When this article goes live on Thursday, I'll be in Las Vegas having the unique pleasure of playing a Legacy Grand Prix on a weekday. The weekend features a Modern Grand Prix, and that means Modern has also been on my mind. I've come across a surprisingly large variety of Modern decks in my preparation, and a deeper look at decklists online and from events like the Modern Open last weekend show that there is a lot of innovation going on in the format. The format seems more popular than ever, in part due to players flocking to it as a refuge from Standard while they awaited the Aetherworks Marvel ban. There are new strategies seeing competitive success, decks from the past have reemerged with new competitive prospects, and existing decks are adapting and evolving by using new technology. Today I'll explore these decks.
The most popular and successful deck to burst onto the online Modern metagame has been Four-Color Humans. The deck combines the green mana-acceleration humans Noble Hierarch and Avacyn's Pilgrim with the aggressive humans Champion of the Parish and Thalia's Lieutenant. From there the deck includes elements to disrupt its opponents, including Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Thalia, Heretic Cathar, which is especially good in Modern compared to Standard because of the fetchlands.
The deck goes further into disruption splashing into some of the most powerful humans available, including Reflector Mage, Sin Collector, and even Anafenza, the Foremost, which Andrew "Gainsay" Cuneo included in his 5-0 list in a MTGO league to help combat the rise of graveyard decks Living End and Dredge. From the sideboard Orzhov Pontiff is devastating against small creature decks, specifically Counters Company. Kambal, Consul of Allocation is great against any spell-heavy deck, including control and combo like Ad Nauseam, as is Meddling Mage.
The humans deck is tied together by Collected Company, which digs for the high-powered splash creatures and helps the deck reach the critical mass of creatures its needs to overwhelm its opponents. The deck offers a more fair alternative to the combo-oriented Counters Company deck, which has more moving parts and is much more vulnerable to disruption.
Dubious Challenge has never been anything more than novelty, but a new Modern deck is designed to use it as a nefarious means of cheating Griselbrand or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn into play at a discount. The typical issue with Dubious Challenge is it's more likely to benefit the opponents, but this deck breaks the paradigm with playsets of both Flickerwisp and Glimmerpoint Stag, which can be combined with a large creature to put the opponent in a no-win situation where if they take the powerful creature the opponent will just take it back with a flicker effect. The plan only works if Dubious Challenge hits both parts of the combo, and it can Backfire by revealing two large creatures that leaves the opponent with a better one, or worse yet revealing just one large creature and no flicker effect and thus gifting the opponent the win, but the upside is putting a hugely powerful creature into play for just four mana and likely winning the game right there on the spot.
Through the Breach makes the strategy more palatable by providing an alternate way to cheat a creature into play, and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite can potentially just be cast. Madcap Experiment from the sideboard can find Platinum Emperion, so there is more going on here than just Dubious Challenge.
The new series of Challenge events on Magic Online have added a new form of competitive event to the platform, and with it, a wealth of new decks. The winner last weekend was an eye-catching black-red deck with four Demigod of Revenge as a huge and hard-to-deal-with threat that it can cheat into play by discarding extra copies to Faithless Looting. The true star of the deck is Blood Moon, which it uses to get free wins against unsuspecting opponents.
The supporting cast and crew of the deck is made up of classic Jund-style disruption that do the majority of the work in the deck. Anger of the Gods in the maindeck surely helps this deck against Dredge, but it's also a devastating sweeper against creature decks like Counters Company. The deck has plenty of tools against creature decks with Liliana, the Last Hope and even maindeck Olivia Voldaren.
The sideboard holds a huge surprise with Madcap Experiment and Platinum Emperion, which allows the deck to shift into a combo that will beat some opponent's single-handedly.
Another interesting deck from the Modern Challenge is Black-White Smallpox, which looks something like a cross between 8-Rack and Black-White Tokens. This deck makes great use of Smallpox by breaking the parity with Flagstones of Trokair as a land to sacrifice at no cost. The 8-Rack discard strategy gained a lot from Fatal Push, but this white deck uses another Standard staple, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, as its main win condition at the top of the curve, and even Shambling Vent even makes an appearance as another way to sneak value into the manabase. Never // Return is removal for creatures or Planeswalkers, and from the graveyard it's a source of value and graveyard hate. Like Lingering Souls and Bloodghast, it can also be profitably discarded to Smallpox or Liliana of the Veil.
