For the past two weeks, I have been on a quest. It is not a quest for glory. Nor is it a Quest for the Holy Relic, Ula’s Temple, or any other such matters
of great Zendikarian import. Nay, this quest is simple and straightforward. I have been seeking to find a Modern deck that I can win with. Well, then
again, maybe it isn’t so simple after all. Modern ain’t easy.
Something happened months ago. This little something caused a great rift in my understanding of the Modern format. They axed Pod. They sent Pod packing.
They decided to downtrod on Pod. Birthing Pod was dead. Birthing Pod was banned, canned, ground into sand. Birthing Pod would be played no more in this
See, I was the type of Magic player who strived to pair this Birthing Pod card with another card called Melira, Sylvok Outcast and combine them together
into a deck that was named after these two marquee cards. Some call it Me-lee-ra Pod, some call it Me-lie-ra Pod. I called it “friend.”
That’s the kind of player I was. I’m not that player anymore. Because it’s not legal to be. Otherwise, I would still be that player. I wish I could be that
player. *Single salty tear.*
But alas, such times of great joy are officially gone-zo. And with it my understanding of the Modern format is no more.
For a time I dabbled in Collecting a Company of small green, white, and black creatures with the hopes of assembling a series of cards with the express
purpose of combination killing my opponent. Yes, the goal was to use Collected Company to assemble the Melira Combo. Many hours and tournaments were spent
on this deck to some avail.
While my results with Abzan Collected Company were never truly atrocious, they still left much to be desired. The deck didn’t feel like it was operating on
the same power level as the rest of the format. There was too much fluff. There were too many times where Collected Company bricked, or where you flooded
out on mana creatures, or got stalled on too few.
After a poor finish at Grand Prix Charlotte earlier this year, I swore off the deck. I played Grixis Twin at a Super IQ a few months ago. I lost in the
quarterfinals. The deck felt good, but it wasn’t really my style of play.
When the dust settled, I was pretty lost in Modern. Unfortunately, I had a few upcoming Modern events. That meant it was time to get found in Modern. If
Will Ferrell can successfully Get Hard, then I’m pretty sure I can manage to Get Found.
The last two weeks I spent deep in a cave with nothing but stale bread, water, and Magic Online. I spent that time dutifully grinding every last ounce out
of Modern on Magic Online. Today, I chronicle that grind. What decks was I looking into playing? What made me abandon certain archetypes and flock to
others? What did I learn?
The short answer is much, and yet nothing at all. The long answer? Well, you’ll have to read on for that.
It all started with an SCG Open in Charlotte, North Carolina. I would have been in attendance at this event, except my brother was getting married that
weekend. Was I to be lured in by Charlotte’s web at the expense of family? It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve skipped a wedding for a Magic
tournament…but my own brother? Not even I’m that cold. Thanks to stacking agility gear, I was able to dodge Charlotte’s siren call and made it to my
brother’s knot-tie instead. Priorities.
Full disclosure: It wasn’t a close decision.
The results from the SCG Open in Charlotte did, however, serve as a good starting point for my testing. I wasn’t going to actually test any of those
winning decks or anything. I’m not a madman. I just needed to know where everyone else was at before I started testing random decks that were very likely
bad. That’s more my level.
Deck #1: Grixis Delver
I started with this deck for a reason. It wasn’t a good reason, but it was a reason. The reason was that Grixis decks played the most powerful cards, and I
thought Blightning was insane in the format. Blightning went upstairs for three points of damage–very relevant in a format with Lightning Bolt, Snapcaster
Mage, and a lot of damage from fetchlands and shocklands–and the Mind Rot effect was very potent in any form of grindy matchup. Grixis Delver seemed like
the best home for Blightning. It flipped Delver, the damage mattered, and Grixis Delver often turned into a more Grixis Control-style deck where the Mind
Rot could swing a game.
I wasn’t wrong about Blightning. I was very impressed with that card. However, what I was not impressed with was the entire deck.
I opted to play hand disruption over countermagic. I feel that counterspells are at an all-time low in terms of their power level in Modern right now.
Affinity, Infect, Merfolk, even Jund decks barely care about countermagic. Remand looks awful against a bunch of zero- and one-mana plays, or Aether Vial,
or Cavern of Souls. I also like hand disruption with a threat like Young Pyromancer. It’s nice to lead into it or be able to play it on turn 3 and cast an
Inquisition to also strip their removal spell.
