Finding The No Banned List Modern Meta Through The Versus Series

Pro Tour Champion Ari Lax uses the Versus Series experiments to try to pick the best decks to battle with at the very unique SCG CON No Banned List Modern event!

Even with an SCG Tour event at SCGCON right around the corner, No Banned
List Modern is a tricky format to pin down. There’s a lot of rumor and
hearsay about what has won at events and what’s possible. Fortunately, we
have a lot of visible data from StarCityGames.com Versus Videos and years
of background knowledge from other formats we can apply.

What decks have people been playing? What has worked? What could we be
doing better.

Hypergenesis – Todd Stevens

Even More Hyper-Genesis – Brad Nelson

There isn’t a ton to say about Hypergenesis. I’m starting with it because
it’s the most obvious deck possible. You must play basically this exact
assortment of cards.

Except Chancellor of the Tangle. Please don’t play that one. It’s only good
in your absolute perfect draws.

Omniscience makes it way too easy to one shot people with Griselbrand or
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. I would take a good look at Urabrask the Hidden
versus Dragonlord Kolaghan as Urabrask is pretty bad on its own in weirder
Hypergenesis deployments. There’s a small chance trimming on Griselbrand
and Omniscience in favor of this style of haste granting threat is actually
faster, or that you would rather just load up on disruptive elements like
Blazing Archon, but my brief experiments in those directions weren’t

One recent development post-Amonkhet is that you can play the
various split cards now that their converted mana costs are added while in
your deck. I’m not entirely sure you want these over things with power and
toughness, but it’s hard to beat the versatility of Wear//Tear.

Affinity – Todd Anderson

Affinity was capable of making the Top 4 of the “No Banned List Pro Tour”
and won an Extended Pro Tour where Vampiric Tutor and Mind’s Desire were
legal, so of any existing Modern deck it probably has the most legs. Todd
Anderson’s list is a little… iffy however.

Thoughtcast is quaint. Even beyond the “play Skullclamp” comments, you need
real interaction. There’s only so many non-colorless spells you can play in
an Affinity deck even with artifact lands and Thoughtcast is the most do
nothing one possible. This is a Spell Pierce or Thoughtseize Affinity

The other option is to go all in and show up with a few Atogs and a couple
Temur Battle Rage. This was the strategy used successfully at Pro Tour
Philadelphia, albeit with the old school Fling over the new and improved
Battle Rage. Despite Fling having pseudo-haste, I don’t imagine many spots
where you have the full nine to ten artifacts to avoid attacking with Atog
to kill them. The main question I have here is how much more insane
artifact lands make this configuration, and I assume the answer is very.

Let’s just cut all the cards from 2004 from the deck. The most important
thing is activating Mox Opal or Springleaf Drum, not doing more stuff once
you deploy your fourth artifact. Myr Enforcer may have been a good rate of
two mana for a 4/4 back then, but now one more mana gets a 10/10 Master of

Karn, Scion of Urza is cool, but with artifact lands, Tezzeret, Agent of
Bolas is actually suspend one win the game and easily castable. The -1 to
make a 5/5 is basically Karn’s -2 when you need that effect. I’m not even
sure you want either honestly.

Glimmervoid is both outdated in favor of Spire of Industry and not
something you need when you just get to play lands that produce colored
mana. Four Great Furnace, four Mox Opal, and four Springleaf Drum is the
same number of red sources as current Affinity, so just play twelve real
artifact lands and call it a day.

Based on how I kill on turn three in current Modern, I would lean towards
Inkmoth Nexus over Blinkmoth Nexus.

Etched Champion is still a good anti-midrange card. Hope of Ghirapur seems
like a welcome addition in a combo heavy, Time Walk rewarding format. I
could just be insane for only playing three Skullclamp, but multiples
aren’t great, and all I want is another zero-cost artifact creature.

I almost maindecked three Chalice of the Void (again, bad in multiples) and
I can definitely see a format where Affinity just becomes a disruptive deck
with those, Ethersworn Canonist, and counters or discard. Effectively week
zero might be the right time to pull the trigger on that, because random
untuned combo is going to fold to those cards way more than the optimized

Colorless Eldrazi – Todd Stevens

Oddly, for a deck that didn’t exist until many years into Modern and didn’t
get to play with most of the banned cards, there isn’t a lot I would want

I would want Mental Missteps here, as protection for your Eldrazi from Path
to Exile and Thoughtseize but whatever. You aren’t getting much better than
this is right now. Maybe Leylines in the sideboard, or Pithing Needles or
some Umezawa’s Jittes, but here I go again nit picking. None of these
drastically change the base power level of your deck.

