How to Find Your (Modern) Muse

Posted in Top Decks on July 25, 2014

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

With the Pro Tour in a week, I'm still under oath not to reveal information about Standard (although I imagine I'll be able to more than make up for that once the PT is over). I recently delved into Vintage (I'm still on Griseloath), and last week I went over the big four Modern decks, plus a couple more interesting ones. Today, I'm going even deeper, as Modern is a big format, and there are plenty of awesome decks that I didn't get to.

As I've said many times, one of the reasons I have enjoyed playing Modern is that you can pick a deck that suits your play style, and even past that there's a ton of variety to choose from. The decks I want to take a look at today definitely have a range of power levels, and some need more from the metagame to be right than others, but that doesn't change the fact that there are way more viable decks in Modern than in any other format, save perhaps Legacy.

There are a few different ways to approach deck selection in a format like this. The first, and easiest, is to just pick one of the proven best decks and practice it until you know it by heart. You really can't go wrong just learning the ins and outs of Twin or Pod (they are the two decks that have consistently remained on top), and once you do, that knowledge looks like it will be good for a long time. You could have been playing either deck for years at this point, although it still takes some effort to stay on top of current trends and changes.

I don't think that's the way everyone should approach Modern (thankfully, because the thought of a field that was 80% these two decks sounds like a grim future, and one that hopefully would send back a champion to eliminate whoever invented the decks to begin with). I've said many times that you need to play a deck you legitimately enjoy playing if you want to succeed in Magic. It not only increases your win percentage by making it more likely you've put in the right practice and are in the right mindset during the tournament, but it also defeats the purpose of playing in the first place if you aren't having fun. Magic isn't your job (while it in some ways is mine, I still almost never play decks I don't like), and I think it's a grave error to try and play a deck you don't like simply because you think the win percentage is higher. This is a deep and powerful format, and the win percentage of the best deck is not really an incredible amount higher than the 10th best, or even the 20th best. Playing the best deck at 80% is going to be much less good than playing the 10th best at 95%, and in my long experience, almost everyone plays better when they enjoy what they are playing. That isn't true for everyone, but it's true for enough that I strongly recommend playing something you legitimately like.

Back to Modern and the approaches you can use to crush it. As is probably obvious, my second recommendation is to pick the deck that speaks to you best and focus on tuning it for the metagame you expect. Bear in mind that, sometimes, this method leads to false starts, and you have to pick a new deck. No matter how much you love some decks, you can't always make fetch happen. Luckily, Modern is a format that supports many more decks than normal, so you are way more likely to pick a solid deck to begin with, but keep in mind that not every deck is viable.

Once you become more comfortable with the format and the various decks it contains, you can start to broaden your range. That way, if you read the metagame correctly, you can switch to the deck that takes advantage of that best. If you feel like Affinity hate is going to be at low levels, you can play Affinity, and so on. While I keep repeating that mastery of one deck is the most valuable skill you can attain, once you have mastered a deck, there's no harm in trying to learn more decks. Plus, even if you only ever play one deck, playing other decks can help you see what those decks fear and what they don't. That's valuable information when playing against those decks and when deciding how to build your deck to beat them.

On to some sweet decks!

Kiki-Pod

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The first time I played Kiki-Pod was way back at GP Columbus in 2012. The deck was sweet then, and is sweet now, and even got itself a GP win in Richmond, one of the largest GPs in history. Melira Pod does have way more of the market share when it comes to Birthing Pod decks, but that doesn't mean that Kiki-Pod can't be a great choice. Because comparing it to the more dominant Pod list seems like a natural starting point, let's take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of playing Kiki-Pod vs. Melira Pod:

(1) Kiki-Pod has worse mana.

In between trying to cast the card Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and the addition of the fourth color (blue), there's no real way to argue that Kiki-Pod doesn't lose more games to mana than Melira Pod. It still does have Birds, Noble Hierarchs, and dual lands, but playing a deck with , , , and spells does have some inherent risk.

(2) The Melira combo has a lower curve, although it requires more pieces.

Both decks score points on the other here, as Melira's cards cost one, two, and three mana, but there are more of them, whereas Kiki-Jiki just needs two, but they cost four and five mana, respectively. If you are Podding, neither of these things is too big a deal, but you should optimize for situations where you don't have Pod, since both of these decks are very good at winning when Pod is active. I like that Kiki-Jiki wins better through disruption, as requiring fewer pieces means you need fewer resources to win, and I think that's slightly better than Melira's ability to get the combo out faster. It's also relevant that the most common Melira combo doesn't actually kill opponents until the turn after, because gaining infinite life with Kitchen Finks isn't the same as winning the game against decks like Splinter Twin. In terms of actually dealing lethal damage, Kiki-Pod wins at about the same time as Melira does, and possibly even slightly faster.

(3) Kiki-Pod is a more powerful deck when the combo gets disrupted.

