It's been since the most recent SCG Invitational that I've dipped my toes into Modern, and while we haven't had too much change as far as card legality goes, there have been huge shifts back and forth in the metagame. With decks like Death's Shadow, Classic Jund, Eldrazi Tron, Affinity, Scapeshift, U/W Control, and countless more having their fair share of success, I've got a lot to consider for this weekend if I'm to have any shot at replicating my performance in Standard.
It's been obvious to those who are paying attention that you really are able to do just what about whatever you want in Modern these days. Despite certain decks having their day in the sun as the "best deck," Modern is far too vast a format with too many cards that can combat any given strategy to let something like that happen these days. Here's the "short" list of decks I'd not be surprised to sit across from at SCG Charlotte this weekend:
Grixis Death's Shadow
Mono-White Hate Bears
And that's the short list! Those are all of the decks I'd not be taken aback by if an opponent decided to sleeve up for this weekend, since there is no right answer to Modern right now.
With all that being said, how in the world do you prepare for a field like that? From my experience in Modern, there is no wrong deck to play, but there is certainly a right one for any given weekend. So what are some of the new kids on the block that we might not be the most familiar with?
- 4 Harbinger of the Tides
- 4 Kumena's Speaker
- 4 Lord of Atlantis
- 4 Master of the Pearl Trident
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 4 Merrow Reejerey
- 4 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Silvergill Adept
- 1 Kopala, Warden of Waves
While the core plan of cast a bunch of Lord of Atlantis effects and use Spreading Seas to push your ever-growing army of Merfolk through any problematic blockers remains the same, some new additions from Ixalan in the form of Kumena's Speaker and my personal favorite, Merfolk Branchwalker, make their debut Modern appearance!
These two cards play very different roles in the deck by give it a literal power boost with a one mana 2/2 creature as well as what will sometimes be Silvergill Adept copies five through eight. This splash of green mana is relatively free, since we're playing Modern, and makes me wonder if we could fit something like Collected Company into a deck like this, giving Merfolk yet another avenue of attack. While I'm not sure Aether Vial and Collected Company are the best of friends, they do demand the same thing, which is just a pile of creatures, so who knows!
Playing the blue tempo strategy certainly lets you load up on counterspells that suit the given matchup, as we can clearly see Jang44 loaded up on whichever cheap interaction deemed necessary with the full four copies of Dispel and Ceremonious Rejection alongside three copies of Disdainful Stroke that can really leverage the more beatdown approach a deck like this now can have.
Another deck that's been showing up more and more that also incorporates some new cards from Ixalan is Humans!
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Kitesail Freebooter
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 2 Xathrid Necromancer
- 1 Anafenza, the Foremost
- 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- 1 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
This deck is just one color shy of featuring all the colors of the rainbow that Magic has to offer and it seems to be doing everything right.
While Kitesail Freebooter might have been getting a lot of press in Standard for being a Pirate, the more relevant creature type here is that it's also a Human! This deck has long since wanted to play a Tidehallow Sculler but never could make it work because of the difficulty to cast in a Cavern of Souls deck. Kitesail Freebooter might not have as powerful of an effect, since it can't take creature cards from the opposing hand, but the added bonus of being a Human as well as offering some evasion for a deck usually stuck fighting the ground is a massive upgrade. With Thalia's Lieutenant and Noble Hierarch letting you sneak additional points in the air, I certainly see this deck having legs.
Unclaimed Territory offers you Cavern of Souls five through eight while being only a slight downgrade in power. Not much to say about the card; it's likely what Cavern of Souls was originally to be printed as, had we not been plagued with Mana Leak in Standard for so long.
- 4 Dark Confidant
- 1 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 2 Kitchen Finks
- 2 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
We all know the common phrase "the more things change, the more things stay the same," and that certainly applies to Modern.
