This weekend features the TCGplayer Modern State Championships. There was also a Modern Open in Indianapolis and several MTGO Modern leagues. Lots of different decks performed well, including several sweet new brews that look insanely fun to play. After crunching the numbers and combining the results of this weekend with the metagame going into the weekend, I found that there are 10 decks that stand apart from the rest as the defining decks of the format.
Affinity was the #1 deck in the format not too long ago. It has since dropped off significantly and barely scratches the surface of the Top 10 decks. I'm not sure why this is. Maybe too much incidental hate for Thopter Sword decks? Whatever the reason, I would not skimp on artifact hate this weekend. Affinity is exactly the type of deck that punishes an unsuspecting field. It managed to win a pair of Championships this weekend, including this streamlined list that Ethan Brown won the Oregon State Championship with.
Don't think that just because Affinity dropped in the rankings a bit that it is any less capable of winning a tournament. It does what it does and is still the best game one deck in the format.
Like Affinity, Jund has also waned in popularity a bit recently. Unlike Affinity though, Jund gained a powerful new card in Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Nick Lociano won the Louisiana State Championship with this list and I like a lot of the things he is doing here. Courser of Kruphix works great with fetchlands and keeps the deck from drawing unwanted discard spells later in the game. I would like to fit a Slaughter Pact into the deck somehow, but otherwise I think the list is great.
While Affinity and Jund seem to be on the decline, Elves are on the rise! Several pros showed up to GP Detroit during Eldrazi Winter with Elves because they felt it was too powerful not to play. Without Eye of Ugin in the format any longer, Elves might be the most "broken" deck of the format. It can combo kill fast, play through removal, and literally Overrun an opponent (using Ezuri, Renegade Leader's ability). It's the more consistent of the two Chord of Calling + Collected Company decks, but it's a little less versatile than Melira Company since its only real disruptive card it can Chord for is Reclamation Sage. Post-board it gains extra bullets. Joe Stimec certainly made sure to pack a full chamber of bullets in his sideboard en route to a Kansas State Championship win. Be ready for the pointy-eared menace lest they trample you underfoot.
It never fails to surprise me just how many substantially different decks exist that are based around Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. The gamut of cards these decks can run is broad, and includes but it not limited to Scapeshift, Primeval Titan, Prismatic Omen, Khalni Heart Expedition, Pia and Kiran Nalaar, and Cryptic Command. Nathan Smith won the Nebraska State Championship with a R/G version packing both Scapeshift and Prime Time. I like the one-dimensional focus of his list. He's not entirely reliant on Scapeshift or Primeval Titan, but either one pretty much wins the game upon resolution.
Scapeshift isn't the only red/green big mana deck of the format. Joni Bailey took second place in the Oklahoma State Championship with a well-tuned version of R/G Tron. In her list, she uses Sanctum of Ugin in place of Eye of Ugin, allowing her to search out Wurmcoil Engine, World Breaker, Spellskite, or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Between Pyroclasm, Oblivion Stone, and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, she has plenty of ways to wipe an opposing board. She also has Karn Liberated, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, and World Breaker to pinpoint exile a specific problematic permanent. This list looks solid; and the continued success of RG Tron proves that it is able to Withstand the banning of Eye of Ugin.
Infect has been around #5 for a while. Last weekend it finished 2nd place in Indianapolis in the hands of Team Metagame Guru's Andrew Jessup. Joshua Purvis also made Top 4 in the Kansas State Championship. Purvis chose to run Slip Through Space over Distortion Strike, which serve similar purposes, and he chose to run two copies of Wild Defiance main. In a world of Lightning Bolts and other cheap burn spells, Wild Defiance is a great metagame call. Everyone will be packing Electrolyze and Lightning Bolts for all the Affinity, Elves, Infect, and Zoo decks. This makes Wild Defiance shine that much brighter. It's also a way to pump your Inkmoth Nexus even if your pump spell gets countered since it triggers upon being targeted, regardless of whether the spell actually resolves.
A lot of people, myself included, thought this deck might end up #1 after this weekend. We weren't far off.
Three colors with less acceleration make Abzan Company slower to develop than Elves, but what it lacks in speed it makes up for in versatility. It's not all-in on flooding the board with Elves to Overrun the opponent. Instead it can play a more controlling game and piece together its combo even from an empty board. My intuition is that Abzan Company is better than Elves, and each deck's relative position in the rankings supports this intuition, but if graveyard hate rises in popularity, I could easily see Elves surpassing Abzan as the top Chord/Company deck of the format.
The breakout card of the weekend had to be Nahiri, the Harbinger. And the breakout deck of the weekend was Jeskai Control featuring the Emrakul, the Aeons Torn win condition. Team Metagame Guru's Pete Ingram won the Indianapolis Open with the deck and Vidianto Wijaya took second place in the Southern California State Championship.
The deck plays out like a control deck with a combo kill, much like the old Jeskai Twin decks. It doesn't surprise me that Snapcaster Mage defines the third-best deck of the format and I expect it to be very popular again this weekend.
Some call it R/G Aggro, some call it "small zoo", but most are simply dead before they can even process what deck they're up against. Kyle Boggemes regained his long-lost Michigan State Champion title with an awesome version of the deck. He has since made a few sideboard alterations that he talks about in his tournament report. This deck really dominated last weekend and it would not surprise me to see it take over the #1 spot by this time next week.
I don't think Burn has ever been THE deck to beat in Modern, but here we are. Logan Black won the Oklahoma State Championship with this list and several others made Top 8 across the country. Burn is often a well-positioned deck since beating it requires making too many concessions. It's usually better to pack extra hate for Affinity and ignore Burn, but it appears the script has been reversed. Now Affinity is barely Tier 1 and Burn is the top deck in the format! With R/G Aggro and Burn being the top two decks of the format, it is definitely time to start packing Timely Reinforcements and answers to Atarka's Command. No more sleeping on the red deck. Don't be like this dog. The room is on fire. This is NOT fine.
