Last week I wrote about the amazing jank decks of Modern, and before that about some of the best decks Modern has to offer.
We need to finish the cycle, and much like Unglued, Unhinged, and Unstable, this cycle finishes with a third article.
That’s why we’re going to be exploring the dark side of Modern. The brew smashers. The fun policers. The smile vanishers. The black holes that consume everything in their path and leave behind nothing but despair.
You know them. You probably don’t love them. You’ve probably played against them, and maybe even embraced their powerful and treacherous ways.
Let’s begin with fair warning to turn back now if you have a weak stomach.
Important (and hopefully obvious) disclaimer: Never be mean or rude to anyone for playing a Magic deck you don’t like! Don’t take out your own frustrations on someone else. It’s only game, why you heff to be mad? Enjoying playing whatever deck you want and grant that same privilege to everyone else. In fact, just be nice to people, period.
First I’ll start with the Honorable Mentions, because, let’s face it, there are plenty of different ridiculous things you can be doing in Modern.
Honorable Mentions For Fun-Destroying Modern Decks
Yup, those are the decks not on the list! Let’s dive in and examine the real offenders.
#8 – Death’s Shadow
Death’s Shadow decks are a combination of being just oppressive enough to be frustrating while still being “fair” enough to create a sense that there’s nothing wrong with the deck existing.
What really propels this deck to build up my rage meter and separates it from something like regular Jund or Abzan is specifically the card Death’s Shadow. I find the namesake card of the deck to be busted and flat-out exasperating, which is what you would expect from a one-mana 10/10.
Death’s Shadow (or in some cases a quick Tasigur, the Golden Fang or Gurmag Angler) following an Inquisition of Kozilek or Thoughtseize, backed up by Stubborn Denial, often leaves you feeling completely helpless. Death’s Shadow likes to set the pace of the game and leave you on the back foot: reacting, guessing, crossing your fingers, and praying. You’re often at the mercy of what lies on top of your deck to bail you out, and sometimes even that isn’t enough.
Death’s Shadow decks are mainly a nuisance because they’re so powerful and hard to counter. It is a hard deck to play, though, and probably not even an overpowered deck right now, but almost always a frustrating deck to play against.
How to Beat Death’s Shadow: Come prepared and practiced. Know what cards they’re likely to have against you and have a gameplan. Actually studying Death’s Shadow lists and thinking about what cards they’ll bring in against you and what’s likely in their hand will help a great deal. This is not one of the decks you can beat with one hate card in your sideboard. Death’s Shadow is a difficult deck to play against that requires managing your opponent’s life total and your own and often requires playing to your outs or following a line of play that doesn’t guarantee success.
#7 – Blue Moon
- 4 Lightning Bolt
- 4 Serum Visions
- 4 Through the Breach
- 3 Blood Moon
- 4 Remand
- 2 Electrolyze
- 1 Spell Snare
- 4 Cryptic Command
- 1 Flame Slash
- 1 Izzet Charm
- 1 Pull from Tomorrow
- 1 Supreme Will
If you squint hard enough, this deck looks pretty much like Splinter Twin did before it was banned. Instead of Splinter Twin and Deceiver Exarch, you’re casting Through the Breach into Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Somehow losing to that is more frustrating than losing to Splinter Twin.
I would also lump Skred Red into this category of “Blood Moon shenanigans.” Skred Red is the potentially more punishing deck, considering you can get Blood Mooned right out of the game on Turn 1 from Simian Spirit Guide, but Skred Red is also probably not as good in general.
How to Beat Blue Moon: Be playing with and fetch up basic lands, have a little disruption for their combo, and apply a little pressure. Don’t be caught with your pants down to Madcap Experiment into Platinum Emperion post-sideboard.
#6 – U/R Gifts Storm
Hypothetical: Would you rather lose to your opponent casting a bunch of Time Warps and Howling Mine or a bunch of Pyretic Rituals and Past in Flames? Personally, I’d rather lose to the Time Warps, but again, this is probably due to the fact that U/R Gifts Storm is a superior deck in general.
While Storm decks have been around Modern forever, Baral, Chief of Compliance is what recently kicked the deck into overdrive. Baral helped enable Gifts Ungiven on the cheap, which provides the deck with an extra element of consistency, but also with inevitability and a good way to play against countermagic if your opponent keeps hoping you’ll tap out on your turn.
I’ve got enough problems without being paranoid my opponent is going to combo off every turn. Waiting for the inevitable… just do it already, argh!
How to Beat U/R Gifts Storm: Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek are a good start. Knowing what’s in your opponent’s hand and what they’re capable of by itself is incredibly useful even before you get to nab a card from them. Post-sideboard, make sure you have ways to kill Goblin Electromancer and Baral, Chief of Compliance and be prepared for Empty the Warrens. If you want to go nuclear on them, and you probably do, start with Rule of Law; Ethersworn Canonist; Thalia, Guardian of Thraben; Meddling Mage; Thorn of Amethyst; and Rest in Peace.
#5 – Burn
Burn has been around so long in Modern that I’ve just gotten used to it, like an annoying rash you refuse to get checked out by a doctor that slowly grows larger and more itchy.
Eventually the Bolts to the face stop hurting and you just go numb. This is what it feels like when I cast Lightning Helix and my opponent has Skullcrack, every single time. I try to gain life and get back in the game. It doesn’t work.
