Modern is a format known for its diversity. The history of the format, which was spawned just over four years ago, has been fraught with frequent card bannings throwing the metagame into disarray. The last change to the format - the banning of Birthing Pod, Treasure Cruise, and Dig Through Time, and the unbanning of Golgari Grave-Troll - completely toppled the top-tier of the metagame and left the rest of the field scrambling to establish itself as the new king of the hill. It also opened up the metagame and allowed brand new archetypes to establish themselves. Those bannings were over nine months ago and, in the time since, clear archetypes have emerged and a metagame has been defined.
I have surveyed the results of major Modern events from the past few weeks to gain insight on the metagame. I have identified over twenty-five archetypes that are viable competitive options to play at a Modern event, which also paints a picture of what you could realistically expect to play against in the future. Included decklists are up-to-date examples of the archetype performing in a recent event, which serve as a great base for further testing, but I encourage doing further research into specific archetypes. Rather than focus on the finer details of how to operate these archetypes, which are mostly known quantities, I'll discuss their game plan, their unique competitive advantages and weaknesses, and how they fit into the metagame.
Unfortunately the official Grand Prix coverage doesn't have the complete decklist, so I have also included a recent MTGO decklist.
Abzan Company leverages the card selection, card advantage, and tempo gains made possible by Collected Company to assemble an infinite combo with persist creatures like Kitchen Finks, a sacrifice outlet like Viscera Seer, and either Melira, Sylvok Outcast or Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit. With Chord of Calling for further ability to put its combos together, the deck is the modest successor to the defunct Birthing Pod archetype. While not as powerful, the deck is still versatile, and can also include alternate combos like Spike Feeder and Archangel of Thune, utility creatures like Scavenging Ooze and Spellskite, and disruption like Abrupt Decay. The archetype has a lot of built-in card advantage, including Eternal Witness, so it's good at grinding and, with a combo plan, it's very proactive.
It's a well-rounded deck that is much greater than the sum of its parts, but it can suffer from inconsistency issues that leave its underpowered individual cards to fight a losing battle. That being said, like Birthing Pod, it does a serviceable job of playing the aggressive role. Similar to Birthing Pod, in theory Abzan Company is a proactive option that can contend with any opponent, and has the flexibility to attack any metagame. A deck that utilizes Kitchen Finks is attractive in a metagame filled with aggressive opponents. The relative underperformance of Abzan Company since early popularity immediately after the banning points toward the deck needing improvement, but the Top 16 in Porto Alegre is a promising sign.
Abzan Midrange and Jund
Abzan Midrange is a variation of the B/G Rock core that came to the forefront in Modern with the printing of Lilliana of the Veil. It includes an impressive disruption suite of discard in Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize and removal in Abrupt Decay and Maelstrom Pulse, so it has the tools to stop whatever the opponent is doing. It uses Tarmogoyf to kill the opponent quickly or to hold off their aggression.
Abzan splashes into white for three key cards: Lingering Souls, Siege Rhino, and Path to Exile. Lingering Souls gives the deck incredible game at grinding out the opponent, particularly other B/G Rock decks and control decks, but also provides excellent blockers against aggressive decks like Affinity and Infect. Siege Rhino punishes the Burn decks that usually give Rock decks issues, and it's excellent in attrition matchups though a bit slow. Path to Exile gives the deck an even more impressive disruption suite and has applications against nearly every archetype. It's especially good at punishing threats from big-mana decks that Rock decks otherwise have trouble with, such as Wurmcoil Engine from Tron and Primeval Titan from Amulet Bloom.
Rock decks have great matchups against combo, but Abzan Midrange suffers from the loss of Dark Confidant and the inclusion of Siege Rhino and Lingering Souls. Perhaps its biggest strength is its sideboard, because white offers the best options in the format, including Stony Silence and Timely Reinforcement
Another version of the archetype, which debuted with Jacob Wilson's Pro Tour Fate Reforged Top 8, forgoes the disruption of Lilliana of the Veil for a more G/W-heavy base that includes Wilt-Leaf Liege and Voice of Resurgence. It aims to play a very robust, fair game plan that punishes grinding opponents and aggressive red decks, but leaves the deck much more vulnerable to degenerate combo opponents. Here's an update from the semifinals of Japan's Big Magic Open Modern event:
The other major variation of the B/G Rock core is Jund, which splashes into red for the efficient Lightning Bolt and Terminate, and the powerful Kolaghan's Command. It also plays Dark Confidant for card advantage. This added disruption makes the archetype stronger against linear creature strategies like Infect, but it's an expensive transition against burn decks.
