Understanding Modern

Jeremy focuses on the top few decks in Modern, providing new lists for your gauntlet, and explaining how the decks have changed in wake of the bannings!

The current Modern format is only in its infancy — just a few weeks have passed since Modern was shaken up by the banning of Wild Nacatl and Punishing
Fire. Even so, it wouldn’t be fair to keep referring to the metagame as “wide open.” Although there haven’t been any live tournaments yet, plenty of
decks have been through the grinder of Magic Online, and the top archetypes (for now, at least) are starting to emerge. If you’re playing in a PTQ
tomorrow, there are big players — decks you’d better be prepared to beat.

This is going to be kind of the opposite of Gerry Thompson article series, which you should read — it’s about the most comprehensive
tackling of a metagame I’ve ever witnessed. But I’m focusing only on the top few decks. Obviously, which lists precisely constitute the top few decks
is subject to interpretation, and hopefully everyone will respect that. (I reserve the right to ignore comments saying “I CANT BELIVE U DIDNT COVR THE

I should explain the “sample decklist” format I’ll be using. The sample decklists aren’t any particular Magic Online list — they represent a rough
average of what people are playing, weighted slightly if I feel like a particular card is an excellent choice. Specific sideboards are deliberately
absent because that’s where lists vary the most, and that’s where you should make the most changes to adapt to your local metagame. If you’re testing
against one of these lists, assume they have the relevant sideboard cards for your matchup. I’d usually recommend not playing with fifteen-card
sideboards during the early stages of the testing process anyway.

Here we go!

Sideboard options:

Ancient Grudge, Duress, Obstinate Baloth and/or Kitchen Finks, Relic of Progenitus and/or Thorn of Amethyst, extra removal (and Combust in particular).

When this deck was in Standard, you had to play Putrid Leech! These days, Dark Confidant and Tarmogoyf (the best two creatures currently legal in
Modern) make a much better team. The loss of Punishing Fire hurts a little — but not as much as it hurts the control decks, because you can now afford
to be proactive in most matchups. At Worlds, Jund was more properly classified as a mid-range deck, but Zoo losing Nacatl has slowed the format down
quite a lot.

Jund is kind of the “good cards” deck of the format. You don’t have any particular synergy; you just play a bunch of cards that are, well, good. (I am
a true master of the English language.) As such, your matchups are pretty even across the board — they range from fair to reasonable. I like the deck
for its adaptability. If I was going to pick a deck to play for the whole of the PTQ season and tune constantly, it’d probably be Jund — it’ll remain a
fairly good choice week in, week out, and you can get a ton of percentage points with good play and careful tuning.

A lot of lists run the miser’s singleton of Thrun, the Last Troll, which makes a lot less sense now that Punishing Fire is absent. You can do much
better in the creature department.

Sideboard options:

Spell Pierce / Negate / Mindbreak Trap, Ancient Grudge, big guys (Ranger of Eos, Kitchen Finks), Ethersworn Canonist / Gaddock Teeg / Rule of Law,
removal (mainly Deathmark)

The best Cat ever may have left the room, but the Zoo is still in business, with a fine selection of Cats, Apes, Lions, and Tarmogoyfs from around the

There are a lot of slight variations on Zoo out there. I like the Steppe Lynx / Tribal Flames package for sheer ability to do damage, especially with
Snapcaster Mage. It occupies a good spot in the metagame for the aggro players in that it’s more consistent, slower, and less vulnerable to hate than
Affinity — which probably makes it a better choice overall. You could also play a more midrange Naya build with Noble Hierarch and Elspeth,
Knight-Errant, but at that point you have to justify why you aren’t just playing Jund.

Wild Nacatl is definitely a huge loss for Zoo, and I’m not convinced we should just replace it with Loam Lion and carry on as if nothing happened. Wild
Nacatl on turn 1 dealt nine damage in three turns, which meant goldfishing on turn 4 was easy as anything. Kird Ape deals six damage in as many turns —
your deck is now half a turn slower. Goblin Guide is a possible replacement, which curiously enough isn’t getting much love — I think we’re still
caught up in the wake of Punishing Fire. Also Dark Confidant. Making the deck able to play a longer game with Grim Lavamancer, Dark Confidant, and more
burn goes a long way towards making up the loss of sheer speed. Yet another option is Tidehollow Sculler; these are all these creatures everyone forgot
existed because they have less than three toughness.

Sideboard options:

Ethersworn Canonist, Torpor Orb, Blood Moon, Spellskite, Firespout, Thoughtseize / Duress, Relic of Progenitus, removal (most likely Dispatch)

Classifying this under “aggro” is a bit misleading, I agree. Affinity does aim to attack people with creatures, it’s true, which is considered the
hallmark of an aggro deck. But I’d consider it more of a combo deck, in the sense that its spells are individually almost useless but go broken once
you reach critical mass.

Speaking of spells that help you reach critical mass, I really wanted to put Thoughtcast in this sample decklist, but had to restrain myself,
because there is literally no Affinity list that currently plays them. That’ll probably change in a few weeks; it’s easy enough to swap Blackcleave
Cliffs out for Shivan Reef (or even Glimmervoid/City of Brass if you want a colorful sideboard.)

Affinity is one of those decks I personally would never play, but would always respect. It can perform brilliantly in any given tournament, but there
are a few problems associated with it:

That said, if you’re not prepared for Affinity, you will absolutely lose to it. The deck is super-fast and capable of ridiculous draws – I have won on
turn 4 through an Ancient Grudge. Don’t leave home without some sort of trump, particularly if your deck is naturally removal-light.

