While some of the SCG Tour’s best were at work in my hometown of Baltimore
this past weekend for the Team Constructed Open, I got to take a refreshing
breather from the Standard and Modern grind and crack open a few booster
packs at Grand Prix Dallas. The format is refreshingly deep, although the
old standby of blue tempo decks with a heaping helping of flying creatures
are a personal favorite. Nothing beats Cloudreader Sphinx, I tell you what!
Now, clearly flyers are incredible in Limited, but there’s something to be
said about them in Constructed, as well. Those in the know recognize that
the relative lack of them in Modern is secretly part of the reason Humans
and Affinity are having such great weeks now. Affinity has always thrived
on having a pile of nearly-unblockable threats, like Inkmoth Nexus, Etched
Champion, and Cranial Plating-ed up Ornithopters. Humans, in comparison,
almost always chips through the final points of damage with Mantis Rider,
Kitesail Freebooter, and Phantasmal Image copying one of the above. Even
Hollow One thrives on Flamewake Phoenix as a dinky finisher to clean up
once the opponent has stabilized the ground. What does it mean, then, when
we have a format dominated by those three decks? How does a savvy player
exploit the slow metagame and crush their next event?
The answer lies in the creeping increase in U/W Control and its metagame
share. Of course, the recently-printed Damping Sphere is part of the
puzzle, fixing matchups like Tron, Storm, and Ironworks Combo, but the
basic fact of the matter is simple. Path to Exile looks incredible right
now, as the most popular decks often don’t make amazing use of the extra
mana but do demand answers for varied threats like Gurmag Angler, Mantis
Rider, Hollow One, Inkmoth Nexus, and more. We’re close to a tipping point
where U/W finally claims its rightful place near the top of the metagame,
but plain old U/W Control is probably not flexible enough to actually hold
the throne for more than a week or two. No, the real answer is U/W Flash,
with cards like Vendilion Clique, Snapcaster Mage, Restoration Angel, and
the uncrowned King of Modern, Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Let’s look at the
list and talk through a few common matchups (most of which are pretty
We’re making things happen out here with some of Modern’s best
instant-speed threats, and the deck can play offense or defense depending
on what the situation calls for. A quick overview of the gameplan and
sideboard guide for the top decks of the day should be sufficient to show
why it’s great to be U/W in the coming weeks:
Sideboard in more removal and sideboard out some of the low-utility
countermagic that looks weak against Aether Vial and Cavern of Souls.
Celestial Purge is playable as an answer to Mantis Rider, Kitesail
Freebooter, and the smattering of Dark Confidants you might see. With a
pile of targeted removal, Snapcaster Mages to buy them back, a handful of
creatures to gum up the battlefield, and Jace to close the game out, this
is a solidly favorable matchup. But it’s not nearly as favorable a matchup
as Hollow One, where the removal lines up perfectly with their threat base.
VS Hollow One
Truckloads of removal, a few Rest in Peace to close the door on most of
their recursive nonsense, and Jace to bat cleanup. Ousting a Gurmag Angler
gives me chills. It’s just so delightful to watch a Hollow One player
invest time and cards into accelerating out their early beefcakes only to
lose them to clean, efficient removal. What’s not to love?
It’s sort of a broken record at this point, but against another swarm aggro
deck, you want more of your cheap removal to keep pace with their busted
hands. Remand is pretty bad against a deck with so much mana acceleration,
and Jace is likely to get swarmed out by the artifact army. Trade off your
resources and you should come out ahead with a few Snapcaster Mages,
Restoration Angels, and Field of Ruin to gain you card advantage.
But enough about the lame repetitive creature matchups. Let’s talk about
the less obvious decks in the format. Tron, Storm, Ironwork Combo, Lantern,
Dredge, Death’s Shadow, Mardu Pyromancer, Burn, G/W Hexproof, Jund, Bant
Company, TitanShift, Amulet Titan, Living End, and the control
semi-mirrors. All these decks are varied and powerful in their own way, but
U/W Flash has the tools to attack them all just the same.
Holy hate cards, Batman! With six very strong answers to most of the
shenanigans Tron is capable of, alongside a pack of main deck Field of
Ruin, this matchup is more than adequate after sideboard. Just get some
pressure on them, because they will eventually barrel through the massive
quantities of hate you’re presenting. They can still get to ten lands the
Slam a Damping Sphere and use countermagic and disruption to sneak in a
victory. Watch out for early Empty the Warrens! Settle the Wreckage is in
there as a catch-all for the card. Rest in Peace hurts us about as much as
it hurts them, so it’s not quite worth the sideboard spot here.
VS Ironworks Combo
This matchup looks hard to lose after sideboarding in a full eight hate
cards, none of which allow an Ironworks combo if they’re on the
battlefield. It’s nearly impossible for me to envision us losing against
this deck after sideboarding, and free win equity is always a nice to have.
Be wary of a potential Ghirapur Aether Grid alternate plan from a tricky
VS Lantern Control
Simple. Disrupt them and use Cryptic Command as a sneaky way to knock out
an annoying Ensnaring Bridge so you can break through for the win. Jace,
the Mind Sculptor does a number on their lock capabilities as well.