Ad Nauseam Unlife
Ad Nauseam Unlife falls into the category of fringe combo deck, but it has persisted from the old Extended format into the Modern metagame of the present day, so it clearly has some merit. The allure is the deck needs to assemble just two combo pieces to win the game, can win at instant speed, and requires no creatures. Assembling Ad Nauseam with Angel's Grace or Phyrexian Unlife allows one to draw the entire deck, generate free mana with Simian Spirit Guide, and then kill the opponent with Lightning Storm or Conflagrate. One half of the combo has redundancy because it comes in two forms. All of the combo pieces have some additional utility, with Angel's Grace acting as a Fog and pseudo-Time Walk, Phyrexian Unlife buying extra life and time, and Ad Nauseam potentially working as a card-drawing spell on its own. The deck gets access to some of the most degenerate mana acceleration in the form of Lotus Bloom and Pentad Prism.
On the other hand, the deck doesn't have a high amount of card draw or card selection to put its combo together, and the combo is easily disruptable by discard or Counterspells. It's also not particularly consistent, nor fast, but the difficulty that opponents have interacting with the combo is a real strength.
Affinity is a classic Magic archetype that has been a persistent factor in the evolution of Modern and can be found in any metagame. It leverages metalcraft and affinity synergies, but it leans heavily on the backs of its marquee cards, Arcbound Ravager and Cranial Plating, to overpower opponents. Aggressive, fast, and focused, Affinity borders on a combo deck in its execution, but this leaves it vulnerable to hateful cards that prey on its linear strategy.
Recently the metagame has become more hostile to Affinity with a rise in Infect, which Affinity fails to race or interact with, and Zoo strategies, a historic nemesis of Affinity. Whenever Affinity falls from the spotlight and people ease up on hate, the archetype finds itself in an excellent position.
A recent addition to the Modern metagame is Allies, which is a focused and synergistic aggressive deck reminiscent of Merfolk, complete with Aether Vial. This deck is fast, and its synergies quickly add up into a huge army, especially powered by Collected Company. Redundancy in all of its parts make it consistent, and it has a strong manabase. The deck relies on building up creatures, so it's vulnerable to creature disruption, but it will race opponents if undeterred. Perhaps the biggest weakness of Allies is its complete lack of interaction, which leaves it at the mercy of its opponents.
Amulet Bloom is currently the most degenerate combo deck in Modern, and is capable of exploding out of the gates on turn two - and potentially on turn one with the help of Simian Spirit Guide - with the combo of Amulet of Vigor and Summer Bloom combined with bounce lands to power out Primeval Titan. Primeval Titan is a huge source of mana acceleration as well as a potent tutor capable of digging for a variety of utility lands. The flexibility of Tolaria West provides access to a spell package of Summoner's Pact, Pact of Negation, and Slaughter Pact, which also combine with Hive Mind to give the deck an alternate win condition.
Amulet Bloom's biggest strength its speed, followed by its power and consistency. It is, however, not especially resilient to disruption, especially Blood Moon, and it has very few meaningful ways to interact with its opponent's linear strategies. It's excellent against slower decks like Burn and R/G Tron, but it suffers against fast linear opponents with disruption, like Infect and Splinter Twin. Its speed and redundancy makes it strong against Rock and control decks, but it's vulnerable to opponents prepared with extensive hate.
Burn and R/G Aggro
Burn lives by the "Philosophy of Fire" that states its only goal is to Deal Damage to its opponents, and that all of its cards must convert to damage. Its primary advantage is its brutally consistent and redundant proactive plan that is difficult to interact with. It also benefits from the fetch lands and shock lands that fill the format, which makes killing the opponent with burn spells significantly easier. The real strength of Burn decks are its creatures, which are extremely efficient and capable of dealing a lot of damage quickly. Focusing on haste creatures and Eidolon of the Great Revel means these creatures play well against removal and are likely to convert to some damage, with the upside of more if the opponent can't answer them. Wild Nacatl is more vulnerable to removal, but it's extremely efficient and worth the risk. These additional creatures make Atarka's Command even more effective as a damage source and make it capable of enabling turn three kills.
