Modern is a massive format. Despite Jund's results, there are a huge number of high tier decks and even more fringe decks to consider. For someone new to the format looking to play in the upcoming Grand Prix Toronto or PTQ Dragon's Maze season, it can be quite daunting.
Here is your cheat sheet to the big decks of the format.
Midrange ("Fair" Decks)
These decks all aim to use interaction to prevent their opponent from doing dangerous things while applying pressure with a selection of efficient creatures.
Why You Should Play Jund
I'm just going to get this out of the way up front:
You need a good reason to not play Jund at this event.
The three important characteristics of decks in Modern are power, redundancy, and resilience, and Jund has all three in spades. Yes, it is a midrange deck, but you have none of the midrange problems. You have nut draws unlike most past midrange decks, especially given Deathrite Shaman ramping into turn 2 Liliana of the Veil and turn 3 Bloodbraid Elf. Your answers are very broad and not prone to clunking up hands, your threats are almost universally good, and even your lands kill them. Beyond that, your deck is good because your cards are good, not due to any specific synergy that can be disrupted.
The deck is just good. The cards are just good. It's not the kind of thing that can be hated out. There's a reason the deck won the Player's Championship, got second at the Pro Tour, and won the two Grand Prix since then.
Why You Shouldn't Play Jund
To really get an edge, you are going to need to meta with Jund for Lingering Souls and the reaction to it. Just playing last week's list might get you to Day 2, maybe even money, but you will have issues going deep into the event against people whose lists are tuned for yours. If you don't feel comfortable with this process, playing another deck that has a lot more riding on raw power than specifics of opponents' decks is reasonable.
Jund is quite play-draw dependent in a lot of matchups, namely those involving mana creatures and one-drops. Turn 2 Liliana on the play is unbeatable; on the draw, they can easily have established to the point their Noble Hierarch is irrelevant. On the play, you can end step Bolt their mana guy into a two-drop; on the draw, they can just make their turn 2 play and leave you in the position of answering it or tapping out to cast yours and hoping to not fall behind. This isn't to say you can't win on the draw and that it isn't already a huge issue for other decks, but it is worth considering as a source of variance.
Changes to Make
I've heard of Zealous Persecution as a potential sideboard card to win the Lingering Souls fight in the mirror, kill Dark Confidant, and just generally be good elsewhere. That said, I haven't played much with the deck so I can't confirm that the card is actually castable given this mana base or even good enough given Tarmogoyf also being a huge factor in the matchup.
If you have no idea what to play, Jund is a fine choice.
If you are trying to play something else, be prepared for Jund.
If your deck folds to Lingering Souls, strongly reconsider your choice.
If your deck has issues with Deathrite Shaman, strongly reconsider your choice.
- 1 Baneslayer Angel
- 2 Blade Splicer
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 4 Snapcaster Mage
- 2 Wall of Omens
- 3 Geist of Saint Traft
- 3 Vendilion Clique
Why You Should Play U/W Midrange
This is one of the few decks that really dominates the pure combo decks. Even Jund is still pretty much a coin flip against Splinter Twin as they rip out of scenarios a lot, but this deck is stacked with answers. All of the pure combo decks have major issues with U/W.
The deck also lets you play a fairly reactive game. Your opponent has to come to you, which is always a very powerful advantage.
Why You Shouldn't Play U/W Midrange
You have big issues with most of the "engine" decks. Tron and Scapeshift out-mana you by a large margin, and Affinity has a lot of hard to answer threats as well as manlands that dodge Tectonic Edge since they just don't play a fourth land.
Your deck also has a lot of midrange issues. Despite how much it looks like a hybrid control deck (TM Adrian Sullivan), you don't have good early threats to apply pressure. Blade Splicer is no Stoneforge Mystic or Bitterblossom. As a result, your answers are often pressed early on to match up perfectly with their threats. Sound similar to previous discussions of why midrange is bad?
