Without set rotations Modern has largely been a predictable and slow-moving format. Recently though that's not been the case. Pro Tour Return to Ravnica in Seattle and the Grand Prix in Lyon France set the community's eyes ears and minds on Modern and showcased the endless possibilities of the format. What's more is that two North American Modern Grand Prix are on the horizon so you can be sure that we haven't seen the end of creativity and innovation in the format.
Today I'd like to bring you up to speed on the state of Modern after PT Return to Ravnica and GP Lyon and offer my opinions on the format's defining decks.
Before anything else here are links to some helpful statistics compiled by Wizards of the Coast's coverage team: PT Return to Ravnica archetype breakdown GP Lyon Day 2 metagame GP Lyon matchup analysis.
- 1 Baneslayer Angel
- 2 Blade Splicer
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 4 Snapcaster Mage
- 2 Wall of Omens
- 3 Geist of Saint Traft
- 3 Vendilion Clique
Let's begin with U/W Midrange which was the runner-up at GP Lyon and a Top 8 presence at the Pro Tour. U/W made up about nine percent of the field at both the Pro Tour and the second day of GP Lyon. Moving forward there's no reason to believe that trend will substantially change.
U/W is a powerful midgame deck that hits its stride around turn 4. Against every popular deck in the format a U/W player can feel advantaged as the game drags on since Cryptic Command Snapcaster Mage Restoration Angel and even Baneslayer Angel out of Emanuel Sutor's list offer game breaking topdecks. Perhaps most importantly U/W's smooth two-color mana base offers much in the way of manlands and colorless value lands. The times you'll be annoyed at Celestial Colonnade entering the battlefield tapped will be far outweighed by the times you're pleased to look down and find a free Serra Angel on the table when you're flooded out. Tectonic Edge and Mutavault add a lot in their own right but I especially like Mr. Sutor's decision to run one copy of Moorland Haunt.
If U/W has a weakness it's a lack of efficiency relative to the rest of the format. With a combo deck or even with Jund and Affinity you can often look at an opening hand and be very confident in your chances to win the game; that's much less true for U/W. While other decks can present must-answer threats for one or two mana U/W has to spend three or more. U/W's plays tend to be mana-intensive by Modern's standards like animating a Celestial Colonnade or casting an Angel. Finally U/W's answers either need to be played in a narrow window like permission spells or are inefficient for other reasons like Path to Exile and Dismember.
U/W is strong against Infect Birthing Pod and most combo decks. Its toughest matchup among the top decks is Affinity. The mana-inefficiency problem is made painfully obvious when U/W pairs off against a deck that empties its hand onto the table on turn 2. While very tight play can allow U/W to take some games with just permission and spot removal blue and white don't offer the same level of anti-artifact sideboard hate that red and green do. Stony Silence is the best card available but on the draw it can often be too slow. In a typical match the U/W player will lose game 1 and will certainly be put on the draw for one of the sideboard games.
Who is favored between U/W and Jund is unclear. The results from GP Lyon Day 2 show U/W getting absolutely creamed in seventeen matches. On the other hand U/W got the better of Jund at the Pro Tour over the course of 64 matches. Some quick math puts the combined tally from both events at 43-38=53% in favor of Jund. That number doesn't seem to me a reason to choose or to dismiss either deck. The matchup is close and perhaps a high level of expertise with U/W could swing it the other way.
In the days before Return to Ravnica I always felt that U/W was the favorite against Jund (this was only my opinion not a consensus). Jund wasn't fast enough back then to close most games before Angels Cryptic Commands and Celestial Colonnades started to come online but Deathrite Shaman has given it a valuable speed boost. Now between Dark Confidant and Deathrite Shaman Jund has a number of quick must-answer creatures which put a player with only Path to Exile as removal in a tough spot. If the Jund matchup proves to be a problem I recommend looking to a small number of Ousts to mitigate it.
U/W was the runner-up at Grand Prix Lyon losing to Jund in the finals. On a different day it could easily have been the winning deck as Emanuel Sutor and Jeremy Dezani played three very close games that came down to topdecks in the end. U/W doesn't go down without a fight and I'm confident it'll continue to make its presence felt in modern.
