Pro Tour Qualifiers are finally here. Not only does everyone get a chance to be a part of a Pro Tour in Barcelona but it's with an amazing format. Modern has been so much fun to play and should make this one of the best seasons ever. This week I will be talking about the format online and off as well as what I would take to battle. Let's go!
The first thing I want to talk about is how “wide open” this format actually is. Everyone who is talking about this format says you can play anything. Gerry just got wrapped up writing an amazing six-piece article about all of the decks out there. He is actually the reason I jumped into the format. His articles got me super interested because of how open the format seemed to be. I quickly found out that is not the case. At least not on Magic Online.
This format really comes down to a handful of decks.
These are the only decks that I see performing well on MTGO. This isn't because these are the only decks being played. These are just the ones actually winning events and there is a reason for this.
Merfolk is still doing well because it gets to exploit the presence of all the other blue-based decks in the format. Blue is going to be the most powerful color all season and that makes Merfolk a very scary deck. It is fast enough that it can even beat other aggressive decks while holding the blue throne.
Affinity is up in the air to me. It is very good if people do not fear it but there will be a time when people do. It is very easily hated out but does not get the respect necessary for Affinity players to worry. Cranial Plating and Arcbound Ravager might not be as powerful without all of the artifact lands but this deck still has the ability to win.
U/R Storm is also on this list because not enough decks in the format are running hate to beat this deck. Creatures backed up by a single counterspell seem to drive this deck into the ground yet there just aren't that many decks doing that right now. I feel this will change soon but this deck is good enough until it does.
Splinter Twin is an interesting deck; I feel it gets most of its power from its opponent not knowing how to properly play against it. It is very difficult to know what decisions to make when so many lines end up losing the game. It sometimes comes down to a guessing game that is a straight-up coin flip. The instant speed of the deck as well as its numerous protection spells make it very powerful.
Melira Combo is the combined aggro and control deck of the format. It has tools to disrupt combo decks as well as Kitchen Finks to build difficult boards for aggressive decks. The combo is just the way the deck wins but I feel that it is only slightly better than just attacking with guys.
These are the combo and aggro decks that make up the format. Every format has them when they are good enough and these are the ones that pass the test. All of these decks get onto the board very quickly and pose immediate problems for an opponent. Most of the other decks out there need to adapt on turn one to keep up but aren't designed to do so.
Being quick and adaptable is the biggest problem with Jund decks and the reason they are falling from popularity. Jund was a very powerful deck at the beginning of the season when people were just trying to find out what was good. Just like in the past this deck got to exploit decks that were not tuned and just powerful spells every turn. This is no longer the case; everything else has gotten better yet Jund has nowhere to go. This deck will be just as good tomorrow as it was yesterday; that's why it won't be a good choice to take into any battle. I feel the same way about control decks.
The only decks I found to be able to fight this field are U/G/x Delver/Goyf variants. The deck that I'd take to battle is this.
The most important thing to know about this deck is to save sac lands for your upkeep if you have Delver of Secrets in play and can afford the life loss. This is an easy way to get rid of unwanted cards and create chances to flip one Delver if you have multiples. I missed a couple of these in my videos and feel stupid as hell for doing so.
There are a couple reasons I like this deck more than BUG. The biggest reason is that red gives us Ancient Grudge. Obviously this card is the best thing ever against Affinity but that is not all it does. Shackles is a card that I think will blow up soon and this is the best answer in a mirror match where Shackles is the key to winning. It also is a great way to deal with Birthing Pod which is the only card I am scared of against Melira decks.
The removal in red is cheaper yet still kills everything that is not a Tarmogoyf. Having cheaper removal gives this deck slight advantages when interacting with the deck's own Snapcaster Mages and counterspells. There is a big difference between three and four mana as well as five and six. These removal spells also go to the dome making Snapcaster Mage a very big threat going lethal out of nowhere.
Next Level Blue decks have gotten so much better with the recent bannings as well as the inclusion of Innistrad. Both of these things factor into why this deck is even playable. The addition of Delver of Secrets and Snapcaster Mage make this deck insane. The biggest problem Next Level Blue had in the past was being able to find enough threats to keep the heat on their opponents. The deck was amazing when a Tarmogoyf was there but would just fizzle without one because they drew weak cheap drops instead of the powerful cards other decks had. Having four creatures to win games drastically changes how the average game plays out.
As I said before Vedalken Shackles is the card that puts this deck over the edge in some matchups. This card is best against other Tarmogoyf decks but it still plays an important role against anything that is trying to get into the red zone. Against Affinity you have an answer that deal with Etched Champion; against Melira it is almost impossible for them to go off with this in play; and most importantly it is the most fun you can have playing Magic.
One card that I kept trying to put in this deck was Spell Snare. You would think that this card would fit this deck perfectly but there are very few two-drops you really worry about. This deck really doesn't want too many dead cards in the maindeck and Vedalken Shackles and Flame Slash are the only two I deem worthy enough. Spell Pierce is also a much better card in matches where you would want Spell Snare. It eventually got the cut.
