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Everything I Know About Five-Color Humans In The New Modern

Can Humans weather the Modern metagame storm brought by Modern Horizons 2? GerryT gives it his best shot. Make that shots…

Esper Sentinel, illustrated by Eric Deschamps

For all the Humans lovers in Modern, we’ll get there. I promise. First of all, I need to share my updated Golgari Food decklist. Most of the problems are fixed and I firmly believe it to be the strongest deck in the format.


Your Plan A is Asmor plus Urza’s Saga, and finding your Plan B is the most difficult part. Given enough time, Trail of Crumbs will bury everyone. Others are convinced that Finale of Devastation into Asmor or Life from the Loam is stronger, but they’re wrong. Finale of Devastation is solid, as long as the majority of matchups you’re playing against fold to Asmor. However, in my experience, you still need an engine to back up Asmor. I could see playing two copies of Finale of Devastation whenever finding Asmor is key in the metagame. Shaving any of Cauldron Familiar, Witch’s Oven, Feasting Troll King, or Bone Shards is reasonable. Make sure to adjust the manabase accordingly as well.

I’ve solved my sideboard issues. Last week, I was searching for ways to replace Nature’s Claim and Fatal Push with similar cards that were findable with Trail of Crumbs. Engineered Explosives, Foundation Breaker, and Grist, the Hunger Tide are all excellent options and really help everything come together. 

Anyway, onto Humans.

Golgari Food might be the best deck, but Humans is the one that beats up on all the cool new ideas people have from Modern Horizons 2. Thanks to some new additions, Humans also does quite well against the format’s top tier. I don’t see it often, but when I do, Humans reminds me why it’s almost always been a Tier 1 deck in Modern.


My list for Humans is a little strange, but that’s what happens when a new, wildly impactful set is released. 

What deck in Modern doesn’t play cheap spells? What deck in Modern do you not want to curve out against? Maybe I’m weird, but my Humans decklists start with four Esper Sentinel.

Having more cheap creatures makes your clock faster and your Thalia’s Lieutenants stronger. You’ll often draw a card off it and it’s not uncommon to draw more than that. Multiples tend to compound your opponent’s problems. There are some issues with it being an artifact, being a poor topdeck, and having low toughness, but the upside is worth it. 

I wouldn’t be excited for Humans, nor would I have had the success I’ve had thus far, without it. Realistically, I shouldn’t have to sell you on it, but with so many of the Humans decklists I’ve seen excluding it, here I am.

At the beginning of Modern Horizons 2, I didn’t play Imperial Recruiter maindeck. Instead, I opted for more maindeck copies of Sanctum Prelate in anticipation of the Crashcade decks. The hype on that deck has settled down some and the metagame has diversified, which means the correct three-mana card is still up in the air. 

Usually I’d sideboard my copies of Militia Bugler or whatever card advantage Human I wanted to play, unless the games are overwhelmingly based on attrition. In this case, the games aren’t, but the matchup spread is diverse and each deck wants a different type of hate card. You don’t explicitly need Magus of the Moon to beat Amulet Titan but you can’t argue against the power spike your deck gains simply by having a tutorable copy in your maindeck. 

Once the metagame settles and we can return to playing Sanctum Prelate in large numbers, Imperial Recruiter can go back to living in the sideboard. 

Look, it’s unlikely that any other person on earth has more of an appreciation for Shardless Agent than I do. Playing it in Humans is such a tough pill to swallow when it has numerous awkward cascades and doesn’t work with Aether Vial itself. I’d love it if playing Shardless Agent were optimal, but play Imperial Recruiter instead. 

The main card I’ve omitted from other Humans decks is Kitesail Freebooter. I want to like the card because when it works out, it’s incredible. Unfortunately, I faced a tipping point when playing against the various cascade decks and not being able to interact with Shardless Agent. Even in the matchups where it’s supposed to be good, Freebooter falls short. It used to occupy the deck due to a lack of playable two-drops and its ability was occasionally good. Unfortunately, neither is true at the moment. 

