The Very Model of a Modern Modern Metagame

Posted in Top Decks on July 18, 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).

Modern season is in full swing, and now seems as good at a time as any to check in on what that looks like, as well as seeing what cool decks have popped up. Modern is a very diverse format, even if the best couple decks have been the same for a while. The top four decks are great, but there are plenty of other great decks too, and there are many legitimate reasons to pick from one of those other decks. Metagame shifts happen much more often in Modern, and knowing your local metagame is very important when choosing what to play.

The Big Four

First off, let's look at the four decks I think are best at this moment. These are the decks that make up the first tier, and all are decks I'd expect to see be pretty well represented at any Modern tournament.

The best Modern decks tend to feature one of these all-stars.

These decks are Birthing Pod, Splinter Twin, BG variants (Jund, Junk, and BG), and Affinity, all of which I'd highly recommend for anyone undecided as to what to play. There's a reason they are the best, and the power level of all these decks is quite high. The BG decks are the most metagamed of the four, with the three pseudo-combo decks fairly unconcerned about what the opponent is doing, so if you are going in blind, I'd avoid BG.

A brief rundown on each of these decks:

Melira Pod

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This is the Pod list I recommended last week, and nothing has changed. I like Pod, and think it's one of the decks that rewards practice the most. One of the awesome things about Modern in general is that if you pick one of the reasonable decks, you can practice it and play it for months, tuning it, tweaking it, and learning it inside and out. That's really valuable, and honestly the best way to improve your chances at the format. All of the top ten to fifteen decks are very close together in terms of expected win %, so I'd vastly prefer to play a deck I know really well than one I don't, even if the new deck has slightly better win % in a vacuum. This is a very skill-testing format, and that's part of what makes it so interesting. How that relates to Pod is that Pod is one of the toughest decks I've ever played with, and I believe its win % when played to its full potential is incredibly high. It's just hard to get close to that ceiling, and you see the players who have won A LOT with Pod (Sam Pardee is a good example of such).

Even if you set my personal preferences aside, Pod is a great choice for the field at large. It does suffer some from having a big target on its head, but in my experience people don't play the right hate cards and even the good ones don't completely nuke the deck. This isn't an Affinity vs. Stony Silence situation, this is a situation where the opponent sides in cards that are a 7 on a 1–10 scale. That's very beatable, and the raw power level of Pod is insanely high. I don't believe you can go wrong picking this.

Splinter Twin

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There are a couple Twin variants (splashing green for Tarmogoyf and playing RWU the two most common besides straight UR), but I like the UR version best. You don't mess around, your mana is great, and you have access to Blood Moon post-board. The Ancient Grudge splash doesn't really count, as you never need green mana when you side in Moons, and it really helps against Affinity.

Besides being a very consistent combo deck, as all it plays are combo pieces, cantrips, and value cards, Splinter Twin also gets some of the same mileage as Pod does when it comes to sideboarding. Most people side in a ton of hate against Twin because the deck is so powerful, but Twin wins way less from the combo than people who don't play it would assume (again, echoing Melira Pod). When you play a Pestermite and your opponent lets it hit four times because he or she is waiting for you to cast Splinter Twin on it, you've gotten value. A few Bolts and Snapcasters later, and your opponent is going to sit there wondering what went wrong. Playing this like a UR value deck that sometimes instantly wins is what you want to be doing, and when people treat it like a full-blown combo deck, you get a huge edge. Of course, the combo aspect is very important, as your opponent should rightfully fear tapping out, but just keep in mind that your wins with this deck should be closer to an even split on control/tempo wins vs. combo wins than hugely lopsided toward combo.

Twin is again a great choice, and I can say nothing bad about picking it and mastering it. Knowing when to go for it, when to try and get value, and how people play against it is tricky, and much like most Modern decks, Twin is very skill-rewarding.

Affinity

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Affinity remains the best beatdown deck of the format, although it plays more like a combo deck when you really get down to it. I suppose it does finish the game by bashing with a bunch of robots, but assembling Cranial Plating + a flier, Nexus + Ravager, or some combination thereof is really what you are trying to do.