The deck requires tight play. You need to eke value out of all of your cards because you have minimal card selection and pure card draw. Sometimes the 1/1 on Blade Splicer isn't worth a fraction of a card, or the 2/1 on Snapcaster isn't, or even the land they get off Path to Exile matters enough that you are actually down a card on the exchange. Regardless, you need to play in a way such that even if something like this happens, you are still ahead on attrition. Emanuel Sutor likes to compare this deck to Faeries, but that deck had Bitterblossom to ride to an incremental advantage. This deck at best has Restoration Angel plus Blade Splicer, which is very dissimilar.
This deck is also slightly on the wrong side of the Deathrite Shaman war due to Snapcaster Mage. To be fair, you take the opposite side with Rest in Peace post-board to beat their Tarmogoyfs and weaken their Deathrites and three-drops with flashback/undying/persist, but it's still a concession you are making against some decks to have a phenomenal card elsewhere.
Changes to Make
More Baneslayer Angel. More Cryptic Command. The metagame appears to be moving towards fair decks.
Less Vendilion Clique, but only a little less. Lingering Souls wins the fight against a 3/1 quite well.
U/W does a lot of important things in the format in terms of controlling combo.
U/W is one of the most difficult decks to play in the format.
If you play this deck, expect a lot of tight matches and 2-1 wins.
G/W Little Kid
Why You Should Play G/W Little Kid
You have great answers to Lingering Souls fights (your own plus a Liege or Township) and all the combo hate you could ever want.
Thoughtseize, despite being awesome in general, is quite bad against you. Liliana also can almost never +1 without you punishing them with a free 4/4.
Why You Shouldn't Play G/W Little Kid
You have a lot of hate bears. In the fair deck mirror, this is quite a liability. Qasali Pridemage is embarrassed by every creature in U/W or Jund. If they just manage your important creatures properly, they often end up ahead on board presence.
Despite all the discard hate, the deck is still just close against Jund. Worth noting is that if your opponent plays Liliana correctly, the card is still awesome against you. If the Jund player just refuses to +1 until they can handle a potential Liege or Smiter, they get a 1BB Edict that either forces you to attack it and gain them life or Edicts you again later. If you put a Smiter or Liege in and they kill it, it's like they got to Spellshape their worst card into another Edict. It's not pure card advantage and Lingering Souls can mitigate it, but you are still a creature deck they want to spam removal against and Liliana does that.
Changes to Make
I have really liked a set of Fauna Shaman over the multiple copies of all the hate bears (and Angel) in the deck. It lets you find whichever bear you need for the match as well as more Baneslayer Angels and Wilt-Leaf Lieges in the fair mirrors. It also lets you run a Spellskite main for Infect and Burn and a Shriekmaw over the miser Dismember as a Tutorable removal spell. I'm sure this has a huge effect on this sideboard as well, but I haven't explored that fully yet. This isn't the same Fauna Shaman we've seen in the past making Vengevines or Loyal Retainers since that line is stifled by Deathrite Shaman. This is just a makeshift Green Sun's Zenith from Legacy Maverick.
This is the kind of deck a lot of people like to play. Expect more of it than you previously expected.
Similar decks are likely to also exist. See Christian Calcano's Doran deck. Don't assume they are all the same list.
Engine ("Semi-Fair" Decks)
These decks all aim to use some core engine to generate a massive advantage while still being able to win should their core cards be disrupted.
- 4 Arcbound Ravager
- 2 Master of Etherium
- 2 Memnite
- 4 Ornithopter
- 4 Signal Pest
- 4 Steel Overseer
- 4 Vault Skirge
Why You Should Play Affinity
Affinity gets to play a bunch of absolutely absurd cards. Cranial Plating is one of the three most powerful cards in the context of Modern. Arcbound Ravager, Steel Overseer, and Etched Champion aren't too shabby either.
Why You Shouldn't Play Affinity
Affinity has to play a bunch of comically bad cards. See: Memnite.
Changes to Make
Still, I want to maindeck Etched Champion. No idea how, but it's very good.
