The Modern metagame seems to be in a great spot, with a large variety of decks as competitive options and nothing proving too dominant. Sure, Humans is performing very well, and Krark-Clan Ironworks Combo seems broken, but that hasn't stopped opponents from figuring out how to beat them. There are all sorts of cool strategies in Modern, and today I want to share a few of the more interesting decks I've seen appear recently. All of these decks will look familiar because they are based on existing concepts but take a different approach by adding unique cards and applying their strategy a bit differently than normal.
Bedlam Reveler has broken out as one of Modern's most powerful cards, but like many others in Modern it requires specific support to unlock its potential. Bedlam Reveler requires a deck very heavy with spells to make it cheap enough to cast, so it has been mostly limited to Mardu Control, which plays nearly 30 spells to enable it. As a non-blue control deck, Mardu is very hungry for its card draw effect, and its use this week in a Red-Black Prowess deck shows that it can be used in a more aggressive shell and offer its card drawing to a prowess strategy that has typically been restricted to blue.
The fact that Bedlam Reveler has prowess can get lost behind its primary use as card draw, and it joins Monastery Swiftspear and even Kiln Fiend to give this deck a threat base. Rather than taking a control role and using its disruption primarily to disrupt the opponent's plan like Mardu Pyromancer does, this deck gets aggressive and uses its removal to clear blockers and discard to preempt the opponent's answers. A set of Manamorphose helps keep the spell count high, and with Kiln Fiend can give the deck some blisteringly quick kills.
The real question is why someone would want to play this deck over Mardu, and the best answer is that this deck being faster and more proactive will make it better against a wider range of decks, specifically combo decks against which the combination of discard and threats is a great path to victory. The additional threats also play well against control decks, although they turn on creature removal and losing Lingering Souls is an issue, so that might be somewhat of a wash, but I think the real tradeoff here is losing game against creature decks like Humans, where the threats aren't going to matter and would be better off as additional removal.
This deck has put up multiple 5-0 finishes, so it definitely seems competitive, and I'm curious to see how it develops. I am curious why the deck doesn't play Lingering Souls, since it's such a great way to trigger prowess and would help diversify the threat base, so I might try it over some of the removal.
I suppose I shouldn't be so surprised, but Goblin Chainwhirler has shown up in Jund, where its board sweeping effect and solid body sound like a great fit for the strategy.
I can see Goblin Chainwhirler doing a lot of work in Jund, where clearing the board of things like Lingering Souls tokens would be very valuable, and the 3/3 body is a fine threat. On the other hand, I wonder how often Goblin Chainwhirler's effect is really useful in such a wide format, and its mana cost is indeed restrictive. This deck is forced to keep the other colors at a minimum, so Liliana of the Veil is noticeably absent, having been replaced in part by a pair of Chandra, Torch of Defiance. The deck goes even deeper into the Standard card pool with Glorybringer. All of these changes add up to make a deck that looks very strong against creature decks so Humans, for example, will fall prey to these red cards. The deck will suffer against combo and control decks where Liliana of the Veil is a key component of Jund's typical strategy for the matchups.
One piece of tech in the deck to note, and actually another card from Standard, is Abrade, which is a main-deckable piece of artifact removal similar to Kolaghan's Command. It's sure to help against Krark-Clan Ironworks and Affinity and snagging cards like Aether Vial and Chalice of the Void is valuable, so it's something to keep in mind for traditional Jund decks – and any red deck for that matter.
One red deck making use of Abrade is this Mono-Red Dragons deck that features a set of Sarkhan, Fireblood as a card draw engine and to pay for Glorybringer and even Verix Bladewing! Now that's a Standard card I am surprised to see in Modern...
We've seen Sarkhan, Fireblood be used in a Mono-Red Prison deck that looks somewhat to this one, which does include Blood Moon, but this one takes more aggressive approach. There's no Ensnaring Bridge holding back creatures, so this deck is free to actually play Dragons and make the most of its planeswalker's ability to generate mana. There's no Chalice of the Void, so the deck can play Red's best card in Modern, Lightning Bolt. It also plays Relic of Progenitus, which is a great hose against the field, especially with the Vengevine deck on the rise, and it can buy time against Ironworks.
The White-Green Auras/Hexproof deck, or Bogles, is a longtime fixture of Modern that has a history of sporadic success, and in my eyes is the perfect example of a second-tier deck. It does well when the metagame becomes vulnerable to its ploy of making a huge and unkillable creature, hopefully with lifelink to win any race against aggro decks. It's perfect for beating something like Humans, which is a favorable matchup and explains why Bogles had a brief resurgence. On the other hand, Bogles doesn't stand up very well against decks that can go over the top of or ignore its aura-powered threats, like combo decks. This list attempts to find more balance by splashing into blue.
