A common Modern complaint is just not being able to beat some linear deck
despite sideboarding in some “correct” number of cards for it.
Have you considered you might just not be bringing the right ones to the
table? You can’t just put an arbitrary four artifact removal cards in your
sideboard and beat Ironworks, or a random set of land destruction spells
and beat Tron.
Let’s fix that.
Here’s a list of every land hate and artifact hate card in Modern, the top
linear decks focused on each card type, and where each card succeeds and
The following decks are land-based linears in Modern:
- 3 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 1 Primeval Titan
- 1 Thrun, the Last Troll
- 1 Hornet Queen
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 1 Craterhoof Behemoth
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 1 Ruric Thar, the Unbowed
Blue Tron is garbage, and I only mention it in the hopes that saying this
stops someone from trying it.
One Shot Land Destruction:
–Fulminator Mage versus Amulet Titan
–Fulminator Mage against Mono-Green Devotion
All the various land destruction spells are technically good against
land-based decks, but they are never knock outs. If you have multiples in a
game, like Fulminator Mage looped with Kolaghan’s Command, you can get
somewhere, but basically all these decks are resilient enough that casting
Stone Rain at best trades your turn for their next one.
Another issue is some of these cards are slower than the decks they are
beating. It’s a classic Modern complaint that adding four Fulminator Mage
to your Jund sideboard means you lose 2-1 instead of 2-0 to Mono-Green
Tron. Half the time they are on the play and can Karn Liberated your land,
or Amulet Titan can trigger Primeval Titan. These cards can change close
matchup margins but won’t flip anything around.
The draw to these cards is that you can fire them off against other decks.
Land destruction is pretty good against control, can hamper an on the draw
Jund player, and maybe slow combo down a turn. They are never the best
thing you can have there, but extra cardboard across the metagame is nice.
One minor note about Mono-Green Devotion: The land focus here is auras that
can be stacked on non-basics. This is one huge edge to this deck in certain
metagames. A three-for-one with Molten Rain sucks, but you can get your one
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx activation under a Fulminator Mage.
Strip Mine Wannabes
–Ghost Quarter against Amulet Titan and Mono-Green Devotion
One of the better ways to combat any linear deck is freerolling hate cards
in your maindeck. These cards don’t even cost spell slots and do that!
Of course, colorless lands have a cost. Playing more than a miser one-of
Ghost Quarter almost requires a two-color deck. Or you can be a deck with
land tutors, in which case you’re playing Knight of the Reliquary or a land
linear prepared for the mirror.
In general, Field of Ruin is the better normal card here and Ghost Quarter
is the better hate card. You can Field of Ruin an early Treetop Village and
feel fine, but losing a land to Ghost Quarter them hurts. Ghost Quarter on
the hate side hits Devotion’s basics and is the cheapest option to leave up
to respond to an Amulet of Vigor trigger.
Tectonic Edge is just not good enough against most of these decks as they
win off lower land counts. Mono-Green Tron needs three lands and Amulet
Titan often hits four lands after you die to Primeval Titan.
Similar to the one shot spells, recursion of these lands is a way to change
them from a tool to a plan. Just due to game rules about land drops this
tends to feel a bit clunkier, but the recursion is full loops and not one
shot. The problem these days is most of these decks just have basic lands
to find. If you Ghost Quarter Mono-Green Tron three times they just have
three Forests, six total lands, and cast Wurmcoil Engine. Whoops.
Eventually they will be locked, but eventually is too long.
With Crumble to Dust, you can completely shut down some of these decks.
Mono-Green Tron going down a land on the battlefield or more is brutal for
their plan to now naturally cast everything, and Titan Shift without
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle is a bad draft deck.
By default four mana is too slow against Mono-Green Tron. You need some
other way to bridge the gap, either acceleration or counter magic.
The other decks don’t have quite the same vulnerability. Blue Scapeshift
doesn’t have to expose Valakut the way Titan Shift does, has redundant
Mountains, and a four-mana sorcery is sketchy against the Remand deck.
Fail to Find
-Mono-Green Tron and Mono-Green Devotion
The problem with the anti-search creatures has always been the same.
Is a 2/2 living through Lightning Bolt?
Against Amulet Titan, that answer is often yes because they don’t play it
and must Tolaria West for their Engineered Explosives or Walking Ballista.
Against Scapeshift decks, that’s a hard no. Leonin Arbiter is especially
funny as they have the extra mana on the kill turn, meaning it just slows
their ramp or is Ghost Quarter backup.
There’s reasons to want an anti-search creature in this spot, but they
won’t save you from these decks unless you apply other pressures. Being a
Hatebears pile isn’t a reason by the way, I’m thinking more splash damage
against other search effects or being the right cost for Collected Company.
I’m underselling Blood Moon a bit here. If Blood Moon remains on the
battlefield none of these decks are great at winning the game. But they all
have ways to remove it or just win regardless, except Amulet Titan which is
on real slim outs. Mono-Green Tron in particular is notorious for just
casting spells, sometimes not even activating Oblivion Stone because they
have escaped Blood Moon better than their opponent.