Kiki-Jiki itself is a very powerful card, even when not comboing, but the same can't be said about Melira. Likewise, having access to cards like Glen Elendra Archmage, Izzet Staticaster, Phantasmal Image, and Zealous Conscripts just leads to more broken plays during the grindy games, and the more streamlined Melira deck can't really offer the same (although Reveillark + Metamorph shenanigans are kind of cute). Assuming that you don't get bitten by the mana, I'd much rather be Kiki-Pod in games where I don't combo out for a while.

Overall, it is close between the two decks, although Melira is more consistent, and I think that's why it's generally gotten the nod. In the heads-up matchup, I'd definitely rather be Kiki-Pod, just because its combo goes over the top and it has more good bullets to go fetch (Izzet Staticaster is a nice one). The more interactive decks you expect, the more I'd recommend Melira Pod, as it gets to play cards like Thoughtseize and Abrupt Decay, as well as having the third Gavony Township. Against a field full of combo and goldfish decks (I count Affinity here, for what it's worth), I'd lean toward Kiki-Jiki-ing. It does a better job of just killing them, and against spell-based combo like Scapeshift or Storm, being able to search up Glen Elendra Archmage is just awesome.

RWU Control

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This is the deck I was most asked about after last week's article, both because it's an obviously powerful deck and because I've been quite the proponent of it in the past. Besides Melira Pod (and another deck I want to talk about later today), this is the deck I've played most in Modern. I've talked about it before in this very column, but given that Modern changes more than most larger formats (although less than Standard, as expected), it's worth mentioning again.

Pretty much all the different versions of RWU are Snapcaster-based control, although the Geist of Saint Traft version is very close to being an honest-to-goodness beatdown deck. Whether you play Snapcasters + a few Restoration Angels, just Snapcasters, or Restoration Angels + Wall of Omens + Kiki-Jiki, the interaction the deck really cares about is Snapcaster + sweet spells. How you actually end the game is somewhat immaterial, and if you kill all of the opponent's stuff you will eventually get there.

As much as I've enjoyed my time with this deck (who doesn't like casting Sphinx's Revelation?), I'm afraid that I don't love it's spot right now. Now that Splinter Twin is being built as a more controlling deck rather than just the 4 Twin 4 Pestermite 4 Deceiver 3 Kiki-Jiki version, I'm not sure I can in good conscience recommend RWU. If you want to play a controlling Snapcaster + Lightning Bolt deck, you should look at playing Splinter Twin. RWU and Twin have many of the same vulnerabilities, given that Twin is no longer in a race to just combo off, and the endgame of Twin is much stronger. You can even see that in the Angel + Kiki version of RWU, which I played (at a local PTQ no less!) and felt like I was playing just a worse version of Twin. I don't think all is lost for those who want to play RWU, I just would recommend against playing the more controlling versions. Instead, just kill them:

RWU Geist

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Here you are actually leveraging the full potential of Restoration Angel, Geist of Saint Traft, and Snapcaster Mage in the role they were meant to play. Remand gets much better than Mana Leak, Path to Exile has less of a drawback, and playing Lightning Bolt and Lightning Helix becomes way more likely to just be lethal.

If you want to play beatdown but don't want to get your hands dirty with one-drops and mana curves, playing this deck lets you attack and cast sweet spells at the same time. I imagine that's the main motivation of people who play this, and I certainly can't blame them. Beatdown decks are also great in big formats, as they are much more likely to be good against decks you don't expect than are control decks. Playing all answers can backfire when playing against something like, say, the Primeval Titan/Azusa, Lost but Seeking deck, whereas this Geist deck will still just kill them.

The last deck I want to talk about is truly a labor of love, and the best example I can use of just playing a deck you really want to play.

WU Tron

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I've played this deck at multiple GPs (including Portland, where I'll be heading soon for the Pro Tour), and even have a Top 4 at GP Lincoln to show for it. I played WU Tron back when Modern first became a format, and played it for months even before knowing I was going to any tournament where it would be relevant. I knew the deck better than almost any deck I've ever played, and I've tried all sorts of different cards in it before settling on a final list.

The main strength of Tron is that it is good against both Pod and midrange/control decks. It has a powerful endgame and a very strong combo in Gifts Ungiven for Unburial Rites + Elesh Norn or Iona. Where it suffers is against combo, and more specifically Splinter Twin. It sideboards a ton of cards and still is not favored in the matchup, so I must warn you not to play it if you expect to face a lot of Twin (also known as the normal amount in any Modern tournament these days). I only mention it because this deck does efficiently defeat Melira, and if you happen to think that Melira is going to be overrepresented and Twin underrepresented, I've got a Tower I can sell you.

I also wanted to mention this deck because it's just my favorite deck; who doesn't want to cast Thirst, Gifts, Remand, and Emrakul?

I'll let you ponder that question until next week.

LSV

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