Well, for those of you who have come to hate the current Standard format, there appears to be a haven for you, a place where the sideboards actually matter and the brews flow all day. I am speaking of Modern, of course, which saw multiple high-level events this past weekend that only helped bolster its position as the format du jour (and maybe a few more jours thrown in there too).
With high-level events hopefully come some new decklists, although most would argue that this is where Standard trips up. Modern, however, still has all sorts of new technology being uncovered regularly. While Death's Shadow has sort of climbed its way to the top of the hill, it doesn't appear that said hill is all that high. Death's Shadow is a fine choice for a Modern tournament, but it is not the only choice, and today I wanted to focus in on that a bit more.
Grand Prix Copenhagen took place this past weekend, where eight unique archetypes made the Top 8. Grixis Death's Shadow was the victor, but I can't stress enough how incredible it is to have seven different decks join it for the elimination rounds. Combo had a particularly impressive showing with five of the eight decks qualifying as some sort of combo deck, although those ranged from creature-based strategies to graveyard-based strategies to Storm, which are all quite different to play against.
Next up, we had Grand Prix Kobe take place this weekend, in which only a single copy of Death's Shadow made the Top 8 and in which we had eight different archetypes represented. Any format that can produce eight decks that have a chance at the Top 8 is pretty impressive, but to see it come to fruition twice in the same weekend is quite inspiring, especially as a brewer. Within that Top 8 are a few notable brews that we will take a look at momentarily, but first let's see what the SCG Baltimore Modern Open had up its sleeve this past weekend.
Brad Nelson clinched the event with a Grixis version of Death's Shadow, but the Top 8 is still rather promising. While there were twelve total copies of Death's Shadow, those were split amongst Grixis and Abzan versions and the entire Top 8 was made up of seven different archetypes. This level of diversity is not only impressive, it is becoming rather consistent as well. We also had a Modern Classic at SCG Baltimore, and since we are on a roll, let's quickly check out those numbers.
Once again we see seven unique archetypes in the Top 8 of the Classic, with Burn actually double-dipping this time. Jonathan Sukenik secured a victory with his Jeskai Control deck featuring Ajani Vengeant (whom I adore) and only one Death's Shadow list is anywhere to be seen. In fact, if we combine all four major events into a single pool, we have 21 or 22 different archetypes being represented out of a possible 32! That sort of diversity is absolutely incredible. I am being a bit liberal in calling both Jeskai Control lists the same, as Ryoichi Tamada's list is much more tempo-oriented than Sukenik's, but in either world we are talking about an extremely diverse metagame.
Of the 32 available Top 8 slots, Death's Shadow only claimed seven and that is with Grixis, Abzan, Zoo, and Sultai versions of the deck all being represented. If we have to have a "best deck" in Modern, this certainly feels like the way we would want it to be. Death's Shadow may be too good in the long run, but it is clearly manageable, and the truth is that you can play just about anything you want in Modern as long as you play it well and are prepared. Today, I wanted to look over the lists from this past weekend and talk about some of the interesting innovations and technology that emerged. Afterward, I have some updates to my Standard R/G Creativity list which I plan on battling with this weekend in Grand Prix Omaha. Let's jump into it!
Brewing in Kobe
While many people are loving the combo-heavy feel of Modern at the moment, some people are happy to just show up at a Grand Prix with four copies of Tidehollow Sculler in their maindeck and to win the whole thing with them. Joe Soh took down Grand Prix Kobe with a brewer's midrange list if I have ever seen one.
This list ignores the cute plays that something like Eldrazi Tron can make and instead just looks to maximize interaction while attacking your life total simultaneously. It is especially cool to see a B/W Eldrazi list that completely eschews Eldrazi Displacer, which is an easy corner to back yourself into. Joe Soh instead just rips apart opposing gameplans. His maindeck has thirten cards that take something from your hand. Sure, Tidehollow Sculler can give your card back, but you had better deal with it before Wasteland Strangler comes along and sends that exiled card to your graveyard, along with whatever creature you managed to deploy.
Speaking of Wasteland Strangler, it takes point for an amazing fourteen removal spells that the deck has. It's ripping apart the hand of any combo or control player and killing all of the stuff that aggro can throw at us, all the while sending Reality Smasher at your life total. Soh pushes disruption over the top here with four copies of Relic of Progenitus in the maindeck. At this point, he essentially has the field covered with highly effective countermeasures fighting just about every axis from which your deck might operate. What I like about this take on a disruptive midrange deck is that even though we have a bunch of disruption, it is fairly generic in its application. We aren't bending over backwards for cards like Leyline of Sanctity or Stony Silence in the maindeck. This leaves us open to beating anything but doesn't leave us with too many dead draws, aside from too much removal against the combo decks, which promptly gets sideboarded out.
