Who Eats Who In The Modern Jungle

With Modern’s apex predator banned, which decks are back on the prowl, and which are still prey? Ben Friedman swaps his cowboy hat for a pith helmet as he takes you into the Modern jungle!

Mythic Championship IV and SCG Columbus are coming up this weekend, and that means it’s time to figure out what Modern actually looks like in the wake of the Bridge from Below banning.

Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis was significantly powered down from the truly offensive Bridgevine deck, but it still occupies a place in a more open format. And of course, our very own Shaheen Soorani won the Team Constructed Open (alongside Peter Ingram and Corey Baumeister) last weekend in Philadelphia with his favorite medium deck, Azorius Control.

So what do we do? We have a format with about a dozen decks, and each one has predators and prey. Which one is likely to be the king of the jungle at the end of this weekend’s tournaments?

Azorius Control

Despite playing Celestial Colonnade and doing nothing even remotely close to broken, this deck has actually won the most recent Modern Grand Prix (Austin Bursavich in Dallas) and the most recent SCG Tour Open Weekend. Azorius Control sports a favorable matchup against Izzet Phoenix, and with the right sideboard, it can certainly tilt the graveyard decks in its favor.

Here’s Shaheen’s list, which he is almost certainly going to run back next week:

This list specifically is a tiny bit short on hate for Dredge or Hogaak, but with the London mulligan rule, these types of transgressions are a bit more forgivable. Also, Shaheen knows the age-old principle of Modern metagaming: graveyard decks are always underplayed relative to their expected win rate, and fair decks are always overrepresented. So for a Team Constructed Open, he decided to shirk his graveyard-hating duty just a bit and see if he could slide by with only four dedicated hate cards. Hey, at least Force of Negation sort of pulls double duty here, what with its ability to buy two or more turns against Faithless Looting openers from the degenerate graveyard decks!

But for some people, Azorius Control isn’t even as fair as they want to go. No, we’re back on Tarmogoyf and Liliana of the Veil, powered up by a bold new planeswalker.


Yep, good old Jund. Nothing beats Jund!

Well, actually, Jund has been pretty much unplayable for over a year now, but Wrenn and Six was exactly the kind of card Jund needed to justify its continued existence. And with Plague Engineer to plug a few holes against Humans, Bloodghasts, and assorted other fringe use cases, Jund is back on the menu.

Again, we see Gerry Thompson recognizing some key factors when it comes to Junding people out. Again, we see a bit of shirking on major graveyard hate because of the anti-graveyard bias. And again, we see Gerry one step ahead of the curve when it comes to eliminating weak points from the decklist.

Dark Confidant is cancelled. Wrenn and Six ended his reign, though it was admittedly a bit attenuated already. There are just so many better ways to gain card advantage that don’t sit around on a fragile body demanding extra life payments every turn. Wrenn and Six can’t be hit with Lightning Bolt or Path to Exile, it kills Noble Hierarchs while leaving behind a continued card advantage engine, and it doesn’t require an untap step to gain a single card’s worth of advantage.

Wrenn and Six was truly a remarkable printing to revitalize a moribund archetype.

Jund has flipped the tables on Humans, boasts a favorable Azorius Control matchup (now that its card advantage engine can’t be taken off the table with any one-mana removal spell!) and goes toe-to-toe with Izzet Phoenix. If it weren’t for a bit of a soft Hogaak matchup (especially with Gerry’s list) and a small weakness to Eldrazi Tron, I would heartily endorse it.


Austin Collins took an aggressive flavor of Hogaak far in the Team Constructed Open this past weekend in Philly, showing that the deck has legs even after its broken combo was removed.

