I have been knee deep in Modern during the past few weeks in preparation for Grand Prix Phoenix, and I've experienced a format that seems to be made no less diverse by the presence of Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Tournament results back up that claim, and the GP had a full eight different decks in the Top 8, which matches the results of other large events since the bannings, including the Modern Challenge on Magic Online last weekend, so the format looks as healthy as ever. There is also a great number of unique and rogue decks performing in online leagues, and this past week brought some that are too cool not to share.
One of my favorite decks I have ever played was an Extended Temur deck based around Pyromancer Ascension, which used it as a card advantage engine in a midrange shell rather than in its typical role of combo engine. It was enabled by Lightning Bolt and sets of cantrips Preordain and Ponder along with Manamorphose, which could also be copied to generate extra mana and would lead to some great combo-like draws that overwhelmed the opponent. I tried similar decks in the early days of Modern and they never materialized, but the printing of Opt has helped push the strategy forward. This deck that 5-0ed a league is very similar, except it ditches the old win condition of Tarmogoyf, which worked well with the base of spells, for the more powerful Thing in the Ice. It also adds Bedlam Reveler, which has recently been proven great in disruptive spell-heavy decks where it provides a threat and raw card advantage.
This deck goes further than my old deck because it includes a legitimate infinite combo engine with Pyromancer Ancestion by combining Manamorphose with Noxious Revival, which with Pyromancer Ascension active creates a repeatable loop that generates a mana and draws a card each cycle. This leads to drawing the entire deck with plenty of extra mana available, which should be enough to win the game with a few copied Lightning Bolt, or if not, will generate a hand full of Remand and a board full of threats that can win the next turn. The deck can also use its sideboard to slightly transform and change plans by becoming a more controlling Blue Moon deck with Blood Moon and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, or can get more aggressive with a set of Young Pyromancer.
Occupying a role somewhere between Blue-Red Storm and Blue-Red Pyromancer, this deck combines some of Modern's most efficient card selection and disruption spells with an assortment of its most powerful proactive plays. The result is a consistent and focused but flexible deck capable of shifting gears to attack its various opponents with whatever cards they are most vulnerable to.
Another Blast from the Past is this deck that uses the synergy of Life from the Loam and Seismic Assault to dominate the opponent's board or quickly kill them. Rather than playing this combination on top of a creature shell with Tarmogoyf and other threats like it used to do in Extended, this version uses it in a prison shell with Blood Moon, Ensnaring Bridge and Chalice of the Void, complete with Simian Spirit Guide as acceleration.
Red Prison decks have been seeing a surge in popularity and success in Modern and even Legacy, and one reason why is Chandra, Torch of Defiance, which added a versatile and powerful planeswalker that functions as removal, card advantage and a win condition all in one. The lock pieces in the deck support it by protecting it in various ways, and buying the time it needs to completely take over the game. Faithless Looting, Cathartic Reunion and Tormenting Voice are excellent here for digging into lock pieces or discarding extra copies of them or the win-conditions, and they generate raw card advantage when discarding extra lands provided by Life from the Loam.
The Hollow One deck has brought about a resurgence in graveyard-oriented Modern decks. Not all of them have put up tremendous tournament results, but it has led to widespread brewing around the graveyard. Faithless Looting has risen to be one of Modern's top staples that sees play in a variety of different decks, but one use I haven't seen is this list that uses it to help enable the combo of Necrotic Ooze and Griselbrand, which can also be reanimated by Goryo's Vengeance.
This deck can enact an effective aggressive plan with Bloodghast and Noose Constrictor, which is another graveyard enabler and gives Necrotic Ooze another ability, including the ability to discard Griselbrand, or – after it has drawn a ton of cards – its finisher Borborygmos Enraged or Razaketh, the Foulblooded to find it.
What's particularly innovative about this list is its use of Eldritch Evolution, which plays off the low-end creatures to enable the more powerful high-end. Noose Constrictor or Bloodghast can be turned into Necrotic Ooze, while even more impressive is breaking the cost restriction with the delve of Tasigur, the Golden Fang to find Griselbrand. Eldritch Evolution gets even better after sideboard when it can dig for bullets like Hazoret the Fervent and Pia and Kiran Nalaar that could allow it to win a fair game, particularly against graveyard hosers.
Affinity continues to do well in the Bloodbraid Elf era, and we've seen some alternative variations perform, including Hardened Scales Affinity and an Affinity-Eldrazi hybrid with Vile Aggregate. Another approach is this build truly focused on the affinity mechanic, complete with Frogmite and Myr Enforcer.
