SCG Atlanta Predictions For The Big Weekend!

Several our trusted writers are in the same room discussing the likely look of Modern at SCG Atlanta and beyond! Vote for your opinion at the bottom!

[Welcome to another edition of

Fact or Fiction


Today, Ari Lax, Ross Merriam, and Sam Black are here to render their
verdicts on five statements about Modern just in time for SCG Atlanta.
Don’t forget to vote for the winner at the end!]

The only reason Ironworks has been dominating Modern recently is because
players aren’t packing the necessary hate.

Ari Lax: Fact
. We saw this exact same pattern with Lantern Control. “Oh no this new
artifact combo deck is weird, and I don’t know how to fight it because I
can’t play Magic Online against it, send help.”

Krark-Clan Ironworks is a weird combo deck. It doesn’t have to expend many
resources to start a combo, it has many tools to reup on another attempt,
and it has weird beatdown plans. All the ways people like to fight combo
don’t work that well.

The right hate cuts Ironworks’ card advantage from under it, like Stony
Silence or Leyline of the Void. Not Ancient Grudge. It also isn’t great and
being fast and resilient, so if your Infect or Affinity showed up
with Thoughtseize or Spell Pierce, they won’t have fun. Don’t try to just
Thoughtseize or Meddling Mage them down, it won’t work out well. Hit them
hard, fast, or both.

Ross Merriam: Fiction . With Ironworks being a new deck that is very complicated to play and thus
difficult to understand from the other side, there’s no doubt that lack of
familiarity with the matchup, and thus a lot of unprepared sideboards have
played into the deck’s recent success. There are a lot of ways to disrupt
the deck from Stony Silence and artifact hate to graveyard hate like Rest
in Peace and Surgical Extraction, but finding the right mix is tough. I
also think the rise of Humans as a white-based aggro deck that can’t
reliably cast Stony Silence has caused that card to decline in the

But this isn’t the only factor. Ironworks is a good deck that has been
well-tuned by a great player in Matt Nass. In particular, Matt’s prowess
with combo decks of all stripes is undeniable. I’m ready to call him the
greatest combo player of all time, and I can’t think of anyone else that
would even be in the conversation. I’m confident that the metagame can
adjust to Ironworks, but it’s never going to adjust to Matt.

Sam Black: Fact but…
This is kind of self-evidently true. Any deck can be hated out of Modern.
The question is whether people can/should realistically adapt enough to
beat it/how easily it can be hated.

There are a ton of sideboard cards that are good against Ironworks, but
none of the are lights out-Ironworks has counterplay and it’s very good at
digging for cards. Certainly the number of Stony Silences in the field
matters in terms of how often Ironworks wins, but cards like Ancient Grudge
might not do as much as you’d hope. Ultimately, it a very good deck just in
terms of the strength, consistency, resilience, and flexibility, and that
means hating it out isn’t a simple matter.

Given its sustained success in 2018, Mardu Pyromancer is now the best
Thoughtseize deck in Modern.

Ari Lax: Temporary Fact
. Mardu Pyromancer did a couple things really well and is currently the
best Thoughtseize deck in the format. It wins mirrors because all its
threats are card advantage and it has the deepest access to hate cards of
any Thoughtseize deck.

But Lingering Souls kinda sucks right now. It was best against other fair
decks which Mardu has driven out of the metagame. Blood Moon is okay, but
Mardu Pyromancer isn’t the best Blood Moon deck out there. Besides
Affinity, Mardu Pyromancer doesn’t really like playing against the linear
decks that line up to exploit fair decks. I think we’re waiting on a big
shift here. I don’t think the old Tarmogoyf style Jund, Abzan, or just G/B
deck are it either. It’s going to be something weird, just like Mardu was,
but whatever steps up to take its place is going to be another huge shift
in the “fair” decks of Modern.

Ross Merriam: Fact
. I think it’s very close between Mardu Pyromancer and Grixis Death’s
Shadow, close enough that the difference is due to current metagame
conditions. So, I’m going to give Mardu a slight edge because it’s highly
positive matchup against Humans and the power of Lingering Souls. If the
format takes a turn toward fast combo then Grixis Death’s Shadow gets
better because it has a faster clock and counterspells in addition to
discard for disruption.

