Welcome to Part 2 in my three-part series, “The Modern Compendium,” where I’m creating a reference guide to the Modern format for people who are new to the format and are trying to choose a deck to play, or who are trying to learn more about the various decks of the format and what their goals are. Last week I wrote about the midrange decks of Modern. This week I’ll be covering the control and big mana decks, and I’ll conclude with the aggro and combo decks.
I’m grouping the control and big mana decks together today because, for the most part, these two types of decks are trying to go “over the top” of the midrange decks. That could accomplished by either playing to a late-game where you will have more resources or by acquiring a significant mana advantage in order to cast much more powerful spells. Out of these two, I’ll start with the control decks of the format.
There are two different types of Jeskai Control decks, and although they are similar in nature, there is one that is faster than the other. When you have Geist of Saint Traft and Spell Queller in your maindeck, your gameplan will be more tempo oriented. This means that you’re using the disruptive elements of the deck to keep your opponent off-balance while using your creatures to end the game before your opponent can stabilize. This is the most popular version of Jeskai Control that you’ll see these days, but it’s not the only one.
The bigger versions of Jeskai Control, like Logan Martin’s deck, are looking for the games to go very long where they will grind out the opponent completely, using Search for Azcanta and Sphinx’s Revelation to bury the opponent. Both strategies of Jeskai Control are viable and have had quite a bit of success over the last couple of months, as the cards they are playing are good enough to win in either fashion.
These are the types of decks the tempo version of Jeskai Control prey on. The aggro opponents don’t usually have an answer to Geist of Saint Traft, so the goal is to cast one immediately and then defend it and yourself for a couple of turns while it finishes the game. Three Lightning Helixes are effective two-for-ones against Burn, while Electrolyze is an unfair card against decks like Affinity. The games are finished off with Cryptic Commands keeping the opponent’s creatures tapped or burn spells countered, and with the Game 1 matchup already good, the sideboard isn’t focused here.
For the bigger Jeskai Control decks, these matchups are a little harder but still favorable overall. The biggest focus you have against Burn is the counterspells, because your clock will be slow enough that they will easily draw enough burn spells to deal twenty damage to you, and your way to prevent that is with counterspells. After removing the opponent’s creatures, you need to focus on protecting yourself over doing damage, getting chip shots in with Snapcaster Mage or Celestial Colonnade when you can. Creature-based aggro decks like Affinity are easier for you to deal with, as their plan walks into the plethora of removal.
Either deck would rather face midrange decks with smaller creatures, because the better cards like Lightning Bolt and Lightning Helix are, the better the matchup will be. Still, when you have access to four copies each of Path to Exile and Cryptic Command, almost any permanent can be dealt with. The bigger control decks will have an edge against most midrange decks over the tempo version, as Geist of Saint Traft is at its worst in these matchups. Your opponents have access to bigger creatures that can block it easily or removal such as Liliana of the Veil.
In control mirrors I’d also prefer to be on the bigger control deck side, with the three-drop creatures being easily answerable. This forces the tempo version to become a burn deck that tries to get in damage wherever it can. Search for Azcanta is a crucial card in these matchups, especially in Jeskai mirrors where land destruction is light.
Against Combo/Big Mana:
Jeskai Control decks run enough disruption that the combo matchups are generally favorable as well, with the caveat that the more reliant the combo deck is on their creatures (think Counters Company or Elves), the better. There are still enough counterspells to make combo decks that don’t rely on creatures to be favorable matchups as well, though.
The big mana decks, however, are the real hole in Jeskai Control’s game. With little to no land destruction available, they are at the whim of Tron players everywhere who can slam threat after threat until you’ve run out of counterspells. The tempo versions of the deck will fare better here with Geist of Saint Traft being a necessary clock to try to go under the big mana decks. Overall, though, if your metagame is full of big mana decks, then you want to stay away from Jeskai Control, and if it isn’t, then Jeskai Control could be the right choice for you.
This deck is very similar to the bigger version of Jeskai Control, but you’re sacrificing early creature interaction to gain a less painful manabase and quality ways to interact with the opponent’s manabase. U/W Control has arguably the best late-game among the entire format, making it the true control player’s weapon of choice. The win conditions are slow and fragile, so the deck isn’t trying to end the game until the opponent is completely out of resources. Spreading Seas and Field of Ruin team up to allow you to disrupt the opponent’s mana early, and then Supreme Verdict and Cryptic Command allow you to catch up on the battlefield when you’re behind.
