How Do You Like 'Dem Lanterns?
Zac Elsik improved upon his Top 16 at Grand Prix Charlotte by winning Grand Prix Oklahoma City outright, where he silenced all doubters of his Lantern Control deck.
This artifact-based prison has a soul-crushing ending game plan that evokes in Modern the same feelings that Counterbalance / Sensei's Divining Top lock evokes in Legacy, and it is as equally painful to play against. Not only does the deck lock out the opponent from drawing relevant spells, it also controls its own draw steps with the very same cards.
While such a seemingly feeble collection of cards may seem vulnerable, the efficient disruption suite the deck plays allows it to cripple the opponent enough to take control. This disruption is flexible and far-reaching, and working together these cards allow the Lantern Control deck to craft a game-winning plan in the face of nearly anything the opponent can present.
Lantern Control is not well-understood by its average opponent, and it's difficult to say how the deck will fare once people start to figure out what is going on and learn how to properly fight back. It's hard to definitively talk about things like good and bad matchups and win percentages without more data, but Zac has at the very least proven that Lantern Control is a real contender, and something that needs to be taken seriously.
For beating Lantern Control, I would look first to disrupt it at its artifact core. It is a Mox Opal deck after all and should be treated as such. Artifact hate like Ancient Grudge, Hurkyl's Recall, Shatterstorm, Creeping Corrosion, and Fracturing Gust are all excellent options, and the more expensive cards are particularly interesting because they dodge Inquisition of Kozilek. Stony Silence is also excellent, but it does not Remove Ensnaring Bridge.
Good Twin, Bad Twin
Falling in the finals to Lantern Control was Brian Braun-Duin with UR Splinter Twin.
This list is built along the same lines as the UR Twin deck Wesley See played to the finals of Grand Prix Charlotte. It is becoming clear that the two-color version consistently outperforms other commonly played three-color options. UR Twin executes an effective combo-focused game one plan, and is able to transition into a coherent control deck in post-sideboard games in matchups where the combo is ineffective. It benefits from an excellent manabase that requires the minimum amount of life loss and supports multiple colorless utility lands.
Grixis Twin found some success, at Grand Prix OKC, putting two players into the Top 16, but this isn't impressive relative to how heavily it was played. I'd recommend looking at Nathaniel Smith's version, which uses Inquisition of Kozilek to take a more proactive attitude towards disruption:
Temur Twin fared worst of all, and this aggressive variation was a disappointing performer in the hands of all of its pilots, including multiple Hall of Fame players. I also played the archetype, and I failed to face any of the Jund/Abzan or blue control matchups where Tarmogoyf would shine, and instead found him sidestepped (sideswam?) by Islandwalking Merfolk or simply ignored altogether by decks like Ad Nauseam and Urzatron. The archetype is fine, but it wasn't ideal for the Oklahoma City metagame.
Elves is the Most Underrated Deck in Modern
Elves first appeared with its dominant performance at the Magic Online Championship Series, and it then went on to win Grand Prix Charlotte. It has followed up with a Top 4 finish at Grand Prix Oklahoma City, along with another player in Top 16. The archetype wins consistently, but it doesn't seem to garner a lot of respect, and perhaps it should.
Elves takes an aggressive approach that reminds me of something like a mashup of Merfolk and Affinity, but it really stands on its own as a unique archetype. Like Merfolk, Elves applies a cascade of tribal synergies that quickly culminates into an unbeatable board position and a dead opponent. Rather than include a critical mass of Lord creatures, it's instead composed mostly of cheap and fast cog creatures, and it earns most wins with a powerful finisher in Ezuri, Renegade Leader, which draws some similarities to Affinity's many cog creatures and powerful finisher, Cranial Plating. Elves offers slightly less killing power than Merfolk and Affinity, but what it does offer is an incredible capacity of card advantage.
