Unlike Standard, or even Legacy, Modern currently seems to be a format dominated by the combo decks. This is not to say that there aren't other decks - of course there need to be other decks in the format to attempt and stop these combo decks - but it seems the Abzan and Jund Midrange decks of the world are a bit underpowered. You might think that Abzan or Jund would be able to keep these decks in check, but the fact is it is very possible to build around the tools of these green/black based strategies. Let's go ahead and look at some of the hottest Modern decks and see how they measure up to one another.
This past weekend was one of the largest Modern events ever, and one of the decks on everyone's mind was Amulet Bloom. Here is Chris VanMeter's list which he finished second with at the SCG. Invitational:
In terms of the actual list, at this point there is very little room for innovation in the maindeck, as so many of the numbers have been heavily tested to find what seems to be a nearly optimal build here. One card in this list that was a new add was Dragonlord Dromoka. VanMeter himself admits that this innovation was probably just a bit too cute. There are times when there is a an urge to add a card to a deck to make it seem like your own deck, but in this case Dragonlord Dromoka just isn't a card worth looking into. Instead of the Dragonlord Dromoka, I would recommend either the typical singleton Simian Spirit Guide, or even a maindeck Hornet Queen. I have recently heard two advocates of this deck in Alexander Hayne and Chris VanMeter talk about the importance of adding another basic land to either the maindeck or sideboard, to help protect against Ghost Quarter and make you a bit better versus Blood Moon.
Unlike the maindeck, in the sideboard there are some slots to play around with. VanMeter has two Seal of Primordial in the board, and I would recommend adding a third. The reason Seal of Primordial is so good, is that it is an answer to Blood Moon that sits in play, and can also destroy a Splinter Twin in a pinch. The Chromatic Lantern is the best way to work around Blood Moon and this seems like a sweet one-of unique to VanMeter's list. The creature package is what helps make the midrange decks favorable matchups after boarding. You would think that Jund or Abzan would have an edge over Amulet Blood, but that is not the case. These decks fold to a Hornet Queen most of the time.
While there wasn't a copy of Amulet Bloom in the Top 8 there were still plenty of players who did well with the deck, though it is not easy to play, which is what stops it from showing up in super large numbers. The deck will combo off on turn two some amount of the time, and on turn three or four it is usually possible to get that Primeval Titan into play through disruption. Supposedly the worst matchup for Amulet Bloom is Splinter Twin, but even that matchup is actually pretty close. Personally, I consider Amulet Bloom to be a tier one deck at the moment.
Speaking of tier one decks, the most popular combo card in the format still has to be Splinter Twin. Surprisingly going into GP Charlotte it seemed that Grixis Twin was more popular than straight Blue/Red Twin, yet the two Splinter Twin decks that made the Top 8 of the event were both straight Blue/Red Twin. Here is Sam Pardee's list:
Since the deck is straight Blue/Red there is some room for cards like Roast and multiple copies of Dispel. There are a few cards that might be slightly worse than the black options, but is playing black worth messing up the manabase? After seeing the results of this weekend, and playing Grixis Twin myself I'm still unsure which Twin deck is better, though I would lean slightly towards straight Blue/Red. The biggest draw to black seems to be Kolaghan's Command, Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Terminate, but I don't know if that's enough. The tech for the mirror is the single Cavern of Souls in the maindeck and the one copy of Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir that's in the board. Once in play this card will make it nearly impossible for the opposing Twin player to win.
Twin may be the best deck that plays Blood Moon, and two color Twin is naturally a better fit for Blood Moon than three color Twin. The decks which made the Top 8 in Charlotte didn't get there with an inconsistent manabase.
Here is GP Winner Michael Malone's Elf deck:
I have heard pro's make comments about how this Elf deck has zero good matchups, which isn't quite true, but to an extent there aren't that many decks you are actively looking to face with Elves. That being said, this deck is so consistent and redundant, that if an opposing deck stumbles, they usually have no chance to catch back up. It seems that singletons that are tutorable are becoming the name of the game for these green combo decks, and we see a bunch of one-ofs here. Michael has opted to only run one creature which can't be found via Collected Company, which means during the early turns there will be a bunch of creatures to play.
