Modern Masterpieces

Posted in Top Decks on April 3, 2015

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 been some time since I've checked in on Modern and, given that a new set just got released, now seems like as good a time as any. Modern is a large and robust format, so it doesn't get impacted nearly to the same degree that Standard does. That means that with each set release, we are talking about a couple cards seeing significant play, though it is always interesting when something does break into Modern, given how high the barriers are. Today I'm looking at a couple of decks that are sweet and off the beaten path, both of which gained a little from Fate Reforged or Dragons of Tarkir. I've played both these decks, and I like seeing the updates that have been made to them. They are both from a 5K Premier IQ, which was the first big Modern tournament since Dragons was released.

The first list uses the three unlikely allies pictured above. It isn't often that you see Blood Moon, Shackles, and black cards fighting side-by-side, but that's exactly what Dave Shiels used to make Top 4.

Dave Shiels's Grixis Control

Download Arena Decklist

This deck is trying to do two things, and both of them are themes I approve of.

  1. Get value. With Snapcaster Mage, Tasigur, a ton of cards that draw cards, and cheap removal, this deck is adept at burning through cards and gaining incremental advantage. Cantrips power up Snapcaster and Tasigur alike, cheap removal gives you the time you need to take advantage of the extra cards, and Cryptic Command stops anything unduly threatening.
  2. Lock the opponent out. The deck has some key cards that can shut down entire archetypes. Blood Moon; Vedalken Shackles; Spellskite; and even Jace, Architect of Thought all make it exceedingly difficult for the decks they are aimed against to win…and do so at only the cost of 1-2 slots.

Like other Snapcaster control decks, the normal play pattern here will be to use Lightning Bolt, Spell Snare, Mana Leak, and Remand to stop early threats, while using Serum Visions and Thought Scour to make land drops. Snapcaster recycles these cards until you have built up the resources to start deploying bigger cards. This is where Cryptic Command, Tasigur, and the various lock pieces show up.

It does require a good knowledge of Modern to effectively play a control deck, and particularly this one. You have to have a pretty good idea of which decks can't beat your trump cards, or at least have trouble doing so. The following list should give you a good start on that, with a list of how much each card impacts the decks it's meant to be cast against.


  • Any deck with Urza lands (WU, RG, or Mono-Blue Tron).
  • Bloom Titan
  • Scapeshift


  • Abzan Control
  • Abzan
  • Infect
  • Zoo
  • Any 3+ color deck that lacks basic lands

Against decks in the first category, dropping Blood Moon is a high priority—they have a very hard time winning while Blood Moon's in play.

Against decks in the second category, Blood Moon can range from amazing to irrelevant—it largely depends on how they are using their fetch lands. Ideally, you try and play Blood Moon early, before they have a chance to get out too many basics, though I'd usually consider siding it out after doing so.


  • Splinter Twin
  • Abzan Midrange
  • Infect


  • Any heavily creature-based strategy

Shackles is a less extreme card than Blood Moon, and very few decks roll over and die to a lone Shackles. What it does do is pressure decks that are trying to attack you (or in the case of Twin, use a creature to combo). All of these decks have solutions: from Abrupt Decay, to tapping the Shackles and playing a second Pestermite, to just being faster. But all of them have trouble with an active Shackles, especially one with counter backup. I'd keep Shackles in against almost every deck with creatures, as the main cost of playing Shackles is in the mana base, and that cost has already been paid.


  • Splinter Twin
  • Infect
  • Hexproof Boggles
  • Burn
  • Pump spell Zoo (Rancor, Become Immense, etc)


  • Abzan
  • Zoo

Spellskite is very difficult for Infect and Boggles to beat, and even Twin will often need to remove it in order to win. It's pretty blank against most decks not on this list, which is why you can't play a ton of them main deck, but it's one of the easier ways to steal matches against decks that have trouble against it.

I like what this deck is doing, though I would change a couple cards. First of all, 22 lands seems like too few to me. I've tested Tasigur-Snapcaster decks before, and usually end up on 23–24 lands. You want to hit your first six land drops just about every game, and even with cantrips, 22 isn't as many as I'd like.

Another change I'd make is to try 2 Anticipates. Anticipate is a good card-filtering mechanism, and works well within the framework of the deck. It does cost two mana, but given how many strong 1- and 2-ofs this deck has, I like being able to dig a little deeper.

