View Full Version : A Modern Primer

12-18-2011, 10:52 AM
This is currently under construction while I update from the changes to the B/R list.

Modern: the Final Frontier?

Legacy is going to die. Like a star going red giant, eventually, its growth will prove to be unsustainable with the limited amount of fuel available and it will collapse on itself just as Vintage did. Without abolishing the reserved list, the format cannot be saved. Modern is Wizards of the Coast's solution to this problem, an Eternal format that begins after the end of the reserved list. Wizards can potentially reprint any cards that become expensive enough that they become format-limiting. Whether or not they will take that sort of direct action remains to be seen, but that is at least the idea.

Modern includes all regular issue sets from 8th Edition forward for base sets and Mirrodin forward for blocks. As such, its similar to Gavin Verehy's "Overextended" format but lacks many of the balancing factors and most notably the allied colored fetch lands from Onslaught. The current banned list can be found at http://www.wizards.com/magic/tcg/resources.aspx?x=judge/resources/sfrmodern.

Community Cup

In June of this year (2011), Wizards hosted the Community Cup with Modern as one of the featured formats. Because of the constraints of the Unified Deckbuilding rules and the fact that the Community Cup was a multi-format event, neither the community team nor the Wizards team put much effort into the format; the decklists were mostly variations of old Extended decks. However, there was some buzz that Modern was being run out as a potential replacement for the despised Extended format and a small Modern community formed, centered at MTGSalvation and the newly created MTGModern. The banned list for the Community Cup was much smaller than the current banned list and the format looked much different than it does today.

Hypergenesis was accounted the top deck (although it's this writers opinion that Hypergenesis was never an actual DtB due to a number of weaknesses) but a number of decks that would later see play were developed at this time including 12Post, Living End, Splinter Twin, Ad Nauseam, Elves! and Melira combo (although the Pod version didn't show up until later). The format was not at all friendly to aggro or control decks, with 12Post, Elves and Hypergenesis making up around half of the metagame. It is interesting to note, given its later dominance, that Zoo was simply uncompetitive at this time.

Pro Tour: Philadelphia

In August, an announcement was made that the upcoming Pro Tour in Philadelphia would be dropping Extended in favor of a Modern component. The banned list was changed at this time to include most of the playable control cards and a few of the more egregious combo cards like Hypergenesis and Glimpse of Nature. This killed two of the 3 most common decks, Elves! and Hypergenesis. This left 12Post - GreenPost in particular - as the de facto DtB going into Philadelphia in early September. A lot of metagaming with and against 12Post ensued. Because it had a very favorable 12Post matchup and a passable Zoo matchup, Splinter Twin was also considered a strong deck within the community.

In the wake of the loss of the two most prolific combo decks, the expected metagame for Philly was equal parts Splinter Twin, 12Post and Zoo. The tournament more or less fell out that way, although U/R Storm posted higher than expected numbers. As I predicted here on the Source, Splinter Twin walked away with the top spot. Control was non-existent, also as predicted. Even with the Community Cup banned list, blue was a dog to the rest of the format and the loss of the most powerful control and aggro-control cards didn't help matters. The closest to a control deck was team Channel Fireball's blue Zoo deck, alternately called Counter-Cat or CatFish, depending on who you talked to.

With egg on their face (Tom LaPille had said in an article that they had killed all the turn 3 combo decks, only to watch Ascension, Swath and Infect roll over "fair" decks all day at the PT) and rumblings of discontent from the larger Magic community with the combo-centric nature of the format, Wizards again nuked the format from space, banning Ponder, Preordain, Rite of Flame and Blazing Shoal in an effort to kill off more combo decks. They also banned Cloudpost, despite 12Post's poor performance against the field in Philly. This was probably the most insightful and necessary ban in the format's brief history, as 12Post's inevitability completely eradicated any hope of midrange or control strategies. Without Wasteland or any other viable land destruction (an aspect of the game that Wizards has avoided in modern design), the deck could not be interacted with in any meaningful way, ensuring that opponents that could not race it would simply be run over by it. Additionally, Green Sun's Zenith was inexplicably banned.

The End of the Worlds as We Know It

Going into the last Worlds, Zoo and Splinter Twin were considered the decks to beat (Cloudpost and Storm having been killed with bannings). Splinter Twin accounted for 15% of the field and various forms of Zoo a whopping 28%! Unlikely Philly, Twin underperformed against the format while Zoo (excluding the Snapcaster versions) stayed roughly the same at 56% vs. the field. Only 4 decks managed to 6-0 the Modern portion of Worlds; Shuhei Gifts, Affinity, LDZ and RUG Tempo. Alan Warnock was also undefeated, going 5-0-1 with Martyr/Proc.

Despite the untuned nature of the field (most players were still scrambling for decks at 10PM the night before), a number of interesting decks came out of the tournament in addition to Shuhei’s Gifts and Warnock’s Martyr/Proc. Alan Comer and Noah Swartz both piloted U/R Faeries listings that used Splinter Twin not only for the well-known infinite combo but also for use with Spellstutter Sprite or Mistbind Clique.

