Over the past year I've played a lot of Modern and one thing that I really love about the format is how quickly and effectively it adapts to top decks. Last year, there was talk about the need to ban Death's Shadow because the deck was too good, but it didn't take long for Modern to adapt, and now Death's Shadow isn't even one of the top decks in the format anymore. Not long ago, people were calling for a ban on Lantern Control after it won the Pro Tour and now the deck is barely played and hasn't placed highly in a single event since the Pro Tour.
I bring this up because I have a list of five decks that I consider to be the five best decks in Modern right now, and yet only a mere six months ago none of these decks were a relevant part of the Modern metagame. I think that is pretty awesome for a non-rotating format. It's pretty wild to me that Modern continues to resist being solved and that new decks constantly spring up to occupy a relevant but not oppressive spot in the metagame.
I won't say that you are making a mistake if you aren't playing one of these five Modern decks. That would be absurd, especially when trends suggest that three months from now there might be a wildly different top five. With that said, I do think that these decks do give the best chance of winning in the current Modern format, and if you're unsure about what deck to play or what deck to pick up to get into Modern, you could do way worse than picking one of these five.
Bogles, a deck also commonly referred to as "Wade Boggsles" by some very decent folk...okay fine, by exclusively me...is a deck that refuses to be pushed out of the metagame despite winning a Grand Prix recently. Bogles is a deck that is easily attacked. Cards like Engineered Explosives, Ensnaring Bridge or even just a deck that doesn't care about combat with a faster clock can all threaten Bogles pretty effectively.
The problem is that most of the decks that sport a natural advantage over Bogles are pretty bad in Modern right now. When you look at decks that actually are good right now, most of them are super weak to Bogles. A lot of the good decks right now in Modern are linear, proactive and disruptive strategies. Those strategies put enormous pressure on other decks to keep up with their onslaught of creatures and disruption, but Bogles is very good at ignoring interaction and creating the biggest creature in play.
The major downside of playing Bogles is that you lack a lot of control over how games play out. You just play your hexproof creatures, put enchantments on them, attack and block and hope it works out. Bogles has a lot of very polarized matchups. It is one of the decks in Modern that truly does play the "matchup lottery" that a lot of ill-meaning people complain about.
If you can handle the matchup lottery and are okay with occasionally playing matches where you're going to lose badly and there is nothing to be done about it, then Bogles is legitimately a great choice. A lot of players shy away from playing decks like this because they want as much control in their hands as possible, but Bogles has way more good matchups than bad matchups, and being in control is very overrated. It's much better to just play a good deck.
Another deck that hasn't been around that long, this deck burst onto the scene when Grzegorz Kowalski won GP Lyon with it in February, two weeks after he also had a good finish with it at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan.
Since that point, R/G Eldrazi had started to kind of disappear a bit from the Modern metagame. It wasn't showing up much on Magic Online or in paper events. Recently, however, it has had a bit of a resurgence and even won the most recent Modern SCG Tour event.
The thing is, Red-Green Eldrazi is still really good. The deck doesn't look like it should be a good deck, but it really plays out well. Despite looking like it might be slow with cards like Ancient Stirrings and Mind Stone in it, the deck is actually extremely explosive, playing 12 haste creatures that can all put loads of quick pressure on and it is very difficult to race the deck or play defense against it. Eldrazi Obligator wins most races and Eldrazi Obligator also ruins most attempts to sit back and block with bigger creatures.
If there is one hole with Red-Green Eldrazi it is that the deck doesn't have a lot of interaction for non-creature-oriented strategies. Thought-Knot Seer is basically the only card in the deck that interacts with any kind of deck that isn't trying to win via creature combat, with a few sideboard upgrades depending on matchup. Still, this isn't a deck I would be looking to pilot in a field like that. Thankfully, right now the field is mostly filled with various creature decks, putting the deck in a perfect position for a resurgence and good finishes at GP Hartford.
Also known as those Hollow Bois or my personal preference: Hollowcious Ones, I love this deck so much. Embrace the variance! The funny thing about this deck is that the variance is basically all on the opponent's side of the table. The deck, while playing a lot of cards with the word "random" on them, actually has a very low amount of variance in that it is very consistent at doing the same thing nearly every game. Yeah, sometimes you discard your Hollow Ones to Burning Inquiry, but such a huge chunk of the deck utilizes the graveyard or plays out of the graveyard that it often almost doesn't even matter what gets discarded because it's mostly all good for you either way.