I have some concerns about those Mutavaults, which put in work against control but can also throw our curve off by not casting Sculler on turn 2. We are pretty committed to Eldrazi Temple already, so doubling our colorless land count seems risky to me, although it's possible we just need those few extra points of damage. I think I would probably cut them down to two copies and try another Fetid Heath and an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth in their stead.
This deck can take on just about anything when its cards come together and match up well against the opponent's cards. I think the list probably has some difficulty beating a competent Burn player, as the lifegain here is scarce and stuff like your Scullers will just never live for long. That said, with strong combo and aggro matchups, I definitely feel comfortable recommending this deck to anyone on the fence about their current deck choice.
Moving from Orzhov to Esper, we find one of the cooler control decks I have seen in Modern in quite some time. Akio Chiba showed a willingness to try out some new cards along with format staples to craft this absolute masterpiece.
Right away, I will note that I think this deck takes a much deeper knowledge of the format to pilot at an efficient enough rate to be worth it. I still think this is a great shell to build off of, but unlike the B/W Eldrazi list, this list is a little less forgiving if you are not as practiced with it.
What I love most about this take on control is that Akio fit all sorts of techy cards into the list but made them all make sense. Painful Truths is an excellent draw engine when backed up by a turn 2 4/4 lifelinker and then it fuels a Collective Brutality on the back end with kickers available. That synergy alone is tough for a lot of decks to fight through, but when you add six counterspells, nine removal spells, and five pieces of hand disruption to the mix, good luck! Snapcaster Mage offers the ability to double up on any of those cards as well, and Akio takes full advantage, playing many different instants and sorceries in smaller numbers to increase the toolbox nature of everyone's favorite 2/1 flash creature (we all know I am talking about Ambush Viper here, right?).
I am rather surprised to not see at least a copy of Vendilion Clique in the maindeck, as it just feels so right for this shell, but Akio was clearly "main-boarded" for more of a fight against aggro decks, where Clique is only so-so. Still, I could see Lingering Souls swapping with Cliques freely, depending on your expected metagame. As for those copies of Lost Legacy, I am not sure I can endorse them, but I also don't know the exact target Akio had in mind. Generally speaking, I would just prefer more hand disruption or countermagic in that role, especially considering we have two Thoughtseizes still available that we are not running maindeck.
Glory-Bound Initiate is definitely the card that sticks out to me the most here, though, and I absolutely love it. A deck like Burn can barely afford even a single exert from the two-drop, and most other forms of aggro aren't going to enjoy it either. I would expect to see Initiate start popping up in a few different lists across the format, as it is versatile enough and fits into the current metagame rather well.
Combo in Copenhagen
As I mentioned earlier, Copenhagen had quite an array of combo decks in the Top 8 alongside two different takes on Death's Shadow and Lantern Control, which just never seems to completely disappear from the metagame. One particular combo deck stands out, though, as everyone has been waiting to see Vizier of Remedies join Devoted Druid for some arbitrarily large mana shenanigans. Michael Steinecke did just that.
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Devoted Druid
- 3 Duskwatch Recruiter
- 2 Eternal Witness
- 1 Fiend Hunter
- 4 Kitchen Finks
- 2 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Qasali Pridemage
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 1 Tireless Tracker
- 2 Viscera Seer
- 4 Vizier of Remedies
- 1 Rhonas the Indomitable
This list is essentially a holdover from the old Birthing Pod days that gave way to the old Collected Company days and now has a brand-new interaction to work with. While most of the list is likely settled, including your tutors and combo pieces, there is a lot of variation available in your tutor targets and your secondary gameplan.
Here, we see Michael has opted for Viscera Seer to enable a secondary combo of Kitchen Finks plus Vizier for arbitrarily large life. Other lists from the weekend have completely opted out of that interaction but have played Knight of the Reliquary for other combos and for Kessig Wolf Run access once you have arbitrarily large mana.
I think that the Devoted Druid combo is some of the most fertile ground to explore in the format right now, especially if you are looking to brew with some security. By that I mean that you can't screw up the list too much, as it has a solid foundation that is proven, so while you are free to experiment with secondary and tertiary elements, you have a security in your primary plan being so powerful.
