CVM Conquers Modern!

The beard is here! At #SCGINVI, the world will descend upon the Modern format in a flurry of incredibly powerful archetypes! CVM wants to help your chances by reviewing the whole metagame!

Modern is a daunting format. I would consider myself proficient in most archetypes in Magic, but for me, Modern has been something of an enigma. I only could truly find my place in the format for brief moments before they are taken away from me, first with Birthing Pod and then with Summer Bloom.

Despite this, the format is extremely popular and is a big part of the SCG Tour grinder lifestyle, so I have done some work trying to sort out the format. I find that I have had success in formats when I can break them down into their separate parts and gain an understanding of their workings. This has been very helpful in Standard in the past, but that’s with a much smaller format. For Legacy, though, when I split the decks into over-arching archetypes and then further break them down, I find I have been the most successful. Let’s try to do that with Modern!

For starters, we have Aggro, Midrange, Combo, and Control, but I don’t think that those descriptors are going to end up being good enough. There is some bleeding of the categories, and when we only have fifteen sideboard slots, being as accurate as possible in identifying the different overlaps will help us build a good sideboard and use it effectively.


Here are the decks that I would consider true aggressive decks. These are decks that are trying to go under their opponents, although sometimes it’s more of a “go through them” sort of mindset.

Merfolk has been around for quite some time in older formats and was always on the edge of awesome in Modern. Adding another lord with Master of the Pearl Trident and the power of Master of Waves, Merfolk has been climbing the ranks of Modern popularity.

It can interact with the opponent in the form of Spreading Seas, Dismember, and Vapor Snag along with Spell Pierce-like cards in the sideboard, but it generally only needs some slight stumble from the opponent to end the game quickly. Aether Vial combined with all the lords at its disposal allows the Merfolk deck to end the game very quickly once it gets going.

Merfolk is generally very good against creature decks that don’t have some sort of combo element to them as Merrow Reejerey gives it a great tempo aspect and the lords make for some pretty big fish. Decks that are removal heavy generally fare well against Merfolk, but beware the protection from red on Master of Waves.

Zoo/Naya Company can come in a few flavors, the most popular of which uses Collected Company along with an aggressive creature suite. This deck was championed by Todd Stevens early on this year but has fallen a bit to the wayside as it doesn’t have many great ways to interact with the combo decks in the format.

The other form of Zoo that you can find is the one-drop-focused version that uses Burning-Tree Emissary to surge Reckless Bushwhacker.

This deck is much scarier and can kill surprisingly fast. Inconsistency can plague you, though, and sometimes you just aren’t as fast as the true combo decks.

Affinity exploded when the legendary permanent rules changed and Mox Opal became borderline busted. It waxes and wanes based on the popularity of hate cards like Stony Silence but is always something that should be on your mind when preparing for an event. For those devout Robot followers, mastering this deck is an enjoyable journey, and some of the greatest minds in the game prefer this deck over all others.

The last true aggro deck that I want to include here is the Elves deck that Liam Lonergan won the Season Two Invitation in New Jersey with.

Having a bit of a combo element sets this aggro deck apart from the others, but it is still just trying to play a bunch of creatures quickly and beat the opponent down before they can stabilize. Chord of Calling and Collected Company both provide some semblance of a toolbox and a value engine, since sometimes you can just win games if you simply play a handful of Dwynen’s Elite and Elvish Archdruid.

This deck hasn’t done much since Liam won, but the nature of Modern is that you must try to be prepared for as much as you can.


These decks are aggressive, but all have a combo-kill of sorts. This makes them extremely dangerous and allow for some interesting gameplay and sideboarding.

Infect is basically the poster child for this archetype. Technically an “aggro” deck since it is trying to end the game quickly and uses fast creatures to do such, it is the epitome of the aggro/combo playstyle. Because you have a combo kill, you can force the opponent into playing the type of game that you want to, lest they risk just losing the game at any point.

This is a winning strategy in Legacy, and also in Modern.

Burn is another deck that I classify as aggro/combo. There are a handful of creatures in the deck, yes, and some versions even play Wild Nacatl. You must keep in mind, though, that these are just burn spells that the opponent is forced to interact with so that you don’t get insane rates on the cards.

