The banning of Faithless Looting and Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis and the unbanning of Stoneforge Mystic were some of the biggest changes in Modern's eight-year history, and we've only started to feel their impact. Last week I shared my observations of the new post-ban metagame after the first weekend of play, but now after another weekend play that included multiple high-profile tournaments with a huge number of players, things are really starting to get interesting. The changes have dramatically increased interest in the format on Magic Online and led to massive increases in tournament attendance.
Last weekend featured a quarterly Modern Playoff event for the Magic Online Championship Series (MOCS), and it unexpectedly reached its limit of 384 players, leaving many others to complain on Twitter. The next day's Players Tour Qualifier (the new name for MCQs), the first ever online, drew over 400 players for a ten-round marathon. The metagame seemed to mostly confirm the results of last week—Azorius Stoneblade continues to excel, as do Urza, Lord High Artificer decks, and old favorites like Burn, Jund and Eldrazi Tron have sustained the successes of last weekend. What's exciting are the handful of rogue decks that broke this paradigm and put up extremely impressive results, revealing themselves to the world as potential contenders for Modern's new top-tier.
To the point, finishing in first place at the Modern Playoff was a Niv-Mizzet Reborn deck.
This archetype has come a long way from when it first appeared after the printing of Niv-Mizzet Reborn, because it has evolved to include some of the best cards from Modern Horizons. Arcum's Astrolabe is quickly becoming a Legacy staple, played in Four-Color Control decks and now even Miracles, and it's certainly an ideal mana-fixer for this five-color Modern deck.
The deck also makes great use of Wrenn and Six, which fuels mana by recurring fetchlands and helps give the deck a nice tool for its removal suite, all while being a gold card for Niv-Mizzet Reborn.
Kess, Dissident Mage does incredible work in the deck, especially with its ability to re-cast Bring to Light, but all of the spells down to even Safewright Quest are great options. The new Kaya's Guile joins the spell suite as a very versatile tool and maindeck-playable graveyard hosers, while Kolaghan's Command helps contain Stoneforge Mystic and can even re-buy Niv-Mizzet Reborn.
This is a Jund-style midrange deck at heart, but with the versatility of a huge toolbox of very high-impact spells. The deck lacks much meaningful pressure and the ability to quickly kill opponents with aggressive creatures like Tarmogoyf, but it does seem to have the tools to beat anything. It even has maindeck Unmoored Ego to deal with problem cards, along with a sideboard of fourteen unique cards to deal with specific strategies. The deck certainly stopped everyone last weekend, so now all eyes are on it to see if it can keep putting up results.
Niv-Mizzet Reborn putting up its biggest result and was certainly surprising, but the deck isn't entirely new. It's a known quantity that seems to have hit the next level. What has me floored is the deck that finished in ninth place of the PTQ, which looks closer to my Vintage deck than anything I've ever played in Modern.
Paradoxical Outcome is the centerpiece of a broken Vintage strategy that combines it with the Unlimited Moxes and other cheap artifact mana like Mana Crypt and Mana Vault. That includes Mox Opal, which does the heavy lifting for this Modern version. Here it's supported by a ton of other cheap artifacts like Everflowing Chalice and Mishra's Bauble, which combine with Paradoxical Outcome to draw a ton of extra cards. Things are super-charged when Urza, Lord High Artificer joins in to turn all of these artifacts into Mox Sapphire and makes Paradoxical Outcome a broken mana and card drawing engine just like in Vintage. Sai, Master Thopterist and Saheeli, Sublime Artificer serve as the win conditions, generating tokens for each spell cast.
Backed by Urza, these threats mean the deck is plenty capable of playing a relatively fair game and just winning with token creatures. When things are firing on all cylinders however, drawing the entire deck is a very real possibility, at which point Nexus of Fate comes in to take all the turns and lock out the opponent. That ensures they never get a chance to win the game on their turn, which helps against the other broken decks in the format.
The deck also includes some disruption by taking a page from the Krark-Clan Ironworks combo playbook with a set of Engineered Explosives as a blanket disruption spell to help get out of all sorts of jams. The sideboard opens up the deck to play more of a midrange game in the face of disruption, with access to planeswalkers and disruption of its own.
The deck offers a very intriguing alternative to the typical Urza, Lord High Artificer decks, replacing the Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek engine with a Paradoxical Outcome endgame. The deck's pilot said that the deck has the advantage of playing better against artifact hosers and disruption, which makes sense because even as zero-mana do-nothing plays the artifacts in the deck can still draw cards with Paradoxical Outcome, generate tokens from Sai and Saheeli, and even make mana when Urza is in play. The cat is out of the bag, and copycats are sure to follow—I know I can't wait to give it a try. With some time we'll soon see if this finish was a fluke that simply caught opponents by surprise, or if it holds up as one of Modern's most broken new decks.
Finishing just after the Paradoxical Outcome deck in 10th place was the new face of Bridgevine, which has been forced to find a new identity after losing Faithless Looting, Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis, and its old namesake Bridge from Below.
