This past weekend, I had the good fortune to team with fellow StarCityGames.com® writer Shaheen Soorani and former SCG Tour® Invitational champion Eli Kassis for some high-quality Team Limited at GP Denver. While we spent the latter half of our ill-fated, snowy Day 2 watching Seinfeld and playing Settlers of Catan, the topic of underrated Modern decks came up. Of course, we all know about the popular best decks, like Humans, Tron, Azorius Control, and Ironworks. Though these options clearly dominate the top of the premier tournament metagame, these guys were convinced that there are a few other decks that are poised to break out in the coming weeks. Some have already started to take their place at the new top of the Modern metagame, and others are soon to rise to the winner's circle.
Despite a relative lack of major Modern events in recent weeks to really push the format forward, we have a few developments to contemplate, and the next evolution of the metagame will include several reinvigorated strategies.
It's been about a year since the last time I sleeved up Dredge for a Modern tournament, and I'm thrilled to see that it's starting to make a legitimate comeback. Ross Merriam is another fan of the archetype, and he's advocated for new innovation with the introduction of Creeping Chill. The card gives a ton of free equity against the rapidly surging Burn archetype, and the reach provided against control or midrange decks allows for some additional wins against Jund or Golgari Midrange decks once they've stabilized the battlefield.
Merriam's list from several weeks ago is a radical departure from traditional Dredge lists, but I'll be starting my testing here:
I'm typically an advocate of a fairer Dredge plan, playing cards like Collective Brutality to offer interaction, a discard outlet, and the same incidental reach as Creeping Chill, but a free Essence Drain is a free Essence Drain. Assassin's Trophy is a stellar sideboard option as well, offering outs to cards as disparate as Scavenging Ooze, Relic of Progenitus, Leyline of the Void, and Rest in Peace. I love a mix of Assassin's Trophy, Engineered Explosives, and possibly Maelstrom Pulse to enable a fair sideboard gameplan. With Life from the Loam to fuel massive Conflagrates and flexible fair removal spells to keep pace with opposing threats, Dredge can win through quite a bit of interaction in the sideboarded games. It's astonishing the number of games where Dredge wins via random removal combined with a few Stinkweed Imps holding off the enemy while it prepares to chuck a few big Conflagrates upstairs.
Of course, Dredge is always going to rely on the absence of hate cards in opposing sideboards as the first factor in determining its playability, but that's the best part! With the metagame shifting perceptibly away from graveyard hate, Dredge has become a great option for players looking for a metagame edge. Considering the combination of the new tools and a slightly more vulnerable metagame, I expect the deck to come back in a big way at SCG Dallas this weekend. It's already started to tear up Magic Online, and if that's any indication, we're going to be facing down piles of Prized Amalgams in the paper metagame shortly.
This deck is perpetually underrated by pundits and Modern analysts, and it's easy to see why. The deck is linear, vulnerable to the most common forms of interaction in the format (creature removal) and doesn't really present any disruption against faster non-interactive decks. Something like Storm, Ad Nauseam, Infect, or Ironworks can just do a similarly broken thing on a similar fundamental turn without worrying about disruption, and those decks don't fold to a pile of removal or sweepers. It also doesn't leverage much in the way of format familiarity or proficiency in sequencing. It doesn't appeal to most entrenched, experienced players. Why play Elves, then?
Simply put, it wins more than it should, given the metagame density of the deck. In the hands of more skilled pilots, Elves would likely be more than a niche metagame player and would command more respect in terms of sideboard hate like Pyroclasm. It's got a goldfish to maintain at least a respectable win percentage against the other linear decks, explodes past Humans and Bant Spirits, and sports a favorable matchup against most midrange decks not packing sweepers or cards like Izzet Staticaster.
The deck has also gained a valuable new tool in Elvish Clancaller, providing it with more resilience against targeted removal. Adding more must-kill threats stretches opposing Lightning Bolts and Fatal Pushes thin, and a two-mana lord with a mana-sink ability is exactly what the deck needed. Different builds also incorporate an infinite combo with Ezuri, Renegade Leader and Devoted Druid, or even use the Vizier of Remedies combo to provide another must-kill interaction.
Paul Koerbel Top 8'd the recent Team Constructed Open in the Modern seat with Elves, and although his list looks a bit funky from the numbers, the raw power is undeniable.
- 1 Walking Ballista
- 4 Devoted Druid
- 1 Duskwatch Recruiter
- 4 Dwynen's Elite
- 3 Elvish Archdruid
- 3 Elvish Mystic
- 3 Elvish Visionary
- 4 Heritage Druid
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 3 Nettle Sentinel
- 1 Vizier of Remedies
- 2 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
Some of the singletons here don't quite add up to me, but with Chord of Calling and Eldritch Evolution over the competing velocity engine of Lead the Stampede, there's a method to this madness. Plus, it seems like Elves hasn't quite settled on a set optimized decklist, so there's plenty of room to improve over the next few months of Modern events.
