Insider: So You Want to Play Modern

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“The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.”

Today is the first of many articles you will see from me as an Insider writer here on Quiet Speculation. For the last three years, I have been writing every week on the free side. Throughout this time, I have written about competitive decks, tumultuous journeys, a plethora of Magic scandals, as well as some Magic finance woven in here and there. I love Magic and it’s a true pleasure to be able to share that with everyone through my writing.

This switch begins another step in my journey towards qualifying for the Pro Tour, but first let me share a little about where I have been. For a while, I’ve been doing well at PTQs. There have been some Top 8’s and many last round losses to miss out, but after not winning many of them I decided the key to improving my game lies on the Grand Prix circuit. At the beginning of 2012, my New Year’s resolution was to start attending Grand Prix tournaments in order to test this theory and break through to the next level of competitive play.

My 2012 GP Record

GP Nash 2012 Sealed: Day 2, but no cash
GP Columbus 2012 Modern: Failed to make Day 2
GP Philly 2012 Sealed: Lost last round to miss Day 2
GP Chicago 2012 Modern: Barely missed Day 2

For my first year, making it to four Grand Prix was a great way to gain some experience playing at a higher level. A Grand Prix is a different experience than a Star City event or a PTQ and they are definitely worth your time to prepare for and travel to. Despite doing decently well, I knew I could do better. Although missing Day 2 by a narrow margin was decent for my first year of Grand Prix competition, it was not good enough. For 2013, I resolved to be more successful by consistently making Day 2 of each Grand Prix I attended.

My 2013 GP Record

GP Pittsburgh 2013 Sealed: Day 2 but missed cash on breakers
GP Detroit 2013 Modern: Day 2 but missed cash on breakers

In 2013 I was only able to attend two Grand Prix but making Day 2 at both of them was a big step for me. Throughout this past year I saw my game continue to improve as I crushed many cash tournaments like the TCG Invitational, and almost Top 8’d a handful of PTQs. For 2014 I have three goals. The first is to travel to more Grand Prix tournaments. Only making it to two events last year left me itching for more high level play and I want to correct that this year. The second goal is continue my rate of progress and break through at a Grand Prix. Finally, my ultimate goal is always to win a PTQ so I can compete on the Pro Tour.

Speaking of Grand Prix, there is one coming up this weekend over in Richmond, Virginia. I don’t know if you’ve heard or not, but this event is making a run at the largest Magic tournament of all time. This comes as quite a surprise to me because the featured format is Modern. I guess Wizards can check the "Modern is a success" box on their evaluation forms now. This format is getting tons of attention right now. We just finished a Modern Pro Tour, a Modern Grand Prix is coming up, and the summer PTQ season is also Modern. There are also ample local events that are beginning to support this format. If you’re not playing Modern yet, it’s an awesome format and I feel confidant saying that the future will hold even more opportunities to play it. Breaking into this format may be harder than Standard, but it’s well worth your effort.

Last week, I wrote a full article about why you should be playing Modern so take a look at that one if you missed it. This week, I want to talk about how to be successful in this high powered, non-rotating format. Modern spans a long list of sets and boasts a robust amount of playable decks. With so many decks to choose from that could actually win an event, there are two main ways that I have found to be successful in Modern.

Method 1: Be a Workhorse

As with any format, the decks will change from event to event. Wizards sees to that by banning or unbanning cards at least once a year. This trend will likely continue in order to keep it fresh and interesting for players. Despite the regular shake-ups in the format, most of the same decks are viable. This means that experience is highly rewarded. Skill is still king of course, but experience with a deck is invaluable. For this reason, the MTGO grinders are achieving a higher success rate than most players because they have access to this format online. They are able to log game after game against an unending stream of opponents to practice with their weapon of choice.

This is easily applied to each person. If you are a "play the best deck" type of player, you can probably identify one deck that appeals to you more than the rest after even a brief foray into Modern. By sticking with your deck for an extended period of time, you will learn the nuances of it and be able to identify correct plays even in new and uncertain game state scenarios. Some pros are known for playing certain decks because they have repeated success with the same archetype. Through hard work and dedication, you too can become one of those players.

Method 2: Innovation

As with any format, innovation can be the key that unlocks victory for an event. The problem with this outlook on Modern is that the format has been explored deeply and repeatedly by the professionals. I’m not saying there isn't some undiscovered deck archetype hidden beneath the dust of years past, but it is unlikely. More likely, either a new card comes out to add something fundamentally important to the format, or an existing archetype mutates or evolves in a novel way, in reaction to the current environment. Jund type decks have been doing this since Modern was stabilized by the bannings. There are many versions of Jund that have been successful, adding cards like Ajani Vengeant, Lingering Souls, Lotus Cobra, and Thundermaw Hellkite. Bringing a fresh new look on a tournament-tested strategy can be a great way to take an event by storm. We saw this method in action at Pro Tour: Born of the Gods.

Knight Pod

Untitled Deck

To the glancing eye, this may seem yet another boring Melira Pod deck list, but look closely. There are a few things that make it stand out from the stock lists. Knight of the Reliquary is not a typical inclusion in Melira Pod, but it adds an interesting dimension to the deck. Birthing Pod decks epitomize the "toolbox" approach with their creatures, so unlocking an entirely separate toolbox with the inclusion of just another Pod target opens up an entirely new set of proactive and reactive options.

