Modern, as crazy a format as it is, is just like any other format. It’s cyclical.
At #GPOKC, we saw big mana decks smash the format, and the biggest reason for that is because people played decks that lost to them. Honestly, you can’t even really blame them, as having a deck that has a naturally good matchup against decks like TitanShift and Tron is difficult. Plus, playing with cards like Thoughtseize and Snapcaster Mage is tempting!
Seen here: bad cards. Somehow.
Between Tron, Eldrazi Tron, and TitanShift, big mana strategies are taking up 15% or more of the Modern metagame at the moment, and after last weekend, that number might rise. While 15% isn’t even three of the fifteen rounds of Swiss at a Grand Prix, that’s one of the largest metagame shares that one macro archetype could possibly have in Modern.
As many have mentioned before, metagaming in Modern can be foolish. Even the “best” decks are a small portion of the metagame, but what you should be doing is finding a deck that is naturally strong against the most popular decks while being a good deck in its own right. Playing G/R Land Destruction after this weekend might seem smart, but while that deck might be great against big mana decks, it’s not very good against the rest of the format. Hyper-focusing on a specific portion isn’t a great idea in Modern.
- 2 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 3 Inferno Titan
- 1 Obstinate Baloth
- 1 Thrun, the Last Troll
- 2 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 3 Stormbreath Dragon
- 2 Pia and Kiran Nalaar
- 3 Tireless Tracker
Big mana accidentally dominated Grand Prix Oklahoma City by being good decks that were well-positioned against the metagame. They probably didn’t do anything special to their deck in order to adapt because they were already good. That’s exactly how everyone should be approaching Modern, at least the vast majority of the time. Overall, it seemed like Grand Prix Oklahoma City was a field of fair decks and decks preying on them. Did you really think Jeskai Control was going to win the tournament? I’d bet against it every time.
Like I said, having a positive matchup against big mana isn’t easy, but there are more decks that are capable of that than you might initially think, mostly because Modern has so many viable decks. There are basically two ways to be incidentally good against big mana: make their cards irrelevant or interact with them.
It shouldn’t be surprising that the best way to make their cards irrelevant is a hallmark of the Modern format. If you kill your opponent before they kill you, their cards don’t matter.
Make Their Cards Irrelevant
- 4 Arcbound Ravager
- 4 Ornithopter
- 3 Master of Etherium
- 3 Steel Overseer
- 3 Memnite
- 1 Etched Champion
- 4 Signal Pest
- 4 Vault Skirge
Ideally, I’d have a fast, combo-like deck that also doesn’t care about Tron’s or TitanShift’s cards at all. Affinity mostly fails that test by allowing its opponents to interact with them via Lightning Bolt, Fatal Push, Sweltering Suns, and Oblivion Stone. However, Affinity is the type of deck that can easily shrug off a single Fatal Push per game. It does have trouble standing up to multiple pieces of powerful interaction, and if Tron gets to use Oblivion Stone, it’s probably game over.
Graveyard hate and ways to interact with big mana should probably be on the rise after this weekend, and I imagine artifact hate will take a dip as a result. If other archetypes are being focused on, that’s when decks like Affinity are ready to make a comeback.
- 4 Meddling Mage
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- 4 Mantis Rider
- 3 Reflector Mage
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 2 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
- 4 Kitesail Freebooter
On one hand, Humans has some of the same issues Affinity does. It’s easy to interact with, yet has certain cards that can cause big mana fits, like Meddling Mage, Kitesail Freebooter, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.
Having three relevant cards isn’t a great strategy when it comes to beating big mana, especially when each of those decks has some amount of spot removal that can interact with your three cards.
It’s worth noting that the manabase the Humans deck is running is incredibly greedy and that might have to change. Blood Moon could potentially become a real card in the format very soon, and Humans will mostly lose to it. Cutting some of those Horizon Canopy copies and Seachrome Coasts for some fetchlands and another basic land wouldn’t kill them.
