Modern Masters 2017 has put Modern into the spotlight, and things are going to get even more exciting this weekend at Grand Prix San Antonio, where the Team Unified format is going to force players to get creative with their decks. Players can't split any one card between decks, so we are going to see all sorts of uncommon strategies far from the mainstream. It's not just the team format that has made Modern interesting, because Magic Online events have been filled with innovative decks that are worth a second look.
The best of the best Standard decks tend to make their way into Eternal formats like Modern, and it's possible that the Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian combo is poised to make the transition. Splinter Twin combo was a dominant Modern deck before it was banned, and a similar deck was formerly a top-tier Standard force. There have been attempts to introduce the Saheeli Rai and Felidar combo to Modern in a Jeskai shell, but it would make sense that the best Modern version is a green-based Four-Color deck just like the Standard build.
This is built along the same lines as the Standard version, but the card choices are powered up. Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch work as mana acceleration and fixingcompared to Attune with Aether just providing fixing. The deck fully abandons the energy theme, and Aether Hub has been replaced by a robust fetch land-shock land mana base. Whirler Virtuoso and Rogue Refiner are replaced by more powerful cards to blink or copy for value, with Blade Splicer taking center stage as an easy way to build a battlefield presence. Some flavor options like Eternal Witness, Reflector Mage and even Sun Titan add additional utility and power, but these slots could easily be customized. Essence Warden is nonessential but makes the combo even more powerful by adding an infinite life gain element.
The deck also includes some unique tools with no Standard comparison, like the massive acceleration made possible by Lotus Cobra. Tarmogoyf is a welcome addition that allows the deck to play a fair game without using the combo, which makes up a large percentage of its games just like in Standard. This Modern version is fortunate to have access to Gavony Township, which allows it to more easily play a fair game, and functions a great back-up plan similar to its role in Abzan Company decks.
Another way to approach the Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian combo is to play them in a Jeskai shell, and this decklist is the most refined one I've seen yet:
This deck supports its combo with a suite of spells and creatures that disrupt the opponent and dig for combo pieces. The removal package of Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile buys time against aggressive decks, while Remand stops a wide range of strategies or helps protect the combo. It's also important for drawing cards and moving through the deck towards the combo pieces, and it helps take on some of the load that Serum Vision bears. Snapcaster Mage Recycles these spells, and it's a fantastic creature to copy or blink for even more value. Wall of Omens also moves through the deck, and it is similarly great to trigger multiple times. Spreading Seas draws cards while disrupting the mana-hungry format, and it's a reliable way to extract value from Felidar Guardian.
I'm especially fond of Vendilion Clique for its ability to disrupt the opponent or cycle dead cards. It offers a lot of utility and is a great target to copy or blink or value, and it can even win games the fair way, so it's an essential component to this deck's success. This deck goes a bit bigger with Sun Titan, which has an immensely valuable trigger, and it will allow the deck to win fair games. Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir is useful for locking out the opponent's ability to disrupt the combo. From the sideboard, Lone Missionary offers a powerful trigger that is devastating when repeated against a deck like Burn.
Aether Revolt created a new sort of combo in Modern because the cycle of Expertise cards that cast a spell for free are able to cast both sides of fuse split cards as long as at least one half is cheap enough. Brain in a Jar could already do this, but now there's the critical mass of cards necessary to consistently put the combo together in a competitive deck. There's been a lot of discussion around the combo but not a lot of results, but this 5-0 in a League by a player known for their skill and history of success is a positive development.
This deck uses Kari Zev's Expertise or Yahenni's Expertise to cast either fuse card in the deck for massive value. Beck // Call will create four 1/1 flying tokens and draw four cards, but the biggest payoff is Breaking // Entering to simultaneously mill and Reanimate Griselbrand or even Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, which will be in play before its shuffle trigger resolves. This combo is notable because it allows for another way to Reanimate Emrakul, the Aeons Torn beyond Goryo's Vengeance, and that makes it a perfect fit alongside said combo. The Expertise combo meshes seamlessly with the shell of the reanimator deck to create a coherent and consistent deck. Note that Forbidden Orchard is a way to give the opponent creatures to target with Kari Zev's Expertise
The Eldrazi immediately had an impact on Modern after their release a year ago, and Eye of Ugin's ability to accelerate them into play proved so good that the card was banned. The deck was reinvented and lived on as Bant Eldrazi, which attempted to mimic Eye of Ugin's acceleration potential with the traditional green acceleration of Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch. Bant Eldrazi has been a fixture of the metagame ever since, but recently a new offshoot of the deck has been finding success.
