According to recent event results, the top six decks in Modern are:
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 1 Dark Confidant
- 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
- 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- 4 Hollow One
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Flameblade Adept
- 4 Flamewake Phoenix
- 3 Gurmag Angler
- 4 Street Wraith
- 1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
This makes sense. Going back a few months, these are the decks that have consistently performed across format evolutions, with a bit of recent favorable winds pushing Tron up towards the top. Burn was a close seventh, but its results are very recent and I have seen enough horrible outcomes with it that I'm skeptical of its staying power.
What does this top of the metagame look like when they go head to head with each other?
Humans versus Tron
- On the play most Tron nut draws are good enough, and on the draw Tron probably needs a turn four sweeper.
- Humans' disruption is best if it can stop the assembly of Tron as there are so many threats that do something.
- Humans functions best here when it has a strong clock with enough disruption, not a bunch of slow lock pieces.
Mid to Late:
- If Humans is going after Tron's threats with disruption it should do some clock math. If it costs more than a turn of Humans' clock to disrupt them, going for the fast kill is likely better. If it costs exactly a turn, have fun with that judgment call.
- If Tron is on the draw with an Urza land and a Chromatic Star effect, Humans might just want to Meddling Mage Sylvan Scrying.
- Tron must worry about Damping Sphere. Hedging with some Nature's Claims is low cost as it still hits Aether Vial, and killing a Chromatic Star to gain four life can save it from a turn four death in spots.
- If Tron runs out Oblivion Stone without activation mana it can get Reclamation Sage'd, but that is a narrow concern.
- Thragtusk is fine but unexciting for Tron. The Beast doesn't win the runaway games Tron loses.
Tron was solidly ahead before Dominaria. It is still ahead but lost enough percentage points in sideboarded games to make me worry that Humans is no longer a reason to play the deck.
Humans versus Blue Control
- Humans is trying to clock Blue Control under a sweeper. Blue Control has enough other answers to make the usual disruption merely temporary. Humans wants to present a clock and pepper in disruption at the most inopportune times, but often it must hope to fade a sweeper.
Mid to Late:
- If given any window, the Blue Control deck is going to stick a planeswalker and win the game. Slow threat deployment from Humans doesn't work against Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
- Early Meddling Mages are often better off trying to hit Snapcaster Mage or cheap removal as the sweepers have too many names these days.
- Draw step Aether Vial activations lets Kitesail Freebooter and Meddling Mage cover Terminus in response to the Miracle trigger.
- The big swing here is Humans gaining Sin Collector. I suggest you watch Game 3 of the SCG Tour® Minneapolis Finals from May here . If Sin Collector dies, the Control player is still down a card which means their sweeper doesn't also open up multiple other cards.
- Blue Control wants to cut all the counter magic. One of the little "gotchas" is that Celestial Purge is good as it covers all the discard creatures to prevent Phantasmal Image-ry and Mantis Rider.
Things are even worse than they were in the Tron matchup. Blue Control is a heavy favorite here.
Humans versus Mardu Pyromancer
- Mardu can lose games early if it doesn't do enough things for one mana. It doesn't have reset buttons, so hands of Lingering Souls will be chump blocking giant Humans and dying.
- Conversely, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is Humans' best hope of running away with a game. Making their one mana stuff cost two then overrunning them is good stuff.
- Champion of the Parish isn't the best one-drop. Making multiple plays a turn via Noble Hierarch is how you get ahead of the cheap removal, and Champion not dying early is often a sign anything would have killed them.
- Young Pyromancer can run away with a game if Mardu gets to establish it early. Humans has Reflector Mage to briefly stall it, which makes multiple Pyromancers a liability.
Mid to Late:
- At the start of the mid-game, if Humans is ahead it can stay ahead and can close, if it is behind Mardu can just keep pace turn for turn and win.
- Mardu has an easy win button of keeping the battlefield clear and slamming a Blood Moon at the start of the mid-game. This turns Humans being behind into a clean-cut win.
- Given parity, mana flood often decides the game. That means Mardu needs to maximize Faithless Lootings, holding extra lands and only filtering less than two dead cards if really needed.
