Hello! Gatecrash has been released, beginning a new season of Standard, and this weekend's Pro Tour will set the starting point blueprinted by SCG Standard Opens in Atlanta and Edison and followed with SCG Standard Open: Cincinnati. New Standard is very interesting, and I hope that great masterminds, including #TeamSCG members and other SCG authors, will make it even better. However, I have another topic for today's article. The Modern PTQ season is still in progress for those who are aiming to play on the Pro Tour. Gatecrash didn't affect the format significantly, but the recent bannings surely have.
I intentionally avoided writing about the bannings, aiming to discuss the real state of the format instead. Nearly twenty PTQ were held this weekend around the world, and while not many results are known, it's clear that the metagame significantly shifted from Jund to U/W/x decks. However, Jund is not only far from being dead but is still a tier 1 deck (while the Seething Song ban definitely killed Storm and semi-rogue decks like Hive Mind and Enduring Ideal).
The metagame has become much more diverse though. At the PTQ I participated in, only one deck (U/W/R) was more than ten percent of the metagame, and known winners include U/W/R (Georgia), Kiki Pod (Kansas), Burn (Canada), Eggs (Arizona), Bogles (Kentucky), and R/G Tron (Russia). Results from California indicate four Jund decks in the Top 8, at a Russian one Jund was second and ninth, and so on.
How did Jund players adapt? The simplest way is to exchange Bloodbraid Elves for other four-drops, aiming to keep the deck as is. Candidates include Huntmaster of the Fells, Olivia Voldaren, Garruk Relentless, and Thrun, the Last Troll—I definitely recommend the last one for any green-based deck. My teammate beat U/W/R with Melira post-board by simply equipping Thrun, the Last Troll with Sword of War and Peace—and laughed a bit at Supreme Verdict. So U/W/x pilots, you should put a pair of Phantasmal Images in your sideboard and strongly consider old good Wrath of God instead of Supreme Verdict. This small edge could help you a lot.
- 4 Dark Confidant
- 4 Deathrite Shaman
- 3 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 3 Kitchen Finks
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 1 Thrun, the Last Troll
As example of a "conventional" Jund list, this is Anton Kotov's deck from the finals of a PTQ in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Nothing outstanding, just a disruption-heavy version with other four-mana creatures instead of Bloodbraid Elf. However, this deck is still deadly in the hands of a good pilot. Additional ideas for traditional Jund include Grim Lavamancer (usually one copy), more Kitchen Finks, and so on.
But Jund is not limited by that old shell anymore, and I've seen some different approaches. Both are much more aggressive than the old list was, and for a good reason. They are much closer (essentially) to Doran lists, which sometimes lose to themselves due to topdecking non-relevant discard, etc. So if you aren't good in the late game, try to avoid it by becoming faster.
As far as I know, this list should be attributed to Jarvis Yu, who exchanged Kitchen Finks / Lingering Souls and Bloodbraid Elf for Putrid Leech, Anathemancer, and Blightning, making the deck a sort of "fair" aggro. The problem is that you still topdeck a ton of useless cards in the late game (even if Blightning is much better than Thoughtseize in this case), but this deck has more chances to be far ahead by that time and to provide both disruption and pressure for combo decks. However, I'd go all-in on burn or disruption with Smallpox or Shrieking Affliction rather than suffer the disadvantages of both decks simultaneously.
With Storm weakened by the banning of Seething song, there is much more space for midrange decks in Modern right now. By the way, the common opinion that midrange decks were oppressed by Jund seems very strange to me; it was never hard to beat Jund with any sort of midrange (just put any one Titan into your deck), but such creations never were good against the field where they lost some pre-board games regardless of anything because of bad pairings. Right now, when Storm is dead, I'm…curious if Splinter Twin will be the deck to contain the next card to be banned. The deck is very consistent, powerful, and underrepresented in the current metagame.
One of my losses at the PTQ was against maindeck Blood Moon, which many decks are vulnerable to. I've already seen some Blood Moon-based control decks in Magic Online, but it seems that Splinter Twin is the best place for it right now, poising it to be the new oppressor of midrange decks. However, Splinter Twin is much easier to interact with pre-board, so different midrange variations would arise if their pilots try to at least partially solve the archetype's inherent problems. But as I said, I'd rather settle on a dedicated strategy for next week's PTQ because making a new deck would consume a lot of time. R/W Burn it is!
Burn is, by the way, the Modern deck that got the most from Gatecrash. Aside from Mortal Servitude, which I encountered in a Martyr of Sands deck Reanimating cards from Squadron Hawk to Ranger of Eos, both new cards that see Modern play are suitable in Burn. Skullcrack and Boros Charm already won a PTQ, and I expect them to take down more.
