How A Modern Control Player Moves Forward After Bridge From Below’s Banning

Modern Azorius Control must adapt after Bridge from Below’s banning shook up the metagame! What’s a control mage to do? Shaheen Soorani surveys the field ahead of the next Mythic Championship.

The Banned and Restricted announcement Monday did not get the job done.

Last week, I suggested a few changes that would move Modern toward a more interactive format, full of deck-building decisions to diversify the format in a way that hasn’t been accomplished thus far. It was quite clear that Wizards of the Coast wanted to see the impact of Modern Horizons on the format tested by the best players in the world at the upcoming Mythic Championship. For this reason, the amount of inaction is acceptable and makes perfect sense from a marketing standpoint.

Modern Horizons has significantly impacted a handful of archetypes, as well as resuscitated a few older ones that were long forgotten. This has had an overall neutral impact on the format, making Bridge from Below so broken that they had to remove it immediately from the graveyard-based aggro decks, while at the same time propping up poor Tier 2 decks to get eaten alive by the ruling hyenas. There will be new decks that surface as a result of Modern Horizons, but the format will still be dominated by Team Linear Aggro.

With the banning of Bridge from Below, some might assume decks that utilize the graveyard will shrivel into obscurity. False. They will be out in full force at the Mythic Championship in Barcelona. Dredge is a phenomenal deck choice still, with the same rule-breaking power that it has always enjoyed. Golgari Grave-Troll may have gotten removed and Bridge from Below didn’t make it either, but the core of the deck is still too strong with Faithless Looting as its enabler.

There are some competitors out there that will not acknowledge the defeat Hogaak, Risen Necropolis has suffered. There are multiple variants of the old Bridgevine deck that formed after the banning, even some that held on to the Zombie package. The interaction between Cryptbreaker, Carrion Feeder, Gravecrawler, and Stitcher’s Supplier is potent, but the deck still relies on the consistency of Faithless Looting to make it all possible. I have seen these Bridgevine decks consistently kill quite early still, without the help of Bridge from Below.

Like Cullier’s list, players have still tried to use Altar of Dementia to mill cards efficiently. I do not believe that this is the path Hogaak fans should take because of the low ceiling it provides. With the help of Bridge from Below, sacrificing creatures was never a liability. All creatures that were put on the Altar were replaced, making the deck as synergistic as they come. Without the help from the Zombie tokens, I have been very unimpressed with Altar of Dementia as an enabler and I believe sticking with Carrion Feeder as the main sacrifice outlet for Stitcher’s Supplier will suffice.

If the Zombie package isn’t your thing, be on the lookout for those using Hollow One as a shell for Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis. The enormous Avatar will still make its mark at the Mythic Championship one way or another. It has powerful synergy with milling through the early creatures discussed above or drawing and discarding heaps of cards in the first few turns.

These graveyard strategies are not unbeatable, but they still warp the metagame in a way that prevents innovative decks from reaching the top. It seems foolish to cast your creatures the honest way when you can spend zero mana to do the same job. I know it sounds strange for me to defend the deckbuilding options of aggro enthusiasts; however, it is important for all sides to push for the betterment of the format. When there are more viable options within a genre, the format is better for it.

Between aggro decks, Humans and graveyard-based options remain at the top. The disruption and consistency of Humans is hard to match, and it has survived the test of time as a competitor in Modern. It has never been the flashiest deck to take on the army of busted decks out there, but it can get the job done. I expect to see this deck heavily represented in Barcelona, as well as the upcoming SCG Tour event in Philly that I will be battling in.

It would be foolish to play other aggro decks in this new metagame. Decks like Mono-Red Burn has proven to be vastly ineffective in competitive play for years, but Modern is expensive. Due to the value of these older cards, many players do not have the resources (or interest) in shifting out their deck for a brand-new option. This doesn’t apply as much to Standard, but Legacy and Modern see this phenomenon regularly. Part of the reason the most-played deck in any given Modern tournament is around fourteen percent is the enormous cost for players to switch decks.

Another reason the metagame is consistently steady is people gain a fondness to the deck they play for a long time. Unlike Standard, Modern doesn’t rotate, making your permanent staple of the format. Obviously bannings can disrupt this, as my beloved Krark-Clan Ironworks can attest. I’m sure not many people remember I innovated the deck out of blood, sweat, and Myr Retriever parts, and if the deck was legal and mediocre today, I would have a hard time putting it down.

With players frantically searching for a justification to play their pet deck, Modern Horizons injected adrenaline into the midrange archetypes. Golgari Midrange has emerged as one of the most-played decks that still uses Tarmogoyf. As with any other midrange or control deck, the inherent issue is the diversity of brokenness that exists in Modern. If you want to defeat aggro decks, more mass removal must be utilized in order to do so. If Mono-Green Tron is hitting the streets again in full force, maindeck Fulminator Mage is a requirement. When the prediction is off, or the pairings are unkind, there goes the neighborhood again. For this reason, I suggest a Jund Midrange strategy instead.