In theory, Storm should be the perfect killer to big mana decks. Unfortunately, Storm was at the front of the pack for too long and probably lost to the rest of the field, which in turn lost to big mana. It’s only a matter of time before the format circles back around and Storm is back on top though.
Fighting the Sapphire Medallion creatures, the graveyard, and the swath of Goblin tokens is a tall order for many decks, and that squeeze is part of what makes Storm so successful at this point.
- 1 Echoing Truth
- 4 Might of Old Krosa
- 2 Spell Pierce
- 4 Vines of Vastwood
- 3 Groundswell
- 2 Distortion Strike
- 3 Mutagenic Growth
- 1 Apostle's Blessing
- 3 Become Immense
- 3 Blossoming Defense
Oh, how quickly they’re forgotten. Infect is a deck whose comeback has been a long time coming. Honestly, I’m not seeing many bad matchups for Infect these days. Gitaxian Probe getting banned was certainly hard on Infect, but was it enough to dethrone its Tier 1 status? That part seems horribly overstated to me.
Is Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy actually what Infect needed all along? I find that hard to believe, as Jace seems more cute to me than anything else. Maybe the filtering and being able to play more of a midrange deck is helpful, but Infect’s true strength lies in threatening Turn 2 and Turn 3 kills and I’d want to keep it that way.
Burn is one of those decks that shows up all the time, even when it shouldn’t, but there are times when it’s occasionally great, such as when I played it at the last Players’ Championship.
While occasionally great, Burn is basically the opposite of the big mana decks. There are several matchups where Burn is an inherent dog. In a field where many decks pack combos and have lightning-fast goldfishes, Burn can sometimes be lacking.
Tron’s matchup against Burn is particularly poor, but the TitanShift matchup is actually close. Both of the TitanShift decks in the finals had multiple pieces of interaction in the maindeck and some Obstinate Baloths in the sideboard, which is enough to give Burn trouble.
The way to beat big mana might be to join them. You could also make the argument for a blue-based Scapeshift deck, given how well it does in pseudo-mirrors.
I like this take a lot. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn actually wins the game when you put it onto the battlefield, unlike things like Worldspine Wurm. Being more than one-dimensional is also something I’m interested in. Bontu’s Last Reckoning, Blood Moon, and Collective Brutality allow you to interact with your opponent way more than you would expect out of a typical Reanimator deck.
While the deck is weak to graveyard hate, you have some easy options for working around it. Through the Breach is the easy answer, but locking your opponent under Blood Moon and hard-casting Griselbrand isn’t the craziest idea either. Quicksilver Amulet out of the sideboard will also do it.
Between a fast clock, the ability to ignore basically everything in the Tron deck, and Blood Moons, I can’t imagine this deck losing to anything other than its fail rate. The TitanShift matchup is a bit trickier because they can kill you on Turn 4, but you’re still a favorite.
- 4 Street Wraith
- 4 Vengevine
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 1 Hooting Mandrills
- 1 Flamewake Phoenix
- 2 Reckless Bushwhacker
- 4 Insolent Neonate
- 4 Flameblade Adept
- 4 Hollow One
Various Hollow One / Vengevine decks have been popping up in Modern, but this looks to be the best of them. Warren138 also qualified via RPTQ with the same deck, so he’s having consistent success with it.
Reckless Bushwhacker is the card that puts this list over the top for me, and there’s even a singleton Traverse the Ulvenwald to find it. I wouldn’t be surprise if another copy or two makes its way into maindeck. The Reckless Bushwhackers are a perfect way to race combo and having more ways to find it would be beneficial.
These decks are still largely underdeveloped and I could see them occupying the space in the metagame that Zoo used to.
