As many of you reading this know, I'm somewhat of a sucker for a format full of old cards. If the price of staples isn't too much of a barrier, you can bet I'll be taking a stab at building a few decks so long as I'm having fun. With Modern, I'm not just having fun; I'm having a blast! I've been playing all sorts of decks in Daily Events, ranging from Small Pox to Diregraf Ghouls, and I'm not afraid to show it. For every good deck brewed, there are tons of bad ones. At the very least, you can learn from my mistakes!
Luckily for us, Modern is shaping up nicely. Since the banning of Wild Nacatl and Punishing Fire, I feel like the Modern scene on Magic Online has exploded. While many will argue that this is probably due to the fact that PTQs are coming up soon, I will bet that the current Daily Event turnouts are much higher than Extended ones ever were. With that said, I feel like Modern is easily the best "new" format that Wizards has created in a long time, and I'm definitely looking forward to the next few months full of awesome experiences. There is a great feeling to the format, and most matchups are very interactive. That isn't something I could have said when Cloudpost and Rite of Flame were around.
As far as the format goes, I occasionally compare it to Legacy, but the banned list makes it somewhat of a different animal entirely. Without the presence of Force of Will, there are not a lot of auto-include cards that wreck combo, but R&D has done a great job in "fixing" what was once a completely degenerate combo format. Without such offenders as Blazing Shoal and Rite of Flame, the format has become much more hospitable for control and aggro decks alike, even if they don't get to play with that fearsome kitty, Wild Nacatl. But you can't have it all.
At the very least, the banning of Punishing Fire has given other aggressive decks a chance to shine. Where once Dark Confidant was mildly playable, now he's become a format staple (as he should have been all along). I expect to see a trend in aggressive decks to adopt a smaller curve thanks to the absence of the oppressive two-card combo, which is already evident by the rise in popularity of Affinity. While there isn't a consensus best version of Affinity, all of them seem powerful in their own respect. Ranging from Erayo to Mono Red, they all pack a wallop. Cranial Plating is just as devastating as ever, but they've all got some new toys to play with.
But back to the point at hand…
This is where we're currently at in the Modern format:
1) Aggro decks are solid, but you just have to pick the right one at the right time. Sometimes Merfolk is amazing, but only when combo is becoming dominant. Sometimes Affinity fits just right but folds to hate when people expect it en mass. Sometimes Zoo is correct, but it really just depends on where the metagame is currently sitting, since you need to build your Zoo deck to combat the current "#1 Threat."
2) Combo decks need to shift kill conditions based on the current make-up of the format. A few weeks ago, Storm just couldn't lose. Now it is getting pummeled by a barrage of Inquisition of Kozilek followed by Dark Confidants and Tarmogoyfs. Where once it flourished, now people are coming prepared with actual hate cards like Rule of Law. Nice deck, sir. If you sit on one combo for the entire season, and that combo is really good, or even dominant in the format, people will adapt and learn how to beat you. This is the first time we've had a PTQ format for Modern, so look for the best players in the room to have the best lists. Don't let anything surprise you.
3) Control decks and aggro-control decks should not necessarily be separated into two different categories. As the format becomes more aggressive, pure control looks better. If you need to apply some pressure to the combo decks, start with a set of Delver of Secrets. If you love playing control, you really can't afford to just pick a deck type and sit on it for the entirety of the PTQ season. Information travels at lightning speed nowadays, so you must learn to evolve with the rest of the populace. Don't be afraid to try new things!
After a few weeks of playing and testing out this awesome format, I've come to some exciting conclusions, but nothing is ever the same from week to week. I was really digging on Melira-Pod a few days ago, but now I think the deck is almost unplayable. With Affinity growing in numbers, you just can't afford to play such a cumbersome combo that relies on easy-to-kill creatures. The red versions of Affinity playing Galvanic Blast and Shrapnel Blast are particularly annoying because they can just send their removal spells to the dome when you're not pressuring them at all. Blood Moon from Affinity's board is often game over for decks that are trying to stretch their mana, so keep that in mind should you use a fetchland against them in the early game.
With Melira-Pod on my backburner, I've turned to other combo decks to fill the void. What I stumbled on was an age-old favorite of mine, which I've been tweaking over the last few weeks.
This combo lost a little bit with the first set of bannings after Pro Tour: Philadelphia, but Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand are both much better than even I originally thought. It has been a long time since I cast either of these cards, but they are still quite powerful and definitely not to be underrated. Dig spells are dig spells, and I definitely agree with the bannings of both Ponder and Preordain, but it is definitely not difficult to find both pieces to your Splinter Twin combo. At the moment, I feel like Splinter Twin is the best combo deck in the format.
