Everything You Need To Know About The New Modern

With a week of post-banning Modern results to analyze, Ari Lax lays out the new metagame, the decks to play… and the decks to avoid.

Monastery Swiftspear, illustrated by Steve Argyle

Wizards of the Coast (WotC) finally took out the trash, and Modern looks like a completely new format. Or rather just like the old Modern everyone had been barred from playing for a year.

The thing that jumps out to me about Modern right now is how fair it is. Even accounting for the fact all the free mana is gone with Simian Spirit Guide, we should be able to do something powerful. Instead, it’s just every flavor of powerful midrange, and then the previous slower tier of barely unfair decks exploiting them.

Well, except for some jokers who played with Five-Color Cascade on Monday and Tuesday after the ban but before the rules update. Screw you for getting me excited to see a big Jund deck before pulling a gotcha.

Today I’m laying out the new Modern, breaking it down by pillars to replace all those old ones we lost to bans and the London Mulligan. Strap in. There’s a lot to see this week.

Monastery Swiftspear

Monastery Swiftspear

One-drops are going to be pillars of the new Modern. In this case, Monastery Swiftspear is just the most reliable and efficient threat in the format backed by your choice of the best removal.

Goblin Guide

We’re back up from two shades of viable Monastery Swiftspear decks to three with the removal of Uro from the format. Burn is back, and honestly might be the most unfair deck you can play in the format.

Searing Blaze

And really, not much has changed for the archetype. The two “big” questions seem to be whether you want Roiling Vortex in the sideboard, and whether the completely free addition of Lurrus of the Dream-Den actually helps you. I don’t have really strong opinions on those, but you absolutely should not be cutting any Searing Blazes from your deck. One of the bigger maindeck threats to Burn right now is Stoneforge Mystic into Batterskull, and you want the best coverage you can get there. Plus, I’ve said for years right now, “If Searing Blaze isn’t good, why are you playing Burn?” – and the answer certainly isn’t Eidolon of the Great Revel right now.

Sprite Dragon Stormwing Entity

In the “one step up” department of Prowess decks, Izzet has taken an early lead over Mono-Red. I’ll leave it up to a future version of Ryan Overturf to peruse the differences between the two, but with the initial trend towards fair stuff, I would be more interested in Bedlam Reveler than the Izzet deck that has more issues with layered removal. I guess Sprite Dragon is a hell of a card though, and if your opponent shows up with a little removal and a little threatening stuff, Izzet is the better list for hammering home that they need to kill everything you play as quickly as possible or die.

Aether Gust

Maybe the reason to play Izzet is Aether Gust? Think about that one as I get to the big mana decks.

Lava Dart

The actual reason to play Prowess decks is just Lava Dart. The thing they do better than anything else in the format is punish one-toughness creatures, and without Uro and Field of the Dead subsidizing Wrenn and Six there might be more room for those and in turn more room for Prowess to beat up on them. Either way, if this is your jam, do your thing, but I’m not rushing to get on this train.

Death's Shadow Scourge of the Skyclaves

On the large side of this pillar, you have the Scourge of the Skyclaves decks. I’m not sure why there hasn’t been much of this yet considering Scourge is such an effective card against things that aren’t Uro. My first guess is some of the issue is a small sample size, but my next guess is that Thoughtseize just isn’t a required card right now. Not that it’s bad, but the current skew towards fair decks and the depth of Modern points towards a lot of really redundant decks where Thoughtseize is less a game-breaker and more just an answer along the way.

Dreadhorde Arcanist Dark Confidant

In those metagame spots, Thoughtseize is usually best served as a setup card to leverage something giving you a tangible advantage. I’ve always been in to keep Thoughtseize around for Jund mirrors to steal games with an unanswered Dark Confidant. Hitting them once with a Scourge of the Skyclaves is kinda tangible, but not quite to the level that it piles on in a irreversible way. This points towards wanting to slide back down to Prowess or up to a midrange deck rather than landing in the middle with Scourge of the Skyclaves, at least until people force you to be fast and disruptive. But please build something less clunky than basic Jund if you try this.

