My favorite thing about Modern has always been the seemingly endless variety of decks that are viable. With the last round of bans occurring over a year ago, the metagame seemed to have reached a really good place, arguably becoming the most balanced and fun it had ever been. The unbannings of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf threaten to upset that balance, and there have been cries of Wizards ruining the format for the sake of sales, a classic example of short-sighted corporate greed at the expense of everything else. So far, those fears are unfounded, because the initial results since the announcement show a metagame that is as diverse as ever.
Magic Online has a Modern Challenge every weekend, which typically draws over 128 people for an eight-round event, and last weekend there eight unique decks in the Top 8, and seven unique decks in the Top 8 the weekend before and the weekend before that, the first after the unbans. Incredibly, the Top 8 of the SCG Modern Classic this past weekend also featured eight unique decks, with seven additional unique decks rounding out the top 16. Wizards' new algorithm for publishing decklists, which has gone from showing decklists with 10 cards unique from the others to 20 unique cards, means that the League metagame artificially looks more diverse than it really is, but it's hard to argue with the transparent results of the Challenges and Classic event.
Today is my first time writing about Modern since the unbans, so today I'm going to share some of the more novel decks that have appeared over the past couple weeks. The unbans mean people are trying all sorts of new things, so there's an endless amount of decks to talk about, but I've focused in on the decks that are most interesting to me. Last week Craig Wescoe shared some innovative decks that caught his eye, with a focus on the unbanned cards, so check those out if you haven't, and then join me in exploring some of the coolest new decks that Modern has to offer.
Lantern Control won Pro Tour Ixalan, and some say it's the best deck in Modern. Its rise from mediocrity to the top of the metagame was driven to a large degree by the deck's adoption of Whir of Invention, which helps it dig for its key cards Ensnaring Bridge and Lantern of Insight, or any other artifact in its toolbox. A new approach to the deck is to use the same Lantern Control artifact core but leave the Lantern of Insight plan behind and instead lock out the opponent in a more traditional way.
This deck uses Chalice of the Void as its main way to lock out the opponent's spells, and it supplements that with other plans to help keep the opponent out of the game. Crucible of Worlds joins Field of Ruin and a set of Ghost Quarter to add a land destruction package that will eventually exhaust all of the opponent's lands. Engineered Explosives can destroy any troublesome permanents that Ensnaring Bridge and Pithing Needle don't handle, and it can be reused repeatedly by Academy Ruins. When it's time to finally kill the opponent, Ipnu Rivulet being recurred will end the game in short order. A set of Tolaria West provide access to these utility lands, along with a variety of zero-mana artifacts. Expedition Map provides extra redundancy, especially since it can also find Inventors' Fair, which it turn can find any artifact. Rounding out the deck, Artificer's Intuition provides an additional tutoring engine, Ghirapur Aether Grid is an additional lock piece and alternative win condition, and a Tezzeret the Seeker provides a final tutor and win condition.
This deck takes the Whir of Invention-powered artifact prison strategy to a different direction, and with two published 5-0 league finishes in the last week, it might be a great approach to controlling the metagame.
Winning the SCG Classic last weekend was a rather crazy colorless Eldrazi deck that brings back memories of the first Eldrazi decks two years ago back during the Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch Era, which led to the banning of Eye of Ugin.
Like the original Eldrazi decks, this one comes complete with Chalice of the Void to lock out spells and Simian Spirit Guide to help accelerate things, but this list even includes Gemstone Caverns to provide an additional boost, which helps the deck get ahead of the opponent when it's on the draw.
What makes the deck stand out is its addition of Serum Powder, which adds a broken-feeling element that allows it to take free mulligans and dig for the best hands possible. Serum Powder is generally a pretty poor draw, but it makes up for this by creating excellent synergy with Eternal Scourge. If Serum Powder is used to take a free mulligan and Eternal Scourge is caught in the exiled hand, it can be cast from exile later, meaning Serum Powder essentially drew an extra card. Eternal Scourge is also pretty strong in its own right in a metagame filled with removal-rich Jund and Jace control decks, so everything comes together nicely to create a deck that is apparently capable of winning a tournament, and has followed-up by 5-0ing at least one league online.
Red-Green Eldrazi winning Grand Prix Lyon seems to have brought about an Eldrazi renaissance of sorts. Not only is that deck seeing plenty of play with Bloodbraid Elf and the Colorless Serum Powder deck has won a big event, but all sorts of other Eldrazi decks can be found winning. Part of this may because Eldrazi decks have historically been strong against both Black-Green Rock-style midrange decks, which have become immensely more popular due to Bloodbraid Elf bringing Jund back, and against blue control decks, which are now a serious factor because of Jace. Bant Eldrazi, which was once a top deck but completely fell from the metagame, is now consistently putting up 5-0 finishes in leagues, and there are a variety of other versions winning too.
One such Eldrazi deck is this one that uses Heartless Summoning to make the creatures cheaper and enable the most powerful ones all the way up the curve.
