The Modern Landscape

Modern has proven to be a rapidly shifting and dynamic format – but we’re used to it only shifting when a lot of attention is paid to it. Anthony catches up with recent developments in the Modern metagame before this weekend’s Modern Open in Charlotte!

With a very exciting Grand Prix coming to a close over the pond in London, we have a general guideline on what to expect at the Season Three Invitational next weekend in the equally as glorious state of New Jersey.

Okay, not quite as glorious.

As per usual, Standard is pretty freaking awesome, and it just doesn’t make sense to say otherwise at this point. You have the strongest form of a good, structured metagame: a perceived best deck or small number of perceived best decks which serve as the groundwork, a roadmap if you will, for where you may want to end up in the format. This time around, all of the other decks are so close to the perceived best decks that you really aren’t going to lose much of anything by coming equipped with any established, “real” deck you can find. Additionally, each of these decks have their own real identity and play a very specific way, so you aren’t going to feel any sort of significant gameplay overlap between, say, Abzan Midrange and G/R Dragons. There are at least ten decks that are serious contenders for taking a trophy home, and probably another ten more that are worth considering if you’re willing to tune them and work hard on them. Even then, that doesn’t include the possible variations, splashes, and size differences. As long as your cards are doing something powerful and you aren’t intentionally hurting your chances by playing cards that simply aren’t as good without adequate reason, you have a good shot at this season’s Invitational.

The week before that, however, is the Open in Charlotte… and it’s been awhile since we showcased the Modern format since the Grand Prix which was located in the exact same building. While there are many similarities with both location and format, things have changed quite a bit since then. In fact, Modern barely looks like it did just a month or so ago despite not many significant events happening in between that time. One of the big things I’ve noticed with Modern is that when shifts happen, they happen incredibly quickly and it stays that way for a while. In Modern, we have format ruptures – things seem to be stable with a consensus metagame of best decks until suddenly we just don’t and things shift very rapidly and in an unexpected fashion. This is different from Standard, where shifts can happen week in and week out either quickly or slowly. It’s also different from Legacy, where shifts do happen but only very slowly, and even if they do happen it doesn’t change the face of the format nearly as often. The fact that Modern behaves much differently than the other popular formats is part of its appeal, and the players that don’t worry so much about trying to play the format like Legacy are the ones that enjoy it most.

Grixis Is Still Very Good

If you’re just trying to pick a good deck on almost any part of the spectrum – Aggro, Control, Combo or Midrange – then the many flavors of Grixis will certainly satiate your needs. Every single one of them are still absurdly powerful, and are among the go-to decks of the format. Grixis Delver, Grixis Twin, and Grixis Control each have their own very distinct identities and operate on completely different axes. All of them retain the powerful robustness that is Tasigur, the Golden Fang and/or Gurmag Angler and the tempo management of Remand and Thoughtseize/Inquisition of Kozilek, but each of them approach those cards and plays them out in a very different manner. There are a ton of decision points for each of your cards, and they will all fluctuate in importance at different stages depending on which deck you end up with. For example, Remand is going to often be your best spell when it follows a turn-one Delver of Secrets, mostly because every stop you make will translate into the amount of damage you have on board… that’s the plan, at least. With Grixis Control, you’re just using Remand as a way to develop your overall strategy more than your board presence, as seeing more cards that interact is more valuable to that deck than it is to Delver, which just wants to use cards as virtual Lightning Bolt equivalents somehow. No matter the choice you make here, you’re going to be very happy with any of these decks.

Jund Is Still… Well… Jund

Jund will likely always be a good deck. The cards are powerful, they all do exactly what you want, and that’s it. I think that’s sort of the problem with Jund as well. While the format has changed pretty drastically, Jund… hasn’t. It’s still the same deck doing the same things in the same way. The rest of the format has progressed past it, steadily evolving and adapting. I don’t think this is as much as a knock on Jund as much as it is an ode to just how powerful the cards are individually, even if said powerful cards are incredibly static. Maybe a shift back to Abzan is what’s needed, but Siege Rhino is the last thing you should be doing. Lingering Souls is still pretty powerful, though Path to Exile is fine, if commonly overplayed really hard. If we don’t decide to go with the white splash, then Avaricious Dragon may be the card that Jund is looking for if things really get grindy. Yeah, I know, the card isn’t very exciting in Standard, but the way grindy midrange mirrors play out now, as cards get discarded, hands get dumped, cards become dead and Delve becomes very important, a card like Avaricious Dragon fits very nicely. Terminate has been on a mild decline and neither Abrupt Decay nor Lightning Bolt, each format staples, can touch it. It actually winds up sturdier than the previously-played Chandra, Pyromaster and is also a much faster clock. This is the change that I think Jund needs, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this becomes adopted faster than normal.

