Why Aggro Is Dominating Modern Right Now

Aggro is the current strategy of the moment in Modern! But why? And how long will it last? The patron saint of Modern, Todd Stevens, weighs in on the most recent metagame!

There’s no denying the fact that if you want to do well in Modern right
now, your best chance is with an aggressive deck. Even though Jund won #SCGINDY last weekend,
the interactive decks are on a steep decline, with only five removal heavy
decks in the Top 32. Jeskai Control was even shut out completely from the
Top 32 of a Modern Open for the first time since #SCGBALT in May of
2017. It wasn’t just the Modern Open this weekend; the Modern Challenge on
Magic Online had zero interactive decks among the seven that went 7-0 in
the tournament and the closest thing to an interactive deck in the Top 8 of
the Modern Classic at #SCGINDY was G/R Land

So what happened from the previous two weekends of Team Constructed Opens,
where Jeskai Control, U/W Control, and Mardu Pyromancer were three of the
top 4 played decks on day two each tournament? These decks are built to
beat aggressive creature decks, yet the aggro decks are coming out on top.
It’s also not just one singular aggro deck that’s winning; it’s multiple
different decks. So let’s try to find out what’s going on by going through
these aggro decks that are dominating Modern right now.

Humans has most likely been the best deck in Modern throughout the entire
year, but its success was at an all-time low for the deck in the two weeks
leading up into #SCGINDY. The Team
Constructed Opens of#SCGWOR and #SCGPHILLY a couple
weekends ago only saw a combined one Humans pilot in Day Two with a
fifteenth place finish at #SCGPHILLY; not
encouraging results for a premier deck of a format but everything changed
in a weekend.

Even though Militia Bugler was legal for these two events, it hadn’t caught
on yet in the Humans deck. However by the time #SCGINDY rolled around, the
word was out and everyone started to realize
the power of The Bugler
Militia Bugler provides card advantage and selection on a relevant body,
which is exactly what Humans was looking for to shore up their tough
matchups. One of the easiest ways to beat Humans was to point and click one
for one removal spells at their creatures over and over, eventually turning
the corner with help of a sweeper or big card draw effect. This is the
general gameplan of the removal-heavy decks, but Militia Bugler makes that
plan more difficult by not only being a two for one, but also by digging
for another problematic threat.

Even though Kitesail Freebooter and Meddling Mage often blank one removal
spell, control decks don’t usually struggle against the first copy since
they have access to many different removal spells. The onus is on the
control player not to stumble and have an extra answer to these two cards
and that means sometimes one Meddling Mage can blank an opponent’s hand.
When the Humans player can find extra copies of these disruptive cards it
starts to shrink the number of options the control player has.

This effect is magnified after sideboard. Sin Collector is the best
sideboard option Humans has against removal-heavy decks and Humans gets to
have access to it a greater number of times with the help of Militia
Bugler. A Militia Bugler that finds a Sin Collector is basically a three
for one in the favor of Humans, which is an impact on the game the deck
didn’t have before. This doesn’t even take into account times that you
chain Militia Buglers together or use Phantasmal Image to copy Militia
Bugler. This one card has turned Humans from a deck that relied on
aggressive disruptive creatures to a deck that can grind out opponents as
well, and suddenly the matchup against removal-heavy decks isn’t so bad.

Humans was already a very good deck, but it looked to be losing ground to
the removal-heavy decks before the introduction of Militia Bugler, which
has completely changed the deck. It now looks to be one of the very top
decks in the format again with no signs of slowing down. However, it wasn’t
even the most impressive deck of the weekend. That honor would go to U/R
Wizards in the hands of Jeff Hoogland.

U/R Wizards had a dominant performance at #SCGINDY this weekend with Jeff
Hoogland finishing the swiss rounds at 13-0 in matches played, only losing
in the first round of the top 8 to Humans. Jeff kept a counter-heavy hand
against a Cavern of Souls and Aether Vial game 1 and drew a few too many
lands in a close game 3 for the only blemish on his previously perfect
record. This tempo-based aggro deck takes full advantage of the best card
in Modern.

