When we last left our hero, I was having trouble deciding which deck to
play for SCG Louisville. I had a group of decks I liked and felt
comfortable piloting, but without a more concrete picture of the expected
metagame, I wasn’t sure which single deck would be best. I devised a list
of key questions to answer through testing, which were as follows:
1. Are the tradeoffs from G/W Elves to G/B Elves a significant gain for the
2. How much B/R Hollow One do I expect?
3. How much control do I expect?
After several days of testing, here are the answers I found:
G/B Elves is fairly popular and I’ve tried the deck several times now when
I want to maintain a strong matchup against linear aggro decks while having
more game against removal-heavy strategies, but Shaman of the Pack always
leaves me disappointed. While the G/W variant of Elves focuses on
leveraging the power of Ezuri, Renegade Leader, whether as a win condition
for the Devoted Druid + Vizier of Remedies combo or a way to turn a pile of
Elves into a substantial attacking force, the G/B version is more of a
straightforward aggressive deck that can flood the battlefield quickly and
has tons of reach from Shaman.
The problem is, Elves isn’t a very good aggro deck, since its creatures
require you to assemble tribal synergies to be effective. If you’re going
to labor under that requirement, you’re better off getting the deck with
the higher payoff when the synergies come together, and that’s the deck
that has a turn-three combo and activates Ezuri as early and often as
possible. Both decks still struggle against heavy removal because that
removal breaks up the synergies, and while G/B is more resilient in the
face of that removal, it’s not enough to move the matchup significantly and
it’s worse across the rest of the metagame.
I’m officially done with Shaman of the Pack. Not just for last weekend, but
until something drastic changes in Modern.
2. Surprisingly Little
For the last six weeks or so, the prevailing wisdom in Modern has been that
Humans and B/R Hollow One are the two best decks. That wisdom has since
evolved to Humans being the established top deck and the same linear aggro
decks that have arisen to combat Humans are effective against the
interaction-light Hollow One, which prefers to play against removal-heavy
strategies where its combination of fast and resilient threats are quite
difficult to answer.
Humans being the more consistent, more disruptive deck of the two, it has
proven to be more resilient in the face of a metagame targeting it, and as
a result Hollow One has dropped in popularity. I still expected it to
comprise about 3-5% of the metagame, a healthy share in Modern, but having
a bad matchup against it isn’t the cause for concern it was some weeks ago.
The decline in Hollow One is a boon for those removal-heavy decks, since
they are quite good against Humans. I filed this one as a plus for Blue
Moon and a negative for Humans, since it depended somewhat on Hollow One to
suppress its bad matchups.
3. A Big Increase
This answer is a corollary to number two, but it bears repeating how
important the ripple effects this shift will have on the Modern metagame.
Jeskai Control is among the worst matchups for Humans and the other aggro
decks, like Affinity and Elves. It also received a boost from Teferi, Hero
of Dominaria, which outperforms even Jace, the Mind Sculptor in the deck.
With one of its worst matchups out of the way, it looked poised to have a
breakout weekend, and it surpassed even my high expectations for the deck,
taking the most spots in day two of the Open, two of the top four, and
falling just shy of the trophy.
With a metagame that was shifting away from Humans, it became clear to me
that linear aggro decks were not well-positioned, and I needed a way to
beat the two ends of the spectrum. That deck is Blue Moon, which has enough
removal to handle cheap creatures while maintaining a big edge in control
mirrors due to Blood Moon choking the opponent on blue mana, leaving them
unable to win counter wars.
Blue Moon also had the benefit of preemptively covering a potential shift
toward big mana strategies, which could prey on the rise of removal-heavy
control decks and thus, overperform in the tournament. Blood Moon is great
against all flavors of big mana decks, giving you the ability to play a
normal control game, whereas a deck like Jeskai must shift gears into a
mediocre burn deck and hope to race.
With my deck choice made, I set about tuning the last few slots and ended
on the following list:
You can hear some of my thoughts in this deck tech with the inimitable Nick
After the tournament, here are my thoughts:
Blue Moon was a great choice for the tournament. I held my own against
aggressive decks while beating three Jeskai Control decks in dominating
fashion, taking each match 2-0 with few close games (although admittedly I
was aided by some missed land drops from my opponents). Until the
disastrous last two rounds, I was 19-5 in games, playing two Mardu
Pyromancer decks to an even split in two three-game matches and dropping a
quick match to Affinity when my game one keep wasn’t effective in the
matchup and my four-land hand in game two quickly flooded and fell victim
to a pair of Etched Champions. Included in that record was a thirteen-game
win streak from game two of round five through game one of round eleven
where I felt like I may have the best deck in the room and was well on my
way to another trophy.
Unfortunately, the wheels came off at the end when I dropped a very close
two-game match to Humans, losing game one to a weak keep that was too
counterspell-heavy to beat a single Cavern of Souls or Aether Vial and game
two to a sloppy mistake of not casting a superfluous Blood Moon that left
the Keranos, God of Storms I topdecked the next turn one devotion short of
being able to block–a block which would’ve bought me the one turn needed
to turn the game around.
Aside on Keranos: Wow was that card good last weekend. I attacked with it
five times in the tournament, a number that could’ve been higher had it not
been for a premature concession from my opponent or my desire to play
around Path to Exile. Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Blood Moon make achieving
a high devotion much easier than in other decks and while much of the time
making Keranos into a creature is overkill, there was at least one spot
where the 6/5 body was absolutely necessary.
