Everything You Need To Know About Modern, Part II

With tons more Modern decklists, what are you waiting for? Click and read Gavin’s latest article on all the archetypes he didn’t cover last time.

With only a week and a half until the Pro Tour begins, everyone is voracious for Modern information. Whether you’re looking to break the Pro Tour or simply want something to play in Magic Online tournament practice, all eyes are on this format.

In part one, I laid out 18 decks I felt were “established” based on my Overextended results. That hopefully brought you guys up to speed with where the format is at.

This week, I’m aiming to fill in some of the holes left from last week. I’m also using these decks to respond to a lot of the questions you guys have been asking me. Is dedicated control possible in this format? Will Affinity tear open the format even after the bannings? Which lesser-known combo decks should you be keeping your eye on? My answers are below.

Just like last week, I’ll be providing a brief synopsis of each deck (nineteen of them this time around) as well as what I think of that deck in the format. Also like last week, none of these decks have sideboards. If you choose to try out any of these decks, set up a sideboard for your expected metagame and see how it performs. (Alternatively, you can wait until next week for part three of this series which contains an exhaustive sideboarding guide—you won’t want to miss that one.)

Alright. Ready for an array of decklists? Here we go again!

Section 1: Beatdown


I covered most of the beatdown decks that are staples of the format last week. One thing about most aggressive decks is it tends to be very obvious when one deck just can’t compete with another. You always have to ask yourself, “Why is this beatdown deck any better than Zoo?” Usually it has to attack on a different axis or otherwise be better in some fashion. Still, there are a couple of beatdown decks I wanted to talk about.

The number one question I was asked last week was some variant on, “What do you think of Affinity in this format?” If you haven’t been following the conversation on Twitter or in last week’s comments, I have made my stance clear: I don’t think it’s very good at all.

Affinity has to jump through fiery, barbed hoops to try and use synergy to do something powerful. On the other hand, Zoo has access to similar power without lifting an additional finger. As I tweeted in response to one question last week, “Tempered Steel is a card that gives all of your creatures +2/+2. Zoo is an archetype that gives all of your creatures +2/+2.”

In my Overextended events, all of the artifact lands were legal, and Affinity was merely an okay deck. Without those lands, I don’t think the deck is even close to one of the top beatdown decks. And not to mention terrible things happen if your opponent has the foresight to pack any hate for you.

Still, it is a deck I know has caught several peoples’ eye and something you should know about going into Modern events. It’s not that you can’t be successful with the deck, but simply that other beatdown archetypes are better. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if somebody at Philadelphia does well with a unique build.

To make the deck successful, I think you have to get away from a lot of what you would expect in the past. Gone are the days of Myr Enforcer working. Frogmite is even fairly unimpressive with the lack of a full suite of artifact lands. The mana base you want to run allows for only a handful of colored lands, so you kind of have to pick a combination and dedicate yourself to it. (Or, alternatively, play four City of Brass and try to get lucky.) Really, the deck—regardless of color—is a far cry from the Affinity decks of old.

Unless you go the City of Brass and Chromatic Star route, you only have a couple narrow options. Most of your deck is mono-brown, but you can play either one or two colors along with it. You can either go monocolor (mono-white for Tempered Steel, mono-blue for Thoughtcast and Master, mono-red for Atog and Galvanic Blast with sideboard Blood Moon, or mono-black for Disciple of the Vault and Thoughtseize) or you can go two allied colors since they have the best reliable mana fixing.   

A lot of people out there have been clamoring for a Tempered Steel based list. If you were to go that route, this is what I would recommend:

This deck plays a lot like a Tempered Steel deck with some old cards rather than an Affinity deck with Tempered Steel.

However, while powerful, I actually dislike the card Tempered Steel in this archetype. Not because it’s weak, but because of the havoc it plays with your mana base. You have to cut whichever Nexus you’re not running to have enough colored sources to play it, and even then it seems like you can’t cast it half of the time anyway. 

