It's that time again: Pro Tour time! For me, this means playing more Magic than I do at any other time, mastering the new Limited format and tackling the new Modern bannings. Last weekend, I competed in Grand Prix: Mexico City, and while I didn't finish as well as I would have hoped, the tournament gave me a lot of knowledge about the limited format. This means that I am dedicating the remaining time I have left to choosing a Modern deck.
What does the banning of Splinter Twin and Summer Bloom mean for Modern? Which decks get better and which ones get worse? I am willing to share what my beliefs are based on the results of my testing. There aren't actually that many new decks besides the various builds of Eldrazi. It is very hard to actually come up with the correct build of the Eldrazi deck, and not for a lack of trying.
There are a wide range of ways to build Eldrazi-based decks, but most are base-black. Some splash an additional color — I have been working on a build that splashes white. While the mana is slightly worse, the sideboard cards are extremely important, and white has the best sideboard options in the format. There is a good chance that I play a version of White/Black Eldrazi at the Pro Tour.
Most versions of Eldrazi revolve around Oblivion Sower and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, but there are alternate routes to take. Processing with Wasteland Strangler and Blight Herder is one direction to go, but here there is more room for other cards. The deck has playsets of the top new Eldrazi creatures, which makes its closing speed much faster. Reality Smasher in particular provides a much faster clock than, say, playing Oblivion Sower one turn later. On the other hand, its late-game isn't as strong as most versions'.
Playing Matter Reshaper on turn two is awesome, especially against aggressive decks. The best feeling is when your opponent kills Matter Reshaper and you flip over another one, or a land to help ramp out some of the bigger spells. Thought-Knot Seer is the one Eldrazi I would expect pretty much all Eldrazi decks to play four of. This guy is better than Vendilion Clique, and can come down a turn earlier!
This deck wins with Eldrazi, Planeswalkers, and Lingering Souls. It is similar to a deck like Abzan or Jund. The deck plays discard, solid removal spells, and under-costed threats. I will also say, when playing against the Rock-style decks, the Eldrazi deck is a big favorite.
The existence of the various Eldrazi decks actually hurts the prospects of the typical Black/Green deck, and I expect these strategies to lose some popularity. This begs the question: how many Eldrazi-based decks will show up at the Pro Tour? The answer to this question likely has a direct impact on whether a player plays a traditional midrange strategy. The combo strategies, on the other hand, which might be a bit slower or less consistent than Jund, are now going to get a chance to shine. Perhaps the best combo deck in the format is Grishoalbrand. Here is a list played by Tye Copeland from the recent Modern Open in Atlanta:
This deck wasn't terribly prominent when Amulet Bloom legal, as many players saw the respective decks as ones with similar characteristics, though Grishoalbrand had a higher fail rate. Now, though, Grishoalbrand is certainly the fastest deck in the format. It will win on turn two a reasonable amount of the time, though hand disruption and graveyard hate is still tough for this deck to handle. There are a couple avenues to win and while the first option is to Goryo's Vengeance a Griselbrand or Through the Breach in a Griselbrand, sometimes those options aren't available. Through the Breaching in a Worldspine Wurm or Borborygmos Enraged can become a win condition.
Many of the popular combo decks do use the graveyard which is why we see hate like Rest in Peace and Relic of Progenitus surging in popularity. A deck like Living End would be much more popular if it weren't for the fact of hate cards being prevalent. Even a combo deck like Storm needs its graveyard to win. These are some of the best combo decks in the format, yet they are known quantities and players will be gunning for them. This is why combo decks that don't require graveyard interaction have gained so much traction.