Don’t get tricked into playing Cloudpost. It’s a slow mana engine producing
turn three Thought-Knot Seers at best and often hindering your development.
Those are usually called mulligans. If you want to Cloudpost, wait until
the format chills down a bit and fire back on some midrange decks with
Primeval Titan.

Maverick – Todd Stevens

I’m not even going to dignify this with a deck list post. Punishing Fire
and turn two kills that ignore Thalia exist. Thought-Knot Seer costs two in
this format. Try again.

Trust me, I played Green Sun’s Zenith and Knight of the Reliquary at Pro
Tour Philadelphia. It was not great. Play Punishing Jund if you want to do
this to people, or maybe some Legacy-style Four Color

Chrome Mox and Chalice of the Void and Punishing Fire pile. Not this.

Punishing Jund – Brad Nelson

Punishing Jund – Todd Stevens

I actually really like how Brad’s deck was constructed. Let’s talk about
some real minor changes.

I like the idea of a discard-removal split card to cascade into with
Bloodbraid Elf. There aren’t a lot of things sitting on the battlefield in
this format, so the normal “hit a Terminate” default is not great. Keep in
mind the Deathrite Shaman + Bloodbraid Elf era was well after the combo

Where I take real issue in Brad’s list is the sideboard. It seems really
difficult for him to actually cut all the dead cards against combo, which
when playing Bloodbraid Elf is a huge liability. You want to make sure all
your extreme sideboard cascade configurations give you a good four mana
play with that card. I think you can start without Surgical Extraction and
Ancient Grudge and try to find more generic, non-timing dependent spells to
make sure your sideboard plans work.

While I did praise Brad’s solid ABC deck building, I like where Todd’s head
is at. Is Bloodbraid Elf even good? Is Tireless Tracker better? Can we go
back to the old days of Destructive Flow Jund and just turbo Jund people
with mana ramp? If you have your heart set on mixing the mild of Jund with
something wild, take the time and look at this deck. I really want to know
where you end up.

Grixis Death’s Shadow – Todd Stevens

U/R Delver – Todd Anderson

Death’s Shadow – Brad Nelson

I’m lumping these decks together as they ask the same question. Treasure
Cruise is a broken Magic card, how does it work in this format?

At first glance I’m much more interested in Todd Steven’s or Brad’s deck
than Todd Anderson’s based on the interaction. The combo decks in this
format force you to do better than Mana Leak, though I don’t mind a
Deprive. Inquisition of Kozilek or Thoughtseize as proactive answers plays
somewhat well into Treasure Cruise, though somewhat poorly as your big fuel
up late game comes with blanks.

On the threat front, I think you want a mix of what these two guys showed
up with. I’m not big on Monastery Swiftspear, but Gurmag Angler is also too
much delve. Young Pyromancer seems like a nice middle ground. I mention
Deathrite Shaman as it’s the Legacy threat of choice, but I think without
Force of Will and Flusterstorm, the format is going to be too fast for that
card. Plus, there’s only so many graveyard cards to go around when you are
Treasure Cruise-ing. Stoneforge Mystic is also an option, though I’m
skeptical Batterskull and Death’s Shadow can be friends.

I don’t like Tarmogoyf plus Treasure Cruise. Sorry Brad. It’s even worse
now that the default answer is Fatal Push compared to Legacy, where the
default answer was just killing your opponent regardless with Volcanic

If you want to play this deck or something similar, I would just start with
Todd Steven’s list and trade the Gurmag Anglers and a couple filler cards
for Young Pyromancers. Only six ways to win is just a little too tight. I’m
also inclined to believe you can get away with sixteen lands, though I
won’t comment on zero, one, or two basic lands because I honestly don’t

Storm – Ross Merriam

Come on Ross, we can do better than this. This looks like a Storm deck from
2018 decided it wanted to exist in No Banned List Modern.

Pyromancer Ascension wasn’t even good at Pro Tour Philadelphia. You know
what was good?

