This last month of Modern for me has been a month of trying stuff. I probably should have played a hundred matches of Mono-White Hammer (Lurrus) and been at the top of that game, but I didn’t.
Instead, I get to talk to you about the decks I played that were pretty awesome that you probably haven’t played. These are the decks you maybe saw in a Top 8 and never went further than “huh, that’s cool, maybe I’ll try it next week” then forgot existed.
For the other fifteen decks you did this with, you were probably right. But these five are absolutely worth that second look.
1. Rakdos Evoke
- 4 Seasoned Pyromancer
- 2 Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger
- 4 Grief
- 4 Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer
- 3 Dauthi Voidwalker
- 4 Fury
We all tried the Grief thing when Modern Horizons 2 was released. It was actually good, but couldn’t cut it against Living End or Urza’s Saga.
The first big mistake of that era was focusing on Ephemerate and Solitude and not just playing Fury. When you generate a massive early-game swing like the Grief draws did, the best thing to do is end the game. Not recast Ephemerate on Grief and give the opponent more land drops before Grief attacks. Not give them life with Solitude, especially since the third Solitude trigger off Ephemerate is overkill 85% of the time. Just Fury, kill their stuff, end their life total.
A throw away draft common from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms is weirdly critical to this get them dead philosophy. Feign Death, or the Innistrad: Crimson Vow equivalent Undying Malice, is a huge upgrade from the prior large numbers of Malakir Rebirth. An extra power on Grief or Fury is a noticeable clock increase to lethal.
Undying Evil did exist and shows up since an untapped blocker can help, but is non-functional as your second recursion spell due to the +1/+1 counter limit on undying. It might sound excessive, but you just want to convert that next Feign Death into a virtual threat when they have to kill your Fury or Grief. Three Undying Evil is acceptable since you can often pitch one to Grief, but I wouldn’t be shocked if you moved to more Feign Death equivalents to minimize the dead top deck copies of Undying Evil.
On this note: you typically just cash in Feign Death on evoked Fury even if there’s nothing to sweep with the trigger. To frame it up: It’s hard for your draft trick to be better than a 4/4 double strike or 4/3 menace on the battlefield.
The other huge mistake prior Grief decks made was trying to be broken. That’s all fine if you’re Living End and just firing off Grief once to clear a path, but once you get in the business of investing three cards into cardboard exchanges on Turn 1 it’s hard to play a secondary linear plan. Worse, you have bad top decks and run into huge issues if they do manage to undo your early edge. This deck has the cards like Seasoned Pyromancer to just shrug and play attrition if Grief eats a Lightning Bolt after taking two Murktide Regents. Even hard casting Fury is part of this.
Graveyard returning. Dies triggers.
If there’s one problem here, it’s that Rakdos Evoke is secretly more of a graveyard deck than any Lurrus of the Dream-Den deck. If your opponent sticks graveyard hate Turn 1, you can’t “undying combo out”. Grief gives you a bit more Sanctifier en-Vec buffer than you may expect, but if your opponent sideboards in a bunch of Nihil Spellbomb, things get dicey.
Your opponent’s incidental graveyard action is also a concern. The Mono-Red Obosh decks felt like a nightmare matchup. Their cheap threats and removal just force clean early games, Seasoned Pyromancer and Den of the Bugbear push value later on, and eventually their top decks are just better and you die.
The Living End issue also hasn’t been resolved, and Dredge is similarly problematic. Maybe Fury lets you go toe-to-toe with Rhino tokens, and Urza’s Saga felt much more manageable, so I would look into sideboard Leyline of the Void.
I would also consider a small number of Fulminator Mage, possibly over the Blood Moons. The card isn’t quite on the level of 2021 Modern and it has some Wasteland plus Thoughtseize bad vibes where you end up attacking neither of their resources well, but there’s a lot to be said for a card with good colors for your Incarnations that also leverages Feign Death.
2. Four-Color Brought Back (Yorion)
- 2 Eternal Witness
- 1 Meddling Mage
- 1 Knight of Autumn
- 4 Omnath, Locus of Creation
- 4 Solitude
- 1 Endurance
- 2 Fury
- 1 Wandering Mind
Four-Color Midrange definitely is not a fringe deck, but the Brought Back + Eladamri’s Call lists are. If you’re expecting mirror matches, the traditional Counterspell or Time Warp lists probably overwhelm this one, but against the field at large I would rather be on this toolbox-engine list.
