My expectation about Modern is that for most people, changing archetypes is a slow process. It might be more accurate that most people have 2-5 decks they own and are comfortable playing and choose which one based on how they're feeling or what they expect. In general, this means people adjust to changes in the Modern metagame slowly, which is actually appropriate, because the Modern metagame correspondingly changes slowly.
For most people, the last week before a tournament is likely a matter of changing your last few cards - the things you view as flex slots in your maindeck and sideboard, rather than a scramble to decide what to play the way teams are used to in the days leading up to a Pro Tour.
My more specific expectation about #SCGINVI is that people will be relatively flexible, fast to adapt to new strategies, and extremely aware of the results of #SCGBALT, as well as most articles on this site, like this one. This means that if you're preparing to play Modern at SCG CON Winter, you should expect Arclight Phoenix's presence to be more impactful for the format as a whole than if you're playing anywhere else (except maybe Magic Online, where things also change very fast). That means both more Arclight Phoenix players, and, appropriately, more hate for Arclight Phoenix. It's interesting to me that all the incentives just happen to line up appropriately naturally in this regard, so there's not really much you need to do to account for it, at least that's my first impression.
Anyway, with the tournament coming right up, my expectation is that most readers already know what they're playing, so I could make a case for whatever deck or set of decks I might think is well-positioned, but for the most part, there's not much you would realistically do with that information. Instead, I'm assuming you know what you want to play, but you're wondering what kinds of tweaks to make. So, my plan is to look at the decks you're most likely to be considering and suggest which cards you might want to include some additional copies of to prepare for the other decks a lot of people are likely to be bringing this weekend.
So, starting with the setup, my expectation is that the following are the decks that could show up in numbers exceeding 5% of the field, in approximate order of how popular I expect them to be:
- Bant Spirits
- Mono-Green Tron
- Izzet Phoenix
- Mono-Red Phoenix
- Hardened Scales
- Hollow One
- Death's Shadow
- Jeskai Control
Now, let's talk about the best ways to beat each of these.
- 4 Drogskol Captain
- 4 Mausoleum Wanderer
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 2 Phantasmal Image
- 1 Rattlechains
- 3 Selfless Spirit
- 4 Spell Queller
- 4 Supreme Phantom
- 2 Geist of Saint Traft
It'd be bold to predict that Bant Spirits won't be the most played deck in any given large Modern tournament, as it's been very popular and successful consistently for a while now. If you haven't yet, you need to acknowledge this as the default fair creature deck that plays as something of an heir to Merfolk, Humans, and Collected Company decks with elements of all of them and a large metagame share.
Lightning Bolt and Lightning Helix are perfect since all the Spirits have three toughness or less and they're relying on each other staying on the battlefield. Unfortunately, this advice is hard to act on, because those are precisely the worst removal spells against Izzet Phoenix, where you want cards like Fatal Push that can kill Thing in the Ice or Path to Exile/Condemn that answer Arclight Phoenix and Crackling Drake. Because of this, the rise of Arclight Phoenix is actually good news for Spirits.
Terminus is also great. You want a sweeper in theory, but Spell Queller and Selfless Spirit make it hard to meaningfully resolve one. Terminus gets around both of those. Hallowed Burial would also work, but it's hard to choose to play a five-mana sweeper.
You can also use flying against them, especially if you're playing creatures that don't fly by playing one-sided sweepers like Firespout, Corrosive Gale, and--here's a spicy bit of instant speed, uncounterable tech--Arashi, the Sky Asunder. It gets around Mausoleum Wanderer and Spell Queller (but not Selfless Spirit), and you can do it after they tap out for Collected Company. As an added bonus, if you just cast it, it's kind of a nightmare for them if they don't have a Path to Exile ready. Additionally, Summoner's Pact can grab it if you're playing Amulet Titan. And the best part? It's even a Spirit! Is this good tech for the mirror? I honestly have no idea!
As for other options, you can always take advantage of the fact that they're a minimally interactive creature deck that wins though combat. This means they're vulnerable to cards like Worship and Ensnaring Bridge.
Another fringe card that would work really well out of only exactly the right deck is Sudden Spoiling. If you're playing a black creature deck and your games play out in such a way that both of you have multiple creatures on the battlefield, they'll definitely attack into you at some point, and Sudden Spoiling would definitely result in them losing roughly as many creatures as you have available to block. None of their tricks can do anything about it short of flashing in both Rattlechains and Selfless Spirit after you cast it.
