Over the past month or so of Modern testing, these are the conclusions I came to about Modern for Grand Prix Detroit.
As a reminder from last week, the top tier of decks before the event were Jund, U/W/R, Tron, Affinity, Pod, Delver, and Splinter Twin. Results from the Grand Prix enforce all of these except Delver, which neither showed up nor performed well.
The Bad But Relevant
There are way too many decks that fall into this category, so I've only listed the ones that are among the top tier.
Good old Rock. 55/45 against the field—except when it isn't. Really, you have X% of games where everything just lines up, and the rest you have to figure out.
Jund could not be in a worse position right now. The deck is as bad as it has ever been in non-nut draw games.
The format is stacked against Liliana of the Veil right now. Voice of Resurgence, Kitchen Finks, and Loxodon Smiter are all well represented in the creature decks. The U/W Midrange and Geist of Saint Traft decks that previously folded to the card are all divided between two decks that are much better against the card. Some are U/W/R Control that just accepts the game against Bottomless Pit and can easily Electrolyze or Snapcaster Mage down a planeswalker that doesn't actually generate card advantage (and that doesn't even include the old Cryptic Command in response to your hellbent discard trick). Some are U/R Delver that laughs at your attempts to play a three-mana sorcery speed spell. With that card at an all-time low, Jund loses a lot of its punch.
Deathrite Shaman is also at a low. Tron and Affinity being two of the top decks makes the mana-producing ability much less reliable, and those decks also make the other abilities far less relevant by being based around specific cards that deal all of the damage if they stick (as opposed to nickel and diming that the gain two life ability can interact with).
Thoughtseize is always fine, but none of the top decks besides Twin really fold to it. Pod is all gas, U/W/R and Jund mirrors go long to the point it becomes a top deck liability, Tron plays insanely well off the top, and Affinity gets on board extremely fast.
Basically, not only is Jund a 55/45 deck to begin with, but all the cards in it aren't going to beat anyone heads up like they did at previous events.
Also, G/B is just the same as Jund. Yes, you are better versus Tron. You still lose to Tron. You just don't have Lightning Bolt, which is probably the best removal spell in the format.
100% against four plus-mana sorceries.
0% against one to two-mana removal.
Seriously. If Delver isn't clocking you while casting Remands, they will die eventually.
The Acceptable But Not Great
- 3 Deathrite Shaman
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 4 Loxodon Smiter
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 3 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 3 Voice of Resurgence
Your creatures are all the best in the format. That said, they are all still just creatures. You win games and wonder how your opponent didn't do anything that was good enough to stop you.
Oddly enough, you are pretty good against the Steam Vents combo decks as well. Since the banning of Seething Song, Storm has become significantly worse at comboing without a two-drop in play. Between Scavenging Ooze for Pyromancer Ascension and your seven spot-removal spells for Goblin Electromancer, it's actually really hard for them to kill you. Your board only makes it worse for them. As for Twin, you play big dudes and removal. In general, if they don't kill you on four, you are ahead, and for some reason people don't try to do that nearly enough.
Domri Rade is also a better Liliana of the Veil. After playing with a bunch of three-loyalty planeswalkers in this format, I've actually determined the bare minimum for a walker in this format is starting at four loyalty (after the first activation) and creating card advantage with the plus ability. Going to four puts you out of single Lightning Bolt range, and making card advantage means U/W/R usually ends up minus one or two cards on the exchange with your planeswalker instead of breaking even. The -2 is basically on par with Liliana's -2 in this deck, but you definitely have built very heavily for that case.
The issue is that the deck isn't inspiringly powerful. You are not doing anything on the level of Karn or Cranial Plating or Birthing Pod. You have tools to beat things like that but not enough. You can beat all these decks, but you can also lose very easily. And good luck if you play against a non-standard combo deck like Amulet of Vigor or Ad Nauseam / Angel's Grace. This is reminiscent of the same issue as Jund, only your deck actually has edges against relevant decks instead of edges versus bad decks.
Twin is another deck with the Jund issue. 60% of the time, it works every time. Seriously, you just nut draw them a set percentage of the time and a subset of that time have backup.
The issue is what happens the rest of the time. Similar to Jund, it's a question of how your non-nuts games go.
Right now, it's not quite there. The big matchups aren't byes. Affinity is losable but close depending on the list. Tron is good, but they board heavily for you. Pod is winnable, but you are behind. Jund is close.
The big difference that puts this deck here and Jund a tier down is that Twin wrecks random decks a lot better than Jund. There's a specific set of Thoughtseize and removal-resistant decks that float around similar to Legacy (see: Burn) that Jund has real issues with, but Splinter Twin can just power through them. Think Legacy and random stuff that beats Force of Will like Loam. Twin is always just a turn 4 combo deck, and Jund is always just a midrange deck. It's far easier to exploit one of those.