Flame Slash is actually an interesting card to be playing in the main. Burst Lightning and Lightning Bolt make sense because they also go to the dome and make Snapcaster Mages very effective against combo decks. The only reason I am playing Flame Slash at all is because a cheap four damage is sometimes very important.
The biggest win with this card is when an opponent runs out a Tarmogoyf as a 2/3 with Serum Visions and a sac land in the yard. This has happened multiple times where I get to pick off one of these bad boys for free. It is also nice to have this amount of damage against Merfolk when they have a field of 3/3s and an active Vial. These situations come up often enough to make the lack of direct damage worth it.
I bet most of you are wondering why Deprive is in this deck. It is very rare that the cost to your mana development actually hurts you. The only situations I can think of are when you have to burn one early and want to play Shackles. You can look at it another way and enjoy the fact that there is a two-mana counterspell that completely protects a Vedalken Shackles when you desperately need to set one up.
The Threads of Disloyalty slot is up in the air for me right now. I have been happy with it but there are also other cards I might want in its place. Another Flame Slash Engineered Explosives or Deprive I could see making room for. This slot depends on what you think you will be facing in your environment and obviously more things will have to change when the format evolves again.
I am going to do things a bit differently this week. Not only am I going to discuss what to do in the more common matchups I will have videos to go with them as well. Let's get started.
Merfolk is a pretty good matchup if you respect their ability to gain tempo. The most important villain is Lord of Atlantis. This guy is a nightmare so make sure you keep an instant-speed removal spell around if you can. This guy ends games when they are ahead and is sometimes the only way they can win. Make sure to think about him. Also do not steal him with Shackles! Lord of Atlantis is an old design and gives all creatures of that type the bonus. It does not matter what side of the table he is on.
On the play a turn-two Tarmogoyf backed up with a Lightning Bolt and Snapcaster Mage can sometimes be enough. Make sure to read the game correctly and know when to attack with them. It is often correct to start bashing when they reach 4/5 because Merrow Reejerey can keep them from blocking anyway.
This is also a pretty decent matchup. Game one can be difficult on the draw since the counterspells lose a ton of value. On the play they become amazing answers to all of the problem spells like Cranial Plating and Arcbound Ravager. They lean on these cards to deal enough initial damage to make direct damage lethal. Just kill everything relevant in sight and wait for them to draw horrible cards to your playables.
There really isn't much to say about this matchup. This is by far the easiest matchup because we have cheap threats and counterspells. Just try to get something down and hold up a counterspell or Vendilion Clique. Clique can come down mid-combo and take the spell they need.
This matchup can be a bit difficult depending on whether their Spellskite hits the board or not. This guy blanks your removal spells which means you have to rely on counterspells to do all the disrupting. The basic plan is to just get some guys out and try to race them before they can set the combo up. Make sure to bluff as much as possible since it is difficult for them to actually pull the trigger in the early turns if you have open mana.
Sorry guys I do not have a video for this matchup.
The only scare card in this matchup is Birthing Pod. Try to protect yourself from this card with your countermagic if you can. The rest of the deck really doesn't do anything to you if you can keep this artifact off the table. Chord of Calling is usually the only way they can deal with Vedalken Shackles if they don't resolve Birthing Pod so make sure to play around that as well.
Everything else is really a cakewalk.
U/B BUG and RUG (Delver)
BUG has Dark Confidant over Snapcaster Mage and also has removal for Tarmogoyf. They do not have Vedalken Shackles and a way to get it off the table. Hand disruption is powerful but not as powerful as a Vedalken Shackles in play.
These matchups play out differently depending on how fast someone comes out of the gates. I generally like to be the more controlling player since I feel I am more equipped to do so. Engineered Explosives and Academy Ruins is a soft lock that is difficult to come back from with any of these versions.
Sideboarding really comes down to what deck they are playing and what you think they will be doing. I would bring in Surgical Extraction in the exact 75-card mirror match but not against BUG without Snapcaster Mage. Just ask yourself what the most important thing is in the specific matchup you are in. Most games will come down to exactly that. The only other way is if someone gets a few unanswered Delver of Secrets.
These are the big matchups you will face on Magic Online. The rest of the field is so vast that it is difficult to write about everything out there. All I can tell you is that this deck does have trouble with some of the rogue decks. The more “open” people think this metagame is the more losses you will take. I think it will be easier to win three matches in a PTQ Top 8 than it will be to win the first three rounds of that very tournament.
One card that I want to look into if this deck becomes more popular is Grim Lavamancer. Not only is this guy really good against aggressive decks but it can be great in the mirror match. This guy gives you more things to do which is always important. It might even be correct to take out one Sleight of Hand in the main for one of these guys right away. That is only if I am not crazy and this deck becomes a big part of the metagame.
I hope you guys enjoyed this article and I look forward to seeing you guys next week!