Another surprising deck from the Modern challenge is U/B Tezzerator, which stays true to the name with not only the typical four Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, but also three Tezzeret, the Seeker. The deck uses these to dig into its artifacts that it uses to hose the format, most importantly Ensnaring Bridge.
Chalice of the Void is integral to stopping opponents, as is Engineered Explosives to clear anything that slips past it. These artifacts, along with one-ofs like Relic of Progenitus as a graveyard hoser and Pithing Needle to stop Planeswalkers, can be found with Trinket Mage, which also gives access to Walking Ballista as creature removal or a win-condition.
A set of Damnation punishes a large swath of the format, especially some of the top decks like Death's Shadow, Eldrazi Tron, and Counters Company. Collective Brutality is extremely strong against many decks, like Burn and anything with Collected Company, and it's an easy way to empty the hand for Ensnaring Bridge.
This deck is a really cool take on the classic White-Blue Flash strategy, which recently saw Standard success with a Grand Prix win in Manila as an anti-Marvel deck. The strategy has a lineage back to when White-Blue Delver decks with Restoration Angel were dominant in Standard, and even to CawBlade.
The most successful White-Blue decks in Modern have traditionally been very controlling, but Modern's shift towards a more unfair format with less creature decks and more spell-based linear combo decks opens the door for a disruptive and aggressive like this to emerge and capitalize. Every creature in the deck offers either some form of disruption or card advantage except for Restoration Angel, which blinks other creatures to rebuy their value in addition to its ability to protect creatures from removal and make combat a nightmare. Counterspells are making a bit of a comeback in Modern, and I'm an especially big fan of Remand, which is fantastic insurance against Living End.
This deck is designed to make the most of Time Warp and Walk the Aeons, which can be Rebounded by Narset, the Transcendent or play be played again with Jace, Telepath Unbound. This buys time to add loyalty to them and the other Planeswalkers in the deck, which include Nissa, the Sage Animist, a source of value that can ramp lands and can help finish off the opponent in the late game.
Jeskai control decks based around Restoration Angel and its infinite combo with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker aren't new to Modern, but it has been a few years since they were a serious competitive option. Playing this sort of control game and finishing with a combo is a great way to beat linear and combo decks, and the wealth of removal combined with the value of cards like Wall of Omens and Snapcaster Mage allow it to go toe-to-toe with Death Shadow decks. Finishing 9th place at the SCG Open is a strong finish and indication that this strategy is worth another look.
Existing decks have also been adapting new technology to improve their strategies and to keep up with the metagame. A prime example is the Elf deck, which can easily incorporate Devoted Druid into its tribal theme, allowing it access to the combo with Vizier of Remedies, which it can easily find with Chord of Calling. The strategy already included a sink for the infinite mana the combo generates, Ezuri, Renegade Leader, so it needs no additional pieces like Duskwatch Recruiter or Walking Ballista to profitably use the combo. Adding the combo to the deck comes at little cost but with huge upside, and it is helping to reinvigorate a deck that has otherwise struggled to stay relevant.
The typical Devoted Druid and Vizier of Remedies combo deck is Counters Company, and a new piece of technology has emerged for the deck: Postmortem Lunge. It's an ideal card for reanimating fallen combo pieces because the deck will win before they are exiled at end of turn, and because it gives haste, Devoted Druid can combo off immediately. It can also be used profitably on Eternal Witness to get a Regrowth effect. It's particularly good against decks loaded with creature removal spells, so another copy sits in the sideboard to combat decks like Jund and Grixis Death's Shadow.
Bant Eldrazi has a great Modern pedigree but has been relatively quiet since the rise of Death's Shadow. A new evolution of the deck attempts to fight back against the spell-oriented deck by adopting Thalia, Guardian of Thraben to slow them down. Bant Eldrazi aims to play Ancient Stirrings on turn one, and beyond that the deck is extremely creature-dense and able to ignore the tax on spells, so it's a natural fit.
Esper has not been a popular color combination for Death's Shadow decks, but it has seen its stock increase with the increase in Grixis, which it holds an advantage against with Lingering Souls. The cards in the two decks are mostly similar, but Lingering Souls provides an edge as a source of evasive threats and expendable chump blockers that opponents will have a hard time dealing with.
What other promising new Modern decks have you seen? What interesting cards are you using? What old strategies could be revitalized? Share your thoughts in the comments, and I'll try to answer any questions.