Depending on the type of aggressive deck, these will likely be some of your toughest matchups. You can handle a “go-wide” creature strategy well with a variety of sweepers, making matchups with decks like Humans and Affinity winnable. The tougher matchups will be the aggro decks with access to burn spells that can finish you off while you are casting your expensive spells to catch back up. Even slower decks with access to burn spells will be tough, as you have an extremely slow clock and a finite number of counterspells to use.
For the most part, midrange decks will be good matchups, with one exception: Grixis Death’s Shadow. The combination of discard spells, countermagic, and a fast clock is a tough battle to win and usually requires drawing a Supreme Verdict at just the right time. Besides this one bad matchup, the strength of your cards can usually carry to victory over the rest of the midrange and even control decks. Having access to playsets of Field of Ruin and Spreading Seas is a large boon in control matchups that either rely on lands such as Celestial Colonnade to win or have a generally weaker three-color manabase. The exception, again, will be to the decks with a heavy amount of burn spells, as that is the one angle where you don’t have a ton of defense against.
Against Combo/Big Mana:
Although you aren’t a huge favorite against any of the combo decks and will have draws that are too slow in any given game, you’re generally favored across the board against them. Sometimes you’ll rely on sweepers, sometimes countermagic, but you have the tools to beat any combo deck if you draw the right part of the deck at the right time. That’s the hard part, though. The biggest difference with U/W Control and Jeskai Control is that you actually have a good big mana (well, specifically Tron) matchup. The land disruption available in U/W is actively good and allows you time to set up with counterspells. Against Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle decks, you’ll often want to save your land disruption for their namesake card and only counter the spells like Scapeshift that will kill you on the spot.
Lantern Control is much different from the other control decks, something that even a cursory glance at a decklist can tell you. This deck uses Lantern of Insight to know what card each person is drawing for the turn and subsequently controlling that draw step through every card in the deck to lock the opponent out of the game. Earlier iterations of Lantern Control focus more on the ability to mill opponents aggressively, but with the printing of Whir of Invention, the deck can play a much better control game by being able to get Ensnaring Bridge out more consistently. Lantern Control plays a much more linear strategy than other control decks and can also be very time-consuming in paper. If you’re bringing this deck to a paper tournament for the first time, make sure you get some reps in with it beforehand, not just playing it online but actually going through the physical motions and getting used to playing it in paper.
Similar to 8-Rack, Lantern Control is going to do basically the same thing against every deck in the format, but each deck has its problem cards. With minimal removal, Ensnaring Bridge is the most important card against creature decks, and therefore creatures that can get around Ensnaring Bridge, such as Signal Pest or Noble Hierarch, are a big problem. These creatures are why there is a single copy of Pyrite Spellbomb in the deck, as well as Porphyry Nodes in the sideboard. Burn spells or Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle also present a problem, as they get to ignore Ensnaring Bridge altogether, which is why the one-of Witchbane Orb is critical in the maindeck as well, with copies of Leyline of Sanctity available in the sideboard. Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas is an alternate angle of attack that comes in against decks that have access to Stony Silence post-sideboard. Overall, the single toughest matchup for Lantern Control is Green Tron, as they simply have too many threats for Pithing Needles to cover them all and have many maindeck ways to remove plenty of artifacts. Besides that matchup, Lantern Control has a solid gameplan against the rest of the field, making it a really good deck in Modern currently.
- 3 Wurmcoil Engine
- 2 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
- 1 World Breaker
- 1 Emrakul, the Promised End
- 2 Walking Ballista
The green-based Tron decks are the biggest in the business, casting ridiculously powerful spells like Karn Liberated; Ugin, the Spirit Dragon; and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. In order to get the mana to cast these spells, the early turns of the game are focused on assembling the three Urza’s lands as quickly as possible, with minimal interaction for the opponent. The fast decks that can win by Turn 3 or 4 without disruption are the hardest decks for Green Tron to beat, while the slowest decks will fall prey to sheer power of the aforementioned cards.
For the most part, people like splashing a color with the Green Tron decks, with black being the most recent preferred splash color due to the printing of Fatal Push and Collective Brutality. I’m a big supporter of staying with Mono-Green Tron, however, because of the ability to play many basic lands. Either way you go, the goal is to slam down Karn Liberated on Turn 3 each and every game.