Many people have tried U/R Delver decks in Modern over the last few years,
but they’ve never been good enough because of a lack of power
comparatively. Well it turns out that everything can change when you’re
allowed to register eight Lightning Bolts in your deck, so don’t expect U/R
Wizards to just be a flash in the pan. Lightning Bolt is the best card in
Modern and Wizard’s Lightning does a reasonable impression of it most of
the time. Add in Snapcaster Mage and U/R Wizards has incredible reach to
close out games from seemingly out of nowhere. This reach is paired with
just enough disruption to slow down the opponent and find enough Bolts to
finish the game off.

Mana Leak and Remand play both roles of offense and defense in U/R Wizards
and are critical against a large chunk of the format even if they may look
lackluster at times in aggro matchups. Being able to maindeck Grim
Lavamancer is particularly appealing to me in the current metagame, and I
imagine the card was very good for Jeff all weekend. Even against
non-creature decks, Grim Lavamancer is still a recurring source of damage
that can close out games.

We’re going to learn even more about this deck next week on the VS Series
when Ross Merriam and Todd Anderson will be putting it through a gauntlet
of some of the other top decks in Modern to see how it fares.

Last week, we ran Bant Spirits
through the gauntlet on the VS Series
after Zan Syed’s fourth-place finish at #SCGWOR and the deck is
still picking up steam. Even though Bant Spirits didn’t have a notable
finish at #SCGINDY
last weekend with everyone focused on Humans, two pilots finished the swiss
rounds of the Modern Challenge on Magic Online at 7-0 with Bant Spirits,
including the eventual winner Grgapm. Just like Humans and U/R Wizards,
Bant Spirits had a recent addition that has helped it reach another level
since the release of Core Set 2019.

Bant Spirits is an aggro deck that has an amazing amount of disruption and
evasion and gets to play threats at instant speed. This all sounds good,
but the problem was the threats weren’t big enough to provide a fast enough
clock for the format. Being a two-mana lord, Supreme Phantom helps solve
this problem by providing a fast enough clock that forces your opponent to
play into your disruptive elements like Mausoleum Wanderer and Spell
Queller. This also allows the deck to race the other aggro decks like
Humans quite well, completely changing the face of the deck.

Bant Spirits was already a somewhat tough deck for removal-heavy decks to
handle and the introduction of Supreme Phantom doesn’t change that much.
It’s about the ability to play an instant speed game as well as having
access to hexproof creatures. Even though it makes the deck slower than
other versions that play Aether Vial, Collected Company is a huge threat in
these matchups. Bant Spirits also commonly has access to more countermagic
like Unified Will after sideboard that can cause more problems for the
removal-heavy deck.

Bant Spirits has long been an underrated deck in Modern and Supreme Phantom
fills the biggest hole the deck had previously. Much of the attention of
the format is on Humans after this past weekend, but Bant Spirits also
looks to have all of the tools necessary to be one of the top decks. What
the exact right decklist to play with Spirits is still up for debate as
I’ve heard many players prefer to drop green altogether in favor of a more
aggressive U/W Spirits build, and we also saw this version put up a 7-0 and
a 6-1 finish in the Modern Challenge on Magic Online, as well as an 18th
place finish at #SCGINDY in the hands of Eric Shoopman.

Out of those decks I liked the look of Maheegan001’s 7-0 list the most,
with the three pilots having quite a few differences in the flex slots.
Overall, U/W Spirits is taking a similar approach to Humans by wanting to
take advantage of the power of Aether Vial to be able to play multiple
threats early in the game. I wish there was another one-mana card to play
alongside Aether Vial and Mausoleum Wanderer for the deck, but it looks
like it may not need one.

I’m intrigued by the maindeck copies of Remorseful Cleric and I could
imagine that card having a large impact for a two-drop. Between U/R Gifts
Storm, Ironworks, B/R Vengevine, B/R Hollow One, or simply Snapcaster Mage,
there are plenty of decks looking to abuse the graveyard currently. If
nothing else, Remorseful Cleric is still a two-power flyer, but I like it
as a maindeck hate card over a sideboard card, where having Rest in Peace
as a higher impact card when necessary makes sense.

