Modern has changed.
Ever since I started playing the format on the SCG Tour® in late 2015 it has been a format where you could do consistently well with any deck as long as you knew everything about it. If you had a gameplan for each matchup and knew exactly how to sideboard to implement that gameplan, then you had just as good of a chance to win the tournament as anyone else, no matter your deck choice.
I'm not convinced this is the case anymore as the top decks of the format look to be far and away better than the other decks right now. Sure, any deck is capable of winning a tournament because the margin between winning and losing any individual match of Magic is quite slim all things considered, and therefore it's possible for any deck to run hot over a given weekend. For example, Jund won #SCGINDY a couple of weekends ago and then had only one pilot at #PT25A the following weekend. So even though any deck can win any individual tournament still, the diversity among the best decks in the format is at an all-time low.
For more on this topic, go read Ross Merriam's article from earlier this week before we continue on, I'll wait. All caught up? Alright then, let's move on to the tier one decks that are the best choices to be playing in Modern week after week now.
Tier 1 Decks
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Kitesail Freebooter
- 4 Mantis Rider
- 4 Meddling Mage
- 3 Militia Bugler
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 3 Phantasmal Image
- 3 Reflector Mage
- 1 Restoration Angel
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Humans has the best combination of speed, disruption, and consistency in the format which puts it right at the top of the metagame. This has forced every other deck to adapt to be able to compete, and many have been unable to and have been left behind. The other top decks of the format all have a plan to be able to compete with Humans, but the decks that haven't been able to hold their own in the matchup have all but vanished from the metagame. And yet Humans is still the top deck in Modern even with its best matchups disappearing and every remaining deck tuned to try and beat it.
We saw Humans start to take a step back when the metagame was filled with removal-heavy decks such as Jeskai Control and Mardu Pyromancer that were built to beat it, but the printing of Militia Bugler has allowed the deck to gain valuable percentage points against its worst matchups. Even though not everyone is a fan of The Bugler , I believe it's a solid addition to the deck overall for many reasons, as I mentioned last week .
More importantly than the printing of Militia Bugler is the fact that the other tier one decks are currently preying on the creature removal-heavy decks, making those decks a difficult decision to choose to pilot through fifteen rounds. Therefore, it's looking like Humans will continue to be a tier one choice for the foreseeable future, with the ability to adapt to the metagame week after week.
Even though I'm not as high on Ironworks Combo as many others, there's no denying that it deserves a spot in Modern's top tier. The amount of hate cards people are playing these days for Ironworks Combo between artifact removal and graveyard hate is staggering, but deservedly so, as the deck is incredibly resilient and tends to win plenty of game 1s. Ironworks Combo can race with the best of them in Modern while also capitalizing on the amount of creature removal in decks due to the large bullseye Humans has on its head.
The Humans VS Ironworks Combo matchup is quite a tricky one with both players having access to game-changing spells in both the mainboard and sideboard. Sometimes Meddling Mage and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben get the job done on the Humans side, but a timely Engineered Explosives or Pyrite Spellbomb can win the game.
While Ironworks Combo is an incredibly difficult deck for new players to the archetype to pick up, it has been in the spotlight for long enough now that it's starting to have the representation it deserves. Mastery of Ironworks Combo is likely the most rewarding for the pilot out of any other deck in Modern, as I'm still not sure if Matt Nass has ever lost with this deck or not.
- 4 Hollow One
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Flameblade Adept
- 4 Flamewake Phoenix
- 3 Gurmag Angler
- 4 Street Wraith
- 1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 3 Bloodghast
- 4 Endless One
- 4 Goblin Bushwhacker
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 4 Insolent Neonate
- 4 Stitcher's Supplier
- 4 Vengevine
- 4 Viscera Seer
B/R Hollow One and R/B Vengevine are similar graveyard-aggro decks that use under-costed and recursive threats to end games quickly through the combat step. Although I have them both listed here for reference, I believe one of these two decks will push the other out of the top tier in short order, and it's not the deck that won the Pro Tour.
Unlike Humans and B/R Hollow One, which have had time to mature--you mostly see the same decklist used these days--the R/B Vengevine decks were all over the place at #PT25A . It wasn't until just before the event that players started to realize the power behind the deck and therefore, I don't think anyone playing B/R Vengevine had figured out the perfect 75 yet. That will change over time as the player base as a whole will fine tune the deck, and I expect big things from R/B Vengevine in the future.
It's faster on average than B/R Hollow One and also has the ability to go wide around the other creature matchups. While B/R Hollow One matchups up poorly against Humans in many ways, B/R Vengevine can successfully go under the format-defining deck consistently. It's certainly true that B/R Vengevine is much more reliant on the graveyard than B/R Hollow One is, and is therefore more susceptible to graveyard hate, but I believe that weakness is overstated. In my experience the deck can put a lot of power onto the battlefield right away, meaning a turn 2 Rest in Peace can be too slow, especially on the draw. R/B Vengevine is certainly the real deal, and I expect it to not only have a big impact on the Modern metagame moving forward, but also to push B/R Hollow One out of the top tier.
