New Modern, New Decks

With two cards banned and a potent small set added, Modern has experienced its biggest changes in years! Ari Lax has your guide to the emergent contenders in this strange new metagame for SCG Baltimore and the coming weeks!

Modern has taken a subtle but large system shock since Aether Revolt. The decks might not look completely new, but plenty of new cards or configurations have shifted how you have to play against existing decks. These are some of the most important updates from the last few weeks of Modern, and what that means for your deck of choice when combating them.

Eldrazi Tron

The Deck:

The brutality of early Thought-Knot Seers is meshed with an over-the-top backup plan for fast mana, resulting in the existing Eldrazi shell being able to stretch for bigger and more impactful threats. I want to say it still falls into the Bulky Midrange sector of the metagame with Bant Eldrazi, but it is straddling the line to Big Mana.

What It Presents:

Eldrazi previously was one of the decks that exploited midrange and control via tons of giant threats without becoming a true linear deck like Scapeshift or Tron. The Eldrazi Tron deck offers much of the same early plan while providing the additional crushing big-mana end-game. You go over the top of most of the tools midrange decks use to fight normal Eldrazi (random big threats like Olivia Voldaren, more Terminate-style removal) while being resilient against the tools they use to fight big mana decks (Fulminator Mage). I can’t imagine trying to beat this deck with Jund or Grixis ends well.

One of the issues with Bant Eldrazi is that Blood Moon is a hard lock off your main spells. With two or three Wastes and Ghost Quarters and Expedition Maps to find them, Eldrazi Tron can easily cast its best cards through “the hate.” Bant Eldrazi can run a Wastes and Path to Exile its own creatures, but that’s sketchy at best compared to the answer just being naturally integrated into your gameplan.

While it doesn’t solve every issue, Chalice of the Void handles some random spectrum of the format that may or may not give Bant Eldrazi a hard time. Decks that lose to Chalice of the Void are a little less reliable now against a section of the metagame that should be an easier matchup.

What Threatens It:

There exist a number of combo decks in the format where Chalice of the Void isn’t great against them. Against those decks you have two options: hope a colorless sideboard card magically exists, or hope you draw Thought-Knot Seer. Bant Eldrazi has real garbage insurance in blue cards like Negate and Stubborn Denial, while Warping Wail is much less of a broad-spectrum solution. You will have matchups you basically can’t ever win with Eldrazi Tron, which may or may not be an issue.

Death’s Shadow Delirium

The Deck:

Without Gitaxian Probe, Death’s Shadow had to adapt. The loss of the fast graveyard fill pushed the deck away from Become Immense, which opened up a more powerful threat in Tarmogoyf and the use of Traverse the Ulvenwald. You are now a deck that only has your best threats and some interaction, with a light splash of Temur Battle Rage to short-combo people.

What It Presents:

Old Death’s Shadow Aggro still played out like a Zoo deck many games, allowing other small decks the option of managing your best threats and exploiting your lower starting life total. With four fewer self-damaging cards and a virtual eight more giant threats, Death’s Shadow Delirium always outclasses opposing one-drops. You play out like a midrange deck there instead of Zoo, which means a deck like Burn is now solidly behind to your threats that blank Searing Blaze and cheap interaction instead of being a nail-biter.

Not overloading on small creatures means you aren’t force to overextend into Engineered Explosives for one. You are “evenly diversified” with four one-drops and four two-drops. Engineered Explosives is still a good card here, but more because it is just a spot removal spell than a Plague Wind. I doubt enough people will realize this to mitigate the splash damage if you play a non-Death’s Shadow deck the card is good against, but in a month or two the lack of Engineered Explosives will be exploitable for Hidden Herbalist decks. The same resiliency applies to Chalice of the Void, especially as you have Kolaghan’s Command and Abrupt Decay as answers to that card.

The discard aspect of the deck exists, but it changes shockingly little. Most of the Noble Hierarch decks that Collective Brutality lines up well against were already good matchups for Death’s Shadow due to the namesake card just crashing through their attempts to clog the battlefield, and the same applies to the combo decks you previously raced but now shred with discard and a clock.

What Threatens It:

Moving away from the small-ball cards means you are lighter on threats. You could previously rely on coming out under a removal-heavy deck without a sweeper. Now you basically can’t win if they are just overloaded on answers to your threats. Liliana of the Veil and the deck surrounding it are a nightmare, as is any Snapcaster Mage deck with enough Fatal Push or Terminate.

