Fixing Modern

Brad Nelson talks about prepping for the Pro Tour and overcoming road blocks. What should be banned to make Modern healthy? Brad thinks it only needs to be one card, one which may surprise you…

Pro Tour Philadelphia is over as well as the first taste of Modern. I have to say that I am much more pleased with the format now than during the weeks prior to the event. Everything fell in place, and the brand new format is off to a decent start. This week I’ll be talking about the decks to look out for and what I think this format needs to become one of the greats.

The first deck to talk about is obviously what I played at the Pro Tour. I really hate that Kibler always names our decks. Here is “Counter Cat!”

I might be biased, but this deck is by far what I want to be playing in this format. This is what we played at the Pro Tour to great results and also what I have been battling with on Modo all week. The only matchup I feel weak against is Swath Storm.

The advantages to playing a deck like this are the following: taking pain off lands to get to all four colors is not a big sacrifice. Mono Red is always a scary matchup for Zoo because of shocklands, but red’s position in this format is horrible. Every other deck in the format is either combo or 12Post, which would crush any red mage out of the tournament. This makes it easy to go down to even 11 life and without hugely impacting the game.

Early pressure backed up by a single counterspell can also take out most of the combo decks in the format. Most of them are very fragile and need to go all in on an early turn to race Wild Nacatl.

We thought that aggressive strategies would be a bigger percentage going into the tournament. This was the reason that the maindeck was so geared towards aggressive decks, using the aggressive clock as a win condition over any real disruption. It did not work out as well as I thought it would. I don’t know about the rest of the team, but my results in game ones was 3-7 while I went 6-4 with the deck overall.

I think this was correct going in blind but should be changed now that we have a format. Things don’t seem to be changing right now since people are just trying to play Pro Tour decks. Modo is now catching up to Pro Tour results, so some form of countermagic seems appropriate in the maindeck. I think this will help win more game ones without hurting the Zoo mirror too badly.

I don’t want to spend too much time on this because Kibler (deck designer) and the rest of the team will probably be doing the same this week. Working with so many great players is always amazing except for when I want to write the “look how cool my deck was” article. I will leave you with some of the things I learned about the deck before I move on.

Don’t cut the second Tectonic Edge from the sideboard. It took me a while to figure out how important it is against 12Post, but you will see significant percentage changes in the matchup with only one. Two is the perfect number and is needed in many of the games because of how they play out. Not only do they allow you to double Edge them when they are on four lands, but one can kill an early Cloudpost, and you can still kill Eye of Ugin later in the game.

Fetch Stomping Ground and Hollowed Fountain most of the time.

One-land, Noble Hierarch, Green Sun’s Zenith hands are not that good. Ship them in the dark.

Lightning Helix and Tarmogoyf are the two cards that I think can move around on numbers pretty easily. Goyf does not seem that well positioned. I have not found the recipe just yet, but I’ll let you know if I find a way to win without the card. When it’s good, it’s good; when it’s bad, it’s really terrible.

Elspeth is needed when counters are not in the main because of how good she is against 12Post. You can find room for your countermagic there.

This was my second favorite deck in the tournament. We were working on this deck as well before the tournament but found how difficult it was to beat a Zoo deck. We decided to stop working too much on it because of this reason. This was the correct choice because of how good our Zoo list actually was. I still think this deck was a great choice because the whole tournament didn’t know about it. It also had a very good 12Post matchup.

This deck will not last the test of time however because of how vulnerable it is to removal and knowledge of its existence. Once people know about a deck like this, its chances of winning drop significantly.

This is one of the few decks that will showcase just as much power after the Pro Tour. Even though I have not played with it, it feels to be one of the most powerful things you can be doing in the format. Being able to turn-three kill is very important, and this seems to be the most consistent out of all of them.

Yuuya’s list is not what you want to be playing here on out. He was prepared for what he thought would be popular and not what actually showed up. I think his list will need something to deal with Splinter Twin if you’re interested in battling with this deck.

The only problem that this deck will have to face is Zoo if most players take on a Counter Cat form. More Qasali Pridemages have found their way into my list, making this a very good matchup when I play against it. I don’t know what the solution for this is, but the great combo players out there will eventually find it.

This deck surprised me at the Pro Tour. Not only was it better than I expected, but it was also the second most played deck. I really thought that it would have been Zoo. Splinter Twin was a very good matchup for Counter Cat, so this was a pleasant surprise.

Well, at least it was good in the Swiss. Working with full information in the finals, Samuele was able to take it down against Josh Utter-Leyton. Few other players however saw the counterspells coming from the Wild Nacatl deck.

The reason that Samuele’s deck was such a great choice was it had decent disruption for the other U/R decks in the field. Splinter Twin’s combo does not take up many slots in the main. After the Ponders and Preordains found their slots, the rest of the deck could be built to disrupt other strategies. This will make it a very resilient deck that can take on a number of opposing archetypes.

12Post and what needs to be banned/unbanned

There are so many different variations of this deck I won’t bother posting a list.

12Post was the most popular deck going into the event. Fast mana will always draw in players, and this was also a good deck to take to a Pro Tour without much knowledge of the format. As a result, everyone else found some other way to win games, and it became a very poor choice for the event.

Of course one made it into the Top 8 because of its sheer power as well as the numbers it had in the field. It just isn’t something I would have played in a format dominated by Steam Vents.