- One way Humans has to get back into a losing game is Phantasmal Image on Bedlam Reveler. Phantasmal Images should be saved for worthy targets, and Mardu casting Bedlam Reveler without a discard-cleared path is a definite risk.
- Just watch the Gerry Thompson versus Javier Dominguez match from Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, there two master class players battling this out.
- Humans wants to hold extra lands and Aether Vials in hand to protect topdecks from Kolaghan's Command discard.
- Meddling Mage should choke Mardu's assumed next on-curve play or just aim for their best answer of Lightning Bolt.
- Humans wants to bring in too many three-drops. Izzet Staticaster is key to managing tokens, and I think Humans must hedge for Ensnaring Bridge with Reclamation Sage, and Sin Collector is a must-have. I think this means they shave on Reflector Mage and weak two-drops like Meddling Mage.
- Auriok Champion is nice for Humans to have and gives it a long-term advantage. Mardu really needs Engineered Explosives or a similar out to the card these days.
- Mardu wants to trim cards that get punished by Thalia, like Manamorphose, or discard that is bad to topdeck.
Mardu is ahead by default, but Humans has a clear route to wins. Get ahead on tempo, pressure hard, and don't flood.
Humans versus Ironworks
- Anything short of the Humans' disruption hardlock is fragile, with the hardlocks being three Meddling Mages set to Krark-Clan Ironworks, Engineered Explosives, and Pyrite Spellbomb or two non-Image Mages that you then boost to 3/3s to dodge a Pyrite Spellbomb.
- Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is a bit of a bust against Ironworks fast mana and the fact Engineered Explosives counts the extra payment for sunburst, making Explosives for two counters still cost two mana.
- As with Tron, Humans wants a good clock with some disruption.
Mid to Late:
- Ironworks needs to be careful about deploying Scrap Trawler as a chump blocker as getting it Reflector Mage'd is a Time Walk problem. Myr Retriever infinite loops are easier to live without as a couple Engineered Explosives activations is enough to safely pass turns and kill later.
- Humans curves that produce lethal threats that cost one or three alongside hate are slightly better as those don't die to Engineered Explosives.
- Humans has no hope of a hardlock against Ironworks' sideboarded red removal. Even Kambal, Consul of Allocation or Kataki, War's Wage just dies. Keep hands that are clocks with some disruption, not slower ones.
- Damping Sphere exists but dies to Engineered Explosives. From the Ironworks side I wouldn't worry too much about having Nature's Claim.
I would rather be on the Ironworks side of this, which explains the recent success of that deck.
Humans versus Hollow One
- Hollow One's best draws produce multiple very early 4/4s or 5/5s. The goal is to clock Humans as fast as possible with multiple things they have to chump block. Multiple forced chump blocks eventually break parity and it's Reflector Mage proof.
- Humans wants to rapidly grow a creature to 6/6 so it can block anything. If the game goes longer, Humans overwhelms Hollow One. If Hollow One has removal, it should aim it at things that can grow.
- Phantasmal Image copying a big Hollow One creature forces a removal spell and is big a problem.
Mid to Late:
- A turning point against slower Hollow One hands is if Humans gets to double block something profitably. This often is the result of Reflector Mage's 2/3 body after an attack slow down.
- Hollow One's plan in longer games is to close with Flamewake Phoenixes and burn. This makes Mantis Rider important for Humans, allowing them to stymie these chip shot attacks.
- Adding a +1/+1 counter to Kitesail Freebooter also makes it an effective blocker for a 2/2 flier.
- Fatal Push can target a Phantasmal Image acting as one of Hollow One's high drops.
- Humans gains Reclamation Sage to stop Hollow One's fast draws. Multiple delve creatures still get bricked by Reflector Mage, and now Hollow Ones permanently disappear.
- Hollow One gets Grim Lavamancer and Engineered Explosives. Simple recursive threats with this great interaction can take games that would be unwinnable for the base Hollow One configuration.
Humans has too many tools that mess up Hollow One's progression. Their best draws are good enough, but sometimes just barely.
Tron versus Blue Control
- Jeskai Control is just going to die. Let's talk about U/W.
