One of the most surprising splash factors from Ixalan in Modern is the introduction of a new aggro deck, Five-Color Humans. This deck burst onto the Modern scene with back-to-back SCG tournament wins, and it was fairly likely these players were among the few pilots in the room on the deck. Quite the impressive result. Kitesail Freebooter, in conjunction with Unclaimed Territory, have pushed for what used to be fringe playable Bant or Mono-White Humans into a new strategy that is quite potent but also disruptive. The ability to play essentially any Human provides a huge toolbox or creatures, enabling you to attack any metagame.
Humans is a linear aggro deck, and can most easily be grouped with decks such as Burn or Affinity. We all know the consistency of Burn and the explosiveness of Affinity decks – but why play Humans over those? While Humans has some strong draws, it certainly does not have the outright nut-draws these other similar decks in the archetype provide.
The first answer and most prevalent difference is that Humans is highly disruptive, and provides more opportunities to interact with your opponent. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is absolute all-star. It's a disruptive tool but does double time because being a Human is especially relevant. The combination of Kitesail Freebooter and Meddling Mage gives you excellent hand disruption and information advantages, not to mention the ability to gain free wins against some combo decks like Storm or Ad Nauseum. Even Reflector Mage, while essentially a removal spell, provides some positive interaction against many strategies. All of these are even better when Aether Vial is on the field, while Cavern of Souls which provides uncountability to everything in your deck.
The second reason that Humans may be superior is the lack of susceptibility to hate cards. Of course, playing with a pile of creatures allows most decks to be able to have sideboard cards or interact with you. But there are no Kitchen Finks of Stony Silence equivalents that leave you in rough spots where you essentially can't win.
Most Humans lists are virtually the same, but part of that is a holdover from the deck being so new. The two winning lists were almost identical, so there hasn't been much adaption yet. My list is about congruent, but with a few differences:
I elect to play with the "Matt Ling/Ben Feingersh" no fetch land build. Not taking much damage from lands is relevant in many matchups – but most importantly this allows you to play the full four Horizon Canopy. Canopy mitigates flood and also helps you find key cards in situations where they might be needed. Note that with the full four Canopies that casting Mantis Rider can sometimes be an issue. Personally, I think Horizon Canopy is one of the best cards ever made and I'd be hard pressed not to play them.
I've also adopted the Sam Pardee strategy of Phantasmal Images over Mayor of Avabruck. Mayor is only good when you already have a board established, and since that is the case it almost always means Image will be good too and have a juicy card to copy. The main reason, though, is that Image provides even more disruption to the deck without slowing it down. Image can be used to copy Meddling Mages to further constrict your opponent, or copy Freebooters to disrupt or deny your opponent the ability to "topple" the tower of Kitesail Freebooters with removal. Not only can be you copy a Mantis Rider and end up in a better spot than having a Mayor/Rider, but you can copy your opponent's creatures, notably Tarmogoyf, Tasigur or Hollow One.
The last touches to set my list slightly aside is the inclusion of Restoration Angel in the sideboard. Mostly for grindy and control decks or decks where fliers are good such as Affinity. I've found it tough to combat decks like Jeskai without any big payoff or threat that provides some counterplay in the form of playing around removal and sweepers.
At Grand Prix Oklahoma City, the highest placing Humans list played two Harsh Mentor, which may be the new standard as it seems to be quite the solid addition. Furthermore, with the rise of Tron and Valakut decks I have a feeling that Avalanche Riders might need to be included as those are among the worst matchups. Currently there aren't enough red sources to keep your Riders, but perhaps there is a build that plays both of these cards with some Inspiring Vantage – it's something to explore.
- Steve Rubin