Distended Mindbender will deliver a crushing blow to just about any Modern deck, and in addition to Heartless Summoning, it's filled with great ways to emerge it including Eternal Scourge – which after sacrificing this deck can exile with Relic of the Progenitus so it can be cast again. Abundant Maw might not be everyone's idea of a Modern staple, but it does a fine Siege Rhino impersonation with Heartless Summoning in play. It's also an additional way to trigger Sanctum of Ugin, which gives this deck access to an incredible source of card advantage that typical Eldrazi decks can't use effectively.
Black mana makes including a set of Dismember much more palatable, while the sideboard includes red cards to give the deck game against problem permanents like Ensnaring Bridge by providing access to By Force, Crumble to Dust for Tron decks, and especially Kozilek's Return, which is triggered from the graveyard by the emerge creatures for aggressive decks.
Yet another Eldrazi deck is this one that adds the power of Hollow One, which has proven to be one of the most broken creatures in Modern after the black-red deck built around it broke out at the Pro Tour.
There are no Burning Inquiry or Goblin Lore to be found here, but Street Wraith makes an appearance, and Faithless Looting makes Hollow One cost just one mana. It adds a nice source of card filtering that helps dig for the all-important Eldrazi Temple, and can be used later in the game to trade away extra lands and Simian Spirit Guide for action. Being in red provides Eldrazi Obligator, which the red-green deck proved is Modern's most underrated Eldrazi, and it gives access to Ramunap Ruins, which is a fantastic source of colorless mana for Eldrazi and gives this aggressive deck some extra finishing power. Eldrazi is all about playing undercosted threats and beating down the opponent with raw power, making Hollow One a great addition to the strategy.
On the topic of Hollow One, the success of the black-red deck has led to a surge in other decks trying to abuse the artifact, specifically the red-green deck that uses it as a cheap or free creature to enable Vengevine. This was actually the first style of deck to use Hollow One shortly after its release, and while it never caught on players have been trying all sorts of variations on the strategy in an attempt to make it work. A common creature the deck plays is Bomat Courier, which is a cheap creature for Vengevine and a discard enabler, but I am a big fan of this list, which uses Noose Constrictor as a stand-in for Magic's most historic discard enabler, Wild Mongrel.
Noose Constrictor can immediately trigger Hollow One without the help of anything else, and it's also quite powerful with Flameblade Adept because of its ability to convert the entire hand to damage. It can load the graveyard with any number of Vengevine and Flamewake Phoenix, and it keeps Grim Lavamancer active. It also generates extra damage with my favorite addition to this deck, Squee, Goblin Nabob, which is fantastic in a deck with Faithless Looting and Goblin Lore because it returns to hand to be discarded again the following turn, so it turns these discard outlets into true card advantage engines instead of just filtering cards.
The Black-Red Hollow One deck is capable of doing some truly broken things and has risen to the top tier of Modern, and the red-green version can feel even more broken with Vengevine added to the mix, so this deck is one to watch.
One of the most surprisingly successful decks since the unbans, at least in leagues, has been Spirits, either white-blue or Bant. What has brought these decks over the top seems to be not the unbans or metagame changes, but what so far is one of Rivals of Ixalan's best cards for Modern, Curious Obsession. This particular list goes further by adding Tallowisp, which fits right into the Spirit theme and finds Curious Obsession to add even more card advantage.
This list plays another piece of Spirit tech in Eidolon of Rhetoric, which hoses Bloodbraid Elf by making the opponent unable to cast what it cascades into. I wouldn't mind seeing Spirit of the Labyrinth, which hoses Jace, especially when put into play with Aether Vial in response to a Brainstorm.
Restore Balance Cascade decks have never made it to the level of success and popularity seen by Living End Cascade decks, but they have received a fantastic new addition with Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
The last major addition to the strategy was Nahiri, the Harbinger, which provided a piece of battlefield control that doubled as a win-condition that survived Restore Balance. Jace, the Mind Sculptor fills a very similar role, but is even better at what it does. If there is any time for this deck to break out, it's now.
Last weekend's Magic Online Championship featured almost a third of the competitors, seven of 23, playing Jund. That may be alarming, but I don't see it as an indication that the metagame is ruined and unbanning Bloodbraid Elf was a mistake. It makes sense to choose a stable and "safe" deck choice for such an event, which had multiple prize tiers down to the bottom, where going for broke and playing for a Top 4 finish wasn't as important as avoiding bombing out, as opposed to a normal top-heavy event like a Grand Prix which are closer to all-or-nothing. It also should be noted that many of these Jund players are known for playing Black-Green Rock archetypes, like Reid Duke, and in turn his teammate Logan Nettles, and Marcio Carvalho, who recently finished second in Grand Prix Lyon with Abzan, followed his lead. It's no surprise they chose Jund, and if the deck was truly broken, it's surprising that so many players chose not to play it. The metagame is also surely to react, like the immediate upsurge in Tron that has been seen on Magic Online this week.
The event was also a strong indication that Jace, the Mind Sculptor is far from broken, and looks to be a good addition to the format. Four players chose to play a total of 10 copies of the planeswalker, with only one of these players reaching the Top 4 and two the Top 8. It's far from dominant but is clearly viable, so it's a win for the metagame. Modern is in an exciting place, and I'm looking forward to what the future brings.
- Adam Yurchick