There are a couple different decks that use Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Restoration Angel as the combo finish, much like Splinter Twin. There are certainly blue-based versions that can be almost like a Jeskai Control deck with the combo incorporated. Another way to go is to play the green-based Kiki-Chord deck that Jeff Hoogland helped popularize. Here is his list:
The deck does use its graveyard a bit, with cards like Eternal Witness and Voice of Resurgence, but since there are four copies of Chord of Calling, the creatures in play are generally geared towards what the matchup dictates. Versus aggressive decks, the lifegain provided by Courser of Kruphix and Kitchen Finks are generally what you want to Chord of Calling for, but against control there are value options like Reveillark to just go crazy with card advantage. This is one of the newer decks reminiscent of Birthing Pod, but doesn't actually have new cards in it. The deck has a tough time dealing with fast combo like Goryo's Vengeance but fair decks are great matchups.
Elves have been surging in popularity, and for good reason. The deck often plays Collected Company, and a bunch of cheap Elves can add up. Some versions play Chord of Calling, but the version I am talking about actually has Evolutionary Leap to go off with. Here is the list played by Nichoras on Magic Online:
This deck plays all the best Elf creatures Modern has to offer, and can come out of the gates with Nettle Sentinels and Heritage Druid, dumping its entire hand as early as turn two. The deck has so much redundancy that it is actually hard to break up, as there are so many ways to produce mana, and with a card like Evolutionary Leap, creatures can be recycled to provide a constant stream of gas. Dwynen's Elite is one of the newer additions to the Elves deck, and is super nice in conjunction with Heritage Druid — the additional token is very relevant. Elves can win a game by swarming with small creatures, or by making the creatures into sizable threats.
Ezuri, Renegade Leader allows for one Overrun effect to just end the game on the spot. Beyond Ezuri, Renegade Leader, there are also Elvish Archdruids and an Elvish Champion to help make the small Elf creatures into real threats. The one Elvish Champion is actually pretty standard these days as a way to make life very difficult against the green decks of the format that are otherwise willing to block small Elves all day.
But what if your opponent drops an Ensnaring Bridge?
There is a burn strategy involving Shaman of the Pack. Shaman of the Pack makes this deck's clock faster, and generally comes into play and takes a huge chunk of the opponent's life total with it.
I have gone over decks that are well-positioned for the Pro Tour, but my prediction is that Affinity, Tron, and variants of Zoo and Burn will be the most popular decks at the Pro Tour. These archetypes are known to be very popular, and the loss of Amulet Bloom and Splinter Twin only helps them. I personally know from the last Modern Pro Tour that these decks can still win through the most hateful cards in the format. I expect there to be lots of Stony Silences to attempt to handle the artifacts, but even a Stony Silence isn't always enough to contain a deck like Affinity, and sometimes isn't even that great against Tron.
Burn is a deck that I truly believe is extremely powerful, and I wouldn't blame anyone for playing it, in fact I could very well run it back. I do believe that playing Wild Nacatl is correct, but the amount of creatures in the deck beyond Wild Nacatl, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Goblin Guide and Monastery Swiftspear will vary. Some Burn decks will only play these sixteen creatures, to try to maximize the amount of Burn, while others may opt to overload on creatures, in an attempt to not be as vulnerable to cards like Leyline of Sanctity. This deck, for example, is much more of a Zoo deck than Burn:
Here's a deck that can win as early as turn three! Burning-Tree Emissary isn't a card we have seen a ton of, but it does allow for some very explosive starts. I expect that whether we are talking about Zoo or Burn that these super-aggressive decks will tend to be Naya. While I expect the more traditional Naya Burn decks to be the most popular aggressive decks, I expect Zoo decks to show up as well.
That leaves Tron and Affinity, both of which are great. You need lots of hate to beat these decks, especially when running a fair deck. There will be less land destruction and Blood Moons without Amulet Bloom around, which seems great from the Tron perspective. As far as Affinity goes, this might be the best deck in the format. I will say that this is a deck I won't play at the Pro Tour simply because it's not my type of deck, but it will be very popular. This deck is tough to handle, but it is also a strategy with a bullseye on its head. I am still undecided but these are the decks I am going to make sure to test both with and against, but Modern has so many archetypes there will always be something unexpected that shows up!