In general, I like a lot of the monocolor non-Tempered Steel builds more than the white-based Steel versions. Mono-blue and mono-red have both been good for me. However, my overall favorite version is actually quite a bit different from what you might expect—take a look at this:

This version, despite still having a lot of the core cards, is actually very different from most builds of the archetype. It can be about a turn slower than what you might be used to. However, the cost in speed is made up tremendously in resilience.

Dark Confidant in particular is insane here, creating a stream of card advantage. I know he seems like kind of a strange choice for an Affinity deck, but I’ve found him to be much more impressive than Thoughtcast.

While Confidant can’t provide the one time burst of two cards, over time he can win the game on his own. Sure, Thoughtcast is great in those games where you’re going crazy with a strong Affinity draw—but you’re likely to be favored in a lot of those games anyway. Confidant helps in the games where you have a slower draw or your opponent puts up resistance and can even pull you back from something devastating like a pair of Ancient Grudges.

Tezzeret does something similar with the card advantage—and of course, he can also just win the game with his ultimate if they don’t deal with him for a turn. While he’s a little on the expensive side and I found the full four was too many, I wouldn’t play fewer than three in this build.

There are tons of ways to take Affinity, but if you’re going to try the deck I would recommend just keeping consistency and resilience forefront in your mind. The deck has a very strong insane draw, but it’s making sure you’re still in the games with weaker draws that counts.

Soul Sisters

Ever since it debuted at Nationals last year, this deck has remained a fan favorite. While I don’t think it’s an incredible Modern deck, it does have several very good matchups and some very robust draws. Take a look at the Modern decklist:  

There are some more options that aren’t here you could try, but you don’t want to stray too far from the core. Aether Vial is a card you could try out, but I wanted to play all lands and white cards to maximize Martyr of Sands. (Plus Vial creates another dead draw in the midgame.)

Glimmerpost is a land that some of the Standard versions have used, but so many of your cards cost a single W that it wouldn’t help with casting spells as much as you might think. Additionally, the subtype Locus carries some baggage with it. (Cloudpost and Glimmerpost check all Loci on the battlefield!)

Martyr is really an absurd addition to the deck. You can easily go turn one Ascendant, turn two play and crack a Martyr, then serve in for 6 and gain 6 more. On turn two! Save for the perfect Affinity draw, there’s no faster beatdown start in the format.

One of the other huge additions is Proclamation or Rebirth. In the late game, it means a recurring Serra Ascendant or Figure of Destiny every turn when you forecast it. However, if you encounter some kind of bloodbath in the early game, you can also just hardcast it and return three guys! Its hardcast mode is pretty underrated, so always keep it in mind.

In my experience, this deck does very well against creature decks (though Zoo can attrition you out if you don’t draw enough Rangers) but has very little chance against most combo decks or Twelvepost. It could be right for one PTQ week depending on how the metagame works out, but I wouldn’t recommend it for the Pro Tour.  

Section 2: Aggro-Control/Midrange


One style of deck I always like to trying is a disruptive blue-based midrange deck that thrives on tempo. Not usually Merfolk (though that would be one example) but something a little more like this:  

A similar deck to this one won me a qualification to the Pro Tour. So far, this deck seems pretty well positioned. You definitely have to sideboard some additional removal for Zoo, but the matchup isn’t bad by any means. Against most of the combo decks you’re favored due to discard and countermagic, and against control and midrange decks you have the combination of a clock, disruption, and card advantage. I’d really recommend trying something like this in your testing.

The one thing you may want to try fooling around with is the numbers on removal and countermagic. Smother might be something to try, and I could see a third Spell Pierce. Cryptic Command is also a reasonable option, but I don’t know that you want the full four copies because of its high mana cost. 

I’d also look into an effective way to beat Punishing Fire. This build of the deck is pretty weak to the Fire/Grove combo, but if you manage to fit in some Tectonic Edges or some beefier creatures (Abyssal Persecutor?!?) it might end up being just fine.

Mishra Midrange

Ever since I wrote about it a couple months ago, the Mishra deck is one for which people consistently ask for a list. It’s certainly a fan favorite, and I’ve watched numerous people play it in Tournament Practice on Magic Online. It had some success in my Overextended events and grew from there.

