The biggest Modern trend over the past couple months has been Humans breaking away from the pack and demonstrating itself to be the most successful – if not the outright best – deck in the format. It has been found at the top of the standings of almost every Modern event in that time period, whether it's Magic Online MOCS event, Team Constructed Grand Prix or SCG Modern Open.
Humans combines the disruption of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Kitesail Freebooter, Meddling Mage and Reflector Mage with aggression that borders on combo because of the tribal synergies of Champion of the Parish and Thalia's Lieutenant. It's a fast and consistent deck that's capable of interfering with whatever the opponent is doing, so the strategy has game against every type of opponent – that's why it has been so hard to unseat.
But the metagame is pushing back and we're seeing a rise in decks designed to beat Humans.
Humans is reliant on creatures, and that makes it vulnerable to decks with a lot of creature removal. It was no surprise when the SCG Open the weekend before last was won by Mardu Pyromancer, which is loaded with it.
The deck also has Blood Moon, which is very effective against the five-color mana base of Humans. This Open-winning list has the tech of Ensnaring Bridge, which is all but impossible for Humans to beat if in play. They won't likely be expecting it from this deck, so it seems like an easy way to steal games.
Another deck that is full of creature removal is Jeskai, and it has seen a recent surge in popularity due to its ability to contain Humans combined with the printing of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, which is proving to be so effective in the strategy that it has pushed Jace, the Mind Sculptor out of the deck. The weekend before last Jeskai put two players in the top four of the Modern Open and Jeskai was played by Seth Manfield to the finals of Grand Prix Toronto as his team's Modern player. The deck followed-up by reaching the finals of the SCG Modern Open last weekend in Minneapolis, with another copy in the Top 8.
The efficient removal of Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile combined with Snapcaster Mage is perfect for dismantling Humans, especially when backed up by Supreme Verdict. These cards also make Affinity a great match – another deck that has been on the upswing because it's strong against Humans – so it catches both of these creature decks.
The metagame never stops moving, so it does not end there. Things move faster on Magic Online, where the metagame has already advanced past Jeskai to the next level of the metagame, Urzatron.
Urzatron decks had an absolutely dominating weekend of premier events online. Tron won the nearly 400-player Modern Pro Tour Qualifier and placed another deck in the top four. It also won the Modern Challenge and put another deck in that top four as well. Urzatron decks have historically been great against control, and while losing Eye of Ugin has changed things the Jeskai deck is still a great matchup. Tron can overpower Jeskai's minimal disruption, which is slanted towards creature removal and away from counters and more versatile answers, and Jeskai's minimal pressure gives Tron plenty of time to operate.
It's also pretty strong against Humans with its multiple sweepers and ability to overpower creatures with its planeswalkers and Wurmcoil Engine. Tron benefits from the recent slight decline in Hollow One decks – which can be too fast and too hard to stop – and in combo decks like Ironworks. I expect that the trend will continue and it's going to have some great finishes, possibly with a huge weekend at Grand Prix Vegas in a couple weeks. It seems like a great choice now given the state of the metagame but things continue to move forward online, which gives us a glimpse into the future at the metagame of people already fighting back against Tron.
One deck that fights back against Tron is White-Blue Control, which finished second in the online PTQ.
White-Blue is much better than Jeskai against Tron, with Spreading Seas and Field of Ruin completely turning the matchup around to the point that it's actually favorable. It has more countermagic than Jeskai and Detention Sphere helps deal with planeswalkers, so it's just a much better option in a metagame full of Tron. It retains much of Jeskai's same strength against creature decks and is still favorable against Humans, so I can see the current Jeskai trend starting to shift towards White-Blue as a response to the rise of Urzatron.
An alternative control deck is Blue Moon, which like White-Blue has better tools for fighting against Urzatron than Jeskai.
Its key tool is Blood Moon, which doesn't outright beat Tron but certainly buys a lot of time and helps contain their most explosive starts. A Blue Moon deck reaching the Top 8 of the PTQ is a good sign that it's viable, and its 12th place at the Modern Open is further evidence it's worth taking another look at.
Another deck that can fight back against Tron is Red-Green Ponza, which finished second in the Modern Challenge.
It makes sense that a dedicated land destruction deck would be favored against Tron, so there may be no better option for beating a metagame dense with it. Blood Moon is usually lights out against Jeskai Control, so it has that going for it too. Humans is a bit tougher but definitely winnable, with Blood Moon shutting down their mana base and Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Inferno Titan being very effective as removal spells. I expect Red-Green Ponza will continue its trend of growing in popularity as a legitimate contender.
One of Urzatron's toughest matchups has always been Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle decks, which could be the next level of the metagame to one-up Tron. Urzatron has minimal disruption for land, and its plan of using sweepers doesn't line up well against a deck that doesn't rely on creatures or other nonland permanents.