With the printing of Sylvan Messenger, the archetype has its own Goblin Ringleader, a classic bane for decks looking to grind out a tribal deck with attrition. Collected Company adds further card advantage capabilities, but what really stands out is the inclusion of Lead the Stampede. With 34 creatures in the maindeck, Lead the Stampede will yield something around 2.8 creatures, so it's a reliable two-for-one, and it often yields a third card. While beating Merfolk and Affinity with attrition is a safe bet, it's simply not a sustainable plan against an Elf deck with more card advantage than the average blue control deck.
Fighting back against Elves should be done with broad sweepers and answers, and cards like Pyroclasm and Night of Souls' Betrayal come to mind as being particularly effective. Also, while Elves is capable of some very fast draws, the card advantage spells mean it's a bit slower than other aggressive decks on average, so it's possible to just go right over the top of Elves with a combo deck.
Burn, Baby, Burn
I asked some people to look back at the event in retrospect and pick what they thought was the best-positioned archetype, and I heard Burn more than once. With a proactive game plan that is hard to interact with and fast enough to race any opponent, Burn is a great choice against a wide-open field. Jasper Johnson-Epstein had the Foresight to pilot the archetype and earn himself a Top 4 finish:
The best part of Jasper's decklist is the pair of Grim Lavamancer, which is very well-positioned in a room full of creature decks like Affinity, Infect, Merfolk, and Elves.
Amulet Bloom is Doing Alright
While there have been impetuous calls to ban Amulet of Vigor or Summer Bloom, the powerful Amulet Bloom archetype has proven if nothing that it is beatable, and many of the excellent players who piloted the archetype at Grand Prix OKC failed to convert to a strong finish. The deck certainly won its fair share of matches, and even reached the Top 8, but only one more copy graced the Top 32.
An interesting choice in the sideboard is two Choke, which were absent from Tom Martell's WMCQ winning decklist. Blue control decks give Amulet Bloom the biggest issue, especially those with Blood Moon, and Choke is a way to fight back in a similarly hateful and effective way.
Hangarback Affinity is Here to Stay
The weekend before last, Chris Andersen impressed many with his undefeated start at the SCG Modern Open in Cincinnati, where he played a Hangarback Walker Affinity deck, but he ultimately failed to reach the Top 8 and show his deck to a wider audience. Chris was onto something and in OKC Hangarback Walker reached the elimination rounds and put another player into the Top 32:
Hangarback Walker is a unique tool that Affinity previously never had access to, and players are just now beginning to really see what it's capable of in the archetype. It has great synergies with various cards in the deck, especially Arcbound Ravager and Steel Overseer, and it's also a valuable late-game draw in a deck without a real mana sink. It gives this deck a reliable way to gain board presence in the face of removal as early as the first turn. It's a bit clunky, but the power level is high, and I expect it will become a mainstay in the archetype as time passes.
Merfolk has been steadily gaining popularity as a Modern archetype over the past few months, and it found many supporters at Grand Prix Oklahoma City. Most failed to perform, but Paul Rietzl separated himself from the pack and earned a Top 8 berth with a Merfolk deck that cuts away the commonly played disruptive spell suite for more creatures.
This deck is built along the theory that creature-based synergy decks should be packed full of creatures, and that any non-creature spell that doesn't contribute synergy should be cut. The logic states that anything that doesn't add to synergy is more likely to be a liability than a useful part of a winning game plan. In a metagame as diverse as Modern, where it's impossible to play a disruption spell that's good against every opponent, this seems especially relevant.
