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A Tale of Two Modern Decks

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Adam Koska
Adam Koska

About Adam Koska

Adam is an experienced player from the Czech Republic who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:

  • 9th at Worlds 2009
  • 9th at Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • 45 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Top 32 GP Vienna 2008
  • Top 64 GP Krakow 2007
  • Three times Czech Nationals Top 8

A Tale of Two Modern Decks

Hey everybody and welcome to the first installment of Level Up in 2013! The format that’s currently the hottest is Modern, as the Modern PTQ season for PT Gatecrash is in a full swing and the next European GP, taking place in the Basque city of Bilbao at the end of January, is also Modern. That’s why, today, I’m going to take a look at two different Modern decks. One that I’ve been playing for some time and feel that I currently have the most experience with and then briefly at another one that a friend of mine, Matej Zatlkaj, has won an online PTQ with just this past weekend. Both of these decks are, in my opinion, quite well positioned in the Modern metagame right now, and both of them diverge a bit from the mainstream idea of what such an archetype should look like.

The State of Modern

Before we jump to the lists and the ins and outs of the two respective decks, let me briefly talk about the format in general. Right now, there are some things that I like about Modern and some things that I don’t like. The biggest disadvantage, at least for me, is that the overall power-level of this format is pretty high. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it does mean that you have less control over how the games unwind. Modern includes a number of cards that can win the game on their own if unanswered – be it Dark Confidant, Birthing Pod, Cranial Plating or a range of planeswalkers. Because of this, it’s harder to play a control deck, since if you miss a single answer to a single threat, you’re dead in a very short time. Pure card advantage spells like Ancestral Visions are also hard to come by, so being proactive is mostly the way to go. Doing more powerful things faster than your opponent.

The thing that I like about Modern is its diversity and, ironically enough, I think that the reason the format is quite diverse is exactly the same as the reason for the things I don’t like about the format, the ones I described in the previous paragraph. Precisely because there are so many „overpowered“ cards and role-players, as long as you stick to some of them, you have a reasonable shot at having an ok Modern deck. Whether it is casting Gifts Ungiven for Unburial Rites and a fatty, accelerating into turn two Geist of Saint Traft with a Deathrite Shaman, cascading into stuff with Bloodbraid Elf, or having a 10-power Inkmoth Nexus thanks to Cranial Plating or some sort of green Giant Growths, you can always have a “nuts draw” that is capable of winning. This diversity of broken things goes a long way towards having a healthy format and even though some of these combinations are not quite as tier 1 as others, they can still make for a reasonable deck choice, especially if the metagame swings in a way that’s favorable for the particular archetype that you’re sporting.

The general rule of thumb in this format is that you should be doing something unfair if you want to have a good deck. I think that this is true for most formats with a bigger card pool, as long as the “unfair” strategies are consistent enough and not easily hated out. However, despite the majority of tier 1 and 1,5 decks in Modern being „unfair“, there are some exceptions. One such “fair” deck is what I’ve been playing in Modern recently and I must say that I like it quite a bit. I’m talking about U/W control, a deck that evolved from the „U/W midrange“ archetype that Eduardo Sajgalik played at PT Return to Ravnica. The more aggressive cards like Geist of Saint Traft and Vendillion Clique left the deck to create more space for cards that play defense very well – mostly Wall of Omens and Restoration Angel – and also for some big finishers. The deck became quite popular on Magic Online recently and the version that I’m playing is based on the list that Kumazemi used to win an online PTQ on Christmas. Here’s my current list:

UW Sphinx Control for Modern

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The reason why this deck is good is that it packs a lot of good anti-creature cards. Even though there are several good combo decks in the format, most of them rely on creatures – Infect still needs to kill you with dudes, even if it can be pretty fast and executed in a single, poisonous turn. Splinter Twin is also a creature-combo deck and even Storm sometimes wins on the back of large Empty the Warrens, something that Supreme Verdict and Detention Sphere can take care of neatly. Countermagic is there as a „catch-all“ defense against cards that happen to not be creatures.

