Modern Thoughts For A Modern Format

Josh looks at how he expects Modern to shift between #PTBNG and #GPRichmond and what qualities are most important when making your metagame choices.

GP Richmond

Last time I wrote about Modern, I took a stand on the Deathrite Shaman banning which some of you simply did not like. This was expected and while I still think the format would be best served with the elf around it looks like not too much really changed without it, which is to say B/G/x midrange is a very real part of the metagame. Apparently the amount of B/G/x decks dropped from a 25% metagame share to around 8%, which may have been the only goal of the banning – and perhaps they can then call it a success. Regardless, Modern is an interesting environment and one that is poised to break records.

I also spoke about the other changes to the banlist. I still think Wild Nacatl is a great card and one that people were simply too ready for to make a lot of headway. If people had let their guard down, the story would have been different. If I recall correctly, Wild Nacatl made up something like 16% of the field but it didn’t make up any of the Top 8 decks. Bitterblossom was another card I was excited about, but it failed to make noticeable waves. Just six (!) people played the card in Faeries, and while three of them made it to Day Two and had winning records with the deck, certainly none of them made Top 8 or won the tournament. In the same vein, certainly no one was thinking unbanning Bitterblossom was a mistake, and perhaps it really is fine. Wild Nacatl might in fact balance out Bitterblossom, which is also okay.

That brings us to tomorrow. Tomorrow Grand Prix Richmond will begin, with quite possibly the full 5,000 people vying for the title of champion. The stories that come from the tournament will be of impressive come-from-behind wins, amazing topdecks, absurd mana floods and “expensive” cards but before the stories can be told first we must all pick decks. To do so we must first consider what we already know.

Players who attend the GP and are inexperienced with Modern will look to the results of the Pro Tour to find decks that interest them. Channel Fireball also ran a 5k in California over the weekend with Affinity taking the top prize. The entirety of the top 8 consisted of two Affinity decks, two Living End decks, G/W Hate Bears, U/W/R Twin, Merfolk and RUG Twin. The Top 8 decks of the Pro Tour consisted of U/W/R Control, Melira Pod, RUG Twin, UR Twin, Storm, Affinity, Blue Moon, and U/W/R Twin.

This isn’t exactly the picture of diversity, but it does give us a solid idea of what we need to prepare for. In addition to these people, of course, we have people who have been saving their hot new tech for the GP and will then unleash it on the world, people who have time to test in a normal way, and finally the Modern “grinders” will play what they know (for example, you can expect Sam Pardee to be casting Birthing Pod).

This brings us to what we could call an established metagame – we know what battles we want to be fighting. Maybe we aren’t quite sure how to do so, but we know where we want to be. To me, it’s interesting that the deck that won the Pro Tour was a pure control strategy and not something more proactive. I would really expect a control strategy to take the reins after the Pro Tour, when specific tools can be chosen to fight specific battles. I think that given the high concentration of burn spells in the Shaun McLaren’s deck, he probably took advantage of some of the more precarious mana bases that people chose to run in the PT.

This was the first thing that occurred to me while testing for this Grand Prix. Each deck I’d try would spend 4-8 life just casting its spells in the early turns of the game. In no way would this spending of life guarantee a victory… often it spelled certain doom instead. Essentially, if your deck is only racing (i.e. combo) and cannot defend itself, you should not be playing a three-color mana base without any basic lands, and as such I’m predicting the three color Twin variants will fail at this GP. Now I’m not exactly suggesting everyone run out and play Zoo or a variant thereof, but it certainly starts to look more tempting once you play with or against some of these three-color combo decks.

If you aren’t super keen on merely attacking, you could do something more midrangey with your combat step, and play something like Owen Turtenwald’s Big Zoo:

This is the list that he recommended for a theoretical tomorrow Pro Tour and I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up playing similar to this deck in the GP. This deck gets to take a proactive approach to every matchup with its sleek mana curve and great creatures including the somewhat maligned Wild Nacatl. This deck isn’t really bothered by Anger of the Gods, which was in full force at the PT and seems to be quite a problem for decks that are trying to go “small and fast” (whereas this deck is somewhat larger and a little slower).

Other than the Cats in this deck attacking into a Courser of Kruphix (which seems to be gaining steam as not only a Standard staple, as I predicted, but also a Modern staple!) isn’t really an issue, which is definitely something to think about. In addition to being proactive against decks with “stronger” plans (like comboing or drawing a lot of cards with Sphinx’s Revelation) you also get access to white sideboard cards which have become the very best in the business. Ethersworn Canonist, Rule of Law, Stony Silence and Linvala, Keeper of Silence are all the real deal.