That is my newest list, though it’s a bit more all-in on Mishra than I would like. Originally there were Grand Architects to help out, but I really found they were underperforming so I ended up cutting them. However, if you ever untap with Mishra, crazy things begin to happen. If you’ve never cast a Batterskull and searched up another, let me say it’s just as sweet as it sounds.

One thing worth noting if you’re playing this deck is that I’d recommend slowrolling Mishra a little bit if possible. Almost every deck has something like Path to Exile or Dismember, and you don’t want to just walk into it. See if you can draw some of those out elsewhere if you can.


If the number one question I was asked was, “What do you think about Affinity?” the number two question I was asked was “What do you think about Jund?”

My answer is also similar: I’m not a huge fan. However, it’s for wildly different reasons. It’s not because the deck lacks power—Jund is full of raw power—but in a format this broad I would try to stay away from unsynergistic midrange decks. It’s the same reason I don’t really like the “Lotus Cobra special” deck or something slow and Rock-esque that’s full of Plow Unders and Eternal Witnesses.

However, the card quality of the deck is so high that I’d be surprised if nobody at Philly played something similar and did well. If you jam enough powerful cards in one deck, they have a tendency to just come up in the right order and crush people.

Some of the cards are the same as you remember them from the Standard and Extended builds, and a couple of the other additions seem pretty clear. Dark Confidant, for example, is pretty much an automatic inclusion. The deck has access to the Punishing Fire-Grove combo to control the long game, and it also gained Eternal Witness to reuse your powerful spells. However, I think one of the most impressive new cards in the deck is Rise / Fall.

Rise / Fall has been pretty underused traditionally. However, it’s at its prime in this deck. Fall acts as a Hymn against most combo decks. Against anything else, just wait until they stop playing lands and then fire one off. However, perhaps the most insane part is when you cascade into one.

When you cascade into Rise / Fall, you can play either half, and casting Rise off a Bloodbraid Elf is a complete blowout. Not only do you remove their blocker, but you can return any one of your insane creatures. It even turns into a pretty nice long-game combo with Eternal Witness, as you return the Witness to your hand with the battlefield part of Rise and then get a creature along with it—rinse and repeat! Definitely make sure to try these in your Jund deck.

Blightning might look a little underpowered, but it’s actually been pretty good so far. Against control and combo you really just want to demolish their hand with a volley of Blightnings and Falls, and against Zoo nabbing their last two cards can be surprisingly brutal.

If you’re looking for a stock midrange deck, Jund is a good place to start. While I’d try to stay away from decks like it in general, you can’t deny its raw power.

Section 3: Control

Next Level Gifts

Control was by far the weakest category in my spread last week, and I think some people mistakenly took that to mean that control was unplayable. However, control is very much alive—it’s just a matter of finding the deck. With Ancestral Vision, Mental Misstep, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor all banned, it’s hard to just take an old control deck and adjust it. Fortunately for the control empire, there are still plenty of good engines left around. Thirst for Knowledge, Mystical Teachings and, of course, Gifts Ungiven.

This might be the future of control. Though there are more non-blue lands than I would like for the purposes of Cryptic Command, it’s still perfectly castable most of the time. If you ever watched Next Level/Previous Level/Future Level/Stone Age Level blue play in old Extended, this operates similarly. (Albeit without Counterbalance/Top.) You control the game and win on the back of Tarmogoyf and cards like Vedalken Shackles.

The one thing I would look for when tweaking this list is adding in more Vendilion Clique. It’s difficult to find room, but the card is extremely powerful in this format and adds am aggressive disruptive element to a mostly passive deck. 

One of the biggest constraints of Modern control decks—and you’ll see this echoed throughout this section—is the ability to beat Twelvepost. For the most part, Twelvepost demolishes decks like these. They don’t have to cast any relevant spells worth countering, and then before you know it there’s an Emrakul staring you down. This deck makes a cordial effort to fight them with Loam and Ghost Quarter (a package Gifts can find), but more often than not I fear that is going to be an uphill battle. It may take some kind of Blood Moon control deck to succeed at dominating that matchup. 

