Today I will conclude my two-part article on the Modern metagame that I began last week. On Friday, decklists from the Modern Oath of the Gatewatch Regional Pro Tour Qualifiers were posted, which have provided a wealth of new decklists and insights into the metagame. When possible the decklist examples I use this week will be taken from these tournaments.
B/W Tokens wasn't on my radar when looking at the format last week, but its RPTQ success in Vancouver brings it to my attention. B/W Tokens was last in the spotlight at the World Championships, but it has been a player in the metagame ever since Lingering Souls was printed. Its longevity in the metagame means that it's an archetype to at least be aware of. With Burn and Jund being heavily played, B/W tokens seems like an excellent metagame call, but it's not at its best against unfair decks like Amulet Bloom and Living End. It does have great sideboard options, with the best white hate cards combined with black discard.
Grixis Delve is another archetype I didn't include last week because it had been relatively quiet in the metagame, but that was an oversight given how popular the deck has been in the recent past and the success it found at RPTQs. This archetype is a midrange deck that plays the control role with great creature removal, Counterspells, and discard, but it can be aggressive with Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Gurmag Angler as pseudo-Tarmogoyf. Snapcaster Mage is the best tool this archetype has because of its versatility and potential for card advantage. In terms of matchups, Grixis Delve is similar to B/G/x Rock decks like Jund because it has game against every opponent but it doesn't have any easy matchups either. Success comes down to deckbuilding and sideboarding, as displayed by these different takes on the archetype.
This player added Jace, Vryn's Prodigy to the deck, which can easily flip and has great options for cards to recast. Antonino De Rosa took a more aggressive route by playing Delver of Secrets.
Jeskai was once a consistent top-tier Modern archetype, but it fell from popularity as Birthing Pod rose to dominance, which was followed by delve cards Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time re-writing the format and wiping Jeskai out completely. Jeskai is coming back to capitalize on the recent prevalence of creature-based linear decks like Affinity, Infect, Elves, Naya Burn, R/G Aggro, Zoo, and even Splinter Twin. Jeskai has all of the tools to beat these decks, starting with Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile, ending with Supreme Verdict, and cards like Lightning Helix and Electrolyze to fill in the gaps. Plenty of Counterspells backed up by Snapcaster Mage give the archetype tools to fight anyone, but it relies on its excellent sideboard options to attack specific opponents in the metagame.
Zac Elsik's Top 16 at Grand Prix Charlotte this summer followed by a win at Grand Prix Oklahoma City put this archetype on the map. It's the least-understood archetype in Modern, but we are living in an era where you need to know about this deck because you might play against it soon. Taken from my article after Grand Prix OKC:
"This artifact-based prison deck has a soul-crushing end game plan that evokes in Modern the same feelings that Counterbalance / Sensei's Divining Top lock evokes in Legacy, and it is as equally painful to play against. Not only does the deck lock out the opponent from drawing relevant spells, it also controls its own draw steps with the very same cards.
While such a seemingly feeble collection of cards may seem vulnerable, the efficient disruption suite the deck plays allows it to cripple the opponent enough to take control. This disruption is flexible and far-reaching, and working together these cards allow the Lantern Control deck to craft a game-winning plan in the face of nearly anything the opponent can present."
At this point in time Lantern Control is so rare that the best plan may be to simply ignore it in terms of dedicated sideboard hate, but fighting back with cards for Affinity like Ancient Grudge and Stony Silence is possible for many archetypes. Anything that gets their cards off the table, like Abrupt Decay or Cryptic Command, is also useful, as are creatures that slide under Ensnaring Bridge like Ornithopter, Birds of Paradise, Noble Hierarch, and even Doran, the Siege Tower. In terms of matchups, Lantern Control suffers against Burn.
Living End has really picked up steam in the Modern metagame this year, going from very unpopular to a very successful archetype with the bannings of Birthing Pod, Treasure Cruise, and Dig Through Time. It plays no cards that cost one or two mana, so it uses either of its cascade spells to hit Living End every time. The rest of the deck is cycling creatures to fill the graveyard to be returned. The deck is nearly nothing but lands, creatures that cycle, and one-card combo pieces, so the deck is extremely consistent in what it does.
It is weak to Counterspells, so it doesn't want to play against Splinter Twin, but because it doesn't actually need to assemble a two-card combo it's resilient against discard, so it's great against Jund. Living End is great against linear creature decks like Infect, Elves, and Zoo. Land destruction in Fulminator Mage, Avalanche Riders, and even Beast Within allow it to beat Amulet Bloom and Urzatron decks, but land destruction will be too slow to beat their fastest draws. Living End finds itself in a poor position against opponents that can sacrifice their own creatures with cards like Viscera Seer or Arcbound Ravager to break the disparity of Living End. Because Affinity is otherwise quite weak against the board-sweeping ability of Living End, Living End still finds itself with a fine matchup, and Faerie Macabre helps Living End fight back against the graveyard of Abzan Company.
Merfolk has been rapidly gaining popularity this year, and at this point it is not a surprise to see it in the Top 8 of any given event. It's an archetype that only gets better with time and every new Merfolk printed, and recently Harbinger of the Tides from Magic Origins provided a new tool. It's a consistent archetype that uses creature synergy to build a large army, which it backs with light disruption in Counterspells, creature removal, and mana denial. Its creatures often have islandwalk, so it's naturally advantaged against blue decks, and finds itself with a favorable matchup against Splinter Twin. Many people think its poor against removal-heavy decks like Jund, but history and Magic Online data shows that Merfolk has fantastic matchup against B/G/x decks. With a consistent clock backed by disruption it also has game against combo decks like Amulet Bloom. It suffers against Affinity, but that matchup is on the decline, so Merfolk seems like a great option in the near future. The Infect matchup is poor, but it can fight back with sideboard cards like Spellskite and Dismember.
