SCG Philadelphia is a fresh start for the Modern format after the Bridge from Below ban, with all of Modern Horizons to explore. It’s also a return to the norm, with a bunch of established powerhouses being able to immediately adjust to the ban and integrate a lot of gains from Modern Horizons and War of the Spark.
With SCG Philadelphia being a team event, we can expect a little more respect shown to the metagame at large, as people fail to trick themselves into nonsense decks when two other people can check their work.
These are the eight decks I consider critical to watch for this weekend: the ones you need to respect in deckbuilding, the ones that have the most pending potential, and the ones you will need to beat to take home the trophy.
#1. Izzet Phoenix, Captain Obvious
I don’t have a ton to say about Izzet Phoenix. The metagame has heavily adjusted for it over the last few months, and the London Mulligan severely hurts the deck that lived on the margins of its opponents failing while it kept every seven. I don’t think it’s the best deck for an individual event, but for a trios event it’s comforting to have a solid all-around option in the middle.
There’re three big changes to track with this deck. Aria of Flame isn’t a huge upgrade from Pyromancer Ascension, but it limits Izzet Phoenix’s exposure to graveyard hate in sideboard games. Your no-value graveyard hate should only show up if you’re really desperate to fight their recursion.
Force of Negation covers Izzet Phoenix against a lot of angles it previously was weak to, namely Karn Liberated, Neoform, and Chalice of the Void. The latest list from the SCG Worcester Modern Classic started maindecking Forces, which makes some sense with Faithless Looting. I wouldn’t be shocked to see at least one copy to stick around in future lists.
Lava Dart isn’t a change by itself, but the slight uptick in pinpoint removal is a big hit for decks like Infect that exploited the heavy Surgical Extraction spread of the deck in the first half of the year.
If you’re playing Izzet Phoenix, you probably knew all this, but if you aren’t, these are the things you have to keep an eye out for.
#2. Eldrazi Tron, Wait Is It 2017 Again?
Wait, what happened to normal Mono-Green Tron? How did we go from this…
Does a Tier 2 deck put multiple people in the Top 18? pic.twitter.com/xpwJkobGmr
— Ari Lax (@armlx) May 31, 2019
…to last weekend having three Eldrazi Tron in the Top 8 of the Magic Online Modern Challenge, this weekend having Eldrazi Tron going undefeated in the Modern MOCS Monthly, this weekend having Eldrazi Tron win the SCG Worcester Modern Classic?
It all revolves around Karn, the Great Creator. It’s obvious to pair Karn with Tron lands, because there isn’t another engine in Modern that lets you go off into a one-turn Mycosynth Lattice lock the way those do.
The problem is the Mycosynth Lattice combo isn’t a confirmed kill in the face of attackers. The seven-mana play of Karn, the Great Creator into Ensnaring Bridge isn’t a real lock in these decks that don’t empty their hands quickly.
Traditional Mono-Green Tron can’t defend Karn without having already “won the game” with a Wurmcoil Engine to block. Even if your seven-mana play is “Karn, -2, find Walking Ballista to chump block,” what is your plan for blocking next turn once you find a Lattice? Karn, the Great Creator starts looking like a Ulamog-style ten-drop kill that requires setup or a Thragtusk threat that aims to function when disrupted but isn’t a slam-jam win.
Eldrazi Tron has clean protection setups for Karn, the Great Creator because the Eldrazi actually block. Your seven-mana Tron play looks more like “Karn, +1 to insulate, Matter Reshaper, and then directly into Mycosynth Lattice and Thought-Knot Seer for a sturdy lock.” Eldrazi Tron was also looking for really dominant threats it could cast with just the Mind Stone / Eldrazi Temple half of the deck, and Karn, the Great Creator costs normal four mana and not just “Tron land four mana.” Even when you don’t have the bridge to the actual lock, you can mini-lock with Liquimetal Coating.
An important thing to realize about Eldrazi Tron is that the actual Eldrazi are almost a backup plan. It should be obvious from the last year of the format that Eldrazi aren’t a reliable Modern kill condition in 2019, but here they serve as the leverage for a higher-power end-game the deck had lacked prior to War of the Spark. Going hard against one plan the way you would against Mono-Green Tron or Gruul Eldrazi isn’t going to work out. You need to do things that pressure both sides. Tarmogoyf to go with your Fulminator Mages to outsize random Eldrazi is clutch, or Ceremonious Rejection instead of Spreading Seas (as long as you can beat Chalice of the Void).
