This weekend was the Magic Online Championship Series Final. For those unfamiliar with the event, it is basically the annual World Championship of Magic Online. This year was my first time competing in the event, and I finished in ninth place – one win away from the Top 4. I prepared hard for the event, playing over a hundred matches of Modern with my deck of choice leading up to the event.

I ended up going 4-4 in the Modern portion of the event. My prediction of the metagame was fairly accurate, with the exception of Tron not showing up at all. For the upcoming Grand Prix in Phoenix, I expect the metagame to look more like what it looks like online rather than the way it did at the Magic Online Championship. If I were competing in a Modern event this weekend, I would play the same deck card for card. It's rare that I would not change a single card in my deck post-event, but this happens to be one of those times. Maybe if you expect more than 10% Jund I would make some changes, but I don't. I think the Champion

The final decision in deck-building was whether to play the fourth Adarkar Wastes or the fourth Horizon Canopy. I ended up going with the extra card draw over the blue source as I felt 12 was enough and I wanted an extra edge against the Jace and Bloodbraid decks of the format. In hindsight, I think this was the correct choice.

Based on the reactions people had upon seeing my list, the least understood card in the deck by a lot is Serum Visions, so I'll explain that first. The primary plan of the deck is to resolve Leonin Arbiter or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben on the second turn. The best card in the format at enabling this scenario is a first-turn Serum Visions. Given that we are running 12 untapped blue sources in the deck, we can reliably cast Serum Visions on the first turn if it is in our opener. The only time it comes up where Thalia taxes the Serum Visions is when we are out of gas, having already played out all our creatures. At that point we generally have extra lands on the battlefield and are just looking to reload. In that scenario casting Serum Visions is similar to sacrificing a Horizon Canopy, which is exactly what our deck wants to do at that stage of the game anyway. So Serum Visions is great early for setting up our game plan and great late at reloading. It's one of the biggest incentives to playing Blue in the deck.

The other incentives to playing Blue are Spell Queller and Geist of Saint Traft. Geist is especially great against decks playing Jace, the Mind Sculptor and it presents a fast clock against Tron and many of the combo decks of the format. Spell Queller gives us a way to interact favorably with cards like Daybreak Coronet, Oblivion Stone or Supreme Verdict. In conjunction with Honor of the Pure it also becomes Lightning Bolt-proof.

The rest of the deck functions the way Death and Taxes typically functions. The goal is to kill or render irrelevant the opponent's lands while taxing all their spells. Aether Vial allows us to develop our board while either mana screwing the opponent or countering their spells with Spell Queller. Many of the cards in our deck disrupt the opponent while also putting a clock on them. This narrows the window the opponent has to find a way out of the soft lock. Despite being a deck well-suited to killing the opponent while leaving them with a bunch of cards in hand and no time to deploy them, we can also fight quite well in the attrition game if things go long. Serum Visions and Horizon Canopy keep the action coming and many of our cards create a pretty efficient clock on their own and evade a lot of commonly played removal spells and/or potential blockers. Most of the cards in the deck can play offense or defense quite well, so transitioning is also a strength of the deck.

Matchup Analysis and Sideboard Guide

4 Burrenton Forge-Tender

Great against Burn and any deck running Lightning Bolt or Anger of the Gods. They come in against Scapeshift, Burn, Jund, Affinity (Whipflare and Galvanic Blast), and any of the Jace Control decks that run Lightning Bolt.

3 Stony Silence

Comes in against Tron, Affinity, Lantern, Krark-Clan Ironworks, Humans, and Merfolk. Side out Aether Vial whenever you bring these in.

3 Surgical Extraction

These come in against Scapeshift and Tron as a way – in conjunction with Ghost Quarter or Field of Ruin – to take them off a key land. It also comes in as a graveyard hate spell against all the graveyard decks like Hollow One, Dredge, and any reanimation strategy.

1 Grafdigger's Cage

Comes in against the graveyard decks and also against the Collected Company decks. Don't bring it in against Living End, though, as it does not stop it. If your metagame has a lot of Jund or Death's Shadow and not much Hollow One or Collected Company decks, you could replace this with a second Rest in Peace.

1 Rest in Peace

Comes in against the graveyard decks and also against Tarmogoyf decks. I bring it in against Grixis and against decks with Grim Lavamancer too, including Burn (which it incidentally shuts off the back half of Searing Blood too).

1 Reflector Mage

Any time you want another removal spell, it can come in. Works great with Restoration Angel.

1 Mirran Crusader

Great against any of the Green or Black decks, including Jund, Bogles, Hollow One, Death's Shadow, and Abzan Company.

1 Geist of Saint Traft

Excellent against the Jace Control decks, Tron, and most of the spell-based combo decks. Can also come in against pretty much anything, especially on the play.

Now let's talk about how some of the most common matchups play out and how best to approach them, including what to side out.