The real offenders are the creatures: Goblin Guide, Monastery Swiftspear, and Eidolon of the Great Revel. Every time your Burn opponent doesn’t have a one-drop, you have a chance of winning.
Then there’s Searing Blaze. You killed my creature and I took damage? That’s a fair card. How is it remotely fair? I lied. It isn’t.
How to Beat Burn: Play a deck with a low curve and ideally plenty of cheap removal or cheap creatures. Come prepared in your sideboard with lifegain and Leyline of Sanctity.
#4 – Hexproof
- 4 Rancor
- 4 Daybreak Coronet
- 1 Triclopean Sight
- 2 Path to Exile
- 1 Hyena Umbra
- 4 Spider Umbra
- 3 Leyline of Sanctity
- 1 Spirit Mantle
- 4 Ethereal Armor
- 2 Unflinching Courage
- 1 Gryff's Boon
- 1 Cartouche of Solidarity
Hexproof: the bane of the Jeskai Control player. What decks we find most frustrating in Modern are often going to be the ones that beat us, and I fear Hexproof because it is a strong deck against Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile. It’s hard to be too mad at a deck if you’re always beating it, and it’s hard not get a little salty if you always lose to a deck.
Hexproof is one heck of a mechanic. It’s interesting how all these decks have some element of uninteractivity, but that’s often what you’re trying to do: make it so your opponent can’t interact with what you’re doing.
How to Beat Hexproof: Interact with them effectively or go over the top of them faster with your own combo. If you’re trying to interact, then the game will often come down to whether or not you can stop a single Slippery Bogle from turning into a Voltron. Filippidis was even playing three copies of Leyline of Sanctity to preemptively counter scary cards for Hexproof players in the form of Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, and Liliana of the Veil. Enchantment destruction is nice post-sideboard, as are Engineered Explosives, Chalice of the Void, and Ensnaring Bridge.
#3 – 8-Rack
- 4 Pack Rat
8-Rack pretty much had to make this list. Just look at it! It’s pretty much the deck embodiment of grabbing someone, holding on tight, and diving off a cliff.
8-Rack is saying that nobody is going to get to play much Magic, except 8-Rack is well-equipped to deal with having no hand and functioning on low resources. Mutavault and Liliana of the Veil are great ways to stay ahead after everyone is hellbent, or 8-Rack can just kill you quickly with The Rack and Shrieking Affliction before you manage to pick up the pieces of your shattered hopes and dreams.
I will admit Bontu’s Last Reckoning and Pack Rat are sweet additions to the deck. Do not tempt me, 8-Rack!
8-Rack is fine operating on low amounts of mana for an extra turn and occasionally needs a full battlefield clear if your opponent has a fast start, so Bontu’s is nice for that.
Despite being vile vermin in Standard, any time Pack Rat appears in Modern, it looks great. It’s nice to turn your dead discard into more Rats once you’ve already taken everything from your opponent.
How to Beat 8-Rack: Beating 8-Rack through conventional means is kind of like trying to wriggle yourself out of a straitjacket while encased in a block of ice suspended over an active volcano. Sometimes you need to move very slowly and carefully and keep your hand size full; other times you need to cast everything as quickly as possible and hope it works out. Leyline of Sanctity in your opener pretty much instantly wins the game, and resilient threats that survive discard like Lingering Souls, Obstinate Baloth, or resolving a planeswalker work well too.
#2 – Tron
That is the scream of rage you must deliver when you’re on the receiving end of natural Tron and Turn 3 Karn Liberated. If your opponent is kindhearted, they will try to contain their smirk of delight.
Turn 3 Karn Liberated pretty much sums up the Tron experience. What’s there left to say about the deck?
New cards like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger; World Breaker; and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon continue to improve the deck. Fortunately, the rest of the format has gotten faster and managed to put the pressure on the deck enough that it’s very beatable if it isn’t assembling Turn 3 Uzrarron.
Fatal Push and Collective Brutality help Tron stall and emphasize that Tron has always been a kind of control deck. It just needs time and land drops.
The deck being consistent is what makes it so frustrating. Sylvan Scrying and Expedition Map make seven mana on Turn 3 easy as pie.
How to Beat Tron: Land destruction is a good start. Think Fulminator Mage, Blood Moon, Spreading Seas, Crumble to Dust, Ghost Quarter, Field of Ruin, and Tectonic Edge. Be careful, though, because Tron can actually win games where you disrupt its mana if you aren’t presenting pressure.
#1 – Lantern Control
Lantern Control somehow manages to inflict the ultimate mix of mind-numbing boredom with really difficult gameplay decisions.
You’ll long for the sweet release of death after just a few turns of playing under the cruel spotlight of Lantern of Insight.
Can’t do anything? Well, at least you’ll be dead in twenty turns, but don’t concede yet, because there’s still a 0.02% chance you can win!
How to Beat Lantern Control: You can’t! It’s hopeless. Just curl into the fetal position and accept your fate… Okay, there are good cards like Ancient Grudge, Stony Silence, and Shatterstorm. Having a proactive gameplan mixed with a wide variety of threats, hand disruption, and artifact destruction is the way to go.
There you have it: my least favorite Modern decks to play against! Really goes to show the massive swath of ridiculous things you can do in Modern, and that variety is what keeps the format fresh and interesting every time you play it. What do you think? Is there a particular deck that really grinds your gears? Is your most frustrating deck to play against also the deck that always seems to beat you? Let me know in the comments.