Modern has changed a lot recently. Splinter Twin and Summer Bloom got banned, then Eye of Ugin soon followed suit. Ancestral Vision and Sword of the Meek were unbanned and a few new cards were printed that have had a big impact on the format. Today I'm going to highlight 25 decks to keep on your radar for the TCGplayer Modern State Championships this weekend. Whether you want to burn, mill, poison, control, attack, or combo your opponent out, I have just the deck for you!
Let's start with the new decks and then we'll look at upgrades to existing decks.
The most impactful addition to the format recently is Ancestral Vision. Several successful strategies have been designed around this card.
This deck can play out like a control deck, targeting opposing creatures with burn spells and reloading with Ancestral Vision. Or it can be more aggressive, burning the opponent while making a board of Elemental Tokens off Young Pyromancer and transforming Thing in the Ice. Or it can keep a combo deck from going off with its 11 counters and four Snapcaster Mages. Versatility is this deck's greatest strength.
Temur is similar except it uses Traverse the Ulvenwald to find Tarmogoyf and Snapcaster Mage. This deck is less vulnerable to Zealous Persecution since it runs Tarmogoyf over Young Pyromancer, but the cost is that it cannot run Blood Moon in the sideboard. Pulse of Murasa is some nice tech for not getting burned out!
Instead of running burn, Sultai runs discard and point removal. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet has a huge impact in Modern. It exiles Kitchen Finks, stops Melira Combo, gains life against burn, survives Lightning Bolt, and makes an army of Zombies. It also makes a Zombie immediately with Slaughter Pact and with Liliana of the Veil. Between Dark Confidant, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Tarmogoyf, and Scavenging Ooze, its opponent needs a lot of removal to win.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet does work in Grixis too! In addition To the Slaughter Pact "combo", Seal of Fire does the same thing. Kalaghan's Command can rebuy Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet too. Ancestral Vision does what Jace, Vryn's Prodigy used to try to do. It generates card advantage at the cost of prolonging the game, which is exactly what this deck wants to do anyway.
Jeskai is similar to the U/R version but with more answers and fewer win conditions. It is equally capable of burning the opponent out but instead of relying on Thing in the Ice to bounce an opposing army, it can wipe the board with Supreme Verdict. Eventually it attacks with Celestial Colonnade a couple times and flashes back a few burn spells, likely while holding several cards in hand from Ancestral Vision and Sphinx's Revelation.
This is by far the spiciest of the Ancestral Vision brews! The idea is to just take turn after turn while drawing more Time Walks effects off Dictate of Kruphix, Jace Beleren, and Ancestral Vision. Eventually Thassa, God of the Sea or an awakened land off Part the Waterveil will finish the opponent, but not before they sit there watching you take all the turns. This might be the deck for you if you like to get turnt!
The next most impactful addition to Modern is Sword of the Meek. Three decks have found a way to utilize the recently-unbanned equipment.
Most Tron decks have been R/G, but W/U is able to incorporate the Thopter Foundry + Sword of the Meek combo into its already existent Gifts Ungiven package. The alternate play is to Gifts for Unburial Rites and either Iona, Shield of Emeria or Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. Hard-casting these monsters is also a thing that happens with the Urza lands, as is hard casting Ulamog, the Ceasless Hunger or even Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.
Gerry Thompson chose to go the more controlling route finishing games with Thopters instead of Eldrazi. He has since moved two copies of Timely Reinforcements to the maindeck to give it more breathing room against the aggressive Lightning Bolt decks.
Just as Taking Turns is the spiciest Ancestral Vison brew, this is the spiciest Thopter Sword deck! It basically plays a ton of cheap artifacts that cantrip and then sacrifices them all to Krark-Clan Ironworks and casts Open the Vaults to get them all back and draw a bunch more cards. The Thopter Sword combo can go infinite with Krark-Clan Ironworks or it can just win with Ghirapur Aether Grid or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.
If you can't decide which of these recently unbanned cards you want to play with more, one deck uses both Ancestral Vision AND Sword of the Meek.
This deck is similar to the Jeskai Control deck fueled by Ancestral Vision, but uses the Thopter Sword combo to help stabilize and also to take over and win the game. This deck is not easily burned out or killed by creature damage, though it may be a bit softer to combo decks since it runs less counters than the version without the Thopter Sword combo.
In addition to the Ancestral Vision decks and the Sword of the Meek decks, a few new archetypes sprang up recently that are worth acknowledging as contenders.
People have been trying to make mill happen ever since Millstone was printed in Antiquities. With Ensnaring Bridge to stop creatures, Crypt Incursion to gain life, and a deck filled to the brim with efficiently-costed mill cards, this deck makes that dream a reality! You even have Extirpate and Surgical Extraction to combine with your mill cards to beat combo decks. The almighty Hedron Crab has finally arrived in Modern!
Speaking of arrivals, Thalia's Lieutenant makes White Weenie possible. This deck pumps out a ton of creatures fast and then pumps them with Thalia's Lieutenant or Honor of the Pure. Brave the Elements is insurance against Pyroclasm or Anger of the Gods while Thalia, Guardian of Thraben makes sure we outrace all the combo decks. And since we're white, we get access to all the best sideboard hate.
