As my co-workers have discussed over the past week, the Modern Horizons 2 metagame is taking shape.
As Gerry and Bryan put it via my alma mater, you must prepare for Amulet Titan, graveyard-style strategies using Asmor, and traditional tempo strategies with Dragon’s Rage Channeler and Counterspell (some even using Delver of Secrets). I’d also throw in “the Cascade strategies” as requiring a real plan in your 75.
That’s a wide range of stuff — decks that use the graveyard, the stack, play fair and interact, and try to combo off and/or go way over the top. It’s a lot to consider, but also indicative of how Modern is looking extremely diverse and, dare I say, rather healthy.
We’re nowhere near an end-state of an established metagame. Things will narrow as builds get optimized and ultimately a few decks rise to the top, but for now, as long as you have a solid proactive plan and can interact with a wide variety of opponents in meaningful ways, Modern is wide open.
For that reason, alongside clear incentives from me that align with “have fun” a lot more than “break it,” I’m still brewing aggressively. You’re getting those today. These decks are competitive, right on the cusp, or have a core idea that could become something special.
That’s how I approach Eternal formats now. Instead of my thought process being “Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer looks strong, so which decks does it slot into?” it’s more like “This is an underexplored exploit,” or “I believe this interaction is really strong. What are the building blocks available to work around it?” The odds are pretty good if you dig deep enough that you can find something worth exploring.
Anywho, I digress. Decklists. I’ll start with the most boring deck to make a point.
1. Golgari Midrange
Playing Lurrus as your companion is undoubtedly extremely powerful, but folks treat it as a given. This version of Golgari Midrange uses Lurrus as a pretty standard draw engine with Mishra’s Bauble, and the presence of Ignoble Hierarch makes the sink well-desired.
It’s true that there are only six cards other than Lurrus that have a mana cost greater than two and you could “easily” build your midrange deck to only play cheaper cards (more discard spells and threats like Hexdrinker to facilitate Lurrus as your companion). Folks do this and they succeed. It isn’t groundbreaking.
That said, Mishra’s Bauble is strong with Lurrus, and there’s natural incentive in a variety of places, here with Tarmogoyf and Grim Flayer, to play the zero-mana artifact. It’s difficult to beat Lurrus + Bauble on Turn 3 if you can effectively clear the way first with discard spells, and it’s one of your best topdecks late in the game as it often translates to two must-kill threats and puts your opponent on an extremely limited timeline.
Not to mention, you now get to play with extremely busted design mistakes like Plague Engineer.
This deck is modest, but I think underappreciated, and even at the risk of having just read the card to you and telling you that a strong card is strong, putting Lurrus in your deck is a great example of the point I want to illustrate — challenge some preconceived notions and explore powerful interactions.
2. Orzhov Stoneblade
Here is the best version of Stoneblade I’ve played or seen:
Folks (including myself at various points) just keep trying to build this deck to do something that it shouldn’t. They junk it up with either subpar creatures to “facilitate” the Stoneblade plan, or try to incorporate disparate gameplans like Reanimator.
The question is really, “How do I incorporate enough gold Orzhov cards to act as split Simian Spirit Guides / play normal Magic?” The answer is really pretty simple: Vindicate and Lurrus are the best cards at enabling your best draws — Grief or Solitude + blink effects — but also let you play a normalized proactive game and/or grind. Your coverage against a wide variety of permanents and strategies is naturally excellent, and you have great powerful draws. There’s a lot to like about this deck. The secret was just to throw away your preconceived notions.
3. Izzet Twin
Here’s another use of that principle:
As we’ve seen from various Cascade shells, not interacting on Turn 1 isn’t an automatic death knell as long as you have some ability to catch up and/or put the game away quickly. Imperial Recruiter + Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker is a relatively unexplored shell, and so is putting Aether Vial in your deck without myriad creatures.
A Vial on three and five mana plus an Imperial Recruiter is a self-contained combo — Recruiter gets Kiki, you copy Recruiter, you get Deceiver and untap the Kiki, and that’s a kill over one turn cycle. It’s true that it’s a weak topdeck, and Chalice on Turn 2 and then drawing a Vial later is definitely not a combo, but taking a look at these things is still worth it.
Chalice really is excellent right now against a variety of fun and unfair decks, but the most impressive card from this deck was Fire // Ice. It can clean up battlefields of Ragavan and Dragon’s Rage Channelers on Turn 2 with a little luck. It interacts with most of the two-drops that are seeing play in the format, including Stoneforge Mystic, and Ice is powerful as a tempo play and a way to set up the combo.
4. Grixis Goblins Twin
Here’s a more abstract way to do Kiki-Combo + Fire // Ice in 2021.
