Humans Isn’t The Best Deck

There are plenty of reasons to stay away from Humans at SCG Baltimore! Owen explains why he’s not picking this deck up, as well as giving you much better options!

In case you missed it, the finals of the SCG Dallas saw Brian Basoco versus
Ross Merriam in a Humans mirror match. And if you’re expecting me to take
this as a sign that Humans is the best deck in Modern, guess again. I
strongly dislike Humans in Modern, and I’m not sure if I would ever play
the deck in a Modern tournament given its current configuration.

Humans has always been a popular and successful deck and during this time
I’ve always been vocal among my team that it’s a weak deck choice. I think
the biggest reason why I dislike Humans is that it plays no spells besides
Aether Vial. On the flip side, I view this deck in the exact same lens as I
view Burn, it’s cool and it works from time to time, but there’s no way
I’ll play it over something like Jund, Tron, Storm, Hollow One, or Jeskai
because it gives me no room to play.

Cavern of Souls and Ancient Ziggurat are the two cards that allow you to
play Kitesail Freebooter in black, Noble Hierarch in green, and Mantis
Rider in the rest of the remaining colors. Those two lands specifically are
what enable the entire strategy and to accommodate them, you must only play
creature spells with the type Human. Whenever I play Humans, I feel
handicapped by my manabase and a lack of spells also means a lack of
interaction. Reflector Mage is a great card, as is its interaction against
creatures, but that doesn’t mean you’re comfortable playing against a
creature deck because you have three copies of a card that can delay a
problem creature but not kill it. If your opponent has a problematic
creature, bouncing it is only effective if the game ends before it would be

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is also interaction, though in a passive form,
and its value is directly relative to how many lands your opponent has
drawn and the strength of your own hand. If you have a slow hand and they
have a ton of lands, it’s a legendary 2/1 for two; but if the opponent is
light on land and you have a fast hand, it’s a little bit like a Time Walk
on legs. I’m not saying Thalia is a weak card or that Humans is misbuilt;
what I am saying is there’s a huge element of randomness when you play a
deck with no card selection. I prefer to play with Ancient Stirrings or
Faithless Looting in Modern because they allow me to keep more hands and
topdeck well in the lategame. The only possible way Humans can alter its
draws is pregame with aggressive mulligans, a hidden cost that all Humans
pilots pay.

In my entire career, I’ve valued the ability to interact with my opponent
and give them as many opportunities to make an error as possible, and I
swear by this strategy. I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes Modern
isn’t the time or the place for such a strategy. but just because our
ability to interact is hindered doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to interact
at all. One way I like to look at it is if you tried to math out exactly
how often our decisions impact the outcome of the game in Standard, it
would probably be something like 75% of games the player with the better
hand wins outright and 25% of the time play skill decides the outcome. In
Modern, it might be something like 90% of the games are comprised of who
won the die roll or who got a stronger hand and the remaining 10% is left
to play skill. I’m not yet ready to take my 10% chance of outplaying my
opponent and turn it to 0% by playing Humans. (

For clarity, these numbers are arbitrary estimates used to demonstrate
a point and not concrete examples based on experience or math.


When you pick Humans, you’re declaring you believe the metagame is weak to your choice and that you have the actual best deck in the format and I don’t believe these things to be true.

Humans is a great deck and there’s no skirting around that fact, but one
thing I take issue with is its poor ability to improve after sideboard.
Humans is fast, consistent, and powerful, but the deck barely changes when
you have a sideboard which consists of twelve creatures and the most
offensive card here: Kataki, War’s Wage.

Straight out of 2005…

One thing I value immensely in Modern is playing sideboard cards that are
lights out for certain strategies. If I was to play with Jeskai in Modern,
for example, and my opponent is playing Affinity, I could take out my
maindeck copy of Negate and other undesirable cards and add something
powerful like Stony Silence. If you look at Humans, when it sideboards
against Affinity it removes something like Kitesail Freebooter and adds
Kataki, Reclamation Sage, and Izzet Staticaster. I prefer the Jeskai
sideboarding here since the value gained from removing a horrible card and
adding the best possible card in the format is higher than the value gained
swapping a weak card in the matchup for a fairly solid one.

Things only get worse because Ancient Ziggurat can’t cast a card like Stony
Silence and instead, Humans players are forced to choose Kataki, a card
that’s substantially less effective against decks like Mono-Green Tron and
Ironworks. I’ve played many games with Ironworks against Kataki preparing
for Pro Tour 25th Anniversary where it actually worked to my advantage, but
allowing me to cash in Chromatic Star or Ichor Wellspring to draw a card us
an investment of my mana that I’m totally fine with.

The answer you’re actually looking for.

To summarize, Humans paid the cost of one sideboard card (Kataki) to have
it occupy space in their hand when they could have potentially had a more
effective card for the matchup (Stony Silence). They then paid for the
privilege of putting it onto the battlefield. And the end result? I used it
to my advantage in a spot where I can rarely get the second card out of
Ichor Wellspring without Krark-Clan Ironworks on the battlefield and often
want the second card from Ichor Wellspring to find the deck’s namesake
card, the card I value the most when playing the deck.

How To Value Outplaying Your Opponent

I had a conversation with Eric Froehlich at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan where I told him I disliked his choice to play
Humans for exactly the reasons detailed above, and his response was “You
played Tron. Do you really think you can outplay people with that?” which
is pretty funny response, but I told him I do think that, and I still think
it today. It’s subtle and I wouldn’t expect it to be way better at
interacting, but it’s enough better that my choice is clear. I believe
people make severe errors in sideboarding against Mono-Green Tron,
something that isn’t really possible when playing against Humans. Where can
the opponent make a mistake when they pick up their sideboard and must
think on the fly, “What should I do against 36 creatures and 24 mana?”

I can understand and sympathize with the approach that Magic is a game of
small edges and you don’t want to pick up a deck without mastering it and
allow for your own errors to take the spotlight in games you lose, but I
view standing firm on the best deck as a last resort. I’ve garnered a
reputation as the guy who always plays the “best deck,” but often enough I
feel as if it’s not obvious what the best deck is and my choice is being
undervalued and misunderstood by the field.

What To Play At SCG Baltimore

I’ve had some fairly hilarious accusations thrown my way recently that I’m
using my influence on this site to change the metagame to promote decks
which are weak against my deck choice for my next big event. In reality, I
promote lots of different kinds of decks, and I have been an advocate of
Mono-Green Tron – including playing it at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan and Grand Prix Phoenix – and while Tron has a
great matchup against Humans, I’ve also promoted Hollow One on Twitter, in
my writing, and I played it at the Season One Invitational when it has a
terrible matchup against Humans. Further, the last time I put my money
where my mouth is was Pro Tour 25th Anniversary where I cosigned the deck
choice of William Jensen on Storm, traditionally a bad matchup against
Humans except for our unorthodox sideboard plan of Lightning Bolts, Grim
Lavamancers, Abrade, and Fiery Impulse.

I’d like to close by saying congratulations to Matthew Pitzer and his team
for finishing in fourth place at the SCG Dallas for $1,500 with the exact
same 75 cards the Peach Garden Oath registered in the Modern seat at Pro
Tour 25th Anniversary. Storm is an amazing choice for Modern moving
forward, and I highly recommend it for SCG Baltimore this weekend because
of its great matchup against Humans, Hollow One, and Mono-Green Tron.