Phantasmal Image is in a similar scenario. Its ceiling is high but it can be awkward to cast and doesn’t do much against decks that have a ton of removal. I don’t mind a single copy since it’s sweet with Imperial Recruiter.

It might look like a random tutor target, but Sanctifier en-Vec is strong enough to maindeck another copy or two. Most of the format’s removal is red or black and the disruption is real. If you ended up with a free slot in the maindeck, I’d happily play another Sanctifier.

There are some other fringe options, like General Ferrous Rokiric. I don’t particularly like it because there aren’t many multicolored spells in the deck, although that could change if you wanted it to. It’s a powerful card but I’ve wanted my three-drops to be disruptive. Maybe if the format demanded more power from Humans, it could find a place. 

Sideboarding Guide

My general sideboarding strategy involves watching my mana curve. The current maindeck has thirteen two-drops and twelve three-drops, and I’d prefer to keep something close to that ratio after sideboarding. You can go up or down on those numbers depending on the matchup. For example, against Burn or something fast, you’d prefer to lower your mana curve as much as possible, so twelve three-drops shouldn’t be what you’re aiming for.

Asmor is the biggest problem for Humans, so I’m playing more copies of Dismember than I might otherwise. You can find an answer from Imperial Recruiter as well, although those tend to be on the expensive side. One of the cheaper answers you can play is Phyrexian Revoker, but it’s not a Human, doesn’t do well in combat, and is fairly vulnerable. Cursed Totem is reasonable, at least if there’s some other overlap against the rest of the format.

I’ve tried Collector Ouphe and it was largely ineffectual. However, Kataki, War’s Wage might be good enough to earn sideboard slots. Even though Ouphe shuts down The Underworld Cookbook and Witch’s Oven, their Food would sit around until they were able to put Asmor onto the battlefield. With Kataki, it’s kind of the opposite, but that’s the effect you’d rather have. You have some artifacts yourself, so be careful. 

If folks start playing Asmor proportional to how good it is, some additional measures might be required. Solitude is finding success in bigger white decks. Imperial Recruiter does help recoup the card disadvantage, but Humans doesn’t particularly need the effect. It’s an answer to Asmor, so I’ve considered it.

Chalice of the Void is excellent against the Cascade decks and solid against Rakdos Midrange decks with a ton of one-mana spells. In order to support casting it (and Damping Sphere), I shaved an Ancient Ziggurat. Given our lack of Kitesail Freebooter and Phantasmal Image, Ancient Ziggurat may no longer be necessary. As an added benefit, we have more lands that cast Aether Vial on Turn 1.

VS Golgari Food

Out:

Magus of the Moon Mantis Rider Mantis Rider Thalia's Lieutenant Thalia's Lieutenant Thalia's Lieutenant Sanctum Prelate

In:

Dismember Dismember Deputy of Detention Skyclave Apparition Imperial Recruiter Sanctifier en-Vec Sanctifier en-Vec

The only thing that truly matters is keeping Asmor off the battlefield.  Flyers are solid but usually only once you’ve disrupted them. At that point, you can typically win with anything. There is the occasional battlefield stall though.

Yes, Magus of the Moon kills Urza’s Saga, but it’s devastating against you as well. Typically, you’ll use Magus of the Moon as a KO against decks like Mono-Green Tron and it doesn’t quite play out that way here. 

VS Amulet Titan

Out:

Reflector Mage Reflector Mage Reflector Mage Sanctifier en-Vec Imperial Recruiter Imperial Recruiter Sanctum Prelate

In:

Dismember Dismember Magus of the Moon Damping Sphere Damping Sphere Deputy of Detention Skyclave Apparition

Amulet Titan is typically a tough matchup and it’s made worse by Dryad of the Ilysian Grove and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. Urza’s Saga provides another wrinkle. Those backup plans make Damping Sphere less effective than normal and I could see cutting it entirely, although I would only do so if I found a stronger sideboard plan. 

