With the Modern WMCQ happening this weekend and Grand Prix OKC happening next weekend, today I will discuss which decks are currently the best in the Modern metagame and why.
The Top 5 Aggro Creature Decks
Their plan is to establish early pressure and use pump spells or burn spells to finish off the opponent before they can combo off or establish control.
Several players went with Affinity at Worlds and the deck had great records overall. It's been one of the most powerful decks in the format for the past few years. It explodes with aggression and has powerful cards like Cranial Plating, Steel Overseer, Arcbound Ravager, and Etched Champion to overpower opponents and turn cheap weenies into big killing machines. Paul's technology against the deck's greatest enemy ( Stony Silence) is Ghirapur Aether Grid, which also acts functionally similar to Whipflare against Elves and Lingering Souls. Creeping Corrosion and Stony Silence are still the two best weapons against this archetype.
Burn and Naya Zoo have inched closer and closer until finally merging into one deck. The only difference between the two now seems to be whether you're playing Tarmogoyf or Eidolon of the Great Revel. This deck hits very hard and very fast, with lots of cheap burn spells. It can fight through life gain with the four copies of main deck Atarka's Command. It can also fight through opposing creature strategies with Searing Blaze and Lightning Bolt. If you want to play Wild Nacatl and can't afford Tarmogoyfs, then this is your deck. Even if you can afford goyfs, this is very likely still the best Wild Nacatl deck right now.
Like the other aggro decks, Infect utilizes cheap creatures to establish early pressure. While Naya uses burn spells to finish off an opponent and Affinity uses pump effects (Cranial Plating, Steel Overseer), Infect instead uses instant speed pump spells. They are especially effective with Infect creatures because you only have to deal 10 infect damage to win a game instead of dealing 20 normal damage. The tradeoff is that your spells cannot be used to kill opposing creatures, nor can they inflict the final damage without having a creature get though in combat. Unmolested, however, Infect has the most potent offensive plan of any of the aggressive creature decks.
Unlike all the other aggro creature decks, Merfolk doesn't have many spells. Instead it is mostly creatures. The payoff is that the creatures grow exponentially, with many creatures in the deck acting as anthems or 'lords' for all the other creatures. Without being disrupted, Merfolk will produce the largest quantity of giant monsters. Spreading Seas can be backbreaking in a lot of matchups by causing opponents color problems and then making all the merfolk unblockable due to Islandwalk. Also several of its creatures have interactive abilities that function as similar to spells, whether it is bouncing or tapping an opposing creature or countering an opposing spell.
The high density of cheap spells allows this deck to flip Delver reliably and to produce a large quantity of Elemental Tokens off Young Pyromancer. The cheap spells also fill up the graveyard for Snapcaster Mage and the delve creatures. The really backbreaking card in the deck against midrange decks is Kolaghan's Command, rebuying Snapcaster Mage which then rebuys the Kolaghan's Command. It's a sick and twisted card advantage combo. Thought Scour is also a way to fuel much of what the deck wants to do and Gitaxian Probe allows a winning game plan to be sculpted.
The Top 5 Midrange/Control Decks
Their plan is to disrupt combo opponents with discard and/or Counterspells and use creature removal to beat aggro decks. They gain their edge by outlasting opponents with card advantage engines.
Abzan has cheap efficient threats, versatile disruption, and plenty of sources of card advantage. It has Thoughtseize and Inquisition to tear apart the opponent's hand; Abrupt Decay, Dismember, and Path to Exile to disrupt opposing permanents; and Scavenging Ooze, Voice of Resurgence, and Liliana of the Veil to pressure opponents along other axes. It also has lots of good sideboard options to combat whatever you want to fight.
Willy Edel, a generally diehard Modern Jund advocate, has gotten off this style of Jund and is instead playing Griselbrand Jund. Joseph Herrera, however, proved that Jund Midrange still has what it takes to compete. It's similar to Abzan except it runs Lightning Bolt, Terminate, and Kolaghan's Command instead of Lingering Souls and Path to Exile. If you expect to face smaller creatures that die to Lightning Bolt, go with Jund. Otherwise go with Abzan.
Grixis Control has a lot of overlap with Grixis Delver. The main difference is that it runs Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and more removal spells instead of Delver of Secrets and Young Pyromancer. It also does not run Gitaxian Probe. The game plans are comparably effective albeit different. Delver is the aggressor while this deck aims to play the longer game.
Jeskai has been falling out of favor. In its place Grixis Control and UW Control have picked up in popularity. UW has Wall of Omens, Spell Snare, and Kitchen Finks to Stave Off early pressure from the aggro decks and it has Path to Exile, Detention Sphere, and Supreme Verdict to handle threats in the midgame. It has Restoration Angel and Dragonlord Ojutai as flying win conditions that often yield card advantage. The Angel works well with Kitchen Finks, Vendilion Clique, and Wall of Omens. Between Spell Snare, Remand, Cryptic Command, and Vendilion Clique, the deck has quite a bit of disruptive game against the combo decks too. It also has lots of disruption in the sideboard to modify itself to be better against whatever it is up against.
