In the other two articles of this series, I have covered the obvious decks and the not-so-obvious decks (and if you want to see either clickhere or here), but there is one piece of
Modern I haven’t covered: how the matches actually play out. You know what’s out there, but how do you play against them? How do you build
sideboards for them?
Creating sideboards for Modern decks is especially difficult right now because of the variety of decks in the format. You have to be prepared for
almost anything. Since that’s not possible, you have a decision to make: do you play versatile cards with a weak, but wide, range of impact, or
narrow cards that have a tremendous effect in very particular matchups? There are a lot of deckbuilding decisions to make.
I’ll try and cover as much as I can of this here. There’s an important caveat that always comes with sideboarding advice though: make sure
you have a plan.
I could just list numerous cards you could sideboard, but ultimately you shouldn’t just grab four copies of one, stick it in your sideboard, and
call it good. Proper sideboarding is all about having a plan to fight what their deck does.
There will be cards I don’t mention that show up in the Top 8 of the Pro Tour simply because they fight a plan well. Sometimes, for example, you
just want a big creature in a matchup. Just because Tombstalker isn’t mentioned doesn’t mean he can’t be a legitimate part of a
sideboard plan for attrition matchupsâ€”he just isn’t a traditional sideboard card most decks will want.
As a result, most of the decks covered below are mostly guides on how to optimally play against them and build your deck with them in mind, with a dash
of sideboard options on the side. (Most notably for the combo decks.) If you have any specific sideboarding questions, post them in the forums, and
I’ll let you know what I think.
With that all said, let’s get underway! I’m going to cover 14 of the most popular decks from the past two weeks and talk about how to play
against them. First stop: beatdown decks!
Section 1: Beatdown
Beatdown decks in Modern come in all shapes and sizes. Like against most beatdown decks, there are tons of generic tools that are always useful.
There’s plenty of targeted removal, sweepers, life gain, bounce, and so on in the format to use. However, you have to carefully choose your
arsenal depending on the deckâ€”you don’t want to be gaining life when you need to be casting removal, and vice versa. Here are some plans
against four of the major beatdown decks.
Affinity has been picking up steam online. While the deck doesn’t impress me, at this rate it seems like something you should at least have in
mind. Fortunately, there are plenty of good tools to beat it.
Whether you’re playing from an aggressive standpoint, a control standpoint, or a combo standpoint, you want to attack Affinity from the same
angle. Affinity is a deck built on synergies, and in its current iteration, most of those synergies are pretty fragile. By using a variety of artifact
removal, you can pick the deck apart.
Ancient Grudge is the number one card because it’s flexible, instant speed, and good in numerous matchups. After that, things become a little
Kataki, War’s Wage is all right, though not as powerful as he once was due to more flexible removal and fewer artifact lands to toll. If you can
produce a lot of red mana, Shattering Spree is a strong card to consider. If you’re aggressive and can take advantage of a Plague Wind effect,
you can look into Shatterstorm or Creeping Corrosion though four mana may be too much for many decks.
Hurkyl’s Recall is great in beatdown decks because of the tempo it creates, but in control decks it’s usually “just” a Time
Walk. I’d rather play Ancient Grudge if I can. You can also use Hurkyl’s Recall as a way to buy time in control, leading up to something
like a Shatterstorm or Austere Command.
Finally, any kind of Wrath of God-esque sweeper is good against Affinity decks. Since a lot of their creatures are smaller now and they eschew cards
like Myr Enforcer, even Firespout and Pyroclasm are fairly effective.
Boros (and other red deck variations) combine a potent mix of creatures and efficient burn to quickly knock you flat. While perhaps a slower goldfish
deck than pure burn, the creatures and resiliency shown by the white portion of the deck changes the angle of attack.
Life gain is effective against these decks, but not nearly as much as with Burn. Where against Burn you can play life gain out of any deck or even
Circle of Protection: Red, the same is not true of Boros.
Boros will likely try to play the control deck in a beatdown versus beatdown matchup because of their removal and burn, so you want to attrition them
down and then capitalize in the long game. I would expect the games to go long, and so sideboarding powerful, long-game creatures as a beatdown deck
(especially if they generate card advantage) is certainly a possibility. Something like Ranger of Eos for Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender and Dragonmaster
Outcast has the potential to be devastating. Of course, keep in mind they may be of the same mindset and plan accordingly.
