I've focused so much on Standard over the last five months that I'm starting to see Siege Rhinos in my sleep. I'm getting carpal tunnel in my wrists from flipping cards from Courser of Kruphix. I don't even remember a time without Temples. How long has it been? Months? Years? Decades?
But in the distance comes a light of hope, a promise of something better. With the Season Two Invitational featuring Modern alongside Standard, as well as Grand Prix Charlotte in a few weeks, I thought that now was probably the best time to start writing about the format. At the very least, it will help me flesh out some ideas, as well as hear some from you guys. Above all else, Modern is diverse. With such a gigantic pool of cards to build from, it almost has to be.
On occasion, some decks will become too popular or just dominate the format, leading to a banning. We saw this recently with Birthing Pod, Deathrite Shaman, and a few others, but WotC has done a great job at keeping the format feeling fresh. No deck is allowed to dominate for more than a year before it gets canned, and occasionally it gets hit sooner. Treasure Cruise was only legal for a handful of months before getting the ax.
But with such a strict banning policy, as well as the current trend of reprinting staples in Modern Masters, it tends to make people afraid to invest in the format. I like playing Modern a lot, but I haven't been on the bad side of a banning yet. I could see where it would leave a sour taste in my mouth. I heard plenty of stories about people who had just bought Melira Pod before they banned Birthing Pod, and that sucks. But that's a peril of playing tournament Magic and a possibility when you buy into the format with the "best deck."
It will have a target on its head.
Right now, Modern is in a strange place. Many of the game's pros have voiced their concerns, and I think a lot of them are valid. Modern is basically Gotham after all the whackos bust out of Arkham Asylum. Each bad guy requires a certain finesse to deal with, and it isn't always possible to have the right tools at your disposal. After all, you can only fit so much into your fifteen-card sideboard. So playing fair isn't exactly appealing, but you can usually nail down just about everything except for one or two matchups. But then, out of nowhere, you get blindsided by Harley Quinn.
You can't beat everything in Modern, and in trying to do just that will cost you in every other matchup. It is possible to have a bit of range with your sideboard choices, opting for the card that hits in broad strokes instead of the card that targets only one deck. But some decks require a heavy hand, and your deck might not be able to beat Affinity without Shatterstorm, or beat Splinter Twin without Torpor Orb. In those scenarios, it is difficult to decide which option would be best for a given tournament. And if a deck is popular enough, perhaps it is smart to have more targeted hate at the ready.
Shocking to no one, I prefer to play blue decks in Modern. Namely, I like playing Splinter Twin. I've written about Splinter Twin a good bit over the last year, but so much changes on a regular basis in Modern. At this point, those articles serve only as a baseline. So many powerful cards have been printed in the last year, and it is important to understand which of those will have an effect on Modern. And once you start to understand Modern, something new comes along and changes everything. It can be uncomfortable, like outgrowing a pair of shoes. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes a fresh set of kicks is just what the doctor ordered.
Splinter Twin and the BS Check
Modern is such a diverse format that I feel pretty awkward playing without any sort of combo element to my deck. Having a BS check is important in Modern due to the high density of powerful and synergistic cards. How do you plan on beating something like G/W Hexproof or G/R Tron without some unfair form of attack? This is one of the reasons why Birthing Pod was such a powerful option for Modern, as it could play a fair game with Kitchen Finks, Voice of Resurgence, and the like, all while maintaining the possibility of combo-killing the opponent.
This is also one of the reasons why I am so drawn to Splinter Twin.
While Birthing Pod and Splinter Twin were always similar in how they approached the format, their execution was much different. But now that we don't have access to Birthing Pod anymore (we'll get to this in a bit), Splinter Twin seems like the best option for any pilot that is comfortable with the archetype. Since Splinter Twin decks can be built many different ways, customizing the deck to fit your playstyle and adapting to common threats is pretty easy.
Splinter Twin has been around since Modern's inception, even winning the first Modern Pro Tour. It isn't exactly a new entity, and most people who play Modern are familiar with its interactions. Relying heavily on the Splinter Twin aspect of the decks is, in my opinion, quite foolish. The odds of you killing your opponent via Splinter Twin is pretty low against any non-combo opponent. They will have counterspells, discard spells, and a ton of removal to keep you from winning on the spot. In those cases, you must utilize Snapcaster Mage and various other threats to get the job done.
