A smart person would probably tell you to just play Death's Shadow this weekend. A smarter person would tell you to play Eldrazi Tron. And the smartest person in the entire world would probably tell you to play side events. Yes, I'm talking about SCG Richmond, the site of this weekend's Modern Open. If you haven't registered yet, make sure you do so now. The bad beat of showing up to the Open and not being able to play is something I see all too often.
Also, make sure to get a good night's sleep and drink a lot of water throughout the day! Pro tips!
Somewhere in the night, you can hear the sound of my career dying.
While Modern is usually a volatile format, full of hostile, linear strategies, we've seen a few standouts rise to the top over the last few months. Those two decks are Grixis Death's Shadow and Eldrazi Tron. It seems like one of those two decks ends up on top of every Modern event, and for good reason. They're great.
I'm no expert on Eldrazi Tron, so I'll leave that to the likes of Todd Stevens and company, but I do have a lot to say about Death's Shadow. Unfortunately, I've written about that deck a ton already, and I'm not even sure how good it will be this weekend. It seems like, every tournament, more and more decks are showing up to put a beating on the "Big Two."
And yet somehow they still keep winning...
Aside from the Team Constructed event in Atlanta a few weeks ago, where Todd Stevens was in the driver's seat with G/W Company (aka Value Town), there haven't been too many decks in Modern that could keep up with the raw power of Eldrazi Tron or the efficiency of Death's Shadow. Either the mana advantage gained by the Eldrazi Tron deck would topple you, or you could cast a bunch of spells that were more expensive and less powerful than the Grixis Death's Shadow decks. So what deck(s) can beat both of these strategies?
- 4 Arcbound Ravager
- 2 Etched Champion
- 2 Master of Etherium
- 3 Memnite
- 4 Ornithopter
- 4 Signal Pest
- 4 Steel Overseer
- 4 Vault Skirge
Call it Rock'em Sock'em Robots or whatever, but Affinity is a deck that boasts very good matchups against the two best decks in the format. On top of that, Affinity can just roll people who don't have a lot of hate for it. The speed of Cranial Plating topped with the annoying invulnerability of Etched Champion makes for some lopsided games. And while decks like Dredge were on the rise, Affinity was given a bit of breathing room from people out of the sideboard.
At the moment, Affinity is on people's radar, so choosing to play Affinity might actually end up being a bad idea. Cards like Stony Silence can be incredibly difficult to overcome, but it isn't impossible. Plus, they might just never draw that card. If you put up insanely good numbers in pre-sideboard games, you only have to get a little lucky to win one of the next two. There are also draws out of Affinity that can beat hands that are all-in on Stony Silence (especially on the play).
At the moment, it seems like most people are sporting Galvanic Blast over Thoughtcast, and I completely agree with that direction. Death's Shadow decks often deal themselves four to ten points of damage, and all you need is a little chip here and there to finish them off with a Galvanic Blast. As for the rest of the decks in Modern, Galvanic Blast can act as a split card. In most scenarios, you're just going to kill your opponent with the big burn spell after you've hit them for quite a bit of damage. In other spots, you're going to use Galvanic Blast to buy yourself a bit of time.
I know that removal is pretty heavy in the field at the moment, which usually means that Thoughtcast would be a better card for the current metagame, but I think you need speed more than resilience at the moment. Galvanic Blast gets them dead, where Thoughtcast just prolongs the game in the face of removal. My gut tells me that Galvanic Blast is where you want to be right now, but I could easily see a shift toward more removal-based decks if Jeskai Control continues to put up solid numbers. Remember when Nahiri, the Harbinger was running rampant? If Jeskai starts to surge in those numbers again, then Thoughtcast will likely be the fallback plan.
As for Etched Champion versus Master of Etherium, I honestly have no idea. It really bugs me that people can't just choose to play four of one and zero of the other. Like Galvanic Blast versus Thoughtcast, this struggle has been present in the archetype for as long as I can remember. While Master of Etherium is better by itself, Etched Champion can win games that no other card could. And when you combine Cranial Plating with Etched Champion, you start to understand why someone would choose to play it over Master of Etherium.
