Modern Innovations

Posted in Perilous Research on July 17, 2014

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.com's exclusive Magic Online column. Over the last two months, we've seen the Modern format evolve through the Pro Tour Qualifier season. Decks like Jund, Splinter Twin, and Birthing Pod variants have remained major players in the format. Recently, a number of less-known archetypes have begun putting up great finishes in Magic Online Daily and Premier Events. Today, we'll take a look at Modern's latest tech and discussing the recent changes that tier-2 decks have adopted to gain an edge on the top dogs of the format.

Bitterblossom | Art by Rebecca Guay

Combo strategies are eating themselves alive. Birthing Pod strategies become less combo-oriented and more interactive with each passing week. Decks like Splinter Twin overperformed in the early weeks of the PTQ format because a lot of players weren't familiar with the matchup and often tapped out on a dangerous turn. A few weeks ago, Infect rose up from the ashes as a super-fast way to punish the other combo strategies. Now, Lingering Souls is rising to prominence once more, and strategies like infect and affinity need to evolve to stay competitive. Let's take a look at what's been winning in Modern!

Faeries!

IwalkAlone's Faeries (1st Place Modern Premier #7283106)

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There had been a lot of buzz about Faeries leading up to Pro Tour Journey into Nyx. Unfortunately, the deck didn't get played by many people and it put up a less-than-stellar performance. Since then, the archetype remained fringe at best for more than a month. Then, we saw a big innovation. Pack Rat solves Faeries's problems beautifully. The deck has issues with flooding, but Pack Rat allows the pilot to pitch extra lands for Rats. When games become races, the Modern Faeries deck often found itself chumping with Bitterblossom tokens without a way to strike back for big damage, but again, Pack Rat solves this problem. There were already four Mutavault and at least seven one-mana discard spells in the deck, so it seems like a natural inclusion here. It's also worth noting that Pack Rat is exceptionally strong when we have an active Sword of Feast and Famine, often winning the game the very next turn thanks to the extra use we get out of our mana.

The deck performs very well against a field of combo and control. The best aggressive strategies, Affinity and Infect, are well contained by an endless stream of 1/1 fliers, a lot of cheap spot removal, and Ratchet Bombs.

Zoo

nmks's Zoo (3rd Place Modern Premier #7283106)

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Wild Nacatl was reintroduced to Modern with much fanfare but, like Bitterblossom, it seemed to fall short. Zoo showed up at Pro Tour Journey into Nyx, but the archetype failed to perform well and it became less of a presence in the format as time went on. There's no denying the deck's power, but its weakness to Affinity and Burn kept it from being a major player. The new version of Zoo takes advantage of Delay as a powerful piece of countermagic; the deck is aggressive enough that the Delayed card won't be coming back a pretty large portion of the time. Bant Charm serves as an multipurpose tool that's sure to be perfect regardless of the game state. Geist of Saint Traft is great with cheap spot removal and even better with Ghor-Clan Rampager.

The format has slowed down quite a bit since Pro Tour Journey into Nyx and Affinity and pure combo decks like Storm and Ad Nauseam have become less popular. This seems like the perfect week to pick up a Zoo deck and win a PTQ with it.

Black-Green

Justice G's Black-Green (4th Place Modern Premier #7283106)

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Jund has continued to perform well in a number of forms, but the more consistent black-green versions of the deck are quickly becoming a tier-1 strategy on Magic Online. The major loss here is Lightning Bolt, but the deck makes up for that loss with Dismember and a full four copies of Abrupt Decay. Abrupt Decay is one of the format's best possible answers to the Splinter Twin combo, so much so that some Splinter Twin decks are even packing a copy of Breaching Hippocamp as a Pestermite effect that can't be hit by Inquisition of Kozilek or Abrupt Decay. This deck also takes advantage of Garruk Wildspeaker, a card that has done nothing but impress me in the decks where I've played it. We can tap out on turn four for Garruk Wildspeaker and untap to leave up Abrupt Decay. The threat of the Overrun effect is usually enough to force our opponent's hand and the creature lands here work tremendously to that effect.

Word on the street is that this deck has been tier 1 in the Japanese Modern scene for some time. It only makes sense that this would hold true elsewhere.

