Modern is a free format once again, after banning three of the more egregious cards from the card pool, and it’s an exciting time to be a brewer and tuner in the format as it adjusts back to a more balanced metagame.
We are seeing a ton of archetypes emerge in the wake of Oko, Thief of Crowns, but there are six main clusters to keep in mind.
1. Big Mana Decks
Big Mana includes Amulet Titan, TitanShift, Mono-Green Tron, and Eldrazi Tron. You have to win quickly to beat these monsters, and preferably have some disruption.
2. Noble Hierarch Decks
3. Graveyard Decks
The big ones are Dredge and CrabVine. They’ll smack anything that’s deeply interactive because the threats keep on coming. Beat them with direct graveyard hate.
4. Spell-Based Combo Decks
5. Fair Decks
This includes Jund, Azorius Control, and (mostly) Death’s Shadow decks. They try to cover everything with interaction, and usually lose to whatever they can’t fully cover with the limited sideboard space they’re given.
6. Monastery Swiftspear Decks
Somewhere between a spell-based combo deck and a Noble Hierarch deck in terms of proper interaction, Burn and Mono-Red Prowess land here. They’re very strong and extremely popular right now, and you need cheap removal spells to kill the prowess creatures as well as a fast turnaround to shut down the Bedlam Reveler chain (or simply a few topdecked Boros Charm). Lightning Helix is the best card in the format against these decks.
Why Not Death’s Shadow?
And to be clear, Death’s Shadow variants are still strong, make no mistake. But Veil of Summer is a card now. It’s the kind of card that flips Death’s Shadow on its head. Getting a single removal spell beaten with a Veil is bad enough. More? It’s backbreaking. You’re just running your head into a wall over and over, losing tempo and cards each time. Add to that the fact that the nonblue Death’s Shadow lists have an incredibly tough time against the Lava Spike decks and the graveyard decks without dedicating a lot of sideboard space and you start seeing a trend.
The dominance of Thoughtseize and Fatal Push is at a low point right now, and that makes it the perfect time to move away from black and towards the other colors for interaction. Incidentally, all of the aforementioned strengths of Veil of Summer push the format to a place where Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, and Lightning Helix are strong cards.
With Urza decks weakened to the point of fringe playability, there’s a new order in the format. Which brings us back around to the other 1/4 creature in Modern that can win the game on the spot…
I maintain that Jeskai Saheeli was the best deck in Modern from the moment War of the Spark was released to the moment Modern Horizons was released. And now, with the format slowly getting knocked back in power level via some bans, it’s time to revisit the multiple playable shells for the best two-card combo this side of Splinter Twin.
You want to mash Humans? This deck mashes Humans. You want to mash the Swiftspear decks? This deck mashes the Swiftspear decks. You want to beat Dredge and Amulet Titan? You can always run out a Turn 4 goldfish, and you gain massive percentage after sideboard (Ashiok, Dream Render handles the business perfectly). You want to avoid running into massive Veil of Summer-induced blowouts while still playing control? Here you go.
The weaker matchups with Jeskai Saheeli include harder control decks, Jund, and Death’s Shadow variants. These fair decks are a tiny bit ahead of us, though not by much, and those decks are all the same ones being kept in check by Veil of Summer. Additionally, the spell-based combo decks are a bit challenging and require significant sideboard space to fight back. You’re so flush with bad removal against them that you realistically can’t win Game 1 without a stroke of good luck, but the sideboard games do get better. And yes, as luck would have it, those decks are also not very popular, and typically under-represented in tabletop events.
Stoneforge Mystic into Sword of Feast and Famine, backed up by a Force of Negation and a Snapcaster Mage, is probably good enough to beat Ad Nauseam or Storm, but more Spell Pierces, Dispels, Disdainful Strokes, Negates, or even Spell Quellers would be welcome.
Spell Queller in particular is a desirable piece of the puzzle, especially with Teferi, Time Raveler as a nice synergy piece. Since your opponent can’t cast their spell due to Teferi’s timing restrictions, the Queller is a three-mana Mystic Snake. Plus, you can cast Teferi, bounce your own Queller, and then have a counterspell ready to go. Unfortunately, there are already quite a few three-mana spells in the deck and it’s tough to include too many more. Two copies in the sideboard over an Ashiok, a Helix, or an Engineered Explosives would be reasonable, though.
You have all the tools to crush the whole Modern metagame with Jeskai Saheeli, especially now that the Stoneforge Mystic package gets a seat at the table. To think, the first versions of Modern Jeskai Saheeli played cards like Wall of Omens, and now we get to enjoy Stoneforge Mystic! It’s an embarrassment of riches.
One of these is better than the other…
However, there are a few cards that might be worth twisting up the list to include. Some of the more broken effects in the world of card selection and velocity are a part of Modern now, and with a few tweaks, things start looking impressive, indeed. What about a dip in the waters of four colors?
