Three Archetypes to Attack the MTGO Metagame

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I’m not one to play the “best deck." Usually, that’s because I’m packing some form of control, tempted by the cruel mistress that is card advantage. Oftentimes, this obsession translates directly into uphill battles and short Saturdays, but that’s neither here nor there. Still, my time spent attacking the format from the outside has given me a fairly unique perspective regarding the “less popular” members of society. While others are listening to Drake, I’m rocking some Stray From the Path. You get the picture.

That being said, I’m getting pretty tired of seeing Affinity, Eldrazi Tron, and Dredge on the top of the MTGGoldfish metagame chart. We're only a couple days into Amonkhet’s potential Modern shakeup, but I’m not one to wait and see what developments are down the pike. While others join them, I plan to beat 'em.

With that said, today I'm going to discuss some archetypes on the edge that I believe are well positioned to take down those three decks. Keep in mind, we're talking about the MTGO metagame exclusively—in paper we tend see a higher diversity of archetypes, so this kind of pinpoint targeting may have less mileage there.

Metagame Context

As always, to know what we’re looking to beat, we should understand what we’re after, and the best ways to fight it. As a visual learner, I’ve found that writing down, reading, or talking about accepted concepts in list form helps give me a clearer picture of the issue at hand. To keep things fresh, I’ll be adding in some hot takes on how lists are positioned this week. Our targets:


Affinity is still Affinity, but I have noticed more Master of Etherium and Blood Moon than normal in the lists. Master of Etherium has always been great as a way to add some bulk to boards and to present a large target in one card, but sleeving it up over Etched Champion, which is usually swapped out in some number for the three-drop, says something about how you expect the field to be on game day. It’s clear that Affinity these days is worried less about dodging removal-heavy decks like Jund and control, and more about quickly producing lots of damage. While I don’t normally like Blood Moon out of Affinity, as most players will fetch basics post-board anyways, it's hard to argue that dropping it on turn two on the play isn’t powerful, especially against Eldrazi Tron and Death’s Shadow (two of the other top five decks).

Stony Silence remains the best way to fight Affinity. Beyond that, there's always removal and artifact hate. Lingering Souls is still great, and I like Liliana, the Last Hope and lifelink as well. Why am I telling you what you already know? Because the community knows all this, and yet refuses to play enough artifact hate to keep Affinity out of the most represented column. Until another deck occupies that top slot, expect a weekly PSA.

Eldrazi Tron

Walking Ballista really pushed this deck to the next level. Early, it’s a thing to put on the board. Late, it’s a mana sink. At worst, it has haste and eats a removal spell, like pricier Reality Smasher. At best, it does some damage, trades with a card, and does some more damage on the way out. It’s insane that on top of all the incidental text that Eldrazi Tron gets on its threats, it now gets a threat and a removal spell on the same card. Eldrazi Tron has just enough undercosted, overpowered threats to keep it from being one-dimensional, and still retains a top-end package that can put any game away if opponents dilly-daddle. I have to say, that’s the first time I’ve heard that word in ten years, and the first time I’ve ever seen it put to writing. We’re forging new territory here at Modern Nexus.

To fight Eldrazi Tron, you have to play combo, discard, or not care about a 4/4 that steals cards on turn three. That a tall order, but definitely doable, as long as you can execute your gameplan quickly. Eldrazi Tron is the lone stalwart lurking in the room, ready to pounce on whatever metagame deck you’ve concocted that combines the perfect answers to the top three victims of choice. Attacking the deck's manabase is fine, but be aware that Eldrazi Tron sees it coming, and has the ability to board out of its top end completely. If you’re holding Spreading Seas while they're dropping Eldrazi Mimic, you’ve already lost.


And then there’s Dredge. We all know what Dredge does at this point, and it’s clear that Rest in Peace alone won't keep it down. If you’re not playing white, be sure to bring along Leyline of the Void, whether you can cast it or not. You can try and race, but Gnaw to the Bone is tough to beat if you’re one-dimensional, and Dredge can easily assemble a strong board with Conflagrate on deck by turn three. If you ask me, Golgari Grave-Troll should still be here and Cathartic Reunion should be gone. For now it appears we're all stuck with the graveyard menace as a major archetype.

The Players

Grixis Death’s Shadow

Normally I’m not a fan of Delver strategies, but when you trade out the 1/1 and situational tempo spells for Death's Shadow and individually powerful cards, something strange happens: you miraculously turn a bad deck into a good one! Grixis Death’s Shadow is a better version of Grixis Control right now. It's a reactive, disruptive strategy with a built-in card advantage engine and the ability to turn the corner and quickly close out the game.