There were dozens of Snapcaster Zoo listings played as the deck had generated immense buzz among the pros going into day 3 but the deck bombed horribly. It went a measly 46% vs. the field and probably would have been worse had it not been so overrepresented. The deck accounted for almost half of all the Zoo decks played at Worlds and mirror matches naturally push a decks performance towards 50%.

Zoo's heavy saturation and excellent performance at Worlds lead to additional grumblings from the community at large. While few people were happy with the dominance of combo in Philadelphia, it appears that people aren't excited about a Zoo-centric format either. This caused Wizards to give Wild Nacatl and Punishing Fire the axe to open up deck design space in other aggressive decks. It's this writer's opinion that this was a mistake and will lead to a less interactive and therefore less "fun" format, but only time will say for sure.

2012 PTQ's and GP: Lincoln

As of January 1st, 2012, Wild Nacatl and Punishing Fire were banned in Modern. The stated goal of the ban was to open the format up to aggro decks other than Zoo, creating more diversity in the field. Many of the game's talking heads were quick to assert that the banning of Nacatl would not kill Zoo, but since the little kitty's removal from the format, Zoo has ceased to be a role-player in the Modern environment.

Zoo, while incredibly popular prior to the banning of Nacatl, was simply not that good. It had a 51% GWP at Worlds and even after eliminating the Snapcaster variants that brought the win percentage down, you were only looking at 56% GWP against the field. Now I'd consider 56% a tier 1 performance, but it's hardly the kind of dominating win percentage that you associate with bannings.

With Zoo out of the picture, the PTQ season started out dominated by Affinity. The first 9 PTQ's sported 18 Affinity listings in the T8's and 4 Affinity wins. While the deck has cooled some since then (as aggro decks tend to do as seasons go on), it is still one of the top 2 most populous decks in the format, along with Jund. Whether the recent drop in Affinity's presence can be attributed to an actual weakening of the deck's position in the metagame or simply the attraction of other aggro decks like Boros or American Stick is a sticky question.


Affinity had a good showing at Worlds, going 6-0 in the hands of Tzu-ching Kuo. Affinity packs smaller creatures than Zoo or Jund, relying on a couple of bombs to turn their junk creatures into real threats. Because the deck's creatures are worse on their own than other aggro decks, the deck plays in a much more "all-in" fashion. It can do this successfully because it has the potential for much better goldfishes than bigger aggro decks that are more focused on utility or card advantage. The high burst damage potential of Galvanic Blast and Shrapnel Blast combined with the free/cheap creatures and the Battle Cry mechanic lead to a number of realistic turn 3 kills. Beating Affinity is incredibly difficult if they get a great hand. Fortunately for everyone not playing with Signal Pests, the deck does have internal consistency problems and it's generally incapable of interacting with other decks in a meaningful manner. Unfortunately for those people, the deck still has considerable reach in the late game with the aforementioned blasts and Cranial Plating.

Affinity was a deck that saw a relatively large jump in popularity from Philadelphia to San Francisco. Early in the PTQ season, it was under a lot of people's radars and its performance in the first few weeks showed. As I mentioned above, it won 4 of the 9 PTQs in the first two weeks of brick-and-mortar play. Even at the GP, with interest in the deck cooling, Affinity managed to place 2 copies in the T8, a feat matched only by Jund.

Affinity's speed means that early removal is even more important in the post Nacatl format than it was when Zoo was accounting for 28% of the field. The Affinity of today is slower and less explosive than Tzu-Ching's deck from Worlds, but the deck is still fast and capable of blowing slower decks out before they can get their gameplan online. This has led to an incredibly red-heavy format, as burn's flexibility in playing removal or reach makes it a perfect choice for handling a format heavily populated by Affinity and decks that ignore traditional creature removal like U/R Storm or U/W Tron.

Red Affinity
by Mary Jacobson
Grand Prix: Lincoln

4 Memnite
4 Ornithopter
4 Signal Pest
4 Vault Skirge
4 Steel Overseer
4 Etched Champion
2 Arcbound Ravager

4 Galvanic Blast
3 Shrapnel Blast

4 Cranial Plating

4 Mox Opal
3 Springleaf Drum
4 Darksteel Citadel
4 Inkmoth Nexus
4 Blinkmoth Nexus
2 Mountain
2 Glimmervoid


3 Ancient Grudge
3 Blood Moon
3 Ethersworn Canonist
3 Torpor Orb
3 Whipflare

Contemporary Affinity builds are generally based in red (as above). It's interesting to note that all 3 of the Affinity lists that made 15 points or better at Worlds (5-1-0 or better) were mono-red. Additionally, all of the PTQ T8 lists in January and early February were either mono-red or splashed a spot of white for Steelshaper's Gift (as Samuel Friedman's T8 list in Lincoln did). Traditionally, blue has been the strongest base color for Affinity because it gives access to Thoughtcast and Master of Etherium, who provides the deck with another stand-alone threat. However, red provides Affinity with a faster kill and in a format where aggro can actually race combo, that seems to be more important than a little bit of stability and card advantage. As the deck slows, adding value cards like Steel Overseer, blue and black may make a comeback.

