From time to time I like to take stock of where the Modern format is, and make a list of the top 10 decks in the format. Modern has many different archetypes, but it is nice to take a look at exactly which decks are on the upswing and which may not be as popular as they once were.
While the most popular Death's Shadow variant is still Jund, there are some other takes on this strategy that dip into other colors. While usually I don't clump multiple decks into one, I am for the sake of this article because it wouldn't be fair for Death's Shadow decks to occupy the top three or four slots! Having lots of cheap spells, many of which are forms of disruption, is perfect for the Modern format. This is the deck that best interacts with the opponent and then present a one-mana card as its sole win condition.
We are all pretty familiar with Jund Death's Shadow, so let's at some alternative options.
We see two different versions of Death's Shadow finding success: one Abzan, and the other Grixis. Both have turn one hand disruption, cheap removal in Fatal Push, Street Wraiths, and, of course, Death's Shadow itself. The draw to blue is Snapcaster Mage, Serum Vision and Stubborn Denial. White allows Lingering Souls to enter into the main deck, and Path to Exile is another option for removal. Both of these decks are a bit slower that the Jund version, as they have added some expensive spells. This makes the midrange and mirror matchups better, but can hurt the ability to kill the opponent as fast as possible since Temur Battle Rage is one of the cards getting cut.
This weekend in San Antonio you can expect to see many different flavors of Death's Shadow. Initially there was no version other than the Jund one, but people are very innovative, and it's clear there are many directions you can go here,
There is no clear second best deck in Modern, but there is an argument for Burn to be here. The deck has put up consistent results for quite a while now. I will admit I am a little biased here because I love Burn and have been having success with it. The deck has a pretty good matchup against Death's Shadow variants, which is a great place to start at the moment. The current trend is to cut the green in the main deck, which means no Wild Nacatl or Atarka's Command. This is the direction I advocate going in, and it makes the mana more consistent.
This undefeated list from a Magic Online League is pretty standard. We see that there are all four-ofs, which shouldn't come as a surprise since you want to be playing the full set of all the best burn spells. The 12 creatures here are the most important ones, and I could see adding a Grim Lavamancer as well.
This deck gets a bad wrap, but it really is a strong choice right now. Eldrazi Temple accelerating out Thought-Knot Seer has proven to be a recipe for success. In fact, there is another deck playing Eldrazi creatures which I will get to shortly. Cheap removal and Engineered Explosives can hold off opposing aggressive starts. Once you get a Drowner of Hope into play the Death's Shadow deck can't really do much from that point.
This list has Elder Deep-Fiend at the top of the curve, which is not something you normally see. Since Elder Deep-Fiend is in the deck it makes more sense to go with Matter Reshaper rather than Eldrazi Skyspawner. Right now we are seeing more Eldrazi Skyspawners overall, but clearly there are reasons to go back to Matter Reshaper as well. Skyspawner is better against decks with flyers such as Affinity, and Matter Reshaper is better against midrange decks like Abzan or Jund. Personally, I like a mix of both. Probably the best part about Bant Eldrazi is getting to play lots of the best sideboard cards in the format. The deck can play high-impact hate cards which can help turn around some of the more difficult matchups.
Affinity is another Modern staple that never really seems to go away. This is the premier artifact deck in Modern, and for good reason. The deck wins very quickly with its creatures, and is tough to interact with. The deck can fight through spot removal pretty easily, as even the lands turn into threats. The best way to beat this deck is still hateful sideboard options like Stony Silence.
The main deck doesn't vary much from list to list. One of the points of contention is whether Master of Etherium or Etched Champion is better, and that can be metagame-dependent. Right now, being able to get around removal like Fatal Push is quite important, and we see the full playset of Etched Champions in the main as a result. It turns out an Etched Champion equipped with a Cranial Plating packs quite a punch! The sideboard is where you can get creative, we have seen more Rest in Peace as a result of the popularity of graveyard decks, and there are three copies here, which isn't typical.
As far as combo decks are concerned, Ad Nauseam might very well be the best; it is certainly the most popular combo deck in the format right now. It's not to hard to win with, and many decks have no way to interact with it. Casting Ad Nauseam after an Angel's Grace or with Phyrexian Unlife in play generally means winning right away with a Lightning Storm. Even after sideboard, most decks aren't geared to fight Ad Nauseam since cards like Meddling Mage and Slaughter Games aren't popular right now.