Affinity is one of the most powerful decks in the format, but also the most vulnerable. Against unprepared opponents, it probably has the highest natural win % you will find, but it folds harder to sideboard cards than anything else because of how linear it is. If you walk into a room and the average player has four dedicated anti-Affinity cards in his or her sideboard, things are not going to go well. Cards Affinity does not want to see:

Play against enough of these and you will rethink pledging yourself to your new robotic overlords. Of course, if you dodge the hate, Affinity will feel insane (and be insane). You will easily outrace your uninteractive opponents and out power anyone who tries to interact with you, as Nexus, Ravager, and Plating are all incredibly resilient (with Etched Champion being a big part of how you beat normal removal).

This is also a tough deck to play, although if you can get most of the way there, the deck rewards you well. I'm not going to argue that it's not better to play this at 100% efficiency, but Melira Pod played at 75% is not going to win much, while Affinity played at 75% is still going to be awesome. For that reason, if you are concerned about not having enough time to practice, or don't feel confident in a deck yet, Affinity is not a bad choice.

Lastly, we have the three different BG decks, all of which have basically the same core:

4 Dark Confidant
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Scavenging Ooze
4 Thoughtseize
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Abrupt Decay
4 Liliana of the Veil

This package of about 28 cards (sometimes there are a few three-ofs among Liliana, Scavenging Ooze, and the hand disruption) is what drives these decks, and it's a good place to start. This is by far the most fair of these four decks, and while that may seem like a worse place to be in what is generally an unfair format, BG decks are very consistent and still quite powerful. As a "good stuff" deck, BG has the sizable advantage of not needing any particular combination of cards as much as just wanting to draw a good variety of casting costs. All of the other decks I just talked about need to draw the right combinations or their cards do little to nothing. Granted, they have ways to make this more consistent, but it still can happen, especially when a piece or two gets blown up by disruption.

BG, on the other hand, just wants to draw any combination of one- and two-drops, with three-drops being nice to have but not crucial. Turn-one hand disruption into Confidant or Tarmogoyf is just a solid play no matter which of the one-drops and which of the two-drops you play, and all the cards in your deck tend to trade for opponents' cards at a mana advantage.

This is a deck that heavily rewards metagaming, and I can't say for sure which build is correct on any given weekend. The main differences are:

Junk (White):

Lingering Souls, Path to Exile, Stony Silence

The white version has a more efficient way to kill Tarmogoyf and other 4-toughness creatures, as well as one of the best cards in the mirror and against Affinity in Lingering Souls. It's much worse than Jund (Red) against Melira Pod, as losing Lightning Bolt and Anger of the Gods hurts.

Jund (Red):

Lightning Bolt, Anger of the Gods, Ancient Grudge

Anger of the Gods is a pretty big game against Pod, and also helps against random aggro decks that aren't Affinity (it isn't bad against Affinity, but I'd rather have Path + Souls there). Lightning Bolt is also just hideously efficient, and one of the best removal spells against small creatures.

Black-Green:

Tectonic Edge, more resistance to Blood Moon

Straight BG basically just gets Edge in terms of cards, as the mana base allows you to play more colorless lands, but Edge does give you, well, an edge against control decks and decks like Tron. I'd have to be very sure about the metagame before playing BG, because it's the least powerful of the three options, although the most consistent.

One important thing to note about BG: unlike many of the other decks in this article, Twin is actually a good matchup. BG plays a ton of spot removal, hand disruption, and has a fast clock that's resistant to Lightning Bolt. It doesn't get better than that, and one of the main reasons BG decks are in the top tier is because they are one of the few decks that can claim a good matchup against one of the best decks in the format.

The Best of the Rest

There are a couple of pretty sweet decks I want to talk about today, all of which are a little off the beaten path. That's not to say that these decks aren't good, or that decks I don't mention here are unplayable, because Modern really does have a ton of depth. These are just the decks I've enjoyed playing and think have a good shot, as well as the decks that are seeing a good amount of play (if not quite at the levels the Top 4 decks see).

