The bannings of Oko, Thief of Crowns; Mox Opal; and Mycosynth Lattice represent a massive change to the Modern format, particularly for me, as I’ve been primarily playing Mox Opal decks for most of Modern’s history and exclusively Mox Opal decks with Oko, Thief of Crowns for the last few months.
These cards had really taken over the format, and without them, there’s going to be an adjustment period, but I’m so excited to play this new Modern format that I’m sad the upcoming PT is Pioneer. So what will it look like?
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Once Upon a Time is the best card in Modern. Normally, there’s been a top tier of cards, or a few cards in consideration. I don’t currently believe that’s the case. Once Upon a Time is way ahead of everything else and it’s about to become the most-played card in the format.
- Golgari Yawgmoth
- Primeval Titan variants
- Mono-Green Devotion
- Devoted Druid variants
- Heliod, Sun-Crowned Combo
- Mono-Green Tron
I don’t think that’s an exhaustive list, but it’s most of the best options. I think every deck on that list would be smart to test for an upcoming Modern tournament.
While Once Upon a Time is the best card, it’s not so good that you have to play it, it’s just the best card in a bunch of decks that I think are very good now.
The reason Once Upon a Time decks are so appealing is that they’re all fast, proactive decks. I almost always advocate playing this kind of strategy in Modern because the format is diverse enough that it’s generally best to put your opponent to the test and make them answer you rather than trying to answer everything you might play against.
To understand what other options we have, we have to look at the constraints/rules of engagement/pressures on the format.
To start with, the package of Cavern of Souls, Field of the Dead, and Primeval Titan is still legal, which makes it extremely hard for control decks to compete. I love Mystic Sanctuary, but without Oko and Urza to end the game when you need to, this interaction is extremely hard to beat. Because of this, I think blue control decks need to either have access to some kind of fast combo finish, red mana for Alpine Moon / Blood Moon, or black mana for Unmoored Ego. You could maybe try to get by with Ashiok, Dream Render and some Field of Ruins or something, but it seems like an uphill battle.
On top of that, Veil of Summer is still legal. This puts another large pressure on control decks. It’s beatable, but not easily. This makes things very hard for a deck like Grixis Death’s Shadow, which plays a game on such small margins that a one-mana tempo positive two for one is frequently game ending.
If Field of the Dead and Veil of Summer weren’t legal, I’d definitely be playing Mystic Sanctuary, but as is, it’s tricky to navigate. Tricky isn’t impossible, and I do have one deck I want to try before giving up on the project:
Wrenn and Six is a huge winner from the banning of Oko, which was great at attacking other planeswalkers. With that gone and Veil of Summer keeping Abrupt Decay in check, Wrenn and Six is pretty hard to answer, and it happens to line up really well against a lot of good decks, since Once Upon a Time is good, but it wants to be able to find mana creatures, and those have one toughness now that Gilded Goose is unplayable, since it was supporting Mox Opal and symbiotic with Oko.
Wrenn and Six is so good it might trick people into thinking Jund is good, though I think it’s probably better in other shells.
Speaking of, here’s an idea:
- 1 Azusa, Lost but Seeking
- 4 Sakura-Tribe Scout
- 1 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 4 Primeval Titan
- 1 Tireless Tracker
- 1 Ramunap Excavator
- 4 Arboreal Grazer
- 1 Cavalier of Thorns
- 1 Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath
- 1 Dryad of the Ilysian Grove
- 1 Forest
- 4 Wooded Foothills
- 1 Island
- 1 Tranquil Thicket
- 1 Snow-Covered Mountain
- 1 Snow-Covered Island
- 1 Snow-Covered Forest
- 1 Steam Vents
- 1 Stomping Ground
- 1 Breeding Pool
- 1 Ghost Quarter
- 1 Simic Growth Chamber
- 1 Vesuva
- 4 Misty Rainforest
- 1 Bojuka Bog
- 1 Cavern of Souls
- 1 Radiant Fountain
- 1 Blast Zone
- 1 Waterlogged Grove
- 3 Field of the Dead
- 2 Castle Garenbrig
This modification of Simic Titan uses Wrenn and Six to consistently hit land drops while improving the matchup against Noble Hierarch decks with a generous helping of Damping Spheres and Crumble to Dust to help against opposing ramp decks.
Red as a color gained a lot from this round of bannings, as Oko was a huge problem for red decks, especially since red decks are good at preying on the portion of Once Upon a Time decks that use mana creatures. Further, red removal is particularly appealing because it gets around Veil of Summer. While I still expect Once Upon a Time to outperform it, Lightning Bolt might go as far as becoming the second most played card in the format. They’re not to my taste, but Burn and Prowess should both be respectable decks moving forward.
Historically, I’ve been a huge advocate for Thoughtseize decks, but with Veil of Summer in the format, I’m really not excited about targeting my opponent or any of their creatures with black cards. At least blue can try to counter the Veil of Summer.