Burn already splashed black for Deathrite Shaman and Bump in the Night, and it is capable of splashing a third color for Boros Charm and Lightning Helix, compensating for the life loss due to a more painful mana base. Or you could just play Boros. I've already seen many versions, including a U/W/R deck that reminds me of last season's U/W/R Delver that is in fact Boros with Geist of Saint Traft (who is just better Flame Javelin) and Snapcaster Mage to increase the quantity of best direct damage cards.
Another very interesting application of Boros Charm is a deck which isn't very good at casting the Charm (at least right now) but could very effectively use all three modes—yes, including double strike one. Can you guess what deck? Yes, Boros Charm would deal four damage to the opponent's face, counter both halves of Ancient Grudge, and create a monster from Ornithopter equipped with Cranial Plating—or, even if a little bit less realistically, upgrade a pumped Inkmoth Nexus. Affinity was never good at casting double-colored costs, which always restricted powerful cards like Tempered Steel, but this case may be different because Boros Charm might be good enough to justify mana problems.
Other ideas (even more raw and greedy than this one) include one or two copies of Tempered Steel or Atog. Such a deck is risky but probably will be rewarding because there isn't much artifact hate being played right now since Affinity isn't really considered a top tier deck. Perfect time for a shot. I'm not sure if a fourth Springleaf Drum or fourth Glimmervoid are needed to make the mana better (and City of Brass still exists too) or if they will be good enough to make Boros Charm work, but fitting it into the Affinity core would be super rewarding.
On the other side of the new abilities spectrum are "fair" control decks. They were suppressed by Bloodbraid Elf and the general quality of cards in Modern. You can't deal with everything, and any one card you didn't beat will beat you very fast, like Liliana of the Veil or even an unanswered Deathrite Shaman. It's easier right now, even though the format still contains cards like Geist of Saint Traft. It seems that the recent bannings and metagame shift opened the gate for more control decks.
You've probably seen different U/W/R Control decks (don't mess these Guillame Wafo-Tapa creations with U/W/R Midrange!), and there are at least two newcomers who are waiting to see if they are destined to become one day decks or established with time. The first one is Mono-Blue Tron, which emerged on Magic Online right after the bannings.
- 1 Platinum Angel
- 2 Solemn Simulacrum
- 2 Spellskite
- 1 Sundering Titan
- 2 Wurmcoil Engine
- 3 Treasure Mage
- 1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
I don't know the origins of this deck, but it reminds me of old-school Tron decks from Standard. With less oppression, you may play this deck which can't cast Karn Liberated on turn 3, assembles Tron slower, and can survive through countermagic and bounce to then start creating Treasure Mage powered trouble. Such a deck was strictly unplayable before the bannings (as Storm was capable of being faster even through one counterspell) and may still be greedy if Infect becomes popular. But it looks much more attractive than it did earlier because it exploits card advantage better than common U/W/R decks, which have nothing to kill the opponent from time to time (i.e., suffer from the common "draw the proper half of your deck" problem).
The rise of U/W/R is accompanied by the rise of control-ish U/W decks with a similar core. Even Sphinx's Revelation has made its way to Modern, supporting Cryptic Command, Restoration Angel, Snapcaster Mage, Wall of Omens, and other ways to accumulate card advantage. Combine this with Spell Snare becoming better with the lowering of Jund and other decks' mana curves and you have a very interesting deck (which already posted some results at PTQs and on Magic Online). An interesting version I'm proud to present was built by a mage from Saint Petersburg, Alexander Zamula, and piloted to the Top 4 of a PTQ last weekend. Remember the best creature-based source of card advantage and favorite of many mages in Standard?
I don't really like the exact list, but it was fine for the tournament (I saw Aether Vial set on five in the Top 8 of the PTQ and didn't go blind!) and had a good chance to win the whole thing, so there are definitely some things to use and investigate further, like Reveillark in Modern and opportunities to use old-school card advantage generation to win games. Modern is still open for new ideas, and the recent bannings have helped increase diversity.
What will the next metagame shift be? Looking at my local metagame, I see that many U/W/R pilots also have Jund decks; many of them recently switched to U/W/R due to the bannings and their disbelief in Jund. However, since Jund has proven itself to be alive and well, some of them will probably return to their old favorite, and some of them will switch again, aiming to beat U/W/R and U/W. So the metagame will likely become more diverse, with less Jund and decks preying on Jund (for example, R/G Tron) and more control and decks aiming to beat U/W/x.
Modern is pretty open right now. If you are control mage at heart, the time has come: go, brew, and win. If you are tired of losing to Storm on turn 2, the time has come. If you are tired of Jund, time has come! One last note: the Top 8 of the PTQ in Saint Petersburg included eight different decks, without the two most popular ones and with two rogue decks (Reveillark and Dredgevine); the whole event was won by R/G Tron, which doesn't match up well against the two most popular decks there (U/W/R and Scapeshift). The greatest advantage of Modern is still that you can always grab your favorite deck, play well, and win a PTQ. So play the game, see Pro Tour Dragon's Maze!