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Spellskite
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Cartel Aristocrat
- 3 Deathrite Shaman
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 4 Kitchen Finks
- 2 Murderous Redcap
- 1 Orzhov Pontiff
- 1 Qasali Pridemage
- 1 Ranger of Eos
- 1 Reveillark
- 1 Viscera Seer
- 3 Voice of Resurgence
- 1 Wall of Roots
- 2 Melira, Sylvok Outcast
Birthing Pod is a really dumb card. Your deck should not be an extension of your hand at all times.
The issue, as always, is that Melira has far less power than the other Pod option. It's the difference between two-to-four turns of activating Pod before you have a combo compared to a general maximum of two with the freedom to add more to set up better. Even beyond that, the ability to just Pod straight from two to four gives you access to early Linvala Keeper of Silences' Glen Elendra Archmages; and Avalanche Riders that help swing matchups like Tron and Scapeshift.
Lots of people try to make arguments about how Melira is better at fair games of Magic. My response is always "explain," to which they talk about Kitchen Finks, Gavony Township, and Voice of Resurgence . . . except both decks play basically the same number of all of those cards.
Here are the legitimate differences between the decks:
1) Quality of combo pieces when not comboing. Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Restoration Angel are fairly high-impact but expensive, while Deceiver Exarch is fairly blank but cheap. Melira, Sylvok Outcast; Viscera Seer; and Cartel Aristocrat are more of the latter. What I've found and what instigated the fairly large change in my Pod list between Grand Prix Toronto and later events is that these kinds of cards are a massive liability against the fair decks. Your goal should be overloading their removal with cards that matter, and every random guy like these is basically a blank.
2) Chord of Calling. Melira is actually capable of using this card to facilitate the combo as Chording for anything more than three is a best-case scenario. Of course, when playing Melira, I was still fairly unimpressed with the card for the same reasons as when I was playing Kiki. Outside of tutoring up a combo hate card or Orzhov Pontiff, there are a fairly narrow set of clogged board states in the mirror or against Jund where the card is high-impact. For each of those, there are more where Chord is clunky and does nothing. Domri is a bit lower-impact, but at least you can do things with it without it requiring a large board state that about 80% of the time you should be ahead or attacking on.
3) Noncreature spells. Path to Exile versus Dismember is approximately a push, so the question is whether Thoughtseize, Lingering Souls, and Abrupt Decay are enough of a gain to play a fundamentally less powerful deck. I remain unconvinced despite pure numbers saying otherwise.
Until I am convinced Melira comes out ahead in a legitimate way on one of these three points, I'm sticking to Kiki.
Another way to put this: I have Naya as reasonably playable and G/B as unplayable in my analysis, and the two options here are basically those decks plus Birthing Pod.
I've said a lot of bad things about this deck in the past. They all hold true. The deck still has mulligan and attrition issues because it needs so many actual cards to go off. It has issues with opponents like Affinity and Twin that put up fast clocks and disruption.
That said, it is exceptionally good against decks that do nothing. Even one or two additional turns on the pressure plus disruption side make it a joke to win. Merfolk has been a complete joke when I've played against it, and I wouldn't be shocked if U/W/R Twin is similarly easy. It's also very good against Tron, no matter what the match I put up last week says (Surgical Extraction COME ON).
The big issue I still have with Scapeshift is that against the top decks you are basically the same across the board as Tron. The one difference is trading a lot of percentage against Jund for a lot of percentage against the mirror, and Jund is simply the more relevant deck.
Once you cut the nonsense like Think Twice, U/W/R is actually a pretty awesome deck. As various formats have proven time and time again, flexible flash-speed Magic beats a lot of decks. Celestial Colonnade is also a massive threat, and your removal almost all doubles up as reach. This provides the ability to flip the switch and close quickly that has been a hallmark requirement of all successful flash-style decks.
The issue with U/W/R is that your tolerance for random garbage is low. Similar to how Legacy blue decks often fumble against strange engine-style decks or things like Blood Moon, U/W/R has issues against decks that minimize its ability to interact. It also happens that Tron is one of the best decks and falls into this category.
You also have huge issues against the powerful Selesnya creatures. I felt fairly far ahead as U/W/R against the G/B decks, but as Naya I had no idea how I could lose the matchup. Voice of Resurgence, Loxodon Smiter, Kitchen Finks, Tarmogoyf, and Scavenging Ooze are all fairly Lightning Bolt proof, and it is easy for a deck to overload your Path to Exiles between these and actually using the extra mana you give them for man lands.