There are weird scenarios where only having two names of threats matters. In theory you can resolve a Street Wraith, but that’s somewhere between “dream scenario” and “embarrassing for both of us.”

You are now soft to graveyard hate in ways old Death’s Shadow could often ignore. Relic of Progenitus answers eight of your threats/tutors instead of the previous case where it stopped just Become Immense.

Gifts Storm

The Deck:

One of the decks Tom Ross talked about last week, Baral, Chief of Compliance has brought back a Storm shell that should be familiar to old Extended and Pauper players. The presence of multiple cost reduction creatures allows for a gameplan that revolves around higher-cost spells and chains that require more mana. In exchange, it’s a little less difficult to go off.

Note: I’ve seen Merchant Scroll in these decks and it doesn’t seem half bad.

What It Presents:

The draw to the Gifts Ungiven shell is that it takes less to go off. One Gifts Ungiven finds Rituals and a Past in Flames, which flashes back all of this, and the next Gifts finds Grapeshot and more stuff, and then you die. Previously I’ve stunted Storm via early pressure on their cantrips or timely discard on Ritual effects, and I’m not sure that is reliable any more. Not that it is bad, but they will win through light disruption a lot more than in the past.

As a result of needing fewer cards to go off via a Gifts Ungiven chain, Storm now gets to become an interactive deck. Remand is a legitimate card to combo with via Remanding your own Grapeshot for a second run (as long as the Grapeshot wasn’t flashed back) and prevents you from dying to opposing combo decks. You even get the bonus of the second line of text on Baral, Chief of Compliance. Opposing combo decks have had it easy against Storm for a number of years, and now I think Storm might actually just crush them all.

Explosive early Empty the Warrens are also just as good as they were with Gitaxian Probe. Untapping with a cost reducer is just it, but slotting a cost reducer into a turn 3 Ritual chain is basically free. You will get punked out by early Goblins with a fair deck without some kind of sweeper, and Engineered Explosives got much worse now that it isn’t a specialized answer for Pyromancer Ascension.

I also think removal got worse against Storm. They are much more likely to have extracted value from the two-drop you killed via an immediate Ritual or other spell, much more likely to just play their thing and kill you when you tap out, and much more likely to just find another of the same effect and not care about spending the cantrips to get there the way Pyromancer Ascension would make them care.

What Threatens It:

Storm is still Storm. It still loses to the same really good anti-Storm cards as before. If anything, graveyard hate is better against them, as more of the graveyard hate spells shut off Gifts Ungiven than shut off Pyromancer Ascension. Grafdigger’s Cage is the primary example, but Pyromancer Ascension even powered through Relic of Progenitus in a way Past in Flames off Gifts Ungiven just can’t. These cards have good applications elsewhere too, such as the spell stoppers against Expertise decks or Ad Nauseam or graveyard hate against lingering Dredge decks, so people will beat Storm without having to 100% tell themselves to.

Expertise Goryo’s Vengeance

The Deck:

Another deck talked about by Tom Ross last week, the old Goryo’s Vengeance shell has spliced in the Kari Zev’s Expertise plus Fuse interaction to cast both halves of Breaking//Entering for more routes to an early monster.

What It Presents:

Tom talked about how the fact that Breaking//Entering resolving both halves in a row without priority in the middle shuts off Surgical Extraction and Scavenging Ooze as ways to stop the combo, but that extends even further than he described. The best card against Goryo’s Vengeance has always been Dispel, but now it has a sorcery way to win the game. Time to shift to the much clunkier Negate that gets severely punished by “end-step instant win condition, untap and kill you again.”

Fuse also combines the cost of the cards when they are cast fused, so Breaking//Entering cast fused has a converted mana cost of eight when on the stack (it is “two and six” elsewhere, which is kinda eight but not actually). That means the Spell Snares aimed at Puresteel Paladin and your Goryo’s Vengeance just do nothing. Again, another great answer is just bricked for a random reason.

What Threatens It:

Discard is still good against the combo deck that requires a few specific pieces and is light on cantrips. Shocker.

Unlike the Nourishing Shoal variants, you often don’t win the game the turn you “go off.” Griselbranding into a second monster is really hard when you only draw around fourteen cards. You probably win the next turn, but that gap is exploitable. If you are already low on life, your combo might just be a “drain seven and hope to topdeck,” which is really awkward. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is the real threat of the two; Griselbrand is just the backup.

