Back in June, I wrote The Story of a Lovely Format, which is a tournament report about my experience playing Modern. This tournament was at Origins, so it was a bit different than most tournaments that you might attend. One of the main takeaways from that event was that Modern, while diverse, was being dominated by the heavily popular Burn deck. The more burn spells are printed, the more we’re going to have to watch out for that event.
Playing Modern since its inception, I’ve seen that concept in action a number of times. When cards like Boros Charm and Monastery Swiftspear are printed, they not only bring more depth to an already solid archetype, but also make the deck more desirable to play. Burn has been a favored deck for many players for close to two decades and the winds of change won’t faze the fire enthusiasts.
As the format has grown and adapted, more and more decks are finding success. This past weekend at SCG Charlotte, we saw Chris VanMeter in the spotlight with his new take on Combo Elves. Ryan wrote a great free side article about the downsides of media and technology in our competitive environment. You can check that out here if you didn’t get a chance to read his write-up of what happened.
Although that may have been the highlight on social media, something else caught my eye as even more groundbreaking: Jace, Vryn's Prodigy as a major player in Modern.
When I heard that legendary Jace was seeing play in Modern, my first thought was that it was a one- or two-of in a random deck. Then I heard that he actually got the full four slot in the best control deck the format has to offer, Grixis Control.
Since we traveled the multiverse to Khans of Tarkir, Grixis Control has been gaining ground. Players realized they could cast a cantrip Dark Ritual by playing Thought Scour and utilize that resource to consistently cast Tasigur, the Golden Fang on turn two. Without the restriction of playing green mana for Tarmogoyf, they could streamline their deck much better and present many controlling elements their opponents had to fight through. This is one of the leading strategies in the format currently and it put the most players into Day 2 of the event.
Another large factor of this deck's success is the ridiculous synergy and card advantage offered by Kolaghan's Command. Rebuying Snapcaster Mage as well as activating any of the other modes provides an endless source of plays to disrupt any opponent. To add to that, we now have Jace, Vryn's Prodigy to flash back more spells while also presenting a hard-to-deal-with permanent.
The combination of these cards makes this deck a tough one to win against. Here it is in all its glory.
One of the big perks of playing this deck is Terminate. Previously, blue-red decks had to suffer with poor removal choices. The addition of black mana solves problem handily. This deck stems from the Twin archetype. Players realized that they could cut the combo entirely and just play a tempo control deck and they never looked back.
Never fear though, Modern has a little sweetness no matter your fancy. There are ramp strategies, linear aggressive strategies, and intricate combo decks and that’s just scratching the surface. Modern is as diverse as it can be. The players that I hear saying they don’t like the format are likely just having a hard time acquiring a deck because whatever you like to play, there’s something similar out there for you.
This site can help you develop the skills you need to obtain even the most expensive deck in the format, so take advantage of these resources. Most of us had to develop our skills through tragic trial and error, but with everything available to players today, it’s much easier to accomplish any goal. To illustrate my point, let’s take a look at the Day 2 metagame from SCG Charlotte.
Grixis Control: 9
Grixis Twin: 7
Naya Company: 6
Temur Twin: 5
Abzan Company: 5
Grixis Delver: 5
G/R Tron: 3
Ad Nauseam: 3
Jeskai Control: 3
R/G Aggro: 2
U/W Control: 2
Mono-White Hatebears: 2
Jeskai Twin: 3
Goryo's Vengeance: 1
U/W Tron: 1
Lantern Control: 1
Evolutionary Elves: 1
U/R Twin: 1
Esper Mentor: 1
Twinning End: 1
Esper Control: 1
Kiki Chord: 1
Ninja Bear Delver: 1
Jesaki Aggro: 1
G/W Hatebears: 1
Jeskai Delver: 1
Amulet Bloom: 1
Statistics can be misleading though. The real archetype leader is hiding in plain sight by breaking itself into smaller splinter groups. These factions for Splinter Twin differ but should still be classified together. If we combine Grixis Twin, Temur Twin, and U/R Twin we see the largest part of the metagame is Twin with 16 pilots! I did not include Twinning End because that is truly a different deck altogether. Surprising or not, unless you are preparing to face the formats most consistent combo deck, you will find yourself out of luck and backed into a closet filled with losses.