This deck was great at grinding. There are a lot of threats that can present a bunch of pressure, but there is also a low land count, which helps prevent
from flooding out. Your opponent is going to be on the defensive most of the time and you can leverage that advantage by continually deploying threats.
This deck had a number of flaws, though. The first was awkward mana. Sometimes you draw things like Island + Blood Crypt, which seems like it should be
good, but you still can’t cast Terminate. Basics generally sucked and basic-heavy opening hands often had issues casting spells on-curve. This deck also
struggled with things like Spreading Seas, which could easily keep you off of black or red mana, no matter how much you fetched and shocked to play around
The second flaw was how much damage you deal to yourself. Thoughtseize, Gitaxian Probe, and a manabase that thrives on fetching into untapped shocklands
meant that you started most games at about 11-13 life. This was a huge problem against a number of decks, like Burn, Naya Aggro, Affinity, and Merfolk. I
felt at a huge disadvantage against a lot of those decks because of this.
Lastly, Delver of Secrets sucks in Modern. It’s hard to get it to properly flip, and sometimes it’s hard to even cast it on turn 1. Also, everyone plays
cheap removal, some of which two-for-ones you when it kills Delver, like Electrolyze or Kolaghan’s Command. While testing this deck I liked a lot of what
it was doing–Young Pyromancer impressed me, as did Snapcaster Mage, delve creatures, and the spell base–but Delver was not one of those things. However,
whenever I cut it from my deck, I started losing more. It felt like a part of the deck you needed to be able to close games, but it also just felt awful.
I tried versions without Delver, but I was too slow and lost more without the pressure it provided. I tried versions replacing Delver with Monastery
Swiftspear, which I did like; however, those versions suffered in matchups where the ground would clog up. Delver flying over Tarmogoyfs is relevant. My
end conclusion is that Delver is necessary, but it isn’t good. Not-so-coincidentally, that’s also why I abandoned this deck.
I liked Snapcaster Mage, Kolaghan’s Command, Blightning, and the other usual good cards. I also played versions with Liliana of the Veil, which I also
liked, but Liliana didn’t make the final cut because of how awkward it was with Delver and Young Pyromancer. All things told, there were some good things
going for this deck, but I wasn’t winning enough with it. Abandon ship.
Deck #2: Merfolk
One of the common themes for me while testing Grixis Delver is that I would inevitably get paired against Merfolk when I was doing well in an event. They’d
smash me. I’d be sad. We’d both move on with our lives. Me: down a few intangible “value points” on Magic Online. Them: up a few “value points” on Magic
Online plus a small sense of satisfaction that comes with winning a game. Pretty classic tradeoff.
Eventually I decided that maybe I should just be playing Merfolk myself. Hunter Nance (no relation to Jim Nantz) took the fish to a 2nd place finish at the
Charlotte Open, so I called upon his expertise with the deck. I asked him a bunch of questions, which he was kind enough to answer, and I ended up settling
on this list, which happened to just be the exact 75 he told me to play.
- 2 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
- 4 Lord of Atlantis
- 3 Merrow Reejerey
- 4 Silvergill Adept
- 4 Cursecatcher
- 4 Master of the Pearl Trident
- 4 Master of Waves
- 4 Harbinger of the Tides
I went 11-0 with the deck on Magic Online and then took it to the SCG Open in Cincinnati last weekend as well. I went 10-5 in Cincinnati with the deck,
finishing in the top 64.
I think this deck is actually quite good. Normally I despise these kinds of all-in tribal strategies, and it’s rare to see high level players pick up a
deck like this. However, that doesn’t mean this deck isn’t good. Just because it’s not being played a whole lot by top tier players doesn’t mean a whole
For an example of that, look at Jund Monsters from Standard a full year ago. That deck was easily one of the best decks in Standard for a very long time
and yet none of the high level pros played it. They all wrote it off, and I strongly believe that myself (and others) could have had a lot more success in
that format if we had just stuck to playing Jund Monsters in every event, much like CVM basically did.
I feel like this deck is similar. It’s very powerful, but it doesn’t give you a wide range of skillful plays you can make, so a lot of people don’t
consider it a viable option as a result. They’d be wrong.
Merfolk is great in basically every blue matchup. It has a great matchup against control decks and Grixis decks. I’m not sure how it stacks up against U/R
Twin, as I only played against it a few times on Magic Online, but I think it’s probably an okay matchup.
