You hear that? That’s the sound of Snapcaster Mage hitting the $80 mark. Oblivion Stone hitting $50. Huntmaster of the Fells tripling in price. The Modern market’s recent meltdown depresses a lot of players, but in me, it breeds excitement. This is where the action’s at! Modern’s never been more alive, as evidenced by the volatile prices of its staples. If there’s anything the buyouts do tell us, it’s that GP Charlotte is shaping up to be the format’s biggest event since Pro Tour Fate Reforged.
While many derided Modern as stale around that time, nobody would make that claim today. A variety of new strateges are breaking into the format. This article focuses in on the apparent top decks for Charlotte, covers some sweet sideboard tech, and closes with a few useful tips for the weekend.
Decks to Expect
Splinter Twin combo: Lightning Bolt started off bad this year. Siege Rhino decks dominated Modern after the January bans, with Little Kid Junk and RG Tron – other decks that largely ignore 3 damage – rising to combat the Abzan menace. But since Fate Reforged, Pestermite, Grim Lavamancer, Young Pyromancer, Birds of Paradise, and Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit have all made enormous headway in Modern. With all these great targets for the format’s defining removal spell, Bolt-Snap-Bolt is again one of the best things to do in Modern. And the deck most equipped to abuse this interaction happens to house the format’s defining combo. I expect quite a bit of Splinter Twin at GP Charlotte, and of all flavors. UR Twin should hold the highest share, but Grixis Twin decks fueled by Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Kolaghan's Command are rapidly gaining traction. I also wouldn’t count TarmoTwin out of the competitive circuit just yet – Dickmann’s pet Lhurgoyf still complements Splinter Twin exceedingly well, slowing down opponents while attacking them from a unique angle for a minimal cost. We even saw RUG Twin on camera at the StarCityGames Columbus Invitational last weekend.
Delver of Secrets tempo: Speaking of Bolt-Snap-Bolt, Delver of Secrets has officially clawed his way back into Modern. Treasure Cruise was gravy, but any cards that say “delve” on them give the strategy a big boost, with Tasigur, Gurmag Angler, Murderous Cut, and Hooting Mandrills all flanking the transforming Wizard. Grixis Delver has substantially increased its paper share since exploding online, and Adam Fronsee went 7-1 in Columbus with a BUG tweak of my IQ-winning Temur list. Given their favored Twin, Tron, and Amulet matchups, Delver decks are sure to show up in Charlotte.
Grixis control: Certain Grixis Delver lists are abandoning the Human Insect altogether, instead combining black Delve fatties with the backbreaking value of Snapcaster Mage-Kolaghan's Command. Grixis control decks with and without Young Pyromancer had impressive showings in Columbus, suggesting the blossoming archetype has ample room to grow. The newcomer’s stellar performance at the Invitational all but guarantees its presence this weekend.
Collected Abzan/Elves: I was one of the first to outright dismiss Collected Company when it was spoiled, and boy did I eat my words. The 4-mana green instant often plays like a hyper-Dig Through Time, putting the two best cards in the top 6 directly onto the battlefield. Collected Company is no Birthing Pod, though, and creature disruption hurts this deck a lot more than it did its oppressive predecessor. The Elves decks are decidedly more linear, struggling if they lose their mana dorks and ramping into dramatic turn 3s otherwise. The ability Company decks have to go wide both big and fast makes them a nightmare for Abzan, which dearly misses Lightning Bolt in this matchup.
Jund midrange: Modern is falling back in love with Bob. Kolaghan's Command is breathing new life into black-red decks everywhere. And considering Bolt’s relevance in this meta, my money’s on Jund as the BGx deck of choice at the GP. Jund’s access to Blood Moon in the sideboard gives it extra points against Modern’s linear strategies, and Inquisition into Goyf into Liliana, however “fair,” remains pretty degenerate.
RG Tron: BGx may have Modern’s best cards, but it’s not devoid of predators . Tron is the midrange deck to end all midrange decks. Its favorable Jund and Grixis matchups, like its recent StarCity finishes, make it a strong choice for Charlotte.
Amulet Bloom combo: Of all the decks in Modern, Amulet Bloom boasts the highest MWP bar-none. Its 60% win rate is unprecedented in the format, and as more players commit to learning its notoriously challenging lines, the deck enjoys a steadily increasing metagame share. It loses to Blood Moon, but destroys everything else. Expect to see lots of Amulet of Vigor, Summer Bloom, Primeval Titan, and Hive Mind this weekend.
Affinity/Burn/Infect: These are the decks we hate preparing for. But we’ll pay if we ignore them completely. Of the three, Affinity in particular shows up cyclically; after a period without high-level finishes, the deck comes out of nowhere and steamrolls a room of players who cut those Ancient Grudges. It hasn’t seen much notable success lately, so don’t leave home without your hate cards. Burn is more of a known quantity, but it’s tempting enough to shrug off that it continues to blast its way into enviable finishes. If your deck is soft to Goblin Guide, Eidolon of the Great Revel, and all their red friends, consider lifegain spells in the board. Infect has seen dwindling numbers thanks to Lightning Bolt's return-to-form, but the deck does exist and may deserve sideboard slots in some archetypes. I’m not anticipating much Bogles or Storm, mainly because the former can’t pierce a Liliana meta and because the latter just isn’t that good. There are more consistent linear combo decks around this season.
