Aggro, Control, Combo—Modern Style!

Posted in Reconstructed on November 16, 2015

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

Aggro. Control. Combo.


Let's do this.

Myth Realized | Art by Jason Rainville

After a week off for Magic Online Takeover Week, I'm back and excited to talk about some Modern! You all have sent in a lovely spread of exciting decklists, and I want to zoom in on three different ones today that fit into categories you're probably familiar with. Those would be:

  • Aggro, meaning a quick, aggressive deck that aims to kill off the opponent.
  • Control, meaning a deck that takes its time and aims to win in the long game.
  • Combo, meaning a deck that puts together some combination of cards that secures the game near-instantly.

But, of course, these are no ordinary, stock Modern decks. This isn't just a glance at Mono-Red, Grixis, and Splinter Twin. These are your decks, each brimming with an exciting new take on Modern.

Ready to see what's in store today? Well, let's dive right on in!

Jeskai Aggro

Perennial ReConstructed reader Jeff Van Egmond sent in a deck that caught my eye.

Blue-red-white decks are certainly nothing new to Modern. However, an aggressive deck featuring Monastery Mentor and Mishra's Bauble?

Well Jeff, you have my attention.

Jeff Van Egmond's Jeskai Aggro

Download Arena Decklist

As opposed to a deck like Mono-Red, which is very one-dimensional and either basically works or doesn't, this sort of deck carries a bit more maneuverability. (Which makes sense, considering Jeff noted that he was inspired by Patrick Chapin.)

Sure—you can lead off with a Monastery Swiftspear and go to town, but if that plan fails you've got plenty of great backup options.

For each of these decks, I'm going to do a little mini-breakdown. So let's get right into this one.

Strengths: This is an aggressive deck that packs a ton of resiliency. If they run out of removal spells, a single threat can turn into a huge problem. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy or Monastery Mentor can create nightmares for slower decks that aren't prepared for them. Against Mono-Red, you might be able to kill off their first creature and then hold the fort with a Tarmogoyf, but here not so much.

All of your spells are on the cheap side to cast, meaning you can find the cards you need. Many give you a small bonus and then draw you a card in the process, working well with prowess and helping you achieve the kind of velocity you're looking for. You'll often want to hold your Baubles and Probes to deploy with a Mentor in the same turn, which can turn a game state around from weak to advantageous.

Weaknesses: Drawing your cards in the wrong order can be a big problem for this strategy. For example, if you draw all of your Gitaxian Probes and Mishra's Baubles and those find you your Monastery Mentors, you're going to be low on prowess triggers.

Fortunately, this deck is built to have redundancy to avoid that. Mentor, Swiftspear, and Abbot all benefit from casting a lot of spells on the same turn. However, it is one of this deck's biggest faults, especially considering discard; if your one Mentor gets Inquisition of Kozileked away, then you might not be able to do much at all.

Suggested Improvements: A lot of the already-powerful spells in this deck don't need much shifting around—Lightning Bolt, Serum Visions, Gitaxian Probe, and so on are all cheap, effective spells that you're not going to look to substitute or remove. Vapor Snag is really the only one that I'd let go of, perhaps replacing with more Paths or additional creatures.

Since your core game plan is already strong, the key is really finding what is going to make your strategy even more redundant to allow that to occur more often without adding cards that pile onto the problem.

Myth Realized is a great example. It's yet another card that is strong before you play your flurry of spells, but very weak afterward. I'd rather have some more Snapcaster Mages or Jaces, since those can be good even if you draw your cards in the wrong order.

I'd also look at Young Pyromancer as well. I know it's a nonbo with Mishra's Bauble (which Jeff pointed out in his email to me), and maybe Bauble isn't right at that point. Similarly, Delver of Secrets is another card to consider. I'd be curious what a version that features both of those looks like. It may or may not be right, but it's certainly worth considering.

Overall, the core is great, and it's just a matter of trying out other angles and seeing what could work. You'll want to try out all of the possible configurations of creatures and Baubles to see what works best.

All right, that's aggro. Now, how about something different: a little bit of control!

Tezzeret Control

Way back at Pro Tour Berlin, we saw Kenny Öberg take his Tezzeret the Seeker–charged deck all the way into the Top 8 of a tournament dominated by Elves. This time around, it's a different Tezzeret—but the same kind of idea!