I, for one, hate playing against Etched Champion, so my instinct is to always suggest a max-out on those. But I also recognize that Etched Champion is embarrassing against Eldrazi Tron and the mirror. Maybe a split is correct, but it just looks wrong. It feels wrong. But I honestly don't have an answer for you.
Moving in Your Own Direction
My initial plan for this article was to just go over what decks have been doing well in the last few months. I could list out Storm or Jeskai Control or whatever else has been doing well recently, and explain why they could be good choices. But the hard truth is that Grixis Death's Shadow and Eldrazi Tron are your best bets if you don't play much Modern. If you do play a lot of Modern, allow me to go into a little bit of a rabbit hole and see where we come out.
My gut has been telling me for weeks now that I should be playing my Temur Box. Well, to be fair, my gut is always telling me to play Temur Box, but that's just a side effect of loving Snapcaster Mage and Tarmogoyf a little too much.
Playing these cards is not a bad idea. Ever.
While Temur Box is a fine deck in a normal Modern format, the removal spells that red has to offer don't really give you a lot of breathing room. Lightning Bolt doesn't kill anything out of Death's Shadow other than Snapcaster Mage, and I don't really want to play a lot of copies of Dismember and Roast.
The reason why I don't really want to play Death's Shadow is because I just don't like dealing myself ten or so points of damage in a game. I get that doing so allows you to offset the downside of Thoughtseize and makes your deck a bit smaller thanks to Street Wraith, but my record with Death's Shadow in the last few months is actually abysmal. And, because of my stubborn nature, I don't want to pick up Eldrazi Tron because I hate it.
I hate everything about it.
So where does that leave me? What deck, besides Affinity, can punish Death's Shadow and Eldrazi Tron while still having a solid matchup against the rest of the field? I don't know if such a deck exists. The angles you're attacked from in Modern are very difficult to defend from as a fair deck. That's one of the reasons for Grixis Death's Shadow's rise. As a midrange deck, it has a ton of disruption in discard effects and Stubborn Denial, but can turn the corner quickly with gigantic monsters. At its core, Grixis Death's Shadow is just a lower-to-the-ground version of this deck.
But if we don't really need to get lower, and instead need to have cards that can play to the late-game, why would you play Grixis Death's Shadow over Jund in the first place? My first thought when seeing Reid Duke play a similar list to a Top 4 finish at an Open a few months ago was "Why did people stop playing Jund?" With four copies of Terminate and Liliana of the Veil, it seems like this deck should be favored against Grixis Death's Shadow. Am I wrong here?
And if I'm not wrong, isn't this deck better at beating Eldrazi Tron? Having bigger spells in your deck to match with their gigantic threats seems like a no-brainer. Access to a land like Raging Ravine is also a big deal when you get into a war of attrition. While it enters the battlefield tapped, I have won quite a few games by just attacking with Raging Ravine after we've both run out of resources.
Do I think Jund is a good deck? Not really, but it looks a lot like a Temur Box deck that gets to play Fatal Push and Liliana of the Veil. Plus, I've had good experiences with Jund, and maybe I'm not quite ready to let go of it yet. In the past year and change, the only deck I've had good Modern results with is Jund. At the Season One Invitational, my Modern record wasn't actually all that great (6-4 overall, I believe).
Path to Exile is a great removal spell, but giving your opponent an extra land is not free in Modern. Plus, Terminate gets around the ever-present Chalice of the Void in Eldrazi Tron. While Lingering Souls is a fantastic card at the moment, I think it is much better when there are a lot of other decks playing Lingering Souls. In those scenarios, you need Lingering Souls just to cancel theirs out. For now, I'll stick with Dark Confidant.
