Team Unified Modern, the format for most of the rounds here at the 2016 World Magic Cup, presents teams with a unique challenge: build three Modern decks with the restriction that (other than basic lands) no two decks on the same team contain the same card.
Dealing with Overlap Is a Challenge
This team-wide restriction means that if player A has a Bant Eldrazi deck with 1 Temple Garden, then teammate B cannot play an Abzan deck with any copies of Temple Garden, not even a single one. (Note that this represents a rule change from previous years, where playing certain cards in multiple decks was still allowed as long as there were no more than four among the team combined.)
If a team really wants to play both Bant Eldrazi and Abzan, then they might create a weird Abzan mana base with Murmuring Bosk or Canopy Vista instead of Temple Garden, but it is more likely that they will look for a different deck configuration. Fortunately, Modern is expansive enough. Every non-banned card from Eighth Edition onward is legal, which means that there is no shortage of options.
In fact, an analysis I performed several weeks ago revealed that the number of viable configurations (three Modern competitive decks with little to no overlap) runs in the hundreds.
You still must keep an eye on overlap, as there are cards that are being used in multiple archetypes. I already mentioned Temple Garden, but other examples include Stomping Ground, Verdant Catacombs, Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, Inkmoth Nexus, Gitaxian Probe, Noble Hierarch, Thoughtseize, and so on. "The deck building process is challenging, especially when it comes down to single shock lands," Austrian captain Oliver Polak-Rottmann told me. But he also enjoyed the puzzle: "It is a good format."
How to Choose Three Decks?
Talking with some teams during registration yesterday, I learned about two main approaches.
First, there were a lot of teams with a Modern expert on a certain archetype. For example, a team might feature a player who had been playing Ad Nauseam for ages and won a World Magic Cup Qualifier (WMCQ) with it. Or the team captain might be an Affinity master. In such cases, the team would typically agree that their most experienced Modern player should play the deck they are most proficient with, and the other two players would select decks that are compatible.
Second, there were many teams that lacked a player who could boast years of experience with a certain deck. These teams were a bit more flexible, and they often tried to simply find the decks with the best win percentage. "We tried to find the best decks in Modern in general," Slovakian captain Ivan Floch explained. "We didn't go with what we had the most experience with; we just looked for the three most powerful decks in the format."
As I discovered, the format can be tackled in various ways. So let's take a look at how the teams here in Rotterdam approached it. Below, I have both a raw archetype breakdown and a quick introduction to every single archetype with five or more pilots, followed by a team-wide breakdown.
|Deck Archetype||Number of Players||Percentage of Players|
|Blue-Red Kiln Fiend||5||2.3|
|Death's Shadow Zoo||4||1.8|
|Eldrazi and Taxes||3||1.4|
|Amulet of Vigor||1||0.5|
Slightly less than half the teams had an Infect deck in their lineup. The deck aims to win by giving the opponent 10 poison counters; a single Glistener Elf, Blighted Agent, or Inkmoth Nexus plus a dizzying array of pump spells can win the game in short order. One notable pump spell is Blossoming Defense, a recent addition from Kaladesh. In terms of overlap, you have to be mindful of Noble Hierarch and Breeding Pool, which are also played in Bant Eldrazi, and Inkmoth Nexus, which is an important card in Affinity.
The second-most popular deck is all about abusing the graveyard. The first step is to discard Golgari Grave-Troll, Stinkweed Imp, or Life from the Loam to use Faithless Looting, Insolent Neonate, or Cathartic Reunion. The second step is to dredge several times, hopefully milling Narcomoeba, Bloodghast, and Prized Amalgam, which can all return to the battlefield for free. Step three is to attack and overwhelm your opponent with these free creatures. The key overlap cards in Dredge stem from its mana base: Blood Crypt, Stomping Ground, and red fetch lands.