Traditionally, control has been harder to make work in Modern than other decks. There are so many threats attacking you from so many angles that answering them all is difficult. The secret to making it work best? Having something that lets you "turn the corner" and go aggressive quickly.

Enter: Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas.

Tezzeret starts by finding you cards—but he can also animate artifacts into gigantic attackers or drain your opponent for a ton when it's time to move in for the kill. Put that in a control shell, and you have the makings of something strong.

What kind of deck am I talking about? Well, something just like this:

Hoshijima Kazumasa's Esper Tezzeretor

Download Arena Decklist

Controlling the game via sweepers such as Supreme Verdict and featuring game-ending threats such as Wurmcoil Engine, Tezzeret Control holds onto the game for just as long as it needs before flipping the script and moving on to the aggression.

Let's break this deck down like the last one:

Strengths: You get to play with some of the strongest control cards available in Modern: Path to Exile, Inquisition of Kozilek, and, importantly, Thirst for Knowledge—a card most decks can't really capitalize on. You hold a lot of power in your hands. You can answer many of your opponent's threats—provided you draw your answers at the right time.

Additionally, your artifacts let you play with the super-powerful Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. If your opponent doesn't kill him right away, they risk losing on the spot.

The artifact synergies are what make this deck strong—and making sure those are at their height is important.

Weaknesses: First of all, as alluded to before, you get to play with a bunch of very powerful cards, but you do need to draw the right ones against the right decks. And, in a fast format like Modern, you don't have much time to lose. If you don't draw enough ways to kill off creatures against quick decks, this deck can really fall behind.

Another huge concern is the presence of artifact removal. Unlike most control decks, you're susceptible to artifact removal. Having to face the raven of Kolaghan's Command looming over your shoulder at every turn makes it a dangerous time to be an artifact mage. With that said, there's not a lot you can do besides run headlong into it—it's the pact you make by playing an artifact-based deck right now.

Suggested Improvements: Heightening the control elements is important to the success of a strategy like this one. You absolutely need to be able to deal with problematic creatures in a tight spot, and if you miss your one-turn window, then you're dead. I'd look into playing more Supreme Verdicts and pinpoint removal like a fourth Path to Exile and Smother.

Additionally, speaking of syncing up the numbers, one of this deck's largest strengths is access to artifact-synergy cards. There should absolutely be four copies of Thirst for Knowledge, for example.

Consolidating your answers is important since you can only play so many, and discard is paramount here. It can take creatures and artifact removal alike, plus set up for cards such as Tezzeret to be as strong as possible. I could definitely see playing a full set of Inquisitions and even some Thoughtseizes, too.

Another card to consider is Chalice of the Void. With all of the artifact mana in this deck, it's easy to cast it at a number that will significantly hamper your opponent. It hasn't seen much Modern play because there hasn't really been a deck for it, but many decks are crippled with it set on one or two.

Finally, it's entirely possible the white is unnecessary here. You could probably play straight blue-black to similar results, maybe even incorporating Tezzeret the Seeker in a slightly slower version.

Overall, this kind of deck is one of the more promising control angles out there—it's just a matter of proofing yourself as much as possible against the dangerous field of Modern.

Finally, let's take a gander at combo!

Coralhelm Combo

Every now and then, a card gets printed that looks completely innocuous on the surface—but turns out to be a combo engine.

In Battle for Zendikar, one such card is Retreat to Coralhelm:

Untapping a creature whenever a land enters the battlefield looks pretty safe. What harm is it really going to cause?

Well, Knight of the Reliquary has other plans.

Together, these combine to create what turns out to be a one-turn kill: put a ton of lands into your graveyard, generate a ton of untapped mana, and kill your opponent off with a Kessig Wolf Run or Sejiri Steppe on the final activation.

What might this look like? Well, FateBear has one take on it:

FateBear's Combo Bant

Download Arena Decklist

One of the most dangerous kinds of combo deck is one that plays entirely like a normal midrange deck—until it's time to kill you out of the blue. (Plus, it also sort of lets me show off midrange here.) That's precisely what I love about this deck: it can just as commonly kill you with strong cards such as Geist of Saint Traft as it can with the Knight combo.

And the Knight combo just makes it all the sweeter.

Let's break it down.

Strengths: This deck can attack from multiple angles. As just noted, it can switch between midrange and combo on a dime—but even more than just that, it can also play the aggressive or the controlling deck fairly easily.

