Dammit, why won't the Modern metagame stay still?
Last week , I wrote about the decks I would consider playing. The winner's metagame at #SCGDFW ended up being incredibly hostile toward Tron. As is turns out, the metagame was also hostile to the decks I was considering playing, even though a copy of U/W Control ended up in Top 8.
The Storms, Infect, and G/R Land Destructions rose to defeat Tron and either dodged Jund or beat them anyway. Four mana cards aren't great against Storm and Infect, after all. It's possible that while Bloodbraid Elf made Jund a monster, it also weakened some of Jund's better matchups. Perhaps I was off-base, or at least narrow in scope, of the decks I thought would be well-positioned for last weekend.
Either way, the results from last weekend put me in a precarious position. I'm playing #GPPHX this weekend, but what the hell do I play? I'm still scared of Jund and Tron, but the new winner's metagame introduces a few wrinkles.
First of all, there is nearly a complete absence of aggressive decks. There's the occasional Zoo, Burn, Affinity, Infect, and Humans, but its portion of the metagame share is perhaps the lowest it's ever been. There has to be a way to capitalize on that.
Oddly enough, cards like Fatal Push and Collective Brutality are still powerhouses in the format. Storm and many of the other decks in the format feature cards like Goblin Electromancer and Noble Hierarch, plus reasons to escalate Collective Brutality.
There isn't a total absence of creatures necessarily, but it's worth noting that your life total won't be under much pressure.
Despite not taking advantage of that revelation, I started here:
- 4 Blade Splicer
- 3 Dire Fleet Daredevil
- 3 Flickerwisp
- 4 Leonin Arbiter
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 1 Pia and Kiran Nalaar
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- 1 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
When testing for Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, I determined that not only was Death and Taxes terrible against Humans, it was likely a worse version of Humans against the field as a whole. Death and Taxes is slightly better against big mana decks like Tron, but even that's debatable. Ghost Quarter and Leonin Arbiter are nice, but sometimes Meddling Mage, Thalia, and Kitesail Freebooter do more work. The clock out of Aether Vial Humans is also blisteringly quick, whereas Death and Taxes is more in the "slow and steady" camp.
Death and Taxes doesn't necessarily have a bad matchup against other creature decks, but it's definitely bad against Humans and their hoard of giant creatures. If that matchup is rarely going to be an issue, I thought a disruptive creature deck could be great.
Having things like Blade Splicer and Restoration Angel are nice, but overall, I didn't like the Jund matchup. Dire Fleet Daredevil was mostly incredible, not just against Jund, but against basically everyone. Maybe I just need a better sideboard plan, but with only certain cards mattering against Tron and Storm, the bad Humans matchup that's looming, and general inconsistency issues, I moved off of Death and Taxes.
Maybe I'm supposed to try Humans as my disruptive aggro deck of choice? You can probably fight the Jund matchup by sheer virtue of having access to card advantage elements that Death and Taxes doesn't.
Humans with Collected Company might be great.
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 3 Bloodbraid Elf
- 3 Champion of the Parish
- 1 Kessig Malcontents
- 2 Kitesail Freebooter
- 4 Mantis Rider
- 3 Meddling Mage
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
The conventional wisdom is that Aether Vial isn't very good against Jund because of how grindy the games get, so you typically don't do a great job of capitalizing off any tempo boost you get in the mid-game. Playing Humans without Aether Vial will likely give you a leg up against all those Bloodbraid Elves. Additionally, you can play Bloodbraid Elf yourself! Bloodbraid Elf into Reflector Mage seems particularly dirty, although I imagine many of the Bloodbraid hits probably are.
Obviously there is some anti-synergy with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Collected Company, but it's one of those things where you don't really care because that means you have both. Obviously there could be scenarios where Liliana of the Veil or Thoughtseize gets to tag your Collected Company, but I would expect that to be rare.
I will note that playing Collected Company makes you worse against Collective Brutality, which is an incredibly popular card. That said, there will be several times where they escalate out of fear and whiff, so it won't all be bad.
Sai's list is a great place to start, but other sideboard cards I would consider include Shapers' Sanctuary, Unified Will, Dismember, Kambal, and Tireless Tracker. Playing some amount of fetchlands in the manabase could also be reasonable, especially if you limit the black aspect of the deck. I'd also be tempted to try a version that plays many copies of Kessig Malcontents and Phantasmal Images, but that's likely unnecessary.
Humans soundly defeated Grixis Death's Shadow at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. It's quite good against the non-Jund portion of the metagame, but then again, so is Grixis Death's Shadow. With Humans out of the way, what about dusting off the old favorite? Is it time?
Ya know, if Humans isn't very popular, Stubborn Denial is great again. Also, there aren't many decks that clog up the ground, so do you need Temur Battle Rage anymore? At that point, what's the point of playing red at all?
You might argue that splashing a color into a U/B Death's Shadow is relatively free, and I mostly agree with that. However, it's not entirely necessary, and assuming the metagame at #GPPHX looks similar to the winner's metagame of #SCGDFW , then neither red, white, or green give you anything necessary.
There are games where you need to fetch a Blood Crypt or Steam Vents and that makes casting multiple blue or black spells in a single turn difficult. It's akin to naturally one of your basics. So instead, you can play four Watery Graves.
