Mastering Modern

Posted in Top Decks on February 21, 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).

It's the eve of Pro Tour Born of the Gods, and I've been in full-on Modern mode for over a week (along with the rest of Team ChannelFireball). Modern is an awesome format, and is always very diverse, so it's been fun to dive into what it looks like after the recent banned list update. The loss of Deathrite Shaman and the freeing of Wild Nacatl made a huge impact, although sadly the same can't be said of Bitterblossom. While I can't divulge what our team is playing quite yet, I can talk about what some of the most common decks in the format look like. Magic Online is a great source for decklists, both because of how rapidly the metagame evolves and because of how many different lists you can peruse, so I picked a representative list from a number of different archetypes to look at.

  • Melira Pod

First up is Melira Pod, which quite possible was the best deck before the bannings, and might still hold that title.

Melira Pod

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Despite being a graveyard deck, the loss of Deathrite Shaman was a net negative for Melira. Downgrading Shamans into Noble Hierarchs hurt the deck, but it's not all bad news. Now that Wild Nacatl is back in action, Kitchen Finks got a whole lot better, and they don't even have to worry about being eaten by Deathrite Shaman. Playing fewer than four Finks seems like a bad idea, and all the Melira lists that I've liked run the full amount.

This really is a midrange deck disguised as a combo deck. Assembling Melira plus a persist creature plus a sacrifice outlet is nominally what the deck does, but even the threat of that forces the opponent to slow down his or her game considerably. An army of Finks, Voices, mana creatures and Townships can easily steal games, and Birthing Pod does a great job of generating value even if it doesn't directly lead to the combo.

[card]Noble Hierarch[/card] [card]Kitchen Finks[/card]

Melira Pod does also now have two different combos at its disposal, with Archangel of Thune plus Spike Feeder providing a secondary route to infinite life (and infinite damage if you have an attacker). Podding or Chording out a three and a five isn't the hardest thing in the world, and Archangel is a perfectly acceptable card even on its own, which is why the backup combo is worth having. Plus, Spike Feeder can reset a Finks in a pinch, which is also pretty sweet.

This is one of the harder decks in the format to play, as it always has a ton of options. When you are playing with cards like Birthing Pod and Chord of Calling, you have to know what you want in any given situation, as it's pretty likely that you can summon anything your deck has to offer. That's awesome, but it's also intimidating, and that does cut into the percentage of the field that would otherwise play the deck. Finding lines like going infinite with Reveillark plus Phyrexian Metamorph is the sort of thing I love to do, and I did play it at Grand Prix Kansas City last year...

  • Red-White-Blue

Speaking of decks I played at a Grand Prix, Red-White-Blue is also going strong. Snapcaster Mage enjoys living in a Deathrite-free environment, and there's something to be said for playing the best removal and a bunch of solid two-for-ones. There are more ways to build RWU than any other deck in the format, but it ends up somewhere on the controllish side of the format regardless.


Download Arena Decklist


The main point of difference between RWU lists is the inclusion of Geist of Saint Traft and Restoration Angel. If the deck plays none of either, it's the super-control version; if it just plays Angel, it's the more midrange version; and the presence of both Geist and Angel indicate that it's the aggro version.

I happen to prefer playing Geists, especially in a new environment, just because of how powerful Geist is and how quickly it ends the game. Even though I played the creatureless control version at GP Detroit, if I were to play this in the Pro Tour, I'd be attacking with hexproof Angel generators for sure. That does mean that Sphinx's Revelation probably has to sit this one out, but the card advantage engine of Snapcaster Mage and Cryptic Command still goes a long way. RWU gets to play a ton of efficient removal, cheap two-for-ones, and a fast and resilient clock. It is an answer deck, so making sure you have the right mix of cards like Spell Snare, Mana Leak, Remand, and removal spells is crucial if you want to succeed.

  • Splinter Twin

Splinter Twin

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Splinter Twin continues to be the best aggro-combo deck, which to be fair, isn't a very wide category. There's nothing like having a two-card instant-win combo paired with a bunch of burn spells and 2-power attackers, but somehow this deck pulls it off.

Like Melira Pod, Twin threatens to end the game instantly at any point, which makes it much more likely that the opponent plays in such a way that Twin can incrementally burn him or her out. Just playing Grim Lavamancers, Vendilion Cliques, Pestermites, and Snapcasters is a surprisingly effective plan, and wouldn't work if the opponent didn't also have to respect the Splinter Twin combo.

[card]Vendilion Clique[/card] [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]

Wild Nacatl is an unwelcome addition to the format for this deck, because the value of Electrolyze and Grim Lavamancer have gone down drastically. They are still good against Melira and Affinity, but there's much less Jund, and therefore fewer Dark Confidants and (of course) fewer Deathrite Shamans. Lightning Bolt is still a great card (as indicated by its presence in three of the top five decks here), so I certainly wouldn't write off Twin yet. Historically, our team has underprepared for Twin, as we never even built a single copy before PT Philadelphia, but we did rectify that for this tournament.

  • Zoo

Finally, the cat's out of the bag. To the surprise of nobody, the unbanning of Wild Nacatl has propelled Zoo to Tier 1 again, although it's got a few new toys.


Download Arena Decklist


There are many ways to build Zoo, but all of them start with four Wild Nacatl. A 3/3 for one mana is still busted, even in a format as powerful as Modern. Following from that, the plan is still to combine one-drops, Tarmogoyfs, and burn spells, but many of the current lists also throw a nice Blood Lust plus Berserk–style combo into the mix. For those of you who didn't play in in 1994, that happens to be the classic RG combo, second only in fame to ChannelFireball. Ghor-Clan Rampager plus Boros Charm adds up to anywhere from 12 to 18 damage, depending on the target, and makes turn-four kills happen a very reasonable percentage of the time. I can't say whether the team will or will not play Zoo, but we have traditionally been fans of Wild Nacatl.

  • Robots


Download Arena Decklist


Here we have the best Game-1 deck in the format. Colloquially known as Affinity, despite playing zero cards with the actual affinity mechanic, this deck uses a ton of cheap artifacts to make Cranial Plating, Arcbound Ravager, and Steel Overseer into insanely powerful threats. All this deck is trying to do is dump its hand in the first two turns, and it succeeds at that extremely well. As unpossessing as Signal Pest, Ornithopter, and Memnite may be, once they enable one of the engine cards in the deck, they become much greater than the sum of their parts.

Even besides the insanity that is Cranial Plating and Arcbound Ravager or Steel Overseer, Etched Champion and Master of Etherium are also very strong. The Champion locks out removal-based decks, and Master is an enormous threat against any deck that relies on burn spells. This deck even has a solid backup plan of using Inkmoth Nexus to poison the opponent, often in one fell swoop, and if worst comes to worst, attacking with Signal Pest and three small creatures can technically deal lethal.

[card]Cranial Plating[/card] [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card]

Against an unprepared field, there's no better deck, so playing this really depends on how many Ancient Grudges, Stony Silences, and Shatterstorms you expect to see in post-board games. It's certainly on the radar right now, but it's powerful enough that it might be worth braving the gauntlet of hate.

There are a ton of other decks in Modern, but these are the biggest five, percentage-wise (or were at the time I wrote this, a day before the Pro Tour). All of them attack the format from different angles, giving you a good overview of the format, and all of them are decks I'd expect to see and play against at any event.

Hopefully, I get to write about how awesome our deck(s) were next week, but until then I have a Pro Tour to play in!


Luis Scott-VargasLuis Scott-Vargas
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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).

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