- Phase one for U/W is keeping Tron off Tron. There might be a turn where Tron gets to run a threat into a counter before U/W destroys a land, but multiple turns almost assures Tron wins.
- If Tron stumbles in reassembling, a planeswalker can quickly run away with the game. Jace is optimal, Teferi can do it but isn't also disruption.
Mid to Late:
- Tron hits seven mana after U/W has spent some time stopping that, often by finding a Forest on every Field of Ruin.
- The mid-game is about U/W answering every threat Tron deploys appropriately. It needs to Path to Exile creatures and counter planeswalkers.
- The late game starts when U/W has run the Tron player's hand out of threats. The goal then becomes starting to kill the Tron player without exposing itself to a blowout.
- One blowout is U/W letting two threats get exiled by the same Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger or die to the same Oblivion Stone. Threat pacing is key.
- In early games, if U/W can keep Field of Ruining the same land it is better as there are just less copies left to find with Ancient Stirrings.
- With Spreading Seas, U/W doesn't want to start by targeting the same land it Field of Ruin'ed if possible. This is because Oblivion Stone eventually unlocks those lands making it harder to re-lock Tron.
- U/W does not want to Detention Sphere a planeswalker if possible, as it is easy for Tron to break the enchantment with a threat and suddenly have multiple issues at once.
- If Tron draws a Sanctum of Ugin later on, it is usually better to save it in hand until it can be immediately triggered to minimize the Field of Ruin window.
- Celestial Colonnade is often the best U/W win condition as it doesn't die to Oblivion Stone, allowing U/W to disregard those.
- U/W can Cryptic Command to counter Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and bounce one of the targets. This doesn't work so well versus World Breaker.
- U/W gains a lot of ways to hold Tron in the early game here. Things get real rough then and often stop at the planeswalker taking over the game phase.
U/W doesn't want to play Tron, but it has a plan. Jeskai is still dead.
Tron versus Mardu Pyromancer
- Mardu needs to assemble a clock and use discard to stop Tron's assembly process. Young Pyromancer is key.
- Walking Ballista from Tron stops Mardu's fast clocks without full Tron, making it one of Tron's best threats.
Mid to Late:
- If Mardu lands a Blood Moon, it is still under a clock where Tron can hit seven mana the normal way or just activate an Oblivion Stone. Blood Moon with no action is an easy way to lose.
- Tron wins eventually. Big spells are too strong.
- Tron wants to avoid running into Kolaghan's Command on all fronts. Don't cast Walking Ballista into nothing if you might need it, don't play an extra land for no reason and run out of discard fodder.
- Tron gets Thragtusk, but it does not want Thought-Knot Seer as it is uncastable under Blood Moon.
- Spatial Contortion for Kambal, Consul of Allocation and Young Pyromancer might be better than Nature's Claim to hedge for Blood Moon.
- Mardu has obvious land destruction and a lot of finger crossing.
Tron is a massive favorite here, as Gerry often runs into on The GAM Podcast.
Tron versus Ironworks
- Tron's big issue here is that none of its threats do quite enough. Ironworks can out mana a Karn Liberated via Mind Stone or Mox Opal and Oblivion Stone can be run right through with an untapped Buried Ruin. Tron needs multiple things to bury the Ironworks player.
- Relic of Progenitus is fairly easy to leave up and can represent a big problem for Ironworks given the other angles of pressure.
Mid to Late:
- Colorless combo mirrors end early.
- Ironworks should consider Dismember mid-combo as a thing that can happen to them.
- Ironworks should consider slow rolling value lands like Inventors' Fair so Karn or a Ghost Quarter doesn't eat them.
- Tron gets Nature's Claim as another combo breaker and more graveyard hate, but also Thought-Knot Seer as a way to force Ironworks to jump through big hoops. The other ways to stop Ironworks' main engine let them recur it with Buried Ruin or make one shot big mana, Seer just doesn't.
- Ironworks gets Nature's Claim, which is a key part of managing Relic of Progenitus and randomly stopping Tron by getting Expedition Map.
Ironworks is a favorite. Even if it wasn't a bit faster it has ways to steal games from Tron nut draws in ways few other decks do.
Tron versus Hollow One
- This is an uninteractive race between the two decks to start.