If you’re an aggressive deck, I would try and attrition out Boros. You want to quickly trade off with their threats to stay out of burn range and
obtain card advantage to ensure you don’t perish in the long game. A card like Ranger of Eos shines here as an example of a way to effectively
recoup cards as a beatdown deck.
In a control deck, it’s a classic control versus beatdown duel. You need to disable their offense with cheap pinpoint removal spells, and
potentially have some sweepers for the long game. You may also want to consider some kind of partial-lifegain spell like Timely Reinforcements to keep
your life total out of burn range going into the endgame.
In a combo deck, you similarly just want ways to buy time. Either find ways to speed your combo up, gain life, or remove their creatures as effective
ways of gaining momentum over them.
Domain Zoo is the baseline beatdown deck of the format. You absolutely have to be able to beat a start of Wild Nacatl into two more one-drops. If you
can’t fend off that assault, you need to rework your maindeck or sideboard appropriately.
If you’re a beatdown deck, this build of Zoo tends to be lousy at the long game. Some builds may have something like Ranger of Eos, but a lot of
them are focused in the moment. Therefore, if you can trade off early cards and hold a removal spell for something like Knight of the Reliquary, you
just need to find a way to gain an advantage in the long game.
This long game advantage can be card advantage—based like Ranger of Eos or Punishing Fire, but it can also just be a gigantic creature like
Baneslayer Angel. You want to try and put yourself in the position to be the control deck when possible, so removal, card advantage, and over-the-top
threats are the places to look.
As a control deck, you just want to cram your deck full of removal spells and sweepers. While Tribal Flames is threatening, if you can keep their board
clean up the curve and head into the midgame at a high life total you’ll be fine.
Efficient removal spells like Deathmark or Porphyry Nodes are great for this, and Repeal (on the play) can buy you a lot of time. While not directly a
removal spell, something like Kitchen Finks that can soak up a lot of damage is also good. Once you clear the first couple of turns, you can set up
sweepers like Wrath of God or Firespout.
Combo decks can use many of the same tactics as control here, but it’s harder to justify clogging your deck with removal spells unless
you are already playing them for combo purposes. (Like Pyromancer Ascension, for example.) Usually, you just want to play a lot of sweepers. You will
take some early hits, but then your cantrips will make sure you have a sweeper online by turn 3 or 4. Though you will have taken some damage, as a
combo deck you should be able to close out the game before they can do much more.
Additionally, if your control or combo deck can support it, Blood Moon can just lock down a Domain Zoo deck if cast at the right time. They likely will
have basics to fetch, but if you lay a turn three Moon followed by a sweeper, you’re going to be so far ahead that it’s difficult for them
This build of Zoo is much different from the above Domain version. While the Domain version is all about speed, this deck has a lot of attrition power
going into the midgame thanks to more top end cards and Punishing Fire. It’s essentially the textbook example of a beatdown deck that beats up on
smaller beatdown decks at the expense of games against control and combo decks.
Fighting it as a beatdown deck is very difficult. You’re not going to effectively be able to go over the top, so instead I recommend tuning your
deck into as quick and lean of a deck as possible. They’re going to be able to trump any kind of long game plan anyway, so instead you have to
hope they don’t get those engines online. You want to present a quick start and back it up by disruption in the form of removal, discard, or
As a control and combo deck, this kind of matchup is easier to deal with. The main problem you’re going to be presented with is a stream of big
threats backed by a recursive removal engine. While that may sound like bad news, it’s slow and linear enough that you can set up a lot of your
game plan before theirs really begins to take its toll on you.
You want a lot of the same removal spells as before (although Firespout isn’t nearly as good), and you want to make sure you have a way to win
the game that isn’t affected by Punishing Fire. You may want to also consider a couple pieces of discard or countermagic to strip away their
major threats in the long game. Blood Moon can shut off Grove of the Burnwillows, but it’s not very effective otherwise. Instead, you may want to
consider Tectonic Edge or Ghost Quarter to fight that angle.
Section 2: Midrange/Aggro-Control
How do you fight a midrange deck? The key is in how they’re going to fight you.