Dredge is back! Even without Dread Return, this deck can kill quickly by filling its graveyard and ending up with a board of Bloodghasts, Narcomoebas, and Prized Amalgams. Without Cabal Therapy or Dread Return as sacrifice outlets, it can't support Bridge from Below, but if this deck flies under the radar and people aren't packing graveyard hate, it can certainly get the job done!
While this may seem like a lot of new decks (and it is!), there are still plenty of old favorites that are just as competitive today as they were previously, and several have undergone a few improvements.
Big Zoo got a powerful new planeswalker – Arlinn Kord – to add to its arsenal. Arlinn Kord can make wolves and then threaten to Lightning Bolt or she can grant vigilance, haste, and +2/+2 to Knight of the Reliquary or whatever creature just entered the battlefield. It also gained Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. These 'Walkers give the deck more reach against sweepers and against other midrange decks.
Little Zoo is much lower to the ground and uses Atarka's Command to end the game quickly instead of planeswalkers to prolong the game. Reckless Bushwacker is the newest addition, which combos nicely with Burning-Tree Emissary. Reckless Bushwacker also combos nicely with Devastating Summons.
Affinity hasn't really gained anything of note recently, but more importantly it hasn't lost anything to the bannings. The robots are as good as they've ever been, though splash hate for the Thopter Sword combo might mean the target on their back is bigger than usual. Affinity players are used to fighting through hate though.
This is another deck that gains a lot from Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. It runs the Slaughter Pact "combo" and could easily run the Seal of Fire "combo" if it wanted to. It also has the Liliana of the Veil "combo" with Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. The deck uses hand disruption and versatile removal to stabilize and Dark Confidant and Kolaghan's Command to grind the opponent out. It's classic Jund.
Nothing has changed in the Burn deck, but it keeps winning the way it's been winning since the printing of Eidolon of the Great Revel. A prepared opponent will have an edge against Burn, but lots of decks can't afford the space to be prepared for the matchup, so Burn often ends up being well-positioned. It's faster than most combo decks and has Destructive Revelry as a natural foil to Thopter Foundry.
Tron lost its Eye of Ugin, but it hasn't lost its heart. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon may no longer have 20/20 vision, but it can still come down as early as the fourth turn off the Urza lands. And turn-three Karn Liberated is still a nightmare for many decks. If you thought Tron was going away, think again.
Not only is milling the opponent out a viable strategy in Modern (U/B Mill), but so is winning via Poison Counters! I know, Inkmoth Nexus allows affinity to get in on the fun too, but Infect as a dedicated poison deck is among the best decks in the format. It's fast, consistent, and resilient to hate. There are a lot of Lightning Bolts around right now, but that wasn't a problem for Infect before.
Ad Nauseam is another deck that hasn't gained anything new but is nevertheless still a good option. Without Twin around to be the better combo deck, Ad Nauseam finds itself ahead in the "race to go off" against a lot of other combo decks of the format. Angel's Grace and Phyrexian Unlife give it natural resiliency to certain strategies, often buying the deck an extra turn to go off.
The returning champion has positioned itself as the deck of choice for former Twin pilots since it plays a very similar game. It can grind people out with card advantage or find a key bullet to disrupt the opponent. And when needed, it can combo-kill at instant speed. It even has maindeck hate for Infect since Melira, Sylvok Outcast is one of its combo pieces.
The other Chord of Calling toolbox combo deck got a very important new addition in the form of Nahiri, the Harbinger. Nahiri, the Harbinger can cycle cards like Lone Missionary and Orzhov Pontiff in matchups where they are bad and search out Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker or any other creature in the deck. It's too soon to tell if this is enough to make Kiki Chord better than Melira Company, but it certainly makes things closer.
With all the aggressive Lightning Bolt decks running around, what better way to be the punisher than to play a deck that thrives on losing life? Death's Shadow + Temur Battle Rage is the primary combo kill, but it can also Become Immense + Temur Battle Rage or just aggro people out like a typical Zoo deck. Myth Realized is the newest addition to the deck, giving it another resilient one-mana threat that gets better as the game goes on.
There are several different ways to build a deck around Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. This version uses Primeval Titan to find it, while others use Scapeshift with or without Prismatic Omen. Oath of Nissa is the newest addition to this deck, enabling the deck to find the Titan, Sakura-Tribe Elder, or Oracle of Mul Daya depending on which stage of the game we're in. Any of the Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle decks are good right now.
Modern in a Nutshell
There is only so much space in one article (I made space for 25 decks!), so I only covered the new decks and the top decks. There are plenty other decks that are viable including: Bogles, Grishoalbrand, Living End, Blue Moon, Hatebears, Merfolk, Abzan, Elves, Jund Loam, Goblins, Storm, and various builds of Scapeshift. Lightning Bolt continues to be the most-played card in the format and I don't see that ever changing.
Ancestral Vision and Sword of the Meek have caused several new decks to emerge. UB Mill, Mono-White Humans, and Dredge are now real decks. Much of the rest of the format has remained the same, albeit with several decks gaining upgrades from some new cards.
Now is a great time to get into Modern, as even the more experienced Modern players have to learn a bunch of new decks. You'll fit right in. Pick a deck that stands out to you as something you'll have fun playing and figure things out along the way, using this article as a brief overview to help guide you in getting your feet wet.
If you're trying to get your friends into Modern, this would be the article to share with them.