The true power of Splinter Twin lies in "the fear." If someone fears the combo, the odds of you taking over the game increase significantly. They are forced to hold up extra mana every turn. If they don't, well, you know how that usually ends. Experienced players know when they can afford to hold up mana, and when they should give you a one-turn window to win the game. But inexperienced players will consistently make poor decisions because your deck is so complex, and many of the lines are tough to see. When they're worried about Deceiver Exarch, you're content just beating them down with Vendilion Clique and burning them out with Lightning Bolt.
Sometimes there isn't a right answer, and that's when Splinter Twin feels like the best deck in the room.
But enough about the theory behind Splinter Twin. Let's get down to the nitty gritty. First up is my favorite iteration.
I'm a fan of Roast in Modern at the moment, even if it there aren't many copies of Siege Rhino running around. Siege Rhino has been a pain in the ass for Temur strategies since it invalidates a lot of the early pressure you can apply while also being as big as Tarmogoyf. Without a way to get it off the table, it can put a damper on your plans. The same can be said for Tasigur, the Golden Fang.
I'm not a fan of Spellskite, which was once the easiest way to protect your combo. With Kolaghan's Command on the rise out of both Jund and Grixis strategies, it is important to know when you should give up the ghost. Against those decks, I'm usually siding out my combo pieces anyway since it is so unlikely to combo through so much disruption. Discard, removal, and counterspells are all great against a deck relying on synergy rather than power, so sideboarding into a deck with a lot of card advantage and answers is perfect. Tarmogoyf also dodges a lot of the most commonly played removal in the format, or at least forces the opponent to put a huge emphasis on it. When they do that, you will likely be able to stick a much more powerful threat and have it stick around.
This version of Splinter Twin transitions into a tempo deck pretty easily, in both pre and post sideboard games. A draw revolving around Tarmogoyf, removal, and Remand is powerful, but it also distracts the opponent while you idly assemble the combo. Once they're able to deal with Tarmogoyf, then you begin to deploy Deceiver Exarch and Pestermite and go for the insta-kill. If they happen to have answers to both, then you're probably in trouble, but you can rebuild with a few Snapcaster Mages or Cryptic Commands.
But I'm not going to lie to you. This version of Splinter Twin is pretty weak to B/G decks of all varieties. Liliana of the Veil and Abrupt Decay with a little bit of pressure from a tough-to-kill creature is hard to overcome. You can certainly win some of those games, but it won't be easy. Their discard spells are always going to be good because you have so many cards you want to wait to deploy. When you're forced to cast your spells at the wrong time, they lose a lot of value. In this matchup, I'm quick to use Snapcaster Mage on something small like Serum Visions. If you don't, you're likely to get caught using it to Lightning Bolt them for free, or just casting a 2/1 do-nothing.
Lingering Souls is also a nightmare for this deck. Pestermite and Vendilion Clique used to be reasonable threats against them, but not anymore. It is a tough spot to be in when you're forced to win with your combo in sideboard games against so much removal and hand disruption. It isn't always an option, which leaves you in quite a tight spot. Navigating games will be incredibly difficult, and many will be impossible to win.
But luckily for us, there doesn't seem to be much true Abzan left running around, and the Jund decks that are becoming more and more popular aren't nearly as tough to beat. Their removal is still reasonable, but Lightning Bolt is much less frightening than Path to Exile since it so rarely kills Tarmogoyf. The lack of Lingering Souls also allows you to fly over their defenses, dealing precious amounts of incremental damage. Without Siege Rhino to gain it back, or Lingering Souls to brick wall your entire team, you can find many more ways to win.
We've talked a lot about Jund, but what does a current Jund deck actually look like? Well, Gerry Thompson has been working on the archetype, both in article and stream form for a while now. Here's his updated list from the SSL (they took one week out of eight to do Modern).
- 4 Dark Confidant
- 1 Grim Lavamancer
- 1 Kitchen Finks
- 2 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 1 Olivia Voldaren
- 1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
While I'm not 100% on board with every card choice in the deck, I would trust Gerry's word on the subject before mine. Kitchen Finks feels a bit forced, and I'm not in love with Olivia Voldaren, but the strategy as a whole is quite powerful. Discard spells, removal, and efficient creatures has always been a solid strategy in Modern, and one people tend to have a tough time beating. So much so that they've felt it necessary to ban both Deathrite Shaman and Bloodbraid Elf.