Mid to Late:
- Tron needs to stick a specific threat once it hits Tron. Oblivion Stone and Karn Liberated don't cut it, and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon misses Hollow One and must sacrifice to clear Gurmag Angler.
- Relic of Progenitus in this phase can team up with Oblivion Stone to buy Tron a lot of time.
- Not much changes on either side. Thragtusk is a minor bonus, but not a fundamental shift.
Hollow One is ahead on average, but either deck's best hands beat the average.
Blue Control versus Mardu Pyromancer
- Blue Control can quickly die if it can't kill a Young Pyromancer, giving Mardu an early discard exploit to focus on.
- Blood Moon can be a huge issue for Blue Control, especially since Cryptic Command is a key component for the long game.
Mid to Late:
- Blue Control wins if a planeswalker gets running, otherwise Mardu has less lands and more card draw.
- Bedlam Reveler is the only sure must-counter, and Kolaghan's Command recurring it usually is.
- This is another Faithless Looting maximum value matchup.
- Blue Control needs to be careful with its life total. Six or eight life can be scary burn ranges.
- Blue Control should try to keep the Spirit token count from Lingering Souls low if it plans on landing a fast planeswalker. Path to Exile on one sucks, but sometimes it maths out to Teferi not dying to Lightning Bolt.
- Jace, the Mind Sculptor is not safe at three loyalty. Scry or fateseal with it as soon as it resolves.
- If Blue Control has Rest in Peace, it's game-breaking. All of Mardu's best grindy action is graveyard-based.
- Mardu's Molten Rains are fairly annoying for Blue Control and can trap their average draws in some bad spots.
Mardu is ahead due to a higher density of card filtering and advantage, as well as a better plan to steal games.
Blue Control versus Ironworks
- Blue Control sticking a turn two Search for Azcanta is good, but otherwise the goal is to just not die and hit every land possible.
- Ironworks just does normal stuff and shrugs off counters. Buried Ruin means nothing is really wasted if it gets countered.
Mid to Late:
- Blue Control only starts casting planeswalkers when it can also leave up counter magic.
- If Blue Control can't stick a card advantage engine, it eventual gets overrun by Ironworks cantrips and value lands.
- Blue Control needs to fill its graveyard for Logic Knot, so firing off an early Lightning Bolt does things.
- Ironworks should be a bit careful with its value lands against Field of Ruin, and it should be careful to not expose Scrap Trawler prior to a sacrifice outlet to protect it from Path to Exile.
- Blue Control gets the obvious hate permanents and the game focuses on protecting them.
- Vendilion Clique is quietly insane as a threat-disruption combo.
- Ironworks also gets good value out of Ghirapur Aether Grid as another hard to handle threat that stops all of Blue Control's win conditions through Stony Silence.
Despite the powerful hate, Ironworks has a lot maneuverability to fight through it. I think a well-practiced Ironworks player is the favorite against Blue Control.
Blue Control versus Hollow One
- Hollow One just makes creatures, and it is on Blue Control to blunt the fast Hollow One action before taking too much damage.
Mid to Late:
- Blue Control's priority here is just exile all the Bloodghasts and Flamewake Phoenixes. You may notice both this and the early goal take Path to Exiles, making it a strained resource. Until this happens, planeswalkers aren't that safe.
- Hollow One can be a bit looser with late card draw as its best hits are graveyard active threats. You just need some random value, not tons of it. Even lands are good to draw to recur Bloodghast.
- Blue Control should try to stay above ten life to avoid hasted Bloodghasts. Games where they stabilize lower are dicey.
- Hollow One should watch their Bloodghast timing later on. Returning them with haste or at the end of Control's turn helps mitigate Detention Sphere and Terminus.
- This all comes down to Blue Control must exile more things. Rest in Peace and Runed Halo are both exceptional as one card covers many threats, and Celestial Purge is just fine. If Control is short on these effects, it won't win.
Hollow One is baseline ahead. Blue Control can submit a list with enough tools to be ahead, but if they skimp on answers they will be extremely behind.
Mardu Pyromancer versus Ironworks
- Ironworks is just doing its thing through discard. It was kinda built to do this.