But right now, we have a format largely defined by removal-heavy control
decks and creature-heavy aggro decks and that’s where supplementing your
disruption and card selection with threats that generate direct card
advantage or multiple bodies is important, especially the latter since
those bodies buy time against aggro decks while making the spot removal
from control decks a liability.

As a general heuristic, I would say that Mardu Pyromancer is the best
Thoughtseize deck in fair metagames, while Grixis Death’s Shadow is the
best choice for unfair metagames. Right now, the metagame is fair, so Mardu
has the edge.

Sam Black: Fact
. Best Thoughtseize deck is a bold claim-this doesn’t just mean midrange
black deck-this includes Death’s Shadow, Lantern, and even Hollow One (if
you want to count sideboards) in addition to all the B/G/x decks.

I don’t have a lot of confidence, having never played the deck, but I could
certainly believe that it is, in fact, the best of those.

Though it continues to put up solid numbers, Five-Color Humans is no longer
the deck to beat in Modern.

Ari Lax: Fiction
. I did say recently say
“Humans is not the best deck in the format”
. I think I was right about it not being a Best Deck, capitals letters,
determined better than everything else. It’s still the best deck, as in the
scariest threat and the thing to beat.

Humans presents a fast clock that isn’t centralized to a specific card you
can answer. Similarly, it has a bunch of deck-crippling interactive or
really hate cards that are similarly decentralized. No matter what you’re
playing, you need to be able to handle these plans of attack. There’s just
another three or four decks you also must consider too, like Hollow One,
Tron, Jeskai, and so on.

Ross Merriam: Fact.
In general, I don’t see Modern has having a best deck. The format is too
diverse that even the most popular decks struggle to hit ten percent of the
metagame. So, when we saw Humans consistently hitting and exceeding that
mark, I expected it was an outlier that likely wouldn’t last.

At this point the metagame has adjusted to Humans and while it remains a
great deck and a strong choice for any tournament, it’s taken a step back
and is no longer the default best deck. There isn’t one right now. Humans,
Jeskai, Tron, Hollow One, and Mardu Pyromancer are all fine choices and the
list doesn’t end there. But this is the normal for Modern, so it shouldn’t
be surprising.

Sam Black: Fact
. “The deck to beat” isn’t a concept I like in Modern, but if you’re going
to award the title to a deck, it’s basically just a numbers game, with
maybe a slight asterisk if you think there’s a clear best deck that isn’t
the most popular. At the moment, the best data I know of (I tend to use MTGTop8.com‘s results aggregator) is
somewhat hard to make sense of with confidence. Over the last two months,
Humans is the most played deck at 10%, but in the last two weeks it’s down
to 3%. If that’s accurate, then the numbers just aren’t there for
Humans-it’s no longer the most popular deck, and you’d be hard pressed to
make the case that it’s the best.

After Ben Friedman’s Top 4 at Grand Prix Las Vegas, we’re due for a Grixis
Death’s Shadow revival this summer.

Ari Lax: Fact
. I’ve considered a lot of Modern decks recently, and the thought “There
aren’t a lot of Stubborn Denials around these days” has crossed my mind a
lot. I’m not sold on the Thoughtseize side of that deck, but jeez is one
mana Negate good against Tron, Krark-Clan Ironworks, and whatever random
trash people want to show up with.

I really hate Mishra’s Bauble though. But I love Faithless Looting and have
always thought it was way under appreciated. I used to hate Temur Battle
Rage, but I get it now. And that Bolt-Push split is just so nice.

Wait, wait, how long have I been on Magic Online? How did I get multiple
games into a league with this deck already? Oh wow I’ve missed
Thoughtseize-ing people, please never be a bad card again.

Ross Merriam:
I don’t think Ben’s result in Las Vegas plays much into this, other than
potentially showing another innovation in the archetype with the inclusion
of Faithless Looting, but Grixis Death’s Shadow is still a fine deck, just
not what it was last year. It needs to find the right metagame to be a
great choice rather than a good one, and we haven’t seen that metagame this

As I mentioned above, Grixis Death’s Shadow is a good choice to combat
unfair decks, because it has a great combination of pressure and multiple
forms of disruption with the card selection to put all the pieces together
in a timely fashion. It’s only a matter of time before the metagame turns
towards unfair decks again, and with the re-emergence of Tron in Las Vegas,
the move back toward fast combo should be coming next.

