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Priming for Modern


I’m going to be honest with you — I’m still celebrating the end of Eldrazi Winter. Modern is my favorite format, and I just couldn’t stomach how boring and monotonous it had become in the months following Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch. But that’s all behind us now, and the recent unbanning of Ancestral Vision and Sword of the Meek has given way to a newer, healthier metagame full of new decks and interesting updates to the classics we know and love. And with Grand Prix Los Angeles/ Grand Prix Charlotte double-header happening this weekend, it’s time we became re-acquainted with Modern. Below are fifteen decks pulled from events like last weekend’s StarCityGames Open, the MOCS, and recent Modern Leagues and PTQs. If you’re wondering what to play — and what to expect — from the Grand Prix this weekend, read on.

Remember when I said Eldrazi Winter is behind us? Just kidding. As it turns out, one Eldrazi deck made it to the top 16 of the StarCityGames Modern Open in Indianapolis last weekend, and it’s an interesting one. The deck features most of the usual cosmic horrors: Reality Smasher, Matter Reshaper, Thought-Knot Seer, World Breaker, Drowner of Hope, and Eldrazi Displacer. Notably absent is Eldrazi Mimic, which was one of the big reasons Eye of Ugin was banned. Instead, Todd Stevens is using Tarmogoyf in his 2-drop slot.

The Eldrazi deck is packed with huge, disruptive creatures. Thought-Knot Seer is a 4/4 threat and peels the opponent’s best card from their hand. Drowner of Hope and Eldrazi Displacer can keep creatures at bay indefinitely while Drowner and Reality Smasher beat down.

Four copies of Path to Exile deal with problematic creatures, and Ancient Stirrings restocks the hand or finds Eldrazi Temple. With Eye of Ugin out of the picture, Noble Hierarch serves as a way to ramp and deal a little extra damage to the opponent through her Exalted ability. While the deck is not nearly as powerful as it was with Eye, it’s certainly not far off — it just needs to be titan’d up a bit.

Ad Nauseam is one of the few pure combo decks in the format. Most iterations of the deck have one or two cards that win the game — and that’s it. But here’s the thing: the combo is consistent, and works at instant speed. Adept pilots of the deck wait patiently for an opportunity — any lapse of judgment by the opponent can be a window to win, including a cracked fetchland, an end step Collected Company, and even baited countermagic. The combo requires two cards: Ad Nauseam and either Angel's Grace or Phyrexian Unlife. Casting Ad Nauseam with either of those effects active allows us to draw our entire deck at instant speed. With deck in hand, exile three copies of Simian Spirit Guide to add three Red mana to our mana pool. We then hold priority and cast Lightning Storm, discarding enough lands to generate the requisite amount of damage from the Red spell.

Every other card in the deck is a cantrip or a way to push the combo through, including three copies of Pact of Negation and a Slaughter Pact (usually reserved for a Spellskite or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben). Because the combo works at instant speed and Pact of Negations are essentially free to cast if we’re winning that turn, Ad Nauseam has particularly strong game against the control decks which would otherwise prey on combo. Ad Nauseam’s big weakness, however, is Infect. The creature-based combo deck is simply faster, and both Angel's Grace and Phyrexian Unlife are useless against the Infect mechanic. Assuming Infect and Jund aren’t as popular this weekend, Ad Nauseam is a strong choice against most of the other linear and control decks in the format.

Let me tell you two truths about Lantern Control:

  • It’s really good.
  • You’re a bad person if you play it.

All right, now we’ve cleared the air, so let me explain the synergy: Lantern of Insight allows you to see the top card of both player’s libraries, and Codex Shredder, Ghoulcaller's Bell, and Pyxis of Pandemonium allow you to mill a player (or both players) one card at a time. So, if you see your opponent is going to draw a card you don’t want them to draw, you mill it away. If you see you’re about to draw a land when you’re set on lands, mill it away. Every other card in the deck is there to stop the opponent from interacting with you: Ensnaring Bridge and Abrupt Decay keep creatures at bay, while Inquisition of Kozilek, Thoughtseize, and Pithing Needle stop the opponent from executing their game plan. Surgical Extraction takes care of problematic cards like Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, and Ancient Stirrings help to find lock pieces. The win conditions are slow and grueling: milling their deck away, or pinging them to death with Ghirapur Aether Grid.

As you can imagine, playing against this deck is not fun. It’s the opposite of fun. Even winning against Lantern Control lacks anything resembling fun. But there’s no control deck in Modern as controlling as this one, and demoralizing the opponent comes in handy in games two and three when you sideboard against their sideboard and continue to tear their hand and deck apart. Even with abundant artifact hate in the format, Lantern Control is almost always a decent pick. If you’re a bad person, I mean.

