Deck Selection In Modern

Pro Tour Champion Ari Lax can analyze a format like few can, and this week he’s got his eyes on Modern. Find out what makes picking a deck in this high-powered format so difficult before the $5,000 Modern Premier IQ at #SCGDEN!

Modern is an absurdly rough format to approach in the dark. There’s way too many options to narrow it down without tons of time or assumptions being made.
For #GPPitt, I went through a half dozen decks even after crossing off everything I didn’t want to touch.

Why I Wanted to Play It:

The deck just handles everything. Efficient answers that take care of everything, efficient threats, hand disruption for things that don’t enter the
battlefield. It’s just all the best cards in the format in one pile.

Specifically, I liked Jund against the Wild Nacatl Burn decks that have recently been performing very well. While Burn was about a push against Abzan at
Pro Tour Fate Reforged, somehow Jund was a bad matchup. Turns out the difference between Path to Exile and Lightning Bolt is way more important than Siege
Rhino, mostly because Burn now really relies on its early drops to push in the first 4-6 damage. This started a year and a half ago with Eidolon of the
Great Revel, but Monastery Swiftspear pushed it further that way. Now that Atarka’s Command exists and takes Wild Nacatl along for the ride, you are almost
required to kill their first one-drop to stay out of burn range.

Why I Didn’t Play It:

Liliana of the Veil is on a downswing right now, and that is one of the big ways Jund got free wins. The Zoo deck that won the last Grand Prix featured
Voice of Resurgence and Loxodon Smiter, and Lingering Souls is on a bit of an uptick.

Amulet Bloom, Affinity, and G/R Tron are all on their way up. Affinity is a deck you can handle or at least push against if you devote proper sideboard
space to it, which given Lantern Control winning a Grand Prix isn’t a terrible idea, but the land-based decks are nightmares. Amulet Bloom is pretty bad,
and G/R Tron is actually the nightmare. Even if you play four Fulminator Mage, you are only getting a marginal advantage in the matchup. Both of
these decks can have you dead or virtually dead before you play your third land.

Really, there’s nothing wrong with playing Jund, but it didn’t seem like it was truly great. If I played Jund, I was settling for between three and five
losses and an average finish, and I felt like I could do better than that. On a season-long spectrum, going big made even more sense when you realize I had
filled two more Grand Prix slots with two Pro Point finishes this month, meaning I was very likely to hit the six Grand Prix cap by the end of the Pro
season next August and really needed higher finishes to get anywhere. If I had bricked both Atlanta and Seattle and was only sitting on my one three Point
finish at Grand Prix Detroit (Thanks Cedric!), I likely would have stopped here knowing I was basically locking in an expected two Pro Points with a tuned
Jund list.

Why I Wanted to Play It:

Odds are this is my last chance to play the deck. The deck raises a flag with the number of turn 2 and turn 3 kills it produces, and the fact that it is
also consistent moving into the mid-game means that it is a viable deck and not a one trick pony like Puresteel Paladin.

The deck is really, really powerful. I’m not just counting the times you attack with Primeval Titan on turn 2 but also the fact that you have multiple
tutor toolboxes that find counterspells (Pact of Negation), removal (Slaughter Pact), threats of all scales (Hornet Queen and Dragonlord Dromoka), and
uncounterable hate cards (Cavern of Souls, repeated Radiant Fountain). You are also playing 8-10 cantrips, meaning you just find the things you need or
another cantrip to chain into them.

Why I Didn’t Play It:

I couldn’t figure out the hard mode games. The combo math was easy, but there’s a lot of games where you are only getting to a turn 4 Primeval Titan
without an Amulet of Vigor or something and just get heads up beat by an opponent playing fair. At that point, the decisions get real weird. Can I get
enough mana to pay for Pact and make a play next turn? Do I need to wait on this Ghost Quarter so I can Vesuva it next turn, or am I dead if I don’t
destroy that Urza’s Tower right now? My opponent has a Spellskite on the battlefield, what do I do now that I can’t give Titan haste? If people aren’t
interacting with you because they don’t have it or they are dead before they can play it, the deck is real easy; but if your draw isn’t great, it’s a real
struggle to win games.