The deck is the crutch of the format. It’s not Cloudpost that is too powerful but what you can actually do with the mana. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is a fun, well-designed Magic card, and people enjoy playing with it because it just wins the game when cast. Griefer cards have never been better. However it’s not what you want your format to be doing.

When mana was worse, as in Standard, this Eldrazi was fine. It entered the battlefield once in a while when the deck went off, but not too often. You rarely died to an Emrakul, and it wasn’t breaking the format.

This is not true in Modern. Emrakul put a clock on the format. Control strategies could not deal with 12Post and all the other strategies, so no control was viable.

The reason there were so many combo decks in the format was because it was much easier to go under a deck like 12Post and beat them before they could really do anything than fight an uphill battle.

12Post is a turn 4 combo deck that can kill on turn 5. This means any deck that doesn’t interact with 12Post meaningfully has to kill faster than that. It’s very possible to kill on turn 3, but consistency becomes a real issue. Ritual decks can do this, but finding the right pieces can be very difficult. The best example is Swath Storm.  

A lot of our teammates got stuck on Swath early. It was obviously the most powerful thing we could do in the format, but it always had some problem. It would either fizzle at a high percentage or die to disruption when the games went long. It couldn’t interact with an opponent, so going off early always made sense. The deck still had the same problems two days before the tournament, and we knew we wouldn’t be able to seriously consider it for the event.

I think many people, in the end, had to resort to taking these somewhat inconsistent decks into battle out of fear of losing to the format’s clock. Kibler and I found a decent strategy in Wild Nacatl and Flashfreeze, but most players did not.

Emrakul’s absence from the format would relieve the pressure of needing to fight a bunch of mana. Sure, a 12Post player can still do some amazing things with all their mana, but they can’t play an uncounterable win condition that almost immediately wins the game.

If that were the case, playing an inconsistent combo deck would not be the best choice, since more Vendilion Cliques and counterspells would be in the format. Combo decks would have to slow down and protect themselves more, and we would see much more interaction in the games.

Right after the tournament I thought that Rite of Flame was also a card that needed to go. I felt that fast/inconsistent combo decks were bad for the format. Who wants to lose in the middle of going off, without any interference from their opponent? This makes for bad Magic and even worse, bad formats.

After thinking about it for a while, if Emrakul were banned we would not see ritual effects have as much of an impact on the format. Cards like Chalice of the Void and Rule of Law would make more sense to play as well as Thoughtseize. These cards lose so much value when so many people are just playing 12Post. Instead of playing a fast combo and ways to protect it in the sideboard, people would have to start playing cards that hurt other decks as well.

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is the only card that I would add to the ban list if it were my decision. There are a few cards I would like to take off that list however.

Ancestral Visions

This card really doesn’t make any sense. The only reason to ban this card is that Wizards thought that decks like Stoneforge Control in Legacy or Faeries would become too powerful. The problem with that is that the Legacy control decks running this card also have free counterspells to help protect the board while the suspend card ticks down. This is just not the case for this format. This card is not powerful enough because the cards you play with it are in the same boat. I feel this card is nowhere near good enough to be played in this format, let alone be banned.


I agree that Faeries was one of the most dominating and destructive decks in recent Magic history and a scary thing to think about when building a new format. It is much better to be too careful with a deck like this than accidentally let it become the face of a new format. That said, Faeries will probably not see much play even if they unban both of these cards.

Faeries originates from a block deck that dominated a format that had fewer than 1000 cards. Of course a deck like this will control a format that small as well as Standard when the pool was 2000-3000 as well. Modern is far too big for a deck like this to take over.

Faeries was not that powerful when it was in Extended last year, and this format is twice as big. I also think that a deck like Faeries would be good for the format since we need a few more decks that can target all the combo decks.

Umezawa’s Jitte

This is also just another case of being careful. It was a powerful card that did more harm than good in its heyday.

A card like this needs to be in Modern. It helps blue decks create card advantage against creature matchups. I know saying that blue decks need help creating card advantage is kind of funny, but it is very true right now. Blue is one of the weakest colors for generating any advantage in the course of a game. Most card advantage spells have been banned or are unplayable because they are too slow. Merfolk would be a very good deck if it were able to fight Zoo decks, and this would be the answer.

I don’t think anyone has a problem when a format is dominated by decks with over 20 creatures, and this is one of the cards that makes this happen. I love battling with guys and not watching my opponent count storm or use dice for how much mana they have in their pool. I want to attack into guys and figure out complex combat math.

The format is also too fast for a card like this. I think it would find its way into sideboards. I am not afraid of this card at all.

One awesome thing about Modern is these cards will stay somewhat controlled by green decks. Green Sun’s Zenith for Qasali Pridemage is a very real thing in this format, making it very difficult for any Enchantment or Artifact to become too powerful.

Sword of the Meek

Sword of the Meek and Thopter Foundry are not that powerful. They fit into control decks that have a big problem in this format. They are also kind of fun and different. Of course a game is rarely won with them on the board, but it does take some maneuvering to get them onto the battlefield. I think this is a very safe combo to let into this format.

Rite of Flame would probably have to be banned if these cards do not come off, but would be good in the format if Emrakul, the Aeons Torn stays playable.

I have been having a blast with this format and hope Wizards does a great job at making it a highly played format. In a perfect world they would be able to do more things with Legacy, but that just isn’t the case. This is a very good substitute for that though, and I look forward to battling on MODO and playing it at Worlds. Thanks for reading, and I will see you guys next week.

List of Counter-Cat I am currently playing.