Mono-Green Tron is likely approximately the next most played deck, but it's been here for years. If you don't know how to adjust your deck if you want to beat Tron at this point, well, I doubt you're suddenly trying to figure out how to now. As always, attacking their mana is the easiest option, and Damping Sphere's a good way to do that. Unmoored Ego is another new card that works well in this matchup. The important thing to remember here is that they have enough lands and enough power in their deck that it doesn't matter how much you slow them down if you're not actually killing them. You need to stop their explosive draws, but you also need to remember to prioritize ending the game.
Izzet Phoenix is the big new change to adjust to. The best ways to interact with Izzet Phoenix are Surgical Extraction, Grafdigger's Cage, Ghostly Prison, and Damping Sphere or other similar effects like Rule of Law, Eidolon of Rhetoric, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Ethersworn Canonist, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and Thorn of Amethyst. Eidolon of Rhetoric is particularly noteworthy, since it makes transforming Thing in the Ice truly glacial and can't be killed by Lightning Bolt.
If I were playing Izzet Phoenix, I'd hate to play against a Spirits player who had Eidolon of Rhetoric and Reflector Mage for my Thing in the Ice. I wouldn't really be any happier if the same thing happened out of a Humans deck.
The big adjustment needed to combat this deck is what I alluded to earlier: that you need to make sure your removal spells line up properly with their threats. Recently, Lightning Bolt has been the go-to removal spell in the format because it lines up really well against Humans and Spirits, and Hollow One kind of punished Fatal Push anyway, but now you need to be able to kill Thing in the Ice. Fatal Push, Path to Exile, and if you're playing red, maybe it's time to consider going back to Flame Slash in some numbers. Rending Volley is another great option that's good against Humans, Spirits, Thing in the Ice, and Crackling Drake.
Infect has seen a resurgence lately. Everyone seemed to give up on it the moment Gitaxian Probe was banned, which seemed like a bit of an overreaction, and now people are seeing that it's still a real deck. There was a time when Spellskite was roughly the most played sideboard card in Modern, but we see very few of them these days, which is good news for Infect players, and the fact that Blossoming Defense can't target opposing Spellskites also lowers Spellskite's stock and generally helps Infect.
That said, if you're looking to improve your Infect matchup, Spellskite is a great starting point for any deck. You can never go wrong with more cheap removal, especially removal that's particularly good against multiple small creatures like Izzet Staticaster, Liliana, the Last Hope, Zealous Persecution, Electrickery, or Night of Souls' Betrayal.
Eidolon of Rhetoric is another overlooked good option here, since it means that anytime they try to pump a creature, if you kill it in response, there's nothing they can do.
Ironworks is a deck that has a very precise decklist, where everyone who plays it plays almost exactly the same cards. That said, there have been some relatively recent changes. The most important one to know about is the maindeck inclusion of Spine of Ish Sah. This adds another kind of tool to their arsenal - they can now destroy any permanent even if you have Stony Silence or Pithing Needle on Engineered Explosives, and as long as they can sacrifice it to Krark-Clan Ironworks or Sai, Master Thopterist, they can keep it coming back to kill more things.
If they have Krark-Clan Ironworks and Scrap Trawler, it's very easy for them to cast Spine of Ish Sah a large or infinite number of times. This means that any plan that relies on turtling up against them in some way is much less likely to be effective than it used to be (and those plans were never especially good). Don't expect a hate card like Damping Sphere or Eidolon of Rhetoric to end the game. It will slow them down, but you still need to assemble a clock that can reasonably end the game by turn 5 or so, or you should expect that fairly often they'll just power through whatever resistance you've put down, and, of course, you need to make sure you're not losing to Sai, Master Thopterist.
This means that disruptive measures that don't require staying on the battlefield should be prioritized over those that do. Unmoored Ego and similar cards are much stronger than other cards that may look more effective, like Stony Silence, that the Ironworks player can more easily answer.
Prison type cards should be viewed as disruption rather than a lock, so they can still function very well out of an aggressive deck.
