The Most Underplayed Deck In Modern Is A Lot Better Than You Think

Boss Naya. Infect. That Theros deck with all the little red creatures. You know? It might be faster to list all the great rogue decks Tom “The Boss” Ross hasn’t bolstered to the top of the scene! He’s back from WotC, and it looks like he hasn’t lost a single step.

Gaining life is fun. Blowing up lands is fun. Drawing cards is fun.

Attacking with a 6/6 on turn 2 is great.

Mono-White Martyr is my favorite new-ish Modern deck. Ben Friedman was
caught preaching about it a
couple months ago.
It won a Magic Online PTQ, seemingly out of nowhere.

It’s always taken a bit for the real-life metagame to adjust to Magic
Online results. Card acquisition is one thing. Sometimes it just takes some
convincing to get people to switch out of their comfort zone.

Is Mono-White Martyr appealing on paper? I don’t think so, but I’m
convinced that it’s secretly great. Let’s go over the most recent
well-performing list:

Wow. This deck beats Burn and literally nothing else.”

Some of the strengths of Mono-White Martyr are subtle. Pay attention.

Floors and Ceilings

Mono-White Martyr has two things going for it: both a high floor and a high

As a mono-colored deck, you’re affected less by mana consistency issues.
You worry less about flooding out because your lands have utility. You can
reasonably expect opening hands and draw steps to be, on average, better
than a multi-colored deck that can’t afford to play utility lands.

By ceiling I mean:

  • How good are my opening starts?
  • Do I have a really high win percentage against certain decks?
  • How fast can I win?

The fastest Mono-White Martyr can win uncontested is turn 4. Considering
that it so often plays out in control fashion, that’s not bad.

Serra Ascendant followed my Martyr of Sands and an attack for six will shut
many decks down right out of the gates. The level of “free wins” is there
with Mono-White Martyr that’s necessary to compete in a fifteen-round
Modern tournament.

Your good matchups are really, really good. I’m not talking about 55%. The
look on your opponent’s face when you cast Squadron Hawk into Martyr of
Sands will tell it all. Landslide victories are common. The rest is up to
mitigating your bad matchups.

This list is from the

Team Modern Super League

in May where me and the rest of Play Design whooped up on professional
Magic players.

In a world as diverse as Modern, it’s a good idea to have some tools in
your bag – a few tricks up your sleeve, if you will. I’ve never been one to
play the “fair” deck in Modern. Never a Jund, or a Mardu Pyromancer or
Azorius Control. Give me the Tron, Infect, 8-Rack, or Soul Sisters. Those
are decks with extremely good matchups, and, of course, polar opposite bad
ones too. But… when you peg a metagame just right, they can win you a

In the Modern Super League case, it was a tool against the newest best deck
on the block: Hollow One.

So what would I play now?

25 Lands

Many lists play 24. Older lists used to play a Mind Stone or two. With
cards like Sun Titan in your deck, you really want to be hitting your land
drops. Notably, with four black phyrexian mana symbols in the sideboard,
it’s not out of the question to entertain Godless Shrine. It’s another one
of those plains that Flagstones of Trokair gets (along with Mistveil

Later in the game you’ll start thinning out Plains with Field of Ruin
activations or Flagstones of Trokair’s trigger. Ghost Quartering yourself
on Flagstones is a common play. After all, eight colorless lands is a lot
and two of your white sources enter the battlefield tapped. The land
thinning is necessary to counteract the creature thinning that’s going on
with Squadron Hawk and Ranger of Eos.

I often use Path to Exile on Thraben Inspector or Squadron Hawk to ramp up
to Ranger of Eos mana. I also get double Thraben Inspector pretty often
with the Ranger. If I don’t think the Martyr of Sands + Serra Ascendant
combo is gonna shake out, I’m happy sitting around and jockeying for
position with some 1/2s.