It is true that the deck is vulnerable to some hate cards, but a card like Grim Lavamancer seems to be seeing less play recently. Still, worrying about Pyroclasm out of the controlling decks with red is valid. I like the Burrenton Forge-Tender as a surprise answer to a red sweeper effect. Overall there weren't that many people playing this deck at the Grand Prix, yet it came out on top, which should say a good amount about the strength of the deck.
While the Elf deck was an archetype players were expecting, there were other combo decks in the Top 8, which I'm confident people weren't prepared for. The Breach Reanimator deck, is a new deck which I expect will start to rise in popularity as it's not only very powerful but also is one of the most enjoyable decks to play with in Modern. Here is the list of Zach Jesse:
Some people may be familiar with older versions of Goryo's Vengeance combo decks, which relied on both Griselbrand and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn in order to win, but this version has complexly cut Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. The primary gameplan is to get a Griselbrand into play, either via Through the Breach or by discarding the Griselbrand and then reanimating it with Goryo's Vengeance. If Griselbrand isn't available you can also put into play a Borborygmos Enraged or Worldspine Wurm, which are also big heavy hitters. These creatures are also important to have because they are green. Yes, there are a full four copies of Nourishing Shoal, which is a great way of staying alive, especially against decks like Burn which are trying to race you.
The primary use for Nourishing Shoal though is it allows you to draw your whole deck, and off-set the life loss from Griselbrand activations. Even with access to additional mana the turn you go off, there are still Simian Spirit Guides in your deck, which will provide additional red mana. Once drawing your whole deck, all that is necessary is to cast a Goryo's Vengeance targeting a Borborygmos Enraged and discarding a bunch of lands to kill the opponent. This play requires exiling at least two Simian Spirit Guide's, then you can cast a Desperate Ritual if necessary to make three red, then cast a Faithless Looting, discarding a Borborygmos Enraged, and then a Manamorphose, making black mana, to allow you to play the Goryo's Vengeance. This is just one possible line to win, but in general assuming your opponent has no interaction, if you get a Griselbrand into play it should be possible to win that same turn. The deck is surprisingly consistent with all of the card drawing and looting, and is much more consistent than previous versions of the deck. There are also four Blood Moons in the sideboard which can be cast on turn two pretty consistently. This Breach Reanimator deck is absolutely legitimate, and will be a contender in Modern moving forward.
Another deck which has been a fringe archetype is Ad Nauseum Unlife, which Darien Elderfield made the Top 4 of the GP with, here is the list:
The idea of Lightning Storming out the opponent is similar to the idea of discarding a bunch of lands to Borborygmos Enraged. Previous iterations of this deck didn't necessarily play Spoils of the Vault, but that card seems like a smart addition here. With either Phyrexian Unlife or Angel's Grace it is easy to prevent the loss of life caused with a Spoils of the Vault, or Ad Nauseum. The kill which people may be familiar with already is simply casting Angel's Grace, followed by an Ad Nauseum. This is similar to the Breach Reanimator deck, in that the plan is to draw your entire deck. The sideboard is geared towards surviving as long as possible, to help you combo off, and the Leyline of Sanctities help stop discard effects. This deck generally sets up to win on turn four, especially as that is when Lotus Bloom becomes un-suspended.
There was one more combo deck which made the Top 8 of GP Charlotte, which is Abzan Collected Company. This is a deck I have gone over before, but I really like what Ian Bosley has done with the deck, this is the list:
Not all versions of this deck run Linvala, Keeper of Silence, as it can't be hit off Collected Company. With that being said it is obvious that Ian wanted an edge in the mirror and other similar matchups. Just because Linvala, Keeper of Silence can't be found off Collected Company doesn't mean that Chord of Calling can't find it. The other choice that stands out is the two Melira, Sylvok Outcast. Melira, Sylvok Outcast fills the same role as Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit, but is insane versus Infect, and easier to cast. I wasn't sure that the deck needed multiple Melira, Sylvok Outcast, but a two-two split makes a lot of sense. The Fulminator Mages in the sideboard were also perfect for this weekend. Fulminator Mage is one of the hottest sideboard cards, and it can be found off Collected Company, which makes it feel like you are playing more than four copies.
Thanks for reading,