Even though Pro Tour 25th Anniversary was a team event, it taught us a lot about the current state of the Modern metagame. And if you haven't been paying much attention to the format's evolution over the past couple of weeks, you might be in for a big surprise.
Back in April, decks like Affinity, Jund, and Storm were winning Grand Prix and SCG Tour® events with some regularity. These days…well, you'll see. And since the main event at the SCG Open in Baltimore this weekend is Modern, it seemed like a great time to take a look at the financial state of the current Modern metagame.
Which of the format's best decks is the biggest bargain? Which is the safest buy? Which has the most financial upside? Let's find out.
Choosing the Decks to Analyze
Is Modern a wide open brewers' paradise, or is it a format where you have to play one of the best 6-7 decks if you want to compete? That's still kind of an open question. Ross Merriam says that Modern isn't as diverse as we think , Todd Anderson says that it is , and Ari Lax sort of splits the difference . So where do we begin?
After reading up as much as I could on the current state of Modern, I decided to use Todd Stevens' guide to Modern's Definitive New Top Tier as the basis for this article. While I'll be briefly touching on a few other decks toward the end of the article, I tend to agree with Stevens' assessment that the six decks he highlighted in this piece are the six best builds in the format right now.
Of course, the top tier of a metagame can change overnight. Heck, one of these decks didn't even exist a month ago. So don't panic if your favorite deck didn't make the list: here's 44 different Modern decks that 5-0ed a Constructed league this week. While some of these decks had to get a bit lucky to get there, each and every one of them is capable of taking down a tournament or two.
My Grading System
I'll be grading each of Modern's six best decks based on the following four criteria:
Power Level: How powerful is the deck? Spoiler alert: none of these six are getting a bad grade here. If they did, they wouldn't be on Modern's top tier. But I'm including a power grade here regardless because it's important to remember exactly why we're spending so much on these cards. Also, I'm probably going to run back this grading system in future articles!
Price: How expensive is the deck? While you're not buying into any of Modern's best decks for less than $800, the cheapest deck on this list is still just half the price of the most expensive deck. Thus, my price grade is relative. "Too expensive" is going to vary from person to person, so feel free to adjust as your budget requires.
Financial Stability: How likely is it that you'll be able to recover most of the value you put into your deck if you choose to sell later on? This grade considers important factors like the likelihood of suffering a banning, how badly a reprint would hurt the price of a key card, and the fact that a multi-deck control staple like Snapcaster Mage is simply going to be more resilient to the whims of the marketplace than a single-deck combo card like Goblin Lore.
Financial Upside: How many of the cards in this deck have untapped growth potential? While most of Modern's top tier decks are already maxed out, some of them still have some juicy spec targets that are worth taking a look at whether you want to buy into the whole deck or not.
Simple enough, right? Let's dive in!
- 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
Power Level: A
Humans is the closest thing we have to a "tier 0" deck in Modern right now. Bringing a deck with a poor Humans matchup to a Modern event is like bringing a PT Cruiser to a rally race. Even with a massive target on its forehead, Humans seems to place at least a handful of copies at the Top 8 of every relevant event.
Humans is the most expensive deck in Modern. The only other brew I could find that beat it out was a U/R brew with Whir of Invention and Jester's Cap, a card that I had no idea was even legal in Modern. If you want to play the best, you must pay for it.
Financial Stability: A-
I'd give Humans an A+ for stability if I wasn't at least a tiny bit afraid of a banning, but the deck has been dominant for long enough that I must at least pause a bit before telling myself that this is not the sort of deck that WotC likes to ban. After all, Affinity was at the top of the metagame for a very long time and Wizards of the Coast did nothing.
Humans is slightly riskier than Affinity because it seems to get new additions all the time, and something might eventually prove too powerful, but I'd be shocked if one of its key cards is axed in 2018.
