Right now Standard is at its most exciting. Everyone is racing everyone else to find the best and most powerful decks, putting new cards through their paces or digging up hidden gems that were overlooked before rotation. I've enjoyed exploring this new Standard format as well, but you can only keep me away from my beloved Modern for so long.
The Modern Challenges and Leagues are running as normal and monitoring the results from them has turned up some enormously interesting and exciting brews. Some of these are completely new, some are fresh takes on old archetypes, and some are… well, you'll see. Let's get to it!
Runaway Steam-Kin has had runaway success in Standard, and is gaining traction in Modern. Offering a considerable rebate on red spells, it powers the engine of this deck and helps big threats like Bedlam Reveler hit play nice and early. For the most part, this deck spins its wheels at a terrifying velocity - but between burn spells and a weird creature suite, it can unload a lot of damage.
This list incorporates a few other hits from Guilds of Ravnica – Arclight Phoenix is perfect when you're chaining multiple spells a turn. The fact that it comes back for free is huge considering that you can discard it to Faithless Looting or Tormenting Voice and be rewarded with a hasty 3/2 flier for just playing your natural game. Additionally, despite "punisher" cards not having the best pedigree, the new set's Risk Factor is also here to help apply pressure, refuel and mitigate flood with Jump-Start.
After being banned in Standard, Felidar Guardian is working on its difficult second album in Modern – and what better place to play Saheeli Rai than in a base green-white deck that splashes Blood Moon? You're in for a wild ride here; this deck aims to get out of the gates quickly with the classic Arbor Elf/Utopia Sprawl combo, which is a good call considering the mana-hungry nature of its infinite combo.
What really pushes this list over the top is its Glittering Wish-powered sideboard. Importantly, it means the deck plays a functional seven copies of Saheeli Rai (and eight Felidar Guardian, technically, as you can Wish for Bring to Light). Having tutorable access to such a flexible suite of answers thanks to Glittering Wish is pretty huge – you're effectively playing main deck graveyard hate ( Wheel of Sun and Moon), Disenchant effects ( Wear // Tear), and land destruction ( Fulminator Mage) – narrow effects that can be brutal against the format's "game one" decks.
Monastery Mentor is so good in Vintage that it's been restricted, but there are no such restrictions in Modern, where the card lacks the support of powerhouses such as Moxen. Nonetheless, there are plenty of cheap and powerful instants and sorceries in Modern, and this deck is a rogue's gallery of the best cheap spells in the Jeskai colors – plus four Cryptic Command, because come on. We're not here to muck around.
One interesting wrinkle is the single copy of Faithless Looting. This card is one of the pillars of the format, and only playing a one copy is perplexing. The list is incredibly tight, but I could see cutting a land, a Serum Visions, a Deafing Clarion, or even – heaven Forbid – a Cryptic Command in order to get that number up. Deafening Clarion, by the way, seems like a sweet way to both deal with an early rush and stabilize behind a squillion Monk Tokens later in the game.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all? Honestly, it looks like this Abzan list. Black-green decks are known to play fair Magic, and this one is no exception. Aether Vial and Collected Company are getting it done in Humans and Spirits, but this is a bird of a different feather, playing independently powerful cards with minor synergies that will wrong-foot and bamboozle unsuspecting opponents.
The most important aspect of this deck is its capacity to play an instant-speed game. This isn't a privilege often reserved for creature-based decks, but with Company and Vial, flashing in creatures like Tidehollow Sculler or Fiend Hunter can lead to oodles of value. Don't forget that Wasteland Strangler can then "process" those cards so they never get returned!
Also, note the incredble tech in the sideboard – a playset of Unmoored Ego along with a Hallowed Fountain. Nice.
Evil comes in many forms – even the Purity of mono-blue strategies can be tarnished by the scourge that is the Tron lands. Forgoing the Stars and Spheres for blue interaction, this off-the-wall take on Tron saw some play years ago before slowly fading into obscurity. However, with powerful card draw such as Thirst for Knowledge and countermagic to contest uninteractive decks, this flavor of Tron shores up a lot of the weaknesses of "regular" Tron.
While "regular" Tron plays four Karns and two Ulamogs as an industry-standard top-end package, Mono-Blue Tron goes fully ham with a bunch of sick one-ofs. There are some powerful artifact synergies in this list – Treasure Mage plucks 'em out of the library and Academy Ruins keeps 'em coming over and over. Ever had all your turns stolen by the Mindslaver lock? It sucks. Ever lost four lands to a Sundering Titan trigger? It's not fun. Ever tried to beat a Platinum Angel? It can't be done.