Doran can be pretty quick, and most versions will adhere to a low curve. However, they have no way to control their draws (save for Dark Confidant),
and their mishmash of good cards aren’t good against every deck. The key then is to focus on the pieces that are problematic for you.
As a beatdown deck, Doran is going to establish some early creatures, but it has no way to control how many it draws. They will likely only have a
couple. Their deck normally only has a handful of removal spells to contain your creatures, so if you can just remove their couple of strong blockers
like Doran and Tarmogoyf, you are free to swing.
If they draw the perfect mix of cards, it’s going to be extremely hard for you to win, so I’d rather not play to those scenarios. Instead,
I recommend keeping your deck beatdown deck streamlined to be cheap and backed up by a handful of removal spells. If you have access to sideboard
Thoughtseize or something here, this is a great spot for it. If you preemptively pluck their one card in a certain category of defense, it can crumble
their entire plan.
As a control deck, Doran is slower than most beatdown decks, but its real thorn lies in its disruption. Many lists will run 6+ discard spells,
alongside must-kill engines like Dark Confidant or planeswalkers. As a result, the two most important things you can have in this matchup are
redundancy and card advantage.
You don’t want them plucking any card out of your hand to leave you defenseless, and you similarly want plenty of ways to find the cards you plan
to use against them. The Doran deck should give you enough time to cast all of your card draw spells, so if you can ensure your deck is redundant
enough on important cards, then you should be able to put your plans into motion for the long game.
Just like in beatdown, discard is similarly strong out of control versus these decks. While they will be picking apart your hand as well, if you can
just take their one crucial spell, then their whole hand’s plan may be ruined. Taking their Confidant or Doran can be a game changer.
Speaking of taking their Confidant, stealing effects are great against this deck. Sower of Temptation, Vedalken Shackles, and Threads of Disloyalty
have plenty of juicy targets that can rapidly switch who is ahead.
Finally, you want to make sure you have a lot of cards that are powerful on their own. You may want to sideboard in some large creatures/planeswalkers
or otherwise individually strong spells here. You will often be in topdeck mode as the control deck, and you want every draw to count.
As a combo deck, you have to find a way to protect yourself from discard. The clock isn’t as big of an issue, but after sideboarding, they will
be aiming at your hand and expecting whatever creature they draw to pick up the slack.
What you should be bringing in to combat them really depends on what you’re trying to assemble. If it’s just a two-card combo like Splinter
Twin, then it’s going to be much easier to put together than a multi-card combo like Dragonstorm. In general though, two cards for combo decks to
consider are Leyline of Sanctity and Ignorant Bliss. Outside of that, you can always look into additional card draw and selection.
Jund is nearly identical to Doran in the way you want to play, so for a good idea, read a lot of what is above. The main difference is that Jund is
slightly slower, has a little more discard, and a little higher curve. They also have access to the Punishing Fire engine.
Much of my recommendations remain the same, but it’s worth noting that Jund has more ways to pick up extra cards thanks to Bloodbraid Elf, and a
card advantage engine in the long game due to Punishing Fire. There’s not too much you can do about the former save for forcing them to discard
it, but for the latter you may want to consider the aforementioned Tectonic Edge or Ghost Quarter. If you think you’ll get to a stalled board
position, you could also consider Detritivore.
Like Affinity, Merfolk’s main strength is being a bunch of synergistic creatures. If you can tear those synergies apart, the deck collapses.
The best way to do this in the format is Punishing Fire. It’s very difficult for Merfolk to beat an active Punishing Fire in the midgame, to the
point where they really have to sideboard some kind of graveyard hate or SpreadingSeas for it. They can establish two Lords to work around it, but most
decks with Punishing Fire also pack other cheap removal too.
In general, beatdown decks have a very good Merfolk matchup because of their larger base creatures plus removal. They don’t need to sideboard too
The control and combo decks are the ones going to have a rougher time. However, one of the main differences between the Modern and Legacy versions is
that the Modern version doesn’t have access to free countermagic.
While Cursecatcher, Spell Pierce, and Mana Leak are still cards you have to play around, this means you can tap out for cards with less concern.
