Beating Modern’s Best Decks – Part I

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Posted September 8, 2017 by Abdullah Elhawary in Tabletop

The title of this article is slightly misleading because I don’t believe there truly is a deck in Modern that can trounce the entirety, or even most, of the field. Rather, Modern is a minefield. You can never expect what your opponent can bring to the table, as roughly 20 different decks can top 8 or win a Modern tournament irrespective of size. So I’ll be tackling how to beat the 6 most popular decks in Modern according to MtgGoldfish; Titan Shift, Grixis Death’s Shadow, Affinity, UR Gifts Storm, Eldrazi Tron and Burn. I will be doing this process over the next 3 articles where I cover 2 decks every article so let’s begin!

Titan Shift:

Decks that are good against it:

  1. Goryo’s Vengeance decks
  2. Ad Nauseam
  3. Burn
  4. UR Gifts Storm

What do these decks have in common?

These are simply linear combo decks that can string together a faster clock than Titan Shift. Titan Shift’s game-plan is getting to 6 and 7 mana whilst offering little to no interaction aside from Lightning Bolt. Some lists, however; do play interaction in their flex spots like Anger of the Gods, Engineered Explosives and Relic of Progenitus. With the exception of Relic, none of these cards can really do anything against the aforementioned decks.

Matchup Guides

These decks have an approximate average kill of turn 4.5 in game 1, which is too fast for Titan Shift to cope with. Postboard, however; things improve as they usually have tools to deal with these decks. Relic of Progenitus comes in against Goryo’s Vengeance and UR Gifts Storm, although both decks can win without their graveyards. Goryo’s Vengeance has cards like Through the Breach as an alternate win condition whilst Storm can just wait and go off without Past in Flames. Additionally. since Relic is a one shot deal (as opposed to something like Rest in Peace or Leyline of the Void), the graveyard hate tries to buy the Titan Shift player time, rather than lock an opponent out of the game.

Against Burn decks, Titan Shift can board in Anger of the Gods, Obstinate Baloth, Thragtusk and/or Leyline of Sanctity. The Angers are an attempt of dealing with the fast creature starts while Obstinate Baloth/ Thragtusk offer both a life buffer and a quick clock. The biggest sideboard card in the match is Leyline as it can turn off nearly half of the Burn deck. It does come with a major drawback; it needs to be in the opening hand or else it is a dead draw. For that reason, a lot of Titan Shift lists opt not to play Leyline and accept the bad Burn match.

Ad Nauseam is easily Titan Shift’s worst match up as it is nearly impossible to shut down. None of the sideboard cards really do anything against Ad Nauseam. The closest thing to a postboard plan is Leyline of Sanctity because it stops the Lightning Storm kill but a savvy Ad Nauseam pilot will just leave in the Laboratory Maniac to avoid this. Very few lists have access to black mana for sideboard Slaughter Games so keep that in mind if you see a Blood Crypt in game 1.

Alternative Gameplans

Other than playing these decks or a similar linear strategy, hand disruption coupled with some land destruction can be a nightmare for Titan Shift. This is due to the fact that they’re essentially a critical mass deck i.e. they need a lot of ramp early and one of their two finishers late to win the game. If you can disrupt their strategy by either discarding/ countering their early ramp or blowing up their lands while applying pressure then you should have a decent shot of beating it. The key takeaway here is the ‘applying pressure’ part as durdly control decks like Jeskai who rely on Celestial Colonnade to get the job done usually have awful matchups against Titan Shift because they eventually just get burnt out by mountains in conjunction with Valakut.

Tax effects like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Leonin Arbiter and Aven Mindcensor can also be backbreaking against Titan Shift but they do come attached to creatures which Titan Shift is well-equipped to deal with. This is the main reason Death and Taxes decks only have a good (not great) matchup against Titan Shift. The weaknesses can be remedied by playing cards like Selfless Spirit and Burrenton Forge-Tender which can combat the red removal and sweepers.