- 4 Goblin Matron
- 2 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
- 1 Skirk Prospector
- 4 Imperial Recruiter
- 1 Mogg War Marshal
- 4 Boggart Harbinger
- 4 Deceiver Exarch
- 1 Munitions Expert
- 2 Sling-Gang Lieutenant
- 4 Conspicuous Snoop
- 3 Fury
Smooshing two combo decks together is my jam. This isn’t exactly the best deck at playing fair, but you can with the secret mode of “chain all of your Matrons and Imperial Recruiters into each other for 1/1 beats.” Further, Sling-Gang Lieutenant is great at beating softened opponents. With twelve ways to find Kiki-Jiki, your deck is hyper-consistent, and Fury feels like the missing piece against opposing fair and beatdown strategies — it’s easy for you to acquire excessive cardboard, but being able to convert it into a meaningful effect on the battlefield is sometimes difficult in these wonky and often clunky creature-combo strategies.
For completionism’s sake, the “Goblin Combo” is to cast Boggart Harbinger with Conspicuous Snoop on the battlefield, putting Kiki-Jiki on top of your deck. From there, make a comical amount of Conspicuous Snoops because it isn’t a legend, finally copying Boggart Harbinger, which gets a Sling-Gang Lieutenant, which lets you toss all of your creatures. You can build additional backstops into the deck with various other interlocking combos, but those start to take up a lot of real estate, when instead you can just give your deck another dimension completely by including Deceiver Exarch. Ice, naturally, supports these plans.
5. Mono-Green Devotion
This deck is extremely weird, but much stronger than it looks.
- 2 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Quirion Ranger
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 3 Walking Ballista
- 3 Llanowar Tribe
- 2 Voracious Hydra
This take on Mono-Green Devotion was born from the question, “What’s the silliest thing I can do by turning a land into a Forest?”
Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth + Quirion Ranger and Arbor Elf have a lot of natural synergy, and there aren’t many clear ways in which they do something degenerate, but Nykthos is certainly one of them. Moving towards Ranger + Arbor Elf does make Leyline of Abundance basically a non-starter, which was a lot of the power of the original Devotion lists (plus, ya know, Once Upon a Time), but I think this deck has some legs and is capable of some really nasty stuff once you assemble your combos. I’m putting more of an emphasis on Llanowar Tribe than has been seen traditionally since Yavimaya reduces its awkwardness to cast with Nykthos and it’s an excellent target to untap with the Ranger.
6. Selesnya Hammer (Lurrus)
In a similar vein, I’ve been messing with other various “land decks.” I never really got this first list in the right spot, but I think there’s likely something here with Elvish Reclaimer tutoring up Urza’s Saga and Inkmoth Nexus being a really strong interaction.
This also feels like a strong Vial deck. The deck needs a bare minimum amount of artifacts to enable Puresteel Paladin and let you have fast Hammer draws, but putting a bunch of Memnites in your deck isn’t something that I exactly get excited about. Elvish Reclaimer + Flagstones of Trokair and Urza’s Saga makes it super-easy to wear your opponents out. I just don’t think I’ve gotten the details down correctly yet.
7. Naya Reclaimer
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 4 Wall of Omens
- 1 Knight of Autumn
- 4 Elvish Reclaimer
- 4 Dryad of the Ilysian Grove
- 3 Solitude
- 1 Endurance
The fair applications of Dryad of the Ilysian Grove + Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle are still criminally underrated in my opinion. Yavimaya + Flagstones and everything else make for a nice pairing with Knight of the Reliquary. You get a ton of flexibility of how to utilize the card and aren’t so badly forced into “fetch for shockland” lines, in addition to the acceleration that it can provide.
You can backdoor into Solitude + Ephemerate in addition to setting up your combo, and it’s possible that you can go harder on the blink stuff if you’d like, but for now I like just a light touch.
8. Naya Land Destruction
Finally, after getting some inspiration from a Mardu version of land destruction, I’ve been toying with this:
The end state of this deck is pretty blatantly to “flawless victory” your opponent with no permanents. You both are a strong Urza’s Saga deck and aren’t. Wrenn and Six + Saga is certainly an excellent tool against blue decks and it can kill your opponent quickly, especially given that you’re playing a stack of artifact lands, but losing your lands quickly is still a liability if you aren’t disrupting your opponent sufficiently.
You have some really excellent goldfish draws — either blowing up all your opponent’s lands or by casting Cleansing Wildfire on your own lands that accelerate and playing a turbo-Karn prison game.
This deck is extremely hard to build, but I think the upside here is massive, with Ghost Quarter + Wrenn and Six to lock out opponents just being a generally underexplored component of Modern.
I’m still having a blast with Modern, and hope that you picked up something fun and new to do!