These are your tough matchups where you’ll need to get scrappy. Thragtusk is the go-to sideboard card for these matchups from either deck, but G/B Tron also has access to Fatal Push and Collective Brutality to greatly increase their chances in these matchups. On the other end, Mono-Green Tron is relying on Spatial Contortion and Dismember as their early removal, as well as Thought-Knot Seer to disrupt the opponent and have an early blocker.
Many people want to cut almost all of the top-end of the deck against aggro decks, but I learned from Tom Ross that you still need to keep in a good amount of the top-end against everyone. You’re not going to win games by simply playing Thought-Knot Seers or Thragtusks; you need to still go very big at the right time to take down other decks. That’s why a card like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger rarely gets cut from my deck, because it’s still your best card in every matchup if you get to cast it. If you survive to the late-game and have plenty of mana but nothing to cast, what’s the point?
These matchups are your bread and butter, exactly what you want to face every round. Midrange and control decks are built, for the most part, to out-attrition other decks, and that strategy doesn’t help too much when your opponent is casting haymakers that will take over the game by themselves. Grixis Death’s Shadow is the one midrange or control deck that has a favorable Green Tron matchup, and that is because of their discard, fast clock, and Ceremonious Rejections. They don’t disrupt the mana of Green Tron at all, though, so big topdecks like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger at the right time will win games. The more midrange and control decks that are in your metagame, the more you should consider playing a Green Tron variant.
Against Combo/Big Mana:
Starting with Big Mana, Green Tron mirrors are, in my opinion, the single worst mirror in any format in Magic: The Gathering. Whoever has access to Tron first and casts Karn Liberated will win, and there’s not much more to do besides that. Besides that matchup, you’re incredibly favored against Eldrazi Tron, as neither opponent is slowing down the other and your spells are much more powerful. Finally, you aren’t favored against Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle decks, but if you have your best hands with Turn 3 Karn Liberated and attack their manabase, you’ll be able to win.
Combo decks are, for the most part, also tough matchups. There isn’t a lot of interaction in the deck for something like Storm, but the four-pack of Collective Brutality that G/B Tron brings to the table is a big game there. Same thing against Elves or Counters Company; these decks are generally too fast for you, but Collective Brutality can be devastating if it lines up correctly. Your best draws with Tron immediately and Karn Liberated on Turn 3 can beat anything, but these aren’t the matchups you want overall. Green Tron may have the most polarizing matchups in the format, with plenty of decks that are very hard to lose to, and some that are very hard to beat.
- 1 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
- 2 Endbringer
- 4 Reality Smasher
- 4 Thought-Knot Seer
- 4 Matter Reshaper
- 4 Walking Ballista
Eldrazi Tron is a slimmer and more midrange version of the Green Tron decks. The Tron lands act as more of a bonus and not something the deck relies on. Instead, when you don’t have Tron online, you get to play a completely normal midrange game with creature after creature. Besides the Tron lands, Eldrazi Temple also helps accelerate your gameplan. This allows Eldrazi Tron to have a much better game against the aggro and combo decks that Green Tron struggles with, at the price of sacrificing percentage points in the favorable matchups. The other big difference between the two decks is the playset of Chalice of the Void in the maindeck, which can win games on its own against certain decks. With Eldrazi Tron being a big part of the metagame for the better part of 2017, most decks have adapted to make sure they aren’t locked out against Chalice of the Void, and therefore it’s not as powerful as it used to be.
Thought-Knot Seer is arguably the best card in the deck, a fact that certainly holds true when playing against red aggro decks like Burn or Zoo. It’s a wonderful blocker that also removes the best card from their hand. The other card you really want against Burn is Chalice of the Void, which ideally is set on two, not one, especially post-sideboard.
Other aggro decks like Affinity don’t care too much about Thought-Knot Seer, however, as they empty their hand too fast and can fly over the top of it. Against Affinity, and other small creature decks such as Humans, the best card in your deck is Walking Ballista, which can singlehandedly mow the opponent’s battlefield down with enough mana. Overall, both Affinity and Humans are very tough matchups for Eldrazi Tron, making playing against an aggro deck something less than desired.
