This weekend brings us the second Mythic Championship of 2019, and it puts Modern under the spotlight. The big question going into the tournament is the London mulligan, the new rule that Wizards announced would be used at MCII back in February. Wizards has been testing the new rule in-house for months, and the MC is set to be its final exam. Wizards plans to roll out the rule for all of Magic, so they are banking that if the rule poses a problem for Eternal formats like Modern, the MC will expose them.
As a way to get some extra data, and to help players prepare for the MC, the London mulligan rule was instituted on Magic Online a couple weeks ago for a trial period until May 1st. That means there's already plenty of results out there to help gain some insight on the effect of the new rule, which in all likelihood everyone will be playing with in every format very soon. These initial Magic Online results should give us a good idea of the impact of the rule, and of what the metagame will look like this weekend at the MC and beyond. Magic Online is plenty competitive and valid as-is, but I'm sure over the past few weeks there have been an especially high number of pro players active preparing for the MC. In addition, beyond the usual Leagues and Challenges there have been two particularly competitive Modern events: a Magic Online Championship Playoffs that included all top pro players on its invite list, and a Qualifier that invited the best MTGO players. All of these initial results should be a pretty good reflection of what we will see at the MC this weekend, and in turn the metagame that we'll see heading into the summer when Wizards is likely to roll out the London mulligan to the masses.
Based on published MTGO decklists, the Modern metagame with the London mulligan rule has Tron, Humans, UW Control, and Dredge at the top (all around 8%) closely followed by Izzet Phoenix and Grixis Shadow.— Frank Karsten (@karsten_frank) April 24, 2019
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As calculated by Frank Karsten, initial results show that previous top decks Dredge, Izzet Phoenix, and Grixis Death's Shadow remain major parts of the metagame, but they've given up a large portion of their metagame share to other decks. These other decks have apparently been disproportionately improved by the new mulligan rule and the metagame it has created. Today I'll examine what decks appear to be winners from the change and explain what they've gained.
A straightforward winner from the London mulligan is any deck that wants to find a specific card. The top example is Vintage Dredge, which has the strategy of mulliganing into Bazaar of Baghdad no matter how many tries it takes, even if it is down to one card. Mulliganing down to seven and then removing cards from hand makes actually finding the specific card more likely, so it makes this kind of strategy more consistent.
Modern does not have any examples as extreme as Bazaar of Baghdad, but Eldrazi Temple is a great example of a card that makes its deck significantly better when it is in play. To give an idea, the difference between Eldrazi being a broken deck worthy of a ban and a deck of minor relevance was Eye of Ugin, which once banned gutted the Eldrazi deck. The London mulligan makes finding Eldrazi Temple and having broken starts more likely, which explains why R/G Eldrazi has suddenly put up a big result after being absent for months. This list finished 7-1 in the MOCS Qualifier last weekend.
Put into practice, the idea of digging into one specific card might be most benefitial to Humans, which appears to be a big winner from the London mulligan.
I attribute the rise of Humans to multiple factors, like U/R Phoenix trimming Gut Shot, and a decline in Whir Prison decks. The London mulligan has also brought about a rise in combo decks, which have historically been good matchups for the disruptive Humans deck. Yet the biggest improvement may be in the deck's increased ability to find Aether Vial, which allows for explosive starts and completely changes how the deck operates. Extra copies of Aether Vial also happen to be great candidates for returning to the deck after a London mulligan, since they have little utility. I've heard some Humans experts say that they mulligan any hand without a one-drop, which beyond Aether Vial includes Noble Hierarch and Champion of the Parish, and the London mulligan helps dig into any of these as well. It seems that Humans will now be significantly more consistent, and as a proactive option with disruption, it should be a great choice in an open field.
It doesn't want to find a specific card, but three specific cards; Urzatron, which to some is the bane of Modern, has also been improved by the new rule. It has been the most popular deck on Magic Online since the London mulligan, indicating it might be the biggest winner from the change.
Tron decks were already known to mulligan very well, since going down on cards doesn't hurt nearly as badly when one of your lands produces the same as two or even three normal lands. The London mulligan rule means Tron will have to mulligan low less often, and will be even more likely to find Urzatron when it does. What's interesting is that the rule disproportionately helps non-green Urzatron decks, which will now have less need to cast cards like Sylvan Scrying to find their pieces. That might explain why Mono-Blue Tron, long a tier 3 Modern deck, reached the finals of the Modern Challenge last weekend.
A subsection of decks that want to find a specific card are combo decks, which like Urzatron wants to assemble a specific combination of them. The banning of Krark-Clan Ironworks killed Modern's biggest combo deck, leaving a void which has mostly been filled by decks like Dredge and U/R Phoenix—which while broken, are not true combo decks. Modern does have a rich catalog of tier 2 and 3 combo decks that have occasionally had their day in the sun, and the London mulligan has been a boon to them all. All manner of combo decks are starting to see more play, and are having some real success.