While this deck loses out on having access to Collected Company against the
removal-heavy decks, it still has Aether Vial and Cavern of Souls to blank
countermagic as well as Mutavault for extra threats. That makes this yet
again another aggro deck that in theory should struggle against
removal-heavy decks, but has the tools to win the matchup a decent amount
of the time. This looks to be the trend on why interactive decks had such a
tough weekend while aggro decks thrived. This also included two “classic”
aggro decks that look to be resurging as well.

With aggro decks succeeding and Lightning Bolt being the best card in
Modern, it looks like Burn is back on the map after second-place finishes
in both the Modern Open as well as the Modern Classic. Burn has the ability
to go under the other aggro decks by getting creatures attacking on the
battlefield first and then send burn spells upstairs. Additonally, when
Lightning Bolt is good and the format is filled with small creatures,
playing these spells can almost feel like cheating.

What’s better than a removal spell? How about a removal spell that also
kills your opponent? The more success these other creature aggro decks
have, the better for Searing Blaze and Searing Blood as they are absolutely
backbreaking spells. I love how Ryan Ferries played Searing Blood over Path
to Exile, another popular removal spell you see in Burn’s sideboard, due to
the lack of large creatures in the current Modern format. There’s always
Ensnaring Bridge if creatures get too large, which is a haymaker in
matchups like Humans and Bant Spirits that rely on attacking.

Burn is not a matchup that Control decks traditionally want to face because
many of their interactive spells can be blanked by burn spells going
upstairs. The ability to play against countermagic decks isn’t easy, and
it’s what separates the good Burn pilots from the great ones in my mind,
but if you do it right then you’ll have success. Ryan only had two copies
of Exquisite Firecraft in the sideboard for countermagic decks, and
frequently you’ll see more, but he knows what he’s doing and had the
ability to win that matchup anyway. Ryan has had multiple Modern Classic
Top 8s with Burn in the last couple months and it was nice to see him rack
up those wins in the Modern Open this weekend instead.

Finally we have the last aggro deck I’d like to mention today, Infect,
which placed first and third in the Modern Classic at #SCGINDY. Infect is
the “next level” deck for when the aggro decks are dominating the format
because unlike these other decks, it’s not very good against removal-heavy
decks but shines against other decks trying to race. The more removal-heavy
decks slip away from the format due to their previous best matchups
becoming closer to coin flips, the better Infect becomes as a way to go
under everything else.

I’ve mentioned plenty of times so far that Lightning Bolt is the best card
in Modern due to its flexibility of removing small creatures or closing out
games, and that’s actually good news for Infect. Infect had a much harder
time when Fatal Push was the most played removal spell, like last year when
Grixis Death’s Shadow was everywhere. It’s much easier for Infect to beat a
Lightning Bolt than a Fatal Push thanks to the pump spells, even if it may
take a pair of them. Saving the creatures is vital.

Collins Mullen played Infect for our team at #SCGWOR a couple weeks
ago and had Geist of Saint Traft in his sideboard to beat the removal-heavy
decks, and they were incredibly good all weekend. He beat Jeskai Control
and Jund on the back of the card, and I was impressed how good it was with
pump spells. I’d be hard-pressed to play Infect and not have Geist of Saint
Traft in my sideboard, but we saw with John Tatian winning the Modern
Classic without them.

The aggro decks dominated both #SCGINDY as well as
the Modern Challenge on Magic Online this past weekend, and that doesn’t
look to be a fluke. They have gained new tools that have helped shore up
the weaknesses of the decks making each one a strong contender.
Traditionally the removal-heavy interactive decks have had favorable
matchups against the creature aggro decks, but those margins are getting
smaller and smaller. The onus is on the removal decks to have their cards
line up correctly, and tuning their decks further to beat the aggro decks
can have negative ripples in their matchups against the rest of the

For now, though, if you want the best chance to win in Modern pick up an
aggro deck. They’re dominating.