Merfolk, believe it or not, is also surprisingly great against green creature decks. I beat three Collected Company decks and a Kiki-Chord deck at the Open
without dropping a game. Those decks have to play super defensively against you because of how much damage the Merfolk lords represent, which just means
they are going to have a tough time racing Master of Waves. Spreading Seas can also do a number on them, mostly for providing islandwalk. My gameplan in
every single game was to stay alive, then cast Master of Waves, then kill them the next turn. Worked pretty well. Tidebinder Mage and Harbinger of the
Tides are also huge threats against those decks.
Merfolk is also great against Burn. You don’t take any damage from your own lands, which is half of the reason Burn is so successful in Modern. You also
have a fast enough clock to race them. You can get around Eidolon of the Great Revel with cards like Aether Vial. Sometimes a Spreading Seas or two can
actually Stone Rain them out of the game because they don’t use colorless mana effectively.
Where Merfolk starts to run into problems is against decks like Affinity and Jund. Affinity is bar none the worst matchup. It’s not unbeatable, but it’s
very hard. They don’t have (many) Islands, and your lords are laughably slow against them. I cast a turn 2 Silvergill Adept in one game against Affinity at
the SCG Open and my opponent already had like four creatures in play and attacked me for roughly ten the next turn. My 2/1 for two didn’t get there. It
didn’t seem like we were playing the same game.
Jund is also rough because they have good removal and can clock you pretty well with Tarmogoyf. It’s especially bad if they respect Master of Waves as a
card and have things like Dismember, Darkblast, Disfigure, or Night of Souls’ Betrayal to keep the Master from also being commander. Basically, Master of
Waves is how you beat Jund and you don’t always draw one; sometimes it gets Thoughtseized, and sometimes they actually have removal for it.
Affinity can maybe be shored up some with Hurkyl’s Recall. I didn’t have the card in my sideboard. One, it’s extremely narrow. It’s only for this matchup.
Sometimes it’s worth sacrificing a matchup for a more robust sideboard against the rest of the field.
Secondly, I’m not sure it’s always enough. It’s very good if you have a lot of pressure in play in a racing situation, which is often hard to set up
through Whipflares. But if you don’t have pressure, they can just rebuild by dumping their entire hand in play again the next turn, which means it
effectively did nothing.
My plan was to just hope to dodge, but that didn’t work out when Affinity was the most played deck on day 2. Also, thanks to Harbinger of the Tides, I
actually won one of those matches and stole a game in another. If I played Fish again, I’d have Hurkyl’s Recalls. It’s narrow and it’s not always good, but
a lot of my games were close enough, and Affinity is popular enough to where I think it’s probably worth it.
I’d also make a few other changes to the deck. I’d play the fourth Merrow Reejerey. The Reej was great, and you should definitely play the set. I’d
probably cut Spell Pierce. It makes you marginally worse in some combo matchups, but the card was so atrociously bad for me all day that I never want to
lock eyes with it again. I’m also not sure that you need four Tidebinder Mages. It’s a powerful card, but very narrow. Some can likely be cut to make room
for other things in the sideboard.
Merfolk is a good deck, but I’m not sure when I’ll play it again. With decks like Affinity and Infect putting up great performances, I’m not sure this is
the right time for the deck. Depending on how the metagame shifts, I’ll likely pick it back up again. It’s surprisingly powerful.
Deck #3: Jund
SCG Cincinnati was only the start of Modern for me. This week I’m playing in GP OKC, which meant that after I got home, I started to get right back to
work. The results of the SCG Open showcased Affinity and Infect being the two most dominant decks. Jund seemed like a powerful deck that could also be a
good foil to those two.
Brad Nelson has been on a Jund kick lately, playing Jund in every Modern event he touches. Brad sent me his Jund list to test with.
This is not that list. Quite frankly, I didn’t like his list too much, so I set about to ruin it by making what were probably bad changes to it. Playing
Kitchen Finks main was an experiment. It seemed good against most of the decks I was testing against on Magic Online. In practice, it was actually pretty
solid, but I’m not sure if it’s the best card for the slot.
Tasigur might actually just be the best creature to play alongside Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, and Scavenging Ooze. Tasigur is really awkward with Bob–The
Dark Confidant himself–but it is a giant creature, a cheap threat, and something that provides a source of card advantage, pressure, and mana efficiency
all in one. Tasigur seems like a great addition.
I think Jund is a good deck, but it’s not something I’m going to play. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why that is. My win rate wasn’t that high on Magic
Online with it, and while it didn’t seem like I ran into too many horrible matchups, I still just wasn’t winning as much as I would like. I guess a lot of
matchups are really close and sometimes you don’t win the close ones.