Also, the best maindeck removal spell for Thoughtcast lists may be Dispatch. Unlike Galvanic Blast, the benefit of it being in your deck is not diluted by playing less than the full set. It also kills Tarmogoyf and Baneslayer Angel.
Affinity is still a strong deck, but it definitely got worse from the metagame shift to Spirit Tokens.
The vast majority of decks still need real hate to beat Affinity.
Why You Should Play Tron
Turn 3 Karn Liberated wins games easily.
Most of the fair decks can't handle Tron's ability to keep slamming giant threats onto the table via Eye of Ugin.
Why You Shouldn't Play Tron
The unfair decks are the exact opposite. Tron struggles to beat the any of the pure combo decks without turn 3 Karn on the play
Changes to Make
There isn't much to change here. The only thing is that Explore is terrible and you probably want the full set of Scryings to maximize nut draws.
Tron crushes what it beats and is demolished by what it doesn't. The only decks with wiggle room also fall under this category of "semi-unfair" decks.
If you play Tron, you are taking a calculated risk that combo will not do well at the event.
- 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
Reasons You Should Play Birthing Pod
When Birthing Pod is active, this is the best deck in the format. Not only are there a ton of configurations that they immediately die from, but you can always choose to not move all in and set up the combo with protection instead.
(Note: The following in play creature converted mana cost combinations are all lethal with an untapped Pod and a maximum of four activations: 1 + 2, 1 + Deceiver Exarch, 2 + 2, 2 + 3, 2 + 4, 3 + 4, four-drop with persist, Kiki-Jiki plus anything CMC 2, 3, or 4.)
You also have absurd hate cards in your deck similar to G/W. Ever seen Storm try to beat a game 1 Ethersworn Canonist? Spoiler: it doesn't.
Reasons You Shouldn't Play Birthing Pod
When you don't have the namesake card in play, things get a little scrappy. You can either be a bad Splinter Twin deck or a really awkward midrange beatdown deck.
You are pretty reliant on mana creatures to boost into your four- and five-drops. This is sometimes an issue if your opponent can create tempo-relevant ways to remove them, such as turn 2 Liliana on the play.
Your life total is an important resource due to the Phyrexian activation cost on Pod. Decks like Burn and Zoo can capitalize on this, so you need to be very careful in those matchups.
Changes to Make
I would play Izzet Staticaster as a way to handle Lingering Souls tokens and other assorted problem cards as a Tutor target, but quite frankly the number of options is too large to discuss and not even something I've analyzed fully.
If you play Pod, you should do extensive research on what options you have for each slot as well as understand all the chains you have access to with an active Pod.
If you play against Pod, know the most common options but be ready for everything. They may even be playing Melira Pod, which trades power for a bit more reliable backup plan.
If you are sideboarding for Pod, you want answers for their Pod but can't overload on them as their plan B of scrappy beats/combo will punish you.
Pure Combo ("Unfair" Decks)
These decks all aim to kill their opponents in linear fashions, bashing head first through disruption or using light countermeasures of their own to shirk it.
Why You Should Play Splinter Twin
When Twin works, it just kills you. It has a ton of backup for the combo, a solid amount of redundancy, and a fast clock.
Eight of Twin's combo pieces are also interaction. The trigger on Pestermite or Deceiver Exarch can drastically slow a clock or tap an important land on your opponent's end step to pull a removal spell, letting you cast another copy and then combo out a turn later.
Why You Shouldn't Play Splinter Twin
"60% of the time, it works every time".
Twin mulligans a lot to find reasonable hands, and it mulligans out of games more often than some people feel comfortable with. It also mulligans into a lot of hands where you just have to go for it and assume they don't have it because the deck has only minimal ability to dig for a backup spell if it doesn't have one in a relevant time frame.
This also means some matchups often are just unwinnable based on their hand. Namely, U/W Midrange often has too much removal for you to beat along with instant speed clocks.