Most formats have a frontrunner, a deck that takes the biggest share of the metagame and often puts up the best numbers, a deck that everybody wants to beat, but only few who think they do are actually right. In Modern, such a deck is without any doubt Jund. In the GP Trial that I’ve played this past weekend, there were five Jund decks in the top 8 (I finished 9th on breakers with my U/W, so unfortunately I couldn’t properly test my assumption that U/W is favored against Jund). Jund is consistent, fast and has so much disruption and removal that only few decks can reliably carry out their game plan and not have it crumble under the onslaught of Thoughtseizes, Inquisitions and Abrupt Decays. Relying on the graveyard is also not a sound plan right now, because Jund (and many other decks) have a playset of “bonus” graveyard hate in the maindeck in the form of Deathrite Shaman.

The U/W control shell has – for me – started as an attempt to beat Jund. There are not many things that put Jund off its tracks, but one of the few that does is big spells that go over the top – as long as you have time to cast them. Jund does have a lot of removal, but if you present it with a threat that can’t easily be Bolted or Abruptly Decayed (and if you have some fodder to feed their Lilianas), then Jund does struggle to solve that problem. Only few lists still play Maelstrom Pulse or Terminate, so big creatures are a good approach against Jund. Consecrated Sphinx is in the U/W deck for exactly this purpose and Restoration Angel is also immune to most of Jund’s removal, but she fights for space with Cryptic Command and Supreme Verdict on the 4-slot, so I wasn’t able to fit more than two in the deck. Originally, Sun Titan used to be in the Sphinx’s slot, but then I got tired of opponents exiling my Kitchen Finks and Detention Spheres from my graveyard when I targeted them with the Titan, so I switched to Consecrated Sphinx and so far, I’m quite happy with this change.

The matchups and sideboard plans are as follows:

Jund

Against Jund, you want removal, so that you can survive until the lategame, where your more expensive spells and Celestial Colonnades should take over the game. Spreading Seas is also a removal spell, even though it doesn’t look like one – manlands are troublesome and even though you do have a set of Tectonic Edges, sometimes you don’t draw them and you can’t afford to waste Path to Exile on Raging Ravine and then get killed by real creatures. Sunlance is a card that I really like against Jund – it kills Deathrite Shaman and Dark Confidant, two cards that you absolutely can’t let live, and sometimes you will even catch Olivia Voldaren with it. You side out mostly countermagic, because Jund puts you under a lot of pressure and you can’t sit with your mana open when you want to be tapping out on your turn for Walls, Seas and Supreme Verdicts.

Affinity

Again, Affinity is a blazing-fast deck and you can’t rely on too slow cards. Spreading Seas are there to get rid of Nexi of all kinds, since it’s quite annoying that they survive your Supreme Verdicts. Blood Moon can sometimes be an issue, but you’re running nine basics (and can easily Path your own Walls, if needed), so you’re not completely hosed by the card, unlike some other decks. And if you resolve Kataki or Stony Silence, the game should be pretty much in the bag.

Scapeshift

Your pre-board matchup against Scapeshift is not very good, because they are one of the few decks that don’t rely on creatures, but you can still get them sometimes, if you draw a quick threat and back it up with countermagic and Tectonic Edges. Post-board, the situation improves dramatically, since you have access to Mindcensors and more Cliques. Most Scapeshift lists run Guttural Response as the card of choice against blue decks and fortunately, neither Mindcensor nor Clique are affected by that. As long as you protect your Mindcensor from Izzet Charms (an ideal Spell Snare target), you should be fine. Spreading Seas come into the deck pretty much only as a „draw a card“ spell, since you need to board out a lot of your anti-creature package. If they’re running Prismatic Omen, then Detention Sphere needs to stay, of course.

Storm

You can see that my version is not very well equipped against Storm and that’s because there are not many Storm decks in my local metagame. If the Storm decks run Goblin Electromancers, then your removal has at least some targets, but most versions don’t even play the 2/2 Goblin, so you’ll be left with a lot of useless removal. Detention Sphere gets rid of Pyromancer Ascension and Supreme Verdict kills Empty the Warrens tokens, so I would leave these in the deck, but feel free to board out some other Paths for Spreading Seas (because they cycle) or Mindcensors (because they beat down and can hose the opponent’s fetchlands sometimes). However, some Storm decks board into a Splinter Twin engine, so spot removal doesn’t even have to be dead post board – it depends on what your opponent is playing and how well you can read them. Either way, you should be an underdog in this matchup and if you want to change that, I recommend adding some number of Rule of Law to the sideboard.

