The Shortlist: Diverse Modern Decks With Winning Chances

Being a one-trick pony in Modern is a great way to get stuck in monthslong droughts! Dylan Donegan has come up with a shortlist of decks that can get him through any metagame. Read his picks and learn how to use his technique for yourself!

2017 is coming to an end. My school semester just ended, and there are no major tournaments that I’ll be attending for the rest of the year. This means I’ll be having plenty of free time over the holiday break to test some different Modern decks.

First off, no, this doesn’t mean I’ve given up on my pet deck, Grixis Death’s Shadow. I simply just want to get familiar with some other archetypes in the format. Obviously, the best advice anyone can give you about Modern is to master your deck and play it week after week. However, once you’ve accomplished that, I think it’s good to try some new decks that function differently from your pet deck. This will both broaden your range as a player and give you some adaptability in deck selection.

The Modern Wheel

My good friend and Lotus Box teammate Zan Syed was the first person to tell me the idea that Modern’s top decks are always rotating. Decks seem to rise and fall in time periods as short as a few months! The wheel never stops turning in Modern.

Take Green Tron for example, a deck that was almost nonexistent just a few months ago. Eldrazi Tron had basically become the format’s Tier 1 big mana deck. Because of this, people stopped playing stuff like Crumble to Dust or Fulminator Mage because of how ineffective they are against Eldrazi Tron. This left the perfect window for good old Tron (who am I kidding, I hate Tron!) to rise once again.

Between it winning the Open during the Invitational weekend and putting three copies into last week’s Grand Prix Top 8 in Oklahoma City, I think it’s safe to say Tron is back. It’s virtually impossible to get a hard read on the Modern metagame when there are so many different decks, but there generally are about three to five “top dogs” of the format you should expect to face in basically every event.

Understanding the wheel is important because it gives you a more educated guess on if you need extra sideboard cards for a certain type of deck, or if you just need to switch your deck straight-up.

Three-Deck Theory

If the Modern wheel never stops turning, you’re probably going to want a spare option or two in your back pocket. I’ve been thinking about how great it would be to confidently pilot at least three strategies that are fundamentally different. What I mean by this is to learn decks that attack the format from different angles. For example, learning Affinity (linear aggro), Ad Nauseam (combo), and Jeskai (midrange/control) would be a great example of this.

Why is this important? After all, it’s lots of effort to invest putting into learning one deck. Now three? Yet it gives you some flexibility in deck selection as the Modern wheel rotates. Everyone’s low on graveyard hate? Time to break out some Dredge. Midrange and control back on top of the format? What better time to play your favorite Tron variant! Big mana decks on top? Guess we’ll play a linear combo or aggro deck to prey on them.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been trying out all sorts of Modern decks to find out which ones I like, which ones I think are legitimately good, and what I could see myself bringing to a major event. After all, my next tournament will be SCG Columbus, which is of course, Modern. While I’m not explicitly looking to put down my beloved Death’s Shadows, I would like to feel confident enough in another archetype to bring it to the event. Over the holiday break I’ll be working on mastering two new archetypes as best I can. Without further ado, here are the decks on my Modern shortlist.

The newest kid on the block in terms of Tier 1 Modern decks. And yes, I just said Humans is Tier 1 and I’m a firm believer of that. To no one’s surprise, the Humans champ himself Collins Mullen has gotten basically everyone on Team Lotus Box to start playing the deck. I have to say I too am quite fond of the deck. This list is the one our teammate Jon Rosum used to Top 8 the most recent Magic Online PTQ, where he lost to the eventual winner.

Zan, Jon, and I all started playing the deck about two weeks ago now and all have Modern trophies with the deck. Zan even last-minute audibled off his pet deck (Infect) last weekend at the GP to play Humans. The deck is incredibly good and is capable of some completely busted starts, both aggressive and disruptive. I think it is the best Aether Vial deck by a pretty decent margin and has the tools to beat virtually every deck.

There have been some recent updates to the list that I wanted to point out as well. Sam Pardee (or Smdster on Magic Online) went 6-2 in a recent Modern Challenge with Phantasmal Image over Mayor of Avabruck (which is certainly the worst card in the stock lists). No shocker from Sam, but this was a genius change. Some people still play Mayor, and someone even Top 32ed the GP with a split between Mayors and Harsh Mentors.