Secondly, Knight is great for bringing the beats or accelerating you to be able to cast your entire hand sooner. All of these aspects bring depth to an already deep archetype. Although Conley Woods did not succeed in Valencia, this seems like a great innovation for Pod-baesd strategies. Due to the expected surge in Zoo decks, Nekrataal seems like a great addition. Switching the numbers on Chord of Calling and Birthing Pod back may need to happen though. Overall, this innovation is exactly the type of decision that can catch opponents off guard enough to win close matches against the unprepared. This is hardly a breakthrough new archetype, but even a few key changes to an existing competitor can bring a strategy to an entirely new level.

Another great example of advancing a strategy is the addition of Tarmogoyf to the Splinter Twin deck.


The Splinter Twin combo deck has been a staple in Modern since the format's inception and it took many tournaments for players to innovate at all. At first we were calling the addition of cards like Mizzium Skin "innovation" because it allowed the deck to fight through Abrupt Decay. A while after that, we reached the next level of the deck when players started utilizing Snapcaster Mage and Lightning Bolt in order to play a fair, tempo-style deck when it needed to, and a combo deck when the opportunity presented itself. Recently, we saw this tempo idea come to full fruition with the emergence of TarmoTwin.

When I saw this deck I was awestruck for a few moments at the brilliance of this deck design. By adding the powerhouse Tarmogoyf to the deck, the ability to play like a RUG Tempo deck becomes a true game plan rather than one that "just happens" once in a while. This deck constantly reminds me of RUG Delver, except it packs a game-ending combo instead of cards designed to keep you alive long enough to attack with Delver of Secrets // Delver of Secrets. Watching this deck live, I could tell that it was the real deal and I was surprised it didn’t take down the whole event. Moving forward, I would expect many players to adopt this strategy.

Sometimes a new deck emerges that is different enough from any previous versions that it becomes its own deck.

Blue Moon

The Blue Moon deck has taken many players off guard because of its unique interactions in the format. Not only does it have many of the same tools that tempo and midrange decks possess, but it also can utilize a powerful mana denial strategy. Creature decks have to fight through Control Magic effects while Combo decks are forced into running their spells into potential Counterspells. Blue Moon is well positioned against the majority of the metagame, but doesn't stand up to a true control deck. Against creature-heavy strategies that rely on greedy mana bases, it can get easy wins because of Blood Moon and Vedalken Shackles though it will sometimes fail to manifest a threat and thus struggle to win the game. This deck takes a hybrid approach, combining elements of control with elements of semi-aggressive tempo.

Amulet Combo

Sometimes, it takes a team effort to take a deck to the next level. Amulet of Vigor breaks the rules of the game in a unique way that combines well with cards from a previous era. A variety of players have played different versions of this deck, but none of them were as developed or tweaked as this particular list. When I watched this deck play, I became a believer. Amulet Combo is capable of some blisteringly fast openers featuring possible turn three wins. Although these sequences do not happen consistently, this deck is faster than what the metagame can handle. The main aspect of the deck that blew me away was how refined this list was from previous versions. Mathias Hunt dedicated a tremendous amount of time in building and learning this deck. The coverage team reported that he actually wrote his own personal "deck primer" which he continually referenced while testing with the deck. Eventually, he had so many mental shortcuts (heuristics) that he had reduced the deck down to "counting to six", as he himself put it. Before this last Pro Tour, this was a widely dismissed strategy. Now, it is a potent weapon ready for players to wield.

Many of the details in Modern don't change, but when they do, tournaments are won. What will the next innovation be? Will you be the one to discover it? Will I? Come back next week to see how one Magic player took Grand Prix: Richmond by force.

Financial Quick Stop

Real estate in Modern is rare and expensive. I'm not sure if you've seen the price lately, but Celestial Colonnade is rapidly approaching twenty dollars. Once players figure out how to build Jund to attack the format once again, I expect Raging Ravine to follow a similar trajectory. In other recent news, Fetch lands continue their ascension to original dual land heights. Finally, Sulfur Falls is quietly creeping through the shadows to five dollars and above. Become a real estate agent. It's a profitable business.

Until Next Time,

Unleash the Force on Modern!

Mike Lanigan
MtgJedi on Twitter

I'm active on Twitter so if you have a question, hit me up there and leave a comment here!

6 thoughts on “Insider: So You Want to Play Modern

  1. Hey great article, I think modern is in a stage where it is booming in popularity and people are trying a lot of new things, sort of reminds me of Standard when a new set comes out and people start brewing crazy things. Some of the decks here are new takes on old strategies, but others seem completely new altogether.

    What do you think the future of these decks are in the Modern metagame? Are they a flash in the pan, here to stay, or too early to tell?

  2. At first I looked at this article and thought, “Why is this in Insider?” Then the more I read the more I started to digest that this is a really nice dense chunk of information that gives us context for WHY speculative calls are being made. It also equips us well to make calls on our own.

    Looking forward to more!

    1. Expect more strategy content behind under the Insider heading in the coming months. A trader needs to have a pulse on what’s going on in the game, and frankly there are some great strategy writers out there that deserve to get paid for their work (Mike being one of them).

  3. Great article, but I’m pretty sure there’s still plenty of untried archetypes out there with a card pool this large with a still-young format. Just look at some of the crazy new decks to emerge from the last PT, like 8-Rack.

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