Mono-Green Tron is the most polarizing tier one deck in Modern, and not only due to its popularity or lack thereof among different players. It also has some matchups in the format that are incredibly good and others that are incredibly poor, unlike Humans that has a good shot to defeat any other deck, even its worst matchups. Mono-Green Tron is looking to go way over the top of the other decks which allows it to be able to defeat the creature-removal heavy decks with regularity while struggling with the decks that are trying to go under Humans. These days the most important of those decks trying to go under Humans are B/R Hollow One and B/R Vengevine mentioned before, and therefore having access to plenty of graveyard hate is necessary.
The over-the-top strategy is also successful against Humans a good percentage of the time, as I believe Mono-Green Tron is a slight favorite in the matchup. Having Tron active as early as possible is paramount due to the speed of Humans, but thankfully for Mono-Green Tron, Humans doesn't disrupt the opponent's manabase very well.
Mono-Green Tron, on the other hand, does a great job of disrupting the opponent's manabase with cards like Karn Liberated and World Breaker. Oblivion Stone is also a convenient sweeper for every non-land permanent, including artifacts, and these two factors make the Ironworks Combo matchup a toss-up. The more Modern turns into a battle to go under Humans the worse it will be for Mono-Green Tron, but for now there are still plenty of midrange and control decks for Karn Liberated to prey on while still having a very close matchup with Humans and Ironworks Combo.
The last tier one deck I'll list in Modern is U/W Control, even though I'm very skeptical of its place here. It was the second most played deck at #PT25A and put up some solid results as well, but I'm not thrilled with its matchup amongst the other top decks of the format. I'll concede the deck filled to the brim with sweepers has a good matchup against Humans, but what else is this deck beating out of these tier one decks?
The sideboard does look very good at dealing with everything Ironworks Combo is trying to accomplish, but after being a big underdog in game 1 all Ironworks Combo needs to do is win one of the post-sideboard games. As someone who has played plenty of G/W Company in Modern that has matchups where you're relying on your sideboard to win two games, it isn't the place you want to be.
I've been playing many leagues with R/B Vengevine over the past week in preparation for #SCGDFW , and even though my decklist is quite a bit different from others, I haven't dropped a game against U/W Control in around five matches, even when they have had turn 2 Rest in Peace. This is still a very small sample, but the matchup doesn't feel particularly close so far.
U/W Control is much better against Mono-Green Tron than Jeskai Control or Mardu Pyromancer, but a talented Mono-Green Tron player will still be favored in this matchup. You definitely need to respect it from the Mono-Green Tron side, as I did at #SCGINDY where I had an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn as well as an Urza's Factory to act as an uncounterable threat to search up in my sideboard.
U/W Control has a favorable Humans matchup and, like these other decks, beats up on the other removal-heavy decks that are designed to beat Humans, but I wouldn't want to pilot it against the other three tier one decks, making it a risky choice for me. With that being said, U/W Control is an enjoyable deck to pilot because every game you win you get to be in the driver's seat for a long time as your planeswalkers take over, which makes it feel like it's a better deck than what it is. This is the exact kind of Magic I like to play, and therefore I don't fault anyone for choosing to play U/W Control. There's nothing wrong with playing a deck that can beat the number one deck in the format while having good matchups against a wide variety of tier two decks that you'll play against in any given tournament.
After these five tier one decks I would consider basically everything else in Modern tier two. Like I mentioned at the beginning of the article, almost any deck can win any given tournament, but these five decks will give you the best shot. I do want to talk about three more decks, though, before finishing up.
No Longer Tier One
I know I've been picking on these two decks in the entire article, but unfortunately the fact is they are very poorly positioned right now. Look at the first five decks. You have a disruptive aggro deck, an artifact combo deck, a recursive aggro deck, a big mana deck, and a hard control deck. These decks require vastly different answers, and these two three-color decks don't have the ability to consistently have the right answers at the right time.
These two decks thrived when Humans was the biggest deck by a wide margin and other small creatures decks, such as Affinity, were widely played, but since then the format has not only diversified amongst the top decks, but the top decks have gotten better. Humans is better with Militia Bugler than it was a couple months ago. The same can be said about U/W Control even though their newest addition is Teferi, Hero of Dominaria from Dominaria, but control decks take longer to tune. I expect R/B Vengevine to be better than B/R Hollow One once it is tuned as well, and it's already a poor matchup for Jeskai Control and Mardu Pyromancer.
There almost certainly will be a day where these two decks are back on top of Modern with metagames being cyclical, but today is not that day. Gerry Thompson is right, Jeskai Control is a bad Modern deck .
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Drogskol Captain
- 4 Mausoleum Wanderer
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 2 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Rattlechains
- 3 Selfless Spirit
- 4 Spell Queller
- 4 Supreme Phantom
While not quite in tier one yet, Bant Spirits is very close. It is similar to Humans in that it has plenty of disruption and synergy amongst the creatures while being very aggressive as well. Add this to the ability to play at instant speed and I'm hard pressed to find any matchups that are truly bad from the Bant Spirits side.
The biggest problem with Bant Spirits, in my eyes, is the sideboard still needs a lot of work. When you're playing three colors it can be difficult to optimize a sideboard for all of the matchups you may face any given week in Modern, and I don't think we're there yet with Bant Spirits. Once this problem is solved the potential is there for Bant Spirits to break into Modern's top tier.
Modern has changed quite a bit since the introduction of Dominaria and Core Set 2019 with the format becoming solidified with tier one decks that are better than the rest of the field. At #SCGMIL in early April, the last Modern Open before the release of Dominaria, the Top 8 consisted of:
Quite a different world from what we live in now...