Wild Nacatl decks were once held down by the Kitchen Finks-based game plan of Birthing Pod and the card advantage of Treasure Cruise, but they are now on the rise. The macro-archetype has split into two camps: the burn-centric Naya Burn deck built around Atarka's Command, and the bigger Naya Company deck using Collected Company for card advantage and selection. This deck has robust creatures that attack the metagame from a distinctly fair place, but it does so consistently and without any need for synergy. It beats any opponent that stumbles, but it relies on sideboard cards to disrupt unfair opponents.
The printing of Retreat to Coralhelm brought Modern a new two-card combo because of the enchantment's synergy with Knight of the Reliquary. The ability to untap a creature with every landfall trigger allows Knight of the Reliquary to continually search for new lands until it runs out of Plains or Forests to sacrifice. With enough repetitions, Knight of the Reliquary can hit 20/20 and kill the opponent in one attack. The appeal is that Knight of the Reliquary is a great card on its own that existing Modern decks already play four of. Retreat to Coralhelm has some value for untapping mana creatures, and the scry ability is great for helping to find Knight of the Reliquary.
A Top 4 finish at a Grand Prix puts this combo into the spotlight and proves it needs to be taken seriously in Modern. What's especially interesting is this deck is by no means a combo deck built around Knight of the Reliquary and Retreat to Coralhelm. It is an aggressive, four-color Zoo deck that is backed up by just two copies of the enchantment for a huge extra dose of power and to add a degenerate aspect its opponents must respect.
Scapeshift has really come into its own in the last couple of months, and the most exciting innovation is the inclusion of Bring to Light from Battle for Zendikar. It's a fantastic inclusion strategically because it effectively functions like a Scapeshift for one more mana, but with an immense amount of added utility. The successful approach taken by Robert Anderson is to use Bring to Light as a redundant copy of Scapeshift to add consistency to the archetype. There is also a small utility package to tutor for that includes a sweeper in Anger of the Gods and Hunting Wilds as an Explosive Vegetation proxy that doubles as a win condition.
Scapeshift is a combo deck that can assume the control role. It does not win as quickly as other combo decks, so it relies on its disruption to slow down the opponent. It doesn't need to assemble different pieces and relies on the one-card combo of Scapeshift, so it isn't filled with an excess of cards that don't do anything on their own. It plays like a fair and normal Magic deck with versatile cards for any situation, compared to something like the wholly one-dimensional Amulet Bloom. It finds itself disadvantaged against the leaner and faster Splinter Twin decks, and it can be exhausted by the attrition of B/G/x decks. The high amount of disruption Scapeshift plays gives it a strong game against decks like Infect that give Amulet Bloom trouble and the Burn decks that prey on Urzatron, so Scapeshift has its own advantages compared to the other land-based decks in Modern.
Shadow Aggro is essentially an aggro-combo deck, and it shares a lot of similarities with Infect in its execution and in its ability to race and beat unfair decks. It uses its own pump spells in the form of Mutagenic Growth, Temur Battle Rage and Become Immense to quickly Defeat the opponent. It aims to sacrifice its own life total with Phyrexian mana, Street Wraith, fetch lands, and shock lands to power up Death's Shadow, which hits hard on its own or kills quickly with Temur Battle Rage. This deck wins fast or sputters out of gas quickly, and it has very limited ability to play an extended game. Much like Infect, it's a great choice in a world of unfair decks that Shadow Aggro can race, but it doesn't want to come up against decks with lots of disruption like Jund and Jeskai.
The gold standard Modern archetype has persisted through the entire span of the Modern format, all the way back to its victory of Modern's debut event, Pro Tour Philadelphia in 2011. It continues to consistently put up great performances in Modern events of all sizes and level of competition. The deck uses the best two-card combo in the format, Splinter Twin and either Deceiver Exarch or Pestermite, to generate infinite creatures and end the game immediately. The rest of the deck resembles U/R Control, with card draw, creature removal, Counterspells, and Snapcaster Mage to hold it together. Splinter Twin is known for its ability to play fair as a control deck, and after sideboard it often abandons the combo entirely. Splinter Twin has a combo if its own and plenty of ways to disrupt the opponent's synergy, so it's great against linear decks like Amulet Bloom and Affinity. Its combo is weak against Abrupt Decay, and it lacks ways to destroy a resolved Tarmogoyf or Liliana of the Veil, so it finds itself disadvantaged against B/G/x decks. Splinter Twin has also been historically disadvantaged against Jeskai Control, and perhaps that an increase in that archetype will Temper the success of Splinter Twin.
The U/R version of Splinter Twin is the classic and historically most successful version, but there are other options.
Grixis Twin dips into black for additional disruption like Inquisition of Kozilek and Terminate, card advantage from Kolaghan's Command, and a non-combo threat in Tasigur, the Golden Fang. This version is even better at playing like a control deck and is less reliant on its combo, so compared to the U/R version it's better against control decks like Jund and Jeskai.
Another take on Splinter Twin is Temur Twin, which adds green for Tarmogoyf as a robust piece of board presence:
Green also brings a relatively new tool in Bounding Krasis, which combos with Splinter Twin but is better in combat than Pestermite. Tarmogoyf is great against aggressive decks as a blocker, and it helps the deck beat control without needing a combo, but it does dilute the deck and make the combo more inconsistent in its execution.
What do you think is the best deck in Modern? What archetypes do you think I should have included? Where is the format headed next? Share your thoughts in the comments, and I'll do my best to answer any questions.