Without Bridge from Below and Altar of Dementia, there’s no more turbo-kill out of nowhere. What there is, though, is a highly consistent rate of making an 8/8 Trample on Turn 2 with at least a couple of friends and possibly a couple of Vengevines to go with it. Some builds of the deck incorporate Prized Amalgam for even more payoff, some prefer Golgari Thug as an extra enabler, and others run Lightning Axe as a discard outlet. But the core of the deck is as brutal as it comes, and if too many people shirk graveyard hate, this will be the apex predator of next week’s Modern events. Hell, Piotr Glogowski took his version of the deck to a perfect 12-0 record in the Modern Challenge on MTGO this past weekend. Sure, he ran hot, but there were some real fireworks in that event, enough to raise eyebrows.

Turn 2 Hogaak. 60% of the time it works, every time.

Eldrazi Tron

Of course, you could also try to prey on fair decks by going over the top, if you don’t mind sometimes feeling like your deck is a disjointed pile of Stompy parts and Tron pieces. That’s what Ben Ragan did last weekend, coming up just short of the title:

Karn, the Great Creator was such an incredible upgrade for Eldrazi Tron, offering sideboard solutions like Ensnaring Bridge and Tormod’s Crypt in Game 1 while incidentally providing a one-card lock with Mycosynth Lattice. Stellar card, and it goes a long way towards rectifying the major downside of playing Eldrazi Tron (that is, sometimes you don’t have any good sideboard cards for a given matchup because you can only play colorless cards!). That issue still exists, but Karn means you can just rely on a one-size-fits-all answer that grabs exactly what you need when you need it. Plus, the London mulligan helps solve this issue in its own unique way. After all, who cares if some of your cards are suboptimal after sideboard for a given matchup? Just tuck them on the bottom and enjoy your free mulligan!

Eldrazi Tron preys on smaller midrange decks, and its sideboard is geared towards beating graveyards. Hell, sometimes Karn into Tormod’s Crypt or Karn into Ensnaring Bridge is enough! And with Karn’s incidental static ability, Grixis Urza and Hardened Scales are in a particularly tough spot. Overall, it’s not a bad choice for someone who wants to try to draw the right half of their deck for enough rounds to crush the event!

Izzet Phoenix

Gerry also touched on Izzet Phoenix last week, and I would be remiss to not include it here:

Basically, this is the same deck that has existed since Modern Horizons revamped the archetype a month back. Magmatic Sinkhole covers big creatures and hits high-loyalty planeswalkers. Aria of Flame dodges the graveyard and the combat step and kills in about seven spells, give or take. (It also preys on planeswalkers, which is good news for Izzet Phoenix!)

Finale of Promise offers three spells in one, card advantage, removal buyback, you name it. It’s essentially the Snapcaster Mage this deck has always wanted, bringing absolutely incredible synergy and redundancy to the table for a very low cost. It is the best way to turn Aria of Flame on super-quickly, as the three spells all count for Aria triggers. Basically, this is the perfect card for anyone trying to win with the card Arclight Phoenix.

Seasoned Pyromancer out of the sideboard is basically what Pia and Kiran Nalaar has always wanted to be in this deck. It offers card advantage, multiple bodies to clog up the battlefield, and a redundant way to get Arclight Phoenix in the graveyard if Faithless Looting isn’t forthcoming.

Then Gerry also saw fit to play two maindeck Flame Slash! Someone is not trying to lose to Humans here. Speaking of which…


Daniel Duffee has a sideboard of barely any Humans at all! Instead we see Ouphes, Carriers, Kithkin, and Vedalken offering ways to combat artifacts, big mana, generic permanents, and the ever-present mirror match. These upgrades to previous selections are all pretty important, although there’s a healthy amount of lost synergy with these non-Humans trying to blend in with the Thalia’s Lieutenants of the world.

Oh, and he also decided to respect graveyard decks with his list. Four Leyline of the Void is no laughing matter. Hey, as long as some people choose to be the cops of Modern, everyone else gets to safely avoid having to worry about covering their own behinds!


Because, of course, it’s not just the aggressive flavor of Hogaak that is coming out of graveyards to terrorize your neighborhood. Dredge is highly consistent with the London mulligan, offers incredible reach and resilience to traditional countermeasures, and still crushes those who aren’t prepared. Now it’s just that there are two different paths in the world of broken graveyard decks in Modern — and Faithless Looting somehow still remains unbanned!