Artifact removal is good, but not great. Overloading on it can lose you games. Again, it's nice to be able to slow them down, but not at the cost of your own clock. If your plan involves bringing in removal, if your opening hand is just lands and removal and you're playing a deck that's generally aggressive, don't keep your hand just because all your cards are theoretically good against them. You'll lose if you haven't established a clock.
Has there ever been a more perfect place for Wear//Tear? Pithing Needle, Stony Silence, and Suppression Field all work pretty well here, but the deck is designed to at least be able to continue casting spells and attacking with potentially large creatures through Stony Silence. For the most part, this is a creature deck, and things that are good against creature decks are good here - cheap removal, sweepers, and cards like Reflector Mage and Hostage Taker are all great.
The deck's primary strengths are the explosiveness of Arcbound Ravager and Walking Ballista with Hardened Scales. This means that its threats incidentally answer, outrace, or outmatch most similarly costed threats. Additionally, Hangarback Walker and cards like Animation Module or Evolutionary Leap give the deck a little ability to grind, but for the most part, they're hoping you interact as little with their key cards as possible.
Where Ancient Grudge is worse against Ironworks than it is against other artifact decks, this very much isn't true of Hardened Scales. Like Ironworks, you should expect Hardened Scales will have 3-4 Nature's Claims to bring in after sideboarding, so you similarly can't count on lock pieces, but they're still going to be great in those matchups.
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Kitesail Freebooter
- 4 Mantis Rider
- 4 Meddling Mage
- 3 Militia Bugler
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Phantasmal Image
- 3 Reflector Mage
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Beating this deck is like beating Spirits in that you don't want to let their synergies get out of control, and Lightning Bolt is exactly the right kind of card, but it is different in that sweepers are better because they don't have Mausoleum Wanderer, Spell Queller, and Selfless Spirit. Instead, they have Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Kitesail Freebooter, and Meddling Mage. This means you ideally want cheap sweepers with different names.
If Humans is on your radar, you might want to play one Engineered Explosives, one Pyroclasm, one Firespout, one Anger of the Gods, etc. rather than just playing a lot of one of them. You'd also like some spot removal to slow them down and answer their important Kitesail Freebooter or Meddling Mage to combine with your sweepers, although I imagine that you'll do alright if you just have a lot of different sweepers.
Humans and Izzet Phoenix are two decks with interesting applications for each other. Thing in the Ice is fantastic against Humans if it can transform, but Reflector Mage and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben can make that difficult. Arclight Phoenix is a great blocker for Mantis Rider, but if Mantis Rider becomes a 4/4, two are necessary to block and they can't usually attack, but getting two to block isn't that hard to do. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben seems like the most important card in the matchup, but Gut Shot is fantastic against it and other Humans, and the Izzet Phoenix deck has plenty of other removal. This means I suspect that the Izzet deck is favored, but I could see Eidolon of Rhetoric turning that around really quickly if the Izzet player isn't prepared.
Remember what I was saying about Rending Volley? You might want to pack that in your Izzet Phoenix sideboard for the mirror and anyone who tries to Eidolon you.
- 4 Hollow One
- 4 Bloodghast
- 4 Flameblade Adept
- 4 Flamewake Phoenix
- 3 Gurmag Angler
- 4 Street Wraith
- 1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Hollow One, like Izzet Phoenix, is one of those "half graveyard decks" - decks that use the graveyard without entirely relying on it. Rest in Peace is good against them because it turns off Gurmag Angler, Flamewake Phoenix, and Bloodghast, but it doesn't do much about Hollow One or Flameblade Adept. Hollow One is great at attacking quickly with creatures that want slightly different kinds of answers to put the opponent in a bit of a bind. It's an aggressive deck that's minimally reactive, and its lategame is basically just more of its early game but slower. This means that if you can survive for a few turns, you're probably in reasonably good shape, and some decks can outrace it. I don't have a lot of experience in the matchup, but I expect this is the sort of deck Hardened Scales is looking to trump by going just a bit bigger. Selesnya Hexproof also does this, as does Dredge, essentially.
You don't want to be playing a deck like Jund that's trying to interact directly with your opponent's threats using cards that need to line up just right. One can infer, therefore, that you don't want to sideboard into a plan that more closely resembles Jund. This means your plan shouldn't involving bringing in a bunch of answers for some of their gameplans and hoping to line things up right. Unfortunately, that means you mostly want to focus on doing your own thing and hoping it's good enough, which isn't really a reasonable plan if you know your thing isn't good enough. This is to say: If you're already playing Jund, I don't really know how to fix your problem. Hollow One is just deck where your overall strategy matters more than your individual card choices for beating them. I guess that's to say that at this point, you shouldn't really worry about what to do about them with your last few slots. The deck will probably be under 5% of the field anyway.