Why I Wanted to Play It:

The deck has a lot of free wins. Some decks can’t beat an Ensnaring Bridge. Sometimes you just play Inquisition of Kozilek into Lantern of Insight and
Codex Shredder and they never get to the card they need to function. Sometimes you Pithing Needle or Surgical Extraction a combo piece and their deck
literally has no functional text boxes yet.

Why I Didn’t Play It:

The Jund and Wild Nacatl Burn matchups are very bad. The former just has too many things that interact with you. All of the discard backed by Abrupt Decay
and Kolaghan’s Command to kill your on-battlefield cards backed by graveyard hate in Scavenging Ooze to shut off Academy Ruins backed by threats that end
the game quickly or find more answers in Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant. The latter just comes out too fast. A turn 1 Wild Nacatl on the play is worth six
damage before you can play Ensnaring Bridge, and sometimes it’s hard to get enough cards out of your hand to shut off Goblin Guide or Monastery Swiftspear
attacking that first turn. Eidolon of the Great Revel is also a big issue, and they have access to Destructive Revelry and Stony Silence as real hate

I wasn’t practiced enough, but not necessarily with this one deck. The Lantern lock itself is pretty easy to execute, but you really need to know exactly
what shows up in decklists for every deck in the format to play it properly. You need to know what to name with Pithing Needle, what to Surgical
Extraction, which cards to sideboard for, and so on. If I was super in tune with how every list had adapted over the last month, I might be able to mill
people out this event, but I’ve been playing a lot of Legacy and Limited instead of Modern.

I also wasn’t well practiced with the physical actions of winning the game with the deck. It wasn’t like Miracles, where I’ve cast enough Ponders fast
enough for a lifetime. You have your opponent’s physical speed to account for. I wrote about this when Nephalia Drownyard was in Standard. Sometimes your
opponent is just physically slow moving their cards around and you draw, and I’m not yet sure what short cuts I need to take to prevent that.

Why I Wanted to Play This Deck:

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is seriously messed up. Previously G/R Tron had this exposed midgame against slower Remand combo decks where you could be held
off Karn Liberated for just long enough for them to go off. Or you just didn’t have a Karn, and Wurmcoil Engine didn’t do anything while Emrakul, the Aeons
Torn was too slow. With Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, that just doesn’t happen. You exile two of their lands, they can’t cast spells, and they die.
Sometimes they die to the first twenty- card exile because they need to search for something that was in there, and Remanding Ulamog is a losing battle.
Ulamog also gives you an out against all sorts of other combo decks. Again, G/R Tron just gave things like Ad Nauseam too much time unless it stuck a turn
4 Karn. You now have additional ways to remove your opponent from the game in a relevant timeframe.

This is actually one of the big ways to get ahead in Eternal formats. People win by playing the deck people forgot about and don’t have answers for, and
not knowing about a new card is just as big a swing as forgetting about an old one. If an existing deck gained a big card and hasn’t put up results or
buzz, it’s easy for people to underprepare for an upgraded deck or rely on previously valid answers that no longer work.

Why I Didn’t Play This Deck:

You are kold to Burn. They just get on the battlefield too quickly and your planeswalkers don’t do anything. Karn needs to activate multiple times to keep
them off casting spells. Oblivion Stone is too slow, as their creatures have attacked multiple times before it lands. Wurmcoil Engine has relevant
abilities, but it’s too easy for them to have Atarka’s Command for your first combat step with it. Basically your entire strategy is bad against them. The
sideboard options aren’t great either, as they all get Atarka’s Command’ed, Destructive Revelry’ed, or just run over by creatures when you are prepping for
burn spells.

You are kold to Infect. You just die on turn 3, and your hate cards don’t really matter.

