5-0 Modern Deck Techs

Posted in Play Design on March 30, 2018

By Tom Ross

Hey everyone! Tom Ross here. If you don't know me, I've somewhat recently begun working with Magic R&D on the Play Design team. Formerly I was a professional Magic player who also wrote strategy articles for a living.

I was brought in partly for my focus on Modern—a product of the StarCityGames.com tournament circuit structure. I enjoy keeping up with Modern and discovering new decks in the format.

Typically, the Play Design article is aimed at the innerworkings of our processes and aims to convey how and why we make the cards we do. Today I wanted to take a crack at more a traditional article and review a few recent 5-0 Modern decklists that got my wheels turning.

DJCOURT's Equipment Storm

Affectionally called "Cheerios" due to the high number of zero-cost artifacts, this deck aims to be a glass cannon that fires when no one's expecting it in the metagame.

Puresteel Paladin combo decks with zero-cost Equipment have lurked around as fun build-arounds that never broke out into the Modern spotlight due to inconsistencies. Sram, Senior Edificer gave the deck enough redundancy to reliably bring the parts together. Djcourt has solved even more of the inconstancies by adding Reverse Engineer and Thoughtcast, two cards that I've never seen in previous lists, but probably should've been playing the whole time. Djcourt goes further with the jam package, electing to play zero basic lands in favor of absolute clean mana on the first few turns. If you get hit by a Path to Exile at the wrong moment, you're probably going to lose anyway. Same goes for Field of Ruin or Blood Moon—if the game gets to that point, it's slipping away rapidly. Might as well maximize your early window wins.

Julian_Brandmaier's War Zone Affinity

Julian_Brandmaier abandons the more expensive cards like Steel Overseer, Master of Etherium, and Etched Champion in favor of actual affinity cards like Frogmite and Myr Enforcer. Without the artifact lands from Mirrodin, we see a density of very cheap artifacts to fuel the affinity cards out. Colored mana is scarce without Spire of Industry or Glimmervoid, so concessions had to be made in the card choices, notably the lack of Galvanic Blast and Thoughtcast in the main deck, along with a narrower sideboard.

Bomat Courier is great here since your hand is typically empty, making its activated ability all upside. Chalice of the Void plays a dual role as another zero-cost artifact as well as a strong tool against decks reliant on one-cost spells. The land count is lowered because the mana curve is lower. Losing Inkmoth Nexus is certainly noticeable, as it was a great angle to attack decks that preserve their life total, like Tron; decks that gain an arbitrary amount of life, like with a Viscera Seer, Kitchen Finks, and Vizier of Remedies; and various combo decks like Ad Nauseum and Storm.

Contested War Zone is big payoff here. With your hand empty early, you have time to activate Contested War Zone, which acts as a free Signal Pest battle cry trigger. This build of Affinity is another example of maximizing your game plan and ignoring the cases when control of the game is lost. It's not that losing a Contested War Zone is game over, it's that those games aren't worth losing speed and percentage points in the early game.

INGJOKER's Ramunap Red

This take on a mono-red deck is so very different from traditional Burn that it can hardly be considered in the same category. I love the deck-building approach here. Instead of working yourself from Burn or a Goblins deck, we see a port from the Ramunap Red Standard deck.

This deck isn't trying to assemble six or seven 3-damage spells; instead we see some good old-fashioned creature beatdown. The curve goes up to Goblin Rabblemaster and Rampaging Ferocidon. The Rabblemaster was a Standard sleeper for a while that eventually became one of the format's defining cards. It even sees Legacy play! As for the Ferocidon (a pushed answer to Felidar Guardian), it's currently too strong on rate for Standard. It's inclusion here allows you to cut Skullcrack and otherwise not worry much about opposing swarm strategies.

The burn spells are focused on removing blocking creatures and getting yours through. The higher curve allows you to realistically kick Burst Lightning or sacrifice Ramunap Ruins. The lack of fetch lands buffers your life total, which is good since this deck is a tad slower and tends to damage itself with Ramunap Ruins, Eidolon of the Great Revel, and the notable nonbo of Rampaging Ferocidon and Goblin Rabblemaster.

To iterate on the decklist, I'd try out Stoke the Flames in some number, and maybe Burning-Tree Emissary too. Mutavault and Bomat Courier give some wiggle room to use green mana. There are plenty of colorless mana symbols too, and playing the Emissary on turn three isn't the worst.

SCARL19's Esper Goryo's Vengeance

I love this style of deck. There's a combo element backed up with straightforward good cards. A similar recipe existed with Splinter Twin and Deceiver Exarch.

We tried a Goryo's Vengeance deck during week three of the Team Modern Super League. The game plan is to get a legendary creature into your graveyard by discarding to Collective Brutality or Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. You can also spike one with a Thought Scour targeting yourself, and in a pinch target yourself with Inquisition of Kozilek or Thoughtseize.

Once that's accomplished, you cast Goryo's Vengeance on the legendary creature. In the case of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, you can activate him, then if you have five or more cards in your graveyard transform him into Jace, Telepath Unbound. Since the card is exiled and coming back, it's a new game object and escapes the "end of turn" trigger of Goryo's Vengeance! Instant-speed two-mana planeswalkers are tight.

As for Obzedat, Ghost Council, you're skirting the rules of Magic in your favor (in a good way). Goryo's Vengeance exiles, and because Obzedat also has an "end of turn" exile trigger, you can do that and satisfy what Goryo's Vengeance was looking for. Quite the deal.

The new spice is Nezahal, Primal Tide. This is first sighting of the gigantic Elder Dinosaur outside of Standard, and it's undoubtedly ridiculous in Modern! You can discard three cards (Lingering Souls perhaps?) to blink your Nezahal and get it right back.


Modern is incredibly deep and it's amazing that the community is constantly delving further into the rabbit hole. It's truly a format where you can play what you want and succeed once you get in the prerequisite reps. I love seeing what everyone comes up with!

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