- Wrenn and Six is a broken card. A two-mana planeswalker that increases loyalty to draw cards? Preposterous.
- Arcum’s Astrolabe is a broken card. A one-mana artifact that fixes your mana for the rest of the game? Ridiculous.
- Oath of Nissa is a broken card. A green Ponder that enables you to play Teferi, Time Raveler and Wrenn and Six in the same deck with consistency? Tremendous.
Let’s play these broken cards. This midrange-combo deck looks like an absolute delight.
Saheeli Rai actually gets good value out of her -2 ability here, drawing a card with Arcum’s Astrolabe and Ice-Fang Coatl or finding an extra Equipment with Stoneforge Mystic. She can also make a copy of Seasoned Pyromancer or Knight of Autumn post-sideboard for extra value. Incidentally, Seasoned Pyromancer is a strong card in the deck, and I’m a bit disheartened that there isn’t more room for additional copies, what with Spell Queller covering a few necessary bases and synergizing with Teferi.
Cards worth considering in this list include On Thin Ice, Veil of Summer, Mystical Dispute, Disdainful Stroke, Force of Negation, Path to Exile, Lightning Helix, Magus of the Moon, Collector Ouphe, Deputy of Detention, Sword of Light and Shadow, Sword of Fire and Ice, Ghost Quarter, Scavenging Ooze, and the mighty Thragtusk. With four colors and so much card selection, the hardest thing about a fun deck like this is going to be perfecting your 75 for a given week. But it’s one of the most joyful and rewarding parts of the game, and the customization of the midrange shell is endless.
On specific choices:
First off, this deck has tons of things to do with its mana. We have eight one-mana cantrips, multiple two- and three-mana cantrips, four different planeswalkers we can use to good effect, and a few different flash creatures that merit holding up mana on the opponent’s turn. In fact, there might be more interesting decisions each turn with Four-Color Saheeli than with any other midrange deck in Modern. The extra use of our lands is well worth it.
Second, our worst matchups are the ones where Sword of Feast and Famine is best! Big mana and spell-based combo are both naturally strong against a midrange deck with more value and combo pieces than disruption. Sword of Feast and Famine puts a clock on the opponent, lets us churn to our interaction pieces without tapping out, and offers light disruption. It’s exactly what we are looking for.
Third, you can activate Saheeli Rai targeting a creature with Sword of Feast and Famine on it. This comes up occasionally. Can’t do that with Sword of Fire and Ice! You can also create a copy of Sword of Feast and Famine in order to make an opponent discard both remaining cards in their hand if you need one more discard effect on a given turn. That’s more useful than an extra Sword of Fire and Ice trigger most of the time.
As for Knight of Autumn, it’s excellent as our supplemental way to gain chunks of life against the red decks beyond Batterskull, which relies on a Stoneforge Mystic surviving a turn cycle. It also covers incidental strategies like any lingering artifact decks, Selesnya Hexproof, and random combo decks. You can bring it in against Mono-Green Tron as well, mostly to hit an Oblivion Stone or Expedition Map, but also for outs to Walking Ballista. It’s likely a better choice than Thragtusk in any sideboard slots you’d like to dedicate to lifegain cards, unless your metagame is infested with Jund or Mardu.
Oust may be better than Path to Exile right now. With the various Horizon lands being quite popular, Path’s drawback is a bigger deal than it has been in the past. In addition, Oust is perfect against Noble Hierarch or Champion of the Parish openings. Why? A topdecked one-mana creature on Turn 3 is a weak draw. Not only are you stymieing early development, you’re decreasing the quality of a mid-game draw from your Humans or Bant Spirits opponent. Oust also donates a few unwanted points of life to Death’s Shadow as a nice bonus.
Stoneforge Mystic may end up being an unnecessary part of this deck, compared to the Jeskai version. Why? The Jeskai deck is happy to protect Stoneforge Mystic with Force of Negation. The four-color version doesn’t have that interaction. Additionally, there are so many cantripping cards in the four-color deck that you have a particularly high risk of naturally drawing weak Equipment without a way to put them back. One Jace, the Mind Sculptor is a nice touch, but it’s not clear that it’s enough. It’s possible that we simply need a second Jace over a Spell Queller.
Stoneforge is such a strong card, and a recently unbanned part of Modern, that it behooves us to try it out at least to start.
Similarly, Ice-Fang Coatl could be trimmed to a three-of to make room for extra spice. The deck already has a ton of two-drops, and both Wrenn and Six and Stoneforge Mystic are busted in their own right. If you want an extra land, or you want to include a spicy maindeck card, this, a single Teferi, a single Stoneforge Mystic, or the Spell Quellers are easy trims.
The best planeswalker was just kicked out of Modern. The rest of the Superfriends (with one Super Cat!) can rejoice now that they aren’t being overshadowed by Oko, Thief of Crowns and his supporting cast of miscreants. Will Saheeli Rai pick up the crown that Oko dropped?
It would not surprise me one bit.