The Best One-Drops In Modern: Which Is Winning SCG Baltimore?

You can play anything you want in Modern, but if you want a shot at the glory at SCG Baltimore, you should probably be thinking about these! Dylan explains the top tier and what it takes to compete!

The final Open Weekend of the 2018 SCG Tour will soon be upon us, and right
on its heels lies the Season Two Invitational. While the season may be soon
coming to a close for the year, the Modern arms race is just starting to
heat up.

At this point in the year, there have been two events that ended up being
major catalysts for change in the Modern format in 2018. The first was the
high profile unbannings of two of Magic’s most infamous powerhouses to ever
see print:

The February 12, 2018 Banned and Restricted announcement from Wizards of
the Coast was, by their explanation, an acknowledgement of the power level
increase of Modern and the fact that Jace and Bloodbraid Elf were now “on
par” with the rest of the format in that regard.

This assessment, to their credit, ended up being spot on. SCG Indianapolis,
the first SCG Tour event following the unban, was won by the deck that
terrorized the Modern format for most of 2017 and neither unbanned card was
to be found in the list:

It wouldn’t take long for one of the two to win an Open, however, as Andrew
Wolbers was able to utilize Bloodbraid Elf as a value card in Gruul Land
Destruction to take down SCG Dallas not a month later:

Over the course of the next six months, the format took on a much different
look than it had in 2017:

  • Humans became the premier deck of the format, due to its fast clock
    and powerful disruption. The printing of Militia Bugler in Core Set 2019 helped by giving the deck more consistency
    and a reasonable card advantage engine.
  • Eldrazi decks like Eldrazi Tron and Bant Eldrazi, which spent a
    large amount of time as a powerhouse of Modern due to their
    positive Death’s Shadow matchups, all but vanished from the format.
  • Bloodbraid Elf gave Jund a shot in the arm to an extent, but
    ultimately failed to help the deck remain as a consistent top tier
  • Matt Nass introduced two more reasons why Ancient Stirrings is
    probably too powerful for Modern in the form of the Ironworks and
    Hardened Scales.
  • The printing of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria gave Jace, The Mind
    Sculptor a run for his money for title of most powerful
    Planeswalker in Modern. Eventually, the two started showing up side
    by side in Jeskai Control decks before Jeskai became supplanted by
    Azorius Control as the best control deck in the format.

A lot has happened this year, but another shakeup to the format was brought
to Modern by this crew of incredibly powerful cards:

While the list here isn’t that large, the impact of these Guilds off Ravnica cards certainly is. Guilds of Ravnica
is yet another lesson in how brand-new sets can have an impact on Magic’s
non-rotating formats:

  • Creeping Chill gave Modern Dredge its first new toy since Prized
    Amalgam was printed. The deck fell off the map after Golgari
    Grave-Troll was put back in jail for its crimes against the format,
    but Creeping Chill gives the deck a new angle of attack that the
    format has yet to figure out how to beat outside of ham-fisted
    graveyard hate. Right now, the deck has been one of, if not the
    most consistent and winningest strategies in Modern.
  • Knight of Autumn did wonders for creature decks in the format, like
    Bant Spirits and Humans, as a sideboard option that covers multiple
    matchups. Flexibility is as valuable in Modern as power level,
    especially when it comes sideboard options. This card does it all.
  • Assassin’s Trophy, much like Bloodbraid Elf, hasn’t quite
    done enough to bring Golgari-based decks to the tippiy-top tier of
    Modern decks, but it certainly helped. The powerful successor to
    Abrupt Decay has done much to help Golgari-based decks have a
    fighting chance against its historically challenging matchups like
    Tron. Additionally, the card has made its mark as a great sideboard
    option for decks like Dredge as “anti-hate,” since it’s such a
    clean answer to, well, anything.
  • Last, but not least, Standard all-stars Runaway Steam-Kin and
    Arclight Phoenix have been slowly finding their way into Modern
    decks. Arclight Phoenix is yet another card just waiting to be
    abused by Faithless Looting, and Runaway Steam-Kin combines with
    Desperate and Pyretic Ritual to generate a lot of red mana with
    very little setup.