This deck is great because Knight of the Reliquary lets you find tools to finish them off (much like the Knight is used in the Legacy format, but with slightly worse options of course) and Scavenging Ooze gives you a lot of power against not only Living End and Melira Pod but also just in a Goyf or Knight fight. I don’t think Ooze is at its strongest in this deck, since you never quite have extra green mana lying around, but Scavenging Ooze is a card that I’m excited is in Modern now (courtesy of the M14 reprint) and is one that I’m sure we’ll see for years to come.

If the idea of playing Ooze and Knight to answer some of your opponents threats appeals to you, then I think a Jund-style deck or a truly midrange deck might be a good option. It’s the other side of the coin for me, personally.

Phyrexian Obliterator is a card that I never considered playing in a constructed environment until I heard Reid Duke did so at the PT. I am pretty sure I lost to the card in draft a few times many moons ago, and I probably rare-drafted it or tried to play it a few times myself, but beyond that I never gave it much thought. Right now the card is well-positioned to give headaches to Pod decks that can’t really block it or remove it, and it is also a great threat against any deck that is trying to attack. In a mirror or pseudo-mirror only Liliana of the Veil and Maelstrom Pulse or Putrefy can potentially answer the Obliterator, and against aggro decks with white they have four total Paths to contain your Tarmogoyfs and your Obliterators and whatever else you chose to include in your deck. Again, for reference, Reid Duke’s deck from the Pro Tour:

Like I said, this deck is a great choice for the obvious reasons. It has game against everyone courtesy of a sick discard suite. Not many people were ready for Liliana of the Veil at the PT, assuming that the death of Deathrite Shaman was enough to keep the Lilianas in the binders, but of course she is amazing – making it so that a combo deck can’t sandbag pieces as well as killing any blue flash creatures like an Exarch or a Pestermite means Liliana is as great as she ever was. Indeed it was the removal of Deathrite Shaman that allows a deck like this to even exist.

Without Deathrite Shaman in the format you no longer need to play Lightning Bolt (although it can kill Cats and various Affinity pieces, so I still like it.) This means you can build a smoother mana base if you want, or go all-out and play Phyrexian Obliterator on the other side of the coin. I also think it’s nice that this deck isn’t doing anything confusing. I’ve played similar decks before and I’m sure you have too, if you were to show up with this deck at the Grand Prix on minimal testing you wouldn’t be that far behind the curve, simply because of how straightforward the game plan is. I do think managing the mana in this deck can be tricky (yes, that’s four black mana symbols) but otherwise I am excited about casting Phyrexian Obliterator at a Grand Prix!

If neither of these green creature strategies sounds appealing to you, then I’d like to bring to your attention the fact that traditional U/B Faeries actually has a good matchup against a lot of the decks that have been winning. Not only is the current iteration of Storm a good matchup for the Faeries deck, the Twin decks and the Pod decks are as well. If you can find a way to tune the creature matchups (Deathmark and Damnation would be my choice, but Threads of Disloyalty, Sower of Temptation, and Vedalken Shackles is another appealing option) I think the deck can do well this weekend. I regret not spending more time trying to find an optimal list, but if I were going to start, I’d look at Shota Yasooka’s deck from the PT in Valencia:

A normal smattering of everything you’d find except for Snapcaster Mage. I love Snapcaster Mage and I know you might also, but tapping out on your turn is essentially the last thing you want to do with a Faeries deck, and Snapcaster Mage essentially creates a glut at the three- and four-slot, which is something you’re already naturally burdened with due to things like Mistbind Clique and Cryptic Command. It’s basically not what we’re in the market for. If this is your jam (and for many of you it certainly used to be), then may I recommend a few things:

Sword of Feast and Famine is great, but I also think Sword of Fire and Ice can be a strong way to interact with Voice of Resurgence. I also think I’d play exactly one Scion of Oona, not only as a way to deal with opposing Abrupt Decays but also for the mind game value (which in my opinion is very real). If they see it in your hand when they take a look, or if you “get them,” they will be scared for the entirety of the match, even if you happen to board out the lone copy (not necessarily recommending this either, but it’s possible).

If I am indeed again wrong about the traditional U/B Faeries deck, then perhaps this U/R Faeries deck might be good:

Credit to Tw33Ty on Magic Online for 4-0ing with the following list:

This deck looks pretty good to me and given infinite time I’d have tried it out as well. It’s the same idea – flash creatures, a clock that comes into play on their turn, counterspells and removal – but it doesn’t have the discard suite or Bitterblossom. I don’t know if trading sideboard Blood Moon for maindeck Bitterblossom is a good trade, but I can certainly imagine an environment where I’d want to do so.

Indeed, it seems that Modern is all about mana bases right now. Games will be won and lost by those who have figured out how to play basics in their deck, or the pressure put upon those who do not. I know I want to be casting Tarmogoyf in this format, and after that I am not sure if it’s Wild Nacatl or Thoughtseize. While I may be wrong about Faeries this time, last time and next time, I am pretty sure Green is where it’s at in Modern right now.

What are you guys excited to try in Modern?

GP Richmond