If you cast Blood Moon you also need to do things that kill or lock them
before they kill it or you anyways. I don’t undersell the card because it
isn’t good, but because people like to make decks where it’s bad.
The same rules as Blood Moon apply to Damping Sphere, where Mono-Green Tron
can just be a normal deck casting Wurmcoil Engine for full retail price.
Amulet Titan is slightly better at weaseling its way out of Sphere since
Gemstone Mine makes real mana.
This looks narrow, but Damping Sphere isn’t really obligated to hit all
these decks due to the other spell-hating half of the card. It also means
that it has a very real self-hampering effect when trying to race after
A good example: when playing the Hardened Scales deck, you may need to
Damping Sphere turn two or three to halt Mono-Green Tron. But then your
four-mana double two-drop plays don’t work or Stirrings into a XX threat is
more likely to result in a 1/1 Walking Ballista than a 2/2. It’s still the
best card there as Ancient Stirrings picks it up, but other decks may want
to find less detrimental answers.
Minor note: While Damping Sphere stops Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx in Green
Devotion, it doesn’t stop their Utopia Sprawls as the Sprawl itself makes
the extra mana. They will still just cast their spells with their other
The problem is the lack of value elsewhere. While it might look like Alpine
Moon handles Celestial Colonnade and Buried Ruin as well as Ghost Quarter,
it doesn’t tap for mana when you care more about their other cards. I
wouldn’t be shocked to see one Alpine Moon make Jund or Grixis Death’s
Shadow sideboards, but more starts stretching your ability to present a
flawless sideboarded 60 cards across the field.
The following decks are artifact linears:
- 4 Arcbound Ravager
- 4 Ornithopter
- 3 Steel Overseer
- 2 Memnite
- 3 Etched Champion
- 4 Signal Pest
- 4 Vault Skirge
- 4 Arcbound Ravager
- 4 Arcbound Worker
- 4 Steel Overseer
- 4 Hangarback Walker
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 2 Sparring Construct
Nothing is Better
Merely “pretty good:”
If you can play Stony Silence, do it.
Stony Silence is the gold standard. It knocks out the artifact deck’s mana
and best cards. It’s cheap enough that it lands before things can get
really dicey, bar the absolute best Cranial Plating draws. If it remains on
the battlefield, you’re a huge favorite to win the game.
Now for the caveats.
Lantern Control can win through Stony Silence thanks to a couple exceptions
in Ensnaring Bridge and Pithing Needle. This was a common issue for the
Hatebears decks against Lantern Control, where they would just lock the
combat step, Pithing Needle the worst offenders, and eventually draw
Maelstrom Pulse to put you right in the draw lock. If you want to Stony
Silence Lantern Control, you still need other ways to manage artifacts or a
way to kill outside of combat and activated abilities.
Time to mention a quick trend with the artifact decks: basically every
artifact hate spell is good against most of the artifact decks, unlike the
spread of land hate against those decks. I’ll mention when a spell is
clearly better or worse, but assume the answer is a card is pretty good
against the category if it’s mentioned here.
Why do I mention this here? The weird outlier in artifact decks is
Puresteel Combo, which basically only folds to Stony Silence and the rest
doesn’t matter. Honestly, it barely counts as an artifact deck as the
artifacts don’t have game text beyond 0 and equipment, so that’s all you
will hear on that deck.
The destroy all artifacts cards are pretty good, but maybe not right now.
Shatterstorming Ironworks just draws them cards. Not great. Even the
instant speed Fracturing Gust often lets them reassemble a fair amount
because their namesake, Krark-Clan Ironworks, enters the battlefield at
some point. Not ideal for leaving up five mana.
These cards are also slow. Lantern Control has access to Thoughtseize and
can sometimes use a quick draw lock to suppress opponent’s mana. Affinity
will have time to leave up Spell Pierce. Hardened Scales can establish a
large enough Hangarback Walker you don’t want to kill it, or at least an
The solution is usually mixing these with some form of ramp, like Crumble
to Dust mentioned in the Land section. You can’t bridge the gap with
counters the same way, but Birds of Paradise or Pyretic Ritual does the
One huge upside to these cards is answering Etched Champion. The Pyretic
Ritual decks might not care about that one, but Birds of Paradise decks and
U/R Blood Moon decks will. There are definitely other options, like the
devoid spell Kozilek’s Return or artifact Pia and Kiran Nalaar tokens, but
having a Shatterstorm might be what you need to tie things together.
All, or One
Shattering Spree, By Force, and Vandalblast are very similar to the
Shatterstorm category, but have bigger hoops to jump through. The red-only
requirement on Shattering Spree really limits it, and the fifth mana in
Vandalblast’s overload means it almost always comes too late for Affinity’s
goldfish kills. Both also get snagged by Inquisition of Kozilek.
