Is Modern Magic’s Most Wide-Open Competitive Format?

Modern offers a wide-open field this week, with our SCG creators recommending everything from aggressive decks to ramp and combo.

Wrenn and Six, illustrated by Chase Stone

Welcome to What We’d Play! With the recent introduction of Zendikar Rising, many are unsure what they’d play in Modern. That’s where we come in and let you know what we’d play and why we’d play it. Hopefully this advice aids in your decision making for your next Modern event!

Dom Harvey — Four-Color Ramp

The hyper-flexible Four-Colour Ramp shell is the talk of the town again, this time featuring Time Warp as a payoff for Omnath, Locus of Creation that can be looped with Mystic Sanctuary and eventually Wrenn and Six for a formal lock or an insurmountable advantage with other planeswalkers. This twist lets you suddenly seize control of the game against anyone with enough time but makes you more reliant on defending planeswalkers — already difficult in this deck — against the aggro matchups that this strategy too often takes for granted.

Instead, I’m returning to a ‘classic’ list (if a deck six weeks old can be called that). Hour of Promise for Field of the Dead remains the best unconditional finisher in Modern while Supreme Verdict remains a necessary measure against creature decks that know they can freely commit to the battlefield otherwise. As the format opens up again, I’m more confident covering my bases with this less exploitable approach. 

Todd Anderson — Mardu Death’s Shadow (Lurrus)

It is no surprise that Mardu Death’s Shadow (Lurrus) would be my pick for What We’d Play this week. It’s been tearing up Modern for a few weeks now, ever since the addition of Scourge of the Skyclaves. Turns out that adding a second virtually copy of Death’s Shadow to your Death’s Shadow deck is quite good and effectively doubles your consistency when it comes to drawing your marquee card. Obviously, it isn’t quite as good, but it’s up there and powerful in its own right.

At the moment, Primeval Titan is all the rage and I think Death’s Shadow is one of the fair decks that can actually compete. Early starts featuring one of your big baddies and a follow-up Temur Battle Rage can close games before they even cast their payoff in Primeval Titan. New iterations featuring Path to Exile maindeck can be troublesome on occasion, but it’s not that difficult to sequence in such a way where you strip their removal before casting one of you big baddies.

As for fighting against the rest of the format, this version doesn’t have the tricksy junk like Mutagenic Growth that rots in your hand against interactive opponents. Instead, we get a bit more disruption with the white splash in the format of Tidehollow Sculler, which provides a body while stripping your opponent of their key piece of removal or combo.

Having Lurrus at our back also helps when your opponent is hitting you with interaction over and over. While it isn’t as strong as it used to be, there’s still a lot to love about Lurrus in these builds. As games go long, spending three mana as an initial investment isn’t so bad because Death’s Shadow often has extra mana left over for casting removal and whatnot. When your opponent doesn’t have creatures to kill, it’s okay to spend an off turn putting Lurrus into your hand so it can dominate in the later turns.

Andrew Elenbogen — Oops All Spells

In Magic, as in life, it is usually best to avoid arm races. If everyone in the metagame is trying to one-up each other on some axis, taking the fight to a different axis is a lot easier than winning the fight on their terms.

Right now, I would describe Modern as a value arms race. Players are turning to increasingly grindy, fair tools to beat other fair decks. Control decks used to be Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and a pile of interaction. These days, the interaction is being shaved to the bare minimum to support value cards like Omnath, Locus of Creation. If my opponent is going to show up with a couple of Remands as their only stack interaction, I’m going to mill myself out on Turn 3. The kicker is that Oops All Spells performs well against the Primeval Titan ramp strategies that often flourish in this kind of metagame.

The list I posted above resembles past lists in broad strokes, but the maindeck interaction card has changed. Previous lists opted for Thoughtseize, whereas this one chooses Leyline of Sanctity. The primary purpose of this swap is to gain much-needed ground against Rakdos Death’s Shadow, which is one of the deck’s weakest matchups.

Ari Lax — Selesnya Company

I wrote an entire primer about Selesnya Company this week because the decks is very good. In case you missed it, the fast summary is that a successor to prior Collected Company combo decks exists that’s fast, consistent, and good against Fatal Push. Heliod, Sun-Crowned is a really good card and Skyclave Apparition gives you a lot of flexibility against problems at low deck building cost.

But as I Tweeted last week, this is just one pillar of the format and you have many viable options. If you play Skyclave Apparition; Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath; or Lurrus of the Dream-Den, you are off to a good start.

It’s a different feel from the pillars of the format being Mox Opal, Faithless Looting, and Ancient Stirrings, but the format is as wide-open and vibrant as anything that era offered.