Breaking things down a bit more, the expensive cards in Humans are Noble Hierarch, Meddling Mage, Phantasmal Image, Aether Vial, Cavern of Souls, and Horizon Canopy. While these cards would suffer if Humans were banned or tumbled down the metagame, Meddling Mage is the only card that doesn't see play in a bunch of other decks. So yeah, this is a pretty safe deck to buy into right now.
Financial Upside: D
Humans has been so good for so long that there's not much more juice we can squeeze out of this tasty lemon. Champion of the Parish, Thalia's Lieutenant, and Mantis Rider seem like the three cards with the most potential to me, as we're getting farther and farther away from their last printing and they're all still easy enough to find for $5 or less.
Power Level: A-
Some version of Tron has been at the top of the Modern metagame since day one. There just aren't that many decks in Magic capable of dropping Karn Liberated on turn 3, and even fewer decks with an answer to that line of play. No matter what hate cards WotC prints, Tron finds a way.
The only thing that gives me pause is that there are some decks in the format that Tron is just straight-up bad against, which is always a bit scary for any deck at the top of the format.
Did you know that Mono-Green Tron only costs about half as much as Humans? In fact, it's the cheapest tier one deck in the format. I can't give Mono-Green Tron a full "A" since you're still going to need to spend more than $800 on your initial buy-in, but if you're looking for the cheapest great Modern deck, this is it.
Financial Stability: B
Mono-Green Tron seems slightly more likely to suffer from a banning than Humans because I can point to a single powerful card-Ancient Stirrings-and make a compelling argument that it should not exist in a format where Ponder and Preordain are banned. Also, people are going to shout about banning one of the Urza lands every time somebody loses to a turn 3 Karn on camera. But some version of Tron would survive an Ancient Stirrings ban, and I doubt any of the lands are getting the axe, so while the deck's short-term future might be slightly less certain, the long-term outlook is still very bright.
The most expensive cards in Tron are Wurmcoil Engine, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, Karn Liberated, and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. All these cards have serious casual value, but none of them see much competitive play beyond the different Tron variants. You'd take a hit if this deck were banned out of existence, but again, Tron has been so good for so long that I don't think you'd see much of a drop-off if the metagame simply shifted away from this deck for a while.
Financial Upside: C+
There aren't that many cards in this that haven't been staples for years, but the fact that this tier one deck is so much cheaper than the others makes me think that there's some untapped upside. Oblivion Stone is going to rise in price the further we get from Iconic Masters, so that one's worth picking up soon. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger should make a leap to $30 at some point soon, and Walking Ballista is a must-buy during the upcoming set rotation.
Power Level: A-
The true power level of this deck is hard to measure since it's so hard to play optimally. Ironworks is probably a straight-up A in the hands of a master, but it's closer to a B- if it's being piloted by a novice. Either way, it's the only combo deck that can beat Humans on the regular right now, and it's absolutely unfair when it's running hot.
There was a time when Ironworks was at least nominally a budget deck, but those days are long over. Buying in now will set you back over a thousand dollars, though about half of that comes in the form of a playset of Mox Opals. If you've already got those, Ironworks starts looking like a far better budget choice.
Financial Stability: D-
Combo decks at the height of their power are incredibly risky buys, and there's a very real shot that WotC bans Krark-Clan Ironworks at some point soon. Or they could ban Ancient Stirrings, which would also hurt the deck quite a bit.
Even if Ironworks isn't banned, Mox Opal is more expensive than it has ever been. The card is in line for another reprint soon, which would shave at least $30-$40 off the card's price. Ditto for Engineered Explosives, the second most expensive card in the deck. One way or another, your Ironworks investment is probably going to drop in price.
Financial Upside: D
Ironworks is basically just a stack of commons mixed in with a couple of really valuable cards. I guess Scrap Trawler, Inventors' Fair, and Sai, Master Thopterist are worth watching, but this deck will have to survive for a very long time (it likely won't) for those cards to see much action because they're so new.
Power Level: B+
U/W Control is good against Humans, and it's good against the decks designed to beat Humans, but it's got some major issues against things like R/B Vengevine and Ironworks. "Good against Humans" is exactly where you want to be in the current metagame, but that can always change.