Leyline of Sanctity is in the sideboard for decks like Burn and the midrange strategies that pack lots of discard. The fact that the most popular form of disruption in the format is discard and not counters is good news for Ad Nauseam. Stubborn Denial, for instance, is pretty tough to get around, though Pact of Negation can make the difference on the critical turn.
Dredge has been able to rebound nicely from losing Golgari Grave-Troll, and is still a force to be reckoned with. Life from the Loam and Golgari Thug may not dredge for as many cards as Grave-Troll did, but they can still do a nice job. Life from the Loam allows the Conflagrates that are milled to be more impactful because you are likely to have lots of lands in hand to discard. Cathartic Reunion is still busted, and that hasn't changed. Dredge is naturally strong against the field, which includes Death's Shadow, but the issue is that more players are now packing graveyard hate as an answer.
The sideboarded Collective Brutality come in a lot, and make it hard for a deck like Burn to win after sideboard. We see lots of removal and lifegain, which can help shore up some of the more difficult matchups. It also is necessary to have some removal for hate cards like Rest in Peace and Gravedigger's Cage; Abrupt Decay is a good catch-all since it's also a strong removal spell when the opponent doesn't actually draw their hate.
Old school midrange decks like Abzan and Jund have lost momentum, because of the surging popularity of Death's Shadow variants. I wouldn't say Abzan Midrange is straight-up worse than Death's Shadow, because there are lots of good tools and pieces of interaction here. There is more of a variety of win conditions, as there is no need for a card like Street Wraith to force yourself to lose life. Overall, I like Abzan more than Jund right now because Lightning Bolt isn't as important with Fatal Push now around, and Lingering Souls is still great.
We have seen Siege Rhino in and out of this deck, but having a form of lifegain and a way to speed up the clock is definitely important against aggressive decks. There are lots of removal spells that can kill Death's Shadow here, which is nice considering that is the primary threat of the number one Modern deck. I would be hesitant to have only two Fulminator Mages in the sideboard, because Tron and Scapeshift are two of the tougher matchups.
Even though Tron and Eldrazi Tron are two different decks, they are getting lumped together here because they share a base. Both are in a similar spot in the metagame, with Eldrazi Tron being the new hot deck, and old school big mana Tron being what it has been for a while now.
Eldrazi Tron doesn't go over the top in the same way that Black-Green Tron does, and in many matchups that's okay; a large creature like Endbringer is good enough to get the job done. However, having a planeswalker like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, or creature like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger really ensures lategame inevitability. Collective Brutality is one of the most played cards in the format, and we see Tron decks going out of their way to play black to play it. Both decks here want access to removal as we see hits like Warping Wail and even Titan's Presence featured in Eldrazi Tron as well.
Abzan Company typically sees more play in person, because it can be annoying to actually combo online due to the number of clicks involved to gain infinite life. That said, the deck is very good, and makes great use of Renegade Rallier.
Saffi Ericksdotter is not normally seen in this deck, but it works nicely alongside Renegade Rallier as an easy way to trigger revolt, and a card you can return with Renegade Rallier itself. This deck can grind like no other, but in many matchups it is looking to combo pretty quickly, which is possible with four of both Collected Company and Chord of Calling. Removal like Path to Exile is important to have access to in the sideboard for the Death's Shadow matchup.
Many people write off Merfolk because it is a lot of small creatures, but these creatures can pack a punch! We are talking about lords that can make the creatures not so small in a hurry. This deck seems to consistently show up and make deep runs in the Top 8 of Grand Prix, which is pretty impressive. Spreading Seas fits in the deck perfectly as both mana denial and an easy way to turn on islandwalk.
Tidebinder Mage is definitely an interesting choice in this list, considering there are plenty of decks that don't have creatures it can tap down. However, when Tidebinder Mage is able to lock down an opposing creature, it is a big deal. Kira, Great Glass-Spinner and Vendilion Clique are the non-merfolk threats, and both help the deck by either making opposing removal bad, or breaking up the opponent's hand. The Sea's Claim in the sideboard are essentially additional Spreading Seas that come in when you really want to push the mana denial strategy as much as possible.
Thanks for reading,