Affinity

Andrea94's Affinity (6th Place Modern Premier #7283106)

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Affinity has been a major player throughout this Modern season. The deck suffered a major blow when Lingering Souls started showing up in a lot of the decks. Opposing Lingering Souls often proves to be at least a two-for-one, and is often much worse for the Affinity player. It's hard to keep a good deck down, though. Master of Etherium's anthem effect allows the deck to power through Lingering Souls in a way that it couldn't before. Dispatch allows the deck to effectively deal with Kitchen Finks or Voice of Resurgence so it can get through on the ground with its massive Master of Etherium.

Going forward, we can expect the better Affinity players to start including Master of Etherium in their decks until Lingering Souls becomes less popular again.

Green Devotion

Andrea94's Affinity (6th Place Modern Premier #7283106)

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I knew we'd be seeing Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx in Modern, and I'm happy that it's finally picking up some steam. This version of the Green Devotion deck makes a lot of mana very quickly and uses it to cast a massive Genesis Wave turn after turn thanks to Eternal Witness. Against combo decks, this deck needs to attack the opponent's mana base or use Beast Within from the sideboard, but the deck seems nearly unbeatable for the decks that are trying to play fair. Again, we see Garruk Wildspeaker in a competitive strategy. It may seem odd for Arbor Elf to be making an appearance, but with Utopia Sprawl and Fertile Ground in the deck, untapping a Forest can produce a lot of mana. Garruk has a similar effect with the land Auras.

The nice thing about this deck is that it does very powerful things even when it isn't comboing. For example, it won't be unusual to Primal Command our opponent's land on the third turn. This is an archetype with a ton of potential that will probably be refined over time. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a tier-1 strategy somewhere in here. Will one of us be the one to find it?

Blue Moon

diabloXSC's Blue Moon (8th Place Modern Premier #7283071)

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Blue Moon was one of the big decks at the Modern Pro Tour, but it seemed to fall into obscurity afterward as the format evolved. At the Pro Tour, Blue Moon was able to prey on Scapeshift and Tron strategies that didn't exist immediately afterward. Now, the targeted enemy of Blue Moon is back in the format and the deck seems well-poised for a comeback. Vedalken Shackles in particular seems like it could be very strong in the current Modern metagame.

Lightning Bolt and Snapcaster Mage are likely the best two cards in Modern and it's probably wise to respect any deck that's playing both.

Merfolk!

Tojarra17's Merfolk (4–0 Modern Daily #7283116)

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Merfolk is probably the best aggressive tribal strategy in Modern. This version of the deck seems particularly strong. The deck aims to jam as many lords onto the battlefield as quickly as possible to run over the opponent. Master of Waves is incredible against the fair decks, it's especially fun to Vial in Phantasmal Image, copying Master of Waves, during combat on the opponent's turn.

Against combo decks, the deck gets to bring in a ton of interactive instants to mess with the opponent. Sygg, River Cutthroat gives the deck a steady stream of gas that was missing in previous iterations of the deck.

Junk Midrange

Traumerei112's Junk (4–0 Modern Daily #7283116)

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Again, we see a Jund evolution. We've dropped Lightning Bolt and picked up Lingering Souls. Lingering Souls is the best card against Liliana of the Veil, Infect decks, and versions of Affinity without Master of Etherium. Lingering Souls also combos very nicely with Garruk Wildspeaker. We can cast Lingering Souls on turn three, cast Garruk, +1, and flashback Lingering Souls on turn four, and we'll be presenting lethal damage with Garruk's overrun in the vast majority of games. This is a deck with good removal, the best disruption, and the best threats. We can be sure it's a competitive strategy.

Modern will continue to grow and evolve with time. The format is incredibly diverse and there are countless competitive strategies. As always, I recommend learning a single deck very well and sticking with it for a long period of time. With the knowledge in this article and a studious eye on Magic Online results, we should be well-prepared for the remainder of Modern Season.

The new version of Magic Online is up and running. Come join me and thousands of others as we enjoy a free Prerelease event on the new client. The previous client was phased out yesterday and we'll need to download the new version here. Next week, we'll take a look at Standard in preparation for Pro Tour Magic 2015. Be sure to join me as we prepare ourselves for the big show.

Knowledge is Power!

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