Who'd have thought that the curve of Thoughtseize, Dark Confidant and Liliana of the Veil ever took a step back in the format? But in all seriousness, this deck has had very little change within it since the inception of Modern aside from bannings, and it's stood the test of time. I've always felt that, with a deck like this, I'm supposed to either kill everything or disrupt them and cross my fingers they don't topdeck me. Jund is the deck you bring if you want game against the entire field or if your name is Reid Duke. It'll always be a fine choice, but personally it's not my cup of tea. I generally like to be the one exploiting a hole in the metagame more than picking from amongst established archetypes.
Having said that, what am I to choose? It's certainly wide-open enough of a format that all you need to do is be sure you're doing something powerful, consistent and at least a little resilient and things should work out well enough.
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Craterhoof Behemoth
- 4 Eternal Witness
- 2 Primeval Titan
- 3 Wistful Selkie
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 1 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Now this is my kind of Modern deck!
Of all the mana acceleration that Modern has to offer, of all the robust starts you can have, casting a Turn 1 Arbor Elf into a Turn 2 Utopia Sprawl on an untapped land gives you access to four mana! Those are the dream starts for this deck, usually spending that mana on a Garruk Wildspeaker, which can then further accelerate you into one of your three-mana plays as well.
A start like that followed up with a Primal Command can lock your opponent out of land drops and draw steps as early as the third turn as you continuously use the Command to find Eternal Witness, recycling the same Command until you've assembled enough creatures on the battlefield to make a Craterhoof Behemoth wildly lethal. If doesn't sound fun, then I don't know what is!
The key part of this deck is its redundancy and resiliency to disruption. With the full set of Eternal Witness, it's hard to strip key pieces from a player's hand with Thoughtseize effects. Courser of Kruphix staves off early aggression, prevents flooding, and offers some deck manipulation with fetchlands.
This deck has many angles of attack available to it. It is, however, weak to the linear creature combo decks or just faster combo decks in general such as Storm, Counters Company, or Ad Nauseam because of the deck's lack of interaction on that axis. Overall, it's a deck I'm considering and that I know I'd really enjoy playing regardless of my record.
What would Modern be without experimentation and incorporating some new cards into the format?
I'm not onboard calling this "Esper" just because of Lingering Souls, but that's beside the point.
We've seen the power of this card in Standard as of late with it truly becoming the backbone of almost every control deck. Does that mean it's potentially good enough for Modern? While the land itself is certainly something a control deck is in the market for, with cards like Tectonic Edge, Ghost Quarter, and Spreading Seas at an all time high for the format, it might be a bit too hostile of an environment. So why even try?
Since the printing of Fatal Push, the card Abrupt Decay has seen a huge drop-off in popularity because Fatal Push can kill a Celestial Colonnade and costs one mana versus two. All that means is Search for Azcanta is much more likely to stay on the battlefield once cast, and a two-mana Think Tank isn't all too bad when they're able to kill an Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin on the battlefield with one of the aforementioned answers.
Which one-mana cantrip to play is a hot debate at the moment, and while I'm choosing to use Thought Scour in this version to help fuel Search for Azcanta as well as get additional free value with a card like Lingering Souls, I do believe that Opt should be considered more heavily in decks that have additional one-mana interactive plays such as Spell Snare.
While Serum Visions definitely gets the nod as being the cantrip that sets up your turns the best, Opt gives you more immediate selection when looking for a land on the same turn when keeping a one-land hand featuring, say, only a Celestial Colonnade. The situations might be narrow, but there is merit to all the different options we have available right now.
As you can see, there's a lot to consider in Modern, and even now, just a day before the event I'm at a loss as to what I should be playing. My analysis is that, with more of the SCG Opens being Modern, I need to get aboard this train and figure out which deck suits my play style best and roll with it.
In addition to the SCG Charlotte, US Nationals is this weekend, and who would I be if I didn't bring you a deck I'd play if I were attending for Standard! Here's my updated Esper Gift list that I've been working on that I went 5-0 in a League with.
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Angel of Invention
- 4 Champion of Wits
- 3 Hostage Taker
- 3 Kitesail Freebooter
- 4 Minister of Inquiries
- 4 Seekers' Squire
- 2 The Scarab God
Good luck, everyone! See you in Charlotte!