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Sullivan Library: Ending the Human Menace


Last week, I talked about my favorite four decks in Modern. Since then, I've been spending most of my constructed time playing two decks: Elves and ur Prison. It will be completely unsurprising to you that of all the decks I've played against in Magic Online queues, Humans was one of the most common.

If you look at articles online, you'll see there is a polarized response to this. Some notable Magic personalities like Cedric Phillips, for example, consider Humans the absolute must-play deck of the format. Other people feel that this is overblown, and that Humans is just one good deck among many. What remains uncontested, though, is that Humans is an exemplary deck in Modern, and one that you need to be prepared for if you want to have a shot in a Modern event of any size. Of all of the decks in Modern events, it is also true that Humans is the most popular, and by a wide margin.

This last weekend, Humans placed three copies into the Modern Challenge on Magic Online, finishing at second, fourth, and fifth; the other five decks in the Top 8 were all different archetypes. If you go deeper, five of the Top 16 were Humans, two were uw Control, and no other archetypes were represented more than once in the Top 16.

Here is the top finishing Humans build:

While not every Humans deck is configured in this exact way, the shell of the deck is straightforward: produce a reliable, consistent clock, backed by a modicum of creature-based disruption. baconator5000's build is fairly normal, with the inclusion of main-deck Dark Confidant and Izzet Staticaster well-within the range of expectable inclusions.

Beating Humans can be accomplished through a number of strategies.

Dodging Their Plan

Let's see what defeated baconator5000:

From the perspective of "Humans are Enemy #1", one of the great things about this deck choice is that it has a specific, powerful effect that it drives for that isn't easily interacted with by Humans. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben can make some of the engine cards play out a bit more slowly and the other disruption elements can do some work, but only Reflector Mage can meaningfully do anything to disrupt the creatures that come into play causing a ruckus.

For the most part, Humans just doesn't have much in the way of disruption that is specific to the graveyard. Dredge can play pretty well in the head-to-head "create a broken board state" game that Humans creates, while still having a hugely powerful sideboard for the match that Humans can't keep up with. Sodeq's Dredge list isn't just packing Conflagrate, Darkblast, and Stinkweed Imp, but also is boarding Collective Brutality and Lightning Axe (if they even want it!), so that it can simultaneously be mucking up a Humans' deck's presence while still advancing their game plan, largely uncontested. If Game 1 feels close, sideboarded games feel wretched for the Humans player.

One of the reasons that Humans can usually get away with their fairly "narrow" disruption package is, against the vast majority of decks, it is sufficient. Spells themselves are vulnerable to Humans and the disruption the deck packs, and most decks make use of spells if they are going to be progressing their game plan. Dredge, as we all know, sometimes barely even makes use of its spells, and after board, while it has more, has spells that actively work to tear up the board.

While I personally loathe Dredge as a deck and a mechanic in pretty much all formats, I love it when a deck is chosen that so well positions itself in a metagame. Kudos to Sodeq on a deck choice well done!

Avoid Spells Honestly (with Creatures!)

Since spells themselves are a way to get punished by Humans, one can minimize the importance of spells in ways other than Dredge does by simply playing less of them.

Check out one of my favorite archetypes in Modern right now, Elves.

This Elves deck, piloted by neguson, was tied for Top 8 in the Modern Challenge, but didn't make the cut on breakers. While it runs a bit differently than my take on Elves, the basic strength of it is the same for the Humans matchup: capitalize on their minimal removal to create a board presence far more frightening than their own.

It's not that they can't fight back with Reflector Mage and Izzet Staticaster, but it can be hard for them to swing this together in time, even with Gut Shot to help. Elves is able to make creatures just as big as Humans, but it can stymie the counter-plays of Humans very easily by simply going over the top with its plays. Numerous "Lord" effects like Elvish Archdruid make the Elves cascade in power over Humans, even if Elves are more vulnerable than Humans to the anti-creature packages available in popular decks like Tron and Burn.

Other decks to think about are the various Knight of the Reliquary decks and new builds of Merfolk, both of which have strong A Plan games, low spell counts, and frightening creatures that a Humans deck will have to reckon with.

Of course, you might be able to push spells as a plan, if you do it right.

Overwhelm With Removal

baconator5000's deck is slightly uncommon for Humans in that it runs Dark Confidant. The most common versions of the deck don't go in that direction. However, two copies of Dark Confidant isn't much in the face of overwhelming card advantage directed at crushing creatures.

Check out this intriguing bw Planeswalker Control deck with a 5-0 in the Competitive Modern League.

To me, this deck is glorious. It very much reminds me of my "Hellfire Club" Planeswalker Control deck that I took to Grand Prix Detroit 2016. That deck was designed to take on the Eldrazi scourge, and went higher into the curve by a fair margin, but ran the same concepts: gain card advantage from Planeswalkers while working on killing all the creatures.

This deck is also a sort of bw Tokens deck, running Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, and Lingering Souls. Altogether, this element to the deck can be quite effective at making it resilient against non-Humans decks that are incentivized to include a removal package effective against creatures. This can also be an effective way to hold the ground against a Humans deck while you try to work their creatures with removal.

One clever element to the removal is the splitting up of the sweeping removal effects. Damnation, Day of Judgment, and Wrath of God altogether mean that a Meddling Mage is going to have a hard time holding the fort from a pure sweep, even without being preemptively killed by one of the diverse other removal spells, which also make it hard on Meddling Mage. When you add in Gideon of the Trials, the sweep effects are even more effective.

A deck like this absolutely takes advantage of the fact that Humans is so straightforward. Planeswalkers, in this environment, are a true terror. Let loose, games get out of control very quickly, and with life gain present to help this control deck stabilize, a Humans deck doesn't have a Plan B to fall back on. Kessig Malcontents is about as close as it gets, but that requires a hefty board presence to be effective.

Sin Collector is one of the best weapons for Humans in this situation, but with the proper mix of answers, cards that must be answers (Planeswalkers, usually), card advantage, and life gain, this feels like a rough deck for Humans to be able to beat.

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