Eladamri’s Call is probably the more important of the two cards. The toolbox is nice, but just having a split card of Solitude or Omnath, Locus of Creation is great. I recently heard a really smart comment that the point of Solitude in Modern isn’t having a hyper efficient removal spell, but ensuring that you have that kill spell at the right time regardless of your other mana use to stop things like Colossus Hammer. Paying two mana when a card doesn’t matter that much if that two mana wasn’t doing something the turn you used it but your mana the turn you have a free Solitude would do that.
Eladamri’s Call also solves the puzzle of Wandeirng Mind in Modern. The Innistrad: Crimson Vow card is exceptionally powerful when paired with Ephemerate, but drawing and casting a three-drop with minimal impact is a lot to ask in Modern. Drawing multiple Wandering Mind in the same game is approximately a mulligan.
But if you can just tutor up Wandering Mind, there’s never an issue. You can’t draw two, but you effectively play four. Even better, Wandering Mind can flip up an Eladamri’s Call, extending the card’s range to finding you a Solitude or Omnath.
The other oddball card here is Showdown of the Skalds, and it represents a similar change of scope as Eladamri’s Call. With Brought Back, Teferi, Time Raveler, Eternal Witness, Yorion, Sky Nomad, and Wandering Mind, the odds your first Showdown leads to another copy or recycling of the card is really high.
Why does this matter? One of the most common ways for players to pressure Solitude decks is forcing them to make a ton of trades and punish the pitch cost of the Incarnation. If you have a clean draw four that chains into more draw fours and a bunch of power, running you out of resources won’t work.
Despite being the most striking addition to the deck, Brought Back is probably the least relevant. It gives you an explosive draw to set up and has some cool utility corner cases, but you can’t always line up the cost with your early fetches and plays. I can see dropping down to two copies.
The only bad thing I can possibly say about this deck is I lost the games where I couldn’t cast my spells. You’re running as short on lands as the other Four-Color Control decks, but you’re lower on cantrips or Utopia Sprawls. Don’t be afraid to use Brought Back as a single Rampant Growth if your hand needs lands. This is one reason I want to move some filler slots back to Spreading Seas for cycling equity, or maybe you just want to play a couple more lands like a responsible adult..
Technically the other bad thing is playing too many Flusterstorm for a metagame light on cascade decks. Fix that, I guess.
OK, you probably have all heard about Dredge, but I want to specifically call out the latest Dredge list for how uniquely deterministic it feels relative to the last ten years of Modern Dredge. It’s easy to dismiss this as yet another case of “someone didn’t bring the graveyad hate”, when in reality it’s a significant reimaging of the deck aimed at…. exploiting the fact people didn’t bring the graveyard hate.
In his article, Todd Anderson called out Otherworldly Gaze as the big thing that made this deck work. I think that’s a bit of a half truth. Otherworldly Gaze is an important card for making the margins work in what is rounding the corner on Vintage Bazaar of Baghdad Dredge.
All you’re trying to do every game with this deck is assemble the four card hand of Cathartic Reunion or Thrilling Discovery, two lands, and a dredge card. Otherworldly Gaze is a stand in that it typically finds that second land and/or the dredge card. You then flip some stuff and hope to flip more stuff next turn. The whole Life from the Loam, when do my Bloodghasts come back, cards in hand for Conflagrate rocket science is a thing left behind in an era where Dredge was actually more powerful than the interaction. Before the London Mulligan made sideboarded games a gross binary, before Force of Negation.
The hate people are playing is also not proactively free like Leyline of the Void. You just get to strip it with discard, which is also a fine thing to waste time on against any interaction or action they could present.
The worry-free determinism of Game 1 also carries to the sideboard philosophy. You have an Ancient Grudge and Ray of Revelation because when you play against Orzhov Hammer (Lurrus), you put your deck in your graveyard and bust them up with a one-shot flashback.
Like I said, you probably didn’t miss Dredge. You probably missed how big a shift it is from the micromanaged Dredge of 2018. If you ever wanted to dive into Dredge but were afraid of messing it up, now is the time to dip your toes in and learn the basics.
4. Azorius Urza (Yorion)
billsive was the Magic Online player responsible for the maxed out Solitudes and Chalice of the Void versions of Azorius Control (Kaheera) that took over Modern for a few weeks when Wafo-Tapa was playing a more hedged list, so seeing another billsive Azorius deck pop up in results immediately caught my attention.
I speculated a bit about a similar deck with Blood Fountain early in the Innistrad: Crimson Vow-era of Modern, but after playing this list I feel like I actually get some of the things going on behind the scenes.