Changes to Make
More Kiki-Jikis. I can't justify less than three, but the fourth is a legitimate debate as the card can be clunky.
I have no idea what this sideboard discard is trying to accomplish. If someone can give me a legitimate reason you want it post-board, it could be worth keeping. As is, I'm skeptical at best.
If you play Splinter Twin, be prepared for the variance swings. Sometimes you win big; sometimes you brick. It happens—that's just how the deck works.
Why You Should Play Storm
The vast majority of the time you untap with a Goblin Electromancer, the game ends. Often you can cast it midcombo as a pseudo Ritual.
As a result of this, Storm is tied with Infect for fastest combo deck in the format. Killing on turn 3 automatically outraces all of the engine decks as well as many of the other combo decks.
Why You Shouldn't Play Storm
Storm has almost no interaction. None of the discard effects or Orim's Chants associated with the Legacy lists. At best, you have Grapeshot to gun down Blighted Agents or bounce spells for post-board hate cards. Game 1, hate colds you. Post-board, hate plus a counterspell is often enough. Mainboard counterspells you have to play straight through, which is awkward when there is also a clock associated with them.
Goblin Electromancer also makes removal live against your otherwise all-spell combo deck. Giving people more ways to interact is not what combo decks want to do.
Changes to Make
Pyromancer Ascension is something some swear by, but I'm not sold on having both of your win engines rely on the graveyard.
If you can't interact, Storm will run you over. If you have hate, it is an uphill battle for them, especially if they can't Grapeshot their way out of it.
Why You Should Play Infect
Turn 3 kills, only this time with legitimate backup.
Similar to Twin, your combo pieces double as interaction. Giant Growth counters Lightning Bolt, all of your pump spells counter Pyroclasm or Zealous Persecution, and Vines of Vastwood counters everything.
Infect is also able to "slow" combo people by just attacking them into a range where you can line up your pump spells and backup better with their removal.
Why You Shouldn't Play Infect
Lingering Souls. Breaking through that card is possible, but it takes a ton of work in the current list.
Splinter Twin. My first list boarded twelve cards to make the matchup winnable...in those games. You are still unfavored overall, and I'm not sure what can be done to help.
Chalice of the Void on one. Have fun casting spells ever.
Changes to Make
Distortion Strike is the answer to Lingering Souls I'm currently considering. That likely excludes Thoughtseize from the maindeck just on slots and mana issues, but if it solves that problem, it is worth it.
Infect is powerful, but the meta is slipping away from it. If you want to do well with it, adjust appropriately.
(Some of the) Potential Fringe Players
Scapeshift is a slow combo deck, but all the hard hate for it is gone. No Slaughter Games, few Fulminator Mages. Just get rid of the Snapcaster Mages now that Deathrite Shaman blanks them and you may have an opening.
Eggs is still a decent combo deck that laughs at discard, but it gets hit very hard by splash hate. Thalia, Rest in Peace, and Ethersworn Canonist for Storm stall your deck. Aven Mindcensor for Birthing Pod and Tron hurts Reshape and Ghost Quarter. Stony Silence colds you and Affinity. Even a Chalice of the Void for one is obnoxious to try to combo through. The odds of facing down sideboard hate are huge as it isn't specific to your deck.
Honor of the Pure decks, namely Tokens and Martyr, are always lightly represented. They are the best at using Lingering Souls and tend to roll fair decks, but at the same time that means they will take a lot of splash hate from people reacting to Jund.
BUG Control had a big finish at Grand Prix Lyon but faded away. It is potentially a better U/W Midrange deck due to Deathrite Shaman, but does the black really address any of the issues the deck currently has? Maybe if you could play Shaman to ramp out a Geist of Saint Traft you could get somewhere on the early threat issue.
Gifts Control is awesome in a lot of ways, but I can't imagine trying to Gifts pile through a Deathrite Shaman.
I make no promises this won't change drastically over the course of the upcoming Modern season, but this is a good resource to start with. The number of options is massive, but the information to make the right choice is also there.
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