Next Level Thirst

This deck is similar to the Next Level Gifts deck in function. It lacks Punishing Fire/Grove and the Gifts engine, instead opting for Trinket Mage and Thirst for Knowledge instead. I think overall I prefer the Gifts version, but this it’s important to keep a build like this in mind. However, if you’re going to go this route, I would much rather consider our next deck…   


Kenny Oberg landmark on Extended is back! The artifact-based control strategy makes perhaps the best use out of Thirst for Knowledge. While it doesn’t have Tarmogoyf like the Next Level decks do, Tezzeret can set up to end the game in a single turn.

While the deck is a little light on win conditions you can take as many turns as it needs behind Crucible and Ghost Quarter to strip away all of its opponent’s mana before finally killing. (The Next Level decks can also do this.) Against decks with creatures (like Zoo), you can even sit behind an Ensnaring Bridge while doing so to make sure you’re invulnerable.

U/B Teachings

In addition to Gifts and Thirst, the third immediately obvious major engine is Mystical Teachings. I’m not as impressed by Teachings in this format compared to the other two, as it is a much slower engine. Gifts is already pretty slow, and so spending four mana to tutor for a single card is even slower. It’s also very hard for this deck to interact with Twelvepost save for a lucky Surgical Extraction.

However, if long control games are what you’re interested in, you may want to look this way. There are a few different ways you can take the archetype. There’s straight U/B as I have built below, but Esper Teachings featuring Path to Exile, Esper Charm, and Aven Mindcensor, among others, has slightly worse mana but better spell quality. You can also go the five-color route and just use Teachings as a bonus, like Michael Jacob did in the top 8 of Pro Tour Amsterdam.

Azorius Faeries

Moving away from the decks using the main three control engines, we end up at something you might be used to from last Extended season: Azorius Faeries. 

It’s a little different without the likes of Stoneforge Mystic around, but a lot of what made the deck powerful is still there. The disruptive Faeries at its core still sit alongside countermagic and Swords. Other cards I might look at are Sower of Temptation and Glen Elendra Archmage.

This deck has practically just conceded to Twelvepost. Though strong elsewhere, Twelvepost preys on decks like this, Ghost Quarter or no. If you don’t expect to face the deck more than once I would definitely consider just taking the fact that you have a bad matchup but being favored against numerous other decks.

U/W Control

If you don’t want to go the U/W Faeries route and want a shot at beating Twelvepost, this is where I would go for a U/W deck:

This deck plays out like traditional U/W control. Tons of counters, card draw, some removal, and a Crucible endgame. With a deck that’s all about preventing them from applying pressure in the form of creatures, that makes Jace very attractive. I think that gives him the nod over Thirst for Knowledge as going to be much better going long if you can protect him. You could also try playing a couple of Elspeth. If you’re looking for an option against Twelvepost, you may want to consider Spreading Seas.

Bob the Builder

One of the best card draw engines in the format is Dark Confidant, and he can easily be incorporated into a control deck. He also has the side benefit of putting pressure on the Twelvepost decks and carrying equipment. Earlier we saw a more aggressive take on a U/B Dark Confidant strategy, but now take a look at this control version:

This deck has a ton of disruption and strong card advantage engines. Coupled with the clock of its creatures, it can shift from control into aggressive very quickly. While I would like more countermagic, cards like Spell Snare don’t play very well when you also have Thoughtseize and Inquisition around.

Sword of War and Peace may look a little strange. Originally they were Feast and Famines, but after playing some games the deck needed a way to not die to Confidant if it survived for a while. While often they’ll trade off or an opponent will kill it as soon as they can, you can also just give it a Sword of War and Peace which not only makes it impervious to Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile, but creates some huge life swing as well.

Overall, the key to finding the best control archetype seems to be finding one that beats Twelvepost and going from there. If you can find a control deck that successfully does that, then I’d start evolving it from there. The Ghost Quarter/Tectonic Edge on Cloudpost plan is okay, but you may have to go for something really excessive to ensure you have a chance in the matchup depending on how far the Twelvepost decks evolve.

