The recent updates to the Modern banned list have changed the rules of the format just in time for Pro Tour Born of the Gods this weekend in Valencia, Spain. Deathrite Shaman has been banned, while Wild Nacatl and Bitterblossom have been unbanned. These changes have already had a real impact on the fast-paced world of Magic Online. Changes took effect online with the client update last Wednesday, and there have been at least three Modern Premier Events and a slew of Daily Events since. The transition has created an opportunity, and since last Wednesday players have been scrambling for technology in order to earn an edge on the competition. Decklists from these online events provide a great window into what has been going on in the new Modern metagame. Today I am going to share what has been successful in these first few events post-banning.
First off are a couple of existing tier-one archetypes that appear to be alive and well after the bannings.
Affinity, the former default aggressive option in Modern, is still as fast as ever.
This deck can put out an enormous amount of pressure early in the game. In the past Affinity has struggled in Zoo metagames. For one, the Zoo plan of creatures and removal plays well against Affinity, especially after Ancient Grudge comes in. Second, cards that are good against Zoo are often good against Affinity, meaning Affinity must walk into a lot of creature removal and board sweepers. This combines to create a world hostile to Affinity, but it may still remain as a metagame player.
Splinter Twin was the most successful combination deck last season, and it seems to have gained from the banning of Deathrite Shaman and the decline of Jund.
The first Modern Premier Event after the banned list update was won by Infect.
This deck wins by combining low-cost Infect creatures with pump spells. Infect creatures only need to deal ten damage, so combining them with exalted triggers and +4/+4 pump spells leads to quick wins. What this deck lacks in flexibility it makes up for in redundancy, playing 16 sources of infect damage and 16 dedicate green pump instants for them. The pump spells are supplemented by cards that assist the main plan. Apostle's Blessing protects creatures from removal while also forcing them through blockers. Distortion Strike gets creatures through blockers and pumps at the same time. Wild Defiance combines with any spell to create massive damage potential, but it also has the unique effect of protecting creatures from opposing targeted burn spells such as Lightning Bolt.
Infect's win in the Premier shows, at the very least, that Modern is a wide open format. With an undefined metagame, any deck is capable of success if carefully tuned and played well. I do believe Infect has a place in the metagame and is something to consider. Historically the Infect has not been particularly strong against Jund, so it seems to have a lot to gain from the banning of Deathrite Shaman. Infect will have to contend with the fast clocks backed by removal presented by Zoo, but pump spells allow it a lot of room to maneuver. I am less optimistic about the Faeries matchup, but only time will tell how popular Bitterblossom really is. In any case, the redundancy in Infect allow it to fight through much removal, while sideboard cards like Spellskite can greatly help the cause.
Also present in the first Premier Top 8 were two Scapeshift decks. Scapeshift followed up by taking first in the next premiere event:
This deck has the straightforward game plan of getting lands into play and winning with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. The namesake Scapeshift sacrificing 7 lands will deal 18 damage, and each additional land builds up quickly from there. The deck supplements the plan with Prismatic Omen, which works by making Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle a Mountain, which allows the deck to deal more damage much more quickly. Primeval Titan is something of a miniature Scapeshift that is capable of winning the game by itself. Some disruption supports the plan, including Remand to deal with spells, Pyroclasm to deal with creatures, and Izzet Charm to deal with both and dig through the deck.
Scapeshift was strong against the removal-filled Jund deck. It is also strong against linear aggressive decks like Zoo that are light on disruption, but it can also play the long-game against control. Scapeshift's success in the early tournament provide a good example of the archetype's power and consistency, and it is a deck I expect to see more of as the metagame continues to develop.
Continuing the trend of proactive, linear decks built around synergy is Bogles.
Like Infect and Scapeshift before it, Bogles wins by enacting its own powerful gameplan. Bogles combines Hexproof creatures with cheap stat increasing auras. Kor Spiritdancer turns the deck into a combo engine, while Ethereal Armor allows the creatures to scale up to an enormous size. The proactive plan of Bogles can quickly create a large creature capable of racing or going over the top of most opponents.
Bogles lacks interaction against combination decks but it is fully capable of racing. It leans on a particularly hateful and effective sideboard to compete with unfair decks. Bogles shines against fair decks, which struggle against the proactive gameplan of Bogles. The Bogle deck is particularly strong against Zoo, which incapable of removing creatures and will struggle against the lifegain enchantments. Bogles third place finish in the second Premier make me think it will be a player this coming Modern season.