Okay, okay, I know this one is kind of a cop-out. I always bring up Grixis Death's Shadow whenever anyone mentions underrated Modern decks, as I'm convinced that a deck that so closely resembles a Legacy strategy can never be too far from the top of Modern. But with Humans moving away from The Bugler and back towards more disruptive cards like Thalia, Heretic Cathar, Grixis Death's Shadow regains the edge with the sideboard plan discussed way back over the summer. When you transform into a Grixis Control deck post-sideboard, you can simply grind Humans out with oodles of removal spells and eventually win with Liliana, the Last Hope or Snapcaster Mage beats. It's incredible, but Militia Bugler made the plan significantly less reliable by offering two bodies in one card. Without that card, the matchup is even over three games.
Burn is currently the top deck on MTGGoldfish in terms of Modern metagame popularity , but a savvy Grixis Death's Shadow player can actually gain the advantage against a mediocre Burn opponent. By slow-playing one's lands and forcing the Burn player to expend most of their resources on getting the Shadow player down to the low single digits, the Shadow player can close the door with a few well-placed Stubborn Denials and a Temur Battle Rage. I'd rather play against Burn than against Humans, to be honest!
Anger of the Gods excites me as potentially the best option for hedging against a resurgent Dredge, as well as offering a needed sweeper against Humans. The problem is, Creeping Chill offers Dredge a piece of reach that it was sorely lacking, and the matchup may require Rakdos Charm or Leyline of the Void to really bring a win. Kira, Great-Glass Spinner is also incredible against the various Jund or Golgari decks that are popping up in the wake of Assassin's Trophy, as well as Jeskai or Azorius Control. I sincerely hope folks have forgotten how to play against Grixis Death's Shadow, because it's on my short list of Modern decks to bring to my next event and crush with!
I'll start with the decklist:
Okay, Edgar. I see you.
Runaway Steam-Kin, Risk Factor, and Arclight Phoenix are some pretty sweet additions from Guilds of Ravnica, and they've supercharged this All-In Red strategy to the point where you can expect to do some pretty incredible things on the third turn, given a live Steam-Kin on the battlefield. I'm not convinced that this is the correct build, but streamer h0lydiva has been promoting various takes on the deck on her stream, and when it works, there are some truly incredible turns.
Is this better than a traditional Storm deck (which, for the record, I think is also criminally underplayed in Modern)? Time will tell, but I'm cautiously optimistic. There's a lot of resilience and reach in Risk Factor + Fiery Temper, Bedlam Reveler offers an incredibly powerful effect for a combo-aggro deck, and Arclight Phoenix as a free flying attacker is just pure value. If Mardu Pyromancer and Storm had a baby, this would be it. I'm astonished and impressed, and if the consistency is there, this deck is going to light up your world.
This marks the second time in as many weeks that I advocate for a Modern deck Bryan Gottlieb has mentioned as a niche choice that could break things wide open, and this time it isn't an unproven (but high-potential) combo-oriented rare I'm sweating over. It's a proven contender, a deck that slices up a vulnerable metagame, although it can't beat disruptive aggro decks like Humans or Grixis Death's Shadow to save its life. Ad Nauseam, should Humans and Bant Spirits continue dropping in metagame percentage, is poised to demolish non-interactive decks like Dredge, Tron, or Burn. It's got the tools to beat up on Jeskai or Azorius Control, and if there were only a way to beat the disruptive aggro decks, it would be a major player. As it currently stands, this deck is (mostly) on the sidelines, but occasionally someone fades the Humans matchup lottery for a few rounds in a row and sneaks into a Top 8.
This past weekend, we saw this happen with MTGO player Kiiiittyman, who did well in the Modern Challenge with the following:
Bontu's Last Reckoning is a sweet way to steal a win or two from Humans, though there's no way it can make the matchup favorable. Regardless, if you want to play the pairings lottery, there's absolutely no better choice in Modern today than Ad Nauseam, and with a fading Humans metagame share, those pairings lottery winners are going to start stacking up Top 8 finishes.
I'm excited about Modern in the wake of Guilds of Ravnica. There are a few potent upgrades for decks that had been languishing on the sidelines (Creeping Chill and Assassin's Trophy), a brand new deck built around a few niche rares that has people laughing all the way to the scorekeeper's match slip box (Runaway Steam-Kin and Arclight Phoenix), and a metagame ripe for innovation and exploitation.
The SCG Tour® stop in Dallas this weekend is going to be exciting, and even though I'm not traditionally a stream watcher, I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for any and all new technology I can spot on this weekend's stream. Modern never gets old!