Top 5 Sideboard Cards
- Spellskite: Spellskite’s extreme versatility has always made it a top sideboard choice in Modern. It blocks off the Splinter Twin combo, redirects modular tokens, and incidentally hoses Infect and Bogles. But it mainly protects important cards. With Kolaghan's Command everywhere, artifact-based plans will love having Spellskite around. Abzan Company runs copies in the mainboard and Merfolk packs some copies in the side. If you need a card to chew on some Lightning Bolts while fragile creatures do the heavy lifting, look no further than this artifact Horror.
- Fulminator Mage: Another high-profile MMA2015 reprint, Fulminator Mage has always put a strain on three-color mana bases. Between Grixis, Abzan, Jund, and RUG, Mage should have a fun time in Charlotte. BGx decks traditionally bring him in against Tron, but his applications against three-color midrange – as well as his devastating synergy with Kolaghan's Command – make Mage a great sideboard choice this weekend.
- Rest in Peace: A Legacy staple for years, Rest in Peace is the meanest thing you can do to a graveyard. Its time in Modern has finally come. The enchantment hoses Grixis decks (Snapcaster Mage, Tasigur, Kolaghan's Command), BGx (Tarmogoyf, Scavenging Ooze, Lingering Souls), and a variety of fringe strategies to boot (Dredgevine, Goryo's Vengeance, Unburial Gifts). Its main downside: so many Modern decks rely on the graveyard in one way or another that they’d rather not run Rest in Peace themselves. In other words, the card is too good at its job. But if your deck can manage with a Rest in Peace in play, I’d pack one or two in the sideboard.
- Anger of the Gods: Whether you’d rather incinerate 1/1 Elementals, mana dorks and persist creatures, Huntmaster and his furry buddies, 3/3 Flying vigilance Spirit tokens, or plain old Vault Skirge, Anger of the Gods has you covered. If RR is too tough to support, Pyroclasm also might get the job done. Modern’s recent influx of aggro decks beautifully positions these efficient red sweepers.
- Blood Moon: A card from Chronicles is worth something. And with good reason: Blood Moon is the best disruption spell in Modern. Thoughtseize, Mana Leak, Spellskite – none of them hold a candle to this red gamebreaker. Without Wasteland to police them, Modern manabases rank among the most ambitious in constructed Magic. Blood Moon locks greedier players out of games single-handedly. There should be a ton of Moons in the room this weekend, and if you don’t pack them yourself, you’d better be doing something completely unfair. Turn-2-Primeval-Titan unfair. I’m predicting at least one coverage match in which both players bring in their Blood Moons and race to resolve them before the other can fetch the right basics.
Fetch around Blood Moon. Speaking of fetching basics, don’t get caught with a board full of RTR lands against URx decks. If you see Islands and Lightning Bolts at GP Charlotte, assume the worst, especially post-board.
Be proactive. Modern is a proactive format. Durdling gets you nowhere when opponents can tap down your Hallowed Fountain and win on turn 4. Even the format’s control decks run proactive, early threats in Tarmogoyf and Tasigur.
Don’t be too cautious. Gameplans aside, you should also play proactively. Don’t “never” play your threat into Steam Vents, Sulfur Falls because you’re afraid of Remand. More often than not, Twin won’t have it in hand. The longer you wait, the more you play into their control plan. That said, in some matchups, playing cautiously may improve your odds. Understanding your plan against each deck will give you a great edge.
Pace your interactive spells. Terminate is very powerful, but don’t just spend it on the first creature to come your way. Mana Leak may buy you more “tempo” when you hit Master of Waves, but maybe it’s the Vapor Snag you need to worry about. Think about the cards in your opponent’s deck that you must answer, and ask yourself how many cards you can afford to ignore. If you’re flying in for damage or revving up for a combo finish, you may not care much about a resolved Tasigur.
Know thy enemy. Combine the last two tips and you basically get this one. But the advice is good enough I don’t mind repeating myself. Knowing what decks to expect in a given meta, and how these decks execute their respective gameplans, is the best way to tune your own gameplay in a winning fashion. Read about decks you expect to face. Losing to Jund a lot? Check out the Gerry Thompson primer (SCG Premium). Worried about Affinity? Frank Karsten published a great piece on the deck a few months ago. Knowing a deck gives you the tools to beat it. Educating yourself about the Modern metagame takes time, but everyone has to start somewhere. How about just before a big event instead of after?
Delving at GP Charlotte
I thought about taking my 6-Moon brew to the GP, but as a concession to Twin, I’ve settled back on RUG Delver. I tweaked my list from the IQ two weeks ago, the biggest difference being the full set of Simic Charm. Here’s what I’ll play this weekend at GP Charlotte:
To those of you venturing out to North Carolina this weekend, good luck and see you there!