Sweepers like Pyroclasm, Volcanic Fallout, and Firespout become a lot more attractive, and control decks could potentially board some of those in. Even
if you don’t have access to a sweeper effect, flexible removal spells like Lightning Bolt can slow the deck down to the point where control can
catch up and take over.
Grim Lavamancer is a card I would also consider playing if you’re concerned about this matchup. While a strong beatdown card, it certainly fits
in control decks as well and can help keep Merfolk under control.
Section 3: Control
Next Level Blue
Next Level Blue (and all of its other forms) is a deck based around Islands, Tarmogoyf, and countermagic at its core. While there are tons of ways to
build it and the exact Modern list is still up in the air, there are certainly some universal ways to fight it.
Choke and Boil can be absolutely devastating. Regardless of the sideboard they come out of, the blue deck is going to have enough Islands that it will
pose a major problem. Zoo decks and midrange decks are ones that should particularly consider these two cards
If you’re more concerned about the cards they have in hand, Thoughtseize (and other discard spells) are all as effective as you would expect
against control. Without Sensei’s Divining Top around, they also have no good way to hide cards. If they have Vedalken Shackles and/or various
Equipment, you can also consider Ancient Grudge. If you want to shut off their spells, Glen Elendra Archmage is great. (Just don’t get it Sower
If you’re a combo deck looking to force spells through their wall of countermagic, there are plenty of good options. Vexing Shusher, Gigadrowse,
Pact of Negation, Silence, Grand Abolisher, Glen Elendra Archmage, and Early Frost are some of the primary ones. They’re mostly good at buying
you a one-turn windowâ€”but that should be all you need as a combo deck
Twelvepostâ€”Mono-Blue Control Version
If you want to fight Twelvepost, there is one question you have to ask yourself: what is your clock? That radically changes how you can sideboard and
play against them.
If you have a threatening clock like a combo finish or a beatdown start, then you just want ways to hinder them and buy time. Blood Moon, for example,
is prone to being Repealed, but it should buy you a couple turns of them fooling around to deal with it. Similarly, Molten Rain is no catchall answer,
but it can serve as a Time Walk in many circumstances against the deck.
If you have a clock, you generally want to attack their mana base in some form. Spreading Seas, Ghost Quarter, Blood Moon, Magus of the Moon, Molten
Rain, Stone Rain, Avalanche Riders, Fulminator Mage, Tectonic Edge, and so on are all options.
If you don’t have a clock, you need to look toward other areas. Unless you really feel like you can protect a Blood Moon well, I would try and be
proactive with fighting them. There’s not really a lot you can counter, so you need to go on the offensive. Bribery, Thoughtseize, Tarmogoyf,
Sowing Salt, Extirpate/Surgical Extraction (alongside a land destruction or discard plan), and Vendilion Clique are all examples of how to proactively
fight them. If you sit and try to control Twelvepost, you will eventually find yourself on the wrong end of an annihilator 6 trigger.
Section 4: Combo
Dragonstorm is a turn-four combo deck, but fortunately there are plenty of ways to fight it off. Wizards has been very careful to balance ritual decks
over the years, and there are plenty of pieces for doing so left in Modern.
While Dragonstorm does have some disruption and removal, if you set your combo breaker behind a clock and/or countermagic, you’ll find yourself
in pretty good shape. There’s not much more to say than they are a turn-four combo deck, and they only need to storm twice to kill you now
because of Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund. They don’t interact very much save for light countermagic. Don’t let them kill you.
A short list of hate cards to consider is Ethersworn Canonist, Rule of Law, Thorn of Amethyst, Gaddock Teeg, Persecute, Thoughtseize (and other
one-for-one discard effects), Trickbind, Trinisphere, Grand Arbiter Augustin IV, and Mindbreak Trap, among others.
Living End is a little more interactive than some combo decks, but not by too much. Their main point of interaction comes from cards like Fulminator
Mage and, most importantly, the ability to sweep your board with Living End.
The main strategic tip with beatdown against Living End is to never overcommit. The second Living End usually doesn’t work out as well as the
first because it brings back all the creatures it had to kill the first time. Therefore, the most successful beatdown plans is usually to play out two
or three creatures and pressure them into an early Living End, then extend with everything else you have. If they Living End again, then they’re
still in fairly bad shape.