I would look into exploring Abzan versions of this combo, possibly in more of a midrange context that allows you to interact with the opponent more. You likely give up some speed, but this is a format with so many combo decks that I hate resigning to a race as often as it feels like you do. Including Thoughtseize effects, much like Birthing Pod employed back in the day, feels like a promising direction to explore.
Meanwhile, at SCG Baltimore…
While Death's Shadow was ultimately crowned champion, it is hard to be discouraged when the Top 8 includes Scapeshift, Amulet Titan, and even good ole' fashioned Jund in the hands of Reid Duke. Scapeshift is pretty much unchanged from what we have come to expect over the years, so while I am happy to see it do well, there isn't much new technology to talk about from it. The Amulet Titan deck did appear to get a fresh cut, though, and is looking rather dapper.
While the majority of this list probably remains as you remember it, there is now a copy of Walking Ballista in the deck which can conveniently be fetched via Tolaria West. This adds a lot of depth to Amulet Titan's combo turn as they can now win through the likes of Ensnaring Bridge or other targeted disruption. Having the ability to turn into removal against annoying creatures or planeswalkers is also a welcome bonus and makes the card a fine tutor target upgrade to the archetype.
I mentioned Jonathan Sukenik's Jeskai Control deck earlier, but I would like to give it some more airtime, as he makes some interesting card choices in what is truly a draw-go deck in a format full of speed.
First up, I have to mention how awesome it is to see Ajani Vengeant still finding some love. The planeswalker can lock down big Death's Shadows or Tarmogoyfs while casting a Lightning Helix on anything small. I don't know if Ajani is the best use of that single slot, but it worked out for Jonathan and it at least seems reasonable. I don't think you should be trying to build decks around Ajani or anything like that, but as a useful and versatile game piece, you can certainly experiment with a copy here or there.
Censor also shows up in Modern, which makes a lot of sense. Force Spike is just more likely to be relevant later in the game in Modern, as decks tend to play fewer mana sources. Cycling and the synergy with Snapcaster Mage make this a card I think we will consistently see small numbers of in these more dedicated control shells and possibly even some tempo decks as well, though it is competing with a lot of viable alternatives (Mana Leak, Remand, Logic Knot).
Another, slower control deck, Travis Perlee's Four-Color Control, took runner-up with a similarly styled deck, although adding black does open up a lot of doors. Ajani Vengeant shows up in Travis's sideboard, but generally speaking, the fourth color increased the number of must-play cards available to Travis, so he ended up with mostly Tier 1 cards in an interesting configuration. This is important to take note of, though, because you can very easily brew something without sacrificing card quality. There are countless variations of these three- and four-color control decks available, so if that is your thing, get to work!
G/R Planeswalkers in Standard
As I have mentioned quite a few times by now, I will be heading to Grand Prix Omaha this weekend to play some Standard. I admit that Modern is a lot more fascinating than Standard at the moment, but I have still been having fun crafting around the constraints that Aetherworks Marvel puts on the format. I have been focused on a list that uses Indomitable Creativity to upgrade tokens into hasted threats and the list has evolved quite a bit over time. At this point, I have found myself maximizing the unique elements I have going on while maintaining high card quality and a solid sideboard.
I have moved entirely away from the energy shenanigans I originally included, as they were just pulling me into too many directions. Now we have really leaned into our colorless interactions and Ruin in Their Wake, which gives us this unique way to approach the format. Ultimately, we are a midrange deck that is able to adapt to most matchups while always maintaining the possibility of turning on a dime and killing the opponent. This allows us to be the more controlling deck against Zombies or Humans, while still threatening control decks and Aetherworks enough to keep them honest.
Recently, I have done a lot to tilt the Aetherworks matchup as much in my favor as possible. The maindeck Dissenter's Deliverance helps here and the third copy of Creativity is another weapon against them. Once we move to the sideboard, though, we pick up even more artifact removal along with four copies of Thought-Knot Seer and a Void Winnower, which all do wonders in the matchup. Now, we still can and will lose to the occasional turn 4 Ulamog, but that's just a fact of the format and I have come to accept it. It is in all of those other games that I want the best chance possible and I have been liking my matchup from that position.
While most of this list is locked in, there are a few things I need to settle on before the Grand Prix. That second copy of Wastes could easily be another Westvale Abbey, depending on how many sources we want for Ruin in Their Wake. Also, Nissa, Vital Force might become a second copy of Burn from Within, which serves a similar purpose against control and planeswalkers but gives me more exiling against Zombies and Gods as well.
If you do have any interest in this deck, I would definitely recommend getting some games in with it before your tournament, as there are a few non-obvious interactions and lines that become much more apparent as they unfold inside of games a few times.