Section Four: Combo


This deck fits into an interesting sub category of combo, in that it masquerades as a control deck until it picks a turn to decide to kill you. Take a look:

Now, I know that’s enough one-ofs to make you shake your head. However, a lot of them are crucial or interchangeable enough that it’s worth splitting them up. But first, let me walk you through the combo.

By now, I’m sure most of you know how the Splinter Twin/Kiki Jiki plus Pestermite/Deceiver Exarch/Intruder Alarm combo works. You get unlimited untaps of the card that’s copying creatures, thus creating unlimited attackers. Instead of having to assemble the combo on your own, the card Gifts Ungiven sets it up all by itself.

There are several different Gifts piles, and it takes some time to figure them all out, but these are the three main ones:

If you Gifts for Deceiver Exarch or Pestermite alongside Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, Reveillark, and Noxious Revival, your opponent is forced to give you a combination of cards that will result in the combo occurring.

If you have one of the pieces already in your hand, then you can Gifts for 3 of Splinter Twin, Kiki-Jiki Mirror Breaker, Pestermite or Deceiver Exarch, plus Noxious Revival and they will be forced to provide you with one of your two missing pieces.

If you need to ensure your combo goes off without interference, you can Gifts for Spellskite, Grand Abolisher, Glen Elendra Archmage, and potentially Noxious Revival (if you didn’t use it in a Gifts pile already) or something else powerful to ensure you get some protection. Note that all three of those protection cards can be Reveillarked back!

You can also substitute Body Double in various places when necessary.

The deck is not only powerful, but has a lot of cool synergies too. Kiki-Jiki or Splinter Twin with almost any creature in the deck is a strong combo on its own. Sometimes you beat them down, but most of the time you just present a strong control position and then figure out the best way to kill them.

While playtesting, I recommend keeping a list of what’s in your deck next to you so you can get used to knowing of if you have a Gifts pile to bail you out. Sometimes you have to get creative, and this deck takes a lot of practice. It’s a lot of fun to play though—give it a try!

Blood Swans

In a similar vein, this deck can operate as a control deck before finally moving onto the combo kill:

Remember how I was talking about a potential Blood Moon control deck earlier? Well, this is kind of it. Blood Moon shuts several decks down, and at the very least should buy you plenty of time. How does this deck work exactly? Well, let me walk you through it. I’m actually pretty excited, as it uses a strange game mechanic I’ve never heard of anybody abusing before!

The way the combo works is you first assemble a Swans of Bryn Argoll and a Seismic Assault. You discard a land, target the Swans, draw two, and so on. Now, this on its own won’t be enough to kill your opponent—but with 27 lands in your deck, hopefully you’ll find a Dakmor Salvage. With the Salvage, you can essentially go infinite. You discard it to the Swans, then dredge it back and draw an extra card. You net a card every time.

However, it is very likely you will threaten to deck before you draw enough lands. Now, you see there’s a Kozilek in there than you can flip to reshuffle. Well, alright. But what happens if you happen to draw that Kozilek? Now here’s where things get really crazy. 

If you draw the Kozilek, proceed as normal; then, when you’re almost out of cards, end your turn. You’ll go to the cleanup step and be required to discard down to 7 cards. Discard the Kozilek. Now, the game allows players to retain priority because there’s a trigger on the stack. You should both pass priority here. Now, you will gain priority again. Continue to combo out using the Dakmor Salvage you kept in your hand. If you have to reshuffle again, that’s okay! You can have multiple cleanup steps where you have 8 or more cards and you discard an Eldrazi. Rinse and repeat as necessary.

To quote the appropriate rule: “[In reference to the cleanup step] If the conditions for any state-based effects exist or if any triggered abilities are waiting to be put onto the stack, the active player gets priority and players may play spells and abilities. Once the stack is empty and all players pass, another cleanup step begins.” 