This version of Eldrazi gives up its blue cards in favor of a more green-heavy build based on Eldritch Evolution, which functions as a great way to accelerate Thought-Knot Seer or Reality Smasher into play. Its synergy with Matter Reshaper is obvious, and it can convert used-up Noble Hierarch into value, so it's a great fit here. Eldritch Evolution allows access to a toolbox of powerful one-of creatures, like Eternal Witness as a perfect card to blink for value with Eldrazi Displacer. Acidic Slime stops hosers like Ensnaring Bridge or breaks up Urzatron, and it will eventually lock out the opponent when combined with Eldrazi Displacer. Thragtusk is an ideal tool for getting defensive when Reality Smasher won't get the job done, and it's a source of tremendous value combined with Eldrazi Displacer. Strangleroot Geist is less of a toolbox target and more of a fifth Matter Reshaper that helps support Eldritch Evolution. Eldritch Evolution gets even better after sideboard, where it provides access to an even larger cast of toolbox creatures.
Another new take on the Eldrazi has emerged, which uses the acceleration of Simian Spirit Guide as a bridge between Eldrazi and the prison elements of White-Red Control.
Simian Spirit Guide was used in the original colorless Eldrazi decks to accelerate Eldrazi or Chalice of the Void into play ahead of schedule, and this deck stays true to that game plan. It's taken to the extreme with three Gemstone Caverns to give the deck even more opportunity to get its cards into play faster, specifically on the draw when it needs the kickstart. White gives access to additional disruptive creatures that are better when put into play a turn early, specifically Leonin Arbiter and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.
Death's Shadow is defining the Modern metagame, and players are going further by experimenting with different color combinations that highlight different strengths of the Death's Shadow strategy. Recently we've seen Grixis Shadow emerge as a legitimate contender in the metagame, but the newest addition to the metagame is an Abzan build that finished 7-1 in the monthly Magic Online Championship Series event filled with pro players and online sharks.
This deck uses the same black-green core as the Jund deck, but white adds some powerful elements. Path to Exile replaces Tarfire to give the deck an upgraded removal suite, which gives the deck additional ways to remove Death's Shadow and an advantage in the mirror match. Lingering Souls gives the deck a more diversified threat base and an extra way to pressure the opponent, and it combines well with Liliana of the Veil. The metagame has been pushing back against Death's Shadow Aggro decks with more removal spells, and Lingering Souls fights directly against this trend. It's also strong in the pseudo-mirror matches against other Death Shadow decks, and is strong against the fliers in Affinity.
White also provides access to some of the best sideboard cards in Modern, specifically Stony Silence. This deck uses a Tidehollow Sculler as discard that can be found with Traverse the Ulvenwald, and I could see other creatures like Qasali Pridemage as artifact removal or Aven Mindcensor to stop search effects also be effective.
One approach to a metagame centered around creature decks like Death's Shadow Aggro, Affinity and Bant Eldrazi is to Overload on creature removal spells, and nobody does that like Mardu.
This deck uses a proven core of disruption including removal in Fatal Push, Lightning Bolt and Terminate, discard with Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize, and Collective Brutality as both. At this point the deck almost resembles Jund, but instead of getting aggressive it sidesteps opposing removal by playing a planeswalker-centric game, using Liliana of the Veil and Nahiri, the Harbinger as additional forms of disruption. They also serve as the card advantage engine of the deck, and combined with Lingering Souls they will grind out the opponent and eventually end the game.
An alternative to the shock land heavy, color-stretching Death's Shadow decks is to play a traditional Black-Green Rock deck, which is more viable now than ever because Fatal Push gives the deck a one-mana removal spell without the need to splash.
I imagine that black-green has received renewed attention because it's particularly friendly to Team Unified deck line-ups, so it's something to keep in mind when building and certainly a deck to have on your radar this weekend.
Fans of Urzatron should check out this build by specialist Joe "oarsman" Lossett.
His deck is positioned squarely against Death's Shadow Aggro, with Condemn functioning as the most specific hoser because it gives them life and contains Death Shadow without giving them a basic land like Path to Exile would.
How are you fighting back against Death's Shadow decks? What do you think is the best Modern Team Unified lineup? Share your thoughts in the comments, and I'll answer any questions.