Modern is great. It’s a wide-open format where anyone can play whatever suits them best, and they can succeed as long as they know the ins-and-outs of their deck.
If they’re willing to adapt.
The metagame of Modern ebbs and flows, and right now there’s an enormous high tide of Izzet Phoenix coming in. We haven’t seen a Modern deck be played among 10% of players in a tournament in a while. The numbers are trending upwards, peaking at 20% of the Day 2 decks at Grand Prix Tampa. The word is out that Izzet Phoenix is the deck to beat. Drastic measures need to be taken. Some are moving to Surgical Extraction. Others are leaning on Ensnaring Bridge. With Dredge right behind Izzet Phoenix and many of the cards hitting both decks, it’s not unreasonable to maindeck cards that are typically seen in sideboards.
Extreme times require extreme measures. These are builds of some of my favorite Modern decks built with Izzet Phoenix and Dredge in mind.
Golgari Midrange is notoriously a 50/50 deck against the field, and with proper maindeck considerations can be a favorite against Izzet Phoenix and Dredge too. You need to come strong, though. Just a few Scavenging Oozes won’t do the trick.
The three Nihil Spellbombs are amazing in any opening hand against the graveyard decks while later on serving as an artifact in the graveyard for Tarmogoyf.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is extremely powerful against recursive threats like Arclight Phoenix or Prized Amalgam, though there’s always the risk of it dying before you ever see your first Zombie created from the exile ability. Slaughter Pact comes in to immediately deal with a creature and make a Zombie with Kalitas for a huge tempo swing.
The three Surgical Extractions and the Grafdigger’s Cage further press onto graveyard strategies. Golgari is rather weak against big mana, so we load up on Fulminator Mage and double dip in Liliana, the Last Hope for recursion. Along with those Surgicals to exile key lands, we have a plan against Tron, Amulet Titan, and TitanShift.
I’ve avoided Ensnaring Bridge in my 8-Rack builds for years and years. I’ve viewed 8-Rack as an attrition deck that wins a race by inches (where “inches” is usually “one card”). Ensnaring Bridge was something to turtle behind without really progressing your battlefield. While all that has some ring of truth to it, Ensnaring Bridge is extremely good right now and 8-Rack gets itself to zero cards naturally.
Leyline of the Void maindeck is a little gimmicky but is justifiable when the top two decks are graveyard decks. If you don’t draw the Leyline in your opening hand, you can still pitch it to Smallpox or Liliana of the Veil. As a mono-black deck, in the unlikely circumstance that Leyline of the Void is still good on Turn 4, it can cast the enchantment.
Wrench Mind is your best card when the opponent doesn’t have artifacts and the worst card when they do. I want all four in my 75 and have two of them relegated to the sideboard out of respect to Whir Prison and Affinity variants.
Maindeck graveyard hate is at a premium in decks that can afford to play it and Tron fits that bill. It doesn’t use the graveyard at all, so Relic of Progenitus is a useful cycling card that can give any number of decks fits, including Izzet Phoenix and Dredge. Against those decks that mow through their own libraries like butter, a single attack from Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger closes the game.
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is lights out versus Dredge and does a lot to KO Izzet Phoenix too. Anything that actively exiles opposing creatures while working toward your own proactive plan is a welcome strategy against the current top-tier decks of Modern.
Wurmcoil Engine is at its best right now with Dredge, Izzet Phoenix, Grixis Death’s Shadow, and Burn at the top of the metagame. If anything, take note that running four Wurmcoil is critical to having success with Tron right now.
This build is heavily influenced by Aaron Barich’s twelfth-place finish at SCG Philadelphia last weekend. He’s been fiddling around with Mishra’s Bauble over the past couple of months and found good success with it, albeit adding a small layer of complexity to a deck with already razor-thin decision making that can easily be the difference between a loss and a win.
The key card here is Twisted Image. Once upon a time, Spellskite used to be in Modern decks everywhere. Now Thing in the Ice is the 0/4 you can reasonably expect to face numerous times in your local Modern tournament. Of course, other targets exist, like Noble Hierarch and Signal Pest.
Mishra’s Bauble is hanging out as a new innovation that, honestly, maybe should’ve been in Infect the whole time. It enables Become Immense better and serves as filtering with fetchlands to smooth out draws, namely not drawing too many copies of Become Immense. Become Immense is also your best card against Grixis Death’s Shadow and against Whir Prison or any Chalice of the Void deck. We’re seeing more Thoughtseize decks come back too, with Golgari Midrange resurging and Lantern Control gaining traction.
- 4 Martyr of Sands
- 4 Ranger of Eos
- 4 Serra Ascendant
- 4 Squadron Hawk
- 1 Archangel Avacyn
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 1 Walking Ballista
Ghostly Prison is the card that I never liked when I was playing Mono-White Martyr a year ago. After all, you can solve most of your creature problems by gaining a ton of life and casting Wrath of God, right?
Recursive threats are at an all-time high. Wrath of God is Wrath of God and there are plenty of normal creature decks running around, so some number of them will still be good. Go-wide creature decks are popular, so Ghostly Prison gains a ton of value, since it taxes those decks operating at low land counts.
For the record: I prefer multiples of Wrath of God over a split between it and Day of Judgement. The logic before was solely respect for Meddling Mage from the Humans matchup. For now, Hardened Scales Affinity is more popular and they pack Welding Jars to protect their creatures, making the “can’t be regenerated” clause important. Hallowed Burial also does the trick, getting around Welding Jar while also tucking those Bloodghasts and Arclight Phoenixes back into the deck.
Mono-White Martyr can go deep with the best of them when Ranger of Eos, Thraben Inspector, and Emeria, the Sky Ruin are bringing a constant stream of threats. I used to call this deck “White Jund” for its ability to solve any problem and to grind opponents out.
Final Thoughts Before SCG Cincinnati
SCG Cincinnati is this weekend and I expect many teams to put an Izzet Phoenix player into their Modern seat. Team Constructed events tend to more heavily represent the “best deck” in any given format slot compared to individual events.
I’d take the over on 20% of teams playing Izzet Phoenix in their Modern slot. I’d take another 10% on Dredge to go along with it. If you’re not playing either of those decks, you absolutely must take heavy-handed measures to be prepared for them. Don’t overcommit to the Burn matchup. With any spare sideboard slots, you should allocate them to fighting Tron and Amulet Titan.