There are also two important sub-categories of Affinity that I'd like to mention briefly. Kuldotha Red (named after Kuldotha Rebirth) is a deck that took Tzu-Ching Kuo's listing and went the other direction from the rest of the Affinity builds. Eschewing any pretense of a late game, Kuldotha Red, or K-Red, seeks to maximize the turn 3 and turn 4 kills, racing everything every game. In my own experiments with the deck, I managed to tune a listing to an average goldfish of turn 3.6, with a 40% turn 3 goldfish ratio over 30 games (15 play/15 draw). While I've moved off of K-Red and on to other things, the deck still enjoys some success in the hands of the small population playing it; I know at least 1 made day 2 in Lincoln, as I was sitting next to him in round 9 D1 and we were already locked for D2. The other sub-category is Tempered Steel. The deck centers around its namesake and runs a much heavier white component in its mana base to support that enchantment. Most Affinity players find it easier to run the slightly worse, but infinitely easier to cast Steel Overseer.

There was only 1 burn deck at 15 points or better at Worlds, but Max Sjoblom's deck shows that no matter what the format, someone will be slinging burn spells and melting faces. While Modern Burn loses a few Legacy staples like Chain Lightning and Fireblast, the recent printing of Bump in the Night gives the deck enough 3 damage, 1 mana spells that it can still function in Modern. Because the two best combo decks both revolve around creatures, burn has a better combo matchup than other aggressive decks can boast.

by Max Sjoblom
Worlds, 2011

4 Goblin Guide
3 Keldon Marauders

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Shard Volley
4 Lava Spike
4 Bump in the Night
4 Incinerate
4 Rift Bolt
3 Volcanic Hammer
3 Searing Blaze
3 Flame Javelin

8 Mountain
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Arid Mesa
2 Blackcleave Cliffs
2 Blood Crypt


4 Smash to Smithereens
3 Torpor Orb
2 Combust
2 Flamebreak
2 Ball Lightning
1 Searing Blaze
1 Rain of Gore

Max's list seems a little loose in places but is a pretty good starting point for anyone looking to maximize their time between rounds. With a goldfish speed not far behind Affinity, the deck is an excellent choice for the metagame moving forward. Post board, the Affinity matchup is heavily in the burn player's favor (since they can already remove threatening creatures and Smash to Smithereens is an absolute beating). Very few decks can meaningfully interact with burn and the best one, Martyr/Proc, seems to have fallen off the face of the Earth in the post-ban world. B/W Tokens is a problematic matchup, but Tokens is still flying under the radar for now, although PTQ wins in Portland, OR and Madison, WI will probably change that.

U/R is also an option for burn, exchanging Bump in the Night for Delver of Secrets/Insectile Aberration. The blue Nacatl has proven to be incredibly strong in Legacy. The addition of counterspells out of the blue (pun intended) vs. decks like Ad Nauseam and U/R Storm can be a potent weapon for a deck with a fast clock, as Counter-Cat proved at Worlds and in Philly.

There are two Lynx based aggro decks that are viable in Modern right now. The first, Boros, is basically a burn deck with a slightly heavier creature base, splashing into white to pick up Steppe Lynx, Lightning Helix and occasionally, Path to Exile

12-18-2011, 10:53 AM

Not a single U/R Storm deck made it to 5-1 or better but 2 (of the 12 played, according to the metagame breakdown) made 4-2. As a whole, the archetype was 43% against the field, nearly as poor as the 40% that Splinter Twin posted. Right now, U/R Storm is at the lowest point that it will probably ever see, as it can be raced by aggro, has little room for disruption vs. control and will sometimes randomly lose to its own bad draws, making it even worse now than it was at Worlds. Under normal circumstances, I would say that's enough to doom a deck on its own. However, as the closest analogue to Legacy combo, storm combo decks appeal to a small segment of the player base and will see play no matter how much of a dog they are to the format.

U/R Storm suffered consistency problems even before the ban of Ponder and Preordain. Modern Storm gained a powerful tool in Past in Flames but it was not enough to offset the loss of the 1 mana dig spells. Storm combo can be built in a number of configurations but they fall under 3 basic categories; Swath, Ascension and straight Grapeshot. Straight up Grapeshot combo, usually with Empty the Warrens as a backup win-con, is easily the most common variant you'll see.

Swath storm relies on Grapeshot and Pyromancer's Swath to kill opponents. Because Swath effectively triples your Grapeshot storm, it makes it relatively easy to generate lethal storm with only a few cards in hand. However, Swath does nothing with Empty the Warrens and failing to go off with a Swath on the board will leave the deck relatively weak; going off from 1 card is nearly impossible for the deck. This makes Swath the most inconsistent storm deck. However it's also the storm deck with the highest damage potential.

Ascension storm combines both the Pyromancer Ascension based Lightning Bolt kill with a truncated traditional U/R Storm engine. Pyromancer Ascension is nominally the main kill for the deck, but it runs the dig and acceleration that most U/R storm decks do, allowing it to Grapeshot for the win as well when need be. The biggest problem with Ascension Storm is that you're running 2 competing engines that only partially work together. Sometimes, you're going to have dead cards from one win-tree clogging up a hand that would otherwise be excellent for the other win-tree. The deck's lack of focus can be a factor over the course of a major tournament. Note that Pyrromancer Ascension does not generate additional storm; copies are placed on the stack rather than cast and do not count for storm purposes. However, it does allow the deck to generate far more mana and draw far more cards than it otherwise would.