Ultimately, these decks are designed to deal twenty damage as quickly as possible, generally only needing to cast around seven spells.

This deck started to take off on MTGO and is bleeding over into paper. Kiln Fiend combo is a deck in Pauper, and this deck tries to incorporate a lot of the same elements. The difference here is that Thing in the Ice plays a huge role and allows us to interact with the opponent’s battlefield while we are combo-killing.

This deck does a lot of the same things Infect does in that the opponent always must have the fear of losing in the back of their mind while they try to navigate the game properly.

Death’s Shadow is another pure aggro/combo deck that wants to cheat the exchange of resources that is available in Modern. Between fetchlands and Phyrexian mana spells, you can attack with a very large Death’s Shadow early on and win with Temur Battle Rage and/or Become Immense.

The ability to essentially exchange life for mana with the Phyrexian mana spells and delve on Become Immense is pushed to the extreme in this deck. It is difficult to pilot, but brutally effective.

G/W Hexproof is another deck that’s been around for a bit and has spurts of excellence. Boss man Cedric Phillips even won a MTGO PTQ with G/W Hexproof earlier in the year, but it is mostly heralded as a deck that doesn’t take much skill to pilot. I don’t agree with that, as I feel that mulliganing with this deck is extremely difficult and figuring out what your opponent’s outs are before they have a chance to cast them can greatly increase your success with this deck.


The midrange decks in Modern aim to try and play somewhat of a “fair” game of Magic. In this case, fair ends up meaning Thought-Knot Seer on turn 2, but in the large scheme of the format, it ends up being fairer that you would think.

Jund has been around forever and will never be obsolete. Using hand disruption, effective cheap creatures, lots of removal, and awesome planeswalkers is a recipe for success. This is compounded by the general flexibility that the Jund colors provide in terms of sideboarding.

When built properly, Jund will always be a top contender in Modern.

Abzan is basically doing the same thing as Jund, except that they have conceded that Path to Exile is better than Lightning Bolt in the format. It’s interesting to see that a lot of players have adopted Grim Flayer into their lists, some in place of Dark Confidant and some in conjunction.

Lingering Souls is the big standout for Abzan, though, and generally helps to make it slightly favored against traditional Jund-style decks.

Bant Eldrazi is somewhat of a “big mana”-style deck but plays extremely midrange-y. Accelerating with Noble Hierarch and Eldrazi Temple, this deck will generally try to lean on the advantage that it can gain in the early turns through its mana to put itself into “double-spell” territory before the opponents.

One of the big strengths of this deck is how good it is against the other midrange decks. The threats are all so robust and large on their own that there often isn’t enough removal to stabilize completely and the extra value generated from the cards will take over the game.

Midrange/Creature Combo

These are all midrange decks based around creature combos.

Kiki Chord, as popularized by Jeff Hoogland, started to fall off in the wake of Dredge and has recently made a bit of a comeback.

Jeff likes to call the deck a value deck that happens to be able to kill with a Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker combo. I favor this take on the deck. Not being “all-in” on the combo lets you play a value game while keeping the opponent on their toes for fear of losing on the spot at any given point.

One of the strengths of the Kiki Chord deck, in addition to playing such a great value game, is that you can win over a few turns off just a Chord of Calling:

Chord for Eternal Witness and get back the Chord. Chord for Restoration Angel and blink the Eternal Witness, getting back the same Chord. Then you can Chord for Kiki-Jiki and copy your Restoration Angel infinite times.

That’s quite redundant!

Abzan Company is a combo deck along the same veins as Kiki Chord but is less able to play a value game. You do have Collected Company and a slew of Kitchen Finks, which do in a pinch, but they don’t do as much as Restoration Angel and other fliers to pressure life totals and planeswalkers.

This, combined with ways to win the game through infinite health, has led to a decline in this deck, but I always feel like it’s poised to make a comeback at any time.

Ah, Dredge, the deck that came back from the dead with the unbanning of Golgari Grave-Troll along with the printing of Prized Amalgam. Just toss in a booster shot of Cathartic Reunion and we’re off to the races.

