I have to say, given how Modern Horizons led to several bannings within a year of its release, I was skeptical of the decision to run it back. And while Modern Horizons 2 has clearly had a gigantic impact on Modern, fundamentally reshaping the format on several levels, the resulting metagame has been diverse, dynamic, and interesting. Personally I’d be interested in a Mishra’s Bauble or Lurrus of the Dream-Den ban because I find those cards rather stale, but it’s far from a necessity.
Even six months after the set’s release, we haven’t seen any signs of stagnation in the metagame, with a large variety of decks cycling in and out of periods of popularity and success. So today I’m going to look closely at the current metagame trends in Modern and prescribe two decks that I think can take advantage of them.
Omnath on the Decline
Over the last few weeks, we saw a rise in Four-Color Midrange decks that looked to dominate other midrange decks with its overwhelming card quality, while utilizing the power of Incarnations like Solitude and Fury to keep up with faster decks. However, it appears that Omnath, Locus of Creation’s time in the sun has come to an end, as the deck’s prevalence has declined in recent weeks.
With a single Top 8 across the two Magic Online Challenges last weekend and a few scattered Top 16s, these decks are still around in significant numbers, but they aren’t in the top tier of decks that I’d consider when making my deck choice and major deckbuilding decisions right now. I also expect Omnath decks to decline further in the coming days and weeks.
The question of why these decks are on the decline is central to understanding the current direction of the Modern metagame. And the primary reason is that linear decks made a big push in the last few weeks. Modern had been quite fair ever since Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and Dragon’s Rage Channeler along with powerful removal like Unholy Heat and Prismatic Ending entered the format. In that kind of metagame, going big with individually powerful cards and a strong late-game is of the utmost importance, which is why Omnath decks thrived.
But that arms race can only go so far before you start opening yourself up to fast, linear decks that you’re not prepared for. Gruul Belcher was the first linear deck to rise in popularity, but since the Invitational at SCG CON in October we’ve seen everything from Sultai Infect to Amulet Titan make some noise. And Colossus Hammer hasn’t gone anywhere of course. Even with Incarnations that’s a tough matchup for decks that are trying to dominate the late-game at the expense of their early-game.
Against these linear strategies, your midrange deck needs to be able to apply pressure to close the game before your opponent recovers from your early disruption. That pressure comes from cards like Ragavan, Tarmogoyf, and Death’s Shadow, which is why we’ve seen leaner midrange decks like Grixis Death’s Shadow (Lurrus), Jund Midrange (Lurrus), and Izzet Midrange return in a big way. They don’t have the raw power of the four-color decks, but they’re significantly more efficient. They’re able to bury linear opponents with their combination of cheap, flexible disruption and pressure in a way bigger decks can’t. So effectively, the Modern metagame has come full circle. These midrange decks emerged from the early, unstable metagame after Modern Horizons 2, kicking off the arms race that peaked with the rise of four-color decks. Now that race is over because of linear strategies, bringing us back around to the lean midrange decks.
Now, just because the current metagame parallels that which we saw over the summer doesn’t mean you should simply go back and look at which decks were doing well at that time. It’s not the same because we’ve figured out so much more about which decks work and which decks don’t. Back then you saw plenty of Asmor decks that have since fallen completely out of the metagame, as well as plenty of Prowess variants that are no longer as popular.
Moreover, the current metagame still has plenty of linear strategies you have to contend with. This is a much more mature metagame than what we saw several months ago, and needs to be considered separately.
For this weekend, priority number one has to be targeting the lean midrange decks. Grixis Death’s Shadow (Lurrus) took down both Challenges last weekend in the hands of a single pilot, an impressive feat that’s sure to make an impact this weekend. And both Izzet Midrange and Jund Midrange (Lurrus) lists are around in significant numbers. None of these three decks is hugely popular, but combined they form a large section of the metagame, and they all function on a similar axis.
Priority two is those linear strategies, which essentially means having cheap, flexible disruption and the ability to close games quickly. You can’t afford to durdle even if you’re loaded up on counters, discard, and removal.
These are the two main priorities for me, but I’d add as a third, lesser item the Azorius-based control decks. They’re still somewhat popular, but a bad matchup here isn’t a death knell. You should just have some sort of plan for the matchup, and hopefully it’s a good one. In a format as diverse as Modern, you’ll rarely find a deck without any serious holes; it’s just a matter of putting your weaknesses in the right spots. There have been weeks where control was a higher priority, but now it’s just another face in the crowd. It’s just a unique face, and that means you have to consider it to some degree.
With this picture in mind, there are two decks that I think are well situated to succeed this weekend.
Lets Get Creative
I’ve talked about this deck a lot over the last few weeks. Maybe it’s because I regret not registering it at the Invitational at SCG CON, where a good Modern record would’ve put me in position to Top 8. Maybe it’s because I’m still baffled that it doesn’t see more play. Either way, I still think it’s the most underrated deck in Modern, and has the tools to succeed regardless of the metagame.