I've been championing this deck for a while and it's finally broken into the higher ranks in popularity. It uses token generators as its source of card advantage and then uses anthem effects to increase the impact of the tokens generated. It also has lots of disruption: Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, Path to Exile, and Murderous Cut. Auriok Champion is good against burn and also against Deceiver Exarch. Sorin, Solemn Visitor swings the burn matchup heavily while also generally being a good card in the deck, acting as both a token generator and an anthem depending on what the game state requires. The sideboard options are also great. Tron is the one nightmare matchup but most everything else is winnable to good.
The Top 5 Combo Decks
Their plan is to assemble a lethal combination of cards through opposing disruption while staving off opposing pressure.
Grixis Twin shares a lot of the same value cards with Grixis Delver and Grixis Control but instead of trying to grind out every game or rely on chipping away damage with Delver of Secrets, Grixis Twin aims to set up a lethal combination of Splinter Twin on Pestermite or Deceiver Exarch. Some versions of Twin are less all-in on the combo and have stronger Backup Plans. For instance, UR Twin has more burn spells and Grim Lavamancer while Temur Twin has Tarmogoyf. I like Grixis best because of Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Kolaghan's Command, and to a lesser extent Terminate. These cards afford the deck a way to stay alive while also pulling ahead with card advantage without deviating from the plan of assembling the combo.
Living End caught a lot of people by surprise at Worlds this year and Martin Muller managed the only undefeated record in that portion of the tournament. The gist of the deck is to fill the graveyard with creatures and then cascade into Living End to put them all onto the battlefield. For being a linear combo deck filled primarily with creatures, the deck has a surprisingly high amount of interaction. It runs Beast Within to handle opposing permanents (and the token dies to Living End) and also has Fulminator Mage to act as a Land Destruction deck, getting back the Fulminator Mages with Living End. It has more specific interaction in the sideboard with Ingot Chewer handling Chalice of the Void, Faerie Macabre handling creatures that can stay in the graveyard (which are especially good against the Living End plan), Brindle Board to gain life vs. burn decks, Shriekmaw for decks with creatures (especially mana dorks), and Ricochet Trap against Counterspells.
Modern is the last known format in which a human being has defeated Seth Manfield in a match of Magic. Seth still won his other three matches piloting a Bogles deck filled with auras. The idea is to play a hexproof one-drop on the first turn and then start piling auras onto it. Unflinching Courage and Daybreak Coronet provide lifelink to race burn decks or most attempts at racing. Kor Spiritdancer provides card advantage and is a Backup Plan for times when there is no Bogle. Dryad Arbor can also be fetched by Windswept Heath in similar scenarios. In the sideboard, Leyline of Sanctity stops Thoughtseize and Liliana of the Veil while Stony Silence stops Affinity and Suppression Field makes Splinter Twin and various hate cards much less effective. Gaddock Teeg is another anti-combo card. The Umbras help protect the deck from wrath effects and Path to Exile gives the deck a way to answer Splinter Twin game one and also generally to win races. It can also sometimes provide the extra needed mana to cast Unflinching Courage when you draw extra threats and not enough of your 21 lands.
Tron did not show up at Worlds, but it still sees a decent amount of play on MTGO. The deck is powerful and plays similar to the control decks of the format in the sense that its plan is to stay alive long enough to take over the game. It's also similar to the combo decks of the format in the sense that it assembles Tron and then casts something that wins the game, whether that thing is a giant colorless Planeswalker, a Wurmcoil Engine, or an Eldrazi. It has Pyroclasm, All Is Dust, and Oblivion Stone to clean up the board and it uses Ancient Stirrings and a ton of cycling artifacts to dig through its deck to consistently find the cards it needs. The deck is also very resilient to hand disruption because these artifacts sit on the board until Tron decides to crack them.
Amulet Bloom has fallen out of favor a bit lately, but Scapeshift is still fairly popular. The big technology Breakthrough for Scapeshift recently has been the addition of Augur of Bolas. It blocks while doing a fairly strong impression of Anticipate or Peer Through Depths. The goal of the deck is to play two lands per turn until casting Scapeshift to find Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and a lethal amount of Mountains. The deck's interaction primarily centers around buying itself time. It uses Remand to Time Walk and Cryptic Command to counter a spell while replacing the card. Electrolyze also neutralizes a threat (or threats) while replacing itself. It's important for this deck to replace the cards it uses defensively because it needs to essentially play two spells each turn in order to get up to seven or eight mana quickly enough to kill the opponent. Sakura-Tribe Elder also fits with the plan alongside Augur of Bolas in that it blocks while furthering the game plan.
What should you play?
If you own Tarmogoyfs, then throw them in the garbage unless you are playing Abzan. Even Wild Nacatl has parted ways with the Lhurgoyf in favor of Eidolon of the Great Revel. And Deceiver Exarch would rather give a shout out to his Grixis mate Tasigur, the Golden Fang instead of the old future shifted vanilla bear.
This list is certainly not exhaustive of every deck capable of winning in Modern. Instead it represents what I take to be the best versions of the most popular decks. All of these fifteen decks are good, so if one stands out to you more than the others, then that deck is at least a strong choice to play in a tournament. I'm not sure what I'll be playing yet, but it will likely be one of the decks in this article.
Craig Wescoe@Nacatls4Life on twiiter