The obvious reason to play these is if you want to cast them for one mana.
Sometimes Storm needs to kill some hate artifact cheaply against a
non-artifact deck or your Goblin deck needs a big effect against Affinity
but won’t pay four mana to destroy Ensnaring Bridge. Sometimes your
Snapcaster Mage deck wants the cheap removal early because it can chip shot
the rest of the game.
Everything Goes… Briefly
Very few Modern decks want to play Hurkyl’s Recall. The situation is
basically the exact same as it is in Vintage.
You need to kill them on the turn you flip their battlefield, or at least
using it to do something brutal. I will admit that is enticing against
Lantern Control, where one hit through Ensnaring Bridge is usually good
enough to close out.
Saviors of Kamigawa
All things considered, Kataki, War’s Wage is pretty mediocre. Or maybe it
just underperforms the high expectations it sets. The card wins games, but
your opponent can often struggle out from underneath it at times Stony
Silence or even Ancient Grudge would be too much to overcome.
These decks all have ways to kill Kataki, especially once they sideboard
extra Dismembers, Lightning Bolts, and Ghirapur Aether Grids. Sometimes
Kataki won’t even do anything before it dies, or maybe it eats their worst
artifacts on the way out. Or they just sacrifice Ichor Wellspring and you
actually helped them. It’s about 50/50 between it being a huge problem and
it being a minor inconvenience as a result of this counterplay.
One big reason to play Kataki, War’s Wage is that it is a two-cost
creature. There really isn’t anything else at the cost that provides that
impact, making it the best target for Chord of Calling or the best thing to
cast with Ancient Ziggurat against artifact decks. Sometimes all you need
is that extra turn or two, as it does hit their Mox Opals and Darksteel
Citadels and cripple their mana.
Somehow, destroying one thing now and one thing later is often better than
destroying everything once. The artifact decks are largely based on a
backbone of Mox Opal fast mana and Ancient Stirrings to find a critical
card or two. Ancient Grudge kills that critical card they do find, then the
next one they cast.
The reason it is most effective against Affinity is that they have no
counterplay besides shoving more things at you and hoping the second
Ancient Grudge isn’t there. Ironworks can just build a big battlefield to
cast another Krark-Clan Ironworks with floating mana, Lantern Control can
Grafdigger’s Cage and Academy Ruins, and Hardened Scales has its namesake
and Hangarback Walker to push through.
One is Enough
Smelt effects are the weakest artifact hate, but sometimes killing
something once is enough. Popping Ensnaring Bridge out of Lantern Control
is usually the best example of this, but there’s some other points you can
surgically hit one thing to close a game. Kill Cranial Plating, manage the
small creatures. An instant kill spell for Inkmoth Nexus that hits
everything else relevant. Stall Krark-Clan Ironworks for a turn or so and
kill them before they Buried Ruin it. The raw efficiency on Nature’s Claim
makes it pretty easy to argue anything is a good enough target if you want
You also see these because they come stapled to real effects. Abrade and
Kolaghan’s Command extend your deck and sideboard to present relevant 75s.
Often this comes alongside Snapcaster Mage to build your own Ancient
Grudge. Destructive Revelry falls into this category too, with the bonus
damage just being worth an extra half a card in Burn, or Rakdos Charm
because it does one-and-a-half other things. That said, these more flexible
effects are a bit expensive and leaving up three mana waiting for
Krark-Clan Ironworks is not going to pan out well.
Alternatively, you might be interested in your Shatter being Disenchant, or
more accurately Wear. Decks can lose games to Ghirapur Aether Grid or The
Antiquities War or Evolutionary Leap even if they have a million Ancient
Grudges, so a Seal of Primordium or two might even help you against the
decks raw artifact removal is the best against.
Putting Things Together
-“Enters the battlefield” triggers against Ironworks
These more expensive one-shot answers on a body are going to be equally
acceptable but not amazing against basically every artifact deck. Almost
every time one is in your deck you could play a more powerful card but
don’t want to. So, if you only want Kataki, War’s Wage over Stony Silence
because it’s a creature and you only want one shot answers if your goal is
to recur or precisely fire them off to bog down their deck for a turn, you
are only playing these creatures if your deck has some specific bonus
related to their creature-ishness or they are the most convenient tutor
Only resort to Reclamation Sage if your deck has Collected Company, Chord
of Calling, or Ancient Ziggurat. Same with Qasali Pridemage. Only Ingot
Chewer if your deck features Living End or similar effects, as Chalice of
the Void for one isn’t a huge deal in this format.
One small note on the Ironworks versus enters the battlefield triggers: you
can use artifact destruction and land destruction to choke them off four
mana. Living End is reasonably effective at doing this as a deck.
If you have been paying attention to Modern, you will know there are more
linear decks than just lands and artifacts even if Tron and Ironworks are
the best linear decks in the format. Spells, small creatures, and
graveyards build a lot of other degenerate strategies with their own
specific hate cards.
Just wait… there’s more of this to come.