Joel Sadowsky rocks classic Dredge like a champion, and with good reason. It just works. It’s part of the wonderful melting pot of Modern, and time will tell if it’s better than Hogaak, or (even worse) it has to die for Hogaak’s sins. A lot of broken Faithless Looting decks are going around the format these days, that’s for sure! But there’s one more left.

Mono-Red Phoenix

It took first and second in the Classic this past weekend and it’s a strict upgrade to traditional Burn, in my humble opinion. This is only the fourth Faithless Looting deck on the menu, and it, too, has some starts that absolutely astonish me. The prowess creatures may look unassuming on first blush, but they can become monsters in the middle turns. Don’t sleep on this “simpler” version of Izzet Phoenix. Lava Spike has never looked so good!

Grixis Urza

Some people want to outsmart their opponents. They want a combo deck that’s also a Prison deck, and the ultra-powerful Urza, Lord High Artificer brings the whole room together.

Brad Carpenter decided to confuse uninformed opponents with the full combo of Thopter Foundry, Sword of the Meek, and Urza to generate infinite Thopters and infinite life. Goblin Engineer and Whir of Invention find all the pieces, and the various lock pieces join the fray just when they’re needed. Brian Coval wrote a wonderful piece on the deck last week, and it’s still absolutely true now. The deck has a lot going for it, and great built-in matchups against the graveyard decks are just the tip of the iceberg. If it can dodge shaky matchups against decks like Jund or Azorius Control, Urza could prey on the graveyard decks and win the whole shebang!


Now we’re getting a bit more niche.

Infect is not great against a resurgent Wrenn and Six, nor is it particularly impressive against Plague Engineer. But it too preys on Azorius Control and the graveyard decks. It’s got the new Scale Up to offer a consistent Turn 2 kill, but is that going to be enough? It’s hard to say. If Infect ends up winning the Mythic Championship, it will be because not enough people brought Izzet Phoenix and Jund to the table, and it was able to capitalize on a combo- and control-heavy field to smash the opposition. It could be a devastating metagame call.

I don’t even think Max McVety is going to play his own list at the Mythic Championship, but I do hope someone does and absolutely crushes it…

Counters Company

Just like Infect, Devoted Druid combo decks are weak to the heavy interaction of Jund and Izzet Phoenix, yet absolutely demolish other combo decks by sheer speed. I’d generally expect Infect to do a little more than Devoted Druid when it comes to positioning in this metagame, but I’ve been surprised by this deck before. It’s a compelling dark horse choice to come out of nowhere and beat up on an unprepared field.

Hardened Scales

The last deck on the list actually does a decent job against a bunch of different archetypes.

It’s got sticky threats to power through Jund and Azorius Control; it’s got fast, overwhelming starts to keep up with Dredge and Hogaak; and it’s got a naturally favorable matchup against Humans. Thing in the Ice is a big problem, of course, and so is Karn, the Great Creator. Collector Ouphe and Stony Silence, of course, also present a major issue. If everyone’s attention is on broken Faithless Looting decks, with graveyard hate by the truckload, is it possible that the most broken Mox Opal / Ancient Stirrings deck could come storming back? My heart tells me one thing, but my mind and the facts seem to indicate something else.

I’ll be holding out a bit of hope that someone rushes out of nowhere and goes on an impressive run with the deck, but it does seem like recent developments have passed it by a bit. Should be interesting to see how things play out, though!

Other Options

Of course, there’s always classic Mono-Green Tron (boo!) and various Death’s Shadow decks (yay!), and we might see something crazy like Jeskai Saheeli or an Electrodominance deck come out of the reaches of the rogue decklists to put together a Top 8 run.

But the one thing I hope we can all agree on? Let none of us root for Neobrand to do well, okay? I just can’t with that deck. If Modern is a jungle, Neobrand is the forest fire that burns the whole thing to the ground.

Boo Neobrand! Yay Modern!