The last round brought another quick loss at the hands of Jadine Klomparens
and her trusty Jund deck, a loss that was aided by a risky keep with one
land and an Opt in game one that I thought was correct at the time, but
after a discussion with Team BCW teammate Todd Stevens, now believe was
While I’m normally of the mind that one should mulligan very aggressively
in Modern because the opening turns are so important, the one exception to
that heuristic was always discard heavy decks like Jund. Their ability to
quickly strip both players of resources heavily punishes mulligans, and
historically, Jund decks don’t produce too fast a clock unless they have an
early Tarmogoyf that goes unchecked, so an early stumble can be overcome
without much trouble.
However, with the reintroduction of Bloodbraid Elf to Modern, Jund decks
are now more aggressive than they used to be and can end games quite
quickly. I failed to update my heuristics for this change and was soundly
And just like that, a tournament that had gone so well was over. While my
play in the last two rounds wasn’t egregious by any means, it wasn’t up to
the level of the rest of the tournament, and against two great players, my
margin for error was slim. That’s how Magic goes sometimes.
After looking over the metagame in Louisville, it seems like I had two of
three levels correct. Level one was linear aggro and level two was
Snapcaster Mage control, but whereas I saw level three being big mana, it
was actually removal-heavy midrange decks like Jund and Mardu Pyromancer.
Since of the two, Mardu has the more reliable sources of card
advantage–Bedlam Reveler and Lingering Souls, I’d say it was the best
positioned deck for the weekend (a claim I made early on to my first Mardu
opponent), so it’s no surprise to see it take home the trophy. However, if
the format continues to move away from aggro and towards midrange and
control decks, then big mana is a great choice, so I wouldn’t be surprised
to see Tron, Scapeshift, and/or Amulet Titan have a big weekend in
As far as my individual card choices, the swap of Opt over Serum Visions in
the cantrip split was great, since deploying Snapcaster Mages proactively
is an important tactical option to have, and Opt is a better draw in the
late game when immediate access to the top of your deck is more important
than setting up your draws on future turns. The maindeck Abrade was
mediocre at best, and I’m still looking at how best to utilize that slot,
although the sideboard copy of Negate that moving an Abrade to the main
freed room for overperformed, so balancing the 75 is going to be tricky. I
see that slot constantly rotating as I make minor updates for the current
metagame, so feel free to play around with it.
The major change I made from the last time I played the deck was adding
Thing in the Ice to the sideboard. It’s not a card I like very much, since
it requires you play it early to be most effective, thus limiting the
sequencing options when reactive decks thrive on keeping their options open
for as long as possible, but it’s necessary in several bad matchups, namely
Hollow One, Burn, and G/W Hexproof since it can answer sticky threats and
establish a huge clock so they don’t have time to rebuild.
It’s also good against most aggro decks. For example, Blood Moon prevents
Humans from re-deploying their bounced creatures quickly and Etched
Champion is tough to remove when Engineered Explosives can’t be set on
Despite my high expectations for the card, it underperformed, in part due
to my not facing the matchups where it’s at its best, but also because of
the timing issues I noted above. Drawing it after I spent my cantrips on
the early turns was as awkward as expected, and none of my opponents were
caught completely unprepared to answer it. I’m not hurting too much for
sideboard space in other matchups, so I’ll be keeping it in some number to
help against those bad matchups, but the third copy looks excessive if
Hollow One keeps dropping in metagame share.
One change I’d like to explore, and which I mentioned in the deck tech, is
splashing black for access to more robust removal. Here’s an initial list:
This list is likely too heavy on the splash, but I’d rather try out as many
cards as I can, stress test the mana, and pare down than have to figure out
if I can push it further. For example, replacing Relic of Progenitus with
Nihil Spellbomb may be unnecessary, but in a deck with Snapcaster Mage,
Kolaghan’s Command, and delve spells, not touching your own graveyard is
valuable and the ability of Relic of Progenitus to check Tarmogoyf is less
needed with the black removal.
The primary gain here is the ability to answer large creatures and the
power of Kolaghan’s Command with Snapcaster Mage. The latter gives you the
ability to generate plenty of card advantage at instant speed so you don’t
have to tap low until you’re absolutely ready. Collective Brutality is the
best card in the format against Burn, a bad matchup, and its versatile
enough to merit some slots here.
It’s possible that you need to trim a Cryptic Command here for some less
blue-intensive counterspell since the desire to have a Swamp when casting
Blood Moon will make it harder to assemble triple blue, but I’m not going
to preemptively cut one of the most powerful cards in the deck.
The Izzet Staticaster is a nod to the loss of Pia and Kiran Nalaar and
Anger of the Gods, as this deck’s mana is strained to the point where any
double red spells are a liability. Staticaster can handle cheap creatures
the way those cards did and is particularly good against Mardu Pyromancer.
Blue Moon was a very good choice last weekend and looks to remain so for
the near future, if not improving if big mana decks do indeed rise to
combat Jeskai Control. With two weeks off before SCG CON, I’m confident
I’ve found my Modern deck, which allows me ample time to test for a
Standard format that I haven’t played yet. I may have fallen short of the
Top 8, but that’s a nice silver lining.