To Arms! How To Build Humans For SCG Louisville

A year ago, Dylan Hand made his first SCG Tour Top 8 in Louisville with Humans! Now he’s preparing for his Modern homecoming, and he’s sharing his latest list and sideboarding guide with you.

After what has felt like a nonstop battle to keep on top of a rapidly evolving Standard format post-War of the Spark release, the SCG Tour returns to Modern for the Louisville Open this coming weekend. While the new set has done a ton to shape Standard and create what is turning out to be an absurdly fun and challenging metagame to try to solve, War of the Spark has quietly been making waves in Modern as well.

The biggest card to make waves from the set is the third version of everyone’s favorite colorless planeswalker:

Karn’s catalogue of artifacts to go nab out of the sideboard is not quite extensive enough in Standard, but in Modern, Karn’s printing has given life to a new two-card combo capable of locking opponents out of the game entirely with Mycosynth Lattice, as well as being able to find other very powerful lock pieces for any matchup they are required for.

This Karn, the Great Creator package is seeing play not just in the obvious offenders like Tron, but even reaching so far as to be played in Amulet Titan, a deck that historically loves to find what it needs via tutors instead of naturally drawing what is required at any given time.

Outside of Karn, the biggest players are the other three-mana planeswalkers making waves in formats reaching even as far as Vintage:

The above gang of blue and white planeswalkers are starting to be adopted in Azorius Control shells, like this one from the MOCS from a couple of weekends ago:

Additionally, Saheeli is starting to see some play in Izzet Phoenix, a deck that’s a big fan of rotating its alternative win conditions, especially ones that don’t utilize the graveyard, as it’s the zone that gets attacked the most by opposing strategies.

Who would’ve guessed that out of 36 planeswalkers, a few would squeeze their way into eternal formats? These powerful permanents are historically hard to get off the battlefield in the older formats, since Hero’s Downfall-esque effects that directly say “destroy target planeswalker” are much less common.

What do I think about all of this?

This planeswalker arms race likely has only a net-positive impact for a deck chock full of cheap creatures capable of pressuring them, as well as making it a nightmare to even resolve them. What better deck does it than Modern’s Best Deck of 2018?

Humans is fresh off of what has been a two-month resurgence back into the spotlight as one of Modern’s best decks, culminating with a dominating performance at Mythic Championship London, along with the trophy in the hands of Eli Loveman.

Loveman took the above list to a first-place finish, toppling over many highly decorated opponents along the way. In the finals, he battled Matt Sperling playing what has historically been a difficult matchup for Humans. If I remember correctly, I think I saw some Twitter discourse that mentioned Sperling calling the matchup a “bye.” Hyperbole aside, he was not far off; Humans is a fantastic deck against opposing noncreature spells but is occasionally challenged to beat a swarm of creatures, especially ones that fly, something Affinity is full of.

As we know, Eli ultimately prevailed in four games. While the sample size of games is far too small to draw any reasonable conclusions from just this set, I wanted to use this example to illustrate how a certain new card from Ravnica Allegiance has done a ton of the heavy lifting to bring Humans back to the top tier of the Modern metagame:

The latest honorary Human to join the tribal strategy has been the perfect complement to Reflector Mage to create what is now a critical mass of pseudo-removal that Humans can employ so that it can catch up on the battlefield. Again, Humans does a nice job with the disruptive elements of Meddling Mage; Thalia, Guardian of Thraben; and Kitesail Freebooter to help keep the battlefield and stack clean of opposing spells, but sometimes struggles to beat resolved permanents, especially if Reflector Mage lines up poorly against them. Deputy of Detention helps this problem somewhat by clearing the way of hard-to-beat permanents, like Ensnaring Bridge, to push through those last few points of damage.

The combination of Deputy and Reflector Mage in straight-up creature matchups, like Affinity, does a lot to let you control the battlefield much more than before. This has been instrumental in turning a lot of historically negative matchups back to positive.