One-Drop Bullets

Walking Ballista has been a sweet finisher to get with Ranger of Eos. This
deck doesn’t have a ton of reach in terms of dealing the last few points of
damage outside of attacking. It’s also a reasonable card against Inkmoth
Nexus for four mana. You’ve also got the wombo-combo with Archangel Avacyn,
though Martyr of Sands can do the transform trick too.

Hex Parasite is a card that I haven’t personally cast out of this deck, but
I imagine has a long list of uses. The most apparent is against
planeswalkers. Walking Ballista can shoot them eventually, but Hex Parasite
does so at a faster rate. There are small other things I imagine it doing,
like messing with Aether Vial, Chalice of the Void, and various modular
creatures from Affinity. Nuking a Gemstone Mine sounds like fun. Forcing a
Thing in the Ice could be useful. Shrinking Champion of the Parish or
Thalia’s Lieutenant is neat. It’s worth trying at a low opportunity cost.

Burrenton Forge-Tender may look like overkill. Martyr is obviously good
against red decks like Burn. This is a case for squeezing a ton of value
from a single sideboard slot. They can still get you good with a timely
Skullcrack when you’re behind on the battlefield. It’s also decent
insurance against Anger of the Gods or Sweltering Suns out of the
Scapeshift decks.

Outs Versus Big Mana

I used to laugh at the idea of picking off a Tron land with Ghost Quarter
then using Surgical Extraction on it. It sounded like you had to be at just
the right place at the right time for things to work. Now, with a pile of
land destruction lands I’m not laughing; I’m on board. It’s not the
proudest plan in the world, but here you’re getting paid off for dedicating
to only a single color.

Amulet Titan and Scapeshift need to lean heavily on drawing Primeval Titan.
Simic Growth Chamber is weak versus Field of Ruin on its own. Five
Mountains can be avoided by busting up Cinder Glades and Stomping Grounds.

Slim Outs Versus Combo

A mopey lifegain deck with a bunch of Wrath of Gods and Ghostly Prisons is
unlikely to do well against combo game 1. Fortunately, white has access to
the best sideboard cards in Modern.

You’re not a favorite, but you have some tools. Martyr is a polarized deck
that, if you choose to brandish this weapon, won’t be great in a field of
combination strategies, at least not the ones that can go infinite like the
Devoted Druid decks. You can sometimes beat “a lot of damage” from a
Grapeshot or Lightning Storm if you Martyred twice.

Crush the Fair Decks

Decks that are trying to have a fine matchup against a wide variety will
have a really tough time against Mono-White Martyr. Serra Ascendant
outsizes most creatures and it’s tough to keep up with the card flow given
by Ranger of Eos, Thraben Inspector, and Squadron Hawk. One-for-one discard
and removal are often spells you’re happy to get cast against you.

Another land for me? Don’t mind if I do!

The resurgence of Izzet Phoenix has me curious if more should be hedged
against it. Loading up on Ghostly Prison is an option. Restoration Angel’s
stats line up pretty well against their threats. It’s decent against Bant
Spirits too. Blinking a Ranger of Eos is quite appealing. Restoration Angel
is currently sitting the slot previously allocated to Gideon, Ally of
Zendikar. It’s been playing well and might get bumped to two in the

SCG Baltimore, Then SCG CON

For SCG Baltimore I expect Izzet Drakes to continue being the trendy deck.
Mono-White Martyr is reasonable against them, so I’d be reasonably
confident taking the white cards into that tournament.

As for the Season Two Invitational a SCG CON, well, they used to be a
hotbed of fair decks. In a dual format tournament, you don’t need to get
all of your wins in one place – at least that was the general perception.

With Infect and Ironworks in the finals of the last Invitational, now I’m
not so sure.

Pretty good against the lifegain strategy.

My biggest worry would be the prevalence of Azorius Control. The matchup is
a slog. I’d rather lose quickly and painlessly than receive an
unintentional draw.

All-in-all, Mono-White Martyr is a good tool to use when the time’s right.
If it’s not right at this moment, I think it’s pretty close. I’ll be tuned
to coverage this weekend to finalize my weapon of choice for SCG CON.
There’s a good chance I’ll be running all white cards in both formats.