- 3 Arcbound Ravager
- 3 Master of Etherium
- 4 Memnite
- 4 Ornithopter
- 4 Signal Pest
- 4 Steel Overseer
- 4 Vault Skirge
As fast and brutal as it's ever been Affinity has been putting up stellar numbers lately. It made up 9.4% of the Pro Tour field. After a stellar performance there it became a popular choice for GP Lyon and made up 17% of the Day 2 field and 25% of the Top 16!
Traditionally Affinity outclasses other creature decks (in the absence of hate cards) but struggles against combo. On both fronts circumstances are lining up well for Affinity. With Modern's extensive banned list combo players struggle to win before turn 4 meaning Affinity is comparable in speed. With the addition of a single well-placed sideboard card there's no reason why Affinity can't begin to prey on its old enemy.
Regarding the rest of the field it can really feel like Affinity is playing a whole different game. Decks like Jund and U/W are playing for a game that really gets moving on turns 4 and 5 but the Affinity player is prepared to decide things long before that. What's more is that Affinity's manlands Welding Jars and Etched Champions give it resilience to Ancient Grudge and other spot removal like it's never had before. A Jund player who sideboards a pair of Ancient Grudge is still a big underdog to Affinity.
In the absence of some very extreme hate Affinity will continue to be a good choice for upcoming Modern events. For those who want to beat them rather than join them there's no rule against devoting three four or even more slots in your sideboard to the matchup.
Storm's combination of speed and non-interactivity make it the best game 1 deck in Modern. It's one combo deck I'd feel okay taking into a field full of Affinity. Storm remains a 2%-5% of the field fringe deck but its strong performances have made it feel like a lot more that.
I myself played Storm at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica and there was much to appreciate about having such a powerful and explosive weapon in the palm of my hands. For one thing I lost fifteen of my sixteen die rolls in that event (I know people always say that but this time it's actually true). Had I been playing a deck like Jund that runs on thin margins I feel that such a thing could have very negatively impacted my results. However Storm's games are often so one-sided that I felt somewhat immune to those everyday natural disasters like die rolls mulligans and topdecks.
It was also valuable to be one of the fastest decks in the room in such a diverse unknown field. I didn't have to worry about answering what my opponents were trying to do because I could focus on my own more powerful game plan and force them to answer me. Storm unless it completely fizzles will goldfish by turn 4 nearly every time and turn 3 quite often (about a third of the time). I went off on turn 2 three times in the ten Modern rounds at the Pro Tour and two of them were after a turn 1 discard spell!
That amounts to being faster than Affinity and being the favorite in the matchup in the absence of sideboard cards. The only thing that would stop me from playing Storm again is the Infect matchup. Infect is equal to Storm in speed and can easily pack discard spells or Spell Pierces to make things very difficult for the Storm player.
Splinter Twin feels like a bit of a desperate gambit when Abrupt Decay is a format-defining card. Nevertheless Peter Dun was one of a small number of people to bring the deck to GP Lyon and he plowed through the field to a Top 8 finish.
One thing that Twin has going for it is that it absolutely decimates opposing combo decks and is very strong against Affinity to boot.
Mr. Dun made the odd choice of maindecking four copies of Grim Lavamancer and I have to say I love that decision. Lavamancer is a powerhouse against Affinity Infect and Birthing Pod and has applications across the board in killing Deathrite Shamans Snapcaster Mages and Goblin Electromancers. He also split his disruption between counters and discard which allows him to divide his mana across multiple turns and gives him a much-needed plan against Abrupt Decay.
- 1 Spellskite
- 3 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 2 Deceiver Exarch
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Glen Elendra Archmage
- 1 Kitchen Finks
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 3 Wall of Omens
- 1 Zealous Conscripts
- 4 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
- 1 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Like Peter Dun a new spin on an old archetype took Jonas Kostler to a Top 8 finish. Mr. Kostler sported a higher-than-normal density of turn 1 mana dorks giving him the maximum chance of that turn 2 Birthing Pod which is such a nightmare for so many decks. At the same time he reduced his land count to insure against flooding in the late game.