Affinity is an artifact-based aggro deck. It aims to dump a bunch of artifacts on the table early on and exploit them with cards like Arcbound Ravager or Cranial Plating. The deck was arguably the elephant in the room going into the event because it has been tier 1 since the format's inception and it doesn't share many cards (apart from Inkmoth Nexus) with other top-tier decks. However, everyone knew about that, and it's a deck that can be easily beaten by sideboard hate. Several teams may have shied away from the deck in fear of running into too many copies of Stony Silence, Ancient Grudge, Hurkyl's Recall, Vandalblast, and other artifact removal spells.
Abzan contains some of the best interactive spells in the format, such as Path to Exile and Inquisition of Kozilek. Flanked by efficient threats like Tarmogoyf and Lingering Souls, it has the tools to compete with pretty much every deck in Modern. As a notable innovation, several players chose to include Smuggler's Copter and Elves of Deep Shadow—a capable pilot—in their Abzan decks as well.
Red-Green Valakut (7.3%)
This deck comes in two variants, but both try to win via Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and Primeval Titan. The TitanBreach version, played by eleven players, sacrifices consistency for speed: it can play an early Through the Breach for Primeval Titan, but typically lacks Scapeshift. The TitanShift version, played by five players, generally has no Through the Breach, but can win the game by sacrificing seven or eight lands to Scapeshift. Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and enough Mountains can roast the opponent instantly. Either way, Stomping Ground is an essential card in this deck, and it may actually be one of the most important cards when it comes to Team Unified Modern. After all, it also sees play in Dredge, Jund, Naya Burn, and Death's Shadow Zoo.
Lantern Control (5.0%)
Coming in at a surprisingly high sixth place, Lantern Control is a unique deck that aims to lock the opponent out of relevant draws through Lantern of Insight, which reveals the top card of each player's library, and Codex Shredder, which can force a player to put the top card from their library into their graveyard. With Ensnaring Bridge, players can't attack, and eventually opponents get decked. Apart from Ancient Stirrings and Mox Opal, the deck has little to no overlap with other Modern decks, and it got substantial consistency boosts from Kaladesh in Blooming Marsh, Inventors' Fair, and Glint-Nest Crane.
Bant Eldrazi (5.0%)
The dream of this deck is to play turn-one Noble Hierarch, turn-two Eldrazi Temple and Thought-Knot Seer, turn-three Reality Smasher. It contains some cards that overlap with other decks, such as Breeding Pool, Temple Garden, Ancient Stirrings, and Noble Hierarch, but it's a powerful archetype.
Naya Burn (4.6%)
At Grand Prix Indianapolis earlier this year, Brandon Burton won the title in the following fashion: turn-one Goblin Guide; turn-two double Lava Spike; turn-three triple Lightning Bolt. That describes the deck clearly enough. Important overlap cards include Lightning Bolt and Stomping Ground.
Jund is similar to Abzan, but trades Path to Exile and Lingering Souls for Lightning Bolt and Terminate. Because both decks use Liliana of the Veil, Tarmogoyf, Overgrown Tomb, and various other cards, you cannot play Abzan and Jund in the same team—you have to pick one or the other.
Ad Nauseam (3.2%)
The deck aims to get to six mana and then cast Angel's Grace plus Ad Nauseam. This allows you to draw your entire deck, and you win by exiling three Simian Spirit Guides and playing a lethal Lightning Storm. This deck is a little more popular in Team Unified Modern because it doesn't rely on fetch lands and shock lands.
Merfolk is another deck that doesn't take away any lands from other decks, and it likely got a small popularity boost as a result. The strategy of the deck is to play small Merfolk creatures and then boost them with "Lords" like Merrow Reejerey, Lord of Atlantis, and Master of the Pearl Trident.
Blue-Red Kiln Fiend (2.3%)
We haven't seen much of this deck at the premier-event level before, but five players chose to register it for the World Magic Cup. It is capable of a turn-two (over)kill as follows: Turn one, Simian Spirit Guide and Kiln Fiend. Turn two, Gitaxian Probe, Mutagenic Growth, Manamorphose, and Temur Battle Rage. That's 30 damage! Now, since you can't always draw the nuts, the deck has Thing in the Ice as an alternative two-drop, Serum Visions to find the pieces, and Apostle's Blessing to protect the key creatures. It's quite the deck.