Jace Control Decks

Grixis Control

+4 Burrenton Forge-Tender
+1 Rest in Peace
+1 Mirran Crusader
+1 Geist of Saint Traft

-4 Aether Vial
-1 Serum Visions
-2 Path to Exile

Jeskai Control

+4 Burrenton Forge-Tender
+1 Rest in Peace
+1 Geist of Saint Traft

-1 Serum Visions
-2 Path to Exile
-3 Mirran Crusader

White-Blue Control

+1 Geist of Saint Traft
+1 Mirran Crusader

-2 Path to Exile

Blue-Red Control

+1 Geist of Saint Traft
+4 Burrenton Forge-Tender

-3 Mirran Crusader
-1 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
-1 Path to Exile (unless they have Thing in the Ice)

Against Grixis, they have Kolaghan's Command, so Aether Vial is considerably less good than it is in the other control matchups. Against the other three control variants, Aether Vial is one of our best cards, allowing us to get underneath their counters, resolve creatures during their end step, and cast multiple spells per turn to gain a large mana advantage over them. It's also a way to make sure Jace is never safe, despite how clear the board may look.

We are a pretty big favorite against Jace Control decks. In testing I was 73% across 15 matches. I went 1-1 against Jace decks in the tournament. Selfless Spirit protecting against wrath effects is often a big deal, as is Geist of Traft having hexproof. Just don't get your Traft surprise ambushed by Snapcaster Mage without a plan in place. Honor of the Pure allows Spell Queller to live through Lightning Bolt and Anger of the Gods against the red versions.

Tron

+3 Surgical Extraction
+3 Stony Silence
+1 Reflector Mage
+1 Geist of Saint Traft

-2 Path to Exile
-1 Honor of the Pure
-1 Mirran Crusader
-4 Aether Vial

Throughout testing, this was our best matchup. We ended up 91% across 11 matches. The matches often felt close, but we nearly always won. We are able to attack Tron from so many relevant axes in the matchup that it is difficult for them to find a winning line. Four Ghost Quarters and a Field of Ruin can keep them off Tron temporarily. Leonin Arbiter on its own taxes Expedition Map and Sylvan Scrying and is devastating in conjunction with Ghost Quarter. Spell Queller can counter any of their setup cards while also providing a clock. It can also counter Oblivion Stone when needed. Geist of Saint Traft is a fast clock, and Restoration Angel having flash is very relevant against Karn Liberated, especially with its ability to protect whatever creature Karn targets. Thalia taxes their spells, Thalia, Heretic Cathar taxes their mana development by causing lands to enter tapped, and Selfless Spirit counters the effect of Oblivion Stone. Also Path to Exile efficiently handles Wurmcoil Engine, Worldbreaker, or Ulamog.

In post-board games we gain access to Stony Silence to shut down all their artifact setup cards as well as their Oblivion Stones and Walking Ballista. We also gain Surgical Extraction, which in conjunction with a Ghost Quart or Field of Ruin can permanently take them off Tron mana, forcing them to play fair. We are much better at playing the small ball fair game than them.

Jund

+4 Burrenton Forge-Tender
+1 Rest in Peace
+1 Geist of Saint Traft
+1 Mirran Crusader
+1 Reflector Mage

-4 Aether Vial
-4 Spell Queller

This matchup is the closest among the top decks of the format. In testing we were 50% through eight matches, but I lost to it the one time I faced it in the tournament, so I think we are slightly behind. If you want to improve this matchup you can run Wall of Omens in the main deck over Selfless Spirit and/or Thalia, Heretic Cathar. That swap weakens us against Tron and the Jace decks though.

Thalia matches up well against Bloodbraid Elf since she can first strike down the Elf and also taxes the spell cascaded into unless it is a creature spell. Mirran Crusader matches up great against all their creatures and all their spells except for Lightning Bolt. You want to try and bait out the Lightning Bolt first before playing out the Crusader. Or you can use Selfless Spirit or Burrenton Forge-Tender to protect it. Spell Queller generally dies with a turn cycle of being cast, and it's hard to capitalize on the tempo boost, so it's generally the weakest card in the deck and hence gets boarded out. Aether Vial is decent, but usually dies to Kolaghan's Command and is a bad topdeck in the inevitable attrition battle, so it's the other card that gets boarded out. Honor of the Pure allows Spell Queller to live through Lightning Bolt in the first game and it protects Thalia and Selfless Spirit from Liliana, the Last Hope. It also protects Mirran Crusader from Grim Lavamancer and Leonin Arbiter from Kolaghan's Command. Don't board it out in this matchup, despite how tempting it might be!

Burn

+4 Burrenton Forge-Tender
+1 Rest in Peace
+1 Reflector Mage

-3 Mirran Crusader
-1 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
-1 Horizon Canopy
-1 Restoration Angel

Throughout six matches of testing we won 83% of our matches against Burn and I beat it the one time I faced it in the tournament. I don't think the matchup is quite as good as the numbers indicate, but it's definitely favorable. They have a low land count, half of which are fetches, so Leonin Arbiter can often set them off white mana for the rest of the game and often put them down to just one or zero lands in conjunction with a Ghost Quarter or two. Thalia also does a great job of taxing all their spells since most of their deck gets taxed and as I said they have a low land count. Selfless Spirit, Spell Queller and Restoration Angel can protect Thalia from burn spells too. Path to Exile is also an efficient answer to Eidolon of the Great Revel or whichever of their other creatures.