Basing a game plan around affinity spells means reducing the number of artifacts, which leads to this deck playing no colored spells in the main deck. Without colored requirements, the deck can do away with Spire of Industry and Glimmervoid, which allows it to cut down to a mere 12 lands. With such a high creature count, the deck plays Contested War Zone, which acts as an additional anthem effect to back up Signal Pest and helps the deck quickly take down the opponent. To help pad the artifact count for affinity, the deck plays a full set of Welding Jar, which is impressive against removal-rich decks like most of those with Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. It also adds Bomat Courier, which has had some success in traditional Affinity and is great at grinding against these midrange decks.
Affinity has survived the transition to the Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor metagame but seems to have fallen from the top tier, so this approach that minimizes the land count to make the deck better at grinding while simultaneously maximizing the speed and power level might be a great approach to the archetype.
The most surprisingly effective and impressive deck I came across in my Modern testing was Slivers, which seemed like a dream matchup for my Jund deck, but used Diffusion Sliver, Sedge Sliver and even Frenetic Sliver to hose my removal, along with Sliver Hive to inevitably grind me out.
Aether Vial and Collected Company in the same place may seem like a nonbo, but there's more than enough creatures to enable it – just think of Aether Vial like a land. I expect that the Modern Humans with Aether Vial would use Collected Company too if not for the fact that Ancient Ziggurat can't cast it, but this deck doesn't have that restriction.
Like the Humans deck, Slivers has access to many potential inclusions and is subject to tuning, so I could see this list performing at an even higher level if it is cleaned up and perfected.
It's not particularly flashy, but it was impossible not to admire the simplicity of this Mono-Blue Control deck that supports the best blue disruption in Modern with full sets of Snapcaster Mage and Torrential Gearhulk.
Adding a source of battlefield presence and some ramp towards Torrential Gearhulk is Eldrazi Skyspawner. Its body, along with Snapcaster Mage, is perfect fuel for the emerge cost of Elder Deep-Fiend, which tops off the flash-oriented deck and gives it the extra push it needs to close out opponents. Another threat is Faerie Conclave, which is great for pressuring planeswalkers or closing out the opponent while leaving mana open for counters. It's hard to say if this deck is really competitive or just had a lucky run, but the results stand for something, so maybe there is place in Modern for a classic draw-go control deck like this one.
One of the perennial archetypes of old Extended was Gifts Rock, which used Gifts Ungiven in a Black-Green Rock shell where it provided access to a huge toolbox of control elements. The deck had some minor success in the early days of Modern but never really survived the transition. When we have seen it, it has included the Gifts Ungiven-enabled combo of Unburial Rites and a massive creature to Reanimate, typically Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and Iona, Shield of Iona. Now could be the time for the strategy to make another stand, because it's back with a league 5-0.
The deck has gained some new tools over the past few years, with Fatal Push being the most important. Collective Brutality also plays well in the deck, where it functions as an additional graveyard enabler when the deck draws one of the reanimation pieces. The newest addition is Search for Azcanta, which adds some card selection, fills the graveyard, and when flipped is a great way to take over the endgame.
One place where this deck shines is its sideboard, which includes an impressive 15 one-ofs to bring Gifts Ungiven to its fullest potential. These one-ofs include the package of Life from the Loam and Raven's Crime, which combine with the maindeck Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to create an engine that can quickly discard the opponent's hand. Darkblast is another card that can be found with Gifts Ungiven and then dredged, while another possible inclusion that this list doesn't play is Wurm Harvest.
Another deck with access to a large toolbox of spells is this Bring to Light deck that uses Scapeshift as its primary win condition. More than a curiosity from a league, where it could be found 5-0ing this past week, the deck reached all the way to the Top 8 of GP Phoenix.
As opposed to being a purely mana-acceleration oriented deck with the goal of playing Primeval Titan or a lethal Scapeshift as soon as possible, this deck takes on a controlling role with plenty of interaction and disruption, including Lightning Bolt, Remand and Cryptic Command, all of which also protect Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The planeswalker is an alternate win condition, but is primarily a source of card advantage. An additional source of card advantage is Search of Azcanta, which has been impressive in a variety of Modern control decks, but might be best of all in a deck like this that can use it to dig towards combo pieces.
Everything is brought together by Bring to Light, which in addition to acting as extra copies of Scapeshift that increase consistency, adds versatility by digging for acceleration in the form of Hunting Wilds or supports the control plan by finding Supreme Verdict. Bring to Light gets even better after sideboard, where it adds redundancy by acting as extra copies of any sideboard bullets including Shatterstorm, Crumble to Dust and Glen Elendra Archmage. It also provides access to an alternative one-card combo to Scapeshift in the form of Madcap Experiment for Platinum Emperion.
When Jace, the Mind Sculptor was unbanned there was talk of it being slotted into Scapeshift, and this Bring to Light deck has realized that potential more so than any traditional Temur version.
What is your favorite Modern deck that has appeared since the unbans?