UR Delver

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I wrote about Delver a few months ago and played it a ton. It's an awesome deck, and one that's very well-suited to playing the value game. I like Delver in a field of Pod and control decks, although I never found the best way to beat Splinter Twin. This sideboard is relatively hateful there, with Twisted Image for Spellskite and Combust + Spellskite for the combo, but it's still pretty annoying to play against a ton of Twin decks. I'd be happy to play Delver if I thought the field was going to be lower in Twin decks than normal. Having access to Blood Moon and a bunch of cheap counters + burn spells just punishes so many decks, and this deck is great at winning off not many resources or lands.

Merfolk

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Merfolk is a deck that's gotten a surprising amount of traction recently. I suppose I did play against it during GP Richmond, and it does harness one of the most powerful and underplayed cards in the format (Æther Vial). This deck snowballs extremely quickly, with the various lords just piling on until every creature it has in play is a 5/5 islandwalking menace. Merfolk has historically been great against the decks it can punish with Cursecatchers and countermagic, but weak against removal-heavy decks (such as those packing Abrupt Decays and Lightning Bolts). It also likes playing against decks full of Islands, although thanks to Spreading Seas, that can be any deck.

Tarmogoyf is a card that's particularly annoying to face, so the deck has Relic, Dismember, and Threads to fight against it. Likewise, Twin is one of the decks that's better suited to hook this fishy menace, what with the Lightning Bolts, Snapcasters, and fast combo, so the sideboard has a bunch of cards to try and reel in Twin. Torpor Orb stops both the combo and Snapcasters, and Spellskite blocks Bolts while further disrupting the combo. If the field were heavier in control, Tron, and decks without a ton of efficient removal, this deck starts looking more appealing.

Scapeshift

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Even though this deck won GP Minneapolis, it's still played at a lower rate than it was a year ago. Scapeshift suffers mainly because of the same reason a lot of these decks do: Splinter Twin is an annoying matchup. Twin sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

Scapeshift is very consistent, even if you will lose games where you never find Scapeshift, and it's not really getting hated on a ton right now. Blood Moon is annoying, and land destruction is annoying, but those aren't getting played at that insane a rate. If you think there is going to be more Pod than Twin, and the BG players are going to skimp on Fulminator Mages, Scapeshift is a great choice. It punishes slow decks and dodges most of the hate cards seeing play right now, as it doesn't really care about the graveyard, Spellskite, artifact destruction, or cards like Torpor Orb.

Zoo

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Because I realized that I was talking about all blue decks, I decided to mention at least one nonblue deck (even though, yes, it still has blue cards in it). Zoo is one of the best non-Affinity beatdown decks you can find, and ChannelFireball's Pat Cox played it to 7–3 at Pro Tour Born of the Gods and 12–3 at GP Minneapolis (he talks about the deck in this article). If you want to attack with Apes, Lions, Tarmogoyfs, and Spirits(!?), this is the deck for you. I get that not everyone thinks that casting Remand is the pinnacle of Magic, even if I love it, so providing an aggressive alternative seems like a good idea. I'm not even doing that just for that reason; I actually think Zoo is a good deck. Like BG, it punishes Twin with a fast clock and removal, while also being very solid against the field in general.

BG is the best deck to compare this to, despite Affinity being more of a beatdown deck, just because this plays in a much more fair way than Affinity (like BG does). Zoo is much better than BG against Merfolk, Tron, and Delver, due to a faster clock and cheaper removal, although it can be worse against Pod, depending on the configuration.

Pick Your Poison

Besides the actual Infect deck (which exists), I really just mean that you can pick any number of archetypes and expect to achieve good results with enough practice and accurate metagame forecasting. The less you know about the metagame, the more I'd recommend something like Pod or Twin, but if you are confident you know roughly what the field is looking like, there are a ton of decks that will reward you for that.

At the risk of repeating myself, practicing the deck you intend to play is by far the best way to increase how much you win in Modern; all these decks are hard to play and most of them test somewhat different skills. Knowing your deck, the other decks, and what makes them all tick is huge in Modern, and the people I see doing well are consistently those who have put the time in.

Good luck in any event you take a blue deck to (or any other deck, I suppose).

LSV

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