How long that next step takes is hard to predict. I thought the move toward
Tron would be much faster than it actually was, but I’d expect it sometime
in the next month or two, so Grixis Death’s Shadow should be
well-positioned by the end of the summer.

Sam Black: Fiction
. This will depend things like whether any cards are banned, of course, so
it’s a little hard to predict. As is, it’s one of the best decks against
Ironworks, so there’s certainly reason to pick it up, but ultimately it’s
hard for me to predict an uptick in Grixis Death’s Shadow if I really
believe Mardu Pyromancer, a deck that’s very good against Grixis Death’s
Shadow is the best Thoughtseize deck, it’s hard for me to expect a serious
revival here.

If an Ancient Stirrings deck wins SCG Atlanta this weekend, it needs to be
banned from Modern in the next Banned and Restricted announcement.

Ari Lax:
Fan Fiction. If you win one more event Ancient Stirrings, I’m going to turn
this whole tournament around and take you right back to Michael Majors’
cubicle in Renton.

Mox Opal, I won’t have you instigating things and blaming your older
brother for it. Sit down, be quiet, and be glad I’m more upset at him than

(Simian Spirit Guide is sitting in the front seat, texting away and being
glad everyone has forgotten about it. The Tron triplets got put in the
other van this trip and are someone else’s problem.)

Ross Merriam:
A deck winning a tournament is among the least persuasive arguments to ban
a card. I’m much more concerned with what the top 8, top 16, and top 32
look like as that provides a larger picture of what was winning throughout
the tournament. But there are other variables to consider as well,
including its impact on format diversity and gameplay experience.

Even before this weekend I would argue that Ancient Stirrings is powerful
enough to be banned. With Ponder and Preordain on the list, it’s hard to
justify a one mana card that provides a similar effect but looks two cards
deeper. The extreme deckbuilding restrictions imposed on anyone who wants
to maximize the card’s potential are supposed to keep that in check, but as
we’ve seen there are plenty of decks in Modern that can be built with
primarily colorless cards. From Tron to Lantern Control to Ironworks and
even some builds of Affinity, the card is becoming a must have for
artifact-heavy decks. That’s a red flag.

As far as gameplay experience, all four of the decks I’ve listed above
regularly draw the ire of their opponents, especially Tron and Lantern, so
hampering them seems reasonable. However, I wouldn’t want to eliminate them
entirely, though I don’t think banning Ancient Stirrings would do that.
Affinity has gotten by without it for years. Eldrazi Tron and Mono-Blue
Tron are acceptable variants without green. Ironworks can move toward Whir
of Invention or other card selection. Lantern Control is probably the
hardest hit, and may lose all tournament viability, but that strikes me as
an acceptable loss, even if I like the deck much more than most of the
Magic community.

So, if I support an Ancient Stirrings ban, why did I answer fiction? Well I
think it’s important to not tie that support to the result of a single
tournament, which is how the question was phrased, so excuse my pedantry,
but I’d much rather Modern ban list discussions, if they absolutely have to
occur, center less around tournament results and more around the other
variables. It’s exceedingly rare for a deck in Modern to achieve the format
dominance of Temur Energy in Standard, but bans can still be beneficial.

There’s, of course, the concern of players having to build a new deck, but
if there are easy ways to jump off, like going from Mono-Green Tron to
Eldrazi Tron, then I’ll support banning cards like Ancient Stirrings that
are so powerful they demand to be put into a whole range of decks.

Sam Black: Fiction
. I’m almost entirely certain WotC has already decided what will or won’t
be banned in Modern, and one tournament won’t change anything. It might
seem silly not to wait for as much data as possible, but WotC needs to make
these decisions somewhat in advance and no decisions should be based on a
single tournament.

WotC is in a tough spot this time, as I know they like to rely heavily on
data the collect from Magic Online, but Ironworks is very hard to play
online, so I really hope they find a way to account for that.

No matter what happens, nothing in Modern needs to change. It’s
possible that something from Ironworks should be banned because Ironworks
isn’t the kind of deck that should be as good as it is, and it can never
really be that bad to ban Ancient Stirrings or Mox Opal on power level
alone, but Modern isn’t a format that’s well suited to early action-the
metagame can adapt and it’s often best to wait and see what happens,
especially with a deck that’s only been in the spotlight for a few months.
It’s typically best only to act after a period of sustained dominance.