Other niche interactions Deputy of Detention has with the rest of the format include:

  • Cleaning up multiple Arclight Phoenixes, albeit usually temporarily.
  • Good at resetting Thing in the Ice. The Detention Sphere effect solves a problem that Reflector Mage had against multiple copies of Thing in the Ice, by letting you clear up and/or reset them all together.
  • Great at cleaning up multiple Prized Amalgams and/or Bloodghasts against Dredge.
  • Locks down planeswalkers to give you a chance (however small) against haymakers like Ugin and Ulamog out of Tron.
  • As alluded to above, is great at handling Ensnaring Bridges, allowing you to beat multiples on the battlefield at once, as well as ignoring Welding Jar.

What About War of the Spark?

One of the biggest strengths of Humans is that, every single new set, there’s always the potential for a new card to help power the deck even further. Ravnica Allegiance had Deputy of Detention. Guilds of Ravnica had Knight of Autumn. Core Set 2019 had Militia Bugler. Every set has something that helps the deck get just that much better. The real question is, does the streak continue in War of the Spark? To start off this analysis, I compiled a list of the cards that had even an inkling of a shot at making it into the 75.

Right off the bat, I want to clear the air and say that you should not be putting this card into your Humans deck with the way that it is currently built. Between one or two Seachrome Coasts, a basic Plains, Noble Hierarchs, and Horizon Canopies, you might think the math adds up, but it unfortunately does not.

It’s very unfortunate that this is the biggest drawback, as it is the only one. Mana issues aside, Gideon Blackblade would be a slam dunk in Humans. It enters the battlefield as a creature that’s a Human Soldier, meaning it would trigger Thalia’s Lieutenant and Champion of the Parish. The card would also do a ton to help against making the deck more resilient to spot removal, provide potential lifegain to help race, and also deal with some challenging permanents once he hits six loyalty.

He has no place in current lists, but I would be potentially interested in examining builds that either utilize fetchlands and a four-color manabase, or something like Gemstone Mine over Ancient Ziggurat to help cast him, as he solves Humans’s biggest problem as a deck and is an absurdly powerful standalone threat.

Believe it or not, I think Roalesk, Apex Hybrid has the highest potential of the three War of the Spark cards I’ll be discussing. However, it would likely necessitate an increase in land count and/or a couple of supplemental mana creatures like Avacyn’s Pilgrim to allow you to reliably cast it. That being said, the effect Roalesk provides, and the raw power on rate of a flier with five toughness in Modern, make it at least worthy of consideration. Again, Roalesk actually could fit right into current shells, but it would require an increase in mana sources to really make feasible. You won’t really want to be ticking up your Aether Vials to five all the time to put this onto the battlefield.

Tomik weighs in as the easiest inclusion for Humans if you examine him just on stats alone; a 2/3 for WW with flying and tribal synergies sounds like a slam dunk if the additional text was relevant. At this time, I’m not sure how relevant the static ability is in Modern. Compared to Legacy, a format full of Wastelands, Thespian’s Stages, and Life from the Loams, I’m sure Death and Taxes is pretty interested in this card in some number. As far as Modern is concerned, it only interacts with the Life from the Loam engine out of exactly Dredge, and disrupting them on that axis isn’t really what you want to be doing in that matchup.

Field of Ruin isn’t the end of the world to play against in a majority of cases, and I think the interaction of stopping Inkmoth / Blinkmoth Nexus from ever carrying Arcbound Ravager counters, getting equipped with Cranial Plating, or getting pumped via Vines of Vastwood isn’t really that exciting.

I think Tomik is a very nice card to add to our toolbox should Modern’s metagame ever change enough for it to be a warranted inclusion in lists. Now is not the time, but with a big shakeup coming with Modern Horizons, I think Tomik’s time in the sun is a matter of when, not if.

