Modern's Genesis

Posted in Perilous Research on January 29, 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 to Time Travel Week here at Perilous Research,'s exclusive Magic Online column. We're just hours away from the beginning of Fate Reforged Prerelease events on Magic Online! And while I'm excited to play in some events, I want to continue exploring Modern before Pro Tour Fate Reforged arrives.

Last week, we took a glance at the potential future of Modern. Modern is only four years old, but the format has already developed into one of the most loved and diverse Constructed formats of all time. With recent changes to Modern, a lot of Birthing Pod players are looking for a new weapon of choice. By examining the winning decks that laid the groundwork for Modern as a format when it was still in its infancy, we can learn more about the raw power levels that are available in Modern strategies that may have been forgotten. Today, we'll be digging through Modern's past for clues that may lead us to the most powerful decks of the future.

Cast Through Time | Art by Zoltan Boros & Gabor Szikszai

Let's rewind back to 2012. Modern was a relatively new format. Players around the world were clamoring over thousands of viable strategies with hopes of finding the best possible list. I traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska, to do coverage of a Grand Prix set to feature the newest and most exciting Constructed format. As soon as I got to the convention center at the beginning of Day One, I heard a familiar voice call my name. It was Bronson Magnan, a Florida-based player with whom I shared a lot of mutual friends. We chatted for a bit and I asked what he was planning to battle with. He handed me his deck, "You're going to like this one."

The Life from the Loam deck he showed me was beautiful. It seemed like it would demolish all the other decks I had seen leading up to the event. I hopped in the commentary booth and immediately started gushing about Life from the Loam's great position in the format. Let's take a look at the deck that Magnan piloted to victory in Lincoln:

Bronson Magnan's Aggro Loam—Grand Prix Lincoln 2012, 1st Place

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This deck teaches us a valuable lesson about Modern—decks are capable of showing up even if such decks don't exist in the current format's canon. No one expected Aggro Loam in Lincoln. The control decks of the time didn't possess a way to pressure the Loam strategy and they were doomed from the very beginning because of the deck's constant mana advantage. The creature decks of the day lacked reach and found themselves very soft to Flame Jab in the early turns while the combination of Seismic Assault and Life from the Loam would always be enough to take over the game once in combination.

This is exactly the type of midrange strategy that's been given breathing room with the banning of Birthing Pod. So what would an Aggro Loam deck look like today?

Jacob Van Lunen's Aggro Loam

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These days, cards like Countryside Crusher don't seem great in a world of Abrupt Decay. In general, creatures tend to die very fast in the current Modern. Here, our Young Pyromancer should be good for a few tokens on the turn we play it thanks to Flame Jab and Raven's Crime. We can also take full advantage of Smallpox, which seems like the absolute best way to make Loam start working hard for us right away.

The next deck I'd like to discuss is Jund. It's always been a huge part of the Modern metagame, but the deck has changed a lot over the years. Back in 2012, I bore witness to one of the most impressive decks I've ever seen for a given event. Jacob Wilson and Josh Utter-Leyton were piloting identical versions of four-color Jund with Lingering Souls, and neither player seemed beatable. Let's take a look at their four-color midrange monstrosity.

Jacob Wilson's Jund—Grand Prix Chicago 2012 1st place

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These days, versions of this type of strategy are usually just Abzan-colored. It's possible that it's worth it to splash for Lightning Bolt, Terminate, and Planeswalkers like Ajani Vengeant. That seems like a reasonable path forward for players who are looking to explore new midrange possibilities in the world after Birthing Pod. Siege Rhino seems like it's a lot better than Bloodbraid Elf in most situations, so I can't imagine these types of decks aren't tier 1 in the new Modern. Here's my favorite list from Daily Events over the last few days.

LeFly's Abzan Midrange

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Grand Prix Yokohama brought us a format where everyone was playing spot removal like Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile. Board-sweeping effects like Pyroclasm had fallen out of favor. Jun'ichi Miyajima took advantage of the format's weakness to token strategies by playing a powerful version of the White-Black Token deck, another midrange strategy that's able to throw its hat into the ring in the absence of Birthing Pod. Let's take a look at Miyajima's token deck.

Jun'ichi Miyajima's White-Black Tokens—1st Place Grand Prix Yokohama 2012

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A lot has happened to this archetype since Miyajima's victory. Now, we have access to Bitterblossom to ensure that the deck can play the long game with control opponents. Let's take a look at what an updated version of the deck might look like.

Jacob Van Lunen's White-Black Tokens

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This version of the White-Black tokens deck seems like it could do a lot of work in the new format. Cards like Anger of the Gods are certainly strong against the token strategy, but the deck has the ability to rebuild very quickly and the longevity offered up by Bitterblossom is very powerful against the decks without actual reach.

One of the decks that's not being talked about much, but probably has a huge silent following, is Affinity. The deck has been considered the best aggressive strategy in Modern for a long time at this point. Naya and five-color Zoo strategies may make a resurgence now that we don't have Birthing Pod in the mix, but the aggressive artifact deck is always going to be one of the best aggro choices in Modern. Let's take a look at the original winning Modern Grand Prix deck from Columbus in 2012:

Jacob Maynard's Robots—1st place Grand Prix Columbus 2012

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Cranial Plating is a powerful enough effect that Maynard wanted to run extra copies in the form of Steelshaper's Gift. Nowadays, Affinity strategies have become even more streamlined and the "correctness" of the actual numbers on lands is much more established. Let's take a look at my favorite Affinity list from Magic Online Daily Events this week:

m3l0Q's Affinity

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A format like Modern has enough depth that we can often spark our best ideas by looking at the past. Next week, the best players in the world will descend on Washington, DC, to redefine the Modern format and prove themselves on the game's biggest stage. Don't miss all the action as it unfolds.

Remember, Magic Online Fate Reforged Prerelease events start the morning of Friday, January 30. Don't miss your opportunity to be among the very first to battle with the newest cards on Magic Online.

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