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Modern Updates

Hey everyone!

I’m back with some Modern updates as it has been a few weeks. I’ve been playing a lot to prepare for the SCG in Columbus and Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. During that time I have come across some forgotten gems of the past and investigated further into some evergreen strategies.

December is typically a dead month for Magic tournaments, which means I get to experiment. I’m almost always happy with my Constructed deck choices in tournaments because I change my mind frequently. In one hour I can go from thinking something is the deck to play and then abandon it the next. This windy road to the perfect deck provides experience each step of the way. Even when I study a decklist, it isn’t the same as going through my cards and building it myself.

In the last two weeks I set out on a mission to build as many Modern decks as I could. I assembled the linear strategies first because the cards don’t overlap. It also let me know which cards I was missing for each deck so I had a better idea of what was needed to finish them.

Here’s what I focused on:

  • Grixis Value
  • Affinity
  • Burn
  • wu Control

Let’s get to it!

Grixis Value

I know I said I focused on evergreen strategies, but I do need to squeak in a brew here and there:


Rise // Fall
A local Modern player, Logan Mir, has been working on this deck with me and he has had some good results. It has come a long way from the first draft and I think it’s pretty strong. Logan managed to beat me 2-0 while I was playing Burn and I won the die roll. I imagined that matchup would have been close, but at least thought Game 1 would be mine. Grixis can close and has raw power.

I’m trying out a Blackmail in place of a third Thoughtseize. This is because the more discard you play the smaller the hand sizes. Blackmail is actually the best discard spell in the mid-game because it can take any spell without paying life and can even hit lands. Discarding lands is important because I want to clear the way for Rise // Fall.

Logan suggested a Spell Snare in place of other counters like Mana Leak or Countersquall. I took for granted having good matchups against Burn and Affinity as a Jeskai mage. Spell Snare is the best card against them and only costs 1 mana; that means I can play card filtering spells easily on the same turn. Discard also works well with Spell Snare because I can take spells in hand that don’t cost two.

Young Pyromancer began as the primary threat, but continues to work down the food chain as Jace plays a larger role. I take this a step further as the second Young Peezy makes room for a Search for Azcanta. Search is clearly a stronger card, but it doesn’t have direct synergy with Kolaghan's Command and Rise // Fall. The milling can find a creature worth returning to your hand so all is not lost.

Disdainful Stroke
This deck could maindeck Blood Moon in theory, but I would advise against it. I was watching Michael Jacob’s stream (a.k.a. Darkest_Mage) with rg Land Destruction and Blood Moon looked very weak. This is because the metagame is currently overloading on Tron hate.

I haven’t seen Tron lose many games due to Blood Moon as it gets blown up by Oblivion Stone on turn five and they have plenty of mana. I’m not convinced bg Tron is better than Mono-Green and they play a whopping five Forests. When everyone is playing Blood Moon it is not a very powerful card. There are currently too many basics in the format to make Blood Moon great.

Blood Moon can still be a powerful card against Valakut when they aren’t expecting it. When they know it’s coming it will die to Reclamation Sage that can be found with Summoner's Pact. It’s also worth noting Tron can hardcast Thragtusk after sideboard as he is the fatty of choice. The chromatic artifacts also filter your non-basic Mountains into Green mana.

I’m moving off of Ceremonious Rejection for Disdainful Stroke. Eldrazi Tron is in a bad place at the moment so I would rather have the big mana hate overlap with Scapeshift and Primeval Titan. I am also weary of Ceremonious Rejection costing 1 mana out of fear of Chalice of the Void.

Grixis Value has certainly moved up in my book. It is lean and interactive while still having amazing topdecks. The Rise // Fall keeps your discard turned on well into the late game by bouncing opposing creatures. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy also helps turn your trash draws into gold. I get to use every part of the buffalo. I can’t Brainstorm in Modern, but I can get close with Serum Visions and Thought Scour.

Affinity


Hazoret the Fervent
I’m still in favor of cutting the fourth rainbow land for an Island to search against Path to Exile, Ghost Quarter, and Field of Ruin. I haven’t been bit by not having enough colored mana and the Island helped cast Master of Etherium a few times. The attach ability for two black mana on Cranial Plating doesn’t come up very often as I was initially considering a basic Swamp.

Hazoret the Fervent has been decent for me so far in place of a maindeck Etched Champion. The logic of playing it over Etched Champion is that a 5/4 haste can be relevant against any deck and still matches up well against removal decks. The worst part about Etched Champion is a 2/2 for 3 mana is unplayable against colorless, big mana, and combo. That’s a large portion of the metagame so I would rather play a hedge.

The extra basic helps cast Hazoret against decks with Path to Exile so both of these changes work well together. Supreme Verdict can be annoying for Etched Champion as the only way to interact with it is out of the sideboard in Thoughtseize which I’m not playing.

I tried Whipflare in the sideboard over the second Ghirapur Aether Grid, but it was weak against too many decks. The Aether Grids are not amazing against Stony Silence as it requires the game to go a certain way. I get too many clogged hands full of 3-drops against control already.