- Mardu needs to establish a clock. Ironworks will win if given time to activate its lands and filter through Chromatic Stars.
Mid to Late:
- Blood Moon can shut down Ironworks' resilience to discard but isn't a permanent or standalone answer.
- Kolaghan's Command on Krark-Clan Ironworks is a lot of mana to leave up. Depending on the game state, Mardu might be better off going after mana sources and life totals after the first time their opponent doesn't start going off.
- Ironworks should pay close attention to its hand size and available cantrips. Drawing a card off Chromatic Star it won't be immediately casting just lets it get discarded, and floating a cantrip or card in hand to protect draws from Kolaghan's Command also helps.
- Mardu has an assortment of random hate it can show up with. The only things that really change Ironworks' plans are the Surgical Extractions, which basically mean it wants a Buried Ruin to protect combo loops, and Kambal, Consul of Allocation which makes it want some extra removal.
- Ironworks gains few cards but a lot of value. Ghirapur Aether Grid is a very strong backup win condition that stonewalls token win conditions and clears Kambal, and the tutor target Wurmcoil Engine just wins a lot of games.
Ironworks has the advantage. The Brazillian Grand Prix Mardu list is approaching the amount of hate it needs to catch up, but it takes a lot of pieces.
Mardu Pyromancer versus Hollow One
- Hollow One must win the game in this phase. Raw threat density matters.
- Mardu's biggest tool to flipping the early game around is Terminate or Dreadbore to clear a Gurmag Angler.
Mid to Late:
- The turning point is often a Kolghan's Command. Because the Shatter mode kills Hollow One, Mardu gets to regain a lot of advantage with whatever the best second mode is.
- The other turning point is once Mardu just has chump blocks forever locked up. Lingering Souls can effectively do this if Bedlam Reveler is clocking in, and Young Pyromancer almost always does this.
- Thanks to Bedlam Reveler and Young Pyromancer, Mardu often has a surplus of resources to quickly win with once it turns the corner. Unless the Hollow One player got real close before getting stopped Mardu is usually safe from top decked burn.
- If Mardu has established a tokens wall and looks to be churning even more things out, it is often better to chump block a big Hollow One creature than to block it down. The later opens you up to weird things going wrong.
- Burning Inquiry is a liability against Mardu, which is also a graveyard deck.
- Hollow One's best options are graveyard hate and token sweepers. Engineered Explosives reopens a window in the mid-game for Hollow One, and Leyline of the Void shuts off a few of Mardu's more powerful end game tooks.
- The big question out of Mardu is whether it has access to Ensnaring Bridge. Hollow One can't reliably answer that card.
Mardu is ahead, and I'm not sure what Hollow One is supposed to do to change that. All the non-linear stuff just makes them more exposed to the fair game Mardu plays so well.
Ironworks versus Hollow One
- This is just a race. Neither side has interaction that does anything. The closest thing is Ironworks chump blocking with Scrap Trawler or Myr Retriever. Mulligan slow draws.
- What's a late game?
- Ironworks should aim to stick a Buried Ruin early to prevent a lucky Burning Inquiry from hitting Krark-Clan Ironworks and the recursion.
- Hollow One should hold extra lands to increase the odds a late random draw saves Lightning Bolt.
- Hollow One's biggest play is Leyline of the Void which Ironworks needs to kill to win, but Ancient Grudge is a piece of relevant disruption to replace the less relevant removal.
- Ironworks gets Nature's Claim as a way to kill Leyline of the Void that also hits Hollow One and gains life. The tutorable Wurmcoil Engine is also the biggest possible game and one way to win without killing Leyline of the Void.
Ironworks is faster than Hollow One in a pure race, and the sideboard only changes things a bit.
What if I'm Not Playing These Decks?
There are still about a million decks in Modern. Even if these six are the most prevalent, any of those could win an event.
If you're playing a different deck, use this data to think about what directions other people's sideboards are going. Krark-Clan Ironworks is winning, so people will have artifact and graveyard hate. Humans is not in a great spot right now and you can expect a little less Meddling Mage and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.
Even if you aren't playing with or against one of these six decks every round, they impact your tournament indirectly every single game you play.