I finally did it!
It took quite a few tries, but at SCG Dallas last weekend, I was fortunate enough to finally hoist a trophy alongside the sickest teammates, Kevin King and Julian John. There were a lot of highs and lows during the tournament, as we quickly started 5-0 and but then found ourselves with our backs against the wall at 6-3 and barely squeezing into Day Two. Day Two, however, was infinitely smoother than Day One, and we were incredibly fortunate to not only Top 8 but also eventually become the champions.
I'm very happy to have won SCG Dallas, and I'm already looking forward to SCG Philadelphia this weekend with my squad: Ralph Betesh and Korey McDuffie. But before play begins in Philly, let's get in to what you're all here to read about:
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 1 Kessig Malcontents
- 4 Kitesail Freebooter
- 4 Mantis Rider
- 4 Meddling Mage
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Humans is technically a "newer" deck to the current iteration of the Modern metagame. The deck was popularized by my friend and Lotus Box teammate, Collins Mullen, back with his win at SCG Cincinnati in 2017. Humans is a deck looking to both provide an aggressive clock while also disrupting the opponent to make sure that they can't kill your creatures or you.
Humans is a very interesting deck from a gameplay perspective as you do a lot of interacting with your opponent for a deck that has 37 creatures. The reason why I started playing the deck before SCG Columbus was that I found it absurdly consistent at executing its game plan of aggression and disruption as well as rewarding individuals that have vast knowledge of the Modern format.
First things first: Let's talk about a few key cards that make Humans special.
The marque Human from Innistrad pulls a lot of weight in this deck. Champion of the Parish gets out of hand quickly and puts a lot of pressure on your opponent if left unanswered. It's the ideal one-drop in most matchups and allows Humans to kill their opponent quickly.
Phantasmal Image has secretly been the best card in Humans for quite a while. This idea originated from Sam Pardee after he 5-0'd with an earlier variant of Humans on MTGO and he had a single copy in his main deck. My teammates and I quickly discovered that it was completely broken and it makes the Humans nut draw a lot more consistent. Phantasmal Image allows you to play both the aggressive and disruptive role in any matchup and is quite honestly the most flexible card in Humans.
Meddling Mage has been the norm ever since Humans became a popular deck in Modern and is probably one of the hardest cards to use correctly in the deck. Blind Meddling Mages require a vast knowledge of the Modern format while also knowing what the "worst" possible card for you is at any given moment.
If I had to give an MVP award to the card that carried me the most at SCG Dallas, it would absolutely go to Kessig Malcontents. Initially, I felt that the card was bad against removal heavy decks like Jund and Jeskai Control, but after thinking about it more it's just the reach that you're looking for to close out the games. I can attest that the only reason I was able to beat Jeskai Control as much as I did in Dallas was because my Kessig Malcontents would deal between 2-4 damage; just enough reach to end the game. The matchups where Kessig Malcontents are great, it outright kills your opponent and completely shaves off a turn against decks like Tron, Counters Company, and Scapeshift that can be the difference between a win and a loss.
Sin Collector is a card that's very good in a format that has as many spell-heavy decks as Modern does. It's an all-star against Burn and Jeskai Control, and generating a two-for-one in these grindy matchups is important in being able to untap with a creature on the battlefield.
The biggest flaw about Humans is that you must be very picky about what non-creature spells you play because you must remember that you are a ninteen-land deck with four copies of Ancient Ziggurat. Therefore, you can't play many spells and certainly can't play spells that have strict mana requirements. Dismember might not always be perfect, but I would rather have a card like Dismember rather than a card like Stony Silence and Rest in Peace that will often sit in my hand and never be cast.
Now let's get to how to sideboard against the most popular Modern decks
VS Grixis Death's Shadow
I believe the Grixis Death's Shadow matchup is good for Humans, as you have a lot of threats that are difficult for them to deal with in Mantis Rider, Reflector Mage, Kessig Malcontents, and Meddling Mage. The card that bails Death's Shadow out of tough spots is Temur Battle Rage, so I often try to set up situations that allow me to beat it even if they have it, and I recommend playing around it if possible. I side out both Aether Vial and Thalia's Lieutenant because they are both fundamentally weak cards on their own, and I want to be as threat dense as Humanly possible.