As a control deck, there’s less to worry about. You just have to make sure Living End doesn’t resolve and, if it does, you have a way to
kill the undead legion of creatures.
Good hate spells that can be used against the Living End combo are Ethersworn Canonist, Rule of Law, Thoughtseize (and other discard effects), any hard
countermagic, Gluttonous Slime, Relic of Progenitus/Tormod’s Crypt, Surgical Extraction/Extirpate, Meddling Mage, and Chalice of the Void, among
The most important card in the entire deck is its namesake. If you have any opportunity to destroy, discard, exile, shuffle in, tear up, or otherwise
deal with Pyromancer Ascension, take that opportunity assuming you don’t think they have another. The deck is very powerful, but its primary
weakness is being build around a single card. Exploit that if you can.
The deck may have Lightning Bolt or something similar to kill creatures, as well as Firespout after sideboarding, and it is likely to have some cheap
counterspells for against control. The deck does not want to interact, but you can force it to with proper sideboarding.
Some targeted sideboard options are Thorn of Amethyst, Thoughtseize (and other discard effects), Leyline of the Void, Krosan Grip (and any other way to
remove enchantments), Repeal (and any other bounce spells that can target enchantments), and Relic of Progenitus among others.
This deck is very similar to Pyromancer Ascension in many of the cards it contains. The key difference is that instead of being built around a single
card, it’s built around an interchangeable two-card combo. With Pestermite, Deceiver Exarch, Splinter Twin, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, and even
Intruder Alarm all out there, there are a lot of ways to put this combination together. Just like Pyromancer Ascension, the Splinter Twin deck is
protected by light countermagic, though often the Splinter Twin deck is lacking removal.
Some sideboard options are Torpor Orb, Krosan Grip, Thoughtseize (and other discard effects), Sudden Death, Combust, Dismember (and other removal
spells), Act of Aggression, Ghost-Lit Raider, Batwing Brume, Ghostly Prison, and Wipe Away, among others.
This is one of the other big decks to beat. It’s shown up in force on Magic Online, and everybody seems to be talking about it. If I had to guess
it’s that the metagame will end up turning very hostile for the deck by the Pro Tour, though it is possible people won’t know which cards
to play to fight the mono-green and U/G versions.
At its core, this version of Twelvepost plays out a lot like a Standard Valakut deck. Ramp, cast Primeval Titan, and the game ends shortly after. It is
usually a turn-four or five combo deck that gains life while it’s comboing out. It’s hard to disrupt, and fairly non-interactive. However,
the combo version is far less resilient than the control version, especially if it’s the mono-green build. Blood Moon suddenly becomes a lot more
powerful, and maindeck Blood Moon is nearly lights out against some builds.
Fortunately, many of the same hate cards are good against the combo and control versions of the deck. While the games play out a little differently,
the angle you’re trying to attack from is fairly similar.
To reiterate the full list from earlier, some of the cards you can try are Spreading Seas, Ghost Quarter, Blood Moon, Magus of the Moon, Molten Rain,
Stone Rain, Avalanche Riders, Fulminator Mage, Tectonic Edge, Bribery, Thoughtseize, Tarmogoyf, Sowing Salt, Extirpate/Surgical Extraction (alongside a
land destruction or discard plan), and Vendilion Clique, among others.
With those 14 decks out of the way, that brings this series to a close.
Thanks for joining me these past three weeks as we delved into Modern! It’s been a blast, and I’m excited to see what the Pro Tour brings.
If you’d like me to answer any questions about a particular matchup in the few days leading up to the Pro Tour, feel free to post below, and
I’ll respond with my thoughts. Alternatively, feel free to send me a tweet or e-mail me at gavintriesagain at gmail dot com, and I’ll get
back to you as soon as I can.
I hope you’ll join me in just a couple days as Pro Tour Philadelphia begins! I’ll be there as history is made. If you can’t join me,
at least try to follow the coverageâ€”it’s going to be exciting. There will be plenty of new decks to look at and matchups between great
players to watch and analyze; we’ll have sideboards to sift through and decks to indulge in.
This week welcomes the Modern era of Magicâ€”I can’t wait to see what happens.
Rabon on Magic Online, @GavinVerhey on Twitter