I want the second Grid against the mirror, Elves, and Counters Company. Many players aggressively board in grids and I think that’s a mistake. It’s expensive and not an artifact.

Welding Jar in the sideboard has been so impressive I added a second. It’s an easy way to swap two Memnites with artifacts that can trade 1-for-1 against removal. I hate having to board out Steel Overseer against Red decks and having three Welding Jar helps me do that.

Dispatch
Fellow Affinity player, Harrison Fang, convinced me to play Dispatch over Dismember despite the color requirement. Tarmogoyf and Master of Etherium are annoying and I should have an answer to them. Goyf is typically a ? since killing an artifact creature with Fatal Push gives +3+3 right off the bat. It’s not uncommon to see a fetch land and discard spell hit the graveyard in the same game.

I’m trying a Spell Snare in the sideboard to counter Snapcaster Mage out of interactive decks and Stony Silence. Thoughtseize rarely discards Stony Silence. It has never happened to me as a Jeskai mage. This is because most interactive White decks have a good Affinity matchup already which makes it unnecessary to mulligan aggressively for the powerful enchantment. When my Jeskai decks play Stony Silence it is to combat Lantern Control and Tron. Hating out Affinity is just icing on the cake.

Spell Snare is powerful as the game goes late and is playable against Storm. Additional ways to counter Searing Blaze out of burn is very strong, too. The basic Island means I want my interaction to be Blue. Burn will play Path to Exile against me after sideboard to help cast it.

Affinity has been good for me so far. It gets better if there are too many big mana decks in the format. If players adapt to beating the swath of big mana decks with Storm and Ad Nauseam then I might want to shelf Affinity. This is a realistic possibility which led me to the next deck: Burn.

Burn


Eidolon of the Great Revel
Burn is great against Mono-Green Tron and good against bg Tron. Since bg plays four Collective Brutality in the sideboard anything can happen. Burn is also strong against rg TitanShift. Storm is the natural foil to these big mana decks and Eidolon of the Great Revel puts them in their place.

I have a tough time versus Ad Nauseam and Boggles and it doesn’t get much easier post-board. Destructive Revelry out of the board could help, but I would rather not play the Green splash. Stomping Ground would be the most awkward land in the deck as it is almost always a shock land that adds Red mana. Boggles and Ad Nauseam currently make up less than 3% of the combined metagame. If I were to play in a 16 round event it would be expected to play against either of them less than a single time. Why play weak cards like Stomping Ground and Destructive Revelry to help those matchups?

Destructive Revelry gets worse when you factor in that it’s likely to lose Game 1 against Ad Nauseam and Boggles It’s on you to hit a revelry in both Game 2 and three. These are not slow decks so it’s on your Burn deck without card filtering to find it quickly. I would rather play stronger artifact hate like Shattering Spree and Smash to Smithereens and forget trying to interact with Leyline of Sanctity, Phyrexian Unlife, and Daybreak Coronet.

Other decks can play Leyline of Sanctity such as wu Control and Turbo Griselbrand. They either play zero or a small number of copies in their 75. I wouldn’t board in an answer to Leyline unless I saw it Game 2. That puts pressure on my deck to deliver an answer to leyline in Game 3, but only if they draw it. This double-coincidence won’t happen very often.

The moral of the story is to not be too reactive when sideboarding with Burn. Be sleek and efficient. Cut the cute stuff.

Skullcrack
In typical Kyle fashion I took a stock Burn deck and added another basic. The more Modern I play the more basics I want in my decks. I wanted to get spicy and make them snow-covered to get a turn or two of leaving the opponent in the dark. The only cost is potentially registering the wrong land and getting a game loss.

The level one thought is your life total doesn’t matter because you are the aggressor. In reality Burn is a deck that needs to resolve about seven spells to win. The longer the game goes the more chances I have to draw my outs. I want to keep my life total high to see more cards. For this reason I want an extra basic to get with my fetch lands.

The fourth Skullcrack is in the sideboard over the Grim Lavamancer or 20th land because there isn’t much maindeck lifegain. Skullcrack is something I board in often because it is better when opponents have hate cards like Kitchen Finks, Thragtusk, Obstinate Baloth, and Collective Brutality. Grim Lavamancer costs 1 mana which is helpful to reduce the number of clunky hands with all 2-drop burn spells. I like to exile creatures first against Green decks because of potential Scavenging Ooze. Remember, Eidolon of Rhetoric is also an enchantment in the graveyard for Tarmogoyf. Living End is one of the few cards I can think of that alters this heuristic.

I try and add as many cards as possible that deal damage in the sideboard. It’s a tough sell to play less than two Path to Exile so I play the minimum. Rest in Peace stops Scavenging Ooze and Tarmogoyf from being annoying so that’s worth the slots. It can also shut down Storm.

Searing Blood
When I build a Burn sideboard I ask myself “what cards do I want when Searing Blaze is bad?” Decks without creatures fall into big mana strategies or graveyard strategies. Rest in Peace and Molten Rain fill that void. Skullcrack and Grim Lavamancer are other generic catch-all spells that are naturally better post board to replace a Searing Blaze.