As SCG Baltimore looms on the horizon, there’s a lot to examine on where
the format is going, what to prepare for in the coming weeks, and what
decks should be on your radar as you prepare for Modern tournaments through
the rest of this year. To begin, it’s important to recognize that these are
your current pillars of the Modern format:

Modern’s top tier consists of strategies containing these three cards. If
you’re not playing a deck containing one of these cards, you best be
playing a strategy that’s at least close to as linear, powerful, and
resilient as the decks that utilize them, because “close” is as good as
it’ll get.

Faithless Looting, Ancient Stirrings, and Aether Vial all push the envelope
on strategies that play them because they give Magic decks everything
they’re looking for: incredibly high consistency without having to give up
power or efficiency to do so.

Now that we’ve established the cards you
should be playing in Modern, let’s go over Modern’s top tier, breaking them
down by the three cards above:

The Faithless Looting Decks

Dredge is the biggest winner coming out of the release of Guilds of Ravnica. Creeping Chill filled the void Golgari
Grave-Troll left and Assassin’s Trophy gave the deck the deck one of the
most flexible permanent-removal spells in Magic’s 25-year history. Dredge’s
weaknesses in previous iterations, other than graveyard hate, usually
involved being unable to race the faster aggressive decks in the format,
like Burn. Creeping Chill completely turns that on its head, leaving only
faster combo decks as its only natural predator in Modern.

Strong Against:
Humans, Azorius Control, Burn, Jund, Grixis Death’s Shadow, Bant Spirits,
Hardened Scales

Weak Against:
Storm, Ironworks, Scapeshift, Amulet Titan, Tron

Mardu Pyromancer, originally popularized by Gerry Thompson at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, sat alongside Hollow One as the strongest
Faithless Looting decks for most of the year, prior to Dredge’s
re-introduction to Modern. Christian Keeth’s innovation to the deck
includes the addition of Arclight Phoenix. It’s likely that Arclight
Phoenix adds a much more aggressive slant to the deck and allows it to
close games faster than Young Pyromancer typically can. I was the victim of
his deck firing on all cylinders at SCG Las Vegas as he marched towards the
top 8 with his team, and even one Phoenix went a long way towards closing
the game before I could mount any sort of offense.

Strong Against:
Humans, Bant Spirits, Jund, Hardened Scales, Infect, Amulet Titan,

Weak Against:
Tron, Dredge, Azorius Control, Storm, Burn, Ironworks

Hollow One has seen a fall from grace since it’s rise to popularity earlier
this year. This was in part due to how abysmal the Humans matchup was.
Regardless, the deck still follows the cardinal rule of Modern, which is to
be a proactive deck that does a really good job at beating up interactive
decks and ignoring what the opponent is doing. That means the deck is
always able to hang in some capacity and if you have an above average
amount of Goblin Lores and Burning Inquiries go your way over a long
tournament, anything can happen. Additionally, Hollow One is another deck
currently getting the Arclight Phoenix experiment treatment, as it’s a bit
better than Bloodghast at attacking and is better against Reflector Mage
than the delve threats, like Tasigur and Gurmag Angler. This is especially
important now that both Humans and Bant Spirits both play the card
in large numbers maindeck.

Strong Against:
Tron, Burn, Jund, Storm, Infect

Weak Against:
Humans, Bant Spirits, Dredge, Hardened Scales, Ironworks, Grixis Death’s

The Ancient Stirrings Decks

Mono-Green Tron used to live in a world of its own as the best Ancient
Stirrings decks in the format. The ability for Stirrings to find the
missing Urza land or to help keep the enormous threats like Karn Liberated
and Wurmcoil Engine coming make the deck unbelievably consistent, and Tron
has remained as one of the most powerful mainstays of the format.