The oddball card I currently have is Cryptic Command, but it serves multiple roles. For starters, it can function as a pseudo-Temur Battle Rage against Dredge and Humans. Against control and combo, it can give you a fighting chance by having an additional counterspell.
With only eighteen land, you might be skeptical of four mana cards, but the original Grixis Death's Shadow lists were built with the idea of using Snapcaster Mage to flashback Kolaghan's Command. While that plan has mostly been abandoned and their curves and land counts have been lowered, the point remains. Playing a small amount of big cards in your eighteen-land deck is completely feasible, assuming the games will go relatively long.
The sideboard is also kind of wonky, with two copies of Field of Ruin to go with some Jace, the Mind Sculptors. Field of Ruin is effectively a Fulminator Mage (although obviously a less good one) that also helps you cast your four mana cards against U/W Control and the like. Having it be Field of Ruin is nice since you won't want to keep in removal just to fight Celestial Colonnade. If they have Dragonlord Ojutai, you will want to keep the Dismembers though.
You might wonder why I haven't considered playing Jund, and that's a reasonable question. I certainly have, especially in the wake of the recent metagame. Obviously Bloodbraid Elf changes things quite a bit, but as I mentioned, I didn't necessarily think it was for the better, at least for this weekend. I built B/G Midrange and tried that for a league, but mostly got clowned.
It seemed like it would have a better G/R Land Destruction matchup, which is probably true, but the Bloodbraid Elf matchup is not great, especially if they are packing a basic Mountain. Tireless Tracker is supposed to be your trump, so you'll probably win games that go longer, but it's very unlikely that you get into that spot without any other card advantage.
I will note that the metagame did seem relatively soft to Dark Confidant, which is a card I don't typically like in B/G Midrange. Jund is a different animal and I like it quite a bit there, but it doesn't fit the more reactive nature of B/G. Anyway, I tried playing Dark Confidant in B/G, and as expected, it didn't go well. Maybe my results would have been better had I not been playing them.
Honestly, Jund is a viable option as long as you have sideboard plans that involve taking out Bloodbraid Elf against decks where they are too slow. G/R Land Destruction is also a good deck now and is worthy of consideration. I'd like it more in a field of Tron, Jund, and blue decks, but what can you do.
So why did I end up potentially back on Mardu Pyromancer, a deck that's historically great against creature decks, in a field with very few creature decks?
Despite there being very few tribal decks to beat up on, Fatal Push and Lightning Bolt are still great against the field. You have Bedlam Reveler and tokens to help you grind against Jund and a plethora of effective sideboard options for the field.
The bad Tron matchup is looming, but so far I'm 2-0 lifetime against it. For comparison, I'm something like 0-10 against it with Jund. The ten losses might a gross under-exaggeration, but I assure you the zero wins is accurate. With Mardu Pyromancer, I at least feel like I have a shot. That's even involved winning games where I don't draw anyway to disrupt their manabase.
Given all that (and how poor Tron seems at the moment), I'm currently considering not playing any hate for Tron. Cards like Blood Moon and Molten Rain have very little overlap across Modern. While those cards did help me against Eldrazi Tron at the Pro Tour, having access to Hazoret the Fervent might have been just as good. I've considered playing three copies of Blood Moon in my 75, mostly for Tron, but I don't think it's worth it at this point. Perhaps that will be my death knell.
I could see a world with Terminate instead of Dreadbore. However, Liliana of the Veil is potentially an issue, despite the various tokens providing natural insulation against her. The real reason is because of Karn Liberated and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, but considering I'm kind of scooping the Tron matchup, maybe it's irrelevant. I've beaten Tron before by removing their threats and clocking them though, so at least Dreadbore gives me an out.
Since I had four sideboard slots left for potential graveyard hate and there's no longer any Molten Rains to combo my Surgical Extractions with, I went Leyline of the Void. Now, I think Leyline of the Void is a poor choice in a deck that has a bunch of card filtering, but I wanted to hammer Storm. Generally you'll see a lot of cards per game, which makes having something like Surgical Extraction or Nihil Spellbomb better since you can find them in time. With Leyline of the Void, it's opening hand or bust, plus it's extra bad because you'll end up drawing into them later. It's probably wrong.
Other than that stuff, not much has changed outside of me adding more copies of Manamorphose and the sideboard cards I wanted.
The Traverse the Ulvenwald version of Mardu Pyromancer is cool, and in certain metagames, I even prefer that version. However, the versions with Traverse the Ulvenwald and Death's Shadow are doing too much. Including Bloodbraid Elf into the mix also strikes me as nonsense.
Traverse the Ulvenwald is certainly great with Bedlam Reveler, but the deck is mostly consistent enough. I side out copies of Manamorphose against Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and Traverse the Ulvenwald has the same issue. It's also just as bad against graveyard hate as all the other cards in the deck, so making you more reliant on your graveyard isn't exactly where I want to be. Death's Shadow helps with that to some degree, but it doesn't solve the other problems.
Some sort of U/B tapout control deck could be potentially great. Disruption, planeswalkers, and a light land destruction element sounds like a winning package. The only thing missing is a quick clock, which is where I think the deck fails in comparison to Mardu Pyromancer.
I'm getting on a plane to Phoenix today, and I'm pretty sure the only decks I'm bringing with me are Humans and Mardu Pyromancer. Which deck I play might involve flipping a coin, but it also might depend on how easy it is to acquire the Human cards I'm missing.