The big question is: does Grixis Death's Shadow or Jund consistently beat Eldrazi Tron? And if not, then why are we even bothering with this in the first place? All right, it seems like I'm demonstrating a loop, and everything seems to keep coming back to Eldrazi Tron. Let's try again.
Scapeshift is a card (and deck) near and dear to my heart, though I am much more comfortable with the old Temur versions (shocking, I know). New iterations range from Simian Spirit Guide and Chalice of the Void to Through the Breach and much more. This iteration of the deck is fairly straightforward, with just ten ways to close the game. Without any filtering, that doesn't seem like a lot if you ask me. But, for some reason, I keep losing to this deck when I play Grixis Death's Shadow, so there's probably something here.
This deck also looks like it can race Eldrazi Tron pretty easily. While Thought-Knot Seer can be problematic, TitanShift is no stranger to beating discard effects. While I'm not exactly sold on this list in particular, it did take down the Modern Classic in Syracuse last weekend, so I would expect people to gravitate their lists toward it.
What I do like:
This is, without a doubt, the biggest beating I've ever had to face as a Death's Shadow player. You can have your Chalice of the Void and Rest in Peace all day long, but Chameleon Colossus is, frankly, terrifying.
My suggestion? Add one or two more to your sideboard. It will singlehandedly steal you games against Grixis Death's Shadow and even has some added utility in matchups where they're trying to attrition you. And since your deck is so focused on ramping, it wouldn't be surprised if you were able to kill someone in one attack. It can also buy you a lot of time against all of the threats that Grixis Death's Shadow presents.
I love this card more than most people, and I am not a fan of Cranial Extraction effects. The fact that it can't be countered means you're able to strip all sorts of combo decks of their biggest threat without fear of a counterspell. I will say that too many people bring this sort of card in when it has no business being in their deck. And, if I'm being honest, most combo decks in Modern have alternate methods of winning the game, so it won't always be the nail in the coffin that it should be.
Hrm. Maybe it isn't all that good.
What I don't like:
The value of this card is in the dumpster. I'd much rather have more copies of Anger of the Gods or other sweepers to take its place. At the very least, if you're playing against a deck where Lightning Bolt would be good, then having a sweeper effect is probably better. The upside is that Lightning Bolt can be thrown at your opponent's face, which combos well with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle.
But with Eldrazi Tron and Grixis Death's Shadow running rampant, I don't see a reason to play this card anymore. Maybe it's time to move away from Mountains and red and instead focus on Prismatic Omen?
What else? What else...
You know, it's actually pretty funny how badly I've been thrown off since Death's Shadow became a thing in Modern. None of my decks work anymore! Lightning Bolt went from staple to chaff. And you know what's the worst part about Death's Shadow being one of the top dogs? It's not even that good. It can be overwhelmed by a Thragtusk. It can be beaten senseless by a Liliana of the Veil. It can be overrun by a single Lingering Souls. And if I'm being honest, it might be the worst Modern deck at beating current Standard decks.
What's your life total?
It just attacks Modern at the right angles (most of the time). But it is still a good deck, and one we have to keep in mind when choosing what to play for the next Modern tournament. You don't want to go into the tournament unprepared for a deck that you'll likely face two or three times. And, if you want to win the tournament, you're a huge favorite to have to beat it somewhere in the Top 8.
But you also have to contend with 30 other archetypes that are all trying to kill you in 30 different ways. And such is Modern! A beautiful disaster. A format held together by silly string and fever dreams. I love it and hate it so much.
So yeah, maybe I'll just play Temur Box this weekend. Or Jund. Or Death's Shadow. Or Eldrazi Tron. I don't know yet. I never know when it comes to Modern. My go-to strategy in the last few years has been to play the deck(s) that my friends are doing well with. It worked with Infect, Jund, and variations on Death's Shadow. I don't know why it wouldn't work now with Eldrazi Tron.
So excuse me, I'll be leaving now to go hang out with Todd Stevens and Tom Ross. Maybe one of them will give me a clue as to what to play this weekend. And if I don't like what they have to say, I might just show up with this.