With no need to play red for Faithless Looting, the deck is free to move into blue to explore an exciting new angle: the Prized Amalgam and Narcomoeba that are so effective for Dredge decks. Some Hogaak decks already played blue for Hedron Crab, and this deck goes further by adding Glimpse the Unthinkable and Memory Sluice as additional graveyard enablers. The deck is a true monstrosity, and while I am a bit concerned about its consistency and maybe its power level compared to true Dredge, I have no doubt the deck is capable of some truly impressive starts. It also certainly has its own advantages, and in particularly looks to have great tools for beating hosers by playing an aggressive game with its nearly 30 creatures, all castable.
The blue base also opens up the nasty surprise of a set of Force of Negation in the sideboard, which comes in to disrupt unfair decks. Vintage Dredge decks are accustomed to doing this with Force of Will, but until now Modern Dredge decks could only dream of it. Now that many Modern versions have replaced Faithless Looting with Tome Scour and some have even added Hedron Crab, I wonder if they could be further tuned to support Force of Negation, maybe by taking a hint from this deck and adding Glimpse the Unthinkable.
Another deck with a breakout weekend (Top 8 in the Modern Playoff) was the planeswalker-focused variation of the Devoted Druid and Vizier of Remedies combo deck that emerged after War of the Spark.
This deck first appeared after War of the Spark as a new approach to Devoted Druid and Vizier of Remedies, which was struggling in a metagame filled with removal-laden Arclight Phoenix decks. Teferi, Time Raveler serves as a great way to protect the combo, while Karn, the Great Creator gives the deck a potent secondary plan with the Mycosynth Lattice lock. Finale of Devastation also gave the deck an upgrade, and the deck further improved when Modern Horizons provided Eladamri's Call as the new best tutor effect for creatures in the format. It's all tied together by Oath of Nissa and powered by the Arbor Elf/Utopia Sprawl engine to create a potent deck with multiple angles of attack. It has been a minor rogue player in the metagame for months, but it just wasn't quite there in a metagame with Faithless Looting and Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis. It's now on the rise, and potentially a real player.
Ultimately winning the PTQ was a Mardu Death's Shadow deck. The deck broke out by winning MagicFest Birmingham despite Hogaak being legal, and there's no reason it shouldn't be just as successful now. A few weeks ago I identified the deck as a post-ban player so I wouldn't have mentioned it again today if not for the addition of fantastic new technology: a playset of Giver of Runes.
The addition of Giver of Runes represents a subtle shift in the deck's strategy, away from a Jund-style game focused on disruption to a deck more centered around Death's Shadow and its combo with Temur Battle Rage. Giver of Runes wouldn't cut it in a deck with just Death's Shadow to protect, but the other creatures surrounding it make it perfect here. It's ideal for defending Tidehollow Sculler on-curve, and it's tutorable by Ranger-Captain of Eos. It's also recurrable with Kolaghan's Command and Unearth, so while it will have a target on its head, it won't be easy for the opponent to remove for good.
To fit the Giver, this list doesn't cut action but rather drops Mishra's Bauble, which really only had the effect of shrinking the deck to 56 cards and offering minor synergy with fetchlands shuffling away bad cards. Now the deck is packed with more action and has more tools at its disposable, and the results speak for themselves.
The changes to Modern have brought another variation of Death's Shadow into the conversation: a Jund version based around Traverse the Ulvenwald.
The first midrange Death's Shadow decks as we know them now emerged after the banning of Gitaxian Probe nerfed the more aggressive Five-Color Zoo deck that first brought Death's Shadow to prominence. This update is barely different from those first Jund decks, but the details have changed considerably.
The designer of this list, Matt Nass, said on Twitter that Traverse the Ulvenwald improved after Modern Horizons added Plague Engineer and Collector Ouphe to the toolbox. The deck has also gained access to Wrenn and Six, which sits in this sideboard. It's effective for hosing decks with x/1 creatures, and it forms a nice land destruction package with Ghost Quarter, which is tutorable by Traverse the Ulvenwald. Wrenn and Six also does great work with the set of maindeck Nurturing Peatland, which is easy to miss but likely the best addition of all to the deck from Modern Horizons. Paying life just fuels Death's Shadow, and the ability to convert into a card is incredibly useful for a deck that lacks ways to generate card advantage.
This has been a common thread through all of these decklists—Modern Horizons has improved their fortunes, and the fortunes of many other Modern decks. In fact, it seems that the decks best able to use these new cards are those finding the most success in the post-Hogaak world. Urza, Lord High Artificer is quickly becoming the format's new bogeyman, and Wrenn and Six might not be far behind, but even more innocuous cards like Arcum's Astrolabe and Prismatic Vista are changing the format from the ground up and will continue to do so as long as Modern is played.
Adam Yurchick is a competitive Magic player and writer. He analyzes Modern and Eternal formats and keeps a weather eye on shifts in the metagame.