Checking In On Modern’s Tier List

In a chaotic Modern metagame, which decks are truly on top? GerryT shares his rankings and how to use that information to succeed on Magic Online.

Blood Moon, illustrated by Franz Vohwinkel

Modern is back to being weird again. After several weeks of having a clear, defined top tier, everything was ruined when some clever folks noticed that Mono-Green Tron had great matchups against the field. Ari Lax did an excellent job in pointing out why Mono-Green Tron is suddenly back on the radar earlier this week. In this new (but old!) Modern era, what’s next? What’s actually a good choice when it seems like your matchup spread is generated at random?

Thankfully for you, I have a tier list. 

Tier 1

  • Mono-Green Tron
  • Four-Color Elementals (Kaheera)
  • Izzet Midrange

Tier 2

  • Temur Crashcade
  • Mono-White Hammer (Lurrus)
  • Amulet Titan
  • Five-Color Control
  • Boros Burn (Lurrus)
  • Grixis Control

Tier 3

  • Living End
  • Dimir Mill (Lurrus)
  • Food-based decks
  • Orzhov Reanimator
  • Metagame Calls
  • Gruul Midrange
  • Azorius Control
  • Grixis Death’s Shadow (Lurrus)

Maybe tier lists aren’t entirely meaningful, but they are fun!

Part of the reason why tier lists don’t work is because they’re only applicable for a snapshot in time. By the time this article goes live, everything could be different. That’s certainly more true when fighting on the Standard ladder of MTG Arena than when playing Modern.

In Modern’s case, the metagame tends to move after the weekend. Magic Online hosts a pair of Challenges each weekend and those usually determine where the metagame goes. Streamers tend to influence things during the week as well, but only when they go on a heater with a specific archetype. 

For the most part, you should use this list as your targets, not necessarily what you should be playing if you want to stay ahead. There’s a solid camp of folks who will simply copy the decklist of what did well in the previous week and those are the folks who are the easiest to exploit. Sometimes a deck stays at the top of the heap for multiple weeks, as we’ve seen with decks like Mono-White Hammer. You can usually predict what has staying power and what’s fleeting.

Decks that go big are the best things to be doing in Modern, at least at the moment. Cards like Omnath, Locus of the Roil tend to invalidate smaller strategies. Karn Liberated and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon go over the top of the Omnath decks. It’s back to being an arms race to see who can do the bigger, more powerful thing. 

Initially, it was about Unholy Heat and card advantage. Heat killed everything and you could comfortably sit back and draw cards until you buried your opponent. Once Unholy Heat started mattering less, it became about going over the top. Midrange decks based on Omnath, Locus of the Roil were a good starting point, except they frequently lost to Tron, Risen Reef, and Scapeshift.

Unholy Heat Fury

Part of the shift has to do with the widespread adoption of Fury. Getting an early tempo advantage with Dragon’s Rage Channeler and riding it isn’t as easy anymore. The Food-based decks were basically doing what Fury does all on its own. They invalidated creatures and now very few decks are playing with creatures. Plus, they’re weak to Fury themselves. 

Mono-White Hammer has probably suffered the most as a result of this, although everyone being forced to play a multitude of Shatters in the sideboard hasn’t helped matters. As people’s sideboard slots start to get spread thin (as they are now), Colossus Hammer can potentially make a comeback. It also has the potential to morph into something else. Maybe it could adopt some disruptive elements or additional sources of card advantage. You can threaten the Turn 2 kills while still bringing something else of note to the table.

Seeing Temur Crashcade’s resurgence has been confusing to me. From my experience, it’s always been one of the easiest decks to beat up with some sideboard finesse. Most decks should have some combination of Void Mirror or Chalice of the Void, although you can’t rely on them to be a complete lock due to Petty Theft and Prismari Command. You need Engineered Explosives or some other form of disruption as well.

Initially, I was scared of them shifting towards something that would allow them to play a longer game. To my surprise, they went the other way by cutting any source of card advantage and playing Fury. It makes them better at facilitating earlier wins by clearing blockers but removes any hope of winning in the end-game. 

Ross Merriam covered why thinks Crashcade is the superior cascade deck and I can’t exactly disagree with his points. In a vacuum, everything he said is true. However, there will be times when Living End is a superior choice.

Amulet Titan is a great deck that lines up well against some of the top strategies, but not some of the cards people are playing. That’s likely going to get worse before it gets better. I would expect a rise in Blood Moon decks in the near future, which is the card Amulet Titan least wants to play against. It also has a difficult time against Unholy Heat, which is waning, and Solitude, which is still present. 

Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle is a viable end-game to sidestep the spot removal, which means going back to Gruul Scapeshift could be a good call. The Five-Color Control decks with Bring to Light + Scapeshift are also solid because of their end-game. However, I’d rather be as linear as possible than try to control the game with Chalice of the Void and Prismatic Ending, at least in that shell. 

Tron sits at the top of the pack because it goes bigger than everything else. Dealing with a couple of Alpine Moons out of people’s sideboards isn’t very difficult. You can either aim to beat Tron or join them.