Control decks are always going to be expensive, and U/W Control is no exception. This deck is a bit of a who's-who of expensive Modern cards, and you aren't going to get to play this one without dropping some serious cash.
Financial Stability: B+
Even though the current iteration of U/W Control is fairly recent, it's chock full of cards that always seem to find play one way or another. The expensive cards here are Snapcaster Mage, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Cryptic Command, Celestial Colonnade, Runed Halo, and Scalding Tarn. Most of these cards are going to show up in whatever the most dominant control deck in Modern ends up being in a given week, and dedicated control mages are going to play it regardless of how good it is.
I'd probably give this deck an A for stability if I wasn't so certain that Celestial Colonnade and Runed Halo will be reprinted soon. Both of those cards are incredibly expensive right now primarily because they've only been printed once, so they've got quite a long way to drop.
Financial Upside: C-
Vendilion Clique, Entreat the Angels, Cryptic Command, Terminus, and Crucible of Worlds have all been printed quite recently, which means that they're pretty close to their historic lows. While it might take a while for some of them to increase in value, they're pretty solid "buy it and forget it" targets at the moment.
B/R Hollow One
- 4 Hollow One
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Flameblade Adept
- 4 Flamewake Phoenix
- 3 Gurmag Angler
- 4 Street Wraith
- 1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Power Level: B+
B/R Hollow One just won a Pro Tour (a team Pro Tour, but still) so I can't justify giving it any lower than a B+ on power level. My worry here- which is shared by Todd Stevens -is that B/R Vengevine will push this deck out of Modern's top tier simply by being a better deck that acts along a similar axis. For now, though, B/R Hollow One is still a very good choice.
B/R Hollow One is slightly more expensive than U/W Control, and I'd rather have cards like Snapcaster Mage and Jace, the Mind Sculptor in my long-term collection than Bloodghast and Goblin Lore. Much like with Ironworks, there was a time when B/R Hollow One was a sweet budget deck. These days, you're paying full freight if you want to play this.
Financial Stability: C
The good news here is that the Bloodstained Mires, Scalding Tarns, and Wooded Foothills are going to hold their value regardless. Thoughtseize and Collective Brutality are resilient multi-deck staples as well. Bloodghast was reprinted recently and is still fairly reasonably priced.
Beyond that, things get dicey. A playset of Goblin Lore will set you back more than $120, and that's a single-deck uncommon. Mishra's Bauble had a very similar trajectory, and that card is easily available for $7 now. Blackcleave Cliffs, Engineered Explosives, and Leyline of the Void are the other expensive cards here, and they're all due for reprints. This deck is neither as likely to see a ban as Ironworks nor is it going to be blown out as badly by the next Masters set, but it's still almost certainly at the absolute peak of its value.
Financial Upside: B
While the cards in this deck that are specific to Hollow One feel pretty maxed out to me, there's still some upside here in the multi-deck staples. Bloodghast hasn't gained much value since R/B Vengevine came out, and that one could easily end up around $25. Collective Brutality and Thoughtseize are great long-term holds. Grim Lavamancer has been on the move for months, and it could end up gaining quite a bit more if it isn't reprinted soon. And while Blackcleave Cliffs would get blown out by a reprint, it's probably underpriced-yes, really-based on current demand.
- 3 Hangarback Walker
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Goblin Bushwhacker
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 4 Greater Gargadon
- 4 Insolent Neonate
- 4 Stitcher's Supplier
- 4 Vengevine
Power Level: A-
I may be overrating R/B Vengevine here, but I wouldn't be surprised if we simply haven't found the optimal 75 yet. There were tons of slight R/B Vengevine variants at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, which makes sense for a brand new deck. Over the next couple of weeks I expect we'll see those lists begin to congeal into something optimal.
Granted, this brew is going to have to fight through far more copies of Leyline of the Void than it did at the Pro Tour, but that hasn't been slowing it down much on MTGO so far.