Bomat Courier Soul-Scar Mage

I do think you need more than just Monastery Swiftspear in the one-drop slot to enable Scourge though. Too many of these Jund lists with Tarmogoyfs ignore that. I was partial to Soul-Scar Mage prior to the bans just for the raw power, but I’m open to trying Bomat Courier and being disappointed again.

Skyclave Apparition

Skyclave Apparition

The other pillar of Modern that stood against Uro this winter still exists, and I think it’s just a matter of adjustment to find the right place for Skyclave Apparition wherever the metagame ends up.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

The simplest answer is Death & Taxes, which massively benefits from a more fair metagame. Despite all the lock pieces theoretically bashing combo decks, the majority of Taxes consists of slower, trickier creatures that often struggle to close games out under true pressure. In Legacy a lot of this is glossed over by Wasteland and Rishadan Port, but every so often you get a matchup like Mono-Blue Show and Tell where that all falls through the cracks and you see the issues. Without Wasteland, that’s basically every time Death & Taxes doesn’t have the right disruption for a broken Modern deck.

Ghost Quarter Auriok Champion Kor Firewalker

What Modern Taxes does have is the best inherent hate for the first linear decks people seem to turn to: Burn and Mono-Green Tron. I don’t know how long people will turn to those decks for, but that’s the edge it has.

I think the window for Death & Taxes may have already closed, but you might get one more week before people start deep diving and finding the decks that just ignore what it’s doing.

Spike Feeder Heliod, Sun-Crowned

As I suggested in last week’s Modern What We’d Play or when I first wrote about the deck a couple of months ago, I’m more inclined towards decks that do Modern-powered things. The Spike Feeder + Heliod, Sun-Crowned combo deck’s bread and butter wins then were crushing midrange decks in a constant flow of cards that both set up and backed up your combo, and that’s what it will keep on doing. I’m a big fan of the return of Damping Sphere to the sideboard for as long as the Karn Liberated trend lasts, but not a minute longer.

Luminarch Aspirant Magus of the Moon

After seeing the early results, I do think the debate between the Selesnya Company lists and the Boros lists with just the Walking Ballista combo is really close. The flexible aggression of the other list and unique disruption count for a lot. If I were going to play a combo Skyclave Apparition deck, I would start by testing those lists and knowing that, if I fail, the Selesnya version is a comfortable place to fall back to.

Yawgmoth, Thran Physician

The Golgari Yawgmoth combo has popped up a bit, but it feels strictly obsoleted by the Heliod decks until people are showing up with tons of Deicide. The upside of the Golgari deck was resiliency, but the Heliod decks are comically resilient and just better decks with better cards. Skyclave Apparition, Geralf’s Messenger: look left, look right, and put the bad card back into your collection.

Champion of the Parish

I do need someone to explain to me why Humans isn’t still a great choice though. I get that it’s technically just barely a Skyclave Apparition deck, but it feels close enough in the disruptive white creature realm that I’m taking this moment to say things about it.

Whenever I play a new deck in Modern, my reaction is, “Wow, if my random creature opponents were playing Humans instead of some pile, I would be dead.” That’s not just weird brews. It’s Death’s Shadow decks, it’s all these control decks dropping or clustering their sweepers into Supreme Verdict.

Was it just Uro declaring that attacking with creatures was dumb and bringing Wrenn and Six to the party to end games on Turn 2 on the play? Are we that afraid of Lava Dart now when we can play four copies of Auriok Champion? Did people really play that many Plague Engineers?

How long is it going to take to catch up?

General Kudro of Drannith Kitesail Freebooter Meddling Mage

You do need to reconsider basically all the creatures that aren’t one-drops or Thalia’s Lieutenant though. Take a minute, figure out the right Humans to show up with, and just beat some people out of the metagame.

Big Mana

Karn Liberated Urza's Power Plant

They banned some cards, so let’s play Urza’s Power Plant! I’m not even dignifying this idea with a list. When has that ever worked for anyone?

Cleansing Wildfire Damping Sphere Matter Reshaper

Tron hate certainly has not gotten worse over the last couple of years, and Eldrazi Tron has only wasted countless hours of human potential.

I played Tron decks at the last three Modern Pro Tours / Mythic Championships. Please learn from my failings.