Another Blast from the Past, Blue Moon showed up at the top level of Modern play a few years ago before once again being consigned to the scrapheap. The strategy isn't dead, however, and a main deck Blood Moon can and will steal free wins all over the place. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is still a relative newcomer to Modern but is perfect in this blue-red control deck – but that's not the most exciting way this deck has to win the game.
Previously, cards like Batterskull or Pia and Kiran Nalaar were the win conditions of choice. Today, we're going big, about as big as you can. Through the Breach into Emrakul means the deck has a nigh-incontestable finisher – and at instant speed, to boot. Very few decks can live through the noodly embrace of Emrakul – and there's always Bolt-Snap-Bolt for those who can.
What happened to Bitterblossom? Along with Thopter Foundry and Wild Nacatl, Bitterblossom was unbanned only to never really get back off the bench. The headache-inducing days of playing around both Mistbind Clique and Cryptic Command are over. Or are they?
Yes. They are. Mistbind Clique isn't played any more.
Nonetheless, combining Bitterblossom and Spellstutter Sprite is a great foundation for a tempo-control deck. The rest of the deck is just powerful, interactive threats and disruptive elements – countermagic, discard and removal. It's a straightforward, unpretentious way to win games.
More so than most blue-based "control" decks, this one can adopt a very proactive position. Evasive chip damage backed up by Creeping Tar Pit provides enough incidental pressure to steal games out of nowhere – rather than blasting them on turn one million with Celestial Colonnade, this deck leaves opponents wondering how they ended up at three life while the Faeries player seemingly did nothing other than counter and kill their stuff.
Ohoho. Yes please. Many have tried; few have succeeded – the noble goal of making mill "a thing" in Modern is a heroic undertaking, but not for the faint of heart. Pietart (an excellent piece of MTGO namespace real estate, by the way) is nothing if not courageous. There all the usual suspects here – Hedron Crab, Glimpse the Unthinkable, and Visions of Beyond. There's a newcomer, too – is Mission Briefing enough to push this deck into the upper echelons of the format?
This deck has a lot going for it. Archive Trap almost always costs zero, Crypt Incursion can push your life total to unbeatably lofty heights (while also providing incidental graveyard hate), and main deck Surgical Extraction plus mill effects can ruin the day of many "glass cannon" style decks. Exile a Tron piece? An Ad Nauseam? A Grapeshot? Mill can win games without really "winning" them – and I'll take free wins any day of the week.
Everyone loves a "little kid" style deck, and this one is the biggest little kid deck I've ever seen. Undercosted beaters to kick things off, impossibly massive monsters at the top-end – it's a tale as old as time. Eldritch Evolution and Fauna Shaman provide unique tutor effects and there's the odd bit of interaction or value here and there with cards like Scavenging Ooze and Tireless Tracker. The real heat, however, comes from Cragganwick Cremator.
What is Cragganwick Cremator, I hear you ask? Clearly, you're not familiar with your Shadowmoor bulk rares! This card can end a game out of absolutely nowhere if fortune smiles upon you. Discard Ghalta, twelve you? How about discard Impervious Greatwurm and sixteen you? Archgaze must have heard someone say "go big or go home" and taken it very seriously.
All the best in black interaction and disruption and all the best in white sideboard cards – not to mention powerful gold threats and one of the best cards in the format in Lingering Souls – baby, we got a stew going! White-black isn't the most popular color combination in Modern, but this list looks to change that.
This list has 16 main deck ways – sixteen – to rip apart opposing hands, while not skimping on pressure. Obviously, the change to the planeswalker uniqueness rule renders this deck possible – two different Sorins both pumping out tokens means things can get out of hand very quickly.
Another key strength is, of course, the range of powerful sideboard cards available to this deck, with both Stony Silence and Rest in Peace being the best there is at what they do. Even the cheeky Ensnaring Bridge might allow your one-power tokens to get busy while your opponent sits there doing nothing. Nice!
Despite all eyes being on Standard recently, and despite Modern slowing down a little as a result, things are still humming away under the surface. Brews like these are seeing a good level of success, which is a positive augury for a format that has maintained an exceptionally healthy and enjoyable metagame for well over a year now. Here's hoping it continues!
- Riley Knight