R/B Vengevine has only existed for a couple of weeks, and yet it already costs more than Ironworks and U/W Control. It's still several hundred dollars cheaper than Humans, but if you go into this expecting a discount based on the deck being somewhat unproven, you're going to be sorely mistaken.
Financial Stability: C-
The biggest issue here is that we're in a bit of a honeymoon period with R/B Vengevine. The deck can do no wrong at the moment, and the value of the deck's unique staples, especially Bridge from Below, Vengevine, Gravecrawler, and Leyline of the Void, still hasn't stabilized from the initial spike and hype cycle. Even if the deck continues to perform as well as it has, most of these cards will settle down a bit simply because the folks who aren't playing R/B Vengevine are going to fish their extra copies of these staples out of their collections and sell them.
There's some reprint worry here, too. Bridge from Below, Blackcleave Cliffs, Engineered Explosives, and Vengevine are all due. And since the deck is fairly new and most of the decks' valuable cards don't see play in anything else, a tumble into Modern's third tier for whatever reason would likely lead to some pretty severe value drops.
Financial Upside: B-
Like I said in the paragraph about the upside of B/R Hollow One, I feel like Bloodghast and Blackcleave Cliffs are undervalued right now. They haven't gained any value since Vengevine became popular, which means that the fact that both staples are now in two tier one lists instead of one hasn't been factored into the price yet. Walking Ballista is also going to end up being worth quite a bit more than it is now at some point over the next couple of years.
Other Recent Innovations
Of course, the real dream isn't buying into R/B Vengevine now that it has taken the world by storm; it's finding the next R/B Vengevine before the price goes all kablooey. And since the Modern metagame has recently changed, it's worth going a little deeper into the rabbit hole in search of some sweet piece of tech that might end up being the next big thing. For example...
Hardened Scales Affinity
- 4 Arcbound Ravager
- 4 Arcbound Worker
- 4 Hangarback Walker
- 2 Metallic Mimic
- 4 Steel Overseer
- 4 Walking Ballista
If you haven't heard of this deck yet, strap on in. It had a great performance in the Modern MOCS last week , with a full three copies making the Top 8. That's about as legit as it gets, and most of the people I've talked to about this deck are adamant that it isn't just a flash in the pan. If you want to know more, Ari Lax will be doing a breakdown on it this week. It'll also be running the VS Series gauntlet all week on SCG Select.
Financially, there are some really interesting potential buys in this deck. Horizon Canopy, Aether Vial, Mox Opal, Steel Overseer, Inkmoth Nexus, and Arcbound Ravager are already expensive thanks to other good decks, but Hangarback Walker could spike even further. Throne of Geth, which has started to see a bunch of play in Legacy as anti-Chalice of the Void tech, could be the next $6-$8 uncommon.
I also really like Hardened Scales itself. The card has a ton of casual demand, and a deck's "namesake" card is always going to be a little more expensive than it probably should be. There are still plenty of sub-$3 copies as of this writing, but I expect the price to triple by this time next week.
I don't think Skred Dragons has a shot at hitting Modern's absolute top tier, but you can pick up the entire deck for around $500 right now. That makes it cheaper than any other deck we've discussed today. And it's not like the deck is a total joke: it won this SCG Classic about a month ago, and a version of it without the Skred package finished 9th at the Modern MOCS last week. In fact, I'm not sure that running Skred is correct at this point, so perhaps we should change the name of the deck.
Financially, your biggest cost here is going to be the Blood Moons and the singleton Cavern of Souls, which isn't even strictly necessary. These cards are good in plenty of other decks, so you can buy in without too much risk.
Most of the newer cards-Thunderbreak Regent, Glorybringer, Stormbreath Dragon-are safe enough because they derive most of their value from casual play regardless. They're probably never going to see enough demand to spike too hard, but you'll be able to get your money back at the very least. Stormbreath Dragon is the best spec target here since it's the oldest mythic rare.