This deck is extremely fast and surprisingly resilient. The first hate card generally isn’t enough, and unless you are also pressuring the Dredge player, you can still lose to the second wave of “going off.” This is one deck where I feel like I should be extra-prepared, and even if I’m playing Dredge, I want a gameplan for the mirror.

Big Mana/Combo

With the gameplan of putting a Primeval Titan onto the battlefield more quickly that one would expect, these decks are doing so with either just ramp or a combination of ramp and Through the Breach. Versions without Through the Breach generally have access to a secondary win condition with Scapeshift, but I have found that getting a Primeval Titan onto the battlefield is usually going to be good enough by itself.

This deck has been continually growing in popularity and puts quite the strain on building your sideboard in Modern. How exactly are you going to plan for this deck? And if you happen to overprepare for it and dodge the pilots, you are weak in other matchups.

There is even another Primeval Titan deck in Modern that is a rehash of the Amulet Bloom deck just minus the banned Summer Bloom.

Personally, I love this deck, but I don’t know how good it is. It does have quite the following online though.

G/R Tron is the traditional version of Tron:

Recently, though, Tom Ross has been doing great work on tuning a G/W Tron deck that just so happened to win a little ditty over in Columbus.

Assembling the Urza lands is quite easy with no one is interacting with you properly, and cards like Karn Liberated and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon can run away with games. Adding white, though, provides a whole new element. Path to Exile is great at handling that one threat that you can’t seem to take care of, and getting cards like Rest in Peace and Blessed Alliance out of the sideboard helps tremendously against some of the bad matchups, like Infect and Dredge.

In fact, in the finals of the Columbus Open, Tom put quite a hurting on his Dredge opponent and made a statement about how good this deck is.

Ad Nauseam is a unique combo deck that can be quite punishing to play against if you aren’t familiar with the inner workings of the deck and what it’s capable of pulling off. The big innovation has been adding Laboratory Maniac as an alternate way to win through something like Leyline of Sanctity or having your Lightning Storm taken out of your deck.

Like most decks in Modern, Ad Nauseam has quite a few devout followers. It’s always a deck that I feel like I shouldn’t be worried about, yet it always shows up and does well with a good pilot.


Todd Stevens’s range in Modern is phenomenal, and he has recently been championing a Prison-style control deck named Sun and Moon.

Chalice of the Void and Blood Moon alongside Simian Spirit Guide isn’t something that you bring to a tournament when you’re interested in making games as fun and interactive as possible … for your opponent. This is essentially a Prison deck that is trying to win with planeswalkers.

I love it, but again, I love the unfairness of the deck.

Lantern Control is one of the most creative decks in Modern, but it’s not very fun to play against. It can be difficult to talk yourself into conceding once the lock is in place because technically you don’t have a 0% chance of hitting a million runners in a row to break out of the lock, but I think It’s better to save the time and try to win the next game.

Attacking this deck is difficult, but it’s very important to apply a nice clock in addition to the disruption that you have.

That was quite the exhaustive list, and there are even some other decks that I decided to not highlight. Different builds of Delver along with control decks like Jeskai and Grixis have been gaining popularity recently, and it’s important to take note of that, but keep in mind that they are less prominent than some of the other decks that we talked about here.

I hope that having a tangible list with macro-archetypes will be as helpful to everyone else as it is to me. Now I just need to apply this knowledge to pick a deck and craft the perfect sideboard for the Season Three Invitational in Atlanta this weekend.

Comments from Last Week

Every week I like to end my article by highlighting a couple of comments from my previous article. Make sure you share your thought in the comments section for a chance to be highlighted next week!

“If there’s a Primeval Titan deck in the format, how do you play anything else?”

– Jason Clark

Jason, this is a good question. In fact, there are three different Primeval Titan decks in the format. How do I choose the best one?!

“I, for one, will be disappointed if you don’t play Skred. Don’t forget where you came from!”

– Dan Tracy

Well, Dan, I do love Stormbreath Dragon, but if there was ever a card that may approach the same levels of awesomeness, it would have to be Primeval Titan. Well, that or Chandra, Torch of Defiance. That card is really nice!

It seems that the poll from last week has me on Through the Breach. I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t the leader at this point. Time to lock it up and buckle down on the right build! See you all in Atlanta.