Temur Twin Might Be The Best Twin Deck Right Now

This would be my choice for Charlotte.

The thing about Temur Twin is that the Grixis honeymoon is still going on. This happens with every set that has a new shiny card with some application in Modern. It’s currently happening with Hangarback Walker in Affinity even though the card isn’t nearly as good as people think it is. Digressing, this deck is the best Splinter Twin deck at pushing your offensive advantage and it just might be the best tempo deck because of how well each creature plays with each other. Tamogoyf is fantastic when you’re against non-Remand decks that have a lot of board presence (Jund), as you can use your Deceiver Exarchs and Pestermites to tap blockers down. From the opposite perspective, your Tarmogoyfs provide great defense on the ground until you can get the combo assembled. Even better, you can use Tarmogoyfs as pressure and bait, never needing to actually combo kill your opponent until they commit to dealing with the Goyfs. Similarly, if you threaten the combo all the time, they just might die to your Tarmogoyfs! This push/pull, Catch-22 style of play is what really sets this deck apart from others in Modern.

Burn Is Not The Place To Be Anymore

I love Burn. I love the hell out of it. It is the one deck in Modern I’ve played the longest, and it’s still infuriating to play against for some players, which is great. Sadly, Burn hasn’t been very good for quite a while now, and there isn’t much that can be done about it. If you’re that dead set on playing it, then I’d figure out a way to get the full set of Self-Inflicted Wound in the sideboard before I’d even consider playing Atarka’s Command in the main (and stick to Skullcrack). The format has shaped itself to be good against Burn without even needing all of the hate cards, and a lot of those cards are extraordinary powerful creatures. Tarmogoyf and Kor Firewalker are much more of a problem than Feed the Clan because Feed the Clan doesn’t kill you, it just buys them a turn or three. You aren’t going to win by just playing a Goblin Guide and riding your burn spells to victory anymore. You’re now being forced to interact, and you have to do a lot of work to make that happen in your favor. There are tools that exist, but if you’re going to put that much work for only marginal gains, then I’d rather just play a better deck if it’s available.

Merfolk Is Insane, But Not Respected Nearly Enough

Merfolk gets a bad rap.

It’s one of those decks that doesn’t look like it has a lot of good matchups, but it doesn’t necessarily need them. It sounds weird, I know, but when your deck is designed to just run over whatever stands in your way – and when a card like Harbinger of the Tides is introduced as Splinter Twin hate that can also just work in as part of your plan in the meantime, then you have a well-oiled machine that just continues to be strong at stomping through the opposition. Spreading Seas is still your makeshift Stone Rain plus Overrun combo that cantrips, while Master of Waves is nearly unbeatable when your opponent is packing Terminates, Abrupt Decays, Lightning Bolts, and the like. I’m so confident in this deck that I think it’s going to be the breakout deck of the tournament. I use the term “breakout” loosely because of how good of a deck it’s always been throughout Grand Prixs and Premier IQs, but how underappreciated it has been. If you’re looking to make a solid metagame call, I’d play this.

Don’t Forget About The Busted Combos

Primeval Titan and Griselbrand are patently ridiculous cards and the bravest of souls that have tuned, perfected, and mastered these archetypes are the ones that have done the best with them. These decks are all in direct violation of what Modern is about, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t beatable and it certainly doesn’t mean that that’s something to be concerned with in the context of playing a tournament. If you’re interested in playing any of these decks, I’d highly suggest picking them up right now, practicing the absolute crap out of it, asking questions, figuring out sequences, and then just playing some more. If you feel that you got enough practice with it, then you probably didn’t get enough practice… and when you feel that you are hitting the learning curve, you probably haven’t. Don’t let that deter you from jamming, though, as the decks aren’t as hard to learn as initially advertised – but I don’t really recommend going into a tournament with any of these decks cold. The payoff for putting in that work is very high, however, and you’ll ultimately wind up reaping the benefits over the course of multiple tournaments.

Of course, there are many more decks in Modern that are worthy of talking about, but we’d probably be here forever. Modern events are few and far between, but the evolution of the format has been pretty swift. It’s important to keep updated and adjust accordingly, and this week in Charlotte the landscape of the format should be drastically different than last time we were there.