Primeval Titan Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle

Field of the Dead might be gone, but did you miss these jerks in the meantime? Unlike Tron, the hate for Titanshift has not meaningfully improved, and like Tron, all the stupid decks banned from the metagame were your bad matchups.

I can’t bring myself to recommend Dom Harvey’s list from last week with two Primeval Titans. Play them all, please.

Amulet of Vigor

What about Amulet Titan? Not right now. Too many floating Blood Moons and Magus of the Moons everywhere for one, but also the point of Amulet Titan was the overlap of resiliency and potential speed. Why do you need speed right now? Talk to me again once combo decks reestablish their footing, or I guess if you really want to Radiant Fountain some Burn players into oblivion.

Fair Stuff

Jund Midrange still isn’t good. It’s probably just medium and not medium-minus for now, so revel in that if you want. I can’t stop you; I can only show my disdain for your choices after the fact.

Kyle Boggemes makes some good Spell Queller decks.

Really, what has happened is basically all the most egregious things from 2019 onward have been wiped off the Modern slate and we’re back to Snapcaster Mage being really good again. Really, really good, since the entire Monastery Swiftspear section of the metagame has massive problems ever beating a Snapcaster Mage and the card is one of the best things in the midrange matchups as well. Stoneforge Mystic also finally gets to exist in Modern with a power level rewound to a reasonable level.

Double high-power two-drops and interaction to back them? Azorius Stoneblade❄ is basically just Jund, but good. If you want to play a traditional Modern fair deck, I would start in this area.

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

Why play this deck over a more controlling Azorius deck, like the one that won Saturday’s Modern Challenge? I don’t think it’s quite the time for Supreme Verdict. Everyone is playing the kind of fair decks sweepers aren’t good against. The real business might be that a small number of a larger planeswalker could be something this deck wants access to as a powerful midrange mirror breaker, though I have no idea whether that’s Gideon Jura; Teferi, Hero of Dominaria; Ashiok, Nightmare Muse; or something else.

Omnath, Locus of Creation Valki, God of Lies

I guess this is technically a fair deck? The last couple of years of design mistakes are still clinging to Modern. You can still Growth Spiral into Omnath, Locus of Creation. You can still Bring to Light for Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor. Wrenn and Six still exists.

But without Uro and Mystic Sanctuary, the deck lacks a lot of the prior depth. So much of the effectiveness of these decks came from being able to recycle the best answers in each matchup and bridge that exchange of time and resources into easy Uro wins.

Don’t view this deck as the Uro decks of the last year. View it as an upgrade of the old blue-based Scapeshift decks: a bit slow, but interactive and disruptive in a way that punishes control, combo, and big mana. I don’t love this deck against the Monastery Swiftspear part of the metagame and I would want another Veil of Summer to cover Jund maniacs, but outside of those I like it a lot against the current field.

Unfair Stuff

Mox Opal Faithless Looting Simian Spirit Guide

Without Mox Opal, Faithless Looting, and Simian Spirit Guide, can you even do broken things in Modern any more? A bit.

Balustrade Spy Goblin Charbelcher

In the absence of Simian Spirit Guide, Oops All Spells and Belcher are both still legal but a solid turn slower. A new Recross the Paths into Reforge the Soul kill involving Infernal Plunge popped up, but there are still a ton of Force of Negations floating around. The extra turn of speed loss is brutal for Oops All Spells, which now can’t race Rest in Peace out of the gates.

I think knowing these decks exist is important, and you will probably see a decent amount of them, but they aren’t things I would play until I know the format is open for exploit. One parting note is that they are also weak to Collector Ouphe-style hate taking out their mana and Goblin Charbelchers if an artifact deck starts pulling up into the format.

Ox of Agonas

I refuse to give Dredge the time of day as long as Balustrade Spy is legal in the format. At least that deck has good disruption and backup plans. All Dredge does is mulligan and die.

Colossus Hammer Sigarda's Aid

The other popular pre-ban combo deck was Colossus Hammer, but that is not an archetype that ages well in a format with rapidly increasing Path to Exile and Snapcaster Mage counts, even ignoring all the other decks with removal. Some lists are still floating around the lower standings of posted lists this week, but that’s probably due to overrepresentation rather than good positioning. If you really want to carry this deck forward, look into Azorius lists with Invisible Stalker for resiliency.