Just like with Green Tron, these are the decks you want to face for the most part with Eldrazi Tron, although your matchups aren’t nearly as good as many people believe. All Is Dust is your trump in any midrange matchup (that isn’t colorless, obviously), as it gets rid of everything from Death’s Shadow to Tarmogoyf to Liliana of the Veil in one fell swoop. The presence of the large creatures from Eldrazi Tron was what helped drive Lightning Bolt out of the format earlier in the year, but the emergence of Humans has helped bring it back to prominence.
Cavern of Souls is a crucial card against control decks and should frequently be found with Expedition Map to keep key creatures like Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher from being countered, even if it slows the deck down some. The Jeskai Control decks are a much more favorable matchup than U/W Control, which has access to more sweepers and hard removal while being able to attack the manabase.
Against Combo/Big Mana:
Most of the combo matchups for Eldrazi Tron are quite good. The better Chalice of the Void is in the matchup, the better for Eldrazi Tron. Therefore, a deck like Ad Nauseam is an incredibly tough matchup for Eldrazi Tron, while a deck like U/R Gifts Storm is an incredibly good matchup. U/R Gifts Storm also relies heavily on the graveyard, and Eldrazi Tron has access to plenty of graveyard hate in the 75. Against the other big mana decks, Eldrazi Tron greatly struggles, with both Green Tron and TitanShift being terrible matchups. The other decks simply go too big for Eldrazi Tron to deal with.
TitanShift is looking to attack the metagame from a different angle than most any other deck, using Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle as the main win condition to kill the opponent with. Therefore the deck is filled with lands and spells that increase the number of lands you control, as Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle requires five other Mountains on the battlefield under your control before it starts triggering.
Primeval Titan and Scapeshift are the two spells in the deck, if you aren’t playing Hour of Promise, that allow you to search for Valakuts and put them onto the battlefield, and therefore they are the biggest targets for counterspell-heavy decks. This deck doesn’t have very much play to it; you generally just cast the ramp spell you have access to and then Primeval Titan or Scapeshift to win the game, over and over again throughout the tournament. If you’re not a fan of monotonous gameplay that you have little control over, then TitanShift is most likely not the deck for you. On the other hand, if you want a pretty good deck that reduces your chance of messing up and topdecks well, then maybe TitanShift is for you!
Considering your deck is full of ramp spells that don’t affect the battlefield, the fast aggro decks will be troublesome to beat, and the two copies of Sweltering Suns in the maindeck are a concession to this. Just like the other big mana decks, the fast clock and disruption that Humans can present or the direct damage spells from Burn will be tough for TitanShift to beat. The difference with TitanShift and other big mana decks is that TitanShift has a fast goldfish and can win games on Turn 4 somewhat reliably, which allows it to have a chance against the other aggro decks even when it doesn’t have an interaction. Sakura-Tribe Elder is a wonderful card in these matchups as well, usually blanking an attack from the opposition while still ramping the deck toward its end-game.
There’s one big question with TitanShift when looking at all of the various midrange and control decks, and that’s, “How many counterspells are you playing?” TitanShift does a wonderful job at blanking the removal of midrange and control decks and also topdecks very well against the discard packages thrown at it. The only weakness is to countermagic, as TitanShift has very few win conditions that they want to resolve. Now, you can always naturally draw your Valakut, the Molten Pinnacles and manually use your land drops to slowly kill your opponent, but for the most part TitanShift wants to resolve either their Primeval Titan or Scapeshift. Midrange and control decks that don’t have access to counterspells are going to struggle mightily against TitanShift.
Against Combo/Big Mana:
Combo decks are going to be the biggest weakness for TitanShift Game 1, which is why we see most of the sideboard helping to interact with different combo decks in some way. Also, three copies of Lightning Bolt in the maindeck will provide some interaction for the creature-based combo decks, which are the most popular in the format as of now. A deck like Ad Nauseam, however, that doesn’t rely on creatures or the graveyard is an absolute nightmare for TitanShift to beat.
Big mana decks, for the most part, are going to be favorable matchups for TitanShift. Neither deck will be interacting much, with TitanShift having a much faster clock. You can’t stop your opponent from casting Karn Liberated on Turn 3 and exiling your lands one by one, but besides that, you’ll win most of the games. This is why you see zero cards against big mana decks in the sideboard, no Crumble to Dust or anything like that.
This concludes the control and big mana decks of the format, and therefore Part 2 of The Modern Compendium. Next week I’ll be back for Part 3 with the many aggro and combo decks, and until then, happy holidays, everyone!