I don’t just have one Modern deck endorsement for SCG Regionals next week. I have several of them.
I don’t think Modern right now has a clear best deck. Or if it does, that deck is only temporarily the best as people adjust. Importantly, Modern right now is significantly more difficult than it has been in a while. The format is still linear, but with more lines dependent on exactly what your opponent is playing than an abstract plan to deal twenty damage. Playing a deck you know well is more important than playing the best deck as long as your choice is good.
So based on what’s good and aiming for a diverse selection of decks, here’s what decks I would play for each pillar of the Modern format.
Ancient Stirrings – Whir Prison
Technically this is also a Mox Opal deck, but I’m basically cheating and calling Mox Opal and Ancient Stirrings different pillars so I can endorse a different deck with the most broken card in the format.
Whir Prison is really, really good right now. As in, “I won 80% of my Magic Online matches” good, and my only prior prep was watching susurrus_mtg stream an online MCQ in his normal Prison Mike attire. A year ago, I had some really harsh words about the deck, but that was then and this is now.
The format got soft to Chalice of the Void due to Arclight Phoenix. Fewer Young Pyromancers are floating around, so Ensnaring Bridge with a card or two in hand is a lock. The Prison deck incorporated Ancient Stirrings to be more reliable while also trimming lands and expensive cards for zero-drops to become more streamlined. Sai, Master Thopterist got printed as an alternate win condition that plays as a chump-blocking lock piece.
That all said, know what you’re getting into if you register this deck. It isn’t that hard, and most of the “tough” matchups are literally “The one trick Mono-Red Prison players don’t want you to know!” There are times you just lose the match to a single card and it sucks. Sometimes people are jerks and play Zacama, Primal Calamity in Amulet Titan or have Shatterstorm and Tireless Tracker in TitanShift.
If you have limited time to practice but want to Whir Prison, I would advise working on the Amulet Titan and Affinity matchups, as they have the most intricate locks to assemble. Also know how the mirror works, at least in theory. Someone gets decked Game 1 after all the Sorcerous Spyglasses stick, so never cast Bottled Cloister.
You may notice that having this deck in the Ancient Stirrings recommendation boots Amulet Titan. That deck is good, but it isn’t uniquely great. The shift to Mono-Red Phoenix hasn’t been great for it, because that deck has a great clock and Blood Moon. The latest tech of Coalition Relic definitely made Amulet Titan more reliable and resilient, so if this deck is your jam, I would advise trying that out.
By the way, the crash course for the matchups I said were hard for Whir Prison:
The trick to Mono-Red Prison, via Ray “FuturePro” Perez, is sideboard out Whir of Invention so they can’t get stranded if they have Blood Moon. From there, you can lock out Goblin tokens with Ensnaring Bridge, Sorcerous Spyglass the planeswalkers, and hopefully use a sideboard win condition to race a miser Shatterstorm.
Amulet Titan is about locking out their action, but it gets way easier if you can afford to lock their tutors too. You will typically play Game 1s with a Chalice of the Void on zero, ideally with a Welding Jar on the battlefield first to cover their one Engineered Explosives. Ensnaring Bridge is the other must-have, and Damping Sphere buys tons of time or steals games where they aggressively play a Pact. From there they can win with Slayers’ Stronghold Plant tokens, ping with Walking Ballista, or have some mise out like Zacama, Primal Calamity or Academy Ruins.
Usually you just Sorcerous Spyglass the first two, but you can also Tectonic Edge and Witchbane Orb them, respectively. Their main counterplay to your softer lock elements is Sakura-Tribe Scout for instant bounce lands versus Tectonic Edge or recursive Bojuka Bog (don’t needlessly lose good lands!). You usually have to handle Snakes in a long game, but that’s a long-term concern.
Yeah, that’s a mouthful. Thankfully, sideboarding makes everything so much easier. Oh, and also don’t let them Vesuva your Academy Ruins if you don’t have Engineered Explosives locked out, and Witchbane Orb stops Bojuka Bog.