A deck near and dear to my heart, Elves is back, and players have finally embraced my favorite recent addition to the list: Shaman of the Pack. Elves toes the line between being an aggressive creature deck and a sort of combo deck, as it wins by generating tons of mana and using it to activate Ezuri, Renegade Leader’s ability multiple times, or by chaining together Shamans of the Pack to drain the opponent’s life to zero from almost any reasonable number.

Forrest’s version utilizes Lead the Stampede to refill the hand and keep momentum going, and Collected Company works wonders against cards like Supreme Verdict and Damnation. Heritage Druid and Elvish Archdruid are the primary sources of mass mana, and almost every card in the main deck contributes to that game plan as well.

The transformative sideboard allows the deck to become more of a traditional Elves list, as Chord of Calling can be used to tutor up a number of powerful one-ofs like Reclamation Sage and Spellskite. Whether or not the deck is well-positioned in a meta depends entirely on the popularity of Jeskai Control, R/G Valakut, and R/G Tron.

It’s Scapeshift without the Scapeshift . . .  kinda. This new iteration of a R/G Primeval Titan deck goes all-in on the titan, using it to both attack and ramp up enough mountains and Valakuts to deal tons of damage to the opponent’s face. And while casting the titan is fine and dandy, using Through the Breach is far more explosive. Oath of Nissa and Summoner's Pact are used to search out copies of Primeval Titan, while Lightning Bolt and Pia and Kiran Nalaar hold the opponent off while we ramp up with Farseek, Search for Tomorrow, Sakura-Tribe Elder, and Oracle of Mul Daya.

The advantage of playing R/G Valakut over Scapeshift are twofold: fewer lands are needed in play to win, as Through the Breach costs five and Primeval Titan costs six; and the sheer number of Mountains in the deck makes nearly every land drop into a burn spell once Valakut is active.

Having taken third place at this past weekend’s SCG Modern Open, the deck is undoubtedly powerful, though it may struggle against combo, post-sideboard, the deck should be able to stomp most creature decks, however, and it may be able to race the life gain of the Thopter Foundry combo with a little luck.

When in doubt, play Jund. Possibly the most versatile deck in the format, Jund combines attrition, aggression, and disruption in equal measures. Jund can pick hands apart with Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize, take creatures out with the format’s most powerful one-for-one removal spells — cards like Lightning Bolt, Abrupt Decay, and Terminate — and end games quickly with powerful and efficient creatures like Tarmogoyf and Scavenging Ooze. Liliana of the Veil attacks the opponent’s hand and creatures, and Dark Confidant helps to shore up Liliana’s symmetrical discard effect, as well as provide incredible card advantage on every turn that the Great One lives.

Battle for Zendikar provided the deck with two new additions: Goblin Dark-Dwellers and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. The Goblins provide a large body and a recast of any one of the deck’s powerful Instants or Sorceries, while the legendary vampire does . . .  everything. He works with Ooze to neuter graveyard-based decks, recovers life lost by Dark Confidant, creates an army of 2/2 zombies, and is himself a huge threat that closes out games quickly.

While Jund is weak to Tron and may find its discard spells nullified by Ancestral Visions, the deck is undoubtedly solid in almost any metagame, and would be a fair pick for Grand Prix LA this weekend. This is especially true if players are anticipating a good Thopter Foundry deck to make an appearance, as main deck graveyard-hate, Abrupt Decay, and Kolaghan's Command are powerful counters to the Foundry / Sword of the Meek combo.

When Eye of Ugin was banned, Tron players everywhere lamented their loss. The Eye provided Tron with inevitability that made it the scourge of the Modern format (well, before Eldrazi Winter, anyway). In particular, Tron preyed on control and midrange decks capitalizing on long-term game plans, as Tron’s long-term tended to be so much stronger. But I have good news for you, Tron players: Ugin hasn’t abandoned you. The Eye of Ugin has been replaced with the Sanctum of Ugin, and two copies of World Breaker have made the cut.

As for the game plan, Tron attempts to assemble the three Urza lands — Urza's Tower, Urza's Mine, and Urza's Power Plant — to generate as much as seven mana on turn three, which happens to be how much Karn Liberated costs. A third turn Karn is nigh unstoppable, but it only gets worse (for the opponent) from there: Ugin, the Spirit Dragon comes down as early as turn four, and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger joins him soon after. Wurmcoil Engine and World Breaker provide huge threats to the opponent’s life total and board presence, and the ability to recur World Breaker — as well as Sanctum of Ugin’s tutor effect — helps to make up for the inevitability that Tron lost with the banning of Eye.

Tron’s biggest weakness is combo — decks like Ad Nauseam and Grishoalbrand simply do not care about a third turn Karn or fourth turn Ugin. Aggro, control, and midrange decks are all prey for the Karnfather, however, and new additions like Firespout and Warping Wail clean house nicely against creature decks. Cards like Tectonic Edge, Ghost Quarter, and Fulminator Mage may serve to slow Tron down, but with access to Sylvan Scrying and Expedition Map, recovery is fairly straightforward.