The Buns Wild
- 4 Durkwood Baloth
- 2 Errant Ephemeron
- 4 Greater Gargadon
- 4 Keldon Halberdier
- 4 Riftwing Cloudskate
- 4 Simian Spirit Guide
This deck is everything you want Living End to be and more.
See, just Wrath of God plus make a few guys isn't enough. A ton of decks don't rely on creatures to win and can easily ignore your creatures. Things like Melira Pod and Affinity do rely on creatures but can easily cancel your sweeper effect and beat your random 4/4s afterwards.
Also, your Simian Spirit Guides are actually a plus to use: minus one card for me, minus one card for you!
I have won games with this deck because I mulliganed. I had a four against Jund of Leyline of Sanctity, Ardent Plea, Durkwood Baloth, Razorverge Thicket. He wasn't remotely close to being in the game.
Compulsive Research is the best card-draw spell I could find. Finding both Gargadon and cascade spells is a big deal, as is not just being Demonic Dread and requiring a target. If I could play Shardless Agent, I would.
Boom // Bust is there almost entirely for Tron. You need to Armageddon them, and the natural mode of the card is also pretty good. I might go back up to the full four since I've been fairly unimpressed with Damping Matrix, but the deck being soft to Splinter Twin and artifacts like Birthing Pod is a small problem. This is likely an issue resolved with Beast Within.
That said, I feel like there is just some way to play around this deck. I've always been on the Balancing side of things, but there has to be a way to manage your board and hand properly to negate the advantage created by a non-Gargadoned Balance. Even without thinking about this, sweeper-proof guys like Kitchen Finks and Voice of Resurgence are a big issue. I can only imagine Loxodon Smiter and Obstinate Baloth do similar good work against the card. Even small things like people knowing to choose two targets on Cryptic Command against Ricochet Trap is not fun to deal with.
The deck is also a little soft to Thoughtseize. The one edge you lose over Living End is cycling. You aren't seeing two or three cards a turn to find an Ardent Plea or Violent Outburst, just the normal one. Leyline of Sanctity does some good work here, but it isn't always enough.
That said, this deck just wins way more than you would imagine looking at the list. It is not a joke. Dustin Faeder aka The_Great_Dustini, who first played the deck on Magic Online, had a 70% Constructed record on the Pro Tour this year. I picked up the deck because he seemed to think it was good, and I'm pretty sure he is at least mostly correct.
The Actually Considerable
Tron is in a strange space among the main decks that make up Modern. Most of the decks are within a small margin of 50/50 across the board. Tron has auto-wins and auto-losses.
Importantly, Tron demolishes Jund, U/W/R, and Melira. Also known as Tron demolishes the top three decks. Even the G/B decks with Fulminator Mage and Tectonic Edge are still significantly behind in the matchup.
Tron also made huge gains recently in the random unfair deck matchup. When it first popped up, the natural reaction of the format was Storm. Now that it is missing Seething Song, Storm has pretty big issues with Pyroclasm for Empty the Warrens and Goblin Electromancer plus Relic of Progenitus. Eggs was easily able to beat a Relic of Progenitus, but now that is banned we are left with Living End.
The problem is that Tron is pretty bad against Affinity and Twin. You board a ton of cards against Twin and have action with Oblivion Stone, but every time I win a game against Affinity I feel like I pulled off a miracle. Oblivion Stone doesn't hit man lands with Ravager counters, Karn doesn't effectively handle their swarm, and good luck against Spell Pierce.
I was expecting a lot of Affinity last weekend, but it turned out there was just a lot of Splinter Twin. Either way, I feel correct in my assessment that there was a little too much of the bad matchups to make Tron the correct choice, but anyone who played it is very justified if they feel otherwise.
- 1 Spellskite
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 2 Deceiver Exarch
- 1 Fauna Shaman
- 1 Glen Elendra Archmage
- 1 Izzet Staticaster
- 2 Kitchen Finks
- 1 Loxodon Smiter
- 1 Murderous Redcap
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Phantasmal Image
- 1 Qasali Pridemage
- 3 Restoration Angel
- 1 Tarmogoyf
- 3 Voice of Resurgence
- 1 Wall of Roots
- 1 Zealous Conscripts
- 2 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
- 1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
Notes about my list from this event:
Loxodon Smiter was a reaction to Threads of Disloyalty being a big player on Magic Online. If your Tarmogoyf get Threadsed, it's a disaster. Smiter dodges this and is basically impossible for the blue decks to kill.
Similarly, I played a ton of Voice of Resurgences instead of Tarmogoyf. One is a much bigger beating to get Threadsed, and while Voice is worse against Pillar of Flame, it's not like you're actually blanking that one. As a result of this swap, I added the Clifftop Retreat over the second Rugged Prairie. Stomping Ground plus one of these lands casts a G/W spell.