Not a bad matchup, especially if you can counter all the opponent’s
Conflagrates and Path them out of most of their threats. I’ve made
opponents run completely out of cards before, as they’re reasonably
threat-light against a heavy helping of exile-based removal and 3/3
creatures with first strike. Countering early Cathartic Reunions with Spell
Snare or Remand is incidentally “deece,” as the kids would say.
This one is a little trickier, as usually Remand is bad against a deck of
all one-mana spells. It’s not unreasonable to take out the Spell Snares, as
their only targets are Snapcaster Mage (in the Grixis versions), Tarmogoyf
(in the Traverse versions), and Temur Battle Rage. A mix might be best, but
in general this deck is going to go toe-to-toe with most versions of
Death’s Shadow, and it’s often going to come down to if the opponent floods
or not. Sideboard jukes like Lingering Souls or Liliana, the Last Hope
could also shift things back towards the Shadow player, depending on how
deep they go.
VS Mardu Pyromancer
I’m not that into Path to Exile against Mardu, where the land it gives them
is often a big boost. We still maintain three Ousts, two Paths,
countermagic, and a Celestial Purge to knock out the annoying threats like
Young Pyromancer and Bedlam Reveler. Incidentally, one Negate could be
sideboarded in here, and it would not be unreasonable to cut another
Vendilion Clique or two against this Lingering Souls deck.
Remand is stinky against a cheap spell deck that will keep recasting the
Lightning Bolts come hell or high water. Other than that, we’re just
cutting a couple of expensive Jaces for cheaper disruption. All in all, a
decent matchup, especially after sideboard. It’s not unreasonable to forget
about sideboarding in the Celestial Purge and just keep in an extra Jace.
We’re already flush with cheap removal to be quite honest.
VS G/W Hexproof
This one is easy. You have a few interactive cards. Find them and win.
Don’t and lose. I’ll quote Ron Burgundy here, if I may, and leave it at
“sixty percent of the time it works, every time.” That’s G/W Hexproof for
On the play, it’s probably acceptable to leave in an extra Remand, but in
general this is a straight up grindy matchup. It’s not stellar, mainly
because we’ve devoted most of our sideboard to beating other decks. Jund’s
been low on the Modern totem pole as of late, so it makes sense to just
take a 45% matchup and deal with it.
VS Bant Company
This matchup is a bit all over the place, but generally seems a bit
unfavorable. Spell Snare might not be good if the opponent isn’t running
the Devoted Druid combo. I recommend attempting to play as many Ousts as
possible and pinning them under a Jace, the Mind Sculptor while their mana
is still a bit underdeveloped. Oust into Snapcaster + Oust into Jace is
probably good enough. Good luck!
Well, there isn’t much to sideboard here, but the game 1 configuration
isn’t horrendous against this deck. You can sometimes still beat a single
resolved Primeval Titan with an Oust and a couple of Field of Ruin. Dispel
might be an okay card to sideboard in for Summoner’s Pact or Guttural
VS Amulet Titan
Damping Sphere is quite the beating, let me tell you. The matchup is even
or better, definitely improving from “slight underdog” with the addition of
this powerful new hate card. If you can keep Primeval Titan off your back,
you can generally stick a Jace and use that to overpower them. It’s a
rather small segment of the metagame, though, so it’s not worth worrying
too much right now.
VS Living End
I don’t believe that Damping Sphere is quite good enough here, but I could
be wrong. Regardless, you’ve got the tools to win. The one Dispel is for
Ricochet Trap and Beast Within, although I’m not sure that’s enough in the
way of targets to really justify a second one. I wouldn’t mind playing
against Living End every round of a tournament with U/W Flash, and you
shouldn’t either. It’s hard for them to power through your countermagic,
and even if they get an early Living End off, they can still just get
Pathed or Settled off their threats.
Celestial Purge can come in against Blue Moon or Esper, but occasionally
you’ll just play the extra Blessed Alliance. Additionally, you’ll often be
using Path to Exile as a fake Rampant Growth on your own Snapcaster Mages,
which certainly doesn’t feel great, but there aren’t many alternatives. We
aren’t particularly suited card-wise for the semi-mirrors, but
strategically we should be a slight favorite. Let me explain.
Usually control mirrors are defined by who has the onus on them to act
first. The more instant-speed threats you have, and the cheaper your
interactive spells, the better you can play this game of chicken. We’ve got
lots of Vendilion Cliques to damage our opponents’ card quality while
putting the onus on them to react on their own end steps. We’ve got
Restoration Angels to flash in and demand specific answers from our
opponents to not start getting clocked with a protected threat. This opens
them up to getting hit with a Jace, the Mind Sculptor on our turn, which
frequently forces an answer immediately to not fall hideously far behind.
If you draw the right parts of your deck and don’t get flooded with the bad
removal spells, you’ll generally pull ahead due to the ability to make
opponents play when you choose to pick your battles. Don’t underestimate
this feature of the Flash deck!
There’s a lot you can glean from contemporary Modern. The biggest
meta-realization is that most folks are simply content to just play their
medium decks without really thinking about how to exploit the trends of the
recent metagame. We’re not going to do that, though. Modern is the easiest
format to get an edge in via pre-tournament preparation, and the right deck
can slice through a field like a knife through hot butter. And mark my
words: There will come a day very soon where U/W (or a derivative thereof)
will be the deck that clowns everyone and their outdated tech, and if you
want to be the one chuckling all the way to the bank, you’ll keep
innovating for those edges.