I can’t think of any heavily black deck I’d consider other than Yawgmoth, which is really a green deck splashing (triple) black (thanks, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Twilight Mire).
Dredge and CrabVine have impressed me among the non-Urza decks in Modern recently and they don’t lose any cards. This might make them appealing to some, but I think it’s a trap. I think both decks were good at beating/ignoring Oko, but I think in general, the role of this kind of Modern deck is to prey on interactive decks, and I expect these decks to do a lot of losing to fast combo and big mana decks, while also suffering from an uptick in Grafdigger’s Cage (the best card against Yawgmoth, which was poised to catch on after Aaron’s win at SCG Knoxville, but as a legitimately great deck that entirely dodged the bannings is likely to really break out).
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Wall of Roots
- 1 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 4 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Young Wolf
- 1 Blood Artist
- 4 Yawgmoth, Thran Physician
- 1 Cavalier of Night
Storm could be a reasonable choice, I honestly don’t know. It’s not my kind of deck. At a glance, I’d guess it’s level of success will hinge largely on how popular Damping Sphere is. Given that I anticipate more Amulet Titan and Mono-Green Tron, I don’t think that’s good for Storm.
I haven’t talked about white aggro decks like Humans. I could be wrong, but I think the rise of Wrenn and Six and Lightning Bolt is a big problem for them, and I also anticipate more copies of Anger of the Gods, Blast Zone, and Engineered Explosives than I’d like to see.
This brings us back to Once Upon a Time decks.
Golgari Yawgmoth is great. Wall of Roots is a great mana creature against red decks and the undying creatures help pressure Wrenn and Six if that takes off. A rise in Grafdigger’s Cage could be annoying, but it’s not exactly difficult to side in a handful of Thrashing Brontodons and Abrupt Decays against most opponents. This deck is definitely on my short list.
Primeval Titan variants broadly are very appealing. It makes great use of a lot of the strongest cards in the format in Once Upon a Time, Primeval Titan, and Field of the Dead. Without Oko around to incidentally turn Amulets into Elks, I suspect Amulet will likely be the best Primeval Titan deck, but I’m curious to explore the deck listed earlier as well.
Mono-Green Devotion looked like it could be great in Modern based on the success it had in Pioneer, but I never put the work in because Urza was just so good. I really like the second-place list from SCG Knoxville, as Llanowar Tribe is a really clever addition. With Mycosynth Lattice banned, something else will need to replace Karn, Scion of Urza, but just replacing it with any reasonable creature that has X in its casting cost should be a fine solution. This is another deck that earns my seal of approval.
I don’t really have the experience to properly assess the position of Devoted Druid variants. Specifically, I don’t know exactly which linear decks it typically outraces. I assume it’s pretty good against most big mana decks, which makes it appealing, but if I’m wrong about that it’s almost certainly horrible. I expect this is another deck that’s hoping red decks don’t get too much more popular, but I think that will break badly for them. Verdict: close and it has a chance, but I don’t think it’ll turn out to be a good choice.
You may have been surprised when I mentioned Heliod Combo. I’ve mostly seen people discuss this archetype for Pioneer, but Modern offers Once Upon a Time, Spike Feeder, and Ranger-Captain of Eos, which makes comboing much easier and lets you find everything you need with Collected Company (hitting Ranger-Captain of Eos to search for Walking Ballista). A possible build:
- 3 Spike Feeder
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 4 Devoted Druid
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Serra Ascendant
- 2 Walking Ballista
- 1 Vizier of Remedies
- 2 Giver of Runes
- 4 Ranger-Captain of Eos
- 3 Heliod, Sun-Crowned
- 4 Alseid of Life's Bounty
Mono-Green Tron lost access to the Karn, the Great Creator / Mycosynth Lattice combo, but it’s been a deck long before Karn was printed. Veil of Summer’s presence in the format is a mixed blessing for Mono-Green Tron. On the one hand, it’s very good for them if fewer counterspells are played. On the other hand, it’s bad for them if more people are playing fast decks because they can use Veil to protect their fast kills.
Tron players are hoping the Wrenn and Sixes and Lightning Bolts take over and push out the Infect and Devoted Druid players. I’m not sure which way things will break, so Mono-Green Tron gets a maybe for now.
I see Infect as another deck where things could go either way, which probably just means it’ll have polarized matchups. It’s generally good at racing other proactive decks, but red gaining metagame share (which, again, would happen because Oko was the best card against them, and it’s no longer legal) would be very bad for Infect, as they’re really not looking to play against Wrenn and Six or Lava Dart.
Modern is a huge and diverse format, and there’s always a chance that Theros Beyond Death or simple innovation could bring new archetypes into consideration, but this is how I see the format in the weeks to come.