The one sideboard Goyf is to balance out the number of two-drops you want to board out against the fair decks, which is basically everything that doesn't battle. It could have also been a Scavenging Ooze.
Bant Charm was an amazing one-of. Handling Linvala and Birthing Pod in the mirror, giving you a better hedge out to Torpor Orb against Jund while still solving their problem cards, and giving you another answer to Cranial Plating are all big gains. It's even good as your one way to answer Celestial Colonnade against U/W/R because of the third mode that everyone seems to forget.
One advantage of Kiki Pod no one really talks about: Grove of the Burnwillows is the best non-fetch land in the format. You are one of a select set of decks that doesn't care about your opponent's life total and plays those colors. Take advantage of it.
- 4 Arcbound Ravager
- 4 Etched Champion
- 2 Memnite
- 4 Ornithopter
- 4 Signal Pest
- 4 Steel Overseer
- 4 Vault Skirge
I'll leave it to Brian DeMars as the new Affinity expert to explain most of the choices here, though our lists are slightly different. If you don't believe in Spell Pierce, just watch my videos with this deck.
I really wanted to play Affinity at this event. I just didn't know nearly enough Robocop lines to quote over the course of it.
On to what actually happened. I played some games heads up against Pod and didn't feel like the matchup was great, so I bailed. I also expected a ton of U/W/R, and that deck demolishes Affinity. The deck's bad hands are also way worse than Pod's. One deck draws a bunch of random 1/1s; the other draws a hand that would be passable in another playable deck and complains that it doesn't get to put its deck into play.
Affinity is really good. Not only was it great before M14, but Mox Opal's upgrade with the rules change is beyond insane. It goes from "Mox that doesn't usually work on turn 1 that comes with blank copies" to "Mox that doesn't usually work on turn 1 that is Lotus Petal as extras." I'm 90% sure Lotus Petal would be banned or very close to it if the card were legal, and the only thing stopping Mox Opal is how committed your other 56 cards have to be.
I finally stopped running better than expectations for one day of my life (though I did almost win off a mull to three in round 5). I felt like I played pretty poorly in the games I won, but the games I lost I only had two real decisions to make. I kept Pod, Kiki-Jiki, four lands on the draw against a Jund player who also mulliganed to six. This was a loose keep, but I'm not sure it was definitely wrong. He had Thoughtseize and not Inquisition of Kozilek; I drew lands and died.
The next decision was in the same match but was a little more complicated. Game 3 boiled down to him having a Deathrite Shaman and a Raging Ravine to my Noble Hierarch, Birds of Paradise, Deceiver Exarch, and Fiend Hunter on his Treetop Village (double blocks were involved to get there). I am at approximately twenty; he is at approximately eleven. I drew Restoration Angel and opted to hold it in order to play around him drawing Olivia Voldaren or Dark Confidant with a Fiend Hunter flicker. He ended up drawing Olivia and the Bolt for my Hunter very quickly, but I still feel the conservative play was correct. My topdecks are better than his in general, and being able to blank a segment of his live draws is even better. If I played the Angel, I may have been able to apply enough pressure to kill him, but it's pretty unlikely.
As for the event as a whole, I've been thinking about what caused the surge of Jund. There are two explanations.
The easy one is the sheer amount of Splinter Twin in day 2 removing Tron from the equation and providing Jund its easiest matchup among the top decks. Twin actually has to play against Jund without fear, and I bet many players didn't do this or just ran into Jund having it.
The more interesting one has to do with the way the top tier has shaped up. While I felt Pod and Affinity were generally ahead across the board (bar Affinity against U/W/R), many of those edges were relatively small. If anything under 60/40 rounds to approximately zero when die rolls are accounted for, you want the most reliable deck. That is Jund. Instead of losing games to random mulligans, you usually keep six or seven cards and play Magic. Even if you have fewer blowouts, good old Rock never crumbles to itself.
That said, I think the potential edges from the power level of Pod and Affinity outweigh the reliability incentive to play Jund. I would play at least 70 of the 75 I played if the tournament were tomorrow.
To finish with a "state of the format," to paraphrase Brian Kowal: there wasn't even a Jund deck in the Top 16 of the last Grand Prix. One event is not a reason to freak out. Three Pod victories? Maybe. The deck is broken on a lot of levels.
If you want to ban anything, consider if you actually secretly want to unban something. If you have to ban something, ban Birthing Pod and/or Mox Opal. I'm pretty sure the real answer is the first or nothing.
The real problem I have is that there are no major Modern events in the United States until next March. Six months is way too long to wait for such an awesome format.