I'd look to do the following:

-1 Izzet Charm

-1 Vendilion Clique

-1 Shadow of Doubt

+2 Anticipate

+1 Island

The other deck I want to talk about is near and dear to my heart. White-Blue Tron is just one of my favorite decks of all time, and I'm very glad I was able to make Top 4 of a Grand Prix with it (GP Lincoln, one of the first Modern GPs). It felt like a pet deck, but did have enough good matchups that I was able to experience the joy of succeeding with a deck that I loved more than I should have.

Before I get into what this deck is trying to do, here is the list that Mike Kenney used last weekend.

Mike Kenney's WU Tron

Download Arena Decklist

The loudest thing to notice about the deck is the combination of Urza's Tower, Urza's Power Plant, and Urza's Mine. They tap for colorless, but once all three are combined, they start tapping for lots of colorless. This deck is not RG Tron, which is trying single-mindedly to assemble Tron (as in Voltron, as in having all three lands in play) by turn three or turn four, but this deck does get much better once Tron is assembled. Having Tron lets this deck utilize its expensive cards to their full potential, though it is able to cast them without that if need be.

The actual main path to victory is Gifts Ungiven. By casting Gifts Ungiven and selecting only two cards, the opponent is forced to put both into your graveyard. Those two cards happen to be Unburial Rites plus one of the two creatures displayed, Iona or Elesh Norn, and let you untap and pay 3W to flashback the Rites on whichever creature you got. Elesh Norn locks out creature decks and Iona locks out almost everyone else, and both are exceedingly powerful when they come out on turn four or five. Playing a turn-two Signet into a turn-three Gifts wins a ton of matches, and is secretly this deck's best plan, even though it doesn't really involve Tron at all.

If all else fails, this deck does have an incredible high end. Using Thirst to find Tron, and then Tron to power giant spells like Revelation, Ugin, Emrakul, or even hard-cast Elesh Norn and Iona (which happens more than you'd think), is a great way to win games. It's certainly the most satisfying for me, and I don't see how anyone wouldn't like crushing their opponent into submission with 7+ casting cost spells, especially given that you are playing such a fast format like Modern.

Of course, surviving until you can cast those spells is important too, and these four cards will help you do that. They also happen to be a fairly common Gifts pile, though you can substitute Snapcaster Mage for almost any of them. Gifts is why there is a split between Day and Wrath, and Gifts being able to get 4 different anti-creature cards is very important. Elesh Norn won't always save you, and sometimes you need to get Path, Timely, Snapcaster, X, to guarantee having a 3-mana play when you are on seven mana.

Ugin is the lone addition from recent sets, but it is a solid one, and I like the additional power it gives the deck. Granted, power wasn't exactly what this deck was missing, but a large colorless card that locks up the board is worth adding. I don't think it's unreasonable to try Anticipate here, though the mana in the deck does lend itself toward playing more expensive cards, so I don't have any suggestions on what to cut just yet.

Tron may not be the most played deck, but it certainly has a place in the metagame. It really doesn't want to face Splinter Twin, Amulet Bloom, or Infect; but it does a great job preying on the midrange decks in the format. Abzan is the best matchup of the very common ones, though it really shines against any deck that can't kill it early (and doesn't mind some of those, as cards like Timely help enough that Burn is not a horrible matchup).

These decks are a reminder that Modern is a big format, and just because they don't show up all over the place does not mean that playing them is a bad idea. Both decks are good in the right metagame, and Tron in particular has enough lopsided matchups that there are times when it can be awesome.

Next week I'm off for the Pro Tour, after which I have the eternal hope that I will be writing about what I played the week after that. Either way, we will be seeing some great Standard action soon, and I can tell you that there are a lot of interesting decks running around.


Latest Top Decks Articles


August 2, 2018

Team Trios Constructed at the Pro Tour – Modern and Legacy by, Simon Görtzen

Pro Tour 25th Anniversary Coverage Begins Today! Tune in to for four days of Pro Tour coverage celebrating Magic's 25th Anniversary, beginning TODAY (August 2) at 2 p.m. ...

Learn More


July 31, 2018

Team Trios Constructed at the Pro Tour – Standard by, Simon Görtzen

Tomorrow, I'll board a plane to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to cover Pro Tour 25th Anniversary. On Thursday, August 2, the $150,000 Silver Showcase kicks off the action with a once-in-a-lifet...

Learn More



Top Decks Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All