While I've always been a fan of Chord of Calling the decision to swap it out for Commune with Nature makes this build a lot less vulnerable to Grafdigger's Cage out of the sideboard. And from my experience Birthing Pod is a big favorite over most "fair" decks in the absence of that card.
That said the GP Lyon matchup analysis didn't make me optimistic about Birthing Pod's chances moving forward. It actually batted below 50/50 against Jund and U/W and I would want some pretty impressive stats in those matchups if I was going to have to struggle against faster combo decks and Infect.
Perhaps Melira Pod should make a comeback since it's very strong against Infect and has more game against combo that its Restoration Angel based cousin.
Infect failed to crack the Top 8 at GP Lyon but don't overlook the fact that it put two players in the Top 16 and made up 12% of the Day 2 field. Infect is definitely the real deal.
While its stats might not jump out at you I feel they're very impressive if you make the effort to read between the lines. Infect batted nearly 50/50 against Jund—a deck packed to the brim with discard spells and cheap removal—and if it can do that I'm not sure what it has to worry about. It came out ahead against Affinity and beat the pulp out of Birthing Pod. Not listed is its inherent strength against Tron and combo decks.
The only matchup that it truly struggled with was U/W Midrange where it only won four of its eleven matches (36%). However history gives us reason to think that U/W will stay under 10% of the Modern field and having an unfavorable but still winnable matchup against that fraction of the field is no reason to dismiss a deck.
I feel Infect is one of the best deck choices for upcoming Modern events.
Last but not least we have Modern's top deck. We have the runner-up of Pro Tour Return to Ravnica and the champion of Grand Prix Lyon. We have what has been the most played deck and what will continue to be the most played deck. We have Jund.
I'd suggest using the above links to check out Jund's matchup statistics but most of us already know that story. Rock. Solid. Against. Everything. As already discussed they show Jund having a small edge over U/W Midrange and Infect and only struggling in a small way against Affinity and certain combo decks.
There are a few key aspects of Jeremy Dezani's decklist that may have helped him in Lyon. For one thing he didn't play Kitchen Finks or Geralf's Messenger in favor of pushing his hand disruption to the max. I've long been an advocate of Blightning as Liliana of the Veil into Blightning will shut the door on most strategies. Being able to start the process on turn 2 now with a Deathrite Shaman makes it even scarier.
In the sideboard Mr. Dezani packed a whopping four Affinity hate cards which I regret to say may actually be appropriate. Ancient Grudge is the go-to card and has applications outside of the Affinity matchup but can come up short against Etched Champion. Note that there is actually a relevant decision to be made between Creeping Corrosion and Shatterstorm. Corrosion is easier on the primarily green/black mana base of Jund but Shatterstorm has the "cannot be regenerated" clause which is quite important against Welding Jar.
The deck I see Jeremy's list really struggling with is Eggs with its set of Leyline of Sanctity in its sideboard. Coincidentally or not Eggs didn't have as strong a showing in Lyon as it did at the Pro Tour and Mr. Dezani had relatively smooth sailing to his title.
As an aside Mathieu Hautot has offered an alternative take on the G/B midrange shell one which does not roll over to a Leyline of Sanctity.
While I don't think his deck is stronger than Jund I do think that it's a competitive option if counterspells and whacky sideboard cards are your thing. It maintains many of Jund's most efficient cards and makes the fair trades of Bloodbraid Elf for Snapcaster Mage and Treetop Village for Creeping Tar Pit. It exchanges a bit of its aggressive potential for extra disruption from counterspells and Vendilion Cliques. This deck certainly looks like it would crush combo.
So there you have it: as detailed a summary of Modern right now as I could fit in a single article. I didn't include sections on Eggs Scapeshift Tron or Delver though those decks remain major players. My strongest recommendations of what to play are (in order) Infect Jund Affinity and U/W Midrange but whichever deck you choose be prepared for a challenging day through the diverse field that is Modern.