Infect

Infect is not all that popular anymore, since it loses to Jund, but still, you can see a lone Infect player in the field every now and then. Fortunately, you have quite a lot of removal against them, including Spreading Seas that shut down Inkmoth Nexi. Sunlance is awesome here, even though sometimes you won’t be able to cast it because they will have a Spellskite out or will rely on a Nexus as the win condition. Spellskite is the reason why Supreme Verdict stays in the deck and you even add one more.

Splinter Twin

Not much to board in here, but with removal and countermagic, you should be fine, as long as you don’t tap too low during your turn. Splinter Twin is by far not your best matchup and if it’s popular, I recommend adding some number of hate to the board, like Damping Matrix (since Torpor Orb shuts down your own Vendillion Cliques). I think that the popularity of Splinter Twin has largely been kept in check by Jund, since Twin has a hard time beating an Abrupt Decay and tons of discard, so I wouldn’t worry about this deck too much. Again, you can side in some number of Spreading Seas for your Detention Spheres if you feel that they will be useless, but most Twins will board some number of Spellskites or even Blood Moons against you, so Detention Sphere should have some targets.

Birthing Pod

Birthing Pod is a deck that has been gaining momentum recently, and you can see it in huge numbers online. They mostly don’t rely on Melira anymore and instead go for the straightforward combo of Exarch / Restoration Angel + Kiki-Jiki. Fortunately, you have enough removal to keep the creatures at bay and even have a maindeck answer to Birthing Pod in the form of Detention Sphere. Post-board, you gain even more anti-Pod cards (that’s what Stony Silence and Grafdigger's Cage are for). You don’t rely too much on artifacts (Torpor Orb, Damping Matrix), so Ancient Grudge shouldn’t be a problem and generally have a lot more cards against them than they have cards against you, so post-board, the matchup should be fine (and can be further improved if you feel that Birthing Pod is an important player in your local metagame).

All in all, I recommend giving the U/W deck a try if it’s your kind of thing. If you haven’t played with it yet, I think you’ll be pleasantly suprised.

Before I wrap it up for today, I would like to share one more Modern deck with you. As I’ve mentioned in the introduction, Matej „Big Z“ Zatlkaj has won an online PTQ with this list just a few days ago and I think that it’s an interesting enough twist on the Jund deck to make it appealing to share it. We’ve seen the „Boom//Bust Zoo“ deck in Modern a couple of months ago and this is a very similar upgrade to an existing deck, except for this time around it’s Jund, not Zoo. This is the list that Matej played:

Boom Jund by Matej Zatlkaj

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1st place at Online PTQ 5/1/2013

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Boom / Bust
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Boom / Bust is quite awesome in this deck, for several reasons. First of all, it can steal any game in which you’re ahead, and the Jund deck can get ahead quite easily, with powerful early-drops and discard for the opponent’s cheap cards. Second, we have acceleration for the six-mana part of the split card: Deathrite Shaman is a must in Jund decks these days and Lotus Cobra, while being the weakest part of the deck, according to Matej’s words, is needed for the deck to be able to reliably cast the red Armageddon from hand. And if you’re a bit mana-tight, you can always leave an uncracked fetchland in play and sacrifice it in response to targeting it with the cheaper part of Boom//Bust, for an undercosted Stone Rain.

The third reason why this deck is such a powerhouse is that cascade works very well with split cards, and with Boom//Bust in particular. When you play a Bloodbraid Elf, it asks for a card with lower mana cost and because Boom only costs two mana, this condition is fulfilled when you flip Boom//Bust. However, when you put it on stack, you can still choose which half to play – even the six mana half, now that you’ve passed Bloodbraid Elf's test for low enough casting cost. Because of this, Bloodbraid Elf has a completely new dimension in this deck and you can really have some pretty unfair draws, deploying creatures on turns one to three and then blowing up all the lands on turn three or four. The deck plays like a regular Jund deck – with disruption, removal and the best creatures around, but adds a little something that can carry it over the top in situations where a regular Jund deck would have no chance of winning. If you’re a fan of Jund (or of Armageddon effects... or both), try this deck out. I knew I would, if attacking with Tarmogoyfs and Bloodbraid Elves was my favorite activity.

Well, that’s all from me for today. Let me know what you think about the two decks in the comments and see you next time!

Adam Koska

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