Interestingly enough, this particular Grixis Control list is one of the very few decks out there utilizing Ancestral Vision. Either the card is underplayed, or it’s still being slept on while people figure out the best shell for it. In my view, however, Grixis Control is the best shell for the card. Like Jund, Grixis Control is both disruptive and aggressive. With a plethora of ways to kill and counter, as well as access to powerful creatures like Kalitas, Pia and Kiran, and especially Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Grixis can take control of games swiftly and decidedly. Ancestral Vision shores up any issues the deck previously had against Jund and other attrition decks, allowing it to go well into the long-game without breaking a sweat or running out of gas.

Like Jund, Grixis Control is a solid choice against almost any meta, and will prove to be a contender in Grand Prix LA.

With Shadows Over Innistrad, Dredgevine finds itself with several new toys which may have firmly raised the deck’s competitive edge. Dredgevine attempts to dump cards like Gravecrawler, the new Prized Amalgam, Bloodghast, and the deck’s namesake — Vengevine — into the graveyard. Each of these cards has a relatively easy-to-meet condition to bring them back to the battlefield and steamroll the opponent. Lotleth Troll, Faithless Looting, Rotting Rats, and Lightning Axe enable this strategy with their discard clauses and abilities.

One of the deck’s new additions, Insolent Neonate, turns the dredge level up to six, as it allows a player to discard a dredge card — like Golgari Grave-Troll or Stinkweed Imp — and then immediately use it to replace Neonate’s draw ability, all at instant speed. It’s both beautiful and disgusting, and I love it.

The deck’s big weakness, however, is its difficulty to recover from dedicated graveyard hate. Thoughtseize and Ancient Grudge out of the sideboard may help to mitigate this weakness, but a timely Rest in Peace from the opponent may spell doom for the Dredgevine player. Still, in a metagame where graveyard hate is light, the Dredgevine deck is poised to prevail.

It’s been a long, long time since Jeskai Control has been a major contender in Modern, but the deck’s newest addition — Nahiri, the Harbinger — lives up to her namesake. The deck is back, and it just took down a StarCityGames Modern Open. The deck is mostly unchanged from previous iterations: cheap cantrips, lots of one-for-one removal, a sampler of Modern’s best countermagic, and four copies of Snapcaster Mage to keep the good times rolling. But Nahiri gives the deck an edge of inevitability and a way to end games decisively: Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Nahiri’s ultimate ability tutors up the Eldrazi titan, puts it onto the battlefield, and gives it Haste, spelling certain doom for the opponent. And if the Jeskai Control player should draw the titan prematurely, Nahiri’s +1 ability conveniently discards it and shuffles it back into the deck.

Come Grand Prix LA, all eyes will be on Nahiri, and sideboards everywhere may be packing countermeasures against the Boros planeswalker and her lattice-y friend — cards like Celestial Purge, Negate, and Surgical Extraction, the latter of which can be used to pick Emrakul out of a graveyard before she can be shuffled back into the deck.

In Modern, Burn is eternal. The deck has a single linear goal: count to twenty. And with a roster of seventeen aggressive creatures and a full range of twenty-four burn spells, counting ain’t so hard to do. Goblin Guide, Monastery Swiftspear, and a more recent addition — Wild Nacatl — enable the deck to attack from the get-go while slinging lightning overhead. Eidolon of the Great Revel and Grim Lavamancer punish the opponent for playing spells or attempting to put creatures in a Goblin’s way, while cards like Atarka's Command and Skullcrack punish anyone who seeks to stave off a fiery death with Kitchen Finks and Lightning Helix.

But make no mistake — while the deck’s game plan is straightforward, the sequencing of each and every spell is vital to winning, particularly against decks that can gain life or stop pick a burn player’s hand apart. And while burn has game against almost any deck in the first game, side-boarding is key to taking a second. The ubiquity of the deck insures most sideboards will have answers to burn, and it’s up to the discerning Red mage to sideboard appropriately against those answers.

Despite a lukewarm showing at this past weekend’s SCG Modern Open, Abzan Company remains one of the top decks in the format. Drawing on Birthing Pod decks of old, Abzan Company utilizes a plethora of cheap utility creatures — as well as its namesake card, Collected Company — to go wide and overwhelm the opponent.

The deck’s real strength, however, is in its ability to gain infinite life or deal infinite damage out of nowhere. Using Viscera Seer as a sacrifice outlet, Abzan Company players may couple one of the deck’s two legendary creatures — either Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit or Melira, Sylvok Outcast — with Kitchen Finks or Murderous Redcap to win the game on the spot. The Finks and the Redcap both have persist, which returns them to the battlefield with a -1/-1 counter should they bite the dust. But Anafenza and Melira both negate those -1/-1 counters with their abilities, allowing the Finks and Redcap to be sacrificed an infinite number of times, either generating infinite life with the former, or infinite damage with the latter. This combo’s potency is magnified by Chord of Calling, which allows the Abzan Company player to search their deck for that last piece of the puzzle at instant speed.

