To say I'm excited to play Modern this weekend is an understatement. It feels like most big events recently have been Standard. In fact, I can't remember the last time I had a chance to play in a Modern Grand Prix. Considering Modern is probably the most popular competitive format, this is probably an error on the part of those choosing formats for GPs.
Looking forward, the next Pro Tour is also Modern, which makes the results from this weekend that much more important. When a tournament is important, you had better believe that means more playtesting!
Is it a good idea to choose a deck in Modern based off of what decks are rising in popularity? For a small tournament with a metagame that is predictable I like making a deck choice based off the metagame. In Modern though, especially for large events, there will be a ton of different decks. This is very different from Standard, for instance, where you will be in good shape if you prepare for the top five decks or so. With so many decks in Modern I don't think it is correct to build your deck to target one specific strategy.
Even if one deck is popular I don't expect any one strategy to be more than 10% of the metagame this weekend, that is how diverse the metagame is. This means I don't want to be sideboarding in a card like Rule of Law. Even though it is good versus some of the more popular decks—Storm and Living End—I don't believe its applications are broad enough. This weekend you want to be playing sideboard cards that can come in against at least five matchups.
There was a Modern event last weekend that should be taken into account: the SCG Invitational. Lantern Control did exceptionally well. Of course, the players who were piloting Lantern Control were also some of the best players in the room. This is not a deck you can just pick up right before a tournament. It requires a ton of concentration, and there are many little decisions. I would not recommend this deck for a Grand Prix without playing a ton of matches with it first.
I believe many players are thinking similarly. Even though Lantern is clearly very good, maybe even the best deck in the format, most players won't be confident playing it at a Grand Prix. The other factor here is that player's want to enjoy their experience. There is a widespread thought that playing against or even with Lantern Control is not very fun. Personally, I don't like playing against it because it is does things to my deck that seem like they fundamentally shouldn't be allowed.
Manipulating a player's draw step is a completely different way of playing Magic. There is no deck that has ever really operated in the same way as Lantern Control. This has led to some players talking about the idea of a banning, because of how different Lantern Control is from other decks. Personally, I'm not ready for a banning based on deck enjoyment, as surely there are plenty of Lantern players out there who enjoy the deck. It is when a deck becomes too powerful that it becomes a good idea to talk about bannings.
The other factor that goes into choosing to play Lantern Control is the clock. Milling the opponent out isn't exactly the fastest way to win a game. When you account for shuffling, sideboarding, and up to three games, all of a sudden 50 minutes has a way of shriveling up. Lantern players are not only forced to play quickly, but they are at the mercy of their opponent's pace of play as well. This is a deck that tends to lead to a lot of draws. At the Invitational, Sam Black would have received an intentional draw had his opponent not conceded in extra turns.
We know that Lantern Control is good, and we also know that Whir of Invention takes it to a whole new level. This is the list I would expect to play against this weekend:
Players will be ready for Lantern Control. Whether this means an extra artifact removal spell or more countermagic, players will be prepared. I do think that this list is strong and a good choice for a select few players, but I won't be playing it. There are plenty of decks in Modern, and I want to play one that I am comfortable with.
If there is any one strategy that has continued to rise over the past few weeks, it is control. Right now the white and blue-based strategies are performing the best. These decks have needed access to card selection in both the early and lategame for quite a while; Ancestral Vision doesn't see much play in control, as Search for Azcanta now fills that role. Sometimes adding a couple copies of a single card can significantly change the power level of a deck.
Search for Azcanta makes these control decks significantly better. Jeskai and W/U Control could pretty easily lose the long game in a variety of matchups before the introduction of Search for Azcanta. Now, these decks are both more consistent, and have a better lategame. Search for Azcanta is clearly much more than a Standard card, as I expect almost all blue decks in Modern will want to consider playing Search for Azcanta.
There are two different ways to build the control decks. One can win the game quickly, or you can be a pure control deck with very few creatures, like Benjamin Nikoliches' list:
By not having a card like Geist of Saint Traft you are conceding matchups like Dredge or some build of Tron, because you can't interact with what they are doing, or win the game in a timely manner. On the flipside, any sort of midrange deck is a good matchup for this Jeskai Control deck. This deck is also going to be well set up against other control decks because of all the countermagic, which is definitely important.
There is of course another direction to go in, which seems a bit more popular. By playing Geist of Saint Traft and Spell Queller, it means you have more ways to beat difficult matchups. For instance, a Geist of Saint Traft backed up by removal or countermagic can steal games that would be impossible to win otherwise. This list took down a recent classic:
Once you add in more creatures Search for Azcanta becomes less important, though I expect to see a couple copies start to make their way into even the more aggressive Jeskai Control lists.
I don't recommend playing a deck that is gsupposed to be goodh against control this weekend. The control decks have been shifting so that they are better prepared for their supposed bad matchups. For instance, Eldrazi decks have long been thought to be good against control, but Spell Queller does change this a bit. Spell Queller is not an actual Counterspell, so it gets around Cavern of Souls. Having a good way to stop Thought-Knot Seer from entering play is important to be aware of.
I am going to talk about a few decks that I don't expect to see much of this weekend, but I could see doing well. Enduring Ideal is a thing:
I have seen this deck pop up online, and I believe it could have enough momentum to see some play at the Grand Prix scene. Most players still don't know what the deck is doing, and that's a pretty big advantage. You can cheese the opponent out with a variety of enchantment hate cards, and there is a red splash to include Blood Moon. Once you are able to cast Enduring Ideal most decks will fold.
Unless the opponent has a good way to get enchantments off the battlefield being able to search for an enchantment every turn should lock the game up. This deck can also stop you from resolving spells by getting Dovescape into play, which is easy to forget. A turn four Enduring Ideal happens a good amount of the time alongside a suspended Lotus Bloom on turn one. Runed Halo can be extremely good dependent on the matchup. Be aware of all the hate cards this deck brings to the table.
Merfolk has been on the decline in Modern for a while now. However, there will certainly still be a contingent of people playing the deck, and I think the green splash is definitely the way to go. Having access to Kumena's Speaker and Merfolk Branchwalker help upgrade some of the creatures. Kumena's Speaker provides another one drop that hits hard, especially alongside lords that will inevitably enter the battlefield later on. Merfolk Branchwalker helps filter your draws, which is something the deck has desperately been looking for.
The fact is that adding green doesn't hurt the mana that much. I know that there are Merfolk players out there who have been on mono-blue for awhile, but I recommend trying this list. I don't think it is unreasonable to consider Merfolk a long shot to do well, it really has very little momentum.
The Kiki Moon deck has had a surge of popularity in the past week. I feel I can put it in this section because it was virtually nonexistent before we saw it recently at the Invitational. Now, it also is doing well on Magic Online. There are multiple good blue-red decks, both U/R Breach and Kiki Moon are able to incorporate a combo while still having lots of classic control elements. It is nice to see Pestermite and Deceiver Exarch again.
If you want to take a look at a deck that is truly brand-new, take a look at this baby! We have seen As Foretold decks a little bit, but they have never done all that well in large events. This list is able to incorporate Living End, and that makes the deck unique. Remember: As Foretold can cheat in a Living End or Ancestral Vision without the need of having to suspend anything. I don't think players will have any idea what this mono-blue deck is up to, so it could be a great choice for its surprise factor.
How good is this deck? It hasn't been around long enough in order to really know, so it is a bit of a gamble. That being said, it is making waves online, and oftentimes online results are ahead of paper. The combination of lots of countermagic and a Living End package seems sweet!
Thanks for reading,