Lands Under Fire—The New Modern

Posted in Perilous Research on July 16, 2015

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Welcome back to Perilous Research, DailyMTG's exclusive Magic Online column. Modern has been in a state of flux over the last couple months. Modern Masters 2015 Edition breathed new life into the format by introducing an entirely new crop of players to the exciting interactions available. Since then, the format has transitioned away from the established collection of archetypes and now seems to be a Wild West atmosphere where anything is possible. Today, we'll be discussing the evolution of Modern over recent weeks.

Earlier this week, I met up with some friends at a local game store to draft our prize packs from the Magic Origins Prerelease. While we were drafting, the store was running a Monday night Modern event. I was shocked by the popularity of the format. This is a store where we'll usually have eight to 20 people for a draft event, and the Modern tournament was significantly larger. Looking around the room, I noticed a lot of interesting strategies and an absence of some of the format's biggest players.

A lot of the time, these things are localized to a store or region. When I got home, I began sifting through Magic Online results in an effort to gain a stronger grasp on what types of decks were doing well. In doing so, I found myself overwhelmed by a host of strategies, and each seemed more unique than the last.

Combo strategies have remained popular, but combos that rely on lands like Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle or Urza's Tower have found themselves in a rough spot now that it seems most players have at least four ways to interact in postboarded games. Cards like Fulminator Mage, Spreading Seas, and even Sowing Salt have all become much more popular.

Burn decks and the top land combo strategies like Tron and Scapeshift have done a pretty good job of pushing the Abzan decks out of the spotlight. Abzan numbers still haven't recovered, and the current environment is giving players a lot of room to be successful with strategies that are traditionally poorly matched against Abrupt Decay, Lingering Souls, and Siege Rhino.

Let's take a look at some of the undefeated decks from recent Modern Daily Events on Magic Online:

hot_milk's Merfolk

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The Modern version of Merfolk has lingered in obscurity for a while. The deck had a massive breakout performance in the hands of Przemek Knocinski at Grand Prix Copenhagen, and has since been putting up very strong numbers on Magic Online. The deck is capable of racing combo opponents, and the Lord of Atlantis theme means that it's also very well matched against creature decks—especially those that aren't playing a ton of removal. Master of Waves is in a very good spot right now; the card conveniently dodges Abrupt Decay, and protection from red means that it's mostly immune to the format's other played removal spells. Merfolk still has trouble with board sweeping effects, and the current lack of Wrath of God or Damnation is helping the deck immensely. We're beginning to see a lot of decks that combine inexpensive removal with Snapcaster Mage, and those strategies could pose a major problem for Merfolk players in the coming weeks. Still, this is the highest tier we've ever seen Merfolk attain in Modern, and it should be taken seriously by those that are looking to compete in upcoming Modern events.

zhang zhiyang's Affinity

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Affinity is still one of the most feared strategies in Modern. The current lack of Abzan means that there's a lot fewer Lingering Souls stealing Game 1s. Not everything is peachy for Affinity players, though; Kolaghan's Command is one of the very best cards against Affinity decks, often acting as a main deck copy of Ancient Grudge. Affinity is having a lot less success than it has in the past, and we're starting to see players eschew longevity in favor of a more focused all-in strategy. Thoughtcast is noticeably absent from this undefeated list, and I wouldn't be surprised if we saw more and more Galvanic Blasts going forward.

sQoooop's Collected Company Elves

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Elf decks may have gotten a nice boost with the release of Magic Origins, and they're just coming off picking up Collected Company in the last offseason. Elves seems to be well-poised for the future in Modern, and it doesn't seem unreasonable to think that this deck could become one of the format's biggest players in the coming weeks. Currently, the deck uses Ezuri, Renegade Leader as the finisher of choice, but Shaman of the Pack could open the door for Cloudstone Curio combinations that allow players to draw their decks or produce infinite mana with Heritage Druid, Elvish Visionary, and Nettle Sentinel.

jalah's White-Black Tokens

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White-Black Tokens aims to disrupt the opponent and take over the game with an army of Spirits and Soldiers. Targeted spot removal seems like the angle of choice right now in Modern, and that means that token decks are much better positioned than they have been in the past. By producing multiple bodies with each card, the White-Black Tokens deck overwhelms opposing removal while playing offense and defense effectively with Intangible Virtue. The biggest problem for White-Black Tokens is consistency. The deck attempts to combine removal, disruption, token production, and anthem effects. Drawing any one part of the deck without a healthy dose of token production makes the deck not play very well. Drawing multiple anthem effects and only one token producer negates the card advantage gained from producing multiple bodies with a single card. We can expect White-Black Tokens to have a good deal of success with the current state of the format, but the deck's incredible power level comes at a very real cost.