It’s easy to forget this since Standard to Modern is a huge transition, but as soon as you convert from the 60-card version of a deck to the Yorion version you’re automatically incentivized to build a control deck that’s trading cards. The logic here is really dumb and obvious: you start every game with giant Mulldrifter as an eighth card, so just play games where having a giant Mulldrifter is good.
Play all your Counterspells, play all your Prismatic Endings, play all your Solitudes. You’re an artifact-based Urza, Lord High Artificer deck only in the sense that it’s your weapon to overwhelm the other midrange and Yorion decks. This deck operates much more like the Azorius Control (Yorion) list with Restoration Angel that Curryvore won a Modern Challenge with in the last couple months than prior Whirza baselines.
So much of the synergy here is wrapped up in Portable Hole. My podcast cohost, Dom Harvey, has been on this card since it was previewed back in May, but I almost think he undersold tapping it for mana for Metallic Rebuke, Whir of Invention, Emry, Lurker of the Loch, or Urza. Noble Hierarch was one of the best cards in Modern because it sorta had one power while adding mana. How good is killing something relevant while adding mana? Or just being a white card for Solitude. Portable Hole really does it all.
I had low expectations for Esper Sentinel, but it carried a lot of weight on similar attributes. One-drop, white, artifact, some game text that is card parity, that may as well be Deathrite Shaman in this deck.
The full set of Emry was underwhelming. For every game the card dominated, there was another where I drew a second copy while the first was clunkily sitting on the battlefield with nothing good to recur. I bet the card is better in the 60-card versions where you more reliably have Mishra’s Bauble or Thopter Foundry, and where you’re just trying to do a linear thing more often than you’re trading off cards. This isn’t a completely replace the card kind of issue, but more of a trim down to two or three copies to avoid the worst case scenarios.
I’ll make the quick note that Emry plus Thopter Foundry plus Portable Hole comes up a fair amount, where you loop through Hole on tokens or swap from a blanked Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer to a scarier Dragon’s Rage Channeler.
I have similar clunk concerns with Whir of Invention. You obviously need a couple to respect the archetype, but the third is negotiable. I also think this tutor toolbox isn’t correct; ideally all your tutor targets Game 1 are good to draw and Damping Sphere really isn’t. Get that Pithing Needle in the maindeck, maybe even the Ensnaring Bridge too to really threaten to lock out Izzet Midrange at instant speed.
As I mentioned in my Blood Fountain rant, this is an Urza’s Saga deck with expensive spells. It really could use some more lands. It’s just tough to balance raw artifact counts needed to support your spells with more lands, and I’m not adding some stupid tapped artifact land or Darksteel Citadel to this Counterspell deck. I don’t think any of the typical Azorius Control value lands solves the issue either, so it might be a deeper dive or you may just have to play a Talisman of Progress.
5. Rakdos Vampires
While I have you hooked here, can I interest you in some Rakdos Vampires?
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Silversmote Ghoul
- 4 Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar
- 3 Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer
- 2 Anje, Maid of Dishonor
- 4 Voldaren Epicure
No seriously, I think there’s something solid behind the nonsense here.
Modern just isn’t in a great position to profitably trade for Silversmote Ghoul and Urza’s Saga at the same time. Having a completely separate aggro plan lets you play Asmor without playing games that are exclusively about whether your Asmor plus The Underworld Cookbook setup stays around. You can just play Asmor as a Shriekmaw they have to then kill immediately and keep beating down with random Vampires where most of the other Asmor decks actually hate getting their Asmor killed in that spot.
I think the next big breakthrough here is figuring out how to get a bit more interactive with some of the expensive Vampire deck slots. Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord is solid, and I have won games with Anje, Maid of Dishonor, but they aren’t exceptionally layered or synergistic with a lot of the rest of the deck. I can imagine a version of this deck with two or three Sorin, no Anje, and Fury instead for clean early turns… except there just aren’t enough red cards and your raw cardboard is too valuable for Cookbook-ing up Food tokens. I tried Bloodtithe Harvester (too slow) and Bone Splinters (too resource intensive). Maybe the answer is just good old Lightning Bolt, but I would love there to be something that plays more roles.
Recent event results certainly point towards the best decks in Modern being really good, but the last month has taught us their hold on the metagame is much more fragile than you would have assumed in September. There’s a lot of room for these unique and interesting decks to put up good finishes and knowing which ones are good and when is the best way to do that.