As many of you know, there is a team Constructed Pro Tour on the horizon, with the biggest single prize pool in the history of the game. As a professional player, this is a huge deal! It has been many years since we have had a team Pro Tour. While I am trying my best to help my teammates in Standard and Legacy, the format I will be playing at the Pro Tour is Modern.
Modern is very interesting to prepare for, as it hasn't shifted around as much as Standard and Legacy recently. While many of the decks have been around in the format for a while, the metagame can shift a bit over time. There also are occasionally new decks that spring up like the Ironworks combo deck for instance, that it can take a little while to fully adapt to.
The best way to be able to prepare for a tournament like a Pro Tour is to develop an expected metagame. This is a way of creating an expectancy of what other players will be showing up to the tournament with. I want to talk about why some of the top decks are putting up the results they have been.
Tron is a deck that over the last year has gained a lot of popularity, though it has been in existence in variations for a very long time. After Damping Sphere was printed there was some nervousness about whether Tron could adapt to the card. Now players aren't playing quite as many Spheres, and Tron players know how to correctly board in Nature's Claim for certain matchups. While Damping Sphere is annoying for Tron to deal with, many of its natural bad matchups have lost some popularity, so Tron is back again.
Most Tron decks right now are straight green. This way you can play more basic lands to provide resiliency against cards like Field of Ruin, and Blood Moon to some extent. There also just isn't a huge incentive to splash. The black discard spells that come out of the sideboard, or some Kozilek's Returns are only worth it for very specific metagames. There aren't a lot of small creature decks, which makes the value of Kozilek's Return go down. There is an argument to be made that playing black for Fatal Push is actually just a downgrade from the Dismembers already in the deck.
The power of spells like Karn Liberated and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger are what make the control matchups so good. Sometimes control decks will have Field of Ruin for some mana disruption, but they are unlikely to be playing Spreading Seas like earlier versions of White-Blue Control.
If you can't disrupt the Tron mana base and plan to play a long game against them, it is very difficult to win. The deck is now playing two copies of Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, so even if somehow the game is still going on after the first one, the second copy can just end things. Sanctum of Ugin is a way to search up the big threats in a pinch. The Thought-Knot Seer coming out of the sideboard are a way to disrupt the opponents hand without the need to play black cards, and have become a mainstay in Tron.
Is the future of control Jeskai, or white-blue is the right direction to go? For a little while Jeskai was clearly the most popular choice, but now things are starting to swing back in the direction of straight white-blue. Both of the decks play similar controlling elements but have different strengths and weaknesses. If you want to have the best matchup against Humans, I prefer playing Jeskai because it has more individual spot removal with the addition of Lightning Bolt and Lightning Helix.
White-Blue Control decks, on the other hand, arguably have the better sweepers as many versions have been built to play Terminus, which can change matchups significantly. For instance, without Terminus there is often no good way to get a Slippery Bogle off the board, as it is usually going to get enchanted with an Umbra to play around Supreme Verdict. Here is a current version of White-Blue Control, played by Luis Salvatto, the last Modern Pro Tour winner.
This deck can also be referred to as White-Blue Miracles, as it is playing cards like Opt and Jace, the Mind Sculptor to go alongside Terminus and Entreat the Angels. Opt actually becomes better than Serum Visions when you want to be able to draw cards during the opponent's turn in order to play any miracle cards. By playing Jace, the Mind Sculptor you give yourself another threat that can actually start winning the game very quickly, once you have Brainstormed once or twice.
Previously control decks often played either Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, but it turns out they can very easily go into the same deck! Once getting one of these planeswalkers into play the opponent has a very short window to try and either remove it from play or win the game in some way. The mana base of White-Blue Control is also less vulnerable to Blood Moon because of all the basic lands, which cuts down on the number of ways the opponent can try to attack you.
This is a deck that I needed to pay special attention to because of my unfamiliarity with it. Any combo deck that goldfishes wins consistently by the fourth turn of the game is going to raise eyebrows. Ironworks Combo has also put up extremely good results by pros that have played it on the Grand Prix circuit, which means that those same players could certainly go ahead and play this deck at the Pro Tour. There is no better player to look to for a take on this deck than Matt Nass.
The shenanigans with Scrap Trawler and Krark-Clan Ironworks are pretty disgusting. The loops to win the game and kill the opponent usually come up after the Ironworks player has drawn a decent portion of their deck already. While it is necessary to know all the various loops and subtleties of the deck if you want to play it in a tournament yourself, the deck is extremely complicated. For many players who choose not to go down this path, the best way to address Ironworks is figuring out how to beat it.
This means knowing what works and what doesn't. This is a combo deck that is both reliant on its graveyard and assembling a critical mass of artifacts. This leads to white decks wanting high-impact hate cards like Stony Silence and Rest in Peace. With a card like this in play it becomes essentially impossible to combo off without getting that annoying enchantment off the board first.
On the flip side, it is important to know what forms of hate the Ironworks deck can combo through. For instance, is it possible to combo off while the opponent has a Relic of Progenitus with open mana? The answer here is that yes it certainly is possible as the Ironworks players can threaten the loop while maintaining enough artifacts on the battlefield to continue the cycle again. Of course, it does mean the Ironworks deck needs more resources than it would normally.
Decks without a lot of ways to interact with the Ironworks decks are going to struggle, unless you are playing a fast combo deck of your own. For instance, one direction to go is to largely ignore what the Ironworks deck is doing and try to combo off faster by playing a deck like Blue-Red Storm. Spot removal is one of the worst ways to attack this deck, as trying to kill a Scrap Trawler very rarely works out well.
My expectation with Ironworks is players that have already played it a decent amount will gravitate towards it for the Pro Tour, but there won't be that many new pilots trying to play this deck for the first time on such a big stage. It should be more popular than it has been on the Open circuit where it seems to have almost died out, and the online results are tough to use as it is very annoying trying to combo off with Ironworks online.
I would like to address exactly what has happened to Humans. A few months ago this was very clearly the best deck in Modern. Has anything changed? Well yes, this is another case of learning the best ways to attack a deck that is clearly very good. We have seen more Jeskai Control and removal-heavy decks in general, which is exactly what Humans doesn't want to see. Still, the deck is one of the top choices in Modern.
The deck is resilient enough to work through a decent amount of opposing removal while also presenting a pretty fast clock, which along with disruptive creatures to stop the opponent from winning quickly against you. For instance, by playing a Meddling Mage naming Krark-Clan Ironworks, the Ironworks deck now must answer the Meddling Mage before trying to combo off.
Humans is a very scary deck for combo decks for this reason. Most of the hateful creatures cost two mana so they will enter the battlefield before the combo deck has a chance to try and win. Humans should be in a pretty solid spot going into the Pro Tour, especially if players are not playing as much Jeskai Control. Bad matchups like Affinity aren't very popular, as because of the popularity of Ironworks combo there are a lot of Stony Silences running around. The Pro Tour could be the perfect time for Humans to shine again.
In early testing for the Pro Tour these are four strategies I have spent a good chunk of time on, as I think they will be four of the top choices for the tournament. Also, it is extremely important to know why decks are good and what their weaknesses are, so you can exploit them. At this point I still don't know exactly what deck I will be playing, but by doing your homework it makes both deck choice and sideboard decisions significantly easier.
Thanks for reading,