If I were to play Jund at the Season Two Invitational or Grand Prix Charlotte, I would start here, but I would play a bunch of games to see if there was anywhere I could improve. For starters, a second copy of Tasigur, the Golden Fang is probably fine. You have enough fetchlands, discard spells, and removal to power him out quickly. His body is huge for the cost, and his ability isn't all that bad in the deck. The only downside is buying back discard spells once the opponent is out of cards, but that isn't even all that bad in some matchups.
This list is also (probably) metagamed to beat what decks Gerry thought would show up in the SSL, so there is some merit to figuring out which of those cards were specifically there to beat certain opponents, and what decks they would likely choose. Since this deck is generally weak to Amulet Bloom, Gerry put Blood Moon in the sideboard. To me, that sounds ludicrous, but it is likely better than the alternative of Fulminator Mage, which only slows them down. Without a discard spell, you are likely dying on turn 3 unless you have a big windmill slam. Blood Moon ends the game on the spot and is likely worth consideration.
Leyline of the Void also seems strange, and I would love to hear the logic behind it versus Nihil Spellbomb. Being able to cycle and destroy the opponent's graveyard is great in such a grindy format, and I can't think of too many dedicated combo decks that rely entirely on the graveyard, which is where something like Leyline of the Void shines. This is a prime example of where I would recommend using "broad strokes" instead of precise attacks.
This isn't the best Kolaghan's Command deck, as lists featuring the powerful new addition to Modern alongside Snapcaster Mage are much more impressive. Being able to buy back a Snapcaster Mage, only to buy back the Kolaghan's Command, makes for some interesting chains. If you happen to have multiple copies of Snapcaster Mage in your graveyard, there is the possibility that you lock your opponent out of their next three draw steps. How insane is that? Aside from that, Kolaghan's Command also has splash damage against Amulet of Vigor and every other artifact in the format, including Spellskite. You also put a lot of pressure on the opponent's hand by using it as a "mini-Blightning," or just killing their creature and making them discard a card. Alongside Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize, they should run out of resources quickly.
A lot of people have asked me about the Ghost Quarter in the deck. I will only say this: In the one tournament where I played Gerry's Jund deck, I used Ghost Quarter on myself just as much as my opponents. That means fueling the graveyard for Grim Lavamancer, or just using it to fix my colors, but it also won me multiple games when I got to use it on my opponents' lands. It taps for colorless the majority of the time, but there are turns where you need to stop them from assembling Tron, or just keeping their man-land in check. I wouldn't mind it being another Overgrown Tomb, but it was fairly useful, though the cost is high.
Modern on My Mind
With so much coming up that is Modern related, I think it important to focus on the format, at least for a little while. There is a lot of unexplored territory and a lot of powerful decks that people seem to have forgotten about. Whether or not those decks end up making their way back into the picture is a different story, but Modern is certainly full of surprises.
I will admit that I wasn't the biggest fan of Modern for a long time. Every time they decided to ban something, it felt like the format was getting weaker and less fun. I like playing with powerful cards, synergies, and combos. But they have a time and place, and Modern is not the place where they want those things to live. I can respect that, and I'm also willing to work within the confines set before me.
While a lot of people complain about Modern being a solitaire format, I think they're being a bit unfair. There are ups and downs in Modern, but when a deck like Jund or Abzan is high in popularity, it forces people to attack from outside the realm of the normal. Playing their game is the easiest way to lose, and I'll never lose respect for someone who wants to attack from a unique angle. As it is in every Magic format to date, the combo decks put the onus of interaction on the opponent. As a fair deck, it is difficult to prepare for everything. But I think it is okay to reward those who think outside the box and take a leap of faith. It won't always work out, but sometimes it does, and those moments are worth a thousand Jund and Abzan mirror matches.
I'm not quite set on what I'm playing at the Season Two Invitational or Grand Prix Charlotte, but the two decks above are a great place to start, and are definitely at the top of my list. The boys from Roanoke are going to be testing a lot over the next two weeks, so don't be surprised if we show up with Goryo's Vengeance or Swans of Bryn Argoll. It is Modern, after all, and anything can happen.