In a midrange metagame with plenty of linear strategies, there’s a tough balancing act you have to play, because to beat the midrange decks you need to go big, but to beat the linear decks you need to be efficient. So the goal should be to sit just on top of the most popular midrange decks, so you have an edge there, but you avoid going too big and opening up a weakness in the early-game to linear strategies. I think Four-Color Indomitable Creativity does that quite well.
The key is in the combo. It’s what lets you go way over the top of the midrange decks while also closing games quickly against the linear decks. You have plenty of cheap interaction to trade resources early, and while your opponent is left with a Ragavan or Murktide Regent once the dust settles, you’re set up to find an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn protected by Serra’s Emissary. And the fact that you can combo as early as Turn 4 or 5 is perfect for closing the door against linear decks.
There’s a bit of extra variance that you have to accept here, since the games where you don’t find Creativity early or your opponent is able to stop it from resolving are tough to win through normal means, but you can play a control role with Wrenn and Six to win an acceptable number of those games. And the deck has so much velocity that you can reliably find Creativity. This issue is most prevalent against control strategies, which is where the planeswalkers shine the most, as well as a sideboard prepared with Veil of Summers and Shark Typhoons.
You can find more detailed thoughts about this deck in my recent article about it above, and I still like that list even though it’s a few weeks old. My main deviation from the stock lists is in choice of counterspells. I dislike Remand against a Modern format with so many one-mana spells, and Force of Negation and Spell Pierce are excellent at protecting you from linear strategies or annoying early planeswalkers while you’re setting up.
The End Has Only Just Begun
- 4 Street Wraith
- 4 Architects of Will
- 4 Shardless Agent
- 4 Curator of Mysteries
- 4 Striped Riverwinder
- 4 Waker of Waves
- 4 Grief
- 2 Subtlety
We haven’t seen as much of Shardless Agent recently in Modern. Once among the most popular cards in the format, cascade decks were, in my opinion, the biggest loser in the arms race. They rely on their cascade card of choice to take over games, and if decks are able to play through those cards, there’s not a lot of room for them to adjust.
But with a decline of decks that are going over the top, cascade decks are once again happy to contend with the leaner midrange decks that the cascade spells go over the top of. Those decks don’t have the same raw power to contend with the cascade plan.
Moreover, the deckbuilding restriction from building around cascade ironically leads these decks to include plenty of cheap disruption in the form of pitch spells, Leylines, and Mystical Disputes. And creating eight or more power on Turn 3 from a Crashing Footfalls or a Living End is a great clock. So these decks check both boxes I have for this weekend. I’d be worried with these decks against control given their maindeck copies of Chalice of the Void and plethora of disruption, but like I said, that’s not as big a factor.
The last question is which cascade deck is better positioned and right now I’m firmly on the side of Living End. Both decks benefit from a recent decline in Void Mirrors and Chalice of the Voids. The latter rarely appears in high numbers outside of control decks while the former is almost entirely in the sideboard of Hammer decks where you already want to bring in plenty of Disenchant effects like Force of Vigor and Foundation Breaker. But Engineered Explosives is a big part of the metagame since both the lean midrange decks and many linear decks have a condensed curve, making it a powerful, flexible answer that fits into nearly every deck.
Engineered Explosives is a near brick against Living End while being among the best cards in the format against Temur Crashcade for its ability to cleanly answer a horde of Rhinos. Remember, all else equal, it always pays to play the deck that your opponents are least prepared for.
Relatedly, I’m seeing less graveyard hate these days, which is one of the ways Crashing Footfalls gets an edge over Living End. The four-color decks brought a lot of Endurances with them that are no longer around. Leyline of the Void is almost nonexistent outside of Esper Reanimator sideboards, and Rest in Peace only pops up in small numbers in a few sideboards. There’s a good number of Soul-Guide Lanterns and Nihil Spellbombs to play through, especially against Urza’s Saga decks, but those are the easiest hate cards to overcome, and you rarely see more than two copies in a decklist.
The fact that we’ve seen Dredge pop up recently is a good sign that there isn’t sufficient graveyard hate in sideboards, so I’m happy to play the more powerful graveyard deck in Living End.
Lastly, I like having Grief on top of Force of Negation as early disruption against linear decks. You don’t get the removal that Temur Crashcade has access to, but Living End is so good at cleaning up the battlefield that you don’t need it. Instead you get two of the disruption spells that have the best combination of efficiency and versatility, thus preparing you well for the wide array of linear strategies in Modern.
I love even more that six months after Modern Horizons 2 that Modern is still so dynamic. Every week the metagame shifts and while you can certainly stick to one deck for a long period, you can’t get by without innovating your list and adjusting with the metagame to ensure you’re ahead of the curve. And you can also stay ahead by making smart deck choices week after week.
Each week is a new puzzle to solve, and while a lot of the decks repeat, each metagame is unique. Right now we’re battling the same midrange decks that dominated Modern over the summer, but the fact that linear decks are bigger now than they were then throws a new variable into the equation. I think Four-Color Indomitable Creativity and Living End are the best solutions to that equation due to their combination of early disruption and over the top power, but you have to strike quickly because next week could be a different story.