Also, Grixis is a nightmare matchup. They are doing roughly the same thing you are, but their cards are all two-for-ones and only some of yours are. They
can just grind you out of the game pretty easily with Kolaghan’s Command and Snapcaster Mage. I kept losing to Grixis with Jund and I’m not sure that’s
where I want to be.
Deck #4: Little Kid Abzan
Ryan Rolen put up a strong top 16 finish at the last SCG Open with an Abzan deck that was more similar to Jacob Wilson’s top 8 Abzan deck from the Pro Tour
in DC last year than it is to the Jund-like Abzan decks we normally see. Instead of cards like Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, and Liliana of the
Veil, Ryan opted to play Birds of Paradise, Noble Hierarch, and beatdown creatures like Loxodon Smiter, Kitchen Finks, and friends.
- 2 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 2 Kitchen Finks
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 3 Loxodon Smiter
- 3 Voice of Resurgence
- 3 Anafenza, the Foremost
- 3 Siege Rhino
This is a deck that’s right up my alley. This was something I started testing fairly immediately when I got back from the SCG Open because I had high hopes
for the archetype.
- 2 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 3 Kitchen Finks
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Voice of Resurgence
- 3 Anafenza, the Foremost
- 4 Siege Rhino
This is my latest list. I actually spent more time playing with this deck than any of the other four decks I’ve talked about, and my list for this
archetype also probably changed the most of any of those four decks as I battled.
I learned a lot about this deck as I tested with it. I didn’t find cards like Wilt-Leaf Liege or Sorin, Solemn Visitor to be very impressive. However,
Gideon Jura was phenomenal. This card is the real deal in Modern. I’m a bit of a Gideon fanboy. Gideon has always been one of my favorite planeswalkers
since he hit the shelves in Rise of the Eldrazi. However, he’s not the kind of card that I’ll play unless he’s good, and right now, he is quite
good. He singlehandedly beats some decks like Infect, and he is a nightmare in a lot of fair matchups by killing their best creatures or forcing them to
suicide their board into yours. He was routinely a three-for-one…or better yet, an X-for-one as he just won me the game on the spot.
The cards I liked in this deck were Tarmogoyf, Voice of Resurgence, Lingering Souls, Siege Rhino, and Gideon Jura. The rest of the cards were all hit or
miss. Cards like Birds of Paradise were actively bad, but unfortunately, they felt like a necessary evil. You weren’t always casting Siege Rhino on time
without them. Kitchen Finks and Anafenza, the Foremost were sometimes great, sometimes awful.
This deck has a natural disadvantage against combo decks. You don’t have a super fast clock and also don’t have disruption. That makes for a bad
combination. This deck can also lose a lot of games to itself by flooding out a bunch and just drawing lands and mana creatures.
Where this deck shines is against other fair decks or against those combo-style decks that can actually be interacted with. Infect and Affinity can both be
fought with removal spells and Lingering Souls, two things this deck can muster up.
Ultimately, this deck is too fair and too slow in a format where you can’t really get away with doing that kind of thing. Without heavy disruption or
sufficient speed, you can’t play fair in Modern. I knew that the entire time I was testing this deck, but I kept on for one reason and one reason alone:
The sideboard is amazing.
This deck has a phenomenal sideboard. Almost every card in the sideboard is some giant “screw you” card that completely dismantles entire archetypes.
Affinity? Stony Silence. Graveyard deck? Leyline of the Void. Hexproof, Affinity, creature decks, Burn? Worship. And then there is Curse of Death’s Hold, a
card that I decided to try based on the power of Night of Souls’ Betrayal in Jund. Thanks to Birds of Paradise, it’s roughly as easy to cast as Night of
Souls’ Betrayal is for Jund. Curse was great.
And that’s the long story of it all. As I said, I learned a lot and yet also nothing at all. I learned about the successes and flaws of four different
archetypes, but I still wasn’t any closer to solving the Modern format and figuring out the best deck to play. Two steps forward with a mile left to go.
At the time I write this, I’m still not entirely sure what deck I’m going to be playing this weekend at Grand Prix Oklahoma City. Thankfully, there’s still
a little bit of time left. Just enough time to let me log into Magic Online and see if a Modern eight-player event holds the secrets I seek.
When it comes to Modern, I thirst for knowledge, but I’m not actually gonna cast the card Thirst for Knowledge. I’ve made that mistake before…