Merfolk has a deep list of playable creatures, so it is no stretch to find quality Merfolk to fill in the deck. While he retains one Vapor Snag, which is actually never dead because he can use it to save from removal or re-use for value one of his own creatures, Paul cut three Dismember / Vapor Snag / Spell Pierce from the stock lists, and he has fit all four Merrow Reejerey and two Phantasmal Image. With twelve lords in the deck, Phantasmal Image is very likely able to copy one, which makes it a de-facto Lord, and a great way to add redundancy to the main game plan. There is additional utility, like the ability to copy Silvergill Adept and draw an extra draw, or to copy Master of Waves and make Elemental Tokens. It's especially fun when snuck in with Aether Vial against strong opposing creatures like Primeval Titan, Griselbrand, Wurmcoil Engine, or even Emrakul, the Aeon's Torn. In response to a Splinter Twin it can copy the target and tap it, stopping the opponent from comboing for one turn. Paul also plays the full four copies of Harbinger of the Tides, which gives this deck serious ability to disrupt creatures without resorting to playing non-creature spells.
Scapeshift is Still Here
In case anyone forgot about it, Scapeshift is still a great Modern archetype, and reached the Top 8 of Grand Prix OKC:
Scapeshift seems to appear again just when people are ready to completely forget about it, but I suppose that is the case with any Modern archetype that falls off the radar.
There is nothing particularly special about this list compared to what we have seen in the past, but I am a huge fan of Compulsive Research, especially with Snapcaster Mage to potentially cast it again. Compulsive Research's ability to dig through the deck for Scapeshift along with its ability to generate raw cards and the critical mass of lands the deck needs to win with said Scapeshift make it the perfect card for the archetype. Running out of steam and falling short of the tools necessary to win is often a problem afflicting Scapeshift decks, and Compulsive Research goes a long way in making sure that doesn't happen.
Naya Company Slowly Making a Name for Itself
Naya Zoo with Collected Company has been making a name for itself ever since players first put Collected Company in the archetype soon after it was printed. The archetype put a player into the Top 16 of the Grand Prix, far more into the Top 32, and won the SCG Modern $5k in Worcester the same weekend.
Wild Nacatl and Noble Hierarch provide a fast start and huge creature up the curve, including Tarmogoyf and Knight of the Reliquary, are backed up by the disruption of Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile and the card advantage and selection of Collected Company.
What really impresses me about Naya Company is its sideboard options, which includes a who's who of the most effective sideboard cards in Modern, specifically creatures that can be found with Collected Company.
Return of Naya Aggro
A more aggressive take on Naya also reached the Top 16, which is an update on the Red/Green Aggro deck that found success in Modern a few years ago.
Rather than playing Noble Hierarch and the beefy white creatures of Naya Company, this deck moves the curve down more aggressively with a host of one-mana creatures, including Experiment One, Goblin Guide, and Kird Ape, along with a dip into white for Wild Nacatl. Ghor-Clan Rampager helps get these creatures through any blockers.
The biggest boon to this archetype since we last saw it in action is Atarka's Command, which is the perfect complement to this decks many cheap creatures, and it supplements the existing Lightning Bolt burn plan for closing out the game if the opponent puts the creatures to a halt.
What is Abzan Aristocrats?
Perhaps a better question is, "Who is Steve Rubin?" He's a competitor in the recent 2015 Magic World Championship, and I suspect this decklist is one he prepared for the Modern portion of that tournament, but that he didn't quite get to where he wanted for that event or perhaps was not right for the metagame. Regardless, Steve played his innovative Abzan Aristocrats deck to the Top 16.
Those familiar with the old Abzan Aristocrats in Standard two years ago will see similarities, but Return to the Ranks adds a powerful new elemental that allows the deck to Reanimate its fallen creatures for more value. The theme is to play sacrifice outlets along with cards that generate tokens when they die, and Blood Seeker to allow for a combo-like kill with Viscera Seer reminiscent of Arcbound Ravager with Disciple of the Vault. The most surprising card is Abzan Ascendancy, which both provides a big boost to any creatures in play, and turns any future fallen creature into a fresh token. This card seems like a nightmare for any control deck to grind against. Collected Company adds a dose of card advantage and selection. It's simply impossible to beat this deck through attrition, and opponents will be forced to go bigger with synergies and combos of their own, but Steve's sideboard offers plenty of great options for disrupting his opponent, especially Stain the Mind.
It seems like there is nothing you can't do in Modern.