Searing Blood is the strongest sideboard card. Creature decks are tricky because throwing damage at creatures is like gaining life for the opponent. Searing Blood and Searing Blaze let you have cake and eat it, too. If your opponent is playing small creatures it’s actually better than Searing Blaze.

It can be correct to swap Searing Blaze for Searing Blood against decks like Mardu Tokens as Searing Blood doesn’t require landfall. It doesn’t target an opponent which means it can be fizzled unlike Searing Blaze. Searing Blood can get around Leyline of Sanctity because of that drawback. Since the creature must die to deal three to the opponent it won’t work with Rest in Peace in play.

I don’t play Kor Firewalker because I like all of my sideboard cards and don’t have room for more. The firewalker is only good in the mirror which is a small piece of the metagame (less than five percent). I need to take more damage to get two White mana which defeats the purpose of gaining life in the first place. It’s also awkward that I can attack Goblin Guide into Kor Firewalker because the opponent needs to respect Skullcrack turning off the damage prevention. That is not a recipe for a winning sideboard card. If I wanted an anti-Burn card Dragon's Claw would be sufficient.

Deflecting Palm is another popular Burn sideboard card that I strongly dislike. It gets countered by Skullcrack in the mirror. Big creatures only get deflected when they attack you. The opponent needs to feel safe enough against Burn to attack which means you are losing the game. Most players will be conservative when it comes to attacking. It doesn’t line up enough for me to cut a card from my maindeck that deals damage no questions asked.

Burn gets a bad rep, but Eric Froehlich began Grand Prix Oklahoma City 8-0. Many pros played Tron at that Grand Prix as well. It seems players of all skill levels are embracing the power of focus in Modern. Do one thing and do it well.

I can see playing Burn at the Pro Tour because it’s capable of beating anyone. It’s likely that I’m mentally drained by the Constructed portion of day 2 so having some auto-wins will be helpful.

If you are interested in control decks I have been thinking about how to approach Cryptic Command.

W/U Control


Runed Halo
Jeskai Flash is a strong deck, but it’s weak against big mana strategies and fast combo. Spreading Seas and Field of Ruin are well-positioned. It’s important to note that Tron is not powerful enough to simply play through hate and bad matchups, but it will still be over represented in the short run.

Tron is also a deck that some people will always play regardless of the positioning in the metagame. Whenever I walk through the aisles of a Modern event I see plenty of foiled out decks. These players don’t have access to every foil card in the format so they likely play the same deck over and over again. It’s a reminder that a small subset of the format changes while a majority stays the same.

I still like Runed Halo in the maindeck because Tron will likely be on the decline in a week or two, but TitanShift is here to stay. Storm will make a resurgence so having maindeck access to Grapeshot hate is valuable. Ad Nauseam is another combo deck that can win ahead of Valakut which makes Gideon of the Trial’s emblem strong in the metagame of tomorrow. Runed Halo is mediocre against Ad Nauseam as they can win with Laboratory Maniac. There’s a chance the Laboratory Maniac or enough Simian Spirit Guides get exiled from Spoils of the Vault that Lightning Storm is their only victory condition.

Jace, Architect of Thought

Snapcaster Mage has been underwhelming as there are many enchantments and Planeswalkers in the deck. It’s a top-end spell that is a miss on Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin. Since it’s the only creature in the deck it will likely trade with a card that would otherwise do nothing which doesn’t really make it a 2-for-1. Runed Halo also holds back creatures so Snapcaster likely cannot attack anyway.

Even though I’m not a fan of Sphinx's Revelation it’s likely right to play one. The life gain can help stabilize and I had a couple games where I ran out of gas if there wasn’t a Planeswalker in play.

Mana Leak can exacerbate flooding scenarios as drawing it late can be poor. Despite this wu plays as a tapout deck so I need to counter anything on turn two. Spell Snare is another strong counter in this deck as I tap out for Spreading Seas and Search for Azcanta early.

Jace, Architect of Thought continues to impress. The +1 can help in a lot of random scenarios and the -2 can run away with the game. People remember the games that end with a turn three Karn or some other ridiculous scenario, but many will play out like normal Magic. In those cases I prefer to have access to Planeswalkers that protect themselves.

Meddling Mage is the card I’m trying in the sideboard. I’ve seen Ethersworn Canonist and Rule of Law, but I have a lot of cards to board out against non-creature decks. When I don’t have a use for Path to Exile or Supreme Verdict that’s at least seven cards that need to come in from my sideboard. I have thirteen cards in the sideboard that can come in against non-creature decks. Everyone knows creature removal is weak against uw Control so Meddling Mage will be stronger as a surprise inclusion.

Conclusion/TL;DR

Tron is not busted and Ancient Stirrings doesn’t need to be banned. The community hates losing to Tron so they will be overweight on hate. Burn is well-positioned against big mana decks as well as Storm, the natural enemy of Tron. Wait a couple more weeks for big mana to go into hiding before sleeving up Jeskai Flash again. Ad Nauseam is a deck that is poised for a comeback.

Thanks for reading!

—Kyle


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