The important thing to note with all three versions, whether playing with or against them, is that Past in Flames *only* affects cards that were binned when it was cast. If you cast Past in Flames and then cast a spell like Gitaxian Probe or Manamorphose, that spell will not have the flashback ability. I've run into a number of people playing with this deck that did not realize that and tried to flash spells that they cast post-PiF.

U/R Storm
by Florian Pils

4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Serum Visions
4 Sleight of Hand
4 Manamorphose
2 Peer Through Depths

4 Desperate Ritual
4 Pyretic Ritual
4 Seething Song

4 Grapeshot
3 Empty the Warrens
3 Past in Flames

2 Remand

4 Scalding Tarn
2 Misty Rainforest
4 Island
2 Mountain
3 Steam Vents
3 Cascade Bluffs


3 Pact of Negation
3 Gigadrowse
3 Echoing Truth
2 Lightning Bolt
1 Calciform Pools
1 Dreadship Reef
1 Shattering Spree
1 Magma Jet

Splinter Twin had been a DtB since the August announcement of the new banned list. While it was underprepared for at Philly, players in San Fran came ready to deal with the format's top combo deck. And it worked. Splinter Twin posted an abysmal 40% win ratio against the field as a whole, in large part due to the massive number of Combusts running around. It would be easy to blame Twin’s poor performance on the heavy presence of Zoo - Splinter Twin’s usual protection against removal, counterspells and Spellskite, are useless vs. Combust and Zoo doesn’t tend to give you multiple opportunities to combo out. However, if you take the matches vs. Zoo out of the equation, Splinter Twin still posted a jaw-droppingly bad 43% against the field.

Splinter Twin
by Andrej Loparski

4 Deceiver Exarch
4 Splinter Twin
3 Pestermite
2 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

4 Sleight of Hand
3 Serum Visions
2 Gitaxian Probe

4 Remand
2 Pact of Negation
2 Dispel
1 Disrupting Shoal

3 Firespout
1 Lightning Bolt

5 Island
3 Mountain
4 Scalding Tarn
3 Misty Rainforest
3 Steam Vents
1 Breeding Pool
4 Cascade Bluffs


2 Engineered Explosives
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Twisted Image
2 Deprive
2 Dismember
1 Lightning Bolt
1 Spellskite
1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

Brian Eleyet ran a white splash version that ran Village Bellringer as another combo piece and an additional early blocker. In the post-Nacatl era, the focus is more on killing creatures than blocking them (because of the evasion that Affinity has, blockers are nowhere near as good as they are vs. Zoo). Firespout and Slagstorm become mainboard necessities. However, until Twin comes up with a good answer to Combust, it's going to have issues with the field, especially Jund, which packs as much removal as Zoo did but backs it up with some light discard.

Ad Nauseam saw some play at Worlds, both in the Team portion as well as the main event. Ad Nauseam is a significantly slower combo deck than U/R storm or Splinter Twin, but it does have the ability to use Phyrexian Unlife or extra copies of Angel’s Grace to buy itself extra time against aggro decks.

Ad Nauseam
by Ruben Snijdewind

4 Angel's Grace
4 Ad Nauseam
3 Phyrexian Unlife
1 Conflagrate

4 Lotus Bloom
4 Pentad Prism
3 Simian Spirit Guide
1 Desperate Ritual

4 Serum Visions
3 Sleight of Hand
2 Mystical Teachings
1 Peer Through Depths

2 Pact of Negation
1 Slaughter Pact

3 Marsh Flats
2 Scalding Tarn
1 Misty Rainforest
2 Watery Grave
1 Hallowed Fountain
3 Island
1 Plains
3 Seachrome Coast
2 Darkslick Shores
2 Gemstone Mine
1 Creeping Tar Pit
1 Boseiju, Who Shelters All
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth


3 Leyline of Sanctity
2 Infest
1 Slaughter Pact
1 Silence
1 Gigadrowse
1 Path to Exile
1 Thoughtseize
1 Duress
1 Echoing Truth
1 Vendilion Clique
1 Patrician’s Scorn
1 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir

Ad Nauseam is not a deck that I would recommend playing because it’s simply slower than any other combo deck and when your combo can't race aggro, there's no real reason to play it. That doesn't mean that you won't see it from time to time, as the deck has seen some fringe play ever since the Community Cup.

There are, of course, other combo decks out there. Most are either too slow, too weak to existing strategies or internally too inconsistent. Hive Mind combo tends to suffer from the same problem as Ad Nauseam; it's too slow to compete with existing acceleration. Restore Balance is an easy deck to spot; it's the only deck in the format utilizing the borderpost cycle from Alara Reborn. It's effective at sweeping the board with the eponymous card, but it has issues (like every cascade deck) with a host of common cards, most notably Mana Leak, Spell Pierce and Ethersworn Canonist. The other major cascade deck, based around Living End, is the closest to a viable combo deck. It's not particularly fast, but it can be very effective against multi-color decks with Fulminator Mage, Goblin Ruinblaster and Avalanche Riders playing havoc with opposing mana and allowing the deck to try and cut off opposing countermagic. Faerie Macabre helps break the synergy of Living End.