While graveyard hate may stall or nullify the infinite combos altogether, the deck’s roster of cheap and powerful creatures wins games all on its own. Mass boardwipes — cards like Supreme Verdict and Anger of the Gods — do little to slow the deck’s roll as long as it has access to Collected Company. And thanks to three copies of Eternal Witness, it usually does. Underestimate or play poorly against Abzan Company, and you’ll find yourself in losing company at GP LA before you know it.

More so than any other combo deck in Modern, Infect hits the sweet spot between speed and consistency. The game plan is simple: Draw a creature with Infect, turn it sideways, and use a plethora of pump spells and effects — cards like Vines of Vastwood, Become Immense, and Pendelhaven — to deliver ten points of infect damage. Adept pilots of the deck will choose their moments carefully, often waiting for an opponent to tap all or most of their mana before attempting an explosive kill.

In the past year, Become Immense has become immensely important in maintaining the deck’s consistently high tournament showings. As it turns out, spending one mana to give an attacking Blighted Agent +6/+6 is really, really good. Coupled with fetchlands, Mutagenic Growth, and Gitaxian Probe, casting the big Green pump spell using its Delve cost is no problem at all. Twisted Image and Dismember take care of the deck’s nemesis — Spellskite. And while the deck is stocked full of pump spells, it’s cards like Noble Hierarch and Pendelhaven that really allow the Infect creatures to plow through opposing creatures without wasting precious cards.

Because the deck is capable of fairly consistent third turn kills, it tends to beat most other combo decks on the play, but may struggle against decks that want to grind such as Jund, Abzan, and Grixis Control. Cards that produce multiple flying blockers, such as Lingering Souls and Pia and Kiran Nalaar, are a nightmare for Infect. But if the metagame this weekend favors combo decks, Infect is set to take some easy wins.

Affinity is the most explosive deck in Modern. Often able to empty its entire hand on the first time of the game, Affinity players utilize cards such as Mox Opal and Springleaf Drum in conjunction with zero-costed creature spells like Memnite and Ornithopter to generate more mana and board presence than any other deck in the format. Affinity is able to go wide with Steel Overseer, Master of Etherium, and Signal Pest pumping the whole team, or tall with Cranial Plating — arguably the most powerful card in the deck. Plating also enables quick one-or-two turn kills with Inkmoth Nexus.

Arcbound Ravager gives Affinity players another way to go all-in on a single turn, as the Ravager can eat the player’s board of Artifacts and then itself. Its modular ability then dumps all of those +1/+1 counters on an unblocked attacking creature — usually an Inkmoth Nexus or a Vault Skirge — for the kill. Though Thopter Foundry’s unbanning initially caused a temporary spike in Artifact hate, the Foundry’s poor showing in large scale tournaments may indicate that players at Grand Prix LA may go light on anti-artifact sideboard cards, allowing Affinity players to steamroll the competition.

Similar in strategy to Abzan Company, Kiki Chord makes use of powerful utility creatures to accrue advantage and generate pressure against opponents. And as with Abzan Company, the deck boasts an infinite combo, this time in the form of Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Restoration Angel. With both creatures on the field, Kiki-Jiki can be tapped to create a token of the Angel. The copy of Restoration Angel then blinks Kiki-Jiki, returning it to the battlefield untapped and ready to create another token. And while the threat of the combo is always looming, the deck does not need it to win.

Particularly important are the many one-ofs that interact favorably with Kiki-Jiki. Creating copies of Fulminator Mages to destroy lands, Eternal Witnesses to recur lost cards, and Lone Missionary to gain life is no small game. Each one of these “silver bullet” cards are tutorable with Chord of Calling. Nahiri, the Harbinger makes an appearance as well, which makes perfect sense given her ultimate can complete the Kiki-Jiki / Restoration Angel combo.

Without Collected Company, the deck is more susceptible to board wipes. However, Kiki Chord is well-positioned against other creature decks, and even has game against many combo decks.

Some of you may be wondering why a Thopter Foundry deck is so conspicuously absent from this list. It’s simple: I chose not to include decks which haven’t shown up in recent events. While it’s entirely possible — even likely — that a good Foundry deck will make an appearance at GPLA, I wouldn’t feel comfortable showing off a random deck list that hasn’t actually performed well where it counts. So, be wary, and be vigilant — the Thopter Foundry / Sword of the Meek combo is out there, and it’s powerful. Someone is going to make it work, and it might just happen this weekend. As for the rest of you, good luck in Los Angeles.


Jimi Brady

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