Objectively, this deck is one of the most powerful decks in Modern, if not the most powerful. The only reason this deck has dropped down to #3 on my official chart of awesomeness is that the metagame has begun to adapt against Hollow One and a lot of the other decks that are great right now are great largely in part because they do boast a good Hollow One matchup, like Bogles and Humans.
I'm going to make a ridiculous statement and say that in many aspects, Hollow One is the lowest variance deck in the format. With a low land count and Faithless Looting and Street Wraith to churn through the deck to find relevant cards and a high density of both creatures that come out of the graveyard and creatures that are big enough to bring back Flamewake Phoenix, Hollow One is basically a dredge deck without all the horrible hands that Dredge has to offer. It rarely screws or floods and presents a turn four goldfish with creatures that are hard to interact with.
The biggest drawback of Hollow One is that it is very one-dimensional. The deck doesn't have a lot of interaction and relies on its speed and enormous monsters to win games. The problem is that it can't really do much if the opponent is able to stop the onslaught or assembles an even better board. There is no way to catch up or way to break out of a board stall. There isn't any main deck way to remove an even bigger creature on the other side of the table without going through hoops.
Hollow One is usually fast enough to overcome that problem, but that is the biggest flaw I have seen with the deck. You often do need to win quite fast with it because it can't grind very well or progress very well into the late-game against a lot of decks unless those decks have issues beating recursive threats like Ghast or Phoenix.
Mardu Pyromancer is another deck that was all the rage when Gerry Thompson took it to the Top 8 of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, but fell off the map a bit in the months that have followed. Well, it is back again, and for good reason.
Mardu is basically like a "good Jund" deck in that the combination of Faithless Looting, Kolaghan's Command and Bedlam Reveler fixes a lot of problems that Jund traditionally has of drawing the wrong half of the deck. You can't draw the wrong half of the deck if you just draw all the deck!
Mardu is, unfortunately, clunky in a lot of regards, but what makes it so potent right now is that is well-positioned against a lot of the other good decks in the format. Blood Moon forces the Humans deck to play off Aether Vial or Noble Hierarch, two cards easily destroyed by Kolaghan's Command and friends. An unchecked Moon is game over against Humans, and Hollow One actually has a really difficult time grinding through Young Pyromancer, Bedlam Reveler and a huge swath of removal.
When I was playing Grixis Midrange in Modern a few weeks back, I noticed that Gurmag Angler and Young Pyromancer were both overperforming against the field, and against Hollow One in particular. This actually led me to test Mardu Pyromancer for a bit, and while the deck was very awkward in many regards I was still impressed with how it played out and I think as long as creature decks are a focal point of the format, Mardu will be a top five deck.
Also known in some circles as "Humanitarian Tribal" this deck is insanely good. I actually was kind of shocked at how good it was when I picked it up fairly recently to test it. The deck has great speed, great disruption and is very consistent in that it plays a low land count with four Horizon Canopy. It doesn't need a lot of lands to function and when you run out of things to do, you can just cycle Canopy to draw more gas.
Humans is vulnerable to cards like Blood Moon and Ensnaring Bridge, but is quite potent against various combo decks with the combo of Meddling Mage and Kitesail Freebooter, is good against creature decks thanks to Reflector Mage being an enormous tempo swing and can even be tough for decks with a lot of removal and sweepers to beat because it just has such a high density of threats that it rarely runs out completely.
Phantasmal Image is a huge addition to the deck that swung it from being just a fine deck in Modern to being one of the best – if not the best – deck in the format. In most matchups, there is some effect that is important to beat your opponent and Image allowing you to double down on that is paramount. Against creature decks, you get up to eight Thalia's Lieutenant or eight Reflector Mage, assuming you draw a real one. Against combo decks you get extra Kitesail Freebooters or Meddling Mages. And against every deck there are times where you get two-mana Mantis Riders, which close games out quite quickly. Phantasmal Image can also copy opposing creatures, which means that sometimes you have a Wurmcoil Engine or get to vial in a Primeval Titan or Tireless Tracker or you name it. There are a lot of spots where this is a powerful effect and no matter how great your opponent's creatures might be, you can at least equal them.
Where Humans can struggle is against decks that can deal with the relevant creatures and also put a relevant clock on the deck, such as Mardu, or decks like Lantern Control or some Blood Moon decks that can play cards that just lock Humans out of the game.
With that said, I've been extremely impressed with the speed and efficiency of the deck and until I stop winning with it in my testing I don't see any reason to put it down. With that said, if there is anything I have faith in, it's in Modern's ability to adapt and adjust. I wouldn't be surprised if in a few short months, Humans is back to just being "yet another deck" in the Modern format as other decks have pushed it out of dominance.
- Brian Braun-Duin