With that in mind, what’s the next step? 

Blood Moon

I’m not sure if Blood Moon has ever been better in Modern than it is right now. 

Your goal in Modern should always be to play a deck that’s solid against the majority of the field while incidentally being strong against where the format is trending. In this case, your deck should be inherently strong against decks with expensive cards. That’s what I’m striving for with Gruul Midrange. 

It has Blood Moon, Fury, and solid threats. My main issue with the deck is that every card in the deck is tailored toward fighting a specific matchup. If you draw the right cards in your matchups, you’ll do well. More often than not, you’ll probably come up short. The potential is incredible though.

I’ve been hard on Izzet Midrange in the past since there were better ways to accomplish what the deck was trying to do. Now I think that Counterspell and Blood Moon are both incredible. Plus, you can play Torpor Orb if you want it. It was winning a ton, despite there being better strategies out there because people just weren’t playing them. It’s legitimately good now, although we can still look for other options.

Obviously I love a Grixis strategy, although I’ve shifted away from Grixis Control and toward trying to win the game via more conventional means. You can never go wrong with a proactive, disruptive deck in Modern. You’ll rarely have blowout matchups, but you’ll have game against everything. As much as I’d love to Kolaghan’s Command a Snapcaster Mage each turn, it doesn’t beat everyone like it did a few weeks ago.

Kolaghan's Command Snapcaster Mage

Grixis Death’s Shadow is similar to Izzet Midrange, although it has a few distinct advantages. Death’s Shadow is large, which means it dodges most of the removal in the format. Compared to Murktide Regent, it dies to Prismatic Ending, but is cheaper and therefore a faster clock. It also pairs well with Thoughtseize and enables Stubborn Denial. Enabling Stubborn Denial is one of the few ways you could get me to register the high-risk, high-reward Scourge of the Skyclaves. 

Much like Thoughtseize and Stubborn Denial, Counterspell and Force of Negation are quite good at the moment as long as you have a way to shut down Tron pieces and clean up battlefields. That might point you in the direction of Izzet Midrange (or Grixis Death’s Shadow), although I’m less convinced that leaning on Dragon’s Rage Channeler is where you want to be at the moment. 

Guillaume Wafo-Tapa is clearly a master of all things control. He and his friend (MrCaufouillete) have been playing various control decks in the Modern Challenges for weeks now. Given how Wafo finished first and second in back-to-back events, I think they found a recipe that works. That said, the format isn’t going to remain static and some adjustments might be in order. Now, I’m not Wafo, so take my advice with a grain of salt. 

The manabase contains 25 lands with a Castle Ardenvale and basic Plains, neither of which can cast Archmage’s Charm. The two Mystic Gates allow Wafo to have triple blue, so it’s not much of an issue. Plus, 25 lands is a lot, so even if you draw Plains and no Mystic Gate, you’re still a favorite to have three of your 23 blue sources on Turn 3 if you need them. I like the manabase and think it does a nearly perfect job of enabling Archmage’s Charm. 

Mono-Green Tron can mostly be beaten with a pile of counterspells and the sideboard Dovin’s Vetos are certainly going to help there. Wafo even has Summary Dismissal for Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, so it’s pretty clear that’s his plan. I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t easier to incorporate some Field of Ruins to go along with the Spreading Seas rather than letting your opponent have access to Tron the entire game. Obviously that disrupts the manabase, although Field of Ruin will eventually turn into a blue source for Archmage’s Charm. If Field of Ruin is off the table, I’d like to see at least another copy of Spreading Seas in the sideboard.

Field of Ruin Chalice of the Void

Similarly, I’m curious as to why there isn’t a third copy of Chalice of the Void in the sideboard. It’s good enough to maindeck since there aren’t any one-mana cards and Chalice for zero is great against cascade. Why isn’t it good enough to have at least a third in matchups where you’d want it? 

Force of Negation strikes me as a card you might want against cascade and Mono-Green Tron as well. Loading up on counterspells is great for both matchups but they tend to beat you by being more efficient and casting more spells than you do. A zero-mana counterspell seems stronger than the third copy of Dovin’s Veto and Flusterstorm. If nothing else, having the ability to safely tap out for Teferi, Time Raveler against the cascade decks seems worth it to me. 

If I were playing a Modern Challenge this weekend, I’d be torn on what to play. Azorius Control looks solid but mentally draining. Grixis Death’s Shadow is right in my wheelhouse but all my games would be nail-biters. On the other hand, Gruul Midrange is like rolling dice. If I get favorable matchups, I could easily win the tournament. If I don’t escape the early rounds, my tournament would be immediately over. 

Mono-Green Tron has maybe another week of potentially great results before the format adapts completely. Kanister’s Four-Color Elementals deck is more solid than it looks, although I expect hate cards and bad matchups to start making things more difficult. Cascade decks are absolutely something to stay away from this week. Whatever cards people used to have in their sideboards for things like Mono-White Hammer will trend toward other, more popular decks.

Pack your copies of Blood (or Alpine) Moon, Torpor Orb, and Chalice of the Void, and you’re good to go.