- 2 Golgari Thug
- 4 Stinkweed Imp
- 4 Narcomoeba
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Prized Amalgam
- 4 Insolent Neonate
- 1 Haunted Dead
Dredge is exactly the type of deck that tends to ignore what their opponent is doing, but they also get to make their opponent’s cards not matter very much against them. This deck is capable of some explosive draws, but they mainly lead to your opponent losing to combat damage on Turn 4 or Turn 5. Sometimes, that’s not good enough against Tron, especially if they have enough time to get to Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.
Both big mana and graveyard decks were an excellent choice for last weekend, as those were the exploitable weaknesses on the metagame. It just so happened that big mana had even more of the good matchups than the graveyard decks.
Maindeck Darkblasts were a nice touch, at least until you get to Top 8 and realize they’re not good against anyone.
Ad Nauseam is a perennial bridesmaid. There are moments where it looks like it might be poised for a breakout performance, only to get one-upped by some other deck. In this instance, Storm and TitanShift are both doing what Ad Nauseam does, but just a little bit better.
Storm is the stack-based combo that’s a turn faster on average, while TitanShift, like Ad Nauseam, is a consistent Turn 4 or 5 winner, even through disruption. Storm has a larger fail rate and an overall inherent lack of interaction, but is a stronger deck overall.
Ad Nauseam is a fine choice, but it’s probably a bad something else, just as it’s always been.
Once upon a time, Amulet was exactly the deck you would turn to in order to beat up on big mana strategies. They invalidate much of what Tron and Valakut are doing and are mostly a turn or two too fast. Unfortunately, the banning of Summer Bloom removed a large portion of what made the deck so fast and consistent.
Amulet still has legs and there are some players who continually win with it because they are masters with the deck. Unfortunately, if there’s an uptick in Blood Moons, it removes Amulet as an option.
Using disruption to fight big mana strategies is typically a losing proposition. Cards like Thoughtseize will probably stop Turn 3 Karn Liberated from happening, but without a clock, it’s only a matter of time before they start doing broken things. The matchup against Valakut is more of the same, as both versions of big mana have such a high density of threats that it’s only a matter of time before they draw another.
The two most important factors in using disruption to combat big mana are having a clock and having a way to stop their topdecks from mattering. Assembling a clock can be difficult when you’re spending your mana in the early-game trying to disrupt your opponent instead of developing your own battlefield position. Invalidating their topdeck potential is nearly impossible for something like Jund, but if you have enough land destruction, like Fulminator Mage or Ghost Quarter / Field of Ruin, or a hammer like Blood Moon, it might be enough to pull it off. Complementing your discard spells with counterspells is another way to get the job done.
Naturally, that makes me look at Grixis Death’s Shadow as an option.
I trust Andrew Jessup’s take on the decklist. He has Opt over Serum Visions, the full amount of Stubborn Denials maindeck, fewer Tasigurs, and some Temur Battle Rages lurking in the 75. Dismember over Terminate stands out, as does the complete lack of sweepers, although Izzet Staticaster does a fine job cleaning up smaller creatures.
Overall, Thoughtseize, Stubborn Denial, and Death’s Shadow is going to give you a solid game plan against big mana. Those matchups are still an uphill battle, but they are very winnable. Much like Andrew, I also cut the Fulminator Mages from my decklist after playing against big mana a few times. Three mana is a hefty investment, and it’s not really what the matchup is about anyway.
- 4 Flickerwisp
- 4 Tidehollow Sculler
- 4 Leonin Arbiter
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- 3 Wasteland Strangler
- 4 Eldrazi Displacer
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
- 3 Thraben Inspector
Similarly to Humans, Eldrazi and Taxes has very few cards that actually matter. The rest of the cards in the deck are basically vanilla animals that only serve to clock your opponent when you have nothing better to do.
However, unlike Humans, this deck has twenty cards that matter instead of twelve, so you’re a little bit better off against them.
U/W Control typically doesn’t have a great clock and it relies on interaction with big mana’s threats almost strictly via counterspells. That’s been a recipe for disaster for quite a while.
So what makes U/W Control playable?