Archangelic's Burn

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Burn aims to end the game quickly and efficiently by firing spells off at the opponent's face. Modern Burn just gets scarier and scarier. The latest versions of the Burn strategy have a lot to do with the downfall of Abzan. Atarka's Command is a great upgrade to the deck's strategy, and Tasigur, the Golden Fang provides the deck with a huge body at a very inexpensive cost. Opponents are often forced to play a turn behind the Burn players, because they don't want to take too much damage from their lands. This means that Tasigur, the Golden Fang is better than ever—especially in a deck that's able to fill its graveyard so quickly. The success of Burn will largely be contingent on players' willingness to bring the necessary heat. Cards like Kor Firewalker are still very difficult to beat and nearly impossible to overcome in multiples. Burn will always be one of the most important decks in Modern, but it's important to be aware of their capabilities.

Butakov's Living End

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Living End is a combo deck that uses a number of cards with cascade to guarantee that it hits Living End, which will destroy all of the opponent's creatures while returning everything we've cycled or sacrificed to the battlefield. In the past, Living End has been weak to control and opposing combo strategies while it dominates decks that are trying to win a fair game with creatures. The deck has been doing exceptionally well on Magic Online recently, because of its ability to combat combo strategies with Fulminator Mage. As we start to see more control decks and combo strategies that don't rely on their lands, we may start seeing less of Living End. Still, the deck is one of the best strategies for live tournaments where combo is often less prevalent than midrange or creature strategies. There's a lot to be gained in Modern by being able to correctly identify the correct week to play Living End.

Xerk's Grixis Delver

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Grixis Delver aims to apply early pressure, backing it up with removal and disruption before taking over the game with a protected Tasigur, the Golden Fang or Gurmag Angler. Delver is back and it's having a lot of success, especially on Magic Online. The newest versions of the Delver deck are similar to the Blue-Red Delver strategies that were dominant while Treasure Cruise was legal. Now that Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time have been banned, Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Gurmag Angler seem like the best ways to delve for success. This deck's mean casting cost is incredibly low, and all of its cards are tremendously powerful. This deck seems like it's well-poised to become the next big thing in Modern, especially as the lists continue to evolve and the correct numbers are settled upon.

Scandimaniac's Pyromancer Ascension

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Pyromancer Ascension (the deck) aims to copy mana production and card draw spells until it's able to fire off a lethal Grapeshot for victory. Ascension strategies are capable of turn-three kills at a greater consistency than any other deck in the format, excluding Infect. Traditionally, Ascension has been weak against Abrupt Decay strategies. Right now, Abzan seems criminally underplayed, and Jund decks—although picking up steam—are still a bit of a rarity. With opponents using their sideboard slots to beat land-based combo decks, it makes a lot of sense that more traditional and streamlined combo strategies like Pyromancer Ascension would have a lot of success.

fjca's Jund

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Jund combines the format's best disruption and removal with some of the most impressive threats. The deck prides itself in not having any truly bad matchups. We'll see a lot of variation between different Jund lists, but the combination of Inquisition of Kozilek, Thoughtseize, Abrupt Decay, Lightning Bolt, Tarmogoyf, and Dark Confidant is always going to make for a powerful game plan. We can expect this deck to continue rising in popularity in the coming weeks. If tribal strategies and combo decks are popular, then Jund has to be in a very good place.

__Matsugan's Ad Nauseam Combo

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Ad Nauseam Combo attempts to cast its namesake card along with Phyrexian Unlife or Angel's Grace; by doing so, the pilot can draw the entirety of their deck, use copies of Simian Spirit Guide to stick Seismic Assault, and pitch enough lands to end the game right away. Like Pyromancer Ascension decks, Ad Nauseam Combo is greatly benefiting from the lack of combo hate right now. Players have filled their sideboards with cards that interact with lands, and given the green light to the format's most aggressively built combo strategies.

In the coming weeks, we'll likely see more cards to deal with the new breed of combo decks that are beginning to emerge. Discard spells should gain momentum in terms of popularity in all the decks that have access to them, and cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben should be making an appearance in the creature-based strategies.

Modern continues to change, and it's clear that the format's evolution is dependent on the winds of impulse amongst its player base. What's your favorite deck for the current Modern metagame? What deck do you feel is best positioned to succeed in the coming weeks?

Knowledge is power!

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