Several decks from last weekend stood out to me as super fun-looking to play, yet weren't represented enough to be considered format-defining decks. In this next section let's take a look at the coolest decks from this weekend. Keep in mind each of these decks did well, so they are at least competitive enough to 5-0 a Modern League or Top 8 a State Championship. More importantly, their fun factor is off the charts!
Nick White made Top 8 of the New York State Championship with this Mardu deck featuring FIVE different Planeswalkers! He runs enough of the necessary cheap interaction spells to have game against most of the top decks, but he gains maximum style points for selecting the entire Justice League as his win condition package.
I want to put this deck together online and play it. It must feel so sweet playing Inquisition of Kozilek into Terminate into Liliana of Veil into Ajani Vengeant into Gideon Jura or Ob Nixilis Reignited and then topping it off with Chandra, Flamecaller. Congrats on the finish and on the sweet brew!
Last week I talked about several Ancestral Vision decks as well as a few decks built around Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Andrew Jebs managed to Top 8 the New York State Championship with an Esper list that jammed both together and more! In addition to all the sweet Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet interactions, including Liliana of the Veil and Slaughter Pact, he also has Monastery Mentor and a bunch of cheap spells, with four copies of Ancestral Vision to reload.
Slivers made Top 16 at last weekend's Modern Open and Eugene Sesma III made Top 8 of the Southern California State Championship with Slivers. While it's a deck that's been around ever since Collected Company was printed, it's still a super cool deck and must be loads of fun to play. It's likely a worse Collected Company deck than Elves or Abzan Company, but it's definitely more fun.
Death's Shadow is nothing new to Modern, but most versions are zoo-like, running Wild Nacatl and/or Monastery Swiftspear and a bunch of pump spells such as Mutagenic Growth, Become Immense, and Temur Battle Rage. Colton Anderson made Top 4 of the Oregon State Championship with essentially a Black/White version filled with tons of spicy synergies. He uses Hex Parasite to pay all his life for no effect, just to get the Death's Shadow to full size. Angel's Grace allows him to go to zero life and live. Faith's Shield then makes all his permanents protection from the color of the opponent's blocker/removal spell. Slaughter Pact and Pact of Negation are free the turn he goes for it. Plunge into Darkness digs deep into the library to find a missing combo piece while also paying life to set up the Death's Shadow. Spoils of the Vault does the same. Tainted Strike gives the creature Infect, essentially turning it into lethal. And Thoughtseize and Gitaxian Probe give you full information about exactly what you need to do to successfully go for it. I haven't seen the deck in action yet, but it looks fun!
This deck runs a bunch of cheap pump spells and ritual effects to attack for lethal with a single copy of Monastery Swiftspear, Blistercoil Weird, or Kiln Fiend in a single turn. It has Mutagenic Growth to protect its threats from Lightning Bolt and Apostle's Blessing to protect them from other removal spells, so it's not entirely a glass cannon, but it is definitely fragile. Still it has plenty of draws that will steamroll the opponent. It's refreshing to see a mono-red deck with no burn spells main deck. That's not something you see every day.
Henry Romero came within one match of becoming Oregon State Champion, losing to Affinity in the finals. He may not be State Champion, but his deck is full of win. It has Thopter Foundry + Sword of the Meek to win the long game. It also has Vedalken Shackles, Engineered Explosives, and Executioner's Capsule to play a controlling game. The sweetest part of the deck, however, is the five copies of Tezzeret In this deck Tezzeret feels a lot like Nahiri, the Harbinger because you essentially win the game in short order when you ultimate the Planeswalker. If this deck and Affinity squared off in the finals, Oregon must not have been packing enough artifact hate! Long live Tezzeret!
As cool as these other five decks are, the max fun factor grand prize has to go to this R/G land destruction deck. It not only went 5-0 in a Modern League in the hands of Selvantis but also finished second place in the Michigan State Championship, losing to Kyle Boggemes in the finals. Between Arbor Elf, Birds of Paradise, and Utopia Sprawl, the deck has ten one-mana accelerants. It then has three Blood Moon, four Molten Rain, and four Stone Rain to kill a land on the second turn. It then has Mwonvuli Acid-Moss and Goblin Dark-Dweller to keep the land destruction plan going. It tops off with Stormbreath Dragon, Thragtusk, Thrun, the Last Troll, and Inferno Titan to finish things off. Thrun, the Last Troll and Stormbreath Dragon seem great against all the Nahiri Jeskai decks while Inferno Titan takes care of all the creature decks like Infect, Elves, Affinity, and anything trying to tread water with Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch. It also sideboards three copies of Anger of the Gods, which combo nicely with the three Goblin Dark-Dwellers in the main. The deck feels real and is brand new. It would not surprise me to see it put up another strong showing in Los Angeles or Charlotte this weekend.
My picks are R/G Aggro at Grand Prix Charlotte and Burn at Grand Prix Los Angeles. There are lots of viable decks in Modern right now though. Beyond the ten mentioned in the Top 10 list, there is also Merfolk, Living End, Death's Shadow, Abzan, Ad Nauseam, Bogles, various forms of Hatebears, W/B Tokens, and too many other decks to name individually. If you have a deck you've been testing and it's doing well, I suggest trusting your intuition and sticking with it. But if you're looking for something new to play, ask yourself whether you want to maximize your win rate or your fun factor and choose your deck accordingly.
Have fun playing Modern this weekend!