Death’s Shadow Grixis trades in the Mishra's Bauble and Traverse the Ulvenwald package for Snapcaster Mage, Kolaghan's Command, and more removal. Street Wraith is still in place, because we can actually cast it if necessary. This leads to a threat-dense, mana-efficient deck that plays out lots of creatures when it needs to, but otherwise spends the early turns reacting, disrupting, dropping a large, undercosted threat, and bringing the beats when given an opening.

Against most of the top decks, Grixis Death’s Shadow finds itself well-positioned to handle what’s thrown at it. Affinity has a difficult time fighting through Kolaghan's Command and a ton of removal; Dredge has to contend with Nihil Spellbomb and Surgical Extraction; and Eldrazi Tron has to hope Grixis stumbles, or find a Chalice of the Void. A quick threat backed up by disruption is the best solution to the wide range of combo decks available to Modern, and the ability to play both Thoughtseize and Negate is excellent, especially when Negate costs one mana (in the form of Stubborn Denial).


As long as you can dodge Gnaw to the Bone out of Dredge, Burn is set against most of the top decks in the field. It’s faster than Affinity (well, than just about anything), goes under Eldrazi Tron’s tremendous value, and puts a quick clock on all of the combo decks running around. While everyone else is busy packing narrow answers like Rest in Peace and Stony Silence to fight the unfair decks, Burn can just cast seven spells and win the game.

Beyond the obvious, some subtler shifts in the format, along with the spells people are playing, all line up to make Burn a strong option. Besides Death’s Shadow damaging Burn’s credibility, the fact that it rarely casts a creature on turn one makes it difficult for the deck to race. While others play Tasigur, the Golden Fang to dodge Fatal Push, by doing so they remove a potential blocker for our cheap threats on the early turns. It doesn’t really matter that Tasigur, the Golden Fang costs one mana if we took four damage from Goblin Guide before he comes down.

It’s clear that Burn is affecting the format already, with Basililk Collar showing up in Eldrazi Tron. Basilisk Collar’s primary purpose is to suit up Walking Ballista and gun down the board, but regardless, maindeck lifegain in a deck full of fatties is never a good sight for Burn. Regardless, the Burn hate is currently pretty low, so if you want to watch the world burn, now’s the time!

UW Control

I hate to be that guy and advocate yet again for my preferred archetype, and trust me, I looked everywhere for a third option that I could claim at least equal in strength to UW against these opponents. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but the deck is very strongly positioned right now. It can afford to play both Rest in Peace and Stony Silence in multiples, as well as the cantrips to help find them quickly. It can also easily tool its maindeck to fight the field while using its sideboard to shore up holes. Wall of Omens covers bases against most of the aggressive decks, and we can play Spreading Seas in the maindeck to help against Eldrazi Tron and other big mana decks.

As always, Control isn’t the perfect solution. Its losses are often credited to great draws from opponents or pilot stumbles. In addition, the field is always a little too large to handle everything, and it can be difficult to line up answers versus a myriad of threats correctly. Finally, there isn’t as much midrange around to beat up on, although Jund and Abzan are still lurking in the middle of the pack. Still, UW can claim strong matchups against the top decks, while still having game against Modern's lower tiers. I would consider any archetype that satisfies that requirement a fine option, whether it falls within my wheelhouse or not.


Outside the three options I listed, a few other decks showed promise, but had one or two glaring issues that needed addressing. Elves is too easily disrupted and runs into some issues against each of the top three, not to mention its clear uphill battles against other decks in the field. That is true for some of the decks I discussed above as well, but each of those options could claim a position of power against the big targets in the format. Storm is the clear “best positioned” of those outside the top three, but since it’s the fourth most-represented deck on MTGGoldfish, it's hard to call it fringe. Finally, GR Breach is a strong deck as well, but can stumble against disruption and lose to itself on occasion. Still, if you’re looking for a non-Storm fourth option to the three I mentioned, GR Breach is probably where you want to be. Good luck!

Thanks for reading,

Trevor Holmes

14 thoughts on “Three Archetypes to Attack the MTGO Metagame

  1. I have been testing an improvise deck based off of off the rails article in January. I have found it to be very strong against the decks you went through today.
    4 Maverick Thopterist
    4 Enraged Giant
    4 Thraben inspector
    1 bastion inventor
    4 cogworkers Puzzleknot
    3 cranial Plating
    4 mishra’s bauble
    2 paradise mantle
    1 Aether Spellbomb
    1 Pyrite Spellbomb
    1 origin Spellbomb
    1 Pithing Needle
    4 Dispatch
    1 reverse engineer
    2 howling mine
    4 thoughtcast
    4 mox opal
    4 Darksteel Citadel
    1 steam vents
    1 Sacred foundry
    1 plains
    1 island
    3 flooded strand
    4 Spire of Industry

    1 Pyrite Spellbomb
    1 Aether Spellbomb
    1 origin Spellbomb
    3 Pithing Needle
    1 relic of progenitus
    1 grafdiggers cage
    1 Tormod’s Crypt
    4 Metallic Rebuke
    2 Blasphemous Act

    I think that this shell merits serious consideration and I would like any comments or suggestions you might have on it.