If you want to just pound away with Geist of Saint Traft, that's totally doable. If you want to set up a wall of Tarmogoyfs on defense, that's totally an option too. After all, you have late-game inevitability with your combo—if you need to play defense, it will often favor you.

The card quality of this deck is also very high. You have Birds and Elves that can set you off to the races, and a lot of ways to get the jump on your opponent.

Weaknesses: The tricky part of dipping your toe in two pools at the same time is that sometimes a shark will jump out of a third pool and eat you.

…Okay, that metaphor may have not been the best way to make my point. What I'm trying to say is that the penalty you pay for being both a midrange deck and a combo deck is that you're a slightly weaker version of each. You're not an optimal midrange deck, because you're making concessions to play some combo cards in your deck. And you're not an optimal combo deck, because you have all of these midrange creatures floating around.

What does this mean? Well, if someone plays, for example, a dedicated combo deck, you're going to be at a disadvantage. They are likely faster than you and have some tools to break up your plan even if you do assemble your combo. And while that won't always be the case, it's something to be wary of.

Suggested Improvements: How can we fight the third-pool-shark problem of being behind to someone who has a more dedicated deck than you? You want to make your deck the best it can be as a midrange deck, while making card choices that support your combo strategy.

Those might seem to conflict with each other—but there are narrow bands where they intertwine, and that's what you want to look for.

For example, take Vendilion Clique. It's an absolutely fantastic Bant midrange creature—and it also helps to make sure the coast is clear for your combo to go off. I'd definitely be playing those here. Some light countermagic such as Remand or Mana Leak can similarly can help protect your combo while also helping fight off opposing combos.

On the other side of the spectrum, you need to strip out narrow pieces that create draws slower than most midrange decks. The Sunbond/Idyllic Tutor/Spike Feeder thing, while adorable, is making the deck weaker as a result, since it's not faster than other combos and requires you to play a lot of cards that are weak individually. Those could all go.

You could also think about a card like Collected Company. It helps you set up your combo at the end of your opponent's turn, while also just being a generally strong card to have in a Bant deck full of cheap, tiny creatures.

Overall, make what looks like a great disruptive Bant midrange deck—then play Retreat alongside Knight and use it to steal games you otherwise shouldn't have won.

McArtor's Mentions

On McArtor's Mentions, we take a look at many of the great decks sent in over this past week that weren't featured above. Check them out!


Download Arena Decklist

Tibalt Adson's Prairie Belcher

Download Arena Decklist

JagonFel's Green Dominance

Download Arena Decklist

Takahiro Machida's FLYING AGGRO

Download Arena Decklist

Futaba Oshiaki's Living Shift

Download Arena Decklist

Sebastien Alamo's Five-Color Good Stuff

Download Arena Decklist

Sean Skinner's Pili-Piledrive

Download Arena Decklist

Yuriy Slabicky's Naya Norin Sisters

Download Arena Decklist

Torikai Rintaro's Stormbrisk Raptor

Download Arena Decklist

Keisuke Onoyama'sRetreat toMaze's End

Download Arena Decklist

Battlesheep's White-Blue Gifts

Download Arena Decklist

Mail Call!

It's hard to believe, but there's only a few weeks left in the DailyMTG year! And to end on a high note, I have a few special articles coming your way.

Like what, for example? Well, coming up shortly is a mailbag column! I'll be putting out the call on social media, as well as through my ReConstructed email address, for you to send me your general deck-building questions! I'll answer many of them here on DailyMTG. So if you've ever had a question about deck-building you really wanted to have answered, send it my way!

Send all questions to

I've actually never really done a mailbag answering of general deck-building questions and tips, so I'm excited to give this a try and see how it goes.

In the meantime, if you have any thoughts outside of that (or just want to ask your question on another social media platform), you're always welcome to send me a tweet or ask me a question on Tumblr, and I'll be sure to check out what you have to say.

Talk with you again soon!




Latest Reconstructed Articles


January 4, 2016

Kozilek's Return by, Gavin Verhey

Kozilek had quite an explosive reappearance. Everything on Zendikar was starting to go all right. And then, in one earth-rumbling swoop, the beast below awoke: Kozilek surged up and reap...

Learn More


December 28, 2015

Jumping for Jori by, Gavin Verhey

Welcome to Oath of the Gatewatch previews! This set has a lot of awesome elements going for it. Support. Surge. And—oh yeah—that colorless mana symbol, just to name a few. I was on the d...

Learn More



Reconstructed Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All