On Modern

Posted February 8, 2017 by Abdullah Elhawary in Nerdy Bits

As we put the Pro Tour behind us, all eyes are on standard for the Grand Prix in Pittsburgh. Will Mardu vehicles continue flexing its muscles, or will it prove to be a flash in the pan? That’s the question on most players’ minds right now.

However, it is not the one on my mind.

I am concerned with the fate of my favorite format, Modern. Ever since the bannings, it has been in a state of limbo. This is best highlighted by the decks that have been putting up 5-0 results in the Competitive Modern Leagues in the last week, which include BR Zombie/Aristocrats, RW Eldrazi Hatebears, Cheerios and White Weenie, among others. Infect and Dredge seems to have died out almost entirely, posting a lone 5-0 in the last few weeks between them, and making up a cumulative 3% of the online meta. Death’s Shadow Aggro is a shell of its former self and UW control is making a resurgence.

That’s a lot of surprising information to process about a format that has really been criticized for its stagnancy and linearity as of late. The banning of both Gitaxian Probe and Golgari Grave-Troll (the pink monster) alongside the printing of Fatal Push, seems to have silenced the critics for now. So where does Modern go from here? That’s a question we haven’t really asked ourselves since Splinter Twin got the ban hammer (RIP old friend) so let’s tackle it together.

The Old Guard

Jund, Junk, Affinity, Tron, Burn and Scapeshift are the Old Guard of the format that have watched over it for years now. They will continue to do so. Tron and Affinity are the biggest winners on paper, as their two of their worst match-ups, Dredge and Infect, have died out.

Tron has historically preyed on the GBx decks of the world but as time progresses, I expect Jund and Junk to adopt a land destruction sideboard plan for their two toughest match-ups, Scapeshift and Tron. For Jund, I have found that the package of Fulminator Mage, Surgical Extraction and Liliana, the Last Hope is great out of the board and perfectly compliments the Kolaghan’s Commands in the main deck. You have to work harder in Junk because you lack Kolaghan’s Command, but the rest of the package is still good.

Affinity continuously seems to avoid the ban hammer and for good reason; it is extremely hate-able and doesn’t present a fast enough clock for the sideboard cards to be ineffective. The printing of Fatal Push also puts a wrench in Affinity’s plan, as it can kill every creature in the deck barring a Metalcrafted Etched Champion. I am unsure where the deck goes from here, but attempting to adopt a “go-big” strategy could be the way to go.

Burn has always been an interesting, but ultimately underwhelming, deck as it never really seems to get there. The fact that Tarmogoyf can simply brick-wall the creatures alongside the incidental life-gain in some decks makes the deck look incredibly lackluster. Mulligans are exceptionally terrible for Burn because it trades cards for life and the drop in power level as the game progresses is dramatic to say the least. Morphing into a more creature-centric Zoo deck with some burn for reach/removal is a better alternative.

Scapeshift has evolved over the years from a 3-color control deck with Cryptic Command to a much more basic GR ramp deck with heavy hitters and a few game-winning combos. Scapeshift has always been underrated in my opinion. It looks poised to be an exceptional deck going forward, as it can play the fair ramp deck game whilst maintaining a spontaneous, explosive element.

The New Era

Bant Eldrazi, Death’s Shadow Aggro, Cheerios and Grixis Control among others are all relative newcomers to the Modern scene. There are many more decks out there, but I don’t feel like a writing a 10,000 word article (though I am sure you would diligently read it).

I think grouping the decks is the optimal way to approach these decks; Bant Eldrazi and Eldrazi Tron are the only real midrange decks that have showed both promise and success. After Eye of Ugin got banned (Thanks Obama. No, really. Thanks), the Eldrazi decks were significantly nerfed. You can still go turn 2 Thought-Knot Seer into turn 3 Reality Smasher, though. You have to work a little harder for, it but Fatal Push’s popularity may be the push that Bant Eldrazi needs to cement itself as the format’s top midrange deck. Overall, I think the Eldrazi decks are destined to see an uptick in both popularity and results.

Additionally, there are midrange-control shards/ clans such as Esper, Grixis and Sultai that have always lacked that one card to break into the top tier of Modern. Fatal Push may change that, as they now boast some of the best threats and answers Modern has to offer. The partnerships of format staples such as Tarmogoyf and Snapcaster Mage with Lingering Souls haven’t been successful yet, but are worth watching in the coming months.

There are a few relatively new aggro decks such as UR and Death’s Shadow, however; the banning of Gitaxian Probe may prove too much for those decks to overcome. A free spell in UR and a free way to lose life in Death’s Shadow (all while gaining valuable information) made those decks tick. The decks may need to adapt by adopting a more tempo-oriented, interactive game plan.

The last category I want to touch on are Modern’s glass cannon combo decks, which can spike a GP or put up a 5-0 here and there. Cheerios and Goryo’s Vengeance are likely the two most important examples. They go through cycles of disappearing, being underrated, then overrated all in less a month. Any modern deck capable of a turn 2 kill and a consistent turn 4 kill is always noteworthy. Goryo’s Vengeance gets notably better with more decks moving towards Fatal Push, which is woefully bad against Griselbrand. Cheerios is a deck I am a bit more hesitant about, as some matches you get to play Solitaire as your opponent looks at you in disdain. In others, opponents laugh as you fail to find your combo pieces while you stare as your hand of eight 0 cost equipment.

Moving Forward

I think that the best deck in the format right now is between GBx, Scapeshift/ TitanShift and Grixis Control. They have good match-ups across the board, while being fairly consistent decks that don’t mulligan poorly. It will be interesting to see how the metagame converges in the upcoming weeks. Maybe GW Hatebears with Renegade Rallier is the way to go. Could it be the time for the resurgence of tribal decks like Elves and Merfolk? It’s anyone’s game at this point… and that what makes Modern great!

About the Author

Abdullah Elhawary