Sideboard options:

Shattering Spree / Hurkyl’s Recall, Leyline of Sanctity, Relic of Progenitus, Firespout, Empty the Warrens (+ Goblin Bushwhacker), Echoing Truth, Magma
Jet, Defense Grid / Pact of Negation

Okay, I admit it: I (mostly) stole GerryT’s Storm decklist.
That’s only because all the MTGO lists are exactly the same, and they all play many weird cards, such as Pyromancer Ascension, only three Past
in Flames, and Desperate Ravings over Peer through Depths.

This last one is especially bizarre — in theory it makes sense that the extra card or two in graveyard would be great with Past in Flames, but when you
play a few games with the deck, it quickly becomes clear that having enough spells to cast once you Yawgmoth’s Will is not the bottleneck. The
bottleneck is mana (and to a lesser extent blue mana, i.e. Manamorphose) — you really want three more Rituals or so, and inadvertently discarding one
can really cost you. You need six mana to even think about going off, because that’s how much it costs to cast Past in Flames and still have
Ritual mana up. I went so far as to Gatherer the available options, but Inner Fire and Mana Seism aren’t quite there.

Meanwhile, Peer through Depths is great. Like, excellent. I remember tuning our Storm list for PT Philly, and we started out with zero Peer through
Depths, then two, then three, then four. It was the best digging effect for Empty the Warrens then, and it finds Past in Flames now just as well (or a
Ritual, if you already have the Yawgmoth’s Will). You can even splice Desperate Ritual onto it, which matters every five games or so.

Ideas Unbound is a card everyone seems to have forgotten about. UU does tax Manamorphose, so you don’t want to draw too many, but a couple of copies is
very reasonable. Having a few bright Ideas makes seven spells easy as anything and even ten spells for the double-Grapeshot is achievable. It almost
made the cut for Philly, and that’s saying something, because Past in Flames hadn’t yet been printed – Ideas was only good on the turn you
went off. In current Storm lists, it’s just fine to play on turn 2.

I feel like I should also mention Gifts Ungiven, because the ChannelFireball crew swore by it in their testing for Worlds. I think you can’t exactly
shoehorn it into the list, though — you need to play more land, and you probably also want Remand or similar, so you become much more controlling in
game 1s. Verdict: probably good against control, bad if your metagame is full of Affinity. Needs testing.

If I were to play a Modern tournament tomorrow, I would play Storm. It’s the most powerful deck, and at this early stage in the format, that’s what
matters most. You need a good sideboard strategy against disruption, though — luckily no one is playing Mindbreak Trap yet, but Ethersworn Canonist,
Thorn of Amethyst, Leyline of Sanctity, and Relic of Progenitus are everywhere.

One option is to sideboard into a different combo, like Polymorph, Twin, or Hive Mind. Another is to board in Empty the Warrens (which ignores Leyline
and Relic) and Echoing Truth (which deals with Canonist and Thorn.) A fairly good option in the mirror (and for control and combo in general) is to
bring in Kiln Fiend – it kills them on turn 3, which is usually a turn before they can do anything about it, and it stops dumb sideboard cards like
Telemin Performance.

Sideboard options:

Firespout, Blood Moon, Pact of Negation / Negate / Spell Pierce, Shattering Spree / Hurkyl’s Recall / Ancient Grudge, dudes (Grim Lavamancer,
Tarmogoyf, Vendilion Clique)

I have to admit that I don’t like this deck much — a personal bias. It’s a two-card combo, like Ad Nauseam/Angel’s Grace, except that this one dies to
commonly played cards like Path to Exile and Dismember that the other one blanks. In fact, I decided that it wasn’t a deck before Pro Tour Philly… and we all know how that turned out.

The fashion seems to be to play a lot of Dispel / Spellskite effects — cards that don’t get you towards your combo, but make it resilient when you do
draw it. That’s risky, because Sleight of Hand and Serum Visions are a lot worse at digging than Ponder and Preordain — it’s not by any means a given
that you will get to your combo pieces, and if you don’t, your deck does precisely nothing. On the other hand, what dig effects can you play?
Telling Time? Forbidden Alchemy/Thieves’ Auction? Thirst for Knowledge? The available options are pretty dismal. It’s not Storm, where you get the
Impulse-upgrade of Peer through Depths.

Nevertheless, the big draw — that you get to play more than four of each combo piece – is still there, and that lends consistency that would otherwise
be lacking. It’s another deck that I personally wouldn’t play, but I would never run something cold to infinite 1/4s on turn 4. An interesting option
is to add Hallowed Fountain and Village Bell-Ringer, shoring up your combo entirely against Lightning Bolts and Lightning Helixes.

As with all U/R combo decks, Twin can morph post-board into something unexpected. Probably not Storm – that takes too many slots – but Hive Mind is an
option. You can also just board in some creatures and go beatdown, which is amazing against Combust and Torpor Orb, if weak to old-fashioned removal.

Overall impressions of the format:

  • Control is still weak. Decks are doing a lot of good proactive things, which puts the deck trying to be purely reactive in a tough spot.
    Nevertheless, I think as the metagame becomes more defined, something with Gifts Ungiven might become a good choice – Gifting for Unburial Rites + Iona
    shuts down the combo decks, and Sundering Titan is very hard for Zoo and Jund to deal with.
  • Combo is a lot fairer than it was in Philly. Losing Ponder and Preordain is a very big deal for combo across the board.
  • With the loss of Punishing Fire, Dark Confidant and Grim Lavamancer are starting to come back. Even Steel Overseer in Affinity is popping up in a
    couple of lists, which I like. I think these creatures will start playing a bigger role in the metagame over the next couple of weeks – people seem to
    have forgotten how good Bob really is.
  • White Weenie is actually a deck, although I’m not convinced it will last. It seems too loose against the fast, non-interactive decks (Storm and
  • There are a lot of people trying to put Emrakul, the Aeons Torn into play in silly ways. Could this be your time, Hit / Run??

Until next time,