12-18-2011, 10:54 AM

There are very few control decks viable in Modern. Shuhei’s Gifts deck (and a variety of near cousins that have sprung up in the wake of Worlds) is one viable option. Gifts Control, despite running into blue for Gifts Ungiven, doesn’t actually run any counterspells. In this format, it’s hard to get value out of them; as you can see from previous lists, threats run in the 1-2 mana range, making counters even to negative tempo most of the time. It’s very difficult for control decks to reach a point where they can leave mana open every turn; the early threats are too threatening to wait for board sweepers.

Shuhei’s deck makes use of the Grove/Fire engine to generate incremental advantage in the late game. It’s basically a “goodstuff” style control deck with a number of recursive engines (Life from the Loam, Raven’s Crime, Punishing Fire) to create a dominating late game. It’s a grinding deck and that makes it weak to decks that can win in a single turn, but it’s very effective against big Zoo and midrange decks.

Gifts Control
Shuhei Nakamura

4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Gifts Ungiven
2 Thirst for Knowledge

3 Punishing Fire
3 Liliana of the Veil
2 Engineered Explosives
2 Damnation
1 Doom Blade
1 Smother
1 Go for the Throat
1 Consuming Vapors

2 Inquisition of Kozilek
1 Duress
1 Ravens Crime

2 Eternal Witness
1 Life from the Loam
1 Snapcaster Mage
1 All Suns' Dawn

2 Kitchen Finks
1 Rude Awakening

4 Grove of the Burnwillows
3 Verdant Catacombs
2 Misty Rainforest
2 Swamp
1 Forest
1 Island
1 Blood Crypt
1 Breeding Pool
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Stomping Ground
1 Watery Grave
2 Twilight Mire
2 Graven Cairns
1 Darkslick Shores
1 Tectonic Edge


4 Tarmogoyf
3 Thoughtseize
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Combust
2 Seal of Primordium
1 Extirpate
1 Obstinate Baloth

The Gifts deck is heavily loaded with removal (it accounts for 39% of the non-land cards in the deck), a necessity in an aggro-centric field. However, in my experience, the deck tends to be slow and can struggle against the fastest aggro decks like Cat Sligh Zoo or Affinity. If you plan on playing Modern, this is one of the key matchups you need to test. Keep in mind that this was created the night before the tournament, so the versions you see at PTQs and in Lincoln are likely to be more streamlined and stronger.

The only other control deck worth speaking of is Martyr/Proc. The deck is named after the interaction of Martyr of Sands and Proclamation of Rebirth. The list looks similar to a traditional white weenie style deck because of the high number of 1-drop white creatures, but it actually plays out as a mono-white control deck, trying to stall out the early game to reach a state where it can use the recursive engines of Proclamation along with Emeria, the Sky Ruin and Sun Titan. Like the Gifts deck, Martyr/Proc has a number of ways to generate incremental advantage in the late game, including Ranger of Eos and Squadron Hawk. In combination with Mistveil Plains, Hawk provides an endless stream of blockers against creature-oriented decks.

Martyr of Sands provides the deck with a huge extra cushion of life early. The deck prefers to avoid actually casting Proclamation, instead trying to wait until late game when it can be forecast every turn. When pressed, however, Proclamation can be used to return Martyr early, giving the deck extra breathing room against decks like Zoo or Affinity. Once the forecast is online, the deck becomes nearly impossible for traditional aggro decks to beat. The amount of life the deck can gain in a turn between Martyr and Serra Ascendant is just too prohibitively high.

by Alan Warnock

4 Martyr of Sands
4 Serra Ascendant
4 Squadron Hawk
4 Ranger of Eos
2 Figure of Destiny
2 Student of Warfare
1 Weathered Wayfarer

4 Path to Exile
3 Ghostly Prison
3 Wrath of God

4 Proclamation of Rebirth
2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant

11 Plains
4 Flagstones of Trokair
4 Ghost Quarter
2 Emeria, the Sky Ruin
2 Mistveil Plains


4 Mana Tithe
4 Torpor Orb
4 Leyline of Sanctity
3 Oblivion Ring

Flagstones might seem a little out of place in a deck that’s not running Boom/Bust but it pairs off nicely with Mistveil Plains and Ghost Quarter. Quarter lets you ramp Plains for Emeria and Mistveil Plains is tutorable off of Flagstones.

Martyr/Proc is probably the best deck in the format to be running against Zoo. It has the strongest early game vs. aggro of any known deck in the format because not only can it nullify opposing creatures effectively (which Gifts can also do) but it can also gain massive amounts of life, making burn spells irrelevant as reach. A Zoo player might eventually topdeck enough burn to beat a Gifts deck, he/she will never come up with enough burn to overcome the Martyr engine.

This deck is still somewhat under the radar in that its not a deck that has generated a lot of discussion. However, it is a deck that a number of people have picked up and I see it more and more frequently online as of late.