Burn can win quickly, but it's typically slower than combo decks, and its lack of interaction makes Burn unfavored against these opponents. It's quite strong against fair creature decks, Rock strategies, and even R/G Tron.
Another option for Burn decks is to push further down the creature route and maximize Atarka's Command. R/G Aggro Overloads on early game creatures, including the effectively free Burning-Tree Emissary, to put its opponents under immense pressure:
Bogles, or G/W Auras, combines hexproof creatures with auras that buff the stats of creatures and combine to create a massive, unstoppable threat. Ethereal Armor and Daybreak Coronet benefit from playing a critical mass of auras and add a large dose of power. Life gain auras mean that Bogles is very difficult to race, totem armor auras mean that even board sweepers don't help, and Rancor and Spirit Mantle push through blockers. Bogles also contains disruption of its own in Path to Exile for creatures and Suppression Field to punish fetch lands and other abilities like Arcbound Ravager and Splinter Twin, along with a great sideboard full of hateful enchantments and removal.
Bogles has historically included Kor Spiritdancer as a card drawing engine that gives the deck a combo-like feel, but this version forgoes it in favor of Silhana Ledgewalker, which adds consistency to the deck as an additional Hexproof creature. Bogles is a very powerful deck to begin with, and playing a powerful but risky card isn't necessary, but playing extra copies of the hexproof creatures it needs to operate means less mulligans.
Bogles punishes fair and aggressive strategies like Zoo and Burn, and it's surprisingly capable at beating other degenerate strategies with the help of its sideboard, but it's not known for its speed.
Elves has been putting up results since the bannings, starting with its breakout performance winning the Magic Online Championship Series Finals in the hands of Magnus Lantto and the deck's Grand Prix Charlotte win shortly after. Elves consistently places in the Top 8 of major events and is a contender going forward.
Elves leverages the synergies created by Elf creatures, especially the mana-producing capabilities of Heritage Druid and Elvish Archdruid. Shaman of the Pack provides a new way to profit from these synergies and is a powerful win condition through any number of blockers, Ghostly Prison, or Ensnaring Bridge. Collected Company and Chord of Calling provide consistent access to these creatures and enable a toolbox of utility Elves like Reclamation Sage, Elvish Champion, and Essence Warden.
Elves almost completely lacks ways to interact with the opponent, so its only tool for dealing with other linear decks is to race them. Elves is relatively fast, capable of turn four wins, but compared to other linear decks it sacrifices some speed for resiliency.
The cycle of Urza's lands has been a player in Modern ever since Cloudpost was banned, and it accelerates into play some of the most powerful cards in the format. R/G Tron wagers that it can bully opponents into submission with powerful brawlers like Wurmcoil Engine and Karn Liberated and catch-all board sweepers Oblivion Stone and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Eight tutors for lands and eight cycling artifacts makes the deck startlingly consistent, and opponents typically have very few ways to interact with lands. The deck is bound to play a land a turn, so at best it can play a large threat on turn three, and it doesn't win the game immediately.
Spellskite helps to slow down opponents, but Tron is vulnerable to the fastest and most linear decks in the metagame. Tron dominates fair decks and control decks, which find their own strategies overpowered and unable to interact with the threats Tron presents. Going forward I expect Tron players to experiment with Ulamog, Ceaseless Hunger as a cheaper alternative to Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre.
Infect is a linear aggro deck that borders on a combo deck because of infect creatures' synergy with pump spells. It's extremely fast and aggressive and is capable of winning on turn two while winning on turn three consistently. It also has the tools to pick its spots over a longer game. It's obviously quite vulnerable to creature removal, but it has the necessary tools to protect its threats with Spellskite, Apostle's Blessing, and Counterspells.
Infect is very fast and consistent, so it's excellent against other linear decks without much disruption. Infect is excellent at defeating decks like Amulet Bloom, R/G Tron, and Affinity, but it struggles against the disruption of controlling decks like Jund.
This collection of decks doesn't even cover half of the decks in Modern, so join me next time as I continue with the second half of my Modern Metagame Gauntlet.