Looking forward to SCG Louisville, I will most certainly be playing Humans, and think it is and continues to be excellently positioned, especially in a world where people are trying to durdle around with a bunch of planeswalkers. Here is roughly where I would begin preparing:

Maindeck, I’m looking to give the nod to Thalia, Heretic Cathar right now. It was the flex slot option of choice employed by the Modern Classic winner in Richmond a few weeks ago, and after thinking about it a bunch, it just makes sense right now. The mirror is going to be popular given the deck’s recent success and it’s an all-star there. It’s great against Tron, the deck that appears to have the highest metagame share at the moment, and interacts favorably against another new card from War of the Spark that I purposefully chose not to bring up until now, as I wanted to use it as a part of my case for Big Thalia:

After thinking about Blast Zone a bunch and how it interacts with Humans, I’m decidedly not as fearful of the card as one might naturally be. By comparing the card to Engineered Explosives, which costs two mana to activate, and is typically cast on X=2 to blow up the large amount of two-mana creatures we play, Blast Zone has to dedicate itself to being tapped twice, once to charge and once to detonate, costing a total of seven mana if you count Blast Zone in that cost. This also takes place over two turns and would require the entirety of Turn 3 and Turn 4 to set to two and clean up the battlefield. To me, this seems far too slow, might not even line up well, and can be played around with Aether Vials.

Still, to that end, I like that Thalia, Heretic Cathar really punishes Blast Zone and makes it fairly useless if played after Thalia is already on the battlefield. Additionally, Thalia having a converted mana cost of three makes her good a diversifying mana costs amongst your creatures.

Looking to the sideboard, you may be wondering why I spoke so much praise for Deputy of Detention and chose to not play it maindeck. While I still think the card was instrumental in taking Humans up a notch in power level, I like to always follow the mantra of wanting to be more proactive in Game 1s, especially in Modern, and Deputy of Detention having one power and never being able to carry a counter from Thalia’s Lieutenant makes it a seemingly poor inclusion.

To summarize the rest of the sideboard, Damping Sphere serves as your best answer to Tron and has applicability in other matchups as well at times, such as Amulet Titan. Dismember serves as your cheapest answer to pesky creatures and Whirler Rogue serves as a nice mirror breaker that’s also solid in the grindier matchups. Gaddock Teeg makes a triumphant return to the sideboard primarily due to the renaissance of Azorius Control in Modern. Combined with it being a solid (albeit not a slam dunk) option against Tron, I’m planning on testing two, and would likely look to play at least one minimum. Sin Collector returns for a similar reason, while also being solid against Izzet Phoenix.

Auriok Champion currently sits as a three-of in the sideboard, and the only reason I refuse to go lower is because I like to always respect Burn, regardless of its position in the metagame. Auriok Champion is still very strong against Dredge as well, but a downtick in decks like Grixis Death’s Shadow makes me interested in shaving at least from four to three copies.


VS Mono-Green Tron



I’m ultimately not very happy with Gaddock Teeg in this matchup, since Oblivion Stone and Walking Ballista are the number one and two problems that Teeg simultaneously does not solve. That being said, I think you most certainly want the card in your deck if your opponent is on the Karn, the Great Creator build of Tron. Be wary of what your opponent does Game 1 before making this decision.

VS Humans



The mirror has a lot more battlefield stalls and less runaway games these days thanks to Deputy of Detention. Navigate accordingly and know your role, as the games will get messy.

VS Izzet Phoenix



This matchup is firmly positive, as their control elements are typically not good enough anymore and Deputy of Detention helps keep Thing in the Ice in check very well. Consider shaving Mantis Riders for Meddling Mages on the draw, as they can get stonewalled by Crackling Drakes and naturally trade poorly in combat with Arclight Phoenix.

VS Dredge



VS Hardened Scales



VS Burn



VS Amulet Titan



VS Azorius Control



Before I close today, a quick anecdote:

Roughly one year ago, I hopped in a car with a couple of friends from college, less than one week after graduating, to drive eighteen hours in a car to Louisville, Kentucky. It was there and then that I made the Top 8 of my first Open with this deck that I love to write about so much and so often.

This coming weekend, in a way, feels like I’m returning to the place where I started this journey I began what feels like a lifetime ago, doing battle every weekend on the SCG Tour. I’m very excited to return to Louisville, running the same deck back in the hopes of beating my high score from last time.

Champion of the Parish and company hold a special place in my heart, and I look forward to doing battle with them once more this weekend, confident that they will lead me, and anyone who chooses to play Humans, to victory.