To me the most exciting thing to watch for at the Mythic Championship will be the combo decks, which will also have the potential to set the metagame afterwards. It's very unlikely that the pros are going to develop some new strategy and break the format out of nowhere, but instead the surprise might be a team picking up a surprise deck and suddenly elevating it to the top.
So far the most likely candidate looks like Grishoalbrand, aka Griselbrand Combo, which can pair with Goryo's Vengeance or Through the Breach to hit play. The deck Top 8'd the MOCS Playoff full of pros two weekends ago, and last weekend finished 7-1 in the MOCS Qualifier with the highest game-win-percentage in the event.
A few years ago Grishoalbrand was a pretty serious competitor in Modern, but it never really stuck at the top tier and fell into obscurity like so many other decks have before. Such an extreme and powerful strategy is a big winner from the London mulligan, and results so far show it has improved significantly. I know that B/R Reanimator has become very popular in Legacy since the rule was put online, and Grishoalbrand is pretty similar in that it fills the same Reanimator niche in Modern. Keep in mind that it's a Faithless Looting deck like Dredge and U/R Phoenix, and seems only natural that the best true combo deck would take advantage of one of Modern's very best cards. It's an advantage it has over a deck like Ad Nauseam, another deck that looks to be a big winner from the change, winning the Modern Challenge last weekend.
Playing Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand, two of Modern's best card selection spells, is some consolation for giving up Faithless Looting. Like Grishoalbrand it does include Simian Spirit Guide, another one of Modern's best cards. It's a light version of Lotus Petal, a staple of Legacy combo decks including Reanimator, and beyond being a part of the combo kill to help cast Lightning Storm, it can help the deck move faster. Ad Nauseam gives up the speed of Reanimator, but it does gain some consistency and resiliency, as well as the utility of its Angel's Grace and Phyrexian Unlife effects. A powerful combo deck with plenty of play to it, I could see Ad Nauseam breaking out at the MC and becoming a bigger part of the metagame.
Say it isn't so, but the London Mulligan might be the spark the Splinter Twin combo needs to return to Modern. It's technically Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker combo, but this Izzet decklist is eerily similar to Splinter Twin lists of old.
The combo pieces take a diminished role here, with only two copies of the legendary goblin. Instead of going all-in, the deck splits the difference with a pair of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. If you can protect it, Jace, the Mind Sculptor is basically a one-card combo that will take over the game with card advantage, and the deck can certainly do that. Splinter Twin combo used to be so successful because it was built into the shell of a deck that could play an aggressive tempo game or slow down as a control deck. Snapcaster Mage is a heck of a card, and with a large suite of disruption in the deck like Lightning Bolt and Remand, it will have no shortage of targets. If a deck like Splinter Twin proves to be viable, you know that pros are going to flock to it, so it will be exciting if any teams deem it so and bring it to battle.
My dark horse combo candidate is Puresteel Paladin combo. The deck went from something of a joke to a legitimate strategy with the printing of Sram, Senior Edificer acting as another version of Puresteel Paladin, but the deck has remained solidly tier 3 at best without any real finishes to its name.
This is the perfect example of a deck that needs a specific card to win, and the deck is designed to essentially be a one-card combo deck that should win if it draws one of its card-draw engines. That makes it pretty dangerous with the new rule, and while it still hasn't had a real breakout, it's starting to show up consistently in league 5-0 lists and in the Top 32 of Challenges. It's definitely gaining a following, so it might only be a matter of time before the deck proves itself to be the real deal.
An interesting facet of the London mulligan rule promoting mulligans and combination decks is that it increases the playability of disruptive decks that seek to break up these combinations. It's very clear to see the value of a card like Thoughtseize, which can strip the opponent of the very card they mulliganed into. This extends to countermagic, which has a similar ability to neutralize a wide variety of threats. Because these decks do rely on their disruption, they benefit from the London mulligan because it gives them the ability to dig into that disruption—specifically after sideboard when they're on hosers. A deck like W/U Control really wants to find, for example, Stony Silence against Affinity and might mulligan to do it, and now it has many more chances to find it. Both B/G/x Rock decks and W/U Control have seen notable increases since the London mulligan rollout, and it seems inevitable these will be popular at the MC and in its wake.
W/U Control has been one of the most popular decks online since the rule, and it's also been played by some high-profile players, including both Brad "FFreak" Nelson and Gabriel "bobthedog" Nassif playing it to the Top 8 of the Challenge last weekend. Two weekends ago was the annual "God of Modern" tournament in Japan, and the finalists were both pros, Yuuta Takahashi and Yuuki Ichikawa, playing W/U Control decks—Brad played Yuuki's list in the challenge. With so many big names behind it and this kind of momentum, it seems inevitable that many other players have picked up on the deck too, so I expect it will be a huge weekend for W/U Control
Nassif has a slightly tuned 5-0 league list published since the Challenge, check it out.
Logan "Jaberwocki" Nettles is known for success on Magic Online that he started to translate to paper finishes, similar to the story of his cousin Reid Duke. Like Reid he has an affinity for Rock decks in Modern, so my starting point for a Rock deck would be the Jund list he took to a 6-2 finish in the MOCS Qualifier last weekend.