VS U/R Gifts Storm
This is the matchup that Humans actively preys on. The two mana spells in Humans are all extremely hard for Storm to beat - Kitesail Freebooter, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and Meddling Mage - with Meddling Mage being the best of the bunch as most Storm decks can't beat Meddling Mage naming Grapeshot in game 1. This is a matchup where I value disruption over aggression as it's hard to just beat them with a fast clock. I recommend mulliganing aggressively for a disruptive piece. It's worth noting that game 2 is basically the same as game 1, but Storm players often increase the number of Lightning Bolts in their deck, so if my hand can afford to have Meddling Mage name Lightning Bolt, I will often opt to do so.
This matchup isn't great for Humans, but I don't feel like it is as bad as people make it out to be. There are obviously some problematic cards in the matchup, like Steel Overseer and Vault Skirge, but Humans is very good at racing, and a timely Reflector Mage can make all the difference. The reason why I don't think this matchup is as bad as people think is because of the inclusion of Phantasmal Image and its ability to make any sideboard hate card like Izzet Staticaster and Vithian Renegades. Multiple Izzet Staticasters and/or Vithian Renegades is very hard for Affinity to beat.
This matchup game 1 is obviously a coin flip because whoever draws the most copies of Kitesail Freebooters and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is often times the player who loses. The key to winning the mirror on the draw is by capitalizing on any stumble and drawing exactly one Aether Vial. The post sideboard games of the mirror are effectively the same as game 1; however you just need to find spots to get in chip shots and eventually break through with either a timely Mantis Rider or Reflector Mage. Kessig Malcontents is an absolute all-star in the mirror but should only be used if it's going to kill your opponent so that they can't Phantasmal Image it and gain the advantage.
VS Jeskai Control
This matchup is one where you must slog through a bunch of removal spells and try to catch your opponents off-guard. Overextending into a Supreme Verdict is often fatal, and you should try to diversify your threats as much as possible to keep the opponent off balance. Kessig Malcontents might not seem great in this matchup, but a Lightning Bolt is often the difference from your opponent stabilizing and them losing. Sin Collector is a complete house in this matchup post sideboard, as it allows you to both stick a threat and start clocking your opponent. Lastly, Aether Vial is extremely important as it allows you to get ahead and can lead to intricate scenarios in combat.
This matchup is actually close to even and is completely reliant on whether your opponent has Grim Lavamancer or not. Grim Lavamancer is an absurdly hard card for Humans to beat and will often singlehandedly beat you. The flipside of that is that if your opponent doesn't have Grim Lavamancer, it's very easy to go over the top of Burn and force them to use their burn on your creatures until you eventually push through the final points of damage.
Know when to be disruptive and know when to be aggressive: The learning curve in Humans is all about knowing what game plan you're supposed to enact and when you're supposed to switch gears. The perfect hand has a mix of these spells, but you can usually understand your role from whatever the first land your opponent plays on turn 1.
Aether Vial is your best friend: Aether Vial is both the best and worst card in the deck. The strength of Aether Vial often comes from the lack of information your opponent has and can lead to scenarios in which your opponent can easily misidentify what you have and get absolutely blown out. The interesting interactions with Aether Vial include draw-step Kitesail Freebooter as well as the Thalia's Lieutenant trick: Casting Thalia's Lieutenant and Vialing in a creature with the Thalia's Lieutenant trigger on the stack will give the Lieutenant a counter while also putting a counter on the Vialed in creature.
Phantasmal Image against Jund/Jeskai/Grixis Death's Shadow: Phantasmal Image plays a very different role against the grindy decks than it does versus the combo decks. Phantasmal Image needs to generate some form of effect when you cast it in these matchups, and I will often hold it until I can set up a double Thalia's Lieutenant/Mantis Rider turn to push through a ton of damage.
The best part about Humans being a new deck in Modern is that there are still many different avenues that you can take the deck. I would be shocked if this was the best Kessig Malcontents build, and I do feel as though a more focused build on the deck is entirely possible. I will be working very hard to figure out what I'm doing for SCG Philadelphia this weekend. I hope this article was helpful to you in some way, and I would recommend picking up this deck and trying it out for yourself.