Aggro Control

The penultimate deck for a “must-test” gauntlet is Jund. Jund is another deck that is flying under the radar at the moment, but is considered a potential tier 1 deck by most of the people familiar with the format. Jund is, by its nature, slower than Zoo, falling into the category of “midrange aggro”. However, it tends to do a better job of being flexible and shifting roles mid-game. While there are controlling Zoo lists out there (Snapcaster Zoo, Counter Cat, etc.), they tend to perform poorly (CFB members excluded). Jund does an excellent job of changing from pressure application to defending to applying pressure again at a moment’s notice.

By Brian Kowal

4 Putrid Leech
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Sprouting Thrinax
4 Bloodbraid Elf

4 Lightning Bolt
3 Punishing Fire
3 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Slaughter Pact
1 Liliana of the Veil

3 Rise/Fall
3 Blightning

4 Grove of the Burnwillows
4 Treetop Village
4 Verdant Catacombs
1 Stomping Ground
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Watery Grave
1 Blood Crypt
1 Forest
1 Mountain
1 Swamp
2 Twilight Mire
2 Graven Cairns
2 Raging Ravine


4 Thoughtseize
3 Combust
3 Obstinate Baloth
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Seal of Primordium
1 Thought Hemorrhage

Kowal’s listing is a little different than traditional Modern Jund decks, but I think it’s the version I would test against because it’s stronger in what I would consider the expected field in the wake of Worlds than other Jund listings. Its resilience to sweepers makes it an excellent choice against the control decks of the format. Kowal chose not to try to be as aggressive as Zoo (a good choice when Wild Nacatl isn’t available to you) and instead built a deck that is to typical Jund what Martyr/Proc is to white weenie. It looks like an aggro deck, but it’s really just a disguised control deck.

Of particular note here is Rise/ Fall. This has not seen much play in Modern but is positioned to be a breakout card in the future. It generates tempo advantage for a low mana cost and gives decks flexibility. Unlike most low cost spells, it does not get weaker in the late game, as the longer the game goes on, the greater the choice of targets for the Rise portion. This kind of flexibility is what Jund is all about and I would not be at all surprised to see Jund decks in the future packing 3-4 of these standard.

12-18-2011, 10:54 AM
Control Combo

Finally, the last deck that you have to be prepared for in order to succeed in a Modern tournament is Melira. Melira is nominally a combo deck, but it generally plays more like a control deck with a combo finish. The deck centers around Birthing Pod and Chord of Calling, functioning like the old Survival decks of the Mirage/Tempest era.

by Martin Juza

4 Birthing Pod
3 Chord of Calling

4 Birds of Paradise
4 Wall of Roots
1 Noble Hierarch

4 Kitchen Finks
3 Viscera Seer
3 Melira, Sylvok Outcast
1 Tidehollow Sculler
1 Eternal Witness
1 Fulminator Mage
1 Ranger of Eos
1 Murderous Redcap
1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
1 Reveillark
1 Shriekmaw
1 Sun Titan

3 Thoughtseize

4 Misty Rainforest
4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Forest
2 Swamp
2 Overgrown Tomb
2 Temple Garden
1 Godless Shrine
2 Razorverge Thicket
1 Twilight Mire


3 Path to Exile
1 Thoughtseize
1 Burrenton Forge-Tender
1 Ethersworn Canonist
1 Spellskite
1 Qasali Pridemage
1 Gaddock Teeg
1 Harmonic Sliver
1 Orzhov Pontiff
1 Entomber Exarch
1 Obstinate Baloth
1 Nekrataal
1 Acidic Slime

The deck is relatively customizeable because of the tutoring. The most common combination is Melira, Sylvok Outcast, Kitchen Finks and Viscera Seer to gain an arbitrarily large amount of life and effectively “Vampiric Tutor” for Murderous Redcap. With Melira in play, when Finks is sacrificed to the Seer, it returns with persist, but the counter cannot be placed on it. This means that it can be sacrificed any number of times. This can also be useful with Birthing Pod.

A number of different alternate win-cons have been tried by various people, from Protean Hulk combos to the Sun Titan/Fulminator Mage that Juza uses above. Andrew Cueno’s listing used Grave Titan as its top end finisher. Juniper Order Ranger is a card that also fits nicely at the top end of the range, giving the deck more options for the combo in a different part of the Pod range. The +1/+1 counter it places on a persist creature coming into play will negate the -1/-1 counter from persist, allowing it to function as a more expensive Melira.

While the eponymous combo is usually the primary path to victory, the deck is extremely resilient to hate for the combo. A card like Torpor Orb which is also good against Splinter Twin will stop the deck from gaining life with Finks or killing with Redcap. However, the deck can just as easily Pod its way into the Titan/Mage combination and lock down someone’s mana.

Because the deck plays 4 Wall of Roots and 4 Kitchen Finks, it has a naturally strong matchup against Zoo. The ability to generate infinite damage with Murderous Redcap gives it a strong late game vs. the Martyr/Proc. However, it’s weak to the Grove/Fire engine and it does not handle other combo decks well as there is simply not enough room to run sufficient disruption without affecting the viability of Pod and/or the aggro matchups. However, with Splinter Twin having fallen out of favor and U/R Storm underperforming, Melira has a strong matchup against a majority of the expected field.