Combined with Spreading Seas, Field of Ruin gives U/W Control consistency in the land destruction angle, at least against Tron. Ghost Quarter was an option previously, but Field of Ruin is miles better. You don’t necessarily need to destroy their land on Turn 2. In the mid-game, maintaining parity on mana is important, especially as you’re building up to cast Cryptic Command and the various planeswalkers that you try to win the game with.
Ghost Quarter did the job, but in the worst way possible, often costing your entire turn to do so. With Field of Ruin, your mana development doesn’t get stunted, so it’s far and away the better option.
With eight sources of land destruction (or more, if you want to dip into additional Ghost Quarter), U/W Control has an axis it can interact with Tron that isn’t just counterspells. It doesn’t allow you to smash them 100% of the time, but it does give U/W Control a fighting chance, which is all it really wants in any matchup.
The list I posted isn’t the typical version of U/W you see running rampant on Magic Online at the moment, but I wanted to highlight it because it’s something a little different, and because JB2002 is an absolute monster with this archetype. Realistically, the U/W deck with Kitchen Finks is going to be much worse against big mana than the one with Mana Leak, but Dragonlord Ojutai is something I’m interested in.
Can we get a Cavern of Souls into this decklist?
Sign me up!
Lightning Bolt, Remand, Cryptic Command, and Snapcaster Mage form a solid base for interacting with the majority of what Modern has to throw at you. Past that, you need a way to kill your opponents, and Through the Breach / Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is one of the best ways to do that. The chip damage from Lightning Bolt, Electrolyze, and Snapcaster Mage is enough to finish them once you’ve executed your combo.
I was very impressed with this deck when I did a video on it, and that hasn’t changed since then. Blue combo control decks will always be something I’m intrigued by, and this one happens to actually be good. Having Blood Moon as a backup plan is great right now.
The other thing that’s particularly cool is the use of Madcap Experiment and Platinum Emperion out of the sideboard to beat the aggro decks like Burn and Affinity. That might only work in one of the post-sideboard games, but I’m down with getting free wins when the opportunity cost is low.
- 2 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
- 3 Pestermite
- 1 Vendilion Clique
- 2 Deceiver Exarch
- 4 Snapcaster Mage
- 1 Torrential Gearhulk
As a whole, I like this deck way less than Blue Moon. The backup plan of attacking with small creatures and burning your opponent out is something Blue Moon doesn’t really have the capability of doing, but it’s not a huge selling point to me either way. At this point, I think the backup plan should be three Blood Moons. If Blood Moon sticks, you can probably kill them with a Snapcaster Mage.
As a whole, I consider this deck to be an almost strictly worse version of Blue Moon. In Modern, it’s important to not play a bad version of something else, so I’ll be discounting this deck until something changes.
Obviously there is some high-level metagaming to be done by assuming Modern will speed up and then something like Jund or Grixis Death’s Shadow becomes good again, but that’s dangerous thinking. While Modern is cyclical, it doesn’t happen overnight. There will also be many people who see that Tron and TitanShift did well in Oklahoma City and copy those decklists.
It’s important to shy away from the decks that naturally have a poor matchup against big mana decks. You could go deeper on metagaming to play a deck that preys on the decks that prey on big mana, but that’s a stretch, at least for now.
At this point, anything midrange is a bad idea unless you’re willing to be incredibly hateful. Then again, Willy Edel says he’s been beating everything with Abzan that isn’t specifically Tron, and that can be a viable way to approach a tournament. Sometimes having one bad matchup isn’t a deal-breaker if it’s not a huge portion of the metagame. If Sam Black is correct, Tron probably won’t be at the top tables in the next couple of Modern events. You still have to get to the top tables, though.
If you want to midrange, you can and should play U/W Control. If you want to play Cryptic Command, Grixis Death’s Shadow with some Cryptic Commands is a solid choice, albeit a little on the weak end at the moment. Of these decks, Blue Moon is the best version of everything I want access to.