This may be outside of my best judgement, but I am suggesting that midrange fans play a deck that defeats my beloved control on a regular basis. Wrenn and Six is an absurd threat against Azorius Control, but more so against Infect, Humans, or any deck that summons creatures with one toughness. I have seen the reemergence of Bloodbraid Elf, which also makes me a little ill. These powerful options join the team of Golgari Midrange to make a better deck for a very unfair format. Simply trying to value every opponent out with Dark Confident and Liliana of the Veil won’t cut it, so expect to see some red spice thrown in there.

The only true control option is Azorius Control. Esper and Jeskai Control are fine Tier 2/Tier 3 decks; however, their spotty manabase is the Achilles’ heel that will prevent them from climbing to the top. Azorius Control was a Tier 1 deck with Bridgevine around, and has now fallen to the Tier 1.5 category, one made especially for this archetype.

It is still viable in a format where Mono-Red Burn loses to everything else, graveyard decks are still popular, and Force of Negation exists to protect it against nonsense. I’ve written many articles identifying the strengths and weaknesses of my favorite guild in Modern and not much has changed. The more volatile the format, the less powerful Azorius Control will be. We must identify the top five or six decks to defeat and go all-in against them. This means making concessions to those under them in a way that can derail tournament performance but is required to have a shot at victory.

There are some decks that have been revived with the addition of Modern Horizons. Grixis Urza is the sweet deck I suggested players use in the new format to combat Bridgevine. It has the tools to take on opponent’s graveyards with ease, as well as endless synergies to make death by combat nearly impossible. This deck is still good and will see play but falls into the Tier 2 purgatory where most of Modern’s all-stars remain. Decks like Infect, Grixis Death’s Shadow, Burn, Eldrazi Tron, Devoted Druid, Bant Spirits, Affinity, Mono-Red Phoenix, Jeskai Control, and many others all have had Modern success, but are not the decks to defend against. To accurately determine the Modern metagame with a new set and banning, we must identify the top threats out there.

I’ve gone into detail about the graveyard-based decks that will continue to rule Modern, but there are others. Izzet Phoenix may have come around full circle and is an excellent choice for those interested in picking apart inexperienced players in this new Modern world we all are living in. It has its original explosiveness with some help from Inlet Reef, Lava Dart, Magmatic Sinkhole, Force of Negation, and now Aria of Flame. I will admit that last one shocked me, but fans of the archetype swear by it. This deck continues to impress me at every major event and may be the best Faithless Looting deck in the format.

The format’s other big hitters haven’t changed much since last time we met. Mono-Green Tron was wiped out by Bridgevine and now will be back with a vengeance. It will still suffer against the graveyard-based decks; however, its matchup against the new midrange decks will be extraordinary. This may be the great equalizer for Azorius Control, hoping Mono-Green Tron players can wipe out all the Bloodbraid Elf decks out there.

The scariest Tier 1 deck that haunts me in my dreams is Amulet Titan. The gang that continues to manufacture updated list after updated list is back at it, so expect it to dominate your local SCG Tour event. It had a poor showing at the last Mythic Championship in London, but now it has Karn, the Great Creator as another powerful angle of victory. This deck is a nightmare to play against, can beat up on control easily, and utilizes Ancient Stirrings as its tool for consistency. Decks that do not contain Faithless Looting or Ancient Stirrings are at a definite disadvantage in Modern.

With the Modern metagame looking this way, Azorius Control is a dangerous choice for those venturing out into their next tournament. Even with this obvious issue, I am clearly going to play it in Barcelona. I may be a stubborn old mule unwilling to change, but that is not the main reason I have made this decision. The tabletop Mythic Championships provide open decklists, which easily pushes Azorius Control up to Tier 1. Knowing what archetype your opponent is on and using the London Mulligan rules gives Azorius Control a lucrative advantage. Shipping away hands with all white spells against Mono-Green Tron was a common strategy for me at the last event, leading me to a 7-3 record overall.

Most Game 1 losses for Azorius Control stem from drawing the wrong side of your deck in such an unforgiving field, which this rule negates. For those not attending this Mythic Championship, I would test the water with other decks if you have access to them. Azorius Control is good, but I believe Izzet Phoenix has the flexibility and consistency that other blue decks simply don’t have. Modern will have some new flavor added, but that bad aftertaste will still kick in when you’re lucky enough to get paired against a Turn 1 NeoBrand death to give them their only victory in the tournament.