In post-board games, Burrenton Forge-Tender is our best card, being able to block anything and then usually sacrifice to counter both halves of a Searing Blaze later in the game. They can use Skullcrack to kill it after we block, but we gain a lot of tempo when they use their turn making that play so it's often fairly beneficial for us anyway. Honor of the Pure allows Spell Queller to live through Lightning Bolt.

Bogles

+1 Mirran Crusader
+1 Reflector Mage

-1 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
-1 Honor of the Pure

I feel like I was the only player in the tournament who showed up expecting to face Bogles. I went 60% against it through five matches in testing and I beat it the one time I faced it in the tournament. The matchup used to be slightly better back when we had Disrupting Shoal to pitch Serum Visions to counter their first-turn Slippery Bogle, but it's still pretty reasonable without it. Much like the Burn matchup, Thalia taxes nearly every spell in their deck. And also like the Burn matchup, they have a low land count. The way games play out, Spell Queller often comes on line just in time to counter Daybreak Coronet, which is the most relevant card in the matchup by a lot. It's extremely difficult to beat a resolved Daybreak Coronet on a hexproof creature, so if they are threatening that play on their turn and we have Spell Queller available, we usually can't afford to take any other line but leave Spell Queller up. Fortunately if we have Aether Vial on the battlefield, this means we can continue developing our board even while leaving up Spell Queller.

We don't really have any sideboard cards for the matchup except for a couple of upgrades, but our main deck is fairly well-positioned against Bogles on its own. Mirran Crusader's protection from green comes up quite a bit as it means we can freely block their creatures for as long as that is an option while they cannot ever block Mirran Crusader. Also we want to leave in all our removal spells and even board in one more because we don't want to lose any of the games where they don't have a hexproof creature and have to go all in on a Kor Spiritdancer. We have Ghost Quarter for Dryad Arbor, but we need Path and Reflector Mage for the white creature.

Hollow One

+4 Burrenton Forge-Tender
+1 Rest in Peace
+3 Surgical Extraction
+1 Grafdigger's Cage
+1 Mirran Crusader
+1 Reflector Mage

-3 Geist of Saint Traft
-3 Restoration Angel
-4 Serum Visions
-1 Horizon Canopy

On the draw, it is reasonable to take out Aether Vial and leave in Serum Visions, but I'm not sure which is correct. On the play Aether Vial is definitely better.

We went 40% through five matches in testing and I lost to it in the final round of the tournament. It's not a matchup I particularly want to face, but it's far from unwinnable. The black-red version is harder for us than the red-green version. We have a sufficient amount of graveyard hate to combat either version, and Mirran Crusader can do some work in the matchup too. They effectively start at a lower life total due to Street Wraiths cycling and their fetch + shock mana base. So we really only have to get about 12 damage in usually. First Strike is a very useful ability in the matchup and Path to Exile can often buy us enough time to set up. There's little we can do against their very best draws, but we can often put up a strong fight against the lower 90% of their draws. And their deck is much higher variance than ours, so we will win a fair amount of games due to their deck crapping out and/or our Thalia or Leonin Arbiter locking them out of casting any spells.

Death's Shadow

+1 Geist of Saint Traft
+1 Rest in Peace
+1 Reflector Mage
+1 Mirran Crusader

-4 Serum Visions

We went 40% across five matches in testing and none showed up in the tournament. It's a fairly even matchup. Leave in Honor of the Pure as it protects our creatures from Liliana, the Last Hope and Izzet Staticaster. Try not to lose Mirran Crusader to Liliana of the Veil if you can avoid it, and don't get trampled over for lethal by Temur Battle Rage. Spell Queller is very good in this matchup as it counters their key spell on a key turn and can't be stopped by Stubborn Denial. The problem is they tear our hand apart early, so we're often drawing off the top of our library. Fortunately we are good at that since so many of our cards are potent in the matchup. Leonin Arbiter and Thalia can also slow them down considerably, especially when we are on the play.

In testing I played against nearly 40 different decks. Providing matchup analyses for all of them would not be feasible, but I will say that out of all the decks not listed, we did not have a losing record against any of them. We were 67% against Ponza, Tribal Zoo, and green-blue Jace/Goyf decks, 50% against Humans, Red-Green Eldrazi, Merfolk and Naya, and 100% against Scapeshift, Living End, Dredge, Mardu Pyromancer, Esper Obzedat, Grisshoalhoard, Red-Green Devotion, 8-Rack Pox, Soul Flayer Combo, Infect, Eldrazi Taxes, Goblins, Mono-Black Snow Control, and Sultai. We never played against Affinity for some reason, but that matchup seems pretty close and certainly not bad.

If you're looking for an interactive deck with decent to great matchups, this is a strong choice. It's well-tuned and I'm confident it is the best version of Death and Taxes in the current metagame.

Craig Wescoe

@Brimaz4Life