Hilariously enough, Serum Visions might actually be as good for this deck as Preordain. Since the format is full of so many disruptive discard effects, keeping your two best cards floating on top of your deck after having perfect information can be very beneficial. You dig just as many cards deep as Preordain did, but the only drawback is that you can't get the card you need right then and there. Considering you usually need to sculpt a really good hand over multiple turns to win the game, Serum Visions doesn't really have much of a downside in comparison to Preordain in the Splinter Twin archetype. If you compare the two, they are eerily similar.
At its core, Splinter Twin is a combo-control deck, which is exactly my style. While a lot of people will argue that the combo is easy to disrupt, that's probably because the pilot didn't really know what they were doing. An experienced Splinter Twin pilot can pick you apart at the seams, easing you into a situation where it is perfectly timed for them to try and combo out with protection. Dispel is an incredibly powerful counterspell and provides Splinter Twin with some much-needed breathing room against a format full of efficient removal.
For those of you who haven't seen the deck, here's where I'm currently at:
In the current metagame, people are focusing much less on hard removal for creatures and much more on efficient answers like Lightning Bolt which double as a means to kill your opponent when removal would otherwise be dead. Jund is a perfect example of a deck trying to use versatile removal, yet most of their removal spells are just awful against Splinter Twin. Lightning Bolt gets completely blanked by a single Spellskite; Maelstrom Pulse is laughable; and Terminates are few and far between. With the four Dispels, don't expect them to be able to put up much of a fight. Their discard and pressure are their greatest elements for fighting off your combo, but the massively redundant combo pieces should ease those worries.
While other combo decks don't have much in the way of protection, Splinter Twin is very well positioned because it does have protection. With cards like Remand to gain velocity and slow your opponent down, you buy yourself enough time to set up the perfect turn. Splinter Twin is full of awesome cards that all build up to a single, climactic explosion, dropping the hammer down when it is the perfect time.
As you sculpt your hand for future turns with Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand, you should also be using Dispel to the best of your ability. Did you know that Gifts Ungiven is a great card to counter for just a single blue mana? A lot of decks in the format just fold to Dispel, which is actually hilarious. Storm decks all rely on ritual effects that all just happen to be instants, leaving them in some rough spots if you counter one of their spells mid-combo. While a lot of your spells have plenty of uses, your main goal should be focusing on what line of play will best result in the highest winning percentage. Don't get cute, and remember exactly what it is you're trying to do.
While Lightning Bolt has always been the go-to removal spell for red-based decks, Splinter Twin is a little different. Without Punishing Fire or some weird alternate win condition, there is really no reason to send a Lightning Bolt to the opponent's dome. While you will occasionally steal wins via attacking with 2/1 fliers, that doesn't happen often enough for you to want Lightning Bolt over a more efficient answer. Flame Slash is a much stronger removal spell, doing exactly what you need it to do for as little mana as possible without splashing another color. Flame Slash is a great answer to opposing Spellskites and is usually enough to kill a Tarmogoyf in the early turns of the game.
Having the fourth in the board should express how powerful I think it is in the current Modern format. Flame Slash, while not anything fancy, gives you an answer to Spellskite that doesn't cost you an arm and a leg (see Dismember). With fetchlands and Ravnica duals, your manabase alone will be punishing you a bit, so keep that in mind if you decide that Flame Slash would be better off as something else.
There have been a lot of discrepancies between lists when it comes to the actual combo in the deck. A lot of people have been playing the full eight copies of both halves of the combo, but I feel like that's just a bit wrong. While drawing your combo is important, drawing too many pieces of one side or the other can lead to some very awkward situations. Fortunately, you have the luxury to play more than four copies of both pieces, and I'm sure that the correct number lies somewhere between six and seven copies. I really like the results I've been getting from seven of each, but I wouldn't blame someone for sporting the fourth Pestermite to help ward off torrents of removal.
The third Kiki-Jiki is really where I began to draw the line, until I actually played with it. What Kiki-Jiki does is present a whole new type of threat. While Splinter Twin inherently caused you to get blown out on occasion, that just isn't the case with the (very expensive) Goblin Shaman. If you don't have Exarch piece of the combo, it is often correct to just run a Kiki-Jiki onto the battlefield, since he can give future copies haste and can kill them immediately should you draw either a Deceiver Exarch or Pestermite. While he is a fragile body, you do have Spellskites to save him. Without Punishing Fire in the format, expect the stock of Kiki-Jiki to rise exponentially as people discover just how good he is. With Kiki-Jiki, it is a lot of fun to create new copies of Spellskite in response to removal spells, saving both Spellskite and Kiki-Jiki in the process!