You are bad versus Amulet Bloom. Something something dead before you play spells something something.

Every deck loses to something, but Infect, Amulet Bloom, and Burn are decks that were on the rise. Burn, as mentioned above, was having a run of good
events due to the integration of Wild Nacatl and Atarka’s Command, all the cool kids were taking their last chance to play Amulet Bloom, and Infect was the
natural next level to everyone raving about Amulet Bloom.

Why I Wanted to Play This Deck:

See above notes on it beating the cool kid decks of Amulet Bloom and G/R Tron. If your opponent doesn’t have interaction, they die real fast to Infect. The
only deck that has the same reliability of a turn 3 kill is Storm, and that deck is definitely less flexible and resilient.

Why I Didn’t Play This Deck:

I keep testing Infect for various events and wondering how I ever beat anything with it. People’s decks are just so much more streamlined than they were at
Pro Tour Return to Ravnica when I first played the deck. They have cheap removal and cheap threats to leave it up with, combo kills that rival your speed,
Eidolon of the Great Revel, or (insert any other thing that interacts with creatures or spells). The deck is just hard mode.

Why I Wanted to Play This Deck:

It’s just really good. Brian DeMars was the main source of the above list, and his claim was that this deck had put up the definite best results over the
last couple months, which is very believable. I’ve played decks like this in Legacy in eras long gone, and they raced all but the best combo decks. It
turns out all of the cards that make those combo decks are banned in Modern, so this deck basically races everything. Your one-drops are as good in combat
as any of the two-drops, if not better, and you have a ton of burn that does more than three damage a card. You just beat the crap out of so many things
because you are so streamlined. The deck even has a turn 3 kill!

Eidolon of the Great Revel straight up KOs a bunch of random decks. Nice maindeck hate card that is actually just a good Magic card.

Why I Didn’t Play This Deck:

Well, I did, but here are the known flaws.

You are soft to Jund. See above about becoming more creature-based being a liability against the removal attrition deck. Abzan is a bit easier and pretty
much a push, but Jund specifically has Lightning Bolt, which is a real pain.

You are soft to bigger Wild Nacatl decks if they have the right tools. If they don’t have Lightning Helix or Kor Firewalker, the matchup is fine, but their
main gameplan of fast clocks and cheap removal is pretty good at tempering your nut draws, and a little hate becomes very hard to beat.

You are soft to any deck that can produce WW on turn 2 for Kor Firewalker. Well, it’s not 100% true, but it just happens that most of these decks are
already pretty good against you and get to play Kor Firewalker. With twelve one-drops, it’s not as bad as it was pre-Wild Nacatl, but an early Kor
Firewalker is still a pain to beat.

Amulet Bloom isn’t the best matchup. You beat their okay draws, but usually lose to their good ones, but given their plan is mulling to a good draw, it’s
basically you beating their fail rate.

Overall, the deck performed about as expected. I punted against Affinity on day one because I just forgot about casting Shattering Spree without
replicating it after crushing the first Affinity opponent I played, crushed a bunch of Twin, pushed 1-1 against Abzan, and lost to U/W/X and G/W. I
honestly wouldn’t change a card if I ran the deck back.

What’s the trend here? Each of these decks is broadly powerful. Most of them are fast goldfishes, and Jund just has answers to everything. There’s no
fiddling with Snapcaster Mage and the right answers, no compromising power level for dodging the current answers. Modern is currently in a state of great
flux simply because there haven’t been a ton of results put out there for people to digest. Or there are results, but they are from far off places people
seem to ignore like South America or Texas. Unsurprisingly, two of the raw power decks that have the longest history of being good in the powerful deck
heads ups did the best: Twin and Affinity.

Leading into the #SCGINVI at Las Vegas, the data from this event is going to drive the format in a more precise direction. Raw power is unlikely to hold
quite the same hold, and you will be able to choose your targets. Half or more of the decks I considered here wouldn’t even be on my radar for that event.

The format moves fast when there is information. Think fast and try to keep up.