Good old haste Goblins Storm. While other people tried Pyromancer’s Swath,
Jeremy Neeman went 9-1 in Constructed with a much more explosive deck than

This is basically a card for card port of the Empty the Warrens Storm deck
from Philadelphia. No fiddling with graveyards, just Goblins and death. I’m
unsure what exact split of Opt and Serum Visions is best for wanting the
selection now or later, and I’m unsure if Reckless Bushwhacker dodging
Mental Misstep is better than the follow up turn lethal Goblin Bushwhacker,
but this deck is consistently great.

The other Storm deck needs a permanent. You just need Goblin tokens in your
deck box.

Miracles – Brad Nelson

Watching Brad play this deck, it felt clunky at best.

Back in Extended, the key to Counterbalance was Chrome Mox. This was also
pre-Planeswalkers, and the brief period where you could play Jace, the Mind
Sculptor and Chrome Mox also featured those cards together (next to Dark
Depths and Vampire Hexmage). A faster Jace or Counterbalance is the best

Chrome Mox also plays into you having one of the better card draw spells in
the format in Thirst for Knowledge. All the best cards to discard to it are
banned, including Seat of the Synod, so I think people just forget the card
exists, but drawing three cards is a lot of stuff.

The other issue was how narrow the interaction Brad fielded was. In Legacy
Miracles you could/can count on Force of Will and literal Counterspell to
get you up to speed against a variety of nonsense. That isn’t the case in
Modern. I think you need to play some mix of the narrow but efficient
countermagic like Negate, Spell Pierce, or Spell Snare and not just assume
Mental Misstep is your plan there. Misstep is good, but it allows a lot of
game ending stuff to still get through. Brad had some of this, but he
needed more. And absolutely less Cryptic Command, jeez.

Honestly, I’m thinking Terminus might be a trap. I want to play a more
traditional, tempo-oriented Counter-Top deck. Maybe something along the
lines of Patrick Chapin’s original Next Level Blue decks, with Tarmogoyf
and Vendillion Clique to apply pressure.

Nah, just kidding. Learn a lesson from the best Counter-Top deck of all
time and kill them all.

Look, I had some respect for lame creature decks. There’s a Terminus!

If you want to attack metagames like No Banned List Modern, this is how you
do it. The threats are way ahead of the answers, but also way ahead of
normal threats. There’s just enough interaction to make the format not a
pure race, so the best plan is just stacking up the most messed up stuff
possible into one giant shockingly consistent monstrosity and telling your
opponents to beat all your four different busted game plans.

Depths Blade – Ross Merriam

Ross, for as much as I bashed his Storm deck, had the single best built
deck in any of the previous No Banned List Modern content here. It follows
the “layered broken stuff and interaction” methodology flawlessly.

While it might not look it, Smallpox is a really powerful card in this
format. While there’s a ton of ways people are trying to kill you in No
Banned List Modern, there aren’t many Dark Rituals. They all need lands
and/or cards, and Smallpox deprives people of both of those.

Similar to Brad’s great Punishing Jund list, I only have single card notes

Any deck with Dark Confidant might want to consider Chrome Mox. Getting
hellbent faster for lopsided Smallpoxes is just another upside.

Lingering Souls might be a better Bloodghast if you need to block down some
Delver of Secrets or Vault Skirges. It’s broken in a slightly different way
than typical No Banned List Modern. Sometimes their deck just can’t beat a
ton of 1/1 fliers. Honestly, Bitterblossom might also be another good
version of the same effect and my U/B Counter-Depths deck probably wants


While no one has played this in any of the Versus Videos I went through,
Brad Nelson d
id cover it in his article a couple weeks back.
Just here to remind you this deck is another really good mix of disruption
and broken stuff, and to tell you that cutting the tutorable Pact of
Negation and probably Snapback is not great even if Mental Misstep is
really stupid in this archetype.

While Brad seems to be convinced the format is fairer than people expect, I
think it’s a considerable step up from what his current expectations are.
In testing for Pro Tour Philadelphia, it took people a while to realize the
format was really about killing on turn three and not turn four. Even in
the first few test sessions you don’t really see the floodgates open. I’m
really excited to see what the people who really try come up with for this
event, and if something laughably broken doesn’t take the whole thing down
it’s just a sign someone has another chance at the next No Banned List
Modern event to do exactly that.