
that, especially in Modern, playing the known quantity that is tuned
towards can be a death sentence.

When I first started playing Humans, no one knew about it, so it had that
edge of being unexpected. No one was prepared for it, no one had any
sideboard cards for it, and no one knew how any of the games would play
out, so they had no plan. I’m confident that that was the primary reason
Humans had so much success in its early time in Modern. It was unexpected.

But now, and it hurts me to say this, but I think it is time to put Humans
back on the shelf. Humans is too tuned towards right now in Modern. It’s
time to look for more new and exciting things that people will expect less.

Luckily for us, Modern is a vast format and we’ve already started to see
new archetypes rising in popularity.

Matt Nass is on a tear with Krark-Clan Ironworks, and it’s clear that he’s
getting a lot of edges because people are unfamiliar with his deck. Many
times on coverage over the weekend, we saw Matt’s opponents make fatal
errors against him that allowed Matt to crawl back into games that he
should have no business being in.

Let’s take a look at this game state. David Biwersi, the Humans player, has
cast Kitesail Freebooter twice by copying it once with Phantasmal Image. He
has drawn all four copies of Meddling Mage, and he has a Selfless
Spirit to keep everything safe. Against any combo deck, you would expect
this to be lights out.

The Meddling Mages are naming Ghirapur Aether Grid, Lightning Bolt, and
Krark-Clan Ironworks, and David is currently deciding on what to name with
his fourth Meddling Mage. He sees that Matt has an Inventors’ Fair open and
ready to search for another artifact, so David really needs to make sure
that whatever he names will lock Matt out of the game.

Unfortunately for David, no matter what he names here, he is going to lose
the game from this point. If he names Engineered Explosives, Matt can just
find a Wurmcoil Engine, which just beats David’s battlefield. If he names
Wurmcoil Engine, Matt is likely to just win on his next turn, because Matt
gets to set Engineered Explosives on two and use it to get David to
sacrifice his Selfless Spirit. The Scrap Trawlers then see the three Ichor
Wellsprings die to the Engineered Explosives, and they will trigger
allowing Matt to pick up the Engineered Explosives again from his graveyard
and use it to kill the rest of the creatures on his next turn.

But this line isn’t anywhere close to obvious from this game state. It’s
very reasonable for David to believe that his Selfless Spirit has the
Engineered Explosives in check, and I think it was for that reason that
David decided to name Wurmcoil Engine with his last Meddling Mage and
proceed to lose his entire battlefield to the Engineered Explosives by the
time he drew his next card for turn.

One of these decks is extraordinarily tuned towards, and not a lot of
people really know what’s going on with the other deck. So, of course, Matt
Nass easily won his second Grand Prix in a row with Ironworks. His deck
isn’t even close to being tuned towards.

Aaron Barich took down the Season One Invitational with Infect, which was a
deck that was flying pretty well under the radar in Modern. Not a lot of
people were playing it after the banning of Gitaxian Probe, and as a result
not many people came prepared for it. Infect is well equipped to deal with
the few removal spells people had in their sideboard for Humans. Blossoming
Defense and Vines of Vastwood don’t care if your removal spell is a Repeal,
Unsubstantiate, Abrade, Echoing Truth, or a Lightning Bolt. It will fizzle
all of them. But if you’re trying to name something with Meddling Mage and
those are your options, you’re in some serious trouble.

I really like the decision to play Infect in Modern right now because it’s
still enough under the radar that people aren’t going to be as ready for
it, and it even has some excellent matchups against the popular archetypes
of Modern right now.

But maybe it’s time to explore some archetypes that are even further under the radar. You can get a serious edge in Modern if
you become very experienced with an archetype that other people don’t know
as well. I think one of the best examples of this is shoktroopa playing
Mono-Blue Tron on Magic Online.

I have played against shoktroopa many times on Magic Online, when I was
playing various different decks in Modern. But I don’t think I have ever
defeated them. I got close one time, or at least that’s what I thought. I
was able to put them dead on the battlefield with no cards in hand. He had
an Academy Ruins on the battlefield, but only an Expedition Map in his
graveyard. He had plenty of mana to work with, as it was relatively late in
the game, so as long as he didn’t draw a haymaker I was going to easily win
the game on my next turn. So, I passed the turn and crossed my fingers.

That’s when shoktroppa used Academy Ruins to put Expedition Map on top of
his library. I remember thinking “Why on earth would he do that? That just
guarantees that he draws a brick next turn! I have them!” Shoktroopa
proceeded to draw the Map, crack it for a Tolaria West, transmute the
Tolaria West for a Walking Ballista, and kill me with it. I was the one who
was dead on the battlefield and I had no idea.

I remember this scenario often, and it’s just another great example of why
doing unexpected things in Modern can give you such an incredible advantage
over your opponent.