Strong Against:
Humans, Bant Spirits, Dredge, Azorius Control, Jund

Weak Against:
Burn, Storm, Hardened Scales, Grixis Death’s Shadow, Infect, Titanshift,
Amulet Titan

Hardened Scales is one of two of Matt Nass’s brainchildren to take over
Modern this year. While both this deck and Ironworks utilize Ancient
Stirrings to do powerful things, Hardened Scales attacks, literally and
figuratively, on a very different angle. Scales’ power comes from the fact
that it supercharges a group of creatures that are already strong enough on
their own, namely Arcbound Ravager. The deck is arguably harder to play
against than it is to play with, which, for now, gives the deck a lot of
free percentage points. It boasts very strong matchups against many of the
creature decks in the format, and, like Dredge, only truly suffers against
the fastest combo decks in the format.

Strong Against:
Humans, Tron, Grixis Death’s Shadow, Infect, Burn, Jund

Weak Against:
Storm, Dredge, Titanshift, Azorius Control, Ironworks, Bant Spirits

The other brainchild of Matt Nass and most recently iterated on by
Piotr Glogowski (AKA Kanister), Ironworks offers an incredibly resilient
and fast combo deck with a variety of ways to infinitely draw your deck,
destroy your opponents’ permanents, or blast them in the face with Pyrite
Spellbombs. Engineered Explosives and Spine of Ish Sah help deal with
problematic permanents that get like Stony Silence after game 1.

Strong Against:
Humans, Jund, Golgari Midrange, Titanshift, Tron, Dredge, Burn

Weak Against:
Bant Spirits, Azorius Control, Storm, Infect, Grixis Death’s Shadow

The Aether Vial Decks

The printing of Supreme Phantom in Core Set 2019 helped address
Bant Spirits’ greatest problem: it could not present a reasonable clock.
The addition of a second lord to complement Drogskol Captain gave the deck
that extra power it needed to go toe-to-toe with Humans on the battlefield,
as well as make sure the opponent was dead before they were able to crawl
out from some of the fantastic sideboard options Spirits has access to. The
combination of being advantaged in the pseudo-mirror against Humans, as
well as being able to play Stony Silence and Rest in Peace in the
sideboard, gives the deck a slight advantage over Humans in the Aether Vial
Decks category. Those white enchantments are very strong in a format where
the threat of Dredge is always looming. Spirits is a less powerful, less
proactive deck than Humans, but with the way the format is currently
shaping up, the tools it has access to line up better than what Humans has
access to.

Strong Against:
Humans, Ironworks, Storm, Hardened Scales, Infect, Titanshift, Amulet
Titan, Burn

Weak Against:
Tron, Azorius Control, Dredge, Jund, Grixis Death’s Shadow

Humans has gone from the undisputed best deck in Modern to just another
mainstay of the format. It’s a good place to be when you get downgraded
from “best deck” to “one of the best decks,” but it doesn’t change the fact
that the format is changing in a way that hurts Humans’ ability to totally
dominate. As I mentioned above, Spirits is right now the better of
the two Aether Vial-based creature decks due to how they each line up
against the rest of the format. The above list is what I would recommend
playing moving forward, should you prefer the Humans playstyle. The
sideboard is designed to help tackle the other top decks in the format, and
Militia Bugler helps you find those cards with increased consistency.

Strong Against:
Azorius Control, Burn, Jund, Hollow One, Storm, Grixis Death’s Shadow,
Titanshift, Infect

Weak Against:
Bant Spirits, Tron, Ironworks, Jeskai Control, Mardu Pyromancer

The Honorable Mentions

The following decks are parts of the Modern format and should be considered
at all times since they’re currently still popular enough that you should
expect to play against them 1-2 times per fifteen-round tournament. They
are also still reasonable options to play outside of the ones I discussed
in depths above.

My Recommendations for SCG Baltimore

Now that I’ve covered the past, present, and future of Modern for 2018 and
laid out the groundwork for what’s winning the most in the format, it’s up
to you to decide what will be your weapon of choice to try and win the
trophy in Baltimore this weekend. As for me, my top five recommendations
would be (in no particular order):

I’ll probably be using Baltimore as my last live testing ground to try
something new before the Season Two Invitational, but if I can’t find
anything I really want to try, I’ll probably default to old faithful.

What are you thinking about sleeving up for Baltimore? What decks have you
been finding success with that weren’t covered here?