Grixis Death’s Shadow

Decks that are good against it:

  1. BW Tokens
  2. Collected Company decks
  3. Smallpox

What do these decks have in common?

Most of these decks excel at flooding the board which is something that Grixis Death’s Shadow has a hard time dealing with. The explanation to this is twofold; they have no preboard sweepers and none of their threats have any form of evasion. The card that’s particularly powerful against the deck is Lingering Souls because there’s simply no clean answer to it in the deck. Collected Company is no slouch either but it is vulnerable to getting hit with an early Thoughtseize or Stubborn Denial. The second route you can go is playing a pure resource denial deck like Smallpox which, like it’s marquee card, is aimed to deny both players of cards, lands and creatures. Death’s Shadow usually has difficulty against these decks because it is very reliant on accruing small edges with cards like Serum Visions and Kolaghan’s Command then finishing the game off with one big threat. If you simply deny them of the resources that they would acquire and remove their big finishers, Bloodghast, Lingering Souls and planeswalkers will finish off the game.

Matchup Guides

For tokens and Collected Company decks, the main goal is to flood the board early with creatures so that the Death’s Shadow player has to make a decision between playing a threat and using their removal. If you can successfully do this then you put them between a rock and a hard place since they cannot profitably race due to your abundance of chump blockers and viable attackers on the backswing. BW Tokens is especially good at this due to cards like Intangible Virtue, Bitterblossom and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar as they ensure you can put on pressure whilst having blockers to defend yourself. Furthermore, you have access to a phenomenal disruption package in the form of Path to Exile, Inquisition of Kozilek, Thoughtseize and Fatal Push which are excellent in the matchup. You should be wary that the matchup does get rougher postboard as Engineered Explosives, Flaying Tendrils and Liliana, the Last Hope all come in to stop the token onslaught.

Similarly, Collected Company decks such as Bant Knightfall, Elves and Druid Combo give Grixis Death’s Shadow a hard time because they flood the board with creatures. These decks, with the exception of Elves, do not present these threats in waves like the BW tokens deck but they all have combo or combo-esque kills that can finish off a Death’s Shadow player. Bant Knightfall of course has the Retreat to Coralhelm plus Knight of the Reliquary package, Elves has Ezuri and Shaman of the Pack and Druid combo can kill opponents with an infinitely large Walking Ballista. Postboard these matches do get more difficult thanks to Flaying Tendrils and Engineered Explosives but all these decks have access to either black or white removal, graveyard hate and grindier threats in their respective sideboards.

Smallpox seems like a deck that was tailor-made to beat Grixis Death’s Shadow because it feeds on decks with a low number of lands and threats. Furthermore, Death’s Shadow is a well-oiled machine but if you strip their main cogs away with discard and Smallpox then the deck is caught spinning its wheels. If you mix that with threats that are difficult to answer in the form of planeswalkers, Lingering Souls, Bitterblossom and Bloodghast, then the matchup is nearly unwinnable from the Death’s Shadow side. I love this deck’s matchup against Death’s Shadow more so than any other deck because there are no amazing cards that can be brought in to combat the resource denial strategy.

Alternative Gameplans

I usually like playing matches with GBx decks in the face of Death’s Shadow because you have all the tools to deal with their problematic threats. On the flip-side, they also have answers to all your threats so the match devolves into a grindfest between the two decks. Junk is probably the way to go here as it offers access to Lingering Souls and better sideboard cards, however; Jund and BG can hold their own if you come with a plan. I haven’t played the Affinity matchup that often but it honestly feels like a 50-50 matchup as both decks can have unbeatable starts. That being said, I do like Affinity game 1 but postboard I prefer the Death’s Shadow side. Sideboard Bitterblossoms and Dismembers are great in this matchup and can help your postboard chances significantly.

Don’t forget to join me next week when I cover how to beat UR Gifts Storm and Affinity!


About the Author

Abdullah Elhawary