Affinity is equal parts about a traditional Ensnaring Bridge hard lock and about finding your angles to sweep or Sorcerous Spyglass their stuff. It’s the one matchup you just have to play because it’s the closest to normal Magic and not Tutor Chess.
And after all that, Whir Prison might not even be in the five most difficult Modern decks, because at least the plays for each matchup are mostly predetermined.
Mox Opal – Frenzy Affinity
- 4 Arcbound Ravager
- 4 Ornithopter
- 1 Master of Etherium
- 4 Steel Overseer
- 3 Memnite
- 4 Signal Pest
- 4 Vault Skirge
Unlike Whir Prison, I can’t quite pinpoint why Affinity suddenly got good after the Krark-Clan Ironworks ban. It was really bad against Ironworks, but so was Hardened Scales, and it’s not phenomenal against Arclight Phoenix decks. I just know it’s winning a lot, I can’t argue with that, and if people adjust for Whir Prison, Affinity can exploit that. Affinity counters Shatterstorms with Spell Pierce and turbos back after Hurkyl’s Recall, while Whir Prison just functions through Stony Silence and tanks an Ancient Grudge that would beat Affinity.
That isn’t to say the deck doesn’t have slight changes and upgrades. Experimental Frenzy hybridizes the old top end of Master of Etherium and Etched Champion into something that is both hard to handle and individually overwhelming. Dispatch numbers in sideboards are up to handle Thing in the Ice and Arclight Phoenix. Besides that, the deck has been in a time capsule for half a decade.
Faithless Looting – Dredge
From 2007 to 2018, I didn’t like any Dredge deck without Bazaar of Baghdad. Last year I came around to the deck being conditionally good, and now it’s just solidly great.
I have one strong deckbuilding opinion beyond copying the stock lists. Play at least one Darkblast. The card is so broken when it’s good, and almost nothing else provides that much free win potential at so little cost. I also like the Vengeful Pharaoh tech resurfacing to handle Temur Battle Rage but I’m not as attached to it.
Lightning Bolt – Burn
- 4 Lightning Bolt
- 4 Lava Spike
- 2 Lightning Helix
- 4 Rift Bolt
- 4 Searing Blaze
- 2 Skullcrack
- 4 Boros Charm
- 4 Skewer the Critics
This was a bit of a tossup. I think Mono-Red Phoenix is a slightly better goldfish deck than Burn, as the better creatures plow through minor disruption, but Burn is somehow dodging a lot of dedicated hate right now, while Mono-Red Phoenix gets caught in the Izzet Phoenix crossfire.
Sandydog’s Boros Burn list lines up with everything I’ve observed since spectacle’s release. Lightning Helix and Skullcrack are good but not in multiples. White sideboard cards are good. Light Up the Stage is too high-variance, both to cast and in impact. Eidolon of the Great Revel is a must-have to ensure some of your cards leverage to more than four damage a spell. Skewer the Critics is the real deal.
The only changes I might make are cutting Grim Lavamancer and shifting the sideboard for the other two copies of Lightning Helix in the 75, and taking a hard stance on graveyard hate at either three Rest in Peace to hit fairer decks or jamming the full six or seven hate cards for Dredge. In the end, these are almost exactly the same decisions I was making in December with Burn. We worked backward this time, starting with Rakdos Burn brews and unwinding to the same old deck with four new Skewer the Critics.
Thoughteize – Golgarbage
I don’t like Thoughtseize in Modern right now. It’s bad against literally every other deck I’ve endorsed.
Grixis Death’s Shadow is a shell of its former self. Fatal Push isn’t good. Lightning Bolt is just a flexible Lava Spike. Grixis Death’s Shadow is just a weird combo deck that exposes itself to a million horrible ways to die. Lingering Souls is bad, so Abzan and Mardu are too. And don’t even get me started on Jund.