Eldrazi Tron is also just a much less consistently powerful deck than Mono-Green Tron, in our first example of how the London Mulligan is starting to re-level itself in the format. Mono-Green Tron is absurdly reliable with the London Mulligan, but opposing decks are very reliably able to find their disruption for it. Eldrazi Tron keeps some of that explosive power in exchange for being less of a glass cannon, and you never have to keep the Ghost Quarter / Wastes / Urza’s Mine hands again. This does make for some really frustrating matches where you know how unlikely it was that you got hit with Turn 3 Tron both games, but if Modern didn’t have some frustrating matches for the haters to complain about, would it really be Modern?
#3. Jund, Built by a Licensed Jund Professional
When Reid Duke or Brad Nelson builds a Jund deck, it largely means they have no idea what they should play and are falling back on bad habits. When Logan Nettles builds a Jund deck, I listen a little more.
Similar to Izzet Phoenix, you’re looking at a couple of Modern Horizons cards boosting Jund, but this time they are huge changes.
Wrenn and Six plays too many roles to count. It gives you a fourth land for Bloodbraid Elf, grinds down fair matchups with the Modern Horizons Horizon lands, and hard punishes one-toughness creatures. That last one doubles up with the changes from Izzet Phoenix to really put the hurt on a lot of decks, and Plague Engineer does that even harder.
Seasoned Pyromancer isn’t in Logan’s list, but it has shown up in a number of others like the Red Bull Untapped Qualifier. The effect seems extremely powerful in a deck that often draws late discard or dead removal or just with recurred Wrenn and Six lands, with the only strike against it being the three cost and double red in a Golgari-based deck. I don’t know if it specifically beats anything, but it ties the room together nicely.
Hexdrinker, though? I don’t get it. Someone needs to explain why spending nine mana for a threat that dies to Liliana of the Veil and Supreme Verdict or to Gut Shot in response to the third level up is good.
The question with Jund in my mind is whether it actually stands up to the decks that aren’t repelled by Plague Engineer and Wrenn and Six. The lack of follow-up results could be this issue, or it literally could be the price tag of Wrenn and Six as people adjust to the new metagame.
Even if there is a big impact of this update, it hasn’t been felt yet. Humans won the last two Magic Online Modern Challenges and put two in the Top 4 of the SCG Worcester Modern Classic. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben players have at least a little more room to breathe with their no-changes lists until they have to make some hard decisions about new hate cards.
#4. Azorius Control, AKA Stax
Do0mSwitch made their mark early in the Modern Horizons Modern format with two Magic Online event finals in two days, including an MCQ. This list won Grand Prix Dallas in the hands of Austin Bursavich, and Do0mSwitch is still the Modern trophy leader in a post-Bridge from Below format. Almost nothing has changed about this list despite a ban. The big things to note are another sideboard Monastery Mentor and a maindeck Search for Azcanta, which both seem to point towards the format getting fairer and mirrors being a big concern.
The one other thing I’ll note about Azorius Control that dates more towards War of the Spark is that Teferi, Time Raveler is turning the corner to be a better lock piece than Narset, Parter of Veils. A lot of Opt– and Sleight of Hand-style adjustments have occurred to dodge sorcery-speed card drawing, but people are ignoring Teferi, Time Raveler. Rift Bolts, Bring to Light, Finale of Promise, and Bloodbraid Elf all get crippled. Azorius isn’t flooding the metagame, but if there are any indicators it might, you need to scour your lists for these issues and figure out how to adjust.
#5. Grixis Urza and Some TBD Friends
Grixis Urza is in a weird middle ground for an artifact prison deck. It is both clunky and powerful, just by virtue of how the Thopter-Sword combo works. It is oddly inflexible because of how many slots that combo takes out, but it has very few weird restrictions on the pieces it can play the way Lantern needs to only play cheap cards to dump its hand or Whir Prison has to avoid its own Chalice of the Void. You are kinda priced into Izzet because of Urza, Lord High Artificer and Goblin Engineer, but your third color could be black or white or really just all of the above in a Mox Opal world.
These Grixis Urza lists are still very influenced by the Bridge from Below era. If a team takes Grixis Urza all the way next weekend, I would be looking for a highly innovative list. In the wackiest Magic Online deck dump ever last Monday, there were six unique decks with Urza, Lord High Artificer in them. I wouldn’t count on the Paradoxical Outcome or Riddlesmith decks, but do you want to be Jeskai for Teferi, Time Raveler? Or do you want to adjust back into a Chalice of the Void deck at the cost of Arcum’s Astrolabe now that Grafdigger’s Cage and Nihil Spellbomb at one mana matter less?