  2. Great article! My only critique is that burn is not faster than affinity, as you suggest. I played burn for a long time and by the time you’re usually able to play Eidolon of the Great Revel, they’ve already cast most of their hand and simply need to cast/equip Cranial Plating. I started winning a lot of matches against affinity when I realized that I was the control deck and Goblin Guide/Monastery Swiftspear were the win conditions.

    1. Logged in to say basically this. Burn is not favored against Affinity, by a pretty wide margin in my experience. As an Affinity player of 3+ years, Burn is one of the tier decks I’m happiest to be paired against at an event.

      The rest of the article is solid and I’m with you on U/W, I’ve been testing it a bit in the last few weeks and it’S really strong and lots of fun!

    2. I play a burn deck with 3 Kolaghan’s command maindeck and I can bring in 2 sweepers, vandalblast, and 2 rakdos charms from the sideboard. Burn is as fast as affinity, it just wants to go slower when facing affinity. But it often matches affinity’s speed against non-affinity decks.

      1. While this may be true of your build, common builds are RWg and have a pretty bad Affinity matchup in general. The fact is, several Burn spells don’t target creatures, and Affinity has LOTS of must-kills in the matchup. Ravager is always going to at least 2 for 1 Burn (pre-board, post some have Path), Vault Skirge is a problem, Overseer has to die on sight, and once Champ lands, only a flurry of burn to the face will save you. I’m not saying that Burn can’t beat Affinity, and I agree that it goldfishes at a similar speed vs other decks, but the matchups is IMO at least 60-40 in favor of the Robots.

    3. My go to #1 main modern deck is Burn and I agree with your statement *depending* on the affinity build. With mox opal and glimmer void it makes predicting what they will bring in against you games 2 and 3 difficult to gauge. Some affinity lists take on the control role and play thoughtseize. Others race with dispatch or bring in the skites and beat you down because we aren’t allowed 15x copies of Drev in the SB. Point is because of Affinity’s mana base and how flexible it is in terms of SB options not to mention main board variations I don’t feel that we can definitively say whether or not Burn is faster or slower than Affinity in a race or who takes the control/beat down roll in the games 2 and 3.

      1. Just stopping in to say there really is only one build of Affinity these days. It’s the 4-Blast build with a 2-2 Master/Champion split and the other two Champs in the side. It’s also rare that they add a lot of spice to their sideboards. That’s pretty much all we’ve seen have online success (and it is having a ton of online success) since DSJ exploded in popularity over a month ago. How have you been faring against Affinity recently?

  3. Bizarre article. This is an odd piece because Death’s Shadow and Burn are by far the #1 and #2 archetypes in the Meta right now… and yet here are suggested as counter decks to the prevailing Meta instead of *being* the Meta as they actually are. This very page shows Burn and Death’s Shadow at 8% and 9% respectively right now, while Dredge languishes below 3% and Affinity/Eldrazi Tron are hanging back around 4%.

    Maybe it was written well before it was released? Like months before? I don’t get it.

    1. Ben,

      In terms of the MTGO metagame, (which is made up mostly by League events, but takes paper as well), Grixis Death’s Shadow and Burn are among the 5-6 mid-tier decks outside of the top three most represented; Affinity, Dredge, and Eldrazi Tron. That’s the way it’s been for a few weeks now, so I think this is just a case of where we’re looking, and how we’re filtering data. I’m trying to look at the MTGO metagame specifically, as evidenced by the title.


      1. Thank you for clarifying, Trevor. The website we’re typing on, though perhaps now a month outdated in the meta-data. has the three Death’s Shadow variants at a whopping 20.5% of the MTGO metagame (almost a Tier 0 strategy if combined) with Abzan and Dredge at 8.4% apiece and Burn in a solid fourth at just over 6%. So, where IS the best place to find MTGO-specific metagame data anyway? I also look at the site with a certain swimming creature in its name, but that site doesn’t seem to delineate between MTGO and paper as well as this one. Are there any other good places to go looking without making our own databases for the more current numbers?

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