As far as the sideboard is concerned, the only card I'm really on the fence about is Spell Pierce. At times, it has been amazing, but it is has been dead or mostly dead at too many important parts of the game. In my opinion, Spell Pierce is a much more tempo-oriented spell that should mostly be present in aggro-control strategies rather than grinding combo decks. Since you are the combo-control deck, you're usually sending the game into the mid-to-late turns, allowing your opponent to build up their mana while you set up your combo. Dispel is great in these situations because it is a hard counter for a single mana, but Spell Pierce is much worse as a result. As of now, I'm looking at trying out Pact of Negation (which was in the PT: Philadelphia maindeck, but I hated), as well as Negate. I think that Modern has a large enough card pool where I'm going to find the right answer to this problem, but (as always) it will take time and practice.
The rest of the sideboard has been pretty awesome for me so far, but I've been wanting to fit another Blood Moon into the mix. At its best, Blood Moon completely locks decks out of the game. At the very least, it keeps your opponent off the colored mana required for them to interact with your combo, with little or no harm to yourself. If I could cast it on the second turn via Simian Spirit Guide, I'd be much happier, but that just isn't a realistic inclusion in the deck. Blood Moon does tend to give you an out to a lot of decks that would normally be bad matchups, which is a huge plus. Having Blood Moon as an "I win" card on a turn where most decks think it is safe to tap out is just backbreaking and almost impossible to come back from. Decks like Jund play very few basics, and most won't bother fetching them out in the early game in order to cast their spells more efficiently.
Ancient Grudge is in full force due to the presence of Affinity in the current metagame. While Affinity isn't dominant by any means, it is definitely a deck you need to be prepared for. They have disruption, removal, and a very fast clock, but a full set of Ancient Grudges solves all of those problems. While it may be difficult to flash it back on occasion, just know that you'll usually be able to find extra time after you cast the original Ancient Grudge. Flame Slash and Firespout come in handy as well, and you should just turn the matchup into a grind. There aren't a lot of cards that you're really afraid of post-board, as Ancient Grudge deals with most of the ones that would normally give you problems, such as Spellskite and Torpor Orb.
Firespout is one of the better sideboard options, as it completely hoses most the creatures Zoo can throw at you, aside from maybe a Knight of the Reliquary or Tarmogoyf. Other aggro decks just fold under it, and few will really expect it coming from you. Flame Slash teams up with Firespout to kill any creatures that could give you the business, which is very nice. You never want to be cold to a Meddling Mage after all. Having a plethora of removal after boarding can buy you enough time to get a Blood Moon online and set up your combo afterwards.
The Echoing Truths are a catch-all nod to any deck packing junk like Ghostly Prison that you couldn't otherwise deal with. You don't have a lot of ways to get those kinds of cards off the table, making Echoing Truth your best bet should they resolve multiple copies. Echoing Truth is also pretty absurd against the aggressive white decks that have been cropping up lately. Since all the tokens from cards like Spectral Procession have the same name, it can effectively act as a counterspell, which is great when you are just trying to buy enough time to kill them (or turn off Windbrisk Heights). Without Echoing Truth, you don't really have much of an answer to problematic permanents that aren't artifacts, so keep that in mind when trying to figure out what your opponents will be bringing in against you.
As you can probably tell from my erratic jumping from deck to deck every week, Modern is completely wide open as far as playability is concerned. The biggest concern is making sure that your deck, no matter what you decide to pilot, can handle anything thrown at it. Glass Cannon types of combo decks are fine in a vacuum, but the format is full of various forms of hate that are really difficult to prepare against, and potent to boot. Have you ever tried to beat an Angel's Grace with Hive Mind? It isn't pretty.
As the format evolves into a workable landscape, I'm going to continue brewing all sorts of monstrosities and trying them out in Daily Events for your viewing pleasure. I really hope you enjoy the videos I made with Splinter Twin this week, as they were a lot of fun (as always). If you guys have any questions about the deck, please feel free to ask in the forums. As far as individual matchups are concerned, I feel like it is too early in the format to really give a detailed sideboarding guide or anything like that, but when I find the best deck, you can be sure I'll do an in-depth analysis on the matchups and sideboarding strategies.
Until I am perfectly comfortable with a "perfect" 75, I'm not going to try and give you guys bad advice. As always, the biggest piece of advice I can give you for any deck, for any format, is practice. If you don't play any matches with the deck yourself, all the sideboarding guides in the world won't help you. Now get out there and go break some mirrors already!
Thanks for reading.
strong sad on MOL