VS Five-Color Humans

Out:

Esper Sentinel Esper Sentinel Esper Sentinel Esper Sentinel Meddling Mage Meddling Mage Meddling Mage Magus of the Moon Sanctum Prelate

In:

Sanctifier en-Vec Sanctifier en-Vec Dismember Dismember Deputy of Detention Skyclave Apparition Plague Engineer Plague Engineer Imperial Recruiter

There’s really not much to say here. Our lower mana curve can help give you a tempo advantage in Game 1 but Esper Sentinel is still worth sideboarding out. Build a bigger battlefield, save your removal for things that matter, get multiple Plague Engineers onto the battlefield if you can, and you should be good.

VS Living End

Out:

Thalia's Lieutenant Thalia's Lieutenant Thalia's Lieutenant Mantis Rider Magus of the Moon Deputy of Detention

In:

Sanctifier en-Vec Sanctifier en-Vec Chalice of the Void Chalice of the Void Sanctum Prelate Imperial Recruiter

Depending on their manabase, Magus of the Moon can be good here. 

Sanctifier en-Vec can be awkward. It will exile their Street Wraiths and Desert Cerodons, but if you’re forcing the issue and making them cast Living End multiple times, it will also be exiling your Mantis Riders and Imperial Recruiters. 

VS Temur / Four-Color Crashcade

Out:

Sanctifier en-Vec Magus of the Moon Mantis Rider Mantis Rider Mantis Rider

In:

Chalice of the Void Chalice of the Void Sanctum Prelate Imperial Recruiter Deputy of Detention

Similarly to the Living End matchup, Magus of the Moon can be great against particularly greedy builds. Mantis Rider flies over Rhinos but disruption comes first and you can often grow your ground creatures out of range thanks to Thalia’s Lieutenant anyway. Plus, it gives their Brazen Borrowers something to trade with, which isn’t ideal.

VS Rakdos Death’s Shadow (Lurrus)

Out:

Magus of the Moon Thalia's Lieutenant Thalia's Lieutenant Thalia's Lieutenant Mantis Rider Mantis Rider Mantis Rider Mantis Rider Meddling Mage

In:

Sanctifier en-Vec Sanctifier en-Vec Dismember Dismember Deputy of Detention Skyclave Apparition Chalice of the Void Chalice of the Void Imperial Recruiter

Playing against the new crop of Rakdos decks is fun, classic Magic. Maybe they have Death’s Shadow and maybe not. Either way, you’ll have to sequence carefully against their spot removal and discard, plus do a ton of combat math. Humans looks favored against the newer versions of these decks because of how light on interaction they are.

Finally, I have an alternative version.

Getting away from Ancient Ziggurat and Kitesail Freebooter led me down an extreme path. If we have a viable alternative one-drop to Noble Hierarch, want to cast sideboard hate cards that are non-Human, and are effectively cutting a color already, why not experiment with Humans decks that aren’t all five colors? 


Jeskai Humans has an extra land due to the loss of Noble Hierarch. It makes up for it with an extra Horizon land and the ability to cast sideboard hate like Stony Silence and Rest in Peace. Older versions of this deck occasionally contained Unsettled Mariner in the maindeck, which gave you enough blue sources to play Force of Negation in the sideboard if you wanted. They also played Giver of Runes because cutting Noble Hierarch meant you were light on one-drops, but thankfully Esper Sentinel fixed that issue.

Overall, it has pros and cons compared to traditional Humans. Personally, even if I decided I didn’t want any black or green cards, I would still play Noble Hierarch and the Unclaimed Territory manabase. You would have to desperately need something like Rest in Peace or Lightning Bolt to convince me. Given Asmor’s existence in the format, that might be the case, although she isn’t quite as prevalent as I expect her to be eventually.