That wraps up the list of archetypes with five or more pilots each. In the remaining bunch of 24 archetypes with four or fewer pilots each, we see decks like Death's Shadow Zoo or Jeskai Nahiri, whose numbers were likely poor because they have way too much overlap with other decks. Death's Shadow Zoo in particular takes away Become Immense, Gitaxian Probe, and Mutagenic Growth from Infect, steals Monastery Swiftspear and Wild Nacatl from Naya Burn, and gobbles up almost all shock lands and fetch lands in the format. So that's one of the hardest decks to fit into a lineup.
But Modern never disappoints, and there were plenty of interesting archetypes. How about Green-White Humans with Champion of the Parish, Mayor of Avabruck, and Thalia's Lieutenant? Or a Jeskai Ascendancy deck with Fatestitcher and Monastery Mentor? With a card pool this wide, anything is possible.
Now that you've seen the raw archetype breakdown, let's turn to a breakdown of the team-wide configurations. Here are the ones that were chosen by three or more teams.
|Three-Deck Configuration||Number of Teams|
|Infect + Dredge + Abzan||5|
|Infect + Dredge + Lantern Control||5|
|Infect + Red-Green Valakut + Abzan||3|
One conclusion to be drawn from this is that several of the World Magic Cup teams found that Infect and Dredge are the two most powerful decks in Modern. It also helps that they are compatible in terms of overlap. Another way to look at it is that if you want to play a good Mox Opal deck and a good Inkmoth Nexus deck, then Lantern Control plus Infect is the logical way to go. Abzan and Lantern Control have little to no overlap with Dredge and Infect.
If you're interested in the full breakdown, here it is. (We are hiding the country names for now so as not to hurt players' chances.)
|Player A||Player B||Player C|
|Ad Nauseam||Grixis Delver||TitanShift|
|Affinity||Bant Eldrazi||Bushwhacker Zoo|
|Affinity||Blue-Red Kiln Fiend||Bant Eldrazi|
|Death's Shadow Zoo||Dredge||Bant Eldrazi|
|Death's Shadow Zoo||TitanBreach||Merfolk|
|Dredge||Bant Eldrazi||Blue-Red Kiln Fiend|
|Dredge||Blue-Red Kiln Fiend||Green-White Tron|
|Dredge||Eldrazi and Taxes||Ad Nauseam|
|Dredge||Lantern Control||Abzan Company|
|Dredge||Lantern Control||Death's Shadow Zoo|
|Eldrazi and Taxes||Blue-Red Kiln Fiend||Black-Green infect|
|Goryo's Vengeance||Naya Burn||Infect|
|Grixis Delver||Infect||Green-White Tron|
|Infect||Eldrazi & Taxes||Jund|
|Infect||Lantern Control||Ad Nauseam|
|Infect||Lantern Control||Naya Burn|
|Infect||Naya Burn||Ad Nauseam|
|Jeskai Control||Red-Green Tron||Death's Shadow Zoo|
|Lantern Control||Dredge||Blue-Red Kiln Fiend|
|Merfolk||Amulet of Vigor||Grixis Delver|
|Naya Burn||Green-White Humans||Affinity|
|Naya Burn||Infect||Bant Eldrazi|
[Note: One team is competing with only two players, so their deck choices were withheld from the full metagame list so as not to reveal their selections.]
One notable observation is for player B in the middle seat. This player was in a good position to give advice to their teammates on to their left and right, so it would make sense to put a deck that would be piloted by a good multi-tasker and/or the best player in that spot. Notably, there were eleven Abzan players and three Jund players in the middle seat, with only five Dredge players and three Affinity players.
That wraps up the Day One breakdown. There are still many rounds to play before a winner and the best deck configurations are decided. While this weekend marks the first time we get to see Team Unified Modern at a premier event, it will also be played at upcoming events Grand Prix San Antonio (April 1–2, 2017) and Grand Prix Madrid (December 9–10, 2017). Don't miss out on the fun!