This may be the hidden story of the tournament but there are visible winners that need their spotlight. Take this gem as a bright and shiny example:
Six players did well enough to keep playing this strategy on Day 2 and Albert even made Top 8 with his version. The great part about Collected Company is cheating on mana. Ideally you will get six mana worth of cards in play for only four mana. The problem with most versions of this deck is that they try to make their ideal draw better by maximizing their three-cost spot. The problem they run into is clogging up at that three mana choke point.
With this version, we are just running the eight best options so that you can still pull off two three-drops from Company, but don’t lose too many games to your awkward hands. Generally I dislike Tarmogoyf in decks without cheap cantrips so I question how good it will be in this deck, but relying on your opponent for those types of cards may be reasonable. Either way, this deck looks like a ton of fun if you enjoy aggressive decks that have interesting lines of play.
More Standard cards are appearing all across Modern. In this case, a single card stands out in the crowd. When I heard that Abbot of Keral Keep was seeing Modern play I thought that sounded amazing and potent. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this card grow in popularity as well. It seems great in Jund but also insane in Burn.
The only reason Burn isn’t taking over the metagame is because there are more and more potent ways to gain life. Take a look back at the Naya Company deck above and note the full playset of Feed the Clan to prevent any Burn player from ever having a chance to win the game. Every deck has access to efficient life gain spells. The key is how many sideboard resource slots they are willing to dedicate to the matchup.
Just looking at this article alone, Grixis Control has a couple copies of Dragon's Claw, Jund and Abzan play Kitchen Finks and Scavenging Ooze, and even burn plays Lightning Helix for the mirror. Let’s check in on Burn and see why every deck is making room for sideboard spots specifically for the matchup.
Wild Nacatl being added into this deck is pure brilliance. This change in retrospect seems obvious yet no one else figured it out. Now Burn has thirteen intense one drops to start the game off with a bang. Adding additional consistency to this deck terrifies me because it is already capable of burning you out early and often.
Let’s not forget yet another Standard card, Exquisite Firecraft, being played to finish off players regardless of their amount of countermagic. This version is a slick and tuned weapon. The numbers look great and it’s no surprise to see this version was successful at the event.
Up next we have the latest in a long line of versions for this archetype. After Melira Pod, the deck forged a new path by incorporating Collected Company. Unlike the other decks in the format that are solely playing it for value, this deck is utilizing it to locate combo pieces.
This deck may look similar to its previous versions, but upon closer inspection, it is now truly its own deck. When it was Melira Pod, the deck played tons of singletons because they were easily searchable with Birthing Pod. That also allowed the deck to play lots of value creatures and present a formidable aggressive plan to go along with the combo back up plan.
Collected Company has pushed the deck back towards winning with the combo. If you notice, this version has things like three Viscera Seer and four total enablers with Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit and Melira, Sylvok Outcast. It even went back to Wall of Roots. Certainly the deck can win by attacking but when you’re going up against this strategy, you need to be more concerned about controlling the combo now more than ever.
Lastly, we have every financier’s fantasy come true. Long have we waited for Merfolk’s time to shine and that time is now. Many of us have stacks of Merfolk awaiting the time when this deck becomes a true contender and all of them double in value. That time is upon us.
The key to this version is another new card, Harbinger of the Tides. Magic Origins has brought the spice to Standard and Modern. All of these cards that have shown up at Modern events are great cards to start getting a hold of and they are great long-term holds. Harbinger, specifically, is tons better in older formats because in combination with Aether Vial, you are getting the four mana cost ability for the investment of your mana cheat. I imagine many opponents were shocked at the end of turn Harbinger bouncing any of their creatures. The great thing is that even when players know about it, they can rarely play around it.
Cards may get to expensive levels after time passes but Modern-playable cards like this that are printed in Standard always start out inexpensive and easily accessible. So, even if you aren’t into Modern yet, a good way to start that journey is by acquiring the cards in Standard that see play. That way, when rotation happens and everything tanks in price, you are left in a much better position with your eternal staples that won’t drop so low.
In addition, these cards can much more easily be traded for other older cards because they are all playable in the same format. Modern is great and the diversity is part of the appeal for many players.
I’m Mike Lanigan and this has been your Modern Metagame update.
Until next time,
Unleash the Force!
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