While I have been wrapped up in playing MTG Arena and testing for the Mythic Championships in Cleveland, I want to take a break from that and talk some Modern. KCI was just recently banned, and there are some Ravnica Allegiance cards that have had an immediate impact on the format. I want to talk about some decks that are on the rise today, and in some cases we are talking about relatively new strategies.
As weird as it is to say, considering this is a relatively new deck, I believe this is also the number one deck in Modern. Blue-Red Phoenix attacks from so many angles that it becomes tough to actually have a good matchup against it. KCI was pretty rough for this deck in game one, even though postboard you definitely were ahead. Since the Phoenix decks became known they have been putting up great results at a rapid pace. Let's take a look at a top 4 list from MagicFest Toronto.
There are certain cards in the list that are fairly obvious inclusions. We know the importance of Arclight Phoenix and Thing in the Ice. These are you most important threats, but you do want a few more threats to round out the deck. Both Pteramander and Crackling Drake make sense in this strategy, with Pteramander being the newest addition to the creature suite.
On the spell side of things, we see a similar trend with lots of four-ofs. This makes complete sense, as you want all the best cantrip spells alongside of the best cheap removal option in Lightning Bolt. There are a few slots to play around with though. After Lightning Bolt, we have a split between Lightning Axe, Gut Shot and Izzet Charm. Players need to expect Gut Shot out of the Izzet Phoenix decks, as you always have to be ready even if the deck taps out. Having a zero-mana spell is super valuable with Thing in the Ice and triggering Arclight Phoenix as well.
In fact, we have also seen lists like this one play a Surgical Extraction in the main deck as an additional zero-mana option. A few weeks ago we wouldn't have seen players add Surgical Extraction to the main, but times have changed. Being able to use this in the mirror match to take away the opponent's Arclight Phoenixes is huge. Dredge is also pretty popular, and there are of course other graveyard-based decks outside of that. The nice thing about playing Faithless Looting is you can always discard something that isn't useful in a matchup.
This deck is good, and it won't be going anywhere. The Dragon's Claws in the sideboard are there for specifically the Burn matchup. Dragon's Claw is definitely necessary if you want to beat Burn, which is another deck that has been gaining traction recently.
Burn is a deck that I have heard many controversial opinions on. As someone who has made a Pro Tour Top 8 playing this deck, I have a wealth of knowledge and experience with this strategy. There are different opinions on how to build Burn at the moment, as recently Light Up the Stage and Skewer the Critics were printed, two options that are worthy of consideration in the deck. Right now, the format is in a spot where Burn has lots of inherently favorable matchups. The way to fight Burn is with lifegain effects like Dragon's Claw, but if there aren't that many of those running around. Here is a list that I like of Burn quite a bit:
The creature package remains unchanged, and there really isn't a debate there outside of maybe the one copy of Grim Lavamancer. When we get to the spells things definitely get interesting. Burn has traditionally been Boros for the past few years, yet this is actually Rakdos. So why go black instead of white? You gain another good one-mana burn spell in black with Bump in the Night. Cards that you no longer have access to include Boros Charm, Lightning Helix and sideboard cards like Deflecting Palm.
It makes me sad to see white leaving the deck. However, if you want to play Skewer the Critics and Light Up the Stage you need to cut cards anyway. The other factor is that these spectacle cards go much better with one-mana burn spells. Bump in the Night fits what the deck is trying to do perfectly, while the two-mana burn spells don't. Being able to play a one-mana burn spell followed by a Light Up the Stage is part of the power. We no longer see main deck Skullcrack either for similar. There also just aren't that many lifegain spells game one (though the ones that do exist now blow you out more.) The sideboard splash for green is actually just a couple of Cindervines, which is an interesting option instead of the Destructive Revelry that previously was in that slot. The sideboard has shifted a bit to accommodate for the new gameplan, as a card like Skullcrack now needs to be in the sideboard.
So, this is the version that I like in general, however the loss of white does actually hurt your chances in the mirror. This is a pretty unfortunate consequence, as Lightning Helix is the best card in the mirror. If Burn is very popular there is more incentive to play white to get that edge. I expect we will continue to see different versions of Burn do well. The deck can now operate off fewer lands, with this newer version being more based around one-mana spells, as well as having Light Up the Stage to help hit land drops. Light Up the Stage is a card that has continued to impress me – one mana Divination is really powerful.
I see Burn as a great metagame call, but not something I want to be playing when players are gunning to beat it. Skewer the Critics and Light Up the Stage do improve the deck, though it is still trying to do the same things, and the same sideboard cards from other decks will be good against you.
I have highlighted a couple of specific decks, but I want to talk now about how the metagame has shifted. Before the KCI banning we saw a lot of small creature decks like Bant Spirits at the top of the metagame, because they were very good against the KCI deck. Having sideboard disruption like Stony Silence, in addition to other hate cards was a big issue for the Ironworks deck. Decks like Bant Spirits and Humans are not in quite as great a spot in the metagame as they had been.
On the other end of the spectrum, combo decks that were slightly slower than the KCI deck are now doing quite well. For instance, Dredge has both gotten a new tool in Crippling Chill and often couldn't win quickly enough to beat Ironworks. The Ironworks deck won the game often on turn three, and with a decent draw pretty much always by turn four if left undisrupted. Amulet Titan is in a similar spot to Dredge, as once one combo deck leaves the format it leaves room for other strategies to shine.
In fact, Amulet Titan is one of the very best decks right now from a metagame perspective, though many players will not play it because it is tough to play.
The deck has not changed a ton. When Summer Bloom got banned a few years ago this deck got written off. Now it is back in a big way, and it turns out Sakura-Tribe Scout and Azusa, Lost but Seeking are pretty good Summer Bloom replacements. The more popular Amulet Titan gets, the more I expect players start gravitating towards decks Like Izzet Phoenix that have access to Blood Moon.
Both Tron and Amulet Titan are quite popular. In fact, I'm not sure which archetype takes up a larger share of the metagame, which goes to show how far Amulet Titan has come. It's not that Tron is bad; in fact the KCI ban helps Tron. Talking to my fellow podcast cohost Jon Stern, who just recently won a Mythic Championship Qualifier with Tron, he advocates for playing the full playset of Wurmcoil Engine in Tron and not playing Walking Ballista.
This is an interesting idea to me. Wurmcoil Engine is indeed by far your best card against Burn and also really strong against the Izzet Phoenix deck, two strategies I have already mentioned as being major winners. The loss of Walking Ballista is going to hurt some matchups like Affinity, Hardened Scales, Humans, and Infect, to name a few. This is a great example of a choice that is all about timing – making this switch definitely looks bad when you guess the metagame incorrectly.
With a format as large as Modern, it is possible to get paired against any deck at any time. This means you have to play percentages of what decks you feel like you have the highest probability of playing against and need to prioritize having a good matchup against. I am personally a little sad about the current metagame, because it means I have to find a new deck to play. Jeskai Control has been my weapon of choice, but now it is pretty poorly positioned.
Control decks with lots of spot removal spells are not where you want to be right now. Dredge is very popular, which is a nightmare matchup for Jeskai Control, and Arclight Phoenix decks are pretty tough to beat as well. I may be going back to my friend Slippery Bogle with a metagame like this.
The last deck I should probably mention is Grixis Death's Shadow. With less control decks around this deck has looked great. It is weird to see Grixis Death's Shadow as one of the very top decks in the format, but you need something that can disrupt the combo decks, and thus enters Grixis Death's Shadow.
Thanks for reading,