A Scapeshift deck put up a 9th place finish in the PTQ and another Top 8ed the Challenge, so it's definitely back in the picture and could be a really smart choice in a future event like Grand Prix Vegas if the metagame shifts towards Tron, which I expect it will.
Burn is known for giving Tron major problems, because its burn spells and haste creatures are very difficult for Tron to interact with and stop, and it's fast enough to race Tron before it takes over with Wurmcoil Engine. Burn reached the Top 8 of the SCG Open last weekend, and of the Modern Challenge. It was absent from the PTQ, where I'd think it would have done well against Tron, but Jeskai can be a tough matchup so maybe the field was heavy with it. If Urzatron becomes popular and Jeskai falls, then Burn could be a good choice.
Eldrazi have been a fixture of Modern since they were printed, and the tribe's newest trend is White Eldrazi becoming the most popular variant.
The deck combines the Eldrazi with Death and Taxes elements like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, which works well in the creature-dense deck just like it does in Humans. Leonin Arbiter hoses fetch lands and adds a land destruction element with Ghost Quarter, and is also an excellent hoser against the land-searching spells in Urzatron. Eldrazi Displacer just does a lot of work in various situations and helps to round out the disruption. Check out Tocatli Honor Guard in the sideboard, which seems pretty strong against Humans and Collected Company decks. The final product is an aggressive deck with disruption, which puts it in the same category as Humans, but it's decidedly more robust against creature removal because it doesn't rely on synergies but instead on the relatively high power of its individual creatures.
The 10th-place PTQ list takes a more traditional Taxes approach with Aether Vial, giving up Chalice of the Void.
In a metagame of Urzatron and control decks, Eldrazi Taxes variants seems like a great choice, which explains why it reached the Top 8 of the PTQ and put two more in the Top 16, but I'd be careful in metagames full of Humans and Affinity.
Another aggressive deck with disruptive elements is Green-White Company. It includes a potent land destruction with Knight of the Reliquary and Ramunap Excavator with Ghost Quarter, making it a great deck for shutting down Tron.
The deck is also capable of out-grinding control, with Collected Company giving them major problems and Voice of Resurgence, Tireless Tracker, and Courser of Kruphix generating additional value.
One of the more surprising finishes of the PTQ was Bant Knightfall in the top four.
It's another aggressive deck with disruption – with Spell Queller being a standout – but it gets more proactive by adding the combo of Retreat to Coralhelm and Knight of the Reliquary to give it a path to a quick victory. Combo decks like this should do well against Urzatron that won't easily disrupt them, but playing one like this that uses it as a back-up plan and is comfortable playing a fair game ensures a stronger matchup against decks like control and Jund that can break up the combo.
Finishing in 20th place in the PTQ was Dredge, which has fallen off the map lately but suddenly looks appealing if the metagame is full of control decks, which it preys on with removal-resistant creatures and other value from the graveyard.
Conflagrate makes Dredge pretty strong against Humans too, so there might be opportunity for the deck to find the right metagame and break through with another big finish to establish itself as a competitive option once again.
I'm very curious about Abzan, which could be the solution for struggling Jund players who are now beginning to suffer further from the rise of Tron. If Humans is in decline then Lightning Bolt becomes less important, and white has some huge advantages. Against Tron, Stony Silence gives Abzan an effective hoser and path to victory, and it also helps against Ironworks and Affinity. Against Jeskai and other control decks, Lingering Souls is an excellent threat that is very difficult for them to beat with their one-for-one removal. The metagame is shaping up to one where Abzan is better than Jund, and I wouldn't be surprised to see this reflected in the results of upcoming events.
This week a few more Dominaria cards broke through to Modern, so I wanted to give a brief run down.
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is already a known quantity, but one interesting place it has shown up is in a Gifts Rock deck, which won the nearly 400-player MKM Modern event in Hamburg two weekends ago.
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is another nice option for the Gifts Ungiven package, and when in play it's a solid source of card and mana advantage, and one that the deck is equipped to take advantage of with plenty of instants, including Gifts Ungiven itself.
Red Prison has become a top-tier Legacy deck, and it's on the cusp in Modern. I doubt it's the card that will push the deck over the top, but Squee, the Immortal is showing up in the deck as an inexhaustible threat and blocker that can help the deck grind out opponents. Squee is a nice addition and every little bit helps, so I'd definitely try it out if you play the deck.
Ghalta, Primal Hunger was never on my radar as a Modern card, but its huge trampling body actually makes it pretty appealing as a reanimation target, specifically for Goryo's Vengeance, which can give it haste to take a huge chunk of the opponent's life total.
It's being used in Grishoalbrand decks as a way to diversity the Goryo's Vengeance package and help give another way to victory, whether it's to steal a game against an opponent overzealous with shock lands or to get out of more precarious situations, like an opponent with Pithing Needle naming Borborygmos Enraged.
What do you think about the Modern metagame? Share your thoughts in the comments, and I'll answer any questions.