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Metagaming Modern

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The letter T!his week is the inaugural Magic: The Gathering Players Championship. Sixteen of the Pro Tour's brightest stars—from Rookie of the Year Alexander Hayne; to maybe the greatest player of our era, Luis Scott-Vargas; to maybe the greatest player of all time, Jon Finkel—will battle in a sixteen-man brawl to determine 2012's Player of the Year.

Of the various formats where these titans of Magic will test their mettle, only one involves seventy-five-card decklists that so deeply concern Top Decks: and that format is Modern. Now, lucky for us fans of the game, we just had a different mega-tournament featuring Modern marvels (the World Magic Cup) that might give us a window into what we might see in the Constructed portion. By the time you are reading this, the Magic Players Championship will be underway (and truth be told, the first round of Modern will already be in the history books)... but the playoffs will (also) be Modern. What are some of the possibilities we can borrow from the World Magic Cup?

Jund


Andrew Morrison's Jund
Modern – Top 16, Team Constructed, World Magic Cup 2012


Jund was the darling of Block Constructed at the World Magic Cup and remains a pillar of the Modern format. This deck is the quintessence of card quality... Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize on turn one; Lightning Bolt as arguably the best one-mana support spell, ever; and scads of removal riding up the curve... Terminate, Liliana of the Veil, Maelstrom Pulse. Creatures will die when facing this deck, whether by the virtue of its interaction, grabbing a freebie on the back of a Bloodbraid Elf, or some kind of great combat creature (e.g., Kitchen Finks).

Between Inquisition of Kozilek, Thoughtseize, and Liliana, Jund can interact with and disrupt essentially any kind of deck in Modern. Once you've softened up the opponent a bit, it doesn't take too long to finish the job with Tarmogoyf and Bloodbraid Elf.

The sideboard has tools for all different kinds of opponents... Ancient Grudge for Affinity, Grafdigger's Cage and Jund Charm for graveyard decks, and Torpor Orb for Splinter Twin or Kiki-Jiki infinite combos. Jund can take on all comers.

Hannes Kerem's Assault Loam
Modern – Top 16, Team Constructed, World Magic Cup 2012


Staying within Jund colors, Assault Loam is a powerful midrange deck that leans heavily on Life from the Loam. Life from the Loam and a single Verdant Catacombs can help you hit repeated land drops; and Life from the Loam can take the edge off of Ghost Quarter's card economy issues while disrupting an opponent's mana base. Of course, dredging Life from the Loam over time will make Tarmogoyf bigger and bigger!

The real powerhouse moves that this deck can accomplish are Life from the Loam + Raven's Crime (or Flame Jab to a lesser extent), where you can discard a land to trade for a real card; or Life from the Loam + Seismic Assault, which can make for a reasonably quick clock. Once you have Seismic Assault on the battlefield, especially if you have Loam access, the game is a different one; you can kill almost any small creature at a whim, and it takes maybe six mana worth of Life from the Loam re-buys to kill the opponent outright, just by aiming for the head.

Midrange decks are notoriously thin against combo, but when you factor in the Raven's Crime setup of this deck, all you will see are empty hands on the other side of the table. One of the really cool things about dredging Life from the Loam? You can eventually uncover your Raven's Crime or Flame Jab in the graveyard.

Doran



This midrange aggro deck is built on some impressive three-drop creatures: Knight of the Reliquary and Doran, the Siege Tower. First-turn Noble Hierarch makes hitting one of these on turn two easy, and once it is down...? You have a serious threat!

Doran, the Siege Tower makes Tarmogoyf (usually */1+*) marginally bigger and Noble Hierarch is itself a positive power threat. Oh, and Doran is essentially a 5/5 for three, which is Phyrexian Negator territory, but with no fundamental drawback.

Knight of the Reliquary is a surgeon with a potentially very big scalpel. It acts as kind of a Birds of Paradise (you can tap a land for mana, then sacrifice it, getting another land for mana that turn); chaining through lands like Verdant Catacombs and Marsh Flats make Knight of the Reliquary bigger and bigger as you cycle through your deck. At the same time, you can eventually find threats like Stirring Wildwood and Treetop Village.

Doran is a reasonably disruptive deck; between Inquisition of Kozilek, Tidehollow Sculler, and various creature removal or graveyard hate, you can put the opponent off a turn, hopefully mopping up with your powerhouse threats before he or she can come back.

Affinity


Mauro Peleira's Affinity
Modern – Top 16, Team Constructed, World Magic Cup 2012


The Modern Affinity deck at this point runs relatively little actual "affinity"-mechanic spells (I chose Peleira's for its inclusion of Thoughtcast). The deck rides the synergies and offensive impact of the Mirrodin and Scars of Mirrodin street gangs to win very quickly. Just on the straight creature cards, you can play a ton of Memnites and a Signal Pest, get in, play another guy or so, then clean up with a Master of Etherium buff. Steelshaper's Gift for Cranial Plating makes for a huge impact piece of offensive Equipment, and Galvanic Blast (plus Shrapnel Blast in some versions) offers insane finishing power.