But we have all been absolutely in love with the Images, as you see the full playset made the cut. Image does a lot of different things for the deck which make it kind of busted. It’s mostly best with your aggressive creatures, as copying a Thalia’s Lieutenant or a Mantis Rider ends the game incredibly quickly. But sometimes you get to have one extra disruptive creature, which is often backbreaking for decks that need specific pieces.

Collins brought up the fact that so many people complain about the same thing with the deck, that being, “Oh, well, if you didn’t have the second (X Human), I would have been fine”. That X could be many different cards: Kitesail Freebooter, Meddling Mage, Mantis Rider, Reflector Mage. These cards are just nightmares for many decks to see, especially in multiples. If the first copy of whatever Human you played was good, the second is likely to be great in most cases.

On top of being insane next to most of the creatures in your deck, I’ve copied everything from Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Gurmag Angler to a Snapcaster Mage that let me trigger my Champion of the Parish and Dismember my opponent’s Snapcaster for the win!

Another big change to the deck was the addition of Chalice of the Void to the sideboard, something Collins thought of right before the Invitational weekend. We aren’t 100% sold on them yet, but they do help a lot against the decks flush with one-mana removal like Jeskai Control, Mardu Pyromancer, and Abzan, which can be some of the tougher matchups. Humans is a great deck for you Aether Vial fanatics and certainly one I plan on sleeving up in 2018.

This is the Storm list I just finished a League at 4-1 with. I started playing the deck on Monday this week and have played six Leagues with it, and I’ve been having a blast. I’m not normally a dedicated combo player, so this is stepping outside of my comfort zone. I think the deck is well-positioned once again (the wheel keeps on spinning) due to the rise of Tron and TitanShift, as well as Dredge. All of these decks are pretty close to byes for Storm. I’ve been having a decent win rate with the deck with two 4-1 results under my belt, and boy have I made a ton of mistakes. I also have to say this deck is just really good, and sometimes it just feels completely broken. The combination of the consistent Turn 3 kills and a ton of resiliency to hate makes the deck very appealing.

I have won many games already I thought I stood no chance in. I started off with Storm guru himself Caleb Scherer’s 75 for the first two Leagues or so. To no one’s surprise the list felt nice and clean, and I’ve used his write-up on the deck quite a lot for helping me with sideboarding.

But as I’m wont to do, I started messing around with some numbers here and there. Then I took some technology from our most recent Invitational winner Eli Kassis’s decklist with the maindeck copy of Empty the Warrens, which is a nice out to things like Meddling Mage, maindeck graveyard hate, and Leyline of Sanctity and Witchbane Orb.

On top of that, we replaced Caleb’s Wipe Away with an Echoing Truth (where the only time I drew it I needed to bounce both Cages, so +1 Echoing Truth!) and added the Madcap Experiment / Platinum Emperion combo. Madcap Experiment is a super-powerful card and I think it has not seen as much play as it should in Modern.

I liked the idea of having access to this because post-sideboard games often need win conditions not susceptible to graveyard hate, and on top of that, most decks have answers and are fully aware of the Empty the Warrens plan. After a few games of getting my Goblins swept up my Engineered Explosives, Kozilek’s Return, Izzet Staticaster, and the like, I decided to try out the Madcaps.

While I can’t say I’m 100% sold on them yet, there have been a bunch of great spots for them. Almost nobody prepares for it, and it also can just be a single card capable of stealing a game, which is important when you are low on resources. I have had the Golem make many appearances in my opening hand, but I’ve even gotten to a spot where I just Ritualed it out. However, I can’t condone cutting Opts for See Beyond like Eli did to facilitate it (but he’s a bit of a mad genius, so maybe he’s onto something).

What Are Your Other Two?

I’ve chose these two decks to fill out my Modern trio for a few reasons. First off, like I mentioned earlier, they all function differently and attack the format from different angles. Grixis Death’s Shadow is my flexible midrange deck that I really need update my sideboard for week after week. Humans is my linear aggressive deck when I just want to beat my opponent’s face in. Storm is a resilient, fast combo to beat up on big mana decks and other linear strategies.

The best part about playing all these different decks is I legitimately enjoy playing all of them, which is important when settling into playing a deck for an extended period. Modern is in a pretty spectacular place now where you do virtually whatever you want. Sometimes you might just show up with no graveyard hate and get paired against Dredge twice. But hey, the Modern wheel keeps on spinning!