Modern Decks On The Rise

With a quick look at emerging archetypes and suspected shifts in the top tiers of Modern, Collins is ready to declare some winners on our way to SCG Philadelphia!

The Modern metagame is always evolving, and there are several different
reasons why this can happen. Let’s talk about them.

The Modern Wheel

Certain decks become popular and can push out other decks that have a
particularly bad matchup against these popular decks. A pretty clear case
of this is when Humans became a popular deck, Eldrazi Tron was unable to
adapt to beat it and almost fell off the map as a result. Also as a result,
Jeskai Control became very popular because it could prey on Humans, and one
of its natural predators of Eldrazi Tron was no longer a concern. I like to
refer to this as The Modern Wheel. It’s a factor that is
always in play, and even if nothing else changed in Modern, I think its
metagame would continue to evolve based on this rock paper scissors

Brand New Cards are Printed

The whole reason why Humans became a deck was because of the printing of
Kitesail Freebooter and Unclaimed Territory. These cards gave Humans the
tools they needed to become a top tier Modern deck, and the whole metagame
changed as a result. But this wasn’t a very unique story. We see this
happening all of the time in Modern when new cards are introduced that
either create new archetypes or supplement old ones.

New Decks Become Better Understood

Sometimes the decks in Modern are so complex that it takes months, even
years, before the deck becomes fully understood by its pilots. There are
sometimes things that people figure out that break certain decks into a
whole new level. These things usually involve how the deck is built. We saw
this when Josh Utter-Leyton took down Grand Prix Vancouver 2017 with his
new version of Death’s Shadow. Sam Black and Gerry Thompson also made the
semi-finals with the same deck.

Most of the cards in this deck had been around for a while, and Death’s
Shadow decks had even existed before this. But this particular build really
broke things wide open and turned Death’s Shadow into the deck to beat for
a few months in Modern.

But sometimes it’s not as much of how the deck is built, but everyone’s
understanding of how to play the deck that changes.

Matt Nass recently figured out how to do a whole new infinite combo with
Ironworks involving utilizing a niche aspect of the technical rules on how
to cast spells. Ever since, we’ve been seeing more and more of this deck in
Modern, and that number is only going to go up. The more people figure out
how to better pilot this deck and learn all of the infinite combos
involved, the more people are going to have success with this deck.

Last weekend, I played in the SCG Modern Classic in Worcester, and there
were many Ironworks players littering the top tables of the tournament. I
talked with a few of these players, and many of them told me that this
event was their first time piloting the deck. The fact that so many players
had success with this deck so late in the event even after piloting the
deck for the first time told me a lot about the raw strength of this deck.

I’m a little concerned about what will happen when these players gain more
experience with the deck. Either everyone in Modern will realize that
Ironworks is a real threat that they will need to be prepared for and it
will get hated out or it might just be the next broken deck until the ban

Ironworks is extraordinarily fast, powerful, and resilient. The only thing
holding it back is that only a few people have learned all of the ins and
outs of the deck. Once the number of players who know this deck that well
goes up, we might be in trouble.

Using this understanding of how decks rise in popularity, let’s take a look
at a few more decks in modern that are currently gaining popularity as we

U/W Control has had a recent surge of popularity both on Magic Online and
at the Grand Prix level. A big part of what caused this was the printing of
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.

Teferi is easily one of the strongest planeswalkers that we’ve seen in
quite a while, and has given all Celestial Colonnade control decks quite a
boost in Modern. The latest builds of U/W Control are very tuned towards
the current metagame and appear to be the next evolution of control in the

Another big factor in the recent rise in popularity of U/W Control is that
the list has finally become more and more tuned. Players have a
better understanding of what the deck needs in order to have success right
now, and as a result, the lists are cleaner and the players are having more
success with it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this deck overtake Jeskai
Control as the control deck of choice in Modern.

After winning SCG Atlanta with Infect, Zan Syed immediately switched gears
and took Bant Spirits to a Top 4 finish at SCG Worcester. This speaks
volumes to the validity of Bant Spirits. Zan is always going to be a step
ahead of the curve, and if he believed that Bant Spirits was the best
option for that weekend, we should all take notice.

Bant Spirits had always been a reasonable deck in Modern. We saw Caleb
Durward win SCG Milwaukee back in 2016 with Bant Spirits, and his team made
the finals of the SCG Philadelphia Team Constructed Open earlier this year.
Kat Light has been championing Bant Spirits for a while now as well, with a
good amount of success. But with the release of Core Set 2019,
Bant Spirits got a powerful new friend.

Sometimes tribal decks are just one lord away from breaking through to the
next level. I definitely believe that was the case for Bant Spirits, and
sure enough, they got exactly what they were looking for in Supreme
Phantom. Supreme Phantom gives Bant Spirits that extra punch they needed to
put on a very fast clock and the deck already had plenty of solid
disruptive elements.

Bant Spirits is definitely a deck that we need to keep an eye on moving
forward. I don’t believe that the list is completely tuned yet, so there’s
even more room for improvement here. Some players are even trying out a U/W
Aether Vial version of the deck.

chrolony took their take on U/W Spirits to a Top 4 finish in the most
recent Magic Online Modern Challenge. There are also a couple of takes of
this deck floating around on Magic Online and they all seem to be having
success there.

Access to a cleaner manabase, Aether Vial, and Mutavault gives this deck
some very solid angles that the Bant Collected Company versions don’t have
access to. Having both Aether Vial and Rattlechains to give the rest of
your Spirits flash is definitely something to consider.

I’m excited to see where these varying builds of Spirits take us, and I’ll
will be doing a lot of testing on the deck myself.

Grixis Death’s Shadow has had its time in the sun in Modern before, but I
think Modern is shifting back to a place where Grixis Death’s Shadow is
very well-positioned. There are a ton of fast linear combo decks out there
that have recently come into popularity, mainly Ironworks and Infect.
Grixis Death’s Shadow does an excellent job preying on these decks, by
putting on a fast clock, and interacting heavily with the opponent.

Humans has been on the decline as well, and that had been a natural
predator for Grixis Death’s Shadow. It is worth noting however that if
Spirits ends up being as good and popular as I expect it to get, that will
take over the role of Humans as another predator of Grixis Death’s Shadow.

Modern appears to be in flux right now. Several different factors are
working to make pretty big changes to the format. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
has already made its mark on the format and I’m confident that Supreme
Phantom will do the same.

Now is the best time to use our understanding of what is happening to put
ourselves in a good spot moving forward. This doesn’t necessarily mean
switching decks, but if you want to continue to have an edge in Modern,
you’re going to need to update your deck to adapt to the changes that are

Stay ahead of the curve.