Puresteel Paladin

The Deck:

Drawing a ton of cards and winning on turn 2 is still very dumb when it happens.

What It Presents:

This is the fast combo deck with Mox Opal I’ve been waiting/warning about. You can and will just die on turn 2 to this deck, and if you can’t interact with it, that will be the result of most games.

What the deck gained was redundancy. These lists don’t have nearly enough Noxious Revivals. They allow you to keep a smaller Retract chain going, count as a land when you recur a fetchland, and count as a Puresteel Paladin when your first one dies or is countered.

The combo is inherently non-exhaustive. When the Puresteel Paladin deck tries to go off and fizzles, it doesn’t completely burn out. It will end the combo with extra cards in hand that are likely a mix of other combo enablers it can cast with an untap step to go off again. Hoping you are lucky ends after they keep a hand of cards.

Be aware of the hexproof 4/4 backup plan. Bastion Inventor wearing a Cathar’s Shield and Bone Saw throws down with the best fair deck threats and is great against all of the cards trying to stop the main combo. I’m unsure how you stop this if it is good against you, but just dying to it seems stupid.

What Threatens It:

Even with so many extra cantrip creatures, you can still be run out of your single-card combo piece. Enough one-drop answers will stop you. Path to Exile shutting down Noxious Revival is especially brutal.

Without Mox Opal active, this deck becomes a much slower combo deck. Multiple Puresteel Paladins and an untap step can still power through Stony Silence or Chalice of the Void, but passing with a two-drop and untapping is a best case scenario against many Modern decks.

Abzan Company

I wrote about this deck two weeks ago and little has changed. New cards and small tweaks and bans have combined to remove some of the obstacles facing this previously extremely powerful archetype.

What It Presents:

Beyond the previous fast combo and finding backbreaking hate cards, Company decks are now super-grindy in new ways. Previously your grindy aspect involved getting a bunch of things down and activating Gavony Township, which could be stopped with tons of removal, or via Eternal Witness chains, which could be stopped with Scavenging Ooze. Now you just have more proactive routes to card advantage. Tireless Tracker is the big one, as it builds Divinations from lands and takes off on cards and size swiftly, but Voice of Resurgence plus Renegade Rallier sequences are often fast enough to get under the graveyard hate that stopped Eternal Witness.

What Threatens It:

The fast, stall-ignoring combo decks Abzan Company struggled with still exist. Dredge still exists. They are less popular, but that just makes it more obnoxious when you get paired against them and die.

Kill a Birds of Paradise, discard your good card. Collective Brutality was part of what made me stop playing Toolbox decks and it is only getting better. Tireless Tracker makes it not totally devastating, but the card hurts to have resolved against you, no matter what you try to do about it.

Restore Balance

I am slowly infecting other people with the idea Restore Balance is fun, and Danny Batterman has put some work into figuring out a new configuration of the deck for Aether Revolt. Baral’s Expertise has opened the door to a whole new color.

What It Presents:

Baral’s Expertise really opens up the play of this deck. The big thing is another reason to play blue allows you to play Ardent Plea over the target-required Demonic Dread, but there’s more. Baral’s Expertise can cast a cascade spell to hit a Restore Balance, solving some of the problems the no-black list had in the past. Fieldmist Borderpost couldn’t cast Violent Outburst, but it can cast the Expertise-cascade turducken just fine.

One of the previous problems with Restore Balance was a weakness to noncreature artifacts. Baral’s Expertise can send those right back to hand to be discarded, and moving to Bant Charm and Detention Sphere as interaction adds even more answers to issues you previously had.

What Threatens It:

You have more answers to noncreature artifacts, but that doesn’t mean more Chalice of the Voids showing up doesn’t suck. Losing Lingering Souls with black is a big blow to beating that card out of certain decks, and even more decks that didn’t lose to that card will be showing up with Chalice to make life hard for you.

The manabase can’t support double red and Bant, which means losing Anger of the Gods. Radiant Flames is close, but you are much weaker if Dredge resurfaces as you need to play actual hate cards instead of sharing sideboard slots with cards that beat aggro.

The Trends

Overall the trends appear to be “Chalice of the Void is back to good and discard spells are great,” but I would not be surprised if in a month this was barely scratching the surface. I didn’t even mention Fatal Push or Felidar Guardian. Aether Revolt has been hugely impactful for such a small set, and while playing what you know is still a great plan for #SCGBALT, you have to be on top of the rapidly shifting metagame and know how to adjust for all the progress that has occurred.