It’s very weird, and I’ve never heard of anyone using a loophole like this before. The good news for this deck is it means you only have to play one way to reshuffle, and you can oddly use the discard step to do it.

In any case, this deck is very good and I would highly recommend testing it. Not only is it essentially a two card combo (okay, maybe a two and a half card combo), but it’s backed up with a lot of countermagic, removal, and can just shut decks down with Blood Moon. This is a deck I’d keep your eye on.

Restore Balance

With Hypergenesis out of the running, people have turned to the other free spells as options to cascade into. Living End is the obvious one based on its past success, but Restore Balance also carries a lot of potential. It’s similarly strong against beatdown decks, but unlike Living End, the spell also cripples control decks. It also gets to run Blood Moon to its advantage since to its need to play basics and Borderposts. Check it out:

Section Five: Goofball Decks

Pitch World

There are three decks I want to talk about precisely because of how ridiculous they are. And I’m not talking insanely powerful here—I just mean they’re straight up crazy. They bring out the small child in me. I would absolutely not recommend playing these on the Pro Tour in their current iterations. However, if you have the cards on Magic Online and are on a quest for a few hours of Tournament Practice fun, these are an awesome place to look.

How crazy am I talking here? Well, this first deck features zero lands…  

How does this deck work? Instead of using lands as resources, you use Chancellors and pitch cards as your means of getting creatures and casting spells. The deck has the capability to kill on turn one! Of course, it doesn’t happen very often. You’d be surprised by how many games this can win though. Plus, I’ve Commandeered some pretty sweet spells… 

Puresteel Paladin Combo

Clearly when you think of the wide card pool of Modern, your first reaction is let’s break… Bone Saw? This deck was first shown to me by Travis Woo. I played some games and did some light tweaking, but I’ll be honest when I say there aren’t a ton of numbers you can move around.

Basically, the way it works is you play a Paladin, you unload your hand of free equipments cantripping for each one, eventually you hit a Goblin Gaveleer and hopefully have a Mox Opal to cast it, then give it all of your equipment making it gigantic. If you have Lightning Greaves, you can kill that turn! My one tip with this deck is, if you can, wait a turn after playing your Paladin to go off. I’ve found that you usually need a couple of mana untapped to cast the Greaves or Gaveleer.

The other thing I wanted to try was a blue splash for Retract. You can’t really combo out fully in the current version, but with Retract you might be able to draw your whole deck. At that point, it’s also worth trying Preordain and potentially Ponder since you have to have Puresteel Paladin in play or your deck does nothing.

Zombie Hunt

Finally, I’m going to close with a deck that’s currently a fun casual Standard deck. In Modern, it gets a couple of cool additions. Take a look:

I have definitely goldfished a fair number of turn four kills. It’s pretty simple: Treasure Hunt for a bunch of lands, which will either hit Zombie Infestation or Treasure Hunt. Keep hunting until you find an Infestation, then play Reliquary Tower and make 10+ zombies in their end step. Reliquary Tower makes it much easier since you don’t have to overextend with zombies on your turn and you can cast Treasure Hunt without two extra mana without having to worry about discarding.


Out of all the new archetypes above, hopefully you found something fresh that excites you. If you have any questions, please let me know below and I’d be happy to answer them. There were a ton of responses and great questions asked last week, and I appreciate all of your thoughts!

As someone who has been living and breathing a similar format for the past three months, I’m excited to share the decks of this format with you and am happy to answer any questions you may have! If you’d like to ask me any questions, the easiest way is to just post below. However, also feel free to tweet at me or send me an e-mail at gavintriesagain at gmail dot com and I’ll reply as soon as I can!

I’ll be back next week with part three of this series, which leads into the Pro Tour nicely! I’ll be in Philadelphia, and I’m looking forward to it. In the meantime, if you’re in Pittsburgh for the GP this weekend, I’ll see you there! Feel free to come up and say hi if you want to talk about anything, Modern, Magic-related, or otherwise.

Talk to you soon!

Gavin Verhey

Rabon on Magic Online, @GavinVerhey on Twitter