Slippery Bogle Gladecover Scout

Or you can move to actual Selesnya Hexproof, a deck that has been winning early on now that Mystic Sanctuary no longer gives everyone a free lock against it. Hexproof has never been the most reliable deck, but it does something really polarizing in the windows where people aren’t prepared.

Staggering Insight

I’m partial to the addition of Staggering Insight to this deck. You always wanted more lifelink Auras, but nonsense like Unflinching Courage just isn’t the right rate. An Aura that only costs two and that adds power and extra velocity against less interactive matchups is phenomenal.

Just the fact that I’m writing about Selesnya Hexproof being good probably means the window for it to actually be good has passed, but you might be able to get one more weekend out of the deck before the right interaction shows back up.

Glistener Elf

Yet another creature combo deck remains in soft exile until Lava Dart isn’t a key part of the format. Sorry Infect lovers.

Heritage Druid

If you want to play a creature combo deck where everything dies to Lava Dart, play the one where literally everything dies to Lava Dart. Even then, this is probably just a worse Humans in the sense that it loses to most of the same things but doesn’t flex as hard on unprepared but fast opponents.

Goblin Electromancer Grapeshot

The spell-based combo I would immediately endorse is Izzet Gifts Storm. I’ll leave it to Shaheen or someone to work out Underworld Breach, but I’m going to start with a deck that’s better against graveyard hate.

I think playing it right now is a little high-risk with how well Burn did, since this is the one deck that makes you want to play Burn for Eidolon of the Great Revel, but if people are going to ignore Humans this deck seems great. At worst, if you pick up Storm now you’re putting reps into what is now the most broken true combo deck in Modern, and it’s one that rewards an accumulation of effort and learning over term.

Ad Nauseam Inverter of Truth

Ad Nauseam players aren’t handling their loss of Simian Spirit Guide well. They’re trying to play Inverter of Truth, or repeatedly telling themselves, “It’s just two more mana to combo if I need to flip up Thassa’s Oracle.” Let them work out their own issues and don’t drag yourself down with them.

If you want a left-field spell combo option, I’m absolutely in love with how this deck is constructed. As much as I want Restore Balance to be good, the loss of Simian Spirit Guide is devastating to that deck. The floor of “Discard this card: do nothing” was often a playable effect there. Living End though might just be a better deck without Simian Spirit Guide, just letting people build the deck as all gas and minimal dead ends. Force of Negation solves basically all your problems, as does Brazen Borrower by both bouncing them and beating down if you can’t fix them all.

The one thing I keep staring at is the mana, which probably needs some work. I’m not entirely sure having zero Triomes to fetch is right here since you’re often trying to bridge casting Azorius and Gruul spells while maximizing blue cyclers, but I get that fetching a Triome is throwing away a cycler.

Hedron Crab Ruin Crab

To round out this list of literally everything, I wish I had more to say about Mill. It’s put up reasonable results, so if your heart tells you to Hedron Crab, I can’t say I have any reason to tell you not to.

Please Make a List; That’s Too Many Words

I talked about a lot of decks because Modern is really open right now. The power level has been readjusted to a point a lot of decks can say they’re hanging around the right point to compete, rather than having the towering peaks of Uro and Simian Spirit Guide strategically dominating other options.

To sum up my opinions on the two dozen or so decks I’ve covered today:

Definitely Good Decks

  • Burn
  • Prowess (the results say Izzet but my gut says Mono-Red)
  • Selesnya Company
  • Azorius Control (and really just Snapcaster Mage)
  • Titanshift
  • Some Omnath Pile, probably Bring to Light Scapeshift

Decks I Think Have Promise

  • Izzet Gifts Storm
  • Humans
  • Living End

Please Don’t Play These

  • Urza’s Tower
  • Jund Midrange
  • Colossus Hammer
  • Ad Nauseam (not playing this deck is a form of self-care)
  • Dredge

If You Want To, Go Ahead

  • Basically Anything Else

Have a blast. Old Modern is back.