Depending on what you're playing, Death's Shadow might function similarly against you to Hollow One, Infect, or Izzet Phoenix - it's a disruptive deck with large creatures and a reasonable clock. If large creatures are what matter against you, this deck is similar to Hollow One. If you're playing a proactive spell deck, like most combo decks, this deck is going to function pretty similar to Infect, but with a slightly slower clock and a little more disruption. For most people, it's going to be pretty similar to Izzet Phoenix - an aggressive blue deck with big creatures that require a little setup to get going, where Lightning Bolt isn't a great answer.
Removal spells that actually work, like Path to Exile, Condemn, Assassin's Trophy, and the like are certainly good here, but honestly, this is mostly like Hollow One in that I don't think there are a lot of really high impact sideboard cards for this matchup because it just isn't the kind of deck that's really exposed to any particular direction of hate. This is another deck that I wouldn't recommend paying specific attention to in deck construction.
Continuing the run of increasingly fair decks, the fairest of them all, Jeskai Control, is the default control deck at the moment. This should be reasonable well-positioned against Bant Spirits, Humans, Hardened Scales, Hollow One, Death's Shadow, and the like, but I think it's really leaning on drawing the right sideboard cards against Tron, Ironworks, and Dredge. A big question mark for me is Izzet Phoenix. I suspect that it's considerably ahead, but I don't know how far. If I'm right, I'd expect a drop off in Jeskai Control, especially at SCG CON Winter, and adjust accordingly. That is to say, I'd again advise not paying much attention to beating this deck specifically. Which is nice, because, being a fair deck, I think each sideboard card is relatively low impact anyway.
Very much the opposite, this is a deck where your sideboard always matters a ton and how many and which sideboard cards you play is an extremely pertinent question.
If you want to beat Dredge specifically, for most decks, I believe Ravenous Trap is the best approach because they can't do anything about it, but unfortunately, it's the worse graveyard hate card against basically every other graveyard deck.
Surgical Extraction is the best against Arclight Phoenix specifically, although Grafdigger's Cage is also great, especially if you're playing a deck where they would be unlikely to want to bring in Abrade. Grafdigger's Cage is probably better than Surgical Extraction against Dredge, although to some extent, that depends on how good your matchup against them is. If your matchup against Dredge is generally pretty good, you want the lower impact but more reliable card in Surgical Extraction; but if your matchup is bad and you're only beating them if a single card can essentially win the game on its own, you want something like Grafidgger's Cage that will steal the game if they don't find an answer.
As a general rule, if you're playing white, Rest in Peace is usually the strongest overall if you don't mind giving up your own graveyard.
This breakdown should give us the tools to reach some conclusions. We know which decks matter and how to beat them, so the question is how to beat as many of them as possible with the most overlap. Those are the cards that will be best positioned this weekend.
Damping Sphere is good against Tron, Izzet Phoeix, and Ironworks, which probably represents somewhere in the ballpark of 20% of the field, which is a pretty good size to hit with a single card, especially one that's high impact, so I think this is a good time to pack a lot of these in most decks that aren't hurt much by it.
Rending Volley is good against Izzet Phoenix, Humans, and Spirits, which is probably another 20% or so. Fewer decks can use it, but I think the fact that red decks specifically should be scrambling to find a good answer to Thing in the Ice makes it worth calling out specifically.
Surgical Extraction is good against Izzet Phoenix, Dredge, Ironworks, and Tron sometimes - it really depends on how good you are at getting their important cards in the graveyard before they can resolve them. If it's good against Tron for your deck, you probably want it against over 20% of the field and it becomes specifically worth giving extra consideration to.
Eidolon of Rhetoric is a powerful sideboard card that's probably down in popularity because Storm hasn't been especially popular, but I think it warrants a second look as Phoenix hate. It's good against Phoenix, Infect, and Ironworks, which are collectively probably a little under 20% of the field, but I think it's really high impact when it's good, and definitely worth special consideration, especially if you're playing Collected Company.