Additional Thoughts on the Format

A common misconception by people who have not played Modern, or who have not played enough Modern, is that cards that were good in various Extended or Legacy formats are, by extension, good in Modern. While many Modern decks are based off of old Extended decks and while Modern is an Eternal format, it is not simply Extended or Legacy. When the format was announced for Philadelphia, there was a flurry of conjecture by people who’d never played the format before as to what it would look like. Cards like Dark Confidant and Tarmogoyf were tossed around as the kind of format staples that would define the format. Even as recently as last month, Gerry Thompson said that Tarmogoyf was the best card in the format and anybody who thought otherwise was delusional. While I respect Gerry, Tarmogoyf is weak enough right now that it’s not impossible to justify running less than 4 or even none at all in Zoo.

Even now, there are a number of overrated (and underrated!) cards in the format. As the PTQ season shakes out and GP: Lincoln provides a solid baseline for the format moving forward, these cards and strategies will see their play levels adjusted to a more appropriate level.

Grove/Fire is one such overrated strategy. While there are decks that I feel can take advantage of the late game incremental advantage, a lot of people feel like Punishing Fire is a format defining card. And perhaps, if Wild Nacatl is banned, it could be. But right now, the premiere aggro deck in the format plays few, if any, creatures that can be killed with a single Punishing Fire and has a clock that makes reaching 5 mana questionable. Lightning Bolt and Flame Slash are the best burn spells to deal with creatures. A lot of decks I’ve seen Grove/Fire jammed into can’t survive until the late game where it can become relevant. And while it does represent reusable direct damage, it’s at its best as creature removal, as paying 3 mana for each 1 damage to someone’s face is mediocre at best. Much as Grove/Fire is too slow to have a major impact on Legacy (recent play with Maverick not withstanding), it is too slow to have a serious impact on Modern. Of course, if one half of this combo is banned, it will have even less impact than that. But one of the two viable control decks in the format, Shuhei Gifts, uses these cards to good effect; banning Grove or Fire would essentially kill or severely hamstring the deck and push the format even more towards Zoo. This is ironic, since Punishing Fire is so bad against Zoo, but there you have it.

Snapcaster Mage is another card that’s overrated. Again, in Legacy, this card has seen heavy play (although I feel its somewhat overrated there as well) but it translates more poorly into Modern. Blue is a fairly weak color in Modern, making Snapcaster more of a splash card than a commited color card. It performs poorly in Zoo because it’s too slow and for the same reason, should be avoided in most other decks. 1-2, if you’re already in blue, can be acceptable, but with Zoo rushing to do 12-13 damage instead of 17-18 like it does in Legacy, midgame and endgame cards lose a lot of their power.

Rise/Fall is a card that is difficult to fit into existing decks. The Grixis part of the pie is simply not a particularly strong 3 color combination right now as blue is somewhat weak and black needs some sort of usable acceleration to be playable, especially given the heavy black commitment that the good black cards require (think Phyrexian Obliterator, Phylactry Lich, Gatekeeper of Malakir, etc.). However, it is one of the most powerful and flexible cards in the format. I believe that eventually, it will find its way into more listings than just Jund.

Hyperaggressive decks have a distinct advantage in Modern. Because of the amount of damage people tend to take from the shocklands (the fetchable dual lands from Ravnica), the yardstick has been shortened considerably for decks like Zoo and Affinity. Additionally, there is little in the way of good acceleration outside of green (which has Noble Hierarch and Birds of Paradise as well as Wall of Roots and Sakura-Tribe Elder) and very little acceleration at all that’s good against Zoo (which has a tendency to Bolt the crap out of turn 1 mana critters). This makes cards like Rhox War Monk and Kitchen Finks incredibly powerful for the aggro matchups. Monk is outside of normal burn range (surviving Lightning Bolt, Lightning Helix and of course Punishing Fire) and can provide some tempo relief by forcing aggressive decks to either avoid swinging into it or trading with it 3-for-1. Finks is within burn range, but its ability to come back makes it a solid 3-for-1 as well. I say 3-for-1 instead of 2-for-1 because the life gained from these cards basically represents another Lightning Bolt that you can survive, making it virtual card advantage in addition to traditional card advantage. Kitchen Finks combo well with Oran-Rief, the Vastwood. As I mentioned earlier with Juniper Order Ranger, +1/+1 counters interact with -1/-1 counters by simply negating each other, making Oran-Rief a pseudo-regeneration effect for persist creatures.

There exists currently the potential for white based Prison decks. I can’t say for certain that such decks would be good, simply that they could be viable. Cards like Ghostly Prison, Magus of the Tabernacle and Lodestone Golem are excellent ways to slow the tempo of games way down and of course Chalice of the Void is excellent in a format so warped around 1cc spells. Without cards like Smokestack or Armageddon other ways have to be found to control an opponents mana, but there’s almost certainly something there. Pairing with red for cards like Ajani Vengeant and Boom/Bust could work.