#6. Dredge, Welcome Back
You may recognize Tomasz better by his Magic Online username Sodeq. He has been playing Dredge for a long time and has been winning with it for a long time.
Nothing has changed with Dredge, but everyone needs a reminder that it exists and is extremely powerful under the London Mulligan. There’s a reason the Do0mSwitch Azorius Control deck is only down one total graveyard hate card.
You can probably cut those maindeck Nihil Spellbombs, but if you aren’t showing up with five or six graveyard hate cards, you don’t actually have a plan to beat Dredge.
#7. Burn, Always Hanging Out
Still just the same Burn deck you always expect. Sunbaked Canyon is a small gain for a deck that really wants to play its third land but never wants to have four lands.
The reason I mention Burn is that it lost in the finals of this weekend’s Magic Online Modern Challenge in addition to the SCG Pittsburgh Modern Classic win. The deck’s margins certainly have been cut away, but there isn’t incidental lifegain anywhere. Look at all these decks: there’s just the one or two Timely Reinforcements from Azorius Control, and Dredge or the full Thopter-Sword combo, which you can never beat. The zero copies of Skullcrack in this list make a strong statement that if your opponents aren’t showing respect, you don’t need to either.
I don’t think it takes much to get a lot of free percentage from your Burn matchup: two copies of Collective Brutality in the Jund sideboard, a Batterskull in the Karn, the Great Creator sideboard. But similar to the five-to-six-graveyard-hate line for Dredge, zero cards for Burn means you’re going to lose to a deck that will always be popular and now looks to be well-positioned.
#8. Bridgevine, Killed but Undead
- 4 Carrion Feeder
- 4 Street Wraith
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Hedron Crab
- 4 Death's Shadow
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 4 Prized Amalgam
- 4 Stitcher's Supplier
- 4 Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis
Having played Modern all weekend on Magic Online, I can confirm Bridgevine is far from dead. The Hedron Crab – Death’s Shadow list isn’t even stock, with another Lotleth Troll list floating around without a clear source.
But this is nothing close to the menace we were facing pre-banning, or even the wild X-drop Goblin Bushwhacker lists from Pro Tour 25th Anniversary. Bridgevine lists now are very similar to Dredge in how they play out. You set up a bit of graveyard and then explode into a lot more power than you should have on Turn 3 or Turn 4.
The difference comes in the pacing and spread. Dredge has Creeping Chill and Conflagrate for a unique burn element and requires fewer resources to bin a massive number of cards. Bridgevine is more limited by what it actually draws, yet has a slightly faster initial push thanks to Vengevine and more actual cards in the face of hate. You can cast Hogaak, Risen Necropolis from your hand against Grafdigger’s Cage or attack with Gravecrawler into a Leyline of the Void. Of course, this might be an irrelevant boost. Just because you can take game actions against Rest in Peace doesn’t mean Azorius Control won’t shrug off a random 2/1 beatdown plan.
I don’t quite know if this new take on Bridgevine is actually better than Dredge in any given situation, but it’s at least in range of trying. Just by that metric, I expect a lot of people to be sleeving it up in Philly.
#9. The Wild Card
0-2 into 6-2 in the MOCS Prelim for a qualification.
Deck is still busted. I played pretty poorly the first two rounds while waking up and lost to favorable matchups. pic.twitter.com/HwD7ounVde
— Cyrus Corman-Gill (@CyrusCGmtg) July 14, 2019
I couldn’t give this deck an actual billing, but I also couldn’t snub a Legacy Storm master generating some solid hype with a nonsense deck. It’s been years since we have seen a successful blue Scapeshift deck, but the issue has always been the same – you need to produce lands while interacting to combo, which all costs cardboard, so as much of your interaction needs to draw a card as possible. Ever since Remand stopped being good, this became impossible. Ice-Fang Coatl is the latest card to try to make this work. I have a lot of concerns about this deck, but the sheer results Cyrus has stated are hard to argue with.
And if you look at all the things and decks I laid out, it sure seems like this deck does a lot of things right. It dodges all the small creature hate by not being a creature deck. It dodges Chalice of the Void from Eldrazi Tron and has lots of small punishes like Remand. Blue Scapeshift traditionally goes bigger than midrange and out-manas control decks. It’s loaded on graveyard hate and has a splash of lifegain. It even has the mishmash of sweepers to cover Humans, the most important deck I didn’t cover.
If you go off the rails and choose a non-stock list this weekend, try to hit this same level of coverage with your metagame call.