Blue adds Stubborn Denial as the perfect piece of disruption for the deck, which can reliably turn it on with a four-powered creature. A well-timed Counterspell will often be exactly what is needed to win against combo decks, usually by providing one crucial extra turn of time to get in a lethal attack. Blue has other benefits as well, like Invisible Stalker as a hexproof creature that is also unblockable, which adds an extra dose of power. It plays particularly well with the other card blue provides, Curious Obsession, which combines the card drawing of Keen Sense with a +1/+1 bonus. Extra cards are always desirable, especially without Kor Spiritdancer, and it will help the deck grind against disruptive control decks. Blue also makes it presence felt in the sideboard, where it offers more countermagic. All of the blue additions combine to increase the overall power level of the deck, which might be what it needs to fight an increasingly hostile Modern format.
Taking a radically different approach to Scapeshift by using it in an aggressive deck isn't an entirely new concept, and was even an old Extended deck, but it has been quite a while since I've seen it in Modern.
The idea behind aggressive Scapeshift decks is that the card works very well with landfall creatures, which will be pumped by every land Scapeshift finds, and even then two more the next turn if it finds fetch lands. Steppe Lynx is a proven card that doesn't feel like a sacrifice to be playing, and Plated Geopede is a fine card in a deck built around it. Knight of the Reliquary isn't a true landfall creature, but it's ability can trigger the others and it is still pumped by Scapeshift because it puts lands into the graveyard. Turn four kills are common if undisrupted, and because the deck also plays the Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and Mountain plan, the deck can also go long and win like a traditional Scapeshift deck. To help this process, the deck plays Prismatic Omen so it only requires six lands for a kill. Prismatic Omen also works well with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle as a damage engine even without Scapeshift, so it's a nice alternate plan for the deck.
One cool thing about this deck is it makes great use of Flagstones of Trokair, one of Modern's more interesting and potentially powerful cards. Sacrificing it to Scapeshift yields a free land, which is a subtle but actually quite strong interaction because it can allow the deck to go for a Scapeshift and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle kill with only 6 lands, although it will only deal 15 damage. Flagstones of Trokair's effect is also great with the landfall creatures, because playing a second copy and sacrificing one in play will yield a free trigger. This deck pushes Flagstones of Trokair to the maximum by adding one of its best interactions, Boom // Bust, which can target it as its controller's land, essentially turning it into a two-mana Stone Rain. Casting Boom on Flagstones of Trokair on turn two is truly one of Modern's most broken plays, an effect that would be far too good at this cost normally, so it's truly a pleasure that this deck makes use of it. That said, it's arguable that Boom // Bust isn't actually good in the deck, and while it's also good with fetch lands that can be sacrificed in response to make it one-sided, it doesn't have any other real synergy in the deck with the landfall or Scapeshift strategy, so it might just be better off as another card. What I do really like is the set of Explore, which speeds up the Scapeshift plan and is great with landfall creatures, especially when the extra land can be a fetch land that yields two triggers.
When I was doing a lot of Modern testing this spring I took note of Renegade Rallier, which garnered some attention when it was released but has mostly fallen by the wayside. This Traverse Zoo deck puts it front and center by attempting to consistently enable its ability to generate all sorts of card advantage while using its 3/2 body as a threat.
Central to the Renegade Rallier plan are cheap cogs that can reliably be returned for value and that can enable Revolt. Beyond fetch lands – which turn Renegade Rallier into mana acceleration like a Wood Elf – Mishra's Bauble allows it to draw a card and Seal of Fire is a Shock that can be reanimated and stored for later use. These cards all also happen to be great delirium enablers for Traverse the Ulvenwald, which function as extra copies of Renegade Rallier and open up access to a toolbox of utility creatures, including the new Remorseful Cleric as a graveyard hoser.
This is an aggressive Zoo deck at heart, and Renegade Rallier might be best of all when it returns a creature like Tarmogoyf or Wild Nacatl that died previously. Another option is Vexing Devil, which is a very smart addition to the Renegade Rallier plan that I hadn't thought of. Opponents will typically pay life for Vexing Devil turn one or immediately kill it, so it can be counted on to be in the graveyard and offers Renegade Rallier a juicy target.
What do you think of these decks? What are you playing in Modern?