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Practical Deck-Building in Modern


For many of us, deck-building involves a lot of head-scratching, and it usually happens like this:

While scouring Gatherer, you stumble upon a card you didn’t know existed. Yelling in triumph, you do a lap around the apartment before breaking open the champagne and getting to work trying to break that card. Several hours later, you’re covered in Doritos, and everything’s a bit hazy. “What went wrong?” you ask yourself. “Why can’t I beat anyone with my Sundial of the Infinite/Pact of the Titan deck?”

It’s often the case in Magic that creative deck ideas end up being more gimmicky than revolutionary, and gimmicks don’t usually do well when paired against no-nonsense decks. So when creativity isn’t cutting it, but using an established deck sounds about as fun as . . . well, as using an established deck, where do you turn? I have a few options for you:

Change an Existing Deck

If you’ve seen Patrick Dickmann’s Tarmo-Twin deck, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Sometimes, taking an existing deck and splashing a color is all you need to put some pep in your step (or some Tarmogoyf in your Splinter Twin—whatever expression floats your boat). We see these types of variations all the time in major tournaments: splashing white in Jund for Ajani Vengeant and Lingering Souls, green for Tarmogoyf in Splinter Twin, white in Merfolk for Sygg, River Guide and Path to Exile, and so on. Splashing a new color in a deck allows you to cover more ground, particularly in the sideboard. The W/U Merfolk deck, for example, has access to tools like Rest in Peace, Tempest of Light, and Detention Sphere. It also has the added benefit of potentially throwing your opponent for a loop:

Laughing hysterically, your opponent windmill-slams his last Splinter Twin onto Pestermite. “You would presume to defeat me, plebian?” he growls. The game has gone long, and your opponent knows that you’re out of Spell Pierces, unable to counter the enchantment. You look him in the eye, and you can’t help but smile at his overconfidence.

“I’m afraid the game’s not over yet,” you say, calmly tapping a Wanderwine Hub. “You’ve activated my trap card.”

“Wait, we’re playing Magic, what are you—” he stops midsentence, mouth hanging open as he sees the Path to Exile on the mat. Screaming, he flips the table before his rage engulfs him, his body and clothes burning to ash. After recovering from the shock of witnessing an actual case of rage-induced combustion, you realize that you’ve just won Friday Night Magic for the first time. Ignoring the pile of ashes on the ground, you pick up your cards and leave with your companions.

“Tonight, we celebrate this victory the right way—with Taco Bell.” All was well in the world.

It happens all the time—just like that. Trust me. Here’s a version of the deck, for reference:

These variations can be more significant than mere splashes. An archetype like Tron, for example, has three major forms that are radically different from one another: R/G with Karn Liberated, mono-blue with Platinum Angel, and Esper for Gifts Ungiven and Unburial Rites. So, what if we mixed it up? Could a Tron deck be mono-green? Putting Terastodon and Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre into play with Tooth and Nail sounds like my idea of a good time, and the Urza’s lands make that play a walk in the park.

Another example of mixing up an archetype is Jacob Van Lunen’s Death Cloud Jund list from a recent ChannelFireball article. While it has the usual pieces of a Jund deck—Lightning Bolt, Thoughtseize, Dark Confidant, Tarmogoyf—it also features Death Cloud and Garruk Wildspeaker as two unexpected (and synergistic) win conditions.

Port from the Past

Many decks played in Modern are based on previously-successful Standard and Extended decks. Others existed in Legacy first, only being ported to Modern when new cards were released that could take the roles of cards that are only legal in Legacy.

A great example is U/B Faeries, a deck that was notorious in multiple formats. The unbanning of Bitterblossom has made it a viable option in Modern. Decks such as Affinity and Scapeshift dominated their respective Standard and Extended formats, and they are still going strong today.

A more recent example (a port from the present, if you will) is Mono-Black Devotion, the scourge of Theros Standard. Cards like Phyrexian Obliterator and Geralf's Messenger are just begging for a friendly Gray Merchant of Asphodel to hit the field, and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is absurd with Profane Command. Check out this list:

If you’re ever feeling particularly adventurous, delve into the Standard and Extended formats of yore, and see what you can find. Play around with old deck ideas, and see if they have a place in the current Modern environment. While most stones have been overturned already, there’s very likely to be a few gems left to find. If you really want to go deep, look at Block Constructed, a format that has been notoriously breakable in the past.

I’ll be touching on this particular subject in future articles, so stay tuned.

Read all of the Articles

“Dude, that’s, like, so obvious.”

I know, broheim, but hear me out: There are dozens of articles released every single day that detail multitudes of decks in every format. Some of these are untested brews, others are format staples, and still others are variations on those staples. The sheer number of articles guarantees that any player who wants to try a new deck can find one quickly and painlessly.

One of my favorite sources of deck ideas is reading the results of the deck-building contests occasionally found on DailyMTG.com. While many of these decks are a little cheesy, a good number are based on solid ideas and strategies that might only need a little tinkering to be competitive.

One such idea, found in Gavin Verhey’s “Staxing the Deck” article from 2013, is a R/W landfall deck featuring Zektar Shrine Expedition, Steppe Lynx, and Plated Geopede all wrapped up in a burn shell. The deck is surprisingly intricate and relies heavily on its twenty-four lands to generate upward of three to four landfall triggers a turn. And, besides all of that, using Zektar Shrine Expedition in a deck just sounds like a party waiting to happen. The original deck by Dan Kalinowski was lacking a sideboard and needed a tune-up, so here’s my updated version:

As much as I want to believe that Sam Black studies the movements of planets to glean Empyrean knowledge before building decks, or that Shouta Yasooka reads the auras of other professional players for insight into breaking metagames, it probably doesn’t happen that way. Probably. Luckily, the rest of us have other options.

Stay in the Light,

Jimi Brady



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