Continuing the trend of unfair decks is Living End.
This deck wins by cycling as many creatures as possible into the graveyard, then unleashing a cascade spell that will inevitably hit Living End. Living End conveniently returns all of those creatures to play while simultaneously burying all opposing creatures. This game plan is devastating against other creature decks, which are forced to walk into Living End without much recourse. Living End is surprisingly capable of fighting against control decks as well, where it can use instants to Outmaneuver Counterspells and resolve a Living End. It is weakest against other unfair decks, particularly those that do not rely on creatures, but it is quite strong against decks like Zoo and Affinity.
Living End is weak to graveyard removal, but that has been a continually declining factor in Modern. The banning of Deathrite Shaman has removed the most common graveyard removal from the format, giving Living End some room to breathe. Living End may suffer a Backlash if the format reacts by stuffing their sideboards with graveyard removal and fitting in maindeck Scavenging Ooze, but until then it remains a powerful option for fighting against a specific Modern metagame.
Bridging the gap from unfair deck to fair deck is Birthing Pod. This archetype combines the powerful card selection of Birthing Pod with the full range of Modern creatures. The deck will typically contain an infinite creature combo and supplement it with an assortment of utility creatures. While the main plan is to be degenerate, the deck is fully capable of grinding out a fair game against disruption. It is this flexible nature that makes the Birthing Pod decks so good. With Deathrite Shaman being banned, the most common Birthing Pod deck is now 4-color Kiki-Pod, though Junk Pod is still present. The Birthing Pod archetype has seen the Top 8 of multiple Premier Events and is showing up in Dailies, and it looks to be a major player in the metagame.
Moving forward, the two most anticipated decks this week were the ones based around the unbanned cards. Wild Nacatl meant that Zoo was moved back to the forefront of Modern, while Bitterblossom has brought Faeries back to into the conversation.
I expect to see a huge variety of Zoo decks in the coming weeks, and they have already been appearing in various forms online. The "Zoo" moniker generally applies to any cheap, burn-back aggressive deck in Wild Nacatl colors, but there is more than one way to skin a cat. A variety of Zoo decks have already appeared on Magic Online. Here are some promising versions:
This zoo deck combines the creature and burn plan with a Blood Moon and Ajani Vengeant land-destruction package. This approach has been successful in the past and looks promising in this metagame as well.
This zoo deck takes a more straightforward approach, playing many cheap creatures and extra burn spells.
This is a variation of "Domain Zoo," a zoo deck that plays all five colors in order to take advantage of Tribal Flames.
The bogeyman itself, Faeries, has also won a Premier Event.
This list is as straightforward as it gets. First off is full playsets of the three blue faerie creatures. These creatures had the most to gain from the unbanning of Bitterblossom, and this deck utilizes all of them. The creatures give the deck a consistent, proactive plan and enable it to leverage synergy.
Supplementing the Faerie-synergy plan is the usual disruption suspects, including Cryptic Command, Thoughtseize, and Inquisition of Kozilek. Adding to the disruption package are four targeted removal spells: Agony Warp, Smother, and Doom Blade. A suite of six cheap countermagic spells includes three Mana Leak and three Spell Snare. Bringing everything together is a rock-solid manabase complete with eight manlands.
The sideboard addresses practical concerns, namely Zoo, with a set of Deathmark and three Engineered Explosives in the sideboard. Sower of Temptation does work against midrange creature decks, while Jace Beleren and Vendilion Clique pressure combo and control decks. This list looks like a solid starting point from which to explore Faeries.
Bridging the gap from Faeries to more typical Modern blue decks is the UR Delver deck, which seems to have gained from the banning of Deathrite Shaman and the decline of Tarmogoyf.
One of the most popular color combinations in Modern is the UW/x, which comes in a variety of different variations.
There is also the option of staying strictly Azorius:
Finally I would like to share the Gifts Ungiven deck that took second in the first premier event. I named Gifts Ungiven as one of the cards to look out for post-Deathrite Shaman, and it has put up some modest results already.
Modern is open! A wide variety of decks has been doing well on Magic Online, and there were even more I did not touch. Magic Online results and decklists provide a wealth of information and remain a valuable resource. If you have any Modern ideas to share to questions to ask please turn to the forums!