Eventually, Zoo will decline in popularity as decks like Martyr/Proc, Melira and Living End combine to keep it in check. It will always be a strong choice, of course, but as its grip on metagame saturation dips, some slower decks will become viable. Ooze combo, B/G Deathcloud and All in Bant represent some 3rd generation decks that currently see little or no play. If, at some point, Umezawa’s Jitte or Chrome Mox is unbanned, we will see Zoo slip even further as other decks gain tools to fight the Nacatl menace. When Zoo declines, I think we’ll start to see people getting use out of Isochron Scepter. Right now, there is very little in the way of artifact or enchantment destruction in the format and Lightning Helix on a stick is never a bad thing to have. This could be the basis of the first draw-go style control decks in the format, as there are a number of playable spells one can throw on a stick, including Path to Exile, Remand, Silence or even Honorable Passage. Remember that if one half of a split card can be imprinted on Isochron Scepter, either half can be played with it. This is irrelevant for a card like Hide/ Seek but can be a game changer with a card like Research/Development.

Proper sideboarding is always a key to winning as at least half of your games will be played post-board. As such, I think it is imperative that every deck is packing some sort of graveyard hate right now. Extirpate, Surgical Extraction and Relic of Progentius are my top 3 picks. Being able to eliminate a card like Punishing Fire or Raven’s Crime can be very important and Martyr/Proc is incredibly reliant on its graveyard recursion. Removing Martyr of Sands or Serra Ascendant can go a long way towards making that matchup manageable. Finally, there are a few combo decks out there that rely on the graveyard to win, namely Melira, Living End and Ooze combo. Being able to win these matchups (all fringe decks at the moment although Melira will probably see a larger place in the spotlight in the future with the fall of Splinter Twin) will boil down to being able to interact with their graveyards.

Finally, it wouldn’t hurt to take a look at Gatherer (http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Default.aspx) to find viable cards that people have been overlooking in the format. The advanced search feature can be very handy here. For example, I did a search for Rare and Mythic enchantments with CMC 4 or less and found Worship. While Worship isn’t a “build-around-me” card, it does change the rules of the game for decks like Zoo or Affinity. Instead of being able to send burn directly to your face, they need to keep it for removing creatures if they want to have a chance at winning. Zoo will often run a pair of Qasali Pridemages, giving them some out to the enchantment, but Affinity will usually have no way of stopping Worship in their 75. Favor of the Mighty was another card that caught my eye. While its limited in its scope, it could be useful for decks seeking to protect top end threats like Rhox War Monk or Baneslayer Angel against aggressive decks. Often times, these types of cards don’t have any sort of immediate application to the format, but can become relevant in a later iteration of the format.

Mr. Safety
12-19-2011, 03:03 PM
Wow, well done! Defining the format like this is really great. I certainly hope for no more bans, but I am actually hoping for some unbans. I don't think it will be likely, but I can wish, right?

12-20-2011, 07:12 AM
AAAND... 3 days worth of writing down the drain. But I was aware this could happen. I'll try and get something written over the holiday weekend taking into consideration the new bannings.

Mr. Safety
12-20-2011, 09:43 AM
I'm not sure you should bother...I know there will be many that will think this is the final straw...and the camel's back is broken. I know I feel that way.

Boring format is boring...:frown:

10-14-2012, 11:39 PM
And Snapcaster mage sees wide spread use.

This Primer needs a MASSIVE overhaul.

11-12-2015, 10:23 AM
This Primer needs a MASSIVE overhaul.

As someone who's begrudgingly looking to get into Modern, I have to agree.

Does anyone know of a primer anywhere to help a Legacy player get familiar with Modern?

11-12-2015, 10:51 AM
Not a 'primer' but it does have decent articles and a good metagame breakdown


Phoenix Ignition
11-12-2015, 12:45 PM
Also not a primer, but this is a recent infographic on the metagame breakdown.


As a Legacy player I think all you need to know is more or less what the meta is like and you should be able to pick it up pretty quickly. Learning how to play against a Twin deck is pretty easy, and the same can be said for many of the linear strategies.

It's a fun format though, after I got over my Legacy elitism I realized it had basically everything I wanted out of Magic, or at least everything I got out of Legacy 8 years ago.

11-12-2015, 04:01 PM
Does anyone know of a primer anywhere to help a Legacy player get familiar with Modern?
How'd you get into Legacy? Did you get brought up to speed from a Legacy Primer? :tongue:

Legacy is going to die.
This made me laugh. :laugh:
Looks like Legacy out-lived his interest in Magic.

It'll probably die tomorrow... I'll check back just in case it doesn't though.

11-12-2015, 06:50 PM
How'd you get into Legacy? Did you get brought up to speed from a Legacy Primer? :tongue:

Edit: I typed out a long post, but then got home and realized it was also a shitty post.

Moral of the story is that I need a primer. :(

Lord Seth
11-15-2015, 12:38 AM
As someone who's begrudgingly looking to get into Modern, I have to agree.

Does anyone know of a primer anywhere to help a Legacy player get familiar with Modern?Depends on what you mean by primer. If you just want one of the "here's a bunch of the big decks and some information about them" you can try this recent 2-part article:

This (http://themeadery.org/b/mulligan/read/no-one-really-knows-what-works-in-modern-so-heres-some-bologna-a-weekly-mulligan-report) is rather amusing, though.

Mr. Safety
11-15-2015, 06:44 PM
The article from themeadery was great, especially the whole "fuck pod" section. I hated pod when it was legal. Overall, still informative if you can get through the satire.