Blood Moon out of the sideboard of some versions will completely lock an opponent off colors (good luck with that Verdant Catacombs), while impacting Affinity almost not at all thanks to Mox Opal and Springleaf Drum.

TwinPod



Pretty cool hybrid deck here...

On the one hand, you can go Noble Hierarch into Birthing Pod and march up the value chain, drawing a card with Wall of Omens, getting back 2 life with Kitchen Finks (while giving yourself a renewable body for Birthing Pod), blowing up one of the opponent's lands with Avalanche Riders, and finally stealing the opponent's best thing with Zealous Conscripts (which ideally you could further steal with another Birthing Pod or something).

Or, you can play a brutal combo deck.

Either Deceiver Exarch (which can, by the way, untap Birthing Pod if need be) or Restoration Angel will combine famously with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. The Legendary Goblin can double a Deceiver Exarch (which will then untap him for another tap, again and again) or a Restoration Angel (which can then blink him back untapped, for another go 'round, and another after that). You will then give yourself nigh-infinite 1/4 or 3/4 creatures. Presumably with "infinite" guys, you can overwhelm the opponent with a single, combo-licious attack step.

As a Birthing Pod deck, this one has the ability to draw on all different kinds of specialty haters—from Ethersworn Canonist against decks that want to do a lot of stuff in a single turn (sorry, Bloodbraid Elf); to the cantrip no-no Thalia, Guardian of Thraben (how much does that Gitaxian Probe cost again?); to redundant mana denial via Fulminator Mage and Avalanche Riders; to insurance in the mirror via Linvala, Keeper of Silence.

This is one of the most flexible strategies in Modern, acting as a progressive creature-card-advantage deck on one end, but also as a brutal and relatively quick combo deck as its primary route to victory.

White-Blue Midrange Aggro


Tzu-Ching Kuo's White-Blue Midrange Aggro
Modern – Winner, Team Constructed, World Magic Cup 2012


So... the stones on this guy!

Kuo actually (co-)won the World Magic Cup with this deck in front of him, knowing that Modern was going to be the sole Constructed format at the most prestigious sixteen-man, invitation-only tournament of the year just two weeks later.

There used to be a saying among Regional Champions-feeding-into-Nationals aspirants: "dance with the girl what brung ya." Will Kuo repeat his Modern selection?

Kuo's white-blue deck is a bit different from other much more typical Modern Delver decks. His curve is higher, with Restoration Angel and Cryptic Command—both four-mana spells—on top of Geist of Saint Traft, Kitchen Finks, and Sword of Feast and Famine on three. This deck has more expensive cards, but they are certainly quality ones that can have a solid impact on the game (especially against aggressive opponents or those trying to compete at one-for-one).

Kuo, unlike the RUG (relatively typical) or RWU (most typical) Delver players in Modern, ran only two colors (not counting Dismember as a fake black one)... but quite a number of lands at twenty-six. The higher land count afforded him access to Tectonic Edge (the old Standard favorite) and Elspeth, Knight-Errant as a solo table-snapper. By cutting what most consider the trademark offensive creature for a strategy like this, he also freed up the Serum Visions slots that are used to smooth out lower land counts and more reliably flip up Insectile Aberration.

Delver



And while on the topic of "typical" Delver decks, I decided to end on a somewhat atypical one.

The structure of Binek's RWU main deck will have most Modern aficionados' heads nodding... twenty-one lands; fast creatures headlined by Delver of Secrets; super-fast support spells (primarily burn) with Lightning Bolt, Lightning Helix, and so on.

... and then there is Tribal Flames!


Tribal Flames is a two-mana burn spell that, in concert with Binek's Stomping Ground or Blood Crypt, can hit for as many as 5 damage. Quite the potential pairing with Snapcaster Mage, no?

The surprises don't end there.

That black splash can give the deck Unburial Rites access (on the front end)... although the deck probably wants to run it from the flashback side only.

"End of turn... Gifts Ungiven for Unburial Rites, Sphinx of the Steel Wind,... and I guess I fail to find?"

The other player has got to put both Unburial Rites and Sphinx of the Steel Wind in your graveyard, and you know what happens next, when you untap.

Or, greedy-side, you can go for Unburial Rites; Sphinx of the Steel Wind; Faithless Looting; and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. If you have sufficient time, there is no good split for the opponent (you can make sure the huge guys are in your graveyard by playing or flashing back Faithless Looting). Imagine how surprised an opponent who thought you were playing a super-quick, essentially two-dimensional Star Spangled Slaughter deck might be finding him- or herself pinned by 5-damage burn spells and a reanimator transformation!


Modern is a format of many combos... blue-red storm decks as well as more traditional combo-Deceiver Exarch decks. It is a format of Tron putting together the kinds of Gifts Ungiven packages we just discussed, or simply hard-casting Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Modern gives us scads and scads of Tarmogoyf-centric offensive or midrange creature assaults, and more than one head-scratcher of a Primeval Titan play.

...but the World Magic Cup, for the most part, showcased offensive decks (if even midrange or multi-dimensional ones)... which is why we focused on those kinds today.

So... who are you cheering for in Modern to take it all?



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