At least Golgari Midrange attempts to be a pseudo-Prison deck with cards like Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. It’s super medium, but it owns it.
If you want to try some stuff, I still like Young Pyromancer and countermagic with my Thoughtseize. I could also see Ensnaring Bridge being successful with Thoughtseize. But the current lists are just winning on inertia.
Noble Hierarch and Aether Vial – Humans
- 4 Meddling Mage
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 3 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 2 Mayor of Avabruck
- 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- 1 Anafenza, the Foremost
- 4 Mantis Rider
- 3 Reflector Mage
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 3 Kitesail Freebooter
- 2 Militia Bugler
Unlike Mox Opal and Ancient Stirrings, I won’t double dip here. I think the non-Hierarch Aether Vial decks are terrible, and the non-Vial Noble Hierarch decks are really soft to the currently favored red spells like Gut Shot.
There aren’t enough creature mirrors to warrant fliers over heavy hitters, and there are more Primeval Titans than Krark-Clan Ironworks for some reason, so Humans wins out over the less streamlined Bant Spirits.
I think your Humans list should be relatively lean this weekend. I’ve been really impressed with Tajic, Legion’s Edge as the bonus three-drop for quick Champion of the Parish kills, and even a simple curve like Champion of the Parish, Meddling Magic, Tajic is a clean twenty damage on Turn 4 due to haste and mentor. I don’t love Mayor of Avabruck due to the fragility and would stick to classic good two-drops. The rest is fairly set already, so fire away.
Serum Visions – Azorius Control
As I said last summer, Azorius Control is a really messed-up deck. It just struggles against some highly resilient and optimized strategies. Not full-on losses, but if you fight Humans and Mono-Green Tron every round, you’re going to go 2-3 drop, 4-3 on a good day.
We have re-entered nonsense time in Modern and Azorius Control’s broad-stroke power is shining again. Humans is notably reducing the number of Kitesail Freebooters it plays, which starts shifting a dicey matchup back your way.
If I played Azorius Control, I would test out maindeck Rest in Peace, but I can see Search for Azcanta being too good to cripple. There’s also a good chance I would play a Circle of Protection: Red in the sideboard for Burn and Arclight Phoenix.
Just please don’t play Jeskai Control. I can’t even say Benjamin Nikolich works miracles, because watching his matches it looks more like his opponents just decide to not win.
I might be overlooking Storm as my Serum Visions suggestion. There’s way less Meddling Mage and Spell Queller now, but the deck can struggle to assemble the number of pieces you need to win against removal and pressure. I also think it’s soft to graveyard hate and a clock, accelerated Chalice of the Void, and counters and a clock, all of which are prevalent in an Arclight Phoenix metagame.
I’m definitely not overlooking Ad Nauseam as my Serum Visions deck. Even if there’s less Thoughtseize around and even if Burn is a free win, the deck always disappoints against opponents who attack your mana or just take some other angle.
Wild Card – Mono-Red Prison
- 4 Simian Spirit Guide
- 1 Magus of the Moon
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 2 Walking Ballista
- 1 Hazoret the Fervent
If Chalice of the Void and Ensnaring Bridge are good in Whir Prison, they’re probably good elsewhere. Blood Moon is just another hit-or-miss game ender.
I don’t love this deck, as it doesn’t have the consistency and flexible power of Whir Prison, but all the other wild card options were disappointing. Am I supposed to be endorsing Selesnya Hexproof against Thing in the Ice and Ensnaring Bridge?
Or really, can I endorse a deck that is clearly less powerful than discarding Arclight Phoenix to Faithless Looting?
The floor for playability in Modern right now is beating Arclight Phoenix, Thing in the Ice, and fast Monastery Swiftspear draws. Behind all these good decks, those two decks are the baseline test they need to pass. Your alternative deck choice needs to face them down too.
Figure that out and then worry about the rest of the Mox Opal, Ancient Stirrings, Lightning Bolt, Noble Hierarch, and more decks out there.