Scrying Sheets would have been a pretty good play if I felt more confident that the Skred package was going to stick around, but I'm not sure it will. Regardless, another high finish would take that card to $30, so it might be worth snapping up a few copies anyway.
I wanted to at least mention Jon Finkel and Martin Muller's Storm list from the Pro Tour, because it might be good enough to revitalize the archetype. Storm's biggest issue is that it's weak against Humans, the best deck in the format, and this brew dedicates a large swath of the sideboard to anti-Human tech. Storm has a pretty good matchup against a lot of the other decks on this list, and it's also the cheapest Modern deck anywhere near the format's top tier. If Storm can fight its way back to even with Humans, or at least close, that should be enough to pop it back up into tier one and make it an excellent deck choice for financially savvy Modern players.
Lastly, it's worth mentioning here that two of these three "new" decks are essentially twists on two of the most powerful archetypes from earlier this year. Much like we saw with Death's Shadow rearing its head in Legacy, good decks often find their way back into the limelight one way or another.
That doesn't mean that Jund, Infect, Blue Moon, Scapeshift, Death's Shadow, Abzan, or any of the other decks that I neglected to cover this week are chock full of amazing buys right now, but if you're looking to increase your Modern collection and the right trade comes up, well, why not? Bannings, unbannings, and new cards being printed are going to change the face of Modern several times a year between now and the end of time. When in doubt, buy good cards when they're cheap and keep them. That's how I've assembled my collection over the years, and I'm quite happy with that.
This Week's Trends
- The Standard market continues to be sluggish ahead of rotation (less than seven weeks away now!), but Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is still gaining about $5 a week. The card is ahead of Karn, Scion of Urza now, and it's clear what deck people want to play in post-rotation Standard. The fact that it sees play in one of Modern's best decks doesn't hurt, either. If any Standard card is going to hit $60 by mid-September, it'll be Teferi.
- Over in Modern, new format staple Throne of Geth is getting pretty hard to find for less than $4. Like I said in my blurb about Hardened Scales Affinity, this card has $6-$8 written all over it. Its initial spike to $10 and drop back to $3 last week was due to speculators buying the card out and then flooding the market, but there's enough real demand here that I expect slow and steady gains over the next couple of weeks.
- Speaking of Modern, the Planar Chaos rare Groundbreaker(!) spiked from $2 to $10. The folks on MTG Goldfish seem pretty convinced that this is a Commander spike, while the Arjen over at MTG Stocks claims that it's due to a new Modern brew, a deck that somehow manages to contain both Ball Lightning and Groundbreaker. I'm calling it right now: this is a bad deck, and Groundbreaker is a bad card. Sell your copies into the spike.
- On the other hand, I expect Temporal Mastery to keep most of the gains it made this week. The card surged past $15 last Thursday, mostly due to people wanting to augment their Aminatou, the Fateshifter decks. Even though the card was just reprinted in Modern Masters 2017, Commander demand should be enough to keep this one at or above $20 for the foreseeable future. Temporal Mastery wasn't the only card that spiked due to Commander 2018, though. Wound Reflection and Enchanted Evening both spiked again this week, proving that their gains were due to more than just speculative buy-outs. Copy Enchantment, Polluted Bonds, Omnath, Locus of Rage, and Vedalken Archmage also enjoyed modest gains this week, while Oppression jumped from $3 to $15.
- I'll be talking more about Reserved List trends next week, but it was at least slightly interesting to see that somebody bought out the Revised and Unlimited copies of Nightmare. Maybe it was the same dude that tried to corner the market on Gaea's Liege and then listed all the copies in that single eBay listing that still hasn't sold? I think the thought process here is that Revised copies of both Serra Angel and Shivan Dragon spiked this year because they're just so iconic, and the original version of Nightmare inspires a similar level of nostalgia. This line of thinking makes sense, but I'm not sure if the timing was right. I've seen several sub-$1 copies since the buyout, so we'll see if it sticks. I'm guessing it won't.